Ariane 5 Launches Reprogrammable Telecommunications Satellite

Europe’s Ariane 5 delivered two telecom satellites, Star One D2 and Eutelsat Quantum, into their planned transfer orbits.

Arianespace announced liftoff at 22:00 BST (23:00 CEST, 18:00 local time) on Friday, July 30, 2021 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, for a mission lasting about 37 minutes.

Star One D2, with a launch mass of 6187 kg, in the upper berth of the fairing was released first.

Following a series of burns controlled by Ariane’s computer, the Sylda structure encasing the 3461 kg Eutelsat Quantum payload was then jettisoned before Eutelsat Quantum was released into its own geostationary transfer orbit.

Star One D2 is owned by Maxar and operated by Brazilian operator Embratel. It will deliver broadband coverage to regions in Central and South America. It has a design life of 15 years.

Eutelsat Quantum, developed under an ESA partnership project with satellite operator Eutelsat and prime manufacturer Airbus, is the first commercial fully flexible software-defined satellite in the world.

Because it can be reprogrammed in orbit, it can respond to changing demands for data transmission and secure communications during its 15-year lifetime. Its beams can be redirected to move in almost real time to provide information to passengers on board moving ships or planes. The beams also can be easily adjusted to deliver more data when demand surges. The satellite can detect and characterize any rogue emissions, enabling it to respond dynamically to accidental interference or intentional jamming.

“Every launch is exciting. Ariane 5 is the pride of Europe and continues to be the cornerstone of Europe’s access to space. Eutelsat Quantum, launched today, is the result of an ESA–industry partnership that brings a world first to telecommunications. I’m happy that Ariane 5 is also part of this achievement for Europe,” commented Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA director of Space Transportation.

The performance requested for this Ariane launch was about 10 515 kg. The satellites totaled about 9647 kg, with payload adapters and carrying structures making up the rest.

Flight VA254 was the 110th Ariane 5 mission.

Space Station Stable After Earlier Unplanned MLM Thruster Firing

Following the docking of the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), named Nauka, to the International Space Station on July 29, 2021 Russian cosmonauts aboard the space station conducted leak checks between Nauka and the service module. At 12:45 pm, the flight control team noticed the unplanned firing of MLM thrusters that caused the station to move out of orientation. Ground teams have regained attitude control and the motion of the space station is stable.

The crew was never and is not in any danger, and flight controllers in Mission Control Houston are monitoring the status of the space station. Teams are also monitoring the impact to tomorrow’s launch of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Rocket First Human Launch and Return a Success

The crew capsule carrying Jeff Bezos and three others landed successfully. He was flying on the New Shepard, the rocket ship made by his space company, Blue Origin. The flight took a total of 11 minutes achieving an apogee of 65 miles above Earth.

The astronauts aboard were able to unbuckle from their seats and briefly experience weightlessness, reportedly for about three minutes. The flight went above the Kármán Line, often acknowledged as the official beginning of space. The Kármán line is described as an attempt to define a boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. It iss defined to be 100 kilometers (54 nautical miles; 62 miles; 330,000 feet) above Earth at mean sea level. It is higher/farther than Sir Richard Branson went in his historic launch earlier this month.

The others aboard included Mark Bezos, brother of Jeff Bezos; 82-year-old Wally Funk, a pilot and one of the Mercury 13 a group of women who trained to go to space in the 20th century but never got the opportunity to do so; and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year old and Blue Origin’s first paying customer whose father purchased his ticket for an undisclosed amount.

As the astronauts aboard waited for the hatch to be opened after ensuring any static electricity built up on the reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere was discharged, Jeff Bezos said inside the capsule that it was the “best day ever” when queried for his astronaut status check.

The company and Bezos say they want to democratize space and issued a statement about their goals: “Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos with the vision of enabling a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth. To preserve Earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity will need to expand, explore, find new energy and material resources, and move industries that stress Earth into space. Blue Origin is working on this today by developing partially and fully reusable launch vehicles that are safe, low cost, and serve the needs of all civil, commercial, and defense customers.”

Images show the launch, return and exiting the capsule. All images courtesy of Blue Origin.

Magdrive Expands Lab Space and Team

Magdrive has recently expanded its R&D capabilities following a £1.4M investment
from prestigious VCs that include Founders Fund.

Previously based in a small start-up lab at Harwell Innovation Campus, Magdrive has now relocated
to a larger 2000 sq ft laboratory. This has enabled the company to bring major diagnostic equipment on-site, such as its own vacuum chamber, high voltage enclosures, and space qualification test beds.

Magdrive has expanded its team with Dr. Christos Stavrou and Savva Theocharous, numerical
and experimental physicists with careers in nuclear fusion.

They will be instrumental in developing Magdrive’s unique magnetic field topologies, which enable
the small and powerful thruster to outperform existing electrical systems by more than 10-fold in
thrust. Another addition to the team is Henry Eshbaugh, an embedded systems engineer, previously
the electronics lead on the RadCube-MAGIC magnetometer.

Magdrive says it is on a mission to build the next generation of spacecraft propulsion for small satellites. They says the system is both small and powerful, with “high efficiencies for a long mission lifetime and the responsiveness of a chemical system needed to develop new space missions such as orbital manufacturing and asteroid mining.”

Virgin Galactic Successfully Completes First Fully Crewed Spaceflight

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity successfully reached space, completing the Company’s fourth rocket-powered spaceflight Sunday, July 11, 2021.

The flight was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.

“Today is a landmark achievement for the Company and a historic moment for the new commercial space industry,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said. “With each successful mission we are paving the way for the next generation of astronauts. I want to thank our talented team, including our pilots and crew, whose dedication and commitment made today possible. They are helping open the door for greater access to space – so it can be for the many and not just for the few.”

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The vehicle reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles, before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.

Sir Richard Branson said: “I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. We are at the vanguard of a new space age. As Virgin’s founder, I was honoured to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts. I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.”

Branson continued, “Our mission is to make space more accessible to all. In that spirit, and with today’s successful flight of VSS Unity, I’m thrilled to announce a partnership with Omaze and Space for Humanity to inspire the next generation of dreamers. For so long, we have looked back in wonder at the space pioneers of yesterday. Now, I want the astronauts of tomorrow to look forward and make their own dreams come true.”

The mission specialists in the cabin were Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor; Colin Bennett, Lead Flight Operations Engineer; Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations; and the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The VSS Unity pilots were Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, while Kelly Latimer and CJ Sturckow piloted VMS Eve.

FAA Activates System to Track Space Launch, Reentry Vehicles

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can now track a space launch or reentry vehicle in near-real time as it travels through the National Airspace System. This new capability increases safety for all airspace users and assists the FAA in efficiently managing air traffic during space operations.

The Space Data Integrator (SDI) prototype automates the delivery of vehicle-related telemetry data to the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center. This vastly improves the FAA’s situational awareness of where the vehicle is as it travels to space or as it returns to the Earth. In addition to existing tools, the FAA also can use SDI to manage air traffic more efficiently as a space operation progresses and address contingencies in the event of an anomaly during a mission.

The SDI capability recently became operational and was first used with the June 30 SpaceX Transponder 2 launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It will next be used with the upcoming reentry of the SpaceX CRS-22 Dragon vehicle carrying cargo on its return trip from the International Space Station.

“This is a critical tool as the number of users of our already busy airspace increases,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “With this capability, we will be able to safely reopen the airspace more quickly and reduce the number of aircraft and other airspace users affected by a launch or reentry.”

Currently, the FAA has to close airspace for extended periods of time when a launch or reentry vehicle travels through the National Airspace System. SDI will allow the FAA to more dynamically manage airspace and minimize the impact on other airspace users.

Telemetry data provided via SDI includes vehicle position, altitude, speed, and if it deviates from its expected flight path. It also displays tracking for the vehicle during its full flight and allows the FAA to monitor whether the vehicle is performing as planned. In addition, the SDI capability is able to display and share aircraft hazard areas that may potentially contain falling debris from a launch or reentry vehicle.

Space operators share the telemetry data on a voluntary basis. SpaceX is the first company to participate and has provided data to the FAA since 2016 in the early stages of the SDI concept research and development. Other partners include Blue Origin, Firefly, and the Alaska Aerospace Corporation.

The FAA also recently began using time-based procedures and dynamic windows as tools to more efficiently manage launch or reentry operations in the National Airspace System. Both offer great promise showing the FAA reduced the length of airspace closures from an average of more than four hours per launch to just more than two hours. As the SDI capability evolves, it will help the FAA reopen the airspace even more quickly.

In 2020, the FAA safely managed 45 space launches and reentries into the National Airspace System, the most in the agency’s history. For 2021, that number could exceed 70.

FAA Approves Virgin Galactic for Full Commercial Launch License After May Test Flight Success

Virgin Galactic announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) updated the Company’s existing commercial space transportation operator license to allow the spaceline to fly customers to space.

The Company also announced that it has completed an extensive review of data gathered from its May 22 test flight and confirmed that the flight performed well against all flight objectives.

The adjustment to Virgin Galactic’s operator’s license, which the Company has held since 2016, marks the first time the FAA has licensed a spaceline to fly customers. It is further validation of the Company’s methodical testing program, which has met the verification and validation criteria required by the FAA.

“We’re incredibly pleased with the results of our most recent test flight, which achieved our stated flight test objectives,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said. “The flight performed flawlessly, and the results demonstrate the safety and elegance of our flight system. Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch license, in conjunction with the success of our May 22 test flight, give us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer.”

Virgin Galactic Completes First-Ever Spaceflight from New Mexico

The May 22 test flight of VMS Eve and VSS Unity was the Company’s third crewed spaceflight and the first-ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico. The flight achieved a speed of Mach 3 and reached space at an altitude of 55.5 miles. After an extensive review of the data collected during the flight, the Company confirmed that:

  • The rocket-powered test of the spaceship’s upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls demonstrated strong performance, in line with predictions. These enhanced systems, which allow for finer pilot control, will also be deployed in future spaceships in the Company’s fleet.
  • The cabin environment data was in line with predictions.
  • The flight successfully carried three revenue-generating research experiments that tested and demonstrated technologies in microgravity as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. The pilots flew VSS Unity on a specific trajectory designed to meet the objectives of these research experiments.

With the data analysis from the May flight now complete, Virgin Galactic will continue preparing for the remaining three test flights.

Virgin Orbit Names New VP of Flight and Launch

Virgin Orbit, the California-based responsive launch company, announced today that it has selected Tyler Grinnell to serve as the team’s new Vice President of Flight and Launch. As Virgin Orbit works to further evolve its commercial launch services, Tyler will play a key role in enabling the Flight and Launch teams to achieve the operating pace and efficiencies required to serve the company’s growing customer manifest.

Tyler brings with him a decade and a half of aerospace experience, joining Virgin Orbit after spending 12 years at SpaceX, where he held a number of positions including Launch Engineer, Launch Lead Engineer for Instrumentation & Avionics, Lead Launch Operations Development Engineer, Senior Manager of Launch Operations Development, and most recently Director of Launch and Recovery Operations. 

As Director of Launch and Recovery Operations, Tyler oversaw the large team of engineers, technicians, and support staff who provide the integrated launch, recovery, and pad operations for the Falcon 9 and Dragon vehicles, during which time his team executed 20 successful missions within a 12-month period, as well as the successful launch and recovery of the first commercial crew astronauts. Prior to SpaceX, he held roles at both Boeing and NASA at Kennedy Space Center. 

On why he’s eager to work with the Virgin Orbit team, Tyler said: “The LauncherOne platform is one of innovation, and a major catalyst for rapid, reliable launch. Utilization of the unique 747-based launch capability has eliminated the cost and time associated with launch pad refurbishment, which is a major driver to launch cadence. This also reduces or eliminates many external factors that all other launch pad-based providers need to account for — such as ground launch weather and scheduling conflicts with other launch providers.”

Tyler earned a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Embry-Riddle University and serves on the Aerospace & College of Engineering Industry Advisory Boards for the university. 

TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space Selected by Northrop Grumman to Provide Network and Computing Platform for NASA’s Gateway

TTTech Aerospace was selected by Northrop Grumman to provide the TTEthernet-based network and computing platform for the Gateway’s habitation and logistics outpost (HALO). HALO will serve as the astronauts’ temporary living quarters on their way to the moon. The Gateway is part of NASA’s Artemis program that plans to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon and extend space exploration to Mars. The first products produced by TTTech Aerospace and its space products design and manufacturing partner RUAG Space are scheduled for delivery to Northrop Grumman in the coming weeks.

Northrop Grumman and TTTech Aerospace have worked together for several years in a NASA-funded R&D program that prototyped data networks for the Gateway. These data networks were based on TTEthernet, a scalable, standards-based technology that delivers deterministic real-time communication, guaranteeing the submission of critical messages as well as standard communication data on a joint network. TTEthernet has been established as the International Avionics System Interoperability Standards (IASIS) by NASA and its space agency partners and serves as the primary data network for the entire Gateway, as well as connecting to new modules as they are delivered.

TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space provide modular TTEthernet network and computing platform

“TTTech Aerospace is very excited to work with Northrop Grumman and to support the Gateway and NASA’s Artemis program. The space sector has a visionary mission and is an extremely challenging field. Reliability and fault-tolerance are key when it comes to safety-critical missions with humans on board. TTTech Aerospace and its space products design and manufacturing partner RUAG Space have already supplied space products for a variety of international programs. Together, our expert teams work with Northrop Grumman to implement the TTEthernet data network in HALO,” says Bob Richards, Vice President Space, TTTech North America.

“Bringing humans to the moon is a highly exciting mission, and space electronics is key to enable that. An astronaut many thousands of kilometers away from earth needs to rely on solutions providing maximum safety and security. Together with TTTech we can provide exactly this – the most reliable data network platform for outer space”, says Anders Linder, Senior Vice President Electronics at RUAG Space. For its entire electronics portfolio RUAG Space offers a direct technical interface to U.S. clients in its office in Denver, Colorado.

The space hardware for the HALO program will be designed and produced in Vienna, Austria. The modular product platform provides a fault-tolerant, safety-critical data network backbone and computing platform that supports the three configurable Ethernet traffic classes: best effort traffic, rate-constrained traffic and time-triggered traffic. The network and computing platform consists of complete box level products integrating TTEthernet network switches, end systems, embedded software, computing modules, network configuration tools, as well as integration support.

bluShift Aerospace Lands Major Deal With MaxIQ

“Until bluShift came along, MaxIQ had not been able to secure a reliable launch partner for student-led science payloads,” said Judi Sandrock, president of MaxIQ. “It is very important to be able to secure affordable space launches for student payloads so that students may further their academic research and help all of humanity understand the dramatic changes taking place here on Earth.”

Included in the agreement with bluShift are test flights, suborbital launches, and eventually orbital launches. The contract with bluShift represents a minimum of 60 dedicated MaxIQ experiments per launch that will serve students in the STEM fields.

“This ongoing purchase order from MaxIQ signals the strong demand for affordable and frequent science payloads to space,” said Sascha Deri, CEO and founder of bluShift Aerospace. “We are incredibly excited to provide MaxIQ with launches that are not only flexible and cost-competitive, but that are powered by a bio-derived, nontoxic fuel.”

Last January an all-female team of high school students from Falmouth, Maine, worked with bluShift and MaxIQ to launch a science payload. The students used modular kits from MaxIQ to perform data-gathering through the flight. MaxIQ continues to work with the Falmouth High School team, and with student-led teams around the world.

However, Sandrock notes with frustration that students across the U.S. do not have the ability to learn the practical skills necessary to enter the aerospace industry, and that current academic customer payloads are often inadequate, unaffordable, or both.

“Nobody is addressing the university requirements to launch payloads into space, and there are too many young people right now who we can’t employ because they don’t have adequate skills to get the work done,” she said. “MaxIQ’s modular science kit technology combined with bluShift’s launches finally makes it possible for students to design, build, and launch space science projects within one academic year. It’s a game changer for our academic customers across the globe,” she added.

MaxIQ is working with Princeton University, Stanford University and other academic institutions to advance the acquisition of critical skills and to expand student access to space programs. Their partnership with bluShift Aerospace enables MaxIQ Space to secure student payloads on a regular and reliable basis, achieving the goal of delivering a full satellite systems engineering project, from idea to launch, within one academic year.

Announcement of the purchase order from MaxIQ comes as bluShift passes the half-way mark in its $1.07 million crowd equity Wefunder campaign, and as the company hones in on a launch site location off the coast of Maine to begin suborbital launches for its next rocket Starless Rogue.

The nanosatellite launch market is projected to hit $69 billion by the year 2030.


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