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05 May 22. DARPA’s nuclear space propulsion project advances to next phase. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is kicking off the next phase of a program to demonstrate the feasibility of nuclear-powered propulsion systems operating between Earth and the moon in what’s known as cislunar space.
DARPA awarded contracts for Phase 1 of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations in April 2021. General Atomics received a $22m order to develop a design for a nuclear thermal propulsion reactor and subsystem, the centerpiece of the program.
Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin won contracts valued at $2.5m and $2.9m, respectively, to independently design a spacecraft using the propulsion system.
DARPA expects to choose one provider for the next two phases, which according to a May 4 solicitation are focused on finalizing the detailed nuclear thermal rocket design and building the spacecraft and its flight engine. Once completed, DARPA plans to conduct an on-orbit demonstration in fiscal 2026.
The agency’s fiscal 2023 budget request includes $57m for DRACO, a $20m increase from last year, which will support the transition to the next phase.
In the last few years, the U.S. Department of Defense has changed its posture toward cislunar space, shifting from viewing deep-space threats as part of a distant future to recognizing that they could present much sooner. That change has led to projects such as DRACO, as well as other research and development efforts within the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Space Force, which expects to have a cislunar domain awareness capability on orbit in the next five to 10 years.
According to DARPA, DRACO’s nuclear thermal propulsion system could enable rapid maneuver in space, which is difficult to perform with spacecraft powered by electric or chemical propulsion. While chemical systems provide a high thrust-to-weight ratio and electric systems offer high efficiency, a nuclear thermal system combines both features, making it ideal for cislunar missions.
“This enables NTP systems to be both faster and smaller than electric and chemical systems, respectively,” the solicitation states. “The propulsive capabilities afforded by NTP will enable the United States to maintain its interests in space and to expand the possibilities for NASA’s long-duration human spaceflight missions.”
DARPA notes that NASA has a particular interest in NTP technology because of its potential to reduce the travel time of its missions and return astronauts to Earth much faster in the event of an emergency. The two agencies are cooperating on DRACO, and NASA has offered to partner with companies bidding on the later phases of the program, offering its subject matter expertise as well as testing facilities. (Source: Defense News)
05 May 22. New Zealand rocket caught but then dropped by helicopter. Using a helicopter to catch a falling rocket is such a complex task that Peter Beck likens it to a “supersonic ballet.” Rocket Lab, the company that Beck founded, partially pulled off the feat Tuesday as it pushes to make its small Electron rockets reusable. But after briefly catching the spent rocket, a helicopter crew was quickly forced to let it go again for safety reasons, and it fell into the Pacific Ocean where it was collected by a waiting boat. The California-based company regularly launches 18-meter (59-foot) rockets from the remote Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand to deliver satellites into space. Rocket Lab has a history of supporting the U.S. intelligence community and American armed forces. On Tuesday, the Electron rocket was launched in the morning and sent 34 satellites into orbit before the main booster section began falling to Earth. Its descent was slowed to about 10 meters per second by a parachute. That’s when the helicopter crew sprang into action, dangling a long line with a hook below the helicopter to snag the booster’s parachute lines. The crew caught the rocket, but the load on the helicopter exceeded the parameters from tests and simulations, so they jettisoned it again. The roller coaster of emotions was caught in a livestream of the event, with people at mission control cheering and clapping as the rocket was caught, only to let out a collective gasp and sigh about 20 seconds later. Still, Beck hailed the mission as a success, saying that almost everything went to plan and that the unexpected load issue was a tiny detail that would soon be fixed — a “nothing in the scheme of things.”
“They got a great catch. They just didn’t like the way the load was feeling,” Beck said of the helicopter crew in a conference call after the launch.
He said a detailed analysis should reveal the reasons for the discrepancy in the load characteristics. He said he still hopes the company can salvage some or all of the spent rocket booster, despite it getting dunked in salt water, which they’d hoped to avoid.
Rocket Lab named its latest mission “There And Back Again” — a reference to the movie trilogy “The Hobbit,” which was filmed in New Zealand.
The company described the brief midair capture at 1,980 meters by the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter as a milestone. It says making its rockets reusable will enable the company to increase the number of launches it makes and reduce costs. Elon Musk’s SpaceX company designed the first reusable orbital rocket, the Falcon 9. (Source: Defense News)
04 May 22. Space Force seeks $3.7bn for narrowband communication satellites. The U.S. Space Force is moving ahead with a plan to extend the life of the Mobile User Objective System constellation, requesting funds in fiscal 2023 to build and launch two more ultra-high frequency communication satellites. The service last month released details of its budget request, including $165.9m for MUOS development in fiscal 2023 and about $2.2bn over the next five years. It also includes funding for two fixed-price satellite design contracts to be awarded early next year. The service expects a total development cost of $3.7bn and to launch the satellites in 2029 or 2030, budget documents show.
The MUOS constellation includes four active satellites and one orbiting spare and was built by the Navy with Lockheed Martin Corp. as prime contractor. With the creation of the Space Force, the program was chosen to change hands from the Navy to the new service — a move that became official in March with the passage of the Fiscal 2022 Omnibus Appropriations Act.
MUOS satellites operate in the 300 MHz to 3GHz frequency range, making them less vulnerable to severe weather conditions. The narrowband communications constellation is a replacement for the legacy Ultra High Frequency Follow-On system and was designed to provide 10 times the capacity of previous UHF satellites. Each carries two payloads: one to maintain the UHF network and a second that provides a new Wideband Code Division Multiple Access capability.
The plan to buy more satellites originated with the Navy as means to extend the constellation’s on-orbit life to at least 2034 and its supporting ground segment to 2039. According to budget documents, the new satellites will not carry the legacy UHF payload. Officials have said they may have enhanced capabilities, but haven’t offered details.
The service’s decision to restart the MUOS production rather than pursue equivalent, and likely less expensive, commercial capabilities raised questions among outside experts. Not only is it a costly endeavor, but MUOS has faced delays — particularly with its ground segment and user equipment — that have prevented users from taking full advantage of the system’s newer payload and left them reliant on the legacy UFO capability.
Todd Harrison, director of budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told C4ISRNET in an interview that the Space Force appears to be choosing the more traditional route rather than considering how it might take a more cost-effective approach to the MUOS mission.
“It’s the status-quo model of, ‘We just need to buy the legacy version of the system,’” he said.
Space Force spokesman Capt. James Fisher told C4ISRNET in a May 4 email that the life-extension effort will buy the service time as it explores longer term options for narrowband communications through an analysis of alternatives led by the Space Warfighting Analysis Center, to begin this summer.
While there are commercial options for UHF SATCOM, he said, those capabilities don’t meet all of the Department of Defense’s requirements, which is why the MUOS constellation and the life-extension effort are needed.
“There are, and will continue to be, unique Department of Defense requirements not provided by commercial services, some of which MUOS currently fulfills,” Fisher said.
The request also includes funds for MUOS procurement: $46.8m in fiscal 2023 and about $244.6m across the Space Force’s five-year spending outlook. According to budget documents, near-term procurement funding will address obsolescence and cybersecurity vulnerabilities on the MUOS ground segment and out-year money will fund hardware and software upgrades. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
03 May 22. Enhanced navigation on the horizon as EGNOS V3 initial service performance receives nod from stakeholders. Airbus Defence and Space as EGNOS V3 system provider and a panel of space and civil aviation experts have recently passed a major milestone during which initial service performance was successfully reviewed.
Used to improve the performance of navigation satellite systems for the most safety-critical applications such as aircraft navigation and landing, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) is Europe’s regional Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS). This new V3 generation of EGNOS, currently under development by Airbus, will introduce new services based on multiple frequencies of multiple constellations (GPS, Galileo), and will embed sophisticated security protection against cyber-attacks.
The assessment of the system performance for initial services highlighted the high level of maturity of the design and its adequacy to flawlessly continue the provision of critical navigation services, such as precision approach and landing everywhere in Europe, irrespective of whether the airports are equipped with expensive instrument landing systems (which is often not the case for smaller ones). The review confirmed EGNOS V3 will deliver the accuracy, continuity, integrity and availability required for Safety-of-Life operations up to Cat.I – with margins.
“At this stage of the development, this performance review has demonstrated the increase in benefits which EGNOS V3 should bring to Europe,” said Didier Flament, Head of EGNOS & SBAS Division at ESA. “As the full power of this new EGNOS generation has still to be qualified in the following phase of the project, this first important milestone of the Detailed Design phase has met our expectations on all legacy aspects assessed. We look forward to the next steps, as we are confident that EGNOS V3 will deliver as required.”
In addition, using both Galileo and GPS signals to monitor ionosphere-induced position errors increases the availability of the service in the western and southwestern periphery of Europe. This expands the area in which satellite navigation landing becomes possible without requiring dedicated ground systems.
“The consolidation of EGNOS’ service area will be beneficial to our customers, as it will support their satellite navigation-guided operations to even more destinations,” commented Hugues de Beco, head of ATM Programs within Airbus Commercial Aircraft. “Airbus is very pleased to support the growth of EGNOS users in commercial aviation in Europe with the recent certification of the SBAS Landing Systems on Airbus A320 and A330 families. We continue to support the development of any system which will contribute to a safer and more sustainable air traffic.”
EGNOS is a component of the European Union Space Programme designed to improve positioning service of the Global Positioning System and of Galileo for Safety of Life users. It is managed in the frame of the partnership agreement established between the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Defence, Industry and Space (DG-DEFIS), the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
The views expressed in this Press Release can in no way be taken to reflect the opinion of the European Union and/or of EUSPA.
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02 May 22. Two new satellites successfully launched: French SME Unseenlabs expands the world’s largest RF satellite constellation dedicated to maritime surveillance. Unseenlabs, the European leader in radiofrequency (RF) signals detection from space, successfully launched its sixth and seventh satellites dedicated to the geolocation of vessels at sea on April 1st and May 3rd , 2022. The first satellite was launched with SpaceX from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and the second one was launched aboard with Rocket Lab from New Zealand. In total, Unseenlabs has deployed seven satellites since 2019 and will launch other satellites in 2022.
Unseenlabs’ constellation is designed to provide clients with data to follow maritime traffic, regardless of the time of day and weather conditions. Unseenlabs processes and analyses this RF data, and provides unique knowledge for national security operations, for environmental protection and for an increasing number of applications in the commercial sector.
“Unseenlabs provides the most accurate possible RF data to its clients. Our clients and partners use this data to power analytics and find solutions for many industries.” Clement Galic, Unseenlabs CEO and cofounder said.
To this day, Unseenlabs owns the world’s most advanced fleet of independent satellites for RF signals detection. The technology developed by Unseenlabs provides the most up-to-date maritime traffic data for their selected area of interest.
In 2022 the French SME will be expanding its team based at its headquarters in Rennes, France. The aim is to extend Unseenlabs’ constellation dedicated to the geolocation of vessels at sea to up to 25 satellites around 2025.
26 Apr 22. Inmarsat expands Velaris partner network with Dimetor and Bellwether to support BVLOS drone operations. Inmarsat has expanded the Partner Network for its Velaris UAV connectivity solution with the addition of software company Dimetor, which facilitates Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) operations in cellular networks, and Bellwether Industries, an Urban Air Mobility (UAM) solutions provider for intra-city travel, says the company press release.
The Partner Network was established six months ago to encourage innovative collaborations using Inmarsat’s Velaris connectivity solution, which allows commercial UAVs to operate long distance flights and access various applications, such as real-time monitoring, to ensure safe integration with aircraft in commercial airspace. In addition, it allows a single pilot to remotely operate multiple UAVs at scale, making operations more commercially viable.
As the latest additions to the Velaris Partner Network, Dimetor and Bellwether Industries have joined existing members Altitude Angel, a leading Uncrewed Traffic Management (UTM) technology provider, and Harvest Technology Gp, a specialist in ultra-low bandwidth livestreaming technology.
Dimetor’s AirborneRF solution brings together live radio network data from terrestrial Mobile Network Operators (MNO) with UAV airspace control systems. By adding Inmarsat’s Velaris satellite communications capabilities, UAV operators will have access to integrated terrestrial and space-based datalink communications for low-cost, high reliability data routing, allowing UAVs to be reliably controlled within a three-dimensional airspace safety corridor.
Using high-performance computational technologies and Inmarsat’s communications spectrum, Dimetor will aggregate 4G and 5G data for flight planning, risk assessment, flight clearing and operation, adding satellite communications to its data visualisation to calculate and display routes that provide coverage to support flight plans. This will achieve an assured 99.9% uptime in all types of weather and satisfy regulatory requirements through dual dissimilar redundancy.
As part of its UAV roadmap, Inmarsat will introduce a combined L-band satcom and LTE hybrid terminal that will be integral to the delivery of the solution. The newly-developed terminal will create integrated terrestrial and satellite communications that provides an affordable solution for UAV operators.
Bellwether is bringing to market Volar, an Urban Air Mobility aircraft for personal and private mobility, designed to fly anyone at any time between any points in a city. Volar’s user-centric design and city compatibility aims to redefine future lifestyles and reduce complications often associated with city transportation, helping make intra-city transportation a reality.
Inmarsat and Bellwether Industries will explore how satellite communications can optimise the future of intra-city transportation services, with a focus on safety, regulation and innovation. Inmarsat’s Velaris connectivity solution and the company’s existing expertise in aviation safety systems will enable Bellwether’s Volar to safely integrate with commercial airspace with accurate positional information reported back from onboard satellite navigation systems, and the ability to combine and harmonise this data for Uncrewed Traffic Management. Additionally, Bellwether will gain access to regulatory and air traffic management expertise from Inmarsat and Velaris partners throughout the design and implementation process. For more information visit: www.inmarsat.com (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)
29 Apr 22. Rocket Lab’s “There and Back Again” Mission With A Mid-Air Attempt To Capture The Falcon 9’s 1st Stage Is Now Pushed Out To No Earlier Than May 1st. Due to weather challenges, Rocket Lab is pushing the launch of their “There and Back Again” rideshare mission to no earlier than May 1st, with a launch window of 22:35 – 00:40 UTC / 10:35 – 12:40 NZST, for this rideshare mission for a variety of customers.
This is a recovery mission where — for the first time — Rocket Lab will attempt to capture Electron’s first stage in mid-air by helicopter as it returns to Earth.
The launch will take place from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 Pad A on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula.
New launch window:
- UTC: 22:35 (1 May)
- NZST: 10:35 (2 May)
- EDT: 18:35 (1 May)
- PDT: 15:35 (1 May)
The “There and Back Again” mission will be Rocket Lab’s 26th Electron launch and will deploy 34 satellites to SSO for a variety of customers that include Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Spaceflight Inc., and Unseenlabs, bringing the total number of satellites launched by Electron to 146.
“There And Back Again” is also a recovery mission where, for the first time, Rocket Lab will attempt a mid-air capture of Electron’s first stage as it returns from space using parachutes and a helicopter.
Like previous recovery missions, Electron’s first stage will undertake a series of complex maneuvers designed to enable it to survive the extreme heat and forces of atmospheric re-entry. Electron will be equipped with a heat shield to help protect the stage’s nine Rutherford engines and a parachute to slow Electron down in order for Rocket Lab’s customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to catch the stage as it returns.
Upon success of this recovery, Electron will be one step closer to being the first reusable orbital small sat launcher.
A live webcast will be available approximately 20 minutes prior to the target T-0 time at this direct link…
An attempt will be made to provide a live view of the catch from the helicopter; however, due to the remote location where the capture will take place, Rocket Lab does expect some video loss. (Source: Satnews)
24 Apr 22. AFRL + ABL Space Systems Collaborate To Demo Launch Systems That Can Be Operated Rapidly Via Small Teams From Nontraditional Sites.
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, and ABL Space Systems, are collaborating to demonstrate how launch systems can be operated rapidly by small teams from nontraditional sites. Leveraging ABL’s deployable ground system, GS0, and small launch vehicle, RS1, a series of ground demonstrations is underway at multiple U.S. military installations aimed at quickly training participants to activate GS0 and simulate the run-up to an orbital launch.
ABL and AFRL partnered with operators from the 2nd Space Launch Squadron and 412th Test Wing to conduct the first demonstration activity. The complete test campaign, from training to full operations with cryogenic rocket propellants, was accomplished in a few days. In doing so, ABL and partners successfully determined the minimum resources to activate GS0 and validated the strong training base and capability of U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force active-duty personnel for conducting liquid rocket concept of operations and fielding of novel deployable systems.
While traditional launch operations are planned months or years in advance, ABL is working to demonstrate systems that can ready a new orbital launch site from any flat concrete pad in under 24 hours with a small team of personnel. While the launch status quo requires significant investments in fixed infrastructure, ABL’s systems, which are packaged into standard shipping containers, require no lifting equipment to operate. AFRL is testing the self-sufficiency of these systems, conducting experiments and evaluating how quickly skilled operators can be trained to operate them.
Through AFWERX, part of the AFRL, this demonstration campaign has brought together players from across the national security space enterprise including acquisition, science, technology, and operations. These diverse perspectives ensure capabilities under development can best support next-generation missions.
ABL and partners are gearing up for a second demonstration activity in the coming months, which seeks to expand operational realism by incorporating additional elements and operations. The second demo will include live deployment of GS0 mobile launch infrastructure as well as integration of RS1 launch vehicle operations. Systems will arrive at a simple site with a concrete pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
Newly trained operators will activate the support systems, raise a vehicle stage using ABL’s deployable launch mount; complete propellant loading; perform a countdown to launch; simulate scrubbing; and reestablish a safe pad state. These activities are critical to demonstrating the feasibility of rapid launch operations; refining operational concepts; identifying technical challenges; and increasing the technology readiness level for a DOD responsive and resilient launch capability.
“The ability to control, exploit and access the space domain is vital for our nation,” said Dr. Shawn Phillips, chief of AFRL’s Rocket Propulsion Division. “Space launch must be dynamic, responsive and provide the ability to rapidly augment or reconstitute capability gaps. ABL’s RS1 and GS0 systems provide a uniquely flexible capability to provide warfighters the ability to accomplish these objectives by conducting orbital launch operations at any time, at any location desired.”
“We optimize RS1 and GS0 for lean operations,” said Dan Piemont, ABL co-founder and president. “We’re exploring how this flexibility can provide unique value to the Department of Defense. “As space becomes more contested and competitive, new mission profiles will emerge, and we must be able to adapt to their needs on a relevant timeline without introducing prohibitive cost.” (Source: Satnews)
25 Apr 22. Orbital Insight + Satellogic Share Their Expertise — Bringing Sat Imagery + FMV To Platform + More. Orbital Insight has partnered with Satellogic (NASDAQ: SATL) and the company’s will integrate the latter’s high-frequency, high-resolution collections of satellite imagery and full-motion video (FMV) into the Orbital Insight platform and offer customers better access to high quality data, improve the revisit rate and reduce the cost of running analytics.
Satellogic is a vertically integrated company that designs, manufactures and operates its own constellation of EO smallsats, with 22 operational satellites in LEO and with plans to launch as many as 12 additional satellites by the close of the year. The company aims to expand its constellation to more than 200 satellites by 2025 for daily global coverage of the entire surface of the Earth.
Orbital Insight‘s flagship GO platform combines information from the world’s sensors—including satellite, AIS and IoT devices—to analyze economic, societal and environmental trends at scale and support activity-based intelligence. Commercial businesses and government agencies use the self-service platform to synthesize answers to critical questions about what’s happening on and to the Earth.
Satellogic will provide high-resolution EO data at vastly superior unit economics. This will allow Orbital Insight customers to increase the number of daily revisits on points of interest, see a more granular picture and get deep insights that were not possible before.
“Advanced geospatial analytics require access to high-resolution, high-frequency satellite imagery and simple tasking,” said Kevin O’Brien, CEO at Orbital Insight. “Satellogic is disrupting the industry with a cost-effective, vertically integrated business model. This approach aligns well with our philosophy of making geospatial intelligence efficient, intuitive, and simple so that our customers can get timely insights, make critical decisions, and respond faster.”
“Our mission is to enable greater access to critical Earth Observation data. Working with Orbital Insight extends our reach, making our data available to more customers across diverse fields who need to know how the world around them is changing,” said Emiliano Kargieman, CEO and Co-Founder of Satellogic.
Orbital Insight Orbital Insight is the geospatial software and analytics company that helps organizations understand what’s happening on and to the Earth. Customers including Unilever, Airbus, RBC Capital Markets, The World Bank, and the U.S. Department of Defense use Orbital Insight’s self-service analytics platform to make smarter business decisions, build sustainable supply chains, and improve national security. (Source: Satnews)
25 Apr 22. Nex-Gen Satellite Announced By Planet. Another exciting day at Planet as the company unveils details about their next-gen satellite constellation, Pelican, designed to efficiently capture brief and rapidly changing events as they unfold.
The Pelican constellation was designed in-house and is expected to be built at the firm’s manufacturing facility in San Francisco. The advancements of this brand new constellation represent a leap forward in capabilities for the firm’s customers — from higher revisit and higher spatial resolution, to faster data access and delivery.
Pelican is expected to start launch activities early next year and will consist of the following specifications:
- Up to 32 new tasking satellites, which will replenish and improve upon the capabilities of our existing 21 SkySats
- Increased rapid revisit, as customers are expected to be able to task images of the same location up to 12 times per day, and will even have 30 opportunities in mid latitudes
- Reduced latency for downloading data, creating shorter time loops between tasking and receiving data across the world
- Higher resolution capabilities with up to 30 cm. resolution imagery
This next-generation constellation is expected to monitor patterns of life, such as shifting political borders and changing coastlines, and help characterize drivers of environmental change that are threatening protected ecosystems. Planet hopes these exciting product advancements will provide customers across global industries and governments with the ability to respond to global events with more speed and better informed insights.
With such revisit capacity, users should be able to capture transitory events occurring in one location, increasing their likelihood of obtaining a high quality image even during unpredictable or cloudy weather. These new rapid and accurate insights will be particularly valuable for monitoring regions with fleeting events, such as unstable conflict zones or areas vulnerable to storms and fires that spread rapidly over space and time.
The company is currently seeing strong and growing demand from multiple market segments for real-time data from their high-resolution products, including the defense sector for security intelligence, civil government for disaster response and software companies for mapping platforms. Pelican was designed to meet these growing needs as a state-of-the-art rapid revisit and very high resolution satellite system, delivering information faster and more accurately.
Global customers are able to use both of the firm’s satellite system products – the PlanetScope monitoring and SkySat tasking – in combination, to execute tip and cue strategies and design automated alert systems. Thus, Planet designed Pelican to leverage and advance on that interoperability so the company can continue to pioneer unique and comprehensive datasets to answer customers’ questions. Combined with a full suite of daily, global monitoring data and analytics solutions, Pelican believes they will help drive critical decision-making for aid organizations, businesses, international NGOs, and governments.
“We are seeing strong and growing demand from multiple market segments for our high resolution products today. We have designed our next generation ‘Pelican’ fleet to meet the evolving needs of customers who want real-time information about global events as they unfold – from floods and wildfires to political conflicts and threats to human rights. Pelican’s rapid response and higher resolution will do exactly that,” said Planet Co-Founder and CEO, Will Marshall. (Source: Satnews)
At Viasat, we’re driven to connect every warfighter, platform, and node on the battlefield. As a global communications company, we power ms of fast, resilient connections for military forces around the world – connections that have the capacity to revolutionize the mission – in the air, on the ground, and at sea. Our customers depend on us for connectivity that brings greater operational capabilities, whether we’re securing the U.S. Government’s networks, delivering satellite and wireless communications to the remote edges of the battlefield, or providing senior leaders with the ability to perform mission-critical communications while in flight. We’re a team of fearless innovators, driven to redefine what’s possible. And we’re not done – we’re just beginning.