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COLORADO SPRINGS — The most contentious nomination process for a NASA administrator in the agency’s six-decade history came to an end April 19 when the Senate voted to confirm Jim Bridenstine.

The Senate voted 50–49 to confirm Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, as the agency’s 13th administrator. The party-line vote for a NASA administrator is unprecedented, as past administrators have been confirmed by the Senate with little or no dissent.

The vote brought an end to a nomination process unlike any other since NASA was established in 1958. The White House formally nominated Bridenstine for the position Sept. 1 after a months-long search during which he was widely seen as a front-runner. The nomination had the support of much of the space industry.

Bridenstine’s nomination faced strong opposition from Democratic senators, who argued that he was not qualified to serve as administrator and held views on topics ranging from climate change to social issues that disqualified him from leading the agency. That led to party-line votes by the Senate Commerce Committee in November and again in January to advance the nomination to the full Senate.

One Republican senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, also expressed concerns about Bridenstine’s qualifications to lead NASA. With Republicans holding only a 51–49 majority in the Senate, and with fellow Republican Sen. John McCain absent for health reasons, that effectively blocked the nomination.

Rubio changed his mind recently, though, allowing the nomination to proceed to a vote. The Senate voted 50–48 April 18 to invoke cloture on the nomination, limiting floor debate and setting up the vote. That also had some unexpected drama as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) initially voted against the motion, creating a 49–49 deadlock. Flake later changed his vote to allow the motion to pass, and his initial opposition was due to issues unrelated to Bridenstine’s nomination.

Rubio, in a floor speech April 19, explained that the impending retirement of NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot led to change his mind and support Bridenstine. “I was not enthused about the nomination. Nothing personal against Mr. Bridenstine,” he said. “I felt NASA is an organization that needs to be led by a space professional.”

But, he said, with Lightfoot’s retirement, “it leaves us with the prospect of this incredibly important agency for Florida and the country with a vacancy in its top job and we’re on our second acting administrator.” Rubio said he feared that, if Bridenstine was not confirmed, a new nominee might be confirmed until early next year.

“There is no way NASA can go two years and X number of months without a permanent administrator,” he said. “So, you make these decisions always under the context that a president should have significant discretion in picking the team.”

Democratic members expressed their continued opposition to Bridenstine prior to the vote. “The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional. That’s what this senator wants, a space professional, not a politician as the head of NASA,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who led the opposition to the nomination, in an April 18 floor speech.

However, Nelson said he would work with Bridenstine if he did become NASA administrator. “If Congressman Bridenstine is, in fact, confirmed, I will work with him for the good of our nation’s space program,” he said. “I have no doubt that the nominee is passionate about our space program and I don’t doubt his motivation or his intentions.”

“It is an honor to be confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as NASA administrator,” Bridenstine said in a statement immediately after the vote. “I am humbled by this opportunity, and I once again thank President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for their confidence. I look forward to working with the outstanding team at NASA to achieve the president’s vision for American leadership in space.”

Industry groups also immediately weighed in on his confirmation.

“The Senate vote today marks the beginning of Jim’s tenure at our nation’s space agency as America prepares to return to the moon and push further into deep space,” said Mary Lynne Dittmar, president and chief executive of the Coalition of Deep Space Exploration. “The Coalition looks forward to working closely with Administrator Bridenstine and his team to support NASA’s human exploration and space science programs.”

“NASA needs dedicated and inspired leadership, and Rep. Bridenstine is an outstanding choice to provide precisely that,” said Alan Stern, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “We look forward to working with you to advance America’s civil and commercial spaceflight enterprises.”

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COLORADO SPRINGS – As the competition for the U.S. Air Force next generation weather satellite heats up, Harris Corp. is highlighting the virtues of an updated version of its legacy sensor, the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR).

“We have been trying to help the Air Force meet its mission needs for cloud characterization and theater weather imagery for the specific orbit the Air Force needs,” said Eric Webster, Harris Environmental Solutions vice president for business development.

The Air Force has two weather sensor initiatives underway. Under the first one, known as Operationally Responsive Space-8, the service plans to award a contract in 2018 for a small weather satellite to launch around 2022. Under a separate program, Weather Satellite Follow-on electro optical infrared, or WSF-E, the Air Force is expected to spend approximately $450 million on a satellite to begin flying in the early morning orbit in 2024 and associated ground systems.

In 2013, the Air Force awarded Harris a contract worth about $13 million to enhance AVHRR’s ability to monitor clouds and gather theater weather imagery. Harris has built 19 AVHRR sensors for U.S. and international customers. For the updated version, Harris kept the basic AVHRR architecture, including the size and structure, but redesigned components.

“It has new detectors, focal planes and electronics based on the designs of our most recent instruments for NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others,” Webster told SpaceNews. The new Harris sensor is “about the size of a roll-on suitcase, yet still very capable,” he added.

Through the ORS-8 mission, the Air Force will have an opportunity to demonstrate a new sensor and determine whether it fulfills the requirements for WSF-E, Webster said.

“Our sensor solution along with the bus and launch fits well within the Air Force budget,” Webster said. “Our understanding is some of the other options would be much more expensive.”

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WASHINGTON — Arianespace on April 19 announced an agreement with Japan’s Broadcasting Satellite System Corporation and satellite manufacturer Space Systems Loral to launch the BSAT-4b satellite on an Ariane 5 rocket in 2020.

The agreement follows the launch of BSAT-4a on an Ariane 5 in September 2017.

BSAT is building up its satellite infrastructure ahead of the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, which start in July 2020. Seeking to have BSAT-4b as an in-orbit backup ahead of the games, BSAT picked SSL to build the satellite last month.

BSAT-4b will feature an identical coverage footprint over the Japanese archipelago, to ensure direct-to-home television broadcasts in bandwidth-intensive 4K and 8K ultra-high definition quality.

To be located at 110 degrees east, the satellite has an estimated mass of 3,520 kilograms and is designed for a minimum 15-year service life.

BSAT operates a fleet of three satellites, and has launched its entire fleet with European launch provider Arianespace. The BSAT-4b satellite will be Arianespace’s tenth mission for the company.

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COLORADO SPRINGS — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced a prize competition April 18 to demonstrate the ability to rapidly launch small satellites, a competition whose regulatory challenges may tower over its technical ones.

The DARPA Launch Challenge, formally announced at the 34th Space Symposium here but previewed at a February conference, will offer a top prize of $10 million to the team whose vehicle is able to perform two launches of small satellites, from two different sites, on short notice.

As currently envisioned, the competition will have teams perform a first launch in late 2019. The location of the launch site will be announced only weeks in advance, and teams will have only days to integrate and launch the DARPA-provided payload.

Each team that successfully carries out that initial launch will receive $2 million and will be eligible for a second launch at a different site, again on short notice. DARPA will then award prizes based on a combination of time to launch, mass launched and orbital accuracy. The exact scoring process using those factors is still being developed, Todd Master, program manager for the competition, said in a briefing here.

The winning team will receive $10 million, while the competition will also offer second and third prizes of $9 million and $8 million, respectively. All teams that qualify for the competition will receive $400,000.

The competition emerged from discussions DARPA had with the growing number of companies developing small launch vehicles. “We asked them what DARPA could do to help them be successful,” said Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, during a panel session at the symposium where he announced the challenge.

“We wanted to have them be successful not simply individually, but as a nascent industry to enable a new community of space access service providers, to remove the launch bottleneck and finally allow us to really fulfill the promise of the space domain,” he said.

What emerged from the feedback DARPA received was a prize competition to enable a responsive launch capability. “Our goal is nothing short of a fully realized 21st century launch capability,” he said, with multiple vehicles and launch sites that can launch on short notice and at low prices.

The competition is intended to encourage vehicles already under development to support responsive launch capabilities. “What we’re seeing now is an emergence in the commercial industry of small launch capabilities that, interestingly enough, fits some of our goals with regards to rapid launch timelines and agile launch capabilities,” Master said. “But you’re not really seeing commercial customers ask for particularly responsive launch.”

While such a competition has obvious technical hurdles associated with launching payloads into orbit on short notice, companies will also face significant regulatory issues. Teams will require commercial launch licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration, which are typically tied to a single launch site. While the National Space Council endorsed plans to reform the licensing process at its February meeting, companies could have to seek licenses for multiple sites, without knowing if they will need to launch from them as part of the competition.

Master said that regulatory reform will be a part of the competition. “Even to do the things we want to do in the challenge, we’re starting to stress the FAA process,” he said.

He said DARPA is working with FAA on some ways to provide a blanket launch license for competitors that covers launches from several sites, rather than one specific to a launch site and trajectory. “A big impact we’re trying to make is improvements in that regulatory process so that we can all go faster.”

DARPA will provide more details about the competition at an industry day May 23 in Los Angeles.

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At the recent FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, if you were given a dollar every time the term “public-private partnership” was mentioned, you could have broken even on the annual gathering’s increasingly substantial registration fee. Such partnerships, known as P3s, are alliances between a government entity and private enterprise to accomplish a common purpose.

P3s have been used fairly extensively and effectively for funding space activities, and P3s are attracting even more attention as sources of public financing grow scarce. It is inevitable that P3s will play a large role in future space activities. It’s time to examine the best practices and lessons learned from decades of experience with terrestrial infrastructure P3 projects and evaluate how best to adapt them to major space projects going forward, including projects with international participation.

Space P3s

Examples of P3s for space activities include NASA’s use of funded Space Act Agreements for Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) and the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), as well as DARPA and U.S. Air Force use of Other Transaction Authority (OTA) for programs such as the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program. These agreements facilitate the combination of public and private financing, escape the burdens of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, and promote speed and innovation to secure new capabilities. They have helped SpaceX, Orbital ATK, NanoRacks and many other companies achieve success. At the state and local level, we have seen P3s used for space launch infrastructure projects such as Spaceport America in New Mexico and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.

P3s for space projects, however, have generally been fairly simple agreements involving one public entity and one private entity. Future large space activities such as privatizing the International Space Station and establishing a cislunar Deep Space Gateway and a base on the moon, will require far more complex contractual arrangements and international participation.

International participation is best exemplified by the ISS. The program has a complex legal structure based on an intergovernmental agreement signed by the government partners, four memoranda of understanding between NASA and other cooperating space agencies, and numerous bilateral implementing arrangements between space agencies. In many respects, the ISS has been a tremendous success and it is now facing issues of what to do next. Privatization using a P3 structure is one option.

Another example: Sierra Nevada Corp. has teamed with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs in a type of international P3 where the Dream Chaser spaceplane will be used by countries to fly payloads or experiments. Mark Sirangelo, executive vice president of SNC Space Systems stated: “The benefits of a joint mission between government and private organizations on a level of this scale is incalculable.” Hopefully, it will open up the space arena to many governments otherwise unable to participate.

As space activities and investments mature, we must look to industries like construction and finance for lessons on major P3 projects. All involve large sums of capital and allocation of risk. To have people living and working in space will take P3 leverage of the government budget with commercial collaboration.

Infrastructure P3s

In evaluating P3s, the space industry should carefully review P3 experience on many large infrastructure projects and evaluate best practices and lessons learned. Typical infrastructure P3 projects have included airports, toll roads, higher education facilities, water projects, telecommunications, energy and utilities.

Europe, Canada and Australia have outpaced the United States in their use of P3s for infrastructure projects. The largest P3 project is the Channel Tunnel between England and France, now known as the Eurotunnel. It cost about $25 billion, took eight years to build, and was financed by private debt and sales of shares in a private company formed to build and maintain the tunnel under a long-term management contract. Although the project experienced significant financing problems during construction, it has certainly provided great benefit. The U.S. is catching up and is turning more toward P3s for infrastructure projects because of the limited availability of federal, state and local government funding for necessary projects.

The Trump administration infrastructure plan released in February outlines many new incentives and initiatives to facilitate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment over a 10-year period. Bootstrapping a $200 billion federal investment into $1.5 trillion will be challenging. The plan seeks to accomplish this by using investment from state and local governments, other public agencies, and substantial private investment including P3s. If P3s can help remedy vast infrastructure problems, perhaps P3s can also accomplish wonders for space projects, particularly if there is international support.

A full P3 project involves a partnership among all phases of a project from design-build construction and finance to operations and maintenance. Developing an equitable allocation of risks among partners over many decades is probably the most challenging task. Thanks to the vast number of P3 projects around the world, there has been considerable analysis of the various types of P3 projects.

P3 Best Practices

The commonly recognized P3 best practices generally include things such as: appropriately preparing, creating a shared vision, understanding the partners, clarifying long-term risks and rewards, establishing effective decision-making processes, negotiating fair and reasonable contracts that will withstand decades of implementation, and finding the right champion. That last one can be the most difficult since large projects tend to take many years to plan and implement. Politicians and administrators often have a limited shelf life. Policies, including National Space Policies, often change with new administrations.

What now?

The National Space Council should launch a task force to examine P3 best practices and lessons learned from terrestrial infrastructure projects and evaluate how to adapt them to large space projects, including P3s with international participation. This is not easy, but if we are to be successful in future space adventures, we must be nimble, creative, and quick. These are not characteristics of large government-led projects. Perhaps P3s can help fill this gap. Given the cost of going into space and accomplishing great things, we need to focus on how to combine public and private funding into mutually beneficial, synergistic approaches. Now would be a good time to start.

Milton “Skip” Smith is a Colorado Springs attorney who co-chairs Sherman & Howard’s space practice group and a longstanding member of the International Institute of Space Law.

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WASHINGTON — Russia’s Proton rocket launched for the first time this year April 18 with a military communications satellite for the federation’s ministry of defense.

Liftoff took place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 6:12 p.m. Eastern. Russian state corporation Roscosmos confirmed separation of the satellite from the rocket’s Breeze-M upper stage in its intended orbit approximately 10 hours later.

The federally operated Proton launch, handled by the rocket’s manufacturer Khrunichev, carried the second of four Blagovest satellites designed for internet, television and radio services.

Russia’s ministry of defense said April 19 that the satellite is being controlled from the country’s Titov Main Test and Space Systems Control Centre.

An issue with one of the satellite’s devices delayed the launch from December to February, according to Russian news outlet TASS.

Russian satellite manufacturer ISS Reshetnev built the satellite on its largest Express-2000 platform, the company said.

TASS said another two Blagovest satellites are planned to complete the constellation by 2020, with their construction completed this year.

Proton has five missions this year, four for the Russian government and one commercial dual launch of the Eutelsat 5 West B telecom satellite and Orbital ATK’s first satellite-servicing Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1. International Launch Services is handling the commercial mission, scheduled toward the end of the year.

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COLORADO SPRINGS —  Future private space stations may be sponsored by major corporations, which prompted a spirited discussion during a panel on the future of low Earth orbit at the 34th Space Symposium here.

“I don’t want the Taco Bell International Space Station,” said Erin MacDonald, modeling and simulation engineer for Engility’s Space and Mission Systems Group. “I think it goes against what the public perceives the space station is supposed to be like.”

While the International Space Station is unlikely to be rebranded by Taco Bell or any other corporation, if a new commercial space station is “paid for by Taco Bell, it will be the Taco Bell Space Station,” said Benjamin Reed, deputy director for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Satellite Servicing Projects Division.

The Trump Administration has proposed ending U.S. government funding for the International Space Station after 2024. Congress still needs to weigh in on that timeline and determine its role in future commercial space stations.

NASA’s research suggests a private space station will not be able to operate without government funding, said Alexander MacDonald, senior economic advisor in the NASA Administrator’s office, which is why NASA is requesting funding in 2019 to begin supporting development of commercial space stations.

Plus, it is in NASA’s interest to support the new outposts because the agency will need ongoing access to low Earth orbit when the Space Station retires, Reed said.

“NASA is still going to need to test technologies in orbit before going all the way out to the Moon or Mars,” Reed said. “That new fuel pump we want to develop. Let’s get it up there, prove it works and then send it to the Lunar Outpost and then to Mars.”

Companies planning to build commercial space stations already are grappling with questions about how they will operate, including the role of government customers and corporate sponsorship.

“Would NASA have a program in a Taco Bell Station?” asked Blair Bigelow, Bigelow Space Operations LLC co-founder and vice president of corporate strategy. “On a government-subsidized station, we are held to highest and best use. With a commercial space station, we won’t be successful if we are held to the same kind of rules of engagement.”

Bigelow Aerospace is on schedule to have two private space stations ready to launch in 2021, Bigelow said. Bigelow Space Operations will be responsible for sales, customer service and operation of those space stations, she added.

Erin MacDonald, who was in the audience for the panel discussion, said she raised the question of Taco Bell sponsorship because she was concerned about education and public outreach. Would a private space station require schools to pay? If so, that would prevent a lot of kids from getting access, she said.

Jeffrey Manber, NanoRacks chief executive, said he did not see corporate sponsorship as a problem. NanoRacks plans to refurbish a Centaur upper stage to turn it into a private orbital outpost it calls Independence-1.

“If we are going to do a commercial space station, we have to succeed in the marketplace,” he said. “I’m sure you and everyone you know takes part in things that are sponsored. We welcome that.”

Robert Bigelow, Bigelow Aerospace founder, told SpaceNews after the panel discussion that a commercial space station, like any commercial business, will have to follow the money to succeed.

“You follow the money and make sure what you are doing is safe and legal,” he said. At the same time, he heard the concerns about student engagement and said space stations “need to provide for education and perhaps conduct some philanthropic activities” once they are established.

Ken Shields, director of operations for the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the organization that manages the U.S. national laboratory on the International Space Station, said the various commercial, educational and government demands could be satisfied by different space stations.

“My vision long term is that we have a U.S. national laboratory that is not tied to NASA or tied to a space station,” Shields said. “There may be multiple assets in space, the Taco Bell Bigelow Space Station, the NanoRacks Federal Express Space Station and Ben & Alex’s Space Station. I believe there needs to be a place where activities can occur that are not purely profit motivated or purely entertainment motivated. I think the national lab construct is a great place to do that. It’s the place where NASA, other government agencies and academia will do their activities.”

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Swiss aerospace firm Ruag is a major supplier of components to the U.S. space industry. In anticipation of more business from rocket and satellite manufacturers, the company is ramping up investments in its U.S. operations in Alabama, Florida and in a research center in California’s Silicon Valley.

Ruag space revenues last year were around $380 million, one third of which came from U.S. sales. “Going forward, it is in the U.S. where we see most room for growth,” CEO Peter Guggenbach told SpaceNews.

He noted that Switzerland is the sixth biggest foreign investor in the United States.

“Looking forward, we want to be the first choice supplier to satellite constellations,” he said. The company specializes in hardware such as structures, thermal insulation, dispensers and ground support equipment. To increase its footprint in the space sector, it just announced a new line of on-board computers and electronics aimed at commercial satellites.

“We now employ a U.S. workforce that is close to 100,” said Guggenbach. The company’s first U.S.-made payload fairings are in production in Decatur, Alabama. In Silicon Valley, it is developing digital signal processing and microwave products for high-throughput satellite payloads.

United Launch Alliance is Ruag’s biggest U.S. customer. Others include Boeing, SSL and Orbital ATK. Ruag is the second largest supplier to OneWeb, after Airbus. The Titusville, Florida, facility was built to support the manufacturing of 900 OneWeb satellites, but Guggenbach said the idea is to expand beyond a single program. “We are in talks with a number of other customers.”

Manufacturing techniques have helped OneWeb keep costs down, he said. “For example, while all satellite panel inserts had been manually installed in the past, the cutting, gluing, potting and checking of those inserts is now fully automated.”

Guggenbach said the company is bullish on the U.S. space business even though there are export restrictions. “This often is discussed by global companies like Ruag when we decide to invest in the U.S.,” he said. “The limitations could even offset the highly competitive manufacturing value chain in the U.S.” He said the U.S. government should revisit current export control regulations, “particularly now as the space industry undergoes its own ‘industry 2.0’ — much like the automobile industry went through decades ago.”

Thanks to serial manufacturing, cars became affordable to everyone. The same is happening in space, he said.

On the civil space side, Ruag is on the Dynetics team for the universal stage adapter for NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System. Ruag will make large composite structures for the rocket in Decatur.

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For years, efforts to capture space debris and remove it from orbit faced a conundrum: Who would pay for the service? Little government funding is available. Insurers are not stepping up. And individual satellite operators showed little interest because while the problem is growing, the threat to any single spacecraft remains incredibly small.

Finally, entrepreneurs and space policy experts think they have an answer. The megaconstellations promising global broadband service are heightening concern about orbital debris and creating demand for space-based trash collection.

Dan Ceperley, chief executive and co-founder of LeoLabs Inc.

“We are going through a once in a lifetime revolution,” said Dan Ceperley, chief executive and co-founder of LeoLabs Inc., a startup offering satellite operators collision avoidance and debris-mapping services. “The number of active satellites is increasing dramatically and these large constellations with a lot of satellites in roughly the same altitudes have a different collision risk than prior users of space with fewer satellites more spread out,” Ceperley said in February at the SmallSat Symposium in Mountain View, California.

Because their collision risk is higher, the new constellations look like a promising market for satellite removal.

“The average failure rate of satellites launched is about 10 percent,” said Theresa Hitchens, senior research associate at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies. “Ten percent of these constellations is a lot of dead things.”

Plus, a constellation’s defunct spacecraft could threaten its working satellites traveling in the same orbit.

“The constellation operators don’t want their dead satellites hitting their active satellites,” said Hitchens, former director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva.

Nor do constellation operators want to pollute low Earth orbit.

“When people are spending billions, they don’t want to create problems,” said Ted Muelhaupt, associate principal director of The Aerospace Corporation’s Systems Analysis and Simulation Subdivision.

As the business case becomes clearer, entrepreneurs and government researchers are preparing to tackle the technological challenge of active debris removal. Here’s a look at a few of those projects.

RemoveDEBRIS

First up is RemoveDEBRIS, an initiative led by the University of Surrey and 10 international partners, including Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) and Airbus Defense and Space, and sponsored by the European Commission and the Surrey Space Center.

On April 2, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule delivered the 100-kilogram RemoveDEBRIS satellite and two cubesats to the International Space Station, where they will be stored for weeks until the NaoRacks Kaber microsatellite deployer sends them into orbit.

Once in orbit, the RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft will demonstrate four technologies for debris removal. It will observe and approach the target cubesats using cameras and lidar. It will catch one cubesat with a net and send a harpoon through a plate made of satellite panel materials to demonstrate how that type of weapon would work in space. Then, the RemoveDEBRIS satellite will attach a large drag sail to a cubesat to reduce its orbital velocity and speed its reentry in Earth’s atmosphere, Guglielmo Aglietti, Surrey Space Center director, said by email.

Astroscale

Astroscale, a startup based in Singapore that conducts research and development in Tokyo, plans to offer end-of-life services to large constellation operators who take steps before they launch satellites to make them easier to retrieve in orbit.

Satellite operators traditionally save fuel for the end of their space missions when they are ready to dispose of satellites. “But if that satellite fails in orbit and is not able to perform that end-of-life service, we think satellite operators should have a backup deorbit mechanism on all the satellites they launch,” Chris Blackerby, Astroscale chief operating officer, said at the SmallSat Symposium.

The company estimates that five to 10 percent of the megaconstellation satellites will fail. “We’ll go up and take them down,” Blackerby said.

Astroscale plans to demonstrate its technology in late 2019 with its ELSA-d, or End of Life Service Astroscale-demonstration, mission. In that mission, Astroscale’s “chaser” satellite will launch attached to a small satellite built by SSTL. In orbit, the two satellites will separate and perform a series of demonstrations showing, for example, that the chaser can approach the small satellite and grab it with high-performance magnets.

After Astroscale begins serving constellation operators, the firm will tackle the more challenging job of picking up failed satellites and spent rocket stages for space agencies or intergovernmental organizations, Blackerby said.

CleanSpace One

The leaders of CleanSpace One, the long-running campaign by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to capture and deorbit its own cubesat, SwissCube, are beginning to work with industrial partners who can turn their technology into a commercial product, said Muriel Richard, CleanSpace One project manager.

“We think the market will materialize in the coming three years and we should do a technical demonstration in 2021 of a commercially viable product, a product that can be replicated at low cost,” said Luc Piguet, an EPFL scientific adviser. “If there’s an affordable service on the market that makes it possible for operators to remove their failed satellites, it becomes much more difficult to justify not doing it.”

EPFL has been working on the CleanSpace One mission since 2012, “which gave us time to vet every possible capture mechanism,” Piguet said. In the end, they settled on the “Pac-man” approach, a conical structure resembling a net to envelope its target and place it on a path to atmospheric reentry.

E.Deorbit

Until recently, ESA was planning the most ambitious debris removal demonstration: capturing its 8,000-kilogram Envisat environmental-monitoring satellite in 2023 and performing a controlled atmospheric reentry. Now, ESA is exploring synergies between on-orbit servicing and debris removal spacecraft.

“We did not receive the funding to continue [e.Deorbit] but we did get a little funding to study the synergy between e.Deorbit and space servicing vehicles,” said Luisa Innocenti, head of ESA’s Clean Space Office. “The question is if we modify it a bit, would this vehicle be more flexible and be able to do in-orbit servicing?”

At the same time, ESA’s Clean Space Office will receive roughly 10 million euros in 2018 to develop technologies with applications for satellite servicing and active debris removal.

Brane Craft

The Aerospace Corporation’s Brane Craft is designed to scoop up small pieces of debris, ranging from about one-tenth of a kilogram to 10 kilograms.

In 2017, Siegfried Janson, an Aerospace senior scientist, won a two-year NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts award worth about $500,000 to continue developing Brane Craft, a flat, flexible spacecraft, measuring one square meter that is designed to envelope debris and remove it from orbit.

In the next year, Janson plans to demonstrate key Brane Craft technologies including transistors, logic gates and photodetectors able to withstand radiation because “this spacecraft has no radiation shielding,” he said.

After that, “we’ll have to see who wants to sponsor further development,” Janson said.

Assuming sponsors step forward, Brane Craft could begin enveloping space debris in nine or 9 years.

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Cosine Measurement Systems on April 19 released the first images from its HyperScout miniaturized hyperspectral camera flying  since February on the experimental GomX-4B nanosatellite.

The camera, developed by an international consortium lead by the Dutch company Cosine, separates light into 45 wavelengths, a treasure-trove of information for managing irrigation, monitoring fire hazards and detecting floods, among other change-detection applications.

A GomSpace GOMX-4 cubesat measuring 30x20x10 centimeters

The host satellite, built by Danish cubesat specialist GomSpace, is a so-called 6U cubesat measuring  20x30x10 centimeters and weighing roughly eight kilograms. In addition to HyperScout, the European Space Agency-sponsored GomX-4B satellite also carries a miniaturized startracker for Innovative Solutions in Space, aircraft- and ship-tracking antennas developed by GomSpace and an ESA radiation hardening experiment. 

The GomX-4B was launched with GomX-4A, a structural twin built under separate contract for the  Danish Ministry of Defence, on a Chinese Chang Zheng-2D rocket Feb. 2 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China.

The images released April 19 were taken at pre-scheduled times, according to Cosine, resulting in two random locations being imaged: Scotland and Cuba. 

Marco Beijersbergen, founder and managing director of Cosine, said in a press release accompanying the images that they are the first spectral images captured by a miniaturized hyper spectra camera aboard a nanosatellite. 

Cosine said it will continue to calibrate the camera by imaging deserts and other landmarks with known hyperspectral characteristics and upload application software to demonstrate the camera’s flexibility and utility. 

SpaceNews.com

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