Tag Archives: ESA

A UV aurora found on Comet 67P/C-G

Using data from Europe’s now completed Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/C-G, scientists have detected evidence that the comet’s interaction with the Sun’s solar wind creates an aurora above the comet in ultra-violet wavelengths.

The data indicate 67P/C-G’s emissions are actually auroral in nature. Electrons streaming out in the solar wind – the stream of charged particles flowing out from the Sun – interact with the gas in the comet’s coma, breaking apart water and other molecules. The resulting atoms give off a distinctive far-ultraviolet light. Invisible to the naked eye, far-ultraviolet has the shortest wavelengths of radiation in the ultraviolet spectrum.

Labeling this phenomenon as an aurora is a bit of hype, as nothing is visible. However, the discovery does tell scientists how this comet’s coma, produced when the comet heats up in its approach to the Sun, interacts with the solar wind, and this in turn can teach them more about that wind, as well as other comets.

COVID-19 and launchpad issues delay Ariane 6

The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed today that the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket will be delayed at least six months, to late 2021, due to lock downs related to the Wuhan flu panic, as well as construction issues at the rocket’s new launchpad.

“While we know that the maiden flight will not take place before the second semester of 2021, we cannot at this moment precisely quantify the delay, and we cannot provide an exact launch date,” Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, said according to an ESA translation of remarks at a July 9 press event provided to SpaceNews. The French Association of Professional Journalists in Aeronautics, organized the event at ArianeGroup’s headquarters in Paris.

ESA hopes to have greater clarity on the delays in a few months, he said, according to the ESA translation.

It bodes bad for this rocket that they, at this time, have so little handle on the issues and the length of the delays.

ArianeGroup developing new rocket engine

Capitalism in space: The private company ArianeGroup has now gotten the okay from the European Space Agency (ESA) to begin full development of its new Prometheus rocket engine, intended to reduce costs 10x.

By applying a design-to-cost approach to manufacturing Prometheus, ESA aims to lower the cost of production by a factor of ten of the current main stage Ariane 5 Vulcain 2 engine. Features such as variable thrust, multiple ignitions, suitability for main and upper stage application, and minimised ground operations before and after flight also make Prometheus a highly flexible engine.

This Prometheus precursor runs on liquid oxygen–methane which brings high efficiency, allows standardisation and operational simplicity. Methane propellant is also widely available and easy to handle.

Essentially, ArianeGroup is going to try to build its own methane-powered rocket engine, having seen the success that SpaceX has so far had with its own Raptor methane engine. This also signals an increased recognition at ESA and ArianeGroup that their new Ariane-6 rocket, whose first launch is still about a year away, is not going to be competitive with SpaceX’s offerings, and needs to be upgraded or replaced.

First Ariane 6 launch likely delayed to 2021

Because of delays caused by the Wuhan flu panic, the European Space Agency (ESA) and ArianeGroup now expect that the first launch of their new rocket, the Ariane 6, will likely be delayed from late in 2020 to 2021.

The loss of the flight’s payload is also a problem.

Finally, megaconstellation startup OneWeb had booked 30 small broadband satellites on the Ariane 6 maiden flight, but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, putting the mission in question. Luinaud said if Arianespace can’t find another customer for the Ariane 6 maiden flight this year, it may wait until 2021 to find a payload and avoid flying the rocket empty.

Overall Ariane 6 has been having trouble getting customers. Though it is less expensive that the Ariane 5, it it is entirely expendable and thus remains much more expensive than SpaceX’s Falcon 9. And with the Russians slashing the price of their Russia Proton rocket satellite companies have ample other options. It is for this reason I do not expect Ariane 6 to stick around long. ESA will be quickly forced to replace it with something less expensive and probably reusable.

Europe turns to private enterprise for future space transportation

Capitalism in space: The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced a permanently open call for private companies to develop “space transportation to space, in space, returning from space, or any combination of these.”

To be eligible, the economic operator should demonstrate that its space transportation service is a ‘complete offering’. This means that customers should not need to procure any additional essential service elements such as access to facilities, transport or logistics, to obtain the full service.

The economic operator should take full responsibility for the service project, including finding the funding and resources necessary to develop and deploy the service.

The new space transportation services should justify commercial viability, oriented toward private sector customers, without relying on a guaranteed European institutional demand during the operational phase and with a long-term vision of service provision. Preference will be given to such service projects that are conceived, developed and commercialised in the Participating States.

Though the announcement is filled with the typical hard-to-translate bureaucratic language typical of ESA’s projects, the intent here seems clear. The ESA no longer wishes to do any designing and developing of its rockets, as they have done from the beginning of the space age. This also means they are facing the reality that the Ariane 6 rocket, developed for them by the joint partnership of Airbus and Safran dubbed ArianeGroup, is going to be a financial failure, unable to compete against the lower cost SpaceX and Russian rockets now on the market.

Instead, they are now following what appears to be NASA’s path — the path I outlined in Capitalism in Space — to have ESA act merely as a customer, buying these services from competing private companies (not just ArianeGroup) who will develop the rockets themselves and (most important) own the rockets themselves.

If this is so, it is very good new for the future of space travel. It ups the competition, and it will allow for the development of European rockets able to provide this service at low cost.

The one wrench in the process is that this announcement also includes a bidding process for allowing these new private companies to get development money and technical assistance from ESA. That process appears to have some strings attached that might in the end prevent competing private companies to grow, independent of this governmental body. For example, the submission process allows “ESA to check compliance with Programme objectives and general eligibility. After a positive assessment, ESA will invite the economic operator to submit a full service proposal.” In other words, if you want ESA’s help, you will have to have ESA’s stamp of approval.

Still, this proposal does not require ESA’s help. The agency does appear to be willing to now entertain the use of any rocket system developed by any private operators within the participating ESA’s member nations of Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

European planetary missions go dark because of Wuhan virus

The European Space Agency has suspended operations and shut down several planetary missions, including two Mars orbiters and two solar missions, because of lockdowns imposed because of COVID-19.

The problem is that they don’t have enough people in their mission controls to operate everything. They are shutting these down so that they can continue operations on their Mecury mission BepiColumbo, for example.

The article also tries to lay the blame for the recently announced launch delay of Europe’s Mars 2020 rover to 2022 on the virus, but that’s false. The mission was delayed because it simply wasn’t ready.

ExoMars2020 rover delayed until 2022

The European Space Agency (ESA) today announced that they are delaying the launch of their ExoMars2020 rover mission until the next launch window in 2022

The press release says this will give them the time “necessary to make all components of the spacecraft fit for the Mars adventure.” Considering that the spacecraft’s parachutes have yet to have a successful high altitude test, that the entire spacecraft is not yet assembled, and that when they did the first thermal test of the rover the glue for the solar panel hinges failed, this seems that they need to do a lot of testing.

Overall the decision is smart. Better to give them the time to get this right then launch on time and have a failure.

At the same time, there appears to be something fundamentally wrong within the management of this project at ESA. This project was first proposed in 2001, and has gone through repeated restructurings and redesigns. Moreover, they began planning the rover for this 2020 launch in 2011, and after ten years were not ready for launch.

ExoMars2020 parachute tests delayed until late March

The European Space Agency (ESA) has decided to delay until late March the next high altitude tests of the revamped ExoMars2020 parachutes, despite the success of recent ground tests.

The tests of the 15-meter-diameter supersonic and 35-meter-wide subsonic parachutes—an essential part of the entry, descent and landing phase of the mission—had been scheduled for December and February. The delay comes despite six ground tests demonstrating successful parachute extraction – the point at which damage was caused in earlier, failed high altitude tests.

Both tests need to be successful for the go-ahead for launch of 300-kilogram Rosalind Franklin rover during the July 25 to Aug. 13 Mars launch window. Any failure would mean a wait of 26 months for the next launch window, opening late 2022.

There will be a meeting next week of the project’s top management, from both Russia and Europe, and I strongly suspect that they are going to decide to delay launch to the 2022 launch window. Not only have the parachutes not been tested successfully at high altitude, they recently discovered an issue with the glue holding the solar panel hinges on the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover.

Airbus gets ESA as customer for its ISS commercial platform

Capitalism in space: Airbus has signed up the European Space Agency (ESA) to use its as-yet unlaunched ISS Bartolomeo module as an experimental platform.

The Bartolomeo platform – named after Christopher Columbus’ younger brother – is currently in the final stage of launch preparation at Airbus in Bremen and is scheduled for launch to the ISS in March 2020. Bartolomeo is developed on a commercial basis by Airbus using its own investment funds and will be operated in cooperation with ESA.

The platform can accommodate up to 12 different experiment modules, supplying them with power and providing data transmission to Earth. Bartolomeo is suitable for many different experiments. Due to the unique position of the platform with a direct view of Earth from 400 kilometres, Earth observation including trace gas measurements or CO2 monitoring of the atmosphere are possible, with data useful for climate protection or for use by private data service providers.

This is the European effort to duplicate the slow commercialization of ISS that is also taking place in the U.S., with more and more of the payloads and operating platforms on the station being developed, owned, and operated not by NASA but by private companies.

ExoMars2020 passes new parachute tests

Revisions to Europe’s ExoMars2020 parachutes have successfully passed tests at JPL in California.

Working with Nasa, ESA made modifications to the way the parachutes are released from the bag, which avoids creating so much friction. Using a special rig at JPL, the parachutes have now been tested up to their expected extraction speed of just over 200km/h with no sign of damage. Further confirmatory tests will now take place.

Time remains very short however. The launch window for ExoMars2020 is this coming summer.

Soyuz rocket launches five satellites for Arianespace

A Russian Soyuz rocket, launching from French Guiana for Arianespace, successfully placed five satellites in orbit early this morning, including CHEOPS, a European space telescope designed to study exoplanets.

Though this was a Russian rocket, I count it as an Arianespace launch as that is the company under which the launch operates. I also realize this is open to debate.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

30 China
20 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 30 to 26 in the national rankings.

ESA hires private company to remove space junk

Capitalism in space: The European Space Agency has hired the private company ClearSpace to fly an unmanned mission aimed at de-orbiting a large no-longer-needed launch component of its Vega rocket.

The European Space Agency signed a debris-removal contract with Swiss startup ClearSpace tasking the company with deorbiting a substantial piece of a Vega rocket left in orbit in 2013.

The mission, dubbed ClearSpace-1, is slated to launch in 2025 to capture and deorbit a 100-kilogram Vespa payload adapter an Arianespace Vega left in orbit after deploying ESA’s Proba-V remote-sensing satellite.

ClearSpace will lead a consortium of European companies in building a spacecraft equipped with four robotic arms to capture debris and drag it into Earth’s atmosphere.

The real importance of this contract is its nature. ESA is not taking the lead in designing or building the robot to do this work. Instead, it is acting merely as a customer, hiring ClearSpace to develop and build it. Afterward the robot design will belong to ClearSpace, which will then be able to sell that design for further space junk removal contracts.

[Luc Piguet, co-founder and chief executive of ClearSpace] said that while this first mission will destroy both the debris and the servicer spacecraft, future plans call for servicers that could deorbit multiple objects without also destroying themselves.

It seems that the ESA is following the recommendations I put forth in Capitalism in space, shifting power and ownership of its space missions from the agency to the private sector. This is excellent news.

Big budget boost for ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) received its largest budget increase ever, 20%, from its 22 member nations at a high level meeting yesterday.

The meeting also included commitments to remain a partner in ISS to 2030 and increase participation in Lunar Gateway. From the press release:

With worldwide partners, Europe will take its place at the heart of space exploration going farther than we have ever gone before – we continue our commitment to the International Space Station until 2030 as well as contributing vital transportation and habitation modules for the Gateway, the first space station to orbit the Moon. ESA’s astronauts recruited in 2009 will continue to receive flight assignments until all of them have been to space for a second time, and we will also begin the process of recruiting a new class to continue European exploration in low Earth orbit and beyond. European astronauts will fly to the Moon for the first time. Member States have confirmed European support for a ground-breaking Mars Sample Return mission, in cooperation with NASA.

ESA will help develop the commercial benefits of space for innovators and governments across the Member States, boosting competitiveness in the NewSpace environment. We will develop the first fully flexible satellite systems to be integrated with 5G networks, as well as next-generation optical technology for a fibre-like ‘network in the sky’, marking a transformation in the satellite communication industry. Satellite communications will join forces with navigation to begin satnav for the Moon, while closer to home commercial companies can access funding for new applications of navigation technologies through the NAVISP programme. ESA Ministers have secured a smooth transition to the next generation of launchers: Ariane 6 and Vega-C, and have given the green light to Space Rider, ESA’s new reusable spaceship.

Isn’t competition wonderful? ESA’s budget has been stagnant for years. Then SpaceX comes along and threatens its commercial market share while generating a new political will in the U.S. to renew its own space effort, and suddenly the European nations that make up ESA decide they need to do the same.

Much of the proposed program for ESA is very likely to happen, especially the commitments to a variety of astronomical and planetary missions. The agency’s commercial effort is also likely to happen, but whether it can happen fast enough to be competitive is questionable. As a government agency ESA’s track record in its effort to compete in the launch market has not been impressive. It took them far too long to accept the idea of reuseable rockets or the need to cut their costs drastically.

Mars Express confirms ancient glaciers in northern Martian mid-latitudes

Perspective view of Deuteronilus Mensae
Click for full image.

The European Space Agency’s orbiter Mars Express has confirmed the presence of large fractured ice sheets suggestive of buried and ancient glaciers. These ice sheets are within one region on Mars located in the mid-latitudes where many such glacial features have been found. They are also in the transition zone between the northern lowlands and the southern highlands.

This landscape shows clear and widespread signs of significant, lasting erosion. As is common with fretted terrain, it contains a mix of cliffs, canyons, scarps, steep-sided and flat-topped mounds (mesa), furrows, fractured ridges and more, a selection of which can be seen dotted across the frame.

These features were created as flowing material dissected the area, cutting through the existing landscape and carving out a web of winding channels. In the case of Deuteronilus Mensae, flowing ice is the most likely culprit. Scientists believe that this terrain has experienced extensive past glacial activity across numerous martian epochs.

It is thought that glaciers slowly but surely ate away at the plains and plateaus that once covered this region, leaving only a scattering of steep, flat, isolated mounds of rock in their wake.

Smooth deposits cover the floor itself, some marked with flow patterns from material slowly moving downhill – a mix of ice and accumulated debris that came together to form and feed viscous, moving flows of mass somewhat akin to a landslide or mudflow here on Earth.

Studies of this region by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter [MRO] have shown that most of the features seen here do indeed contain high levels of water ice. Estimates place the ice content of some glacial features in the region at up to 90%. This suggests that, rather than hosting individual or occasional icy pockets and glaciers, Deuteronilus Mensae may actually represent the remnants of an old regional ice sheet. This ice sheet may once have covered the entire area, lying atop the plateaus and plains. As the martian climate changed this ice began to shift around and disappear, slowly revealing the rock beneath.

Overall, the data coming from both Mars Express and MRO increasingly suggests that there is a lot of buried glacial ice in the mid-latitudes. Mars might be a desert, but it is increasingly beginning to look like much of the planet is a desert like Antarctica, not the Sahara.

Europe schedules new parachute tests for ExoMars 2020

Following the failure on all previous tests of the parachutes for its ExoMars 2020 Mars lander, the European Space Agency has now made some design changes and is planning to do additional tests in the first quarter of 2020.

ESA has also requested support from NASA to benefit from their hands-on parachute experience. This cooperation gives access to special test equipment at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that will enable ESA to conduct multiple dynamic extraction tests on the ground in order to validate any foreseen design adaptations prior to the upcoming high altitude drop tests.

The next opportunities for high altitude drop tests are at a range in Oregon, US, January–March. ESA is working to complete the tests of both the 15 m and 35 m parachute prior to the ExoMars project’s ‘qualification acceptance review’, which is planned for the end of April in order to meet the mission launch window (26 July–11 Aug 2020).

Their schedule is incredibly tight, since their launch window to Mars is in July 2020, and if they fail to meet it the launch will have to be delayed two years until the next launch window.

Mars Express looks at Martian river relic

Mars Express perspective view of Nirgal Vallis
Click for full image.

The Mars Express science team today released a mosaic produced by the orbiter’s high resolution camera of the 300 hundred mile long relic river valley Nirgal Vallis. The image to the right, reduced to post here, is the oblique view that was produced by computer using the camera’s stereo images.

This ancient valley system is named Nirgal Vallis, and was once filled with running water that spread across Mars. By exploring the characteristics of the surrounding craters, scientists estimate the system’s age to be between 3.5 and 4 billion years old.

The part of Nirgal Vallis captured in these images lies towards the western end of the river system, where it is slowly spreading out and dissipating; the eastern end is far less branched and more clearly defined as a single valley, and opens out into the large Uzboi Vallis – the suspected location of a large, ancient lake that has long since dried up.

Nirgal Vallis is a typical example of a feature known as an amphitheatre-headed valley. As the name suggests, rather than ending bluntly or sharply, the ends of these tributaries have the characteristic semi-circular, rounded shape of an Ancient Greek amphitheatre. Such valleys also typically have steep walls, smooth floors, and, if sliced through at a cross-section, adopt a ‘U’ shape. The valleys pictured here are about 200 m deep and 2 km wide, and their floors are covered in sandy dunes; the appearance of these dunes indicates that martian winds tend to blow roughly parallel to the valley walls.

Unlike the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which is for taking close-up images of specific surface features, Mars Express is producing a high resolution survey of the entire planet. Its camera does not have quite the same resolution, but as it is taking wider images that’s okay.

What is unfortunate is the European Space Agency’s policy for releasing those images. Unlike MRO, they do not make them all available to the public instantly. Instead, they periodically do press releases like today’s, highlighting a specific region or single large feature. As a result, Mars Express does not get the press it deserves.

ESA asks NASA’s help on ExoMars rover parachute problems

The European Space Agency (ESA) has asked for help from NASA in trying to figure out the cause of the failures during testing of the parachutes they want to use to safely land their ExoMars 2020 rover, Rosalind Franklin.

So far the parachutes have been damaged on all previous tests. They plan two more tests in December and February.

Both tests, to be held at high altitude to simulate the Martian atmosphere, need to succeed in order for the parachutes to pass qualification. TheExoMars mission faces a final review scheduled April 2020, Francois Spoto, ExoMars program manager, told SpaceNews. “Now the situation is critical, of course, because we have limited time and no margin,” Spoto says.

If one of the tests fails, the ExoMars mission will miss the narrow July 25 to Aug. 13 launch window next year and slip to the next window, in late 2022. The lander and rover segments are meanwhile progressing well and ready for environmental testing.

They held a workshop on the previous failures, and obtained new analysis of the causes from JPL engineers.

Results released of July Vega launch failure investigation

The European Space Agency (ESA) this week released the results of its investigation into the July 10, 2019 launch failure of Arianespace’s Vega rocket, the first such failure after 14 successful launches.

The failure had occurred about the time the first stage had separated and the second stage Z23 rocket motor was to ignite. The investigation has found that the separation and second stage ignition both took place as planned, followed by “a sudden and violent event” fourteen seconds later, which caused the rocket to break up.

They now have pinned that event to “a thermo-structural failure in the forward dome area of the Z23 motor.”

The report says they plan to complete corrective actions and resume launches by the first quarter of 2020.

SpaceX issues explanation for nonresponse in potential satellite collision issue

SpaceX today issued an explanation for why it had not responded when ESA officials had asked them to change the orbit of one of its Starlink smallsats to protect against a possible collision with ESA’s Aeolus spacecraft.

SpaceX, in a statement Sept. 3, said it was aware of a potential conjunction Aug. 28 and communicated with ESA. At that time, though, the threat of a potential collision was only about 1 in 50,000, below the threshold where a maneuver was warranted. When refined data from the U.S. Air Force increased the probability to within 1 in 1,000, “a bug in our on-call paging system prevented the Starlink operator from seeing the follow on correspondence on this probability increase,” a company spokesperson told SpaceNews.

“SpaceX is still investigating the issue and will implement corrective actions,” the spokesperson said of the glitch. “However, had the Starlink operator seen the correspondence, we would have coordinated with ESA to determine best approach with their continuing with their maneuver or our performing a maneuver.”

This incident increasingly strikes me as a tempest in a teapot created by ESA for any number of reasons, including their overall dislike of SpaceX (for generally making all government-run space programs look foolish). There is also this quote from an ESA official in the article above:

“The case just showed that, in the absence of traffic rules and communication protocols, collision avoidance has to rely on the pragmatism of the involved operators,” Krag said. “This is done today by exchange of emails. Such a process is not viable any longer with the increase of space traffic.” He said that, if the Space Safety initiative is funded, ESA would like to demonstrate automated maneuver coordination by 2023. [emphasis mine]

I can just see ESA officials drooling with eager anticipation the coming of more “traffic rules and communication protocols,” partly inspired by this fake crisis they just created. Imposing more rules and getting increased funding is what they do best, since it certainly isn’t exploring space with creative and efficient innovation.

SpaceX declines to shift Starlink satellite to avoid collision

When European Space Agency (ESA) engineers realized there was a greater than normal chance that a new SpaceX Starlink satellite could collide with ESA’s already orbiting Aeolus satellite, they asked SpaceX to shift its orbit, only to have SpaceX decline.

According to Holger Krag, head of the Space Debris Office at ESA, the risk of collision between the two satellites was 1 in 1,000 – ten times higher than the threshold that requires a collision avoidance maneuver. However, despite Aeolus occupying this region of space nine months before Starlink 44, SpaceX declined to move their satellite after the two were alerted to the impact risk by the U.S. military, who monitor space traffic. “Based on this we informed SpaceX, who replied and said that they do not plan to take action,” says Krag, who said SpaceX informed them via email – the first contact that had been made with SpaceX, despite repeated attempts by Krag and his team to get in touch since Starlink launched. “It was at least clear who had to react. So we decided to react because the collision was close to 1 in 1,000, which was ten times higher than our threshold.”

As to why SpaceX refused to move their satellite, that is not entirely clear (the company did not respond to a request for comment). Krag suspected it could be something to do with SpaceX’s electric propulsion system, which “maybe is not reacting so fast” as the chemical propulsion on board Aeolus.

The article is clearly spun to make SpaceX look bad, though based on the stated facts the company shot itself in the foot quite ably. If their propulsion system could not have done the job as well as the other satellite, they should have simply said so and worked with ESA to get the issue fixed, rather than simply saying they would do nothing.

Assembly complete on Europe’s Franklin Mars rover

Engineers have completed the assembly of Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover that is scheduled for launch to Mars in July 2020

Rosalind Franklin, which is the result of cutting edge work from UK, European and Canadian scientists and engineers will now be shipped from the Airbus factory in Stevenage, Hertfordshire to Toulouse in France for testing to ensure it survives its launch from Earth next summer and the freezing conditions of Mars when it lands on the planet in March 2021.

Whether they can meet this schedule remains unknown because of the problems that occurred during testing of the spacecraft’s landing parachutes.

ESA confirms ExoMars parachute test failure

You heard it hear first! The European Space Agency (ESA) today confirmed earlier stories from last week that the parachutes for its ExoMars 2020 spacecraft had failed during a high altitude drop test on August 5.

I reported this on Saturday, August 10, noting that ESA had not confirmed it. It apparently took them a week to write the press release.

This was the second consecutive test failure for these parachutes, as noted in the release.

On 28 May this year, the deployment sequence of all four parachutes was tested for the first time from a height of 29 km – released from a stratospheric helium balloon. While the deployment mechanisms activated correctly, and the overall sequence was completed, both main parachute canopies suffered damage.

Following hardware inspection, adaptations were implemented to the design of the parachutes and bags ready for the next high-altitude test, which was conducted on 5 August, this time just focusing on the larger, 35 m diameter, parachute.

Preliminary assessment shows that the initial steps were completed correctly, however damages to the canopy were observed prior to inflation, similar to the previous test. As a result, the test module descended under the drag of the pilot chute alone.

The tests occur at high altitude where the Earth’s atmosphere mimics the thin atmosphere of Mars. In both cases it appears the parachutes became damaged very early in their deployment process, possibly during deployment. This means there might be a design problem with the deployment process. It also means that both tests were unable to test the chutes themselves, as they were damaged before inflation, meaning that the engineers still do not know if they would work as intended once filled with air.

All this puts incredible time pressure on the mission, which needs to launch in the summer of 2020 to meet its launch window. There is very little time to redesign and retest these chutes. I would rate their chances of meeting that launch date as less than 50-50.

Reports of another ExoMars parachute failure during test

Following a failure of ExoMars’ parachutes during a May test, there are now reports that a second failure occurred on August 5.

A fresh test of the parachute system for the Russian-European mission ExoMars-2020 have failed again as a structural mockup of the Russian-built lander crashed during the simulated landing, a source familiar with the test results told Sputnik.

The test with the use of a high-altitude balloon was carried out on August 5 at a Swedish Space Corporation’s test site in northern Sweden.

“Tests of the parachute system at the Esrange test site in Sweden failed. A full-size mockup of the landing module of the ExoMars-2020 Martian station crashed during the landing,” the source said.

I have seen this report in two other sites, but it has not yet been confirmed by the European Space Agency.

If these reports are true, the chances of ExoMars launching in July 2020 is likely almost nil. They haven’t even begun assembling the spacecraft, and have had two parachute failures in tests, with the second destroying the prototype used for those tests.

SpaceX and Arianespace complete successful launches

Today, as I was giving my lecture in Denver, both Arianespace and SpaceX successfully completed launches.

SpaceX put a commercial communications satellite in orbit. The first stage was not recovered, but this was intended. The company however was successful in catching one half fairing in the giant net of its recovery ship Mrs. Tree., the second time they have done so.

Arianespace used its Ariane 5 rocket to launch a commercial communications satellite and a European Space Agency data relay satellite.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

12 Russia
11 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads Russia 16 to 12 in the national rankings.

Europe completes 1st rollout of Ariane 6 mobile launch gantry

The mobile launch gantry that Europe will use for its new Ariane 6 rocket successfully completed its first rollout tests last week.

This gantry is the equivalent of NASA’s VAB building. Within this gantry they will assemble Ariane 6 vertically, then roll the gantry back for launch.

Assembling a rocket vertically I think is more costly, but it also makes it possible for the rocket to launch payloads that must be installed in this manner. Thus, Ariane 6 will have this selling point over rockets like the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, which are assembled horizontally.

Europe’s Galileo GPS-type constellation back up and running

Europe’s Galileo GPS-type constellation was back up and running on July 18, though it remains unclear exactly what caused the failure in both of its ground facilities.

Officials have only provided this tantalizing hint:

“The technical incident originated by an equipment malfunction in the Galileo control centers that calculate time and orbit predictions, and which are used to compute the navigation message,” the GSA wrote on Thursday in its most specific statement yet. “The malfunction affected different elements on both centers.”

That generally confirms what researchers who use the Galileo system had noticed independently. Satellites transmit packages of data to Earth that convey a set of astronomical positioning and timing data, used to compute satellite orbits and positions. But some combination of errors in the Galileo processing system led it to base these calculations on the wrong date, for example, using July 11 time stamps—the day the outage began—throughout the week. Eventually, the system even interpreted this data as referring to July 18, instead of the previous Thursday. The frozen time stamp seemed to be a symptom of problems with the ground-based processing system, rather than the satellites themselves.

This sure sounds like a computer hack that took down the systems at both facilities, suggesting that the security of Europe’s Galileo system has some very big holes.

Update on Europe’s Galileo GPS-type constellation failure

Link here. Key quote:

A new source has told Inside GNSS that the ongoing Galileo outage “…has to do with the Precise Time Facility (PTF), a redundant facility present in both Italian and German control centers.” This is the second source close to the program who has identified the PTF as the focus of the incident. Our source adds, “Incidentally, the redundancy apparently did not work.” So, the suggestion is that both PTFs, at two separate European locations, have failed. And, our source adds, “Take into account that the two major outages in the last two years were also caused by problems in the PTF. There are major architectural problems within the GMS [Galileo Mission Segment] under Thales Alenia Space…responsibility.” [emphasis mine]

The article does not go into any details how it is possible for two redundant facilities to fail at the same time. It does note however that while the U.S.’s GPS, Russia’s Glonass, and China’s Beidou systems all are operated by the military, which takes very seriously security, Europe’s Galileo is not.

Europe finally admits it must build reusable rockets

The new colonial movement: Europe has finally admitted that its refusal with Ariane 6 to make it reusable was a mistake, and has begun a major engineering research project to design and fly two different types of reusable rockets.

This month, the European Commission revealed a new three-year project to develop technologies needed for two proposed reusable launch vehicles. The commission provided €3 million to the German space agency, DLR, and five companies to, in the words of a news release about the project, “tackle the shortcoming of know-how in reusable rockets in Europe.”

This new RETALT project’s goals are pretty explicit about copying the retro-propulsive engine firing technique used by SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 rocket first stages back on land and on autonomous drone ships. The Falcon 9 rocket’s ability to land and fly again is “currently dominating the global market,” the European project states. “We are convinced that it is absolutely necessary to investigate Retro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies to make re-usability state-of-the-art in Europe.”

What is interesting to me is what appears to be some internal politics within Europe surrounding this effort. France is generally the most dominate member of the European Space Agency. Yet, according to the press release for this announcement, France is not involved in these new reusable rocket projects. Instead, Germany dominates, with companies from Switzerland, Portugal, and Spain participating.

It could be that the failure of Ariane 6 to garner customers, due to its higher costs, has forced these ESA partners to push for their own reusable rocket projects.

Either way, the competition in rocket technology is heating up, more evidence that the 2020s will be the most exciting decade in space since the 1960s.

Ireland’s government releases its space strategy goals through 2025

The new colonial movement: Ireland today released a national space strategy designed to encourage the growth of a commercial space sector by 2025.

You can download the actual report here [pdf].

They want to increase both public and private investment by 50% by 2025. Whether that means investment in private companies or simply a growth in a government bureaucracy is uncertain, based on my reading of the report. It appears their goal is to grow the private sector, but they will be using European Space Agency approaches for doing so, which tend to favor government growth and control rather than developing an independent commercial industry.

ESA moves forward on building its own reusable X-37B

The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved the preliminary design reviews for its reusable mini-shuttle, dubbed Space Rider, that they hope to launch by 2022.

Launched on Vega-C, Space Rider will serve as an uncrewed high-tech space laboratory operating for periods longer than two months in low orbit. It will then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and land, returning its valuable payload to eager engineers and scientists at the landing site. After minimal refurbishment it will be ready for its next mission with new payloads and a new mission.

Essentially this is Europe’s X-37B, but developed for commercial customers rather than the military. In fact, it suggests that Boeing, the builder of X-37B, is missing a major market by not developing its own commercial X-37B.

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