Miscellaneous Launches and Payloads (updates)


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Hera Systems Enters Crowded Smallsat Imaging Field


Hera Systems plans to deploy nine cubesat-class spacecraft in 2016 to provide daily imaging of the Earth at up to 1-meter resolution. Credit: Hera Systems

HOUSTON — A California company announced plans Nov. 19 to develop a constellation of small remote sensing satellites, entering a field that has become increasingly crowded in the last year.

Hera Systems of San Jose, California, is planning to launch nine cubesat-class spacecraft in late 2016 that will be able to provide images at resolutions of up to one meter over several spectral bands, as well as video. That initial constellation could grow in time to up to 48 satellites, allowing the company to take images of the same location several times a day.

Hera Systems recently closed an initial Series A funding round that Bobby Machinski, chief executive of the company, said in a Nov. 17 interview was worth several million dollars. That money is being used to build up the company’s team and refine the design of the spacecraft, which passed a preliminary design review in late October.

The funding round was led by Firsthand Technology Venture Fund of San Jose, a venture capital firm that has investments in a variety of technology companies. A filing the fund made with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Nov. 9 listed, among its holdings, preferred stock in Hera Systems valued at $2 million.

Machinski said Hera Systems is already working on a larger Series B funding round, which he estimates will be worth $45 million to $53 million. That round will be used to complete development and launch of the initial nine-satellite constellation, and could close as soon as January.

The company’s original plans two years ago called for spacecraft weighing 50 to 60 kilograms. “We looked at that and said, ‘We have to do better,’” Machinski said. “We wanted to try and get this into a small form factor because launch becomes more of a bottleneck the larger the spacecraft is.”


Hera Systems’s current design is based on a 12-unit cubesat, approximately 24 by 24 by 36 centimeters in size. That is an emerging standard size for larger cubesat-class spacecraft, and allows the use of standardized deployers that can be flown as secondary payloads on launches. He said the company will launch its satellites as secondary payloads in October and November 2016 but  did not provide details on any specific launch arrangements.

Fitting a camera system capable of taking meter-class images and video in that small form factor involves the use of some proprietary technology. “We do have some ‘secret sauce’ for that,” Machinski said. “We’ve figured out a really unique and robust way of capturing that imagery in such a small form factor.”

Hera Systems is the latest entrant into what has become a crowded field of companies planning constellations of small Earth imaging satellites. Planet Labs has launched dozens of three-unit cubesats to provide medium-resolution imagery, and plans to launch up to 250 more in 2016 alone. Skybox Imaging, acquired by Google in 2014, has two small satellites in orbit and plans to launch a constellation of 12 more by early 2017. Aquila Space, BlackSky Global and UrtheCast are among other companies that have announced plans to deploy remote sensing constellations in the next several years.

Machinski said growing demand for imagery, particularly that which updated on a daily or even hourly basis, could support his company and many others. “We think that the market is very, very strong,” he said. “We think it supports a lot of growth in what we’re all doing.”

What sets Hera Systems apart, he argued, was the feature set of his company’s satellites and their low cost. “We’re jam-packing in as many features as we can,” he said. “The reduction in cost of developing the satellite constellation is something we can pass on in pricing to the customer.”

Machinski said the company is focusing on government customers, both in the U.S. and other nations, as well as businesses in some markets, like agriculture. He did not name any specific customers, but did confirm they have had discussions with the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which released a new commercial imagery strategy in October that supports working with companies developing smallsat imaging constellations.

In addition to funding the completion of the company’s initial satellite constellation, the upcoming Series B round will support initial work on a second-generation satellite. That will be a larger spacecraft, weighing between 150 and 300 kilograms, with advanced capabilities Machinski declined to disclose.

Machinski said that while the company’s schedule appears aggressive, the firm has been working on the system for a couple of years. “We’ve kept quiet until we were 100-percent sure” their system could work, he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t be ready for launch next year.”




And with the ever growing cube sat interest.....we now have agencies and corporations "harvesting" opportunities from these sats....

 On Small Satellites, NGA Putting its Money Where its Mouth Is

WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency plans to spend tens of millions of dollars studying ways to use data from emerging startups that are deploying constellations of small imaging satellites.

NGA Director Robert Cardillo said during a Nov. 16 press conference that the intelligence agency would request funding for the program as part of its fiscal year 2017 budget request, now being finalized. Because the 2017 budget has yet been presented to Congress by the White House, and NGA spending in any case is classified, specific dollar amounts for the program are not available.

But Cardillo said it was safe to assume it was tens of millions of dollars. “We have moved real money,” he said.

Some of the money in the fiscal year 2017 budget request would go to In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the U.S. intelligence community, Cardillo said. In-Q-Tel has provided seed money for several space-related startups in recent years, officials with the organization say.

The 2017 money, if approved, could lead to the first opportunities for emerging small-satellite companies to get a taste of government contracts.

More data at the link....

This is actually very clever.....use an existing or evolving infrastructure...for the data you require...at competitive rates, along with a possibility of extended development funding for the service purchaser......:D

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I am going to place this article in this forum due to the cube sat payload and method of launch.....BUT....before this even gets started...

ULA is using this as a publicity stunt to curb negative reflection on their methods of operation. The video, in my opinion, is misleading and bordering on fibbing. A couple of free slots to particular universities and possible launches in a year and a half....of 12 cubesats per launch...yes 12 cubesats per launch. This will not offset any costs and is pure grandstanding....enjoy the corporate vision.....:)

United Launch Alliance Reveals Transformational CubeSat Launch Program


ULA Innovation: Taking CubeSats to the Next Level, video is 1:54 min



As the most experienced launch company in the nation, United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today it is taking CubeSat rideshares to the next level by launching a new, innovative program offering universities the chance to compete for free CubeSat rides on future launches.

"ULA will offer universities the chance to compete for at least six CubeSat launch slots on two Atlas V missions, with a goal to eventually add university CubeSat slots to nearly every Atlas and Vulcan launch," said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. "There is a growing need for universities to have access and availability to launch their CubeSats and this program will transform the way these universities get to space by making space more affordable and accessible."

"This is exactly the kind of collaborative innovation that we celebrate in Colorado," said Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia. "Here, we have a Colorado company giving Colorado students at a Colorado university an unbelievable opportunity to send a satellite into space. What a great day for our state."



Rideshare is a flight-proven, innovative approach that provides customers a low-cost way to achieve various mission objectives without the need for a dedicated launch vehicle. CubeSats are miniaturized satellites originally designed for use in conjunction with university educational projects and are typically 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm (4 inches x 4 inches x 4 inches) and approximately 1.3 kg (3 lbs).

"Since its inception, ULA has been committed to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education initiatives and programs such as this help to motivate, educate and develop our next generation of rocket scientists and space entrepreneurs," said Bruno. "We are making the announcement today with University of Colorado President Bruce Benson and University of Colorado Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano, key partners in STEM education, and are pleased to offer the university the first free CubeSat launch slot in 2017."




"CU-Boulder students have been building and operating small satellites for 20 years, including the Colorado Student Space Weather CubeSat launched on a ULA Atlas rocket in 2012," DiStefano said. "The ability to provide science and engineering students with the opportunity to fly the satellites they build is an invaluable motivational and educational tool. We are thrilled to partner with ULA, a visionary organization that is helping to facilitate a nationwide STEM effort."

Interested universities should email ULACubeSats@ulalaunch.com by Dec. 18, 2015 to notify ULA they are interested in participating. In early 2016, ULA will release a request for proposal (RFP) for the first competitive CubeSat launch slots. The selected universities will be announced in August 2016.

In addition, ULA is offering the nation's universities the chance to help name the new CubeSat program. Universities, educators and students can submit names for consideration to ULACubeSats@ulalaunch.com using a campus-issued email address. Submissions are due by Dec.18, 2015. The winning name will be announced early next year, and the institution will receive a free CubeSat launch slot on a future mission. As America's ride to space, ULA has launched 102 missions, including 55 CubeSats, with 100 percent mission success.



Free CubeSat rideshares offered by ULA for Atlas V launches

Another article with a few particulars


ULA Offers Universities Free CubeSat Rides on Future Launches, First Slot Goes To CU Boulder

United Launch Alliance (ULA), the most experienced and reliable launch service provider in the United States, announced today they are kicking off a new program to answer America’s increasing need for universities to have access and availability to launch Cubesats more affordably. In order to do so, the company will give accredited U.S. colleges and universities opportunities to compete for free CubeSat rides on future Atlas-V and Vulcan rocket launches, and the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), where 10% of ULA’s current engineers graduated from, has been offered the first free Cubesat ride in 2017.



more data at the link...could not post any more without laughing....

my overall reaction....



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Good grief, Bruno looks like he's stressed out. Damn. Almost unhealthy. Guess he's feeling the pinch?

Either that or his "Overlords" have decided that his usefulness has ended, and they've given him cancer or something. /s

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/s He is reading a script and even he doesn't believe it....on a serious note...yes.....he looks stressed...not good......:(

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Gaia consortium meets ahead of first data catalogue release next year

File image: Gaia spacecraft.

From 16 to 20 November 2015, about two hundred members of the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC) are meeting in Leiden, The Netherlands, to review the current status of preparations for future catalogue releases from ESA's billion star surveyor mission.

Launched in December 2013, ESA's Gaia satellite started routine scientific operations on 25 July 2014. As it scans the sky from its location at the L2 Lagrange point, Gaia records the position, brightness, and colours of any object brighter than 20th magnitude that crosses its field of view.

During its five-year nominal mission, this will amount to positions of a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy from which their distances and motions can be reconstructed with unprecedented accuracy.

The brightness and colour measurements provide the information needed to determine the luminosity, temperature, composition and other physical characteristics of most of these stars. This huge stellar census will provide a foundation for tackling an enormous range of important problems related to the origin, structure and evolutionary history of our Galaxy.

By now, Gaia has accumulated about 340 billion positional or astrometric measurements, 68 billion brightness or photometric data points, and 6.7 billion spectra. Each of these data points is associated with a celestial object that passed across the Gaia focal plane during a scan. But this in itself is not sufficient to produce the absolute astrometric parameters - position, parallax and proper motion - that are the ultimate goal of Gaia.

These parameters can only be obtained by solving a complex mathematical and numerical framework that finds the best fit for the data and provides a satisfactory global astrometric solution. For the brightest stars of the sample it is possible to add yet another kinematic piece of information, when the radial velocity is extracted from the observed spectra.

Disentangling these data and determining the solution is therefore a huge task in terms of expertise, effort and dedicated computing power. In 2006, the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), a large pan-European team of expert scientists and software developers, was given the task of preparing for, and producing the Gaia catalogues.

The consortium consists of nine coordination units (CU), each focussing on a particular set of data processing tasks. In turn, the coordination units are supported by six data processing centres (DPC) hosting the computer hardware needed for the work.

Now, after more than a year of routine science operations and with over one-quarter of the total data expected for the five-year mission already to hand, DPAC members are in an ideal position to take stock of their achievements to date and to prepare for the next major milestones, in particular, the first Intermediate Data Release. This catalogue will be based on data from the first year of Gaia's observations, and the current release scenario foresees its publication in mid-2016.

Although the individual CUs and DPCs hold regular meetings and teleconferences, and discuss their work collaboratively on a variety of platforms, the meeting in Leiden will provide them with a rare opportunity to share and discuss their work face-to-face with colleagues from all the other units within the consortium.

On the agenda are several plenary sessions to present the current status. There will also be a number of splinter sessions dedicated to specific data processing topics, during which the scientists will have a chance to work with one another and iron out possible issues that have emerged during the past year, all with the aim of meeting the goal of the first intermediate catalogue result next year.


This is a massive amount of data to catalogue...they have their work cut out for them.....

Hope this will help for lagrange point definition.....

Lagrange Points of the Earth-Sun system (not drawn to scale!).

The L1 point of the Earth-Sun system affords an uninterrupted view of the sun and is currently home to the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Satellite SOHO. The L2 point of the Earth-Sun system was the home to the WMAP spacecraft, current home of Planck, and future home of the James Webb Space Telescope. L2 is ideal for astronomy because a spacecraft is close enough to readily communicate with Earth, can keep Sun, Earth and Moon behind the spacecraft for solar power and (with appropriate shielding) provides a clear view of deep space for our telescopes. The L1 and L2 points are unstable on a time scale of approximately 23 days, which requires satellites orbiting these positions to undergo regular course and attitude corrections.


 A contour plot of the effective potential (not drawn to scale!).

The easiest way to understand Lagrange points is to adopt a frame of reference that rotates with the system. The forces exerted on a body at rest in this frame can be derived from an effective potential in much the same way that wind speeds can be inferred from a weather map. The forces are strongest when the contours of the effective potential are closest together and weakest when the contours are far apart.



 James Webb Space Telescope 'Wings' Successfully Deployed

Engineers successfully completed two deployments for the James Webb Space Telescope's "wings" or side portions of the backplane structure that fold up. Image courtesy NASA. For a larger version of this image please gohere.

Recently inside the clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, engineers successfully completed two deployments for the James Webb Space Telescope's "wings" or side portions of the backplane structure that fold up.

The wings and telescope structure are essential because they make up the telescope's carbon fiber framework which will hold all 18 of the telescope's mirrors and the tower for the primary mirror.

"We deploy the wings one at a time. Each individual deployment can take up to 16 hours or more to complete," said Adam Carpenter, Mechanical Integration Engineer at Goddard, as he and other engineers prepared for the move. "It is a delicate operation requiring multiple groups to perform specific tasks."

Leading up to this test, engineers lined the telescope structure with cables. In space, these cables will enable the telescope to open up and will provide electrical signals to the active mirror segments. During the wing test, however, the engineers needed to make sure the cables did not block the deployment, and so the team arranged the cables carefully.

"The two wings of the telescope structure will eventually hold 6 of Webb's 18 primary mirror segment assemblies," said Carpenter said. "They are necessary so that the observatory can fold up in order to fit into the launch vehicle."

The James Webb Space telescope, once fully assembled, will be bigger than any rocket that can launch the telescope into space. So the engineering team designed the telescope to fold like origami to fit inside its Ariane 5 rocket. Once launched, Webb will be shipped out to its destination one million miles out in space.

Webb telescope's images will reveal the first galaxies forming approximately 13.5 billion years ago. The telescope will also see through interstellar dust clouds to capture stars and planets forming in our own galaxy.

At the telescope's final destination in space, one million miles away from Earth, it will operate at incredibly cold temperatures of -387 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 Kelvin. This is 260 degrees Fahrenheit colder than any place on the Earth's surface has ever been.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.


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Oh lovely. I certainly hope it functions as intended ... but as the Galileo Mission demonstrated, Murphy's watching and always ready to throw a wrench into das springenwerks. 

Obviously nothing could possibly go wrong here ...

Concerning the CubeSats: That gives me a hell of an idea for the ThinkTank .... :D

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The JWT got a lot of bad press due to several factors...but I'm treating it as the underdog which will surprise a few....If it can get out to a noise damped and cold background...we could be in for a line of treats.....:)

With the cube sats...a gattling gun sat dispencer to envelope a planet......:woot:

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Long March 3B lofts LaoSat-1


The Chinese have launched the LaoSat-1 communications satellite for Laos at 16:07 UTC on Friday. The launch was conducted by the Long March-3B/G2 (Y38) launch rocket – launching from the LC2 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.


LaoSat-1 Launch:

On February 25, 2010, China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), China Asia-Pacific Mobile Communications Satellite Company Limited (APMT) and Laos National Authority for Science and Technology (NAST) under Prime Minister’s Office PDR, jointly signed the Contract for Lao Satellite Broadcasting and Telecommunication System Construction (LaoSat-1).

This was the fifth satellite contract signed by CGWIC on an in-orbit-delivery basis with international customer.

According to the contract, satellite would be manufactured on the basis of the DFH Dongfanghong series of platforms designed and developed by China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and would be launched by an LM-3B launch vehicle provided by China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre (XSLC).



Developed from the Chang Zheng-3A, the Chang Zheng-3B is at the moment the most powerful launch vehicle on the Chinese space launch fleet.

The CZ-3B features enlarged launch propellant tanks, improved computer systems, a larger 4.2 meter diameter payload fairing and the addition of four strap-on boosters in the core stage that provide additional help during the first phase of the launch.

The rocket is capable of launching a 11,200 kg satellite to a low Earth orbit or a 5,100 kg cargo to a geosynchronous transfer orbit.


More data at the link...


 Chinese Long March 3B launches first Communications Satellite for Laos

file image

China’s heavy-lift Long March 3B lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Friday, carrying a communications satellite to orbit for the small Asian country of Laos. Friday’s launch occurred at 16:07 UTC and marked the third CZ-3B mission over a five-week period as China keeps up the high launch rate expected for the closing months of 2015.

LaoSat-1 is the country’s first Geostationary Satellite, to be operated by the Laos National Authority for Science and Technology to provide television and data services using a C/Ku-Band payload. The satellite and its launch were contracted through the China Great Wall Industry Corporation that offers Chinese space systems including satellites and launch vehicles on the international market.

Based on the DFH-3B satellite platform, LAOSat-1 weighs in at approximately four metric tons with a bus size of 2.2 by 2.0 by 3.1 meters, capable of hosting payloads in the 500kg range. Spanning 18 meters with its solar arrays deployed, the satellite will take up station at 128.5 degrees East in Geostationary Orbit to provide coverage of southeastern Asia. The satellite is outfitted with 14 C-Band and 8 Ku-Band transponders to deliver television and data services.


The LAOSat-1 satellite will complete an expedited commissioning campaign in Geostationary Orbit to be ready for operation on December 2 to broadcast the 40th Independence Anniversary festivities in Laos. Originally, the launch of LAOSat-1 was announced for Saturday through the usual navigational warnings. On rather short notice, new warnings were published on Thursday indicating that the launch was moved up by 24 hours – a capability demonstrated by the Chinese earlier this year to avoid bad weather getting in the way of a launch.

Long March 3B/E is the current heavy-lifter in the Chinese launch vehicle fleet, a position it will maintain until the Long March 5 flies for the first time in 2016. CZ-3B has a launch mass of 456 metric tons and stands 56.3 meters tall with a diameter of 3.35 meters. It consists of a three stage stack with four boosters clustered around the core stage. The boosters, first and second stages burn toxic hypergolic propellants, Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine and Nitrogen Tetroxide, while the re-startable third stage uses Liquid Oxygen and Liquid Hydrogen Propellants.

Friday’s liftoff was preceded by an eight-hour countdown that started with the activation of the launch vehicle for an extensive testing campaign before the third stage headed into propellant loading operations. Filling the stage with 18,200 Kilograms of supercold LOX and LH2 was a multi-hour process and propellants were kept topped up at flight level throughout the countdown – the hypergolic tanks of the rocket were loaded prior to the countdown. Overall, Long March 3B was filled with 400 metric tons of hypergolics to be consumed in the first minutes of its flight.

More data at the link...


Europe to develop satellite to map plant fluorescence


Artist’s concept of the FLEX satellite, in formation with a Sentinel satellite in the background, measuring plant fluorescence from orbit. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

The European Space Agency has selected a satellite mission to monitor the health of global vegetation over an atmospheric research project to track carbon in Earth’s atmosphere, officials announced Thursday.

The competition pitted the Fluorescence Explorer, or FLEX, against CarbonSat to be the eighth satellite in ESA’s Explorer mission line for a launch in 2022.

Scientists recommended ESA proceed with the FLEX mission in September, and the space agency’s Earth observation management board approved the selection this month, according to a press release Thursday.

Expected to cost approximately $300 million — less than 300 million euros — the FLEX mission will measure the faint glow given off by plants as they convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy, a process known as photosynthesis.

The research will help track the health and stress of plants around the world, aiding studies of agriculture and food stocks as Earth’s growing population places more demands on global resources.

“FLEX will give us new information on the actual productivity of vegetation that can be used to support agricultural management and the development of a sustainable bioeconomy,” said Jan Woerner, ESA’s director general. “It will therefore help to understand our ecosystem.

“With the selection of the FLEX mission, ESA Member States have continued to show their determination to provide essential data to the scientific community to better understand our planet while at the same time serving society,” Woerner said in a statement.

Plants emit a faint fluorescence as their cells process sunlight to produce energy to sustain their growth, and FLEX will be the first mission to measure the glow with enough fidelity and resolution to determine plant health and stress levels.

The amount of fluorescence depends on the efficiency of photosynthesis within the plant cells.

The FLEX satellite’s instrument — called FLORIS, or the Fluorescence Imaging Spectrometer — will quantify plant glow in blocks of about 90,000 square meters, or 22 acres, capturing the scale of individual agricultural and forestry management units, according to a report on the mission presented to ESA management.

FLEX follows a series of Earth Explorer missions developed by ESA, beginning with the GOCE satellite focused on Earth’s gravity and ocean circulation and the SMOS project studying soil moisture and ocean salinity.

GOCE and SMOS launched in 2009, followed by liftoff of Europe’s CryoSat 2 mission measuring the thickness of Earth’s ice sheets in 2010. The three-satellite Swarm magnetic field mission launched in 2013.

Europe’s ADM-Aeolus wind measurement satellite will launch in 2017, followed in 2018 by EarthCare, a joint European-Japanese mission to study how clouds and aerosols reflect solar radiation back into space, a variable critical in climate outlooks.

Biomass is the seventh Earth Explorer mission, selected by ESA in 2013 for a 2020 launch, with a new type of radar to tally the mass of the world’s forests and track their growth and contraction caused by seasons, climate and human activity.

“The selection of FLEX is an important milestone in our series of Earth Explorer missions,” said Volker Liebig, ESA’s director of Earth observation programs. “FLEX will give us a better understanding of an important part of the carbon cycle and provide important information about the health and stress of the planet’s vegetation.

“Through this, FLEX might make a contribution to the understanding of feeding the increasing population of our planet,” Liebig said in a statement.

FLEX will fly in formation with one of Europe’s Sentinel 3 Earth observation satellite in a sun-synchronous orbit 815 kilometers, or 506 miles, in altitude.

The satellite, to be built by Airbus Defense and Space or Thales Alenia Space, is baselined for launch on a Vega rocket from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.



Iran Interested in Purchase of Russian Satellites

The Russian Aerospace Forces are currently operating GLONASS, an alternative to GPS launched in 1993 that provides real-time positioning and speed data for surface, sea and airborne objects around the globe.

Iran intends to cooperate with Russia in the area of aerospace after economic sanctions are lifted, to include satellites, weather satellites, and remote sensing devices, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Thursday.

"Iran is interested in our plans [new federal aerospace program], they want to find their place in the market of remote sensing devices. They want their own weather satellites, satellites and remote sensing devices," Rogozin told Rossiya-24 television.

Russia's GLONASS navigation system will be improved to provide image resolution of three feet by 2020, Dmitry Rogozin said.

"In view of the renewal of our orbital grouping by 2020, we will reach highly competitive GLONASS signal accuracy results of less than one meter [3.2 feet]," Rogozin said.

In comparison, the US Global Positioning System (GPS) signal accuracy is currently 4.2 feet.

The chief executive of the Russian Space Systems developing company, Andrei Tyulin, has said an updated GLONASS system will be made available by the end of 2015.

The Russian Aerospace Forces are currently operating GLONASS, an alternative to GPS launched in 1993 that provides real-time positioning and speed data for surface, sea and airborne objects around the globe.

In late October, Rogozin expressed hope that the system would reach 40 percent of global market share in the future. Around 2.5 billion devices around the world are currently receiving signals transmitted via GLONASS satellites.


Good news...Iran has highly educated young people in Engineering and the Sciences...they will do well....:)

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Vega booster crowned with gravitational probe pathfinder


LISA Pathfinder and its orbit-raising propulsion module were enclosed inside the Vega rocket’s payload fairing Nov. 16. Credit: ESA-Manuel Pedoussaut, 2015

After criss-crossing Europe for a decade, the LISA Pathfinder satellite testbed has reached its last stop before launch in early December on a mission to demonstrate the delicate technologies required to detect elusive low-frequency gravitational waves rippling through the cosmos.

Ground crews transferred the spacecraft — already enclosed inside the Vega rocket’s nose cone — from a preparation facility at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana to the Vega’s launch pad Wednesday. A crane lifted the package on top of the four-stage rocket Thursday, topping off the 98-foot-tall (30-meter) booster.

The European Space Agency mission is set for launch Dec. 2 at 0415 GMT (11:15 p.m. EST on Dec. 1) on the sixth flight of the Italian-led Vega rocket. The mission has a one-second launch window, or else wait until another day.

Made by a contractor team led by Airbus Defense and Space’s UK division, the hexagonal space probe is heading for a looping halo-like orbit around the L1 Lagrange point nearly a million miles, or 1.5 million kilometers, from Earth toward the sun. The tug of gravity from Earth and the sun roughly balance at the L1 point, making it a popular home for solar research missions.

But LISA Pathfinder will not look at the sun.

Mission planners chose L1 for LISA Pathfinder’s operating post because it offers a gravity-neutral location to avoid spoiling the probe’s finely-tuned internal sensors, which must maintain extremely precise movements to cancel out any extraneous gravitational field.


Technicians hoist the LISA Pathfinder spacecraft inside its payload fairing atop the Vega rocket’s AVUM fourth stage early Thursday. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Optique Video du CSG – P. Baudon


The spacecraft will release two gold-platinum alloy cubes — each 1.8 inches (46 millimeters) on a side — from launch locks inside internal chambers once it is on track for the L1 Lagrange point. Free-floating 15 inches (38 centimeters) apart inside separate vacuum enclosures, the motion of the test cubes will be tracked to one thousandth of one millionth of a millimeter using a laser ranging system measuring the distance between them.

Cold gas micro-thrusters mounted outside the probe, coupled with specialized control software, will carefully regulate the movement of the spacecraft to keep the gold-platinum test masses floating inside their housings. The goal of the spacecraft is to keep the test cubes floating in an electrostatic field free from outside influence, demonstrating the masses can remain in near-perfect free-fall.

NASA supplied a separate set of colloidal thrusters, which generate thrust by accelerating liquid fuel through an electric field, to take over control of LISA Pathfinder for part of its 180-day prime science mission. The U.S. space agency also developed separate software algorithms to be tested on the mission independently of the European control systems.

The crux of LISA Pathfinder’s mission is testing out the thrusters, software, lasers and electronics required to fly a such a spacecraft perfectly undisturbed.


Artist’s illustration of the LISA Pathfinder spacecraft after separation from its propulsion module. Credit: ESA


LISA Pathfinder is designed to essentially fly itself around the free-floating test masses embedded inside it, according to Cesar Garcia Marirrodriga, ESA’s project manager for the mission.

Such technologies are vital to a future satellite project to deploy a fully-fledged gravitational wave observatory. With up to three spacecraft stationed up to millions of miles apart, the multi-spacecraft observatory set for launch in the 2030s will be capable of picking up signals of gravitational waves by monitoring slight, but measurable, changes in the distances between the test masses inside the three spacecraft.

Astronomers say gravitational waves coming from immense objects in the distant universe, such as merging black holes and galactic nuclei, can yield new insights into the fundamental physics of the universe in ways impossible to study with traditional observations of light waves.

LISA Pathfinder is purely experimental. Its modest size — about 6.9 feet (2.1 meters) in diameter — is too small to detect the low-frequency gravitational waves themselves.

ESA authorized full development of LISA Pathfinder in 2004, with a launch then expected in 2008.

But hurdles stood in the way, forcing European designers to switch from a futuristic design of electric micro-thrusters to stabilize the spacecraft in orbit to less precise nitrogen cold gas thrusters. Engineers also struggled with the mechanism that will shield LISA Pathfinder’s test masses from the vibrations of launch.

“It’s been a long mission — longer than anticipated — and the reason is we are a technology mission,” Marirrodriga said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “In some cases, we thought we had technical solutions and we had to change. We had to change because that technical solution was not working, and when you change something in the middle of a space mission, then that affects everything the rest of the way.”

Speaking Friday in an phone interview from the Vega launch base in French Guiana, Marirrodriga the launch campaign for LISA Pathfinder has had no such glitches.

Technicians from Arianespace and ELV, the Vega’s commercial operator and Italian prime contractor, began stacking the rocket on its launch pad in late September.

First erected was the P80 first stage solid rocket motor, which generates more than 650,000 pounds of thrust. Crews added the Vega’s Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9 second and third stage motors, then hoisted a liquid-fueled fourth stage atop the rocket.

The addition of LISA Pathfinder inside its payload fairing Thursday completed assembly of the rocket.


This chart shows the journey of LISA Pathfinder from Earth to its orbit around the L1 Lagrange point. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab


LISA Pathfinder’s cruise to the L1 Lagrange point will take about 50 days.

The Vega booster will first loft the 4,210-pound (1,910-kilogram) spacecraft into an elliptical parking orbit after its Dec. 2 launch. Marirrodriga told Spaceflight Now the launch will deposit LISA Pathfinder in an initial orbit with high point of about 954 miles (1,536 kilometers) and a low point of 124 miles (200 kilometers).

LISA Pathfinder carries with it a liquid propulsion module based on Airbus’ telecommunications satellite bus, and six engine firings will propel the probe out of its low-altitude orbit toward L1.

Assuming an on-time launch Dec. 2, a test burn of the engine is scheduled for Dec. 5, followed by the six orbit-raising maneuvers Dec. 6, Dec. 7, Dec. 8 and Dec. 11, Marirrodriga said.

“We can say then we’re going to L1,” Marirrodriga said.

The mission may require course-correction burns on the journey to L1 in December and January, then LISA Pathfinder will be captured into an expansive, arcing pathway around the libration point.

The mission’s science module will jettison the expendable propulsion package Jan. 22, assuming a launch in early December.

“You can argue then that we are already on a trajectory around L1 because from that moment on, the only thrusters that (LISA) Pathfinder will have are the micro-newton thrusters — the cold gas thrusters — so you already have to be injected into an orbit around L1,” Marirrodriga said.

The complex procedure to release LISA Pathfinder’s gold-platinum test cubes is set for early February, with its six-month baseline mission beginning soon after.


Been looking forward to this launch and payload operations.....:)


International Space Station cargo ship hoisted atop Atlas 5 rocket


File photo of payload hoisting. Credit: ULA

CAPE CANAVERAL — Loaded with over 7,300 pounds of goods for the International Space Station, a commercial Cygnus cargo vessel was mounted atop its Atlas 5 rocket booster today for launch Dec. 3.

Just over a week after stacking of the two-stage launcher began at the Vertical Integration Facility adjacent to the pad at Complex 41, the encapsulated payload was installed to top off the 194-foot-tall rocket this morning.

Shrouded in the 45-foot-long, 14-foot-diameter nose cone of the Atlas 5 and already packed full of its space station supplies, the Cygnus was trucked overnight from Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

An overhead crane at the VIF picked up the 16,517-pound freighter, maneuvered it into the Atlas integration building and set it in place for mating to the Centaur upper stage.

The rocket and spacecraft will undergo a tip-to-tail electrical checkout next week, followed by the Thanksgiving break and a series of final readiness reviews clear the vehicle for flight. Rollout to the launch pad occurs at 10 a.m. EST on Dec. 2.

This will be the heaviest payload ever launched by an Atlas rocket and the vehicle’s first flight dedicated to the International Space Station.

The OA-4 Cygnus is carrying 7,383 pounds of provisions to the station, not counting packing materials. The total mass with packing is 7,745 pounds.

Among the specifics:

-Crew supplies: 2,604 pounds
-Vehicle hardware: 2,220 pounds
-Science utilization: 1,867 pounds
-EVA gear: 500 pounds
-Computer resources: 192 pounds

The Dec. 3 launch will put the Cygnus on a path leading to intercept of the station on Dec. 6. Liftoff will be possible during a 30-minute launch window opening at approximately 5:55 p.m. EST (2255 GMT).

The launch window is much longer than other station-bound vehicles given the Atlas 5 rocket’s performance and its capability to navigate into the orbital plane of the laboratory.



New Detector Perfect for Asteroid Mining


Asteroid mining spacecraft          ©VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY

The grizzled asteroid miner is a stock character in science fiction. Now, a couple of recent events -- one legal and the other technological -- have brought asteroid mining a step closer to reality.


The technological development is a new generation of gamma-ray spectroscope that appears perfectly suited for detecting veins of gold, platinum, rare earths and other valuable material hidden within the asteroids, moons and other airless objects floating around the solar system -- just the type of "sensor" that will be needed by asteroid miners to sniff out these valuable materials.

The concept was developed by a team of scientists from Vanderbilt and Fisk Universities, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Planetary Science Institute. It is described in the article "New Ultra-Bright Scintillators for Planetary Gamma-Ray Spectroscopy" published Oct. 23 in the SPIE Newsroom. SPIE is the International Society for Optics and Photonics and the SPIE Newsroom highlights noteworthy scientific achievements in the area of optics and photonics. 



The key to the new instrument is a recently discovered material, europium-doped strontium iodide (SrI2). This is a transparent crystal that can act as an extremely efficient gamma-ray detector. It registers the passage of gamma rays by giving off flashes of light that can be detected and recorded.

"The gold standard for gamma-ray spectroscopy is the high purity germanium (HPGe) detector," said Fisk Professor of Physics Arnold Burger, who developed the SrI2 detector. "However, it requires cryogenic cooling so it is very bulky. It also needs vacuum-tube technology so it consumes too much energy to run on batteries. SrI2 isn't quite as good HPGe, but it is more than adequate to do the job and it is compact enough and its power requirements low enough so that it can be used in spacecraft and even placed on robotic landers."

More data at the link....

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PLD Space Announces Plans For ARION

ARION 1 launch vehicle mockup (Credit: PDL Space)

ALICANTE, Spain, November 18, 2015 (PLD Space PR) — The Spanish Company PLD Space, based in Alicante, announces through the information posted on its website, its plans to launch from Spain two brand-new reusable rockets into space, called ARION 1 and ARION 2.

PLD Space includes a calendar for these first launches of both vehicles, focusing its initial flight operations with a suborbital launch vehicle to test all major critical technologies that are currently under development. The company is working since 2011 to provide commercial launch services from south Europe, by using the INTA-CEDEA launch site, located at the South West of Spain, near Seville.

PLD Space announces this flight schedule after successfully tested in June 2015 the first LOX-Kerosene liquid rocket engine developed in Europe for small launchers in its own test facilities, located at Teruel Airport.


Engine test (Credit: PDL Space)

PLD Space propulsion department is now under final design of the new version of the Neton 1 engine that will be tested in early 2016. This engine will serve as single first stage engine for ARION 1 and second stage engine for ARION 2 launch vehicles. In parallel, the company is designing a single shaft LOX-kerosene turbopump for the first stage engine ARION 2.

About ARION 1

ARION 1 is a single stage, reusable and cost effective suborbital launch vehicle, capable of sending up to 100 kg of scientific and technological payloads up to 250 km in a parabolic trajectory. ARION 1 is powered by one Liquid Oxygen (LOX) – kerosene, 30 kN thrust engines.


Test stand (Credit: PDL Space)

PLD Space’s ARION 1 first suborbital test flight is scheduled for second quarter 2018 and will be the first suborbital flight into Space from South Europe since 1990. There are currently 5 confirmed suborbital missions, that will serve to provide commercial suborbital launch opportunities to worldwide customers, launching into Space from Europe and to test all critical technologies (in particular propulsion, structures and avionics) for orbital missions with ARION 2.

ARION 1 brand-new sounding rocket has been designed from scratch by PLD Space to provide low-G flight opportunities for the suborbital market, with particular emphasis on scientific, education and technology research.

More information at: http://pldspace.com/arion1.html

About ARION 2

ARION 2 is a three stages, partially reusable orbital launch vehicle dedicated for the small satellites market. ARION 2 launch vehicle is capable of launching into orbit up to 150 kg of payload to 400 km Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or 80kg to Sun Synchronous (SSO) in standard mission. This vehicle will be also capable of sending up to 5 kg of payload to moon orbit. PLD Space will offer this small payloads dedicated launch vehicle with two fairing configuration, Classic for standard missions and Enhanced fairing for large volume payloads.

PLD Space’s first orbital mission is scheduled for third quarter 2021, trying to put in Low Earth Orbit a 50kg class demonstration satellite and 4 academic cubesats. This first ARION 2 mission will be the first orbital launch from Europe since Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Minisat mission launch onboard Pegasus XL in 1997 from Canary Islands.

In addition, the company plans to perform the first moon launch attempt in the second quarter 2023, sending a 5kg class satellite to moon orbit in a scientific mission that will enable space exploration with small payloads.

In order to accomplish successfully the first ARION 2‘s orbital missions, PLD Space has based this launch vehicle development program using the same technologies that previously have demonstrated flight reliability onboard ARION 1.

More information at: http://pldspace.com/arion2.html

About PLD Space

PLD Space was founded in 2011 by two Spanish Aerospace & industrial engineers Raúl Torres and Raúl Verdú, to provide commercial and scientific access to space for small payloads in Europe. The company focused its activity developing LOX-Kerosene liquid rocket technologies and today has tested several engines in its propulsion test facilities located at Teruel Airport. These propulsion activities began in June 2013 when the company raised its first round of investment of $1.5M. In the last 3 months, the company has performed 20 successful test firings of this 25kN calorimetric engine version.


Here we have another legitimate newspace player....hope they do well.....:)


 Israeli comm satellite loses connection with earth

A rendering of the Amos 5 satellite (CC BY-SA Andrzej Olchawa/Wikimedia Commons)

The Israeli company Spacecom announced that it lost touch with the communications satellite Amos 5 on Saturday morning and has been trying to resume control of it.

“At the moment, the company does not have information as to the nature of the problem that caused the connection to be lost,” Spacecom said in a statement. “So far, the company has not succeeded in resuming its connection with the satellite.”

The company noted that the services usually provided by Amos 5 were no longer being provided to its various clients, and that the satellite, which was built by the Russian firm JSC Information Satellite Systems – Reshetnev, was $158 million.

The Amos 5, the fifth in a series of communications satellites launched by Spacecom, was plagued was plagued with a series of faults since its launch from Kazakhstan in 2011, leading the company to announce that it may not remain in service as long as initially planned – until 2027.

The Amos 5 provides services mostly to clients in Africa, the company said, as well as to other companies including the French telecommunications giant Orange and several Israeli clients.


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The Israeli satellite was launched in Dec. 2011 and was built on the Ekxpress platform by the Russian satellite maker JSC Information Systems, formerly NPO PM. JSC IS also builds the GLONASS global positioning satellites. A proven maker, their most recent on orbit satellite failures have been things like impacts etc.

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Sporting new upgrades, H-2A rocket readied for flight

A Japanese H-2A rocket arrived at the launch pad Monday for liftoff with the Telstar 12 Vantage communications satellite. Credit: MHI

A Japanese H-2A rocket is set for liftoff Tuesday on its first fully commercial mission, carrying a communications satellite for Telesat of Canada that will bridge the Atlantic Ocean with expanded coverage for television broadcasters and mobile users from Latin America to the Middle East.

Engineers from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the H-2A rocket’s builder and operator, rolled the rocket out of its vehicle assembly building at the Tanegashima Space Center on Monday, transferring it to a nearby seafront launch complex for fueling and final preparations.

Launch crews will load cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the H-2A rocket in the hours before blastoff on its 29th flight.

Fitted with four solid rocket boosters, the H-2A is set for liftoff at 0623 GMT (1:23 a.m. EST) Tuesday, the opening of a 104-minute launch window.

The launch will debut an upgraded upper stage capable of a long-duration coast, extending the H-2A rocket’s in-orbit life span four hours over previous missions.

Japanese engineers updated the upper stage to allow the H-2A rocket to deploy communications satellites in higher orbits closer to their eventual operating posts in geostationary orbit, a belt 35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles) above the equator.

Satellites in geostationary orbit move around Earth at the same rate the planet rotates, making the spacecraft hover over a fixed geographic location, an ideal attribute for communications satellites.

Most rockets drop satellites heading for such high perches in egg-shaped transfer orbits with low points dipping well below geostationary altitude, leaving the spacecraft themselves to do the rest of the work. The energy required to push payloads toward orbits directly over the equator also counts against the satellites’ propellant reserves.

The result is satellites launched into lower orbits with higher inclinations — meaning farther from their final destinations — must consume more of their own fuel, reducing the amount left for the rest of their missions.

The payload on Tuesday’s launch is the Telstar 12 Vantage communications satellite, a multipurpose signals relay station owned by Telesat of Canada. Telesat selected the H-2A rocket for the launch in 2013, giving Japan’s workhorse launcher its first dedicated commercial flight.

The H-2A has flown commercial secondary payloads before, but the Telesat contract marked its first in the global telecom market.

Built by Airbus Defense and Space, Telstar 12 Vantage is heading for geostationary orbit at 15 degrees west longitude, but the upgrades slated to fly on Tuesday’s H-2A rocket launch will put Telstar 12 Vantage in a higher orbit than achievable on previous H-2A flights.


The Telstar 12 Vantage satellite, seen here in its factory in France, will cover a swath from Latin America to the Middle East with up to 52 Ku-band transponders. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

Many other rockets launching large communications satellites regularly place their payloads into higher orbits like the one targeted Tuesday, and Japanese officials said the H-2A needed the capability to become competitive in the global launch market.

Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket, which launches many commercial telecom satellites, flies from a space base in French Guiana near the equator, reducing the maneuvers the spacecraft must do for itself once in orbit.

Other rockets, such as Russia’s Proton/Breeze M, release their payloads in high-altitude orbits after up to nine hours of in-space maneuvers to overcome the high latitude of the Proton’s launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The H-2A rocket’s launch facility on Tanegashima Island, which lies just off the southern coast of the southernmost of Japan’s main islands, sits near 30 degrees north latitude, far enough from the equator to require payloads expend much of their own propellant to reach their intended geostationary orbits.

H-2A flights with communications satellites of Telstar 12 Vantage’s class before Tuesday carried payloads owned by the Japanese government, depositing the craft in stretched orbits at less than 300 kilometers (186 miles) on the low end and up to 35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles) at the high end.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s launch, the Telstar 12 Vantage satellite will be in an orbit ranging from 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) to 35,586 kilometers (22,112 miles), with an inclination of 20.1 degrees.

The orbit leaves less lifting to be done with Telstar 12 Vantage’s on-board thrusters, leaving extra fuel in its tanks for a service life forecast to exceed 15 years.


The H-2A’s upper stage, seen here with its liquid hydrogen tank painted white, is lifted atop the rocket’s first stage inside Tanegashima’s vehicle assembly building. Credit: JAXA

“Through the upgrade development to improve its 2nd stage, the H-2A launch vehicle can allow a satellite in geostationary orbit to have a longer lifetime,” Mitsubishi Heavy Industries wrote in a document discussing the upgrades.

The higher orbit is possible due to a third firing of the H-2A rocket’s LE-5B upper stage engine, which only had to ignite twice on the launcher’s earlier missions.

Engineers have painted the upper stage’s liquid hydrogen tank white. The reflective paint will help keep the super-cold fuel from boiling off during the long coast between the second and third burns on Tuesday’s launch.

Designers added a lithium-ion battery to keep the rocket powered during the long flight, and propulsion engineers qualified the LE-5B engine for firings at a throttle setting of 60 percent, allowing for a more precise orbital injection, according to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Other changes include a programmed roll to ensure components of the upper stage and the satellite do not get too hold or cold in the harsh vacuum of space, and the installation of tiny thrusters at the base of the upper stage to keep liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants near the bottom of their tanks, and eliminate the risk of sloshing.

Engineers also modified the LE-5B engine’s chill-down procedure, which conditions the powerplant for ignition. Cryogenic liquid oxygen will trickle through the engine turbopump during the coast to ensure it is ready for restart.

The first segment of Tuesday’s launch will be like most H-2A flights, with the rocket’s four strap-on boosters burning out and releasing in pairs two minutes into the flight. The rocket’s four-meter (13.1-foot) nose cone will jettison at T+plus 4 minutes, 10 seconds, followed by shutdown of the first stage’s LE-7A at T+plus 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

Staging should occur eight seconds later, then the upper stage LE-5B engine will fire up for the first of its three burns and switch off at T+plus 11 minutes, 7 seconds.

The second maneuver is scheduled to begin at T+plus 22 minutes, 36 seconds, and will end at T+plus 26 minutes, 37 seconds.

Then comes nearly four hours of quiet as the rocket climbs to geostationary altitude before restarting the LE-5B engine at T+plus 4 hours, 22 minutes, and 30 seconds. The third burn will last for one minute, according to a timeline provided by Mitsubishi.

Deployment of Telstar 12 Vantage is scheduled for T+plus 4 hours, 26 minutes, and 56 seconds.


November 24th, 2015

H-2A • Telstar 12V
Launch window: 0623-0807 GMT (1:23-3:07 a.m. EST)
Launch site: Tanegashima Space Center, Japan
A Japanese H-2A rocket will launch the Telstar 12 Vantage communications satellite for Telesat. Telstar 12V will provide broadband communications coverage over the Americas, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The rocket will fly in the “204” configuration with four solid rocket boosters. [Sept. 17]



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Japanese H-2A rocket delivers for Telesat

Japan’s H-2A rocket soars into the sky at 0650 GMT (1:50 a.m. EST; 3:50 p.m. Japan Standard Time) with the Telstar 12 Vantage communications satellite. Credit: MHI

Flying its most complex mission to date, a Japanese H-2A rocket fired off a launch pad and roared into space from southern Japan on Tuesday, heading for an on-target deployment of the Telstar 12 Vantage communications satellite four-and-a-half hours later.

The flight was the first commercial launch by the H-2A, which Japan typically uses to send up government satellites, and it debuted upgrades allowing the rocket’s upper stage to ignite three times in space.

Owned by Telesat of Ottawa, Canada, the Telstar 12 Vantage satellite is beginning a 15-year mission to bridge the Atlantic Ocean with television broadcast coverage, and other communications services for government, corporate, airborne and maritime customers.

The 174-foot-tall (53-meter) H-2A rocket lit its hydrogen-fueled LE-7A main engine, ran it through a computer health check, then fired four strap-on solid rocket boosters to power off the launch pad at Tanegashima Space Center at 0650 GMT (1:50 a.m. EST; 3:50 p.m. Japan Standard Time).

Launch authorities held the countdown for 27 minutes to clear a boat out of a downrange hazard area offshore the rocket base, which sits on Tanegashima Island off the southern coast of Japan’s main islands.

With the range clear, the H-2A rocket streaked into clear skies atop 2.5 million pounds of thrust, leaving a twisting exhaust trail in its wake.

More at the link....

in depth review....

Launch of H-IIA on first Commercial Mission with Telstar 12V (F-29)
video is 7:49 min, launch at the start of video



Sentinel-3A on its way

Carrying a precision radar altimeter, an advanced infrared radiometer, and a wide-swath ocean and land imaging spectrometer, Sentinel-3 supplies a wealth of data related mainly to the marine environment for Europe's Copernicus programme. Delivering critical data on the height and temperature of the sea surface, it supports ocean forecasting for maritime safety. In coastal zones, this is also important for predicting extreme events such as storm surges and floods. Additionally, ocean-colour data provide key information to monitor seawater quality and pollution. Applications using data acquired over land include fire detection and land-cover mapping. Sentinel-3 also provides information to map the topography and extent of ice and to monitor the height of lake and river water. Image courtesy ESA/ATG medialab.

The latest satellite for the European Commission's Copernicus environmental programme has left France bound for the Plesetsk launch site in Russia and launch late next month.

Carrying a suite of state-of-the-art instruments, Sentinel-3A is set to provide an unprecedented step forward in the Copernicus marine, land, atmosphere and climate change services.

The satellite began its two-day journey from Thales Alenia Space in Cannes to Nice airport by lorry during the night. An Antonov aircraft will now carry the precious cargo to Arkhangelsk in Russia after a stopover in Moscow to clear paperwork.

At Arkhangelsk, Sentinel and its support equipment will be put on lorries before reaching the cosmodrome by rail.

Building on the pioneering Envisat and CryoSat satellites, Sentinel-3A's sensors will measure ocean features such as changes in water temperature and surface height - information needed for ocean forecasting and maritime safety. Around coasts, this is also important for predicting extreme events such as storm surges and floods.

Monitoring seawater quality and pollution, this multitalented satellite will also help to map the topography and extent of ice, and to monitor the height of lake and river water.

Over land, its uses include detecting fires and mapping.

Once the satellite is in the cleanroom in Plesetsk, it will be checked to ensure that all is well after the journey before beginning preparations for launch.

Sentinel-3A is scheduled for liftoff on a Rockot launcher at the end of December.



China's scientific satellites to enter uncharted territory

The dark-matter particle explorer satellite will observe the direction, energy and electric charge of high-energy particles in space in search of dark matter.

A series of scientific satellites, including one to probe dark matter, will be launched later this year and next year, said Wu Ji, director of the National Space Science Center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The development of four scientific satellites is going well, Wu said recently at an event to mark the 10th anniversary of cooperation between China's Double Star space mission and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Cluster mission to investigate the earth's magnetosphere.

The first of the series, the dark matter particle explorer, will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at the end of this year. All the major tests and experiments have been completed, and a mission control center for scientific satellites has been set up in Huairou, a northern suburb of Beijing, Wu said.

The dark-matter particle explorer satellite will observe the direction, energy and electric charge of high-energy particles in space in search of dark matter, said Chang Jin, chief scientist of the project.

It will have the widest observation spectrum and highest energy resolution of any dark-matter probe in the world.

Dark matter is one of the most important mysteries of physics. Scientists believe in its existence based on the law of universal gravitation, but have never directly detected it.

China will also launch a satellite for quantum science experiments next year. "It's very difficult to develop the payload of the satellite. We have overcome many difficulties in making the optical instrument. We are confident of launching it in the first half of next year," Wu said.

A retrievable scientific research satellite, SJ-10, will also be launched in the first half of 2016. It will carry out research in microgravity and space life science to provide scientific support to manned space missions.

The satellite is expected carry out 19 experiments in six fields: microgravity fluid physics, microgravity combustion, space material science, space radiation effect, microgravity biological effect, and space biological techniques.

Eight experiments in fluid physics will be conducted in the orbital module, and the others will be conducted in the re-entry capsule, which is designed to return to earth after 12 days in orbit. The orbital module will keep operating in orbit for three more days.

The SJ-10 project is jointly developed by 11 institutes of the CAS and six Chinese universities in cooperation with the ESA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Next year's launch schedule also includes a hard X-ray telescope, which will observe black holes, neutron stars and other phenomena based on their X-ray and gamma ray emissions,

Wu said that since the space era began in 1957, the United States and the former Soviet Union had made 90 percent of the "firsts". In recent years, Europe and Japan have also made great progress. The first landing on Titan and the first landing on a comet were accomplished by Europe's Huygens mission and Rosetta-Philae mission; and the first mission to take an asteroid sample back to earth was made by Japan.

"But we didn't hear any Chinese voice in those great missions. China is the world' s second largest economy, and a major player in space. We should not only be the user of space knowledge, we should also be the creator of space knowledge," Wu said.

"China should not only follow others in space exploration; it should set some challenging goals that have never be done by others, such as sending the Chang'e-4 lunar probe to land on the far side of the moon."



Asteroid Redirect Mission FAST Draft Report Available for Public Comment

Asteroid Redirect Mission    NASA

The Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST) for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)Draft Report has been released for public comment.

The Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST) for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) was a two-month effort that NASA chartered to provide timely inputs for mission requirement formulation in support of the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) Requirements Closure Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) in mid-December of 2015. Following the ARM FAST's two-month study with 18 participants, NASA has released a draft report for public comment:

ARM FAST Draft Report for Public Comment

Comments on the report should be emailed to the FAST leadership at: HQ-ARM-FAST@mail.nasa.gov

More at the link....

Pdf report....


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Surprised Sky Watchers

JAPANESE ROCKET SURPRISES SKY WATCHERS: Unbeknownst to most people in North America this morning, Japan launched an H-2A rocket carrying the Telstar 12 Vantage communications satellite. The resulting display surprised sky watchers in at least half a dozen states. "I was observing Comet Catalina before sunrise, when I noticed this thing halfway up towards Venus," reports Glen Wurden of Los Alamos, New Mexico:



"It lasted for at least a half an hour after 5:40 AM," he adds. "It was huge, easily naked eye, and kind of scary!"

The cloud was a fuel dump from one of the rocket's booster stages. Lingering high in the pre-dawn sky until sunrise wiped it away, it was seen from NevadaArizona,New Mexico and neighboring states.


That would have been neat to see......:)



Apollo Landing Sites.  Image Credit: NASA / LRO

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), capable of descending as close as 31 miles (50 km) from the lunar surface, has photographed all six of the Apollo landing sites in unprecedented detail.

The sites were chosen with the goal of exploring different geological terrains on the Moon’s surface. All are located on the Moon’s near side, which faces the Earth.

Apollo 11 landed on July 20, 1969, near the Sea of Tranquility, which is comprised primarily of smooth terrain. Three craters slightly north of the landing site are named Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin after the three mission astronauts.

Four months later, Apollo 12 set down on the Ocean of Storms, south of Copernicus Crater and just a short distance from the Surveyor 3 probe.

In February 1971, Apollo 14 landed in the Fra Mauro region. LRO captured an image (shown right) of the lunar module Antares’ descent stage in a 500-meter-wide photo.

The first mission to use a lunar rover was Apollo 15, which touched down on in Hadley Rille near the Apennine Mountain range. The rover made it possible for the astronauts to cover significantly more territory than earlier missions did.

With the goal of finding Moon rocks older than the young ones found previously in the lunar maria, Apollo 16 set down in a region of the lunar highlands known as the Cayley Formation, in April 1972.

Apollo 17, the last of the manned Moon missions, set down in the Taurus-Littrow Valley in December 1972, where the astronauts searched for primordial highland material.

In addition to showing the Antares descent state, one of the Apollo 14 images, taken with one of LRO’s two Narrow Angle Cameras (NAC), shows the tracks of the astronauts who traveled between two landmarks on the Moon’s surface.

Because the Sun is in a different position relative to the Moon each time LRO passes over the lunar surface, the cameras are able to take images from a variety of perspectives.

The positions of lunar modules and other equipment astronauts left on the Moon are well known, so the repeated capturing of images helps the LRO camera pin down accurate cartographic goals.

Neither the Hubble Space Telescope nor the most powerful telescopes on Earth are capable of imaging the objects and markings on these sites.

More information about LRO images can be found at Apollo Landing Sites Revisited.

A zoomable map created from LRO photos taken close to the lunar surface is available for viewing at ACT-REACT-QuickMap.


Larger image available at the link above....

LROC Explores the Apollo 14 Landing Site
video is 1:34 min




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NOAA Weather Satellite suffers in-orbit Breakup

Image: Lockheed Martin/NOAA/NASA GSFC

The Joint Space Operations Center informed satellite operators on Wednesday that a possible breakup of the NOAA 16 satellite was detected.

The debris event was identified at 8:16 UTC in an orbit of 841 by 857 Kilometers. No data on the number and orbits of the debris was available in the immediate aftermath of the event, but the debris were added to conjunction assessment screenings to provide information to satellite operators of possible close approaches between debris and active satellites.

NOAA 16 was built by Lockheed Martin as part of the fifth generation of the Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites that deliver an uninterrupted flow of global environmental information for operational applications including meteorology. Weighing in at 2,230 Kilograms, the NOAA 16 satellite hosted five instruments comprised of an Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer, a High Resolution Infrared Sounder, an Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit, a Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet Radiometer and a Space Environment Monitor plus Search and Rescue Tracking Systems.


Photo: NASA


As the second in the fifth generation of POES satellites, NOAA 16 was launched on September 21, 2000 from Vandenberg Air Force Base atop a Titan-II rocket. Entering orbit, the satellite completed a six-month commissioning phase and was declared operational in March 2001 starting out in an 870-Kilometer Sun Synchronous Orbit. Due to an issue with the antenna system of the satellite, NOAA 16 deactivated its Automatic Picture Transmission function and relied on High Resolution Picture Transmission for realtime imagery downlink.

The satellite handed primary duties off to NOAA 18 in 2005 and entered a backup position in which it continued delivering data. On June 6, 2014 the signal from the satellite was lost after a major spacecraft anomaly. NOAA 16 was officially decommissioned on June 9 after it was determined that recovery of the mission was not possible. Over the course of its 13-year service life, NOAA 16 made 70,655 orbits around Earth, surpassing its three-year design life by a decade. No details on nature of the onboard anomaly were given.

Three NOAA satellites in the afternoon orbit are still operational including two 5th generation POES launched in 2005 and 2009 and the Suomi NPP satellite orbited in 2011 to bridge a gap to the inauguration of the next-generation Joint Polar Satellite System in 2017. The early morning and mid-morning segments of the orbit are covered by the U.S. Air Force and Europe’s meteorological satellite operator EUMETSAT.

Debris events involving NOAA satellites are not unprecedented. The NOAA 8 satellite launched in 1983 suffered an onboard failure in December of 1985 leading to the release of six pieces of debris into orbits between 750 and 850 Kilometers. The suspected cause of the debris event was an overcharge of the battery resulting in a minor explosion of the battery. All six debris re-entered within a period of three years.

Two pieces of debris liberated from the NOAA 6 satellite in 1992 and 1995 and NOAA 7 suffered two debris events in 1993 and 1997 releasing two and three objects, respectively.

Satellites of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program are similar in construction and are known to be susceptible to battery explosions. In February 2015, the DMSP-F13 spacecraft exploded in orbit after a sudden temperature spike within the electrical power system. 43 pieces of debris were initially tracked and the satellite suffered an unrecoverable loss of attitude control. The number of debris increased to over 100 and studies showed that several thousand smaller debris that can not be tracked from the ground may have been generated by the explosion.

Engineers studied the DMSP-F13 explosion and concluded that a compromised wiring harness inside a battery charger was responsible and that six other DMSP satellites were using the same faulty part and could suffer the same fate. The risk of the debris to other missions was classed as low, however, the growing number of space debris and active satellites will lead to an unavoidable increase in conjunctions and collisions in the coming years.


Sound familiar...another one, probably battery explosion caused by thermal runaway....(same harness)

file image    NASA


Rocket launch demonstrates new capability for testing technologies

An UP Aerospace rocket launched experiments to flight test for NASA's Flight Opportunities Program from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Image courtesy Spaceport America.

An UP Aerospace SpaceLoft sounding rocket soared into the sky Nov. 6 from Spaceport America, New Mexico, carrying four technology experiments for NASA's Flight Opportunities Program that funded the launch of these technologies.

The commercial suborbital space rocket reached a maximum altitude of approximately 75 miles. The experiments were recovered intact 30 miles downrange on the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range. UP has launched several times from Spaceport but this was the first launch where payloads were ejected separately requiring independent re-entry under individual parachutes into the atmosphere.

"We had a great launch, all the payloads were exposed to the relevant environments that the researchers were seeking," said Paul De Leon, NASA Flight Opportunities Program campaign manager.

"The new payload deployment capability from UP Aerospace was successfully demonstrated, opening the opportunity for future entry, descent and landing technologies to be tested and matured under Flight Opportunities."

more at the link...


NASA plans twin sounding rocket launches over Norway this winter 

Part of CAPER, short for Cusp Alfven and Plasma Electrodynamics Rocket, is suspended from the rail that will carry the rocket out to the launch pad. CAPER's launch window will open Nov. 27, 2015, and scientists will have to wait for good weather conditions and a daytime cusp aurora before they can send their payload flying through the aurora borealis. CAPER will study the electromagnetic waves that both create the cusp aurora and send electrons flying out into space. Image courtesy NASA/Nate Empson.

This winter, two sounding rockets will launch through the aurora borealis over Norway to study how particles move in a region near the North Pole where Earth's magnetic field is directly connected to the solar wind. After the launch window opens on Nov. 27, 2015, the CAPER and RENU 2 rockets will have to wait for low winds and a daytime aurora before they can send their instrument payloads soaring through the Northern Lights.

Both instrument packages are studying phenomena related to the cusp aurora, a particular subset of the Northern Lights in which energetic particles are accelerated downward into the atmosphere directly from the solar wind - that is, the constant outward flow of solar material from the sun.

Though cusp auroras are not particularly rare, they are often difficult to spot because they only happen during the day, when sunlight usually drowns out what would otherwise be a spectacular light show. However, because the magnetic North Pole is offset from the geographic North Pole, it's often possible to see cusp auroras in Northern Europe near the winter solstice.

"The magnetic pole is tilted towards North America, putting this magnetic opening-the cusp-at a higher latitude on the European side," said Jim LaBelle, principal investigator on the CAPER sounding rocket at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. "Combine that extra-high latitude with the winter solstice-when nights are longest, especially as you go farther north-and you can sometimes see this daytime aurora with the naked eye."

more at the link...


Tracking new missions from down under

A new 4.5 m-diameter 'acquisition aid' dish antenna is being added to ESA's existing New Norcia, Western Australia, tracking station, ready to catch the first signals from newly launched missions. The new antenna will allow acquisition and tracking during the critical initial orbits of new missions (see Liftoff: ESOC assumes control), up to roughly 100 000 km range. It can also 'slave' the much larger 35m dish, which can then be used to retrieve ranging data and telemetry signals - on-board status information - from the newly launched spacecraft. Image courtesy ESA - CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

For beachgoers, Australia's pristine west coast is an ideal location to catch some rays. It is also ideal for catching signals from newly launched rockets and satellites, which is one reason why ESA is redeveloping its tracking capabilities down under.

When rockets and their satellites leap into the sky from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, they typically head east across the Atlantic, rising higher and faster with every second.

Some 50 minutes after launch, the new mission can be seen from Western Australia, rising up from the Indian Ocean horizon and then arcing high in the sky, already in space.

By the time the satellite, travelling at some 28 000 km/h, separates to start its life in orbit, it will already be in radio range of the land down under.

By early next year, a new radio dish will be working at ESA's existing New Norcia, Western Australia, tracking station, tracking station, ready to catch the first signals from new missions.

New Norcia currently has a large, 35 m-diameter dish for tracking deep-space missions such as Rosetta, Mars Express and Gaia, typically voyaging in the Solar System several hundred million km away.

Its size and technology are not ideal, however, for initial signalling to new satellites in low-Earth orbit.

In contrast, the new dish, just 4.5 m across, will lock onto and track new satellites during the critical initial orbits (see Liftoff: ESOC assumes control), up to roughly 100 000 km out.

It can also 'slave' the much larger dish, which can then receive ranging data and telemetry - onboard status information - from the new spacecraft.

"For satellite signals, the new dish has a wider field of view than the 35 m antenna," says Gunther Sessler, ESA's project manager, "and can grab the signal even when the new satellite's position is not precisely known.

"It also offers rapid sky searches in case the satellite's position after separation is completely unknown, which can happen if the rocket over- or under-performs."

In addition to satellites, the new antenna can also track rockets, including Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz.

The upgrade was prompted by the need to move the capability that, so far, has been provided by the ESA tracking station at Perth, 140 km southeast of New Norcia.

That station's location has become increasingly untenable through urban sprawl and radio interference from TV broadcast vans.

The upgrade ensures that ESA's Estrack tracking network can continue providing crucial satellite services along the most-used trajectories.

"With the closing of Perth station, ESA would have lost its capability in Western Australia, which is a critical location for most European missions," says Manfred Lugert, ground facilities manager at ESA's operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

The antenna was designed for low maintenance and operating costs and can go into hibernation when it is not needed between launches.

Perth station will remain in operation until the end of 2015, when it will be dismantled and many of its components reused at other ESA stations.

Once testing is completed, the dish will enter service in early 2016 in time for Galileo navsat launches and the first ExoMars mission, in March.



Webb Space Telescope Receives First Mirror Installation

Webb Mirror Installation    NASA

NASA has successfully installed the first of 18 flight mirrors onto the James Webb Space Telescope, beginning a critical piece of the observatory's construction.

In the clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland this week, the engineering team used a robot arm to lift and lower the hexagonal-shaped segment that measures just over 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) across and weighs approximately 88 pounds (40 kilograms). After being pieced together, the 18 primary mirror segments will work together as one large 21.3-foot (6.5-meter) mirror. The full installation is expected to be complete early next year.

"The James Webb Space Telescope will be the premier astronomical observatory of the next decade," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This first-mirror installation milestone symbolizes all the new and specialized technology that was developed to enable the observatory to study the first stars and galaxies, examine the formation stellar systems and planetary formation, provide answers to the evolution of our own solar system, and make the next big steps in the search for life beyond Earth on exoplanets."

Several innovative technologies have been developed for the Webb Telescope, which is targeted for launch in 2018, and is the successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Webb will study every phase in the history of our universe, including the cosmos' first luminous glows, the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, and the evolution of our own solar system.

The 18 separate segments unfold and adjust to shape after launch. The mirrors are made of ultra-lightweight beryllium chosen for its thermal and mechanical properties at cryogenic temperatures. Each segment also has a thin gold coating chosen for its ability to reflect infrared light. The telescope's biggest feature is a tennis court sized five-layer sunshield that attenuates heat from the sun more than a million times.

"After a tremendous amount of work by an incredibly dedicated team across the country, it is very exciting to start the primary mirror segment installation process" said Lee Feinberg, James Webb Space Telescope optical telescope element manager at Goddard. "This starts the final assembly phase of the telescope."

The mirrors must remain precisely aligned in space in order for Webb to successfully carry out science investigations. While operating at extraordinarily cold temperatures between minus 406 and minus 343 degrees Fahrenheit, the backplane must not move more than 38 nanometers, approximately one thousandth the diameter of a human hair.

"There have many significant achievements for Webb over the past year, but the installation of the first flight mirror is special," said Bill Ochs, James Webb Space Telescope project manager. "This installation not only represents another step towards the magnificent discoveries to come from Webb, but also the culmination of many years of effort by an outstanding dedicated team of engineers and scientists."

The mirrors were built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. Ball is the principal subcontractor to Northrop Grumman for the optical technology and lightweight mirror system.

The James Webb Space Telescope is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency. NASA works with the international science community to explore our solar system and beyond. We look to unravel mysteries that intrigue us all as we explore to answer big questions, like how did our solar system originate and change over time, and how did the universe begin and evolve, and what will be its destiny?

You can follow the mirror installation on a live webcam by visiting:http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/webcam.html

To learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/webb




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Vega receives the LISA Pathfinder payload for its December 2 flight

File image.

Another Vega launcher has completed its assembly process, marking a major milestone as preparations continue for Arianespace's 11th mission of the year from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

This activity concluded with the integration of Vega's "upper composite," which consists of the LISA Pathfinder scientific space probe passenger and its protective payload fairing. Installation took place at the Spaceport's SLV launch site, inside the facility's protective mobile gantry.

The lightweight Vega is one of three launchers operated by Arianespace from French Guiana, along with the medium-lift Soyuz and heavyweight Ariane 5. Its development was performed in a multinationally-financed European Space Agency program, with the vehicle's design authority and prime contractor role performed by Italy's ELV company - a joint venture of Avio and the Italian Space Agency.

Vega entered service in February 2012, and its five missions to date - all successful - have orbited a variety of payloads, ranging from Earth imaging satellites and climate change observation platforms to technology demonstrators and an experimental spaceplane.

LISA Pathfinder was developed in a European Space Agency (ESA) program and built by prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space. Produced to study the ripples in space-time predicted by Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, it will be placed in an initial elliptical Earth orbit on the December 2 Vega mission - which is designated Flight VV06 in Arianespace's numbering system.

The spacecraft's own propulsion module will then be utilized to reach the operational orbit around the first Sun-Earth Lagrange point (L1) - located approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. LISA Pathfinder's total liftoff mass is estimated at 1,906 kg.



I thought that this was a nice simplification...by Dr. Caleb Scharf....

Basic Rocket Science: Sub-Orbital Versus Orbital

The private space venture Blue Origin made some history on November 23rd 2015 with a successful launch, re-entry, and landing of its fully reusable, passenger-carrying rocket.

The project's single-stage launch vehicle lofted a protoype 6-human module to an altitude of approximately 100 kilometers (330,000 feet). The module re-entered the atmosphere and deployed parachutes for a dry touchdown, while the rocket performed a remarkable free-fall and powered landing to return to the very same launchpad it had left a short time earlier.

There are no bones to be picked about this, it's a very, very cool technical accomplishment. But it also serves to provide some perspective on the challenges of getting into space, getting into orbit, and getting beyond.

Let's break the problem down very simply, starting with a slide I sometimes use in teaching the rudiments of spaceflight.


A quick summary of what it takes to reach Earth escape velocity. G is th gravitational constant. M-sub-Earth is the mass of the Earth, m is the mass of a spacecraft, R-sub-Earth is the radius of the Earth.

The final equation represents the extreme, the whole hog. If you want to escape the Earth entirely, to get out to interplanetary space in one ballistic shot, you need to quickly reach the velocity v- which is about 11.2 kilometers per second (40,300 km/hour).

Of course you don't have to do it like this. As long as your rocket can provide an upwards force greater than the gravitational force pulling against you, it's perfectly fine to slowly crawl your way out to deep space.

But how does this compare to, say, reaching a low Earth orbit? In terms of the required velocity to maintain a circular orbit at some height horbit above the planet, this next slide tells all:


A circular orbital velocity


This seems promising, you only need to reach about 70% of escape velocity in order to hold a orbit. If we ignore the energy required to gain an orbital altitude (to get above the drag of the atmosphere), the energy needed to just reach that orbital velocity is about 50% of that needed for complete escape.

Except, how does this stack up against reaching a sub-orbital point? In other words, doing what Blue Origin did, which is basically to shoot straight up and fall back down again.

I won't list the details here, but the calculation is simple; we can just ask what the difference is in gravitational potential energy between an object at some altitude above the surface of the Earth and at the surface of the Earth. For a 100 kilometer jaunt that change in energy is about 1.5% of the energy required to reach escape velocity, or about 3% of the energy required to establish an orbit.

In other words, to progress from making a 100 km sub-orbital 'drop' to getting into low-Earth orbit involves roughly a factor of 32 increase in energy budget. And that figure takes no account of how you manage to expend the energy, together with all the inefficiencies of propulsion and the impeding forces (like atmospheric friction) that are going to add to the recipe. A rocket to orbit must be a whole lot bigger and more powerful - just ask Space X.

Being stuck deep in a gravity well, with a cloak of atmosphere above our heads may have been a critical ingredient for our evolution and for the four billion years of biological evolution that came before, but it sure can suck when it comes to reaching space.




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China launches sensitive Yaogan-29 imaging satellite

A previous nighttime Yaogan launch from Taiyuan, which saw a Long March 2C rocket loft the Yaogan-23 satellite into orbit. on November 15, 2014. (Photo: CNS)

China successfully launched its Yaogan-29 remote sensing satellite on a Long March 4C rocket early on Friday from the Taiyuan satellite launch centre in Shanxi Province.

The launch took place at 05:24 Beijing time (21:24 UTC Thursday), making it China's 16th orbital launch of 2015 so far. 

Some domestic sources state the satellite, developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, has a spatial resolution of 0.5 metres, though the instrument is not known. 

Chinese state media claim the satellite will be used for experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief.

However, western analysts believe the series of satellites use electronic intelligence (ELINT), electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar-sensing equipment for military purposes. 

Spaceflightnow.com has previously claimed that the Yaogan name may be a cover for a spy satellite program, dedicated to optical and radar imaging, maritime surveillance and related missions.


Yaogan-29 was placed into a 615 x 619 km x 97.8 degreesunsynchronous orbit by the Long March 4C, which can lift 2,800 kilograms to such orbits, or 4,200 kilos to low Earth orbit.

Debris from the rocket fell in Hubei province, with no damage or injuries reported.  



China's heavy launch schedule

Friday's Yaogan-29 launch was China’s 16th in 2015, following missions earlier this year involving four Beidou global positioning satellites, the Gaofen-8Gaofen-9 and Yaogan Weixing-27 earth observation satellites, a classified ka-band communication test satellite, the next-gen Long March 6 debut which lofted 20 small satellites, and the maiden flight of the solid-fuelled Long March 11. 


indepth analysis....


We could probably start a debris "bingo", at the rate this stuff is thrown around....


Europe's NIRSpec Instrument: Let There Be Light


Europe's NIRSpec instrument will be launched in 2018 as part of the NASAESA James Webb Space Telescope.

This week, in recognition of the UN International Year of Light, a NIRSpec model is among the cutting-edge optical instruments on display at ESA's technical heart, coinciding with a gathering of optical experts.

The Innovative Technologies in Space Optics workshop is being hosted at ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, from where the NIRSpec programme is managed.

The Near InfraRed Spectrograph will study the characteristics of more than a hundred celestial objects at once a major technical challenge to European industry.

Its focusing mirrors had to be lightweight while maintaining perfect optical performance even as their operating temperature drops to just 40C above absolute zero. The material of choice turned out to be cold-pressed silicon carbide, originally synthesised in an attempt to make artificial diamonds, and championed by ESA's space optics experts.

The word 'optics' comes from the Greek for eye, but the workshop is discussing instruments that operate far beyond the limits of human vision, from the infrared wavelengths of the James Webb Space Telescope to the X-rays that will be focused by ESA's Athena observatory.

Also on show were the latest CCD and APS light detectors, the use of the laser equivalent of radar to look back at Earth by ESA's Aeolus and EarthCARE satellites, and lasers for high-bandwidth, long-distance communication for Europe's EDRS 'data highway'.



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A few posts back, an article covered the launch of a NASA sounding rocket from the New Mexico spaceport. A video has been posted with some good images...


 SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM (NASA PR) — An UP Aerospace SpaceLoft sounding rocket soared into the sky Nov. 6 from Spaceport America, New Mexico, carrying four technology experiments for NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program that funded the launch of these technologies.

The commercial suborbital space rocket reached a maximum altitude of approximately 75 miles. The experiments were recovered intact 30 miles downrange on the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range. UP has launched several times from Spaceport but this was the first launch where payloads were ejected separately requiring independent re-entry under individual parachutes into the atmosphere.


 An UP Aerospace rocket launched experiments to flight test for NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program from Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Spaceport America)

“We had a great launch, all the payloads were exposed to the relevant environments that the researchers were seeking,” said Paul De Leon, NASA Flight Opportunities Program campaign manager. “The new payload deployment capability from UP Aerospace was successfully demonstrated, opening the opportunity for future entry, descent and landing technologies to be tested and matured under Flight Opportunities.”

Purdue University tested a new, U.S.-made green propellant that is gaining interest from the rocket industry. The experiment called Zero-gravity Green Propellant Management Technology acquired video data of the new propellant interacting with traditional designs of surface tension propellant management devices in near-weightlessness.


An UP Aerospace camera captures the separation in space of the Maraia capsule from Nose Fairing launch vehicle. (Credit: UP Aerospace)


Building on data from a previous launch, New Mexico State University performed another suborbital test of its Robotics-Base Method for In-Orbit Identification of Spacecraft inertia. The goal of the research is to experimentally test and verify a robotics-based method for on-orbit identification of satellite inactive properties in a microgravity environment.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, tested their entry, descent and landing technology for the Maraia Earth Return Capsule. The spacecraft is expected to become an inexpensive, autonomous International Space Station-based vehicle to provide on-demand return of small scientific and engineering payloads, or function as an ISS-deployed entry technology test bed.


An UP Aerospace camera mounted on the launch vehicle shows the Mariai capsule after ejecting and returning to Earth. (Credit: UP Aerospace)


NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, tested its Affordable Vehicle Avionics project, a suite of avionics that will provide early verification of new software and hardware for delivering an affordable and capable Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) system and telemetry avionics. The avionics project will be applied to multiple nano-launch vehicles at one percent the cost of current state-of-the-art avionics. Using this new GNC system reduces the cost of launching small payloads into orbit as well as recurring costs of future launches.

The Flight Opportunities Program seeks to advance space technology to meet future mission needs through flight activities that foster the growth of the U.S. commercial spaceflight industry and workforce. NASA will pay for the integration and flight costs for the selected payloads. Limited funds will be provided for other costs to facilitate the flight readiness of these payloads.

The Flight Opportunities Program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, is managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards, California. Ames manages the solicitation and selection of technologies to be tested and demonstrated on commercial flight vehicles.


Nose fairing camera. view of an UP Aerospace booster separating in space and ejecting the Maraia capsule. (Credit: UP Aerospace)


UP Aerospace SL-10 NASA Flight Opportunities Mission

video is 1:35 min



Press release for LISA Pathfinder mission


Next Arianespace Flight VV06: Vega to orbit LISA Pathfinder for the European Space Agency (ESA)

Kourou, release date, November 25, 2015

For the 11th launch of 2015 from the Guiana Space Center, the Vega light launcher on its overall sixth mission, this time on behalf of ESA, will orbit the LISA Pathfinder technology demonstrator, into an elliptical low earth orbit for a mission to the L1 Lagrange point.

With this seventh launch of the year overall for European Governments, this time focusing on space research and science, Arianespace, once again, reflects the company's assigned mission of ensuring independent access to space for Europe.

The launch will be carried out from the Vega launch complex (SLV) in Kourou, French Guiana.

Targeted orbit:  Elliptic low earth orbit for a mission to the L1 Lagrange point (at 1.5 million km from Earth) 
Perigee: 207 km 
Apogee: 1,540 km 
Inclination: 5.96 degrees.

Liftoff is scheduled for Wednesday, December 2, 2015, at exactly: 
• 01:15:00 a.m. (local time in French Guiana), 
• 11:15:00 p.m. (Washington, DC), on December 1st 
• 04:15:00 a.m. (UTC), 
• 05:15:00 a.m. (Paris).

The mission, from liftoff to release of the satellite, will last 1 hour, 45 minutes and 33 seconds.

The launcher will carry a total payload of 1,986 kg, including 1,906 kg for the LISA Pathfinder satellite, which will be injected into its targeted orbit.

The Launch Readiness Review (LRR) will take place on Monday, November 30, 2015 in Kourou, to authorize the start of operations for the final countdown.

LISA Pathfinder

Developed by ESA, the LISA Pathfinder technology demonstrator will pave the way for future spaceborne gravitational-wave observatories that will ultimately observe and precisely measure gravitational waves, "ripples in the fabric of space-time" predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

LISA Pathfinder is the first step toward observing Einstein’s gravitational waves from space. Its mission objective is to test the innovative technologies needed to directly detect these distortions. 

To watch a live, high-speed transmission of the launch, go to www.arianespace.com on December 2, 2015 (including local commentary in French or English), starting 20 minutes before liftoff. You can also follow the launch live on your iPhone or iPad (the Arianespace.tv app is free).


Launch kit ....view and downloads....lot's of data....


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ISRO set to test scramjet engine


Having tasted success with the indigenous development of a cryogenic engine for launch vehicles, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is now turning its attention to another key technology for space travel.

Engineers at ISRO are gearing up to test the scramjet engine developed in-house to power the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) due to undergo the first experimental flight shortly.

The scramjet engine which uses air breathing propulsion technology for hypersonic flight is scheduled to be test flown in January or February, VSSC Director K. Sivan said here on Friday. Talking to the media on the sidelines of the National Aerospace Manufacturing Seminar (NAMS- 2015) organised by the Society of Aerospace Manufacturing Engineers, he said the scramjet engine would be strapped to a two-stage Rohini sounding rocket for the experimental flight lasting seven seconds. It will be released at a height of 70 km and ignited during the coasting phase.

Smaller launch vehicles

Space research organisations across the world are involved in the development of scramjet technology because it contributes to smaller launch vehicles with more payload capacity and promises cheaper access to outer space. While conventional rocket engines need to carry both fuel and oxidiser on board for combustion to produce thrust, scramjets obtain oxygen from the atmosphere by compressing the incoming air before combustion at supersonic speed.

Almost 80 per cent of the lift-off mass of a launch vehicle is due to the oxidiser, explains Dr.Sivan. “By obviating the need to carry oxygen, the lift-off mass is considerably reduced, thereby enhancing the payload capacity. The scramjet engine can also liquefy the oxygen and store it on board.”

However, maintaining combustion in supersonic conditions poses technical challenges because the fuel has to be ignited within milliseconds.

Dr. Sivan said the scramjet engine would be married to the indigenously developed RLV at a later stage.

Meanwhile, ISRO is preparing for the first experimental flight of the RLV-TD (Technology Demonstrator). The vehicle is undergoing flight integration at the VSSC before being moved to Bengaluru for acoustic testing and later to Sriharikotta for the launch expected to take place in January.


 Reusable Launch Vehicle - Technology Demonstration Program (RLV-TD)


The cost of access to space is the major deterrent in space exploration and space utilization. A reusable launch vehicle is the unanimous solution to achieve low cost, reliable and on-demand space access.

Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstration Program or RLV-TD is a series of technology demonstration missions that have been considered as a first step towards realizing a Two Stage To Orbit (TSTO) fully re-usable vehicle. A Winged Reusable Launch Vehicle technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) has been configured to act as a flying test bed to evaluate various technologies, namely, hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air-breathing propulsion.

These technologies will be developed in phases through a series of experimental flights. The first in the series of experimental flights is the hypersonic flight experiment (HEX) followed by the landing experiment (LEX), return flight experiment (REX) and scramjet propulsion experiment (SPEX). Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator Hypersonic Experiment (RLV-TD HEX1) wherein the hypersonic aero-thermo dynamic characterization of winged re-entry body along with autonomous mission management to land at a specified location and characterization of hot structures are planned to be demonstrated.


Outstanding.......hope they keep at it..... :)

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China's indigenous SatNav performing well after tests



illustration only




The three satellites launched this year for China's indigenous satellite navigation system are sending twice as many signals as their predecessors, said the system's designer, after completing tests on the new units.

The 18th and 19th satellites for the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), which is being developed as an alternative to U.S.-operated GPS, were sent into space on July 26, and the 20th on Sept. 30.

While they are less than half the weight of earlier generations, the new satellites' output is greater, matching the best around the world, said the China Academy of Space Technology in its latest newsletter.

After tests of their orbits and key technology, they are working as intended and in all weather, according to the academy.

The 18th and 19th BDS satellites are the first that can communicate with each other, helping with distance measurements, said Wang Ping, chief engineer on the project.

China began to build the BDS in 1994, two decades after the United States developed GPS. China plans to complete a constellation of 35 satellites, achieving global coverage, by 2020.





Atlas V booster lands at Vandenberg



The Antonov AN-124, one of the largest cargo aircraft in the world, made its way from a production facility in Huntsville, Ala., to deliver an Atlas V booster here Nov. 20.




One of the world's largest cargo aircraft recently delivered an Atlas V booster to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The Antonov AN-124 made its way from a production facility in Decatur, Alabama, to deliver the booster Nov. 20.

"The Antonov flew from Zurich, Switzerland, to Mansfield, Ohio, and then to Huntsville, Alabama," said 1st Lt. Hammad Ghazali, the 4th Space Launch Squadron mission manager. "From there, the Atlas booster was loaded onto the aircraft and flown directly to Vandenberg."

Due to the large size of rocket components, transportation can pose unique challenges. The vehicles with the transportation muscle to accomplish this task include the Antonov; the Delta Mariner, a large cargo vessel used to transport rocket components by sea; and air ride tractor trailers, which are made to handle large, fragile shipments.

The Delta IV rocket is delivered by the Delta Mariner due to its massive size inhibiting other forms of travel.

"The Atlas V and Delta IV boosters can be transported via the Delta Mariner," Ghazali said. "This large ship is capable of carrying up to three boosters from the production site in Alabama to either Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or Vandenberg."

Various personnel were on hand to carefully orchestrate and coordinate the successful arrival and unique transportation of the rocket booster.

"An operation of this magnitude requires extensive training, coordination and teamwork," said Lt. Col. Eric Zarybnisky, the 4th SLS commander. "Members across Team Vandenberg, along with United Launch Alliance and other mission partners, helped make it all happen."

Despite arriving via flight to Vandenberg, the booster's original transportation method involved another option.

"The Atlas booster was originally built in Denver, Colorado, before production moved to Decatur, Alabama," Ghazali said. "Getting the first stage from Denver to Vandenberg wasn't feasible via truck so the booster was designed to be flown to the launch location. Flying the booster to the launch location minimizes the transport time and avoids hazards that the booster structure would be exposed to over land."

Consisting of a multitude of features, the Atlas booster is a pivotal piece of the space mission.

"The Atlas V booster provides space lift for critical spacecraft, including defense satellites, NASA scientific missions, and commercial satellites," Zarybnisky said. "The boosters carry the bulk of the fuel required to produce the thrust necessary to launch these satellites into the desired orbits. The orbits we launch to, from Vandenberg, are unique and provide our launch customers the ability to perform missions they could not accomplish if they launched from Cape Canaveral."

With the booster's successful arrival, day-to-day launch operations remain intact - ensuring mission success at Vandenberg.

"Launch vehicle processing has very tight timelines," Zarybnisky said. "Delays in a single operation can have large ripple effects across the process. By ensuring a smooth delivery, we can prevent schedule compression that induces additional risk into launch vehicle processing."




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New SLS test stands rise out of the ground at Marshall






Two new test stands are being constructed at the Marshall Space Flight Center, ready to “stress out” the Space Launch System (SLS). Test Stand 4697 and 4693 are both under construction, ready to receive all major elements of the monster rocket for structural testing. The 215-foot stand Test Stand 4693 is being built on the foundations of the Saturn V’s F-1 engine test stand.


Indepth article at the link......





Long-Lost Lander: Researchers Hunting for Soviet Moon Probe Luna 9



The former Soviet Union's historic Luna 9 lander, which in 1966 relayed the first images from the moon's bleak surface.
Credit: S.P. Korolev RSC "Energia"




The search is on for the former Soviet Union's Luna 9 moon probe, which made history's first-ever successful soft landing on a body beyond Earth.

Luna 9 made it to the moon on Feb. 3, 1966, and shortly thereafter beamed home the first images taken from the lunar surface. When pieced together, those pictures offered a panoramic view of the moon's bleak terrain and the horizon less than a mile away.

Now, nearly a half-century later, researchers are using NASA's sharp-eyed Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in an attempt to locate the final resting place of Luna 9, which is less than 2 feet (0.6 meters) wide and weighed about 220 lbs. (100 kilograms) back on Earth. (The spherical probe weighs about 37 lbs. [17 kg] in the moon's low-gravity environment, though the craft's mass remains constant everywhere.) [The Moon: Space Programs' Dumping Ground (Infographic)]


Ingenious landing system

Getting Luna 9 safely onto the moon's surface required a great deal of engineering creativity.




The Luna 9 lander was carried to the moon atop a rocket-powered descent stage.
Credit: NASA




"The method was ingenious," said Philip Stooke, an associate professor at the Department of Geography and the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.


Stooke said that the spacecraft descended under rocket power, slowing down just above the moon's surface. A long rod, projecting from under the spacecraft, eventually touched the lunar terrain. That contact triggered the landing probe's thrusters to turn off, which the Luna 9 landing capsule then ejected from the descent stage. The descent stage then fell to the ground.


The Luna 9 landing capsule was surrounded by an air-bag-like cover that softened the impact on the moon and was then discarded. The egg-shaped capsule rolled to a stop nearby, unfolded its petal-like covers and began operating, Stooke said.


Coordinating the coordinates


Will people ever find Luna 9 in LRO images?

"Maybe," Stooke said. "The Luna 9 lander would be small, barely two pixels across in the best images."

But, Stooke added, the lander's rocket stage would be bigger than that, and a bright patch created by the rocket's blast might be visible; such patches are visible at most other lunar landing sites. The best evidence would come from a comparison of the craters near a possible site for the lander, he said, contrasted against those seen in the historical Luna 9 surface images. This would be a better method because these craters are bigger than the lander, and thus easier to spot.


"The Soviets published maps, which we could compare with LRO images," Stooke said. "The Luna 9 landing site was always said to be at about 7.13 degrees north, 64.37 degrees west, based on tracking, but this doesn't fit with the surface photos."

Luna 9 captured a 360-degree panorama that shows more than 200 degrees of the horizon. That horizon is flat, as would be expected of the moon's dark volcanic plains regions, which are known as mare (plural maria).




The first image from the surface of the moon relayed to Earth via the former Soviet Union's Luna 9 lander on Feb. 3, 1966.
Credit: NASA




"But the coordinates put it [the lander] pretty much on the edge of a range of hills, the remnants of an old crater rim. Those hills should be in the images, but they are not," Stooke said. "I have suggested that the landing must be further north or east, far enough away that the hills are over the horizon … but there just is not enough in the Luna 9 images to help very much." [21 Most Marvelous Moon Missions]


Where's Waldo?


A leading sleuth in the effort to spot Luna 9 in LRO images is Jeff Plescia, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.


"Essentially, what I am doing is to grid up the images that cover the area and go through cell by cell looking to see if I can find something," Plescia said. He said his guess is that the beach-ball-size Luna 9 would be tough to spot, but the carrier hardware for the lander might indeed be recognizable.


"Given that they had a more or less powered descent, I am hoping there would be an albedo mark [a disturbance in the surface] similar to that at other landing sites and that would make it easier to spot," Plescia told Space.com.




The moon's landscape as revealed by the Soviet Unioin's Luna 9 lander.
Credit: NASA




Making the search even more difficult, there appears to be a typo in the reported Luna 9 landing coordinates, Plescia added.

The result is that the location is sometimes placed out in the mare east of the crater Cavalerius F, and sometimes in a piece of highlands on the southern boundary of the mare, Plescia said. The correct location, however, is on the section of highlands called Planitia Descensus, or plains of descent, he said.

"It's just a small target," Plescia said. "'Where's Waldo?' continues!"


Heritage hardware


As a spacecraft relic from decades past, Luna 9 is of interest to Beth O'Leary, professor emerita at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. O'Leary's areas of interest include both cultural anthropology and archeology, and she is an expert in the archaeology of outer space.


"I know with the current technology, archaeologists benefit by locating the early material culture on the lunar surface," O'Leary told Space.com.


The Soviet Union was the first nation to explore space and place objects on the lunar surface, O'Leary said.

"The contributions by the Soviet Union to the archaeological study of space and celestial bodies are significant and critical to investigations of the archaeological record of space exploration," she said. "Off-Earth heritage is humanity's heritage, not just one nation's."





Re-Entry: Prometheus 1-5




The Prometheus 1-5 satellite, one of eight secretive satellites operated by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, re-entered on November 29, 2015 after two years in orbit.

NORAD ID: 39393
Origin: USA
Object: Prometheus 1-5
Type: 1.5U CubeSat
Mass: ~2kg
Inclination: 40.5°
Launched: November 20, 2013 – 01:15 UTC
Launch Vehicle: Minotaur I
Launch Site: Wallops, Virinia, USA

Re-Entry Prediction: November 29, 2015 – 16:23 UTC +/- 14 Minutes
Re-Entry Zone: Indian Ocean, Australia, Pacific Ocean

The Prometheus 1-8 Satellites are eight CubeSats that were developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory and will be used to demonstrate the operation of a constellation of CubeSats.

Re-Entry Orbit




Image: Spaceflight101/Orbitron






Re-Entry: C/NOFS



Image: NASA Goddard



The C/NOFS satellite of the United States Air Force re-entered the atmosphere on November 28, 2015 after seven and a half years in orbit.

NORAD ID: 32765
Origin: USA
Object: C/NOFS (Communications/ Navigation Outage Forecasting System)
Type: Ionospheric Research
Launch Mass: 395kg (Dry: 274kg)
Inclination: 13.0°

Launched: April 16, 2008 – 17:02 UTC
Launch Vehicle: Pegasus XL
Launch Site: Kwajalein

Re-Entry Prediction: November 28, 2015 – 08:41 UTC +/- 180 Minutes
Re-Entry Zone: Unknown

Brief Satellite Description




Image: Spectrum Astro




The C/NOFS satellite was tasked with the investigation of scintillations in Earth’s ionosphere for the development of forecast models for the satellite to be able to predict scintillations and their adverse effects on signals from communications and navigation satellites leading to outages that could lead to a number of issues for the civilian and military sectors.

Built by Orbital Sciences and operated by the US Air Force, the satellite hosted seven instruments – an Ion Velocity Meter to measure the velocity vector, ion energy and composition; a Planar Langmuir Probe to measure ion density and associated fluctuations; a Neutral Wind Monitor measuring the neutral wind velocity; CORISS – the C/NOFS Occultation Receiver for Ionospheric Sensing and Specification using GPS receivers to determine total electron content in the atmosphere; CERTO – Coherent Electromagnetic Radio Tomography that used a radio beacon to measure plasma densities and deliver information on scintillation of radio signals; and VEFI – Vector Electric Field Instrument comprised of 6 electro field booms, magnetometers, Langmuir probes and lightning detector.

The satellite entered service in mid-2008 and operated as planned until 2013 when its mission was briefly interrupted by a spacecraft safemode.

Re-Entry Zone is unknown given the +/-3 hour uncertainty in re-entry time.




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Next few launches....



Dec. 1/2Vega • LISA Pathfinder
Launch window: 0415 GMT on 2nd (11:15 p.m. EST on 1st)
Launch site: ZLV, Kourou, French Guiana
A European Vega rocket, designated VV06, will launch with the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder mission. LISA Pathfinder will test the concept of gravitational wave detection from the L1 Lagrangian point between the Earth and sun. Delayed from July, Oct. 2 and Nov. 27. [Oct. 11]
Dec. 3Atlas 5 • OA-4
Launch window: 2255-2325 GMT (5:55-6:25 p.m. EST)
Launch site: SLC-41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, designated AV-061, will launch the fifth Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo freighter on its fourth operational cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station. The mission is known as OA-4. The rocket will fly in the 401 vehicle configuration with a four-meter fairing, no solid rocket boosters and a single-engine Centaur upper stage. Delayed from Nov. 19. [Nov. 7]
Dec. 9Soyuz 2-1v • Kanopus ST
Launch time: TBD
Launch site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia
A Russian government Soyuz 2-1v rocket with a Volga upper stage will launch with Kanopus ST Earth observation satellite. Delayed from Feb. 1. [Nov. 29]





Finely-crafted experimental space probe ready for launch


Artist’s concept of the LISA Pathfinder probe. Credit: ESA




A modest European-built spacecraft tuned to test the delicate, cutting edge technologies required to detect gravitational waves, a measurement that scientists say could yield unforeseen discoveries about the universe, is awaiting liftoff aboard a solid-fueled Vega rocket overnight Tuesday.

The mission has a one-second launch window to blast off at 0415 GMT Wednesday (11:15 p.m. EST Tuesday) from the Guiana Space Center, a European-run facility on the northeastern shore of South America.

Liftoff will occur at 1:15 a.m. local time in French Guiana, where the Vega rocket, made by Italy’s ELV contractor and operated by Arianespace, is ready for its sixth flight since debuting in 2012.

The Vega rocket’s missions to date have mostly shot Earth observation satellites into orbit, but the middle-of-the-night blastoff early Wednesday will carry an experimental spacecraft with sensitive laser ranging devices, low-impulse micro-thrusters, and two perfectly-crafted gold-platinum cubes to be suspended in free fall inside an electrostatic cage in the weeks after liftoff.



The two gold cubes, enclosed in vacuum containers (shown here without the launch lock mechanism), are key to the LISA Pathfinder mission. Each of these electrode containers houses a gold-platinum test mass. LISA Pathfinder will monitor the two cubes as they enter free-fall motion using a high-precision laser interferometer. Credit: ESA




Rounded cubes made of a gold-platinum alloy buried in the heart of LISA Pathfinder are cocooned inside launch restraints for liftoff, then ground controllers will command the masses to release in a complicated procedure engineers were unable to test on the ground.

Two mechanical fingers holding the test masses will extend needle-like appendages to contact the test masses in the final step of the release sequence, then the device will quickly pull away — in microseconds — to leave the cubes floating inside their chambers.

more at the link....





Webb "Pathfinder Telescope" completes second super-cold optical test



Recently, the James Webb Space Telescope's "pathfinder telescope," or "Pathfinder" completed its second super-cold optical test that resulted in the first checkout of specialized optical test equipment designed to illuminate the telescope's optics through to the instrument focal planes, and the procedures used to operate this test equipment.


While the actual flight elements of NASA's Webb telescope are assembled, engineers are testing the non-flight equipment installed in the test chamber to ensure that tests on the real Webb telescope later go safely and according to plan.

After the first Pathfinder test was completed in June 2015, the Aft Optics System or AOS, which includes the Tertiary Mirror and Fine Steering Mirror, was installed on the Pathfinder to prepare for a second test.


The Pathfinder is a non-flight replica of the Webb telescope's center section backplane, or "backbone," that includes flight spare mirrors. The full Pathfinder was then outfitted with special fiber-fed infrared optical sources that simulate star images.

Those star images, or infrared sources, along with a specially instrumented infrared detector were used during the second test to perform end-to-end testing of the full Pathfinder telescope system.


The AOS and the source system was built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp's facilities in Boulder, Colorado.

"Practice makes perfect. Since we will be testing the world's largest ever cryogenic telescope for the first time in the world's largest cryogenic test chamber, we need to be experienced in using our test equipment so we can focus on the performance of the telescope," said Mark Clampin, Webb telescope Observatory Project Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.


The flight backplane comes in three segments, a center section and two wing-like parts, all of which will support large hexagonal mirrors on the Webb telescope. The pathfinder only consists of the center part of the backplane.


However, during the test, it held two full size spare primary mirror segments and a full size spare secondary mirror to demonstrate the ability to optically test and align the telescope at the planned operating temperatures of -400 degrees Fahrenheit (-240 Celsius).

The test equipment used to test the telescope primary mirror and used to hold the entire pathfinder telescope were built by Harris Corporation of Rochester, New York.


The first and second cryogenic optical testing of the Pathfinder were conducted in Chamber A at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where the testing of the flight hardware will occur in 2017.


The extremely cold conditions inside the chamber are created by running liquid nitrogen and extremely cold helium gas through plumbing criss-crossing the surface of two big metal shells or "shrouds" nested inside the chamber walls.


"Now that the second test is done, it means that all optical test systems have been checked out," said Lee Feinberg, Webb telescope Optical Telescope Element Manager at NASA Goddard.


A third and final precursor test called "Thermal Pathfinder" will follow in 2016 that will fully test all the test equipment needed to simulate the temperature environment of space. Once this is complete, all test equipment and procedures needed to test the actual full flight telescope in early 2017 will be checked-out and ready.


The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.





Laser Power: Russia develops energy beam for satellite refueling




Russian scientists have developed a unique system for the transmission of electricity between spacecraft using lasers and photoelectric converters, according to the Russian daily Izvestia.


Federal Space Agency Roscosmos plans to perform a unique experiment where it hopes to transmit energy wirelessly in space, RIA Novosti quoted the Russian newspaper Izvestia as saying.


The new technology, which will use a space laser, may be of use to sophisticated satellites and military space vehicles, the newspaper said, adding that the experiment is being prepared by experts from the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, according to Izvestia.


Scientists plan to transmit energy from the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS) to the cargo ship Progress across 1.5 kilometers of space using a laser beam.


"Several leading Russian laboratories are taking part in the project, and we already have photoelectric converter receivers which are about 60 percent efficient," Energia spokesman Vyacheslav Tugaenko said.


According to him, a special track for testing the guidance system of the laser has already been prepared by Energia researchers.

They added that the ability to transfer power from one spacecraft to the other opens up new horizons in space exploration.

The idea of remotely "refueling" satellites in orbit has been hypothesized by scientists since the middle of the last century.

According to Andrey Ionin, a member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, such a refueling will be necessary to supply fuel to state-of-the-art satellites and military vehicles.



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LISA Pathfinder launch grounded to analyze Vega upper stage



Artist’s concept of the LISA Pathfinder spacecraft separating from the fourth stage of the Vega rocket. Credit: ESA




KOUROU, French Guiana — Launch managers in French Guiana have delayed liftoff of a European gravitational probe pathfinder at least one day to study the thermal extremes the upper stage of its Vega rocket booster will encounter on the flight, officials said Tuesday.

The launch of the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder was set for overnight Tuesday (early Wednesday, French Guiana time), but engineers elevated concerns about the readiness of the Vega rocket’s liquid-fueled fourth stage, which must ignite two times to deploy the 1,906-kilogram (4,202-pound) spacecraft into the correct orbit.

“We have decided that we cannot launch tonight Vega with LISA Pathfinder,” said Gaele Winters, ESA’s director of launchers. “We were confronted yesterday with some analysis that indicated that the behavior of the upper stage of the launcher is not completely compliant with the specifications.”

Louis Laurent, vice president of programs of Arianespace, the Vega’s commercial operating company, said launcher specialists raised questions about the fourth stage Monday afternoon after a launch readiness review earlier in the day gave the go-ahead for final flight preparations.

“The answer to these questions was not obvious,” Laurent told reporters Tuesday. “We were quite confident we would find a good answer to this question during the night, and when we reviewed the file this morning it was not convincing. The file was not totally clean, and in order to avoid putting too much pressure on the teams — we want to launch, but we want to launch safe — we decided to give them an additional 24 hours to consolidate the file.”

Winters told Spaceflight Now the concerns centered on the temperatures the upper stage engine will see during a long coast phase between two firings on the LISA Pathfinder launch. Engineers are crunching data to ensure the conditions will be safe.

“We have asked for additional analysis to look at that because we cannot take risks with a launch, certainly not with a beautiful satellite like LISA Pathfinder,” Winters said. “We have received that (analysis), but we are not satisfied. To put it in very simple words, what we need to have is really solid information to base a decision on to launch LISA Pathfinder, and that solid information is not available today.”



File photo of the AVUM fourth stage of the Vega rocket being stacked atop the booster before a previous flight. Credit: Photo credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Optique Video du CSG – S. Martin




Further reviews are planned late Tuesday and Wednesday morning, after which Arianespace and ESA management will decide whether to proceed with a launch countdown Wednesday evening.

The LISA Pathfinder spacecraft sitting atop the Vega rocket is heading for a halo orbit around the L1 Lagrange point 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth toward the sun. From that station, the probe will test out fine-tuned technologies required for a future mission to detect gravitational waves, phenomena predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

The Vega rocket is supposed to place LISA Pathfinder into a preliminary parking orbit, then a propulsion module attached to the spacecraft will send it to L1, where it is due to arrive in late January.

Teams at the European-run spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and Europe are analyzing data in hopes of getting comfortable with the upper stage and launching despite the unexpected readings.

The Vega rocket’s fourth stage, called the Attitude and Vernier Upper Module, is responsible for injecting satellites like LISA Pathfinder into orbit. It sits top three lower stages powered by solid-fueled motors.

The Italian-developed fourth stage burns a mixture of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, and it is propelled by a Ukrainian RD-869 engine.

Laurent said Arianespace is working with the Vega’s prime contractors, Avio and ELV of Italy, to ensure the rocket is ready to go.

“This is totally in accordance with our zero risk policy,” Laurent said. “If we have a (problem), we stay on the ground because on the ground we are safe, and we will launch when we’re 100 percent sure of the flight worthiness of the launch vehicle.”

If officials give a go, the launch time is set for 0404 GMT Thursday (11:04 p.m. EST Wednesday), or 1:04 a.m. local time in French Guiana.

“It’s a pity, and we don’t know yet if it will be possible tomorrow, but we’ll do everything to get the full information available to be able to take such a decision,” Winters told reporters here.



Better to be safe and delay one day, than have a stranded payload.......:)

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Looks like the LISA Pathfinder will launch around 11:00pm Eastern time tomorrow. Orbitals launch will be tomorrow at 5:55 pm, Eastern. We will have a double header on Thursday....


LISA Coverage...



There are two webcasts providing in-depth coverage of LISA Pathfinder on 3 December.

First, coverage of our LISA Pathfinder launch starts at 03:44 GMT (04:44 CET) with commentary from experts at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou.

A second webcast will provide coverage of the media briefing at ESA’s ESOC spacecraft operations centre, Darmstadt, Germany, with project managers, scientists and mission control experts. This will start at 05:30 GMT (06:30 CET).

The media briefing will begin while Vega is still in flight, just prior to separation and the critical first receipt of signals from LISA Pathfinder, expected around 05:51 GMT (06:51 CET). 





The Vega mission with Europe’s LISA Pathfinder is postponed


December 1, 2015 – Vega Flight VV06

Vega Flight VV06 has been postponed due to a technical issue on the launch vehicle that requires additional analysis. Results of this analysis will be reviewed tomorrow, leading to a decision for a possible liftoff on December 3.

As launcher teams work on the technical issue, the LISA Pathfinder payload is in stable and safe conditions at the Spaceport in French Guiana.

LISA Pathfinder was developed in a European Space Agency (ESA) program and built by prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space. Produced to study the ripples in space-time predicted by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, this scientific space probe will operate from the first Sun-Earth Lagrange point (L1). 





The mission had been postponed from Wednesday after concerns were raised associated with the thermal environment experienced by the RD-869 engine of the AVUM upper stage during the extended coast phase of this flight. Additional analysis was performed and cleared any concerns, allowing Vega to resume launch preparations in the evening hours on Wednesday for an early launch on Thursday.





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