Astrobotic Selects SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket for Griffin-VIPER Moon Mission

Astrobotic announced it has selected SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in a competitive commercial procurement to launch its Griffin lunar lander to the Moon in late 2023. Griffin will be carrying NASA’s water-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER).

“Getting to the Moon isn’t just about building a spacecraft, but having a complete mission solution. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy completes our Griffin Mission 1 (GM1) solution by providing a proven launch vehicle to carry us on our trajectory to the Moon. SpaceX has the team, vehicle, and facilities to make this happen,” says Daniel Gillies, GM1 director for Astrobotic.

Astrobotic was awarded a task order in 2020 from NASA to deliver VIPER to the south pole of the Moon as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. After Falcon Heavy launches Griffin on a trajectory to the Moon, Griffin will land on the surface and VIPER will disembark from Griffin’s ramps to survey the surface and subsurface for water ice. These surveys could be the first step toward utilizing resources in the space environment – rather than carting them all from Earth – to enable more affordable and sustainable space exploration. Griffin’s delivery of VIPER will be Astrobotic’s second CLPS delivery, following the company’s Peregrine lander delivery later this year.

“Having previously sat on the other side of the table as a former SpaceX Mission Manager, I am fully aware of SpaceX’s capabilities and processes and am excited to be working with SpaceX on a mission once again. My first exposure to Falcon Heavy was as a SpaceX Mission Integrator on the STP-2 mission and I’m proud to be utilizing that same launch vehicle for Griffin,” says Gillies.

“Gaining a better learning of resources on the Moon is critical to advancing humanity’s reach beyond Earth, and we are honored to support this exciting mission and NASA’s CLPS program,” said Stephanie Bednarek, SpaceX senior director of Commercial Sales.

Griffin Mission One is targeted to launch in 2023 from SpaceX’s facilities at Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida – the same launch site employed for the NASA Space Shuttle program, Commercial Crew Program, and Apollo missions. Work on the Griffin lunar lander is ongoing with qualification testing planned to be completed towards the end of this year.

Artemis Shielding Radiation Shielding Material Protects Equipment on the International Space Station

Artemis Shielding announced the use of its Radiation Shielding Material (RSM) in a February 20 trip to the International Space Station (ISS) on behalf of Alpha Space Test & Research Alliance. The material was commissioned to protect testing equipment from the harmful effects of radiation during extended exposure periods on the ISS.

The Artemis Shielding lead-free RSM was on board the Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft which launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This cargo resupply mission for NASA to the ISS delivered about 8,000 pounds of science and research, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew.

Artemis Shielding’s lead-free, non-toxic material was used to provide a custom cut solution for Alpha Space’s avionics boxes. Due to the harsh radiation environment in space, the need for superior protection and durability was a requirement.

“We are very proud to play a role in the next phase of space exploration and advancement,” said Buddy Lockwood, Artemis Shielding CEO. “We strive to shield our client’s equipment and personnel to keep them safe from harmful effects of this world and beyond.”

Alpha Space provides turnkey on-orbit technology testing services utilizing its external flight facility, MISSE. Alpha Space’s MISSE is a commercial, external facility on the ISS that enables risk reduction testing for new technologies.

“Artemis Shielding’s material was just what we were looking for,” said Mark Shumbera, VP Space Services for Alpha Space. “Its lighter weight and flexibility provided an excellent option for use in our spaceflight hardware.”

“We are excited to take this step in the development of radiation shielding solutions for the space industry and are equally excited to take that step with Alpha Space as our partner,” said Randall Ham, Artemis Shielding director of Sales & Marketing. “We look forward to working with Alpha Space, as well as companies from other industries across the globe, in the design and delivery of their next custom radiation shielding solution using Artemis NanotekTM technology.”

DLR to Use Airbus Bartolomeo Service for First In-Orbit Verification of Laser-Optical Clocks

The Galileo Competence Center of the German Aerospace Center (DLR-GK) and Airbus have signed a €16.8 Mio contract for the hosting of DLR’s COMPASSO mission on the International Space Station (ISS) Bartolomeo platform.

COMPASSO will be the first in-orbit verification of compact and highly stable laser-optical clocks. Via a bi-directional optical link, these clocks are compared to and synchronized with highly stable clocks on Earth. In addition, the optical link between the ISS and the ground station is used for assessing the influence of atmospheric turbulence on the frequency and time transfer.

In combination with optical links, highly stable optical clocks are of particular interest for future generations of satellite navigation systems, such as Galileo, and the basis for new Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) architectures, such as the Kepler concept developed at DLR. Combined with the control of further parameters, such as accuracy in orbit determination and atmosphere modelling, a higher accuracy in position determination on Earth can be achieved while at the same time reducing the ground segment complexity and size.

“In addition to satellite positioning applications, the frequency reference developed in COMPASSO is a highly stable and extremely coherent light source for inter-satellite laser interferometry,” said Hansjoerg Dittus, Member of the Executive Board at DLR. “This is of significant interest for Earth observation missions such as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment follow-on, GRACE-FO, or scientific missions such as the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna LISA”.

The 200 kg COMPASSO mission is expected to launch in late 2024 and will occupy a double slot on the Bartolomeo platform. At the end of the 18-month mission, the payload components will be returned to Earth.

“COMPASSO will be fitted onto a dedicated ArgUS Carrier, an adapter plate originally designed for carrying several smaller payloads in a ride-share scenario,” said Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus. “It is great that with this tailored service solution, we were also able to offer DLR-GK an ideal basis for their COMPASSO experiments.”

The DLR Galileo Competence Center (DLR-GK) is responsible for the COMPASSO project management and acts as both the contracting authority and the technical authority. It coordinates the DLR institutes and external suppliers developing COMPASSO subsystems, including on-board and ground software. DLR-GK is located at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen.

SpaceX Conducts Additional Test on Starship

On Wednesday, March 3, SpaceX launched their SN 10 Starship. They conducted high-altitude flight test of the prototype from their site in Cameron County, Texas.

Like the previous tests,  SN10 was powered by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee – approximately 10 km in altitude. “SN10 performed a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, before reorienting itself for reentry and a controlled aerodynamic descent,” a company statement said.

The Starship prototype made a controlled descent, all four flaps were actuated by an onboard flight computer to control Starship’s attitude during flight and it landed at the intended location – which the company said was the purpose of the test flight. “SN10’s Raptor engines reignited as the vehicle performed the landing flip maneuver immediately before successfully touching down on the landing pad,” the company statement continued.

However, the craft then caught fire and ultimately was destroyed. As the optimistic company put it, the craft “experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly shortly after landing.”

Meteor Spotted in UK Night Sky

Several places in the UK were able to observe a meteor shooting across the sky Sunday night. The fireball meteor was so bright it was captured by Nest doorbell cameras. It was seen all the way from Bath in the southwest to Yorkshire in the north as well as Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, Somerset, Nuneaton, and Appley Bridge near Wigan.

According to NASA, fireball meteors are not unusual, appearing a couple of times a year and that Earth is hit by 100 tonnes of debris from space daily.

✈ Aerospace Tech Week (ATW) rescheduled to 3-4 November ’21.

It’s very encouraging that the end of the pandemic is hopefully in sight and once these wonderful vaccines are successfully rolled out then life can start to return to some normality. At which point travel and events such as ATW can safely recommence.

We therefore feel it is more prudent to reschedule ATW, one last time, to 3-4th November ’21 giving the vaccine roll out more time. The event will remain at the same Diagora venue in Toulouse, France.

We are very confident that our in-person event will be a great success and it’s even bigger than when it was originally scheduled pre-pandemic! The conference programmes are already in place and the exhibitions halls are nearly full

The hiatus in our event schedule has ironically given us more time to use our new publication, ✈ Aerospace Tech REVIEW to share news and raise even greater awareness of the event for us all. Therefore we expect a significant take up from attendees which will create a much needed business platform for us all.

Thank you to all our loyal supporters and see you in Toulouse!


SOFIA Comes Out of Maintenance Mission Ready By Joy Finnegan

SOFIA Comes Out of Maintenance Mission Ready

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, also known as SOFIA, will conduct a series of science observations from Germany in February and March, 2021 after coming out of a specialized maintenance check conducted by Lufthansa Technik.

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science, and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703, in Palmdale, California.

Recently, Lufthansa Technik completed scheduled maintenance on the aircraft and telescope upgrades at their facility in Hamburg, Germany. Lufthansa Technik has held a contract to maintain the aircraft for years.

The flying observatory is going to take advantage of its proximity to science teams at the Max Planck Institute of Radio Astronomy in Bonn and the University of Cologne, which operate the instrument called German Receiver at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT, to conduct research flights from the Cologne Bonn Airport.

“We’re taking advantage of SOFIA’s ability to observe from almost anywhere in the world to conduct compelling astronomical investigations,” said Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This observing campaign from Germany is an excellent example of the cooperation between NASA and DLR that has been the strength of the SOFIA program for over 25 years.”


Magnetic fields in NGC 1068, or M77, are shown as streamlines over a visible light and X-ray composite image of the galaxy from the Hubble Space, NuSTAR or the Nuclear Spectroscopic Array, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The magnetic fields align along the entire length of the massive spiral arms — 24,000 light years across (0.8 kiloparsecs) — implying that the gravitational forces that created the galaxy’s shape are also compressing its magnetic field. This supports the leading theory of how the spiral arms are forced into their iconic shape known as “density wave theory.” SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, studied the galaxy using far-infrared light (89 microns) to reveal facets of its magnetic fields that previous observations using visible and radio telescopes could not detect. NASA image.

Often SOFIA flies in the Southern Hemisphere out of Christchurch, New Zealand but is taking advantage of the trip into Hamburg to conduct about 20 overnight research flights that will focus on high-priority observations, including several large programs that were rescheduled from spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. SOFIA will use its GREAT instrument to search for signatures of celestial molecules, ions and atoms that are key to unlocking some of the secrets of the universe, the groups say.

Infrared astronomy is a segment of the astronomy looking into a specific frequency or wavelength. The SOFIA project is managed and funded by the two national aerospace agencies, the U. S.’s NASA and Germany’s DLR. The aircraft is a highly modified Boeing 747 special performance (SP) aircraft with a 2.7 meter telescope on board, according to Michael Toberman, SOFIA operations director, NASA and Heinz Hammes, SOFIA project manager, German Aerospace Center (DLR) who spoke at a Zoom press conference in Hamburg as the work at Lufthansa Technik was being wrapped up. They stressed the 747 aircraft was chosen not because of the long range capabilities, but because of the ability to fly at very high altitudes.

The two experts explained that the advantage of having the observatory onboard an aircraft, rather than launching a satellite based observatory, is the ability to update and improve the observatory equipment on a regular basis as technology leaps forward. You can develop a new instrument and you can basically access the observatory, which is very difficult when the observatory is on a satellite. The aircraft was procured from United Airlines in 1997 and has been heavily modified with equipment and of course the telescope sensors. The primary mirror is 2.7 meters. But it is the pointing stability that is crucial. It has a pointing stability of 0.2 arc seconds.

SOFIA telescope

Top image shows SOFIA’s operational range between 23º and 58º above the horizon on the left side of the aircraft. Center image shows the pressure bulkhead needed to open the door at altitude on this highly modified Boeing 747. Bottom image is a diagram of the SOFIA Telescope.NASA/DLR images.

“So what does that mean? How is it possible to have the world seeing things from a flying aircraft with all this rocking and rolling and shaking? To stabilize the telescope is definitely the hardest part of the whole story. So imagine a single one cent coin and the laser point. What would that mean with regard to the distance between the laser pointer and the coin? The, the answer is it’s a stunning 10 miles, 16 and a half kilometers. So you try to point at a coin with a laser pointer and at a distance of 16.5 kilometers. This is the precision that we achieve, and we achieve it while flying about 560 miles per hour at 45,000 feet with the door open. This is what we actually can do with Sophia,” Michael Hütwohl, SOFIA Telescope manager, Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI).

“Some prominent science results that we have achieved recently I think you all have heard about the detection of water on the sunlit surface of the moon, which was published late last year. This is definitely a very important and prominent observation for SOFIA. But also the detection of helium, which is supposed to be the first molecule that has ever been built in the universe. This was also a very prominent observation that we made,” said Hütwohl. See sidebar next page for more on the helium discovery and other major scientific discoveries by SOFIA.

Indeed, SOFIA provided “direct unambiguous evidence of water molecules on the Moon outside the permanent shadow at the Moon’s poles” NASA says. SOFIA succeeded in detecting the molecules in the southern hemisphere of the Moon with the FORCAST (Faint Object InfraRed CAmera for the SOFIA-Telescope) instrument. The results of that scientific research work were published in the scientific journal, Nature Astronomy on October 26, 2020.

clavious crater
This illustration highlights the Moon’s Clavius Crater with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there, along with an image of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) that found sunlit lunar water. NASA/Daniel Rutter illustration.

“With SOFIA, we have finally been able to provide the long-awaited, unequivocal proof that water also exists on the warmer, sunlit lunar surface,” explains Bernhard Schulz, SOFIA Science Mission Operation deputy director of the University of Stuttgart. A team led by Casey Honniball from the Hawaiian Institute of Geophysics and Planetology had already observed the Moon with the FORCAST instrument on board SOFIA on August 30, 2018. They were able to detect the unique fingerprint of molecular water in the mid-infrared range (six micrometers wavelength) near the Clavius crater in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. Confirming water on the sunlit surface of the Moon indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places, NASA says, and could be relevant for deep space exploration.

NASA says SOFIA offered a new means of looking at the Moon. Flying at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet, the 747SP jetliner with the 106-inch diameter telescope reaches above 99% of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere to get a clearer view of the infrared universe. Using FORCAST for the Telescope, SOFIA was able to pick up the specific wavelength unique to water molecules, at 6.1 microns, and discovered a concentration of them in the sunlit Clavius Crater, according to NASA.

NASA says during the German missions happening now, they will be focusing on the following three research topics:

How Stars Affect Their Surroundings

In stellar nurseries like Cygnus X, newborn stars can destroy the clouds in which they’re born. Researchers will use SOFIA to create a map of ionized carbon, a gas the young stars are heating, to better understand this process. Ionized carbon’s chemical fingerprint can determine the speed of the gas at all positions across the celestial clouds. The signal is so strong that it reveals critical details that are otherwise hidden from view deep inside natal clouds. The data may also help explain the source of the mysterious bubble-like structures that were detected by the Herschel Space Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope but have yet to be fully understood.

Searching for Clues About Cosmic Rays

The team will search for gases that can reveal the presence of cosmic rays, highly energetic charged particles that stream through our Milky Way galaxy. When a hydrogen atom combines with another element, such as argon or oxygen, simple molecules called hydrides are formed, some of which can be used to find cosmic rays. While cosmic rays can be detected directly within our solar system, astronomers know much less about their presence elsewhere in space. By measuring the concentration of hydride molecules, SOFIA’s observations will help researchers understand how common cosmic rays are in different parts of our galaxy, providing clues about the origin of these mysterious particles.

Understanding the Evolution of The Cigar Galaxy

SOFIA previously found that the Cigar galaxy’s powerful wind, driven by the galaxy’s high rate of star birth, is aligned along the magnetic field lines and transports a huge amount of material out of the galaxy. Now, researchers will study ionized carbon gas, which traces star formation, to learn how this intense star birth and wind are affecting the evolution of the galaxy.

milky way galaxy
Composite infrared image of the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. It spans 600+ lightyears across and is helping scientists learn how many massive stars are forming in our galaxy’s center. New data from SOFIA taken at 25 and 37 microns, shown in blue and green, is combined with data from the Herschel Space Observatory, shown in red (70 microns), and the Spitzer Space Telescope, shown in white (8 microns). SOFIA’s view reveals features that have never been seen before. NASA/SOFIA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Herschel images.

Beyond Water on the Moon: Major Discoveries by SOFIA

The Universe’s First Type of Molecule Found

SOFIA found the first type of molecule to form in the universe, called helium hydride. It was first formed only 100,000 years after the Big Bang as the first step in cosmic evolution that eventually led to the complex universe we know today. The same kind of molecule should be present in parts of the modern universe, but it had never been detected outside of a laboratory until SOFIA found it in a planetary nebula called NGC 7027. Finding it in the modern universe confirms a key part of our basic understanding of the early universe.

• Newborn Star in Orion Nebula Prevents Birth of Stellar Siblings

The stellar wind from a newborn star in the Orion Nebula is preventing more new stars from forming nearby as it clears a bubble around it. Astronomers call these effects “feedback,” and they are key to understanding the stars we see today and those that may form in the future. Until this discovery, scientists thought that other processes, such as exploding stars called supernovas, were largely responsible for regulating the formation of stars.

• Weighing a Galactic Wind Provides Clues to the Evolution of Galaxies

SOFIA found that the wind flowing from the center of the Cigar Galaxy (M82) is aligned along a magnetic field and transports a huge amount of material. Magnetic fields are usually parallel to the plane of the galaxy, but the wind is dragging it so it’s perpendicular. The powerful wind, driven by the galaxy’s high rate of star birth, could be one of the mechanisms for material to escape the galaxy. Similar processes in the early universe would have affected the fundamental evolution of the first galaxies.

• Nearby Planetary System Similar to Our Own

The planetary system around the star Epsilon Eridani, or eps Eri for short, is the closest planetary system around a star similar to the early Sun. SOFIA studied the infrared glow from the warm dust, confirming that the system has an architecture remarkably similar to our solar system. Its material is arranged in at least one narrow belt near a Jupiter-sized planet.

• Magnetic Fields May Be Feeding Active Black Holes

Magnetic fields in the Cygnus A galaxy are feeding material into the galaxy’s central black hole. SOFIA revealed that the invisible forces, shown as streamlines in this illustration, are trapping material close to the center of the galaxy where it is close enough the be devoured by the hungry black hole. However, magnetic fields in other galaxies may be preventing black holes from consuming material.

• Magnetic Fields May Be Keeping Milky Way’s Black Hole Quiet

This image shows the ring of material around the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. SOFIA detected magnetic fields, shown as streamlines, that may be channeling the gas into an orbit around the black hole, rather than directly into it. This may explain why our galaxy’s black hole is relatively quiet, while those in other galaxies are actively consuming material.

• “Kitchen Smoke” Molecules in Nebula Offer Clues to Building Blocks of Life

SOFIA found that the organic, complex molecules in the nebula NGC 7023 evolve into larger, more complex molecules when hit with radiation from nearby stars. Researchers were surprised to find that the radiation helped these molecules grow instead of destroying them. The growth of these molecules is one of the steps that could lead to the emergence of life under the right circumstances.

• Dust Survives Obliteration in Supernova

SOFIA discovered that a supernova explosion can produce a substantial amount of the material from which planets like Earth can form. Infrared observations of a cloud produced by a supernova 10,000 years ago contains enough dust to make 7,000 Earths. Scientists now know that material created by the first outward shock wave can survive the subsequent inward “rebound” wave generated when the first collides with surrounding interstellar gas and dust.

• New View of Milky Way’s Center Reveals Birth of Massive Stars

SOFIA captured an extremely crisp infrared image of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Spanning a distance of more than 600 light-years, this panorama reveals details within the dense swirls of gas and dust in high resolution, opening the door to future research into how massive stars are forming and what’s feeding the supermassive black hole at our galaxy’s core.

• What Happens When Exoplanets Collide

Known as BD +20 307, this double-star system is more than 300 light years from Earth likely had an extreme collision between rocky. A decade ago, observations of this system gave the first hints of a collision when they found debris that was warmer than expected to be around mature stars that are at least one billion years old. SOFIA’s observations discovered the infrared brightness from the debris has increased by more than 10%, a sign that there is now even more warm dust and that a collision occurred relatively recently. A similar event in our own solar system may have formed our Moon.

Sateliot Will rely on Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio for the Deployment of Nanosatellites and Development of the IoT Market

The satellite telecommunications operator Sateliot will rely on the experience and know-how of The Space Alliance between Thales Alenia Space (Thales 67%, Leonardo 33%) and Telespazio (Leonardo 67%, Thales 33%) for the development of a constellation of nanosatellites to ensure that IoT connectivity is compatible with the 5G standard.

Acting as telecommunications cell towers in space, the space assets – the plan envisages 16 satellites from 2022 to reach 96 satellites by 2025 with an investment of around 100 million euros – will enable the deployment of IoT services in sectors such as maritime, logistics, energy, agri-food, infrastructures and environmental monitoring.

Sateliot has reached an agreement with Thales Alenia Space in Spain and France to coordinate the design and development of the technologies required to offer the envisaged IoT services with 5G coverage from 2022.

In more detail, Thales Alenia Space will build on over 40 years of experience in the space sector to ensure the viability of the entire technical phase – including engineering activities and the definition of the mission and end-user needs – with the objective of guaranteeing coverage extension services to European, American, South American and even African telecommunications operators from 2022.

The agreement between Sateliot and Telespazio is aimed at promoting the development of the IoT market. In particular, Sateliot will leverage Telespazio’s experience and penetration in the international space services market to assess the main needs of customers in different sectors, while Telespazio will use Sateliot’s capabilities to boost its offering in an IoT sector that already includes global hybrid coverage based on the integration of LTE/WiFi/Lora/Satellite technologies.

This partnership confirms Telespazio’s vocation for innovation and the constant quest for increasingly advanced services for partners, customers and citizens, in-line with Leonardo’s strategy and initiatives aimed at sustainable progress in a safer world. The agreement will allow Telespazio and Sateliot to develop new IoT services in sectors such as seaborne freight, agriculture, infrastructure management and telecommunications. In the freight sector, for example, IoT sensors connected via satellite are able to offer information about the load status, allowing transport monitoring and enhanced security, while in the agricultural sector they can provide real-time data to promote sustainable crop management. IoT sensors are also one of the most promising solutions for infrastructure monitoring and management, maintenance management, traffic status control and rescue operations management after accidents.

“This strategic agreement with the Space Alliance, formed by Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio, underpins our business plan focused on two growth paths.” said Jaume Sanpera, founder and CEO of Sateliot. “On the one hand, through a transversal strategy with telecommunications operators. And, on the other, through a vertical business line, aimed at end customers, to whom we will facilitate the monitoring of different variables in real time for profitable decision making for their businesses.”

Thales Alenia Space Celebrates Achievements for Cygnus

Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has been confirmed by Northrop Grumman to deliver pressurized cargo modules for the 18th and 19th Cygnus cargo mission. This contract extension reaffirms the longstanding collaboration between the two companies, certifying Thales Alenia Space’s ongoing contribution to the success of Cygnus missions, but also its crucial role in the future space exploration programs.

Cygnus comprises two main elements: a Service Module, built by Northrop Grumman, and an enhanced Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM), developed and built by Thales Alenia Space, since the very beginning of the program. The first contract in 2009 was for the delivery of nine modules, while a second contract in 2016 saw an additional nine modules. Since the end of 2015, the enhanced Cygnus configuration features a more efficient design, able to accommodate more payload weight (over 3,500 kg) and volume. Fifteen operational PCMs plus a demo module have been launched to date, four in the original version and eleven in the enhanced version.

For the past decade, we have been a valued partner on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus program, showcasing innovative technologies that allow work and life on the International space station (ISS) while fostering scientific breakthroughs, commented Walter Cugno, Vice President Exploration and Science Domain at Thales Alenia Space: “We are confident that this new contract will be an important milestone for the future deep-space cargo and exploration missions, and we would like to express our gratitude to Northrop Grumman’s trust, placed in flight-proven pressurized module technologies made in Thales Alenia Space.”

The success story for the Cygnus spacecraft continues: its 15th mission to deliver supplies to the ISS, was successfully launched by an Antares rocket from the Wallops Island, Virginia, on 20th of February. This mission, named after NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, a pivotal figure in human spaceflight history, will deliver scientific experiments in the field of biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, physical sciences, and technology development, including:

  • The Spaceborne Computer-2 from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which aims to demonstrate that current Earth-based data processing of space station experimental data can be performed in orbit
  • An experiment studying muscle strength in worms
  • An investigation into how microgravity may optimize the production of artificial retinas

Cygnus missions have been a provider of the safe resupply of the ISS since 2013, a lifeline designed to transport the fundamental cargo, including oxygen, water, crew supplies scientific experiments, and spare parts. Thales Alenia Space state-of-the-art technology and expertise in pressurized module’s design and manufacturing, plays a key role in numerous programs and missions, including 50% of the pressurized modules for ISS.

Furthermore, Northrop Grumman and Thales Alenia Space are able to deliver, thanks to the technological heritage of the Cygnus modules, other deep space habitats, such as HALO – Habitation And Logistics Outpost, one of the first two elements to form the lunar Gateway, the future human outpost in lunar orbit is one of the pillars of NASA’s Artemis program.

Perseverance on Mars: Gore Facilitates Successful Mars Rover Landing

W. L. Gore & Associates (Gore) joined countless scientists and space exploration enthusiasts in celebrating the successful landing of the Mars 2020 Mission’s Perseverance Rover on the Red Planet. The development followed a successful launch last July 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This U.S. mission addresses high-priority scientific goals for exploration to help answer the questions of potential life on Mars and was directly enabled by Gore technology.

Unique Materials Technology

Gore’s wire and cable products were critical components for successful data processing and communications between the Perseverance Rover and the descent stage of the mission. They assisted with the precise landing operation to the Martian surface until the Sky Crane enabling this operation departs. The intense entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase began when the spacecraft reached the top of the Martian atmosphere, traveling at about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph). EDL ended about seven minutes later with the rover stationary on the Martian surface. 

Gore’s reliable products were selected for the mission because of their durable constructions that have been proven and trusted over time to withstand the harshest environments encountered in space. The same cables are also used on the actual rover, which is about the size of a car, but at 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms) it weighs significantly less. The mission is expected to last at least one Mars year, roughly 687 Earth days.

Program Heritage

“The successful Martian landing of Perseverance continues Gore’s 100% failure-free flight record and is a testament to our collaborative relationship with NASA and ESA,” said Jeff Fyfe, Gore’s space global business leader. “We look forward to future missions with them, as well as those from the dynamic New Space market.” The company manufactures its space-related products in an ESA-qualified and ISO 9001:2000-certified facility.

GORE Space Cables have been used in many missions over the decades — including the iconic Apollo 11 mission to the moon as well as the International Space Station, Envisat, Space Shuttle Program, Sentinel, Hubble Space Telescope and more.


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