Quick Takes (11-21-2016)


$7.6 Million

The value of the non-cash impairment charge UrtheCast is taking on the two Earth-observation cameras mounted on the International Space Station’s Russian segment. UrtheCast said the write-down was driven by strained relations with Russia, which wants to renegotiate its agreement with UrtheCast.


The number of applications for global satellite internet constellations the FCC received by the Nov. 15 deadline it set for companies to declare their intentions to seek licensing for systems that, in some cases, would number several thousand satellites.


The number of days Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong spent aboard Tiangong-2 before returning to Earth Nov. 18. The mission was the longest crewed flight to date by China.

$330 Million

The size of the contract OHB expects to receive from the German government for full development of the experimental communications satellite dubbed Heinrich Hertz.

Courtesy of DOD

Courtesy of DOD


Defense Department is encouraging allies to join a program that provides unlimited use of Iridium satellites. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is in the middle of a five-year, $400 million contract with Iridium that provides the Pentagon with unlimited capacity on Iridium, with all traffic routed through a special gateway in Hawaii. While several allied nations already take advantage of the contract, a DISA official said Nov. 9 at the Global Milsatcom conference in London that other allies are welcome to join, paying a fixed fee for unlimited access.

NATO is so far behind in planning for a next-generation military satellite communications system that it may have to extend an existing contract. Gregory Edwards, director of infrastructure services at the NATO Communications and Information Agency, said at the Global Milsatcom conference Nov. 10 that extending the current contract, which expires in 2019, isn’t desirable because of growing bandwidth requirements, particularly in spectrum bands like EHF and Ka-band not included in that contract. Edwards said he hopes NATO has its satellite communications requirements in place by early 2017 to then solicit contracts from member nations.
The U.S. Defense Department is more open to international partnerships in satellite communications than it used to be, according to a Canadian officer. Lt. Col. Abde Bellahnid, who negotiated Canada’s entry into the U.S. Wideband Global Satcom system, said at the Global Milsatcom conference Nov. 10 that the U.S. has been more open to working with allies as it develops an analysis of alternatives for future satellite communications requirements. Bellahnid said he hopes that cooperation extends to another satellite communications effort for polar regions that Canada is currently studying in cooperation with the U.S., Denmark and Norway.


After trump, nasa stumps for earth Science

NASA used a briefing about an upcoming mission to make the case for the agency’s overall Earth science efforts.

“NASA’s work on Earth science is making a difference in people’s lives all around the world every day,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science, said at a beginning of a briefing about the CYGNSS hurricane-tracking mission.

Those comments come after the election of Donald Trump, whose space policy has proposed cutting funding for Earth science programs in favor of space exploration efforts.

Republicans in Congress in recent years have also proposed cutting Earth science funding, although those efforts have largely been unsuccessful.


ariane-5-galileoAriane 5 conducts its first galileo launch

Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket, debuting a new satellite-dispenser system, on Nov. 17 successfully placed four European Galileo navigation satellites into medium-Earth orbit.

It was the 75th consecutive success for Ariane 5, breaking the tie with its predecessor, the Ariane 4.

Launching from Europe’s Guiana Space Center, the Ariane 5 ES version, with a storable-propellant upper stage instead of the usual cryogenic stage, separated the four 716-kilogram Galileo spacecraft two at a time about four hours after liftoff.

The launch was the first time Ariane 5 had been used for Galileo. All previous launches were by Europeanized Russian Soyuz rockets, which carry two Galileo satellites at a time.

Ariane 5 prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space provided the 435-kilogram structure that releases two satellites at a time in an interval of about 20 minutes. Because this was the first use of the system, the separation in orbit provided the most tense moments of the four-hour mission.

Germany’s OHB and payload provider SSTL of England are under contract to build 22 Galileo satellites, 14 of which are now in orbit. The eight remaining satellites will be launched by Ariane 5 rockets in 2017 and 2018.

The Galileo system now has 18 satellites in orbit ( including four in-orbit-validation satellites). The European Commission, Galileo’s owner, expects initial service to begin by the end of the year.

The commission and the 22-nation European Space Agency, which acts as program technical manager for the commission, ultimately want 30 Galileo satellites in orbit — 24 operational spacecraft plus in-orbit spares.

To get to that total, ESA is managing a competition to build at least eight, and up to 14, additional Galileo satellites. An announcement of one or more winning bidders is expected in the coming weeks.


“I’m not really very interested in this solar system. I always thought it was kind of boring.”

— Pete Worden, chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, discussing the foundation’s Breakthrough Starshot project to develop technologies for an interstellar probe during a Nov. 16 talk at the Spacecom conference in Houston. The foundation is also funding efforts to detect signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.



U.S. House GOP leaders plan introduce a stopgap spending measure to fund the government through next March rather than try to push through one or more 2017  appropriations bills during the lame duck session. The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that provides funding through Dec. 9.


Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Whitson sets record

A Soyuz spacecraft with three new space station crew members launched Nov. 17. The Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and placed the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft into orbit. The spacecraft was scheduled to dock with the ISS on Nov. 19. The Soyuz is carrying ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson who, at 56, is the oldest woman to fly to space.



FIRST images FROM Blacksky’s PATHFINDER-1

Spaceflight Industries’ BlackSky division showed off the first images from its first satellite Nov. 14. The images from the Pathfinder-1 spacecraft, launched in September on an Indian PSLV rocket, indicate that the satellite is operating as planned, taking images with a resolution of about two meters per pixel. That resolution will improve as calibration of the spacecraft’s camera continues, the company said, calling the demonstration spacecraft a success. BlackSky ultimately plans to deploy a constellation of 60 satellites providing images with a resolution of one meter.


“Successfully tested the prototype Mars tank last week,” SpaceX tweeted Nov. 16. “Hit both of our pressure targets – next up will be full cryo testing.” Credit: SpaceX

“Successfully tested the prototype Mars tank last week,” SpaceX tweeted Nov. 16. “Hit both of our pressure targets – next up will be full cryo testing.” Credit: SpaceX

tank tests have spacex bursting with joy

SpaceX says a giant propellant tank it developed as part of its Mars mission architecture passed a key early test. The carbon-fiber tank completed a set of pressure tests performed on a barge the week of Nov. 7, according to a brief statement from the company. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in October that the test would take the tank up to two-thirds of its burst pressure. The tank is a key element of the interplanetary spaceship, capable of landing on Mars and carrying up to 100 people, that Musk unveiled in a talk in September.

Another SpaceX tank test at its McGregor, Texas, test site startled local residents and prompted a response from the fire department. The blast attracted the attention of local residents Nov. 16 and the city’s fire department responded, but there were no injuries or damage reported. SpaceX said that residents heard “the result of a pressurization test” at its test site that “was part of the ongoing testing being conducted by our Accident Investigation Team” into the Sept. 1 Falcon 9 pad explosion.