space digest

October 12-18, 2015

Launches of Proton-M in Russia and Long March 3B in China, 66th International Astronautical Congress, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Virgin Galactic's 2nd SpaceShipTwo nears completion. Credit: Virgin Galactic
Preview 5624998c53706144ef7c0000

Infographics of the Week

Satellites to be built and launched by 2024. Credit: Euroconsult
Preview 5624998c53706144ef7e0000

Video of the Week

Video showing a recent test of Virgin Galactic's NewtonThree rocket engine. A single NewtonThree rocket engine will power the first stage of LauncherOne, Virgin Galactic's orbital small satellite launch vehicle. In this test, conducted in Mojave, California, the NewtonThree engine was fired for ninety seconds.

News from the 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC)

Thumb 5624c9f753706144ef800000
Artist's concept of Bloostar in-orbit. Credit: 0II00

  • IAC visitors had chance to witness formal claim of another player to enter promising market of SmallSat launch services. Barcelona-based startup Zero2Infinity introduced Bloostar – 3-stage rocket to be launched from a balloon at near 20 km altitude that is expected to be able to orbit 125 kg of payload to 400 km low Earth orbit - SpaceDigest.
  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says ban on partnerships with China is temporary. The US should include China in its human space projects or face being left out of new ventures to send people beyond the ISS, Bolden said during IAC 2015 - Reuters.
  • China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) plans to launch the first element of its new three-module space station in 2018, with assembly complete set for 2020, and full operational capability with rotating 3-person crews scheduled two years after that - Aviation Week.
  • Israel Aerospace Industries is developing a small, electrically powered communications satellite. Dubbed Amos-E, it will weigh less than 2 tons, cost "tens of percent" cheaper than comparable today's spacecraft, and be suitable for launch from smaller, lower-cost conventional launchers - Defense News.
  • Cooperation between Israel Space Agency and CNES is expanding. Agencies signed an agreement during IAC 2015, announcing new scientific project to be called ORMADD. As part of it, Israeli scientists will develop a device, to be incorporated into a French satellite, that will measure radiation and concentration of free oxygen - SpaceRef.
  • China Head Aerospace Technology Co., known for producing a variety of aerospace products and testing services, unveiled ByHead - what it hopes will be a leading B2B online platform akin to Alibaba, but for the space community - SpaceRef.
  • China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), frustrated with a longstanding US ban on the export of US-built satellite parts to China, is designing a rocket that could be exported in an attempt to escape the law's reach. CALT said it had started negotiations with authorities in Indonesia, Sweden and Tanzania about hosting the Naga-L rocket, designed for owners of SmallSats headed to LEO - SpaceNews.
  • International Astronautical Federation (IAF) during IAC 2015 elected Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of CNES, as IAF incoming president in procedure that generated much controversy - SpaceNews. Also four IAF vice-presidents were elected during the event. Bremen, Germany, was selected as the Host City for IAC 2018 - SatNews.


  • United Launch Alliance's next-generation Vulcan rocket will lift off from the company's existing Atlas V launch facilities in Florida and California. However, the launch pads at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base will require modifications to accommodate the Vulcan booster - Spaceflight Now.
  • US Defense Department, which is introducing competition into the national security launch market, is studying whether to award some contracts on a sole-source basis, presumably to ULA, to ensure that it has at least two rocket families at its disposal - SpaceNews. Meanwhile, US Air Force awarded launch services contracts to ULA for two defense missions - NROL-47 & SBIRS GEO-4 - both scheduled for 2018 - press-release.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said the first launch from new Vostochny spaceport should be carried out in 2016, rather than this December. "We do not need any drumbeating reports, we need high-quality results," Putin said - TASS Agency.
  • NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) awarded Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contracts to provide SmallSats access to LEO. 3 companies selected to provide these new commercial launch capabilities, and value of their firm contracts, are: Rocket Lab ($6.9Mln), Virgin Galactic ($4.7Mln), & Firefly Space Systems ($5.5Mln) - press-release.
  • Lockheed Martin's launch services team hopes to lure up to four commercial customers per year to fly on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V booster as a stream of US government missions is forecasted to dry up starting since 2017 - Spaceflight Now.
  • SpaceX changed its Falcon 9 return-to-flight plans and would first launch 11 Orbcomm messaging satellites into LEO, and then test reignition of the rocket's redesigned 2nd-stage engine during the same flight, before launching SES's heavier communications satellite into GTO, a mission that will need the reignition capability - SpaceNews.
  • Two months after the GSLV's second continuous success, ISRO's commercial arm, Antrix, started promoting the launch capabilities of the medium-lift vehicle among international spacecraft manufacturers - The Hindu.
  • Despite all troubles, Yuzhmash plant of Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, has shipped two Antares first stage core structures to Orbital ATK for their integration with Russian engines and future launches - press-release (in Russian).

Antares first stage core packed and ready for shipment. Credit: Yuzhmash
Preview 5624cf9553706144ef840000


  • Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS) delivered camera system it produced for NASA's 2016 OSIRIS-REx mission to return a sample of the asteroid Bennu. This system, collectively called the Touch-and-Go-Camera-System (TAGCAMS), consists of three camera heads and a digital video recorder (DVR) - press-release.
  • Saft was awarded a Long Term Agreement (LTA) by Boeing to supply lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries for its telecommunication satellites.The 5-year agreement, executed in follow-up to a 2009 LTA, allows Saft to provide a steady and reliable supply of Li-ion batteries to power Boeing's satellites when solar rays are blocked by the earth and supporting the entire geosynchronous orbit (GEO) mission duration - press-release.
  • Satellite Internet provider OneWeb said they will go far beyond what international guidelines recommend to reduce chances that its 720-satellite constellation will create orbital debris. The measures include extra fuel to deorbit satellites at the end of lives, mechanical fixture to permit easier grappling by future debris-clearing hardware, and assuring that all satellites are out of orbit up to 5 years after retirement - SpaceNews.
  • Koreasat 5A and Koreasat 7 telecommunications satellites currently under construction by Thales Alenia Space will include the largest spacecraft parts ever made in Europe using a 3D-printing technique. Measuring some 45 x 40 x 21 cm, the telemetry and command antenna supports below are made of aluminum - press-release.

Koreasat 5A and 7 satellites to include largest 3D-printed parts ever made in Europe. Credit: Thales Alenia Space
Preview 5624e26853706107900b0000


  • Russian satellite manufacturer Dauria Aerospace signed an agreement with Chinese Cybernaut fund to create a joint venture (JV), to be based in Hong Kong, to create a group of 10 UrbanObserver satellites for imaging of 100 biggest cities in the world with an accuracy of 0.7 metres. Cybernaut to invest in the JV near $70 million - Skolkovo.
  • Weather Analytics, a commercial weather data company, invested in remote sensing startup OmniEarth, and also intends to become a customer of PlanetiQ when its constellation is active - Via Satellite.
  • OneWeb, which is building global communications system to create affordable broadband services for all, announced appointment of Matthew O'Connell as its Chief Executive Officer. Mr. O'Connell has extensive industry experience as President and CEO of GeoEye and its predecessor, Orbimage - press-release.
  • Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies (SGT) announced appointment of Michael Suffredini as the President of the Commercial Space Division, a new enterprise for SGT. For the last ten years Mr. Suffredini had served as NASA's ISS Program Manager - press-release.
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne reported results for the third quarter ended August 31, 2015. Net sales for the quarter totaled $440.5 million compared to $421.2 million for the third quarter of 2014. Net loss for the quarter was $38.1 million, compared to a net loss of $9.9 million in 2014 - press-release. This, in part, was caused by $50 million settlement with Orbital ATK stemming from last October's failure of Antares rocket - SpaceNews.
  • Asteroid mining firm Deep Space Industries (DSI) announced that Metatron Global, an investment firm with offices in the Czech Republic, agreed to make an investment in the company. The investment will enable DSI to accelerate its plans to prospect for resources at an asteroid in the near future, hire more top level leadership, and develop high value products based on its groundbreaking technologies - press-release.

Artist's concept of DSI's Harvestor series spacecraft. Credit: DSI
Preview 5624e84353706144ef870000


  • Russia is preparing a deal to sell its highly capable rocket engines to Beijing in return for access to Chinese electronic components used in spacecraft construction, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said - The Moscow Times.
  • NASA appointed Mark Kirasich to be manager of the agency's Orion Program, being developed to send astronauts to deep space destinations, such as an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Kirasich, deputy Orion Program manager since 2006, now will be responsible for oversight of design, development and tests of spacecraft - press-release.
  • French government, determined that its industry not lose out on what might be a large new business in building LEO-orbiting satellite constellations, issued a request for bids to industry for ideas on new components and manufacturing techniques. In a joint statement, CNES and France's Bank for Public Investment (BPI) said BPI will issue contracts totaling up to $39 million for French industry to hone its skills - SpaceNews.
  • President of South Korea Park Geun-hye visited NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in an effort to build up space partnerships with the US. President Park she said she hoped the two countries could cooperate more closely in space exploration. To remind, South Korea has plans for lunar missions of its own within the next decade - SpaceNews.

South Korean President Park watches a message sent down from Astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station. Credit: NASA Goddard
Preview 5624ebef53706107900e0000

New Tech & Tests

  • The next giant leap in space exploration could start with a small spin around the lab. A new ion propulsion system for CubeSats just passed a key lab test at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and could be sent to space in the near future - New Scientist.
  • Under its Basic and Applied Aerospace technology (BAART) multiple-awards contract, NASA awarded contracts to 11 companies to support research and technology development for aerospace systems at the agency's Langley Research Center. The multiple-award, indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contract allows NASA to spend as much as $400 million during five years cumulatively on all 11 contracts - SpaceRef.
  • NASA announced continuation of two-phase $750,000 research award to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and project partner Honeybee Robotics to develop a small integrated autonomous robotic spacecraft to support the exploration and mining of asteroids and other planetary bodies and moons - The Embry-Riddle Newsroom.
  • Virgin Galactic - which plans to resume flights of SpaceShipTwo (SS2) in 2016 - confirms that following a series of successful hot-fire rocket tests, it had reverted to an improved form of the original rubber-based fuel for powering the company's suborbital vehicle, the second version of which is nearing completion in Mojave - Aviation Week.

SpaceShipTwo rocket-powered flight. Credit: / Virgin Galactic
Preview 5624eebe5370610790110000

Space Exploration

  • Launching humans to Mars may not require a full tank of gas: new MIT study suggests that a Martian mission may lighten its launch load considerably by refueling on the Moon. Previous studies suggested that lunar soil and water ice in certain craters of the moon may be mined and converted to fuel. Assuming that such technologies are established at the time of a mission to Mars, the MIT group has found that taking a detour to the moon to refuel would reduce the mass of a mission by 68% - MIT News.
  • Mission planners at NASA headquarters and its field centers are weighing a robotic Mars-landing mission as early as 2026 to flight-test critical technologies with subscale components in preparation for a human landing at least a decade later - Aviation Week.
  • MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) announced that it had received a contract amendment from Orbital ATK for additional interface units to enable capture and berthing of its Cygnus commercial resupply spacecraft to the ISS. MDA provided previous interface units to Orbital ATK as announced in January 2010 - press-release.
  • Orbital ATK announced it had shipped Cygnus spacecraft's service module to NASA's Kennedy Space Center for the next ISS cargo mission, scheduled to launch on December 3. OA-4 mission milestone marks a key step forward as Orbital ATK continues its cargo delivery service to the ISS for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. Cygnus spacecraft will be assembled at Kennedy and launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket - press-release.

OA-4 Service Module undergoing deployment testing of one of its two UltraflexTM solar arrays. Credit: Orbital ATK
Preview 5624f14553706144ef8a0000


  • Tory Bruno, President of the ULA, took part in another AMA (ask-me-anything) session at Transcript of the session is here.
  • Astronauts wear different-coloured suits, depending on the job at hand. BBC explains difference between white and orange spacesuits by means of nice interactive image.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin inspected construction of Vostochny spaceport. Transcript of his meeting with involved officials is here (in Russian), and the photo-gallery of the visit is below (Credit: TASS Agency):

Previous digest October 5-11, 2015