space digest

June 22-28, 2015

Falcon 9 mission failure, 3 launch successes in Europe, Russia and China, OneWeb's 'contract of the century', and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

LISA Pathfinder electrode housing box. Credit: ESA
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Quote of the Week

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Falcon 9 with CRS-7 Dragon spaceship explodes at 139th second of flight
“We’re lucky that all we lost yesterday is supplies... It could have been the lives of astronauts or a multi-billion national security payload that our warfighters rely on.” Mike Rogers, US congressman, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, with regards to the loss of SpaceX' Falcon 9 carrying CRS-7 Dragon mission

Video of the Week

Euronews visits Snecma factory complex in a remote location in forests near the town of Vernon in Normandy, where construction of Ariane 5's Vulcain main engine, as well as new Vinci upper stage engine, are constructed.

OneWeb takes pole-position in global satellite Internet race

Apperently, 2 happenings may have been nominated for the status of "News of the Week", one good and one sad. Here we choose to focus on a good one.

Following the announcement of a joint venture with Airbus Group to build up to 900 small satellites, OneWeb loudly announced that it has raised $500 million of funding from a group of leading international companies, including Airbus Group, Bharti Enterprises, Hughes Network Systems, Intelsat, Qualcomm, The Coca-Cola Company, Virgin Group, and Totalplay, a Grupo Salinas Company.

OneWeb expects to place satellites in 20 orbital planes at an altitude of 1,200 km. The system, once fully operational reportedly by 2019, will bring more than 10 Tbps of new capacity to rural areas globally. Production of the first 10 satellites will be carried out in Toulouse (France). Full series production will take place in the US. It was reported that, once the production facility hits its full run rate, each satellite will cost around $500,000.

During the press-conference in London OneWeb also announced purchase of 21 missions of Soyuz from Arianespace, and 39 flights of LauncherOne from Virgin Galactic. In a press-release, Arianespace detailed that the contract foresees an option for 5 additional Soyuz and three Ariane 6 missions. Arianespace will use Soyuz launch pads in French Guiana, Baikonur and other Russia's launch pads to ensure correct orbit and timely deployment.

OneWeb founders and investors at a group photo after announcement of multi-billion contracts and funding. Credit: Virgin Group
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Space Launches

Four space launches have been conducted this week in the US, Russia, Europe, and China each. Unfortunately, one of them ended with a failure:

  • On June 28, 2015, SpaceX conducted failed launch of Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo spaceship from Cape Canaveral for their 7th official CRS mission to the ISS. Following a nominal lift-off, Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before the 1st stage shutdown. Preliminary analysis suggests an overpressure event in the 2nd stage liquid oxygen tank at 139th second of flight. Telemetry indicates first stage flight was nominal and that Dragon remained healthy for some period of time following separation.
  • On June 23, 2015, Arianespace conducted successful launch of Vega launcher with Sentinel-2A Earth and ocean observation satellite from Guiana Space Center. Airbus Defence and Space is the prime contractor of the satellite that weighs about 1,130 kg and is fit with a high resolution multispectral optical payload, and a very wide swath.
  • On June 23, 2015, Russian Aerospace Defense Forces conducted successful launch of Soyuz-2.1b rocket with a secret military spacecraft, reportedly of Persona series, into a near-polar orbit from Plesetsk spaceport. The most sophisticated reconnaissance satellite in Russia's current space arsenal, Persona was built by Progress Space Center.
  • On June 26, 2015, the Chinese conducted successful launch of Long March 4B booster with Gaofen-8 Earth observation satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. It is supposed to be an optical satellite with high-resolution imaging payload. Reportedly, the duties of the satellite are country surveying, disaster response, agriculture mapping, city planning, land ownership marking and road network planning.

From left to right, up to down: lifts-off of Vega, Soyuz, Long March, and Falcon 9. Credits: ESA, Russian MoD, Xinhua, Walter Scriptunas II
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  • Construction of a launch pad for new European Ariane 6 rocket, which sources say will likely be put together horizontally instead of vertically, is due to begin within a week at an abandoned quarry site in French Guiana - Spaceflight Now.
  • NASA successfully launched a NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket carrying student experiments with the RockOn/RockSat-C programs - SpaceRef.
  • Two balloons, carrying prototype Earth Return Capsules, were launched from Esrange Space Center. The ERC capsules are candidates for returning scientific samples from asteroids, comets or Mars in future ESA missions, which require capsules that are stable throughout entry and descent without the need for a parachute - press-release.


  • Space Systems/Loral (SSL) continues to work with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to place a Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), as a hosted payload on its heritage 1300 communications satellite platform - Hosted Payload Alliance.
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne was awarded from Lockheed Martin to deliver XR-5 Hall Effect and MR-510 Arcjet electric propulsion subsystems, as well as monopropellant rocket engines for modernized A2100 satellite. This contract is for delivery of propulsion on two A2100 spacecraft that Arabsat ordered from Lockheed Martin - press-release.
  • US Air Force awarded Boeing a $152 million contract modification to continue support of a primary space surveillance satellite. Under the contract, Boeing will sustain the Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) Block 10 satellite, built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems and launched in 2010, for as many as seven years - SpaceNews.
  • PlanetiQ announced selection of Blue Canyon Technologies to build a set of 12 revolutionary weather SmallSats to be launched in 2016 and 2017. PlanetiQ chose BCT as a partner in developing the world's first commercial constellation dedicated to weather, climate and space weather, based on BCT's development track record and its cutting-edge, low-cost design approach - Parabolic Arc.
  • Turkish satellite operator Turksat is planning to issue two Request for Proposals for new satellites. The company presold most of the capacity on its Turksat 4A satellite, prior to its February 2014 launch, and already completed Turksat 4B spacecraft that is awaiting a Proton-M launch - Via Satellite.
  • IHI Aerospace signed a contract with Boeing Satellite Systems to supply its 500N liquid apogee engine for Intelsat 35e satellite. The EpicNG-class high throughput Intelsat 35e satellite, built on the Boeing 702MP bus, is scheduled for launch in 2017 - Via Satellite.

Artist’s rendering of Intelsat 35e satellite. Credit: Boeing
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  • UrtheCast announced that it has entered into an agreement with Elecnor to acquire its Earth observation business, Deimos Imaging, for a price of €74.2 million, with €69 million due at closing and €5.2 million to be paid over next five years - press-release. Deimos will remain a provider of ground systems for Deimos satellites and UrtheCast's planned constellation of 8 optical and 8 radar satellites, for which Deimos will also perform integration of radar payload, flight dynamics and mission control - SpaceNews.
  • Boeing named Dennis Muilenburg as CEO, effective July 1, succeeding Jim McNerney. Muilenburg, 51, who has been president and COO since 2013, had been widely seen as McNerney's successor. McNerney, 65, will temporary continue serve as Boeing's employee "to ensure a smooth transition of his CEO responsibilities" - Yahoo! Finance.
  • COM DEV and exactEarth announced that exactEarth, jointly owned by COM DEV and Hisdesat Servicios Estrategicos, has filed a preliminary prospectus with the securities regulatory authorities in each of the provinces and territories of Canada in connection with a proposed initial public offering of its common shares - press-release.
  • NovaWurks and Spaceflight Services announced contract for a NovaWurks Payload Test Bed (PTB) mission planned for the 3rd quarter of 2017. PTB-2, the 2nd such company's mission, is scheduled to launch into a sun-synchronous orbit on Spaceflight's SHERPA in-space transport platform aboard a US commercial launch vehicle - Parabolic Arc.
  • Global machine-to-machine (M2M) market is set to reach 27 billion connections in 2024, generating US$1.6 trillion in revenue, according to the recently published 'M2M Global Forecast & Analysis 2014-24' report - M2MNow.
  • Audi partners with Part-Time Scientists, a team participating within the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to transport an unmanned rover onto the Moon, to support them with its know-how in several fields of technology - from quattro all-wheel drive and lightweight construction, to electric mobility and piloted driving - press-release.

Asimov R3C prototype Moon rover by Team Part-Time Scientists, shown at the Paris Air Show 2015
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  • NASA's policy of paying companies to develop technology designed to eliminate orbital debris but not to pay for in-flight demonstrations has forced space companies to search for new backers - insight by SpaceNews.
  • Belarus and Russia are considering wider space industry cooperation, Roscosmos Chief Igor Komarov told during visit to Minsk. Belarus pays great attention to space sector, such enterprises like Integral and Peleng. Komarov visit's agenda includes discussions of clusters of Earth remote sensing and data collection satellites - TASS Agency.
  • Bolivia's Chinese-made Tupac Katari satellite, launched in December 2013 atop Long March 3B from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, has generated $16 million of income in little more than a year in orbit, the Bolivian News Agency (ABI) said - Xinhua News.
  • The chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee wants the US Air Force and launch industry to focus narrowly on replacing the Russian-made RD-180 main engine on ULA's workhorse Atlas V rocket, as opposed to investing in various launch vehicle technologies - insight of corresponding House hearing by SpaceNews.
  • European Defense Agency launched a €1 million, 18-month feasibility study to prepare a future cooperative governmental satellite communications (Govsatcom) program. The study will be delivered by a consortium led by Euroconsult, with Airbus Defence and Space, CGI, Istituto Affari Internazionali, Hisdesat and SpaceTec Partners working as subcontractors - press-release.

EDA's Govsatcom feasibility study contract signing. Credit: Euroconsult
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New Tech & Tests

  • MDA of Canada announced signing of a contract amendment with DARPA to further develop and test the Payload Orbital Delivery (POD) system as part of DARPA's Phoenix program, the project announced in November 2013. POD is a standardized mechanism designed to safely carry a wide variety of separable mass elements - including payloads and electronics - aboard commercial communications satellites - press-release.
  • Senate appropriators want to give a small office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center a $20 million budget increase to help launch a robotic servicing mission to an aging US satellite by 2019. Tucked away in the $18.3 billion NASA budget for 2016, it is foressen $150 million for Goddard's Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office - SpaceNews.
  • Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center are testing an additive manufacturing process, called selective laser melting, which is a 3D-printing process that can create complex rocket parts. The process can be used to make some parts more efficiently and affordably, without compromising performance and safety, for an engine and other components of the rocket - NASA.
  • Engineers at NASA's Stennis Space Center conducted a 650-second test of a RS-25 developmental engine to prepare it for a return to deep-space missions aboard the new Space Launch System rocket. The test was the longest for RS-25 to date - NASA.

Longest RS-25 SLS engine test yet heats up summer sky at NASA's Stennis. Credit: NASA
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Space Exploration

  • Metal segments that will be stacked to form a complete crew access tower are taking shape a few miles from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. The work by Boeing and United Launch Alliance is critical in readying the launch site for a crew flight test to certify their systems in 2017 for operational missions to the International Space Station for NASA's Commercial Crew Program - NASA.
  • NASA's plan to simplify the Mars 2020 rover's mission by letting the Curiosity-clone dig up and drop surface samples instead of babysitting them until a fetch rover arrives is starting to win hearts and minds within the agency - SpaceNews.
  • European Space Agency confirmed that its Rosetta mission will be extended from the end of 2015 until the end of September 2016, at which point the spacecraft will most likely be impacted on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko - ESA.

Artist's rendering of Rosetta approaching the comet 67P. Credit: ESA
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  • Space Angels Network, a community of business angels into space industry startups, and the French Space Agency, CNES, launched their new corporate websites.
  • India's ISRO launched SAKKAR Augmented Reality (AR) application, designed only for Andriod devices, that showcases 3D models, videos, images, etc. Meanwhile, developer of the SpyMeSat mobile app that allows users to order satellite imagery from their smartphones is looking to contract with another satellite operator soon - SpaceNews.
  • A team of six volunteers completed one of the most extensive studies of the demands of life on a distant world by closing themselves off to the rest of the world for eight months in an effort known as HI-SEAS. Their chore wasn't so much to stay alive, but to see how isolation and the lack of privacy in a small group affects social aspects - NASA.
  • UrtheCast and NASA bring live, high-definition video from the International Space Station (if you see a black screen, it means the ISS is on the night side of the Earth).
  • Spaceport America launched a tour for visitors that can now get a taste of space experience at the $219 million facility without leaving the ground - NBC News.
  • CB Insights provides an overview of space startups investment deals. Overall, deal activity has increased for three straight years, with 2015 already reaching a four-year high in both deals and dollars invested into space companies, with nearly $1.17 billion across 21 deals, largely anchored by SpaceX's $1 billion Series D investment from Google and Fidelity Investments.

Space companies investment activity graph. Credit: CB Insights
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