space digest

June 1-7, 2015

Startup Village forum, Soyuz-2.1a launch with military satellite from Plesetsk, details of SpaceX' satellite constellation, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Launch of Soyuz-2.1a with Kobalt-M from Plesetsk. Credit: Russian MoD
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On June 5 Russian Aerospace Defence Forces conducted successful launch of Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle with a secret military spacecraft, reportedly of Kobalt-M series, from Plesetsk. Launch became the first one after failed Progress M-27M mission that was launched also atop Soyuz-2.1a rocket on April 28. Kobalt-M spacecraft represents a unique film-return variant of Russian reconnaissance satellites. It weighs near 6,700 kg, has operational lifetime of up to 5 month, and camera's ground resolution about 30 cm.

Video of the Week

GoPro camera inside fairing from a recent Falcon 9 flight captured some spectacular views as it fell back to Earth. Interesting to note, nearly at the same time the video was released, a beachcomber from the Bahamas published in Twitter that he had found a well-preserved part of Falcon 9's payload fairing washed up on the beach. SpaceNews later reported that the company agreed to retrieve the fairing, not indicating which mission it belonged to.

Startup Village competition, conference and exhibition was held at Skolkovo Innovation Center near Moscow

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Startup Village entrance gate. Credit: Startup Village

Held annually on the territory of Skolkovo Innovation Center near Moscow, the third Startup Village forum has attracted more than 12,000 participants, proving its status of Russia and Eastern Europe's biggest startup event. Startup Village is a key initiative of Skolkovo Foundation – a non-profit organization that creates an ecosystem of innovation in Russia and integrates it into global community.

On the first day of Startup Village a competition between startups was held. Some of Skolkovo space cluster startups, such as Yaliny and Lin Industrial, took part in it. Also, Dauria Aerospace announced recieving of financing for its Auriga SmallSat development program from VEB Innovations. At the end of the day Jeff Manber, Managing Director of NanoRacks, made an inspirational speech about commercial space industry in the US, approaches and achievements of his company.

Second day of Startup Village was marked by two round tables. First one was dedicated to SmallSats, opportunities for science and business they mean, and the second to satellite navigation trends and Glonass commercialization. Interesting reports were made by Dmitry Payson, Director of Research and Analysis Center at United Rocket and Space Corporation, Vsevolod Kryukovsky, Launch Program Manager at Glavkosmos, Roscosmos arm that is responsible for international cooperation and supporting research & development works, and Nikolay Mikhaylov, Skolkovo space cluster Science director.

According to Taisiya Yarmak, Head of International PR at Skolkovo Foundation, amount of agreements signed during only the first day of Startup Village 2015 reached $272 million.

Jeff Manber of NanoRacks talking at Startup Village forum
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  • NASA's Kennedy Space Center took another step forward its transformation into a multi-user spaceport with the creation of a new launch pad that is designed to attract small aerospace companies. The landscape of the center's Launch Pad 39B area is changing as construction reveals the concrete surface of a new Small Class Vehicle Launch Pad, designated 39C, which will serve as a multi-purpose site for companies to test vehicles and capabilities in the smaller class of rockets - NASA.
  • Roscosmos urges industry to accelerate replacement of Proton-M heavy rockets with their successor, Angara family of launchers - TASS Agency. At the same time it was reported that the next Angara flight in Angara-A5 heavy configiration, to take place from Plesetsk in 2016, likely will be a comercial satellite mission. Moreover, Roscosmos supposes that by 2021, when Angara rocket serial production is expected, it will be cheaper than Proton-M in manufacturing costs - TASS Agency.
  • Space Systems/Loral (SSL) and its customer, PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN) of Indonesia, found a companion payload to share the launch of the PSN-6 satellite aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2017. However, neither SSL nor PSN disclosed the identity of the payload - SpaceNews.
  • Generation Orbit has 11 Letters of Intent from prospective customers for its SmallSat air launch system GOLauncher 2. Currently under development, the two-stage rocket system is designed to carry roughly 40 kg into Low Earth Orbit for a price tag of about $2.5 million - Via Satellite.
  • After the first space mission of Soyuz-2 from new Russian Vostochny spaceport, scheduled for the end of 2015, construction of two universal launch pads for Angara family of launchers is planned - TASS Agency. First maned spaceflight mission from Vostochny atop a Soyuz-2 rocket is expected for 2023, the agency reports, whereas the last manned spacefligh from Baikonur is scheduled for 2024.
  • Airbus Defence and Space unveiled the product of what it said was a five-year effort to design a reusable Ariane rocket first-stage engine and avionics package. Airbus's Adeline - short for Advanced Expendable Launcher with Innovative engine Economy - imposes a much smaller performance penalty on its rocket than is the case for SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 first stage, all the while reusing 80% of the stage's economic value - the engine, avionics and propulsion bay - SpaceNews.


  • Satellite fleet operator ABS is ordering a third Boeing 702SP all-electric satellite for launch in late 2017 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket even before the first one reaches final operating position and proves itself - SpaceNews.
  • Iridium announced completion of the first satellite payload-to-bus integration on an Iridium NEXT satellite. Successful mating of communications payload and Aireon hosted payload to the platform is another critical milestone achieved in the production process, bringing the overall constellation one step closer to launch - press-release.
  • After losing control over its EgyptSat-2 remote sensing satellite, made jointly by Russia's RSC Energia and Egypt's NARSS and launched in April 2014 from Baikonur, Egypt is considering to purchasing a follow-on satellite from Russia - Spuntik News.
  • After 19 days on orbit, data indicated that the Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft deployed its Mylar solar sail in space. More information, including possible images, to come. The deployment marked a milestone for the mission to test LightSail's critical functions in low-Earth orbit, a precursor to second mission set for 2016 - press-release.
  • North Korea is reported to be developing new, advanced Earth observation satellite. However, no details with regards to its readiness, features and launch date are mentioned - Vice News.
  • SpaceX is planning to launch a series of experimental communications satellites starting next year to test technologies for a future low Earth orbit satellite constellation the company announced earlier this year. Two Ku-band communications spacecraft, named MicroSat-1a and MicroSat-1b, are planned for launch in 2016 on a Falcon 9. They will operate in near-polar orbits at an altitude of 625 kilometers - SpaceNews.
  • Lockheed Martin completed assembly of NOAA's GOES-R satellite and is now beginning critical tests of the spacecraft. The first of 4 next-generation geostationary weather satellites, GOES-R will provide a major improvement in quality, quantity and timeliness of weather data collected over the current Geostationary Operation Environmental Satellite (GOES) system that monitors weather over North America - press-release.

Lockheed Martin engineers test deployment of GOES-R satellite solar array. Credit: Lockheed Martin
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  • Harris Corporation finished its previously announced $4.75 billion acquisition of Exelis. Upon that, Harris shareholders owned 85% of the combined company and Exelis shareholders owned 15% - Via Satellite.
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne announced that President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Scott Seymour informed the board of directors of his plans to retire after five years of service with the company. Chief Operating Officer Eileen Drake will succeed Seymour as CEO and president, effective immediately - press-release.
  • Surrey Satellite Technology-US, subsidiary of UK's SSTL, anticipates eightford increase in its headcount by 2020 as the company grows its presence in SmallSat sector. Basing in Colorado, where the company has missions operations center, Assembly Integration and Test cleanroom and labs, it has full manufacturing and integration capabilities and hopes to conquer larger share of growing SmallSat market - Via Satellite.
  • SES announced issuance of 6,000,000 A-shares in connection with EUR 7.5 million capital increase. Such 6,000,000 A-shares were issued simultaneously with 3,000,000 B-shares, resulting in EUR 11.25 million overall capital increase - press-release.
  • According to data compiled by The Times, Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space with an estimated $4.9 billion in government support - LA Times.
  • XCOR Space Expeditions, ESA-ESTEC, The Royal Dutch Air Force, and The Faculty of Aerospace Engineering of the Delft University of Technology sign a letter of Intent to prepare a project that aims to develop, research, test, and demonstrate a new space mission concept - press-release.
  • A company that has secured customer commitments from South Pacific nations for a Ka-band satellite broadband expects to use those preorders to complete a third round of financing and start production of two Ka-band payloads this year. Kacific Broadband Satellite said it is in negotiations with two satellite fleet operators to host its Ka-band payload on their spaceraft in time for services to start in 2018 - SpaceNews.
  • LeoSat, planning a global low-orbiting satellite constellation of Ka-band satellites, expects an initial verdict on its system architecture and cost by July following the completion of a feasibility study. Vern Fotheringham, CEO of LeoSat, said the company has recently hired boutique investment firm Axiom Capital Management to coordinate an initial round of financing - SpaceNews.
  • Virgin Galactic, currently making a second spaceship to replace crashed SpaceShipTwo, will be carrying into space its first paying customers "within 18 months to two years", according to CEO George Whitesides. Speaking at Mojave Air and Space Port, he said the company is on track for lift-off "maybe sooner, but not much longer" - The Register.

Second Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo takes shape at Mojave. Credit: Virgin Galactic
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  • Industry Minister James Moore announced Canada's commitment to fly two Canadian astronauts to space by 2024 as the result of Government's decision to prolong Canada's participation in the ISS. Minister Moore also said that Canadian Space Agency will provide $10.5 million to continue technical support for Canadarm2, Dextre and mobile base on the ISS, will extend by two years its collaboration with NASA to participate in Mars Science Laboratory mission, also known as Mars Curiosity rover; and that 4 new Canadian science experiments to be conducted aboard the ISS this fall - press-release.
  • US Air Force issued a solicitation for an American-made rocket propulsion system to help end reliance on the Russian-built rocket engine used now to launch most national security payloads. Solicitation calls for industry to move quickly to develop prototypes of new launch propulsion systems. The service plans to award as many as four contracts worth a combined $160 million for the prototypes as early as September and another $32 million for booster propulsion technologies - SpaceNews.
  • ISRO of India revealed that it is currently in the process of looking to expand the role of industry partners in its operations. The space authority is thinking about the possibility to establish joint ventures with them, and eventually prepare them for performing entire tasks like satellite launches - The Hindu Business Line.
  • Following an agreement between Roscosmos and Kazcosmos, it is reported that construction of Baiterek space launch complex at Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan will begin in 2021 - TASS Agency.
  • Government of Japan announced preparing a basic space policy bill that will regulate space exploration activities, specify a system of granting permissions for and control of such activities. The bill, if passed, will pave the way for a private sector to take part in Japan's space program - The Japan News.
  • Building partnerships that benefit the country and the African continent were top of the agenda at the first "Space meets Industry" Business Breakfast hosted by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) - press-release.
  • After marathon debate, House of Representatives passed FY2016 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which funds NASA and NOAA among other organizations. The bill provides $519 million increase over current spending. However, $18.529 billion budget for NASA, which is the same total as the President requested, foresees to allocate the money differently than the Administration proposed - Space Policy Online. This fact has forced Barack Obama to threaten to veto the measure - Parabolic Arc.
  • Space environment has never been so accessible to American industry, researchers, innovators and explorers, and never represented such potential for economic growth as it is today. Marking NASA's achievements in working with private companies to enable new research aboard the ISS that benefits humanity and stimulates other economic opportunities from spaceflight, NASA officials and its commercial partners were invited to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on June 4 - press-release.

NASA officials and its commercial partners ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Credit: NASA
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New Tech & Tests

  • Boeing, CASIS, Math for America (MƒA), and miniPCR named five finalists in the first ever Genes in Space competition. The contest calls for high-school students to design an experiment to solve a real-life space exploration problems. Winning experiment will be performed aboard the ISS using a miniPCR machine - press-release.
  • DARPA revamped its Phoenix satellite program for a geostationary satellite-servicing vehicle, changing the goals of the initial mission to better align with the needs of the US Air Force. The agency is now planning a demonstration launch of a robotic servicing vehicle in the 2020 time frame, and seeks to commercialize the vehicle through a commercial operator - Via Satellite.
  • NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the agency is looking for advanced propulsion technologies that can cut the current eight-month journey to Mars 'in half'. Technologies such as solar-electric propulsion are acceptable, but NASA looks towards more unconventional solutions such as nuclear rockets etc. - ArsTechnica.
  • ESA's goal of removing a derelict satellite from orbit is picking up pace. The e.Deorbit mission has completed its Phase-A preliminary analysis that began in January 2014. With many aspects already finalised, it is moving on to Phase-B1. The aim now is to bring e.Deorbit to a point where it is essentially ready to be built if ESA's Council of Ministers in December 2016 gives assent for its launch in 2021 - press-release.

Artist concept of ESA's e.Deorbit space debris removal mission. Credit: ESA
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Space Exploration

  • Exoplanets, plasma physics and the X-ray Universe are the topics chosen by ESA to be considered for the fourth medium-class mission in its Cosmic Vision science program, for launch in 2025 - press-release.
  • European and Chinese space scientists, in what would be their first full-collaboration mission, recommended their governments to build a satellite to study solar wind's effects on the Earth's magnetosphere. Solar Wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer, or SMILE, mission would be launched in 2021 pending final approval late this year by the European Space Agency and the Chinese Academy of Sciences - SpaceNews.


  • World's largest space center, Baikonur spaceport (cosmodrode), located in Kazakhstan, on June 2 marked its 60th anniversary since the foundation - TASS Agency. In a day, on June 3, NASA commemorated 50th anniversary of the first American spacewalk, made by astronaut Edward White - Image gallery by NASA: 50 Years of Spacewalking.
  • Spaceflight Industries (Spaceflight) announced that it has completed corporate integration of its three service lines under a common brand, including Spaceflight Systems (formerly Andrews Space), Spaceflight Services and Spaceflight Networks. To support the newly consolidated brand, the company also renewed its official website.
  • After appearing in the Columbus laboratory of the ISS, mosaic artwork has been popping up this year at ESA establishments on the ground and has arrived at ESA's headquarters. The pixelated artwork of space and pop-culture icons is a project by French artist known as 'Invader'. Some photos of his artwork are below (Credit: ESA):

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