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Monday, January 29, 2018

This Week in Satellite News! (Jan 22 – Jan 29 2018)

SpaceX sets first Falcon Heavy launch for Feb. 6

SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said Jan. 27 that the company will attempt a first launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket on Feb. 6.
The announcement came three days after the rocket completed a static-fire test at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, a final test milestone before the launch itself. Musk said the test was “good” shortly after the test, but neither he nor the company provided additional details.

Falcon Heavy on pad
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Ariane 5 Narrowly Avoids Disaster in First Launch of 2018

An Ariane 5 rocket managed to orbit two communications satellites and a NASA scientific payload on Jan. 25, despite an anomaly that threatened to tarnish Arianespace’s pristine launch record. Late Thursday evening, Arianespace was unable to acquire the rocket’s telemetry after it slipped under the horizon, but Arianespace Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Stephane Israel later confirmed that SES and YahSat have both made contact with their respective satellites.

Image result for ariane 5 rocket SES and YahSat
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Potential end of the ISS raises concerns, presents opportunities

The White House’s next budget request for NASA will likely include plans to end the agency’s operations of the International Space Station by the mid-2020s, a plan that could create new opportunities for commercial space ventures but has already generated opposition from one key senator.
A draft budget document for the agency’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal calls for “ending direct federal government support of the ISS by 2025” as one of several items intended to implement Space Policy Directive 1, the executive order signed by President Trump Dec. 11 directing NASA to return humans to the moon. The document, rumors about which had been circulating in the space industry in recent days, was first reported by The Verge Jan. 24.

International Space Station. Credit: NASA
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Reports of National 5G Network Bring Uncertainty to the Industry

The U.S. government is considering building a national 5G network to counter the risks of China interfering on emerging technology such as, self-driving cars, IOT, or spying on phone calls. However, it is unclear of how that network would be built and paid for, as well as how it would affect current telecom operators’ plans and satellite spectrum utilization.

Congress 5G
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Solar panel suppliers adjust to GEO satellite slowdown

Suppliers of solar panels and related equipment for the space industry are pivoting to serve customers planning satellites for low and medium Earth orbits as the slow down in geostationary satellite orders persists.
Commercial satellite operators ordered just seven geostationary telecommunications satellites in 2017 — well below the 20 to 25 orders considered normal in years past. Orders for 2016 and 2015 topped out in the teens (still below average, but better than last year).

Boeing employees extend the solar panels on Intelsat-35e, which launched last July on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Boeing
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Is the End Near for the Satellite Dish?

During its recent financial results reporting, U.K. broadcaster and Internet Service Provider (ISP) Skyannounced it will launch Sky over fiber in Italy and the company’s first all-IP service in Austria, “both without the need for a satellite dish,” according to Jeremy Darroch, group chief executive at Sky.
The service will include all Sky channels and on-demand content streamed over IP. The question remains: will other broadcasters follow this step? Will this mean the end of the satellite dish?

Eutelsat Dish
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Google Lunar X Prize to end without winner

The foundation running the Google Lunar X Prize announced Jan. 23 that the $20 million grand prize for a commercial lunar lander will expire at the end of March without a winner.
The X Prize Foundation said none of its five finalist teams would be able to launch a mission before the current deadline of March 31. That deadline has been extended several times in the past, but foundation officials previously said there would be no further extensions of the competition.
“This literal ‘moonshot’ is hard, and while we did expect a winner by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE will go unclaimed,” said a statement by Peter Diamadis, founder and executive chairman of the X Prize Founation, and Marcus Shingles, chief executive of the foundation. The $30 million refers to both the grand prize as well as a $5 million second prize and several ancillary prizes.

SpaceIL lander
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Ariane 6 Gets Closer to Flight with Vulcain Engine Test Firing

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has successfully tested the Vulcain 2.1 engine at its P5 test facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany. The Vulcain 2.1 will power the main stage of the Ariane 6 launcher, which will fly for the first time in 2020.
This is a version of the Ariane 5 Vulcain 2 engine specially adapted for the Ariane 6 main stage to simplify production and to lower costs. To reach these objectives the engine integrates technologies such as a gas generator built using 3D printing, a simplified divergent nozzle, and an oxygen heater for tank pressurization. These adaptations contribute to achieving the cost targets set for the Ariane 6 launcher, while retaining the efficiency and reliability demonstrated on Ariane 5, according to ArianeGroup.

Ariane 6 undergoes its first test firing at DLR's Lampoldshausen site. Photo: DLR.
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Monday, January 22, 2018

This Week in Satellite News! (Jan 15 – Jan 22 2018)

SpaceX, Iridium set March 18 launch date for fifth Iridium Next mission

WASHINGTON — SpaceX and mobile satellite services provider Iridium, now halfway through deploying the Iridium Next constellation, are preparing for their fifth mission on March 18 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The Falcon 9 launch is expected to kick off a “rapid-cadence launch schedule targeting completion of the Iridium manifest by mid-2018,” according to a Jan. 22 Iridium statement.
Iridium CEO Matt Desch told SpaceNews by email that the rapid cadence equates to “an average of about 5 weeks between launches to ensure we complete launch 8 mid-year.”

Falcon 9 Iridium-3
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Government shutdown offers warning of impacts to government and commercial space

The first federal government shutdown in more than four years came to a swift end Jan. 22 but served as a warning of what a future shutdown could do to both government and commercial space efforts.
The Senate reached an agreement Jan. 22 on a modified version of a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the government through Feb. 8, eight days earlier than the version that failed to win passage in the Senate late Jan. 19, triggering the shutdown. The House then passed the CR and President Trump signed it into law that evening.

NASA TV shutdown
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How Secure Are In-Flight Connectivity Systems?

The aviation world has come a long way from the days when the extent of connectivity in the cabin revolved around self-contained in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) systems comprising a server, distribution system and seatback displays. Being connected was limited to watching a movie offered by the airline or scanning pre-recorded news broadcasts.
Then came SwiftBroadband service followed by more powerful high-bandwidth satellites and Wi-Fi in the cabin, and with it, a proliferation of passenger smartphones and other devices. It’s not surprising that 81 airlines today offer a full range of IFEC services with the ability for travelers to connect their personal electronic devices (PEDs) to the aircraft’s wireless network.

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NASA 2019 budget expected to include lunar exploration program details

Details about how NASA will implement a space policy directive regarding a human return to the moon will be in the agency’s 2019 budget request, scheduled for release as soon as early February.
NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) civil space forum here Jan. 18, didn’t discuss specifics of those plans, but suggested both international and commercial partnerships would play key roles in NASA’s approach to implementing Space Policy Directive 1. That directive, signed by President Trump Dec. 11, instructed NASA to return humans to the moon “for long-term exploration and utilization” as a step towards later missions to Mars “and other destinations.”

Lightfoot CSIS
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Virgin Orbit to Launch GomSpace Nanosatellites

GomSpace has purchased a launch for several nanosatellites onboard a LauncherOne rocket from the California-based company Virgin Orbit. The flight, which is bound for a low-inclination orbit, is scheduled to occur in early 2019.
GomSpace will use the launch to further build out a constellation of small satellites that will use Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Automatic Identification System (AIS) signal monitoring to track civilian aircraft and ocean-going vessels. This satellite constellation will provide continuous monitoring between 37 degrees north and 37 degrees south, helping provide global situational awareness for air-traffic controllers and shipping companies, and aiding in the identification and location of wayward or missing planes and ships.

LauncherOne Virgin Galactic Cosmic Girl
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A changing of the guard in NASA’s hunt for exoplanets

Sometime later this year NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, orbiting the sun more than 150 million kilometers from the Earth, will fire its thrusters for the final time. The spacecraft is running out of the hydrazine fuel used by those thrusters to maintain the spacecraft’s orientation. Once the thrusters sputter and shut down, their fuel exhausted, Kepler will no longer be able to control its pointing, and the mission will end.
The project isn’t quite sure exactly when that will happen, since the calculation depends on rates of fuel usage and the challenges of measuring just how much hydrazine is left in the spacecraft’s tanks. “The fuel is expected to last somewhere between the spring and summer of 2018,” said Gary Blackwood, manager of NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program, at a Jan. 7 meeting of a NASA exoplanet advisory group. He added that the spacecraft’s manufacturer, Ball Aerospace, “has found very creative ways” to stretch out that remaining fuel.

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Rocket Lab Electron reaches orbit on second launch

Rocket Lab announced Jan. 20 that the second launch of its Electron small rocket was a success, reaching orbit and deploying three cubesats.
The Electron lifted off from the company’s launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 8:43 p.m. Eastern (2:43 p.m. local time Jan. 21) on the second day of a nine-day launch window for the mission. A launch attempt a day earlier was scrubbed by a combination of boats in restricted waters off the launch site and a technical issue with the rocket.

Rocket Lab Electron launch
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ULA Launches NRO 47 Payload on Delta 4 Rocket

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 4 rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Jan. 12. Because the mission — designated NROL 47 — is classified, NRO has not released information on what the satellite will be used for, stating only that the mission is in support of national defense.
ULA launched the mission aboard a Delta 4 Medium+ (5, 2) configuration Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) powered by one common booster core (powered by an RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine) and two solid rocket motors built by Orbital ATK. A single RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine powered the second stage. Aerojet Rocketdynemanufactured both the booster and upper stage engines.

Image result for ULA Launches NRO 47 Payload on Delta 4 Rocket
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Monday, January 15, 2018

This Week in Satellite News! (Jan 08 – Jan 15 2018)

New U.S. missile-warning satellite set for launch at Cape Canaveral

The U.S. military’s newest missile-warning satellite is set to lift off later this week just as tensions continue to mount over North Korea’s ICBM program.
Crews at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, are preparing to launch the SBIRS GEO Flight-4 satellite on Thursday from a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
“Everything is progressing toward the ULA Atlas V launch carrying the Space Based Infrared System GEO Flight 4 mission for the U.S. Air Force,” ULA announced on Monday. The forecast shows an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for the planned 7:52PM EST liftoff on Thursday.

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SpaceShipTwo performs glide flight in advance of powered tests

Virgin Galactic conducted its first test flight of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle in more than five months Jan. 11 as the company prepares to begin powered test flights of the vehicle.
The glide flight, conducted in the skies above the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, was the seventh for the second SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Unity, dating back to December 2016. Pilots Mark Stucky and Michael Masucci landed the vehicle at the airport after a successful flight.
The glide flight was the first for SpaceShipTwo since one in early August. The company said in a statement that it had spent the intervening months on “extensive analysis, testing and small modifications to ensure vehicle readiness for the higher loads and forces of powered test flight.”

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2018 Could Be a Revolutionary Year for Smallsats

Earmarked by SpaceX’s historic relanding of a first stage booster, 2017 was a banner year for the satellite industry in many respects. 2018 could prove to be even more momentous, as the smallsat megaconstellations that have been under development for years finally emerge — along with the dedicated smallsat launch vehicles that will serve them. In an interview with Via Satellite, Northern Sky Research (NSR) analyst Carolyn Belle laid out her expectations for the year ahead, as well as how these new systems could affect the broader satellite industry as they come online.
Overall, 2017 was a “very good year” for smallsat launch rates, Belle said, with the industry orbiting 329 smallsats (between 1 and 500 kg) in total. This is the highest number launched in one year to date, easily outstripping the mere 130 orbited in 2016. While the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) record-breaking launch of 105 satellites was a bit of an outlier, Belle believes the growing smallsat trend is here to stay.

Rendition of one of OneWeb's broadband nanosatellites. Photo: OneWeb.
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IOT Critical to Gaining a Competitive Edge in Mining

Businesses in the mining industry are backing the Internet of Things (IOT) to help them retain their market share as competition in the sector intensifies, the quality of seams decreases, and profit margins are put under pressure. According to recent research published by Inmarsat, IOT will play a critical role in helping mining businesses increase automation and improve production efficiency, enabling them to compete with rivals operating in lower cost markets.
Market research specialist Vanson Bourne interviewed respondents from 100 large mining companies across the globe for Inmarsat’s “The Future of IoT in Enterprise” report, and found that 70 percent of mining businesses agreed that IOT would give them a significant edge against their competitors.

Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah, the largest man-made hole in the world. Photo: Inmarsat.
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Air Force launches new project to update missile-warning ground software

Air Force officials are talking to potential vendors this week about an upcoming project to update the software used to control the military’s missile-warning satellites and to analyze the data beamed from space.
The ground-based systems are the less exciting but nonetheless important piece of the SBIRS space-based infrared surveillance satellites that provide initial warning of a ballistic missile attack on the United States, deployed forces and allies.
The plan is to shift the current ground software architecture — a closed system developed by traditional defense contractors that is not compatible with commercial software from competing vendors — to an open-systems platform that the Air Force would own and update with new technology as it becomes available.

Airmen at the Global Strategic Warning and Space Surveillance System Center at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, monitor strategic missile warning systems. (Air Force photo)
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Rocket Lab sets new window for second Electron launch

Rocket Lab announced Jan. 11 it plans to make another attempt to launch its Electron small rocket on its second mission later this month.
Rocket Lab said the nine-day launch window for the mission at its New Zealand launch site will open at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 20 local time (8:30 p.m. Jan. 19 Eastern time). There will be a four-hour window each day, opening at the same time, for the launch.
The company, headquartered in the United States but with launch and other operations in New Zealand, attempted to carry out the launch during a 10-day window in December. However, several attempts were postponed by poor weather. The company came closest to launching Dec. 11, when computers aborted a launch attempt just two seconds before liftoff after sensors detected liquid oxygen temperatures above preset limits in one of the first stage’s nine engines.

Electron on pad
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De Poli Tankers and Marlink Renew Multi-band Satcom Contract

Dutch ship owner De Poli Tankers has extended its contract with Marlink, securing high-bandwidth global communication using the Sealink Plus service for its fleet of eight chemical tankers and two gas tankers. According to De Poli Tankers, it chose to retain the Sealink Plus service for the future as it combines high-bandwidth Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs) with unlimited L-band back-up in a single bundle.
De Poli Tankers first migrated to Marlink VSAT from L-band only communications in 2013 to improve fleet and business operations while offering more availability and quality for its crew communication facilities.

A De Poli Tankers vessel crashes over waves at sea. Photo: De Poli Tankers.
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Iceye Successfully Launches SAR Microsatellite on PSLV

Finnish startup Iceye announced the successful launch of its proof-of-concept satellite mission, Iceye X1, on the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) PSLV C40 rocket. The Iceye X1 microsatellite is equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and, according to the company, is Finland’s very first commercial satellite.
Iceye stated it has successfully established communications with the 70 kg satellite now in orbit. The goal of the mission is to validate in-orbit performance of the satellite and begin operations with select Iceye customers. According to Iceye, data received from the satellite in space can be used for a variety of use cases including monitoring changing sea ice for maritime and environmental uses, tracking marine oil spills and helping to prevent illegal fishing.

Iceye's first proof-of-concept satellite, Iceye X1. Photo: Iceye.
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Monday, January 8, 2018

This Week in Satellite News! (Jan 01 – Jan 08 2018)


SpaceX launches classified payload to kick off busy year

SpaceX successfully launched a classified payload on a Falcon 9 Jan. 7, starting what is planned to be the busiest year yet for the launch provider.
The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, carrying a classified payload known only as “Zuma.” The rocket’s first stage landed at nearby Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after liftoff. SpaceX ended its coverage of the launch at that point, without confirming that the payload reached orbit.
Little is known about the Zuma payload. The launch was procured by Northrop Grumman, who manufactured the spacecraft, and no U.S. government agency has claimed the payload. Airspace notices for the launch suggest the payload will be going into an orbit of an inclination of about 50 degrees, similar to International Space Station missions as well as USA 276, a National Reconnaissance Office satellite launched on a Falcon 9 in May 2017.

Falcon 9 Zuma
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2017 Proves Potential of Connected Helicopter for Satellite

The integration of newly available satellite and cellular-based data communications technologies, or “connectivity,” is creating new opportunities to improve helicopter offshore support, search and rescue (SAR), medevac and corporate/VIP operations. While the concept of the connected helicopter is not new (Iridium notes that 15,000 helicopters globally are equipped with products that enable its satellite communications service), operators are now realizing the benefits of speedy satellite and cellular LTE connectivity.
When contemplating a business case for investment in new satellite and cellular communications technologies, operators must seriously consider their mission sets. Is investment in new antennas, satcom configuration modules, onboard network routers and the service that enables the use of speedier data rates on board really worth it? Several operator investments and vendor certification announcements in 2017 have shown that the connected helicopter is a concept with great potential.

Connected helicopter. The C150 Global Odyssey’s Bell Helicopter 429, with Honeywell’s Aspire 200 satellite communications system and GoDirect Cabin Connectivity.
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Sierra Nevada clears Dream Chaser test milestone

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced Jan. 5 that NASA has confirmed that the company’s Dream Chaser vehicle passed a key milestone during its November free flight test.
In a statement, SNC said that NASA concluded that the Nov. 11 free flight of the Dream Chaser engineering test article, at Edwards Air Force Base in California, met or exceeded all the requirements of the company’s last remaining funded milestone in its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) award from 2012.
During the flight test, the Dream Chaser was released from a helicopter at an altitude of about 3,750 meters and glided to an autonomous runway landing 60 seconds later, reaching a top speed of 530 kilometers per hour during its descent.

Dream Chaser landing
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How Satellite Can Predict Disease Outbreaks

Clever data mavericks have found a number of ways to leverage the information collected by satellites orbiting above, from calculating income growth profiles for agriculture to tracking the global oil stock. Now, scientists are figuring out how to use satellite data to predict outbreaks of diseases such as cholera weeks in advance.

Vibrio cholerae (cholera) bacteria as seen under electron microscope. Photo: Pixnio.
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SpaceX targeting late January for Falcon Heavy debut

SpaceX is now planning to attempt the first launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket around the end of this month, the company’s chief executive said Jan. 4.
In a posting on the social media website Instagram that featured a video of the rocket, Elon Musk said the heavy-lift rocket would launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A after a static-fire test on the pad scheduled for next week.
“Hold-down test fire next week. Launch end of the month,” he wrote.

Falcon Heavy on pad
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ArianeGroup stands up GEOTracker service to watch geostationary arc

An internal research and development program using widely available telescopes has evolved into a space situational awareness business for ArianeGroup.
France’s Joint Space Command on Dec. 14 became ArianeGroup’s first customer for GEOTracker, a network of ground-based telescopes monitoring the geostationary arc some 36,000 kilometers above the Earth, the orbit where most large satellites reside.
December’s deal validated what ArianeGroup CEO Alain Charmeau described as an effort to simulate an entrepreneurial atmosphere inside the European space giant to create new products and services.

GEOtracker ArianeGroup SSA
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Report calls for ISS research transition plan and use of alternative platforms

With utilization of the International Space Station reaching a maximum, and with its long-term future uncertain, a recent report recommends that NASA develop transition plans and make use of alternative platforms, including commercial vehicles, to carry out critical microgravity research.
The midterm assessment of the 2011 decadal survey on life and physical sciences research at NASA, released by a committee of the National Academies Dec. 15, supported efforts by NASA to increase research on the ISS, but warned the agency needed to act soon to develop a transition plan for such research after 2024.

Credit: NASA
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