space digest

July 20-26

Launches of Soyuz TMA-17M spaceship, WGS-7 spacecraft, two BeiDou-M satellites, termination of Cyclone-4 project, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft has taken image of the Earth from one million miles away. Credit: NASA
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Quote of the Week

"It just goes to show that rockets are a fundamentally difficult thing. Generally, when there is an idiomatic expression about something, there's a reason for it." Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, talking about the expression "it's as hard as rocket science", which can be addressed not just to his company's Falcon 9 recent failure, but also to Cygnus and Progress failed cargo missions to the ISS

On July 20 SpaceX held a press-conference, where Elon Musk told about preliminary investigation results of CRS-7 mission failure. Thus, "preliminary analysis suggests the overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank was initiated by a flawed piece of support hardware (a “strut") inside the second stage." The strut that believed to have failed was designed "to handle 10,000 lbs of force, but failed at 2,000 lbs, a five-fold difference. "

SpaceX informed that "Dragon spacecraft not only survived the second stage event, but also continued to communicate until the vehicle dropped below the horizon and out of range". It was emphasized that Dragon could have been even saved if an on-board software had been programmed to activate the parachute system during an abort. According to Musk, flights of Falcon 9 will resume no earlier than September.

Brazil cancels joint rocket launch program with Ukraine

Official: on July 16 Brazilian Minister of External Relations Mauro Vieira sent a letter to Ukrainian Ambassador Rostyslav Tronenko, in which Brazil denounced rocket launch program Treaty with Ukraine. The Treaty - 'Treaty between the Federal Republic of Brazil and Ukraine on long-term cooperation in utilization of the Cyclone-4 launch vehicle at the Alcantara Launch Center' - was signed by the countries' ministers in October 2003.

The Treaty established a bi-national company Alcantara Cyclone Space (ACS), responsible for the Cyclone-4 program implementation. Recently Oleg Uruskyi, Chairman of the State Space Agency of Ukraine, estimated contributions to the ACS capital at about $235 million from each Party. Notably, the Treaty does not possess a procedure of settlement of disputes. This fact means it is very likely that Brazil and Ukraine will face long legal battle.

Full-scale model of Cyclone-4 rocket's first and second stages at Yuzhmash plant. Credit: Yuzhmash
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  • On July 22 Roscosmos conducted successful launch of Soyuz-FG launch vehicle carrying Soyuz TMA-17M crewed spaceship with 3 cosmonauts of the Expedition 44/45 to the ISS. The spacecraft with Commander Oleg Kononeko (Roscosmos), flight engineers Kimiya Yui (JAXA) and Kjell Lindgren (NASA) took a 6-hour ride to the station, where they joined Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Korniyenko and Scott Kelly.
  • On July 24 ULA conducted successful launch of Delta IV Medium+ 5,4 with the seventh Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-7) mission for the US Air Force from Cape Canaveral. WGS system is a constellation of highly capable military communications satellites. Reported to cost $566 million, the latest satellite was built by Boeing Defense on BSS-702 platform. It weight near 6 tons and is fitted with X- and Ka-band beams.
  • On July 25 the Chinese conducted successful launch of Long March 3B rocket with Yuan Zheng-1 upper stage, carrying two BeiDou-M new-generation navigation satellites, into a medium Earth orbit (MEO) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The two satellites, weighting 850 kg each, designated as BeiDou M1-S and BeiDou M2-S, are the 2nd and 3rd spacecraft of the Phase-III of BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS).
  • Firefly Space Systems released Payload User's Guide for Alpha vehicle, company's first SmallSat rocket in scalable family of launchers now under development - Via Satellite.
  • Virgin Galactic is rumoured to develop a rocket more powerful than LauncherOne to fulfill a recent order for 39 launches from its partner OneWeb. LauncherTwo will use Virgin Galactic's largest liquid fuel engine, NewtonThree, in its first stage, and a new engine NewtonFour will be developed for the second stage - Parabolic Arc.
  • Indian government sanctioned construction of 15 PSLV launchers worth near $480 million in 2017-2020. Until 2017, ISRO plans to launch 10 PSLV, 2 GSLV, and conduct one developmental flight of GSLV Mk III - The Dollar Business. To date, 45 satellites from 19 countries have been successfully launched on PSLV, resulting in some $103 million of revenues for ISRO and its commercial arm, Antrix - Sputnik News.
  • Critical design review team for NASA's Space Launch System completed CDR review - first in almost 40 years for NASA exploration class vehicle - which provides a final look at design and development of the integrated rocket before full-scale fabrication begins. SLS will be the most powerful rocket for era of exploration beyond Earth's orbit - NASA.

Artist's concept of the SLS Block 1 configuration. Credit: NASA
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  • Satellite manufacturers will build more than 430 communications satellites between now and 2024, reaching an estimated production value of $60.2 billion, according to new research from Forecast International - Via Satellite.
  • RSC Energia and Gazcom Space Technologies (subsidiary of Gazprom Space Systems) signed an Agreement on cooperation under joint development of communications and Earth imaging satellites. In particular, they will build Yamal-501 comsat - Press-release.
  • US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center announced delivery of third Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO-3) satellite into storage at Lockheed Martin - SpaceRef. Later it was reported that SBIRS missile-warning satellite still under construction (GEO-4) will be launched ahead of GEO-3 - SpaceNews.
  • Intelsat asked US telecom regulators to reveal confidential parts of SpaceX's application to fly experimental Internet satellites, citing fears of orbital gridlock. In the objection Intelsat says it doesn't understand “how the proposed satellites could operate to meet the requirement to avoid collision with other satellites" - Quartz.
  • One of every five cubesats launched between 2003 and 2014 is in violation of international guidelines calling for satellites to deorbit – by force of nature or their on-board systems – within 25 years of retirement, NASA said - SpaceNews.
  • Russian satellite manufacturer ISS Reshetnev is building a facility with a total area of more than 19,000 sq.m for producing antennas and feeder devices for satellites. The building will house both design departments and production areas - Via Satellite.
  • Chinese scientists are planning to launch a retrievable scientific research satellite in the first half of 2016. The satellite, SJ-10, will carry out research in "microgravity and space life science" to provide scientific support to manned space missions and space scientists on Earth, said project chief Hu Wenrui - Xinhua News Agency.
  • COM DEV announced reception an order to supply equipment for two commercial comsats. The initial Authorization to Proceed (ATP) is valued at near $8.5 million, and is expected to lead to a full contract in excess of $35 million. COM DEV is scheduled to complete its work at its facilities in Cambridge by the end of fiscal 2016 - Press-release.
  • Airbus Defence and Space announced that the planned 67,000 km move of the Skynet 5A satellite is on track. The move from 6° East to 94.8° East will expand company's capability to provide military satcom services to allied governments in the Asia-Pacific region. The satellite will be at its new location in the autumn this year - Press-release.

Artist's concept of Skynet satellite. Credit: Airbus DS
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  • Lockheed Martin reported 2nd quarter (2Q) 2015 net sales of $11.6 billion, compared to $11.3 billion in the 2Q 2014. Net earnings in the 2Q 2015 were $929 million, or $2.94 per share, compared to $889 million, or $2.76 per share, in the 2Q 2014 - Press-release.
  • Boeing reported 2Q revenue increased 11% (compared to 2Q 2014) to $24.5 billion on record commercial deliveries. Defense, Space & Security department's 2Q revenue was $7.5 billion, compared to $7.7 billion a year ago (3% decrease) - Press-release.
  • AT&T's proposed $48.5 billion takeover of the satellite company DirecTV is on the path to receiving a regulatory green light after the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission circulated a final order to approve the deal. Also, the Justice Department announced that it would not challenge the acquisition - The New York Times.
  • Satellite fleet operator SES said the rapid rise of US dollar has been good news for its revenue and profit but bad news for certain customers operating in developing nations. Luxembourg-based SES also said it could not provide a forecast of 2016 revenue until SpaceX sets a firm date for the launch of the large SES-9 satellite - SpaceNews.
  • US District Court is expected to rule early this fall whether Boeing's attempt to collect $356 million from its Russian and Ukrainian former partners in the Sea Launch commercial-launch company is an open-and-shut case of contract breach or something more complicated, as the defendants claim - great insight by SpaceNews.
  • Research and Markets announced the addition of a space-related business report to their offering. The analysts forecast the global satellite manufacturing and launch market to grow at a CAGR of 5.14% during the period 2014-2019 - Parabolic Arc.
  • United Launch Alliance announced that it would locate a propulsion testing and manufacturing operation in Pueblo, Colorado. Details of the project include: $5 million in capital investment, 34 new full-time jobs to be in place by October 1, 2017, $2 million investment from the City of Pueblo, and other preferences - Press-release.
  • Private space stations will be constructed within 10 years and escalating tensions between China, Russia and the US will not result in a new space race, according to a new survey of the industry conducted by the Space Frontier Foundation - Press-release.

Results the the poll, conducted by Space Frontier Foundation. Credit: SPF
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  • Congress must reauthorize the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, so that the US aerospace industry can successfully compete in the global markets, seventy-two CEOs and other senior aerospace industry leaders said in a letter to legislators - Sputnik News.
  • European Space Agency, continuing its relatively new role as pollinator of satellite telecommunications technologies, contracted with Inmarsat to conduct research on a next-generation Inmarsat mobile system. Enter ICE, the Inmarsat Communications Evolution project, is starting out with 4 million euros ($4.4 million) in research and development funding, with equal contributions from ESA and Inmarsat - SpaceNews.
  • Russian government agreed to prolong life of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos Igor Komarov said - Sputnik News.
  • North Korea tested new rocket engine, constructed an extended launch tower at a missile facility, and is ready to launch a satellite by October - Korea JoongAng Daily.
  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on expansion of cooperation in exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes - Business Standard.
  • UK Space Agency and the South African Space Agency (SANSA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will see them increase collaboration and review areas of common interest in their space programs - Press-release.
  • Members of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) said the agency has done a good job dealing with loss of 3 cargo missions to the ISS in 8 months. “The cumulative effect of 3 cargo mission losses are, in our opinion, significant, but the ISS program was well positioned to mitigate the impacts,” said ASAP member Brent Jett - SpaceNews.
  • Mexico is getting ready for the first in its history Summit of Heads of Space Agencies, annual event organized by the International Academy of Astronautics - Press-release. Also, Mexican Space Agency (AEM) is integrating into Asia-Pacific space cooperation, after being invited to join the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) as an observing member - Quadratin. Furthermore, AEM signed with CNES of France an agreement on cooperation in environmental protection of oceans and detection of natural disasters - La Prensa.

Presidents of Mexico and France witness signing of a space cooperation treaty between AEM (left) and CNES (right). Credit: La Prensa
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New Tech & Tests

  • India's first indigenously developed High Thrust cryogenic rocket engine generating a nominal thrust of 19 tonnes was successfully fire-tested for a duration of 800 seconds. This duration is approximately 25% more than the engine;s in-flight burn. The engine will be used to power the Cryogenic stage (C25), the upper stage of the next generation GSLV Mk-III launcher, capable of launching four-tons class satellites - Press-release.
  • NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), a groundbreaking demonstration of new satellite-servicing technologies, recently resumed operations on the ISS after a 2-year hiatus. Within 5 days, RRM team outfitted RRM module with fresh hardware for a series of technology demonstrations and tested new, multi-capability inspection tool - NASA.
  • Effective Space Solutions, an in-orbit satellite servicing company, raised Round A financing for downpayments to contract launch and manufacturing for its first two spacecraft, which are estimated to cost $100 million. The company is on the verge of launching series B financing for their full-scale development - Via Satellite.
  • JAXA conducted the second phase test of the “Drop test for the Simplified Evaluation of Non-symmetrically Distributed sonic boom” Project (D-SEND#2) at the Esrange Space Center in Sweden. It has been confirmed that the supersonic experimental airplane successfully flew over the Boom Measurement System (BMS)*1, and that booms*2 generated from the airplane were measured by multiple microphones - Press-release.
  • Reaction Engines team announced installation and current commissioning of a new state-of-the-art high vacuum furnace at Culham Science Centre, which is capable of achieving temperatures up to 1200°C and a vacuum level of less than one ten billionth of the Earth's atmosphere. The bespoke furnace was designed and commissioned by Reaction Engines and produced by Consarc Engineering Ltd. - Press-release.

REL's New Vacuum Furnace. Credit: Reaction Engines
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Space Exploration

  • A study finds that, by partnering with private rocket companies, NASA could return to the Moon and go to Mars for much less money than its existing Mars-only plans. The analysis suggests NASA could put humans on the Moon by 2021 for about $10 billion, and establish a permanent presence there in later than decade - Houston Chronicle.
  • Venus, an asteroid, and again Mars could be the next deep space exploration plans of Indian ISRO - TeCake. Also, there are indications that the US will be working with India in this `deep space doctrine' - The New Indian Express.
  • NASA is developing a pair of solar-sailing, science-collecting cubesats that will hitch a ride on the Space Launch System's inaugural July 2018 launch. The two spacecraft, NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Scout, or NEA Scout, and Lunar Flashlight, currently envisioned as 6U CubeSats with deployable solar sails, will travel beyond low Earth orbit to conduct scientific observations of an asteroid and the Moon - SpaceNews.
  • Europe's Philae lander, riding Comet 67P as it heats up and spews off increasing amounts of gas and dust as it approaches the sun, has likely changed position or suffered transmitter failure, raising concern over whether it will be able to communicate again, the lander's control center said - SpaceNews.
  • NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the 'habitable zone' around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.” The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone - NASA.

Artist's concept of the Earth (left) and planet Kepler-452b (right), having near 60% larger diameter. Credit: NASA
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  • Interview with the new President of ESA Johann-Dietrich Wörner, where he explains, among other, his lunar ambitions - Nature.
  • SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition, one of the largest and most respected events in satellite industry, cordially invites public to submit topics and speaker nominations for SATELLITE 2016 forum - Press-release.
  • Great review and explanation of why 'docking with the International Space Station is so insanely complicated and why it's a wonder we ever get it right?' - Business Insider.
  • Extending his idea of philanthropy beyond the Earth, Yuri Milner, Russian Internet entrepreneur and founder of science giveaways like the annual $3 million Fundamental Physics Prizes, announced in London that he would spend at least $100 million in the next decade to search for signals from alien civilizations - The New York Times.
  • On July 20, NASA, the US, and the whole world marked 46th anniversary of 'One giant leap for mankind' - first ever human's moonwalk, conducted by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins - NASA reminder.

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