NASA Awards Contract to Astra Space for 3 Launches

Astra’s Rocket 3.2 on the launch pad. (Credit: John Kraus)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Astra Space Inc. to provide a launch service for the agency’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats (TROPICS) mission. The TROPICS mission consists of a constellation of six CubeSats and will increase the scientific community’s understanding of storm processes.

The launch service contract for the TROPICS mission is a firm fixed-price contract valued at $7.95 million. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the launch service.

The CubeSats, each the size of a shoebox, will provide rapid-refresh microwave measurements that can be used to determine temperature, pressure, and humidity inside hurricanes as they form and evolve. The TROPICS mission’s high-revisit imaging and sounding observations are enabled by microwave technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory. These observations will profoundly improve scientists’ understanding of processes driving high-impact storms.

Astra Space will launch the CubeSats on the company’s Rocket 3 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands with three separate launches over a 120-day period. The TROPICS mission is targeted for launch between Jan. 8 and July 31, 2022, under a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license.

For more information about NASA and other agency programs, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov

MDA Awarded Contract to Use Satellite-based Fusion and Analytics to Counter Illegal Fishing

BRAMPTON, Ont. (MDA PR) — MDA today announced that it has been awarded a three-year contract with the Government of Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Defence Research and Development Canada to use satellite technology to detect vessels engaging in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The contract will run for a period of three years.

The Dark Vessel Detection (DVD) program uses satellite technology to locate and track vessels that have switched off their location transmitting devices in an attempt to evade monitoring, control and surveillance.

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CNES, ArianeGroup Move Forward on Themis Reusable Rocket Project

Themis demonstrator comes in for a landing. (Credit: ArianeGroup/CNES)

PARIS (CNES PR) — The joint innovation team of CNES and ArianeGroup tested the first elements of the future Themis demonstrator in 2020. The project is gaining momentum in 2021, when the ArianeWorks device has entered its second phase.

For ArianeWorks , the joint innovation accelerator created by CNES and ArianeGroup to work on the launchers of the future, season 2 has just started. At the end of the 18-month pilot phase, and in view of the positive results of the first achievements, the mechanism was extended for a further 18-month period with increased resources and renewed support from external partners. 

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Astroscale ELSA-d Orbital Debris Removal Satellite Prepared for Launch From Baikonur

ELSA-d satellite prepared for launch in a cleanroom at Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: Roscosmos)

BAIKONUR COSMODROME (Roscosmos PR) — The developer of the ELSA-d spacecraft, Astroscale, continues to work on site No. 92 of the Baikonur cosmodrome in preparation for the upcoming launch. At the moment, the software, solar batteries and their opening mechanisms have been successfully tested, the on-board batteries are charged, the electrical checks of the apparatus have been completed.

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NASA Wants Your Help Designing a Venus Rover Concept

An illustration of a concept for a possible wind-powered Venus rover. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, under a grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, is running a public challenge to develop an obstacle avoidance sensor for a possible future Venus rover. The “Exploring Hell: Avoiding Obstacles on a Clockwork Rover” challenge is seeking the public’s designs for a sensor that could be incorporated into the design concept.

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Was There Life on Mars? UK Scientists Play Key Part in NASA Mission to Red Planet

Panorama of Perseverance Rover’s landing site on Mars. (Credit: NASA)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — After a seven-month journey, NASA’s car-sized Mars Perseverance rover will make its final descent to the Red Planet to begin its search for traces of life.

The rover’s mission – backed by the UK government – is to explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse ancient environments on Mars. Supported by over £400,000 in funds from the UK Space Agency, researchers at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum will help to decide which samples are sent to Earth in a search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars.

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Virgin Galactic Delays Space Tourism Flights to 2022, Lost $273 Million Last Year

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo fly right overhead. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
  • Rollout of Second Spaceship Scheduled to Take Place on March 30
  • Announced Expected Timing of Revenue-Generating Flight with the Italian Air Force
  • Next Rocket-Powered Spaceflight Targeted to Occur in May

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or the “Company”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced its financial results for the fourth quarter and full year ended December 31, 2020.

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Virgin Galactic Stock Plunges as Company Delays Space Tourism Flights to 2022

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity arrives at Spaceport America aboard WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Shares of Virgin Galactic plunged sharply on Thursday as the company announced that it was postponing the start of commercial suborbital space tourism flights until 2022 due to additional delays in completing SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity‘s test program.

Shares plunged in after hours trading to $36.69 after opening the day at $45.04. Most of the decline occurred in after hours trading following the release of Virgin Galactic quarterly and full year 2020 earning report.

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Green Run Update: NASA Investigating Valve Performance Before Second Hot Fire

The core stage for the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is seen in the B-2 Test Stand during a scheduled eight minute duration hot fire test, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The four RS-25 engines fired for a little more than one minute. The hot fire test is the final stage of the Green Run test series, a comprehensive assessment of the Space Launch System’s core stage prior to launching the Artemis I mission to the Moon. (Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz)

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (NASA PR) — NASA’s is reviewing the performance of a valve on the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket before proceeding with a second hot fire test at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

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Blue Origin Suddenly Gets Chatty, Announces Launch Delay

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Unlike other commercial space companies I could name (I know who they are, even if they don’t), Blue Origin rarely speaks unless it actually has something to say. So, when videos suddenly appeared on Twitter this morning with tours of the company’s facilities to show their progress on the new New Glenn rocket, I figured it had to be something important.

Sure enough, it was. New Glenn’s maiden flight is now delayed until the fourth quarter of 2022. The original plan was to launch in 2020, and then later this year. Things are clearly progressing slower than anticipated.

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Virgin Galactic Replaces CFO

The engine continued to fire for 60 seconds. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LAS CRUCES, NM (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced the appointment of Doug Ahrens as its new Chief Financial Officer, effective March 1, 2021. Ahrens will succeed Jon Campagna, who is stepping down as Chief Financial Officer following Virgin Galactic’s successful transition from private to public company.

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Virgin Galactic Announces Engineering & Aerospace Hires Ahead of Quarterly Earnings Call

SpaceShipTwo Unity on its second glide flight over Spaceport America. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LAS CRUCES, NM (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced the appointments of Swami Iyer as its President of Aerospace Systems and Stephen Justice as its Vice President of Engineering.

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Orbex Commissions Largest Industrial 3D Printer in Europe for Rapid Rocket Building

FORRES, UK (Orbex PR) — Orbex has commissioned AMCM to build the largest industrial 3D printer in Europe, allowing the innovative UK-based space launch company to rapidly print complex rocket engines in-house. The custom-made, large volume 3D printer will allow Orbex to print more than 35 large-scale rocket engine and main stage turbopump systems annually, as the company scales up its production capabilities for launches.

The multi-million pound deal was signed with AMCM, following a series of successful trials printing various large-scale rocket components over a number of months. AMCM will deliver a complete printing suite with post-processing machinery and ‘Machine Vision’ systems, providing automatic imaging-based inspection of printed components. To accommodate the new machinery, Orbex is expanding its factory floor space by an additional 1,000 m².

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Nanoracks Launches Two CubeSats on NG-15 Cygnus

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va., February 22, 2021 (Nanoracks PR) – Earlier today, the NG-15 Cygnus spacecraft berthed with the International Space Station (ISS), carrying two CubeSats in the Nanoracks External Cygnus Deployer (E-NRCSD). The Cygnus arrived at the ISS after launching from Wallops Flight Facility Pad 0A on February 22, 2021 at 17:36 UTC. In celebration of Black History Month, the NG-15 Cygnus has been named in honor of Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician who had a vital role in early human space flight missions.

This launch is Nanoracks’ ninth mission providing opportunities for CubeSat deployment from the Cygnus. The CubeSats onboard today’s launch, IT-SPINS and MySat-2 (DhabiSat), were built by students and researchers at Montana State University and Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi.

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ESA Explores Greener Way to Get Satellites Moving

A sustained test firing of a ‘green’ satellite thruster at Poland’s Institute of Aviation. (Credit: IIA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — A sustained test firing of a ‘green’ satellite thruster at Poland’s Institute of Aviation, intended as a future alternative to today’s hydrazine-based apogee engines, typically used by telecommunication satellites to manoeuvre into their final geostationary orbits.

Today hydrazine is the most common propellant employed by thrusters aboard satellites: it is highly energetic in nature but also toxic and corrosive, as well as dangerous to handle and store.

ESA initiated the Green Liquid Apogee Engine for Future Spacecraft project, GRACE, to evaluate more environmentally friendly thruster options, with testing culminating in a sustained 60-second thruster firing.

GRACE assessed various options, finding the most effective bipropellant combination used ‘high test peroxide’ (HTP) as oxidiser – a much purer version of the same chemical used to bleach hair, which is split into oxygen and water steam using a catalyst – plus TMPDA fuel.

This was a nearly all-Polish project, supported through ESA’s Polish Industry Incentive. Poland’s Institute of Aviation oversaw management, design and testing, with Jakusz providing the HTP, WB Electronics, represented by Flytronic manufacturing most thruster components. Thales Alenia Space in the UK provided requirements and guidelines for design and testing – including the provision of a 500 Newton kerosene-powered thruster, used as a model for the GRACE demonstrator.

“The programme successfully demonstrated a robust catalyst bed capable of sustaining a minute’s continuous firing,” notes ESA propulsion engineer Ferran Valencia Bel.

”GRACE’s success demonstrates Poland’s technical excellence in the area of rocket propulsion, part of a larger ESA effort to put the space industry onto a more sustainable footing, finding non-toxic alternatives to legacy chemicals and materials.”