space digest

October 5-11, 2015

Launches of observation satellites in China and military mission in the US, Facebook's first space industry steps, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Advanced composite orbital vehicle and the atmospheric engineering test article of Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser spacecraft, which when tested will undergo an orbital and suborbital flight regimen, respectively. Recently Sierra Nevada Corporation announced significant updates to 2 Dream Chaser spacecraft currently in development - press-release.

Infographics of the Week

100 missions of the United Launch Alliance. Credit: Tory Bruno / ULA
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Space launches in China and the USA

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Long March 2D launches 4 remote sensing satellites. Credit: Xinhua

On October 7, 2015, Chinese conducted successful launch of Long March 2D launch vehicle carrying 4 Earth remote sensing satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Jilin-1 mission featured one optical remote-sensing satellite, two satellites for video imaging, and a spacecraft to test imaging technologies. Four satellites, designated as Jilin-1, Lingqiao-A, Lingqiao-B and LQSat, were developed and produced by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co. of Jilin province.

Jilin 1 is a 420 kg high-definition optical satellite with a 0.72 m resolution pan-chromatic camera and 4 m resolution multi-spectral camera. Lingqiao-A and Lingqiao-B satellites, weighing 95 kg each, are designed to capture videos with a 4K ultra-clear video resolution of 1.13 meters m on 4.3 x 2.4 km swaths. LQSat is a micro-satellite for technology demonstration. Its main payload is experimental imager with a ground resolution of 5 m.

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Launch of Atlas V with NROL-55 mission. Credit: ULA

On October 8, 2015, United Launch Alliance (ULA) conducted successful launch of Atlas V rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and 13 CubeSats from Space Launch Complex-3 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Designated NROL-55, the mission was in support of national defense. That was ULA's 10th launch in 2015 and the 101st successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

13 Government Rideshare Advanced Concepts Experiment (GRACE) CubeSats, orbited within the mission, included nine NRO-sponsored and four NASA-sponsored CubeSats. The latter was part of the twelfth installment of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) mission, and represented ARC (Alaska Research CubeSat), LMRST-Sat (Low Mass Radio Science Transponder), Fox-1, and BisonSat - student, technology, amateur radio and Earth observation CubeSats.


  • JAXA is to introduce number of upgrades on its H-IIA flagship rocket in order to cope with GEO-missions requirements. These upgrades include new paiting of propellant tanks, modifications in engine cooling system, effective utilization of evaporating propellant, second stage engine thrust vector control function, etc - press-release.
  • On October 7, 2015, NASA successfully launched Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket, testing a modified Black Brant motor, launch vehicle, spacecraft systems and sub-payload ejection technologies, from the Wallops Flight Facility - SpaceRef.
  • United Engine Corporation of Russia successfully tested NK-33 rocket engine, to be used to power small-class Soyuz-2.1v rocket. The engine with a modified combustion chamber was fired for 40 seconds on a test bench at JSC Kuznetsov - press-release (rus).
  • Emerging SmallSat launch providers are eager to speed up production of rockets and introduce reusability in new launch systems. Speaking at the Hosted Payload and SmallSat Summit in Washington, D.C., executives from Virgin Galactic, Firefly Space Systems and DARPA all described rapid production and reusability as 'must-haves' to lower the cost of launch - Via Satellite.
  • NASA named John Honeycutt as manager for Space Launch System (SLS) Program. As SLS program manager, Honeycutt will lead a nationwide workforce of more than 4,200 civil servants and contractors with annual budget of $1.7 billion. He will be responsible for all facets of the program, including planning, procurement, development, testing, evaluation, production and operation of the integrated SLS - press-release.
  • SpaceX expects to complete its final report on the June 28 failure of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle within a month, but does not yet have a firm timetable for resuming flights, a company official said - SpaceNews.
  • SpaceIL, Israeli startup taking part in Google Lunar XPrize competition, secured a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher for a mission scheduled for the second half of 2017 to accomplish not only the first Israeli mission to the moon, but also the world's first private lunar mission. With this, SpaceIL became the first team to produce a verified launch contract in the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE - press-release.

Artist's rendering of SpaceIL's Moon lander on the Moon. Credit: GLXP
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  • Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC) plans to obtain 11 more satellites by 2025, spending near $4.4 billion on them - TASS Agency (in Russian). It was also reported that RSCC and United Rocket and Space Corporation of Russia signed broad cooperation agreement during SatComRus 2015 conference - press-release (in Russian).
  • Energia-Telecom, subsidiary of RSC Energia, plans to launch new-generation Russian high-throughput satellite Energia-100. The mission is scheduled for 2018 aboard Soyuz-2.1b rocket from new Vostochny spaceport - RIA Novosti (in Russian).
  • US Congress authorized $40 million for 2016 for a legacy Air Force weather satellite, but restricted access to the funding until Defense Department officials demonstrate that launching final satellite in the series is the best option. Approving less than half of $89 million request for Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), lawmakers displayed continued skepticism with Air Force's weather satellite strategy - SpaceNews.
  • All seven satellites of Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) are expected to be in orbit by March 2016, Indian Space Research Organisation announced. ISRO also aims to make navigation signals available not only to India and surrounding countries, but to the entire globe - Gadgets 360.
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne announced critical design review (CDR) completion for the jettison motor and the crew module reaction control system (RCS) of Orion spacecraft. These two major subsystems that Aerojet Rocketdyne is building for Lockheed Martin and NASA are critical for ensuring astronauts' safety and mission success - press-release.
  • Propulsion subsystem for NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission was integrated onto the spacecraft, moving the mission a major step toward scheduled launch in 2016. GPIM prime contractor Ball Aerospace integrated the subsystem in less than two weeks after receiving it from Aerojet Rocketdyne. Itm will be the primary payload on the mission's spacecraft - a Ball Configurable Platform 100 small satellite - press-release.

Ball Aerospace engineer adjusts thermal insulation on NASA’s GRIM spacecraft bus. Credit: Ball Aerospace
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  • Eutelsat and Facebook announced partnership on a new initiative that will leverage satellite technologies to get more Africans online. Under a multi-year agreement with Spacecom, the two companies will utilise future AMOS-6 satellite and build a dedicated communications system. In providing reach to large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Eutelsat and Facebook will accelerate data connectivity for the many users deprived of the economic and social benefits of the Internet - press-release.
  • Khrunichev Space Center and International Launch Services adopted new commercial launch services strategy in order to make Proton-M heavy-lift rocket more attractive on the market. Also special options are available for loyal customers. It is rumored that latest Proton-M launch price is near $63 million - Izvestia (in Russian).
  • Ingosstrakh official told that losses of insurance companies, resulted from 3 in-space failures of 2015 (losses of MexSat in Proton-M failure, Progress cargo spaceship and EgyptSat remote-sensing satellite) amounted to $500+ million - Interfax (in Russian). Meanwhile, it was announced that SOGAZ insurance company to insure 4 Gazprom Space Systems' communications satellites for €707.5 million - RIA Novosti (in Russian).
  • By October 1 each year, an average of 18 commercial GEO communications satellites have been procured and 75% of annual manufacturing business has been cultivated. Yet in 2015, manufacturers have placed a mere 11 satellites under contract, a harvest only 61% of that 5-year average - Northern Sky Research.
  • According to some media, COM DEV is up for sale and it even has approached Comtech, Honeywell, L-3 Communications, and Thales to see if any of these firms are interested in purchasing the satellite component manufacturer. COM DEV responded that, while it had been involved in confidential discussions with third parties with respect to potential strategic transactions involving the Company, it "does not intend to make further comment unless or until there is a transaction to announce" - Ottawa Citizen.
  • Mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat, fresh from a surprise win of a US Navy contract for a broad mix of satellite bandwidth, said it expects to surpass competitors SES and Intelsat in business volume with the US government. London-based Inmarsat said US military was hungry to use the company's Global Xpress Ka-band service, whose third satellite is expected to enter service in December - SpaceNews.

Artist's rendering of an Inmarsat satellite in orbit. Credit: Inmarsat
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  • JAXA and CNES signed revised agreement for "Inter-Agency Arrangement Concerning Preparation of a Long Term Cooperation in the Field of Space Programs". The purpose of the revision is to achieve effective cooperation between space agencies of Japan and France in light of the changes in the business environment - press-release.
  • Azerbaijan does not exclude possibility of participation of French companies in future space projects to be implemented in the country. This was stated by Communications and High Technologies Minister Ali Abbasov at a meeting with Pascal Monnier, French Ambassador to Azerbaijan, who is completing his diplomatic mission - AzerNews.
  • Pentagon declined to waive a US law banning use of Russian rocket engines for military satellite launches, rejecting an urgent request from ULA. US Defense Department said it would continue to monitor the situation, and was looking at a range of options, including possible sole-source contract awards, to keep both SpaceX and ULA in business and ensure more than one supplier was available - Reuters.
  • NASA is unveiling a new opportunity for start-up companies to license patented NASA technology with no up-front payment. This initiative addresses two common problems start-ups face: raising capital and securing intellectual property rights - SpaceRef.
  • ESA and EUMETSAT, European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, signed a Cooperation Agreement that secures continued development of the MetOp Second Generation (MetOp-SG) satellites, which will start providing meteorological observations from polar orbit in mid-2021 - press-release.

Volker Liebig, Director at ESA, and Alain Ratier, EUMETSAT’s Director General, signed a Cooperation Agreement in presence of ESA Director General Jan Woerner. Credit: ESA
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New Tech & Tests

  • United Engine Corporation of Russia starts development of new-generation pulsed detonation wave engines. It is reported that sonic and supersonic detonation technology demonstration engines have been already tested - RIA Novosti (in Russian).
  • When astronauts come home in Orion spacecraft from deep-space missions, they will need a strategy for a safe and efficient exit. At NASA's Johnson Space Center teams were performing a series of tests to evaluate the most efficient way for astronauts to get out of the spacecraft after weeks or months away from Earth - press-release.
  • Engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center successfully completed heating simulation testing of an Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT) model under conditions akin to entering the Martian atmosphere. ADEPT is a mechanically-deployable heat shield concept using carbon fabric: a flexible heat shield that expands to “open” like an umbrella - press-release.

Successful heat shield testing of an ADEPT technology. Credit: NASA
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Space Exploration

  • A Mars orbiter NASA plans to launch in the 2020s could carry the mechanisms needed to collect and store sealed Martian surface samples for a return trip to Earth, an agency official said. The technology is crucial for long-term, multimission, sample-return campaign that is quietly driving NASA's robotic Mars exploration program - SpaceNews.
  • NASA is leading the USA and the world on a journey to Mars, and the agency released a detailed outline of that plan called “NASA's Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration”. The journey to Mars crosses three thresholds, each with increasing challenges as humans move farther from Earth. NASA is managing these challenges by developing and demonstrating capabilities in incremental steps: Earth Relient, Proving Ground, and Earth Independant - press-release.


  • On a per-capita basis, Israel may have the world's most developed space program. Prior to the International Astronautical Congress, which is to take place in Jerusalem on October 12-16, SpaceNews held an interview with Isaac Ben-Israel, Chairman of the Israel Space Agency - SpaceNews.
  • What NewSpace entrepreneurs should know? Key facts, conferences, figures, and useful advises from the Space Frontier Foundation.
  • It is well-known custom to assess after the first 100 days in a new position what was achieved, and what still needs to be done. Keeping with this custom, Director General of the European Space Agency Jan Woerner presents some of his findings - ESA blog.

ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen and Jan Woerner walking to the launch pad at Baikonour spaceport. Credit: ESA
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