Blue Origin Successfully Completes Second Human Flight to Space and Back

Blue Origin successfully completed its second human spaceflight on board New Shepard on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. The flight included four astronauts, Dr. Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries, Audrey Powers, and William Shatner, as well as thousands of postcards from Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future.

Now official astronauts, the crew returned from space to celebrate in the West Texas desert with family, friends and the Blue Origin team. 

“At Blue Origin, we are motivated by the dreamers that inspire us and the builders who turn those dreams into reality. Today’s crew represented both dreamers and builders. We had the honor of flying our very own Audrey Powers, vice president of New Shepard Operations, who fulfilled a lifelong dream to go to space and has been an integral part of building New Shepard. Our two customers, Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries, have built their own successful ventures and have now realized their own dreams of space travel. And, as everyone knows, William Shatner has played an important role in describing and imagining the wonders of universe and inspired many of us to pursue a career in the space industry,” said Bob Smith, CEO Blue Origin. “This flight was another step forward in flying astronauts safely and often. It’s an incredible team and we are just getting started.”

Upon exiting the capsule after the ten minute flight, Shatner, an actor, 90-years-old, who played one of the most famous space travelers of all time on the show Star Trek, said, “What you have given me is the most profound experience that I can imagine. I am so filled with emotion about what just happened. It’s extraordinary.”

Blue Origin is planning one more crewed flight this year, with several more crewed flights planned for 2022.

NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green to Retire in 2022

NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green to Retire in 2022

NASA’s Chief Scientist Jim Green will retire in early 2022 after more than 40 years. “I feel tremendously proud about the activities I’ve done at NASA,” said Green. “In many ways, NASA is not a job. It’s a way of life. We’re always looking for ways to do the impossible.”

From starting up NASA’s first internet to conducting groundbreaking research to hosting NASA’s podcast “Gravity Assist,” Green’s contributions to the agency are countless.

Green began his NASA career at the Magnetospheric Physics Branch at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1980. There, he developed and managed the Space Physics Analysis Network, SPAN, NASA’s first version of an internet. SPAN helped to herald the era of open science, in which scientists worldwide could rapidly access data and information, as well as communicate with each other.

At Marshall, Green served as a safety diver at the Neutral Buoyancy tank and made more than 150 dives. He collaborated with astronauts and engineers who trained to fly on Shuttles, perform space walks, and make repairs in orbit on satellites.

Green has specialized in the study of magnetic and electric fields and low energy plasma in the solar system. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, he served as the co-investigator and the deputy project scientist on the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration mission, the first spacecraft dedicated to imaging Earth’s magnetosphere. He also became the deputy project scientist for mission operations and data analysis for two heliophysics missions that studied solar activity in the near-Earth environment: Wind and POLAR.

He has written more than 125 scientific articles in refereed journals across many topics across planetary science and astrophysics.

From 2006 to 2018, he held the role of director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. He counts among his biggest highlights the landing of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars in 2012, employing a risky, complicated maneuver involving a “sky crane” for the first time.

“Over his more than four decades at NASA, Jim has successfully led teams to accomplish incredible missions – including the New Horizons spacecraft flyby of Pluto, the Juno spacecraft to Jupiter, and the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Jim’s contributions helped us gain a better understanding of our solar system and our place in it.”

Honeywell Expands Product Offerings For Rapidly Growing Small-Satellite Market

Honeywell Expands Product Offerings For Rapidly Growing Small-Satellite Market

Honeywell has added three new products to its lineup of space offerings in the growing small satellite market segment. The newest additions include Honeywell’s X Band Downlink Transmitter and Optical Communication Terminal (OCT), which enable high-bandwidth data to be transmitted both down to Earth and between satellites. Additionally, Honeywell is debuting a new line of Commercial Series reaction wheel assemblies specifically designed for commercial space satellites.

All three of these new products are intended to serve the small commercial satellite market segment, which has cost and production volume requirements different than traditional space programs. Instead of producing only one satellite that must function for years or decades, these satellites are smaller, have a shorter lifespan, and are often part of a large network composed of dozens or hundreds of satellites, known as a “constellation.”

Though they can perform a variety of tasks, two common uses for satellites are to capture images of Earth and to enable connectivity, or internet service. Honeywell’s new X Band Downlink Transmitter and OCT are designed to handle large amounts of data being transmitted from and between satellites.

Honeywell’s X Band product has been selected by LeoStella for integration on the first three satellites of a constellation that will provide Space Situational Awareness services, which will deliver essential information to help operators navigate their satellites safely and manage global “space traffic” in orbit.

“Think of data like water and our products as the pipeline that carries the water. As image quality and internet speeds increase, the amount of data being sent increases as well,” said Mark Covelli, senior director, Space Strategic Marketing and Sales, Honeywell Aerospace. “Our customers’ satellites need to be equipped with wider ‘pipelines’ to handle the larger amounts of data. These products are specifically designed to meet that need, and our X Band product will help LeoStella’s satellites meet its mission requirements.”

Although both products transmit data, they serve different purposes. Honeywell’s X Band Downlink Transmitter is intended for satellites that transmit information back to the ground. The OCT is similar, but it can handle data rates 10 to 100 times higher than X Band, allowing data to not only be transmitted to the ground but also between satellites in a constellation. This makes it an ideal solution to enable high-speed internet or to connect military satellites in a meshed network with maximum flexibility and speed.

Satellite Attitude Control

Building upon decades of experience developing reaction wheel assemblies (RWAs), Honeywell has launched a new line known as the Honeywell Commercial (HC) Series RWAs. The series consists of the HC7 and HC9 reaction wheels, so named because they are roughly seven and nine inches in diameter. These reaction wheels are designed specifically for small satellites, meaning they have a shorter lifespan and are significantly lower in cost, while still maintaining the high levels of performance.

“The companies launching and operating small satellites have significantly different requirements than your traditional years- or decades-long space programs. These satellites are orbiting closer to Earth, they’re much smaller, there are significantly more of them and simply put, they don’t need to last for years or decades,” Covelli said. “Honeywell saw a gap in this segment and is now using our expertise in reaction wheels to create a new family of products that meets the needs of customers operating in this new environment.”

Reaction wheels are a type of flywheel used primarily to control the attitude of spacecraft or satellites. They use electric motors, which spin the wheels to tilt or point spacecraft using momentum. Essentially, they keep spacecraft still, making them a good option for communications satellites that point at fixed targets on the ground.

Honeywell’s Commercial Series reaction wheels completed qualification in Q2 of 2021 with first deliveries anticipated in Q4, and eventual launch into space expected in late 2022.

INGENUITY’S SUCCESS BLAZES TRAIL FOR FUTURE HELICOPTER USE IN SPACE

INGENUITY’S SUCCESS BLAZES TRAIL FOR FUTURE HELICOPTER USE IN SPACE

With blades spinning five to 10 times faster than a chopper on Earth and performance nearly three times better than designed, NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter has spearheaded greater use of rotorcraft to explore the Red Planet and other neighbors in our solar system.

Now the Ingenuity team must confront an issue familiar to those who operate aircraft down home: how to keep component wear from curtailing their aging bird’s service life. The helicopter was designed and built to fly five times on Mars as a technology demonstration. At press time, it had completed 13 flights and a 14th was being planned. By its third flight, on April 25, Ingenuity had achieved the tech demo’s third and final objective when it climbed to 16 feet (5 meters) altitude, flew downrange about 164 feet (50 meters) and back at a top speed of 6.6 feet per second (2 meters per second).

“From millions of miles away, Ingenuity checked all the technical boxes we had at NASA about the possibility of powered, controlled flight at the Red Planet,” said the director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, Lori Glaze. “Future Mars exploration missions can now confidently consider the added capability an aerial exploration may bring to a science mission.”

Design work already has begun on the feasibility of a larger Mars helicopter, and Ingenuity’s success may well have NASA assessing the value of rotorcraft exploration for missions to Venus planned for 2028-2030.

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. and AeroVironment, the contractor that built the flight vehicle for JPL, gained some time to work on extending Ingenuity’s life further. In early October, the helicopter and its “mother ship,” the Perseverance rover, went into an operational standdown as Mars’ and Earth’s orbits put the Sun between them. Known as a conjunction, this makes communications with spacecraft on Mars unreliable when that planet is within 2 degrees of the Sun.

Ingenuity was programmed to send basic system health information through the conjunction (Oct. 2 to Oct. 14) to Perseverance. In addition to its primary science and exploration duties, the rover is the helicopter’s base station, relaying communications to and from Earth. The rover was to transmit that health data to JPL after the conjunction.

In mid-September, the helicopter team was preparing for Ingenuity’s 14th flight. Ingenuity’s two, 4-foot-long coaxial rotors would run at 2,700 rpm to compensate for decreasing atmospheric density as the operating area in the Jezero Crater, just north of Mars’ equator, moves into summer. Mars seasons change like those on Earth, but they vary in duration. A Mars year lasts 687 Earth days.

Thirty Sols

The Ingenuity team had planned for five flights over 30 Sols at atmospheric density’s 1.2 to 1.5 percent that of Earth’s density at sea level. (A Sol is one Martian day; it’s 2.7% longer than an Earth day.) With Ingenuity in its sixth month of operation, densities were dropping to 1 percent of Earth’s density. (At 95 percent carbon dioxide, the Martian atmosphere is also lighter than Earth’s.) Even at the higher densities, Ingenuity was flying at the equivalent of about 100,000 feet on Earth.

Earlier flights had run at 2,537 rpm. By comparison, the light, two-person Guimbal Cabri G2 helicopter’s main rotor turns at 540 rpm and the Sikorsky Aircraft 19-passenger S-92 main rotor spins at 258.

The flight preparations included a high-speed rotor spin test at 2,800 rpm on the ground. Ingenuity passed that test on Sept. 15 at 23:29 PDT (or 11:11 Local Mean Solar, or Mars, Time) in the Jezero Crater. The rotors were spun up to 2,800 rpm, briefly held there and then spun down to a stop, per the test plan. The helicopter’s other systems performed flawlessly, according to NASA.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of the Ingenuity helicopter aloft on April 22. NASA image.
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of the Ingenuity helicopter aloft on April 22. NASA image.

A key test objective was to see if the higher rpm caused resonant vibrations in Ingenuity’s structure, a common challenge in rotorcraft that can cause problems with sensing and control and lead to mechanical damage. No resonances were detected at the higher rpm, NASA said. That cleared Ingenuity to proceed with the 2,700-rpm test flight to a brief hover at about 16 feet (5 meters) altitude.

The upper swashplate of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter controls the pitch of the upper rotor blades as they rotate and is critical to stable, controlled flight. The swashplate is driven by three small servo motors. NASA/JPL-Caltech image.
The upper swashplate of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter controls the pitch of the upper rotor blades as they rotate and is critical to stable, controlled flight. The swashplate is driven by three small servo motors. NASA/JPL-Caltech image.

But during final automatic checkout on Sept. 18, Ingenuity detected an anomaly in two of its small flight-control servo motors. Ingenuity canceled the flight per its programming, JPL’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter deputy operations lead, Jaakko Karras, said Sept. 28.

Swashplate, Cyclic, Collective

Like most helicopters, Ingenuity is controlled in flight by manipulating a swashplate connected by cyclic and collective links to each pair of rotor blades (upper and lower) as they spin about the rotor mast. Six maxon precision motors modified DCX 6M brushed DC servos move the swashplates, three for the upper swashplate and three for the lower one. Ingenuity’s six servos, at 0.4-inch (10-millimeter) diameter, are much smaller than the motors that power the rotors, but they are critical to stable, controlled flight. So Ingenuity performs an automated check before every flight, Karras said, driving each servo through its range of motion and verifying that it reaches each commanded position. This is like the pre-flight controls check every pilot is expected to do before takeoff. The Ingenuity team refer to this check as the “servo wiggle.”

Data from the failed check showed that two of the upper swashplate servos — Numbers 1 and 2 — began to oscillate with an amplitude of about 1 degree about their commanded positions just after the second step of the check, Karras said. This triggered the cancellation.

The team on Sept. 21 and Sept. 23 had Ingenuity do additional servo wiggle checks, just as mechanics on earth would do. Mechanics here could sympathize with the results. The servos passed; the checks failed to repeat the discrepancy.

One theory for the oscillations is that the servo gearboxes and swashplate linkages are showing wear now that Ingenuity had flown eight more flights than originally planned, Karras said. “Wear in these moving parts would cause increased clearances and increased looseness and could explain servo oscillation.”

Another is that the high-speed spin test left the upper rotor’s servos 1 and 2 loaded in an oscillation-inducing way not encountered before. The team is working through the anomaly, Karras said. “We’re optimistic that we’ll get past it and back to flying again” after the conjunction.

The conjunction carries its own set of risks, Karras has said. Dust storms could cover the SolAero light, efficient inverted metamorphic multi-junction solar panels mounted atop Ingenuity, leaving them unable to charge the bird’s six Sony VTC4 lithium-ion batteries. Each is about the size of an AA battery. Also, coarse dust could penetrate electronics or machinery.

Perseverance and Ingenuity were launched as NASA’s Mars 2020 mission July 30, 2020 on an 860,000-pound-thrust United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 401 (with a 23,000-pound-thrust Centaur upper stage) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. After a curving cruise flight of about 300 million miles and 203 days, Perseverance was winched down to the Martian surface from a “Sky Crane” descent stage. The folded Ingenuity was tucked up under therover’s belly, in the Lockheed Martin-built Mars Helicopter Delivery System, which also protected the helicopter from debris during landing. On April 3, that system lowered the unfurled bird to the ground.

Members of NASA’s Mars Helicopter team are shown here preparing the flight model of Ingenuity for a test in their Space Simulator. The simulator is a 25-foot-wide (7.6-meter-wide) vacuum chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA/JPL-Caltech image.
Members of NASA’s Mars Helicopter team are shown here preparing the flight model of Ingenuity for a test in their Space Simulator. The simulator is a 25-foot-wide (7.6-meter-wide) vacuum chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA/JPL-Caltech image.

Ingenuity stands 19.3 inches (49 centimeters) inches tall and weighs about 1.5 pounds (0.68 kilograms) on Mars, which has about 38% of Earth’s gravity. Here, it weighed about 4.0 pounds (1.8 kilograms) on Earth. That mass is split about 55/45 percent between structure and systems designed and made by AeroVironment and subcontractors and guidance, navigation, control and power systems made by JPL with a mix of custom and commercial-off-the-shelf units.

Perseverance is the size of a car — 10 feet (3 meters) long, 9 feet (2.7 meters) wide and 7 feet (2.13 meters) tall, with a mass of 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms), or about 859 pounds (389.5 kilograms) on Mars. Built by JPL, it is considered NASA’s most advanced planetary rover.

The duo’s mission is to search for signs of past microbial life, collects and return rock samples and demonstrate technologies addressing challenges of human expeditions to Mars.

To Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

Jezero Crater — at 28 miles (45-kilometer) in diameter — was the site of a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago, according to scientists. They say its inner rim contains deposits of carbonates, minerals that on Earth helped form fossils billions of years old. These include seashells, coral and some stromatolites — Earth rocks formed by microbial life along ancient shorelines with plenty of sunlight and water. NASA says the carbonates along Jezero’s rim makes it a prime scientific hunting ground.

Ingenuity is enabling a more thorough exploration there, scouting safe paths for Perseverance and flying over and photographing sites beyond the rover’s safe reach. For example, Flight Nine on July 5 scouted an area called Séítah. Team scientists consider it geologically interesting. But its rock- and boulder-strewn terrain were difficult for Perseverance to traverse initially.

“Flight Nine was explicitly designed to have science value by providing the first close view of major science targets that the rover will not reach for quite some time,” the Perseverance deputy project scientist, Ken Williford, said. It and subsequent flights over Séítah enabled the Perseverance team to chart a path into the region and focus in on potential targets of geologic and astrobiological interest. In late September, the rover was driving deeper into Séítah.

Beyond aiding the rover team, Flight Nine broke records for duration and cruise speed and nearly quadrupled the distance flown between two sites. Ingenuity flew for two minutes 46 seconds and covered about 2,051 feet (625 meters) at about 11 mph (5 meters/second) at altitudes up to about 33 feet (10 meters).

Achieving the performance Ingenuity has demonstrated on Mars required the AeroVironment design and production team to overcome many challenges.

Planetary protection was the top one. NASA goes to Mars looking for signs of life. It cannot afford to have spacecraft contaminating Mars with Earth organisms. During assembly and before launch, spacecraft surfaces are frequently wiped down with alcohol. They undergo biological cleanliness tests. Electronics compartments are sealed and vented through high-efficiency filters. Components that can take it are heated to 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius) or hotter to kill microbes.

The bake-outs also reduce volatile outgassing when a vehicle flies into space’s vacuum. Ben Pipenberg, AeroVironment’s engineering lead on the Ingenuity program, explained why. “Any outgassing of the materials ends up accumulating on the coldest items on the spacecraft. That’s typically things like camera lenses.”

Light but Strong

Ingenuity also had to be light yet strong enough to withstand launch and orbital insertion g forces and vibrations. Every additional pound put in orbit requires an extra pound of thrust from the launchpad. But Ingenuity’s constraint wasn’t a launch one. It was how much the bird could lift on Mars.

“We talk about how hard it is to fly a helicopter with that really thin atmosphere,” Pipenberg said. But “Ingenuity’s primary constraint flying on Mars is getting the weight low enough, not necessarily the aerodynamic power required.”

“It’s a very carefully balanced problem between being light enough to actually fly on Mars and being strong enough withstand launch loads,” Sara Langberg, an AeroVironment aeromechanical engineer on the project, said.

Mars’ atmosphere posed a big problem, however.

A Mars helicopter is not a new idea. A 1993 scientific paper proposed one. JPL and AeroVironment together toyed with concepts in the late 1990s. In 2000, spurred by Sikorsky, the American Helicopter Society’s annual competition for aerospace engineering students called for such a design. In 2013, JPL tagged AeroVironment for a tech demo project that would become Ingenuity. But when engineers in December 2014 loaded a small-scale demonstrator for flight tests in JPL’s 25-foot-diameter Space Simulator, which allowed them to replicate Mars’ carbon dioxide-laden atmosphere, it proved uncontrollable.

The demonstrator had been built like an Earth helicopter. But the “heavy” atmosphere here dampens a fast-spinning rotor’s inertial forces. Rotor control systems here benefit. With no atmospheric dampening on Mars, inertial loads would dominate unless the team came up with solutions, said Jeremy Tyler, an AeroVironment senior aeromechanical engineer on the Ingenuity project.

This rendering shows some of the planned activities to be accomplished by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during a test flight on the Red Planet. The helicopter initially had 31 Earth days (30 sols, or Martian days) for its test flight program. NASA/JPL-Caltech image.
This rendering shows some of the planned activities to be accomplished by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during a test flight on the Red Planet. The helicopter initially had 31 Earth days (30 sols, or Martian days) for its test flight program. NASA/JPL-Caltech image.

One solution was to use a unique swashplate design. Most swashplates are symmetrical, with the cyclic and collective links pivoting about a single point in a single plane. That makes some links longer, but “there’s no lateral motion,” Tyler said. He decided Ingenuity would use offset links, which shortened them. This gave the helicopter faster cyclic response (and made the swashplates smaller and lighter). Engineers weren’t concerned about collective response, which moves the helicopter up and down. But Ingenuity would fly on Mars with winds gusting to more than 13 mph (6 meters/second). Faster cyclic response would allow it to maintain pitch and roll in those winds, Tyler said.

Another solution was to add inertial counterweights. Without atmospheric dampening, Ingenuity would experience the “tennis racquet” effect that flattens rotor blades at high speed. Ingenuity’s performance is derived from specifically twisted blades with a camber, or longitudinal curve, unusual for helicopters. NASA couldn’t afford to lose those. Langberg designed the counterweights – hollow horns, each containing a titanium ball, near the blade hubs – to offset that effect. This also allowed the team to use smaller servos, which now would counteract lower loads.

Environmental Challenges

Other challenges the team overcame included building a helicopter that can survive Mars temperatures of minus 148 degrees F (minus 100 C) to 68 degrees F (20 C) and developing a flight control system that would allow the bird to operate autonomously. Controlling it from Earth was never an option. Signals from JPL take from 3 to 22 minutes to reach Mars.

They clearly succeeded. Ingenuity’s 230-Sol-and-counting track record is largely unblemished. That Sept. 18 checkout failure was one blemish. Also, when it first prepared to fly in April, Ingenuity had trouble switching into flight mode, which prevented its rotors from spinning at full speed.

Another occurred on May 22, on the first, 492-foot (150-meter) leg of the sixth flight — the first flight of the helo’s new operational demonstration phase.

With Ingenuity at 33 feet (10 meters) altitude, it adjusted speed and began rocking back forth. The rocking persisted throughout the flight’s remaining 213 feet (65 meters). Sensors indicated roll and pitch excursions of 20 degrees plus, large control inputs and power consumption spikes. Ingenuity landed safely.

To navigate on Mars, Ingenuity pairs a Bosch inertial measurement unit (IMU) with its navigation camera, which points down and shoots at 30 images a second most of the time it is airborne. The IMU measures accelerations and rotational rates, integrating that information over time to estimate position, velocity and attitude. An onboard control system reacts to the estimated motions, adjusting control inputs 500 times a second. The navigation system, powered by Qualcomm’s Robotics Flight 801 platform, processes each camera image, determining when it was taken. A navigation algorithm then predicts what the camera should be seeing at that time based on recognizable surface features from preceding images. The algorithm looks at where those features are in the image and uses the difference between their predicted and actual locations to correct its position, velocity and attitude estimates.

About 54 seconds into the flight, a glitch occurred in the image stream from the navigation camera, JPL’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter chief pilot, Håvard Grip, said May 27. A single image was lost. This left later images delivered with inaccurate timestamps. Subsequent algorithm corrections were based on wrong timestamps, causing the system to continually “correct” for phantom errors. Large oscillations ensued.

Ingenuity was able to maintain flight and land safely within about 16 feet (5 meters) of the intended location because considerable effort went into “ensuring that the helicopter’s flight control system has ample stability margin,” Grip said. “This built-in margin was not fully needed in Ingenuity’s previous flights, because the vehicle’s behavior was in-family with our expectations, but this margin came to the rescue in Flight Six.”

Grip added, “Flight Six ended with Ingenuity safely on the ground because a number of subsystems — the rotor system, the actuators, and the power system — responded to increased demands to keep the helicopter flying.” The flight uncovered a vulnerability that required fixing, he said, but it also confirmed the system’s robustness in multiple ways.

“NASA now has flight data probing the outer reaches of the helicopter’s performance envelope,” Grip said. “That data will be carefully analyzed in the time ahead, expanding our reservoir of knowledge about flying helicopters on Mars.”

TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space Join Forces to Deliver TTEthernet Network and Computing Platform for NASA’s Gateway

Two years ago, TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space announced they were working together to develop TTEthernet equipment for deep space. After being successful on the market and closing the first contracts within the NASA Artemis program, TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space strengthened their commitment to jointly develop space products with a formal teaming agreement closed in June 2021.

“TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space are partnering using their complementary strengths, with TTTech Aerospace as a technology leader in safety-critical communication platforms and RUAG Space with its three decades of experience in designing and manufacturing space-qualified equipment. This partnership allows us to design and produce high-tech TTEthernet® equipment for the use in extremely harsh space environments like the moon orbit,” says Christian Fidi, Senior Vice President Business Unit Aerospace at TTTech. “We are proud to work together with RUAG Space and their highly skilled and competent space electronics team to deliver high-quality products and services to our customers so they can achieve their ambitious goals successfully.” The tight cooperation of 10 years between TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space includes research programs like the European Space Agency’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme and the standardization of the Time-Triggered Ethernet protocol for space.

First equipment delivered in July

TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space have been chosen to deliver TTEthernet® network and computing platforms for two of NASA’s prime contractors for the lunar Gateway, Maxar Technologies (Power and Propulsion Element – PPE) and Northrop Grumman (Habitation and Logistics Module – HALO). The first form-fit and functional equipment delivered in July by TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space allows the customers to start early development on flight-like equipment now and will ensure a seamless integration towards the flight products.

“Gateway is currently planned with seven modules. We are already part of two modules and we have good chances to deliver our products to the other five modules as well. That is a huge business opportunity. We are very well positioned to support Gateway and the ARTEMIS mission and beyond,” says Andreas Buhl, Country Manager of RUAG Space Austria.

Groundbreaking technology for the space market

In 2019, TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space began to jointly develop commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) TTEthernet network products for next generation avionics network and computing platforms. These cards are based on the 3U cPCI form factor and enable a highly modular configuration of the 3U cPCI compatible Avionics Hosting Unit from TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space. The open 3U cPCI industry standard together with IASIS (“International Avionics System Interoperability Standards”) enables highly modular architectures for a wide variety of deep space applications.

Andreas Buhl explains how the joint solutions from TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space bring value to the market, “Space electronics need to comply with the highest quality standards. Customers benefit from off-the-shelf hardware solutions that use open standards as they help reduce time-to-market and system complexity and therefore perfectly serve the requirements of NASA’s space programs.”

Christian Fidi highlights the safety and flexibility of the COTS solutions: “We can offer proven technology for safety-critical applications. Our network and computing platforms are a groundbreaking new offering, allowing customers to integrate their safety-critical applications more efficiently and therefore meet their timelines and cost targets. Our new COTS products dramatically increase the capabilities and reduce the complexity of deep space avionics systems for a wide variety of applications. Furthermore, the modular open system architecture from TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space enables customers to meet the ever-increasing demand for processing and computing powers over many years of service.”

TTTech Aerospace and RUAG Space both have offices in the US to provide direct technical interfaces for their customers. RUAG Space’s electronics and customer service team is based in Denver, Colorado. TTTech North America supports the above-mentioned space projects with its experts from its office in Houston, Texas, close to the Gateway integration center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Lockheed Martin Again Taps MakerBot 3D Printers for Its Next Big Space Project – An AI-Assisted Lunar Rover for NASA

Lockheed Martin has extended its use of MakerBot® 3D printers to produce parts and designs for its upcoming space projects. MakerBot 3D printers have been in use for about five years and have provided easily accessible 3D printing for a host of projects for Lockheed Martin’s team of engineers.

Lockheed Martin is a global aerospace and defense company, with the mission to connect, protect and explore. The company focuses on next-generation and generation-after-next technologies. In alliance with General Motors, Lockheed Martin is developing a new fully-autonomous lunar rover that could be used for NASA’s Artemis program. This is a fitting team that pays homage to the original Apollo rover, which GM was also involved in its development.

Some elements of the rover’s autonomy system’s early design and development are done at Lockheed Martin’s state-of-the art R&D facility in Palo Alto, Calif., the Advanced Technology Center (ATC), which is well-equipped with a variety of cutting-edge technology, including a lab full of 3D printers.

The latest addition to the ATC’s 3D printing lab is the MakerBot METHOD X® 3D printing platform. With METHOD X, the team can print parts in materials like Nylon Carbon Fiber and ABS giving them the performance they need for accurate testing—and due to METHOD X’s heated chamber, the parts are dimensionally accurate without the variable warping that comes with a typical desktop 3D printer.

“At ATC, we have multiple MakerBot printers that help with quick turnaround times,” said Aaron Christian, senior mechanical engineer, Lockheed Martin Space. “I will design a part, print it, and have it in my hand hours later. This allows me to quickly test the 3D-printed part, identify weak points, adjust the model, send it back to print overnight, and then have the next iteration in the morning. 3D printing lets me do fast and iterative design, reducing wait times for a part from weeks to hours.”

Lockheed Martin engineers are testing a multitude of applications designed for the lunar rover. Christian and his teammates are using METHOD X to print a number of parts for prototyping and proof of concept for the rover project, including embedded systems housing, sensor mounts, and other custom parts. “The MakerBot METHOD X produces dimensionally tolerant parts right out of the box – and for all sorts of projects, you can print multiple parts that can mate together.”

Many of these parts are printed in MakerBot ABS and designed to withstand desert heat, UV exposure, moisture, and other environmental conditions. In combination with Stratasys SR-30 soluble supports, parts printed with MakerBot ABS are designed to provide a smoother surface finish compared to breakaway supports. Printing with dissolvable supports also enables more organic shapes that would have been otherwise impossible to produce through traditional machining. 3D printing encourages engineers to think more outside of the box than they have ever before.

“We’re in the very early stages of development and the rover we have at ATC is a testbed that we designed and developed in-house. This affordable modular testbed allows us to make quick changes using 3D printing to change the design for other applications, whether it be military, search and rescue, nuclear applications and just extreme environment autonomy needs,” said Christian.

3D printing lets the team test parts affordably, iteratively, and modularly. One of the parts printed for the rover was a mount for a LIDAR, a sensor that can help determine the proximity of objects around it. Broadly used in self-driving vehicles, Lockheed Martin uses LIDAR in a lot of its autonomy projects. The mount was designed to sit on the rover, a completely modular robot system, so it was printed in ABS which allows it to handle more extreme conditions than typical PLA. The mount also allows engineers to continuously swap out the LIDAR with different sensors, such as a stereo camera, direction antenna, RGB camera, or a rangefinder. It has a complex organic shape to it, which can be difficult to achieve via traditional machining. The mount also has a lot of access to ensure proper airflow to keep the part cool and temperature-regulated on the robots.

The embedded electronics housing is designed to go inside the rover or in other robots at the ATC. The housing was developed to protect the electronics from anything that could potentially fall on them. Although it was printed in PLA, due to its hexagonal shape, it offers solid strength. Its design also lends itself well to the open airflow needed to cool down the system while still protecting the device.

In addition to printing prototypes, Lockheed Martin is using 3D printing for production parts that will go into various space-going platforms.

“A big advantage for testing and flying 3D-printed parts for space applications is that it simplifies the design. You can create more complex shapes. It reduces the number of fasteners needed and part count, which is a huge cost savings because that’s one less part that has to be tested or assembled,” noted Christian. “This also opens up for future in-situ assembly in space. You have designed, printed, and tested the part on Earth. Now you know that, in the future, you can 3D print that same part in space because you have shown that the material and part work there.”

Manufacturing in space is expensive but appealing for future applications and missions. Now, bulk materials can be flown into space to be used to 3D print multiple parts and structures, rather than flying each part out individually. Combining that with a digital inventory of part files, 3D printing in space reduces costs by cutting out the need for storage and multiple trips, which make it expensive to fly.

“The digital inventory concept helps push our digital transformation forward—you have digital designs that you can ship up, where you just print the parts and have them assembled on location,” added Christian.

Arianespace Set a New Record of Putting More Than 1,000 Satellites in Orbit Since its Foundation

On Tuesday, September 14, at 11:07 p.m. local time at Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, Soyuz Flight ST35 lifted-off with 34 OneWeb satellites onboard, bringing, after the successful deployment, the size of the fleet in orbit to 322. Flight ST35 was the 60th Soyuz mission carried out by Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate, and the tenth mission for OneWeb.

The mission lasted three hours and 45 minutes. The 34 satellites were deployed during nine separation sequences, at an altitude of 450 km. It was also the ninth successful launch operated by Arianespace’s teams this year, bringing to 1,021 the total number of spacecraft orbited since the start of company’s operations.

“Congratulations to all the teams who made this 60th launch with Soyuz, the 10th for OneWeb, a success. We are living a great moment today as we pass the step of our 1,000th satellite launched to space while our customer OneWeb is hitting a new pace with more than 300 satellites in orbit. This 1,000th satellite was named XiliaSat by our community in reference of the meaning of 1,000 in ancient Greek in a contest on our social media,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace. “This launch illustrates the recent acceleration in space operation – one third of these 1,000 Arianespace-launched satellites orbited over the 20 past months – and thus it is incumbent upon us, as leaders in the space sector, to embrace our responsibility to promote sustainable space operations.”

To date, Arianespace has launched 322 OneWeb satellites with ten Soyuz launches. Arianespace will perform nine more Soyuz launches for OneWeb through 2021 and 2022. These launches will enable OneWeb to complete the deployment of its full global constellation (650 satellites) in low Earth orbit by year-end 2022.

OneWeb’s mission is to create a global connectivity platform through a next-generation satellite constellation in Low Earth Orbit. The OneWeb constellation will deliver high-speed, low-latency connectivity to a wide range of customer sectors, including aviation, maritime, enterprise and government. Central to its purpose, OneWeb seeks to bring connectivity to the hardest to reach places, where fiber cannot reach, and thereby bridge the digital divide.

The satellite prime contractor is OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture of OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space. The satellites were produced in Florida, USA, in its leading-edge satellite manufacturing facilities that can build up to two satellites per day on a series production line dedicated to spacecraft assembly, integration, and testing.

The launch of the satellites was operated by Arianespace and its Euro-Russian affiliate Starsem under contract with Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

Arianespace is responsible for the overall mission and flight-worthiness, with the support of Starsem for launch campaign activities including management of its own launch facilities at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

RKTs-Progress (the Samara Space Center) is responsible for the design, development, manufacture and integration of the Soyuz launch vehicle as well as for the 3-stage Soyuz flight. NPO Lavotchkin is responsible for the launch preparation operations and flight of the Fregat orbital vehicle.

First FLight to Orbit Eartch Fully Crewed by Tourists Launches

The first orbital flight solely crewed by space tourists has launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The launch took place Wednesday, September 15, 2021. There are four passengers aboard the SpaceX flight and the four will have a three day stay on the Crew Dragon capsule Inspiration4. They will orbit at a 350-mile altitude — 100 miles higher than where the International Space Station orbits. The capsule and its occupants are scheduled to return this Saturday.

The launch appeared to go well and on schedule Wednesday. The four space tourists include Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire who is reportedly financing the trip; Hayley Arceneux, 29, a physician assistant; Sian Proctor, 51, a geologist and teacher; and Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old Lockheed Martin employee who won an online raffle for the seat aboard the flight.

The first space tourist crew launched Wednesday, September 15, 2021.

The space tourists will use NASA’s TDRS communications system to be able to speak with their families while in space. Inspiration4 crew will conduct health research to further human exploration of space, according to reports. “Once in orbit, the crew will perform carefully selected research experiments on human health and performance, which will have potential applications for human health on Earth and during future spaceflights. Additionally, SpaceX, the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine will collect environmental and biomedical data and biological samples from Inspiration4’s four crew members before, during, and after this historic spaceflight, according to a statement in late August.

“The crew of Inspiration4 is eager to use our mission to help make a better future for those who will launch in the years and decades to come,” said Jared Isaacman, commander of the Inspiration4 mission. “In all of human history, fewer than 600 humans have reached space. We are proud that our flight will help influence all those who will travel after us and look forward to seeing how this mission will help shape the beginning of a new era for space exploration.”

Lockheed Martin Outlines SaxaVord Satellite Launch Plans

Lockheed Martin has outlined its plans for conducting northern Europe’s first vertical satellite launch from SaxaVord Spaceport next year.

Representatives from the company’s UK and US based space business have been meeting local community representatives and Shetland Islands council to share latest developments in the program, known as UK Pathfinder Launch, and solicit local opinions and views. 

UK Pathfinder Launch, will be the first ever vertical small satellite launch from UK soil and also be the first UK commercial launch for US-based ABL Space Systems’ new RS-1 rocket.

“We’re really excited to be here with the SaxaVord spaceport team and meet with the local community in Unst and the Shetland Islands Council, as we progress our plans to hold the UK’s first vertical launch in 2022,” said Dr. Scott Rodgers, program execution director, Lockheed Martin Space.

The SaxaVord launch facility will eventually create circa 140 jobs in Unst and inject at least £4.9m per annum into the island’s economy. It will provide a further 70 jobs throughout Shetland, adding a further £2.9m in gross value to the economy.

“We have had an excellent few days of engagement with the Lockheed Martin team as we combine forces to deliver the UK Pathfinder launch in 2022,” Frank Strang, CEO of SaxaVord UK Spaceport, added. “They have affirmed to ourselves and the Unst and Shetland community their determination to succeed with this mission. We look forward to working closely with them in the year ahead.”

Lockheed Martin UK has operated in the UK for nearly 80 years. From postal sorting technology to helping build the UK’s first commercial spaceport, its innovations and partnerships help solve some of the UK’s most complex challenges, contributing to national defense, security and prosperity.

Embry-Riddle Adds Six Telescopes to Growing Astronomy Program

The observation deck on the roof of the College of Arts and Sciences (COAS), at the entrance of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach Campus, is currently under construction, being expanded to accommodate the addition of six new telescopes.

With a seventh telescope on the way later this fall, funded by a research project for satellite tracking, the new equipment is “desperately needed to accommodate the booming enrollments” in the campus’ Astronomy and Astrophysics bachelor’s program, according to Dr. Terry Oswalt, professor of Engineering Physics and associate dean of the COAS.

Since the Astronomy and Astrophysics program’s inception in 2015, it has grown by an average of 22 students per year to 187 majors, including its largest first-year class to date: 70 new students who are expected to arrive this fall.

“In terms of degrees earned per year, our young program is already among the largest U.S. astronomy bachelor’s programs tracked by the American Institute of Physics,” Oswalt said. “We are tied for the 12th largest among 93 Bachelor of Science in Astronomy and Astrophysics programs in the country, comparable to much larger institutions.”

The demand for general education astronomy lab courses has grown, as well, he added. And, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Astronomy Open House events regularly attracted several hundred visitors from the campus community.

“The observing facilities on the COAS roof support all these activities,” Oswalt said.

The new refractor telescopes — which Oswalt referred to as “top-of-the-line” — are six inches in diameter and, with the associated cameras, can detect light that is several thousand times fainter than the naked eye. They are nearly identical to those already on the observation deck.

Additionally, the existing one-meter telescope at the COAS also recently received a boost, with a research grade camera add-on that will go into service this fall, courtesy of a donor.

“With this telescope and research-grade camera, students will have more opportunities to perform photometry research,” said Dr. Tomomi Otani, assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy, who’s leading research to investigate the evolution of subdwarf B stars, mysterious post-main sequence stars with high temperatures and gravity. “Both undergraduate and graduate student researchers will participate in this investigation.”

With the new camera on the one-meter telescope, students will also undertake other astronomical classroom and research projects, such as estimating stars’ ages, detecting exoplanets orbiting other stars and more.

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