space digest

May 11-17, 2015

Proton-M mission failure, battles in the US Government & Congress over space funding, few words about Elon Musk, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Logo of the 68th International Astronautical Congress, to be held in Adelaide, introduced!
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Quote of the Week

"In cases of clear head-to-head matchups with SpaceX, so far we have won most of the [launch services] contracts." Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace

Chief of Arianespace launch consortium said the company can beat competitor SpaceX in the open market with a euro/dollar exchange rate at today's levels and the planned 5-6% percent reduction in Ariane 5 rocket production and launch costs - SpaceNews.

Video of the Week

UrtheCast, Usher and Pepsi partner to create a first-of-its-kind short film, incorporating footage captured from UrtheCast's two cameras aboard the International Space Station, for the 2015 Pepsi Challenge™ global campaign.

Proton-M fails to orbit Mexsat-Centinario telecom satellite

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Mexsat-Centenario mission poster. Credit: ILS

On May 16, 2015, International Launch Services (ILS) conducted launch of Proton-M rocket, Breeze-M upper stage with Mexsat-1, called Centenario, Mexican telecom satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome. During 3rd stage burn a flight anomaly happened, resulting in the mission's failure. According to Roscosmos' release, "incorrect operation of 3rd stage engines was detected on the 497th sec of flight. Failure hapened at the altitude of 161 km. 3rd stage, upper stage and the satellite almost completely burnt in the atmosphere."

Launch provider ILS, commercial branch of Khrunichev Space Center, has launched Centenario for the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) of Mexico, national federal entity that regulates commercial road traffic and broadcasting. During a press-conference Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, Secretary of Communications and Transportation, emphasized that Mexico invested near $300 million in Mexsat-1 design and development, and $90 million in the launch services. All this amount will be covered by insurers.

Mexsat-1, called Centenario in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, was part of Mexico's next-generation satellite communications system that provides communications services for voice, data, video transmission and internet access in remote areas. The spacecraft was built by Boeing Satellite Systems on the 702HP GEM satellite platform. It weighs 5325 kg at lift-off and is fitted with L-band and Ku-band transponders.

Proton-M launches Mexsat-Centenario on May 16
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Title photo of the digest is Proton-M payload fairing for the Mexsat-Centenario mission.


  • Two years after Armadillo Aerospace suspended operations, a new company featuring many of same people is planning to resume development of its vehicles. Exos Aerospace is planning to begin launches of a reusable sounding rocket called Suborbital Active Rocket with Guidance (SARGE) next year from Spaceport America - SpaceNews.
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne and two other firms said they are exploring options for obtaining data rights to Atlas V launch vehicle and replace its Russian-built RD-180 engines with the AR1 engines, being developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne, since United Launch Alliance to use Vulcan rocket, with Blue Origin's BE-4 engines, from the early 2020s - Reuters.
  • Two entrepreneurial space companies best known for their work on suborbital reusable launch vehicles, XCOR Aerospace and Masten Space Systems, say they are in the early stages of development of orbital launch systems - SpaceNews.
  • NASA is planning to request proposals later this year for the dedicated launch of very small satellites. NASA Launch Services Program issued a draft request for proposals for a new effort called Venture Class Launch Services. In the current draft, NASA plans to launch 60 kilograms of “U-class” satellites, widely known as CubeSats, in either one or two dedicated launches to low Earth orbit in 2018 - SpaceNews.
  • US Air Force released a draft Request for Proposal for GPS III launch services, marking the first competition for launches (likely between SpaceX and United Launch Alliance) in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program in more than a decade. US Air Force plans to compete nine launches between now and 2017, followed by 25 more from 2018 to 2022 - Via Satellite.
  • Two commercial geostationary telecom satellites, featuring new all-electric spacecraft design by Boeing, which were launched on March 2 aboard Falcon 9, are expected to reach their final orbits at least a month ahead of schedule. ABS-3A and the Eutelsat 115 West B spacecraft owners said a particularly good launch injection by SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is the main reason for that - SpaceNews.
  • Airbus Safran Launchers submitted its formal bid to design and build Europe's next-generation Ariane 6 rocket, a contract valued at around $3.6 billion that the European Space Agency hopes to sign by the end of June. The contract does not include a new Ariane 6 launch pad, a contract with an estimated value of about $685 million that is under the responsibility of the French space agency, CNES, not the industry team. The goal is to develop the vehicle in time for an inaugural launch in 2020 - SpaceNews.

Ariane 6 artist concept. Credit: ESA
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  • Thales Alenia Space, Telespazio and SSM announced that Göktürk-1 Earth observation satellite for the Turkish Ministry of Defense has been shipped to Ankara AIT center in order to start environmental tests - press-release.
  • European Space Agency contracted with Airbus Defence and Space to build an ocean topography satellite to follow on from today's US-European Jason spacecraft. Under the contract, valued at $192 million, Airbus will build the 1,400 kg Jason-CS/Sentinel-6A satellite in time for a launch in 2020. The contract includes a fixed-price option for an identical second satellite that would be launched in around 2025 - SpaceNews.
  • Belintersat, national satellite operator of Belarus, is less than a year away from the launch of its first spacecraft. Belintersat-1, made by China Great Wall Industry Corporation with the Export-Import Bank of China securing a preferential credit line for the project, is scheduled to launch during the fourth quarter of 2015 or the first quarter of 2016 from China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center - Via Satellite.
  • Kacific Broadband Satellites, an emerging satellite operator in the Asia-Pacific region, sees a huge opportunity to deliver satellite broadband to remote communities of the Pacific islands, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. With plans to launch the company's first satellite around the end of 2016, Kacific has already signed six contracts to deliver more affordable broadband services - Via Satellite.
  • Europe-Russia's ExoMars next-generation Martian spacecraft is seen undergoing vibration testing at Thales Alenia Space in preparation for its launch next year:

ExoMars spacecraft vibration testing. Credit: ESA
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  • Rocket engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne is reported to laid off an estimated 65 of its workers - Spaceflight Insider. At the same time United Launch Alliance said it was cutting its executive ranks by 30% in December through what it called voluntary departures by 12 executives - Reuters.
  • UrtheCast announced financial results for the three months ended March 31, 2015. The Company reported comprehensive income of $264,000 in the quarter, compared to a loss of $3.9 million in the same quarter last year.
  • Satellite operator Avanti said capacity of its three-satellite fleet, principally Hylas 1 and Hylas 2 satellites, were between 15% and 20% full during 3 months ending March 31. Despite this relatively low use, company is in a hurry to launch Avanti 3 and Avanti 4 satellites as soon as possible. Avanti also reported revenue for nine months ending March 31 totaled $48.9 million, up 26% over the same period year ago - SpaceNews.
  • Magellan Aerospace released (PDF) its financial results for the first quarter of 2015 and recorded its highest quarterly revenues and net income in history. All amounts are expressed in Canadian dollars.
  • Spaceport America, the world's 1st purposely-built commercial spaceport, announced publication of its go-to-market strategy and business plan that can be seen here (PDF).
  • Satellite and rocket-component builder OHB reported a drop in revenue by 15.3%, to $166 million, for the three months ending March 31 but said it remains on track to meet its full-year revenue goal - SpaceNews.
  • A high-tech aerospace company, reported to be Blue Origin, is looking for $8 million in incentives from North Brevard Economic Development Zone in order to build a 330-employee facility at Exploration Park near the Kennedy Space Center - Florida Today.

Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle blasts off during its first developmental test flight. Credit: Blue Origin
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  • Commercially focused satellite imagery firms that have emerged in recent years on a wave of Silicon Valley venture capital could gain a major US government customer as early as 2017: the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) - SpaceNews.
  • According to Euroconsult's newly released research, world government expenditures for space programs decreased by 4% to $66.5 billion in 2014. The decrease in US military space expenditures combined with the impact of adverse exchange rates on Russia had a considerable influence on global trends as the two countries together account for 65% of space expenditures worldwide. Government spending excluding the US and Russia actually increased by 8% in 2014.
  • NASA released the 2015 technology roadmaps laying out promising new technologies that will help NASA achieve its aeronautics, science and human exploration missions for the next 20 years, including the agency's journey to Mars. The agency is seeking public comment on the draft roadmaps to increase awareness, generate innovative solutions for space exploration and scientific discovery, and inspire public involvement in America's space program. Public input will be accepted here until June 10.
  • House appropriations subcommittee approved spending bill that fully funds the Obama administration's overall request for NASA, but cuts funding from commercial crew and space technology and adds it to the SLS program and planetary science - SpaceNews.
  • Defense authorization bill just drafted in the US Senate would leave United Launch Alliance with fewer Atlas V rocket engines than the company says it needs to stay in the competitive national security launch arena until its next-generation rocket becomes available - SpaceNews. Overall the bill authorizes $612 billion funding for Department of Defense and national security programs of Department of Energy - press-release.
  • A bill introduced in the Senate by the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee would set stiff requirements for future NOAA satellites as part of an effort to improve "seasonal" weather forecasts - Space Policy Online.

JPSS-1, NOAA's next polar orbiting environmental satellite. Credit: Ball Aerospace
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New Tech & Tests

  • DARPA issued Request for Information, seeking ideas for revolutionary telescope systems that could provide the first-ever ability to closely inspect objects in geosynchronous Earth orbit from the ground - press-release.
  • Massachusetts-based Draper Laboratory designed, and NASA funded, Variable Vector Countermeasure Suit (V2Suit) that uses a new spacesuit technology to create a sort of artificial gravity, which provides astronauts with a sense of up and down while helping relieve some of the detrimental effects of weightlessness - Gizmag.
  • A team of Japanese astronomers are developing a proposal to add lasers to a telescope they are building for the International Space Station. They intend to start with a small beam, similar to one from a laser pointer, and increase its power to become a full laser cannon. This laser beam is expected to zap space debris and destroy it - Sputnik News.
  • Construction of Orion crew module and crew module adapter full-scale mockup was completed at Lockheed Martin facility. This mockup was transferred to Orion Test Lab, where engineers will configure it with the exact harnessing, electrical power, sensors, avionics and flight software in order to verify these vehicle components.
  • A team of engineers tested hydrogen burn-off igniters for NASA's Space Launch System at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. "When the engines start up on the launch pad, there is a small amount of hydrogen that can potentially collect at the aft of the rocket," explained engineer Don Nance. "About 10 sec before liftoff, the igniters burn off that excess hydrogen rather than let it burn on its own, which could be a safety concern."
  • NASA and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, known as America Makes, are holding a new $2.25 million competition to design and build a 3-D printed habitat for deep space exploration, including the agency's journey to Mars.
  • Northrop Grumman formed a scientific advisory board to guide its efforts to develop a lighter-than-air vehicle to explore Venus's environment. The Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) concept is a long-lived, maneuverable, semi-buoyant platform that would coast through Venus's clouds gathering atmospheric data.

Artist's concept of Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP). Credit: Northrop Grumman
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Space Exploration

  • NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) Program is kicking off its critical design review, which would demonstrate that the SLS design meets all system requirements with acceptable risk, and accomplishes that within cost and schedule constraints. It also proves that SLS should continue with full-scale production, assembly and testing.
  • Engineers from three NASA centers are partnering at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to remove and analyze some 180 small squares of an ablative material called Avcoat - the outer coating of the heat shield that protected the Orion crew module during its 2014 flight test.
  • It's been a month since JAXA announced plans to fly-by asteroid 2000 DP107, but it's not going to happen. An experimental suitcase-sized space probe, launched as a secondary payload with Hayabusa 2 mission in December, will miss an encounter with an asteroid early next year, according to Japanese scientists - AstroWatch.
  • Moon Express announced a $24 million multi-mission project with the National Laboratories of Frascati and the University of Maryland to deliver a new generation of lunar laser ranging arrays to the Moon. Under the agreement, "MoonLIGHT" instruments will be carried on the first Moon Express' missions - PR Newswire.
  • Astrobotic and Hakuto's space robots, which will be flying together to the surface of the Moon within $20 million Google Lunar XPrize competition, met for the first time during their driving tests.

Meeting of Astrobotic and Hakuto's space robots. Credit: GLXP
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  • The Washington Post released an interesting article "The 22 most memorable quotes from the new Elon Musk book, ranked", where noted some anecdotes and quotes that illuminate who Musk is. However, two of those quotes, in particular, one where Musk scolded a Tesla coworker for missing a company event to witness the birth of his child, Elon Musk denied.
  • An exciting, but pretty long, story about Elon Musk and his early steps in space market by Bloomberg Business - 'Elon Musk's Space Dream Almost Killed Tesla'.
  • Interview with Eric Stallmer, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation - Orlando Sentinel.
  • Sarah Brightman announced that she is postponing her plans to launch aboard the upcoming Soyuz TMA-18M spaceflight mission. Ms. Brightman said that for personal family reasons her intentions had changed and she is postponing her training and flight plans at this time. She would like to express her extreme gratitude to Roscosmos, Energia, GCTC (Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center), Star City, NASA and all the cosmonauts and astronauts, for their support during this exciting time in her life.

Sarah Brightman during her cosmonaut traning. Credit: Sarah Brightman website
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