Tag Archives: Europe

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.

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.

The bog bodies of Europe

Link here. The peat bogs preserve the bodies, providing scientists a window into the past. However, the bodies exhibit one mysterious tendency: violent death.

Since the 18th century, the peat bogs of Northern Europe have yielded hundreds of human corpses dating from as far back as 8,000 B.C. Like Tollund Man, many of these so-called bog bodies are exquisitely preserved—their skin, intestines, internal organs, nails, hair, and even the contents of their stomachs and some of their clothes left in remarkable condition. Despite their great diversity—they comprise men and women, adults and children, kings and commoners—a surprising number seem to have been violently dispatched and deliberately placed in bogs, leading some experts to conclude that the bogs served as mass graves for offed outcasts and religious sacrifices. Tollund Man, for example, had evidently been hanged.

Read it all. It is a fascinating combination of history, archeology, and forensics.

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.

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?

Airbus attacked by French lawmaker for talking to SpaceX

The competition heats up: A French lawmaker lashed out at Airbus for daring to consider SpaceX as a possible launch option for a European communications satellite.

The senator, Alain Gournac, who is a veteran member of the French Parliamentary Space Group, said he had written French Economy and Industry Minister Emmanuel Macron to protest Airbus’ negotiations with Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for a late 2016 launch instead of contracting for a launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket. “The negotiations are all the more unacceptable given that, at the insistence of France, Europe has decided to adopt a policy of ‘European preference’ for its government launches,” Gournac said. “This is called playing against your team, and it smacks of a provocation. It’s an incredible situation that might lead customers to think we no longer have faith in Ariane 5 — and tomorrow, Ariane 6.”

Heh. SpaceX really is shaking up the launch industry, ain’t it?

Polish and Egyptian teams win first European rover competition

In Europe’s first college competition to see who could build the best Mars rover, two Polish teams finished first and second, with an Egyptian team coming in third.

The first ever European Rover Challenge (ERC) is over and the Scorpio Team from Wrocław University of Technology can now celebrate their victory over 9 other contestants plus a $1,000 cash prize. The challenge was to design, construct and operate a rover that most successfully complete a number of Mars-exploration themed tasks designed by the organizers. “A year of hard work is now finally fulfilled,” said Jędrzej Górski of the Scorpio Team. “Our efficiency is the result of our cohesive team.” The second spot was secured by Polish crew also, the Impuls Team from Kielce University of Technology. Lunar and Mars Rover Team from Cairo University in Egypt scooped the 3rd place. A special bonus award was given to the Robocol Team of Universidad de los Andes (Colombia). ERC 2014 took place in Podzamcze, Poland on Sept. 5-7.

Europe’s continuing problems with Galileo GPS

A look at this week’s failed Soyuz launch and the continuing problems Europe has had building its Galileo GPS satellite constellation.

The program has had a series of problems and failures, which this most recent launch only helps highlight.

Last ATV launched to ISS

Arianespace today successfully launched the last European cargo ship to ISS.

After doing some flight tests in orbit and in conjunction with ISS, the docking will occur on August 12.

After this flight the Russian Progress freighter will be the only spacecraft with engines capable of changing the station’s orbit. It will also be the only spacecraft capable of refueling the engines on ISS’s Russian modules.

Europe readies its own space plane for test flight

The competition heats up: Europe ‘s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) is undergoing its final tests before it does a suborbital test flight in November.

IXV will be launched into a suborbital trajectory on ESA’s small Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, the vehicle will return to Earth as though from a low-orbit mission. For the first time, it will test and qualify European critical reentry technologies in hypersonic flight, descend by parachute and land in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and analysis. IXV is manoeuvrable and able to make precise landings—it is the ‘intermediate’ element of Europe’s path to future developments with limited risks. …

When IXV splashes down in the Pacific at the end of its mission it will be recovered by ship and returned to Europe for detailed analysis to assess the performance and condition of the internal and external structures. The actual performance will be compared with predictions to improve computer modelling of the materials used and the spaceplane’s design.

Though exciting, Europe will have to pick up the pace from its normally slow pace on these kinds of projects if it expects to be competitive. In the past, they would stretch out the development as long as they could in order to keep the cash flowing. This won’t work in the increasingly robust aerospace market that exists today.

Russian Soyuz launches commercial satellites for Arianespace

The competition heats up: A Soyuz rocket successfully launched four communications satellites from French Guiana yesterday.

I know that I repeatedly pound Arianespace for its high costs and lack of profits, but anyone who thinks this European company, in partnership with the Russians, is going to let its competition grab its customers easily is in for a surprise. They are going to fight back, and have the resources to do it.

The battle is on! It should be a lot of fun to watch over the next decade.

A streamlined Arianespace to build Ariane 6?

The competition heats up: The merged Airbus/Safran rocket division has surprised the European Space Agency with a proposed new design for Ariane 6.

The Airbus-Safran proposal, if carried to its logical end, would mean a single company building Ariane vehicles, with fewer subcontractors and much less government oversight. It would likely mean the end of the CNES launcher division as industry takes more control of Ariane design and operations.

In other words, the contractors who build the rockets for ESA want more power over that construction. They want less government oversight, and more ownership of the rocket they build.

Sounds like what’s happening in the U.S., doesn’t it? Giving ownership to the rocket builders means they not only have more flexibility and thus can be more efficient, it makes it easier for them to innovate in both construction and sales.

In order to lower costs, Lockheed Martin wants to get more American parts into the European-built service module for the Orion capsule.

In order to lower costs, Lockheed Martin wants to get more American parts into the European-built service module for the Orion capsule.

And why do they want to lower costs? It ain’t for the normal free market reasons you’d expect. Instead, the Frankenstein project that is SLS/Orion has the U.S. building the capsule while Europe builds the service module. However, Europe doesn’t want to spend the money to build two service modules. Instead,

for financial reasons, ESA prime contractor Airbus Defense and Space may provide only “one and a half” service modules, Larry Price, Lockheed’s Orion deputy program manager, said in an interview here.

“They may not complete both of them, depending on funding,” Price said. But “we think we can drive Europe’s cost down so they can deliver two complete service modules” by steering the European company toward American suppliers already working on the Orion crew module. “If we use common parts, they can be lower price,” Price said. He added that ESA is set to deliver a full service module for the 2017 flight.

Read the article. It better than anything I can say will make it clear how much of a dead end project SLS/Orion really is. The rocket costs more than $14 billion per launch, has no clear mission, and the contractor (Europe) for the capsule’s service module only intends to build one and a half. What will NASA do after that? No one has any idea, nor does anyone at NASA have any plans to figure this out.

Arianespace and the Russian-owned Sea Launch are seeking to get the restrictions against them removed so that they can sell their services to more customers.

The competition heats up: Arianespace and the Russian-owned Sea Launch are seeking to get the restrictions against them removed so that they can sell their services to more customers.

Arianespace wants to sell its launch services to the U.S. government, something it is not allowed to do right now because of U.S. restrictions. These are the same kinds of restrictions that has prevented SpaceX from launching military satellites and which that company is now contesting.

Russia meanwhile wants to use Sea Launch for its own payloads, but because Sea Launch’s platform is based in California, the Russian government won’t allow their payloads on it because of security reasons. They want the platform moved to Russia so that they can use their own company to launch their own satellites.

The article also describes how Japan is trying to reduce the cost of its H-2A rocket by 50% so that it can become more competitive.

All in all, I would say that the arrival of SpaceX has done exactly what was predicted, shaken the industry out of its doldrums. How else to explain this sudden interest in open competition and lowering costs? These companies could have done this decades ago. They did not. Suddenly a new player arrives on the scene, offering to beat them at their own game. It is not surprising that they are fighting back.

For its next science mission the European Space Agency (ESA) has now decided to give first priority to an X-ray space telescope.

For its next science mission the European Space Agency (ESA) has now decided to give first priority to an X-ray space telescope.

They have demoted a space-based gravity wave detector to second place. As is typical for ESA, the pace here is quite slow, as both missions are now scheduled for launch in 2028 and 2034, decades away.

Europe has successfully drop tested its experimental re-entry vehicle.

Europe has successfully drop tested its own experimental re-entry vehicle.

The full-scale Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) prototype was released from an altitude of 3000 m by a helicopter, falling to gain speed to mimic a space mission before parachute deployment. The parachute slowed IXV for a safe splashdown in the sea at a speed below 7 m/s. This last step in a series of tests shows that IXV can be recovered safely after its mission into space.

Russian concerns about a build-up of mold inside the European ATV, now docked to ISS, has caused a delay in the opening of its hatch.

Russian concerns about a build-up of mold inside the European ATV, now docked to ISS, has caused a delay in the opening of its hatch.

The Spaceflight101 portal said the delay was due to possible “mold and bacteria contamination on three cargo bags that are inside the spacecraft” and that a decision is yet to be made on whether the crew should use anti-mold kits to clean ATV-4 cargo before taking it inside the ISS.

The Russians had a lot of problems with mold in their early Salyut space stations, and understand the unpleasant consequences should mold spread into the station. Thus, I am not surprised if they are taking this issue seriously.

The European Union’s program to reduce carbon emissions is in disarray.

The European Union’s program to reduce carbon emissions is in disarray.

The article at the link is probably one of the worst written stories in the history of journalism. It is incoherent, disorganized, and confused. Moreover, the authors are so in favor of the regulations to limit fossil fuels that they are unable to even consider any reasons which might explain why Europe’s carbon credit market is collapsing and why the EU’s legislators rejected a rescue plan to save it.

In fact, because of their biases, the authors buried the real story, which is this:

Parliamentarians on April 16 voted 334 to 315 for blocking the carbon market rescue.

“This is the first time I can remember when parliament has put economic survival and jobs ahead of green orthodoxy,” said Roger Helmer, a member of the U.K. Independence Party who has been in the parliament for 14 years and opposes emissions trading. “It marks an absolute watershed.”

The bad economy and high debt in Europe is making the idea of raising taxes and adding more restrictions on fossil fuels very unappealing to politicians.

NASA has now agreed to contribute equipment and researchers to a European dark energy mission.

The check is in the mail: NASA has now agreed to contribute equipment and researchers to a European dark energy mission.

And why should Europe have any expectation that NASA will follow through? Europe’s ExoMars project was screwed badly when NASA pulled out last year. Nor was that the first time the U.S. government reneged on a deal with Europe.

Considering the fragile nature of the U.S. federal budget, I wouldn’t depend on anything from NASA or any U.S. government agency for the foreseeable future. And this includes the various private space companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences that are using NASA subsidies to build their spaceships. Get those things built, and quickly! The government money could disappear very soon.

A service module to nowhere

As a replacement for its discontinued ATV cargo freighter — which paid its share of ISS — Europe has decided to build a service module for the Orion capsule.

This decision occurred at the same time ESA decided to upgrade Ariane 5 rather than replace it. Both decisions, to my mind, were serious mistakes.
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In meetings today the European Space Agency has decided to upgrade Ariane 5 rather than immediately build a new Ariane 6 rocket.

In meetings today the European Space Agency (ESA) has decided to upgrade Ariane 5 rather than immediately build a new Ariane 6 rocket.

Normally I would label this story as an example of “the competition heating up.” In this case, however, I don’t see how an upgrade of Ariane 5 can possibly be competitive. The rocket has been so expensive to operate that — even though it has dominated the launch market for years and is very reliable — ESA has had to subsidize its cost. It has never made a profit. I don’t see how they can reconfigure it enough to bring its cost down to compete with Falcon 9. In other words, they are trying to put lipstick on a pig.

Nor is this surprising. Arianespace is a government-run business, operated like a committee with the member nations of ESA all having a say. Under this arrangement, it is difficult if not impossible to get a quick and efficient decision. Moreover, political concerns will often outweigh issues of efficiency and profits.

In the open competitive market of privately-run companies that the launch market is becoming, I am very skeptical this kind of business can survive.

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