space digest

August 31 - September 6

Launches of Soyuz TMA-18M manned spacecraft and MUOS-4 military satellite, CST-100 is now Starliner, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Test mirror segments for the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA
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Meet Starliner, newly unveiled name of Boeing’s commercial crew transportation spacecraft

Boeing announced that its CST-100 commercial crew transportation spacecraft has been named Starliner. It's been designed with a focus on automated flight, reliable operation and frequent flights carrying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. It also may take paying customers to the awe-inspiring heights of low-Earth orbit and the unique sensation of sustained weightlessness - NASA reports.

Starliner will be assembled and processed for launch at the revitalized Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, or C3PF, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA had used the facility for 20 years as a shuttle processing hangar and for the extensive preps and testing of the space shuttle main engines in the engine shop.

With the high bay of the C3PF expected to be complete in December 2015, engineers are building the structural test article for the Starliner in the remodeled engine shop. Though not scheduled to ever make it into space, the test version of the spacecraft will be put through a continuum of tests culminating with a pad abort test in 2017. It will be used as a pathfinder to prove the design Boeing and NASA's Commercial Crew Program worked together to develop is sound and can accomplish its missions.

Meanwhile, Boeing informs, it is in the process of construction of crew access tower at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The tower, which is more than 61 meter tall, will take astronauts to the top of an Atlas V rocket equipped with Boeing's Starliner. "In the end, we are going to have a very safe, very effective and very cost efficient way of getting astronauts back and forth to low earth orbit," said Chris Ferguson, director of Boeing Crew and Mission Operations.


  • On September 2, 2015, Roscosmos conducted successful launch of Soyuz-FG launch vehicle, carrying Soyuz TMA-18M crewed spaceship with cosmonauts Sergey Volkov, Andreas Mogensen and Aidyn Aimbetov, from Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. Spacecraft successfully docked to the International Space Station on September 4.
  • On September 2, 2015, ULA conducted successful launch of Atlas V 551 launch vehicle with the US Navy's fourth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS-4) satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral. MUOS-4 satellite is the latest addition to advanced network of orbiting satellites that is revolutionizing secure, tactical communications for mobile military forces around the globe.
  • Orbital ATK announced that return-to-flight of the Antares rocket now will be in spring 2016. Earlier indications were that it would be in March. Instead, a second launch of the company's Cygnus cargo spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket now is planned in March - Space Policy Online.
  • India will launch a second multi-spectral remote sensing Indonesian satellite that will help the country to monitor land-use, natural resource and in disaster mitigation. The indigenously-made LAPAN A2/Orari satellite is a successor to LAPAN A1/Tubsat, which was also launched by India in 2007 - The Economic Times.
  • The return to flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, still a “couple of months” away, will also be the first launch of an upgraded version of the vehicle with increased performance, the company's president Gwynne Shotwell said - SpaceNews.
  • Within preparations to the first space launch from Vostochny spaceport, Soyuz-2.1a rocket was sent from its manufacturer in Samara city to the spaceport, in a ceremony attended by Russian Deputy Prime-Minister Dmitry Rogozin. It will take 38 days for the Soyuz-2.1a rocket to reach Vostochny - Sputnik News.
  • Long-delayed first flight of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is now scheduled for April or May of 2016, Lee Rosen, vice president of mission and launch operations for SpaceX, said. He also noted that the company was wrapping up work on the renovated launch pad that rocket will use - SpaceNews.

Artist's view of Falcon Heavy at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Credit: SpaceX
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  • Kymeta and SHARP Corporation announced a development agreement to design products that will pave the way for cost-effective mobile satellite communications. Under the agreement, SHARP will use its liquid crystal display production technology to manufacture Kymeta's new flat-panel satellite antenna, allowing both companies to create new opportunities for the satellite communications industry - Press-release.
  • A paper published by Farooq Khan, president of Samsung Research America in Dallas, details an interconnected net of 4,600 low-orbit satellites that could bring each of the world's 5 billion people 200 gigabytes of internet per month. Samsung expects global internet traffic to reach one zettabyte per month by 2028, and the company's goal is to design a Space Internet with similar capacity - Popular Science.
  • US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is studying technology that would enable installation of antennas aboard satellites already on orbit, the latest of a series of exploratory efforts in in-orbit satellite servicing. DARPA awarded satellite maker Space Systems/Loral a 5-month study contract valued at $250,000 - SpaceNews.
  • Telespazio, Thales Alenia Space (TAS) announced a new phase of contract for COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation (CSG) satellite program with the Italian space agency (ASI). This new phase is worth 182 million euros, with Thales Alenia Space receiving 154 million euros and Telespazio 28 million euros. Thales Alenia Space is CSG's prime contractor, in charge of building two CSG satellites, while Telespazio is responsible for ground segment and integrated logistics - Press-release. TAS also signed contract to deliver a COSMO-SkyMed ground segment to Polish Ministry of Defense.

Artist's rendering of COSMO-SkyMed satellite. Credit: Thales Alenia Space
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  • Satellite venture OneWeb, who earlier raised near $500 million in investments for its planned low-Earth-orbiting satellite Internet constellation and whose investors include Virgin Group and Coca-Cola, is preparing to raise up to $2.5 billion more - Sky News.
  • According to Euroconsult's report Satellites Communications & Broadcasting Markets Survey, Forecasts to 2024, fixed-satellite services (FSS) industry posted an average annual growth rate of 4.3% over 2010-2013, with 2013 showing clear signs of slowdown at only +2%, the lowest growth rate since 2004. Further deceleration was witnessed in 2014, with sales remaining almost flat at $12.3 billion - Euroconsult.
  • Spaceport America, the world's first purposely-built commercial spaceport, announced that ARCA Space Corporation selected it as the site for its space launch vehicle and high altitude autonomous aircraft testing. ARCA will make, test and bring to market innovative aerospace products such as AirStrato UAS and Haas rockets - Press-release.
  • Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin backed down under a legal challenge from rival Elon Musk's SpaceX over the validity of a prior Blue Origin patent, which covered the process of landing a rocket on a raft. In a document made available last week, the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board accepted Blue Origin's motion to drop 13 claims in what had been a protracted dispute between the two companies - Parabolic Arc.
  • Gazprom Space Systems (GSS) and China Satellite Communications agreed to develop cooperation between the companies. Last week China SatCam delegation headed by its president Chao Zhuo visited GSS headquarters near Moscow - Press-release.

Visit to Gazprom Space Systems' headquarters of China SatCom delegation. Credit: GSS
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  • Reaction Engines announced collaboration with UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory ('DSTL'). Commenced yet in December 2013, the collaboration provides a framework to assess military utility of Reaction Engines' Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) and its enabling technologies. In particular, it aims to evaluate potential defence applications of REL's heat exchanger technology - Press-release.
  • RTI Systems of Russia and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) discussed possible joint projects on development of mobile satellite communications at the international MAKS-2015 air show - Sputnik News.
  • Swedish Space Investigation handed over their proposal for a new Swedish Space Strategy to the government. The strategy, as well as the investigation, includes a number of suggestions that are positive and important to SSC. In particular, Esrange Space Center should be further developed, to enhance the ability to be a major center for space activities of strategic importance to Europe - Press-release.
  • Two Republican senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and David Vitter of Louisiana want the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) to thoroughly examine several aspects of NASA's Commercial Cargo Program. Their request comes in response to two recent crashes of Orbital ATK's Antares and SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, carrying ferry supplies to the International Space Station - USA Today.

Falcon 9 rocket seconds prior to its destruction during June 28 flight.
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New Tech & Tests

  • Arx Pax, creator of Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA™) and hover engine technology, announced that it has entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA. The purpose of the collaboration is to use Arx Pax's MFA to create micro-satellite capture devices that can manipulate and couple satellites from a distance - Press Release.
  • Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center successfully completed base heating testing on 2-percent-scale models of Space Launch System (SLS) propulsion system. 65 hot-fire tests using mini models provided data on the convective heating environments that the base of the rocket will experience during ascent - Press-release.
  • Researchers at University of La Rioja (Spain) developed a new method to eliminate artificial satellites in Highly Elliptical Orbits when they finish their mission. The methodology, which allows for a reduction of both cost and risk, was tested within the European Space Agency INTEGRAL mission, which will re-enter into the Earth's atmosphere in order to disintegrate in 2029 - Parabolic Arc.
  • A critical part of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope successfully completed acoustic testing. Integrated Science Instrument Module, or ISIM, passed all of the "severe sound" tests that engineers put it through. ISIM is one of three major elements that comprise the Webb Observatory flight system. The others are the Optical Telescope Element (OTE) and the Spacecraft Element (Spacecraft Bus and Sunshield) - Press-release.
  • NASA's Kennedy Space Center partnered with Light Visually Transceiving (LVX) System Corp. to collaborate in developing a potentially ground-breaking technology in electronic communications. Similar to high-speed communication known as Wi-Fi, visible light communication, or VLC, is a wireless method using light-emitting diodes (LEDs), referred to as Li-Fi. Using standard room lighting, VLC transmits data using LEDs to send wireless communications signals - Press-release.

Researchers developed prototype fixtures using LEDs in order to send data. Credit: NASA
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Space Exploration

  • A new, modified version of Russia's workhorse crewed spacecraft, Soyuz-TMA-MS, is undergoing tests in production facilities of Rocket and Space Corporation Energia. However, before being finally installed in a manned spacecraft, all modern avionics will be initially flight-tested on Progress cargo spacecraft in October - Sputnik News.
  • On the International Space Station, a surprising amount of astronauts' work is done manually, with little computerized assistance. Draper Laboratory and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute aim to change that with new software providing astronauts with automated alerts to guide their work - SpaceNews.
  • Boeing says it is on track to fly its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle in September and December 2017 for the first US-launched human missions to the ISS since 2011. The first piloted flight test will include a Boeing test pilot because, in the words of Boeing Vice President John Elbon, “it's the first commercial spaceflight, and it's going to have a commercial pilot on it.” - Aviation Week.

Parts of CST-100 Starliner Structural Test Article rest on test stands inside C3PF facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA
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  • XCOR offers 3 different astronaut programs - Pioneer, Founder Astonaut, and Future Astronaut - with the second already sold-out. Pioneer program uses Lynx Mark I, whereas Founder and Future Astronaut programs use modernized Lynx Mark II. Ticket price for any program is $100,000. XCOR attracts its customers with 8 new experiences that may have during such flights - XCOR Space Expeditions.
  • Kickstarter campaign to reissue 1975 graphics standards manual that guided NASA's post-Apollo rebranding effort surpassed its $158,000 goal the same day it went live. Backers pledging at least $79 will receive a hardcover reissue of the full-color manual, which spelled out how NASA's new logo should be used on everything from letterhead to the space shuttle orbiters then still in development - SpaceNews.
  • GIZMODO published an interesting article of 'How traveling to deep space in cryogenic sleep could actually work'.
  • In light of recent success of another crew of 3 astronauts delivery to the ISS, NASA published wonderful infographics, facts and figures on the space station and manned space exploration.
  • Spaceflight Now publicized an interview with Mike Suffredini, former NASA ISS program Chief, who leave the agency after 10 years at the helm of the International Space Station program, overseeing assembly of the largest spacecraft ever built and shepherding the program through numerous political and technical roadblocks.
  • The Economic Times worries about NASA's assets on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Rising sea levels have threatened NASA's launch sites and facilities of being submersed under the water in near future. With at least $32 billion in laboratories, launch pads, testing facilities and other infrastructure spread out across 850 with 60,000 employees, the US space agency has a lot of people and property in harm's way.
  • When space tourism industry takes flight one whisky maker will be ready to welcome affluent space travelers with a glass of their favorite beverage. This year whisky scotch maker Ballantine's and the Open Space Agency partnered up for Project Space Glass to create the first whisky glass designed to work in microgravity - Orlando Sentinel.

'Ballantine's Space Glass'. Credit: Ballantine's
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