space digest

March 9-15, 2015

Successful launch of Atlas V with MMS constellation, test of Space Launch System solid-propellant booster, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

On March 11 engineers of Orbital ATK conducted ground test-fire of the largest, most powerful solid-propellant booster ever built for NASA's new rocket, Space Launch System (SLS), at company's test facility in Promontory, Utah. Further information on the QM-1 test you could find in our article 'Orbital ATK tested giant solid booster for NASA's SLS'.

Quote of the Week

“We can’t go anywhere if the Kennedy Space Center goes underwater…” Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator

Members of the Senate Commerce space subcommittee used March 12 hearing on the NASA budget to debate about what the agency's priorities. Ted Cruz, chairman of the subcommittee, expressed concern that NASA spending too much money on Earth science and not enough on exploration programs. Charles Bolden argued that 'exploration of space and the Earth environment, and helping humanity to make this place a better place' is prescribed in the National Aeronautics and Space Act that created the space agency, therefore NASA does right things. This and more in wonderful SpaceNews article.

Successful launch of Atlas V with 4 MMS spacecraft

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Launch of Atlas V carrying 4 NASA's MMS spacecraft

On March 13, 2015, United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched Atlas V launch vehicle carrying NASA's 4 identical Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft into a highly elliptical orbit (HEO) from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral. The four spacecraft, deployed from Centaur upper stage, are to fly in a pyramid formation through space in order to take unprecedented measurements of magnetic reconnection phenomenon as it occurs in different areas of Earth's magnetosphere.

The four observatories were designed, built and operated by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and a science and instrument team led by Southwest Research Institute. The each one of four MMS octagonal disc-shaped spacecraft is fitted with 25 instruments, has mass of 1,250 kg and measuring 3.5 meters wide and 1.2 meters high in a launch mode, and almost 29 meters tall by 113 meters wide when fully deployed. The mission cost is estimated at (in different sources) $850 million to $1.1 billion. This and more in our article 'Successful launch of Atlas V with 4 MMS spacecraft'.


  • Boeing is about 3 months behind schedule on a giant welding tool to be used in the assembly of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket, but the first flight of the massive vehicle remains on track for 2018. This work is being done under the 6.5 year, $2.8 billion contract, Boeing is contracted to deliver two SLS cores, including hydrogen and oxygen tanks, and avionics - via SpaceNews.
  • China plans to conduct the first flight of its new generation Long March 6 launch vehicle, fired by newly developed 120 tons thrust engine, in the mid of this year in a bid to tap the growing commercial satellite launches market. The Long March 7 and its most powerful rocket, the Long March 5, will make their first flights in 2016.
  • Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA), held an Answer-Me-Anything event at Reddit, where shedded some light on ULA's Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) and answered other questions. Also, more information about the NGLS, which should replace Atlas V and Delta family of launchers, could be found in SpaceNews article.
  • Roscosmos assigned Khrunichev and RSC Energia to develop a new modification of Angara rocket to carry manned missions to the Moon. Third stage of new Angara-A5B to use LOx-LH, instead of LOx/kerosene on an uncrewed Angara-A5, in order to increase lift its capacity by up to 10 tons - via TASS Agency.
  • As it is known, ULA's main challenge now is to get rid of dependence on Russian rocket engines RD-180 that it uses on its workhorse Atlas V. Media pays a lot of attention to ULA and Blue Origin plans to make a methane-fueled BE-4 engine, whereas Aerojet Rocketdyne develops 230 tons thrust engine AR-1 that may be also used by ULA if things with BE-4 do wrong. Forbes suggests that AR-1 is most likely variant for ULA to use on its next generation rocket.
  • ISC Kosmotras rejects all rumours that were circulated in Russian media that Dnepr launches cease to exist this year. It published launch manifest for 2016-2017, with 5 launches in it, and named March 25 as a launch date of its next, Kompsat-3A mission.


  • UK Space Agency has teamed up with Clyde Space and Outernet company to develop a communications service that can be offered via a constellation of low-cost CubeSats.
  • NanoRacks, 'Go-to CubeSat deployment company', announced successful completion of it's third full round of CubeSats deployment from the International Space Station.
  • Intelsat and Azercosmos, the national satellite operator of Azerbaijan, have teamed to deliver a new telecommunications satellite at 45 degrees east - via Via Satellite.

Entrance to ESA's Compact Payload Test Range in Ukrainian-style colours
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  • Spaceflight Industries (Spaceflight), a parent company of two well-established Seattle-area aerospace and space logistics companies, Andrews Space and Spaceflight Services, announced that it has secured $20 million in Series B funding co-led by RRE Venture Capital and Vulcan Capital with additional investment from Razor's Edge Ventures. This financing round brings total funding to the company to $27.5 million.
  • COM DEV International Ltd. announced first quarter results for the three-month period ended January 31, 2015. COM DEV also said it had created a separate engineering team to prepare the company for bids on one or more of the mega-constellations, offering satellite Internet services, specifically it announced works with prospective prime contractors for the proposed 650-satellite OneWeb system.
  • ORBCOMM announces fourth quarter and full year 2014 results. Total revenues of $96.2 million for 2014, increasing 30% over prior year, reported - via Business Wire.
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp company, announced that it has launched a continuous, multi-faceted competitive improvement program (CIP) aimed at reducing costs and increasing operational efficiency among its 14 sites that are located in 11 states across the US. GenCorp itself announced that its Board of Directors has approved changing the company's corporate name to "Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc."
  • While SpaceX or OneWeb are planning to serve the 'other 3 billion' unconnected people in the world with mega-constellations, commercial startup LeoSat LLC is going to provide services for 'only 3000' with their proposed 120-140 high-power Ka-band satellites in LEO, within a project likely to cost up to $3 billion - via SpaceNews.
  • Bigelow Aerospace had a media event to mark completion of work on its BEAM module, which will be launched to the ISS in September aboard SpaceX' Dragon spacecraft. The module will provide additional habitable space on the station as NASA tests how well the expandable technology performs in space - via Parabolic Arc.

  • Satellite fleet operator Arabsat of Saudi Arabia has selected Lockheed Martin Space Systems to build two telecommunications satellites following an international competition - via SpaceNews.
  • Thales Alenia Space and Omnisys have inaugurated their joint Space Technology Center in the Sao Jose dos Campos technology park in Brazil - via Via Satellite.
  • Airbus Defence and Space has been selected by the French defence procurement agency to construct three CERES signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites, as well as to be the joint prime contractor together with Thales Alenia Space for the overall system.
  • Jeff Garzik, Bitcoin pioneer and CEO of Dunvegan Space Systems (DSS), announced he has signed a contract with Deep Space Industries (DSI) to build a 24 BitSat satellite constellation as the first element of a new strategic alliance between the two firms.
  • Swiss Space Systems announced that negotiations with investors were successful and lead to company's Initial Public Offering later in 2015, enabling it to consolidate financial status and to grow in order to reach the goals - via Parabolic Arc.
  • Satellite services provider ViaSat Inc. said it had concluded terms for a $524.9 million loan from the US Export-Import Bank to cover the costs for 6,740 kg ViaSat-2 Ka-band satellite, being built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems and to be launched in mid-2016 aboard Falcon Heavy rocket from Florida - via SpaceNews.
  • XCOR Aerospace announced that John H. Gibson has been appointed as CEO and President of the company to succeed Jeff Greason, who is transitioning to Chief Technology Officer - press-release.


  • Congressional ban to use Russian engines to launch US national security payloads may prevent United Launch Alliance from competing for military satellites launches starting as early as this year, US Air Force warned - via SpaceNews.
  • CNES said that government research program stimulating French industry to develop all-electric-propulsion satellites has awarded ≈$30 million for its first phase, with more to come to help with in-flight technology validation. Forecasts say that by 2020 half of all commercial telecommunications satellites will be all-electric - via SpaceNews.
  • Launch vehicle activities are the dominant feature of ISRO budget allocation of near $1.2 billion for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, which begins April 1. India space program covers many efforts, such as putting in operation of GSLV Mk III and production of ISRO's workhorse PSLV; human spaceflight-related technologies; second vehicle assembly building and, possibly, third launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre; Indian Regional Satellite Navigation System, GEO-satellite imaging program, 4-ton-class GEO-communications satellite, and Cartosat-3 with 0.25-meter (!) resolution.

New Tech & Tests

  • World View commercial balloon spaceflight company completed their 1st commercial flight carrying research payloads as part of NASA's Flight Opportunities Program. This program gives students, researchers and educators opportunity to fly their experiments and payloads with proven commercial flight companies to near-space - via SpaceRef.
  • JAXA succeeded in transmitting electric power wirelessly to a pinpoint target using microwaves within the Space Solar Power Systems program, which means a space-based solar power plant that generates energy by collecting sunlight in GEO-orbit.
  • High-power cryogenic engine CE-20, to be used on India's GSLV Mk III rocket, was successfully hot tested for 20 sec at ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) at Mahendragiri.

Space Exploration

  • Soyuz capsule successfully returned on Earth three Expedition 42 crew members after a 167-day mission on the International Space Station (ISS) that included hundreds of scientific experiments and several spacewalks to prepare the orbiting laboratory for future arrivals by US commercial crew spacecraft - NASA.
  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) would go through a mission concept review within the next month - via SpaceNews.
  • Chang'e-4 lunar exploration mission, to be launched to the Moon by 2020 in order to conduct technical experiments and collect data, for the first time in history of Chinese space industry will be developed with private investments.
  • Lockheed Martin confirmed submission of a proposal for NASA's Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) competition. The technologies behind this proposal contain 3 major elements: a reusable space servicing vehicle called Jupiter™; a large, versatile cargo container named the Exoliner™; and a robotic arm. Company's approach to the CRS-2 program offers NASA extensive cargo capacity and the opportunity to host commercial payloads, as well as to build a foundation for future deep space exploration systems.

Jupiter spacecraft, Exoliner cargo container and the robotic arm docking to the ISS
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Spaceports and Other

  • Albuquerque Journal suggests that it is bad idea to sell Spaceport America, since it would throw away 20 years of planning, put the project behind at least 10 years, and likely kill the spaceport.
  • United Launch Alliance has launched a nice website in order to promote itself and its launch services.
  • SpaceX is deep into construction of a new horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 39A. This structure is being built at the base of the pad on Kennedy Space Center's historic crawlerway to process the crewed Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket for Commercial Crew flights. The pad facilities also will be used for launches of Falcon Heavy rocket.

New horizontal integration facility of SpaceX at Launch Complex 39A
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  • Dmitry Rogozin visited again Vostochny spaceport in order to inspect its construction successes. Thanks to him and Alexander Kovalev, RIA Novosti journalist, we have these photos of up-to-date status of Vostochny. It is worth to note that Soyuz-2 launch complex here looks more like one in Kourou than one in Baikonur:

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