space digest

May 4-10, 2015

Pad Abort Test of Crew Dragon spaceship, Emirates Mars Mission unveiling, companies reporting first quarter results, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Pad Abort Test of SpaceX' Crew Dragon spaceship. Credit: SpaceX
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In preparation for company's first human-rated space missions, on May 6, 2015, SpaceX conducted successful Pad Abort Test of Crew Dragon, a vehicle designed to carry astronauts into space, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral. Pad Abort Test is a trial run for spacecraft's launch abort system (LAS), designed to quickly get the crew and spacecraft away from a rocket in the event of a potential failure.

Video of the Week

Full technical video of the first static fire test of BPM-5 rocket engine, conducted by Copenhagen Suborbitals. The video shows all 3 burns performed on Sunday, May 10, at the company's test facility.

United Arab Emirates announced 2021 Mars mission!

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Emirates' Mars probe concept. Credit: EMM

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, unveiled plans, designs and goals for the Emirates Mars Mission initiative to launch Arab world's first Mars probe in July 2020. The probe named “Al Amal" (Hope) is expected to enter the Mars orbit in the first quarter of 2021, year when the UAE celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence from Great Britain. Implementation of all phases of the Emirates Mars Mission will be overseen by Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, an organization established in 2015 within the EIAST institute.

The Emirates Mars Mission spacecraft will be a compact, hexagonal-shape spacecraft built from aluminum in a stiff but lightweight honeycomb structure and surfaced with a strong composite face-sheet. It will weigh approximately 1,500 kg including fuel, and measure 2.37 m wide by 2.90 m tall. Mars probe will be equipped with four to six large 120-Newton thrusters for acceleration and braking, and 8 to 12 small 5-Newton thrusters for delicate maneuvering. Anticipated duration of the Mars exploration mission is 2 years, with an additional 2-year extension.

$5.45 billion has been invested by the UAE in its space sector to date. Four spacecraft, 2 Earth imaging (DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2) and 2 communications (Yahsat Y1A and Yahsat Y1B) satellites has been launched, with another one, KhalifaSat-1 imaging spacecraft, expected for launch in 2018 as a secondary payload on a Japanese H-2II rocket.


  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to launch more satellites in order to become a space power. During his visit to the North Korea's newly built satellite command center, Kim urged scientists to work harder to “further glorify the country as a space power” - The China Post.
  • India will launch 6 more satellites - 2 communication satellites (GSAT-6 and GSAT-15), three navigation satellites (IRNSS-1E, IRNSS-1F and IRNSS-1G), and ASTROSAT space science satellite - in 2015-2016, Jitendra Singh, Minister of State, said - SpaceDaily.
  • NASA wants proposals from companies to build privately run launch sites at Kennedy Space Center, which would accelerate the transformation of it into a public-private spaceport - Orlando Sentinel. The number of launch pads at Kennedy Space Center could double if private companies take up NASA's offer to build pads at two new sites - new pad 42, and new pads 39C and 39D - Florida Today.
  • SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket could earn US Air Force certification to launch national security satellites even with several issues outstanding, provided the company presents a mutually acceptable plan and schedule for resolving them - SpaceNews.
  • A push to give NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) new name is gathering support from lawmakers, who have written into legislation provisions that NASA should rename the heavy-lift rocket through a competition among schoolchildren. If passed into law, the bill would set corresponding policy for NASA to rename the SLS - Spaceflight Now.

SLS launch from Kennedy Space Center. Artist concept. Credit: NASA
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  • US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told that her agency decided to launch a long-stored legacy satellite of Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP-F20) to address looming coverage gap over the Middle East and surrounding area - SpaceNews.
  • Using a 10-ton crane, Lockheed Martin specialists gently lowered the system module of the US Air Force's first next generation GPS III satellite over its propulsion core, successfully integrating the space vehicle. Thus, the first GPS III satellite now ready for system-level testing. Meanwhile, SpaceNews informs, cost of GPS III satellite constellation and its associated ground network has grown by $1.1 billion in the last 12 months, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
  • Canadian company NorStar Space Data is targeting commercial and government markets with a proposed constellation of 40 low Earth orbiting satellites designed to keep tabs on the environment both in space and on the ground - SpaceNews.
  • An interview with Eduardo Bonini, CEO of Visiona Technology, company that is becoming a leading satellite manufacturer in Brazil - SpaceNews.
  • This weekend marked the six month anniversary of the tragic loss of Michael Alsbury in SpaceShipTwo crash. Over those six months, Virgin Galactic has made steady progress towards construction of the second spaceship - Virgin Galactic blog.
  • XCOR Aerospace announced that it has bonded the XCOR Lynx Mark I strakes to the Lynx spacecraft fuselage at XCOR's Hangar 61 in Mojave, California.
  • Engineers at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility began welding together the first pieces of the structure of the Orion crew module pathfinder. This pathfinder is a full-scale version of the current spacecraft design. It is used to demonstrate the manufacturing and assembly procedures that will be used to produce the actual flight hardware.


  • Laser Light Communications, a company that has set its sights on becoming the first Optical Satellite Service provider, cooperating with Australian telecommunications company Optus in a partnership that promises to expand satellite communications through an all-optical, laser-based terrestrial/satellite network - Via Satellite.
  • Satellite operator SES said demand for capacity from the O3b Networks' constellation of medium Earth orbit Ka-band satellites is accelerating faster than expected, and that SES may become a majority O3b shareholder before the end of 2016 - SpaceNews.
  • Harris Corporation reported revenue in the third quarter of fiscal 2015 of $1.19 billion compared with $1.27 billion in 2014. Orders in 3Q were $1.21 billion compared with $1.11 billion in the prior year. SpaceNews also informs that Harris earlier this year booked a three-year, $23 million contract for space situational awareness activities from a classified US government customer.
  • Low Earth orbit microsatellite telemetry market (remote sensing and monitoring with satellites weighting less than 500 kg) could be entering a new phase. With around 100 microsatellites launched in 2014, and prospects of 150 more in 2015, the market is booming. The telemetry market it serves is growing from around $100 billion in 2014 to over $240 billion by 2020. Over 90% of this market is commercial - China Briefing.
  • Inmarsat has provided the following information for the three months ended March 31: revenues amounted to $304.8 million (Q1 2014: $344.7 million), EBITDA $176.8 million (Q1 2014: $209.9 million), profit after tax $77.4 million (Q1 2014: $100.2 million). Meanwhile, Via Satellite reports, Inmarsat is confident that the upcoming launch of its third Global Xpress satellite will open the floodgates for new business. The date for full commercial service has slipped slightly again, now to late third quarter. Nonetheless, Inmarsat expects no impact from the delay on revenue in 2015 or its growth for 2016.
  • MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) reported financial results for the first quarter ended March 31, 2015. The Company posted quarterly consolidated revenues of $534 million and quarterly operating earnings of $55 million. These results compare to consolidated revenues of $493 million and operating earnings of $49 million for the same period of 2014. SpaceNews informs that MDA warned Canada may lose its space-robotics edge because of the government's decision to pass up collaborative development opportunities in Europe and elsewhere.

Mobile Servicing System, better known by its primary components Canadarm2 and Dextre, is a robotic system on the ISS
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  • Exelis reported financial results for the first quarter of 2015. Revenue from continuing operations was $785 million, a 5% increase from the first quarter of 2014. Operating income from continuing operations was $104 million, a 51% improvement from the first quarter of 2014 - Yahoo! Finance.
  • EchoStar Corporation reported total revenue of $799 million for the quarter ended March 31, 2015, compared to $826 million for the corresponding period in 2014. Meanwhile, SpaceNews informs, EchoStar said its EchoStar 19/Jupiter 2 Ka-band satellite, designed to relieve demand pressure on EchoStar's Hughes consumer satellite broadband service, would not be launched until late 2016.
  • ORBCOMM announced first quarter 2015 results: total revenues was $42.3 million, an increase of 119% over the prior year, adjusted EBITDA was $9.0 million, an increase of 149% over the prior year. SpaceNews reports that Orbcomm said it had secured a commitment from SpaceX to launch 11 second-generation Orbcomm satellites between mid-August and late September.
  • According to Euroconsult's newly released report, Latin American Earth observation market is undergoing significant expansion brought about by growing demand for Earth observation data and services, and governments' growing investment into the application to support this demand and help to develop national Earth observation industries. As of 2014, combined national investment into Earth observation systems was $193 million. Demand is foreseen to continue to grow strongly, with a 10% CAGR forecast over 2014-2024, leading to a $355 million commercial data market.
  • Maritime satellite communications is expected to grow to $5.2 billion in revenues by 2024, according to NSR's 'Maritime Satcom Markets, 3rd Edition' report - Via Satellite.
  • Boeing urged a California federal judge to grant judgment on its claim that its Russian and Ukrainian partners in launch operator Sea Launch skipped out on $350 million owed to the aerospace giant after the joint venture went bankrupt in 2009 - Law 360.

Zenit-3SL explodes on the launch pad with the NSS-8 satellite in 2007
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  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the selection of Dr. Eugene Tu as the next director of the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. He also doubled down on his critique of just-passed NASA authorization bill that seeks to shift hundreds of millions of dollars out of the agency's Earth Science program - SpaceNews.
  • Despite the Federal Aviation Administration's well-established position that it is time to begin regulating commercial spaceflight, a long-awaited Senate bill would extend industry's regulatory grace period another five years, to 2020 - SpaceNews.
  • Meetings of the Board of Directors and General Assembly of Alcantara Cyclone Space bi-national company were held in the company's office in Brasilia. Oleg Uruskyi, Chief of State Space Agency of Ukraine, confirmed Ukrainian Party's intention to continue Cyclone-4 project, and requested the Brazilian Party to inform the former about its official position with regards to the future of the Program.

Representatives of Ukrainian and Brazilian Parties of Cyclone-4 program. Credit: ACS
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New Tech & Tests

NASA has selected 15 proposals for study under Phase I of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), a program that aims to turn science fiction into science fact through the development of pioneering technologies. The chosen proposals cover a wide range of inventive concepts, selected for their potential to transform future aerospace missions, including exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, and missions to an asteroid and Mars.

NIAC Phase I awards are valued at approximately $100,000, providing awardees the funding needed to conduct a nine-month initial definition and analysis study of their concepts. If the basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards, valued up to $500,000 for two additional years of concept development.

Space Exploration

  • Roscosmos plans to launch a new mission to Mars' moon Phobos, according to a draft Russia's space program for 2016-2025. Under the document, the Mars-Grunt (Soil) expedition is planned for 2024 to deliver soil samples from Martian moon Phobos to the Earth. The project is estimated at 10.3 billion rubles ($198 million) - TASS Agency.
  • Chandrayaan II, India's second mission to the Moon, will be launched in 2017-2018. The upcoming mission will have an orbiter, lander and rover. It is planned to be launched during 2017- 2018 by Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota - Business Standard.
  • While NASA argues there is a growing consensus that the agency's long-term human spaceflight goal should be landing people on Mars in 2030s, a recent conference Humans To Mars Summit suggested there is less agreement about exactly how NASA should accomplish that goal - SpaceNews.
  • Asteroid-mining industry is set to take its first steps into space in summer. Planetary Resources' Arkyd-3R probe currently sits aboard the ISS waiting to be deployed in July. Once it's flying, Arkyd-3R will perform a demonstration mission, testing systems that will enable future probes to study and eventually mine asteroids - Meanwhile, Parabolic Arc informs, legislation that would grant property rights to entities mining asteroids has been introduced in Congress.

Arkyd-3R technology demonstration spacecraft. Credit: Planetary Resources
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  • May 3, 2015 - date when the first espresso coffee was drunk in space (title photo of the digest, Scott Kelly's trying espresso, is dedicated to this fact). Samantha Cristoforetti became not only the first Italian woman in space, but also the first astronaut in history to drink authentic Italian espresso in orbit. The ISSpresso project is an initiative by Argotec and Lavazza in a partnership with Italian Space Agency. Their joint press-release in here.
  • The 2015 MOONBOTS Challenge has started! MOONBOTS is an international on-line competition that challenges youth from 8 to 17 years old to form a team (2-4 members) to design, create and program their own robots. Register your team before May 23!
  • 'The Next Decade in Commercial Spaceflight' - wonderful article by Kellie Gerardi, Business Development Specialist for Masten Space Systems, where she shares top five personal expectations for the next decade in the commercial spaceflight industry.
  • Fifty-four years ago on May 5, 1961, only 23 days after Yuri Gagarin of the then-Soviet Union became the first person in space, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard launched aboard his Freedom 7 capsule powered by a Redstone booster to become the first American in space. Some of those historic photos are below:

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