space digest

March 30 - April 5

Launches of BeiDou satellite in China and 3 Gonets spacecraft in Russia, Fools' Day in space industry, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Hall thruster that NASA's Glenn Research Center tests to evaluate possible use for the Asteroid Redirect Mission. Credit: NASA
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Space Launches in China and Russia

Two space launches, that were conducted in China and Russia this week, became the 7th and 8th missions for the period from March 25 to March 31 - unprecedented launch activity over the latest years. Moreover, launch of BeiDou navigation spacecraft was the 4th (out of 8 overall), when a navigation satellite was orbited, after GPS IIF-9, Galileo FOC 7 & 8, and IRNSS-1D missions. Some latest missions details:

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Lift-off for LM-3C with BeiDou. Credit: Xinchua

On March 30, 2015, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) conducted successful launch of Long March-3C launch vehicle with a satellite for BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest China's Sichuan Province. The mission orbited the 17th satellite of BeiDou orbital constellation and marked beginning of its expansion from regional to global coverage. The latest satellite is expected to test a new type of navigation signaling and inter-satellite links, providing a basis to start building the global network.

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Gonets-M spacecraft. Credit: Roscosmos

On March 31, 2015, Russian Aerospace Defence Forces ('VKO') conducted successful launch of Rockot launch vehicle with three Gonets-M communications satellites into a low Earth orbit (LEO) from Plesetsk spaceport in Russia. This was the 23rd orbital mission for Rockot, a derivative rocket from UR-100N (SS-19 'Stiletto') intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The mission orbited the 11th, 12th, and 13th spacecraft in existing Gonets LEO satellite constellation.


European governments, ESA and Ariane 6 prime contractor, Airbus Safran Laucnhers, decide on how to share responsibility over Ariane 6 funding. While both Airbus Safran Launchers and ESA have signed a two-page document that appears to express a common view of Ariane 6 costs, the two sides agree that the underlying disagreement over who pays what remains unresolved, reports SpaceNews.

“There are many, many questions to be solved over the division of responsibility between industry and government, and we all knew it would be a long road to settle... There is no catastrophe. The program is moving forward. But at some point these issues will need to be resolved.” An official from a European government with regards to Ariane 6 funding issues

It was noted that the document reaffirms Ariane 6 development cost at 3.215 billion euros ($3.91 billion) between 2015 and the planned inaugural flight of 2020. This figure does not include new Ariane 6 launch pad, which is being built under the authority of French space agency, CNES. It is also known that Ariane 6's solid-fuel strap-on boosters - two in case of Ariane 62 rocket and four for heavy-lift Ariane 64 - will be the same as new small-class Vega-C rocket first stage.


  • QinetiQ was awarded a contract worth €16 million over 3 years to develop computer and avionics for European Space Agency's Proba-3 satellite mission - SpaceRef.
  • Russian satellite manufacturer ISS Reshetnev initiated pre-construction procedures for building of a new integration and test facility. The company is demolishing a building from early 1990s to make room for satellite transportation containers and employee parking, to accommodate staffing the new building. The demolition also makes room for phase 2 of the modernization initiative to be completed by 2020 - Via Satellite.
  • NASA's Glenn Research Center awarded a contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne to design, fabricate and test two NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster-Commercial (NEXT-C) thrusters and two power processing units for use on one of the agency's Discovery missions or other future mission. Total value of the contract is $18.4 million. The period of performance is five years from the date of the award - SpaceRef.
  • COM DEV International announced (PDF) that it has secured four orders totalling nearly 10 million Canadian dollars ($8 million) to supply microwave equipment for communication satellites for new customers from its recently expanded operations in the UK. Deliveries under these contracts will begin in fiscal 2016 and continue to 2018.
  • A moon-watching small-satellite and a trio of formation-flying cloud monitoring sensors are among the early candidates vying for a shot at $150 million in funding under a NASA Earth Venture competition set to begin this summer - SpaceNews.
  • In a clean room facility near Denver, Lockheed Martin technicians began assembling a NASA spacecraft that will collect samples of an asteroid for scientific study. Working toward a September 2016 launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be the first US mission to return samples from an asteroid back to Earth.

Lockheed Martin technicians began assembling NASA's OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft. Credit: Lockheed Martin
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  • Interactive version of Inmarsat's Annual Report and Accounts is available online.
  • Intelsat named 2 executives to its leadership team following the transition of Stephen Spengler from deputy CEO to CEO. The transition took place as former CEO David McGlade took the role of executive chairman. Intelsat's new executives are Kurt Riegelman, who takes the role of Senior Vice President (SVP) for sales and marketing, and Michael DeMarco, who fills newly created role of SVP of operations - Via Satellite.
  • Another 'senior exucutive staffing news'. Spaceport America CEO Christine Anderson named Tammara Anderton as the spaceport's first Director of Marketing.
  • Wonderful NBC News article about Virgin Galactic's latest achivements, plans, and changed attitude to announcements of these plans.


  • Developing new space capabilities, including low-cost responsive launch, remains a priority for the US Defense Department's advanced technology agency (DARPA) even as it also works on terrestrial alternatives to critical space-based systems - SpaceNews.
  • US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told that it would take another 6 months to certify Falcon 9, likely taking SpaceX out of running for a US National Reconnaissance Office launch contract worth more than $100 million. A newly released report details why certification has taken so long. In short: SpaceX believed its track record dating back to 2013 should have given the Air Force confidence in its rocket. The Air Force, meanwhile, viewed the certification process as a kind of design review and pushed SpaceX to make dozens of changes to Falcon 9, processes and organizational structure.

New Tech & Tests

  • NASA has selected 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites:
    1. 3 NextSTEP advanced propulsion projects winners, $400,000 to $3.5 million per year per award, up to three-year performance period, to focus on ground testing efforts, are Ad Astra Rocket Company, Aeroject Rocketdyne, and MSNW.
    2. 7 NextSTEP habitat projects winners, each having initial performance periods of up to 12 months, valuing at $400,000 to $1 million for the study and development efforts, are Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing Company, Dynetics, Hamilton Sundstrand Space Systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Orbital ATK, and Orbital Technologies Corporation.
    3. The CubeSat projects selected through NextSTEP will potentially fly as secondary payload missions on the first flight of Space Launch System, planned for early 2020s to a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. Two NextSTEP CubeSat projects winners, having fixed-price contracts with technical and payment milestones, valuing for the entire development and operations at $1.4 to $7.9 million per award, are Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Morehead State University.

  • Less than six days after launching from New Zealand (we wrote about that in our previous Space Digest for March 23-29), NASA's massive Super Pressure Balloon (SPB), supported by Orbial ATK, completed its first continental cross-flying over southern tips of Chile and Argentina.The balloon now continues its potentially record-breaking mission that could see multiple circumnavigations of the globe over several weeks.

NASA's Super Pressure Ballon continental cross-flying path. Credit: NASA
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  • Chinese scientists are mulling the construction of a solar power station 36,000 kilometers above Earth - iCrossChina.
  • NASA has established a public-private partnership with five organizations to advance knowledge about composite materials that could improve performance of future aircraft. The agency selected the National Institute of Aerospace to manage administration of the Advanced Composites Consortium. Also included in the consortium are NASA's Advanced Composites Project, managed from the agency's Langley Research Center, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), General Electric Aviation, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, Boeing Research & Technology, and a team from United Technologies Corporation led by subsidiary Pratt & Whitney.

Space Exploration

  • What Igor Komarov, Chief of Roscosmos, meant saying about joint with the US future space station. What Russia plans to do with the ISS until 2024, when its service life is expected to end. Opinions of some officials in our article 'What Roscosmos thinks about the ISS and its future?'
  • As China presses ahead with a series of robotic lunar missions, its plans to begin a Mars exploration program could be delayed, SpaceNews informs. In his presentation Wu Ji, director general of the National Space Science Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that the Chinese government had yet to formally approve a proposal for a robotic Mars mission tentatively scheduled for 2020.
  • Russian scientists are planning new space mission to Ganymede - the biggest Jupiter's moon, TASS Agency reports. The project undertaken jointly by the Institute of Nuclear Physics and the Institute for Nuclear Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences is in a preliminary stage yet. Shape of a spacecraft and set of scientific equipment aboard are still being planned and main goals of the project are still being determined.
  • At a news conference representatives of the Planetary Society presented results of a workshop organized to discuss feasibility and cost of a crewed mission to orbit the Martian moon Phobos in 2033, leading up to a crewed landing on the Red Planet in 2039. They concluded that such plan could indeed fit within NASA's human space exploration budget - Yahoo! News.
  • MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) announced that it has signed a contract amendment with the Canadian Space Agency for 11.9 million Canadian dollars ($9.5 million), to provide on-going support for the Mobile Servicing System, comprised of Canadarm2, the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator known as “Dextre" and the Mobile Base System, on the International Space Station (ISS).
  • The launch of BepiColombo, an ESA mission to explore the planet Mercury in collaboration with the Japanese space agency, JAXA, is now planned to take place during a one month long window starting on 27 January 2017.

Artist's impression of BepiColombo. Credit: ESA
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  • 6D-printing, Elon Musk's 65-meter statue at Cape Canaveral, space technology hub in Thailand, spacesuit for a cow, wooden satellite, and other Fools' Day news in the dedicated article on SpaceDigest!
  • Virtual tour over ESA's ESTEC test center.
  • ATV in numbers in wonderful ESA's infographic.
  • 25th anniversary of Pegasus air-launched system, world's first privately developed space launch vehicle, in photos and Orbital ATK's press-release.
  • Russian Vice-premier-minister Dmitry Rogozin again visited Vostochny spaceport, being built on the country's Far East. Thanks to him, we have updated photos of Soyuz launch complex construction status:

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