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25 Oct 19. ASA signs co-operative agreement with US space company Maxar. US satellite company Maxar Technologies has signed a joint statement of strategic intent and co-operation with the Australian Space Agency at the International Astronautical Conference in Washington, DC.
This co-operative agreement was signed off by Maxar chief executive Dan Jablonsky and deputy head of the Australian Space Agency Anthony Murfett.
The agreement envisages broad areas of co-operation in advanced space technology.
Maxar and the ASA will investigate collaboration in areas of mutual strategic interest related to Earth intelligence and space infrastructure capabilities and space-related Australian education and training initiatives.
Projects may include development of next-generation space robotics, ground stations focused on optimised servicing of large satellite constellations, optical and communications satellites, space-based maritime surveillance and artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies that extract insights from Earth observation data at scale.
“Maxar is honoured to support the Australian Space Agency as it seeks to expand the nation’s role in the international civil space community, and we look forward to contributing technology and expertise from our 65-year heritage in space to projects and programs that enable them to achieve this goal,” Jablonsky said.
Murfett said the ASA aimed to triple the size of the Australian space industry to $12 billion and create 20,000 new jobs by 2030.
“Signing with companies such as Maxar will continue to develop the local space economy and benefit Australians through space technologies,” he said. “Co-operation across government, private industry and research both nationally and internationally will provide linkages for Australia to access a greater segment of the global space economy.”
Maxar, based in Westminster, Colorado, is a major player in the US space industry. The company specialises in manufacturing communication, Earth observation and radar satellites, satellite products and space related services.
Possibly its best known product was the robotic arm on the space shuttles. The company was founded in 1969 as MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates.
As well as the agreement with Maxar, the Space Agency has also signed new agreements with the German Aerospace Centre, Italian Space Agency and New Zealand Space Agency.
Industry Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews, in the US to attend the International Astronautical Congress in Washington and to promote the Australian space sector, said Australia was never going to be the biggest player.
“But by engaging our businesses and researchers with other space agencies and industry players around the world, we can carve out our place globally and reap the economic rewards,” she said.
Minister Andrews said the memorandum of understanding with the Italian Space Agency would see the government explore co-operative projects in areas including space policy, law and regulation, space weather, space education and health care.
Through the letter of intent with the German Aerospace Centre, Australia and Germany will conduct co-operative projects such as biomedical research under space conditions, and quantum technologies.
“The arrangement with the New Zealand Space Agency is designed to encourage a trans-Tasman space innovation ecosystem. The agreement will facilitate collaboration in areas which could include launch and orbital/suborbital missions, expanding ground segment networks and remote asset management,” she said. (Source: Space Connect)
25 Oct 19. Curtin satellite navigation innovator wins prestigious international award. Curtin University researcher Professor Peter Teunissen is the first scientist from the southern hemisphere to receive the prestigious Johannes Kepler Award for his game-changing contributions to the development of satellite navigation.
Professor Teunissen, from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, received the award from the Institute of Navigation’s Satellite Division at the recent ION GNSS+ Conference in the US.
Among his achievements, Professor Teunissen invented the least-squares ambiguity decorrelation adjustment (LAMBDA) method, which became the worldwide standard for ambiguity resolution and revolutionised high precision Global Navigation Satellite System positioning capabilities.
Curtin University vice-chancellor Professor Deborah Terry congratulated Professor Teunissen on being recognised for his influential contributions to satellite navigation, and for his ongoing dedication to the global education of the next generation of navigation engineers.
“The Institute of Navigation’s Johannes Kepler Award is the highest international honour for satellite navigation and for Professor Teunissen to become the first researcher from the southern hemisphere to receive it is a remarkable achievement,” Professor Terry said.
Professor Teunissen said the LAMBDA method has become the most widely used tool in land, air and space navigation; positioning and attitude determination; differential and network processing; and in surveying and geodesy.
“The findings of my research have been important for multi-GNSS processing, which require a proper understanding of individual system characteristics and their respective contributions to achieve navigation solutions of the highest precision and integrity,” Professor Teunissen said.
“My research into recently launched Japanese satellites boosted satellite positioning capabilities in Western Australia, offering huge potential benefits across numerous industries including mining, surveying and navigation. As part of this research, analyses done by Curtin’s GNSS Research Centre demonstrated the highly accurate centimetre-level positioning capabilities that can now be achieved.”
Professor Teunissen has made significant contributions to educating future generations, has published more than 300 papers and seven books, is co-editor and author of the Handbook of Global Navigation Satellite Systems, and is a member of 13 editorial boards.
He is a regular contributor to ION and ION programs. He is afellow of the ION, the RIN and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences.
(Source: Space Connect)
23 Oct 19. ThinKom Completes First-Ever In-Flight MEO-GEO Satellite Roaming Tests. Ka2517 Phased-Array Aero Antenna Demonstrates Seamless Beam-to-Beam and Inter-Constellation Handover with SES’ MEO and GEO Satellites.
ThinKom Solutions, Inc. has completed a series of very successful in-flight connectivity tests of its Ka-band antenna on SES’ O3b medium-Earth orbit (MEO) and geostationary (GEO) satellites.
The tests provided the first live demonstration of airborne communication with the O3b MEO satellites and included seamless handovers between MEO and GEO satellites during flight.
The in-flight demos used the Thales FlytLIVE connectivity network and incorporated the Hughes JUPITER™ ModMan integrated to the ThinKom Ka2517 antenna.
The flights took place Sept. 17-18 over South Florida and the Caribbean Sea, using a commercially available ThinKom Ka2517 phased-array airborne antenna mounted on a Gulfstream G-III test aircraft. With the Hughes JUPITER Aeronautical system and ModMan, the antenna demonstrated the ability to achieve high data throughput rates while seamlessly switching among successive O3b MEO satellites, as well as transfers between O3b and SES’ GEO constellations.
The Ka2517 achieved downlink error-free data throughput rates in excess of 265Mbps, with beam switching speeds of less than one second, while automatically resolving adjacent satellite interference (ASI) issues.
“This is the first in-flight demonstration of an aeronautical antenna communicating across a MEO-GEO hybrid satellite network. The Ka2517 with the JUPITER ModMan met or exceeded all test parameters for spectral efficiency, data throughput, beam agility, switching speeds, ASI mitigation, low-angle performance and inter-constellation roaming,” said ThinKom Chief Technology Officer Bill Milroy.
“The demonstration further establishes that ThinKom has the only proven ‘no compromise‘ antenna solutions that can support seamless global satellite communication in the air with automatic roaming among GEO, LEO and MEO constellations,” Milroy added.
Based on ThinKom’s patented phased-array VICTS technology, the Ka2517 is an airborne antenna designed to communicate through satellites in low, medium and geostationary orbits. The low-profile antenna radome provides near-zero aeronautical drag in flight and supports global coverage including polar and equatorial latitudes. The field-proven Ka2517 is currently in commercial production, and units are in operational service on U.S. government aircraft.
“The test by ThinKom underscores the effectiveness of the Hughes JUPITER System for both MEO and GEO connectivity, and, when combined with a high-quality antenna such as the ThinKom Ka2517, to deliver superior spectral efficiency, link availability and performance,” said Reza Rasoulian, Vice President, Hughes Network Systems, LLC (HUGHES).
SES’ high-throughput O3b MEO constellation is the only operationally and commercially proven non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) broadband constellation today. The constellation has positively impacted millions of people with low-latency, high-performance data connectivity services and has enabled SES Networks, SES’ business unit focused on data solutions, to offer more capacity, enhanced coverage, increased efficiencies and greater flexibility to its customers.
“These successful demo tests are raising the bar for in-flight connectivity and the connected passenger experience. The seamless integration of our MEO and GEO satellite networks will provide our customers with unprecedented redundancy, higher connectivity speeds and a whole new level of operational models,” said Elias Zaccack, Executive Vice President, Global Sales, at SES Networks. “We’re very excited to have achieved this milestone together with our long-term partner Thales, as this is yet another example of how our mutual collaboration continues to bring innovative connectivity solutions with unmatched performance.”
“These in-flight tests performed together with SES, ThinKom and Hughes are an outstanding demonstration of the seamless connectivity through MEO and GEO satellite systems. Thales Alenia Space was particularly pleased to participate in this worldwide first, using the O3b satellite constellation we manufactured for SES,” said Pascal Homsy, Executive Vice President, Telecommunications Business Line, Thales Alenia Space. (Source: ASD Network)
23 Oct 19. USAF sees progress in a GPS ground station test. Air Force leaders said they are closer to formally accepting a new GPS III satellite and a new ground system program into day-to-day operations after an upgrade allowed the control system to connect to the space vehicle on orbit.
The successful test, held Oct. 21, used the contingency operations upgrade to the GPS ground system and was part of an Air Force experiment to determine whether it can accept the GPS III satellite in December. The service subsequently plans to accept the ground system for contingency operations in April 2020.
The GPS III satellites will eventually replace the legacy satellites with a positioning, navigation and timing signal that is three times more accurate and eight times stronger than the current system. They will also provide M-code, a unique, highly secure PNT signal for military use.
But the next generation satellites need a next generation ground system to control them and to take full advantage of some of the more advanced features like M-code. However, that ground system is years behind schedule. According to the Government Accountability Office, Raytheon’s GPS Operational Control System (OCX), a $6.2bn program, is already five years behind schedule. The GAO warned in a report that more delays are likely, though Raytheon has vigorously opposed those claims.
Meanwhile, the first GPS III satellite was launched Dec. 23, 2018 and the Air Force needs a ground system capable of interacting with both the new GPS III satellites and the legacy systems in the here and now. The Air Force contracted with Lockheed Martin to develop temporary upgrades to the legacy GPS ground system that will allow it to operationally command and control all of the GPS satellites in orbit until OCX is ready.
That interim solution, known as GPS III Contingency Operations, was delivered by Lockheed Martin back in May, and the Air Force claimed the program has achieved several successes since then. In May the program completed software testing and verification, followed by final system test completion in June. The contingency operations system was then approved for installation at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado and at Vandenberg, Air Force Base near Lompoc, California. (Source: Defense News)
23 Oct 19. Pentagon space reforms leading to better relations with industry. While U.S. Space Command was officially launched in August, the process of firmly establishing the Pentagon’s newest combatant command will take years to complete. But according to a key industry official, the command’s creation is already impacting how the Defense Department communicates with industrial partners.
Tory Bruno, the head of United Launch Alliance, said that while routine launch operations have been unaffected by the creation of SPACECOM, he has seen a positive change in relations between his company and the Pentagon since the command stood up.
“An element of what Space Command is doing is making sure they know how to execute their mission and what their mission will look like going forward,” Bruno said Oct. 23. “So they have been engaged with industry on the challenges that they are facing in coping with space as a war-fighting domain. So they are asking people for ideas and for evaluations of theories and trade studies and assessments.
“They’re very engaged with all of us, and we are supporting that, and that’s a great sign of this attention that’s being placed on this big challenge, them getting in front of it and engaging industry.”
While SPACECOM is the most tangible sign of change in how the department approaches the space mission, Bruno said, its creation fits into a broader shift over the last five years to emphasize space as a domain that requires attention.
“Five years ago, when I came to ULA, there really was not in any way significant appreciation of space as a war-fighting environment. In fact, you were not allowed to say space is a war-fighting environment, you were just becoming allowed to acknowledge that space was contested,” Bruno recalled. “There is really good in-depth thinking now going on. And using all of the best information available to do that, this is a change from where it was a number of years ago when this threat was just barely emerging and wasn’t yet considered a critical threat.
“Fast forward to today: This is a completely new world. The government is all over this and taking it very, very seriously.”
SPACECOM is part of a broader reorganization in the Pentagon of space-related operations, including the potential creation of a sixth branch of the military, the U.S. Space Force. The reorg also features the Space Development Agency, an office that currently resides under Mike Griffin, the Pentagon’s research and engineering head. The agency is charged with putting hundreds of small satellites into orbit in the next decade.
The SDA was stood up earlier this year and faced headwinds early on, first in the form of stern opposition from Air Force leadership and then when its first directed left the agency months after its creation. Nevertheless, Bruno said, the SDA is doing its best to reach out to industry, which in turn is “trying to do its best to help, to inform so they can come up with the right solutions that really only they can determine.”
“It’s really important we understand what’s going to be demanded of us so we can invest in the right way and we spend our R&D [research and development] dollars correctly to create capabilities that, within that system, makes us competitive, but within the broader ecosystem of our national need gives our war fighters the capabilities they require to do their job,” Bruno said.
How could those R&D funds be used? Bruno didn’t go into detail, but hinted he expects future launches from the U.S. government to regularly involve multiple satellite systems going up on one rocket, which in turn means those launch vehicles must have the ability to carry extra weight and reach higher orbits.
ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle, for instance, was designed with a “little bit more performance and a little bit more flexibility” than Air Force planners asked for, “anticipating that that is going to be needed.”
“So, we have more mass that we can take to higher energy orbit, and we have a much larger payload volume that can accommodate multiple payloads going up at the same time, and physically larger payloads,” he said, “because it’s our assessment that those are going to be needs of the future.” (Source: Defense News)
22 Oct 19. Musk’s satellite project testing encrypted internet with military planes. The Air Force is using SpaceX’s fledgling satellite network to test encrypted internet services for a number of military planes, the space company’s president said on Tuesday, detailing results for the first customer of Elon Musk’s planned constellation of thousands of broadband-beaming satellites.
“We are delivering high bandwidth into the cockpit of Air Force planes,” SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said on Tuesday. “Right now we’re just testing the capability and figuring out how to make it work.”
SpaceX’s so-called Starlink constellation, a planned network of up to 30,000 satellites in low Earth orbit intended to beam broadband internet globally, is crucial to generating the cash to fund development of Musk’s heavy-lift Mars rocket dubbed Starship.
The Air Force program, known as Global Lightning, started testing with SpaceX in early 2018 and used Starlink’s first two test satellites to beam to terminals fixed to a C-12 military transport plane in flight, demonstrating internet speeds of 610 megabits per-second, SpaceX Senior Vice President Tim Hughes said. That’s fast enough to download a movie in under a minute. SpaceX launched in May the first batch of 60 operational satellites into low Earth orbit and plans to launch another 60 in November from an Air Force station in Florida.
Shotwell said the program, part of a $28m Pentagon contract awarded to SpaceX in late 2018, is ongoing and expects to test Starlink with “a number” of additional military aircraft types. That contract also includes testing communications between satellites in orbit.
The U.S. military is increasingly dependent on satellites to determine what it does on the ground, guiding munitions with space-based lasers and satellites as well as securing such assets from satellite-jamming technology from Russia and China.
The head of the new U.S. Space Command, General John Raymond, told reporters in September that he visited SpaceX’s Starlink factory in Redmond, Washington, but did not go into details about the Pentagon’s plans. Starlink is competing with Softbank-backed OneWeb, which aims to give millions of people in remote and rural areas high-speed internet beamed down from space and has already launched a batch of six satellites. Raymond said he also visited OneWeb’s new satellite production line in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Source: Reuters)
23 Oct 19. GPS III Ground System Operations Contingency Program Nearing Operational Acceptance. The Global Positioning System enterprise reached another major milestone on Oct. 21, when the GPS III Contingency Operations Program (COps) successfully connected with the first GPS III satellite on orbit. The COps system will allow the Air Force to operationally command and control the new, more powerful GPS III satellites as well as legacy GPS satellites currently in the constellation. The first GPS III satellite was launched on Dec. 23, 2018.
The GPS III COps program achieved several successes in recent months. First, the program completed final ground control system software testing and verification in May 2019. This was followed by delivery to sustainment and final system test completion in June 2019. After final system test, the Air Force approved installation of COps to command and control legacy operations at the Master Control Station at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado and at the Alternate Master Control Station at Vandenberg, Air Force Base near Lompoc, California. In October 2019, the COps program received approval from Air Force Space Command’s Operations and Communications Directorate (A3/6) to enter a trial period. The trial period includes testing COps command and control with the live, on-orbit GPS III satellite, which allows the program office to conduct developmental and operational testing needed to thoroughly verify requirements and functionality of the satellite. The testing aims to confirm readiness for operational acceptance targeted for December 2019 and April 2020 for the GPS III satellite and COps respectively.
The GPS III COps program is managed by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Production Corps, Command and Control Systems Division, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. The Production Corps is an 800 plus person team managing 26 programs across the Air Force’s space portfolio.
21 Oct 19. Spaceflight Announces Next Three Rideshare Missions on ISRO’s PSLV, Slated Through the End of 2019. The rideshare service provider will launch 14 customer satellites from four different organizations on the next three launches.Spaceflight, the leading satellite rideshare and mission management provider, today announced it will launch 14 more spacecraft from India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) this year. Payloads will launch on PSLV’s C47, C48 and C49 missions, scheduled to launch in November and December 2019 from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center. Customers aboard the missions include Analytical Space, Spire, iQPS and Kleos Space.
Analytical Space Inc.’s (ASI) second technical demonstration spacecraft, dubbed Meshbed, will be launching on PSLV C47 in November. ASI’s mission is an on-orbit demonstration intended to test technology that will enable users on Earth to gain faster access to satellite data. The spacecraft features a patented antenna from MITRE that could help enable faster access to space-based data, as well as government missions including tactical communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
PSLV C48, slated for early December, will carry Japan’s iQPS SAR microsatellite and four multi-payload Earth observation nanosatellites that add to Spire Global’s constellation of maritime, aviation and weather monitoring satellites. PSLV C49, also scheduled in December, will take Luxembourg-based Kleos’ Scouting Mission satellites, the foundational system in the company’s radio frequency monitoring constellation, and additional Spire nanosats to orbit.
“PSLV continues to be a reliable launch partner for us, enabling Spaceflight to launch a variety of customers,” said Curt Blake, CEO and president of Spaceflight. “By the end of 2019, we will have executed 11 launches on PSLVs and sent more than 100 satellites to orbit on this vehicle. The consistency of the PSLV has played a critical role is assisting our customers, especially those launching constellations, achieve their mission and business goals.”
The company’s last mission aboard this launch vehicle was PSLV C45, which deployed 21 rideshare spacecraft earlier this year. Spaceflight has completed five missions already this year, with another five planned in 2019. Other noteworthy 2019 missions include Spaceflight’s GTO-1, which deployed the first commercial lunar lander aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9, and two rideshare missions with Rocket Lab, which sent nine spacecraft to orbit. In December 2018, SSO-A, the company’s historic dedicated rideshare mission, successfully launched 64 unique smallsats, making it the single largest deployment of satellites from a U.S.-based launch vehicle. Spaceflight also recently announced its purchase of the first commercial launch of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) from NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), scheduled for early 2020. (Source: BUSINESS WIRE)
22 Oct 19. Kleos Space cleared for lift-off with launch confirmation for December. ASX-listed Kleos Space has confirmed that the Kleos Scouting Mission has been cleared for lift-off and will launch on a PSLV rocket from Chennai, India, in December. Kleos’ cluster of four satellites are confirmed as mission ready for PSLV integration and the satellites will function with dispensers for the PSLV rocket. The satellites have passed a deployer fit check, which confirms satellites conform to the PSLV requirements.
The Scouting Mission satellites will launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre aboard PSLV C49 (a rideshare launch including satellites from other organisations such as Spire Global) into a 37-degree inclination delivering optimised revisit rates over crucial shipping regions including the Strait of Hormuz, South China Sea and east and west African coasts, compared with the original sun-synchronous orbit.
The four-week launch preparation schedule will commence in mid-November with shipping of high purity butane satellite fuel to the launch integration facility in Chennai.
Kleos CEO Andy Bowyer said, “Satellite launches are highly complex, requiring extensive pre-flight testing of critical functions that cannot be fast-tracked without compromising the mission.”
While launch preparations are underway, Kleos remains focused on securing additional government and commercial pre-order contracts and is on track to achieve first revenues in Q1 2020.
The development of Kleos’ second cluster of satellites, which will enhance data collection and increase revenues and customers, is progressing.
Kleos’ Scouting Mission satellites will geolocate maritime radio frequency transmissions to provide global activity-based intelligence irrespective of the presence of AIS (automatic identification systems) or any other positioning system, or when imagery is unclear and targets are out of maritime patrol range.
“Our Scouting Mission satellites are mission ready, forming the foundation of future constellations when they launch in December, we are on track to generate first revenues in Q1 2020,” Bowyer added.
The geolocation data will enable governments and organisations to detect hidden maritime activity such as drug and people smuggling, piracy and illegal fishing as well as identify those in need of search and rescue at sea.
Kleos Space is a space enabled, activity-based intelligence, data as a service company based in Luxembourg. Kleos Space aims to guard borders, protect assets and save lives by delivering global activity-based intelligence and geo-location as a service.
The first Kleos Space satellite system, known as Kleos Scouting Mission (KSM), will deliver commercially available data and perform as a technology demonstration. KSM will be the keystone for a later global high capacity constellation. (Source: Space Connect)
17 Oct 19. SpaceX Just Filed a Request to Run 30,000 More Starlink Satellites in Orbit. SpaceX is seeking permission from the International Telecommunication Union to access spectrum for 30,000 satellites for its Starlink network, SpaceNews reported today. That number is in addition to the 12,000 satellites already approved by the ITU and FCC. There are 20 filings in total, each for 1,500 satellites structured in various orbits between 204 and 360 miles in altitude.
The growth of Starlink
SpaceX sent 60 Starlink satellites into orbit back in May and is set to launch another 60 later this month. The company envisions its Starlink internet network ultimately comprising 12,000 satellites and delivering global internet access.
SpaceX’s strategy has been lauded for its ambition, but it has also caused concerns. The company lost three satellites of the original batch that were launched—a 5 percent failure rate that could extend to the rest of its constellation. A recent near-miss between a Starlink satellite and an ESA weather satellite raised the specter of a collision that could make Earth’s orbit far more hazardous to spacecraft—or even unusable.
Why did SpaceX file for more satellites?
Before this announcement, SpaceX was already facing scrutiny over whether it really needed a mega-constellation made up of thousands of satellites to make Starlink work. The need for more satellites “really, really depends on what you’re trying to do and what your satellites need, what capacity you’ve got, and what your use case is,” says Ted Muelhaupt of the nonprofit Aerospace Corporation. Each Starlink satellite is optimized to service a set number of users, and so far it’s unclear what that number is. (Update: In response to a request for comment, SpaceX tells MIT Technology Review: “As demand escalates for fast, reliable internet around the world, especially for those where connectivity is nonexistent, too expensive or unreliable, SpaceX is taking steps to responsibly scale Starlink’s total network capacity and data density to meet the growth in users’ anticipated needs.”)
“In general there is an advantage to having more satellites if you’re trying to provide high-bandwidth services with lots of coverage,” says Brian Weeden, the director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation. Just as more mobile-phone towers can provide more coverage to customers, more satellites could connect more users to the internet.
“That said,” Weeden adds, “that number sounds really high, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s justified without seeing more details.”
After a company makes a filing requesting spectrum, it has seven years to launch a satellite with the requested frequencies and must operate it for at least 90 days. Failure to accomplish these steps opens the spectrum rights up again.
Securing that much spectrum could involve a protracted legal battle, depending on whether frequencies have already been allocated for any space or terrestrial services. SpaceX may also be trying to get ahead of the competition and drown the ITU in more paperwork—especially since the ITU is expected to add more stringent spectrum reservation rules during a conference in a few weeks. Weeden also says the company may not be interested in actually launching 30,000 satellites: “I think this may be a case of SpaceX planning ahead and starting the request now for what is likely to be a very long and drawn-out process, and not necessarily indicative of what they actually plan to do.”
What would 30,000 more satellites do to space?
Roger Thompson, also with the Aerospace Corporation, notes that the altitudes cited in the new filings, in low Earth orbit, are where “space is cleanest“ and ”where we tend to fly crewed spacecraft,” including the International Space Station. On the one hand, that’s ideal for launching satellites you’d want to de-orbit after a quarter-century or so, and where collisions wouldn’t generate a ton of long-term debris.
On the other hand, flooding this region with a lot of new space traffic “will have an impact on future human spaceflight,” says Thompson. Coming within about 125 miles of the ISS has always been considered completely unacceptable, and SpaceX will have to figure out how to manage its satellites so there is little to no risk of damage to the ISS or any other human operations. (Source: Satnews)
17 Oct 19. Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket Launches Astro Digital’s Smallsat. Rocket Lab has successfully launched their ninth Electron mission, deploying a single spacecraft to orbit for satellite manufacturer Astro Digital.
The mission, named ‘As The Crow Flies,’ lifted off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 01:22 UTC, October 17, 2019 (14:22 NZDT). Approximately 71 minutes after lift-off, Electron’s Kick Stage deployed the payload to a circular orbit of more than 1,000 km. – more than twice the altitude of any Electron mission to date.
The mission successfully demonstrated recent upgrades to the Kick Stage’s 3D-printed Curie engine, including the move to a bi-propellant design for improved performance. Curie also serves as the propulsion system on Rocket Lab’s Photon satellite bus, and the flight-proven engine upgrades support enduring missions in LEO, as well as higher orbits.
This mission takes the total number of satellites deployed by Rocket Lab to 40 and continues the company’s track record of 100 percent mission success for customers.
The spacecraft on board was a Palisade technology demonstration satellite, a 16U cubesat with on-board propulsion and next generation communications systems developed by Astro Digital, and software developed by Advanced Solutions Inc., including an advanced version of ASI’s MAX Flight Software.
The mission earned its moniker, ‘As The Crow Flies,’ as a nod to Astro Digital’s Corvus Spacecraft Platform, which provides flexible and cost-effective solutions across a wide range of applications and mission profiles on bus variants ranging from 6U and 16U cubesats to ESPA Class. Corvus is also a widely distributed genus of birds that includes crows.
‘As The Crow Flies’ was pulled forward in Rocket Lab’s 2019 manifest after a customer originally slated for this window requested a later launch date.
Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck, offered congratulations to the Astro Digital team for readying the spacecraft and taking advantage of an earlier launch opportunity. The company’s teams worked closely to deliver a flawless mission in a demonstration of the truly responsive space launch that small satellites need. No longer do small satellite operators have to accept the limitations of flying as a secondary payload, nor do they have to wait endlessly on the manifest of unproven launch vehicles. Frequent, responsive, and reliable launch is the new norm for small satellites thanks to Electron.”
Rocket Lab’s next mission is scheduled for lift-off from Launch Complex 1 from late November. (Source: Satnews)
15 Oct 19. Ten Years of On-Orbit Success for the Northrop Grumman-Built STSS Satellites. The Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellites built by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) have far surpassed their four-year, on-orbit design life, completing a tenth year of space operations.
Continuing to operate today, the STSS satellites provide critical support for missile and national defense. Two STSS satellites were launched into LEO in 2009 and proved the operational value of space-based, precision, mid-course, ballistic missile tracking. STSS has tracked ballistic missiles through all phases of flight and in 2013 demonstrated the “launch on remote” capability, which significantly expands the defended area of a U.S. Navy Aegis cruiser.
Bob Mehltretter, VP, Military and Civil space, Northrop Grumman, stated that STSS proved that space-based assets could significantly improve the nation’s missile defense capability and paved the way for future systems,. Being able to track missiles from LEO allows threats to be engaged earlier in the process using existing interceptors. The company is leveraging all the experience the firm gained from the legacy OPIR [Overhead Persistent Infrared] systems — STSS, DSP [Defense Support Program], and SBIRS [Space Based Infrared System] — to develop the nation’s future OPIR programs. (Source: Satnews)
14 Oct 19. A Big Job from MIT Lincoln Laboratory for Small Satellite Experts Blue Canyon Technologies. Small satellite manufacturer and mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) will provide a role in supporting MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Agile MicroSatellite (AMS) mission. BCT will design, manufacture and operate a 6U CubeSat the mission, which will be critical in demonstrating the potential low-altitude performance of CubeSats. Funded by the U.S. Air Force, launch is planned for late 2021.
CubeSats are smaller, quicker to build and launch, and less expensive than conventional satellites. This first-of-its-kind mission will demonstrate that a CubeSat can reliably operate in very low earth orbit. AMS will initially launch to an altitude of 500 kilometers and will use electric propulsion to maneuver to the lowest altitude possible. By demonstrating CubeSat performance at such low altitudes, the U.S. Air Force, and others will be able to leverage the technology to conduct important new Earth observation and other civil and military space missions.
Andrew Stimac, Principal Investigator at MIT Lincoln Laboratory said that Blue Canyon Technologies is a valuable partner to MIT as they continue to find new, efficient and reliable ways to develop and test solutions to ensure the United States is leading the globe in space research and aerospace technology.
George Stafford, founder and CEO of Blue Canyon Technologies added that CubeSats will continue to play a crucial part in refining the framework for conducting rapid space experiments, and they’re proud to partner with MIT Lincoln Lab on this mission. With this mission, they can continue to demonstrate the viability of small satellites in a low-Earth orbit, further highlighting the potential of CubeSats as a versatile next-generation technology, suitable for a broad range of applications.
MIT Lincoln Laboratory conducts research and technology development of advanced satellite systems that are used to monitoring the activity of objects in space and to perform Earth remote sensing. This mission supports the organization’s goal to rapidly develop and field-test innovative systems used by the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, NASA, and other U.S. government agencies to gather data for the persistent surveillance of wide areas in space and on the earth.
BCT is currently building more than 60 spacecraft for government, commercial and academic missions. The company has doubled in size over the past 12 months and plans to open its new 80,000-square-foot headquarters and production facility in 2020. (Source: Satnews)
14 Oct 19. USAF SMC Selects Firefly Black as a Launch Service Provider. Firefly Black, LLC has been selected by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Small Launch and Targets Division as a launch service provider for the Orbital Services Program-4 Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contract. Valued at up to $986m, OSP-4 seeks to provide the Air Force with responsive launch solutions as a follow-on to its successful OSP-3 program. Firefly Black intends to bridge demand between pure small launch capability and that provided by the National Security Space Launch program by providing a family of small-to-medium launchers and in- space transportation services.
Firefly Black, LLC is the national security and civil space subsidiary of Firefly Aerospace. Firefly Black provides launch services to Department of Defense, intelligence communit, and civil space customers seeking small-to-medium launch solutions for up to six metric tons of payload to LEO.
Using Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha and Beta launch vehicles and in-space Orbit Transfer Vehicle, Firefly Black provides America with industry leading capability at the lowest cost/kg in the emerging small launch vehicle class. Headquartered in Washington, DC, Firefly Black also performs Legislative and Executive Branch outreach and advocacy supporting the small satellite and small launch industries.
Leslie Kovacs, the President of Firefly Black, said the company is honored to have been selected by the Air Force for this key government space launch acquisition. Continuing rapid successes in the all-private development of the firmn’s Alpha launch vehicle, including Stage 2 qualification, a successful quad engine firing of our first stage, and conversion of Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg AFB to support the company’s first quarter, 2020 first launch, underscore Firefly Black’s commitment to answer the nation’s call for responsive and reliable small launch services. (Source: Satnews)
21 Oct 19. Reusable rockets and the limits of space: onboard the STP-2 mission. In June the US Department of Defense (DoD) used SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for the first time to propel several satellites into orbit. It was also the first time the DoD had reused boosters from a previous launch, which then landed again for further use. Grant Turnbull asks, is this the beginning of a new era of space launches for the US military?
In the early hours of 25 June 2019, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying a total of 24 satellites for research and experimentation into orbit. This launch – the third in total for the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle since its maiden launch last year – formed part of the US DoD’s Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) that was managed by the USAF’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC).
For the STP-2 mission, the newly reorganised SMC, based at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, also partnered closely with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
Two firsts for a challenging launch
This was the first time that the Falcon Heavy had been used to launch several payloads into multiple orbits, making it “among the most challenging launches in SpaceX history with four separate upper-stage engine burns”, according to SpaceX.
The 24 payloads were blasted into three separate orbits and included the Demonstration and Science Experiment (DSX) satellite for the Air Force Research Laboratory, as well as NOAA-sponsored satellites that form part of the COSMIC-2 constellation. Other notable payloads were four NASA experiments, five small satellites and eight Poly-Picosat Orbital Deployers containing eleven CubeSats. It is hoped that these advanced satellites will provide valuable data for areas such as weather forecasting, space environmental monitoring, propulsion and communications.
The mission was also the first instance that the US DoD reused launch vehicle hardware: the side boosters were the same units that were used to launch the Arabsat-6A on a Falcon Heavy in April 2019. These side boosters successfully completed a tandem landing at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida after the launch (the troublesome main booster has yet to make a successful landing, however).
“This was a momentous launch for NASA, NOAA, and the DoD,” said Colonel Dennis Bythewood, program executive officer for space development, in a statement. “The SpaceX Falcon Heavy allows the air force to begin using previously flown rocket technology to further reduce the cost of launch. This mission demonstrated SMC’s continuing commitment to leverage the most innovative technologies to deliver cost-effective space capabilities.”
This launch is providing the US DoD and USAF with valuable insights and data into how SpaceX reuses rockets from previous launches, which is seen as a key factor when it comes to driving down the cost of putting national security assets into space. Lessons learned will eventually inform the air force’s mission assurance standards, and pave the way for National Security Space (NSS) missions to be conducted with reusable rocket technologies from commercial vendors.
“This SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch allows the air force an opportunity to learn more about launch vehicle reusability, reliability, and application to future National Security Space missions,” noted Colonel Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise.
The USAF already uses SpaceX to conduct NSS missions. The company passed a key milestone in December 2018 when one of its Falcon 9 rockets lifted off from Cape Canaveral with a next-generation GPS III payload, supplementing 31 legacy GPS satellites already in medium-earth orbit. This mission – known as GPS III SV01 – was SpaceX’s first national security launch and was the result of a competitively awarded Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) contract.
The EELV has a long and drawn out history, with SpaceX launching several legal challenges against the USAF to ensure it could compete for launch contracts against the incumbent United Launch Alliance (ULA) – a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing – which often won “block-buy” launch contracts without competition. There were also issues with ULA’s Atlas V rocket and its RD-180 main stage engine sourced from Russia, which has subsequently spurred domestic R&D investment for US-built alternatives using Launch Service Agreement (LSA) funding.
SpaceX was eventually contracted to launch its first NSS mission as part of the EELV in 2016, with four additional launch contracts now in place using the Falcon 9 rocket. The USAF has, for the time being, requested that the Falcon 9 Block 5s not use their reusable capability, flying without the landing legs and stabilisation fins on the boosters that usually help them touch back down.
This could change in the future, especially as two-decade-old EELV transitioned into the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) programme as of March 2019, notably dropping the “expendable” moniker, as directed by Congress.
“In carrying out the National Security Space Launch programme, the Secretary of Defense shall provide for consideration of both reusable and expendable launch vehicles with respect to any solicitation occurring on or after March 1, 2019,” states the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act.
Next-generation national security launches
In the near future, the US DoD is expected to contract two companies for a five-year block of national security launches, with the air force releasing a request for proposals in May for the phase 2 launch service procurement (LSP) contracts. The LSP is expected to use funds from FY20 and FY24 fiscal budgets for launches up to 2027.
SpaceX will likely be up against its old rival ULA – which is developing its new Vulcan Centaur rocket – but also companies such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and its New Glenn launch vehicle, and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems’ (NGIS) OmegA.
ULA, Blue Origin and NGIS all received DoD-led LSA development funding worth over $2bn for their respective launch systems in October 2018. Notably absent from the list of companies contracted for next-generation launch systems is SpaceX; reports have emerged stating the company has now begun legal action to protest the contracts. The decision to not award a contract to SpaceX means the it will have to bear the R&D costs for a next-gen launch vehicle, which the company argues puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
So while the launch of the STP-2 mission signifies a major step forward for commercial vendors such as SpaceX to be involved in USAF programmes, as well as establishing the use of reusable rockets, there are still challenges for the launch services enterprise. USAF officials have the significant task of ensuring that new, reusable rockets present a low risk for launching national security assets, while also juggling procurement issues as competitors ruthlessly vie for lucrative contracts in the future. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
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