space digest

May 18-24, 2015

Successful launch of Atlas V with X-37B Test Vehicle, Conference “Space Technologies: Present and Future” held in Ukraine, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Launch of Atlas V with X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. Credit: Alex Polimeni
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On May 20, 2015, United Launch Alliance conducted successful launch of Atlas V with the US Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle and secondary payloads within AFSPC-5 mission from Cape Canaveral. Following primary spacecraft (X-37B) separation, Centaur upper stage changed altitude and inclination in order to release the ULTRASat spacecraft consisting of eight Poly-Pico Orbital Deployers (P-PODs) that contain 10 CubeSats sponsored by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and NASA.

Sad of the Week

Sad week for the European space industry: Antonio Fabrizi, ESA Director of Launchers, died at the age of 67; Harald Posch, the Chair of the ESA Council, passed away aged 60.
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ESA mourns loss of Antonio Fabrizi. Passing of Harald Posch.

Video of the Week

Point-of-View video of Pad Abort Test, the first key flight test of Crew Dragon spacecraft, a vehicle designed by SpaceX to carry astronauts to and from space.

5th International Conference “Space Technologies: Present and Future” was held in Ukraine

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Conference logo

The conference “Space Technologies: Present and Future” was established by Ukrainian space industry organizations, including Yuzhnoye State Design Office (Yuzhnoye SDO), Yuzhmash Plant, and State Space Agency of Ukraine. It was this year for the 5th time under the aegis of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).

On the first Conference day opening ceremony, press-conference, and a plenary session were held. Top-level attendees included Oleg Uruskyi, Chief of State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU), Marius-Ioan Piso, President of Romanian Space Agency, Claude Nicollier, the first astronaut of Switzerland, Filippo Graziani, Member of the IAA Board of Trustees, Klim Churyumov, co-founder of worldwide famous 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet, Arthur Dula, Trustee of the Robert and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust, and other.

On the second and third Conference days 5 technical sessions, two round-tables, and a closing ceremony were held. Along with Ukraine's conventional product range, which includes launchers, satellites and their components, following globally important space-related issues were discussed during the Conference: advanced materials and technologies, space debris removal, in-orbit servicing, asteroid protection means, etc. 6th International Conference “Space Technologies: Present and Future” was decided to be held in May 2017.


  • NASA has certified SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket to launch all but the agency's most costly science missions. The first such mission for SpaceX will be the launch of a US- France Jason-3 oceanography satellite, scheduled for liftoff this July - The Science Times.
  • Indian government approved a budget of $484 million to build and launch 15 PSLV rockets between 2017 and 2020, meeting a demand for 4-5 launches per year “with the possibility of clinching commercial launch service contracts” - SpaceNews.
  • General Director of Russia's Khrunichev Space Center Andrey Kalinovsky forecasts decline in the number of commercial launches following the recent failure of Proton-M rocket. Moreover, insurance cost for Proton rockets may sharply increase due to poor reliability level of Russian rockets - TASS Agency.
  • India is on the final stages of developing its own reusable space launch vehicle. ISRO's 1.5 ton vehicle is slated to make its maiden flight atop a PSLV rocket in the end of July or August. Officially known as the reusable launch vehicle (RLV), it is undergoing final preparations at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre - The Times Of India.
  • Russia is also seeking development of space vehicles' reusability technologies. Deputy Prime-minister Dmitry Rogozin said "Roscosmos corporation should intensify research into reusable craft," since many countries are already far ahead of Russia in possessing such technologies - TASS Agency.
  • Three separate launch pads for medium and small-class Soyuz-2 rockets will be built at Plesetsk space center by 2019. Renovation works at Plesetsk include building of 72 new sites and renovation of 26 existing ones. The first launch of a Soyuz-2 rocket from the new launch pad is expected for 2017 - Sputnik News.
  • Arianespace reported 2014 revenue of €1.399 billion, a 41% increase over 2013 revenue of €989 million. The company set a record in 2014 with 11 launches, using its three launch systems operated from the Guiana Space Center. With six launches of Ariane 5, four by Soyuz and one by Vega, Arianespace orbited last year a total of 23 spacecraft.

Ariane 5 lifts off with its heaviest payload ever – ATV Georges Lemaître – from French Guiana on July 29, 2014. Credit: Arianespace
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  • Sierra Nevada Corporation was competitively selected by Exelis Geospatial Systems to develop and build the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI) Azimuth Rotation Module (ARM) for the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) mission. Exelis is the prime contractor to NASA for the RBI.
  • ASTROSAT, the first dedicated Indian astronomy mission aimed at studying distant celestial objects, crossed a major milestone – spacecraft was fully assembled and its tests were initiated. The satellite is planned to be launched during the second half of 2015 by PSLV to a 650 km near equatorial orbit around the Earth.
  • DigitalGlobe retired its IKONOS imaging satellite, launched on September 24, 1999, and performed for more than double of its original design life. Built by Lockheed Martin, IKONOS captured more than 400 million square km of Earth imagery - Via Satellite.
  • Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation of Brazil Aldo Rebelo and Director of China National Space Administration (CNSA) Xu Dazhe signed a letter of intent to develop and launch the sixth Sino-Brazilian Earth imaging spaceraft CBERS-4A (Port.).
  • NASA's GOES-R satellite, slated to launch in 2016, is ready for environmental tests, which will simulate harsh conditions of launch and space environment once the satellite is in orbit.
  • Nearly 7 months after a fatal breakup destroyed Virgin Galactic's first SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, the second SpaceShipTwo reached a construction milestone: "weight on wheels," the point at which the structure is able to stand on its own landing gear rather than resting on supports - NBC News.

2nd SpaceShipTwo space plane lowered onto landing gear. Credit: Virgin Galactic
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  • Recent Proton-M rocket failure is having immediate ripple effects on future missions for commercial and government customers. The first to quantify the effects was mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat, which said the inevitable delay to the launch of its third Global Xpress satellite is forcing the company to withdraw its revenue-growth forecast for core mobile satellite revenue between 2014 and 2016 - SpaceNews.
  • Practica Capital makes a 200,000 EUR seed investment in NanoAvionics, which is the first Lithuanian space technologies start-up and one of the first space start-ups in Eastern Europe to obtain a venture capital investment. The founders of NanoAvionics are members of the successful project LituanicaSAT-1 - Sturtup Lithuania.
  • Global satellite communications solutions provider X2nSat announced its decision to partner with Spaceport America. X2nSat has signed a Memorandum of Agreement for the long-term lease of land and access to infrastructure as the first VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) solution provider within Spaceport America's new satellite gateway ground station development.
  • Kymeta is enhancing the ecosystem of its unique mTenna product ahead of commercial release of the company's 70-cm Ku-band apertures in 2016. The company partners with Airbus Defence and Space on maritime connectivity, Intellian on maritime, Intelsat on next generation capabilities, Honeywell and Inmarsat on aviation - Via Satellite.
  • Satellite hardware and service provider ViaSat said it is facing capacity limits on more than half the beams on its ViaSat-1 satellite and that the situation will worsen until ViaSat-2 is in orbit. The company reported higher per-subscriber monthly revenue in 3 months ending April 3 compared to the previous three-month period - SpaceNews.
  • NanoRacks announced changes in the company's leadership and management team. According to company, "these changes reflect its rapid growth and advancement".

NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer, deploying Planet Labs' Flock 1B Doves from the ISS. Credit: NanoRacks
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  • Mexican communications company Globalsat signed an agreement with Hispasat for capacity from transponders on Amazonas 2 and Amazonas 3 satellites - Via Satellite.
  • Satellite geospatial services provider DigitalGlobe dismissed the potential threat from numerous startup Earth imagery providers, saying those that survive the inevitable shakeout could become DigitalGlobe imagery partners, much as competitor Airbus Defence and Space of Europe is today - SpaceNews.
  • United Launch Alliance said it would go out of business unless it won commercial and civil satellite launch orders to offset an expected slump in US military and spy missions. ULA President Tory Bruno said the company must attract those kind of orders to remain a "viable economic entity", so it is developing a new rocket that in seven or eight years could launch satellites twice as fast at half the current cost - Reuters.
  • Apax Partners of France is negotiating the purchase of Airbus Defence and Space's mobile satellite communications services division - which Apax sold to Airbus in 2011 - in a deal that is expected to be closed as early as the end of May - SpaceNews.
  • In previous Weekly Space Digest we wrote that Blue Origin was looking for $8 million in incentives from North Brevard Economic Development Zone in order to build a 330-employee facility near the Kennedy Space Center. It is reported that the Board voted 8-1 to approve this incentives. Separately, the Board voted 9-0 in favor of a $1.735 million grant for Lockheed Martin, which is considering a 300-employee facility - Parabolic Arc.
  • Two Silicon Valley startups, Aquila Space and Astro Digital, are preparing to launch four digital imagery satellites in 2016 as they begin forming the Landmapper-BC (Broad Coverage) and Landmapper-HD (High Definition) constellations to gather multispectral imagery for agricultural applications - SpaceNews.
  • XPRIZE and Google have officially confirmed a further extension of the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE until the end of 2017.
  • XCOR Aerospace received funding from chinese venture capital firm Haiyin Capital. Although XCOR hasn't announced this yet, Haiyin Capital's investment is listed on the venture capital firm's website. According to it, the fund has just finished dispersing its third fund of $50 million into mostly US tech startups, such as LightSail Energy, 1366 Tech, XCOR Aerospace, and AngelList - Parabolic Arc.

XCOR Lynx Mark I vehicle being fabricated at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Credit: XCOR Aerospace
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  • Khrunichev Space Center, one of Russia's leading companies of space industry, has been exposed by the country's investigators of mismanaging and embezzling around $182 million in 2014, Russian Deputy Prime-minister Dmitry Rogozin said - Sputnik News.
  • House defense spending panel has recommended $649 million less than the Pentagon requested next year for a newly created military space procurement account that includes eight major programs - SpaceNews.
  • House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that provides $18.5 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2016, despite criticism from some members about reductions in the agency's science and commercial crew programs - SpaceNews.
  • US House of Representatives passed a bill with a number of commercial space policy provisions, despite objections about the bill's language and warnings that the Senate is unlikely to adopt it - SpaceNews. Some facts behind the House passed the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act - SpaceRef.
  • Total costs of Russia's Federal Space Program have increased 30% because of Western-imposed sanctions, Roscosmos Statistics Secretary Denis Lyskov said - Sputnik News.
  • Russian auditors have uncovered 92 billion rubles ($1.8 billion) in financial violations committed in 2014 by the Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, the head of Russia's Audit Chamber Tatyana Golikova said - The Moscow Times.
  • Massive schedule delays and cost overruns on two European Earth observation missions, both using lasers to illuminate the Earth's atmosphere and measure the reflected results, have caused the European Space Agency to modify the way it contracts for environmental satellites with unproven technology - SpaceNews.

Scheduled for launch in 2017, Airbus-built ADM-Aeolus wind-speed-measuring satellite now expected to be ready for launch in 2017. Credit: ESA
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New Tech & Tests

  • ULA aquired two additive manufacturing Fortus 900mc 3D Production Systems from Stratasys in order to begin the process of updating the Environmental Control System (ECS) duct on the Atlas V, which will launch with the new 3D component in 2016. ULA also selected Stratasys' ULTEM 9085 FDM thermoplastic material to produce durable, high-performance end-use parts - Inside 3DP.
  • NASA's Human Research Program (HRP) and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) will fund 24 proposals to help investigate questions about astronaut health and performance on future deep space exploration missions - NASA.
  • NASA has announced opportunities for public-private partnerships to achieve its goals of expanding capabilities and opportunities in space. NASA is soliciting proposals for technologies that enable or provide: robotic, in-space manufacturing and assembly, low size, weight and power instruments, SmallSat control sensors and actuators, and SmallSat propulsion systems - NASA.
  • In order to support testing of electric propulsion and power systems, NASA's Glenn Research Center has Vacuum Chamber 5 (VF-5) with the highest pumping speed of any electric propulsion test facility in the world, which is important in maintaining a continuous space-like environment during the tests - NASA.

Vacuum Chamber 5 at NASA's Glenn Research Center. Credit: NASA
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Space Exploration

  • Workers are deep into construction of the first two tiers of new crew access tower for Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. Boeing and ULA are building the tower so astronauts and ground support teams can access CST-100 spacecraft for missions to the ISS. Meanwhile, Aitech Defense Systems was awarded a contract by Boeing to provide crew interface system computer and displays for the CST-100 spacecraft - Parabolic Arc.
  • NASA has issued a Request for Information seeking ideas from American companies for a spacecraft design that could be used for both the agency's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and a robotic satellite servicing mission in low-Earth orbit - SpaceRef.
  • Indian Space Research Organisation and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute issued a joint statement committing to cooperate in areas of lunar exploration, satellite navigation and space science - Business Standard. Meanwhile, India lost interest in Russian project of lunar soil samples taking by means of Luna-27 station, that was expected to be a part of Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission - TASS Agency.
  • India's SRM University may become the national first university to launch a satellite to the Moon by 2018 in order to research rocks on the Moon's surface and their chemical composition.
  • China's Lunar Exploration Program announced plans to land Chang'e-4 spacecreaft on far side of the Moon, which has never been explored, only photographed - DSCOVRD.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered designing a Russian space station, Deputy Prime-minister Dmitry Rogozin said. "The task to create a new orbital station has been set by the president" - TASS Agency.
  • SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on May 21 with 1,400 kg of NASA cargo from the International Space Station, including research on how spaceflight and microgravity affect the aging process and bone health.

SpaceX Dragon before and after the mission to the ISS. Credit: SpaceX
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  • Build you own NASA's Orion spacecraft using this PDF-file with the spacecraft's sub-assemblies and step-by-step assembly diagram.
  • Beijing Institute of Space Science and Technology Information, affiliated to China Academy of Space Technology, evaluated world's space powers according to its unique methodology. According to the report, China's space capabilities were ranked as the fourth in the world, and the gap between leading powers is narrowing - iCross China.

China's evaluation of the world's space powers. Credit: Lu Ye
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