space digest

March 16-22, 2015

Launch of Proton-M with Ekspress-AM7, Satellite 2015 conference, 3 launch contracts for Arianespace, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Bigelow Aerospace's BEAM Module packed in its launch configuration
Preview 550d66e75370610b9f160100

Video of the Week

Eutelsat CEO Michel de Rosen strips during the “Big Four" session at the Satellite 2015 Conference in Washington, to show that the traditional satellite operators need to get on with the times and embrace the flow of new interest in the industry from Silicon Valley and start-up companies, which have a “sexier" business culture - via Via Satellite.

Quote of the Week

"​There is a surprising number of people who want to leave the Earth; a commercial market exists for Mars vehicle..." Gwynne Shotwell, CEO of SpaceX, at Satellite 2015 conference

Satellite 2015 Conference

Thumb 550d841c5370610b9f1a0100
Concept of Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne air-launched rocket

Virgin Galactic plans to begin flights of its LauncherOne small-satellite (SmallSat) launch vehicle by the end of 2016, the company's chief executive George Whitesides said at the Satellite 2015 conference. The company hopes to provide dedicated launches of SmallSats, weighing up to 225 kg, for less than $10 million. Expected launch frequency for the rocket, according to Whitesides, is 20-30 launches per year. Virgin Galactic recently started hot-fire tests of Newton 3 engine of the first stage of LauncherOne. This engine, capable of generating up to 335,000 N thrust, uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants.

Thumb 550d87bc5370610b9f1c0100
SpaceX testing Merlin 1D rocket engine

SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell said the company's introduction mid-year of a more-powerful Falcon 9, designed to permit the company to recover the rocket's first stage even during GTO missions, will not begin another long process of US government certification. Addressing the Satellite 2015 conference, Shotwell said SpaceX still expects certification of its current Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket by the US Air Force and NASA by the middle of this year. For the improved rocket, now expected to make its first flight this summer with a satellite for SES, the company's goal is to add up to 30% to the current rocket's performance.

Next day, Gwynne Shotwell also told some interesting things.

  • With new launch sites that should be ready by 2016, the company will be capable of 36 GTO mission per year;
  • Google's $1 billion investment in SpaceX was not for satellite Internet but for general business purposes;
  • SpaceX does not have plans to re-introduce Falcon 1 despite intensive SmallSat market growth - Falcon 9 can handle SmallSats as secondary payloads;
  • Falcon Heavy to debut this year, but commercial and governmental missions with it expected for 2016.

Thumb 550d8f305370610b9f1e0100
Sierra Nevada proposed Dream Chaser for ISS cargo resupplies

Sierra Nevada Corp., looking to rebound from a failed Commercial Crew bid, proposed to NASA an unmanned variant of its Dream Chaser vehicle for delivering cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Dream Chaser Cargo System includes an innovative folding-wing design, which allows it to fit inside existing fairings of launch vehicles, ability to exceed all NASA's cargo requirements during flights to the ISS, high reusability to serve the required number of missions, non-toxic, non-hypergolic propulsion system and other fluids, and low-g entry to a runway landing with immediate access to cargo.

Thumb 550d933c5370610ba1740100
OneWeb logo

OneWeb is within weeks of selecting a prime contractor for its more than 600 low-orbiting Internet-providing satellites from five competitors - Airbus Defence and Space, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, OHB AG, Space Systems/Loral and Thales Alenia Space. First launch of these satellites, each estimating at $500,000 or even less, now expected for 2017. According to the company's CTO Dave Bettinger, OneWeb's major launch year - 2018 - now appears to include sufficient capacity among the available launch-service providers.

More news that happened during Satellite 2015 Conference you will also find below.


Thumb 550dd96c5370610ba1780100
Proton-M with Ekspress-AM7 lift-off from Baikonur

  • On March 18, 2015, there was conducted successful launch of Proton-M launch vehicle with Breeze-M upper stage carrying Ekspress-AM7 telecommunications satellite from Launch Pad 200 at Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. In 9 hours spacecraft separated from the Breeze-M stage in planned geosynchronous orbit (GEO) position. The mission operations were handled by Khrunichev Space Center, subsidiary of Roscosmos, in the interests of Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC).
  • The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation says it plans to launch more than 40 spacecraft into orbit through 20 separate space launches this year. They will be mainly communications satellites, some remote sensing satellites to observe the Earth, as well as navigation satellites for the Beidou system.
  • Within the REXUS/BEXUS program, on March 17 and March 18, there were conducted launches of REXUS 17 with three experiments and REXUS 18 with four experiments from Esrange Space Center in Sweden. These experiments were testing new technical systems developed and built by students from universities all over Europe.
  • Khrunichev Space Center announced plans to launch commercial satellite aboard the heavy-lift Angara-A5 rocket in 2016. Angara family with three basic variants of rockets will become operational in 2021 and is expected to fully replace Proton-M by 2025. It will be launched from Plesetsk and new Vostochny spaceport - via SpaceNews.
  • NASA has selected United Launch Alliance to launch Solar Probe Plus (SPP) mission aboard Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral. Total cost of the contract is $389.1 million. It is worth to note that Delta IV Heavy rocket, scheduled to launch the mission in July 2018, will be augmented by Orbital ATK's Star-48 solid motor as a third stage, in order to cope with the extremely high energy required for this flagship mission.
  • SpaceX swaps order of next two Falcon 9 launches. The launch of communications satellite for the government of Turkmenistan, originally set for March 21, will now occur no sooner than late April, whereas lift-off of a Dragon cargo spaceship now expected for around April 10.

Falcon 9 with Dragon at Cape Canaveral before a lift-off in April 2014. Credit: NASA/Glenn Benson
Preview 550dce465370610b9f250100


Thumb 550dc2875370610ba1760100
Arianespace logo

  • This week was very fruitful for Arianespace, since it was awarded 3 launch contracts for at least 4 missions. During Satellite 2015 Conference there was announced contract with Skybox Imaging to launch a block of high resolution imaging satellites aboard the Vega launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in 2016. Later Arianespace announced contract with Airbus Defence and Space to launch two Falcon Eye high-performance Earth observation satellites, being built for the UAE armed forces, using two Vega (or Soyuz) launchers in 2018 and 2019. By the end of the week Arianespace and Airbus Defence and Space reached an agreement to launch EDRS-C, second geostationary satellite of the SpaceDataHighway system, in the first quarter in 2017.
  • The Osaka Prefecture University aims to sell satellite kits to research institutes and companies both at home and abroad that can be developed quickly and cheaply. A user-friendly 'satellite kit' allows users to install observation devices and other add-ons and will cost ¥3-¥3.5 million ($24,000-$29,000). JAXA will select satellites for non-profit purposes, such as research and education, and launch these satellites for free.
  • European Space Propulsion (ESP), a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne, was awarded near €11 million ($11,6 million) contract from the ESA for the flight qualification of the 5 kW XR-5E Hall Thruster. The contract was issued under the ESA's Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) initiative to explore, through research and development activities, innovative concepts that produce leading Satcom products.
  • The US Defense Department could lose its current source of ocean-wind data this year, well before the planned early 2020s launch of its next-generation weather satellite, and is eyeing an interim satellite to plug the gap as early as 2018 - via SpaceNews.
  • Airbus Defence and Space produced 3D-printed aluminium components for new Eurostar E3000 satellite platforms that cannot be manufactured using conventional technology. The bracket (below) is for mounting the telemetry and telecommand (TMTC) antennas onto the satellite, and has successfully completed flight qualification testing. It is ready to be flown on a forthcoming satellite.

Aluminium 3D-printed bracket made by Airbus Defence and Space
Preview 550dcc515370610b9f240100


  • Orbital Insight, a Silicon Valley startup that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to expedite the processing of huge amounts of imagery, has secured $8.7 million in fresh financing from an investor group led by Sequoia Capital - via SpaceNews.
  • Teal Group space analysts have identified 4,607 space payloads proposed to be built and launched to Earth or deep space orbits between 2015 and 2034. They estimate the value of these satellites and other space payloads at more than $240 billion.
  • Satellite Internet startup LeoSat has contracted Thales Alenia Space to conduct a one-year cost study of the company's planned LEO constellation of high-throughput broadband satellites - via Parabolic Arc.
  • ViviSat, a joint venture of Orbital ATK and US Space, has signed a pivotal customer for its Mission Extension Vehicles (MEVs), tipping the scale from buildup to actual implementation. It is known that as of the summer 2014, ViviSat had three customers committed to in-orbit servicing using MEVs.
  • Mobile satellite services operator Thuraya is looking to sell itself to rival Inmarsat in a transaction that has long been expected but stalled by the two sides' inability to agree on a price. From earlier self-valuations of near $600 million, Thuraya, United Arab Emirates, has recently come down in price to about $300 million, which may still be too high in the judgment of London-based Inmarsat - via SpaceNews.
  • Rocketstar New York-based rocket engine firm launched on March 21 an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to raise $250,000 for completion of an aerospike engine prototype and to conduct a burn test. A new generation engine will be reusable, reliable, environmentally friendly and highly cost-effective - via SpaceRef.


  • The UK Space Agency invested up to £32 million ($47 million) in British companies to work with international partners developing satellite technology to handle problems like flooding, deforestation and humanitarian crises in emerging economies. The UK space sector is growing at over 7% per year and is currently worth £11.3 billion ($16,7 billion) to the UK economy. With over 5,000 jobs created in the last two years, it employs over 34,000 people and supports a further 72,000 jobs in other sectors.
  • Officials from several departments and agencies of the US and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency met in Washington during the week of March 16-22 in order to review a broad list of potential areas of space cooperation - via Parabolic Arc.
  • Further tensions continue in the US government and Congress with regards to the dependency of many critical space missions on Russian RD-180 engines. The new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry wants the US Air Force to explain why an American-made rocket engine cannot be ready by 2019 before he would consider lifting a ban on Russian-made engines. Later Senator John McCain criticized the US Air Force's "troubling lack of urgency" in ending dependence on Russian rocket engines, saying there was still no strategy to replace them.
  • The question above was also raised during hearing at the US Congress, where ULA and SpaceX were represented by their CEOs Tory Bruno and Gwynne Shotwell, respectively, regarding the future of space launch and how companies are innovating and transforming to provide more affordable space launch services. While Ms. Shotwell built her position around high ULA's launch services prices comparing to SpaceX' ones, Mr. Bruno forced to defend his company. Later, ULA issued corresponding press-release.

Tory Bruno (turned back) talking to Gwynne Shotwell (right) before hearing at the US Congress
Preview 550dde6d5370610b9f2a0100

New Tech & Tests

  • Aerojet Rocketdyne completed a successful series of hot-fire tests of key additively manufactured components for its almost 227 ton-thrust liquid oxygen/kerosene booster engine AR-1, which is seen as an American-made alternative to Russian-built RD-180 engines - via SpaceRef.
  • POD-Y, reduced-scale experimental model of the future solid rocket motor for Ariane 6 and Vega C, has successfully completed its first hot-fire test - Press Release in French.
  • Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been developing cutting-edge technologies that would enable spacecraft to land at a specific location on Mars with more precision than ever before. In collaboration with Masten Space Systems they successfully tested a vertical-launch vertical-landing (VLVL) reusable rocket called the Autonomous Descent and Ascent Powered-flight Testbed (ADAPT).
  • Thales Alenia Space unveiled at Satellite 2015 its latest products. These are new Spacebus NEO platform for geostationary telecom satellites, StratoBus, a concept halfway between a drone and a satellite, smart, modular and flexible payloads, and its world-renowned expertise in constellations. Through Brazil's SGDC program, Thales Alenia Space also show how it helps countries develop their own space program.

StratoBus, autonomous stratospheric platform, halfway between a satellite and a drone. Concept by Thales Alenia Space
Preview 550de3035370610ba17b0100

Space Exploration

  • The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) exhibited the nation's first Mercury probe that will be part of the BepiColombo space mission, a joint project between JAXA and the ESA, and will be launched aboard the Ariane 5 rocket in 2016. Its Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter developed at a cost of 15.2 billion yen ($125 million) will glean data on Mercury to ascertain how the solar system's smallest planet was formed - video.
  • The MarcoPolo venture, which has been under discussion for a decade, has fallen out of the European Space Agency's latest competition to find a future medium-class mission because of its high cost - via BBC News.


  • SpaceX is eying its test site at Spaceport America for putting recovered Falcon 9 first stages - via Parabolic Arc.
  • A nice article about XCOR Aerospace and changes in its top-level executives. Jeff Greason, company's founder, made great move, allowing him to focus on technical development being CTO, to offer XCOR's chief executive position to Jay Gibson, a senior manager at Beechcraft Corp., which manufactures airplanes.
  • All five bids for NASA's Commerical Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract in brief story and photo gallery by Aviation Week. From the first to fifth these are: Boeing's CST-100 cargo variant, Lockheed Martin's Jupiter, Orbital Sciences' Cygnus, Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Cargo System, and SpaceX' Dragon:

  • Russian media prepared very well for the 50th anniversary of the first spacewalk conducted ever by a human. Alexey Leonov made the first EVA on March 18, 1965. TASS Agency provided us with a nice photo gallery with all records related to Extra-Vehicular Activity in the history of space exploration. RIA Novosti went even further, creating a remarkable interactive story of Alexey Leonov's spacewalk. Although the article is in Russian, it is 'must-see' (interactive part itself is near the end of the article).

Next digest March 23-29, 2015 Previous digest March 9-15, 2015