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Thursday, May 28, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (May 22 – May 29 2015)


Amazing Video Gives Dragon's-Eye View of SpaceX Capsule Test Flight

A stunning new video puts viewers aboard SpaceX's Dragon crew capsule during its first-ever liftoff earlier this month.
SpaceX has released a video showing Dragon's May 6 flight, an unmanned launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station that tested the capsule's launch-escape system. The 2-minute video integrates footage taken by cameras aboard the spacecraft, showing key events such as parachute deployment up close — and providing great Dragon's-eye views of the Space Coast landscape. 

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Milky Way Glows Over Maine Beach in Stunning Photo

The crisp water and clear sky over Popham Beach State Park in Maine show our host galaxy in a stunning panorama.
Astrophotographer A. Garrett Evans took this image the morning of April 18 as a nine-shot panorama. He used a Canon 6D with Canon 16-35 mm on a Nodal Ninja panning head, camera settings were ISO 4000, f/2.8, 30 seconds each.

Credit: A. Garrett Evans
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NASA's Last Space Shuttle External Tank to Complete Endeavour L.A. Exhibit

It's a sight no one thought possible again: a complete NASA space shuttle — the winged orbiter, twin rocket boosters and a massive external tank, all authentic hardware – standing vertical as if the vehicle was about to blast off for space.
But come 2018, that's exactly what the California Science Center will be able to display, thanks to a newly-revealed agreement by NASA to donate its last remaining fuel tank built to launch the space shuttle.

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House Approves Commercial Space Bill

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill with a number of commercial space policy provisions May 21, despite objections from some Democratic members about the bill's language and warnings that the Senate is unlikely to adopt it.
The House passed H.R. 2262, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act, on a 284–133 vote after nearly two hours of debate. Nearly 50 Democrats joined almost all the chamber's Republicans in voting for the bill.

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NASA Mission to Europa Will Seek Conditions for Life

NASA's Europa spacecraft will use nine scientific instruments to assess the icy, ocean-harboring Jupiter moon's ability to support life, space agency officials announced today (May 26).
The Europa probe — which is scheduled to launch in the early to mid-2020s — will carry supersharp cameras, a heat detector, ice-penetrating radar and a variety of other gear that will shed light on the satellite's surface composition and the nature of its salty subsurface sea, among other things, NASA officials said.
2014 Version of Europa Image
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Certified for Military Launches

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force has certified SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to launch military satellites, completing a nearly two-year process that at times strained the two parties' relationship and establishing a competitor to United Launch Alliance in the national security marketplace.
The Air Force announced the decision May 26, clearing the way for Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX to bid on military launches beginning this year with one of the service's next-generation GPS 3 positioning, navigation and timing satellites.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket
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NASA's Next Mars Lander Begins Tests for 2016 Launch

NASA's next robotic Mars explorer has been put together and is now undergoing testing ahead of its launch next year.
Engineers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems have finished building NASA's InSight Mars lander and have begun testing the spacecraft, to make sure it can handle the rigors of launch and the harsh environment of deep space, space agency officials said.
"The assembly of InSight went very well, and now it's time to see how it performs," Stu Spath, InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, said in a statement.

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Spaceport America Signs Up Teleport Customer To Diversify Customer Base

WASHINGTON — Spaceport America, the commercial launch site in New Mexico most closely linked to Virgin Galactic, is seeking to diversify its user base beyond launch companies, an effort that has already resulted in one new customer.
Spaceport America announced May 19 a memorandum of agreement with X2nSat, a Petaluma, California, provider of satellite communications services, to establish a ground station on spaceport property. The parties expect to sign a long-term lease agreement for the ground station this summer.

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NASA Selects 9 Instruments for Europa Mission

WASHINGTON — NASA announced the selection of nine instruments it plans to fly on a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa May 26, but agency officials were vague about whether the instruments, or the overall mission, could meet an aggressive schedule sought by some in Congress.
NASA said the nine instrument concepts, selected from 33 proposals submitted by scientists last year, will be flown together on a spacecraft with the goal of determining whether Europa can support life, although not necessarily if the icy moon hosts life today.
Europa Clipper. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Friday, May 22, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (May 15 – May 22 2015)



Inmarsat First To Feel Ripple Effects of Latest Proton Failure

BOSTON — Russia’s Proton rocket failure on May 16 — the launcher’s fourth failure in 29 months and the sixth since 2010 — is having immediate ripple effects on future missions for commercial and government customers.

The first to quantify the effects was mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat, which on May 18 said the inevitable delay to the launch of its third Global Xpress satellite is forcing the company to withdraw its revenue-growth forecast for core mobile satellite revenue between 2014 and 2016.

Inmarsat's third Global Xpress satellite — Inmarsat-5 F3 — arrived May 1 at arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in anticipation of its now-delayed launch aboard an ILS Proton rocket. Credit: Inmarsat

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Boeing's Private Space Taxi Astronaut Escape System Undergoes Tests

Boeing has begun testing the astronaut-safety system for its CST-100 spacecraft, which can hold up to seven passengers or a mix of passengers and cargo.

Boeing is developing the CST-100 capsule to take NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, under a $4.2 billion contract with the space agency. The crew-carrying vehicle features a "pusher abort system" designed to get the CST-100 out of harm's way in the event of a problem during launch. Boeing has been testing out components of this system at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia.

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Avoiding 'Armageddon': Asteroid Deflection Test Planned for 2022

In the 1998 movie "Armageddon," an asteroid "the size of Texas" threatens to destroy Earth until NASA employs a deep-sea oil driller (played by Bruce Willis) to plant nuclear bombs deep inside the asteroid and blow it apart.

Although the movie seems far-fetched — and parts of it certainly are — the need for an asteroid-defense strategy hasn't escaped either NASA or the European Space Agency (ESA). Both agencies are designing missions to test their ability to nudge an asteroid off-course if it seriously threatens Earth.

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Russian Proton Rocket Fails During Satellite Launch

A Russian-built rocket failed during a communications satellite launch over the weekend, dealing another blow to the nation's space program.

The unmanned Proton-M rocket carrying the Mexsat-1 satellite for the Mexican government crashed shortly after blasting off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on Saturday (May 16). An anomaly with the Proton's third-stage engine was detected about eight minutes after liftoff, officials with Roscosmos, Russia's federal space agency, said in a brief post-crash statement.

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Tiny 'Cubesats' Gaining Bigger Role in Space

When Jordi Puig-Suari and Bob Twiggs began working on the first cubesat in 1999, their goal was a rather basic one — to develop a compact satellite that university students could build and use to conduct scientific experiments and test out new technologies.

Sixteen years later, cubesats have pushed beyond the sphere of academia, becoming major tools for governments conducting a variety of missions and for companies earning revenues from space. And, somewhat to Puig-Suari's chagrin, cubesats have begun to outgrow their original 4x4x4-inch (10x10x10 centimeters) "1U" size.

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NASA Spacecraft Now Closer to Moon Than Ever

A NASA probe has dipped closer to the moon than ever before, perhaps setting the stage for a new round of discoveries about Earth's nearest neighbor.

On May 4, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) performed two engine burns, changing its orbit to one that gets within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the moon's south pole and 103 miles (165 km) of the north pole. (LRO had been on a path that brought it within about 19 miles, or 30 km, of the south pole.)

"We're taking LRO closer to the moon than we've ever done before, but the maneuver is similar to all other station-keeping maneuvers, so the mission operations team knows exactly what to do," Steve Odendahl, LRO mission manager from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.  

LRO Flying Closer to Moon Than Ever Before

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SpaceX Dragon Cargo Capsule Splashes Down in Pacific Ocean

SpaceX's robotic Dragon capsule returned to Earth today (May 21), wrapping up the private spaceflight company's sixth cargo mission to the International Space Station.

The unmanned Dragon spacecraft splashed down today in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California at 12:42 p.m. EDT (1642 GMT), about 5 1/2 hours after departing the orbiting lab.

SpaceX personnel will soon retrieve the capsule — which brought down more than 3,100 lbs. (1,400 kilograms) of science experiments and other gear — by boat.

SpaceX's Dragon Capsule Splashes Down

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US Air Force Launches X-37B Space Plane on 4th Mystery Mission

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane blasted into Earth orbit today, kicking off the robotic vehicle's clandestine fourth mission — as well as the first flight of a tiny solar-sailing spacecraft.

The robotic X-37B space plane launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket today (May 20) at 11:05 a.m. EDT (1505 GMT) from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. You can see a video of the X-37B space plane's launch here.

Most details about the space plane's orbital activities are classified, so it's unclear what exactly the X-37B will be doing as it zooms around Earth, or how long it will remain aloft. But Air Force officials have said that mission number four — known as Orbital Test Vehicle-4 (OTV-4) — will concentrate less on the X-37B itself and more on the gear the spacecraft is carrying to orbit.

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House Science Committee Approves Four Commercial Space Bills

WASHINGTON — The House Science Committee approved four bills on commercial space topics during a lengthy markup session May 13 marked by partisan divides on a number of issues.

Most of the discussion during the three-hour session revolved around an update to commercial launch law called the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship, or SPACE, Act. The legislation was formally introduced May 12 by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), along with committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and space subcommittee chairman Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.)

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New Elon Musk Biography Hits Stores Next Week

If you'd like some insight into the rise of SpaceX and its ambitious founder and CEO, you're in luck — a new biography of Elon Musk comes out next week.

"Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future" (HarperCollins, 2015), by tech journalist Ashlee Vance, will be released on May 19. But you can get a sneak peak at the Elon Musk bio now, via a lengthy excerpt published Thursday (May 14) on

The excerpt traces the history of SpaceX, from Musk's early dream to send mice to Mars through the company's shaky first few years to now, when SpaceX is launching cargo missions to the International Space Station for NASA under a $1.6 billion deal — and preparing to loft astronauts by 2017 under a separate $2.6 billion contract with the space agency.

SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Falcon 9 Rocket

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (May 08 – May 15 2015)


Bill Nye Launches Kickstarter to Push Solar Sailing Cubesat to Space

Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") wants you to be a part – and get a part – of a "revolutionary solar sailing spacecraft" mission.

As leader of The Planetary Society, a non-profit dedicated to the exploration of the solar system, Nye has launched a crowdfunding campaign for the LightSail, a "citizen-funded flight by light" that will demonstrate a space travel concept first popularized by Carl Sagan nearly 40 years ago.

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Venus Plane Pushed for Next NASA Next Frontiers Mission

WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman is developing an inflatable, propeller-powered aircraft for a years-long cruise in the sulfurous skies of Venus and is gearing up to enter the concept in NASA's next New Frontiers planetary science competition.

That Northrop believes its Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform, or VAMP, could be ready to compete for about $1 billion in NASA funding as soon as Oct. 1 is a testament to the company's confidence in the concept, which despite arousing the intrigue of some Venus scientists is technically immature and likely to face competition from finalists of NASA's last New Frontiers contest.

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NASA Wants New Rocket Rides for Tiny Cubesats

NASA is looking for a more efficient way to launch cheap, tiny satellites, which the space agency thinks will play a big role in space science and exploration in the coming years.

The agency is asking commercial launch providers to develop new systems specifically for "cubesats." These days, such bantam craft must generally piggyback aboard big rockets carrying much larger and more expensive satellites as their primary payloads.

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Progress Investigation Delays ISS Crew Return And Next Launch

WASHINGTON — An ongoing investigation into a failed Progress mission to the International Space Station will postpone both the return of three people currently on the station and the launch of their replacements, NASA announced May 12.

American astronaut Terry Virts, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov were scheduled to depart the station in the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft docked there May 13. Their departure is now planned for early June, NASA announced.

Three new ISS crewmembers — American astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko — had been scheduled to launch on the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft May 26. That launch is now planned for late July, NASA said. Specific dates for both the crew return and crew launch will be announced “in the coming weeks,” the agency said in a May 12 statement.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, left, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, center, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Kimiya Yui participate in the second day of qualification exams  May 7 at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. The Expedition 44/45 trio is preparing for launch to the ISS in their Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft . Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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Was Ancient Mars Warm? Planet's History Takes Watery New Twist

A new six-year analysis of water on Mars suggests that the Red Planet has lost the equivalent of an ocean's worth of water over the past four billion years. However, the question of whether Mars was ever warm enough to have hosted such an ocean has sparked debate.

The research, conducted using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, and supported by the WM Keck Observatory and NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, both in Hawaii, has revealed how much water has escaped from Mars' atmosphere throughout its history. The results suggest that the lost water could have once filled an ocean in Mars' northern lowlands to a depth of up to 1 mile (1.6 kilometers), covering 19 percent of the Red Planet's surface

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Aerojet on Team Seeking Atlas 5 Production Rights

WASHINGTON — Rocket engine builder Aerojet Rocketdyne, in partnership with two other companies, is interested in obtaining the production and launch rights to United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket, currently the mainstay of the U.S. military fleet.

In theory, the consortium would use Aerojet’s AR-1 engine, currently in development, to replace the controversial Russian-made RD-180 engine used on the Atlas 5 today. The consortium includes Dynetics, the Huntsville, Alabama-based engineering company, and Shafer Corp., the Arlington, Virginia-based science and engineering contractor led by former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin.

ULA Atlas 5

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Tiny Cubesats Set to Explore Deep Space

Tiny space probes are set to make a giant leap away from Earth's neighborhood.

Small and economical "cubesats" already eye our planet from orbit. But such bantam craft are about to start pushing out into deep space, helping researchers study and explore the moon, asteroids and other distant bodies.

Cubesats are an exciting new tool that "will enable some new kinds of measurements to be made and, in some cases, whole new missions to be done," said Robert Staehle, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, who led a 2013 study investigating the feasibility and potential of interplanetary cubesats.

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Open Issues Need Not Halt Falcon 9 Certification

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket could earn U.S. Air Force certification to launch national security satellites even with several issues outstanding provided the company presents a mutually acceptable plan and schedule for resolving them.

The Air Force announced May 7 that it had amended its Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with SpaceX that lays out a new path to certification. The changes are based on recommendations from an independent expert committee that was tasked to review the certification process, which has taken far longer than anticipated.

DSCOVR launch

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NASA Funds 'Squid Rover,' 14 Other Far-Out Space Tech Ideas

NASA has funded 15 ambitious tech concepts in the hopes that one or more of them may have a huge impact on space science or exploration down the road.

The new ideas funded by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program include a squid-like amphibious rover that could explore icy, ocean-harboring moons such as the Jupiter satellite Europa; a proposal to mine water from asteroids using concentrated sunlight; and "WindBots" that would cruise through the skies of Jupiter and Saturn, drawing energy from the gas giants' magnetic fields and powerful winds.

'Squid Rover' for Europa Exploration

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SpaceX Launch Positioned Eutelsat, ABS Satellites For Faster Start

PARIS — The two commercial geostationary-orbit telecommunications satellites launched March 1 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket — a launch that debuted the rocket’s dual-launch-to-geo capability and a new all-electric satellite design by Boeing — are expected to reach their final orbits at least a month ahead of schedule, their owners said.

The owners, ABS of Bermuda and Eutelsat of Paris, said a particularly good launch injection by the Falcon 9 is the main reason why the ABS-3A and the Eutelsat 115 West B spacecraft will reach their operating stations in late August and late September, respectively.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (May 01 – May 08 2015)


SpaceX Tests 'Revolutionary' Dragon Launch Escape System to Save Astronauts

SpaceX launched a major test today of the innovative rocket escape system for its manned Dragon spaceships, a critical system designed to save astronauts in a launch emergency.

It was over in less than two minutes, with video of the Dragon crew capsule abort test showing the craft soaring skyward from a pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida today (May 6), then arcing out over the Atlantic Ocean and floating back to Earth under its parachutes. By all accounts, the test flight appears to have been a success.


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Planned 40-satellite Constellation Would Monitor the Environment of Earth and Space

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A Canadian company is targeting commercial and government markets with a proposed constellation of 40 low Earth orbiting satellites designed to keep tabs on the environment both in space and on the ground.

NorStar Space Data’s planned NorthStar satellites would fly in an orbit that is similar to — but higher than — the one in which the Iridium communications satellites operate, company officials said, providing near-ubiquitous coverage using sensors that look both up and down. The dual nature of the mission means the company will not have to depend on a single customer set or sector for revenue, they said.

Space Progress

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Out-of-Control Russian Spacecraft Will Fall from Space Overnight Tonight

An out-of-control Russian cargo ship is headed for a destructive plunge into Earth's atmosphere overnight between Thursday and Friday (May 7-8), with satellite watchers around the world trying to pinpoint the exact time and place of the craft's fall from space.

The uncrewed Progress 59 spacecraft has been falling to Earth since just after its launch last week on April 28 on a mission to deliver nearly 3 tons of supplies to the International Space Station.

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Roadmap for Manned Missions to Mars Reaching 'Consensus,' NASA Chief Says

Despite skepticism from Congress concerning NASA's asteroid-capture project, space agency chief Charles Bolden said "consensus is emerging" about that mission and other steps in NASA's plan to send humans to Mars.

"This plan is clear. This plan is affordable, and this plan is sustainable," Bolden said Tuesday (May 5) at the Humans 2 Mars Summit in Washington, D.C., which is hosted by the nonprofit Explore Mars, Inc.

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Asteroid-Mining Company to Deploy 1st Satellite This Summer

The nascent asteroid-mining industry is set to take its first steps into space this summer.

Planetary Resources' Arkyd-3R probe currently sits aboard the International Space Station and is scheduled to be deployed sometime in July, representatives of the Washington-based asteroid-mining company have said.

Once it's flying solo, Arkyd-3R will perform a demonstration mission, testing out systems that will enable future probes to study and eventually mine asteroids in deep space

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Europa's Elusive Water Plume Paints Grim Picture For Life

A meteorite may have been responsible for a water plume briefly spotted above Europa two years ago, implying it takes a very rare event to breach the ice on the Jovian moon.

Astrobiologists worldwide received news in December 2013 that water vapor was detected in Hubble Space Telescope observations of Jupiter's moon Europa, which is considered one of the top potential locations in our solar system for life. Those results were published in the journal Science and led by Lorenz Roth, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas.

Artist's concept of plume above Europa

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Proposed Legislation Would Make Space Settlement a National Goal

WASHINGTON — Legislation that one congressman plans to introduce in the near future would make space settlement a national goal and require NASA to take action to support it.

The Space Exploration, Development, and Settlement Act of 2015, drafted by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), would mark the second time in the last three decades that Congress has directed NASA to support efforts for permanent human settlements beyond Earth orbit.

A version of the bill circulated in the space advocacy community would amend the National Aeronautics and Space Act, the "organic" legislation that created NASA in 1958, to include space settlement among national space policy goals and objectives.

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Launch of Inmarsat’s 3rd Global Xpress Satellite Bumped to June by Centenario Delay

TOULOUSE, France — Mobile satellite communications provider Inmarsat on May 6 said its third Ka-band broadband satellite’s launch aboard a Russian Proton will not occur until early June, a delay from May, due to a satellite hardware alert affecting the customer ahead of Inmarsat in the launch queue.

That customer is Mexico’s Centenario satellite, whose planned April 30 launch aboard a Proton rocket booked through  International Launch Services of Reston, Virginia, was postponed at the request of Centenario’s builder, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, California.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Apr 24 – May 01 2015)


Virgin Galactic Considering Changing SpaceShipTwo Fuels Again

PHOENIX — Nearly one year after changing the fuel used on its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, a Virgin Galactic executive said April 30 the company was open to switching back depending on its performance.

Will Pomerantz, vice president of special projects for Virgin Galactic, said in a presentation at the Space Access ’15 conference here that the company has an “internal horse race” between a rubber-based fuel, formally known as hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB), originally selected for SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid rocket motor and a nylon-based one the company switched to last year.

A Virgin Galactic HTPB-fueled RocketMotorTwo during a 2012 test fire. Credit: Virgin Galactic

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US Air Force's Next X-37B Space Plane Mystery Mission to Test Thruster

The U.S. Air Force will test an innovative spacecraft thruster this month when it launches the latest mystery mission of its robotic X-37B space plane.

A Hall thruster will be one of the payloads riding on the X-37B space plane when it launches on May 20, Air Force officials revealed this week. The mission, called AFSPC-5, will lift off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station using an Atlas V rocket provided by launch provider United Launch Alliance. The exact mission details of the Air Force's X-37B space planes, also known as Orbital Test Vehicles, have to date been shrouded in secrecy.

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XS-1: DARPA's Experimental Spaceplane

The XS-1 is a space plane under development by the U.S. military's high-tech agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The major goal of the project is to reuse the spacecraft frequently, with a proposed launch rate of 10 missions in just 10 days.

DARPA's concept follows decades of reusability dreams by space advocates. The space shuttle is the most famous operational attempt at reusability, but that system could only be partially recycled. For example, new external tanks were manufactured for every mission, and a certain number of tiles on the re-entry protection system had to be replaced after each flight.

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Farewell, MESSENGER! NASA Probe Crashes Into Mercury

A NASA spacecraft slammed into the surface of Mercury on Thursday (April 30), bringing a groundbreaking mission to a dramatic end.

The MESSENGER probe crashed at 3:26 p.m. EDT (1926 GMT) Thursday, gouging a new crater into Mercury's heavily pockmarked surface. This violent demise was inevitable for MESSENGER, which had been orbiting Mercury since March 2011 and had run out of fuel.

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Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin Launches Private Spaceship Test Flight (Video)

The private spaceflight company Blue Origin launched a surprise test flight of its suborbital New Shepard spaceship on Wednesday (April 29), a mission that successfully demonstrated the space capsule but failed to recover its reusable rocket booster.

Blue Origin, a company founded by's billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, launched the New Shepard spacecraft from its West Texas proving grounds. Video of the New Shepard spacecraft launch shows it soaring up to an altitide of 307,000 feet (93,573 meters). 


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Milky Way Majesty in Maine Captivates Night Sky Photographer (Photo)

This seven-image panorama shows the Milky Way above Cape Neddick Light Station in York, Maine.

Astrophotographer A. Garrett Evans took this image on March 25 around just before the start of astronomical sunrise. He later shared the awesome sight with

"I went down to specifically get shots while the LED light on the flagpole was out. That light usually makes it very difficult to get shots without blowing out the detail on the building and foreground on the island," Evans wrote in an email.

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Space Station Could Get Laser Cannon to Destroy Orbital Debris

The International Space Station could one day get armed with a laser to shoot down orbiting debris, researchers say.

This concept could eventually lead to a laser-firing satellite that could get rid of a large percentage of the most troublesome space junk orbiting Earth, scientists added.

NASA researchers suggest that nearly 3,000 tons of space debris reside in low-Earth orbit, including derelict satellites, rocket bodies and parts and tiny bits of wreckage produced by collisions involving larger objects. Impacts from pieces of junk that are only the size of screws can still inflict catastrophic damage on satellites, since these projectiles can travel at speeds on the order of 22,370 mph (36,000 km/h).

Space junk orbiting Earth.

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Iridium Seeks Change in Satellite Insurance Requirements

PARIS — Mobile satellite communications services provider Iridium on April 30 said it would ask its creditors to ease launch insurance requirements as the company prepares to deliver 72 satellites to orbit in the next 30 months.

McLean, Virginia-based Iridium Communications also said its current constellation of 66 operational satellites, all well past their planned retirement dates, remained in good health as of March 31.

Iridium's Satellite Network Operations Center

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U.S. Air Force Outlines First Steps in RD-180 Replacement Effort

WASHINGTON – Facing congressional pressure to begin work on an American replacement for the Russian-built main rocket engine used today to launch most U.S. national security payloads, the U.S. Air Force quietly unveiled the initial steps in a procurement strategy that has been complicated by a key industry player’s own plans.

The announcements, released late April 24, detail what Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, acknowledged April 28 is a “complicated” and “difficult” acquisition strategy, one that may produce an American-made rocket engine by 2019, as Congress has directed. But speaking with reporters at a breakfast here, Hyten said it likely would take at least two more years to integrate the engine into a rocket.

MUOS-1 attached to Atlas 5

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Falcon 9 Rocket Launches Satellite for Turkmenistan and Monaco

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 27 successfully placed a telecommunications satellite jointly owned by Turkmenistan and Monaco into geostationary transfer orbit.

The satellite’s builder, Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy – which was SpaceX’s customer for the launch – said the TurkmenAlem 52E MonacoSat satellite was healthy in orbit and sending signals after separation from the Falcon 9.

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Boeing Postpones ILS Proton Launch of Mexico’s Centenario Mobile-communications Satellite

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida — A suspected problem on an unidentified Boeing-built satellite caused Boeing to postpone the scheduled April 30 launch of Mexico’s large Centenario mobile-communications satellite until the company is sure that Centenario does not have the same issue.

International Launch Services of Reston, Virginia, on April 27 confirmed that the launch aboard an ILS Proton rocket from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan would be postponed until further notice.

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