space digest

April 27 - May 3

Progress M-27M mission failure, successful launch of Falcon 9 with TurkmenAlem52E, Blue Origin tests New Shepard, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Blue Origin conducts first test flight of New Shepard. Credit: Blue Origin
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On April 29, 2015, Blue Origin conducted first develpment test flight of its New Shepard space vehicle from company's West Texas Launch Site. According to the press-release the vehicle, ascending to an altitude of almost 94 km, has reached maximum speed of Mach 3. Read an overview of the test at SpaceDigest article.

Video of the Week

This video is highlights from Blue Origin's New Shepard space vehicle as it makes its first developmental test flight.

Another success for SpaceX... and another failure for Roscosmos

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Launch of Falcon 9 with TurkmenAlem52E

On April 27, 2015, SpaceX conducted successful launch of Falcon 9 launch vehicle with TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat telecommunications satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The mission was the second SpaceX's launch in less than 2 weeks, after successful launch of Falcon 9 with the 6th Commercial Resupply Services' (CRS) Dragon spacecraft. Contrary to CRS-6 mission, this time SpaceX has not attempted to softly land Falcon 9's first stage.

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Launch of Soyuz-2.1a with Progress M-27M cargo spaceship

In less than a day, on April 28, 2015, Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) conducted launch of Soyuz-2.1a rocket with Progress M-27M cargo spaceship from Baikonur. However, spaceship was deployed into a wrong orbit and faced a flight anomaly that prevented it to reach the ISS. In a Roscosmos' press-release it was said that telemetry data had been cut off 1.5 seconds prior to spaceship separation from the upper stage. Upon restoration of connection, it was found out that some of the spaceship's systems were operating incorrectly. Further flight of Progress-M to the ISS and its docking with the station were considered as impossible. Re-entry of spacecraft is expected for May 5-7.


  • Roscosmos plans to start development of a new medium-class launch vehicle that could eventually replace Soyuz family of rockets by 2018. "In 2018 it is planned to begin experimental development work on this rocket named Fenix" - TASS Agency reports.
  • On April 27, 2015, TEXUS 52 sounding rocket was launched from Esrange Space Center in Sweden. It reached an altitude of 255 km, and payload was successfully recovered after the flight. TEXUS program is carried out jointly by DLR, Airbus DS, OHB and SSC. In our previous Weekly Space Digest we noted successful launch of TEXUS 51 rocket.
  • International Launch Services and Dauria Aerospace signed agreement to collaborate on opportunities to launch spacecraft utilizing Proton-M or Angara launchers starting from 2017. The agreement states that both companies will cooperate on identifying spacecraft that can be dual launched in a stacked configuration - with the lower Dauria spacecraft supporting an upper spacecraft - on a Proton-M or Angara launch vehicles.
  • Nearly a year after changing fuel used on its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, Virgin Galactic may return back to previously used fuel. Will Pomerantz, company's Vice-President of special projects, said that they have an “internal horse race” between a rubber-based fuel, originally selected for SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket motor, and a nylon-based one the company switched to last year - SpaceNews.

SpaceShipTwo's third rocket-powered flight. Credit:
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  • Airbus Defence and Space signed a contract, valued at 30 million euro ($32.4 million), with the French space agency (CNES) to build platform and carry out final integration of MERLIN (MEthane Remote sensing LIdar missioN) satellite. From 2020 MERLIN will measure methane (CH4) in the Earth's atmosphere. MERLIN is the first joint Earth observation satellite program between French and German (DLR) space agencies.
  • Paragon was awarded a contract by Boeing to provide services to support its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft. Specifically, Paragon will provide the CST-100 Humidity Control Subassembly (HCS) for cabin atmospheric humidity control.
  • Satellite fleet operator Arabsat and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology announced contracts for Lockheed Martin to manufacture two A2100 platform-based comsats, Arabsat 6A and Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1. The former will be launched atop a SpaceX rocket and the latter aboard Ariane 5. Construction of satellites expected to be completed for launch in 2018. Total value of contracts for construction and insurance of both satellites, as well as launch of Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1 (Arabsat will sign a launch contract for Arabsat 6A with SpaceX later), is estimated at $650 million.
  • Ball Aerospace integrated 4 out of 5 complex instruments that will fly onboard the US' next polar-orbiting weather satellite, Joint Polar Satellite System 1 (JPSS-1), and is moving toward environmental testing by early 2016 with the delivery scheduled for late 2016. Its launch now expected for no later than the second quarter of 2017. The fifth instrument, Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), Northrop Grumman is building for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's JPSS-1 under a $30 million contract, will not arrive for integration until an early fall - SpaceNews informs.
  • Northrop Grumman was selected by the prime contractor Lockheed Martin to provide its Scalable Space Inertial Reference Unit (Scalable SIRU™) for sensor pointing, stabilization and attitude control for the US Air Force's sixth Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite.
  • COM DEV International Ltd. announced that it has received a funding release in excess of $8 million to deliver equipment for the 2nd of several commercial communications satellites awarded in a single contract in 2013. COM DEV's work on the first satellite is largely complete, with all equipment delivered or in the final testing stages - SpaceRef.
  • Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) has delivered the first spacecraft for the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 weather forecasting constellation to the National Space Organization of Taiwan, where it has successfully passed a series of systems checks.

Assembling of FORMOSAT-7 weather forecasting satellite. Credit: SSTL
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  • Special Aerospace Services (SAS) acquired C&C Manufacturing, Colorado-based company offering precision machining solutions in plastics, non-ferrous and ferrous metals for aerospace, aviation, and commercial customers - SpaceRef.
  • SES reported financial results for the three months ended 31 March 2015. Revenue amounted to 477.8 million euro, 2.6% up over the prior year. More in SES' press-release.
  • Iridium reported 1st quarter of 2015 financial results. Net income was $21.0 million, or $0.17 per diluted share, for the first quarter of 2015, as compared to $16.5 million, or $0.19 per diluted share, for the first quarter of 2014. SpaceNews informed that Iridium would ask its creditors to ease launch insurance requirements as the company prepares to deliver 72 satellites to orbit in the next 30 months.
  • Telesat, Canada, announced its financial results for the 3 month period ended March 31, 2015. Telesat reported consolidated revenues of $188 million, a decrease of near 5% compared to the same period in 2014. During the quarter, US dollar was approximately 12% stronger than Canadian dollar compared to USD during the first quarter of 2014.
  • Intelsat reported total revenue of $602.3 million and net income of $54.7 million, or $0.47 per common share on a diluted basis, for the three months ended March 31, 2015. According to SpaceNews, drop in the results drop was in line with forecasts and the company can do little but count the days until its new satellites are launched. Recently appointed Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said 3 satellites expected to launch during next 12 months, including the first of high throughput EpicNG series - ViaSatellite.
  • DigitalGlobe reported financial results for the quarter ended March 31, 2015. According to company's press-release, revenue grew by 8.2% to $169.4 million. Net loss per diluted share was $(0.08). SpaceNews noted that Russian market has essentially - and unexpectedly - collapsed, dragging down DigitalGlobe's commercial-market sales performance for the given period.

DigitalGlobe helps earthquake relief organizations in Nepal
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  • NASA selected research and technology proposals from 254 small businesses and 39 research institutions for grants to develop new technologies that will further NASA's journey to Mars. Successful proposals, managed through NASA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, could result in contracts with a combined approximate value of $47.7 million.
  • NASA awarded the Entry Systems Technology Research and Development (ESTRAD) contract to Analytical Mechanics Associates, Inc. The contract has a five-year period of performance, consisting of a two-year base with a value of $2.2 million and three one-year options. The total estimated contract value is $43 million.
  • Calling the Obama administration's 2016 budget request for NASA “too skimpy”, Senator Barbara Mikulski said she would seek to add an as-yet undetermined amount of money to NASA's 2016 budget request of $18.5 billion - SpaceNews.
  • US Senate voted unanimously to confirm Dava Newman as NASA deputy administrator, more than 6 months after university professor was nominated to the post - SpaceNews.
  • Legislation that one congressman plans to introduce in the near future would make space settlement a national goal and require NASA to take action to support it. Space Exploration, Development, and Settlement Act of 2015, drafted by Dana Rohrabacher, would mark the second time in the last 3 decades that Congress has directed NASA to support efforts for permanent human settlements beyond Earth orbit - SpaceNews.
  • The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry proposed that the US Air Force would spend $185 million next year on activities leading to an American-made replacement for the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine. The Air Force requested $85 million for that effort in its 2016 budget proposal - SpaceNews.

RD-180 rocket engines installed on Atlas V's first stage. Credit: NASA
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New Tech & Tests

  • Astrobotic was selected by NASA's Flight Opportunities Program to test navigation technology that will guide Astrobotic's first commercial soft landing on the Moon. Company selected for a flight on Masten Space Systems' suborbital reusable vehicle.
  • NASA's Kennedy Space Center recently completed testing equipment that will provide electrical power and data connections to the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket until it lifts off from the launch pad.
  • Major milestone in the development of ISRO's next generation rocket, GSLV MkIII, was achieved with the successful fire-test (635 seconds) of CE20 cryogenic engine at ISRO's Propulsion Complex in Mahendragiri. CE20 cryogenic engine has been indigenously developed by ISRO to power the cryogenic upper stage of GSLV MkIII launch vehicle.
  • Chinese researchers have used 3D-printing technology to make a safer spacesuit for taikonauts while spacewalking. A research center of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CAST) used a 3D-printer to create vent pipes and flanges connecting them that could be used on an extravehicular spacesuit.
  • Following the first testfire of BPM-2 rocket engine, conducted on April 12, Copenhagen Suborbitals tested it again last week. Some photos from the latest test are below:

Space Exploration

  • Canadian Space Agency would like to extend Canada's scientific participation in NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission by supporting the opportunity presented by NASA and entitled Mars Science Laboratory Participating Scientist Program - SpaceRef.
  • Incoming leader of the European Space Agency and present chief of DLR, German space authority, Johann-Dietrich Wörner is keen on establishing an international base on the Moon as the next-step outpost beyond the International Space Station -
  • A NASA planetary exploration mission came to a planned, but nonetheless dramatic, end when it slammed into Mercury's surface at about 14,000 km per hour and created a new crater on the planet's surface. Mission controllers at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory confirmed NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury as anticipated.

Artist concept of NASA's MESSENGER Mercury-exploring probe. Credit: NASA
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  • Wonderful infographics and pictures of NASA's Space Launch System manufacturing at Boeing facilities provided by Boeing on its website.
  • SpaceNews spells out logic behind ULA's next-generation rocket Vulcan design choices.
  • "By the end of the next decade, US space officials expect that entrepreneurs and companies - rather than a consortium of nations - will be launching and operating various space stations for in-orbit research". Read The Wall Street Journal article.
  • Space fans can now try a beer with an out-of-this-world origin: Ninkasi Brewing Co. makes beer from yeast that survived a trip during space launches carried out by private aerospace company UP Aerospace -

Ground Control, a beer by Ninkasi Brewing made from yeast flown in space. Credit: Ninkasi Brewing Co.
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