Quick Takes (12-05-2016)

Significant Digits

€400M

The amount Eutelsat paid Russian Satellite Communications Co. after a French court ruled Nov. 23 that RSCC was not an arm of the Russian government. Former shareholders in the Russian oil company Yukos had filed suit to block that payment after an international arbitrator ruled the Russian government illegally liquidated that company. That ruling does not affect a similar suit blocking payments from Arianespace to Roscosmos for Soyuz vehicles.

$109M

The starting price for an Atlas 5 launch, according to the RocketBuilder online pricing tool United Launch Alliance unveiled Nov. 30. The website emphasizes tens of millions of dollars in “added value” in the form of increased revenue and lower insurance costs that ULA argues significantly reduces the net cost of the launch. The site does not take into account the added costs associated with government missions.

86%

The percent of NBN’s Sky Muster satellite broadband customers reporting connection hiccups in a recent survey. NBN said it’s aware of the problems and has already resolved many of them. The two-satellite Sky Muster sytem is a key element of Australia’s efforts to provide national broadband services, particularly to remote areas of the country.


Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft is captured Oct. 23 using the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station.The vehicle was packed with more than 2,300 kilograms of cargo and research equipment for Orbital ATK’s fifth commercial resupply flight to the station since Cygnus’ 2013 debut. Credit: NASA

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft is captured Oct. 23 using the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International
Space Station.The vehicle was packed with more than 2,300 kilograms of cargo and research equipment for Orbital
ATK’s fifth commercial resupply flight to the station since Cygnus’ 2013 debut. Credit: NASA

Spire deploys 4 in a cygnus first

A CYGNUS CARGO SPACECRAFT ended its mission Nov. 27 with a destructive reentry over the South Pacific. The Orbital ATK cargo spacecraft launched Oct. 17 on the return-to-flight mission for the Antares rocket and arrived at the International Space Station Oct. 23, delivering supplies and equipment for the station. It departed from the ISS Nov. 21.

Prior to its reentry, the Cygnus deployed four cubesats for Spire. The deployment marked the first time Cygnus deployed cubesats from an orbit higher than the ISS, as the spacecraft moved to an altitude of 500 kilometers before releasing the cubesats. The higher orbit will give the satellites a longer lifetime before reentry.

The deployment brings Spire’s constellation of satellites, used for ship tracking and weather-data collection, to 16. The company says delays in other launches have slowed the deployment of its constellation, particularly for spacecraft it plans to put into polar orbits.


“ President Obama just reaffirmed his commitment to placing people on Mars in the near future. There’s Virgin Galactic, SpaceX—various companies that are looking to begin civilian suborbital space travel. It’s a topic that has fascinated people for many years. I thought it would be great to try and put forward as a ballet.”

ETHAN STIEFEL, discussing his plans with Washingtonian magazine for creating a ballet about spaceflight for the Washington Ballet to celebrate the centennial of the birth of John F. Kennedy next year.


PLD Space is a Elche, Spain-based startup developing space technologies to provide suborbital and orbital commercial launch services dedicated to small payloads and nanosatellites. Credit: PLD Space

PLD Space is a Elche, Spain-based startup developing space technologies to provide suborbital and orbital commercial launch services dedicated to small payloads and nanosatellites. Credit: PLD Space

Small Rockets around the world

PLD SPACE wants to build Europe’s first reusable launch vehicle. The Spanish startup won a contract in November from ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program to develop technology for a recoverable first stage.

The company’s approach involves the use of parachutes to slow down the first stage, followed by a propulsive landing.

PLD Space is planning to develop a suborbital rocket, Arion 1, by 2018, followed by a small orbital launcher, Arion 2, in 2020.

 

EXPACE TECHNOLOGY CO., a spinoff of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, is trying to get into the small launch business by offering low prices and high flight rates.

The Chinese firm is selling launches of its Kuaizhou 1 small launch vehicle at a price of $10,000 per kilogram of payload.

Expace says it expects to launch 10 Kuaizhou 1 rockets per year, and has letters of intent from customers for nearly 20 launches.

 

ROCKET LAB has slipped the first launch of its Electron rocket until early next year.

The company, which had been saying in recent months it would begin tests of its small launch vehicle from its New Zealand site by the end of this year, now plans to give its employees a break over Christmas.

The delays will also avoid road closures in the area during the busy holiday season, a company spokeswoman said. Rocket Lab has not announced a new date for the first Electron launch.


“ It’s very rare where I sit down with folks from an industry who say we want to plus-up the regulatory bodies who regulate us.”

   U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), speaking at the Washington Space Business Roundtable’s

November luncheon in D.C.


“A bizarrely low bar”

NASA touts report vouching for asteroid mission’s scientific bona fides; House Science chairman calls boloney

Two members of the U.S. Congress are raising questions about a report that NASA claims offers scientific validation for its Asteroid Redirect Mission.

In a Nov. 29 letter, Reps. Lamar Smith and Brian Babin, both Texas Republicans, asked NASA for more info about a report released earlier in the month that said ARM could help close a number of “strategic knowledge gaps” for exploration and answer some scientific questions identified in the most recent planetary science decadal survey.

Smith and Babin argue that NASA set a “bizarrely low bar” for the report’s success by not considering other options to address those issues, and argued that the incoming Trump administration deserved more information and should be “unencumbered” by any decisions made in the final months of the Obama administration.


Europe approves ExoMars funding and ISS extension

THE 22 MEMBER NATIONS of the European Space Agency approved an extension of the International Space Station and additional funding for an ExoMars mission, but at the cost of another science mission.

ESA announced Dec. 2 at the end of a two-day ministerial meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, that the ExoMars 2020 mission, including a lander and rover, will go forward after nations agreed to provide an extra 440 million euros to keep it on track.

Other science programs, however, will absorb some of the cost. ESA set aside the Asteroid Impact Mission, a planned joint mission with NASA, after it failed to win support in Lucerne. One or more medium-class science missions yet to be selected may also be delayed.

ESA members formally agreed to extend ISS operations through 2024, the last station partner to do so. The extension also means ESA will provide a second Orion service module for NASA under a barter agreement between the agencies.


Workers encapsulate the Progress MS-04 vehicle Nov. 25 at Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: Roscosmos

Workers encapsulate the Progress MS-04 vehicle Nov. 25 at Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: Roscosmos

Russia suffers another progress failure

 A PROGRESS CARGO SPACECRAFT bound for the International Space Station failed to reach orbit after launch Dec. 1, a failure that should not have an immediate impact on operations of the station and its crew.

Telemetry from the Soyuz-U rocket ended 6 minutes and 22 seconds after liftoff from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, partway through the engine burn of the Soyuz’s third stage. Roscosmos said the spacecraft crashed in a “remote and unpopulated mountainous area” in southern Siberia.

The spacecraft was carrying 2.5 tons of cargo for the station, including equipment, food, water and propellant. Had the spacecraft launched successfully, it would have docked with the station Dec. 3 and remained there for several months.

The supplies, intended primarily for the three Russian cosmonauts on the station, were not critical. NASA said after the failure that there were large stockpiles of key supplies on the station.

Additional supply missions are planned for the station in the next several months. A Japanese H-2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) cargo spacecraft was scheduled to launch Dec. 9 on an H-2 rocket prior to the Progress accident. That HTV launch, according those familiar with station planning, could be delayed a few days to add any critical cargo items lost in the Progress failure.

Orbital ATK plans to launch its next Cygnus cargo mission on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 in early 2017, most likely in March. SpaceX may also resume Dragon cargo missions to the ISS in early 2017, depending on its launch schedule and its success in resuming Falcon 9 launches after a Sept. 1 pad explosion. The Falcon 9 return-to-flight mission, carrying 10 Iridium Next satellites, is scheduled for Dec. 16 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The station’s six-person crew was notified of the failure later in the day, and appeared to take the loss in stride. “We are fine up here and will function fine until the next supply spacecraft arrives,” Thomas Pesquet, a European Space Agency astronaut on the station, tweeted several hours after the failed launch.

The launch failure is the second loss of a Progress cargo spacecraft in just over a year and a half. The Progress M-27M spacecraft spun out of control after separation from its upper stage on an April 2015 launch and reentered in early May. A Russian investigation blamed a “design peculiarity” between the spacecraft and the upper stage of the new Soyuz-2 rocket for the mission failure.