ESA Selects Five Micro Launcher Feasibility Studies

PARIS (ESA PR) — Small satellites usually ride piggyback on larger missions but finding a suitable match is difficult because the launch date and orbit are set by the primary payload.

A microlauncher can place a small satellite typically used for Earth observation, technology demonstration, education and telecoms into low orbits, starting from the ground or from an aerial platform.

ESA has chosen five feasibility studies from industry proposing an economically viable, commercially self-sustaining microlauncher, without public funding.


The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.


An Update on the Bloostar Launch System

Bloostar balloon launch system (Credit: zero2infinity)
Bloostar balloon launch system (Credit: zero2infinity)

José Mariano López Urdiales, founder and CEO of the Spanish startup zero2infinity, gave a presentation on Thursday about the company’s Bloostar balloon-launched smallsat rocket during the International Astronautical Conference in Jerusalem.

Mark Schaffer ‏(@mgschaffer), a senior Senior Aerospace Engineer at SpaceWorks Enterprises, provided the following details via Twitter.
  • Rocket lifted by balloon to 20 km altitude for launch
  • Balloon launched from boat off Canary Islands at  27 degrees latitude
  • Payloads: 125kg to 400km @ 27 degrees low Earth orbit, 75kg to 600 km sun synchronous orbit
  • 3-stage rocket with all engines using LOX/CH4
  • 1st stage has 6 15kN LOX/LCH4 engines. 2nd & 3rd stages use same 2kN LOX/LCH4 engine; 6 engines on 2nd stage, 1 engine on 3rd
  • Balloon to be used as communications relay after rocket release
  • First test flight of orbital vehicle Q2 2018, first commercial flights after 4th test flight
  • Developing upper stage first
  • Will offer suborbital flights with 75 kg to 180km by Q4 2016
  • Expects $4.0M USD per launch, lower for block buy
  • Launch cost will be half price of competitors
  • Program has 25 investors from Hong Kong, France, Germany and Spain
  • Funding available to reach initial operations
  • €198M in letters of intent from customers across 7 countries.

Lopez-Alegria Becomes Advisor to zero2infinity

Michael Lopez-Alegria

BARCELONA, Spain (zero2infinity PR) — After many years of friendship, an Agreement was formalized between Michael López-Alegría and zero2infinity. The former NASA astronaut will advise the company in both technical and business matters.

Michael López-Alegría is a Spanish-American astronaut who flew to space four times and performed ten spacewalks. After retiring from NASA in 2012, he became President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation in Washington, DC. His expertise in both American and Russian space programs will be an important asset in establishing human space travel in Europe. López-Alegría will put his years of experience and extensive knowledge in the field of commercial spaceflight to the service of zero2infinity, supporting its objectives and dreams of sustainable, near-space access for scientists, passengers and payloads.

One of the main objectives of zero2infinity’s project “bloon”, a manned high-altitude balloon, is to give the overview effect to the people flying it. During a Google hangout organized by zero2infinity on March 5th, 2012, about this emotional shift in perspective that is known as the “overview effect,” Lopez-Alegria said: “The Earth is covered by the atmosphere, which is analogous to the skin of an apple, that is pretty thin. Even in a balloon flight, you’d be outside this boundary just about; you’d be able to perceive what that’s like, and that just in itself, with the curvature and the blackness of the sky, will give a very strong sense of the bigger picture”.

zero2infinity Eyes Smallsat Launches Using Balloons

Balloon launched rocket. (Credit: zero2infinity)
Balloon launched rocket. (Credit: zero2infinity)

War is Boring takes a look at zero2infinity’s plan to launch small satellites aboard rockoons (rocket balloons):

Balloon-launched rockets, or “rockoons,” sound crazy. Rocket scientist and entrepreneur José Mariano Lopez-Urdiales agrees. “Sometimes crazy is good,” he says. “If it sounds normal, everyone’s doing it.”

He’s getting two start-ups off the ground. Bloon want to take passengers into near-space for much less than other space-tourism companies. Zero 2 Infinity hopes to offer low-cost space-launch services.

But if you want to launch a small payload on your own, using a rockoon might be the way to do it. Launching from high altitudes simplifies rocket engineering, and frees designers from most aerodynamic problems, Lopez-Urdiales says.

The rocket’s shape and engines can be a lot simpler, as there’s no need to dead-lift the rocket against gravity or power through thick, sea-level air.

You don’t need thin, inefficient fuel tanks designed to knife through the air under great strain. Instead, you can use toroidal tanks shaped like tires, which are lighter and easier to recover.

Engineers can optimize the rocket engines for vacuum conditions, instead of having to work at both sea level and high altitude. That means simpler design—with vacuum sucking the propellants out of the tanks.

Read the full story.

zero2infinity Plans to Launch Nanosats

Credit: zero2infinity
Credit: zero2infinity

BARCELONA, Spain (zero2infinity PR) — The Spanish company zero2infinity, based in Barcelona, known for its extensive Near-Space ballooning experience, announced it’s been working to expand its capabilities to include a nanosatellite launch vehicle, named bloostar, to offer reliable, dedicated, launch on demand for 21st century small satellites.

zero2infinity has been operating high-altitude balloons since 2009. Flying technical, scientific and commercial payloads to over 30km altitude is its current operational activity. Using balloons as a first-stage for a nanosatellite launcher is the logical and necessary next step to address this booming and underserved market.


Zero2Infinity Looking to Raise $16.4 Million

Microbloon in flight. (Credit: zero2infinity)
Microbloon in flight. (Credit: zero2infinity)

Zero2inifinity is looking to raise $12 million euros ($16.4 million) for its Bloon project, which is designed to carry passengers in a pressurized cabin on high-altitude trips.

Founder José Mariano López-Urdiale said the company has 7 million euros ($9.5 million) in commitments if it can close the 12 million euro round of funding.

zero2infinity Receives Pressure Suit from Final Frontier Design

A Bloon pressure suit created by Final Frontier Design (Credit: zero2infinity)
A Bloon pressure suit created by Final Frontier Design (Credit: zero2infinity)

BARCELONA, Spain (zero2infinity PR) — The high-altitude balloon company zero2infinity, based in Barcelona, has received its first Space suit, designed by American company Final Frontier Design. This brings the company one step closer to crewed test flights, which should start later this year.


zero2infinity Tests Microbloon 3.0

Microbloon during a test flight. (Credit: zero2infinity)
Microbloon during a test flight. (Credit: zero2infinity)

BARCELONA, Spain (zero2infinity PR) — On Friday, 6 September 2013, zero2infinity performed a test flight of microbloon 3.0 from the airport of Cordoba, Spain. microbloon 3.0 is an inflatable pod manufactured by Thin Red Line Aerospace and ascended smoothly up to 27km.


zero2infinity Signs Up Prominent Russian Blogger

Artemy Lebedev

ZERO2INFINITY PR — Mr. Artemy Lebedev lives in Moscow and is the founder of design company Art. Lebedev Studio. He is one of the most successful web designers in Russia and a prominent blogger.

“My dream is to see the whole world, so far I have visited most of the countries. With the bloon I will really see the whole world – on a single journey”, says Artemy Lebedev.


zero2infinity Flies Microbloon to 32 Kilometers

Microbloon in flight. (Credit: zero2infinity)

León, Spain, November 12, 2012 (zero2infinity PR) —Barcelona-based company zero2infinity has successfully launched its newest prototype, the microbloon 2.0, to the edge of Space at almost 32km in altitude, that is, above 99% of the mass of the atmosphere.

It was a major step in zero2finfinity’s mission to bring Space closer to society. Founder José Mariano López-Urdiales said: “It’s very exciting to be this close to flying people on bloon. The environmental conditions inside the pod remained comfortable at all times. The efficiency of the aviation safety agencies (AENA, AESA), local governments and especially the Spanish Air Force was key for this success. When everyone works together, anything can be achieved in Spain.”


zero2Infinity Receives Start-up Award

BARCELONA, 5 October 2012 (zero2Infinity PR) — zero2Infinity, purveyor of near-space tourism, was announced today as a Yearling winner of the 2012 Bully Award honouring Europe’s leading startup companies as presented by White Bull Summits, champions of European innovation.


zero2infinity to Buy Pressure Suits from Final Frontier Design

Final Frontier design spacesuit. (Credit: Final Frontier Design)

NEW YORK (zero2infinity PR) — zero2infinity is now one step closer to manned flight: an agreement was just signed with Final Frontier Design to buy a pressurized space suits.

zero2infinity just entered into an agreement with Final Frontier Design and became one of the first in line to buy a pressurized space suits. The aim of Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev, the associates behind FFD, is to develop the next generation of space suits for the new commercial space industry. They have already made pressurized astronaut gloves and two complete suit prototypes and are now seking NASA flight certification; they will start delivering suits in January 2013.

Once pressurized space suits are delivered, zero2infinity will evaluate them in some tests for the use in the first manned test flight in 2013. We hope that this is the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration with Final Frontier Design.

Interesting High Altitude Balloon Flight Project

An interesting concept for high-altitude flight from a Barcelona company called zero2infinity. The website ncludes the following description:

Bloon’s near-spaceship will calmly soar through our atmosphere pulled by a balloon in a clean and safe way to an altitude of 36 km. Meanwhile, the four shirtsleeves travelers on board the pod will dispose of about 3 hours to discover the amazing beauty and fragility of the Earth. There’s no need to rush. Space travel is a journey of discovering and enlightenment. Near-space travelers can have dinner, sip their favorite drink or simply relax in the warm cabin’s environment with the only worry of not missing any detail of our great world and knowing that the trip not only did no harm, but helped protect her.