The Top 50 Most Dangerous Pieces of Space Debris

Location of the 24,000 debris larger than 10 cm in low orbit in 2020. (Credits: NASA)

For the first time, an international team has drawn up a list of the 50 most dangerous space debris in low orbit. This unpublished Top 50 is published online on January 22, 2021 by the journal Acta Astronautica.

PARIS (CNES PR) — It is a landmark article. For the first time, space debris in low orbit (located at an altitude of less than 2,000 km) has been classified according to their dangerousness for operational satellites by a team that includes experts from China, the United States and Russia. France via CNES is one of the signatories of this historic paper published on January 22, 2021 by Acta Astronautica and whose results had already been presented, in October 2020, at the 71st International Astronautical Congress (IAC2020).

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Big Research with Small Satellites

Artist’s impression of the SOMP2b satellite. (Credit: TU Dresden/Tino Schmiel)
  • On January 24, 2021, the SOMP2b small satellite was launched into space with a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:00 p.m. Central European Time.
  • A key objective of the mission is to demonstrate that significant research can be done with small satellites.
  • The special thing about SOMP2b is its innovative design: almost all functions of a satellite have been miniaturized and built into each individual side wall.

+++ The SOMP2b satellite launched into space on January 24, 2021 on board a Falcon 9 rocket +++

COLOGNE (DLR PR) — On January 24, 2021, the SOMP2b small satellite is scheduled to launch at 4 p.m. Central European Time (10 a.m. local time) with a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral spaceport in Florida (USA). A key objective of the mission is to demonstrate that significant research – both scientific and technological – can be done with small satellites. 

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European Investment Fund Announces €300 Million of Space Sector Finance with New Investments into Orbital Ventures & Primo Space

  • EIF attracts €300 million to support the innovation and growth of European smaller and medium-sized space technology companies under the InnovFin Space Equity Pilot,
  • New agreements with Orbital Ventures SCA SICAV-RAIF and Primo Space announced at the European Space Conference in Brussels.
  • The EIF’s participation is backed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the main pillar of the Investment Plan for Europe.

LUXEMBOURG (EIF PR) — The European Investment Fund (EIF) is partnering with the European Commission, to announce €300 million of investments into the EU space sector, supporting ground-breaking innovation in the industry.

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European Commission Awards €1.47 Billion in Contracts for 2nd Generation of Galileo Satellites

BRUSSELS (European Commission PR) — Today the Commission awarded two contracts for 12 Satellites (6 satellites each) for a total of €1.47 billion, to Thales Alenia Space (Italy) and Airbus Defence & Space (Germany) following an open competition.

With this, the Commission is initiating the launch of the 2nd Generation of Galileo, the European satellite positioning system. The aim is to keep Galileo ahead of the technological curve compared to global competition and maintaining it as one of the best performing satellite positioning infrastructures in the world while strengthening it as a key asset for Europe’s strategic autonomy.

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European Union Consolidating Space Programs Under Expanded & Renamed GNSS Agency

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The European Union (EU) is consolidating its space programs under an existing agency that is being given an expanded mandate.

The European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA), which will be renamed the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUASP), will take on managing the use of the Copernicus Earth observation satellite system and oversee new initiatives in satellite communications named GOVSATCOM and space situational awareness (SSA).

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NASA Advancing Global Navigation Satellite System Capabilities

Deployment of Bobcat-1 from the International Space Station. (Credit: Nanoracks)

by Danny Baird
​NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program office

NASA is developing capabilities that will allow missions at high altitudes to take advantage of signals from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) constellations — like GPS commonly used in the U.S. These signals — used on Earth for navigation and critical timing applications — could provide NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon with reliable timing and navigation data. NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program is developing the technologies that will support this goal.

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EU Eyes Satellite Broadband Network

Concerned about being left behind, the European Union (EU) is looking to develop a satellite broadband constellation to keep up with systems being built by OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink.

BBC News reports that EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton believes there’s not a moment to lose.

“My objective is to go fast. And therefore it would be appropriate that the Commission puts forward this year a proposal to the European Parliament and the Council so we can move concretely,” he told the 13th European Space Conference on Tuesday.

“To be ready, we launched a few weeks ago a study on a secure space-based connectivity system. The selected consortium consisting of European satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers, telco operators and launch service providers will study the possible design and development of this project.”

“This will provide insights on the technical dimension, but also the governance structure, the financing, the missions, the exact scope. I expect their first feedback in April this year.”

[….]

[EU officials] talk about a mix of low, medium and geostationary satellites that use advanced quantum encryption, are interlinked with optical connectors, and which piggyback sensors that might also be used to monitor aviation and shipping – just as examples. But, they argue, fast, secure, low-latency, space-borne connectivity will be the must-have capability to enable a raft of coming technologies, such as self-driving cars.

EU officials are hoping to have some initial capability as early as 2024.

European Commission Welcomes Political Agreement on EU Space Program

European GNSS Agency (GSA) to evolve into European Union Agency for the Space Programme, with expanded duties and responsibilities

BRUSSELS (European Commission PR) — The Commission welcomes the political agreement between the European Parliament and the EU Member States on the European Union Space Programme proposed by the Commission in June 2018. Trilogue negotiations have now concluded with the political agreement, pending the final approval of the legal texts by the European Parliament and the Council. The EU Space Programme will bring all existing and new space activities under the umbrella of a single programme.

Thanks to the financial envelope of €13.202 billion agreed by the co-legislators, the EU Space Programme will ensure the further development of the current European flagship programmes, Copernicus for earth observation and Galileo/EGNOS for satellite navigation.  It will also enable the launching of European initiatives in satellite communication (GOVSATCOM) and on Space Situational Awareness (SSA) for the protection of space infrastructure from space debris.

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ESA Director to Retire Early

Johann Dietrich Woener

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ Wörner has announced he plans to leave his post running the space agency on Feb. 28, four months ahead of the original no-later-than date of June 30.

In a blog post, Wörner said a quicker transition was possible because his successor, Josef Aschbacher, already serves as ESA’s director for Earth Observation and is thus familiar with how the agency functions. In December, the ESA Council named Aschbacher to secede Wörner, who is nearing the end of his five-year term.

Wörner also cited planning work needed for the ESA ministerial in 2022. At that session, ministers from ESA’s 22 member states, two associate members and cooperating nation Canada meet to set the agency’s budget and policies.

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The Good, the Bad and the Brexit: UK’s Participation in European Space Programs Curtailed by EU Departure

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Although the United Kingdom’s (UK) “Brexit” departure from the European Union (EU) on Jan. 1 will not affect its membership status in the European Space Agency (ESA), the nation’s participation in a number of European space programs is either ending or being curtailed.

On Christmas Eve, the UK and EU announced an agreement in principle that will govern trade, security and political relations after Brexit. Under the agreement, the UK’s participation in the:

  • Galileo satellite navigation and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) program will end;
  • Copernicus Earth observation satellite program will continue, contingent upon a further agreement to be worked out next year; and
  • EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST) program will end, although the Britain will continue to receive data as a non-EU country.
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European Space and Digital Players to Study Development of EU’s Satellite-based Connectivity System

BRUSSELS, 23 December 2020 (Airbus PR) — The European Commission has selected a consortium of European satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers, telco operators and launch service providers to study the design, development and launch of a European-owned space-based communication system.

The study will assess the feasibility of a new initiative aiming to strengthen European digital sovereignty and provide secure connectivity for citizens, commercial enterprises and public institutions as well as providing global coverage for rural and ‘not-spot’ areas. Complementing Copernicus and Galileo, this new EU flagship programme, once given the green light, would fully exploit the synergies of the technological potential akin to the Digital and Space industries. The contract value of the year-long feasibility study amounts to € 7.1 million.

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NASA, US, European Partner Satellite Returns First Sea Level Measurements

The data in this graphic are the first sea surface height measurements from the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich (S6MF) satellite, which launched Nov. 21, 2020. They show the ocean off the southern tip of Africa, with red colors indicating higher sea level relative to blue areas, which are lower. (Credits: EUMETSAT)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, a joint U.S.-European satellite built to measure global sea surface height, has sent back its first measurements of sea level. The data provide information on sea surface height, wave height, and wind speed off the southern tip of Africa.

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Thales Alenia Space to Build Copernicus CHIME Satellites

Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission (CHIME) satellite. (Credit: Thales Alenia Space)

CANNES, France (Thales Alenia Space PR) — Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67 %) and Leonardo (33 %), announced today that it has signed a 90 million euro [$106.5 million] first tranche contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to design and build the 2 environmental monitoring satellites of the Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission for the Environment (CHIME), the global amount being 455 million euros [$538.5 million].

The CHIME mission is part of the expansion of the Copernicus Space Component programme of the European Space Agency, ESA, in partnership with the European Commission. The European Copernicus flagship programme provides Earth observation and in situ data and a broad range of services for environmental monitoring and protection, climate monitoring, natural disaster assessment to improve the quality of life of European citizens.

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Thales Alenia Space to Build Copernicus CIMR Satellites

Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer (CIMR) satellite. (Credit: Thales Alenia Space)

ROME (Thales Alenia Space PR) — Thales Alenia Space, Joint Venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%) announced today that it has signed a 93 million euro [$110 million], first tranche of the 495 million euro [$585.85 million] global contract, with the European Space Agency (ESA) to build the Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer (CIMR) environmental monitoring satellites.

The CIMR mission is part of the expansion of the Copernicus Space Component programme of the European Space Agency, ESA, in partnership with the European Commission. The European Copernicus flagship programme provides Earth observation and in situ data and a broad range of services for environmental monitoring and protection, climate monitoring, natural disaster assessment to improve the quality of life of European citizens.

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Airbus Wins ESA’s LSTM Temperature-check Mission for Copernicus Next Generation

Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring (LSTM) satellite. (Credit: Airbus)
  • Contract valued at €380 million [$449.75 million]
  • Airbus Spain to lead industrial consortium: first Copernicus prime for Spain

MADRID (Airbus Defence and Space PR) – The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected Airbus Defence and Space as prime contractor for the new Land Surface Temperature Monitoring (LSTM) mission. LSTM is part of Copernicus, the European Union’s Earth observation programme for global monitoring. It is one of the six new missions, expanding the capabilities of the current Copernicus space component. The contract is valued at € 380 million which includes the development of one LSTM satellite, with an option for two further satellites.

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