First batch of Iridium Next satellites good to go for July SpaceX launch
PARIS — Mobile satellite services provider Iridium Communications on April 28 said the contracting team for its second-generation Iridium Next constellation had put past delays behind it and would be ready for a first launch of 10 satellites in late July aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
McLean, Virginia-based Iridium said the launch date could slip by a few weeks, depending on SpaceX’s management of its busy manifest. But satellite prime contractor Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, and Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, which is handling the satellites’ assembly, integration and test, will have 10 satellites ready for the July rendezvous.
Iridium said that by midsummer, the Iridium Next builders should be producing five Iridium Next satellites per month to meet Iridium’s aggressive schedule.
Vector Space Systems raises funds to develop small launch vehicleWASHINGTON — A company led by a number of space industry veterans is the latest to enter the crowded small launch vehicle field, hoping to stand out by focusing on the very small end of the market.
Vector Space Systems announced April 26 that it has raised a seed round of more than $1 million from a group of angel investors. The Tucson, Arizona-based company plans to use the funding to continue development of its Vector small launch vehicle.
Vector is designed to provide dedicated launches of very small spacecraft. The vehicle is capable of placing satellites weighing up to 45 kilograms into a basic low Earth orbit, and 25 kilograms into a standard sun synchronous orbit. Those launches will cost $2–3 million each, with the higher price reserved for “first class” launches reserved as little as three months in advance.
Euro Soyuz launches Sentinel-1B Earth observation satellite, Einstein-challenging physics experimentPARIS—A Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket on April 25 successfully placed a European radar Earth observation satellite, a French fundamental-physics experiment and three European university-built cubesats into low-Earth orbit.
The operators of all five satellites confirmed that their spacecraft were in the correct orbit and sending signals of good health.
Operating its 14th mission from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport, on the northeast coast of South America, the four-stage Soyuz’s Fregat restartable upper stage conducted four burns to distribute its payloads into three separate orbits over a four-hour period.
SpaceX announces plans for Dragon mission to MarsWASHINGTON — SpaceX announced April 27 it plans to send an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft to the surface of Mars as soon as 2018 on a technology demonstration mission aided by expertise, but not funding, from NASA.
The company said it planned to launch a Dragon 2 spacecraft dubbed “Red Dragon” to Mars on a Falcon Heavy launch vehicle as soon as the next launch window for Mars missions, which opens in the spring of 2018. The company released few other details about that proposed mission, including its cost and funding source.
“Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come,” the company said in a tweet accompanied by illustrations of a Falcon Heavy launch and a Dragon spacecraft resting on the Martian surface. The “overall Mars architecture” appears to refer to SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk’s long-term vision of establishing a permanent human presence on Mars.
Intelsat: No news on debt restructuring, good news on performance of 1st Epic satellitePARIS—Satellite fleet operator Intelsat on April 28 said tests of its first Epic-class satellite, Intelsat 29e, have confirmed the performance levels the company had been predicting and that the satellite would enter service by late May.
Intelsat’s Epic high-throughput satellites (HTS), operating in Ku-band, are designed to appeal to markets including aeronautical and maritime users, cellular-backhaul, machine-to-machine and the emerging Internet of Things.
Several satellite operators have ordered HTS satellites in Ku- or Ka-band, but none has as much riding on their near-term success as Intelsat.
SpaceX’s new price chart illustrates performance cost of reusabilityReserving fuel in the rockets’ first stage and adding landing legs adds weight to the vehicles that cannot be invested the ultimate task of placing payloads into orbit. It is the mass penalty, and not the cost of the fuel, that is key performance metric.
For the Falcon 9 Full Thrust, SpaceX said the same rocket that in its fully expendable version can lift up to 8,300 kilograms of payload to geostationary transfer orbit — the destination of most telecommunications satellites, which constitute the vast majority of the commercial market — is limited to 5,500 kilograms in its reusable version.
Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has already demonstrated the Falcon 9 Full Thrust’s ability to lift a 5,271-kilogram telecommunications satellite into transfer orbit, with the successful launch in March of the SES-9 satellite.
White House report endorses FAA oversight of commercial space missionsWASHINGTON — The White House has endorsed a proposal where the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration would provide oversight of “non-traditional” commercial space activities, eliminating a policy barrier for proposed missions beyond Earth orbit.
In a report submitted to Congress last month by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the administration said a “mission authorization” regime, with a minimal degree of government oversight, would ensure the U.S. upholds its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
“The economic vitality of the American space industry is best served with a clear and predictable oversight process that ensures access to space and imposes minimal burdens on the industry,” states the report. “The Administration supports a narrowly tailored authorization process for newly contemplated commercial space activities.”
With the Arctic expected to be a major source of oil and natural gas, the development and testing of technologies to detect and clean-up Arctic oil spills will remain a critical area of focus.
As part of this research, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) Oil Spill Preparedness Division tested the capabilities of a geo-referencing identification satellite (GRIDSAT) technology during its inaugural participation earlier this year in Ice Exercise 2016 (ICEX). ICEX is an exercise designed to assess the operational readiness of the submarine force while also continuing to advance scientific research in the Arctic region.
The U.S. Navy has been running ice exercises since at least the late 1950s. Last year, the Navy approached BSEE about participating in the event, Karen Stone, an oil spill response engineer with BSEE’s Oil Spill Preparedness Division, told Rigzone.