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Monday, February 23, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Feb 20 – Feb 27 2015)


Astronaut Reports Minor Water Leak in Spacesuit Helmet After Spacewalk

An American astronaut found water inside his spacesuit helmet at the end of an otherwise flawless spacewalk outside the International Space Station today (Feb. 25), but he was never in any danger, NASA officials say.

NASA astronaut Terry Virts and his crewmate Barry "Butch" Wilmore had just completed a nearly seven-hour spacewalk to upgrade the space station and entered the airlock when Virts reported what appeared to be a minor water leak. Some water could be seen on Virts' helmet faceplate in video captured by his crewmates, with Virts able to make visible ripples by blowing on the water.

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Forging Metamaterials: Labs Craft Invisibility Cloaks, Perfect Lenses and Nanostructures (Kavli Roundtable)

From bronze alloys to plastic composites, humans have been making artificial materials for thousands of years. Yet metamaterials — conventional materials with unconventional structures that frequently display new and unusual properties — are something entirely different. 

By controlling the structure of materials at the nanoscale, scientists and engineers have been able to do things once thought impossible. Such materials have yielded advancements ranging from cloaking devices that render objects nearly invisible to lenses that can see details smaller than what were once assumed to be the fundamental limits of optical resolution. 

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US Needs a Mars Colony, Buzz Aldrin Tells Senators

The United States must do more than just plant a flag on Mars if it wants to continue as a leader in the field of space exploration, Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin told senators this week.

"In my opinion, there is no more convincing way to demonstrate American leadership for the remainder of this century than to commit to a permanent presence on Mars," Aldrin told members of the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness during a hearing Tuesday (Feb. 24).

Going to Mars without setting up a colony — launching only round-trip manned missions, in other words — would not be enough, nor would setting up human outposts on the moon, Aldrin said.

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Russia — and Its Modules — To Part Ways with ISS in 2024

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, on Feb. 24 announced that it will remain a part of the international space station until 2024 before detaching the Russian modules and forming its own outpost in low Earth orbit.

The statement followed a meeting the Scientific and Technical Council, under the chairmanship of Yuri N. Koptev, Roscosmos’ head of manned space flight and the agency’s former chief in the 1990s.

The statement gave no precise motive for Russia’s wanting to create an all-Russian space station beyond an ambition to provide “secure access to space for Russia.”

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NASA Eyes New Mars Orbiter for 2022

NASA will launch a new telecommunications orbiter to the red planet in 2022 to follow the sample-caching Mars 2020 rover, the agency’s new Mars czar said Feb. 24.

This Mars 2022 orbiter may use experimental technologies such as high-power solar-electric propulsion or an optical communications package that could greatly improve transmission speed and capacity over radio frequency systems, said Jim Watzin, NASA’s Mars exploration program director.

The 2022 probe, which is needed to upgrade NASA’s aging Mars telecommunications network, also will have a “robust” science component, Watzin said. The orbiter will carry remote sensing instruments of some kind, although there has apparently been no discussion yet about their specifications, Watzin told the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group during a meeting in Pasadena, California.

Mars Odyssey. Credit: NASA

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Europa Clipper Team Seeking Earlier Launch

The team working on the leading concept for a mission to Europa believes it can be ready for launch as soon as 2022, several years ahead of the schedule NASA officials recently stated.

In a Feb. 19 presentation to NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) at the Ames Research Center, Barry Goldstein, Europa Clipper pre-project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said they are taking advantage of additional funding provided by Congress to accelerate work on the mission.

“It’s our responsibility to drive as hard as we can to launch as early as we can,” he said. “Our best-case scenario is launching in an opportunity that opens up in May to June of 2022, and we’re holding to that.”

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SpaceX Weighs in on FCC Spectrum Debate, Wins Two SES Launches

SES has awarded launches for two of its three recently announced satellites to SpaceX. Of the recently announced SES, 14, 15 and 16/GovSat, SES 14 and 16 will liftoff on Falcon 9 missions in 2017. The contracts further tighten the satellite operator’s relationship with SpaceX, whose ability to launch to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) was first vetted by the SES 8 mission in late 2013. SpaceX has also been busy laying the groundwork for its proposed constellation of 4,000 small satellites, making the company a new participant in the spectrum wars.

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World View Makes Record-Setting Parafoil Flight from Near Edge of Space

A private company that aims to send tourists to the edge of space in a balloon broke a record Friday, flying a parafoil higher than anyone has before. The Arizona-based company World View sent the parafoil 102,200 feet (31,151 meters) into the air during a test flight Friday (Feb. 20), according to representatives with the organization. That is the altitude that officials hope to fly passengers to when the company starts sending people to the edge of space and back, World View added.

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'Fast Radio Burst' Spotted Live in Space for 1st Time

For the first time, a burst of radio waves hundreds of millions of times more energetic than the sun was caught red-handed as it slammed into the Earth.

In recent years, astronomers have retroactively spotted a wacky signature in their data: Every now and then, torrents of energy that last a few thousandths of a second wash over Earth. These so-called "fast radio bursts" (brief bursts of radio waves) are currently on the list of unexplained cosmic phenomena.

Artist's Conception of a Magnetar

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The Cosmic Chemistry That Gave Rise to Water

Earth's water has a mysterious past stretching back to the primordial clouds of gas that birthed the Sun and other stars. By using telescopes and computer simulations to study such star nurseries, researchers can better understand the cosmic chemistry that has influenced the distribution of water in star systems across the Universe.

Much water takes the form of the familiar chemical formula H2O with two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. But some water also takes the form of the less familiar "heavy water," known as deuterated water with the chemical formula HDO. That ratio of H2O to HDO represents a unique signature that can reveal the history of water within star nurseries, the clouds of gas that eventually spawn star systems and their respective planets.

Herschel Spacecraft

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Friday, February 20, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Feb 13 – Feb 20 2015)

Astronauts Repair Space Station Satellite Deployer

Astronauts on the International Space Station have made repairs to a set of small satellite deployers that malfunctioned several months ago, a move that the company that provided them calls a milestone for commercial activities there.
The deployer system, used to eject cubesat-sized spacecraft from the ISS, broke down in August, failing to release satellites when commanded. During the troubleshooting process in September, two satellites were inadvertently released. The deployers were returned inside the ISS through the airlock in the Japanese Kibo module in mid-September.

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Re-engined Antares To Carry Space Station Cargo in 2016 Debut

Orbital ATK on Feb. 19 said its revamped Antares rocket featuring a new main engine would make its first launch in March 2016 carrying a fully loaded cargo ship bound for the International Space Station, without a preceding demonstration flight but following a January test firing of the rocket’s first stage.
In a conference call with investors, Orbital ATK officials did not provide updates on their contract for the new engines, being built by Energomash of Khimki, Russia — nor were they asked to do so.
Antares AJ-26
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ESA Approves Biomass Mission Featuring U.S. Antenna Technology

The European Space Agency on Feb. 18 gave final approval for a $500 million mission to measure the biomass and carbon stored in tropical forests using a satellite in low Earth orbit equipped with a novel P-band-frequency sensor that features a 12-meter-diameter deployable antenna.
The decision by ESA’s Earth Observation Program Board will permit the 21-nation ESA to issue bid requests to the two consortia, led by Airbus Defence and Space and OHB AG of Bremen, Germany, that have been working on the Biomass satellite design.
Earth Explorer Biomass mission
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Arianespace Beats SpaceX To Launch Two South Korean Weather Satellites

The South Korean government has selected Europe’s Arianespace to launch two geostationary-orbit meteorological and environment-monitoring satellites in 2018 and 2019, Arianespace and the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning announced.
The contract bidding featured a head-to-head competition between Evry, France-based Arianespace and its Ariane 5 rocket and its principal rival, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California and the Falcon 9 rocket. The face-off followed a similar competition in late 2014, this time for two telecommunications satellites for South Korea’s KT Corp., which awarded one satellite each to Arianespace and SpaceX.

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Russian Meteor's Origin Remains Mysterious 2 Years Later

Two years after an asteroid exploded over Russia and injured more than 1,200 people, the origin of the space rock still puzzles scientists.
The 66-foot-wide (20 meters) asteroid broke up over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2013, shattering windows across the area and sending many people to the hospital with lacerations from the flying glass.

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Despite 6 ISS Flights, SpaceX Still Awaits NASA Launch Certification

After almost three years of waiting — and six successful cargo flights to the International Space Station — SpaceX’s Falcon 9 should finally win approval to loft NASA science satellites this year, NASA’s lead launch services buyer said.
SpaceX has been working toward NASA certification since it won an $82 million contract in 2012 to launch the French-U.S. Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite aboard a Falcon 9. The rocket is getting closer to clinching NASA’s formal seal of approval, but “has not yet achieved NASA certification,” said Jim Norman, director of launch services at NASA Headquarters here.

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Europe's Last ATV Space Station Freighter Makes Fleet's Final Re-Entry

In the end, Europe's fifth and final space station freighter went out in more of a fiery blaze than with the "big bang" of its namesake.
The European Space Agency's (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) 5, christened the "Georges LemaƮtre" after the Belgian priest and astronomer whose work led to the Big Bang theory of the universe's origin, was intentionally destroyed as it plunged back into the Earth's atmosphere on Sunday (Feb. 15).

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Feb 6 – Feb 13 2015)


SpaceX's 1st Mission to Deep Space Captured in Amazing Photos

A SpaceX rocket launching the spaceflight company's first mission to deep space came in for a smooth landing in the ocean after the launch Wednesday (Feb. 11), as another piece of the rocket captured an incredible view of Earth from space.

SpaceX representatives originally wanted to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that carried the Deep Space Climate Observatory mission (DSCOVR) to space on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, but rough seas thwarted that attempt. Instead, the Falcon 9 came in for an upright landing in the ocean.

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DARPA to Begin Testing Satellite-Launching Fighter Jet This Year

The United States military's ambitious plan to launch satellites from the belly of a fighter jet should get its first in-air test later this year.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) aims to begin the flight-test phase of its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program, or ALASA, with a demonstration run in late 2015. If all goes according to plan, a series of 12 orbital flights would then commence in early 2016 and wrap up by the middle of the year, DARPA officials said.

"The plan right now is, we have 12 [orbital] launches. The first three are fundamentally engineering checkout payloads," Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said Feb. 5 during a presentation at the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C. "The other nine will be various scientific and research development payloads that we're after."

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ViaSat’s Dankberg Unfazed by Mega-Constellation Hoopla

Satellite broadband provider ViaSat Inc. on Feb. 10 said it sees no reason to question its strategy of putting a handful of half-billion-dollar Ka-band satellites in geostationary orbit for Internet delivery despite the hoopla surrounding Google, SpaceX, OneWeb and other big names investing in low-orbiting satellite mega-constellations.

“We’re still trying to figure out why a LEO [low Earth orbit] network would be better than what we’re doing now,” ViaSat Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg said in a conference call with investors. “There’s a question of whether making hundreds or thousands of satellites is a feature or a bug.”

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IXV Makes a Splash as ESA Spaceplane Effort Treads Water

A European spaceplane technology demonstrator was successfully launched Feb. 11 on a 100-minute suborbital mission that took it into space for nearly an hour before it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean more than halfway around the world.

The 5-meter-long Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) successfully sent telemetry as it re-entered the atmosphere, delivering data from its sensors and making physical recovery of the ship less crucial.

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Inmarsat Supports ICAO’s Commitment to Urgent Implementation of Live Flight Tracking

Following the conclusion of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Second High Level Safety Conference in Montreal last week, Inmarsat has announced its support of the regulatory body’s conclusion that countries and industry should begin the voluntary implementation of global tracking. Inmarsat says it is ready to participate in the adoption of a performance-based standard for global tracking of commercial aircraft.

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Earth Pelted by More than 600 Large Debris Items in 2014, NASA Reports

More than 600 dead satellites, spent rocket stages and other debris re-entered Earth’s atmosphere in 2014 — more than 100,000 kilograms of mass that caused no reported casualties or sizable property damage, NASA has told a United Nations conference.

The rain of junk was more substantial in 2014 than in previous years because of a peak in solar activity, which expands the atmosphere and captures dead satellites and other garbage that otherwise would have remained in orbit longer.

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Inmarsat Offers Emergency Response Services to Satphone Users

Inmarsat has announced plans to offer all post-pay IsatPhone 2 customers free access to the GEOS Worldwide Emergency Response Coordination service.

The service allows customers to contact the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) by pressing the assistance button located at the top of the IsatPhone 2 handheld satellite phone handset. A message is then triggered containing the user’s GPS coordinates and sent over Inmarsat’s global satellite network.

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SpaceX Dragon Capsule Returns to Earth with Ocean Splashdown

SpaceX's robotic Dragon capsule has come back to Earth, wrapping up a successful monthlong cargo mission to the International Space Station.

The Dragon spacecraft splashed down Tuesday (Feb. 10) at 7:44 p.m. EST (0044 GMT Feb. 11) in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California. The unmanned capsule had departed from the space station about 5 1/2 hours earlier, at 2:10 p.m. EST (1910 GMT).

SpaceX launched the Dragon capsule toward the space station on Jan. 10, using its own Falcon 9 rocket to loft the spacecraft. Two days later, Dragon delivered more than 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kilograms) of food, scientific experiments, spare parts and other cargo to the station. The capsule brought 3,700 lbs. (1,678 kg) of scientific supplies and other "down cargo" back to Earth Tuesday, NASA officials said. (Dragon is the only robotic spacecraft operating today that can return supplies to Earth; other vehicles are designed to burn up in the atmosphere.)

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Germany To Invest in French Recon Satellite for Access to Full Constellation

France’s long search for a European partner and co-investor in its next-generation optical reconnaissance satellite system has paid off with the agreement by Germany to help finance a third satellite in return for access to the full three-satellite system, the head of the French arms-procurement agency, DGA, said Feb. 9.

In a press briefing here, Laurent Collet-Billon said the various protocols needed for the agreement to take force are all but completed, and that Germany would be paying a sizable percentage of the cost of a third Optical Space Component, or CSO, satellite, to be built in France to French specifications.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Jan 30 – Feb 6 2015)


See NASA Launch Rockets Into the Northern Lights in These Spectacular Photos

The gorgeous green glow of the northern lights served as a backdrop for bright white rocket tails in a set of amazing new photos. Five rockets launched from Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska this week carried experiments aimed at studying the science behind the aurora borealis.

Four Rockets Launch with Aurora

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White House Proposes $18.5 Billion Budget for NASA

The White House is seeking $18.5 billion for NASA in its fiscal year 2016 budget proposal released Feb. 2, including “immediate initiation” of a new Landsat spacecraft and a formal start of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The overall budget request of $18.529 billion represents a $519 million increase from 2015, when NASA received $18.01 billion. That increase is spread across most agency programs except for aeronautics and education, which would be decreased compared to the fiscal year 2015 funding approved by Congress.


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SpaceX's Dragon: First Private Spacecraft to Reach Space Station

The Dragon spacecraft, operated by California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), is the first private spacecraft to berth with the International Space Station. It ships cargo to the station under commercial agreements the company has with NASA.

The company made its first demonstration flight to the station in May 2012, and then began commercial fights that fall. SpaceX is currently contracted with NASA to do 12 robotic supply flights to the station for a minimum of $1.6 billion.

spacex elon musk dragon

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ILS Launches Second Global Xpress Satellite for Inmarsat

Inmarsat’s second Global Xpress (GX) High Throughput Satellite (HTS) Inmarsat 5 F2 launched Feb. 1 aboard a Proton rocket from International Launch Services (ILS). The operator acquired the first signals at its Paumalu, Hawaii, ground station and ILS confirmed the spacecraft separated cleanly.

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Thales Alenia Space, Airbus Order Hall Thruster Flow Controller from European Space Propulsion

Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space have contracted European Space Propulsion (ESP) for the initial development of a new electronic controller for the XR-5 Hall thruster. The companies issued the contract as part of the European Space Agency (ESA)-sponsored Neosat program, which is designing a new satellite platform optimized for electric propulsion.

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5 Lunar X Prize Teams Land Payday; Only 2 Landed Hardware

The X Prize Foundation awarded more than $5 million in intermediate prizes to five teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize competition Jan. 26, but those teams’ achievements varied widely, even in the same category of the competition.

The foundation handed out $5.25 million in “milestone prizes” at a San Francisco ceremony to five of the eighteen teams competing in the overall prize competition, rewarding them for progress in key technical areas towards the goal of landing a spacecraft on the surface of the moon.

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NASA Launches Satellite to Get the Dirt on Earth's Dirt

NASA launched its newest Earth-observing mission Saturday (Jan. 31), sending a satellite to the ultimate height to study the dirt below our feet.

The space agency's new Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite (SMAP) satellite successfully launched to space atop an unmanned United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Forcebase in California at 9:22 a.m. EST (1422 GMT). SMAP is designed to map the moisture levels in topsoil around the world to help scientist better predict droughts, floods and other weather factors. The spacecraft soared into space and deployed its solar arrays after a flawless launch, NASA officials said

United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory onboard

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U.S. and Germany Sign Space Surveillance Pact

U.S. Strategic Command and the German military will share space situational awareness data, the U.S. organization announced Jan. 26. The agreement is the latest signed by the U.S. government as it seeks to bolster its space situational awareness capabilities.

The United States has signed similar agreements with the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Australia, Italy, France and the Republic of Korea as well as with the European Space Agency and several other organizations, including some in the private sector.

Germany's TIRA observation radar. Credit: Fraunhofer FHR

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