June 8-21

Unique space news digest dedicated to the International Paris Air Show 2015 and other space-related news, happened during the last two weeks in the world


Airbus Defence and Space partners with OneWeb

On June 15, 2015, during a press-conference at the International Paris Air Show, Airbus Defence and Space announced that it has been selected by OneWeb as its industrial partner for the design and manufacturing of its fleet of microsatellites. The fleet of 900 satellites, each weighing less than 150 kg, is planned for launch into a low Earth orbit beginning in 2018 to deliver affordable Internet access globally.

In an interview to SpaceNews, OneWeb Space Systems Director Brian Holz said their satellites would operate in near-polar orbit at around 1,200 kilometers in altitude, and that the final number of operational satellites likely would rise over time. The current design calls for 648 spacecraft plus spares. Holz also said OneWeb has designed the system to strictly follow orbital debris-mitigation guidelines for removing satellites from orbit.

Design and production of the first 10 satellites will be carried out at Airbus Defence and Space's facilities in Toulouse (France). Full series production will take place at a dedicated plant located in the US. It was reported that, once the production facility hits its full run rate, each satellite will be produced for around $500,000.

Sierra Nevada moves towards Dream Chaser flights

On Monday, June 15, a coalition that includes cities of Huntsville and Madison, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, State of Alabama, University of Alabama, and Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority announced plans to initiate a series of preliminary studies to assess the feasibility of landing of Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft at Huntsville International Airport.

These preliminary studies will assess environmental factors such as airspace, traffic flow, potential impacts to air traffic and the compatibility of Dream Chaser with the existing runway. If such assessments are successful, a second phase of work may begin in late 2015, which could result in the issuance of a re-entry license from the Federal Aviation Administration to land the spacecraft in Huntsville.

Later NASA's Commercial Crew Program blog informed that Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser engineering test article was being prepared for its second free-flight test at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center later this year, which would be a milestone under NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with SNC. Wings, windows and landing gear of Dream Chaser are installed, as well as vehicle's nose skid with thermal protection system tiles, manufactured at Kennedy Space Center.

Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser vehicle. Credit: NASA
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ESA and Intelsat sign partnership under Indigo project

New technologies to help fully exploit the capabilities of next generation of high-throughput telecommunications satellites will be developed under a public-private partnership between ESA and satellite operator Intelsat. The Indigo project will develop new ground segment innovations that maximise new capabilities offered by the latest Intelsat EpicNG satellites.

ESA's backing will support European industrial partner Newtec of Belgium, to further improve their Newtec Dialog modems, hubs and network management system to exploit the capabilities offered by the latest multibeam, multiband telecom satellites. Intelsat has chosen the versatile Newtec Dialog platform from Europe to deliver numerous services on the Intelsat EpicNG satellite platform and IntelsatOne terrestrial network.

SpaceNews informs that ESA and Intelsat will each commit 12.7 million euros to enable Newtec to upgrade its existing Dialog product to facilitate high-throughput connections to customers using Intelsat's Epic satellites, which are scheduled to enter service starting in 2016. Through Indigo, project participants will gain 'heritage' through the worldwide deployment of several commercial pilot projects demonstrating benefits of Newtec Dialog innovations, and finally leading to full commercial services by early 2018.

Newtec CEO Serge van Herck, ESA representative Magali Vaissiere, and Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler after Indigo contract signing. Credit: ESA
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Many more amazing photos, as well as video replays of ESA's events from the International Paris Air Show can be found here.

What Roscosmos showed, and said, during the Paris Air Show

In our preview article dedicated to the International Paris Air Show 2015 we mentioned some space companies and their products to be shown at the forum. However that list was not full, and SpaceDigest will fulfill it with descriptions of other organizations and exhibits in a series of reviews.

Roscosmos and United Rocket and Space Corporation exhibited on the area of almost 400 sq. meters, where NPO Lavochkin, Khrunichev and Progress Space Centers, ISS Reshetnev, TsENKI, RSC Energia, and other Russian space companies showed their latest products.

Among them there were models of Luna-Glob, future Russian lunar mission, Spektr series of space telescopes, bio-scientific Bion-M capsule, remote sensing, Earth & space science satellites, new-generation crewed spaceship PTK NP, mock-ups of Angara and Soyuz families of launchers, as well as of Soyuz-ST launch complex at Guiana Space Center.

Khrunichev Space Center section at Roscosmos booth at the Paris Air Show
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NASA Administrator signs agreements to advance agency's Journey to Mars

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden signed agreements with two European partners to advance Mars exploration and NASA's journey to the Red Planet during meetings at the Paris Air Show. Bolden and Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the French space agency (CNES), signed an agreement for France to provide the mast for the SuperCam component of NASA's Mars 2020 rover.

Bolden also signed an agreement that extends cooperation with Spain on the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover), NASA InSight mission, to be launched next year to study the core of Mars, and the Mars 2020 rover. Bolden and Francisco Marín Pérez, director general of the Center for the Development of Industrial Technology of Spain (CDTI), and Ignacio Azqueta Ortiz, director general of the National Institute for Aerospace Technology of Spain (INTA) finalized the agreement.

NASA also signed with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) two agreements on further scientific cooperation in the aeronautics sector. Both partners want to work together on the research topics of aircraft noise simulation and the improvement of helicopter aerodynamics. Those agreements were adopted during a bilateral meeting between the DLR Executive Board Member for Aeronautics Research, Rolf Henke, and the NASA Associate Administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, Jaiwon Shin.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of CNES, and Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, sign cooperation agreement. Credit: NASA
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European space agencies step up space surveillance and tracking

Five European countries agreed to do more to monitor and track space objects and detect their uncontrolled re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. The Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) Consortium Agreement will see its members cooperating to provide an EU-wide Space Surveillance and Tracking Framework to help protect European space infrastructure, facilities and services.

The agreement was signed by Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES, Gerd Gruppe, Executive Board Member of DLR, Roberto Battiston, President of Italy's ASI, Francisco Marìn, General Director of CDTI, and David Parker, CEO of the UK Space Agency. SpaceNews notes that the European Union has budgeted 70 million euros ($80 million) between 2015 and 2020 for its space surveillance efforts.

FAA & CNES sign Commercial Space Launch cooperation agreement

US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta and CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall signed a Memorandum of Cooperation to work on research and development related to the safety of private sector orbital space launches and re-entry activities. The research-related, non-binding arrangement between France and the US is the first of its kind research into commercial orbital space operations - Parabolic Arc.

Philae lander's accidental landing location allowed it to survive

The European Philae comet lander's accidental touchdown location nearly froze it to death during seven months of cometary winter but now will keep it functioning as the comet moves to its closest distance from the sun in mid-August, SpaceNews reports.

If Philae's November landing had been in the exposed area where scientists wanted it, the probe would have operated longer before its batteries shut down but it would not have survived beyond March given the rise in temperature.

The comet's reawakening was first measured June 13 with some 85 seconds of communications, with another four minutes of intermittent links June 14.

Artist's illustration of Philae lander's awakening. Credit: ESA
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Avio expects to find a strategic owner this year

Prime contractor for Europe's Italian-led Vega small-satellite launcher said 2015 will be the year when the company finds a strategic owner and helps settle the broader European space-launch puzzle, SpaceNews informs.

Pier Giuliano Lasagni, chief executive of Avio SpA, said that while he could not speak for private-equity investor Cinven, which has been trying to sell its 81% Avio stake for more than two years, all the pieces of a transaction appear to be coming into place.

Astroscale presents its space debris removal system

Founded in 2013 with the objective of developing innovative solutions against the growing number of space debris, Singapore-based startup Astroscale shed some light on spacecraft and technologies it is developing.

Astroscale has already been working on two spacecraft, ADRAS-1 and IDEA-1, both are concept-proof missions. ADRAS-1 mission is scheduled to be launched as a piggyback payload atop Dnepr rocket in 2017. The spacecraft, weighting 80kg in total, consists of a carrier satellite called Mother, and a Boy, catcher satellite contained inside the Mother. The Boy is slated for release once spacecraft are in-orbit and de-orbiting target is chosen.

IDEA-1 mission is scheduled for launch even earlier than ADRAS-1, in 2016, also on-top of a Dnepr launcher. Contrary to ADRAS-1, it will deal with the smallest pieces of space debris, having up to 2 mm in diameter. IDEA-1 spacecraft is designed on the same satellite bus that is of ADRAS-1, therefore has similar mass and dimensions.

'Boy' satellite 1:1 model at Astroscale's booth at the Paris Air Show
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Pascale Ehrenfreund was named as the new Chairman of DLR

Pascale Ehrenfreund, now Research Professor of Space Policy and International Affairs at the Space Policy Institute in Washington, was named as the new Chair of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (DLR). She will succeed Johann-Dietrich Wörner, who has been Chairman of the DLR Executive Board for eight years - since March 2007. From 1 July, he will take office as Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Pascale Ehrenfreund. Credit: DLR
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Arianespace ready to meet new challenges in space

Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) reached an agreement with the French State and CNES to transfer CNES's stake in Arianespace. After completion of all regulatory consultation and approval procedures, ASL, which already has a 39% stake, in consequence plans to hold 74% of Arianespace's share capital. The remaining 26% shareholding remains unchanged. These shares are in the hands of the main manufacturers from ten European countries, who contribute to Ariane 5 and Vega launch vehicles.

Such share purchase is part of ASL's 3-point initiative to establish itself as a joint venture, develop new Ariane 6 as a more competitive rocket, and introduce new industry-centric governance of commercial operations within European launcher programs - Via Satellite.

"We are in the midst of an exciting moment for space transport. Everything is changing... At Arianespace we have addressed the changes by adapting our launch solutions to our customers' new requirements, by intensifying our efforts in competitiveness, by actively gearing up for the introduction of Ariane 6 and Vega C, and a renewed shareholding structure that will bring industry closer to the market." Stéphane Israël, Arianespace Chairman and CEO

However, SpaceNews reports, French government will be able to maintain a firm oversight role over the Arianespace launch consortium despite its agreement to sell 35% stake in the company to ASL, the president of CNES said. The sale of the shares in Evry, France-based Arianespace has been cleared by the French government, headed by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, apparently after ASL provided guarantees that Arianespace would not move from its Evry headquarters.

Stéphane Israël (left), Arianespace CEO, and French President François Hollande (right) at the Paris Air Show. Credit: Arianespace
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  • NASA's Launch Services Program issued a Request for Proposal for new commercial Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) for SmallSats using a class of rocket smaller than any currently available to the agency. NASA plans to award one or more fixed-price VCLS contracts to accommodate 60 kg of CubeSats in a single launch or two launches carrying 30 kg each, with the expected launch date April 15, 2018 - press-release.
  • After long struggling to hitch rides to orbit, companies developing SmallSats now say it's easier to pick and choose from a growing number of launch options. That growth includes both the development of new dedicated SmallSat launch vehicles and increased availability of secondary payloads on larger launch vehicles - SpaceNews.
  • Satellite fleet operator SES said it wants to reuse the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the SES-9 satellite by September for a future, discounted SpaceX launch, and is awaiting the response of SpaceX - SpaceNews.
  • After success of India's Mars mission Mangalyaan, launched in late 2013, the Unites Arab Emirates approached Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for launch its own mission to the Red Planet in 2020 - The New Indian Express.

PSLV-C25 lifts-off with the Indian Mars Orbiter Mission in Noember 2013. Credit: ISRO
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  • COM DEV announced that it received an order, valued at $4 million, to supply passive microwave equipment for a communications satellite, and is expected to sign a full contract valued in excess of $9 million. Later COM DEV reported a series of orders to supply multiplexers, switches and ancillary equipment for a communications satellite, under the contract valued in excess of $6 million.
  • China is reportedly planning to launch its first all-electric propulsion communications satellite in orbit in around 2020 -
  • Northern Sky Research's latest report, Nano and Microsatellite Markets, 2nd Edition, forecasts the launch of over 2,500 sub-100 kg satellites during the next decade. Activity in this segment will generate cumulative revenues that exceed $4.7 billion in manufacturing and $1.2 billion in launch services by 2024.
  • ABB of Canada won a contract from Mitsubishi Electric Corporation to supply the main component, a Michelson interferometer, for GOSAT-2 satellite that will enable Japan to continue and enhance spaceborne measurement of major greenhouse gases.
  • The inaugural launch - aboard Dnepr rocket - of mobile satellite services provider Iridium's second-generation Iridium NEXT constellation may slip beyond October, but the company is still on track to put 72 satellites into orbit by late 2017 - SpaceNews.
  • BlackSky Global, a satellite imaging company backed by Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital, revealed its plan to provide high-resolution images of the globe at an unparalleled cost and frequency. The company plans to deploy six satellites in 2016 and have a full 60-satellite imaging constellation by 2019.
  • Space Systems/Loral (SSL) announced that it was selected to provide a broadcasting satellite, to be used for Direct-to-Home television service in Japan, for Broadcasting Satellite System Corporation (B-SAT), leading broadcasting satellite operator in Japan.

Artist's rendering of B-SAT-4a satellite. Credit: SSL
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  • exactEarth and Harris Corporation formed an alliance to provide a new level of AIS data service that will deliver real-time global coverage for maritime vessel tracking. This service will leverage global coverage and connectivity of Iridium NEXT constellation through the implementation of 58 hosted payloads covering the Maritime VHF band.
  • Thales Alenia Space announced creation of new subsidiary, Thales Alenia Space Polska. Based in Warsaw, company plans to strengthen cooperation with the newly opened Polish Space Agency, and support Poland in construction of its own space program and development of satellite technologies and Earth observation systems.
  • COM DEV announced second quarter financial results for three- and six-month periods ended April 30, 2015. Revenue was $45.7 million, a 3.9% increase over $44 million in the second quarter of 2014.
  • SmallSat builder Spire received $3 million grant from the Scottish government to build nano-satellite production plant in Glasgow that will create 50 new jobs - SpaceNews.
  • SpaceX asked the federal government for a permission to begin testing of an ambitious project to beam Internet service from space. The plan calls for launching a constellation of 4,000 small and cheap satellites that would globally beam high-speed Internet signals, including to the most remote regions - The Washington Post.
  • UrtheCast announced plans for the world's first fully-integrated, multispectral optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar commercial constellation of Earth observation satellites, to be deployed in 2019 and 2020. It is reported that the company signed MOU with a confidential customer to provide $195 million of funding for the Constellation, and partners with SSTL of the UK to build the satellites.
  • Sir Richard Branson revealed that his space tourism venture Virgin Galactic is costing him close to $16 million a month, but vowed to press on with the project despite last October's fatal crash - Express.

Richard Branson near Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. Credit: Virgin Group
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  • A spending bill approved by a Senate appropriations subcommittee would provide $18.3 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2016, a cut of more than $200 million from both the administration's original request and a companion House bill, drawing criticism both from NASA and some senators - SpaceNews.
  • Despite warnings from NASA that any cuts to commercial crew funding would delay the program, Senate appropriators slashed nearly $350 million from the agency's request because they believed the program was already suffering delays - SpaceNews.
  • US and Russia are competing for a strategic role in Brazil's plan to launch commercial satellites from its base near the equator, opening up a new theater in their rivalry for allies and influence. Brazil's government expects to choose a partner to help provide technology in the coming months, three sources told Reuters.
  • Pentagon officially said it would face “significant challenges” to ensuring military and intelligence access to space if Congress doesn't loosen restrictions on the use of Russian rocket engines, but top lawmakers aren't buying that and are accusing the military of slow-walking - The Washington Times.
  • NASA's Kennedy Space Center released announcement for proposals (AFP) for private companies interested in using the Vehicle Assembly Building, High Bay 2. In addition, KSC has three Mobile Launcher Platforms available for reuse in commercial space operations. The announcement supports Kennedy's transformation to a multi-user spaceport - press-release.

View at NASA's Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: NASA
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New Tech & Tests

  • Accion Systems received a contract from the US Department of Defense (DoD) worth of $3 million, intended to advance Accion's next-generation electric propulsion system. The award follows a $2 million seed round completed in late 2014 - Via Satellite.
  • RS-25 engine was fired up for 500 seconds on June 11 at NASA's Stennis Space Center. That was the third firing of an RS-25 development engine on the A-1 test stand, after the first one conducted on January 9, and the second on May 28. Four more tests are planned for the current development engine - press-release.
  • NASA approved $30 million milestone payment to SpaceX under the agency's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability agreement with the company following a recent and successful Pad Abort Test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft - press-release.
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA Stennis Space Center signed an agreement for test services and test stand support of AR1 multi-element pre-burner and main injector. Currently in development by Aerojet Rocketdyne, the AR1 engine is a replacement for Russian-made RD-180 engines that power Atlas V launch vehicles - press-release.
  • DARPA announced a program called “Inter-Satellite Communication Links (ISCL)” it hopes will see the development of lightweight, low-power, and low-cost inter-satellite communications technology that could be used in a wide range of small low Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites - Network World.
  • The world's first spacecraft thruster with a platinum combustion chamber and nozzle, made by 3D-printing within a joint program between Airbus Defence & Space and ESA, has passed a series of firings lasting more than hour and 618 ignitions - press-release.

Space Exploration

  • NASA's Johnson Space Center intends to extend existing Commercial Resupply Services contracts with Orbital ATK (former Orbital Sciences) and SpaceX for up to 12 months from December 2017 to December 2018 at no cost. Both contracts were awarded in December 2008 and have a not to exceed contract value of $3.1 billion each - SpaceRef.
  • Roscosmos released new schedule for Russian launches to International Space Station for the rest of 2015. The schedule, approved by a State Commission, shows the expected path forward following Progress M-27M failure occured in April - SpacePolicyOnline.
  • Agencia Espacial Mexicana (AEM) and a Google Lunar X-Prize participant Astrobotic announced a joint effort to facilitate the development and delivery of the first payload from Latin America to the Moon. Astrobotic and AEM have entered into an agreement outlining a commitment by both organizations to enable a Mexican payload to the Moon. Through this partnership, AEM will take its first step to another planetary body.
  • When NASA launches a lander to Mars in 2016, the flight will include two CubeSats. If this SmallSats flyby demonstration is successful, the technology will provide NASA with ability to quickly transmit status information about the main spacecraft after landing. The twin communications-relay CubeSats, being built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, constitute a technology demonstration called Mars Cube One (MarCO).
  • Three crew members of the ISS returned to Earth on June 11 aboard Soyuz TMA-18M spaceship after a 199-day mission. Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA touched down southeast of Dzhezkazgan town in Kazakhstan - press-release.

Touchdown of crew of the Expedition 43 to the ISS in remote area of Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA
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