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.

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.

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.

Space Technology

Tianzhou-2 cargo carrier has landed in Wenchang to prepare for space station launch

On April 12, 2021, the China Manned Space Engineering Office announced that the Long March 7 space vehicle has landed alongside the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft. The cargo transporter will carry the supplies for the upcoming space station launch. The Asian country bred the idea of building a space station in 1992 and the three-module orbital facility might be up and running by 2022. The core space station will be launched first by Tianhe spacecraft abode Long March 5B rocket and is expected to go live towards the end of this month.

The Long March 7 will be assembled at Wenchang to prepare it for the Tianzhou-2 launch. The space vehicle uses kerosene and liquid oxygen fuel and is set to be ready before the end of May. Tianzhou -2 will ride on the rocket to provide Tianhe with fuel to maintain orbital altitude and astronauts’ supplies. Apart from the two modular missions for the space station, China is rolling out other missions this year. The Shenzhou-12 mission will take three astronauts to the Tianhe core to work on the space station development. The Long March 2F rocket will carry the trio towards the end of June.

China plans to complete the three space station modules installation by the end of next year, with over ten launches between now and then. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) aims to conduct three launches for the three nodules, four launches for crewed missions, and four cargo spacecraft flights. The agency is training astronauts in readiness for the crewed missions. Twelve astronauts will fly to space in four missions. CASC has also instructed that a Long March 2F rocket be prepared, waiting on the Jiuquan spaceport for emergency rescue missions to the space station.

Once the space station is up and running, three astronauts will camp there for six months conducting research. These studies include international projects in astronomy, space medicine, biotechnology, microgravity fluid physics, among others. Although the space station could be expanded in the future to six modules, the sixty-six metric ton facility will first consist of the three modules. It will be orbiting the earth at 340-450 kilometer altitude for a decade. It will be inclined at forty-three degrees to make it easy for launches to the facility to be conducted from the Jiuquan launch site.

When the Long March 5 rocket failed to launch in 2017, China’s dream of starting the space station construction between 2018 and 2019 was crushed. This year, everything is going as planned so far, and the country is still hopeful the station will be complete by 2022. This mission’s success will make China the third country to develop an independent human spaceflight capacity after Russia and the United States.

Satellites Space

SpaceX is rethinking the tiered pricing plan for the Starlink satellite internet service

The head of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, stated that the company is not likely to introduce tiered pricing for the Starlink satellite internet service’s direct consumers. The service will be going for a monthly price of $99 for the early adopters. Shotwell explained that this move is to prove to potential customers that their service is transparent and to motivate them to subscribe to it. The executive said this in a Satellite 2021 “LEO Digital Forum” webinar held two days ago. A tiered pricing system limits the customers to the service level that they have subscribed to with the choice of going overboard when their disposable income is sufficient.

Starlink is a project which brings together thousands of satellites to form a network and to provide internet service. This grouping of satellites is called a constellation, and it supplies high-speed internet to consumers in the entire globe. There are over 1200 satellites already in orbit to form a pilot test for the project. The company unveiled the service last year to customers situated in the US, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, and the UK.

The service costs $99 each month. It also comes with an additional cost for the devices tapping into the satellites in space for the internet. Elon Musk expanded the service garnering over 10000 users in the first quarter since the rollout. Shotwell reiterated that they would be operating in the public beta phase for quite some time while making the necessary changes to guarantee the transition to another phase.

Musk hopes that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can approve his plan of extending the service to mobile systems like cars, trucks, and aircraft. This move would open up a new market that the company is targeting to serve in the coming years. Currently, the company meets the demands of the rural and remote customers, who are about 60 million in the United States.

Shotwell explained that they decided to start with the US since there is no language barrier limiting their access to the remote and rural areas to install the devices compatible with the satellite signals. The company’s challenge is shipping the user terminals that communicate with the satellites to consumers’ residences. SpaceX has to shoulder the costs to encourage consumers to partake of this technology. Luckily, the company unveiled advanced terminals, which have minimized the cost of each by approximately $200.

Satellites Space

Pixxel launches a hyperspectral satellite seed series

An Indian startup has earned $7.3 million to build a constellation of the hyperspectral imaging satellites, the first phase towards a much larger venture.  Pixxel revealed the seed round on 17 March and received support from Omnivore VC as well as Techstars, among others. The organization had previously received $700,000 in the “pre-seed” financing to get underway.

Bengaluru, an India-centered firm, strives to stand out in a competitive area of Earth-imaging firms by concentrating on the hyperspectral imaging, which captures data through hundreds of spectral bands at the same time. Agriculture, oil, and natural resources will benefit from such imagery, which will offer a wealth of data. Despite its potential, hyperspectral data has yet to gain traction in the commercial imaging industry. Satellogic, for instance, flies hyperspectral imagers on its increasing constellation of satellites, but more traditional high-resolution imagery that such satellites often have has piqued interest.

Pixxel predicts that higher-quality hyperspectral data can help it succeed. In a conversation, Awais Ahmed, Pixxel’s co-founder, and CEO stated, “If you glance at Satellogic, it’s thirty bands at 30 meters resolution.” “We’re off with a 5-meter capacity and 150 bands.”

He says that the updated data can be paired with a tech interface that will make it simpler for consumers to interpret data, which is a problem for hyperspectral imaging. “People also shied away from hyperspectral photography in favour of the optical RGB imaging as it needs more computing capability,” stated Pixxel co-founder as well as chief technology officer (CTO) Kshitij Khandelwal. “We’re putting together a toolkit so that anyone can deal with hyperspectral data as well as other types of data.”

Pixxel has planned to launch the first satellite, a 15-kg spaceship, into orbit by now. However, due to software issues, the corporation had to pull satellite from the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle barely days before the deployment on February 28.

According to Ahmed, they discovered issues with GPS logging and acquisition tools a day before they were supposed to deliver satellite to the launch pad. He explained, “We wanted not to hurry it.” The business has resolved the software problem, done further tests, and is searching for launch options “in the coming months” on either an Indian or even an international rocket.

Pixxel is currently building a second satellite, which will weigh around 30 kg and be deployed in October. The satellite, just like the first, would be manufactured by the firm but with parts obtained from a variety of sources. Dragonfly Aerospace, which is a South African spacecraft imaging device manufacturer, provides the spacecraft’s camera, for instance. Khandelwal explained, “We are basically a satellite integrator and also a designer.”

Space Technology

Space Foundation collaborates with Noosphere Venture Partners for a three-year initiative to support the yearly International Student Art competition

A Colorado-based non-profit organization, Space Foundation, has announced a three-year deal with Noosphere Venture Partners, a California financial services and asset management firm, to support the former’s annual International Student Art Contest. The competition attracts students worldwide who submit their art based on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Students aged between three and eighteen years from nations such as Japan, United States, United Arab Emirates, China, India, and Malaysia have participated in this tournament, which kicked off in 2011. This contest equips students with creative and critical thinking skills and allows them to showcase and explore their talents in the space industry. “Space Foundation is grateful and excited to partner with Noosphere to take the International Student Art Contest to its next level of worldwide impact. Blending the arts, sciences, and imagination open up a wellspring of creativity for young people to explore how they see themselves in the global space ecosystem, “said Shelli Brunswick, chief operations officer at Space Foundation.

Noosphere Venture Partners is an asset management company dedicated to space-based initiatives. Through its subsidiary, Firefly Aerospace, the firm has sponsored this year’s International Student Art Contest to promote space and STEM awareness among students and teachers. “Today’s young people are tomorrow’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders. With Noosphere’s support, the International Student Art Contest can celebrate students and inspire even more of them to reach for the stars,” added Brunswick.

Under the leadership of its managing partner, Dr. Max Polyakov, Noosphere Venture is carrying out a Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM), a global contest to host academic and educational payloads as rideshare participants on the Firefly’s inaugural mission, the Firefly Alpha spacecraft.

“The goals of the International Art Contest align with the Noosphere theory, initially promoted by celebrated academician Volodymyr Vernadsky, which considers the human mind and knowledge to be driving forces of development and the most valuable resources for the preservation of the planet,” said Dr. Polyakov.

“By instilling younger generations with a love and understanding of space and STEM, humanity will be better equipped to tackle the challenges facing the Earth,” added Polyakov. Parents, guardians, and teachers will help the student submit their artwork online. The winning pieces are displayed at the Space Foundation’s Discovery Center in Colorado and the annual Space Symposium. The best artwork is also posted on the organization’s website and social media pages.

The top 25 winning pieces are selected from the pool of submissions. The best, first runners up and second runners up positions are awarded. The best overall artist receives the Space Foundation Achievement Award. The submission and participation are free.