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30 Jul 21. UK Space Command officially launched. Space Command will protect UK interests and capabilities in Space. A special ceremony held at Space Command Headquarters, RAF High Wycombe yesterday marked the official opening of UK Space Command, with the first ‘Space Operator’ Badges presented to personnel. Space plays a vital role in the Armed Forces ability to undertake the majority of defence tasks, with any disruption to the space domain leading to significant consequences on civilian, commercial, economic and military activity. The stand-up of Space Command is a crucial step to ensure we protect UK interests in space and builds on the commitments outlined in the Defence Command Paper, to invest an additional £1.4 billion on space over the next 10 years. The ability to operate in Space is further enhanced by an increase in Defence funding of £24bn over the next four years, as announced by the Prime Minister last year.
Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin said, “As our adversaries advance their space capabilities, it is vital we invest in space to ensure we maintain a battle-winning advantage across this fast-evolving operational domain. The stand-up of Space Command is an exciting and important step in our commitment to operate in space effectively.”
Under the leadership of Air Vice Marshal Paul Godfrey, the Joint Command will have oversight of all space capability development in the Ministry of Defence across three main areas; Space operations; Space workforce training and growth; and Space capability to develop and deliver space equipment programmes. When at full operating capability, UK Space Command will provide command and control of all of Defence’s space capabilities, including the UK’s Space Operations Centre, RAF Fylingdales, SKYNET and other enabling capabilities. After the newly refurbished headquarters were officially opened, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, presented the first eight personnel with the new ‘Space Operator’ badges, which signify the excellence of space professionals across defence. Six members of the Royal Air Force received the badge, as well as a British Army officer, and an exchange officer from the United States. The design is based upon the Airborne Specialist badge and features a single silver angled wing and a blue laurel surrounding a delta, an orbit ellipse and a constellation of stars representative of Aries, as UK Space Command was formed on 1 April which equates to Aries in the celestial calendar.
Commander of UK Space Command Air Vice Marshal Paul Godfrey said, “The space domain is vital, not just in enabling military operations across the world, but in the day to day lives of everyone across the nation. With our new headquarters officially open, UK Space Command is now on the path to lead UK space operations to protect UK and allied interests in space.”
UK Space Command will work with UK Strategic Command and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory drawing on key expertise from across Defence to ensure multi domain integration across environments. UK Space Command carries the UK’s commitment in the Combined Space Operations initiative, which comprises of seven nations: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, UK and the US. The initiative seeks to improve cooperation, coordination, and interoperability opportunities in space, with main efforts focussed on ensuring a safe, secure and stable space domain. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
30 Jul 21. UK Space industry to benefit from new £1.5m fund for pioneering space tech. UK Space Agency has announced new funding to support ambitious plans for the exploration of space. Proposals could include ideas such as the utilisation of resources beyond Earth’s atmosphere, the use of nuclear power in space or the exploration the Moon, and Mars.
The funding call, which opens today from the UK Space Agency’s Space Exploration programme, invites the space sector to bid for up to £500,000 to boost technology that will support and advance robotic and human exploration of Low Earth Orbit, the Moon, and Mars.
Proposals could include ideas to develop:
- Space based nuclear power
- Technology that supports human and robotic exploration
- Technology to support potential future exploration missions
- Techniques for extracting mineral resources in space
The development of space-based nuclear reactors, for example, could potentially lead to the more efficient use of technology on Earth, such as quickly deployable microreactors to restore power to disaster-hit areas.
Sue Horne, Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency, said:, “Exploration of Low Earth Orbit and our surrounding celestial neighbours delivers important breakthroughs that advance our understanding of the universe, opens up economic possibilities and make life better back on Earth. The UK has provided expertise and equipment to some of the most high-profile space missions of recent times. This funding will help our world-class space sector kickstart new technological successes, allowing us to explore our solar system further.”
From supplying components for planetary orbiters to developing game-changing equipment to aid research in space, the UK space sector plays an important part in global space exploration, allowing us to discover more about our solar system and its formation.
The deadline for applications is 5pm on 31 August 2021. Organisations can bid for between £50,000 – £500,000. Details on how to apply for funding can be found here. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/announcement-of-opportunity-space-exploration-technology-call (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
29 Jul 21. Two more CubeSats ready for lift-off on Artemis I. Two further secondary payloads aboard the Orion spacecraft under the Artemis I mission are ready for launch, NASA has announced. Both the Team Miles and EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft (EQUULEUS) CubeSats have been placed into dispensers and already installed in the Orion stage adapter – the right that connects the Orion spacecraft to the SLS rocket, NASA said.
The two new CubeSats are joining five other secondary payloads that have similarly been recently installed.
These CubeSats, essentially small satellites, will be used to conduct a variety of science experiments and technology demonstrations, and will deploy after the Orion separates from the SLS during the launch of the Artemis I mission.
Artemis I is the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems, and its vision to see humans explore the moon and beyond.
The three-week mission is an uncrewed test of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft, penned to lift-off later this year.
NASA said it is “taking advantage of additional available mass and space” and using the opportunity to send several CubeSats into deep space, to conduct experiments and demonstrations in science and technology.
“All CubeSats are deployed after SLS completes its primary mission, launching the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory toward the moon,” NASA said.
The Team Miles CubeSat was developed by Miles Space, in partnership with software developer Fluid & Reason, and will travel to deep space specifically to “demonstrate propulsion using plasma thrusters”, or a propulsion that uses low-frequency electromagnetic waves.
This CubeSat was developed under NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge by a team of scientists and engineers that came together through a Florida-based nonprofit to form Team Miles.
Team Miles’ breadbox-sized spacecraft will be flown autonomously by a sophisticated onboard computer system, and will use a software-defined radio for communications with Earth.
If successful, the CubeSat will travel farther than this size of craft has ever gone – 96 million kilometres – before ending the mission.
The other CubeSat in this payload now loaded up for its mission is the EQUULEUS, developed jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo.
The EQUULEUS CubeSat will travel to Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2, an Earth-moon orbit where the gravitational pull of the Earth and moon equal the force required for a small object to move with them.
The CubeSat will demonstrate trajectory control techniques within the sun-Earth-moon region and image Earth’s plasmasphere, a region of the atmosphere containing electrons and highly ionised particles that rotate with the planet, according to NASA.
In its mission, EQUULEUS will measure the distribution of the plasmasphere, providing important insight for protecting humans and electronics from radiation damage during long space journeys.
The CubeSat will also measure meteor impact flashes and the dust environment around the moon, providing additional important information for human exploration.
EQUULEUS will be powered by two deployable solar arrays and batteries, propelled by a warm gas propulsion system with water as the propellant.
(Source: Space Connect)
29 Jul 21. UK’s Inmarsat to launch low-orbit satellites for high-capacity service. Britain’s Inmarsat said it would launch a constellation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites that it will combine with 5G mobile and its existing GEO satellites to offer more capacity to its global maritime, aviation and land-based customers. The service, named Orchestra, will require investment of about $100m over five years and will eventually include 150-175 LEO satellites, Inmarsat said on Thursday. Inmarsat already has a network of high-capacity GEO satellites that will number seven by 2024, offering high-speed broadband. It will augment this with the smaller and cheaper LEO satellites. These are being deployed in high numbers by operators such as Elon Musk’s Starlink and UK-backed OneWeb.
Chief Executive Rajeev Suri said Orchestra would offer a service unmatched by any competitor, particularly in congested areas such as a crowded port, an aircraft preparing to land at LAX or a defence force in a remote location. The network will mesh together Inmarsat’s GEO satellites with the new deployments, he said.
“GEO is for ubiquitous coverage and capacity globally, and then LEO comes in for high-demand areas, such as canals, and 5G will take care of ports and other congested places,” he said in an interview.
He said the service would not compete with the likes of Starlink or OneWeb because it would be targeted at commercial and government customers, including new opportunities like high end cruises, rather than consumer broadband or video distribution. Previously listed in London, Inmarsat was sold to a consortium of UK-based Apax Partners, U.S.-based Warburg Pincus, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board for $3.4bn in 2019. (Source: Reuters)
29 Jul 21. Space Force launches small satellite to test new sensor possibilities. The U.S. Space Force launched a new experimental satellite July 29 that will test the possibility of installing large, deployable weather sensors on small satellites.
Named Monolith, the satellite is an Air Force Research Laboratory program exploring the possibility of using small satellites for Department of Defense missions. The mission for this latest launch will demonstrate whether large, deployable sensors can be effectively used with 6U- or 12U-sized satellite buses. A 6U satellite is 10-by-20-by-30 centimeters, while the 12U is larger at 20-by-20-by-30 centimeters.
The disposable sensors being used represent a significant amount of the small satellite’s mass, and this demonstration will help the Space Force understand how that affects the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and its ability to maintain attitude control. If successful, the mission could enable the service to use smaller satellites to field weather sensors.
A Space Force release noted that “the satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities.”
The satellite was built by the nonprofit Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University. It was launched on a Rocket Lab-built Electron rocket, which took off from the company’s New Zealand facility carrying the payload into low Earth orbit. It was the second-ever DoD mission from that launch pad, with the first taking place in 2019.
“Our continuing partnership with Rocket Lab USA demonstrates SMC’s [Space and Missile Systems Center’s] dedication to grow our Nation’s space capabilities both in Government, and the private sector,” said Col. Timothy Sejba, SMC’s program executive officer for space development. “This mission proves the functionality of innovative space launch for the Government by working with an agile company that is working diligently to meet the needs of the DoD.”
The launch was secured in partnership with the Defense Innovation Unit under the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, which looks to leverage the growing commercial small launch market to put experimental DoD satellites on orbit within 18 months of an award. (Source: Defense News)
29 Jul 21. Airbus completes integration of 3rd Copernicus Sentinel-2. Climate satellite will now undergo extensive testing . Airbus has finished the integration of the Copernicus Sentinel-2C satellite. It is the third of its kind and will now be shipped to Munich to undergo extensive environmental tests to prove its readiness for space. The test campaign will last until March 2022.
The data gathered by Sentinel-2 satellites are used for monitoring land use and changes, soil sealing, land management, agriculture, forestry, natural disasters (floods, forest fires, landslides and erosion) and to assist humanitarian aid missions. Environmental observation in coastal areas likewise forms part of these activities, as does glacier, ice and snow monitoring.
Offering “colour vision” for the Copernicus programme, Sentinel-2C – like its precursor satellites Sentinel-2A and -2B – will deliver optical images from the visible to short-wave infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. From an altitude of 786 kilometres, the 1.1 ton “C” satellite will enable continuation of imaging in 13 spectral bands with a resolution of 10, 20 or 60 metres and a uniquely large swath width of 290km.
The telescope structure and the mirrors are made of silicon carbide, first pioneered by Airbus to provide very high optical stability and minimize thermo-elastic deformation, resulting in an excellent geometric image quality. This is unprecedented in this category of optical imagers. Each Sentinel-2 satellite collects 1.5 terabytes per day, after on-board compression. The data is formatted at high speed and temporarily stored on board in the highest capacity Mass Memory and Formatting unit currently flying in space. Data recording and laser-enabled downlink can take place simultaneously at high speed via the EDRS SpaceDataHighway, in addition to the direct X-band link to the ground stations.
The Sentinel-2-mission is based on a constellation of two identical satellites, Sentinel-2A (launched 2015) and Sentinel-2B (launched 2017), flying in the same orbit but 180° apart for optimal coverage and revisit time. The satellites orbit the Earth every 100 minutes covering all Earth’s land surfaces, large islands, inland and coastal waters every five days.
The Sentinel-2 satellites are currently sensing systematically all land and water areas, producing excellent results. Last year, the Sentinel-2 mission remained the top European mission in terms of peer-reviewed scientific publications (1200 during 2020) and data volume distributed to users.
The Sentinel-2 mission has been made possible thanks to the close collaboration between ESA, the European Commission, industry, service providers and data users. Its development has involved around 60 companies, led by Airbus Defence and Space in Germany for the satellites and Airbus Defence and Space in France for the multispectral instruments, while Airbus Defence and Space in Spain is responsible for the mechanical satellite structure.
Copernicus, Europe’s environmental monitoring programme, is led by the European Commission (EC) in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). The Copernicus Sentinels supply remote sensing data of the Earth, delivering key operational services related to environment and security.
29 Jul 21. Air Accidents Investigation Branch appointed as Space Accident Investigation Authority for the United Kingdom. Regulations which today have come into force see the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) nominated by the Secretary of State for Transport to act as the Space Accident Investigation Authority (SAIA) for the UK. The Spaceflight Activities (Investigation of Spaceflight Accidents) Regulations 2021 set out that the AAIB, acting as the SAIA, now has the authority to conduct safety investigations when there are spaceflight accidents in or over the UK. Spaceflight launches from the UK are anticipated to commence in 2022.
As is the case with aviation, the AAIB will operate independently of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the UK Space Agency. The purpose of having an independent authority is to avoid any conflicts of interest or external influence in the conduct of an accident investigation. Like the aviation investigations conducted by the AAIB, spaceflight accident investigations will seek to improve spaceflight safety by promoting action to prevent recurrence. They will not apportion blame or liability.
Crispin Orr, Chief Inspector of Spaceflight Accidents: “This is a significant moment in the AAIB’s history. We are extremely proud that the Branch’s positive impact on aviation safety over many years has been recognised and we are being entrusted with this important new area of responsibility. Spaceflight activities launched from the UK offer great potential. We look forward to supporting the development of the industry by conducting independent investigation of spaceflight accidents, when required, to enhance safety. Our inspectors will conduct spaceflight investigations with the same rigour, expertise and professionalism that we are renowned for in aviation.”
The Regulations set out the powers and duties of the AAIB, its designated inspectors and the investigator-in-charge. They stipulate what actions should be taken in the immediate aftermath of a spaceflight accident to preserve evidence and how any investigation will be carried out. The Regulations also include the duty to produce and publish a safety investigation report making recommendations where appropriate to enhance safety. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
29 Jul 21. Lift off for UK spaceflight as regulations passed.
Legislation provides framework enabling the UK to be the first European country to launch spacecraft and satellites from home soil.
- new regulations pave the way for spaceflight and satellite launches from UK soil
- satellite launches could improve sat nav systems here on earth and allow us to monitor weather patterns and climate change
- planned spaceport sites across the UK to create a significant number of highly skilled jobs, with the potential for launches to take place from 2022
Another step towards space exploration from UK soil has been unlocked, with the passing of the spaceflight regulations, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced today (29 July 2021).
The legislation provides the framework to regulate the UK space industry and enable launches to take place from British soil for the very first time. It will unlock a potential £4bn of market opportunities over the next decade, creating thousands of jobs and benefiting communities right across the UK.
This also puts the UK in a unique position as the first country in Europe able to launch spacecraft and satellites from home soil. This could lead to better monitoring of climate change, as well as improved data for satellite navigation systems, improving journeys right here on the ground, too.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, “We stand on the cusp of the new commercial space age, and this is the ‘blast off’ moment for the UK’s thriving space industry, demonstrating government’s commitment to put Britain at the global forefront of this sector. These regulations will help create new jobs and bring economic benefits to communities and organisations right across the UK, helping us to level up as we inspire the next generation of space scientists and engineers.”
Today’s announcement comes alongside the formal appointment of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as the industry regulator. With nearly 50 years of aviation regulation experience, the CAA has a wealth of experience and a proven track record in overseeing the aviation sector in the UK, which is one of the safest in the world, as well as experience in regulating rocket activities under the Air Navigation Order 2016.
In time, we will also start to see new and emerging space activity including sub-orbital space tourism and, eventually, new transport systems such as hypersonic flight.
Not only will this support our thriving space sector, it will also attract companies from around the globe to come to, and benefit from, these commercial opportunities.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said, “The first satellite launches from UK spaceports in 2022 will be a remarkable moment – and these new regulations have taken us a step closer to being the first country in Europe to achieve lift-off from home soil. By creating world-class legislation to support our growing space sector in a safe and sustainable way, we are delivering new jobs and economic growth to communities right across the UK.”
The President of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Howard Nye, said, “The Royal Aeronautical Society welcomes this landmark day for the UK’s space sector with the timely passage into law of the Space Industry Regulations. This provides the legal and regulatory framework to enable commercial spaceflight launches from UK soil, thereby broadening the scope of our commercial space sector. The Society also strongly supports the nomination of the CAA with its world-class reputation as the new UK spaceflight regulator and welcomes its readiness to process licence applications for satellite launch with immediate effect.”
ADS Chief Executive Kevin Craven said, The applications of space technology are rapidly evolving and the UK’s dynamic space sector is set to continue growing its £16bn contribution to our economy. Putting in place this regulatory framework is another important step towards making commercial space launch from UK spaceports a reality, which will offer major opportunities throughout our space industry and its supply chain.”
27 Jul 21. Commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center retires. The commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, Lt. Gen. John Thompson, officially retired during a July 27 ceremony at Los Angeles Air Force Base. The change comes ahead of a major organizational shakeup for SMC, with the U.S. Space Force planning to replace SMC with a new field command called Space Systems Command. The new organization will take over SMC’s roughly $9bn budget while restructuring its various enterprises.
While Thompson, the longest serving three-star commander of SMC, was involved in creating Space Systems Command, he won’t be around to lead it. President Joe Biden has nominated Maj. Gen. Michael Guetlein, deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office, to serve as the head of the new field command. At the NRO, the agency in charge of the nation’s fleet of spy satellites, Guetlein assists the director in managing operations and oversees Space Force personnel working with the agency.
Thompson joined the U.S. Air Force in 1984 after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and has since held a number of acquisition and logistics positions. Over his 36-year military career, Thompson served as the Air Force’s program executive officer for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; the program executive officer for strategic systems; deputy program executive officer for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program; and program director for the KC-46. Before taking over SMC in May 2017, he was the commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
As the SMC commander, Thompson was responsible for roughly 6,000 employees and an annual budget around $9bn, leading the Space Force’s research, design, development, acquisition and sustainment efforts. His portfolio included the military’s most valuable satellite systems, including GPS, the Space Based Infrared System and more. He was also in charge of the acquiring the command and control systems for those satellites, as well as the launches to get them on orbit.
SMC Vice Commander Brig. Gen. D. Jason Cothern will serve as the SMC commander. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
27 Jul 21. Spacecom Leader Discusses the Value of Partnerships in Defending Space. The commander of the U.S. Space Command discussed the command’s role and its reliance on a variety of partnerships at the McCrary Institute/Space Policy Institute’s “Securing Space” discussion.
Army Gen. James H. Dickinson said today that the role of the Space Force is to organize, man, train and equip space forces, while Spacecom employs those forces in operations.
Both Spacecom and the Space Force were created because of the threat from adversaries in the space domain and the need to protect and defend space assets from those adversaries, he said.
Dickinson noted that the mission of Spacecom is to deter a war beginning or extending into space, and, should deterrence fail, Spacecom is prepared to fight and win with the help of the other combatant commands, allies and partners.
“Our adversaries have militarized space. And in response, we have established the structures necessary to protect and defend our assets against those capabilities,” he said
“Many Americans still don’t quite grasp how important our assets in space really are and don’t understand how their daily lives are tied to assets in space. Space-based capabilities enable virtually every element of our national power, including diplomacy, economics, finance and information,” he said.
Space is vast and complex, Dickinson said. Spacecom’s area of responsibility extends about 100 kilometers above the Earth and extends into infinity.
“[Spacecom] simply can’t go it alone. We are closely aligned and in sync with all the 11 other combatant commands,” he said, noting that U.S. Cyber Command, in particular, plays a critical part in space capability, along with the National Reconnaissance Office.
Spacecom is also partnered with industry, he said. The Commercial Integration Cell has been stood up now for quite some time at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. “We have an incredible number of commercial partners who are willing and able and want to be part of the team.
“So, this is a very exciting time in terms of both our work within the whole of government, as well as those with our commercial partners,” he said.
As for the Spacecom workforce, Dickinson said it is looking not only for the best and brightest in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, but also lawyers, planners and other non-STEM personnel who can contribute to the mission.
“Those skills sets together in the combatant command is what really makes us powerful and able to go quickly and to be agile enough in this changing environment that we’re seeing in the space domain,” he said.
(Source: US DoD)
26 Jul 21. Jacobs to Support UK Space Satellite Launch Project. Jacobs (NYSE:J) was selected to support Space Hub Sutherland, which has the potential to become the U.K.’s first satellite launch site. On behalf of the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, Jacobs will assess the local supply chain and produce a report on how available skills, such as advanced engineering, asset management and avionics could transfer to the space industry, including from the nuclear sector at nearby Dounreay and the defense sector in Moray. Jacobs will also examine potential socio-economic impacts in the region, conduct a gap analysis and identify further investment and actions required for a range of potential growth scenarios. Highlands and Islands Enterprise is developing the Space Hub Sutherland project, which is the first vertical launch site to secure planning permission in the U.K. The site is slated to host the Scottish-manufactured Orbex Prime low-carbon fuel rocket and could begin launching low-earth orbit communication and observation satellites as early as next year from a site on the Mhòine Peninsula.
“Our research, economic modeling and strategy planning will identify what needs to be done to create a space cluster of specialized industries in northern Scotland, supported by supply chain, local skills and talent, and infrastructure capable of sustaining its growth,” said Jacobs Critical Mission Solutions International Senior Vice President Clive White. “With estimates that the U.K.’s space industry will be worth $5.6bn (£4bn) by 2030, this is a huge opportunity for the area with potential to create many high-value jobs. During this project, we will leverage our teams supporting NASA, where Jacobs is the largest services provider.”
Space Hub Sutherland Project Director, Roy Kirk, said: “This project is important for the prosperity of the Highlands and the opportunity to reach back into Jacobs’ deep experience and capability in the space sector, plus their decades of local experience at Dounreay, is a critical competitive advantage for us.”
At Jacobs, we’re challenging today to reinvent tomorrow by solving the world’s most critical problems for thriving cities, resilient environments, mission-critical outcomes, operational advancement, scientific discovery and cutting-edge manufacturing, turning abstract ideas into realities that transform the world for good. With $14bn in revenue and a talent force of approximately 55,000, Jacobs provides a full spectrum of professional services including consulting, technical, scientific and project delivery for the government and private sector. Visit jacobs.com and connect with Jacobs on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. (Source: PR Newswire)
26 Jul 21. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency opens new lab for unclassified collaboration. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has opened its first unclassified laboratory in St. Louis, continuing the agency’s push for collaboration with commercial and nontraditional partners. While NGA has unclassified areas within some of its facilities, Moonshot Labs is unique in that it was designed to be open from the very beginning. Industry leaders in the geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) space have said the classification requirements companies need to meet in order to work with the intelligence community are onerous, even when much of the work is technically at the unclassified level. In response, the agency has expressed interest in conducting more of its work in the unclassified space, and the work-from-home reality of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it to adopt new practices that encouraged more work at the unclassified level. NGA Director Vice Adm. Robert Sharp said last year that many of those new practices would become the norm.
Located in downtown St. Louis, the new Moonshot Labs will encompass 12,000 square feet of shared workspace within the T-REX innovation center, a GEOINT-focused group with ties to NGA. According to a video announcing the endeavor, NGA stated the lab will support software development specializing in geospatial technology.
The laboratory builds off of NGA’s Moonshot plan, a call to action put out by Sharp last year encouraging the agency to maintain America’s edge in GEOINT capabilities.
“Our moonshot is an all-of-enterprise effort to speed up the delivery of the capabilities necessary to deliver that trusted geospatial intelligence our military, policymakers and first-responders require,” said Sharp in a July 23 statement. “All with the speed, accuracy and precision required to project power and defend the United States and our allies.”
NGA believes the new lab will advance that goal by bringing in new partners. The new space is just the latest of NGA’s ongoing investment in the St. Louis area, where it’s building a new headquarters that will serve as the home of NGA West. Set to open in 2025, the 712,000-square-foot campus will also feature unclassified collaborative workspaces as well as wireless connectivity — the latter of which is largely unheard of in the intelligence community due to security challenges. Sharp said Moonshot Labs is sort of a preview of how the agency wants to work with commercial partners in its future facility.
In addition to the new campus, NGA is working to build the GEOINT capacity of the region. In 2020 the agency launched the NGA Accelerator program, which selects companies to participate in a 13-week program that offers grant funding, investor connections and feedback from the agency. The agency has also partnered with local universities to develop future workers for the GEOINT enterprise.
“St. Louis’ government, industry and academic members have embraced a vision of collaboration to strengthen even further the St. Louis region as a center of geospatial excellence,” said Sharp. “It’s the perfect environment to be launching Moonshot Labs.” (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
22 Jul 21. Kymeta Demos LEO and GEO SATCOM Interoperability During Military Battle Lab Exercise. The KymetaTM u8 terminal is the first and only terminal available today capable of establishing COTM and COTP with LEO and GEO constellations. Kymeta, the communications company making mobile global, announced today seamless interoperability between the KymetaTM u8 terminal, Kepler Communications low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, and geostationary (GEO) SATCOM terminals at an annual military battle lab exercise focused on the integration of operations, intelligence, and technology. The u8 is the first and only terminal available today to demonstrate the automatic handover between a GEO SATCOM terminal and Kepler LEO constellation with high throughput for communications on the move (COTM) and on the pause (COTP). Today’s warfighters require access to command and control (C2) networks providing message traffic, email, VoIP, and VTCs as well as higher throughput networks for sending and receiving large amounts of data. The demonstration proved that access to C2 networks and high throughput communications is possible with a single integrated terminal, the u8.
“While today’s mobile forces operating in remote environments may have communication access through a traditional very small aperture terminal (VSAT) or legacy COTM terminals, they do not have access to the high-throughput LEO constellations,” said Rob Weitendorf, Vice President, Business Development, Kymeta. “The u8 provides the needed capacity and seamless connectivity between LEO and GEO satellites. We could not be more thrilled with the excitement our demo received from the Special Forces community at the event.”
Three stationary ground stations with GEO and LEO capabilities located in Inuvik, Canada, Redmond, WA, and Tuscon, AZ were combined with one mobile terminal at the demonstration Virginia Beach, VA. Each station had access to six Kepler LEO satellites and two GEO satellites. The change from GEO to LEO and linear to circular polarization was automated and accomplished via software only. Kymeta and Kepler’s experimentation was focused on providing high data rate point-to-point communications where data was transmitted from ground station to ground station without connection to the cloud, followed by GEO SATCOM for day-to-day operations.
Results exceeded expectations and demonstrated a significant increase in performance with lower latency, enhanced look angles, and speeds that are approaching 10X faster than earlier products with higher throughput and total data passed. Testing results included download speeds of 240 Mbps and upload speeds of 193 Mbps achieved with over 2 GB of data transferred during a single LEO pass. This capability has utility in polar regions where access to high-throughput communications is unavailable and mechanically-steered antennas struggle in low temperatures.
The demonstration further validates Kymeta’s ability to provide a LEO upgrade path for its u8 terminals and seamlessly leverage hybrid connectivity across multiple satellite constellations and ground LTE. Kymeta is the only flat-panel antenna (FPA) with electronic beam steering and no moving parts built for mobility and designed for the needs of military, public safety, and commercial customers. (Source: ASD Network)
21 Jul 21. New Launch + On-Orbit Services To Issue From D-Orbit Under ESA’s BOOST! Project. The UK branch of D-Orbit has signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) under the Boost! Project with ESA’s Commercial Space Transportation Services and Support Program. The Responsive Microlauncher Service, which provides end-to-end delivery of payloads in orbit, is designed to use the upcoming small launchers that are due to be launching regularly from UK, starting from 2022. The contract will focus on logistics coordination and process standardization between different European spaceports and launcher providers. D-Orbit is ideally placed to offer end-to-end commercial space transportation services, according to the ambitions and requirements of the ESA Boost! Project. With one mission concluded successfully, one mid-course and a third launched on board SpaceX Transporter-2 mission, D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carrier, the company orbital transportation vehicle (OTV), has already demonstrated the capability to transport smallsats into space and place them into precise, independent orbital slots. The Commercial Space Transportation Services and Support Program contract will bring this service into the UK, taking advantage of the dynamic new micro launch capabilities, adding integration and other features to maximize responsiveness to user needs, establishing D-Orbit as a key enabling provider in an end-to-end UK supply chain that transports and operates space assets into orbit. The UK team of D-Orbit will be the primary interface between satellite operators and launch operators. For every given satellite or payload, D-Orbit will identify the optimal microlauncher-spaceport combination that is compatible with the satellite’s dimensions, its operational orbit as well as the desired launch window. The project is also backed by D-Orbit’s Portuguese team, which will support the development of the enhanced service management software, an extension of the company’s Aurora mission control suite. This project also establishes a new partnership with Spaceport Cornwall and is a wide-reaching collaboration across key actors in the supply chain. Furthermore, the project will initially include the design of a variant of the ION spacecraft, which will then progress to manufacturing using components from the UK supply chain. The UK Space Agency invested £12m into the Boost! program in 2019, one of the largest investments from ESA member states. The overall value of the Boost! contract for D-Orbit and the consortium partners is £1.6m, of which £1m in ESA contributions via UKSA and PT Space. The funding will enable D-Orbit to benefit from ESA’s pioneering facilities, technical teams, and business networks. The new service is based at the Spaceport Cornwall Centre for Space Technologies, acting as a gateway in collaboration with other spaceports across the UK and Europe. Indeed, operators at two additional Spaceports are members of the consortium: ScotSpace Ltd. at Prestwick Spaceport, which will act as the logistics, integration and operations support hub for the Scottish launch sites of the project, in addition to providing access to local launch services. The Atlantic Spaceport Consortium (ASC), working from the Azores, Portugal. The ASC will lead a Portuguese component in the service project, supported through this Boost! Contract, and will demonstrate the operational feasibility to implement the Responsive Microlauncher Service from the Azores, including the development and deployment of some of the required infrastructure elements. ASC is supported by Optimal Structural Solutions, as infrastructure provider and supply chain representation, and Ilex Space, as end-user-representation and commercial broker. The Portuguese contribution allows D-Orbit to provide additional options to potential customers as it will aim at defining some standard practices across different spaceports. Virgin Orbit and Skyrora will each be working with D-Orbit to ensure the service is fully tailored to the respective characteristics of their unique offerings. Sky and Space Company (SAS) will also be involved, as part of its professional services, as reference satellite operator, payload customer, and service end-user. The Satellite Applications Catapult are also a key partner and will be supporting market surveys, service definition and liaising with Spaceport Cornwall on the specification, funding and operation of physical service facilities.
“We aim to exploit the D-Orbit group’s unique position in the value chain and develop a suite of small satellite focused value-added services, to actively drive business towards these new market players – this is the opportunity for the UK business,” said Chris Brunskill, Head of Programs at D-Orbit UK “Boost! support is a critical enabler and catalyst in realising this vision in a timely manner as we collectively work together in achieving the Governments’ targets set out in the Integrated Review and the Space Growth Strategy.”
“ESA’s Boost! contract with D-Orbit nurtures a new commercial space transportation service and enriches launch opportunities tailored to the thriving small satellites market. This will stimulate the European economy and space commercialization, in line with ESA’s Agenda 2025,” said Thilo Kranz, ESA’s Commercial Space Transportation Program Manager.
Ian Annett, Deputy CEO, UK Space Agency, said, “This funding is excellent news for the D-Orbit and for the UK space sector. Their standardised end-to-end transportation services will promote increased cohesion between European spaceports and launch providers, encouraging greater international collaboration. This support, alongside our world-class talent in the space sector, means the UK will be well-placed to exploit the opportunities that commercial launch from the UK will bring.”
“The development of a space ecosystem on the island of Santa Maria, in the Azores, is one of the strategic challenges of the Portuguese Space Agency, so it is with great interest that we support the project “Responsive Microlauncher Service”, like we do with all projects from other companies, integrated in the Boost! program that are contributing to the development of the Portuguese industry’s capacity“, said Ricardo Conde, President of the Portuguese Space Agency. (Source: Satnews)
20 Jul 21. NGA Opening Moonshot Labs. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) will host a special ceremony celebrating the opening of Moonshot Labs, the agency’s first-ever, unclassified, collaborative innovation space, on Friday, July 23, at 2:00 p.m., at the T-REX innovation center in downtown St. Louis.
Moonshot Labs is about 12,000 square feet of shared workspace at T-REX that aims to foster collaboration among the government, industry and academic geospatial community members in the St. Louis region. The interactive, unclassified space is the first of its kind in existing NGA facilities, said NGA Director Vice Admiral. Robert Sharp. “Moonshot Labs will bring an accessible, new level of unclassified and solutions-oriented developmental capabilities to NGA, our partners and the warfighter,” said Sharp. “Moonshot Labs is about forging connections between NGA, academia and industry to help transform how we do business for the better.”
Moonshot Labs at T-REX is intended to fill a near-term gap and offers a preview of the unprecedented collaborative environment that will come at the agency’s new west campus when it opens in 2025 in north St. Louis. Plans for the $1.7bn, new, NGA campus include an Innovation Center that is being designed as open, collaborative space where NGA personnel can work with traditional and non-traditional partners in an unclassified environment.
The new NGA campus is scheduled to be open and fully operational by 2025. The focus of Moonshot Labs will be on software development as tradecraft. While NGA’s software developers will anchor the center, other agency technologists, data-science personnel and teammates from other areas also will be in-residence. Agency collaborators and customers, as well as industry and academic representatives, also are expected to use the digital maker space while working to optimize unclassified and open-source solutions to meet specific and strategic NGA technological challenges. (Source: Satnews)
21 Jul 21. Maritime Situation Awareness System Sets Sail From McQ. Taking advantage of the new Certus machine to machine (M2M) data service Iridium is initiating this year, McQ Inc.’s SonoWatch™ is an autonomous, acoustic lookout system that detects, identifies and determines the navigation meaning of acoustic signals, which provide autonomous collision avoidance to both unmanned and manned watercraft. McQ is providing SonoWatch to a couple of prime contracts for use in an unmanned surface vessel (USV) for a Department of Defense customer. SonoWatch is compact, sealed for operation in maritime environments and ruggedized for the shock and vibration experienced on water. SonoWatch provides high fidelity acoustic signal capture with advanced processing to provide accurate signal characterization, even in the presence of engine noise and the wind/rain. SonoWatch provides notification of naval navigation acoustic alerts for the safe operation of surface vessels. The SonoWatch system consists of a 360° field of view acoustic array with a below deck unit that processes the array data and displays the information on a user interface. McQ has developed signal processing algorithms to uniquely classify maritime navigation signals. SonoWatch provides a proper “lookout” to avoid the risk of collision in any condition of visibility. The high sensitivity microphone array provides long range detection, accurate line of bearing to the source, and identification of navigational signals. The SonoWatch acoustic system is built as a powerful platform for new sensing capabilities and features to meet the future requirements of the U.S. Navy and other potential customers. These other capabilities could include detection and classification of watercraft engines and land based detection and classification of vehicles and aircraft. Augmenting the SonoWatch Acoustic Situation Awareness system is a new small McQ CONNECT™ product that provides global data communications from any land or sea based location in the world. McQ CONNECT can deliver data and information from static or mobile systems and provide command and control to these systems. McQ CONNECT links the SonoWatch system on an unmanned watercraft to a user display on either manned marine watercraft or land based sites. McQ CONNECT provides IP Communications from remote systems to distributed users and command and control to the system from the user. (Source: Satnews)
22 Jul 21. Smallsat Launch Contract Signed Between Vaya Space + Athens State University. Vaya Space and Athens State University have agreed to launch a smallsat that is now in development and is planned for placement into LEO in 2023. Additionally, they have formed a business-education partnership to promote scientific, technological, and research collaboration; foster internship opportunities for students; and encourage life-long continuous learning and professional development opportunities for Vaya Space employees.
Designated STEM-SAT1, the cubesat mission objective will be to collect and store Low Frequency (LF) and Very Low Frequency (VLF) signals, normally blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere. Data will then be re-transmitted by Very High Frequency (VHF) signals to ground stations for analysis. Re-transmitted data will also be available to amateur radio astronomers around the globe, who can receive these unencrypted VHF signals.
The smallsat will be carried into LEO by Vaya Space aboard its Dauntless™ orbital launch vehicle as a ride-share option, powered by the STAR-3D™ Hybrid Propulsion System, using patent pending technology that converts recycled thermoplastics into “greener” rocket fuel. The scheduled launch date has not been announced, but is expected no later than the fourth quarter of 2023. (Source: Satnews)
22 Jul 21. AWS Ground Station Integrated With D-Orbit’s AURORA Mission Control Software. D-Orbit has integrated AWS Ground Station with D-Orbit’s AURORA cloud-based mission control software, using the AWS Ground Station to power AURORA, manage increasingly complex missions for D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carrier (such as the on-going PULSE mission) as well as strengthen the D-Orbit space transportation and logistics infrastructure.
D-Orbit also plans to use AWS Ground Station with Aurora to communicate with its WILD RIDE mission, launched on June 30, and with D-Orbit’s future fleet. Together, D-Orbit and AWS accelerate smallsat use cases such as Earth Observation (EO), global telecommunications or space logistics. AWS Ground Station enables customers to downlink data and efficiently control satellite communications across multiple regions, process data, and scale operations without having to worry about building or managing their own ground station infrastructure, and to pay only for the actual antenna time used.
D-Orbit’s AURORA mission control software reduces mission costs by turning the unpredictable expenses connected to software design, development, testing, deployment, and maintenance to a recurrent, predictable cost. D-Orbit’s cloud-based AURORA software is accessible through standard web browsers on multiple devices and includes all the tools needed to monitor and control a spacecraft, uplink commands, and downlink and process satellite data.
The collaboration between D-Orbit and AWS gives satellite operators access to an expanded network of satellite ground stations and facilitates the ingest of satellite data into the cloud with AWS. Customers can control their missions and securely downlink and process increasingly large amounts of satellite data using AWS services in AWS Global Infrastructure regions for real-time data processing, storage, and analysis.
For this integration, AWS Professional Services designed and built out a fully automated solution that enables reliable and seamless bi-directional communications between D-Orbit’s satellites on-orbit and their AURORA mission operations software in the cloud with AWS. The solution uses AWS Ground Station and an open-source Software Defined Radio (SDR) that is hosted on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud instances.
Using AWS Ground Station, D-Orbit customers can immediately access AWS storage, compute, and analytics services, such as Amazon S3, for storing the downloaded data; Amazon Kinesis Data Streams, for managing data ingestion from satellites; and Amazon SageMaker for building custom machine learning models that can be applied to a wide variety of data sets.
“AWS Ground Station integration within our AURORA mission control software is essential to managing and conducting increasingly complex missions for customer payloads on our ION Satellite Carriers. The synergy between AURORA and AWS helps mission controllers monitor and control payloads through AWS’s extensive network of ground stations, downlink and process their satellite data faster and more cost effectively, and easily integrate the data into cloud based applications. AURORA is fleet or constellation ready, and AWS Ground Station enables D-Orbit to leverage that capability with global coverage,” said Bruno Carvalho, Vice President of Business Development for D-Orbit. (Source: Satnews)
22 Jul 21. Ad Astra’s VASIMR Plasma Rocket Champions High Power Endurance Test. Ad Astra Rocket Company’s VASIMR® VX-200SS Plasma Rocket has completed 88 hours of continuous operation at 80 kW at the company’s Texas laboratory near Houston. In doing so, the company has established a new high-power world endurance record in electric propulsion.
The test also demonstrated the maturity of the VASIMR® engine technology as a competitive option for high-power, in-space, electric propulsion with either solar or nuclear, electric power. Electric rockets operating above 50 kW/thruster are considered “high-power.”
The test began at 12:50 pm (CST) last Monday, July 12, and ended Friday, July 16, at 4:55 am (CST). The firing stopped only 12 hours shy of its intended duration of 100 hours due to a spurious temperature sensor located in the test support equipment and not on the rocket structure. The rocket, however, was performing normally and all indications were that, were it not for this faulty sensor, it would have met and exceeded the 100-hour goal. Ad Astra believes the 88-hr test provides objective and sufficient evidence that the VASIMR® engine has met the intent of the high-power endurance goal set by NASA.
The VASIMR® engine retains the high power of a chemical rocket but with ten times the fuel efficiency. As such, it is an excellent candidate for a host of applications, ranging from high-payload solar-electric robotic commercial cargo and resupply missions in cis-lunar space, to fast human missions to Mars and beyond with nuclear-electric propulsion (NEP).
The growing importance of NEP missions, for which VASIMR® is ideally suited, is reflected in the language of the 2022 Bill submitted by the Committee on Appropriations for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies of the US House of Representatives, which stated that “…at least $10,000,000 shall be utilized to begin a systematic approach to Nuclear Electric Propulsion…”, and “Within 180 days of the enactment of this Act, NASA, in coordination with other relevant Federal departments and agencies such as the Department of Energy, shall submit a multi-year plan for in-space propulsion-system demonstration for NEP.”
The company’s main goal is for the VASIMR® engine to demonstrate thermal steady-state operation at increasingly higher power levels. This condition calls for all the temperatures of the engine’s critical components to be stably maintained by the engine’s thermal management system.
Major advances in the design of this system have been achieved in experimental campaigns lasting days to weeks, each followed by a period of inspection, disassembly, and improvement. This rapid prototyping is the basis for Ad Astra’s approach to mature the VASIMR® technology quickly and provide a competitive high-power electric propulsion option for both public and private customers.
The thermal management of the VASIMR® engine is uniquely challenging, as temperatures from millions of degrees in the rocket’s plasma core to near absolute zero in the superconducting magnet, located a few tens of centimeters away, must be carefully controlled. This, of course, in the vacuum environment where the engine must operate. These stringent requirements have required Ad Astra to develop innovative manufacturing and assembly techniques to meet unusual thermal and electromagnetic constraints within the available engine envelope.
“The test is a major success, the culmination of years of trial-and-error testing and painstaking attention to detail and a handsome reward for the team’s tenacity and dedication,” said Franklin R. Chang Díaz, Ad Astra’s chairman and CEO and a decorated former NASA astronaut. “With a new set of engine modifications already in the manufacturing stage, we’ll now move to demonstrate thermal steady state at 100 kW in the second half of 2021,” he added.
“It is absolutely inspiring to see how much Franklin Chang Díaz and the Ad Astra team have been able to accomplish and advance in the years that I have known them. This technology has major potential to revolutionize the space industry,” said U.S. Congressman Brian Babin, Ranking Member of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. “Ad Astra’s small but dedicated team is a true testament of perseverance and continuing to invest in advanced technologies such as VASIMR® is critical if we want to remain a country that leads in space exploration,” he added.
“The ability to operate continuously at 80 kW is exciting because we are so close to our 100-kW design goal and needing to focus on upgrading just a few components,” said Dr. Matthew Giambusso, Ad Astra Senior Research Scientist, and leader of experiment operations. “The rapid sequence of successful tests of the last few weeks have been thrilling,” he added.
“Getting the great diversity of materials to work in harmony in the environment we subject the engine to has presented major manufacturing challenges we have had to overcome,” said Mr. Lawrence “DJ” Dean, Ad Astra’s head of manufacturing.
Short for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, VASIMR® works with plasma, an electrically charged gas, heated to extreme temperatures by radio frequency (RF) waves, and controlled and guided by strong magnetic fields, which also provide insulation. Plasma rockets, such as VASIMR®, have an extremely low fuel consumption and much higher power and/or performance as compared to other electric or chemical rockets. VASIMR® offers economic and operational advantages in satellite deployment, re-boost, refurbishment, and end-of-life disposal. With the proper nuclear-electric power source, VASIMR® could enable much faster and safer human and robotic transportation in deep-space where solar power is insufficient.
Ad Astra Rocket Company is the developer of the VASIMR® engine, an advanced plasma space propulsion system aimed at the emerging in-space transportation market. Ad Astra has its main laboratory and corporate headquarters at 141 W. Bay Area Blvd in Webster, Texas, USA, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. (Source: Satnews)
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