space digest

Sept. 28 - Oct. 4, 2015

5 space launches throughout the week, engine development milestones for Blue Origin & Virgin Galactic, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

'Blood Moon' over the Alexander III bridge in Paris on September 28 night. Credit: Euronews
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Video of the Week

Successful test firings of key propulsion components marked progress for Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne SmallSat launcher. Working on custom-built test stands, Virgin Galactic engineers and technicians achieved longer duration, steady-state firings of LauncherOne's NewtonThree main stage engine in the same week as multiple full duration firings of the gas generator for LauncherOne's upper stage engine - press-release.

Quote of the Week

“It is no coincidence that the United States took such a significant and unprecedented action as holding NASA news conference, where the discovery of water on Mars was announced, at the same time as Putin’s speech [at the UN General Assembly].” Vyacheslav Nikonov, State Duma Deputy, chairman of the legislature’s education committee

Those who like conspiracy may agree with Russian Deputy, cited by The Moscow Times, that NASA deliberately announced findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars, at the same time President Putin talked at the UN General Assembly. Those who don't, though, may agree with Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, who supposed in Twitter that NASA this way promotes The Martian movie, these days released worldwide.

Five space launches conducted this week throughout the world

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Launch of PSLV with ASTROSAT. Credit: ISRO

On September 28, 2015, ISRO conducted successful launch of PSLV-C30 launch vehicle carrying India's 1st astronomical satellite, ASTROSAT multiwavelength space observatory, and six small satellites, including 4 for California-based start-up Spire Global, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre. Weighting 1513 kg and having 5 scientific payloads installed on-board, the mission was launched into a 650 km orbit inclined at 6° angle to the equator.

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Launch of Long March 3B with BeiDou I2-S. Credit: Xinhua

On September 29, 2015, Chinese conducted successful launch of Long March 3B carrying BeiDou navigation satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. It was for the first time when BeiDou satellite featured hydrogen atomic clock. Designated as BeiDou I2-S, the satellite was launched into an inclined geosynchronous orbit. To remind, in September Chinese debuted with two small-class launchers - 'eco-friendly' Long March 6 and solid propellant Long March 11 - opening new chapter in national history of space exploration.

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Launch of Ariane 5 Flight VA226. Credit: Arianespace

On September 30, 2015, Arianespace conducted successful launch of Ariane 5 carrying two communications satellites – Sky Muster for Australian operator NBN and ARSAT‑2 for Argentinian operator ARSAT – into a geosynchronous transfer orbit from Guiana Space Center. Holding top-position within the launch, Space Systems/Loral-built Sky Muster weighs 6,440 kg at liftoff and has 202 Ka-Band transponders. Built by INVAP of Argentina, ARSAT-2 weighs 2,977 kg and is fitted with 26 Ku-Band and 10 C-band transponders.

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Launch of Soyuz-U with Progress M-29M. Credit: Roscosmos

On October 1, 2015, Roscosmos conducted successful launch of Soyuz-U launch vehicle carrying Progress M-29M cargo spaceship from Baikonur. This was last Progress spaceship of M-M series. Next Russian spaceships will be of modified MS series. Progress M-29M delivered to the International Space Station 2,369 kg of cargo, including 350 kg of fuel, 420 kg of water, 50 kg of oxygen, as well as 1549 kg of different consumables, equipment for scientific experiments, EVA and other auxiliary tools.

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Launch of Atlas V with Morelos 3. Credit: ULA

On October 2, 2015, United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched Atlas V 421 rocket with Morelos-3 Mexican communications satellite from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. The launch has become the 100th mission for ULA, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin established in December 2006. Morelos-3 was built by Boeing using a 702HP geomobile platform. It weighs 5325 kg and carries 22-meter L-band reflector for mobile satellite services, complemented by 2-meter Ku-band antenna.


  • Very interesting article about Ukrainian Yuzhnoye SDO plans to enter the US race on the development of a RD-180 replacement rocket engine, where its solution is compared to Blue Origin and Aeroject Rocketdyne ones - SpaceNews.
  • Following recent successful launch of satellites for the international customers, Indian ISRO and its commercial arm Antrix signed contracts to launch 23 satellites from foreign countries. Out of these 23 satellites, two will go in separate rockets and 21 will piggy-back on bigger Indian satellites - Business Standard.
  • ULA won an $882 million contract to continue launching satellites for the US Air Force with its Delta IV and Atlas V rockets. US Defense Department said the contract covers whole range of launch services during fiscal year 2016, which begins on Oct. 1 - Reuters.
  • Spaceflight company announced purchase of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and expansion of its launch services to include dedicated rideshare missions. Spaceflight's first dedicated rideshare mission, named the “2017 Sun Synch Express,” will be launched in the second half of 2017 to a sun-synchronous orbit - press-release.
  • Moonspike plans to develop a spacecraft to crash-land a tiny payload on the surface of the moon, as well as a rocket to launch it. In order to achieve this, it launched a month-long crowdfunding campaign with the aim to raise nearly $1 million - SpaceNews.
  • Moon Express announced that it is buying three launches for its lunar lander spacecraft from Rocket Lab, a deal that should unlock a two-year extension of the Google Lunar X Prize competition - SpaceNews. Although the contract is with a New Zealand startup based in Los Angeles, its launch site located in New Zealand, therefore still needs to be verified by the Google Lunar X Prize authorities - SpaceRef.
  • Successful launch of a sounding rocket with O-STATES payload took place from Esrange Space Center on October 2. The rocket reached an altitude of 246 km - press-release.
  • Based on last year's GSLV Mark III's experimental flight in India, modifications have been done to solid rocket S-200 motors in order to change parameters of dynamic pressure and forces that occur during atmospheric flight - The Economic Times.
  • September 30 marked completion of major repair works at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Launch Pad 0A, located on NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This is a significant milestone in support of Orbital ATK resuming cargo resupply service with upgraded Antares rocket to the ISS for NASA - Virginia Space.

Repaired Launch Pad 0A at MARS spaceport. Credit: Virginia Space
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  • Energia-Telecom, subsidiary of RSC Energia of Russia, develops Energia-100 new-generation HTS satellite, to be launched by 2018 for Rostelecom communications services operator - TASS Agency (in Russian).
  • Thales Alenia Space signed a contract with CNES covering design and development phase for Poseidon-3C radar altimeter on SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography) satellite, to be launched by 2020 - press-release. It is reported that the contract values at 5 million euros, with an option for an additional 11 million euros - SpaceNews.
  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is studying feasibility of using electric propulsion on satellites, beginning in fiscal 2021, in order to save fuel and improve satellite performance - The Japan News.
  • At the conference, dedicated to 50th anniversary of Space Research Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences, there were announced some upcoming scientific space missions. Thus, ESA develops $1 billion Athena infrared space observatory, to be launched by 2028 - RIA Novosti (in Russian). Also, JAXA develops Phobos/Dеimos Sample Rеturn mission, to be launched to Mars moons by 2022 - RIA Novosti (in Russian).
  • BridgeSat, a startup satellite operator focusing on optical connectivity, is planning a network of SmallSats and ground stations designed to aid other small satellites in beaming data down from Low Earth Orbit. The company is part of Allied Minds, a US science and technology development and commercialization company - Via Satellite.
  • Thales Alenia Space inaugurates new Séléné building in Cannes, for which it started construction in October 2014. This production facility complements existing facilities dedicated to optical observation programs. The new facility will be used for testing of high and very high resolution optical instruments for observation satellites dedicated to export markets - press-release.

Thales Alenia Space inaugurates new optical integration building. Credit: TAS
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  • New NSR's Satellite Operator Financial Analysis, 5th Edition, report finds that as GEO-HTS payloads continue to become more prevalent, satellite operator business models are facing dramatic challenges, including altered CAPEX cycles, lower backlogs, and falling revenues per transponder - press-release. Also, Satellite Industry Association (SIA) published a renewed State of the Satellite Industry 2015 report (PDF).
  • Another review was made by Euroconsult. According to its newly published Maritime Telecom Solutions by Satellite report, value of global maritime satellite communications market to double over the next decade, with a CAGR of 6% in terminals and 8% in revenue over the period. Ever-increasing data communications needs and massive launch of new generation High Throughput Satellite (HTS) systems are expected to drive both growth in the market and consolidation in the value chain - press-release.
  • Swiss Space Systems, trough its subsidiary S3 Middle East, announced partnership with D&B Group to deliver access to space to the Middle East. The goal is to develop, manufacture, certify and operate unmanned suborbital shuttles to locally launch small satellites up to 250 kg by 2019 - ZAWYA.
  • Indian government will challenge a ruling by the International Criminal Court (ICC) directing Antrix - commercial arm of ISRO - to pay $672 million in damages to Deutsche Telekom-funded Devas Multimedia for terminating a satellite-leasing contract four years ago - an insight by SpaceNews.
  • Orbital ATK beat out Aerojet Rocketdyne to become future sole supplier of solid rocket boosters for United Launch Alliance by offering better long-term pricing agreements, substantial cost reductions and more investment. Tory Bruno, CEO at ULA, said the deal with Orbital ATK was one of many strategic agreements the company was forging with big suppliers to drive down costs and prepare for more competition - Reuters.
  • US District Court ruled in favor of Boeing and against Russian and Ukrainian partners in Sea Launch company, saying they breached contract obligations by not reimbursing Boeing their share of Sea Launch expenses. According to the ruling, Russian RSC Energia, with its subsidiaries, and Ukrainian Yuzhnoye SDO and Yuzhmash plant have to pay Boeing $356 million it has long sought - SpaceNews.

Sea Launch Commander and Ocean Odyssey platform carrying Zenit-3SL rocket. Credit: Sea Launch
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  • UAE Space Agency delegation made an official visit to Indian ISRO in order to discuss opportunities of cooperation between the two organisations - Gulf News.
  • Pursuant to their goal of advancing civil space cooperation as agreed in Strategic Track of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, governments of the USA and China convened inaugural Civil Space Dialogue on September 28 in Beijing - Parabolic Arc. It was also reported that NASA is mulling participation in Sino-European heliophysics mission Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) - SpaceNews.
  • US House and Senate negotiators completed work on 2016 defense authorization bill that gives government launch services provider ULA access to far fewer Russian-made RD-180 engines than the company needs to stay viable in its core national security market as it develops new rocket featuring domestic propulsion system - SpaceNews.
  • SpaceX and ULA are expected to square off for the first time for the right to launch a GPS 3 satellite in an acquisition that is driven by the US Air Force's desire to introduce competition in the national security launch market. The winner will be awarded a firm-fixed price contract for a launch that is expected to take place in 2018 - SpaceNews. However, congressionally imposed ban on RD-180 engines use may prevent ULA from bidding in a competition to launch GPS 3 satellite - SpaceNews.
  • Year after India signed its first space cooperation agreement with China, scientists from ISRO and Chinese space authorities decided on six areas of interest, including hosting of payloads on each other's satellites and interplanetary missions - The Times of India.
  • Alexey Belyakov, Director of Space and Telecommunications cluster at Skolkovo Foundation, announced establishment of Orbital Launch Center, affiliated to Skolkovo entity to provide SmallSat launch services. Working in partnership with Roscosmos, Orbital Launch Center plans its first launch for 2016 - press-release (in Russian).

Alexey Belyakov, director of space cluster at Russia's innovations center Skolkovo. Credit: Skolkovo Foundation
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New Tech & Tests

  • NASA awarded Near Space Corp. with a Commercial Space Flight and Integrations Services contract to provide commercial space flight services for the agency's Flight Opportunities Program. The contract covers 48 months from the date of award and has a price ceiling of $45 million - Parabolic Arc.
  • ULA says reuse of its future Vulcan rocket's first-stage engines - featuring an inflatable hypersonic decelerator to protect the engines on atmospheric reentry, then a parafoil to glide them into position for a pickup by helicopter - is far more cost-effective than SpaceX's planned recovery and reuse of Falcon rocket's entire first stage - SpaceNews.
  • Blue Origin announced completion of more than 100 staged-combustion tests within development of BE-4 engine. The test series provided measurable performance data in advance of the upcoming Critical Design Review. The staged-combustion testing configuration included a representative BE-4 preburner and regeneratively cooled thrust chamber using multiple full-scale injector elements - press-release.
  • Scientists and engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center asked themselves a questions - what if astronauts could simply use what they found when they arrived on a new destination like Mars? What if they could live off the land, make tools, equipment and even habitats with Martian dirt or a recyclable material? Additive manufacturing can help do just that - press-release.

Artist's rendition of what building a structure using on-site regolith and technology of 3D-printing might look like. Credit: NASA
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Space Exploration

  • Russia and the US will resume talks on a joint mission to study Venus - a year after sanctions stopped such talks - Director of Space Research Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences Lev Zeleny said - TASS Agency.
  • Astrobotic and Lunar Missions signed a deal to send the first digital storage payload to the Moon. The payload will support Lunar Mission One's 'Footsteps on the Moon' campaign, launched earlier, which invites millions of people to include their images, video and music in a digital archive of human life that will be placed on the moon during Astrobotic's first lunar mission - press-release.
  • NASA awarded a key contract to Boeing, the International Space Station's prime contractor, to continue providing key engineering support services, resources and personnel to the program through September 30, 2020. The contract, valued at $1.18 billion, extends for five-years - press-release.
  • H-II Transfer Vehicle “Kounotori 5” (HTV-5) successfully re-entered the atmosphere after the third de-orbit maneuver on September 30, 2015. HTV-5 thus successfully accomplished its main objective of shipping cargo to the International Space Station, and completed its 42-day mission - press-release.
  • NASA quietly eliminated Lockheed Martin from a pending multibillion-dollar competition to ship cargo to the International Space Station, according to people familiar with the matter, reports The Wall Street Journal (subscribers only).
  • As a first step in choosing one or two key planetary missions for a flight as early as 2020, NASA selected 5 science investigations that propose to study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids. Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct concept design studies and analyses. NASA will make the final selections by September 2016. Any selected mission will cost approximately $500 million, not including launch vehicle funding or the cost of post-launch operations - press-release.


  • Planet Labs committed to make its satellite imagery open and accessible to any efforts in support of the Global Goals. Thus, the company announced an initial commitment of $60 million in imagery of select regions, to enable people to use this data to develop tools and capabilities that will be extensible across the globe - press-release.
  • NASA reminds its August article about nine real technologies currently used or under development that are featured in The Martian movie. These are habitat, plant farm, water recovery, oxygen generation, Mars spacesuit, rover, ion propulsion, solar panels, and Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) - press-release.
  • SpaceX most likely to lead a manned expedition to Mars in the near future. Las Vegas oddsmakers placed Elon Musk's company as 5-1 favorites to successfully lead a mission to Mars, over other private competitors Mars One (15 to 1 odds) and The Mars Society (9-1 odds). Other competitors include NASA (80-1 odds), Chinese space administration (100-1 odds), and the European Space Agency (300-1 odds) - SFGate.
  • Last week 100 meant not only hundredth space mission for ULA. Aerojet Rocketdyne celebrated 100 years of continuing excellence as a leading American corporation. The original company was founded by William O'Neil as General Tire & Rubber Company on September 29, 1915, and has evolved greatly over the years through a diversified mix of acquisitions to become a leader in the aerospace and defense industry - press-release.

Celebrating 100 years of success of Aerojet Rocketdyne. Credit: AR
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