Tag Archives: ESA

The landing site for ExoMars’ Schiaparelli lander

This ESA press release provides a nice overview of the landing area that the Schiaparelli lander on ExoMars is targeting.

The landing ellipse, measuring 100 x 15 km, is located close to the equator, in the southern highlands of Mars. The region was chosen based on its relatively flat and smooth characteristics, as indicated in the topography map, in order to satisfy landing safety requirements for Schiaparelli. NASA’s Opportunity rover also landed within this ellipse near Endurance crater in Meridiani Planum, in 2004, and has been exploring the 22 km-wide Endeavour crater for the last five years. Endeavour lies just outside the south-eastern extent of Schiaparelli’s landing ellipse.

Since the primary missions of both Schiaparelli and the ExoMars orbiter, dubbed the Trace Gas Orbiter, is test the technology for getting to and landing on Mars (in preparation for the more challenging 2020 ExoMars mission), I suspect that they chose this very well studied and already visited area to make this test landing less risky.

Side note: ExoMars successfully completed its second and last planned mid-course correction yesterday in preparation for its October arrival at Mars.

ExoMars successfully completes long mid-course burn

ExoMars 2016, the European/Russia orbiter/lander mission on its way to Mars, successfully completed a 52 minute mid-course engine burn today in preparation for its October 19th arrival at Mars.

Officially known as the deep-space maneuver, DSM, it was the longest engine burn for the ExoMars-2016 mission before the Mars orbit insertion on October 19, 2016. As a result of the July 28 orbit correction, the spacecraft will need less propellant during its maneuvers in the vicinity of the planet and the Schiaparelli lander will experience slightly less thermal loads during its planned entry into the Martian atmosphere.

ESA contract for hypersonic engine research

The competition heats up: The European Space Agency has signed a research contract for 10 million euros with Reaction Engines to build a ground-based prototype of its hypersonic rocket engine.

While ground testing is always necessary, I am not sure what they gain by building a solely ground-based prototype. Hypersonic engines use the oxygen in the atmosphere, much like jet engines. Their operation however is dependent on altitude as well as the speed in which they are traveling, neither of which is easily tested on the ground.

This project is also one part of the United Kingdom’s new space agency program.

European experimental space junk removal mission to launch

The competition heats up: A European Space Agency mission to test technologies for removing space junk will launch sometime next year.

Presented at the Royal Society’s summer science exhibition this week, and led by the Surrey Space Centre, the systems included a net, harpoon and drag sail, which scientists have incorporated into a test platform for launch into space. The platform will also carry “artificial junk” in the form of small satellites known as CubeSats.

Once the platform is launched into space, a CubeSat will be released. “The CubeSat will be ejected from the platform and then we’ll fire the net at it,” said Forshaw. The CubeSat, hopefully encased in the net, will then fall back towards Earth and burn up. In the case of the harpoon, the researchers have attached a target made of spacecraft material to a carbon-fibre boom that extends from the platform. “When the harpoon impacts it, it is actually going to simulate a real spacecraft being hit,” said Forshaw.

At the end of the mission the third system, a drag sail will be deployed. Attached to the platform, the sail will speed up its return to Earth where it will burn up in the atmosphere. Similar systems have been proposed for future satellites to allow them to be disposed of without leaving space junk.

With the Chinese, NASA, and private companies all developing robotic missions to either clean up space junk or repair satellites, the competition to do this work is going to get very intense in the next decade.

Airbus Safran merger completed

The competition heats up: The expected merger of Airbus and Safran to create a rocket company called Airbus Safran Launchers is expected to be finalized today, allowing the new company to move forward in its construction of Ariane 6, designed to compete with SpaceX’s lower cost rockets.

Russia’s continuing weakness in space

In the heat of competition: Russia this week announced new space agreements with both China and Europe.

The first describes a deal whereby Europe will pay Russia to use its Bion capsules to launch life science experiments. In addition, the article notes that Europe will continue its agreement with Russia to launch commercial Soyuz rockets from its Arianespace launchpad in French Guiana.

The second and third stories describe a variety of negotiations between Russia and China, whereby the two countries will work together in a number of ways, including the possibiliity that China will buy the same Russian rocket engine that ULA uses in its Atlas 5 rocket as well as maybe jointly build a heavy lift rocket with Russia. In the second article, Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, in touting the excellence of the Russian rocket engine, could not help taunting the United States.
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Europe announces a three month delay for Orion service module

Be still my heart: Delivery of the service module for NASA’s Orion capsule, being built by the European Space Agency, will be three months late due to engineering modifications.

Nico Dettman, head of ESA’s space transportation department, said the delay is partly a result of the fact that several components could not yet be assessed in the full critical design review and need more time to be integrated into the design. Dettman said another issue forcing the delay resulted from a reassessment by NASA of the stresses the service module needs to be capable of handling in orbit. These “in-orbit load” specifications have recently been tightened. But any design modifications will not affect the service module’s core structure, he said. “If it has an impact, it will be limited to the solar array wings, not the structure – nothing where flight hardware has been manufactured that we will have to touch,” Dettman said. “It’s a late modification, but not too late.”

Note that George Bush proposed Orion in January 2004. The first full up test flight, unmanned, is now scheduled for 2018. Thus, they only had 14 years to build this single capsule and service module.

It took NASA less than five years to build the first Apollo capsule and service module, and less than 8 years to fly seven to the Moon. Damn, it took the Allies less than four years to defeat Germany and Japan in World War II. Yet somehow the big government space programs of NASA and ESA can’t build a single manned capsule in less than 14 years.

Doesn’t anyone but me see something wrong with this picture?

Europe develops net gun to capture space junk

The competition heats up: A Polish company has developed a gun for firing a net to capture space junk, and has demonstrated its operation by capturing a flying drone at a space junk conference.

There is a video at the link showing the capture. They have also tested this technology on a vomit comet, and hope to launch a full scale model by 2023.

Russia and Europe agree to delay next ExoMars mission

After looking at their schedules the Russians and Europeans have agreed that they cannot meet the schedule to launch the second ExoMars mission by the next launch window in 2018, and have agreed to delay the mission until 2020.

This really isn’t a surprise, since Russia was a late replacement of the U.S. when the Obama administration backed out of the project suddenly. They need time to prepare.

Europe aims for the Moon

The new colonial movement: The head of the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a video interview this week that building a lunar base is their next major goal.

The head of the multinational agency, Johann-Dietrich Woerner, said the village would “serve science, business, tourism and even mining purposes.” In a video interview posted on the agency’s website, Woerner said a permanent lunar base is the next logical step in space exploration. He said the village could replace the International Space Station in the future. The ISS has been continuously occupied since 2000. It was originally set to be decommissioned by 2020, but its operation has been extended through 2024. The agency said it could take 20 years before the technology is ready to make the Moon village happen.

My next words might sound familiar (see the post below), but few technical details were provided in the video. Instead it appears from the article and the actual interview that the focus here is to establish a bureaucracy, not design rockets or spaceships. I suspect Woerner is looking for projects that can justify the existence of ESA and its bureaucracy, not actually build anything. That he thinks it will take 20 years to make it happen, based on our technology today, is strong evidence of this, since the pace of innovation in the past decade suggests instead that such a Moon colony could happen far quicker, once private space starts making real money in orbit.

ExoMars blasts off

The European-Russian Mars orbiter/lander ExoMars was successfully launched on a Proton rocket this morning from Baikonur.

It will still take most of today for the rocket’s Briz-M upper stage to complete several additional engine burns to send the spacecraft on its path to Mars, but the most difficult part of the launch has now passed.

The article does a nice job of summing up Russia’s most recent track record in trying to send spacecraft to Mars, thus illustrating the significance of today’s success:

For Russian scientists, the launch marks the resumption of a cooperative effort with Europe to explore the Solar System, after the failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission in 2011.The launch of the ExoMars-2016 spacecraft will be Proton’s first “interplanetary” assignment in almost two decades. During its previous attempt in November 1996, Proton’s upper stage failed, sending the precious Mars-96 spacecraft to a fiery desmise in the Earth’s atmosphere and effectively stalling Russia’s planetary exploration program for a generation.

Further in the past, during the Soviet era, the Russians tried numerous times to either orbit or land on Mars. Every mission failed. If this mission successfully reaches Mars and lands it will mark the first time the Russians played a major role in a mission to Mars that actually reached its goal and worked.

Europe settles on Ariane 6 design

The competition heats up? Airbus Safran and the European Space Agency have settled on the design of their next generation rocket, Ariane 6.

It will not be re-usable, and though they say it will be 40-50% cheaper to produce than Ariane 5, it is very clear from the quotes in the article that they are instead depending on trade restrictions to maintain their European customers, even if it costs them a lot more to put satellites in orbit.

For its part, Airbus Safran does not envisage making Ariane 6 recoverable, not in the short term. Mr Charmeau [the company’s CEO] believes that different market conditions apply in Europe and the US, which means there will not be a single, winner-takes-all approach. He cites, for example, the restricted procurement that exists in all major political blocs, which essentially bars foreign rockets from launching home institutional and government satellites. Nowhere is this more true than in the US, but in Europe too there is an “unwritten rule” that European states should use European rockets.

From an American perspective this lazy attitude is fine with me. Let American companies compete aggressively. They will then leave the Europeans and everyone else in the dust.

Europe kicks in money for Dream Chaser

The competition heats up: NASA’s decision to award Sierra Nevada a cargo contract has triggered a $36 million investment by the European Space Agency (ESA) to build a new docking unit for Dream Chaser at ISS.

Sierra Nevada Corp.’s win of a NASA contract to ferry cargo to the International Space Station will trigger a $36 million investment by the 22-nation European Space Agency following a cooperation agreement to be signed in the coming weeks, ESA said. Once the agreement is signed, ESA will begin work building the first flight model of the International Berthing and Docking Mechanism (IBDM), which Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser Cargo System will use to attach itself to the space station.

ESA said it would spend 33 million euros ($36 million) to complete the design of the IBDM and build a flight model for Dream Chaser’s first cargo run. Future IBDMs will be financed by Sierra Nevada, ESA said.

Europe might end its ISS partnership in 2020

Despite agreements by Russia, Canada, and Japan to extend their ISS partnership with the U.S. through 2024, both France and Germany of the European Space Agency (ESA) are having second thoughts and might pull out in 2020 instead.

In separate statements Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, the heads of the French and German space agencies said a detailed study is under way to assess the future operating cost of the station, and whether the cost can be justified given the pressure on near-term budgets.

Pascale Ehrenfreund, chairman of the board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, which is Germany’s space agency, said DLR would make no promises until after a full review of ISS’s value. “In view of the high cost involved and the resulting implications on budgets of [European Space Agency] member states, we have to evaluate very carefully costs and benefits of a continued participation in the ISS,” Ehrenfreund said in a Jan. 5 statement in response to SpaceNews inquiries. “It’s only based on this evaluation that we will be able to take a definite position.”

Germany has been Europe’s ISS champion — its biggest paymaster and most vocal booster — for more than 20 years and at times has had to strong-arm France into boosting its support under threat of reduced German backing of Europe’s Ariane rocket program, a French priority.

Eventually, all the partners running ISS with the U.S. are going to come to this decision, which means the U.S. government should begin thinking about what it does at that time. I say, when that time comes the government will privatize the station, giving it to the private companies best able to make a profit from it. And by 2024 the U.S. is likely to have a number of companies quite capable of doing so, from SpaceX to Blue Origin to Bigelow.

There also will be no reason to destroy the station at that time. Being modular, much of it is relatively new, and what is old could be replaced with relatively simplicity. This is a national asset that should not be abandoned nonchalantly.

Lisa Pathfinder lifts off

Lisa Pathfinder, an experimental probe to test the technologies for measuring gravity waves in space, was successfully launched today by Arianespace’s Vega rocket.

At its core is a pair of free-floating, identical 46 mm gold–platinum cubes separated by 38 cm, which will be isolated from all external and internal forces acting on them except one: gravity. “LISA Pathfinder will put these test masses in the best free-fall ever produced in space and monitor their relative positions to unprecedented precision,” says Karsten Danzmann, who also is the Co-Principal Investigator for the LISA Pathfinder Technology Package, the scientific heart of the satellite. “This will lay the foundations for future gravitational-wave observatories in space such as eLISA.”

It is important to point out that this probe will not measure gravity waves. It doesn’t have the sensitivity to do it. Instead it is testing the engineering, as described above, for building a later probe that will have sensitivity. To gain that sensitivity the floating cubes must be much farther apart, and likely will require several independent satellites flying in formation.

ExoMars delayed three months to fix technical problem

The European Space Agency has decided to delay the launch of its ExoMars orbiter from January until March 2016 in order to remove two leaking sensors that might cause problems with the mission’s test lander.

The sensors are not critical to the lander demonstrator, and they are not going to replace them.

Contract to build upgraded Vega rocket signed

The competition heats up: The European Space Agency today signed a contract to develop an upgraded version of its Vega rocket.

With respect to the VEGA configuration currently in operation, VEGA C aims to increase the load capacity of the orbital launcher up to 50%. Together with a further increase in operational flexibility, while maintaining its unrivalled orbital precision, it is expected to expand the capability to transport in the same flight a larger number of small satellites, in different orbital planes, or larger satellites. The new version of VEGA will be flight qualified in late 2018 for an entry into service as early as 2019. The group of countries which already participated in the development of VEGA, with Italy playing a major role with a 65% participation, welcomes now the entry of Germany.

I get the impression from this article that Vega is being used by ESA to spread the pork around, since to get Ariane 6 built they had to agree to not do so and give the work and control entirely to Airbus Safran. I thus wonder how competitive Vega will truly be.

Philae contacts Rosetta again

Philae today sent another 2 minutes worth of information to Rosetta.

The downlink was stable; the two contacts received by Rosetta lasted two minutes each. Both delivered numerous packets of lander housekeeping and status data, 185 in total, which are still being analysed at the time of this writing. No science data were anticipated or received.

Airbus Safran demands full ownership of Ariane 6

The competition heats up: One of the heads of Airbus Safran that is offering to build Europe’s next rocket, Ariane 6, has said that they must have full control of the rocket and project or they won’t do it.

“We are now a few weeks from the submission of a bid, and of course at this stage everyone defends his camp,” Lahoud said. “It is said that industry needs to make a financial contribution. We have said it’s possible we will contribute, but on condition that [development] not be conducted under the former system.

“We want responsibility for the design, the production, the commercialization and operations to be in the hands of industry, and not in a sort of mixed-economy creation that borrows more from the United Nations than from what our competitors do. Under these circumstances, and only under these circumstances, will there be a business case that allows us to invest, and to defend before our boards of directors the fact that corporate cash needs to be spent.”

In other words, they will not build something that will be under the complex bureaucratic control of the many-headed European Space Agency. Under that framework, they don’t think they can compete, so why bother?

ESA and Airbus Safran in budget dispute over Ariane 6

The competition heats up: The deal between ESA and Airbus Safran to build Europe’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, to compete with SpaceX for the launch market is now threatened because Europe wants the company to pay more for development than the company expected.

[ESA launch director Gaele] Winters acknowledged that Airbus Safran Launchers has not agreed with ESA’s assessment that industry’s share of the development cost is around 400 million euros. “They told us they have not signed off on the 400 million [euros], and this is correct,” Winters said. “It is an assumption we made, which we will look at next during the full Program Implementation review scheduled for mid-2016. Industry is prepared to invest in the program, and one important condition is that we need to be sure they have a fair rate of return on their investment.”

Winters said ESA is sensitive to the fact that additional costs borne by industry will find their way into the Ariane 6 pricing structure, which would undermine the vehicle’s competitiveness on the international commercial market.

If Airbus Safran wants to own the rocket, they must be willing to pay for some of its development, as have SpaceX and the other new American commercial space companies. This is the price for having the right to make money from the rocket outside of its European government customers. It seems, however, that Airbus Safran is balking at that reality. They are used to having everything covered by ESA, and are now unhappy they might have to lay out some bucks themselves.

Europe’s last ATV leaves ISS

Europe’s last ATV cargo freighter for ISS left the station and burned up over the Pacific Ocean this past weekend.

Because of a technical problem on the ATV, a camera designed to record what happened inside the freighter as it burned up during re-entry was removed prior to undocking so that it could be used instead during a later re-entry.

Meanwhile, instead of supplying ISS with cargo, Europe has decided to meet its contribution to ISS by building the service module for NASA’s Orion/SLS program, which has no plans to ever go to ISS. Note, however, that Europe has also not committed to building more than two service modules, so how Orion/SLS will go beyond Earth orbit after these two modules have been launched remains a mystery.

If you are scratching your head at all this, you are not alone. To me, this one decision alone illustrates quite neatly the utter stupidity of big government-run programs.

Europe test flies its engineering prototype space plane

The competition heats up: Europe today successfully launched and landed its Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) space plane.

More details here. And here.

As of 9 pm (Eastern) Wednesday the recovery ship was still “hurrying” to reach the ship, which was being held afloat with “balloons.” Update: The spacecraft has been retrieved.

This prototype is not full scale. It is only about 16 feet long, and was built as a testbed. Whether Europe follows up with a full scale version remains completely unknown. I am skeptical, as this program reminds me of many deadend NASA experimental programs like it, used to try out cool engineering technologies as well as provide pork to Congressional districts without any plans to proceed to the real thing. In the case of IXV, the Italians got most of the pork.

All things go for test flight of European space plane prototype

The competition heats up: A Wednesday test flight of Europe’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) is right now on schedule.

IXV, a test of gliding space plane engineering, was originally going to fly last year but got scrubbed because of political maneuverings within the European Space Agency.

Test flight of Europe’s first prototype space plane has been rescheduled

The competition heats up: Preparations have resumed for a February 11 test flight of a European prototype space plane, initially scheduled for November but cancelled at the last minute because managers suddenly discovered its launch path was going to go over land.

The launch trajectory of the IXV space plane on a suborbital trajectory will differ from the Vega rocket’s previous flights, which flew north from the space center with satellites heading for high-inclination polar orbits. The launch of IXV will head east from Vega’s launch pad, and the geometry of the French Guiana coastline means it will fly over land in the first phase of the launch sequence.

Officials said they slightly adjusted the launch track to alleviate the the safety concern.

The four-stage Vega rocket was stacked on the launch pad at the Guiana Space Center, and the IXV spacecraft was about to be fueled with hydrazine maneuvering propellant when officials announced the delay in October. A ship tasked with retrieving the space plane after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean had already left port in Italy when news of the launch delay was released.

I remain suspicious about the cause of the delay in November. How could they not have known about the launch trajectory until the last second? Instead, I suspect it occurred because of politics higher up in ESA related to Italian, German, and French tensions over the future of Arianespace. The Italians are the lead on this space plane project, to the apparent chagrin of the French, who mostly run the launch facility in French Guiana. Moreover, it appears the Italians have generally sided with the Germans against the French in the Ariane 6 design negotiations. I wonder if the delay was instigated by higher management in an effort to influence those negotiations.

Airbus-Safran demand total control of Arianespace

The heat of competition: The European joint-venture between Airbus and Safran is now demanding that be given total control of Arianespace and the development of the new Ariane 6 rocket.

From Airbus’ perspective, the production of rockets in Europe should be done the same way commercial Airbus aircraft are built. “The launcher business in Europe in the beginning of 2014 was one in which the vehicles were designed by government agencies, commercialized by a company called Arianespace, produced by an ensemble of companies, and then launched by Arianespace. This is not an optimal situation,” [Airbus strategy director Marwan] Lahoud said.

“The optimal solution is to industrialize the process, with one prime contractor that designs, builds, sells and operates the launchers, with a supply chain — much as we do with Airbus today.”

Essentially, this would be a shift in ownership of the rocket, moving from the government to the private company. We have seen the same process in the U.S., with the new commercial space products no longer controlled or designed by NASA. The result has been lower cost, faster development, and greater profits.

Europe reconsiders reusability in its rockets

The competition heats up: Pressured by SpaceX, Europe has restarted a research program into developing a reusable first stage to its rockets.

The headline is actually an overstatement. The European managers quoted in the article actually spend most of their time explaining why trying to reuse a rocket’s first stage makes no sense, but they feel forced to reluctantly look into it anyway because of what SpaceX is doing with its Falcon 9.

This story makes me think of two blacksmiths around 1900. One poo-poos cars, saying that the repair cost is so high no one will ever buy them. He goes back to pounding horseshoes. The other decides that if he learns how to fix cars, he can turn his shop from fixing horseshoes to fixing cars, and make more money. Europe is the first blacksmith, while SpaceX is the second.

Which do you think is going to succeed?

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