space digest

September 7-13, 2015

Launch of Soyuz-ST with two Galileo spacecraft, two classified space missions in China, $2 billion bid for ULA, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week - Edvard Munch-styled

Image from ESA’s Planck satellite shows two Magellanic Clouds and an interstellar filament, among the nearest companions of our Milky Way galaxy. Credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration
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Video of the Week - Choose the Best out of These Great Videos!

Probably the best PR-video where space technologies have been used. An amazing, inspiring story of Stephanie, Terry Virts's daughter, and Hyundai, who fulfilled her dream.

Here is an amazing video from an on-board camera, installed on Fregat upper stage during VS07 space mission, when Soyuz-ST orbited Sentinel-1A spacecraft.

Aerojet Rocketdyne reportedly made a $2 billion offer to buy United Launch Alliance

Aerojet Rocketdyne submitted a $2 billion offer to buy United Launch Alliance (ULA), a spacecraft launch services provider that is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, according to sources familiar with the matter. Aerojet Rocketdyne board member Warren Lichtenstein approached ULA President Tory Bruno and senior Lockheed and Boeing executives about the bid in early August, the sources said - Reuters.

All the parties declined to comment this news. On the request to comment the rumors it Twitter Tory Bruno responded: "Wish I could, but as a matter of policy, we don't comment on this type of story." If true, the acquisition will probably mean for Aerojet a guaranteed customer for its AR-1 engines. Currently, ULA tends to cooperate with Blue Origin on the development of main engines for its next-generation launch system, Vulcan.

Notably, almost at the same time it was announced that Jim Simpson, who previously spent 35 years with Boeing in a variety of leadership roles, will join Aerojet Rocketdyne as senior vice president, Strategy and Business Development. What is more interesting, in his new role with Aerojet Rocketdyne, Simpson 'will lead the company's new business capture and strategic alignment initiatives' - Nasdaq Globe Newswire.

Nevertheless, ULA and Blue Origin seemed like not to have heard that news. On Sept. 10, companies announced signing of an agreement to expand production capabilities for the BE-4 engine that will power Vulcan. According to press-release, 'BE-4 engine offers the fastest path to a domestic alternative to the Russian RD-180. Development is on schedule to achieve qualification for flight in 2017 to support the first Vulcan flight in 2019'.

Fire-test of scaled BE-4 engine. Credit: Blue Origin
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  • On September 11 (UTC), 2015, Arianespace conducted successful launch of Soyuz-ST with two spacecraft for Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system, Galileo FOC (Full Operational Capacity) 9 and 10 satellites, into an intermediate circular orbit from Guiana Space Center. On the 12th Soyuz launch from French Guiana (flight VS12), Arianespace orbited latest Galileo FOC satellites, named Alba and Oriana, on behalf of the European Commission, under a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA).
  • On September 12 and 14, 2015, Chinese successfully launched Long March 3B and Long March 2D carrying test Ka-band communications and Gaofen 9 Earth observation satellites, respectively, from Xichang and Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centers. The former satellite will be used to perform tests on technologies of Ka-band broadband communications, whereas Gaofen-9 is the most sophisticated Earth observation satellite that will become a part of China's high-definition Earth observation system.
  • NASA officials are waiting to see if Congress adds funding to the agency's budget to kick-start development of a new four-engine upper stage for the Space Launch System, an upgrade that would allow SLS to loft heavier cargoes into deep space. Exploration Upper Stage could be developed in time for SLS's second flight in 2021, which will be the first time the launcher will carry a crew inside an Orion capsule - Spaceflight Now.
  • US Air Force plans to award United Launch Alliance a contract to build a Delta 4 rocket for launch in October 2017. The rocket would feature a 5-meter fairing and two sold-fueled strap-on boosters and launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base - SpaceNews.
  • On September 11 Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) conducted launch of its S-520-30 sounding rocket from Uchinoura Space Center, with the objective of “clarifying the nucleation process of oxide-based cosmic dusts” - press-release.
  • Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Center started welding of the major panels of a test version of Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, or LVSA, that will play an important role in connecting 2 major sections of SLS rocket - core stage and upper stage - press-release.

NASA's engineers prepare to install a LVSA structural test article panel onto the weld fixture. Credit: NASA
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  • Saudi Arabia will launch a small satellite into orbit every two or three years under a 12-year space program devised by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). Prince Turki Bin Saud Bin Mohammed, president of KACST, said the organization scheduled to implement its satellite program in collaboration with a team composed of experts from NASA, DLR, and Stanford University - Al Arabiya News.
  • Airbus Defence and Space signed a feasibility study contract with CNES for future French space-based civil and military Earth observation systems - press-release. The same day it was announced that Thales Alenia Space signed a contract with CNES for a feasibility study regarding the development of a high-resolution optical remote sensing satellite system designed as a follow-on to Pleiades satellites - press-release.
  • Lockheed Martin and NASA engineers successfully welded the Orion spacecraft's tunnel and forward bulkhead together. The tunnel is the passageway astronauts crawl in and out of when Orion is docked with another vehicle, whicle the forward bulkhead, located at the top of the crew module, must handle extreme loads during re-entry because that is where the parachutes are connected when they deploy - press-release.
  • Satellite services provider ViaSat said its goal outside the US is to enter regions where traditional satellites are clinging to video market share and to displace them with Ka-band alternatives. The company also said its ViaSat-2 satellite is now likely to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2016 - several months later than initially planned - aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket - SpaceNews.
  • SpaceX unveiled interior of its Crew Dragon spaceship that is designed to deliver crews into low Earth orbit, in particular to the International Space Station, since 2017. Crew Dragon was designed to be an enjoyable ride. With four windows, passengers can take in views of Earth, the Moon, and the wider Solar System right from their seats, which are made from the highest-grade carbon fiber and Alcantara cloth - press-release.


  • SpaceWorks announced that it completed acquisition of Terminal Velocity Aerospace. TVA is an aerospace designer and hardware manufacturer focused on orbital reentry devices, heat shields, and thermal protection systems. It will become a wholly owned subsidiary of SpaceWorks and a member of the SpaceWorks family - press-release.
  • Commercial balloon spaceflight company World View updated pricing policy to allow payloads of any size to share space on World View flights, ranging from less than a kg to more than a few hundred kilos. This will lower cost of flight for a number of customers and increase access to space for scientists and researchers - Parabolic Arc.
  • Inmarsat bested Intelsat and another company in winning a contract potentially worth $450 million to provide satellite connectivity to US Navy. Defense Information Systems Agency contract, which has one-year base period and 4 year-options, calls for Inmarsat to provide connectivity to Navy in C-, Ku-, Ka- and X-band frequencies - SpaceNews.
  • SpaceVR, aiming to be the first virtual reality platform to share 360-deg. content from the ISS, announced relaunch of Kickstarter campaign. The project encourages backers to fund Overview One, SpaceVR's high-definition VR-camera to be placed on the ISS's cupola, offering an astronaut's perspective of the world to consumers - Yahoo! News.
  • COM DEV announced 3rd quarter financial results for the 3- and 9-month periods ended July 31, 2015. Revenue was $58.4 million, a 15.0% increase over $50.8 million in the 3rd quarter of 2014. New orders totalled $53.1 million, up 45.9% from $36.4 million in Q3 2014. All amounts are stated in Canadian dollars - press-release.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced launch of a new program, Dream Chaser®-Preferred Landing Site Program, in which it will work with spaceports and commercial airports to become a landing site for Dream Chaser spacecraft. Through the Program, SNC is offering 3 different levels of designation, with the highest level culminating in FAA's re-entry license to SNC for the designated spaceport or airport - press-release.

Artist's concept of SNC's Dream Chaser spacecraft landing in an airport. Credit: SNC
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  • UNOOSA and JAXA announced the United Nations/Japan Cooperation Programme on CubeSat Deployment from the ISS Japanese Experiment Module - "KiboCUBE" - dedicated collaboration between the organizations in utilizing ISS Kibo module to provide educational or research institutions from developing countries with opportunities to deploy CubeSats, which they develop and manufacture - press-release.
  • Mexican Space Agency (AEM) and government of Chiapas state, through Polytechnic University of Chiapas (UPChiapas), will begin a series of actions to boost space industry in the state. Javier Mendieta Jiménez, Director General of AEM, and Navor Francisco Ballinas Morales, Rector of UPChiapas, said they discussed a launch site for SmallSats launches, and that more announcements will be made in early 2016 - press-release.
  • European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA) announced 100 million euros ($110 million) in new funds to promote development of chipsets and receivers. GSA said the funds, to be distributed between 2015 and 2020, would help stimulate the market reception for Europe's Galileo network, now in development - SpaceNews.
  • French government said it is investing in technologies to position French industry to win contracts on building of low-orbiting satellite Internet-delivery constellations, a new generation of high-resolution optical Earth observation satellites, and proposed high-throughput broadband satellites in geostationary orbit - SpaceNews.
  • Italian Space Agency (ASI) and NASA signed agreement on elaboration and analysis of Earth observation data. NASA will now be able to use Italian COSMO-SkyMed program data, the most sophisticated European Earth observation radar constellation, as well as to use data to study slow movements of the earth's crust. The agreement was signed by ASI President Roberto Battiston and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden - SpaceRef.

Charles Bolden (right) and Roberto Battiston (left) shake hands after signing a Letter of Agreement for cooperation on Earth observation research. Credit: NASA
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New Tech & Tests

  • Following successful test of 5-segment solid rocket motor that Orbital ATK is making for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), the company has achieved significant progress toward the second ground qualification test (QM-2) scheduled for May 2016. Being qualified, for each SLS mission Orbital ATK will provide two solid rocket boosters that together provide more than 75% of the total SLS thrust at launch - press-release.
  • Laser technologies are better than radio-transmission of imagery from space to the ground, since they allow carrying larger volumes of data at high speeds. However, such imagery has to be quickly sorted and sent to appropriate users. In order to address these issues, Draper is contributing expertise in parallel processing, image data base analysis, and pattern recognition, whereas BridgeSat develops a constellation of laser-linked communications satellites for fast, cost-effective data delivery - Parabolic Arc.
  • Firefly Space Systems, developer of SmallSat launch vehicles, announced completion of its brand new test facility in Texas, located just 25 miles from their main engineering office based in Cedar Park - press-release. In a day, it was announced successful test of Firefly's first rocket engine - FRE-R1 - press-release.

Test of Firefly Space Systems' FRE-R1 rocket engine on Test Stand 1. Credit: Firefly
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Space Exploration

  • China is planning to be the first country to land a lunar probe on the far side of the Moon. The mission will be carried out by Chang'e-4, a backup probe for Chang'e-3, and is slated to be launched before 2020 - Xinhua News Agency.
  • 3 crew members from the International Space Station returned to Earth. Landing in Kazakhstan wrapped up a 168-day mission for Gennady Padalka, who became the most experienced man in space ever (879 days in space), and a brief 10-day visit for Andreas Mogensen of ESA and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency - NASA blog.
  • The first new Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral since the Apollo era will take shape at Space Launch Complex-41 in the coming days as workers moved the first two tiers from a nearby construction yard to the pad surface. The tiers soon will be lifted into place atop each other at the foot of the launch pad - NASA blog.

Construction of Crew Access Tower is underway at Cape Canaveral. Credit: NASA
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  • One of the most used and interesting sources for our Weekly Space Digests, and just simply great space news website Parabolic Arc, needs your backing. Please click HERE to support the website and its editor, Doug Messier, and make a contribution.
  • Interesting story of The New York Times about the impact of uncertainties and delays in appropriation of the federal budget for NASA, as well as the agency's budget cuts, on its interplanetary missions - 'When Congress Puts NASA on Hold, Planets Don't Wait'.
  • On September 9, 2015, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in UK history, surpassing her great-great-grandmother Victoria. During her reign there have been 12 US Presidents, the same number of British Prime-ministers, seven Popes… and the whole space exploration era. Serving as the Queen of the United Kingdom and 15 other Commonwealth realms for over 63 years, she have met with thousands of extraordinary people, from dictators to presidents, from artists to scientists, from sportsmen to astronauts - SpaceDigest story.

Queen Elizabeth II, astronaut Michael Foale (center), and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin talk to the ISS crew from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA
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Title image credit: Studio Charles Bel

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