Thursday, June 21, 2018

Russia to deliver US new rocket engines

The US government is slated to receive one of two batches of Russian-made rocket engines in the second quarter of 2018, according to a leading Russian rocket designer, at nearly the same point when the newly created US Space Force is being established as a new branch of the US armed forces. The engines are used for delivering heavy payloads to space aboard the Atlas V launch vehicle - which will now presumptively fall under US Space Force, a sixth branch of the US armed forces announced by US President Donald Trump on Monday. "We have the Air Force and we're going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal." The US military's space command was formerly designated under the US Air Force's area of responsibility. "Currently, the production of commercial engines at Energomash is proceeding in compliance with the contracts signed," said Pyotor Lyvochkin, Chief Developer of Energomash Scientific and Production Association, Zero Hedge reported Sunday. "The dispatch of the first batch of RD-180 and RD-181 engines to the United States is planned for the second quarter of 2018," Lyvochkin noted.

The US space program relies on the RD-180 engine to power the first stage of the Atlas V rocket, the only American vehicle now capable of sending heavy payloads into space.

Trump boasted Monday "We don't want China and Russia and other countries leading us... We're going to be the leader by far." But when it comes to rocket engines, US personnel use the Russian-made engines. Similarly, US astronauts can only transit to the International Space Station aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, meaning they have to go to Russia's leased facility in Kazakhstan, the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

In 2014, US lawmakers passed a measure requiring that the United States phase out its reliance on Russian-made rocket engines. However, since US firms have not been able to produce an engine with sufficient capabilities to match the RD-180, US military leaders say that they will be able to buy feasible US-made engines by the early 2020s.

"Right now we are on track... to complete the transition period [and] come out the back end with two domestic service providers," US Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein said in a congressional testimony last month when asked for an update on transitioning away from the RD-180 rocket engine.

Billionaire Jeff Bezos' space firm, Blue Origin, has been working on a replacement for the RD-180 for some seven years now.

As Sputnik News reported, United Launch Alliance acquires RD-180 engines through RD Amross, a US-Russian joint venture that includes Russian firm Energomash, which is responsible for manufacturing the engines.

RD Amross chief executive officer Michael Baker told Sputnik News in April that collaboration between Russia and the US was a "shining example" of US-Russian teamwork.

"Our joint cooperative programs between Russia and the US over the last 20 years have been a shining example of how our two countries can work to together to accomplish great things," Baker said.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Arianegroup tests innovative technology for next generation upper stage rocket engine

A full-scale demonstrator of the thrust chamber for an upper-stage rocket engine incorporating the newest propulsion technologies has successfully passed first hot firing tests at the DLR German Aerospace Center P3.2 test facility in Lampoldshausen. The Expander-cycle Technology Integrated Demonstrator, ETID, will help to prove innovative technologies, materials and manufacturing techniques. It is tested in the frame of ESA's Future Launchers Preparatory Programme, aiming to increase the future competitiveness of European launchers by creating ready-made technical solutions, which can be transferred for quick development projects with minimal cost, effort and risk. Different technologies and methods of manufacture have been tested, such as additive manufacturing, laser ignition and cost-efficient materials. In addition, components will be tested to lay the foundations for a future 'smart' engine. Upper-stage engines operate in specific conditions such as vacuum and weightlessness that are difficult to reproduce on the ground, and involve significant development risks that have to be mitigated.

By the end of the year, ETID will have been hot fired up to 20 times, each test run lasting 120 seconds, in conditions similar to those in space, with a near-vacuum provided by the test stand.

Next to ArianeGroup in Germany, the prime contractor of this programme, other European partners like GKN Aerospace in Sweden, APP in the Netherlands, Safran Aero Boosters in Belgium and Carinthian Tech Research in Austria have, all provided hardware components for these demonstrator tests.

Monday, June 18, 2018

ESA Council commits to Ariane 6 and transition from Ariane 5

The ESA Council met in Paris this past weeek to discuss the path towards the future exploitation of Ariane 6. In view of the progress made in the Ariane 6 programme, Participating States have decided on the completion of the development up to full operational capability and agreed to fund industrial incentives associated with the development of Ariane 6 and P120C solid rocket motor. Participating States also committed to start with the first step of the Ariane 6 and P120C Transition Programme. This programme supports the evolution from Europe's Ariane 5 to full operational capability of Ariane 6. Ariane 6 is Europe's new-generation launcher, designed to secure guaranteed access to space for Europe at an affordable price for European institutional users. It will operate in two configurations: Ariane 62 is fitted with two P120C strap-on boosters while Ariane 64 has four. Ariane 6's maiden flight is planned for mid-2020.

P120C is the largest carbon-fibre solid propellant booster ever built in one segment at almost 13.5 m long and about 3.4 m in diameter. Two boosters will be used on Ariane 6's maiden flight in 2020.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Spaceflight to launch smallsats for Canon Electronics and BlackSky

Spaceflight has partnered with Rocket Lab for three upcoming launches. The first Electron mission, scheduled for the end of 2018, will launch a BlackSky microsat along with several rideshare customers. The second mission will launch satellites from commercial and government organizations in early 2019, and the third mission, also scheduled for early 2019, will launch a spacecraft from Canon Electronics. All three missions will lift off from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand and dispense the customer spacecraft into Lower Earth Orbit. Spaceflight has procured the launch capacity on behalf of its customers and will provide mission campaign integration services. Rocket Lab will assist with satellite to launch vehicle integration and will provide the launch service to orbit using the Electron. Following on the success of Canon Electronics' experimental Earth observing micro satellite CE-SAT-I which was launched in 2017, the company secured launch services with Spaceflight via Rocket Lab's Electron rocket. "This launch is very critical for Canon Electronics as we are launching two satellites built with all components made by Canon Electronics.

CE-SAT-I Mark II is our first mass-production model, and CE-SAT-II is a model equipped with two cameras with different resolutions," said Dr. Nobutada Sako, group executive, Satellite Systems Lab, Canon Electronics Inc.

"Just as Canon provides world premium technologies, sales, and services, we believe Spaceflight and Rocket Lab offer the same premium services to their clients and look forward to a long-term partnership with them."

This deal cements Spaceflight's first missions aboard the Electron rocket and signifies the company's continual expansion of dedicated rideshare missions to small launchers. "Adding the Electron to our portfolio of small launch vehicles fulfills a need for customers to access space with shorter lead times," said Melissa Wuerl, Spaceflight's vice president of business development.

"In addition to providing rideshare services on other organizations' missions, we are pleased to offer first-class integration services and dedicated launches for our customers on the Electron rocket."

"Rapid and repeatable access to space is crucial for the development of vital infrastructure on orbit," added Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. "In partnering with Spaceflight, Rocket Lab delivers streamlined launches and enables innovative missions like those of Canon Electronics and BlackSky."

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Nanodiamonds explain mysterious source of Milky Way microwaves

Astronomers have discovered microscopic gemstones surrounding three infant star systems in the Milky Way. Researchers believe tiny diamonds account for the shimmer of cosmic microwave light that has puzzled astronomers for 20 years. The shimmer is known as anomalous microwave emission, or AME. For decades, scientists have struggled to explain why the odd glow emanates from several of the galaxy's protoplanetary disks. Until now, scientists thought the most likely culprit was a type of carbon-based molecule called a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, or PAH. The interstellar particles yield a faint infrared signature. Another possible culprit, hydrogenated nanodiamonds, produce a similar but slightly different infrared pattern.Using the National Science Foundation's Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Australia Telescope Compact Array, astronomers were able to observe AME surrounding three young stars, V892 Tau, HD 97048 and MWC 297. Scientists found the AME emissions most directly matched the infrared pattern produced by nanodiamonds. "This is the first clear detection of anomalous microwave emission coming from protoplanetary disks," Green Bank astronomer David Frayer said in a news release.

Previous observations have shown other star systems produce the signature made by PAHs but show no signs of AME, suggesting nanodiamonds alone account for the faint shimmer.

Studies have previously suggested the presence of nanodiamonds, tiny particles of crystalline carbon, in the protoplanetary disks surrounding distant stars, but the latest findings -- published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy -- are the first to link the particles with AME.

Scientists believe cosmic nanodiamonds are formed when vaporized carbon atoms become superheated by young stars.

Nanodiamonds produce what's called a "dipole moment," yielding an electromagnetic radiation when they spin. Because they're so small, they can spin at tremendous speeds, emitting electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range.

"This is a cool and unexpected resolution to the puzzle of anomalous microwave radiation," said Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales. "It's even more interesting that it was obtained by looking at protoplanetary disks, shedding light on the chemical features of early solar systems, including our own."

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Hubble spots most distant star ever observed

If we could travel halfway across the Universe, we would find a huge star,christened Icarus, that was found after its discovery to be the most distant star from Earth. Normally, it would be impossible to detect it, even using the most powerful telescopes currently available, were it not for a quirk of nature that had amplified its brightness such that it could be detected with the Hubble Space Telescope. The discovery has also helped to test a new theory of dark matter and to study what clusters of galaxies are made of. The results of this study were published today in the journal Nature Astronomy. Icarus is located in a spiral galaxy that is so far from Earth that its light has taken 9000 million years to reach us. According to Patrick Kelly, a researcher from the University of Minnesota and leader of the team, 'This is the first time we've seen an individual star so far away. We can see very distant galaxies, but this star is a hundred times more distant than the next farthest star that we can observe, unless we include supernova explosions as stars.' The cosmic quirk that has allowed us to see this star is a phenomenon known as 'gravitational lensing'. 

MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1

The gravity of an extremely massive cluster of galaxies acts like a giant cosmic magnifying glass that amplifies the light from the most distant objects. The gravitational lens that has enabled us to see Icarus is created by the galaxy cluster known as MACS J1149+2223, located some 5000 million light years from Earth. Combining this lens with Hubble's resolution and sensitivity has enabled an analysis to be performed of this distant star.

The research team that has participated in this study includes, among other workers, Jose M. Diego of the Instituto de Fisica de Cantabria (IFCA), Steven Rodney of the University of South Carolina, Columbia (USA), Pablo G. Perez Gonzalez of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), Tom Broadhurst of the University of the Pais Vasco (UPV), and Ismael Perez Fournon (IAC and ULL). Patrick Kelly and his coworkers detected sudden changes in the star's brightness, produced by the microlens brought about by the gravitationaleffect of stars belonging to the cluster.

Although its official designation is 'MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1', the team decided to name the star after the character in Greek mythology who flew too close to the Sun with wings and feathers made of wax. Just like Icarus, the light from this star, on its journey towards Earth, passed so close to a Sun-like star in the intergalactic region of the MACS J1149+2223 cluster that its brightness was amplified by a factor of about 2000, thus attaining the glory of its Greek namesake.

'We were able to establish that Icarus is a blue supergiant star, a type of star that is much bigger, more massive, hotter and possibly thousands of times brighter than the Sun. But, at its great distance, it would be impossible to observe it as an individual star, even with the Hubble, were it not for the gravitational lens phenomenon,' comments Ismael Perez Fournon.

Pablo Perez Gonzalez (UCM) explains, 'Until 2016 is was only possible to observe individual stars in galaxies close to the Milky Way. Today, we are witnessing an individual star, very like Rigel, which is halfway across the Universe, and which, indeed, no longer exists.'

The detection of Icarus with the Hubble was so extraordinary that, when it was discovered, telescopes worldwide started to observe it. In Spain, special observing time was applied for on the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), the largest optical-infrared telescope in the world. It turned out, according to Perez Gonzalez, that the GTC 'was the only telescope to detect this star so distant from Earth, given that Icarus is so faint.'

The discovery of Icarus is exceptional not only in terms of the detection of such a distant star. Detecting the amplification of an individual star's brightness enables us to study the nature of the cluster's dark matter content, thus putting to the test a theory of the nature of the dark matter of the cluster that shows that most of it is in the form of primordial black holes.

According to Jose M. Diego (IFCA), first author of the theoretical paper accompanying the Nature Astronomy article, 'If the dark matter consisted of black holes similar to those detected by LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), the signal observed from Icarus would have been very different, which enables us to discard these types of candidates.' Tome Broadhurst (UPV) adds, 'this type of study will in future enable us to set limits on other dark matter models, such as those that postulate superlight particles of matter and their quantum effects.'

Also, in May 2016, another image appeared next to Icarus that seems to suggest that we are not dealing with an individual star. We could instead be talking about a binary system, with two stars in orbit around each other.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

New Horizons Wakes for Historic Kuiper Belt Flyby

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is back "awake" and being prepared for the farthest planetary encounter in history - a New Year's Day 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. Cruising through the Kuiper Belt more than 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from Earth, New Horizons had been in resource-saving hibernation mode since Dec. 21. Radio signals confirming that New Horizons had executed on-board computer commands to exit hibernation reached mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, via NASA's Deep Space Network at 2:12 a.m. EDT on June 5. Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of APL reported that the spacecraft was in good health and operating normally, with all systems coming back online as expected. Over the next three days, the mission team will collect navigation tracking data (using signals from the Deep Space Network) and send the first of many commands to New Horizons' onboard computers to begin preparations for the Ultima flyby; lasting about two months, those flyby preparations include memory updates, Kuiper Belt science data retrieval, and a series of subsystem and science-instrument checkouts.

In August, the team will command New Horizons to begin making distant observations of Ultima, images that will help the team refine the spacecraft's course to fly by the object.

"Our team is already deep into planning and simulations of our upcoming flyby of Ultima Thule and excited that New Horizons is now back in an active state to ready the bird for flyby operations, which will begin in late August," said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

New Horizons made a historic flight past Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015, returning data that has transformed our view of these intriguing worlds near the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt. Since then, New Horizons has been speeding deeper into this distant region, observing other Kuiper Belt objects and measuring the properties of the heliosphere while heading toward the flyby of Ultima Thule - about a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto - on Jan. 1, 2019.

New Horizons is now approximately 162 million miles (262 million kilometers) - less than twice the distance between Earth and the Sun - from Ultima, speeding 760,200 miles (1,223,420 kilometers closer each day. Follow New Horizons on its voyage at

Long-Distance Numbers

On June 5, 2018, New Horizons was nearly 3.8 billion miles (6.1 billion kilometers) from Earth. From there - more than 40 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun - a radio signal sent from the spacecraft at light speed reached Earth 5 hours and 40 minutes later.

The 165-day hibernation that ended June 4 was the second of two such "rest" periods for the spacecraft before the Ultima Thule flyby. The spacecraft will now remain active until late 2020, after it has transmitted all data from the Ultima encounter back to Earth and completed other Kuiper Belt science observations.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Firing up a new alloy

A centuries-old materials bonding process is being tested aboard the International Space Station in an experiment that could pave the way for more materials research of its kind aboard the orbiting laboratory. Sintering is the process of heating different materials to compress their particles together. "In space the rules of sintering change," said Rand German, principal investigator for the investigation titled NASA Sample Cartridge Assembly-Gravitational Effects on Distortion in Sintering (MSL SCA-GEDS-German). "The first time someone tries to do sintering in a different gravitational environment beyond Earth or even microgravity, they may be in for a surprise. There just aren't enough trials yet to tell us what the outcome could be. Ultimately we have to be empirical, give it a try, and see what happens." If the disparities between sintering on Earth and sintering in space can be better understood through continued experimentation, the technique could hold promise as an in-flight manufacturing solution or become a reliable path for piecing together in-situ resources. Missions to Mars or the Moon could leverage this new knowledge of sintering to piece together habitats from the lunar or Martian soil, known as regolith. Regolith includes mixed sediment like loose rock, dust, and soil.

The sintering process is used on a wide variety of everyday items that require metal bonding from the metal parts of a watch to a set of braces or the hinges on eyeglasses. One familiar example of the process in action is the bonding that occurs when ceramics are fired in a kiln.

This experiment relies on sintering to study a new alloy's behavior in microgravity.

"After the 1940s, sintering really started to take off as a manufacturing process," said German. "Once the automotive industry adopted it, the field saw phenomenal growth. Now we want to take sintering to space."

Components for the investigation were delivered to the space station aboard SpaceX CRS-14 and were fired in the Material Science Laboratory Low Gradient Furnace (MSL-LGF) within Materials Science Research Rack One (MSRR-1).

The investigation uses a process known as liquid phase sintering to test the degree of distortion in sintering caused by microgravity. Slightly different from traditional sintering, liquid phase sintering introduces materials with a lower melting point to the mix to bond particles not otherwise easily sintered. The melted additive speeds up and improves the bonding process. The results may allow scientists to adjust future calculations to create more successful bonds in microgravity.

"Sintering happens at the atomic level," said German. "Increased temperatures can cause those atoms to move about, and the liquid phase for our investigation helps with this atomic transport. On Earth, we have very stable structures where particles are pushed together by gravity, but we found in prior experiments that without gravity's compression, the components being sintered can distort tremendously."

Initially scientists on German's team hoped to sinter a tungsten, nickel, and iron alloy, but the team had to get creative to accommodate a temperature of 1210 C - the maximum allowed for the station's Low Gradient Furnace. Their solution? Create a new alloy. While based on previous research on the melting points and sintering applications of manganese, the substance created for this investigation is a novel combination of tungsten, nickel, copper and manganese.

The alloy could even have uses for lower temperature sintering back on Earth, where this bonding process has revolutionized and expanded options for the additive manufacturing industry. While the effects of Earth's gravitational pull are well known and defined for sintering on the ground, the investigation's results could still allow for process improvements and new insights into distortion. Likewise, the new alloy developed by German's team could be useful for a variety of industrial applications.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Commercial satellite launch service market to grow strongly through 2024

According to a new research report by the market research and strategy consulting firm, Global Market Insights, Inc, the Commercial Satellite Launch Service Market to hit $7bn by 2024. Increasing usage of communication data-based services and GPS systems is driving the commercial satellite launch service market size over the forecast period. These services are adopted by various sectors such as Automotive, Electronics, Military, IT, among others. Increasing number of vehicles integrated with built-in navigation units will contribute majorly for launching additional satellites. Additionally, Oil and Gas companies across the globe uses vehicle tracking systems for their official vehicles and tankers to locate their vehicles and maintain transparency. Usage of smart devices and services for personal use such as Smart TVs, online streaming services, etc. accelerates the financial investments. High demand for weather forecasting software is witnessed such as AccuWeather, The Weather Channel, Yahoo Weather, Google Weather, etc. Schools and colleges across the globe are introducing new smart classes initiatives. Rising penetration of mobile phones internet usage across the globe owing to next generation 4G/LTE networks with attractive data plans is driving the wireless technology. Due to proliferating usage of these applications across the globe additional number of satellites will be required. This in turn will escalate the revenue generation of the commercial satellite launch service market.

Technological advancements will result in decline of the launching service cost. For instance, in 2017, ISRO announced the launch of 3000 satellites in the next 10 years for navigation-based applications. In 2017, Airbus commissioned a high-volume satellite factory in the U.S. to build OneWeb satellites with an annual investment amounting to USD 17 billion. The focus is to reduce weight and enhance performance.

The modular satellites are easily customizable with various configurations according to the user requirements. Increasing manufacturing of satellites will positively impact the commercial satellite launch service market size.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is exploring alternatives to introduce micro launchers for various applications such as education, technology demonstration, telecoms, and earth observation. With this ESA aims to target companies with small satellites focusing on various mobile applications. However, the prohibitive cost of commercial satellite launch services is hindering the industry growth.

Moreover, the lack of proper commercial satellite launch facilities, quality control, launch problems, supply chain issues may negatively impact the industry size. However, with the growing demand for satellites, prices are expected to decline, resulting in strengthening of the commercial satellite launch service market size.

LEO is likely to exhibit over 3% CAGR in the commercial satellite launch service market from 2018 to 2024. This growth can be credited to low initial launch cost as compared to other orbits, less time to deploy and compact size commercial satellite. LEOs are a positive step towards providing connectivity to remote areas.

The micro segment of the commercial satellite launch service market share is expected to pose a CAGR of more than 6% over the forecast period. This growth can be attributed to the continuous developments improving reliability and affordability of the launch vehicles.

Reconnaissance commercial satellite launch service market size is expected to hold around 36% of the revenue share by 2024. Introduction of new farming techniques such as precision farming, utilizing the satellite imagery for improving farming will play a key role for the industry growth. Geographical Information System (GIS) tools and online web resources with the help of UAVs for farmers are spurring the segment growth.

North America was worth more than USD 2 billion in 2017 and is anticipated to dominate the commercial satellite launch service market share. This can be credited to robust infrastructure available in the region for developing new space programs by organizations such as NASA and SpaceX. Increasing number of navigation and communication satellites for locating destinations and data usage is significantly contributing towards regional growth of the commercial satellite launch service market.

Airbus S.A.S., Arianespace S.A., Axelspace Corporation, Boeing, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Orbital ATK, Space Exploration Technologies are few industry participants in commercial satellite launch service market. Joint ventures and partnerships are among the prominent strategies implemented by the competitors to enhance their industry share. For instance, in 2018, United Launch Alliance acquired Atlas 5 division of Lockheed Martin for reducing launch prices and improving business efficiencies.

Several industry players are focusing on innovations and next generation technologies to reduce satellite weight, introduce flexible modularity options, and low-cost models to enhance the commercial satellite launch service market share. Generally, the launch services are designed for a single time use. However, with the latest developments for vehicle reusability will further widen the industry scope over the forecast period.