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ESA’s Cassini Spacecraft Delivers Big Results

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Cassini grand finale
ESA’s Cassini’s spacecraft has delivered over a decade of data.  It’s final days are no exception.  Programs like this help pave the way for future space adventures.  (Editor – EPIQ Space)

COUNTDOWN TO CASSINI’S GRAND FINALE

25 April 2017After nearly 13 years in orbit around Saturn, the international Cassini–Huygens mission is about to begin its final chapter: the spacecraft will perform a series of daring dives between the planet and its rings, leading to a dramatic final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on 15 September.

On 22 April, Cassini successfully executed its 127th and final close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

The manoeuvre put the spacecraft onto its ’grand finale’ trajectory: a series of 22 orbits, each lasting about a week, drawing closer to Saturn and passing between the planet’s innermost rings and its outer atmosphere. The first crossing of the ring plane will occur on 26 April.

With the repeated dives in this yet unvisited region, the mission will conclude its journey of exploration by collecting unprecedented data to address fundamental questions about the origin of Saturn and its ring system.

Titan flyby

Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft embarked on a seven-year voyage across the Solar System, eventually reaching Saturn in July 2004. Several months later, the Cassini orbiter released ESA’s Huygens probe, which landed on Titan on 14 January 2005 – the first landing in the outer Solar System.

The mission has greatly contributed to our understanding of the Saturnian environment, including the giant planet’s system of rings and moons.

Combining the data collected in situ by Huygens and the observations performed by Cassini during flybys of Titan, the mission revealed the atmospheric processes of this moon and their seasonal evolution, as well as the surface morphology and interior structure, which may include a liquid water ocean.

Enshrouded by a thick nitrogen-dominated atmosphere and partly covered by lakes and rivers, Titan has a weather and hydrological cycle that bears some interesting similarities to Earth. However, there are important differences: the key component there is not water, like on our planet, but methane, and the temperature is very low, around –180°C at the surface.

Over its 13-year mission, Cassini will have covered about half of Saturn’s orbit, in which the planet takes 29 years to circle the Sun. This means that the spacecraft has monitored two seasons on Titan, an object that can teach us much on the past and the future of Earth.

Enceladus jets

Another of Cassini’s breakthroughs was the detection of a towering plume of water vapour and organic material spraying into space from warm fractures near the south pole of Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus. These salt-rich jets indicate that an underground sea of liquid water is lurking only a few kilometres below the moon’s icy surface, as confirmed by gravity and rotation measurements.

A recent analysis of data collected during flybys of Enceladus with the Cassini Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer also revealed hydrogen gas in the plume, suggesting that rock might be reacting with warm water on the seafloor of the moon’s subsurface ocean. This hydrothermal activity could provide a chemical energy source for life, enabling non-photosynthetic biological processes similar to the ones found near the hydrothermal vents on the Earth’s ocean floor and pointing to the potential habitability of Enceladus’ underground ocean.

Following over a decade of ground-breaking discoveries, Cassini is now approaching its end. With little fuel left to correct the spacecraft trajectory, it has been decided to end the mission by plunging it into Saturn’s atmosphere on 15 September 2017. In the process, Cassini will burn up, satisfying planetary protection requirements to avoid possible contamination of any moons of Saturn that could have conditions suitable for life.

Grand finale orbits

The grand finale is not only a spectacular way to complete this extraordinary mission, but will also return a bounty of unique scientific data that was not possible to collect during the previous phases of the mission. Cassini has never ventured into the area between Saturn and its rings before, so the new set of orbits is almost like a whole new mission.

These close orbits will be inclined 63 degrees with respect to Saturn’s equator and will provide the highest resolution observations ever achieved of the inner rings and the planet’s clouds. The orbits will also give the chance to examine in situ the material in the rings and plasma environment of Saturn.

With its radio science investigation, Cassini will measure Saturn’s gravitational field as close as 3000 km from Saturn’s upper cloud layers, greatly improving the current models of the planet’s internal structure and winds in its atmosphere. Scientists expect the new data will also allow them to disentangle the gravity of the planet from the tiny pull exerted on the spacecraft by the rings, estimating the total mass of the rings to unprecedented accuracy. ESA ground stations in Argentina and Australia will help receive Cassini’s radio science data, providing a series of 22 tracking passes during the grand finale.

The grand finale orbits will also probe the planet’s magnetic field at similarly close distances. Previous observations have shown that the magnetic field is weaker than expected, with the magnetic axis surprisingly well aligned with the planet’s rotation. New data to be collected by the Cassini magnetometer will provide insights to understand why this is so and where the sources of magnetic field are located, or whether something in Saturn’s atmosphere has been obscuring the true magnetic field from Cassini until now.

Cassini between Saturn and the rings

While crossing the ring plane, Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer will directly sample the composition of dust particles from different parts of the ring system, whereas the Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer will sniff the upper atmosphere layers of Saturn to analyse molecules escaping from the atmosphere as well as water-based molecules that originate from the rings.

“At last, we have now reached the final and most audacious phase of this pioneering mission, pushing the spacecraft once again into unexplored territory,” says Nicolas Altobelli, ESA Cassini project scientist.

“We are looking forward to the flow of exciting new data that Cassini will send back in the coming months.”

Notes for Editors

Cassini–Huygens is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and ASI, the Italian space agency.

For further information, please contact:

Nicolas Altobelli
ESA Cassini–Huygens Project Scientist
Tel: +34 91 813 1201
Email: nicolas.altobelli@esa.int

Markus Bauer
ESA Science Communication Officer
Tel: +31 71 565 6799
Mob: +31 61 594 3 954
Email: markus.bauer@esa.int

April 26, 2017 |

NASA Invests in Novel New Ideas

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NASA has invested in ideas originating from small businesses for years.  The significance of these investments have provided important contributions to the industry.  It is great to see a continued investment and it is also great to see novel ideas continuing to come out of these enterprises.  (Editor – EPIQ Space)

 

Find this article and others on NASA’s website here.

April 19, 2017

RELEASE 17-045

NASA Eyes Fusion Reactor Engines, Extraterrestrial Drilling, Other Far-Out Technologies with Latest Investment Selections

NASA has selected 399 research and technology proposals from 277 American small businesses and 44 research institutions that will enable NASA’s future missions into deep space, and advancements in aviation and science, while also benefiting the U.S. economy. The awards have a total value of approximately $49.9 million.

The agency received 1,621 proposals in response to its 2017 solicitation for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. From those, NASA selected 338 SBIR and 61 STTR Phase I proposals for contract negotiations. The SBIR Phase I contracts last for six months and STTR Phase I contracts last for 12 months, both with maximum funding of $125,000.

“The SBIR and STTR program’s selection of nearly 400 proposals for further development is a testament to NASA’s support of American innovation by small businesses and research institutions,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This program provides opportunities for companies and institutions to commercialize their innovations while contributing to meeting NASA’s goals and objectives across all mission areas.”

Selected proposals will support the development of technologies in the areas of aeronautics, science, human exploration and operations, and space technology. A sampling of proposals demonstrates the breadth of research and development these awards will fund, including:

  • High temperature superconducting coils for a future fusion reaction space engine. These coils are needed for the magnetic field that allows the engine to operate safely. Nuclear fusion reactions are what power our sun and other stars, and an engine based on this technology would revolutionize space flight
  • Advanced drilling technologies to enable exploration of extraterrestrial oceans beneath the icy shells of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, which can be miles thick. This is critical for detecting past or present life in these off-world oceans.
  • New wheels for planetary rovers that dramatically improve mobility over a wide variety of terrains. This new design has multiple applications and could potentially impact any heavy-duty or off-road vehicle in diverse markets such as farming and defense.
  • Software-enabling collaborative control of multiple unmanned aircraft systems, especially in scenarios where uncrewed vehicles fly in close proximity to crewed flights. These types of operations also are of interest to national security and disaster relief missions, including fire management.
  • A leading-edge manufacturing process that enables recycling of used or failed metal parts by placing them into a press, producing a slab of metal, and machining it into a needed metal part in logistically remote environments, such as a space station or long-duration space mission. This area also is of interest to the manufacturing sector, since there is a need to reduce processing footprint.

Proposals were selected according to their technical merit and feasibility, in addition to the experience, qualifications and facilities of the submitting organization. Additional criteria included effectiveness of the work plan and commercial potential.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses have created 55% of all jobs in the United States since the 1970s. SBIR and STTR programs are competitive awards-based programs. They encourage small businesses and research institutions to engage in federal research and development, and industrial commercialization, by enabling them to explore technological potential and providing incentives to profit from new commercial products and services. The awards span 36 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The SBIR program is managed for STMD by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. STMD is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

For a list of selected proposals and for more information about the Small Business Innovation Research program, visit:

https://sbir.nasa.gov

SBIR: https://sbir.nasa.gov/prg_selection/node/58009

STTR: https://sbir.nasa.gov/prg_selection/node/58010

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Gina Anderson
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1160
gina.n.anderson@nasa.gov

Kimberly Williams
Ames Research Center, California’s Silicon Valley
650-604-4789
kimberly.k.williams@nasa.gov

Last Updated: April 19, 2017

Editor: Katherine Brown

April 23, 2017 |

Breakout Products for the Satellite Industry

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Space Parts Working Group Day 2
 
Space Parts Working Group met for a second day in Torrance California hosted by The Aerospace Corporation, in cooperation with U.S. Air Force Space Missile Systems Center (SMSC) and the National Reconnaissance Office.  The satellite supplier community has come together to provide updates on the latest technologies available for the space industry.
 
Anaren acquisition of MS Kennedy created a need for recertification over the past several years for space applications.  This has caused some delivery disturbance to the market.  The business unit has completed its certifications and improving delivery. In addition, they announced a new LDO regulator family MSK5965RH and new 6 & 10 Amp Point of Load Regulators MSK 5062RH and 5061RH respectively.
 
Analog Devices acquisition of Linear Technologies positions them as #1 or #2 in the various markets they serve.  They introduced a Quad Core Op Amp (ADA4084S) in additional to a 14B/125 MSPS ADC (AD9246S).  They have a series of new Digital Isolators (ADuM7442S) using galvanic isolation in addition to new Envelope detectors (ADL6010S) and other devices from their RF/uW portfolio extending to 40 GHz.
 
STMicrolectronics has been introducing about one new product per month across their product portfolio.  They have a new line of Power Schottky Diodes and a new family of Bipolar Transistors with faster switching (2ST1360 and 2ST2360).  New family of LVDS Drivers and Receivers (RHFLVDS31A).  New LVDS Serializer and Deserializer (RHFLVDS217A) and Dual MOSFET Gate Driver (RHRPM4424).   BiCMOS Amplifiers (RHF330, RHR61 and RH-20x), 420MHz Differential Amplifier (RHF200), 16-bit Delta-Sigma DAC (RHRDAC1612), High Accuracy Fixed Voltage References (RHF100), Next Generation Low Dropout Voltage Regulator (RHFL6000A).
 
The satellite suppliers have invested heavily into the industry again this year developing tremendous products to help continue to push the industry to new levels.
 
(Editor – EPIQ Space)
April 5, 2017 |

Satellite Suppliers Shine at Space Parts Working Group

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Space Parts Working Group Satellite Pic

EPIQ Space attended Space Parts Working Group (SPWG) this week.  This is a conference hosted by The Aerospace Corporation, in cooperation with U.S. Air Force Space Missile Systems Center (SMSC) and the National Reconnaissance Office.   For 45 years this conference is held annually in Torrance California for the Space industry to resolve problems with high-reliability electronic products.  This is a fantastic event to allow product suppliers to the satellite industry to provide updates on their latest products and services.  This comprehensive overview is held for two days providing updates from a host of companies.  

Freebird Semiconductor announced a new line of High Reliability Gallium Nitride (GaN) High Electron Mobility Transistor (HEMT) Power Switching devices.  With a low On-Resistance, the company has a line of products meeting Radiation Hardened requirements for typical Space applications.  

Xilinx  Virtex®-5QV FPGA (V5QV) platform is the industry’s first high performance radiation hardened reconfigurable FPGA.  The device offers the highest density, performance and integration capabilities.  These devices provide exceptional density, radiation hardening with flexible reconfigurability without the high risk of ASICs.

VPT has a new Rad Hard Point of Load (POL’s) converter for a 3.3V bus.  In addition VPT has a new Space Qualified Inrush Current Limiter designed for a 28V bus with 100W and 200W feed capabilities. They are also introducing a new line of LDO Regulators.  

The satellite industry has always had limited options to communicate new products.  Space Parts Working Group is a great place to meet peers from the industry and get updated on the latest technologies.

(Editor – EPIQ Space)

 

 

 

 

April 4, 2017 |

ESA JUICE Program Requires Exceptional Technology

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ESA continues to advance the technology necessary to explore new space frontiers.  The research and planning necessary to survive in the hostile environment continues to exceed expectations.  (Editor – EPIQ Space)

Find this article and others on ESA’s website here.

ESA’s Jupiter Mission Moves Off the Drawing Board

16 March 2017Demanding electric, magnetic and power requirements, harsh radiation, and strict planetary protection rules are some of the critical issues that had to be tackled in order to move ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer – Juice – from the drawing board and into construction.

Scheduled for launch in 2022, with arrival in the Jovian system in 2029, Juice will spend three-and-a-half years examining the giant planet’s turbulent atmosphere, enormous magnetosphere, its set of tenuous dark rings and its satellites.

It will study the large icy moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, which are thought to have oceans of liquid water beneath their icy crusts – perhaps even harbouring habitable environments.

The mission will culminate in a dedicated, eight-month tour around Ganymede, the first time any moon beyond our own has been orbited by a spacecraft.

Jupiter’s largest moons

Juice will be equipped with 10 state-of-the-art instruments, including cameras, an ice-penetrating radar, an altimeter, radio-science experiments, and sensors to monitor the magnetic fields and charged particles in the Jovian system.

In order to ensure it can address these goals in the challenging Jovian environment, the spacecraft’s design has to meet stringent requirements.

An important milestone was reached earlier this month, when the preliminary design of Juice and its interfaces with the scientific instruments and the ground stations were fixed, which will now allow a prototype spacecraft to be built for rigorous testing.

The review also confirmed that the 5.3 tonne spacecraft will be compatible with its Ariane 5 launcher.

Operating in the outer Solar System, far from the Sun, means that Juice needs a large solar array: two wings of five panels each are foreseen, which will cover a total surface area of nearly 100 sq m, capable of providing 820 W at Jupiter by the end of the mission.

After launch, Juice will make five gravity-assist flybys in total: one each at Mars and Venus, and three at Earth, to set it on course for Jupiter. Its solar panels will have to cope with a range of temperatures such that when it is flying closer to the Sun during the Venus flyby, the solar wings will be tilted to avoid excessive temperatures damaging the solar cells.

The spacecraft’s main engine will be used to enter orbit around the giant planet, and later around Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede. As such, the engine design has also been critically reviewed at this stage.

Special measures will allow Juice to cope with the extremely harsh radiation that it must endure for several years around Jupiter. This means careful selection of components and materials, as well as radiation shielding.

One particularly important topic is Juice’s electromagnetic ‘cleanliness’. Because a key goal is to monitor the magnetic fields and charged particles at Jupiter, it is imperative that any electromagnetic fields generated by the spacecraft itself do not interfere with the sensitive scientific measurements.

This will be achieved by the careful design of the solar array electrical architecture, the power distribution unit, and the reaction wheels – a type of flywheel that stabilises the attitude.

The review also ensured that Juice will meet strict planetary protection guidelines, because it is imperative to minimise the risk that the potentially habitable ocean moons, particularly Europa, might be contaminated by viruses, bacteria or spores carried by the spacecraft from Earth. Therefore, mission plans ensure that Juice will not crash into Europa, on a timescale of hundreds of years.

“The spacecraft design has been extensively and positively reviewed, and confirmed to address the many critical mission requirements,” says Giuseppe Sarri, Juice project manager. “So far we are on schedule, and are delighted to begin the development stage of this ambitious large-class mission.”

ESA’s industrial partners, led by Airbus, now have the go-ahead to start building the prototype spacecraft units that will subjected to tough tests to simulate the conditions expected during launch, as well as the extreme range of environmental conditions.

Once the design is proved beyond doubt, the flight model – the one that will actually go into space – will be built.

 

For further information, please contact:

Markus Bauer
ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communication Officer
Tel: +31 71 565 6799
Mob: +31 61 594 3 954
Email: markus.bauer@esa.int

Giuseppe Sarri
ESA Juice project manager
Email: Giuseppe.Sarri@esa.int

Olivier Witasse
ESA Juice project scientist
Email: Olivier.Witasse@esa.int

March 16, 2017 |

Boeing Continues GPS Legacy

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The GPS program has pushed the boundaries of satellite capabilities for decades.  Boeing has been at the heart of this innovative program and will continue for years to come.  (Editor – EPIQ Space)

Boeing, U.S. Air Force Extend Partnership to Sustain GPS Constellations

Agreement enables persistent GPS capability as Boeing works on next-generation GPS

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Feb. 2, 2017 – Boeing [NYSE: BA] and the U.S. Air Force recently signed a Global Positioning System (GPS) sustainment agreement that will ensure the navigation capabilities relied upon by millions of military and commercial users remain robust for years to come.

Under the agreement, Boeing will support GPS IIA and IIF satellites currently on orbit for the next five years. Boeing, which has been the prime GPS contractor for more than 40 years, is now part of the Air Force effort that may lead to the next generation of GPS satellites.

“This agreement continues Boeing’s strong legacy of GPS innovation and mission support,” said Dan Hart, vice president, Government Satellite Systems. “We are focused on delivering reliable, affordable and resilient GPS capability now and for generations to come.”

Collectively, Boeing GPS satellites have accrued more than 550 years of on-orbit operation. In March 2016, the company delivered its 50th GPS satellite on orbit to the Air Force and has built more than two-thirds of the GPS satellites that have entered service since 1978.

For more information on Defense, Space & Security, visit www.boeing.com. Follow us on Twitter: @BoeingDefense.

# # #

Contact:

Addrian Brooks
Network & Space Systems
Office: +1 310-335-6463
Mobile: +1 310-529-3079
addrian.brooks@boeing.com

February 2, 2017 |

Russian Resupply Spacecraft Bound for ISS Lost

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The Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed a Progress cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the International Space Station has been lost. The spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Thursday on a Soyuz rocket, but experienced an anomaly around six and a half minutes into its flight.

Six crew members living aboard the space station are safe and have been informed of the mission’s status. Both the Russian and U.S. segments of the station continue to operate normally with onboard supplies at good levels.

The ISS Progress 65 cargo spacecraft launched on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time). The first few minutes of flight were normal, but Russian flight controllers reported telemetry data indicating a problem during third stage operation. The Russians have formed a State Commission and are the source for details on the specific failure cause.

The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station. The next mission scheduled to deliver cargo to the station is an H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)-6 from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Friday, Dec. 9.

Cargo packed inside the Progress 65 included more than 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew, including approximately 1,400 pounds of propellant, 112 pounds of oxygen, 925 pounds of water, and 2,750 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware. Among the U.S. supplies on board were spare parts for the station’s environmental control and life support system, research hardware, crew supplies and crew clothing, all of which are replaceable.

As teams continue to monitor the situation, additional updates and more information about the International Space Station will be available online at:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

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Cheryl Warner
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1100
cheryl.m.warner@nasa.gov

Dan Huot
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-483-5111
daniel.g.huot@nasa.gov

Last Updated: Dec. 1, 2016
Editor: Allard Beutel
December 3, 2016 |

Last Chance to See Sentinel 2B Before Launch

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Sentinel-2B in the cleanroom

15 November 2016The Sentinel program has been a great success with a free and open policy.  The addition of 2B will only improve the number of images available.  We look forward to the launch of this new satellite and would like to share these images before it is buttoned up.  (Editor – EPIQ Space)

Find this article and others on ESA’s website here.

Fairwell to Sentinel 2B

Just weeks before Sentinel-2B is packed up and sent to French Guiana for its launch next March, media representatives and specialists got one last look at the second satellite for Europe’s Copernicus programme.

At an event held at ESA’s site in the Netherlands – where the satellite has been undergoing testing since June – ESA and Airbus Defence and Space project managers gave journalists an overview of how the satellite was built and tested, and its numerous benefits.

“It’s a European satellite, built by more than 60 contractors from 15 countries,” noted Michael Menking from Airbus, the prime contractor leading the industrial consortium. Twenty-nine of the companies were small- or medium-sized.

Offering ‘colour vision’ for Europe’s environmental monitoring Copernicus programme, Sentinel-2 combines high-resolution and novel multispectral capabilities to monitor Earth’s changing lands in unprecedented detail and accuracy.

Sentinel-2 is designed as a two-satellite constellation: Sentinel-2A and -2B. Sentinel-2A was launched on 23 June 2015 and has been providing routine imagery for the EU Copernicus Land Monitoring Service, among others. Once Sentinel-2B is launched and operational, the constellation will cover the globe every five days.

Information from this mission is helping to improve agricultural practices, monitor the world’s forests, detect pollution in lakes and coastal waters, and contribute to disaster mapping, to name a few.

Josef Aschbacher at Sentinel-2B press event

“Sentinel-2B will be the fifth satellite launched for Copernicus,” said Josef Aschbacher, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes. “The Sentinels already in orbit are providing massive amounts of data: 6.5 petabytes so far.

“While handling these data is a major challenge, the large amount being downloaded by users is testament to their worth.”

More data are downloaded by Sentinels every day than are uploaded to Facebook in the form of photos.

“The free and open data policy is one of the key achievements of Copernicus, and is also the key to its success,” said Andras Roboz, Policy Officer for the European Commission’s Copernicus unit. Sentinel-2 supports EU policies and stimulates economic growth, particularly for small businesses.

But before a satellite can deliver data, it must arrive in working order in orbit. While in the Netherlands, Sentinel-2B has been subjected to the vibrations and noise of launch, undergone solar array deployment, and sat in a thermal–vacuum chamber to simulate the harsh space environment.

Once the tests are completed, the satellite is expected to be cleared for shipping on 5 January to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

November 15, 2016 |

MUOS-5 Program Averts Propulsion Issues

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MUOS-5 Secure Communications Satellite Reaches Orbit,  Begins Pre-Operational Testing
MUOS-5 completes the U.S. Navy’s network of orbiting satellites and relay ground stations that is revolutionizing secure communications for mobile military forces.
We track the development and launch of various satellite programs throughout the world.  Some are deployed without an issue and others remind us of the difficulties in the execution of a successful program.  Lockheed Martins MUOS program has been a tremendous success, but the latest launch has reminded us the importance of a great team anticipating challenges.  (Editor – EPIQ Space)

MUOS-5 Secure Communications Satellite Reaches Orbit, Begins Pre-Operational Testing

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Nov. 4, 2016 – The fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite built by Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) for the U.S. Navy has reached orbit, successfully deployed its solar arrays and antennas, and is beginning pre-operational, on-orbit testing.

Originally launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 24, MUOS-5 experienced an anomaly with its orbit raising propulsion system on its way to geosynchronous orbit on June 29. Out of caution, the Navy and Lockheed Martin engineering team immediately placed the satellite in a safe mode in transfer orbit as they investigated and examined their options.

“In the end, the Navy and Lockheed Martin engineering team were able to isolate the issue and develop a work-around using alternative propulsion,” said Mark Woempner, director of Narrowband Communications Systems at Lockheed Martin. “Once we had a plan together, in early October we carefully re-started orbit raising maneuvers.”

MUOS-5 completed orbit raising on Oct. 22, and successfully deployed its solar arrays for power generation and its antennas for mission operations on Oct. 30. The satellite will begin on-orbit testing before being turned over to the Navy for further testing and eventual commissioning into service.

For the Navy, MUOS-5 completes a network of orbiting satellites and relay ground stations that is revolutionizing secure communications for mobile military forces. Users with MUOS-capable terminals will be able to seamlessly connect beyond line-of-sight around the world and into the Global Information Grid, as well as into the Defense Switched Network. MUOS’ capabilities include simultaneous, crystal-clear voice, video and mission data over a secure high-speed Internet Protocol-based system.

The MUOS network provides near-global coverage, including communications reach deep into polar regions. Once fully operational, the network will provide users with 16 times more communications capacity than the legacy system it will eventually replace.

The Navy’s Program Executive Office for Space Systems and its Communications Satellite Program Office responsible for the MUOS program are based in San Diego. Lockheed Martin assembled and tested all five now-on-orbit MUOS satellites at its Sunnyvale, California, facility.

For additional MUOS information, photos and video visit: www.lockheedmartin.com/muos.

About Lockheed Martin

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 98,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

November 7, 2016 |

ESA Discovers Why GPS Blacks out at Equator

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GPS interruptions

28 October 2016

 

Producing satellites that will function in the hostile space environment is always a challenge.  The latest disruptions uncovered yet another anomaly to be considered when developing future platforms.  (Editor – EPIQ Space)

Find this article and others on ESA’s website here.

Swarm Reveals Why Satellites Lose Track

Satellite engineers have been puzzling over why GPS navigation systems on low-orbiting satellites like ESA’s Swarm sometimes black out when they fly over the equator between Africa and South America. Thanks to Swarm, it appears ‘thunderstorms’ in the ionosphere are to blame.

Launched in 2013, the Swarm trio is measuring and untangling the different magnetic fields that stem from Earth’s core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere – an undertaking of at least four years.

As with many satellites, ESA’s three Swarm satellites carry GPS receivers as part of their positioning system so that operators keep them in the correct orbits. In addition, GPS pinpoints where the satellites are making their scientific measurements.

However, sometimes the satellites lose their GPS connection. In fact, during their first two years in orbit, the link was broken 166 times.

A paper published recently describes how Swarm has revealed there is a direct link between these blackouts and ionospheric ‘thunderstorms’, around 300–600 km above Earth.

Claudia Stolle from the GFZ research centre in Potsdam, Germany said, “Ionospheric thunderstorms are well known, but now we have been able to show a direct link between these storms and the loss of connection to GPS.

GPS losses

“This is thanks to Swarm because it is the first time that high-resolution GPS and ionospheric patterns can be detected from the same satellite.”

These thunderstorms occur when the number of electrons in the ionosphere undergoes large and rapid changes. This tends to happen close to Earth’s magnetic equator and typically just for a couple of hours between sunset and midnight.

As its name suggests, the ionosphere is where atoms are broken up by sunlight, which leads to free electrons. A thunderstorm scatters these free electrons, creating small bubbles with little or no ionised material. These bubbles disturb the GPS signals so that the Swarm GPS receivers can lose track.

It transpires that 161 of the lost signal events coincided with ionospheric thunderstorms. The other five were over the polar regions and corresponded to increased strong solar winds that cause Earth’s protective magnetosphere to ‘wobble’.

Resolving the mystery of blackouts is not only good news for Swarm, but also for other low-orbiting satellites experiencing the same problem. It means that engineers can use this new knowledge to improve future GPS systems to limit signal losses.

Christian Siemes, who works at ESA on the mission, said, “In light of this new knowledge, we have been able to tune the Swarm GPS receivers so they are more robust, resulting in fewer blackouts.

Earth’s protective shield

“Importantly, we are able to measure variations in the GPS signal which is not only interesting for engineers developing GPS instruments, but also interesting to advance our scientific understanding of upper-atmosphere dynamics.”

ESA’s Swarm mission manager, Rune Floberghagen, added, “What we see here is a striking example of a technical challenge being turned into exciting science, a true essence of an Earth Explorer mission such as Swarm.

“These new findings demonstrate that GPS can be used as a tool for understanding dynamics in the ionosphere related to solar activity. Perhaps one day we will also be able to link these ionospheric thunderstorms with the lightning we see from the ground.”

October 31, 2016 |
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