space digest

July 27 - August 2

NTSB concludes SpaceShipTwo flight test accident investigation, companies report quarterly financial results, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Astronauts on the ISS continue testing hardware for growing vegetables and plants in space. Credit: NASA
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Quote of the Week

"I will say this, and it will probably be quoted, and that's okay. Nothing makes me more angry than to go before the Congress and have them try to convince me that we're not the leaders in the world in terms of exploration and discovery and the like. Sometimes I wonder what planet they're living on." Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking in front of NASA Advisory Council

Infographics of the Week - Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

Video of the Week - Choose the Best of Two

Flock 1e Deployment- July 13, 2015 from Planet Labs on Vimeo.

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NTSB concludes SpaceShipTwo flight test accident investigation

US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded an investigation of in-flight breakup of SpaceShipTwo during a test flight on October 31, 2014. That test, carried out by Scaled Composites, tragically resulted in death of co-pilot Mike Alsbury, and destroyed the spaceship that Scaled was developing for Virgin Galactic' s eventual use. In public hearing, NTSB's experts and board members discussed their findings from the investigation.

Ultimately, NTSB concluded that “the probable cause of this accident was [Virgin Galactic contractor] Scaled Composites' failure to consider and protect against the possibility that a single human error could result in a catastrophic hazard to the SpaceShipTwo vehicle. This failure set stage for the co-pilot's premature unlocking of feather system as a result of time pressure, vibration and loads that he had not recently experienced...“

The NTSB also determined that there was “no evidence of any structural, system, or rocket motor failures" before the co-pilot's premature unlocking of the feather system initiated the breakup. Based on the findings, NTSB has issued 17 findings and 10 recommendations related to the accident. 8 of these recommendations were given to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), while two were for the commercial spaceflight industry in general.

Pete Siebold, survived pilot who was in command of SpaceShipTwo when it broke up, descending under parachute. Credit: Virgin Group
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  • US Air Force may need to guarantee SpaceX and ULA a set number of national security launches if the service hopes to have 2 viable families of rockets available in the future, according to Broad Area Review 15 report - SpaceNews. It was also reported that USAF contends ULA needs as many as 22 RD-180 rocket engines to compete against SpaceX for national security launches that start going out for bid later this year - SpaceNews.
  • Rocket Lab signed a Commercial Space Launch Act Agreement with NASA that will enable the former to use resources of the latter – including personnel, facilities and equipment – for launch efforts. Use of a NASA range will give Rocket Lab the ability to launch Electron to lower orbital inclinations than the company's New Zealand range, which offers inclinations from sun-synchronous through to 45 degrees - Press-release.
  • DARPA awarded near $6.6 million contract modification to Boeing for Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program. Additional tasks, identified as Phase IB, will continue development of the XS-1 demonstration concept and performing several demonstration tasks. This addition brings total cumulative value of the agreement from $10,000,000 to $16,587,447 - US Department of Defense.
  • Miami-based BRS Aerospace and Minnesota-based PaR Systems, recently planning to create jobs at and invest in NASA's Kennedy Space Center, ended their partnership with NASA, abandoning the center, in a move named as hiccups of KSC's transformation into a multi-user spaceport embracing new ways of doing business - Florida Today.
  • Russia will test around 10 Angara-A5 heavy rockets by 2020, before their launches will commence from Vostochny spaceport, which is expected for 2021 - TASS Agency. Meanwhile, cost of launching heavy Angara rockets by 2025 will be 20% below that of the Proton-M, according to Khrinichev Space Center official - TASS Agency.
  • CNBC provides great analysis of space launch insurance business. According to it, an average of about 1 in 20 launches ends with a failure. However, there are only about 50 insured launches each year paying about $750 million in premiums to a handful of companies. If just a few big accidents pile up, there is a real risk of the industry ending up in the red - and it looks like 2015 is shaping up to be a tough year:

Graph shows that insurance claims overweight premiums as of July 2015. Credit: CNBC
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  • RSC Energia and Russian Satellite Communications Company signed an agreement on cooperation under development of advanced communications satellites - Roscosmos.
  • Integration activities with AsiaSat 9 communication satellite are making good progress at Space Systems/Loral (SSL) facilities. 114 kg of spacecraft wiring were secured to communication panels. Unit installations were ongoing electrical tests. Propulsion subassembly integration and welding also in process in propulsion lab - Press-release.
  • Gazprom Space Systems and Gazprom Investproject agreed to build by 2018 a satellite integration facility with capacity of 4 Earth observation spacecraft/year - Press-release.
  • Last Glonass-M satellite was completed and moved to ISS Reshetnev storage facility. Glonass-M №61 is the ninth spare satellite waiting for launch to augment GLONASS navigation system. During Glonass-M program, about 10 instruments and technologies for next-generation Glonass-K and Glonass-K2 sats were flight tested - Press-release.
  • ISRO and NASA are jointly working on NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission to co-develop and launch by 2021 a dual frequency synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite. Cost of the project comprises of ISROs contribution, estimated to near $123 million, and NASA's JPLs, expected to be $808 million - Business Standard.
  • Round of testing completed for James Webb Space Telescope flight primary mirror segments. On the photo - such mirror on the Configuration Measurement Machine (CMM), which is used for precision measurements of mirrors with precision as accurate as 0.1 microns, or 1/400th the thickness of a human hair - NASA.

James Webb Space Telescope mirror segment on the Configuration Measurement Machine. Credit: NASA
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  • Eutelsat reported financial results for 2014-2015 full-year. Revenues grew by 9.5% from 1.348 billion EUR in 2013-2014 to 1.476 billion in 2014-2015 fiscal year - Press-release. Meanwhile, the company said revenue for the coming year would slow due to launch delays, payment difficulties among some of Russian customers and continued soft demand in government use of the company's fleet - SpaceNews. Also it was announced that Eutelsat became a partner of Starburst Accelerator - Press-release.
  • Northrop Grumman reported 2nd quarter 2015 net earnings increased by 4% to $531 million, from $511 million in the 2nd quarter of 2014. Total backlog as of June 30, 2015, was $37.0 billion. Second quarter 2015 new awards totaled $4.6 billion, and new awards for the first six months totaled $10.7 billion - Press-release.
  • According to a new research on the M2M Satellite Communication Market by MarketsandMarkets, the Market is estimated to grow from $3.36 billion in 2015 to $5.91 billion by 2020, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 11.9% - PR Newswire.
  • Safran reports strong performance for the first half of 2015. Adjusted revenue grew 16.6% to 8,403 million EUR, adjusted operating income up 22.5% to 1,171 million EUR, mostly driven by Aerospace services - Press-release.
  • Telesat announced results for the 2nd quarter and first half-year of 2015. 2nd quarter's revenue amounted to $173 million, a slight increase compared to the same period in 2014. For the first half-year revenue was $347 million, a decrease of 3% ($9 million) - Press-release (PDF). It was also reported that Telesat will order previously announced replacement satellite (to replace Telstar 18) by the end of 2015 - Via Satellite.
  • Mobile satellite communications services provider SpeedCast International said it is purchasing SAIT Communications of Greece and Cyprus, a maritime communications provider with a 2,500-ship customer base - SpaceNews.

SpeedCast poster. Credit: SpeedCast
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  • Iridium reported results for the 2nd quarter of 2015. Net income was $26.0 million, as compared to $15.0 million for the 2nd quarter of 2014, and the total revenue amounted to $101.9 million - Press-release. It was also reported that launch of its first two Iridium Next second-generation satellites on Dnepr rocket would be delayed by 2 months, to December, because of a problem with the satellites' Ka-band feeder links - SpaceNews.
  • MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) reported results for the 2nd quarter ended June 30, 2015. The Company posted revenues of $524 million and operating earnings of $57 million. MDA's backlog as at June 30, 2015 was $2.6 billion - Press-release. Also it announced that Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator of NASA in 2009-2013, joined MDA's Board of Directors - Press-release. MDA said the shutdown of US Export-Import Bank, strengthened US dollar and rocket failures have all contributed to a reduced number of telecommunications satellite orders booked industry-wide in 2015 - SpaceNews.
  • Spaceport America officials confirmed its tenant SpaceX is moving some of equipment back to a testing facility in McGregor, Texas. However, the company will maintain its lease with the spaceport for future launches after additional testing - Las Cruces News.
  • Airbus Group reported solid half-year results supported by an improved operational performance and confirmed its 2015 guidance. Group order intake in the first 6 months of 2015 increased sharply to € 53.9 billion (first half-year of 2014: € 27.7 billion), with the order book value rising to € 927 billion as of June 30 (year-end 2014: € 858 billion), taking into account a positive outcomes of the US dollar strengthening - Press-release.
  • Intelsat reported total revenue of $598.1 million and net income of $60.2 million for 3 months ended June 30, 2015 - Press-release (PDF). Intelsat also affirmed that nearest launches of its satellites are still scheduled for previously expected time, despite recent launch failures of both ILS' Proton-M and SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets - Via Satellite. In addition, the company said its investment in OneWeb came in return for exclusive rights to a wide swath of OneWeb's future markets - SpaceNews.

Executives of OneWeb and companies that have invested in it on a group photo. Credit: Virgin Group
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  • British government agreed to limit liability of UK's satellite operators in an attempt to encourage commercial space sector growth. UK Outer Space Act will cap operator liability at 60 million euros, provided a risk analysis is performed for each new license application - SpaceNews. It was also reported that the UK Space Agency's signed MoU with the Indonesian Space Agency (LAPAN) that will see the UK and Indonesia increase collaboration in civil space activities, such as Earth observation - Press-release.
  • ESA's new chief served notice well before assuming his post July 1 that, to streamline and save money, he wanted a broad reorganization that would slash the number of division directors. Johann-Dietrich Woerner is finding out that revamping a 22-nation bureaucracy, while not rocket science, is sometimes just as difficult - SpaceNews.
  • Following their meeting in Paris in June, Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES, Nguyen Quan, Minister of Science and Technology of Vietnam and Professor Chau Van Minh, Chairman of the VAST (local space agency) met in Hanoi to discuss a framework agreement between CNES and VAST - Press-release.
  • While acknowledging delays in interim milestones for its two commercial crew contracts (with Boeing and SpaceX), NASA officials said they still require the full funding requested for 2016 to avoid delays in the overall program - SpaceNews.
  • House and Senate of the USA began their summer recess without passing legislation to reauthorize the US Export-Import Bank, proven supporter of commercial satellite projects, leaving it in limbo at least until September - Space Policy Online.
  • UAE Space Agency is looking for opportunities of cooperation with the Bahraini National Space Science Agency to strengthen partnership and work between the two organizations within the space sector. This comes off the back of an official Bahraini delegation visit to the UAE Space Agency, headquarters in Abu Dhabi - Press-release.

Artist's view of Mars in colours of the UAE flag. Credit: UAE media
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New Tech & Tests

  • NASA Commercial Crew blog news. Engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center tested the 2nd International Docking Adapter. IDA-2, as it's called, will be taken to the ISS on a future cargo resupply mission. It will be one of two connection points for commercial crew spacecraft, Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Crew Dragon, visiting the ISS. Also, the first two domes that will form the pressure shell of the Structural Test Article, or STA, for Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft have arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
  • Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (Sabre) concept, currently under development by UK-based Reaction Engines, gained credibility from the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), which analyzed Sabre under a cooperative research and development agreement - Aviation Week.
  • A group of German scientists believe they confirmed that the 'imposible' EM drive, propulsion unit that uses microwaves rather than rocket fuel, does provides thrust - Examiner.
  • Lockheed Martin engineers successfully completed testing of design changes made to NASA Orion spacecraft's fairing separation system. These changes resulted from data collected during Orion's first test flight on December 5, 2014 - Press-release.

A protective panel for Orion’s service module is jettisoned during testing at Lockheed Martin’s. Credit: Lockheed Martin
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Space Exploration

  • NASA chose three-small-instruments 6U CubeSat Mission to Study Solar Particles over the Earth's Poles Enhancement (CuSPP+) to ride on the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in 2018 to study sources and acceleration mechanisms of solar and interplanetary particles near Earth's orbit - Parabolic Arc.
  • NASA selected 3 finalists for its next Small Explorer astrophysics mission and 2 finalists for the even smaller Explorer Missions of Opportunity Line. Each Small Explorer finalist will get $1 million to conduct an 11-month mission concept study. NASA will pick one winner in 2017, after further study. The earliest possible launch date is 2020. Missions of Opportunity finalists get $250,000 of study money - SpaceNews.
  • Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers confirmed the discovery of the nearest rocky planet outside our solar system, larger than Earth and a potential gold mine of science data. Dubbed HD 219134b, this exoplanet, which orbits too close to its star to sustain life, is a mere 21 light-years away - NASA.
  • ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli will be heading for space a third time, as part of Expeditions 52 and 53 to the International Space Station. He will be launched on a Soyuz vehicle in May 2017 on a five-month mission - ESA.
  • Few weeks after New Horizons' Pluto flyby, NASA planetary science funding took center stage during House Science Committee hearing. New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern testified before the committee along with other planetary scientists and senior NASA leaders. The witnesses discussed the agency's achievements in planetary science and its goals for future missions - SpaceNews.
  • NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully completed a maneuver to put the spacecraft in right place for supporting arrival of the InSight Mars lander mission. The maneuver's engine burn lasted for 75 seconds - NASA.

Artist's concept shows NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission over the red planet. Credit: NASA
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  • Russia's Prosecutor General said that 7.5 billion rubles ($126 million) had been stolen during construction of Vostochny spaceport in Russia's Far East - The Moscow Times.
  • ISRO pays tribute to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, India's 11th president and its most famous rocket scientist for his involvement in the national space program, who died at the age of 83 - ISRO. Also, former Chairman of ISRO Dr. K.Radhakrishnan contributed at article to the Huffington Post, which is dedicated to Dr. Kalam.
  • Astronaut Scott Kelly, currently orbiting the Earth at the ISS within 'One-Year Mission', was interviewed it Twitter by public. Funny conversation he had with the President of the US Barack Obama:

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