space digest

February 16-22, 2015

SES orders 3 satellites and decides to be the first to fly on new Falcon 9, Orbital ATK plans first flight of new Antares for 2016, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

How the Made In Space-made 3D printer, installed on the International Space Station, looks like
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Quote of the Week

One hundred and eighty five spacewalks and counting. If the shuttle program was the golden age of LEO, the ISS is the golden age of EVA Beth Moses, Aerospace Engineer, Virgin Galactic, after spacewalk of Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts, conducted from the ISS on February 21 (EVA - extravehicular activity)

News of the Week

SES headlines the week

Luxemburg-based satellite fleet operator SES awarded Airbus Defense and Space, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, and Orbital ATK with contracts to make SES-14, SES-15 and SES-16 satellites, respetively.

SES-14 spacecraft, weighting 4200 kilograms at launch, will be equipped with C- and Ku-band transponders to provide telecommunications services across the Americas and the North Atlantic region. The satellite will be based on Airbus' Eurostar platform in its E3000e variant, which exclusively uses electric propulsion for orbit raising, and is scheduled for launch in Q4 2017 to replace SES's satellite NSS-806 and add new capacity.

SES-15, to be launched in Q2 2017, is also expected to cover North America, and also will fully rely on electric propulsion. It will be based on Boeing's 702SP satellite platform and will carry additional Ku-band wide beams and Ku- as well as Ka-band High Throughput Satellite (HTS) capability.

SES-16/GovSat was ordered by LuxGovSat, a new joint venture between SES and the Luxembourg government, from the satellite manufacturer Orbital ATK. SES-16 is a multi-mission satellite using dedicated military frequencies (X-band and military Ka-band) to provide services in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The satellite will employ new Orbital ATK's GeoStar-3 satellite frame and is expected for launch in Q2 2017.

The three satellites could be launched both by Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket and SpaceX's Falcon 9, setting up what is becoming a regular competition between these two companies. SES announced earlier that it planned to spend about $1.25 billion on up to four new satellites, their launches and insurance, between 2014 and 2018. This satellite order is for three of the four.

Launch of Falcon 9 with DSCOVR spacecraft, the latest one to date. Credit: SpaceX
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Later SES reported about its agreement to be the inaugural customer aboard an enhanced version of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, a decision that followed a careful review of Falcon 9's 20% more-powerful first stage engine block and conclusion that SES' future revenue levels are very sensitive to the timing of a single satellite's launch, even for a company like SES, which currently has a fleet of 54 spacecraft. The launch is scheduled to occur by June.

It is worth to note that SES in 2014, for the first time, surpassed Intelsat as the world's largest fixed satellite services fleet operator when measured by revenue. Intelsat reported 2014 revenue of $2.47 billion. SES's 1.92 billion euros – up 3 percent from 2013 — translates to about $2.55 billion using the average exchange rate for the year.

SES has seven satellites under construction and scheduled for launch between 2015 and 2017, but SES-9 is the only one scheduled for 2015. The satellite will operate from 108.2 degrees East over Asia and provide coverage for Northeast Asia, South Asia, Indonesia and the Indian Ocean region. Of its 84 transponders, 53 are for new business, which is where SES's growth comes from.

Other News


  • United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced that Atlas V and Delta IV rockets will be replaced by a new Next-Generation Launch System (NGLS), which is slated to be flight tested in 2019. ULA also plans to gain access to NASA commercial missions with NGLS and expects it doesn't take much time because it has already included the US Air Force in its design review process and because the new system will rely on legacy of Atlas V and Delta IV programs. The near-term priority for ULA is to field the BE-4 rocket engine with Blue Origin to replace the RD-180 in the Atlas V and to support the NGLS design.
  • Orbital ATK said that the first flight of upgraded Antares rocket with new RD-181 main engine would likely happen in March 2016 without a preceding demonstration flight, but following a January 2016 test firing of the rocket's first stage. Later Reuters agency released an information, retrieved from its sources, that October 2014 explosion of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket may have been triggered when debris inadvertently left in a fuel tank traveled into the booster's main engine.

View of Antares rocket explosion. Credit: Joel Kowsky / NASA / AP
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  • Intelsat and Azercosmos will collaborate on the development of Azerspace 2/Intelsat 38 satellite, that will be launched in 2017. Azerspace 2 is expected to offer enhanced capacity, coverage and service offerings to support the growing demands for DTH, government and network services cross Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa - via SpaceNews.
  • Europe's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) that departed the International Space Station (ISS) on February 15 was the last one in ATV program, during which five ATVs delivered to the ISS more than 31500 kg of supplies. It is reported that European Space Agency (ESA) spent near 2,5 billion euro on the largest of cargo vehicles serving the station, what includes cost of launch aboard Ariance 5 rocket.
  • Lockheed Martin Space Systems likely to offer NASA a redesign of Orion deep-space crew capsule's all-important heat shield. This decision was based upon the data from the four-and-a-half hour Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, carried out on December 5, that indicated possibility for a lower-cost heat shield design to provide the necessary protection for Orion crews.
  • OHB Space Systems has completed the integration of Hispasat's upcoming satellite Hispasat Advanced Generation 1 (AG1). This satellite, weighting near 3200 kg, is the first one to be based on small-GEO platform jointly developed by OHB and the European Space Agency - via Via Satellite.
  • The team working on the leading concept for a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa believes it can be ready for launch as soon as 2022, several years ahead of the schedule NASA officials stated - via SpaceNews.
  • OHB Sweden and ÅAC Microtec have been appointed by the Swedish National Space Board (SNSB) to deliver a highly capable small satellite platform, named InnoSat, and to accomplish the advanced scientific mission named MATS - press release.


  • Patrick Wood, erstwhile Head of Engineering and Operations and an Airbus Group Executive at Airbus Defence and Space, was appointed as SSTL's Group CEO with effect from 1st April 2015 - press release.
  • Swiss Space Systems (S3) officially inaugurated its daughter company in Croatia. First activities of S3 Croatia will be ZeroG flights in the first half of 2016. Moreover, S3 Croatia is working under the project of Spaceport with possible location in Ubdina. Also, S3 Croatia will be involved in the development work of the upper-stage of S3 system that is currently being developed in its Swiss headquarters with the help of Russian partners, providing the propulsion system.
  • Gilat Satellite Networks reported $235.1 million in revenue for 2014, almost exactly where revenues stood in 2013, at $234.9 million. Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA), however, increased year over year by 43 percent - via Via Satellite.
  • Intelsat reported total revenue of $2,472.4 million and a net income of $232.5 million, or $1.99 per share on a diluted basis, for the full year 2014 - via SpaceRef.
  • Boeing Defense, Space and Security announced that it is consolidating several of its aerospace development programs, including the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and CST-100 commercial crew vehicle, into a new organization called BDS Development, intended to improve management of those efforts - via SpaceNews.
  • A private organization that recently selected finalists for one-way human missions to Mars in the mid-2020s has quietly suspended work on a pair of robotic missions, putting into question plans to launch those spacecraft in 2018 - via SpaceNews.

Concept of Mars One's settlement on the Red Planet. Credit: Mars One
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  • COM DEV International Ltd. announced that the rapid and dramatic weakening of the Canadian dollar against its US counterpart in January had negatively impacted the Company's hedge portfolio - via SpaceRef.
  • Orbital ATK Introduces New Company To Investors and Analysts - via SpaceRef.
  • Firefly Space Systems, developer of small-class launch vehicles for SmallSat market, announces the addition of Bradspace Ltd. of UK to its growing team - press release.
  • The National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation, along with 9 other space organizations, are joining together to create a new strategic alliance for space development and commerce - via Parabolic Arc.
  • Boeing and ULA teams held a ceremonial groundbreaking to begin construction on a new crew access structure at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The preparations will enable Space Launch Complex 41 to host astronauts and their support personnel for flight tests and missions to the International Space Station - via Parabolic Arc.
  • Kratos Defense & Security Solutions' subsidiary, SAT Corporation, has been awarded a contract to design, manufacture, install, test and deliver a Carrier Monitoring System (CMS) for NewSat's Jabiru 1 satellite - via Via Satellite.
  • Researchers predict a $10 trillion return on investment for meteorological and scientific satellites that were recently launched - via Bloomberg Business.


  • Slovakia becomes the ninth country to sign the European Cooperating State Agreement with ESA. Its membership fee is estimated to stand at €1.4 million per year.
  • The Chairman of Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) Thomas Djamaluddin gave interview to JAXA at the 21st Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF-21). He specified future LAPAN's goals: to launch LAPAN-A2 and LAPAN-A3 (with mass 50 kg) in 2015 on Indian rockets as well as to develop a small solid-fuel rocket, a transport aircraft (in collaboration with private companies), a military reconnaissance drone, sounding rockets and an Earth observation microsatellite. Also, LAPAN has long-term plans to launch by 2018 LAPAN-A4 and LAPAN-A5 satellites, weighting each 100 kg or more, and to develop fully domestic satellite by the end of 2019.
  • The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) hopes to start as many as 5 new space programs next year in areas including space threat awareness and satellite propulsion. The agency's total budget request for space-related activities is about $126 million for fiscal year 2016. Despite the new starts, that is about $53 million less than the agency received from lawmakers in 2015 and about $43 million less than the agency expected to spend on space programs a year ago - via SpaceNews.
  • ESA gave final approval for a $500 million mission to measure the biomass and carbon stored in tropical forests using a satellite in low Earth orbit equipped with a novel P-band-frequency sensor that features a 12-meter-diameter deployable antenna. This decision will permit the 21-nation ESA to issue bid requests to the two consortia, led by Airbus Defence and Space and OHB AG that have been working on the Biomass satellite design. Bid solicitation will be sent out in March, with responses due by June and an expected decision on a satellite contract, valued at about $275 million, in September. A launch could occur in late 2020 - via SpaceNews.
  • The head of the new Polish Space Agency (POLSA) has revealed that the institution will be ready to begin its activities in the first half of March - via Radio Poland.
  • SpaceX gains altitude in Washington 'Influence Game'. By 2014, the firm's investment in Washington advocacy had risen to $1.5 million, a high point — so far - via OpenSecrets.

  • The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Japan Science and Technology Agencies (JST) concluded a mutual cooperation agreement for generating unique research and development, accelerating practical development, and delivering results to Japanese citizens - via Parabolic Arc.

New Tech & Tests

  • As NASA prepares to test the massive solid rocket booster for the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in March, to understand how well advanced composite could withstand the immense strains of a launch, a team of engineers conducted a test that involved pressurizing a booster structure made of composite materials to its breaking point to see how it compares with the metallic booster cases currently used.
  • NASA and Orbital ATK preparing solid rocket booster avionics for mission success - NASA release.
  • World View Enterprises, the commercial balloon spaceflight company, is one step closer to launching manned voyages after successfully flying the first parafoil from the edge of space at a record-breaking height of more than 31 km - via Yahoo! Finance.

Space Exploration

  • NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts stepped outside the ISS, completing the first of three spacewalks to begin the process of reconfiguring the exterior of the station for the arrival of future commercial crew vehicles - via NASA Spaceflight.
  • The Korea Institute of Science and Technology unveiled an unmanned rover that can search for rare minerals and metals on the moon's surface. The rover will be sent to the moon on a Korean-made rocket in 2020 to conduct a mission similar to NASA's Curiosity Mars rover - via The Chosun Ilbo.
  • Astronauts on the ISS have made repairs to a set of small satellite deployers that malfunctioned several months ago, a move that the company NanoRacks, which provided them, calls a milestone for commercial activities - via SpaceNews.
  • Awesome NASA video of proposed Jupiter's moon Titan submarine:


  • Poll Reveals Public Skepticism of Government and Private Human Spaceflight - via SpaceNews.
  • Story about Pete Ricketts, the Nebraska Republican that has invested in several high-risk space companies, such as XCOR, a leader in the race to send a paying customer into suborbit for $95,000 a trip, and Planetary Resources, company that plans to mine asteroids for platinum or use them as fueling stations for spaceships.

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