A Silicon Valley startup named Swarm Technologies has been accused of launching four tiny satellites into space without FCC approval. The four SpaceBEE satellites, which are about one quarter the size of a 1U CubeSat, were launched aboard an Indian PSLV booster in January. The satellites are testing Internet of Things technologies.
The only problem is, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had dismissed Swarm’s application for its experimental satellites a month earlier, on safety grounds. The FCC is responsible for regulating commercial satellites, including minimizing the chance of accidents in space. It feared that the four SpaceBees now orbiting the Earth would pose an unacceptable collision risk for other spacecraft.
If confirmed, this would be the first ever unauthorized launch of commercial satellites.
In fact, the FCC told the startup that the agency would assess “the impact of the applicant’s apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites… on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee.” If Swarm cannot convince the FCC otherwise, the startup could lose permission to build its revolutionary network before the wider world even knows the company exists.
Video Caption: India’s “Rocket Man” Dr Sivan K, who was named the new chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation last month, is unfazed by the so-called cheap launches offered by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. ISRO’s rockets, he said, are cheap, robust and meet the nation’s needs.
The 60-year-old from Tamil Nadu, who was born in a farmer’s family, has helped take on SpaceX’s Elon Musk through the launch of 104 satellites in a single mission in February last year. The venture had placed India firmly on the map of commercial satellite launches.
In an interview to NDTV, Dr Sivan said the next big thrust to expand ISRO’s commercial ventures would be “Baby PSLV” – the smaller, modular rocket for on-demand launches. There is also a huge scope for re-usable rocket technology, another ongoing project, which would further reduce the cost of launch.
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I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.
I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….
So, have at it! Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!
On most launches, the small secondary satellites that ride along with the primary payloads garner little attention.
That has begun to change in recent years as CubeSats have become increasingly capable. The importance of these small satellites could be seen in the recent launch of an Indian PSLV rocket, which carried a CartoSat Earth observation satellite and 30 secondary spacecraft from India, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.
A new chairman took over leadership of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) last week.
K. Sivan, who previously served as director of ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre since June 2015, succeeded A S Kiran Kumar. Like his predecessor, Sivan has been appointed to a three-year term. Sivan also serves as secretary of the Department of Space and chairman of the Space Commission.
Sivan joined ISRO in 1982, working on the PSLV booster program. He is credited with turning around the troubled GSLV Mark II rocket program after a series of launch failures.
Sivan graduated from Madras Institute of Technology with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1980. He earned a master of engineering degree in aerospace engineering at the Indian Institute of Science two years later. In 2006, he was awarded a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering by the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay.
Helsinki, FINLAND (ICEYE PR) – ICEYE, the leader in synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) technology for microsatellites providing expanded access to reliable and timely earth observation data, today announced the successful launch of its proof-of-concept satellite mission, ICEYE-X1, on ISRO’s PSLV-C40 rocket.
The success of the launch, from Satish Dhawan Space Center in India, distinguishes ICEYE-X1 as the world’s first microsatellite equipped with synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) to ever be deployed in space and as Finland’s very first commercial satellite. Making further history, ICEYE has also successfully established communications with the 70 kg satellite at 05:20, GMT (07:20 Finland time) now in orbit, signaling the next step in the mission’s success.
GUILDFORD, England (SSTL PR) — Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has confirmed the successful launch of CARBONITE-2, an Earth Observation technology demonstration mission owned and operated by SSTL, and of the Telesat LEO Phase 1 communications satellite, an important milestone in Telesat’s plans to deploy a global low earth orbit (LEO) constellation that will revolutionise broadband communications services around the world.
These two small SSTL satellites were launched into a 505 km sun-synchronous orbit on board the PSLV launch vehicle from the Satash Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India on 12 January 2018 at UTC/GMT 03:59.
OTTAWA, CANADA, January 12, 2018 (Telesat PR) – Telesat announced today the successful launch of its first LEO satellite, an important milestone in the company’s plans to deploy a global LEO constellation that will revolutionize broadband communications services around the world.
Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite was launched aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The spacecraft was built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) based in the U.K., a world leader in small satellites and part of the Airbus Defence and Space group.
GUILDFORD, England (Earth-i PR) — British ‘New Space’ pioneer Earth-i has confirmed that the pre-production prototype satellite of its upcoming satellite constellation was successfully launched earlier today.
The new commercial constellation – which the company announced is called Vivid-i – will be the first of its kind to provide full-colour video; and the first European-owned constellation able to provide both video and still images.
SRIHARIKOTA, India (ISRO PR) — India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, in its forty second flight (PSLV-C40), successfully launched the 710 kg Cartosat-2 Series Satellite for earth observation and 30 co-passenger satellites together weighing about 613 kg at lift-off. PSLV-C40 was launched from the First Launch Pad (FLP) of Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota.
SpaceShipTwo Flies: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity performed its seven glide flight this morning in Mojave. The flight appeared to go as planned based on what I could see from the ground and Virgin Galactic’s tweets; the space plane landed and rolled to a stop on runway 30. The pilots were Mark Stucky and Michael Masucci.
This is the seventh glide flight for Unity and the 37th glide test for the SpaceShipTwo program. Its predecessor, Enterprise, flew 30 glide and three powered flights before it broke up during its fourth powered flight on Oct. 31, 2014.
Virgin Galactic officials have said today’s test should be the final glide flight for Unity. If all went well, the next test will be powered.
UPDATE: Virgin Galactic has posted a description of today’s flight here.
SpaceX Scrubs: SpaceX scrubbed a static fire of the Falcon Heavy booster for the second time in as many days at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The company planned a 12- to 15-second firing of the 27 first stage engines of the heavy-lift rocket. No reason has been given for the scrub. Reports indicate that a third attempt is set for Friday. If the same schedule is maintained, the six-hour test window will open at 1 p.m. EST.
Delta IV Launch Set: United Launch Alliance is planning to launch a Delta IV booster with the NROL 47 reconnaissance satellite from Vandenberg this afternoon. The original launch time was set for 1 p.m. PST, but ULA says it is working a technical issue that will delay the launch until later. No new time as been set yet. The launch was scrubbed on Wednesday due to high winds.
UPDATE: Liftoff is now planned for 1:55 p.m. PST. Webcast commentary will start at 1:30 p.m. PST. UPDATE 2: Liftoff now at 2:05 p.m. PST.
Chinese & Indian Launches Scheduled: A Chinese Long March 3B rocket will launch two Beidou navigation satellites at approximately 2300 GMT (6 p.m. EST) today. The flight will be conducted from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
India’s PSLV booster will launch the Cartosat 2F remote sensing satellite from Satish Dhawan Space Center on Friday at 0358 GMT (10:58 p.m. EST on Thursday, Jan. 11). It will be the first PSLV launch since August when a failure of the payload shroud to separate doomed an IRNSS-1H navigation satellite to a fiery destruction.
A Long March 2D rocket is set to launch an unidentified satellite from Jiuquan on Saturday at approximately 0710 GMT (2:10 a.m. EST). This will be China’s third launch of the new year.
It appears highly likely that the decade-old Google Lunar X Prize will end on March 31 without a winner following reports out of India that Team Indus has pulled out of the race. The Kenreports that
The launch contract that TeamIndus signed with Antrix Corporation—the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro)—in December 2016, in pursuit of its $30-million Google Lunar XPRIZE goal, has been cancelled. Multiple sources within Isro confirmed the news….
Conservatively speaking, the price tag for the PSLV chartered launch alone is said to be upwards of $20 million; the cost of building and testing the moon rover is several million more. It’s learnt TeamIndus couldn’t pony up funds to pay Antrix beyond the initial signing amount. “Isro has cancelled the contract for a lack of compliances and payment issues,” says a person who is close to these developments. He says, “Rahul [Narayan, co-founder TeamIndus] has spoken to all on the floor recently and informed all of Isro’s decision of pulling out of the mission”. TeamIndus did not respond to questions sent by email. Without denying the news, a spokesperson for the company said, “As a company, we’d not comment on this”.
SpaceX had a banner year in 2017, launching a record 18 times and helping to propel the United States to the top of the global launch table with a perfect 29-0 record. The U.S. total made up 32.2 percent of 90 orbital launches worldwide, which was an increase over the 85 flights conducted in 2016.
The 29 American launches were a leap of seven over the 22 flights conducted the previous year. This is the highest number of American orbital launches since the 31 flights undertaken in 1999. However, that year the nation’s launch providers suffered four failures whereas they were perfect in 2017.
An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.
NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.
And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars. (more…)