Test of Starship Completed, Data Gathered, Landing Needs Work

On Tuesday, February 2, 2021, the SpaceX team completed a high-altitude flight test of Starship serial number 9 (SN9) – the second high-altitude suborbital flight test of a Starship prototype from their site in Cameron County, Texas. SN9 was powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee – approximately 10 km in altitude. SN9 performed a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, then reoriented itself for reentry. The controlled aerodynamic descent went well but the landing was not successful ending in a crash and fire.

See the recorded live feed of the flight here:

Acroamatics Launches Data Display, Analysis, and System Operations Software Suite

Acroamatics, Inc., a Delta Information Systems Company, announced Acroamatics’ Display and Analysis Tool (ADAT) they say offers superior data display, analysis and system operations tools in a powerful operating system-independent software package that provides an extensible environment for setup and control of all Acroamatics’ Telemetry Data Processing (TDP) systems.

The company boasts ease of set-up and operations with ADAT’s network friendly, user-configurable widget-based telemetry system desktop and data display environment. In addition to the customizable dashboard’s recording, playback, and real-time quick look displays, the ADAT offers precise post-system telemetry measurement data analysis. This visually pleasing package is delivered for use on either a 64-bit Windows 10 (Secure Host Baseline validated) or Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Acroamatics telemetry processing platform, allowing the TDP system to be tailored to the user’s preferred OS environment. Applicable DISA STIGs are applied and support is available to maintain compliance with the latest cyber security requirements.

ADAT’s integration with Acroamatics’ rackmount or portable TDP systems offer an unmatched ability to deliver true deterministic multi-stream telemetry data decommutation and processing, scalable from 1 to 16 streams. The flagship TDP dual bus embedded processor architecture is targeted at high-performance field and range data center operations applications, and is scalable to meet field portable, test bench, production test, and control room applications with equal benefit.

“Acroamatics’ high-performance telemetry processing solutions provide users a winning combination of the most unique architectural and functional advantages on the market,” said Gary Thom, president of Acroamatics, Inc. “We are proud to assure our customers that the products they receive are of the highest quality, reliability, and consistency. We are dedicated to ensuring the highest levels of customer satisfaction by designing and delivering exceptional products and providing extraordinary customer service.”

Dozens of Satellites Launched into Orbit by SpaceX

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 143 satellites was launched successfully into space Sunday, January 24, 2021 by SpaceX. This constitutes a record number of satellites launched at one time by a single rocket.

The Transporter 1 Mission broke the previous record of 104 satellites launched at once in 2017. SpaceX has been focusing on shared launches with multiple diverse payloads. Included in the record breaking launch were weather tracking satellites, some of SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites as well as a variety of others for companies like Planet and ICEYE.

SpaceX Successfully Sends Starlink Satellites

On Wednesday, January 20 at 8:02 a.m. EST, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites to orbit from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center, completing the seventeenth Starlink mission. The Falcon 9 rocket, a workhorse for the company, had a successful and on-time liftoff from the space center – the first Starlink launch of 2021.

Virgin Orbit Successfully Launched

California-based satellite launch group, Virgin Orbit, confirmed that its LauncherOne rocket reached space during the company’s second launch demonstration recently, successfully deploying 10 payloads for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP).

Virgin Orbit’s novel launch system uses a technique called air launch, in which a rocket is launched from under the wing of a jet aircraft, rather than from a traditional launch pad on the ground. In addition to improving the payload capacity of the rocket, this technique allows the LauncherOne system to be the world’s most flexible and responsive launch service — flying on short notice and from a wide variety of locations to access any orbit.

For this mission, Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft, a customized 747-400 dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port and flew out to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands. After being released from the aircraft, the two-stage rocket ignited and powered itself to orbit. At the conclusion of the flight, the LauncherOne rocket deployed 10 CubeSats into the team’s target orbit, marking a major step forward for Virgin Orbit in what it calls “its quest to bust down the barriers preventing affordable and responsive access to space.”

The payloads onboard LauncherOne were selected by NASA LSP as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). Nearly all of the CubeSat missions were designed, built and tested by universities across the U. S., including Brigham Young University (PICS), the University of Michigan (MiTEE), and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (CAPE-3).

The flight also marked a historical first: no other orbital class, air-launched, liquid-fueled rocket had successfully reached space before today.  

“A new gateway to space has just sprung open. That LauncherOne was able to successfully reach orbit today is a testament to this team’s talent, precision, drive, and ingenuity. Even in the face of a global pandemic, we’ve maintained a laser focus on fully demonstrating every element of this revolutionary launch system. That effort paid off today with a beautifully executed mission, and we couldn’t be happier,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

“Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible. It was so inspiring to see our specially adapted Virgin Atlantic 747, Cosmic Girl, send the LauncherOne rocket soaring into orbit. This magnificent flight is the culmination of many years of hard work and will also unleash a whole new generation of innovators on the path to orbit. I can’t wait to see the incredible missions Dan and the team will launch to change the world for good,” said Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.

With this successful demonstration in the books, Virgin Orbit will officially transition into commercial service for its next mission. Virgin Orbit has subsequent launches booked by customers ranging from the U.S. Space Force and the U.K.’s Royal Air Force to commercial customers like Swarm Technologies, Italy’s SITAEL, and Denmark’s GomSpace.

The company says its next few rockets are already well into integration at its Long Beach manufacturing facility.

FAA Issues Commercial Space Reentry Site Operator License to Space Florida

After completing an assessment of potential environmental impacts, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved Space Florida’s application for a commercial space Reentry Site Operator License (RSOL) at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) in Titusville, Fla.

The FAA determined that no significant environmental impacts would result from operations at the site. The license, which was issued after the company met all safety and risk requirements, is valid for five years.

The Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) and the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) are posted on the project web page. The RSOL is posted here.

Space Florida is expanding the capabilities of the SLF to allow commercial space operators to horizontally land reentry vehicles. It anticipates up to one reentry in 2021, and increasing to up to six reentries annually by 2025. Each commercial space operator applying to reenter at the SLF will develop a separate environmental document to support its specific vehicle requirements. These documents will be subject to FAA approval and will be tiered from the recently completed environmental assessment.

Lockheed Martin-Built Orion Spacecraft is Ready for Moon Mission

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is ready for its mission to the Moon. Lockheed Martin has completed assembly and testing of the Orion Artemis I spacecraft and has transferred possession to NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) team today. Assembled at Kennedy Space Center, the EGS team will then perform final preparations on the spacecraft for its mission to the Moon later this year. 

Ready for the Moon
Orion is NASA’s new human-rated exploration-class spaceship that will take astronauts into deep space including the Moon and Mars. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for NASA and built the crew module, crew module adaptor and launch abort system. The European Space Agency provides the European Service Module for Orion. 

The Artemis I mission will be the first launch of the Orion spacecraft aboard NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. Over the course of three weeks, the uncrewed Orion capsule will fly out and orbit the Moon and return to Earth. This test mission will validate the spacecraft, rocket and ground systems for future crewed missions. 

“Orion is a unique and impressive spacecraft and the team did an outstanding job to get us to this day,” said Mike Hawes, Orion vice president and program manager for Lockheed Martin. “The launch and flight of Artemis I will be an impressive sight, but more importantly it will confirm Orion is ready to safely carry humans to the Moon and back home. This tremendous advancement opens the door to a new era of deep space exploration that will ultimately benefit us back here on Earth.”

Orion is being transferred from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy, where it was assembled, to multiple Kennedy facilities where EGS will load propellants and other consumables such as ammonia, helium and nitrogen, and integrate the launch abort system and protective ogive fairing. After this is completed, it will be taken to the Vertical Assembly Facility to be lifted onto the SLS rocket and prepared for roll to the launch pad.

Crewed Missions Underway
The launch later this year will be the beginning of many Artemis missions to the Moon. The next mission, Artemis II, will be the first with a crew onboard and will go out to orbit the Moon and return. That Orion crew module and service module adapter are well under assembly at Kennedy and will see its first power-on of its integrated computers this summer. 

Artemis III will see the first woman and the next man to walk on the Moon. Orion will carry them out to orbit the Moon where they will ultimately land on the surface using a lunar landing system. That spacecraft is already under construction as major structural elements of the crew module pressure vessel are arriving at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. 

As part of an Orion production and operations contract, NASA ordered three Orion spacecraft from Lockheed Martin for Artemis missions III-V with plans to order three additional Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions VI-VIII and options for up to 12 missions.

Arthur D. Little Partners with European Space Agency to Deliver Multiple SatCom Studies

Arthur D. Little (ADL) has been awarded multiple high impact projects by the European Space Agency (ESA) to help identify the most promising services for next generation satellite communication (SatCom) infrastructure. ADL will conduct a consultation process with members of the transport, energy, infrastructure and media industries, plus stakeholders in law enforcement and emergency services, to identify and assess potential applications and services that could be delivered via satellite in the next decade.

ADL will be responsible for four studies in total. Three of the studies are part of the Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) 4.0 Strategic Program Line “Space Systems for Safety and Security” (4S), and are supported by the Italian Space Agency:

  • Safety of Future Transport
  • Safeguarding Essential Services
  • Satellite Applications for Public Safety

As part of its ‘Open Consulting’ approach, ADL will conduct these studies with input from Distretto Tecnologico Aerospaziale (DTA).

The fourth study is an ARTES4.0 Business Applications Feasibility Study and is supported by the Norwegian Space Agency:

  • Port of the Future

ADL says it will conduct this study in collaboration with Marlink and CLS.

With society and the economy dependent on telecommunications networks, the aim of 4S is to support the development of secure SatCom systems to both improve digital infrastructure resilience across Europe and the rest of the world, and provide innovative services and solutions. As terrestrial networks become increasingly vulnerable to disruption and attack, integrating next generation SatCom systems with the existing digital infrastructure can help make these networks more resilient and secure.

The Safety of Future Transport study will focus on how next generation SatCom solutions can increase safety and efficiency in the fast-evolving aviation, maritime and railway sectors, with potential applications relating to unmanned aircraft and ships, and automated traffic management systems. Safeguarding Essential Services will focus on how SatCom can help protect critical infrastructure such as energy utilities as well as public media. Satellite Applications for Public Safety will focus on how SatCom can supplement and support existing Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) networks used by first responders such as the police, fire brigade, health services and search and rescue.

The Port of the Future study will assess the technical feasibility and economic viability of new Earth observation and SatCom-based services for the port industry, focusing not only on operations of the port itself, but also on monitoring their environmental impact in terms of air and water quality.

“SatCom has an increasingly vital role to play in protecting our society and making its infrastructure more secure and resilient,” said Francesco Marsella, managing partner and global S&O practice leader at ADL. “As terrestrial networks become more prone to failure, whether due to natural disaster or cyberattack, SatComs can support and maintain European telecoms systems. These studies will be key to developing existing satellite systems and identifying the services of the future.”

Lars Thurmann-Moe, managing partner, ADL Norway, added: “It is not always appreciated quite how important the maritime sector remains, with the great majority of goods still transported by sea. SatCom is already central to modern maritime operations in terms of communication and navigation, but there is still so much more that can be done to improve these operations, and also reduce the industry’s environmental footprint – for instance, helping to quickly pinpoint oil spillages.”

Matteo Ainardi, head of the Aerospace & Defense Competence Center at ADL, comments: “The satellite industry is today being disrupted by the introduction of new technologies such as large scale low earth orbit (LEO) constellations, reusable launchers and phased-array antennas. It is the right time to assess the evolving demand for SatCom solutions, and develop a next generation SatCom capability that can leverage these major technological breakthroughs to the benefit of the European society and economy. ADL is highly involved in the commercial space sector – as such, we are very pleased to be working with ESA on these studies, and look forward to applying our industry expertise to help define the SatCom-based services and applications of the future.”

NASA Explores Upper Limits of Global Navigation Systems for Artemis

The Artemis generation of lunar explorers will establish a sustained human presence on the Moon, prospecting for resources, making revolutionary discoveries, and proving technologies key to future deep space exploration.

To support these ambitions, NASA navigation engineers from the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program are developing a navigation architecture that will provide accurate and robust Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services for the Artemis missions. Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals will be one component of that architecture. GNSS use in high-Earth orbit and in lunar space will improve timing, enable precise and responsive maneuvers, reduce costs, and even allow for autonomous, onboard orbit and trajectory determination.

Global Navigation Satellite System

GNSS refers to PNT satellite constellations operated by the U.S., the European Union, Russia, China, India, and Japan. GPS, the PNT constellation created by the U.S. Air Force, is probably the example most Americans are familiar with.

On Earth, GNSS signals enable navigation and provide precise timing in critical applications like banking, financial transactions, power grids, cellular networks, telecommunications, and more. In space, spacecraft can use these signals to determine their location, velocity, and time, which is critical to mission operations.

“We’re expanding the ways we use GNSS signals in space,” said SCaN Deputy Director for Policy and Strategic Communications J.J. Miller, who coordinates PNT activities across the agency. “This will empower NASA as the agency plans human exploration of the Moon as part of the Artemis program.”

Spacecraft near Earth have long relied on GNSS signals for PNT data. Spacecraft in low-Earth orbit below about 1,800 miles (3,000 km) in altitude can calculate their location using GNSS signals just as users on the ground might use their phones to navigate.

This provides enormous benefits to these missions, allowing many satellites the autonomy to react and respond to unforeseen events in real time, ensuring the safety of the mission. GNSS receivers can also negate the need for an expensive onboard clock and simplifies ground operations, both of which can save missions money. Additionally, GNSS accuracy can help missions take precise measurements from space.

NASA to Air Departure of Upgraded SpaceX Cargo Dragon from Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon that arrived to the International Space Station on the company’s 21st resupply services mission for NASA is scheduled to depart on Monday, Jan. 11, loaded with 5,200 pounds of scientific experiments and other cargo. NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast its departure live beginning at 9 a.m. EST.

The upgraded Dragon spacecraft will execute the first undocking of a U.S. commercial cargo craft from the International Docking Adapter at 9:25 a.m., with NASA astronaut Victor Glover monitoring aboard the station.

Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the station’s space-facing port of the Harmony module, then initiate a deorbit burn to begin its re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere. Dragon is expected to make its parachute-assisted splashdown around 9 p.m. – the first return of a cargo resupply spacecraft in the Atlantic Ocean. The deorbit burn and splashdown will not air on NASA TV.

Splashing down off the coast of Florida enables quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, and back into the hands of the researchers. This shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects. For splashdowns in the Pacific Ocean, quick-return science cargo is processed at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas, and delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. 

Dragon launched Dec. 6 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, arriving at the station just over 24 hours later and achieving the first autonomous docking of a U.S. commercial cargo resupply spacecraft. Previous arriving cargo Dragon spacecraft were captured and attached to the space station by astronauts operating the station’s robotic Canadarm2. The spacecraft delivered more than 6,400 pounds of hardware, research investigations and crew supplies.

The upgraded cargo Dragon capsule used for this mission contains double the powered locker availability of previous capsules, allowing for a significant increase in the research that can be carried back to Earth.

Some of the scientific investigations Dragon will return to Earth include:

Cardinal Heart
Microgravity causes changes in the workload and shape of the human heart, and it is still unknown whether these changes could become permanent if a person lived more than a year in space. Cardinal Heart studies how changes in gravity affect cardiovascular cells at the cellular and tissue level using 3D-engineered heart tissues, a type of tissue chip. Results could provide new understanding of heart problems on Earth, help identify new treatments, and support development of screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk prior to spaceflight.

Space Organogenesis
This investigation from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) demonstrates the growth of 3D organ buds from human stem cells to analyze changes in gene expression. Cell cultures on Earth need supportive materials or forces to achieve 3D growth, but in microgravity, cell cultures can expand into three dimensions without those devices. Results from this investigation could demonstrate advantages of using microgravity for cutting-edge developments in regenerative medicine and may contribute to the establishment of technologies needed to create artificial organs.

Sextant Navigation
The sextant used in the Sextant Navigation experiment will be returning to Earth. Sextants have a small telescope-like optical sight to take precise angle measurements between pairs of stars from land or sea, enabling navigation without computer assistance. Sailors have navigated via sextants for centuries, and NASA’s Gemini missions conducted the first sextant sightings from a spacecraft. This investigation tested specific techniques for using a sextant for emergency navigation on spacecraft such as NASA’s Orion, which will carry humans on deep-space missions.

Rodent Research-23
This experiment studies the function of arteries, veins, and lymphatic structures in the eye and changes in the retina of mice before and after spaceflight. The aim is to clarify whether these changes impair visual function. At least 40 percent of astronauts experience vision impairment known as Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) on long-duration spaceflights, which could adversely affect mission success.

Thermal Amine Scrubber
This technology demonstration tested a method to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from air aboard the International Space Station, using actively heated and cooled amine beds. Controlling CO2 levels on the station reduces the likelihood of crew members experiencing symptoms of CO2 buildup, which include fatigue, headache, breathing difficulties, strained eyes, and itchy skin.

Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion
Bacteria and other microorganisms have been shown to grow as biofilm communities in microgravity. This experiment identifies the bacterial genes used during biofilm growth, examines whether these biofilms can corrode stainless steel, and evaluates the effectiveness of a silver-based disinfectant. This investigation could provide insight into better ways to control and remove resistant biofilms, contributing to the success of future long-duration spaceflights.

LOGIN or SUBSCRIBE

Enter you REGISTERED email

Aerospace Tech Review Magazine - Subscription Popup

Already a subscriber? Log in