ESA Council Approves Completion of Ariane 6, Transition from Ariane 5

Ariane 6 variants (Credit: ESA–David Ducros,)

PARIS — 14 June 2018 (ESA PR) — The ESA Council met today in Paris to discuss the path towards the future exploitation of Ariane 6.

In view of the progress made in the Ariane 6 programme, Participating States have decided on the completion of the development up to full operational capability and agreed to fund industrial incentives associated with the development of Ariane 6 and P120C solid rocket motor.

Participating States also committed to start with the first step of the Ariane 6 and P120C Transition Programme. This programme supports the evolution from Europe’s Ariane 5 to full operational capability of Ariane 6.

Ariane 6 is Europe’s new-generation launcher, designed to secure guaranteed access to space for Europe at an affordable price for European institutional users. It will operate in two configurations: Ariane 62 is fitted with two P120C strap-on boosters while Ariane 64 has four. Ariane 6’s maiden flight is planned for mid-2020.

P120C is the largest carbon-fibre solid propellant booster ever built in one segment at almost 13.5 m long and about 3.4 m in diameter. Two boosters will be used on Ariane 6’s maiden flight in 2020.

Record-Setting NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Retires

Peggy Whitson aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds the U.S. record for most cumulative time in space, is retiring from the agency, effective Friday.

“Peggy Whitson is a testament to the American spirit,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Her determination, strength of mind, character, and dedication to science, exploration, and discovery are an inspiration to NASA and America. We owe her a great debt for her service and she will be missed. We thank her for her service to our agency and country.”

(more…)

Astranis Selects Bradford’s ECAPS thrusters

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Bradford PR) — Astranis (www.astranis.com), the San Francisco-based company building the next generation of telecommunications satellites, announced today the selection of Bradford’s (www.bradford-space.com) high performance green ECAPS propulsion for the Astranis MicroGEO spacecraft. The selection slates the integration of eight ECAPS thrusters aboard each Astranis spacecraft, with an initial order for up to twelve spacecraft. The selection also included Electrical Propulsion (EP) feed systems and a set of 8 CoSine Sun Sensors, all produced by the Bradford Space group, involving both the Netherlands and Swedish locations.

This announcement marks the introduction of the ECAPS (www.ecaps.space) propulsion system to geostationary orbit activities, a domain typically dominated by very large telecommunications satellites needing long duration station-keeping capabilities. Traditionally, these satellites have used hydrazine-based thrusters, which are expensive to handle in the loading and pre-launch phase of a spacecraft’s preparation.

(more…)

Oxford Space Systems Raises $8.9 Million Funding Round

HARWELL, England (OSS PR) — Oxford Space Systems (OSS) today announces it has secured £6.7 million [$8.9 million] in funding from a syndicate of investors including IQ Capital, Longwall Ventures, Foresight Williams, OTIF, Midven and Wren. The current round, led by Longwall Ventures, brings the total amount raised in external funding to £10m since OSS’ launch in late 2013.

IQ Capital, Longwall Ventures, Foresight Williams, Midven and Wren Capital invest in the leading innovator of deployable space antennas and structures for the new space age

(more…)

Ramp-Up in Antarctic Ice Loss Speeds Sea Level Rise

Crevasses near the grounding line of Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica. (Credit: University of Washington/I. Joughin)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Ice losses from Antarctica have tripled since 2012, increasing global sea levels by 0.12 inch (3 millimeters) in that timeframe alone, according to a major new international climate assessment funded by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).

According to the study, ice losses from Antarctica are causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years. Results of the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE) were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

(more…)

A Refreshing Increase in Access to the Orbiting Lab

Preparation of the experiment cubes for the International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service. (Credit: Space Applications Services)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — A new, simple and cost-effective way to conduct experiments and test technology aboard the International Space Station offers another option to make space more accessible for out-of-this-world research.

(more…)

Chang’e-4 Relay Satellite Enters Planned Orbit

Von Karman crater, the planned landing site for Chang’e-4.

Chinese officials report the Chang’e-4 relay satellite has entered its planned orbit, where it will await the year-end launch of the program’s lunar lander and rover bound for the far side of the moon.

The satellite, named Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) and launched on May 21, entered the Halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system, about 65,000 km from the Moon, at 11:06 a.m. Thursday after a journey of more than 20 days.

“The satellite is the world’s first communication satellite operating in that orbit, and will lay the foundation for the Chang’e-4, which is expected to become the world’s first soft-landing, roving probe on the far side of the Moon,” said Zhang Hongtai, president of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST)….

He said the Halo orbit was a three-dimensional irregular curve. It is extremely difficult and complex to maintain the satellite in orbit.

“If there is a tiny disturbance, such as gravitational disturbance from other planets or the Sun, the satellite will leave orbit. The orbit period is about 14 days. According to our current plan, we will conduct orbit maintenance every seven days,” Zhang said.

Sample Return Technology Successfully Tested on Masten Xodiac Rocket

Masten Space Systems’ Xodiac rocket flight tests Honeybee Robotics pneumatic sampler collection system, PlanetVac, in Mojave Desert. (Credits: NASA Photo / Lauren Hughes)

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Just a sample will do.

Honeybee Robotics in Pasadena, California, flight tested its pneumatic sampler collection system, PlanetVac, on Masten Space Systems’ Xodiac rocket on May 24, launching from Mojave, California, and landing to collect a sample of more than 320 grams of top soil from the surface of the desert floor.

(more…)

Senate Appropriations Approves Budget Boost for NASA, Cut for NOAA


WASHINGTON, DC – June 14, 2018 (Senate Appropriations Committee PR) — The Senate Committee on Appropriations today approved the FY2019 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act with funding for programs that support law enforcement, economic prosperity, scientific research, space exploration, and other national priorities….

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – $21.3 billion for NASA, $587 million above the FY2018 enacted level and $1.43 billion above the budget request, to support the human and robotic exploration of space, to fund science missions that enhance the understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe, and to support fundamental aeronautics research.

(more…)

SpinLaunch Raises $40 Million for Radical New Launch System

Bloomberg reports that Silicon Valley startup SpinLaunch has raised $40 million for a new approach to launching small satellites.

The company remains tight-lipped about exactly how this contraption will work, although its name gives away the basic idea. Rather than using propellants like kerosene and liquid oxygen to ignite a fire under a rocket, SpinLaunch plans to get a rocket spinning in a circle at up to 5,000 miles per hour and then let it go—more or less throwing the rocket to the edge of space, at which point it can light up and deliver objects like satellites into orbit.

SpinLaunch’s so-called kinetic energy launch system would use electricity to accelerate a projectile and help do much of the dirty work fighting through gravity and the atmosphere. In theory, this means the company could build a simpler, less expensive rocket that’s more efficient at ferrying satellites. “Some people call it a non-rocket launch,” said [founder Jonathan] Yaney. “It seems crazy. It seems fantastic. But we are actually using relatively low-tech industrial components to break this problem into manageable chunks.”

An impressive group of investors have signed on to support Yaney’s vision. The bulk of the $40 million came from Alphabet Inc.’s GV (formerly Google Ventures), Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Airbus Ventures.

Second Annual Spaceport America Cup Scheduled for June 19-23 at Spaceport America

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal hangar facility (center), Spaceport Operations Center (Left) and “Spaceway”
(Runway) at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

LAS CRUCES, NM (Spaceport America PR) — Student rocketeers from around the globe will gather at Spaceport America June 21-23 for the Second Annual Spaceport America Cup, the world’s largest Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition for student rocketry teams. The public in invited to meet the team and see their projects on June 19 in nearby Las Cruces, NM. Spaceport America is located between the cities of Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

(more…)

NASA Encounters the Perfect Storm for Science

These two views from NASA’s Curiosity rover, acquired specifically to measure the amount of dust inside Gale Crater, show that dust has increased over three days from a major Martian dust storm. The left-hand image shows a view of the east-northeast rim of Gale Crater on June 7, 2018 (Sol 2074); the right-hand image shows a view of the same feature on June 10, 2018 (Sol 2077). The images were taken by the rover’s Mastcam. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — One of the thickest dust storms ever observed on Mars has been spreading for the past week and a half. The storm has caused NASA’s Opportunity rover to suspend science operations, but also offers a window for four other spacecraft to learn from the swirling dust.

NASA has three orbiters circling the Red Planet, each equipped with special cameras and other atmospheric instruments. Additionally, NASA’s Curiosity rover has begun to see an increase in dust at its location in Gale Crater.

(more…)

Firefly Welcomes ULA Veteran as New Vice President

CEDAR PARK, Texas, June 13, 2018 (Firefly Aerospace PR) — Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (Firefly), a developer of orbital launch vehicles for the small to medium satellite market, announced today that Leslie Kovacs has joined Firefly as Vice President of Business Development. Kovacs has over 30 years of space launch industry experience, most recently at United Launch Alliance (ULA) as Director of Executive Branch affairs where he helped shape federal policy and acquisition approaches for the $57B Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. Kovacs will be based in Firefly’s Washington D.C. office.

“Les adds an extraordinary depth of experience to our team,” said Firefly CEO Dr. Tom Markusic. “He has hands-on launch experience working as an Air Force Space Operations Officer and as an operations manager for Orbital Science’s X-34 and Antares vehicles. Combined with his extensive experience working with the White House, NASA and the Departments of Commerce and Defense, Les brings capabilities and knowledge of Washington executive branch, regulation and procurement affairs to Firefly that are key to supporting our global business development strategy.”

(more…)

NASA to Hold Media Teleconference on Martian Dust Storm, Mars Opportunity Rover

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded the dawn of the rover’s 4,999th Martian day, or sol, with its Panoramic Camera (Pancam) on Feb. 15, 2018, yielding this processed, approximately true-color scene. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ./Texas A&M)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA will host a media teleconference at 1:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, June 13, to discuss a massive Martian dust storm affecting operations of the agency’s Opportunity rover and what scientists can learn from the various missions studying this unprecedented event.

The storm is one of the most intense ever observed on the Red Planet. As of June 10, it covered more than 15.8 million square miles (41 million square kilometers) – about the area of North America and Russia combined. It has blocked out so much sunlight, it has effectively turned day into night for Opportunity, which is located near the center of the storm, inside Mars’ Perseverance Valley.

Participants in the teleconference will include:

  • John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
  • Rich Zurek, Mars Program Office chief scientist at JPL
  • Jim Watzin, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters
  • Dave Lavery, program executive at NASA Headquarters for the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers

Visuals accompanying the teleconference will be posted at the start of the event at:

https://www.nasa.gov/marsduststormtelecon

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live at:

https://www.nasa.gov/live

The teleconference andvisuals will be carried live and archived on:

https://youtube.com/nasajpl/live

To ask questions via social media during the televised event, use the hashtag #askNASA

Axiom Space Announces Private Astronaut Expeditions

Axiom commercial space station design. (Credit: Axiom Space)

Axiom Space makes personal access to space broadly available. The company outlined its plans to support human spaceflight and to improve the quality of life on Earth.

HOUSTON, June 13, 2018 (Axiom Space PR) — Axiom Space is offering expeditions to space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and ultimately the Axiom commercial space station complex. Ten-day missions are priced at $55 million with the first launch occurring in 2020.

The price includes transportation to and from the ISS, everything necessary to live and enjoy the experience while on orbit, and a 15-week, transformational training experience. Training is to current spaceflight standards and will be conducted side-by-side with national astronauts.

(more…)