While the smallsat market is forecast to experience double digit growth over the next five years, U.S. government policy continues to lag behind the rapid developments in the field. Meanwhile, a recent National Academies report has found that smallsats can be return high-quality scientific data if missions are designed correctly.
Those are the conclusions of three presentations made this week at the Small Satellite Conference in Utah. Below are summaries of the talks drawn from Tweets by the following attendees:
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corp PR) — Steve Isakowitz, president of Virgin Galactic, has been elected president of The Aerospace Corporation effective Aug. 1. He will assume the position of Aerospace president and CEO upon the retirement of Dr. Wanda Austin on Oct. 1.
“After a year-long search process, the board of trustees is pleased with the result. Building on Dr. Wanda Austin’s legacy of excellence and accomplishment, Steve Isakowitz has the right set of skills and experience—in government and industry—to lead Aerospace in a rapidly changing environment of constrained customer resources, challenging threats, and exciting new space technologies,” said Ambassador Barbara Barrett, chair of The Aerospace Corporation board of trustees.
EL SUGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — NASA has awarded Aerospace a grant to investigate the possibility of developing an extremely thin spacecraft that would wrap around debris and remove it from Earth’s orbit.
The innovative concept, called Brane Craft, is a 1-meter square spacecraft that is less than half the thickness of a human hair, and therefore exceptionally light, maneuverable, and fuel efficient.
NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently selected 13 proposals for Phase I awards. Below is the description of a small satellite project submitted by Siegfried Janson of The Aerospace Corporation.
Siegfried Janson The Aerospace Corporation
A ‘brane’ is a dynamical object that can propagate through spacetime. Flattening a spacecraft into a membrane, or 2-brane, can produce a low mass vehicle with ultra-high power-to-weight ratio (7.7 kW/kg using thin film solar cells). If most of this power is used by an array of thinned, distributed electrospray thrusters with a specific impulse of 4000 s, a Brane Craft could start in low Earth orbit, land on Phobos, and return to low Earth orbit. Other possible targets include any near-Earth asteroid and most main belt asteroids.
Propellant is stored as a liquid within a 10-micron wide gap between two Kapton sheets that form the main structure of the Brane Craft. This project will study how to design an ultra-light dynamic membrane spacecraft, with 3-axis attitude determination and control plus navigation, that can significantly change both its shape and orbit. Conventional sensors like star trackers will have to be replaced by 2-dimensional alternatives. Estimated mass is about 35 grams for a 1 square meter Brane Craft.
The target application is removal of orbital debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) through rendezvous, contact, conformal wrapping, and application of thrust. Sending conventional spacecraft, even 1-to-5 kg CubeSats, to each of the thousands of 10-cm or larger debris objects for active deorbiting becomes prohibitively expensive.
With current CubeSat launch costs of ~$250,000 for a 3U CubeSat with ~kilometer/s delta-V propulsion and 3-axis attitude control, the U.S. would spend close to billion dollars in launch costs alone to remove 4 thousand debris objects. Brane Craft could significantly reduce that cost and enable removal of more objects.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 13 proposals through NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), a program that invests in transformative architectures through the development of pioneering technologies.
Among the selected are: a concept for reprogramming microorganisms that could use the Martian environment to recycle and print electronics; a two-dimensional spacecraft with ultra-thin subsystems that may wrap around space debris to enable de-orbiting; and a method of computational imaging that leverages extrasolar intensity fluctuations to detect “echoes” from planets and other structures orbiting a distant star.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (NASA PR) — The Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) satellite that launched Oct. 8 currently is experiencing a problem with its attitude control system, according to The Aerospace Corporation. Aerospace built the CubeSat and is operating it in orbit. The OCSD satellite is communicating by radio with the ground, but the attitude control system must function properly in order to demonstrate the optical communications system. NASA is discussing the issue with Aerospace as they investigate the problem.
OCSD is the first in a new series of six NASA-managed technology demonstration missions set to launch during the coming months using CubeSats to test technologies that can enable new uses for these miniature satellites, which measure 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm (about 4 inches per side). NASA, other government agencies, academia and commercial companies can incorporate these technologies, which range from high-speed communications to novel propulsion systems to technologies that enable rendezvous and docking, into future space missions.
OCSD differs from other space-based laser communication systems because the laser is hard-mounted to the spacecraft body, and the orientation of the CubeSat controls the direction of the beam. This makes the laser system more compact than anything previously flown in space. The CubeSat will evaluate the ability to point a small satellite accurately as it demonstrates data transfer by laser at rates of up to 200 Mb/s — a factor of 100 increase over current high-end CubeSat communications systems.
WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA and The Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo, California, have received confirmation the Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) CubeSat spacecraft is in orbit and operational. OCSD launched aboard an Atlas V rocket Thursday from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Draper PR) – Commercial satellite imagery firms launch new constellations to take frequent, high-resolution video and photographs of the Earth to improve decision-making for agricultural, environmental, humanitarian, commercial and national security issues. Increased accessibility of images and data from space provide views of the Earth that help optimize tasks ranging from planting crops to shaping traffic patterns on land and sea.
The investigation of the anomalies on the CubeSat deployers continues and has three main components:
To understand the root cause of the behavior of the deployers
To put corrective actions into place
To plan a resumption in CubeSat deployments
We believe we are making progress in understanding the root cause of the anomalies. The team of NanoRacks and the CubeSat deployer manufacturer Quad M are now able to duplicate on the ground the anomalies observed in space.
Yesterday we showed the results to a NASA working group. In addition, NanoRacks has brought in a team from the Aerospace Corporation to assist NanoRacks in the investigation and in finding a pathway for future deployments. All parties are reviewing historical and new test data to validate the preliminary root cause we have identified. At the same time, the broad root cause analysis continues as NASA and NanoRacks explore all possible causes.
NanoRacks is appreciative of the hard work of NASA and the other ISS partners, including Roscosmos and JAXA, as they examine and seek to help resolve the situation. We are also appreciative for the many notes and calls we have received from the industry in support for this ground-breaking effort to stimulate the CubeSat market.
We will provide further information when appropriate.
ATLANTA, GA, October 28, 2013 (TVA PR) – Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC (TVA) has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames Research Center to collaborate on evaluation, testing, and technology transfer of newly-developed thermal protection system (TPS) materials.
Space News has a bit more information about Orbital Sciences Corporation’s lawsuit against the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA). Orbital purchased hardware from VCSFA after the authority ran into cost overruns and delays in building a new launch complex for the company’s Antares rocket.
Orbital bought $42 million worth of hardware, with the understanding that Virginia would eventually buy these assets back, the complaint says. The state bought back about $25.5 million worth of hardware in 2012, but balked at repurchasing a horizontal rocket transporter and associated hardware. The state argued this hardware could only be used for Antares and therefore was not a reimbursable cost. Orbital disagreed.
The Aerospace Corp., a federally funded think tank specializing in military space, was brought in to mediate and ruled in Orbital’s favor in 2012, according to the complaint. Orbital subsequently sought payment but was told June 5 by Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton that the state would not pay. Connaughton informed Orbital of the state’s decision during a meeting of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority’s board of directors, according to the complaint.
Bothell, WA, 18 December 2012 (TUI PR) — Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) announced today that it has delivered the first flight units of an innovative spacecraft component that will help reduce the growth of space debris. TUI delivered several of its Terminator Tape™ Deorbit Modules to The Aerospace Corporation for use on its upcoming AeroCube-5 flight experiment.
The Terminator Tape Deorbit Module is a small device, about the size of a drink coaster, which is attached to a satellite prior to launch. When the satellite completes its mission, it activates the Terminator Tape Module, which then deploys a long conductive tape. This tape drags against the Earth’s magnetic field and upper atmosphere, rapidly lowering the orbit of the spacecraft until the satellite burns up in the upper atmosphere. By rapidly removing the satellite from orbit, the Terminator Tape helps ensure that the satellite will not contribute to the accumulation of space debris that could pose a threat to future space missions.
CSF PR — The Commercial Spaceflight Federation welcomes the Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo, California for its decision to release a clarification document yesterday regarding its white paper on the business case for NASAâ€™s Commercial Crew program. The clarification document, titled â€œAerospace Commercial Crew Modeling Tool Update,â€ is available on the Aerospace Corporation homepage at www.aero.org.
AEROSPACE CORP. PR — In late 2009, The Aerospace Corporation conducted an internally funded project to develop a model of the business-case of commercial crew space transportation. NASA’s Independent Program & Cost Evaluation department subsequently asked for, and funded, an expanded and refined analysis of Aerospace’s initial work.
A summary of the tool was presented to NASA senior leadership February 28th.
As I surmised, the leaked Aerospace Corporation study that showed NASA spending an obscene amount of money on commercial crew procurement is much ado about nothing. Space News explains:
Los Angeles-based Aerospace Corp., in an undated explanation of the study and its methodology, said the analysis was merely intended to develop a modeling tool that could be applied to a variety of data.