space digest

May 25-31, 2015

RS-25 rocket engine test, Falcon 9 certification completion, Ariane 5 launch, Proton-M failure investigation results, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Cabling for ESA’s BepiColombo spacecraft testing. Rocket science is complicated and sinuous. Credit: ESA
Preview 556c2a9053706131f4c10000

Video of the Week

Engineers at NASA's Stennis Space Center conducted successful 450-second test of RS-25 rocket engine on the historic A-1 Test Stand where Apollo Program rocket and Space Shuttle main engines also were tested. RS-25 engines tested on the stand will power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, Space Launch System (SLS). Four RS-25 engines will power the SLS at launch, firing simultaneously to generate more than 725 ton of thrust.

Ariane 5 and Falcon 9 prove again their status of reliable, and available, workhorses for commercial and governmental missions

Thumb 556c30e353706131efd90000
Launch of Ariane 5 from Guiana Space Center. Credit: Arianespace

On May 27, 2015, Arianespace conducted successful launch of Ariane 5 launch vehicle with DirecTV-15 and SKY México-1 TV broadcast satellites into a geosynchronous orbit from Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. On its fourth launch of the year and second with the Ariane 5 heavy launcher, Arianespace orbited DirecTV-15 for DirecTV, one of the world's leading providers of TV-services, and SKY México-1 (SKYM-1) for SKY Mexico, leading Mexican pay-TV market company, owned by DirecTV and Mexico's Grupo Televisa.

DirecTV-15 was the 8th satellite orbited by Arianespace for the private operator DirecTV, and the 111th payload built by Airbus Defence and Space that was launched by this launch services provider. SKYM-1, made by Orbital ATK using a GEOStar-2.4E platform, was the 26th Orbital ATK-built satellite that was launched by Arianespace. Mission was designated VA223 in Arianespace's numbering system – signifying the 223rd lift-off of Ariane-series vehicles since 1979. As for the Ariane 5 launchers, the flight was 79th overall.

Meanwhile, US Air Force announced last week long-awaited completion of certification of SpaceX's Falcon 9 Launch System for national security space missions. This fact makes the company eligible to compete against United Launch Alliance (ULA), which held a virtual monopoly on launching the nation's most critical military missions since 2006. The first upcoming opportunity for SpaceX to compete to provide launch services is projected to be in June when the Air Force releases a Request for Proposal for GPS III launch services.

Contrary to Ariane 5 and Falcon 9, Russian Proton-M heavy-lift launcher continues its downgrade move. Last week Roscosmos officially informed about investigation results of the recent Proton-M launch failure, 7th failure since 2010 and 2nd within a year caused by 3rd stage engines malfunction. Thus, the recent failure was caused by 3rd stage steering engine malfunction, which, in turn, was resulted from high vibration loads that were caused by turbopump's rotor unbalancing due to high temperatures and poor trim balance.

All these Proton-M failures result in higher insurance cost, less contracts, higher manufacturing cost and, as the result, higher price for a customer. This, in turn, helps Arianespace and SpaceX, operators of Ariane 5 and Falcon 9 rockets, respectively, attract more commercial orders, what makes once every-month-launched Proton-M rocket applicable only for rare Russian governmental missions, and gradually destroys business of the US-based International Launch Services, operator of commerical Proton-M launches.


  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has 6 space missions expected for the rest of 2015, including long-awaited Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) mission scheduled for mid-year. The nearest launch is PSLV C-28 mission with three UK satellites, scheduled for early July. Also, along with RLD-TD mission, PSLV C-30 with Astrosat spacecraft, PSLV C-29 and PSLV C-31 with IRNSS navigation satellites, and GSLV launch are expected till the end of 2015 - The New Indian Express.
  • Airbus Safran Launchers, which is building Europe's next-generation Ariane 6 rocket, said it had agreed to contribute $440 million to the development contract it expects to sign with the European Space Agency (ESA) in July. Company President Alain Charmeau said that, in addition, Airbus Safran Launchers had agreed with ESA that another $220 million of the Ariane 6 development contract would be removed as unnecessary expenditures - SpaceNews.

Artist concept of Ariane 6 in four solid boosters version (A64). Credit: ESA
Preview 556c45a253706131efdd0000


  • Clyde Space, CubeSats and SmallSats industry pioneer, marked its 10th anniversary on May 29. Along with other achievements, combined successful in-orbit operation of Clyde Space's CubeSat products for this decade exceeded 300 years - press-release.
  • Airbus Defence and Space successfully completed development and design phase of Grace-FO (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment follow-on) satellites. Following delivery of highly stable satellite structures, the building phase of two NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) research satellites has begun. The Grace-FO mission is based on an US-German cooperation agreement - press-release.
  • Space Systems Loral (SSL) announced that Star One C4 satellite, designed and built for Embratel Star One, has arrived at the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, where it will be launched aboard an Ariane 5 launch vehicle by Arianespace. The launch will mark the 50th SSL mission with Arianespace - press-release.
  • Airbus Defence and Space-built C-band radar instrument for Sentinel-1B satellite is now on its way to “meet" its spacecraft at Thales Alenia Space, the prime contractor for Copernicus, Earth observation program. After integration and testing, the satellite is scheduled for launch in 2016 to join Sentinel-1A, an identical twin of Sentinel-1B, which has been in orbit since 3 April 2014 - press-release.
  • Indian ISRO is building a massive 4-ton class communications satellite at its Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre (SAC). The satellite, GSAT-11, will be equivalent to 150 transponders and will transmit data at 10 gigabytes per second, being the first such capacity domestically-built spacecraft that will provide TV-broadcast and other services across India - The Indian Express.
  • After successful launch aboard Atlas V, Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft went silent after two days of communications. However, the solar sailing test mission, precursor to a 2016 mission, now resumed contact after a suspected software glitch affected communications. LightSail team will soon determine when to attempt deployment of the spacecraft's Mylar solar sail - press-release.
  • Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) welcomed high-ranking UK officials Michael Boyd and Peter Martin to the company's Guildford Headquarters. SSTL Managing Director Patrick Wood hosted the visit, which included a tour in Kepler Building where SSTL is currently assembling more than 20 spacecraft. The visit coincided with the completion of SSTL's new Spacecraft Operations Centre (SOC) - press-release.

SSTL’s new Spacecraft Operations Centre (SOC). Credit: SSTL
Preview 556c4cce53706131efe00000


  • In previous Weekly Space Digest we wrote that XCOR Aerospace received funding from chinese venture capital firm Haiyin Capital. A person with knowledge of the deal told Forbes that Haiyin's total investment in XCOR was $5 million at a valuation of $140 million. When contacted, XCOR declined to comment this information - Parabolic Arc.
  • The chairman of SmallSat pioneer SSTL said market enthusiasm for small satellites may have gone too far, with satellite development accelerating beyond sustainable business models. In other words, Sir Martin Sweeting warned of a bubble in SmallSat technology investment - SpaceNews.
  • Saab and DigitalGlobe announced creation of a joint venture – Vricon – to produce photo-realistic 3D-products and digital elevation models globally for enterprise and government geospatial markets. Vricon combines Saab's unique 3D-technology and know-how with DigitalGlobe's unrivaled archive, which contains billions of square kilometers of the world's highest quality commercial satellite imagery - press-release.
  • Telesat of Canada, Hispasat of Spain and YahSat of the UAE were the high bidders at a Brazilian auction of orbital slots and associated frequencies, winning 4 licenses at three orbital slots, according to Brazil's telecommunications regulator, Anatel - SpaceNews.
  • Spire appointed Antoine de Chassy, former Astrium Geo-Information North America president and CEO, as its senior business development executive - Via Satellite. Meanwhile Reaction Engines, UK-based developer of Skylon space system and unique SABRE engine, welcomed Mark Thomas as the new Managing Director - press-release.
  • US bankruptcy court's decision to allow Lockheed Martin to cancel a satellite contract with a near-penniless customer – startup satellite operator NewSat of Australia - meant for the US and French export-credit agencies their first satellite industry failure. For the US Export-Import Bank, this failure means loss of over $100 million - SpaceNews.
  • Orbital ATK announced pro forma revenues of $1,116 million and operating income of $116.7 million for the quarter ended March 31, 2015. The company, seing satellites business as the top growth area, anticipates opportunities to bid on six satellite opportunities this year, and continues to expect in its launch business to see the first flight of re-engined Antares rocket in March 2016 - Via Satellite. To comply with this schedule, two RD-181 rocket engines are undergoing acceptance tests right now - SPO.
  • Satellite Industry Association (SIA) released its 2015 State of the Satellite Industry Report (PDF), showing a 4% growth in world satellite industry revenues in 2014, up from 3% in 2013. Globally, 2014 revenues for the satellite industry totaled $203 billion, up from $195.2 billion the previous year.


  • Russia and China have begun joint work with the aim to develop a set of unified standards that will be used in manufacturing of space technologies, including those ones critical for a future manned mission to the Moon - TASS Agency.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting about the nation's space industry development. The emphasis was made on long-term development programs, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. attention was also paid on the pace of building of Vostochny spaceport - TASS Agency.
  • UAE to build a new space research centre in Al Ain, which will act as an incubator for development and innovation for its unmanned mission to Mars - Arabian Aerospace. The agency also reported that UK-based Deimos Space and Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) of the UAE signed a one-year contract to develop mapping applications that will use DubaiSat-2 and Deimos-2 high-resolution satellite data.
  • The UAE also kicked off a strategic framework for its newly founded space agency that aims to launch satellite missions and the "first Arab unmanned probe" to Mars by 2021. UAE Space Agency scheduled total direct investments into the program of near $5.45 billion - Xinchua News.
  • US Space and Missile Systems Center awarded the Combined Orbital Operations Logistics Sustainment (COOLS) contract to Lockheed Martin. The COOLS contract is valued at almost $736 million and provides Operations and Sustainment (O&S) support for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF), Milstar Block I/II, and Defense Satellite Communications System III (DSCS III) satellite constellations - SpaceRef.
  • Three major ISRO centers will have new executives from June 1. Dr. K. Sivan, Director of Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), will take over as the Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. Mr. S. Somanath will assume the office of Director at LPSC. And Mr. P. Kunhikrishnan will be Director at Satish Dhawan Space Centre - press-release.
  • 21 high-tech companies received research and development funding via the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Space Technology Development Program (STDP). Wide range of innovative projects to be developed by emerging companies as well as large established space industry leaders demonstrates how space technology drives jobs and growth in Canada's dynamic economy - Parabolic Arc.
  • Yahsat, Orbital ATK, and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create the Gulf region's first master's level advanced studies space program. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is endorsing it, and the recently created UAE Space Agency was also in attendance at the signing - Via Satellite.

Orbital ATK signs MOU with Yahsat and Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Credit: Orbital ATK
Preview 556c7aae53706131f4c80000

New Tech & Tests

  • NASA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are collaborating to help scientists and innovators build a new "mousetrap" by accelerating materials development and make new discoveries using data from hundreds of investigations aboard the ISS. An initiative between the two agencies has created MaterialsLab – a new approach to materials science research - NASA.
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne completed the first in a series of hot-fire tests on the sub-scale oxygen rich pre-burner in support of the US Air Force Hydrocarbon Boost Technology Demonstrator (HBTD) program - CNN Money.
  • Technicians and engineers from three NASA centers gathered in NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to remove and analyze burnt ablative material - the incinerated outer layer of a Orion spacecraft's heat shield - from massive, dish-shaped structure - NASA.

Space Exploration

  • Science and Technology Ministry of Japan unveiled plans to develop an improved version of Kounotori unmanned cargo transporter (HTV) that delivers cargo to the ISS. The ministry said manufacturing and maintenance costs will be halved from about $160 million by reducing spacecraft's weight of 10.5 tons by about 30% while maintaining its transport capacity of six tons. The development period is undecided - The Japan News.
  • NASA selected 9 science instruments for a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.
  • NASA will launch a pair of CubeSats next year to provide real-time landing coverage for the space agency's next mission to Mars, InSight lander. Known as Mars Cube One or MarCO, the CubeSats will be launched as secondary payloads aboard Atlas V rocket and will separate from the booster after launch to travel along their own trajectories to the Red Planet -
  • The Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), also known as Leonardo, was successfully relocated from Earth-facing port of Unity module on the International Space Station to forward port of Tranquility module, within the next step to reconfigure the complex for the future arrival of US commercial crew vehicles - NASA.
  • China will launch a probe satellite with the world's widest observation spectrum by the end of 2015 to study the elusive dark matter and other high- energy particles in space - The Economic Times.
  • NASA is in the early stages of developing a sequence of missions in cislunar space in the 2020s to prepare for later missions to Mars. Those plans, which could involve both international and commercial partners, would test habitation modules and other tech on missions around the Moon ranging from several weeks to a year - SpaceNews.
  • NASA took another step toward returning America's ability to launch crew missions to the ISS since 2017. Commercial Crew Program ordered its first crew rotation mission from Boeing. SpaceX, which successfully performed a pad abort test of its flight vehicle earlier, is expected to receive its first order later this year. Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time - NASA.
  • Lockheed Martin assembled NASA's InSight Mars spacecraft, which is now undergoing environmental testing at the company's Space Systems facilities. InSight is NASA's next mission to Mars and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the interior structure of the planet - press-release.

Lockheed Martin engineers test the deployment of InSight lander’s solar arrays. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Preview 556c87ea53706131efeb0000


  • Three new engaging and interesting websites SpaceDigest team found last week. The first one, NewSpace India, publishes articles providing an in-depth analysis of current issues around the Indian space program. The second is MarsPolar, one more venture to establish a human colony on Mars by 2030. And the third is completely new and exciting corporate website of XCOR Space Expeditions (former XCOR Aerospace).
  • Via Satellite caught up with top satellite operators around the world to understand what they would like to get from launch services providers. An amazing special project of Via Satellite is on the following link.
  • French President François Hollande visited CNES' pavilion with an exhibition dedicated to ESA's Rosetta mission to 67P comet. The pavilion, located on famous Champs-Elysées street in Paris, will be open till June 12.

French President François Hollande visits CNES pavilion dedicated to ESA's Rosetta mission to 67P comet. Credit: CNES
Preview 556c8bd853706131f4cc0000
Next digest June 1-7, 2015 Previous digest May 18-24, 2015