Space Technology

Collaboration between ground stations is opening the path for groundbreaking space missions

After coming uniting to help Astroscale, a startup a few months away from completing the world’s first privately financed debris-removal experiment, ground station suppliers foresee a new era of partnership. Astroscale’s ELSA-d venture in low Earth orbit, which consists of a smaller client satellite and a servicer spacecraft that will serve as a piece of trash, will require a total of 16 ground stations to supply the connectivity it requires.

Typically, just one or even two ground stations are required for an LEO mission. Astroscale’s two spaceships were deployed on a Soyuz-2 rocket on March 22 and are still performing testing in readiness for a set of maneuvers later this year that will show off the startup’s capabilities.

The Tokyo-centered venture’s ground station located in Japan collaborates with the other ground stations worldwide, managed by Viasat and Atlas Space Operations in United States, KSAT in Norway, and SSC in Sweden. According to officials from these ground station firms speaking at the Small Satellite Conference on August 10, this level of integration necessitates software virtualization capabilities that the sector has only lately accepted.

At a conference side discussion, John Williams, who serves as the vice president in charge of the Real-Time Earth section of Viasat, said, “The difference from where we were five years ago to where we are today is very substantial.” “And that the software, in our situation, virtualization and automation of practically everything at an antenna level, made it really easy for us to collaborate with Astroscale and other people. That would have been considerably more difficult just several years ago when many parts were still on the hardware, and they had to be programmed.” According to Alexandra Gravereaux, senior ground systems engineer at Astroscale, this means Astroscale can utilize a single interface to receive information on its spacecraft from all of its ground station partners as well as send commands to direct them in space.

Dan Adams, KSAT’s head of US sales, adding, “The second thing to emphasize is that all of us are together bringing improved efficiency levels.” “More access levels, higher dependability to satisfy those key mission activities that permit operations such as on-orbit robotics, where there may have been a concern whether or not one would be able to connect your spacecraft at any point in the past…”

Against the environment of COVID-19, panelists discussed how, despite the project’s high technical demands, they were yet to meet Astroscale’s Gravereaux in person. SSC’s project manager in charge of the ELSA-d mission, Brian Priar, claimed it would have been “nearly impossible to do just 5 years ago” to prepare and perform the mission totally remotely.

According to KSAT’s Adams, “the integration of the four distinct ground networks to serve one mission is absolutely an illustration of where we’re likely to find the LEO space economy headed.”

Satellites Space

Without GPS, modern civilization would perish

GPS provides location data to aircraft, cars, trucks, trains, and ships, while GPS timing signals support financial activities and cellular communications. According to a 2019 report supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the loss of GPS would cost the US economy $1 billion per day, or $1.5 billion if it failed during the April-May planting season. With the rapid development in consumer services and location-based transportation and delivery services, the expenses could be considerably higher two years from now.

By email, Alan O’Connor, director of innovation economics and senior economist at RTI International, which is a non-profit research institute that produced the 2019 report, said: “Positioning, navigation, and timing signals are essential to so several partners and for so many diverse applications which an interruption in these signals will indeed likely be more financially significant today.”

GPS and its GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) competitors — Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS, and China’s Beidou — are critical components in a wide range of economic operations. In their respective regions, India’s NavIC and Japan’s QZSS are equally essential.

The oldest and most extensively used PNT system is GPS. Many legacy infrastructure networks still use GPS-only receivers. To ensure GNSS continuity and accuracy, multi-constellation receivers have become the norm. These receivers should potentially ensure service consistency in the case of GPS failure because they pick up signals from every accessible GNSS satellite, regardless of the constellation. However, since they rely on GPS so heavily, it’s unclear how they would react if GPS were lost for several hours.

“GPS is quite vital in our daily life. I am confident lives would be lost if it went gone for an extended period,” Dana Goward, head of the charity Resilient Navigation & Timing Foundation, stated via email. GNSS disruptions have only lasted a few hours so far, but a prolonged outage is possible. Galileo experienced a six-hour system outage on December 14, 2020, and a week-long disruption in July 2019. In 2014, GLONASS failed when its satellites broadcast erroneous data for 11 hours.

Individual GNSS satellite outages are common, and the systems are frequently targeted for jamming and spoofing. After an earlier satellite was deactivated in 2016, GPS-based timing devices began to indicate errors. The 13-microsecond difference disrupted police and emergency communication devices across North America for hours, causing power grid outages.

The timing aspect is one of the reasons GNSS failures are so widespread. GNSS satellites employ atomic clocks for signal synchronization, allowing users to estimate the time with nanosecond accuracy. Consequently, banks depend on GPS to report precise transaction timing, and mobile towers utilize it to sync network nodes.

Space Technology

An orbital launch attempt for the Space Force is scheduled for late August by Astra

In August, the Astra small launch vehicle will deliver a demonstration payload for the United States Space Force on its upcoming effort to reach orbit. The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the company announced on August 5 that they had inked a launch deal for two launches of the company’s Rocket 3 vehicle. The first launch is slated for August 27 to September 11 from Kodiak Island’s Pacific Spaceport Complex.

That launch will deliver a “test payload” for the Defense Department’s Space Test Program that allows experimental payloads to fly. STP-27AD1 is the codename for the mission. A second launch is planned for later this year under the same deal.

Last year, Astra attempted two orbital launches with its Rocket 3 rocket. Its Rocket 3.1 rocket experienced issues with its navigation system shortly after the liftoff in 2020 September, forcing the first-stage engines to stop down and the vehicle to plunge back to Earth. On a December 2020 launch, the Rocket 3.2 vehicle came close to reaching orbit, but its engine (upper-stage) shut down prematurely due to fuel exhaustion.

Astra claims that the business has proven its potential to do so despite failing to enter orbit since orbit requires just minor modifications. The corporation asserted numerous times in a registration document filed with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) on July 30 that “in December 2020, we inaugurated Rocket 3.2 to a height of 380 km, showing orbital launch capabilities.”

In a statement, Chris Kemp, Astra’s CEO, stated, “We’re pleased to begin out a multi-launch strategy with the Space Force.” “With this orbital demonstration launch, our team will be able to verify several improvements to our launch system.”

DIU has collaborated with a number of small launch vehicle firms, providing contracts for early vehicle launches to prove their capabilities. Relativity, Rocket Lab, ABL Space Systems, and VOX Space, Virgin Orbit’s government services subsidiary, were among the other companies awarded DIU launch contracts.

Kemp indicated in a June interview that the firm has over 50 launches under contract. However, the only clients it had disclosed at the time were Planet, for whom the imaging smallsats will soar on numerous flights in 2022, and NASA, which had awarded the company two smallsat launch contracts. In the fourth quarter, the company expects to start launching products on a monthly basis, with long-term goals of launching products on a practically daily basis.

NASA Space

Perseverance initial sampling effort comes up empty

NASA engineers and scientists are trying to figure out why the Mars rover Perseverance could not collect any material during its first sample attempt. Perseverance dug a sample from the rock on the Jezero Crater’s floor. Still, the sample did not reach a titanium sampling tube which would preserve the material for future return to Earth, NASA stated in a statement late Aug. 6.

According to Jessica Samuels, the automated sample collecting method includes inserting a probe into a sample tube to determine the volume of the sample it holds. Jessica works as a surface mission manager for the Perseverance at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In a NASA statement, she said, “The probe did not face the predicted resistance that would be present if there were a sample in the tube.” It’s unknown why the sample didn’t reach it into the tube, but project officials feel it’s more likely that the rock’s unexpected qualities prevented it from entering a tube than a flaw in the sampling equipment.

In a statement, Jennifer Trosper, who serves as the project manager for the Perseverance at JPL, said, “Over the next few days, the team will spend more time studying the data we have, as well as gathering some more diagnostic data to support identifying the root cause for the empty tube.” Imaging the drill hole using a camera on the rover’s robotic arm will be part of that job.

The sampling system has passed all previous testing, both on Earth before deployment and on Mars since its arrival six months ago. Last month, a “witness tube,” a sampling tube that does not have any material to measure contamination, was processed. “The excellent news is that everything went smoothly, and we are prepared to sample,” Trosper stated during a mission briefing on July 21.

A malfunction with the sampling equipment, in the worst-case scenario, would throw NASA’s long-term Mars mission agenda into disarray. Perseverance is the first of the European Space Agency and NASA’s three missions to collect and return samples from Mars to Earth. A NASA-led lander project will collect Perseverance’s samples and place them in a container that will be launched into Martian orbit. That container will be picked up by an ESA-led orbiter and returned to Earth. Those two subsequent missions, which are still in the early stages of planning, are scheduled to launch in 2026 and return samples to Earth in 2031.

NASA noted that previous Mars missions had difficulty drilling or obtaining Martian minerals. This includes everything from “sticky” soil, which made it impossible for the Phoenix lander to scoop stuff into its sensors in 2008 to the InSight mission’s heat flow probe, or even mole, failing to bore into the Martian surface.

Electric vehicles Energy

The city of Naperville is considering eliminating fees for electric vehicle charging stations

According to the city’s Transportation Advisory Board, the Naperville City Council should abolish the price of electric vehicle charging points in public parking lots downtown. The announcement came on the same day that US President Joe Biden established a goal for 50% of all new automobiles sold in the United States to be electric by 2030. Staff raised concerns about the necessity for a fee, according to Michael Prousa, who works as a project engineer with the city’s Transportation, Engineering and Development division, as they planned to substitute charging stations in two lots.

According to Prousa, the electric car charging points averaged $56.08 in monthly utility expenses and earned $133 in monthly revenue from 2015 to 2017. While the city-built credit card processors to manage the transactions, he claimed the equipment was frequently in need of maintenance and was frequently out of service. The city staff assessed that the utility cost is insignificant and recommended that the fee be eliminated. The Downtown Naperville Alliance, according to Prousa, is also in favor of the move.

Fees, in addition to recouping electric costs, might deter individuals from parking in the same area for too long, according to Prousa.

That, however, has not become the situation in Naperville or even other similar localities contacted as a portion of the research, according to him. Prousa added, “We didn’t have too many concerns with cars parking there well beyond the limit.” He stated that police officers might issue warnings or citations to any car that is parked for longer than the time limit. As a component of the Smart Grid Initiative, Naperville received three electric car charging stations in 2011. Two were put at Electric Service Center so that city official could test and regulate electric car charging on the city’s electric utility system and look into the billing related to electric vehicle utility rates.

The third module was installed in Main Street and Van Buren Avenue parking lot. The city substituted the module in the lot across the street with a fourth charger situated in the Van Buren parking deck in the year 2013. The City Council authorized a usage fee a year later to help defray the expense of electricity.

The charging points have been out of service in recent years, which is the reason the city is substituting them. Scott Hurley, a member of the Naperville Transportation Board, questioned the city’s rationale for giving charging facilities and whether the city should have more.

Before installing electric car charging points in garages, the city asks residents to apply for permission. According to Prousa, the Electric Department says that over 250 Naperville residences are equipped. “We know that there are a significant number of cars charging at household and living in Naperville,” said Prousa. “We expect a lot of people to use these charging stations,” says the company. With more electric cars on the road here now and overseas, he said the city needs to provide charging stations for them.

Science Space

Astronomers capture a supernova’s fizzled-out gamma-ray blast

A gamma-ray burst, which is the most powerful type of explosion identified in the universe, that fizzled implies that these flares may not constantly work as scientists assumed and that some forms of such flares can be shockingly brief, according to researchers. In a few seconds to minutes, a conventional gamma-ray burst releases more energy than the sun is anticipated to radiate throughout the course of its 10-billion-year lifetime. Astronomers categorize gamma-ray bursts as short or long based on whether they last more than two seconds or less. Previous studies suggested that the short gamma-ray bursts are caused by the collision of two neutron stars, which are very dense stellar corpses generated when massive stars collapse.

On the other hand, long gamma-ray bursts are assumed to be connected to a cataclysmic explosion referred as a supernova, which occurs when a massive star collapses. Now, scientists have identified a short gamma-ray burst that originated from the destruction of a single huge star in the same way that the lengthy gamma-ray bursts do. Tomás Ahumada, an astronomy Ph.D. student at University of Maryland as well as Goddard Space Flight Center situated in Maryland, and the lead author of the study on the newest gamma-ray burst’s afterglow informed, “Dying stars also create extremely short gamma-ray bursts.”

GRB 200826A, a gamma-ray burst that originated in a galaxy around 6.6 billion light-years away in constellation Andromeda, was the center of scientists’ attention. The burst lasted about 0.65 seconds, but after traveling for eons via the expanding universe, the signal had stretched out to nearly 1 second when the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope of NASA spotted it on Aug. 26, 2020.

NASA’s Wind mission that orbits a point 930,000 miles between the sun and Earth; NASA’s Mars Odyssey, that is orbiting Red Planet since the year 2001; and the INTEGRAL satellite of European Space Agency (ESA), which debuted in 2002, all saw the burst. When astronomers first noticed gamma-ray burst and chose to investigate further, they anticipated finding evidence of a neutron star collision. Scientists, on the other hand, did not see anything like that.

Scientists investigated the gamma-ray burst’s host galaxy utilizing the Gemini North telescope that is in Hawaii 80, 28 and 45 days after the explosion was initially identified last summer. After the afterglow of burst faded away, these assessments revealed that it brightened again. The supernova that happened after the implosion that created gamma-ray burst itself was responsible for increasing energy. “We needed to distinguish the light of the explosion from its host galaxy’s light,” Ahumada stated of the data and picture analysis.

Energy Finances

According to research, federal assistance might enhance renewable energy in New Mexico and create jobs

According to recent research, if supported by government stimulus money, renewable energy industries might deliver a multibillion-dollar boost to New Mexico’s economy as well as thousands of jobs. In research issued Friday, Advanced Energy Economy, a global renewable power trade association, predicted that $20 billion in stimulus investments from the federal government in renewables would add $117 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) of New Mexico.

Consumers, municipalities, and businesses would save $6 billion in energy expenses each year due to the investments, and 796,000 work years, or individual years of employment, would be created. According to the report, the $20 billion investment is believed to be New Mexico’s contribution of a $2 trillion stimulus package from the federal government, with renewable energy projects expected to produce $7.5 billion in tax income for the state each year. Investments in renewable power installations, electric vehicle infrastructure, and energy storage, according to Lea Rubin Shen, Advanced Energy Economy’s policy director, will help lower energy prices and build a more dependable system.

“Investing in this transformative technology not only has the ability to save individuals and businesses money on the expense of cooling their residences and getting where they want to go, but it also has the potential to create decent jobs at a period when many in-state are unemployed,” Rubin Shen stated. She said that New Mexico had made significant progress in renewable power and low-carbon power generation and that federal stimulus money will help accelerate that progress.

Energy efficiency investments would boost New Mexico’s GDP by $73 billion, while car electrification would contribute $22 billion. “The advanced energy workforce in New Mexico already numbers over 11,000 people,” Rubin Shen stated. “A public infusion of cash in a sector to which New Mexico is currently committed would drive major private investment, assisting the state’s advanced energy economy in its expansion.”

According to Mark Allison, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance’s executive director, the shift away from fossil fuels might be profitable for New Mexico, which is heavily reliant on oil and gas for revenue and vulnerable to commodity-based sector booms and busts.

Allison was concerned that the gas and oil sector had thousands of acres of undeveloped land, implying that significant extraction would continue. He believes that federal stimulus for low-carbon energy production and infrastructure could help alleviate the effects of continued extraction and pollution on natural disasters and climate. “Aggressive oil and gas operations have harmed New Mexico’s public lands for decades. This is likely to continue, given that the sector will need years to create all of the leases it has already purchased,” Allison added.

Finances Space

Viasat and Intelsat’s financials benefit from increased aircraft travel

The reviving in-flight connectivity (IFC) sector is helping satellite companies Viasat and Intelsat, who stated passengers returning to the skies boosted their financial results. Viasat reported a milestone of $665 million in earnings for the three months ending June 30, up 25% year over year, because of a stronger IFC business. Its net profits increased to $17 million from a deficit of $12 million the previous year.

Intelsat, which is currently in Chapter 11 after the COVID-19 assisted in its insolvency in May 2020, said that a rebound in North American airline travel allowed it to generate stronger revenues and a smaller deficit. The operator reported a $507.9 million revenue increase for the quarter and a net loss of $152.3 million, compared to a $405.4 million loss for the same time in 2020. The findings came after Intelsat purchased Gogo’s commercial aviation sector last year, despite the company’s current restructuring.

Viasat saw improvements in all of its segments for the quarter, including government, satellite services (including its IFC and residential broadband operations), and commercial networks. Satellite services sales increased 36% year over year to $274 million in the first quarter of the fiscal year 2022, marking the company’s fourth consecutive quarter of progressive growth. While fixed broadband sales in the United States increased, Viasat claimed the segment’s growth was fueled by a rebound in commercial aviation passenger numbers.

According to the report, the number of planes in operation increased by more than 80% year over year to about 1,400 at the ending of June, thanks to new activations and jets returning to the sky. Icelandair has begun flying Viasat-equipped planes on the trans-Atlantic flights between Europe and the United States, and Viasat has also expanded its partnership with Delta Air Lines. As it aims to deploy the first of the three-satellite Viasat-3 constellation in early 2022, the business has issued financial predictions for the years ahead, in an uncommon gesture for the company.

This includes a 20 percent increase in average revenue from the financial year 2021 to the financial year 2023, which concludes March 31, 2023. In an August 5 financial results call, Viasat Chief Executive Officer Rick Baldridge informed investors, “This guidance illustrates that we anticipate solid growth across all of our company over the next two years as we start to put the ViaSat-3 network online.”

According to the firm, the first ViaSat-3 satellite that will serve the Americas has been handed to Boeing for the last spacecraft testing and integration in preparation for deployment in the first or the second quarter of 2022. A second ViaSat-3 spacecraft will launch five to six months later to cover the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, followed by the third spacecraft to cover Asia.

Space Technology

Space Pioneer, a Chinese rocket firm, has received significant finance ahead of its first launch

Space Pioneer, a Chinese commercial rocket company, has raised a significant amount of money ahead of reusable “hop” tests and its first orbital launch. Space Pioneer, whose full name is Beijing Tianbing Technology Company, Ltd., announced on July 27 that it had closed the pre-B financing round worth “hundreds of millions of yuan,” or at least $30 million. The funds will be used to launch the Tianlong-1 recyclable kerosene-liquid oxygen deployment vehicle for the first time. The Tianlong-1 rocket has been kept under wraps. Space Pioneer revealed in September 2020 that the first mission vehicle will be capable of carrying over three metric tons to the low Earth orbit. The first flight was expected to occur in 2021, but with the financing announcement, Space Pioneer announced no timeframe for Tianlong-1 launch.

In recent days, Space Pioneer claims to have finished the final assembly of Tiansuo-1 vertical landing and vertical takeoff test stage. Deep Blue Aerospace and iSpace, two other Chinese commercial firms, are also nearing completion of VTVL test stage “hop” tests. In the first half of 2021, Space Pioneer conducted multiple hot-fire tests on the  HCP liquid engine that has 30-ton-thrust. Space Pioneer claims it is working on low-cost, high-reliability launch vehicles to meet the needs of China’s national Satellite Internet project, as well as deploying international and domestic commercial satellites and boosting the country’s space economy in general.

It also includes as an objective meeting the requirements of the Chinese Space Station cargo project. In January, China’s human spaceflight agency issued a request for recommendations for the low-cost cargo transportation to support space station operations. China currently supplies the space station core module with Tianzhou cargo spacecraft with 13-metric-ton, launched by Long March 7 rockets. CMSA has been looking for backup choices and smaller, more cost-effective supply missions from both commercial and state-owned companies. The overall goal was to create a cargo transportation system that was “flexible, efficient, diverse, and low-cost.”

A city investment fund by the name Zhangjiagang, private equity firm Jundu Investment, and Zijin Investment leads the newest Space Pioneer funding round. In Zhangjiagang, a Yangtze River port city, Space Pioneer develops large research, production, manufacturing centers. Space Pioneer has completed the sixth round. Previous financing has come from the ZJU Joint Innovation Investment, which is affiliated with Zhejiang University.

In general, national and local investment funds, people, state-owned organizations (SOEs), private venture capital, academic institutions such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and banks are viewed as funding sources for Chinese commercial space ventures. Chinese commercial space enterprises have made only one launch attempt in 2021, whereas China’s primary state-owned provider has carried out 23 successful orbital launches. iSpace’s Hyperbola-1 solid rocket failed during its only commercial launch. While CAS Space, Galactic Energy, Expace, and others are preparing for new flights using solid rockets, the company is seeking to return to flying in the near future.

Energy Environment

Green energy will be used to power TC Energy’s North American energy pipelines

TC Energy Corp (TRP.TO), a Canadian pipeline operator, might spend millions of dollars on plans to reduce emissions by converting to renewable energy to power its vast network of gas and oil pipelines in Canada and the United States. A better response to a call for information on wind energy for ventures in the United States has cheered Calgary-centered TC Energy, which ships gas and oil through approximately 100,000 kilometers of the pipelines, one of the largest networks in North America.

“We started with simply our liquids pipeline, and it gives us a lot of optimism that we will be able to pivot fast to the natural gas pipeline industry both in the United States and in Canada,” president of power and storage at the TC Energy, Corey Hessen, informed Reuters. TC’s intention to use wind and solar energy instead of the natural gas to fuel pipelines is similar to the smaller-scale initiatives by competitor Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO). It would help the company meet investor expectations to enhance its environmental performance. Hessen stated, “It’s a large award and a pretty great opportunity.”

According to him, the initiative is the smartest near-term chance for TC to contribute to the energy transition. Energy companies all around the world are attempting to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released during the production and transportation of oil and gas. The oil and gas sector in Canada is the country’s greatest emitter. If TC Energy does not decrease its emissions, the growing carbon price in Canada might add a major cost to its bottom line. Canada has vowed to minimize emissions by 40-45 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and raise the carbon price from C$40 per ton to C$170 per ton by 2030. It also imposes an output-based pricing scheme on commercial carbon emitters like TC.

As per the company website, TC’s scope 1 & 2 emissions – emissions it creates or that are created to provide it with power – from its gas and oil pipelines totaled over 14 million tonnes in 2019. TC said it is still calculating how many tons of carbon pollution would be saved if renewables were used to power pipes. According to the business’s most recent sustainability report, the corporation spent C$69 million in 2019 on existing carbon pricing schemes, up from about C$62 million in 2018. TC anticipates that majority of its assets in Canada, the United States and Mexico will eventually be subject to carbon emission laws.