space digest

March 2-8, 2015

Rocket Lab raises funds, Dauria Aerospace faces criminal investigation, Japan signs UAE satellite launch contract, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

'Spocking fives' - Canadian 5 dollar bill defaced in the honor of Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock in Star Trek franshise
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This funny picture and a little bit more in the article 'All you may want to know about the 'spaciest' banknote in the world'.

Quote of the Week

"Expandable", not "Inflatable" - Mr. Bigelow would get mad if I said that." NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the Bigelow Aerospace's expandable module to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year

New Zealand up, Russia down. What's happening with their most prominent, and only, representatives of NewSpace

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Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab

Last week a pair of notable events happened in New Zealand and Russia with the countries' most prominent representatives of NewSpace, Rocket Lab and Dauria Aerospace, correspondingly. The former announced completion of Series B financing round, led by Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and K1W1 investment funds, as well as Lockheed Martin's commitment to make a strategic investment in the startup.

The company will use the funding to complete the Electron launch system, and plans to begin operations as a commercial launch provider as early as 2016. Electron small-class launch vehicle, capable of sending up to 110 kg of payload into a sun-synchronous orbit for near $5 million, will be powered (first stage) by 9 regeneratively cooled LOx/Kerosene Rutherford engines, producing each 13.3 kN of thrust at lift-off.

Before this announcement, Rocket Lab was awarded New Zealand's government $25 million grant, and raised undisclosed amount of money from Khosla Ventures and K1W1 venture capital companies in Series A investment round. By now the company says it received commitments from the customers for at least 30 first launches, which is, simply multiplying, amounted to near $150 million.

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Mikhail Kokorich, CEO of Dauria Aerospace

Russian private space company Dauria Aerospace, in its turn, has faced criminal investigation of its work with NPO Lavochkin conducted yet in 2013. Criminal investigators suspected both entities on deceptive practices when executing near $35 million contract on development work under Space platform 'Karat-200'.

Suspicious in the contract was the fact that, in opinion of investigators, works to be performed by Dauria had already been performed by NPO Lavochkin under financing from the federal space budget. Furthermore, investigators suppose that representatives of NPO Lavochkin turned over the results of the development work to Dauria. Both Dauria Aerospace representative and NPO Lavochkin Chief denied accusation.

Earlier this year Dauria Aerospace admitted existing problems that forced it to close offices in Germany and the US and focus on domestic market. Mikhail Kokorich, company's CEO, linked these plans to uneasy political and economic situation in the world, which negatively affects the Russian company and its ability to attract financing. He explained that the financing market for the companies with Russian shareholders has been closed and that is why Dauria cannot compete with foreign startups.

Dauria Aerospace loudly entered the commercial communications satellite market last year when Aniara SpaceCom LLC of India awarded it $210 million contract on manufacturing of two all-electric Ku-band telecommunications satellites and launching them together on an Indian GSLV rocket in late 2017. Later it was announced that Dauria Aerospace was awarded $100 million contract on manufacturing of high-resolution Earth observation spacecraft for Sovzond that is expected to be launched in 2018.

Rockets

  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) of Japan signed contract with Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) of UAE to launch Earth observation satellite Khalifasat aboard H-IIA rocket in 2017 as a secondary payload. This is MHI's third overseas satellite launch order after South Korean satellite launched in 2012 and Canadian satellite scheduled for launch in 2015.
  • ULA intends to phase out all (Atlas V, Delta II) but the heavy-lift Delta IV Heavy rocket as early as 2018 as it seeks to sharpen its competitiveness in the face of a challenge by SpaceX. ULA CEO Tory Bruno said both families of rockets ultimately will be replaced by a new launch vehicle currently known as the Next Generation Launch System, which will be powered by a new main engine now under development efforts of Blue Origin and ULA. Later it was announced that ULA will crowdsource the name of its next rocket.
  • SES chose Arianespace to launch its new, all-electric telecommunications satellite, SES-15, aboard Ariane 5 during the second quarter of 2017 from the Guiana Space Center - Press Release.
  • On March 5, 2015, VS-30 sounding rocket was launched from Andøya Space Center in Norway, carrying WADIS-2 experiment on gravity waves research.

Spacecraft

  • ESA launched CubeSats competition in order to choose secondary payload for Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM). Selected CubeSats will become Europe's first to travel beyond Earth orbit once the AIM is launched in October 2020. Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats, together with AIM itself and its asteroid lander, will fly to the paired Didymos asteroids, which come in 2022 comparatively close to Earth.
  • ISRO is going to design India's first satellite for astronomy study, Astrosat, that would be able to monitor simultaneous multi-wavelengths of intensity variations including visible, X-ray and UV bands in a broad range of cosmic sources. The satellite is scheduled to be launched with PSLV into a near-equatorial orbit.
  • Twelve tiny Earth observation satellites called Doves (10 of Flock-1b and 2 of Flock-1d') of Planet Labs were deployed from Kibo Experimental Module of the ISS by means of special NanoRacks' equipment that has been recently repaired by astronauts in orbit.


  • Roskosmos and National Academy of Sciences of Belarus are going to develop a new Earth Obsevation satellite (rus) with resolution of up to 1 metre within the next 3 year.
  • China will send a cargo ship Tianzhou-1 into the space in 2016 to dock with a second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 scheduled to be launched on the Long March-5 earlier the same year. Tianzhou-1 is expected to be launched aboard a next-generation Long March-7 rocket, possibly from a new launch site in the southern Hainan Province.

Business

  • The US Air Force may soon kick off a multibillion-dollar competition for 28 missions of military and intelligence government satellites to be launched from fiscal 2020 through fiscal 2024. The issue is being closely watched by United Launch Alliance (ULA, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing) and privately held SpaceX. Orbital ATK is also reported to have an interest in the Air Force initiative.
  • Honeywell Aerospace has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with OneWeb to provide aircraft equipment and airtime services to OneWeb's planned 600-satellite constellation - via SatelliteToday.
  • The UK government confirmed support for Britain to be home of Europe's first spaceport for commercial spaceflight. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) shortlisted a number of possible locations for the spaceport, chosen in July 2014, to 6.
  • Israel expected the country will capture at least 3% of commercial market share, moving beyond its current focus on spy and military communications satellites into producing civilian devices.
  • NASA released redacted versions of contracts the agency signed with Boeing and SpaceX in fall 2014 to begin the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability phase.
  • Magellan Aerospace and the University of Manitoba unveiled their new Advanced Satellite Integration Facility (or ASIF) that will support research, development, construction and testing of satellite systems and components - via SpaceRef.
  • SpaceX works under the world's first commercially built and operated spaceport. Although construction works have not been started yet, the company says it is investing $100 million of its own money into the spaceport and it could be launching rockets here by the end of 2016.
  • Russia's Skolkovo space cluster resident RoboCV has secured $3 million in new investments, allowing this autopilot vehicle developer to launch new projects.
  • SpaceX barge landing patent petition challenge denied - and accepted - SpaceNews.
  • Inmarsat sticks to Global Xpress projections despite military sales downturn - via SpaceNews.

Government

  • At a House hearing NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was asked about contingency plans if Russia stops launching US astronauts to the ISS. He underscored again and again the need for Congress to fully fund the commercial crew program.
  • US Senator Barbara Mikulski, one of the strongest advocates for NASA in Congress, decided not to run for re-election in 2016. This decision triggered an outpouring of praise for her work, but also concern about the effect her departure will have on the space agency's funding. Another strong advocate of space industry, who has put significant efforts in Ariane 6 future, French space minister Genevieve Fioraso resigned from her position, citing health reasons that had been known for several months.
  • China's current technologies of manned spaceflight allowed it to realize the manned lunar mission, but they don't have a plan to land its astronauts on the Moon yet.

New Tech & Tests

  • ISRO will conduct test flight of a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) technology demonstrator by mid-year. It will demonstrate the vehicle's hypersonic aerodynamic properties, avionics, thermal protection and control systems - via SpaceNews.
  • NASA mission controllers confirmed that a small satellite TechEdSat–4 deployed from the ISS has successfully entered its orbit, setting the stage to test technology that could enable rapid return of payloads from space.
  • Generation Orbit conducted fire test of 'Transfer Stage Engineering Development Unit':

Space Exploration

  • China has been researching the technical feasibility of exploring Mars and asteroids.The project is only at the technical preparation stage but provided it is given green light, a relevant probe will orbit, land, and explore the surface of Mars all in one mission.
  • Team Indus, the only Indian startup in contention for the $30 million Google Lunar Xprize, has announced that they will use Tata Communications low-latency network as its communications partner.
  • NASA's Dawn spacecraft with ion propulsion system built by Orbital ATK, has arrived at and is now orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres, after departure from Vesta in 2012.
  • NASA ordered additional launches to deliver cargo to the ISS in 2017 — three from SpaceX and one from Orbital ATK. Original contracts, covering 12 cargo deliveries by SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft and eight missions with Orbital ATK's Cygnus supply ship, value at $3.1 billion each.

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