space digest

March 23-29, 2015

6 launches per week, boulder option for NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission, future of Russian Angara rocket, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko signs posters dedicated to his and Scott Kelly's 'One-Year Mission' to the International Space Station
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Quote of the Week

"Low and medium Earth orbit satellite constellations forcing industry to move from Yves Saint Laurent to pret-a-porter satellite design." Jean-Loïc Galle, President and CEO of Thales Alenia Space

'Boulder' option selected for NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission

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Artist's view of capturing a boulder from an asteroid. Credit: NASA

NASA has selected Option B for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), where a spacecraft retrieves a boulder up to four meters in diameter from the surface of a larger asteroid, and returns it to a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon to be visited by astronauts. The agency preferred the Option B over Option A, where a robotic spacecraft would redirect an entire asteroid no more than ten meters across into a lunar orbit.

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot estimated Option B cost at about $100 million more than Option A. However, boulder option is still able to fit the planned cost of $1.25 billion, excluding launch vehicle, for the robotic part of the ARM. Moreover, it offers more technologies that could be used to future exploration missions, including ability to perform a soft landing on the asteroid and mechanisms for grappling the boulder.

"We call it capability demonstration mission... We are really trying to demonstrate capabilities that we think we're going to need in taking humans further into space, and ultimately to Mars." ​Robert Lightfoot, NASA Associate Administrator

The mission concept NASA approved this week calls for a robotic spacecraft to launch in December 2020. The spacecraft could spend anywhere from 215 to 400 days at the asteroid, during which it would also demonstrate techniques that might be used to divert an asteroid on a course that threatened Earth. Then the spacecraft would drag the asteroid boulder back near the Moon.

By late 2025, Orion crew capsule, having been launched from Kennedy Space Center atop Space Launch System, will deliver two astronauts to the boulder. During their 25-days mission, Orion would dock with the spacecraft holding the boulder, and both crew members would perform spacewalks in order to collect samples.

NASA so far has identified three target asteroid candidates: Itokawa, Bennu and 2008 EV5. It expects to identify more, and doesn't have to pick one until 2019, or a year before the robotic spacecraft launches. Some photos about the ARM in NASA's artist's concept below.

Retrieved from SpaceNews and FloridaToday.


6 space launches were conducted this week. During them, there were orbited 4 navigation satellites, one Earth imaging and one reconnaissance spacecraft, and three crew members of the Expedition 43 to the International Space Station. Details are below:

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Launch of Delta IV with GPS IIF-9. Credit: ULA

  • On March 25, 2015, United Launch Alliance (ULA) conducted successful launch of its Delta IV Medium+ launch vehicle with GPS IIF-9 navigation satellite into a semi-synchronous circular orbit from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. GPS IIF-9 mission marked the 29th Delta IV launch and the 69th orbited GPS satellite. This was also ULA's fourth launch in 2015 and the 95th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

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KOMPSat-3 satellite concept. Credit: KARI

  • On March 25 (UTC), 2015, International Space Company (ISC) Kosmotras conducted successful launch of Dnepr launch vehicle with KOMPSat-3A Earth imaging satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit from Dombarovsky Missile Range in Russia. The major goal of South Korean KOMPSat-3A (Korean Multi-purpose Satellite 3A) program is to have an earth observation satellite capable to obtain infrared and high-resolution electro-optical images for GIS applications in environmental, agricultural and oceanographic sciences as well as natural disasters forecasting.

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Launch of H-IIA from Tanegashima

  • On March 26 (UTC), 2015, JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) conducted successful launch of H-IIA launch vehicle with IGS-Optical 5 reconnaissance satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit from Tanegashima Space Center. The mission was the second Japanese launch and the second launch of Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) this year, after a successful launch of H-IIA with IGS-Radar Spare spacecraft on February 1, 2015.

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Expedition 43 to the ISS crew members. Credit: NASA

  • On March 27, 2015, Roskosmos conducted successful launch of Soyuz-FG launch vehicle carrying Soyuz TMA-16M manned spaceship with three members of the Expedition 43 to the International Space Station (ISS) from Baikonur, Kasakhstan. Being released from the launcher, Soyuz-TMA-16M with Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight engineers Mikhail Korniyenko and Scott Kelly, docked the ISS soon afterwards. This was the 125th flight of Soyuz spacecraft in its history counting from 1967. Korniyenko and Kelly will stay aboard the ISS for unprecedented period of almost one year (!).

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Soyuz-ST launches 2 Galileo satellites

  • On March 27, 2015, Arianespace conducted successful launch of Soyuz-ST launch vehicle with two Galileo navigation satellites into an intermediate circular orbit (MEO) from Kourou, French Guiana. On its second launch of the year and 11th Soyuz-ST launch from Guiana Space Center, Arianespace orbited latest Galileo FOC (Full Operational Capacity) 7 and 8 satellites on behalf of the European Commission, under a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA).

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Launch of PSLV-XL with IRNSS-1D navigation satellite

  • On March 28, 2015, ISRO conducted successful launch of PSLV-XL launch vehicle with IRNSS-1D navigation satellite into a sub-geosynchronous transfer orbit from Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota, India. This was the 8th flight of PSLV in XL configuration and 29th launch overall for the Indian family of 'Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles'. Also, IRNSS-1D was the 4th out of 7 satellites, comprising the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS).

SpaceDigest also published this week an article about future of Angara family of launchers, as it is seen by Russian space industry officials. You could find there opinions of Andrey Kalinovskiy, General Director of Khrunichev Space Center, manufacturer of Angara rockets, Phil Slack, President of International Launch Services (holds marketing campaign of Angara), and Yuri Koptev, Chairman of Science and Technical Council of Roscosmos.


  • Orbital ATK has been awarded a contract by NASA to make up to three Joint Polar Satellite Systems (JPSS) spacecraft, to be operated by NOAA, to provide critical weather forecasting data and advance environmental and oceanographic science. The contract includes a firm order for the first satellite, referred to as JPSS-2, valued at $253 million and options for two additional satellites, JPSS-3 and -4, valued at $217 million.
  • Arianespace has signed a contract with Airbus Defence & Space to launch PeruSat-1 satellite for the government of Peru, using a Vega launch vehicle. Built by Airbus and weighting about 450 kg, PeruSat-1 is a high-resolution Earth observation satellite to be placed in 2016 into a Sun-synchronous orbit.
  • Airbus Defence and Space has selected Snecma to provide thrusters for Eurostar E3000 Electric Orbit Raising (EOR) platform. The contract, signed this month, follows an original collaboration agreement from March 2014 for the 5-kilowatt PPS5000 thruster. Delivery term of thrusters under the follow-on contract is the 4th quarter of 2016.
  • ISS Reshetnev of Russia is ready to launch this year up to 19 spacecraft, either already manufactured or near completion stage. However Nikolay Testoyedov, company's CEO, told that only 10-12 of them would be launched. As an exapmle, he mentioned GLONASS navigation spacecraft: "We have already manufactured eight Glonass-M satellites. This year we will make the 9th one. But they are not being prepared for launch as the orbital constellation does not need them."
  • The first launch of upgraded version of Russia's Soyuz-MS manned spaceship to the ISS, with a crew of Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka and NASA's astronaut Jeffrey Williams, is scheduled for Spring 2016. It is planned that new Soyuz spacecraft will have increased solar cells' power capacity and new close-up, docking and attitude control engines. Also, the spacecraft will be equipped with advanced communication and direction-finding systems.


  • UrtheCast Corp. announced financial results for the 3 and 12 months ended December 31, 2014. It reported a comprehensive income of $6.2 million in the quarter as compared to a loss of $4.8 million in the comparative year's quarter. UrtheCast's comprehensive loss in 2014 was $5.7 million, compared to $19.2 million in 2013.
  • Douglas Messier, Managing Editor at Parabolic Arc, published an interesting table of crowded SpaceX's agenda for the rest of 2015. It is below (Credit: Parabolic Arc):

  • Thales Alenia Space said its Russian and Turkish satellite production programs are back on track after delays, and that its work with Russia on Europe's ExoMars missions to Mars is proceeding on schedule. It also reported a near-future launch of the first-ever commercial geostationary communications satellite carrying 3-D-printed components, and introduction of robots onto its satellite manufacturing floor this year - these and more Thales' news in the wonderful SpaceNews article.
  • Satellite terminal manufacturer Gilat Satellite Networks said CEO Erez Antebi would leave the company after 3 years in his post, and that Dov Baharav, who joined the company last May, would be interim CEO until a replacement is found. In January, Gilat announced April's retirement of its long-time CFO - SpaceNews.
  • Magellan Aerospace Corporation released its financial results for the fourth quarter and full year of 2014. Revenues of the company raised by 12.1% from CAD 756 million in 2013 to CAD 843 million in 2014 - SpaceRef.
  • Satellite fleet operator AsiaSat reported a 9% drop in revenues and a 27% drop in new and renewal contracts in 2014, explainting this by declining military sales and regional oversupply. It said changes in the way customers download video suggest that a high-throughput satellite with multiple spot beams and frequency reuse may be in order, but not yet. AsiaSat said it hopes for a growth from two new satellites launched in late 2014, but both currently are awaiting operating licenses in China and elsewhere.
  • Maritime satellite broadband market continued in 2014 its sharp upward, surpassing 20,000 ships with installed terminals and generating about $1.3 billion in revenue, says SpaceNews with reference to Comsys. This point is shared by Euroconsult, which says global maritime satcom market grew by 4% in number of terminals and 10% in satellite operators' revenues compared to 2013.
  • 'Connected car' is a rapidly progressing trend, but opportunities for satellite to play in this market are limited, due to its proximity to terrestrial connectivity options, says ViaSatellite referring to Ward's Automotive Group.
  • Export Development Canada announced financing of €140 million to Hispasat Group, Spain, for the construction of Amazonas 5 satellite by SSL, a subsidiary of Canada's MDA. This new multi-mission satellite will respond to growing demand for satellite capacity, primarily for TV platforms, in Latin America - SpaceRef.

SSL-made 3D-printed titanium bracket (left) that has half the mass of its conventional counterpart (right). Credit: SSL
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  • James Webb Space Telescope prime contractor Northrop Grumman denied request by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) for one-on-one interviews with employees overseeing the program. According to GAO, such interviews intended to identify potential trouble spots of the NASA flagship observatory, which is billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule. But Northrop Grumman, which along with NASA says the $9 billion project is back on track, cited concerns that employees, 30 in all, would be intimidated by the process - SpaceNews.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee advanced the nomination of Dava Newman to become NASA deputy administrator, bringing the university professor one step closer to taking over the second highest ranking position at the space agency - SpaceNews.
  • UK Space Agency announced 7 new space projects that will see UK companies working with international partners to develop satellite technology in emerging economies. From telecommunications delivered by low-cost CubeSats to e-finance solutions and access to maternal health in remote locations, these projects, funded through a 2 year, £32 million International Partnerships Space Programme, will demonstrate how UK space technology can provide societal and economic benefits to developing countries.
  • With Russia facing severe economic crisis, Roscosmos' 10-year spending plan for 2016-2025 will be cut by 10% to 3.4 trillion rubles ($58.6 billion) - The Moscow Times.
  • Russian and Western media misunderstood Igor Komarov, Chief of Roscosmos, who told about future of the ISS. Thus, it was reported that Russia and the US plan to jointly establish a new space station after 2024. However, it seems like Igor Komarov just expressed hope to continue working on the ISS until 2024 and open it to any interested parties. “We are pleased Roscosmos wants to continue use of the ISS through 2024 - a priority of ours - and expressed interest in continuing of cooperation for human space exploration beyond that,” said NASA spokesman David Weaver

New Tech & Tests

  • Second ground test of rocket engines of China's next-generation Long March-5 was successfully completed ahead of its first flight scheduled for 2016. The rocket, which uses non-toxic, non-polluting liquid propellants, was first test-fired in February.
  • Explanation of Zaptec (PDF), a new plasma drilling technology which could achieve practical, affordable, and reliable deep drilling on the Moon, asteroids, and Mars.

Zaptec Plasma Drilling System in action. Credit: Zaptec
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  • SpaceX ignited two of its SuperDraco engines together at the company's Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas. This specific test was a demonstration of a pad abort test profile, with two SuperDraco engines igniting simultaneously and throttling as they will during an upcoming flight test at Cape Canaveral.

  • Orbital ATK announced successful launch of its first scientific balloon flight as the operator of NASA's balloon program. The company supported NASA's super pressure balloon (SPB) launch from New Zealand, marking the first achievement for Orbital ATK in scientific balloon operations since NASA awarded the contract in November 2014. The contract is administered by the Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility and managed from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Texas.

Space Exploration

  • Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) amended its current Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA. The amendment, which extends the period of performance through March 2016, introduces unfunded Milestone 41, demonstrating the advancement of the Dream Chaser® Space System design from a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) level of maturity toward a Critical Design Review (CDR) level - SpaceRef.
  • NASA's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) may be worth doing if it helps pave the way for an electric-powered interstellar rocket engine, Republican and US Congressman John Culberson said.

“Great value of Asteroid Redirect Mission is development of the first interstellar rocket propulsion system that would carry us to Alpha Centauri and beyond...” John Culberson, US Representative for Texas's 7th congressional district


  • United Launch Alliance (ULA) is asking for a help to name its next rocket. For the next two weeks, public can vote for its favorite rocket name - Eagle, Freedom, GalaxyOne, Vulcan, or Zeus. Until April 6, you could leave your vote here.
  • The first flight of a new rail-guided Super Strypi satellite launch system from a military missile range in Hawaii has been delayed until late October due to problems with the rocket's first stage motor, according to a US Air Force official - Spaceflight Now.
  • A $200,000, 5-ton, 12-meter-long by 1.5-meter-deep steel sculpture titled “GENESIS” has been installed in a roundabout at the entrance of the Spaceport America property.

Genesis sculpture by Otto Rigan at the entrance to Spaceport America. Credit: Parabolic Arc
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