Thales Alenia Space wins new market – contract with Bangladesh signed

Thales Alenia Space is consolidating position on world market of space industry by putting another customer into portfolio.

Thales Alenia Space is well known of their potential and experience in manufacturing advanced military and civilian satellites. Since stablishing in 2005 it is still developing its potential and increasing sales on the market. TAS is looking for new customers and new markets often using aggressive and risky strategy. After creating Chinasat-6B satellite in 2007 (without using  parts made in USA, to omit ITAR restrictions and launch satellite with Long March 3B) Company started increasing sales in Asia. History of not quite official cooperation with Chinese partner returned in 2013 after American company Aeroflex was fined with $8 million for transferring restricted technology to TAS without compliance with American export regulations. Transferred technology was resold by Thales Alenia Space to China. Still remaining important contractor with Department of Defense, Thales Alenia was continuing their sales strategy. In 2014, after Department of Defense protests and risk of losing contracts, Thales Alenia halted cooperation with Russia in designing new generation spy satellite. It should not be surprising, that after losing potential lucrative contract, TAS is still looking for new markets.

Contract for first Bangladesh satellite called Bangabandhu-1 was signed on Wednesday for both designing and launch service. Contract worth $248 million, was signed by Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) and Jean-Loïc Galle, chairman and chief executive of the French space agency in Dhaka. Thales Alenia Space offer proved better than listings of Boeing, Orbital ATK, MDA Corporation and China Great Wall Industry Corporation.

It will be first satellite in Bangladesh history with scheduled launch on 2017; it will be communication satellite operated by Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). Bangabandhu-1 will be put into 119° East longitude slot rented from Russian Intersputnik Company for $28 million for 15 years. Satellite will be equipped with 40 Ku and C band transponders and will remain operational for 15 years.



Return of the pioneering solution – Pegasus mission scheduled on 2016

Orbital ATK has scheduled mission utilizing their first launch system, Pegasus. It will lift to LEO orbit satellite under Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) program. Launch is planned for October 2016.

After three years of pause in Pegasus mission, Orbital ATK will utilize their air-launched rocket in commercial mission. It will be, contracted with NASA, launch of their new satellite designed for ocean observation and hurricane forecasting. NASA is still interesting in developing their constellation of various weather satellites. CYGNSS is result of cooperation with the University of Michigan, Southwest Research Institute of Texas, Surrey Satellite Technology of Colorado and NASA Ames Research Center. Program started in 2012 with NASA donation of $152 million and with ambitious aim of creating fleet of eight weather forecasting satellites. Pegasus will be equipped with special deployment module made by Sierra Nevada Corporation. It will be a tube with two rows of four satellites inside. Every pair of satellites will be starting from module in opposite directions with speed at 1 m/s. Planned orbit for satellites is about 500 km and three years, after reaching end of the operational life, all satellites should burn in atmosphere to avoid creating space debris. Each satellite is built by Southwest Research Institute. GPS system necessary for correct research is provided by USA division of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd; solar panels for satellites will be designed and manufactured by EMCORE. Satellite is manufactured from CNC milled Aluminum with bolted parts and combined with combined with honeycomb structure. Mass of satellite is low, at 27.5 kg; it will make possible to launch eight satellites and deployment module in one mission (Pegasus is limited with 443 kg payload capacity). Satellite is equipped with Thermal Control System (for active cooling control), ADCS (Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem) for steering and stability control, EPS (Electrical Power Subsystem) providing battery charging without jamming and interrupting of observation systems (power required for operating is at 38.3 W) and S band transceiver for communication with 4 Mbit/s downlink/2 Kbit/s uplink data rate. Scienctific equipment will be mainly DDMI (Delay Doppler Mapping Instrument) responsible for measuring surface of ocean. It works utilizing scattered from GPS satellites signals to create DDM (Delay Doppler Map) and has possibility of accumulating up to 60 seconds of raw sampled data. Receiver and three antennas of DDMI are designed and manufactured by Surrey Satellite Technology US LLC.

Pegasus is oldest launch vehicle by Orbital ATK. It was presented in 1990 as air-launched rocket for LEO missions. It was developed mainly for small satellites, due its payload capacity with diameters 1.18 by 2.13 meter with maximum weight at 443 kg. It is known as first winged vehicle able to reach 8 Ma and first privately designed and manufactured launch vehicle. Launching of the rocket starts with using special modified plane called Stargazer L-1011.  After reaching height of 12000 m rocket is dropped from plane and after about 5 seconds solid fueled Orion 50S engine is turning on. On 61000 m first stage with wings and tail is falling off, after Pegasus reaching hypersonic speed. Second stage engine, Orion 50 is turning on with stabilization in pitch and yaw with roll control provided by third stage nitrogen thrusters. After 1 minute and 18 second second stage is falling with fairing.  Pegasus is in almost vacuum altitude and turns on Orion 38 engine for 64 seconds. After third stage, optional fourth stage equipped with Hydrazine Auxiliary Propulsion System (HAPS is based on three restartable thrusters powered by hydrazine) is activating. Pegasus is reaching LEO and is ready for putting payload into orbit.

Pegasus has many advantages comparing to rockets. It is more independent from weather during start (rocket is starting at 12000 m where meteorological conditions are stable); it is less expensive comparing to traditional rockets. It is not requiring launch facilities, there is no risk of explosion during start. Stargazer is able to start from runways, whole system is easy in transporting.  Main disadvantage is small payload capacity and ability for reaching only LEO. But still, rockets designated for lifting small payloads have often identical drawbacks.  After twenty years of service it proved to be reliable solution. Maybe after failure of railed-launched Super Strypi rocket Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force will look favorably on Pegasus.


Manned version of Dragon spacecraft successfully finished propulsion tests

NASA announced that crewed Dragon spacecraft ended tests of propulsion with positive results.

SpaceX Dragon is still developing into manned version. Being part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) along with Boeing CST-100 reached next milestone. Designed as automatic spacecraft, combined with Falcon-9 rocket, is designated mainly as vehicle for lifting men to ISS. Propulsion of Dragon is designed as part of rescue system during aborting mission, even after rocket is launched. Engines should give Dragon enough speed to fly away from rocket and save crew members. To provide such capability engines should be powerful, reliable and able to give full thrust in short time. Tests taken place in SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas.

Engines utilized in Dragon are named by SpaceX “SuperDraco”, are combined in four pairs around spacecraft. They are able to provide around 533 kN of thrust which should allow Dragon to reach speed at 160km/h in 1.2 second. Achieving such speed in such a short time is possible due the propellant used. SuperDracos engines are fueled with hypergolic propellant to short time of ignition. Engines are designed to start for around five seconds stop and be ejected with trunk module to give possibility of ejecting parachutes in safe distance at around 1,524 meters.

Last Dragon abort test was positively completed on 6th May 2015 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its main advantage and difference from previous versions, is utilizing fixed engines, instead additional jettisoned tower containing propulsion attached over the spacecraft. It provides capability of using rescue system in any moment of flight. Engines could be also utilized during maneuvers in outer space (for example during docking) and are able for multiple starts and stops. Tests were consisted 27 tries of starting and stopping with no signs of malfunction.



Japan develop fleet of recoinassance satellites and strengthen cooperation with U.S. Strategic Command

Tensions on South China Sea and in North Korea are not without influence on the direction of development of Japanese space program. Japan announced about increasing fleet of spy satellites.

Japan began developing space reconnaissance program in 1998 after North Korea’s test missile fly over Japan. Recently radar and optical observation satellites were launched in 2011, 2013 and on 1st February 2015. It was not officially announced what are capabilities of satellites but according some sources, satellites are equipped with high resolution cameras and instruments providing ground observation capability in spite of clouds. Main goal of Japan is increasing number of spy satellites from four to ten. Second objective is designing own infra-red observation satellite and developing early warning system to 2019. Since now Japan was depend on information provided by U.S. Strategic Command only in case of detecting danger.

Japan space industry depends on public contracts and orders. Government would like to give impulse for further developing, with assumption of increasing participation of space industry in export.  Reconnaissance and observation satellites could find potential customers in Asia. Still developed HII-A rocket is planned to be updated for F29 version for improved flexibility of upper stage for lifting more types of cargo. Also it is reliable launch vehicle with almost 100% success ratio. Utilized during launches of reconnaissance satellites is also used with combine launches of Japanese and South Korea satellites. Both countries are interested in developing their early warning and reconnaissance satellite fleet, and Japan has appropriate launch vehicle. It is possible that military cooperation between South Korea and Japan mainly based on common launches will be brought into new level.


National Independence Day in Poland !

Today, November 11th, we celebrate Independence Day in Poland! On this occasion, we wish to remind the most important discoveries in the history of space exploration that took place with the participation of Poles:

  • “Dē revolutionibus orbium coelestium” – 1543 – One of astronomy milestones, by Nicolaus Copernicus (19 February 1473-24 May 1543).
  • Liquefying of oxygen and nitrogen – 1883 – Basic components of modern rocket fuel, the work of Polish scientists Zygmunt Wróblewski (28 October 1845-16 April 1888) and Karol Olszewski (29 January 1846-24 March 1915).
  •  “Formula of aviation”- 1896 – First scientific basis spaceflight by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Russian citizen with Polish origin (17 September 1857-19 September 1935).
  • “Theory of Land Locomotion” and “The Mechanics of Vehicle Mobility” – 1956, 1962 – First scientific theory of Lunar locomotion by Mieczysław Gregory Bekker (25 May 1905-8 January 1989). Theories contained in books allowed the creation of Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), first manned wheeled vehicle on the Moon.

We have invariably proud of Them!

A test version of ESA’s service module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft arrived in the US

Orion’s European module ready for testing

The European Service Module is adapted from Europe’s largest spacecraft, the Automated Transfer Vehicle, which completed its last mission to the International Space Station in February. Just nine months later, prime contractor Airbus Defence & Space in Bremen, Germany, has delivered the first test module.

The module sits directly below Orion’s crew capsule and provides propulsion, power, thermal control, and water and air for four astronauts. The solar array spans 19 m and provides enough to power two households.

A little over 5 m in diameter and 4 m high, it weighs 13.5 tonnes. The 8.6 tonnes of propellant will power one main engine and 32 smaller thrusters.

The structural test article delivered today was built by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy. Following initial tests in Europe, it will now undergo rigorous vibration tests in NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio to ensure the structure and components can withstand the extreme stresses during launch.

Source: ESA Space News

First Intelsat EpicNG high-performance satellite will be placed in orbit by Ariane 5

Intelsat Announces January 27, 2016 as Expected Launch Date for Intelsat 29e

Intelsat S.A. announced today that Intelsat 29e, the first of the Intelsat EpicNG high throughput satellites, is scheduled to launch on January 27, 2016, aboard an Arianespace Ariane 5 ECA launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

Manufactured by Boeing, Intelsat’s EpicNG satellites operate in both C-and Ku-band, and are fully interoperable with the entire Intelsat satellite fleet. The Intelsat EpicNG satellites will operate the most advanced digital payload commercially available, providing commercial and government customers access to high throughput capabilities, which will result in a flexible broadband infrastructure that will scale to meet their needs.

Located at 310° East, Intelsat 29e will replace Intelsat 1R and Intelsat 805. The payload will enable the delivery of enterprise-grade, broadband services to fixed and mobile network operators, aero and maritime mobility service providers, and to government customers operating throughout the Americas. The satellite will also provide spot beams for mobility customers serving the heavily trafficked North Atlantic region. To date, companies such as Harris CapRock, Panasonic, EMC (formerly MTN), Axesat and leading national telecom operators in Latin America will be among the first to deploy services on the platform.

Intelsat 29e marks the first of Intelsat’s next generation EpicNG satellite fleet that combines wide beams and spot beams with frequency reuse technology to meet customers’ growing demand for broadband connectivity worldwide. Intelsat29e will be the 56th Intelsat satellite orbited by Arianespace and the first dedicated launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket for Intelsat.  Intelsat expects to launch the second Intelsat EpicNG satellite, Intelsat 33e, which will serve Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, in the third quarter of 2016, also aboard an Arianespace launcher.

Ariane 5 has delivered two telecom satellites, Arabsat-6B and GSAT-15 into orbits

Liftoff of flight VA227 occurred on 10 November at 21:34 GMT (22:34 CET, 18:34 local time) from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Arabsat-6B, with a mass at liftoff of 5798 kg and mounted in the upper position atop Ariane’s Sylda dual-payload carrier inside the fairing, was the first to be released about 27 minutes into the mission.

Arabsat-6B, built by Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space, is owned and operated by Arabsat, an Arab League intergovernmental organization. Positioned at 26°E in geostationary orbit, Arabsat-6B will provide TV broadcasting, broadband and telecommunications services over the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. It has a design life of about 15 years.

GSAT-15, built and owned by the Indian Space Research Organization, will operate at 93.5°E in geostationary orbit to provide telecommunications services, as well as dedicated navigation-aid and emergency services for India. It has a design life of 12 years.

The payload mass for this launch was 9811 kg. The satellites totalled about 8963 kg, with payload adapters and carrying structures making up the rest.

Flight VA227 was the 83rd Ariane 5 mission.

Source: ESA

China catch up in space plane race – scramjet spaceplane successful flight announced

In October China announced success in tests of their scramjet hypersonic experimental plane.

Probably there is no better summary of Chinese approaches to aerospace industry in recent years, than words of Professor Wang Zhenguo (National University of Defense Technology), one of nine winners of  second Feng Ru awards (granted by Chinese Society for Aeronautics and Astronautics):

“The Chinese nation is no longer satisfied with living like a farmer who eyes nothing but his own piece of land and a family to raise. We are looking up into space now.”

Wang Zhenguo is project chief of new experimental hypersonic plane utilizing scramjet engine. Scramjet is type of jet engine used in hypersonic planes (with speed around 10 – 24 Ma). It utilizes air flowing with supersonic speed mixed with kerosene.  Main disadvantage of present scramjets is necessity of reaching high speed before engine becomes effective (around 5 Ma). China Aviation News announced in article from 18th September 2015, that successful test of combined jet/scramjet engine was finished. It means that one engine would be able ensure propulsion before reaching velocity necessary to switch into scramjet mode. Scramjets could be considered as possible propulsion for two-stage-to-orbit spaceplanes. Such concept was presented and patented by Boeing in 1989 as SSME; first stage was designed as reusable jet lifter with capability of starting and landing on runways. Second stage was planned as scramjet or rocket propulsion orbiter. Scramjet engine was also proposed for X30, hyperspeed experimental aircraft with possible availability for reaching LEO.  At present, X51 designed by Boeing and equipped in scramjet propulsion, was successfully tested during test flight in 2013.  In spite of success, X51 still remain prototype of weapon (maybe hypersonic drone or missile) under High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW) program. It has no possibility (it was not intended for such purpose) for independent starting and landing.  Chinese scramjet aircraft (actually without any official name) is rather prototype of plane. Possible it could be prototype of bomber – one of potentially utilizing scramjet engines project was already showed on 2010 at Zhuhai Airshow. It is also possible that scramjet engine will be only a step in a way to developing single-stage or two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane. China already drop tested Shenlong unmanned spaceplane in 2007, but it was not in possession of appropriate propulsion (it was speculated that installed engine was Russian D-30K turbofan engine). In future being in possession of engine operating in jet and scramjet modes will give China potential to develop aircrafts, missiles, drones or spaceplanes competitive to American civilian and military constructions.


Shenlong ‘Divine Dragon’ Takes Flight: Is China developing its first spaceplane?


British alternative – BAE Systems invests in Reaction Engines Limited

British company Reaction Engines Limited announced on 2nd November 2015 that new agreement with BAE Systems was signed.

Reaction Engines Limited is responsible for designing Skylon spaceplane and agreement is targeted for strengthening and streamlining cooperation between REL and BAE in further development. As we can read on REL site:

“The working partnership will draw on BAE Systems’ extensive aerospace technology development and project management expertise and will provide Reaction Engines Limited with access to critical industrial, technical and capital resources to progress towards the demonstration of a ground based engine – a key milestone in the development of the technology.”

BAE is supposed to invest around £20 million in SABRE engine project. Combined with announced government grant of £60 million it will provide necessary funds for further development of SABRE which is crucial part of Skylon project.

History of Skylon

Skylon is British project of single stage spaceplane capable to reach space without separate launch vehicle. Conception of such plane is dating to World War II German project of hypersonic bomber able to attack targets in USA. It was called Silbervogel and stayed (luckily for Allies) only on blueprints. Idea was ambitious, but it project was strictly military – reaching low orbit was only mean of increasing range but not main objective. After decades, conception materialized in 1982 in three different projects. American “Copper Canyon” project firstly developed by DARPA was announced in the middle of the eighties as a future hypersonic (with speed of 8 Ma and possibility of reaching even 20 Ma) passenger plane. In second half of the eighties project was divided between NASA, DARPA, the US Air Force, the Strategic Defense Initiative Office (SDIO) and the US Navy and resulted in Rockwell X30 project. Due the high costs of creating manned and able to lift cargo technology demonstrator, X30 program was cancelled in 1993. Next conception was born in USSR in 1986 as answer for X30. Tu-2000 was announced as new hypersonic bomber with speed of 24 Ma and payload capacity at 8000 kg. Project was cancelled after collapse of USSR due the lack of funds and economy problems in Russia. But even in case further development, planned capacity was not impressive; experimental hypersonic bomber was tested earlier (XB70) in USA, and it was rejected as economically and militarily ineffective (ICBM were less expensive and were able to play the same role). Third project was developed in Great Britain in the beginning of the eighties. HOTOL (Horizontal Take-Off and Landing) was designed to give opportunity of lifting payload into orbit from conventional runway without using rocket. BAe (predecessor of BAE) started cooperation with Rolls-Royce (famous due their contribution in development of jet engines). RR designed innovative engine RB545, operating like jet engine during start and flight in low atmosphere and with possible of switching into rocket mode in specific height. Secret of propulsion was using atmosphere oxygen for jet mode to reduce amount of oxidizer used in climbing (it would make separate or additional rocket unnecessary) for height where engine will start rocket mode. In spite of fact that project was in the end of design it was cancelled in the end of the eighties due two reasons. First, the limited economic sense – in that times rockets were not significantly more expensive in terms of launch costs. Second reason was aerodynamic problems which were known since project phase. HOTOL was too heavy at the rear (due the large engines). To ensure flight stability it was necessary to add many different heavy hydraulical systems. Unfortunately after redesigning, HOTOL lost most of its payload capacity. Again economical sense of HOTOL came under question. After lost battle between ambitions with economics, BAe tried to restart project in less expensive form, as smaller spaceplane launched with conventional rocket engines from An 225, but again project was rejected.

New beginning

In 2012, after over two decades since HOTOL was cancelled, Reaction Engines Limited announced that main problems of HOTOL were solved, and propulsion finished successfully testing under inspection of ESA. REL was founded in 1989 by one of designers of HOTOL Alan Bond. Alan Bond invented SABRE engine basing on his project of RB545 engine during his working for Rolls-Royce. SABRE is able to operate both as a jet or rocket engine. For jet mode, SABRE is utilizing atmosphere oxygen cooled to almost liquid state. In rocket mode conventional oxidizers are utilized. Two SABRE engines will be propulsion of SKYLON. For now SKYLON is designed as remote controlled, reusable, spaceplane available to lift cargo or men into low orbit. With cargo space in the center, front and rear of construction (based on composite space frame) are fuel tanks. Spaceplane is using canard foreplanes combined with short wings with no tail. It is planned to be reusable up to 200 times. Heat protection during reentry will be ceramic skin with active cooling; due the fact of low ballistic coefficient Skylon should not be able to reach high speeds in high parts of atmosphere where air is thinner. Expensive and vulnerable to damage Thermal Protection System (like in Space Shuttle) will not be necessary (also it will reduce service time between flights). Skylon in present phase of develop is large vehicle. Length is planned at 83.133 m, wingspan at 26.818 m with start weight at 325000 kg. Planned payload capacity with equatorial launch site is up to 17000 kg to 160 km orbit or 2700 kg for 600 km orbit. Skylon is able to lift up to 30 passengers in special module or 24 passengers in combined manned and cargo Skylon Personnel / Logistics Module (SPLM). Skylon is able for space maneuvers and Rendez – Vous with cargo but is not designed for docking. To lift cargo module from Skylon to for example ISS special Skylon Orbiting Facility Interface (SOFI) is required to be attached to transported module. SPLM or any other personnel module will have attached USIS docking port. Skylon will be able to dock with space station or other Skylon equipped with USIS. It is also part of rescue system. As personnel modules are separate construction from Skylon they can provide two days of life supporting in case of Skylon malfunction. It will let other Skylon to start and dock to malfunctioning spaceplane to make possible transferring passengers into safe module. In case of crash during start or landing structure of Skylon will provide shock protection for passengers, and module is equipped in heat shields to protect from burning propellant.

Skylon’s predecessor, HOTOL shared more enthusiasm for its idea in USA than in UK. NASA was seriously interested in participating in HOTOL, unfortunately without positive response from Ministry of Defense. This time, Skylon is considered as a potential successor of Space Shuttle and doubtless one of most interesting and promising projects. Maybe international cooperation between Britain, USA and UE would let Skylon to avoid fate of being only a model on a shelf.