Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Morpheus Space qualifies the world's smallest satellite propulsion system in orbit

After 7 years of tireless development at the tu dresden, the spin-off, Morpheus Space has successfully ignited the world's smallest ion beam thruster on the "UWE-4" nano-satellite. Four of the thumb-sized thrusters are located on UWE-4, the 1 kg nano-satellite of the University of Wurzburg. This enabled the Germany-based company to operate the first electric thruster in this satellite size in space. The primary objective of the satellite mission is to test the propulsion system in orbit in order to obtain space qualification, the final and most important milestone. The innovative satellite propulsion system called "nanofeep" provides mobility to the most commonly used nano-satellites in the commercial space industry. Mobility is the most crucial capability for satellites that is necessary to secure a sustainable space environment for humankind. So far, the control of the large networks of shoebox-sized satellites is non-existent or very limited at best. This means that the prevention of collisions with each other or with existing space debris becomes in the majority of cases impossible. In addition, space debris will continue to grow exponentially through the thousands of newly planned satellites over the next few years. This could potentially reach a point where low earth orbits will become unusable and space based services become unavailable for decades or even centuries.

Morpheus space offers satellite operators and manufacturers the opportunity to protect themselves against collisions and to return the decommissioned satellites into earth's atmosphere.

"I am incredibly proud of our entire team, who have worked extremely hard for this great success", says Ddaniel Bock, CEO of Morpheus Space.

"With the successful demonstration of our thrusters, we are approaching our biggest goal: Giving the nano-satellites the much-needed mobility and thus keeping the orbit of our beautiful planet clean and access to space a continued privilege of humankind."

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Partnerships Spur Industry for Flourishing Space Commerce

Throughout NASA's history, the agency has worked with industry and academia to explore and utilize the space frontier. Contractors built rockets, satellites and spacecraft. Colleges and universities have worked with NASA scientists and engineers to develop technology to support investigations leading to discoveries. As the 30-year Space Shuttle Program was drawing to a close, NASA again began plans to reach beyond low-Earth orbit. To allow a focus on exploration to the Moon and Mars, NASA has entered into partnerships with industry opening a variety of new opportunities. A little more than two years after the final shuttle flight, SpaceX's Dragon and Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft began successfully launching atop their company's Falcon 9 and Antares rockets to resupply the International Space Station. The companies developed the rockets and spacecraft through public-private partnerships under the agency's commercial resupply services contracts. More recently, NASA selected Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser spacecraft to join with Northrop Grumman and SpaceX, in delivering critical science, research and technology experiments to the space station for the agency's second commercial resupply contracts from 2019 to 2024. Additionally, NASA formed the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the space station and other destinations in low-Earth orbit.

In September 2014, NASA announced the selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station aboard their CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively.

This will end the nation's reliance on Russia to transport crews to the orbiting laboratory. Boeing's Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and SpaceX Falcon 9 will power the company's Crew Dragon to orbit.

The first uncrewed Demo-1 test flight of the Crew Dragon is slated for March 2, 2019 and the Starliner's uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is planned for no earlier than April 2019. The inaugural crewed missions of the Crew Dragon and Starliner are set to take place later this year.

The flourishing U.S. space industry continues its growth with Blue Origin building a facility to manufacture and launch reusable rockets from just outside the gates of NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

For launch operations, Blue Origin plans to refurbish Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a no-longer-needed Atlas II launch pad. This is the first time an entire rocket system will be built and processed on Florida's Space Coast.

Monday, February 25, 2019

NASA selects experiments for possible lunar flights in 2019

NASA has selected 12 science and technology demonstration payloads to fly to the Moon as early as the end of this year, dependent upon the availability of commercial landers. These selections represent an early step toward the agency's long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and, later, Mars. "The Moon has unique scientific value and the potential to yield resources, such as water and oxygen," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "Its proximity to Earth makes it especially valuable as a proving ground for deeper space exploration." NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) initiated the request for proposals leading to these selections as the first step in achieving a variety of science and technology objectives that could be met by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon. "This payload selection announcement is the exciting next step on our path to return to the surface of the Moon," said Steve Clarke, SMD's deputy associate administrator for Exploration at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The selected payloads, along with those that will be awarded through the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads call, will begin to build a healthy pipeline of scientific investigations and technology development payloads that we can fly to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial landing delivery services. Future calls for payloads are planned to be released each year for additional opportunities," he said.

The selected payloads include a variety of scientific instruments.

+ The Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer will measure the lunar surface radiation environment.

+ Three resource prospecting instruments have been selected to fly: + The Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System is an imaging spectrometer that will measure surface composition. + The Neutron Spectrometer System and Advanced Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface are neutron spectrometers that will measure hydrogen abundance.

+ The Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer for Lunar Surface Volatiles instrument is an ion-trap mass spectrometer that will measure volatile contents in the surface and lunar exosphere.

+ A magnetometer will measure the surface magnetic field.

+ The Low-frequency Radio Observations from the Near Side Lunar Surface instrument, a radio science instrument, will measure the photoelectron sheath density near the surface.

+ Three instruments will acquire critical information during entry, descent and landing on the lunar surface, which will inform the design of future landers including the next human lunar lander.

+ The Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies will image the interaction between the lander engine plume as it hits the lunar surface.

+ The Surface and Exosphere Alterations by Landers payload will monitor how the landing affects the lunar exosphere.

+ The Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing payload will make precise velocity and ranging measurements during the descent that will help develop precision landing capabilities for future landers.

+ There also are two technology demonstrations selected to fly.

+ The Solar Cell Demonstration Platform for Enabling Long-Term Lunar Surface Power will demonstrate advanced solar arrays for longer mission duration.

+ The Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator will demonstrate a navigational beacon to assist with geolocation for lunar orbiting spacecraft and landers.

NASA facilities across the nation are developing the payloads, including Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley; Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; Johnson Space Center in Houston; Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Nine U.S. companies, selected through NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) in November 2018, currently are developing landers to deliver NASA payloads to the Moon's surface. As CLPS providers, they are pre-authorized to compete on individual delivery orders.

NASA also released the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payload (LSITP) call in October 2018 soliciting proposals for science instrument and technology investigations. The final LSITP proposals are due Feb. 27 and awards are expected to be made this spring.

"Once we have awarded the first CLPS mission task order later this spring, we will then select the specific payloads from the internal-NASA and LSITP calls to fly on that mission. Subsequent missions will fly other NASA instrument and technology development packages in addition to commercial payloads," said Clarke.

Commercial lunar payload delivery services for small payloads, and developing lunar landers for large payloads, to conduct more research on the Moon's surface is a vital step ahead of a human return.

As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA has announced plans to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface by 2028.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

NASA greenlights SpaceX crew capsule test to ISS

NASA on Friday gave SpaceX the green light to test a new crew capsule by first sending an unmanned craft with a life-sized mannequin to the International Space Station. "We're go for launch, we're go for docking," said William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator with NASA Human Exploration and Operations. A Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX is scheduled to lift off, weather permitting, on March 2 to take the Crew Dragon test capsule to the ISS. NASA signed contracts in 2014 with SpaceX and Boeing for the companies to shuttle US astronauts to the ISS. This will be the first time the US space agency lets a private-sector company transport their astronauts. NASA ended its space-shuttle program in 2011 and since then has relied on buying spots on Russian Soyuz rockets to send US astronauts to the orbiting ISS. "This is an absolutely critical first step that we do as we move towards returning the crewed launch capability back here to the US," said Gerstenmaier, speaking at a press conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The March 2 flight will be identical to a flight that is set to take two astronauts to the ISS later in the year, possibly in July. The Crew Dragon capsule has seven seats. It should dock with the ISS on March 3, then detach and return to Earth on March 8. "I guarantee everything will not work exactly right, and that's cool, that's exactly what we want to do," said Gerstenmaier.

"We want to maximize our learning so when... we're ready to go do a real crewed mission, and it'll be the right safety for our crews."

SpaceX has already made more than a dozen unmanned trips since 2012 carrying supplies to the ISS with the cargo version of the Dragon capsule.

But the safety criteria for manned flights are higher, and NASA said that the Crew Dragon still has some problems, including with its parachutes.

"It's a really big deal for SpaceX," said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of the company founded by billionaire Elon Musk.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Citizen scientists invited to join quest for new worlds

The Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project re-launches this week, with a call to volunteer citizen scientists to join the search for cold worlds near the Sun. With its newly revamped online interface and equipped with twice as much data as before, the project offers new opportunities to discover planets lurking yet unseen in the outer reaches of the Solar System (e.g., Planet 9, Planet X) as well as cold nearby "failed stars" (a.k.a. brown dwarfs). The re-launch coincides with the publication of the project's latest discovery: a record-setting white dwarf star encircled by mysterious dusty rings that challenge astronomers to rethink the long-term evolution of planetary systems. With Backyard Worlds, available through the Zooniverse web portal, citizen scientists use images from NASA's WISE mission to uncover previously overlooked objects in the Sun's local cosmic neighborhood. The WISE satellite is currently surveying the entire sky at infrared wavelengths. WISE's infrared sensitivity has the unrivaled potential to reveal extremely cold and faint new neighbors of the Sun, some of which may reside closer to us than even the nearest known star, Proxima Centauri. Such neighbors would most likely be brown dwarfs colder than room temperature, of which only a few tantalizing examples are currently known to exist.

It Takes a Village - Crowd-sourced Mining of Vast Astronomical Maps

Nearby celestial objects appear to move against the backdrop of more distant stars and galaxies, and that relative motion is used to identify members of the Sun's local neighborhood.

But no lone astronomer could single-handedly study all of the WISE images by eye to find these cold worlds; and a completely automated search is not possible due to noise and artifacts in the WISE images. Backyard Worlds' solution is an online interface that presents large cohorts of volunteers with animated "flipbooks" of WISE images in which to visually search for moving objects.

"Professional researchers routinely use supercomputers and machine learning, but there's still no substitute for the human eye when it comes to recognizing subtle motions in astronomical images," said Backyard Worlds co-founder Aaron Meisner, an astronomer at the NSF's National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona.

The crowd-sourced approach works. Since the project's inception two years ago, Backyard Worlds volunteers have discovered more than a thousand cold, nearby brown dwarfs - more than one per day!

Finding the Unexpected: an Ancient White Dwarf with Enigmatic Dust Rings

Alongside its re-launch, Backyard Worlds also announces its latest discovery, a surprising object unlike anything the team expected to find. Whereas most Backyard Worlds discoveries have been brown dwarfs, this newly published member of the solar neighborhood is a white dwarf - the faint, dense remnant of a stellar death long ago.

The white dwarf in question - LSPM J0207+3331, or J0207 for short - is unusually bright in WISE images, indicating that it's encircled by a warm, dusty circumstellar disk. Such disks are thought to result from the ongoing breakup of small rocky planetesimals in orbit around the white dwarf. But with an age of roughly 3 billion years, J0207 is colder and nearly three times older than any other white dwarf known to harbor such a disk.

The peculiar infrared properties of J0207 were first reported to Backyard Worlds researchers by citizen scientist Melina Thevenot of Germany.

"This white dwarf is so old that whatever process is feeding material into its ring must operate on billion-year timescales," said John Debes, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and lead author of the J0207 study co-authored by Thevenot. "Most of the models scientists have created to explain rings around white dwarfs only work well up to around 100 million years, so this star is really challenging our assumptions of how planetary systems evolve."

Adding to this puzzle, the J0207 disk may be composed of more than one distinct ring-like component, an arrangement never before seen in circumstellar material surrounding a white dwarf.

Critical follow-up of J0207 was obtained by Backyard Worlds collaborator Adam Burgasser, a professor at UC San Diego, using the Keck II telescope on the Mauna Kea summit in Hawaii, one of the world's premier astronomical observing facilities. "That is a really motivating aspect of the search," said Thevenot, one of more than 150,000 citizen scientists who have contributed to the Backyard Worlds project. "The researchers will move their telescopes to look at worlds you have discovered. What I especially enjoy, though, is the interaction with the awesome research team. Everyone is very kind, and they are always trying to make the best out of our discoveries."

More Discoveries in Store!

The newly upgraded Backyard Worlds interface is expected to unleash a new wave of additional discoveries. The rebooted edition doubles the amount of WISE data that can be examined, provides access to additional visualization resources, and incorporates upgraded image processing algorithms that better remove artifacts.

"The synergy of careful human scrutiny combined with massive computations has fueled the remarkable discoveries made by Backyard Worlds volunteers," said Meisner. "I'm excited to see what happens next!"

Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the University of California San Diego, Bucknell University, the University of Oklahoma, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet.

Russia Completes Engine Tests of Soyuz Rocket's 2nd Stage Using New Fuel

The engine for the second stage of the Soyuz-2 rocket using the new naphthyl rocket fuel instead of kerosene was successfully tested, a spokesperson for the United Engine Corporation told Sputnik on the sidelines of the Aero India exhibition in the Indian city of Bengaluru on Wednesday. "On February 12, 2019,... the first 'marketable' RD-108A liquid rocket engine of the central bloc of the Soyuz-type rocket based on new naphthyl fuel was tested," the spokesperson said. Naphthyl fuel was first used instead of kerosene during the launch of the third stage of the Soyuz-2 rocket from Vostochny Cosmodrome in November 2017. Tests for the engines of the first and the second stages of the carrier rocket have not been carried out before. The first launch of a Soyuz-2 with all engines using naphtyl is scheduled for 2019. First and second stages of the Soyuz-type rockets have being equipped with RD-107 and RD-108 engines since 1958. These engines are produced by JSC Kuznetsov, the largest enterprise of aviation and space propulsion engineering that is part of the United Engine Corporation. The transition to naphthyl from kerosene is carried out as part of the modernization of the Soyuz-2 rocket for launches from Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Arianespace to orbit the first six satellites of the OneWeb constellation

For its second mission of the year - and the initial flight in 2019 with the Soyuz medium launcher - Arianespace will perform the first launch for the OneWeb constellation. By operating this maiden flight, out of 21 launches on behalf of the global satellite operator, Arianespace participates in the fulfilment of its customer's ultimate ambition: providing Internet access for everyone, everywhere. This mission will bring the number of constellation satellites orbited by Arianespace to 109, which shows a remarkable ability to deploy any type of constellation with its current and future family of launchers. The Launch Readiness Review (LRR) will take place on Monday, February 25, 2019 in Kourou to authorize the start of operations for the final countdown. Flight VS21, the 21st Soyuz mission from the Guiana Space Center, will put six OneWeb F6 satellites for U.S operator OneWeb into a circular low Earth orbit at 1,000 km. (close to their operational orbit), along with four Mass Flight Simulators (MFS) that will not be separated from the launcher's dispenser system. OneWeb's mission is to deliver global communications through a next-generation satellite constellation that will bring seamless connectivity to everyone, everywhere. With its system deployed, the OneWeb constellation will enable user terminals capable of offering 3G, LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi coverage, giving high-speed access around the world - by air, sea and land.

Composed of approximately 650 satellites, OneWeb initial constellation will be orbited by Arianespace using 21 Soyuz launchers operated through 2020 from Kourou in French Guiana, Baikonur in Kazakhstan, and Vostochy in Russia.

OneWeb Satellites - a joint-venture between OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space - is the prime contractor of the constellation. RUAG Space AB, on the other hand, is in charge of the development and production of the innovative dispenser system that will carry the six satellites and the four Mass Flight Simulators aboard Flight VS21. As for APCO Technologies, it is responsible for designing and building the four Mass Flight Simulators.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Merging neutron stars

The option to measure the gravitational waves of two merging neutron stars has offered the chance to answer some of the fundamental questions about the structure of matter. At the extremely high temperatures and densities in the merger scientists conjecture a phase-transition where neutrons dissolve into their constituents: quarks and gluons. In the current issue of Physical Review Letters, two international research groups report on their calculations of what the signature of such a phase transition in a gravitational wave would look like. Quarks, the smallest building-blocks of matter, never appear alone in nature. They are always tightly bound inside the protons and neutrons. However, neutron stars, weighing as much as the Sun, but being just the size of a city like Frankfurt, possess a core so dense that a transition from neutron matter to quark matter may occur. Physicists refer to this process as a phase transition, similar to the liquid-vapor transition in water. In particular, such a phase transition is in principle possible when merging neutron stars form a very massive meta-stable object with densities exceeding that of atomic nuclei and with temperatures 10,000 times higher than in the Sun's core.The measurement of gravitational waves emitted by merging neutron stars could serve as a messenger of possible phase transitions in outer space. The phase transition should leave a characteristic signature in the gravitational-wave signal.

The research groups from Frankfurt, Darmstadt and Ohio as well as from Darmstadt and Wroclaw (used modern supercomputers to calculate what this signature could look like. For this purpose, they used different theoretical models of the phase transition.

In case a phase transition takes place more after the actual merger, small amounts of quarks will gradually appear throughout the merged object.

"With aid of the Einstein equations, we were able to show for the first time that this subtle change in the structure will produce a deviation in the gravitational-wave signal until the newly formed massive neutron star collapses under its own weight to form a black hole," explains Luciano Rezzolla, who is a professor for theoretical astrophysics at the Goethe University.

In the computer models of Dr. Andreas Bauswein from GSI Helmholtzzentrum fur Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt a phase transition already happens directly after the merger - a core of quark matter forms in the interior of the central object. "We succeeded to show that in this case there will be a distinct shift in the frequency of the gravitational wave signal," says Bauswein.

"Thus, we identified a measurable criterion for a phase transition in gravitational waves of neutron star mergers in the future."

Not all of the details of the gravitational-wave signal are measurable with current detectors yet. However, they will become observable both with the next generation of detectors, as well as with a merger event relatively close to us.

A complementary approach to answer the questions about quark matter is offered by two experiments: By colliding heavy ions at the existing HADES setup at GSI and at the future CBM detector at the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR), which is currently under construction at GSI, compressed nuclear matter will be produced.

In the collisions, it might be possible to create temperatures and densities that are similar to those in a neutron-star merger. Both methods give new insights into the occurrence of phase transitions in nuclear matter and thus into its fundamental properties.

Friday, February 15, 2019

New study suggests possibility of recent underground volcanism on Mars

A study published last year in the journal Science suggested liquid water is present beneath the south polar ice cap of Mars. Now, a new study in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters argues there needs to be an underground source of heat for liquid water to exist underneath the polar ice cap. The new research does not take sides as to whether the liquid water exists. Instead, the authors suggest recent magmatic activity - the formation of a magma chamber within the past few hundred thousand years - must have occurred underneath the surface of Mars for there to be enough heat to produce liquid water underneath the kilometer-and-a-half thick ice cap. On the flip side, the study's authors argue that if there was not recent magmatic activity underneath the surface of Mars, then there is not likely liquid water underneath the ice cap. "Different people may go different ways with this, and we're really interested to see how the community reacts to it," said Michael Sori, an associate staff scientist in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona and a co-lead author of the new paper. The potential presence of recent underground magmatic activity on Mars lends weight to the idea that Mars is an active planet, geologically speaking. That fact could give scientists a better understanding of how planets evolve over time. The new study is intended to further the debate around the possibility of liquid water on Mars. The presence of liquid water on the Red Planet has implications for potentially finding life outside of Earth and could also serve as a resource for future human exploration of our neighboring planet.

"We think that if there is any life, it likely has to be protected in the subsurface from the radiation," said Ali Bramson, a postdoctoral research associate at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona and a co-lead author of the new paper. "If there are still magmatic processes active today, maybe they were more common in the recent past, and could supply more widespread basal melting. This could provide a more favorable environment for liquid water and thus, perhaps, life."

Examining the environment

Mars has two giant ice sheets at its poles, both a couple of kilometers thick. On Earth, it is common for liquid water to be present underneath thick ice sheets, with the planet's heat causing the ice to melt where it meets the Earth's crust.

In a paper published last year in Science, scientists said they detected a similar phenomenon on Mars. They claimed radar observations detected evidence of liquid water at the base of Mars's south polar ice cap. However, the Science study did not address how the liquid water could have gotten there.

Mars is much cooler than Earth so it was unclear what type of environment would be needed to melt the ice at the base of the ice cap. Although previous research has examined if liquid water could exist at the base of Mars's ice caps, no one had yet looked at the specific location where the Science study claimed to have detected water.

"We thought there was a lot of room to figure out if [the liquid water] is real, what sort of environment would you need to melt the ice in the first place, what sort of temperatures would you need, what sort of geological process would you need? Because under normal conditions, it should be too cold," Sori said.

Looking for the heat

The new study's authors first assumed the detection of liquid water underneath the ice cap was correct and then worked to figure out what parameters were needed for the water to exist. They performed physical modeling of Mars to understand how much heat is coming out of the interior of the planet and if there could be enough salt at the base of the ice cap to melt the ice. Salt lowers the melting point of ice significantly so it was thought that salt could have led to melting at the base of the ice cap.

The model showed salt alone would not raise the temperature high enough to melt the ice. Instead, the authors propose there needs to be additional heat coming from Mars's interior.

One plausible heat source would be volcanic activity in the planet's subsurface. The study's authors argue that magma from the deep interior of Mars rose towards the planet's surface about 300,000 years ago. It did not break the surface, like a volcanic eruption, but pooled in a magma chamber below the surface. As the magma chamber cooled, it released heat that melted the ice at the base of the ice sheet. The magma chamber is still providing heat to the ice sheet to generate liquid water today.

The idea of volcanic activity on Mars is not new - there is a lot of evidence of volcanism on the planet's surface. But most of the volcanic features on Mars are from millions of years ago, leading scientists to believe volcanic activity below and above the planet's surface stopped long ago.

The new study, however, proposes that there could have been more recent underground volcanic activity. And, if there was volcanic activity happening hundreds of thousands of years ago, there's a possibility it could be happening today, according to the study's authors.

"This would imply that there is still active magma chamber formation going on in the interior of Mars today and it is not just a cold, sort of dead place, internally," Bramson said.

Jack Holt, a professor at the at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, said the question of how water could exist underneath the south polar ice cap immediately came to his mind after the Science paper was published, and the new paper adds an important constraint on the possibility of water being there. He said it will likely add to the debate in the planetary science community about the finding and point out that more research needs to be done to evaluate it.

"I think it was a great idea to do this type of modeling and analysis because you have to explain the water, if it's there, and so it's really a critical piece of the puzzle," said Holt, who was not involved in the new research but did talk to the study's authors before they submitted the paper. "The original paper just left it hanging. There could be water there, but you have to explain it, and these guys did a really nice job of saying what is required and that salt is not sufficient."

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Arianespace to launch satellite deployment solution from Open Cosmos

Arianespace and Open Cosmos report that they have signed a contract for the launch of an innovative CubeSat deployment solution. Launched from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana using a Soyuz rocket, the CubeSat deployment platform is a key to the commercial offering from Open Cosmos. The first mission comprises an array of CubeSats with a total capacity of 12 units (12U). It will weigh about 30 kg. at liftoff, and the CubeSats will be injected into Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude over 500 km. Open Cosmos delivers effective satellite-based solutions with the goal of enabling companies to use space technologies for tackling global challenge. It specializes in the development and implementation of missions for small, low-cost satellites (up to 50 kg.), with short lead times (typically less than a year). One of the primary advantages of Open Cosmos is that it gives customers access to a wide range of launchers and orbits. The first Open Cosmos payload will be an auxiliary passenger on the COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation (CSG 1) satellite mission, along with the CHEOPS satellite for the European Space Agency ESA as well as the ANGELS and EyeSat's French CNES space agency missions. Launch is scheduled for the last quarter of 2019. Following the contract signature, Rafael Jorda Siquier, Chief Executive Officer of Open Cosmos, said, "Customers always ask us how they can get their payloads into orbit quickly and surely.

"Our partnership with Arianespace to launch a 12U (units) deployment platform will get them into their targeted orbit less than ten months after signing the contract. This mission will use one of the world's most reliable and highest performance launchers, with a proven track record - and that's exactly the kind of agility that the space industry needs right now."

Stephane Israel, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, added, "This contract clearly reflects Arianespace's unwavering commitment to new players like Open Cosmos, which drive the dynamic small satellite market. It also reflects our ability to offer available, flexible and competitive solutions for all market segments, thanks to our family of launch vehicles."

Saturday, February 9, 2019

New technology helps address big problems for small satellites

CubeSats have become big players in space exploration. Their small size and relatively low cost have made them popular choices for commercial launches in recent years, but the process to propel such satellites in space comes with a number of problems. Now, Purdue University researchers have developed a technology to address one of those key problems - the uncertainty of the ignition system that initiates the propulsion system of the CubeSats. Current ignition systems are unreliable and can be subject to significant and irreversible damage during the lifespan of the satellite. "We have created a lower energy triggering technology that uses nanosecond-long pulses, that allows the ignition and propulsion systems to function reliably for a very long time," said Alexey Shashurin, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics in Purdue's College of Engineering. "Specifically, we have successfully tested the ignition system for greater than 1.5 million pulses and it remained operational and almost intact after the test. This is a giant leap for extending the lifetime of electric propulsion systems for CubeSats." Their work aligns with Purdue's Giant Leaps celebration, celebrating the university's global advancements in space exploration as part of Purdue's 150th anniversary. This is one of the four themes of the yearlong celebration's Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.

Overall popularity of the CubeSats is heavily driven by the great advancement in miniaturization of electronic components and sensors that allows for new kinds of space missions and measurements using a CubeSat.

"It is exciting to tackle these new challenges presented on spacecraft of a much smaller scale than in previous years," Shashurin said. "The next step for the CubeSats is to have a robust propulsion system for necessary maneuvering and station-keeping duties."

Shashurin and his team worked with the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization to file a provisional patent on the technology.

The work was published in the Jan. 10 edition of Plasma Research Express. It was also presented during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum last month in San Diego.

The team is planning to participate in the National Science Foundation's I-Corps program, which provides support for conducting extensive customer discovery with an ultimate goal to find industrial partners and commercialize the technology.

Friday, February 8, 2019

NASA-Industry Partnerships Can Support Lunar Exploration, Reports Say

Renewed interest in exploration of the Moon has the potential to benefit lunar science greatly and could evolve into a program facilitated by partnerships between commercial companies and NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD), say companion reports by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. "Review of the Planetary Science Aspects of NASA SMD's Lunar Science and Exploration Initiative" and "Review of the Commercial Aspects of NASA SMD's Lunar Science and Exploration Initiative" laud the rapid and effective steps the agency's science directorate has taken in responding to a 2017 presidential directive to lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners, beginning with a near-term focus on the Moon. However, the two reports find that the activities undertaken to date, although aligned with community consensus for lunar science priorities, do not replace missions recommended in the National Academies' most recent planetary science decadal survey and remain subject to many unknowns, such as the ability of standardized commercial lunar landers to interface with complex science payloads. NASA's fiscal year 2019 budget request designates approximately $200 million for SMD's new Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program. A part of this funding is being used to support lunar research through existing research opportunities, such as making available pristine lunar samples for analysis and developing instruments for scientific exploration on the lunar surface.

The science review report concludes that these initial, near-term steps, including the introduction of new programs and realigning or enhancing existing programs that have a lunar focus, emphasize current high-priority lunar science. However, the report notes, it will be the responsibility of the coming planetary science decadal survey to evaluate these priorities in the context of the planetary program.

In addition to the reinvigoration of support for lunar science, SMD's program promotes new, innovative partnerships with industry to assist in accomplishing science on the Moon. Through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program (CLPS), commercially provided lunar landers, rovers, and even future on-orbit services are or will be solicited.

The commercial review report finds that there are multiple scientifically valuable measurements, such as lunar interior measurements and in situ age dating that could be made from the planned first generation of commercial lunar landers.

If made, these measurements would assist in addressing key lunar science objectives, while the implementation of commercial landers has the potential to lead to an economy of scale that could allow efficient exploration of diverse, scientifically significant areas of the Moon.

The commercial review report raises several unresolved challenges that are important to making such scientific measurements, however, such as the ability of commercial partners to support the unique requirements of complex scientific instruments.

NASA has selected the first group of commercial service providers and is in the process of soliciting science instrumentation to be delivered to the lunar surface. Without clearly defined interfaces, proposed instruments may not be compatible with landers, which could lead to delays, cost growth, or diminished scientific return.

Prior examples from within the agency have shown that clear communication between industry and NASA - for instance, on topics concerning compatibility - is necessary to make such partnerships effective. Looking to the development of a future lunar infrastructure comprising a mix of government and commercial orbital and landed assets, the report points to SMD's Mars exploration program as an example of a program architecture that achieves asset compatibility through a systems engineering approach.

The report concludes that, despite these concerns, the initial steps taken in establishing CLPS allow for a preliminary assessment by NASA of the science potential of these new public-private partnerships and permit NASA and industry to determine how best to move forward.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Iridium Declares Victory; $3 Billion Satellite Constellation Upgrade Complete

Iridium Communications Inc this week hailed the completion of its $3 billion satellite constellation upgrade campaign known as Iridium NEXT, during a press conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. During the press conference, the company also used the opportunity to introduce a new small-form-factor transceiver known as the Iridium CertusSM 9770, which will enable creation of new consumer and industrial applications that are highly portable and IoT-friendly, optimized for small size and low cost, yet with higher speeds than in the past thanks to the upgraded Iridium satellite network. The completion of the Iridium NEXT campaign comes as the final two satellites required to complete the network refresh were activated on February 5th at approximately 2:15 p.m. EST. With a fully operational constellation, featuring 66 new Iridium satellites and no further launches planned, Iridium has concluded its nearly decade-long capital-intensive program that created an upgraded network both in space and on the ground. After spending several hundred million dollars per year to build and deploy the new network, Iridium expects capital costs to decrease to approximately $35 million per year, with revenues continuing to grow as the company expands into newer revenue streams like broadband, IoT and hosted payloads. "The completion of the Iridium NEXT program signifies a new chapter in the Iridium story, one that sees us transforming from a big cash spender to a big cash generator," said Iridium CEO Matt Desch.

 "This is the realization of a long, successful climb, and reaching the peak, it's gratifying to know the future of the company is secure, and we have now financially matured as a satellite operator. Huge thanks are in order to our entire team, particularly our friends at SpaceX and our prime satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space and their teams."

First announced in 2010, the Iridium NEXT campaign featured eight launches with SpaceX. In total, 81 satellites were built by prime contractor Thales Alenia Space, of which 75 were launched, with 66 in the operational constellation and nine serving as on-orbit spares. Thales Alenia Space was responsible for design and integration of the new satellites, including launch and early operations testing in partnership with Iridium's team at the company's Satellite Network Operations Center in Virginia.

The upgraded Iridium constellation enables never before possible services such as the AireonSM global aircraft tracking and surveillance system and Iridium Certus, the company's new broadband service, which launched commercially in January 2019. The upgraded network is also fully compatible with the original satellite constellation's services, a notable accomplishment given the size and scope of the upgrade.

Jean-Loic Galle, CEO of Thales Alenia Space remarked: "The 75 in-orbit satellites are working very well, and the overall end-to-end performance improvement for existing customers is dramatic. Two years after the first launch, Iridium NEXT, one of the most sophisticated communication systems in the world, is now totally deployed and fully operational.

All the satellites are interconnected, and we have ensured a continuity of service without any interruption. We did it! And we did it together - together with the Iridium team, our customer with whom we worked all these years much more as a partner than as a customer, together with Northrop Grumman, with all our subcontractors, and with SpaceX. I'm convinced this one-team spirit was the secret of that success story."

The new Iridium Certus 9770 transceiver, also introduced during Monday's press conference, is a game changer for satellite IoT, aviation, maritime and consumer services, enabling low-cost, small devices that can make more efficient and higher speed connections than its predecessors. Built on the Iridium Certus technology platform, applications and devices made with the new transceiver will feature a range of speeds optimized for efficiently sending data to and from the user, typically in the range of less than 100kbps.

The Iridium Certus 9770 is the first in a series of new devices that will augment Iridium's existing transceivers with approximately the same form-factor as existing narrowband antennas used widely today in aviation, maritime, IoT and land-mobile markets, but using native IP technology at up to 35 times the speed as current devices. This supports telemetry, pictures, high-quality voice calling, emails, internet access and more, at highly competitive prices. Select licensed manufacturers of Iridium can expect to receive prototypes of the device around mid-2019.

The Iridium satellite network is comprised of 66 crosslinked satellites that create a web of coverage around the entire planet. Unlike other satellite systems, Iridium's crosslinked architecture enables real-time transit of data to and from any location on the globe without the need for abundant ground stations and allows it to maintain consistent, high-quality coverage, including over the oceans and polar regions.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Retreating snow line reveals organic molecules around young star

Astronomers using ALMA have detected various complex organic molecules around the young star V883 Ori. A sudden outburst from this star is releasing molecules from the icy compounds in the planet forming disk. The chemical composition of the disk is similar to that of comets in the modern Solar System. Sensitive ALMA observations enable astronomers to reconstruct the evolution of organic molecules from the birth of the Solar System to the objects we see today. The research team led by Jeong-Eun Lee (Kyung Hee University, Korea) used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to detect complex organic molecules including methanol (CH3OH), acetone (CH3COCH3), acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), methyl formate (CH3OCHO), and acetonitrile (CH3CN). This is the first time that acetone was unambiguously detected in a planet forming region or protoplanetary disk. Various molecules are frozen in ice around micrometer-sized dust particles in protoplanetary disks. V883 Ori's sudden flare-up is heating the disk and sublimating the ice, which releases the molecules into gas. The region in a disk where the temperature reaches the sublimation temperature of the molecules is called the "snow line." The radii of snow lines are about a few astronomical units (au) around normal young stars, however, they are enlarged almost 10 times around bursting stars.

"It is difficult to image a disk on the scale of a few au with current telescopes," said Lee. "However, around an outburst star, ice melts in a wider area of the disk and it is easier to see the distribution of molecules. We are interested in the distribution of complex organic molecules as the building blocks of life."

Ice, including frozen organic molecules, could be closely related to the origin of life on planets. In our Solar System, comets are the focus of attention because of their rich icy compounds. For example, the European Space Agency's legendary comet explorer Rosetta found rich organic chemistry around the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Comets are thought to have been formed in the outer colder region of the proto-Solar System, where the molecules were contained in ice. Probing the chemical composition of ice in protoplanetary disks is directly related to probing the origin of organic molecules in comets, and the origin of the building blocks of life.

Thanks to ALMA's sharp vision and the enlarged snow line due to the flare-up of the star, the astronomers obtained the spatial distribution of methanol and acetaldehyde. The distribution of these molecules has a ring-like structure with a radius of 60 au, which is twice the size of Neptune's orbit. The researchers assume that inside of this ring the molecules are invisible because they are obscured by thick dusty material, and are invisible outside of this radius because they are frozen in ice.

"Since rocky and icy planets are made from solid material, the chemical composition of solids in disks is of special importance. An outburst is a unique chance to investigate fresh sublimates, and thus the composition of solids." says Yuri Aikawa at the University of Tokyo, a member of the research team.

V883 Ori is a young star located at 1300 light-years away from the Earth. This star is experiencing a so-called FU Orionis type outburst, a sudden increase of luminosity due to a bursting torrent of material flowing from the disk to the star.

These outbursts last only on the order of 100 years, therefore the chance to observe a burst is rather rare. However, since young stars with a wide range of ages experience FU Ori bursts, astronomers expect to be able to trace the chemical composition of ice throughout the evolution of young stars.

Note: Another ALMA observation (van't Hoff et al. 2018, ApJL, 864, 23) also detected CH3OH emissions from V883 Ori. However, the sensitivity and resolution of the observations were not enough to resolve the structure inside the water snow line.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

ISRO Set To Launch Communication Satellite GSAT-31 On February 6

The Indian Space Research Organisation is all set to launch its 40th communication satellite GSAT-31 on Wednesday from the spaceport in French Guiana. The satellite with a mission life of 15 years will provide continuity to operational services on some of the in-orbit satellites and augment the Ku-band transponder capacity in Geostationary Orbit, the space agency said. In a statement, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said the satellite, weighing about 2,535 kg, is scheduled for launch onboard the Ariane-5 (VA247) from Kourou in French Guiana. "The satellite GSAT-31 is configured on ISRO's enhanced I-2K Bus, utilising the maximum bus capabilities of this type. The satellite derives its heritage from ISROs earlier INSAT/GSAT satellite series. The satellite provides Indian mainland and island coverage," the agency said. ISRO also said the GSAT-31 will be used for supporting VSAT networks, television uplinks, digital satellite news gathering, DTH television services, cellular back haul connectivity and many such applications. The satellite will also provide wide beam coverage to facilitate communication over large oceanic region comprising large part of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean using wide band transponder, ISRO said.

The agency added that two Ku-band beacon down link signals are transmitted for ground tracking purpose.

Monday, February 4, 2019

First private spacecraft shoots for the moon

"Moon of Israel" is an epic 1924 film from the golden era of silent movies, and helped launch the directing career of Michael Curtiz, of "Casablanca" fame. Sequels seldom live up to the original. But if Israel's plans to put a robotic lander on the moon in February 2019 can be considered a sequel, this new "Moon of Israel" mission, led by the nonprofit company SpaceIL, will be a blockbuster in its own right. Lunar landings date back to the 1960s. The United States landed 12 people on six separate occasions as part of the Apollo program, along with robotic spacecraft such as Surveyor, which served as a precursor to human missions. The Soviet Union preformed robotic Luna missions and landed Lunokhod automated rovers in the 1970s. Most recently China landed the Chang'e 4 robotic probe on the back side of the moon. These missions are all amazing technical accomplishments, and marvels of human know-how, sponsored and built by large government space agencies. The moon's next visitor is different. SpaceIL's Beresheet - Hebrew for "In the Beginning" - will become the first privately funded mission to launch from Earth and land on the moon, and the first spacecraft to propel itself over the lunar surface after landing by "hopping" on its rocket engine to a second landing spot. The mission marks yet another milestone, not only in the history and technical arc of space exploration, but also in how humankind goes about space exploration.

SpaceIL was founded in 2011 to compete in the Google Lunar XPrize, a program that planned to award US$30 million to the first privately funded team who could build a spacecraft and land it successfully on the moon.

Beyond landing, the spacecraft, or a rover, had to travel a distance of 500 meters or more and beam high-definition imagery of the landing environment to Earth. The Google Lunar XPrize contest deadline ended in 2018 without a winner. Undaunted, SpaceIL forged ahead with the development and construction of the spacecraft, and is now ready to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The Beresheet lander is about the size and shape of a family dinner table, roughly 6 feet in diameter and 4 feet high, weighing (on Earth) about 350 pounds. This doesn't include the nearly 1,000 pounds of fuel needed to land the spacecraft on the moon. Carrying instrumentation to measure the magnetic field of the moon, a laser-reflector provided by NASA and a time-capsule of cultural and historical Israeli artifacts, the mission will ride into space as a secondary payload - like a rideshare passenger - aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Going to the moon, without a rocket

The primary cargo on the SpaceX launch is not the SpaceIL lander, but instead a communications satellite for delivery a very high Earth-centered, geostationary orbit approximately 22,000 miles above the Earth's equator.

This effectively parks the communications satellite above a fixed point on the Earth, its orbit synchronized precisely with our planet's daily rotation. The Beresheet spacecraft will accompany the primary satellite on its journey. But in order to reach the moon, it needs to travel more than 10 times farther.

In spaceflight, the primary constraint in traveling from place to place is not distance, but the quantity of energy required. The Falcon 9 rocket only carries Beresheet about 10 percent of the total distance to the moon.

But it provides nearly 90 percent of the total energy required to get there. Consequently, once lifted from the surface of the Earth, and with a small amount of additional energy from its own propulsion system, Beresheet can boost its own orbit by positioning itself so that it's captured by the moon's gravitational pull. This process will take several weeks.

Once landed on the moon, however, the mission may only last a few more days. The lander is not designed for the long haul, but instead will demonstrate advances in technology as well as the business model for a privately funded spacecraft landing on another body in the solar system. In this sense, Beresheet will create a second and even more memorable "Moon of Israel."

There is no air on the moon - and therefore also no sound. So, like the original 1924 film, this sequel will also be silent. But the participants are not actors, and the view will be in high-definition color.

The technical know-how developed by the engineering team, the scientific and technical data from the spacecraft's instruments, learning how spaceflight missions can be executed outside of a government program, and the inspiration provided for an entire generation of young people - especially in Israel and the Middle East region - will all bring valuable insights and inspiration for decades to come.