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(29 December 2020 – Arianespace) For its 10th and final launch of the year, Arianespace used a Soyuz rocket to orbit the CSO-2 defense and security observation satellite for the French CNES space agency (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) and DGA defense procurement agency (Direction générale de l’armement), on behalf of the French armed forces.

With this launch, Arianespace has once again demonstrated its ability to ensure independent access to space for France and Europe.

The latest success from the Guiana Space Center confirms the flexibility of Soyuz, occurring just 10 days after the medium-lift vehicle’s first commercial launch operated by Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate from Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Artist’s impression of CSO-2 (courtesy: Thales Alenia Space)

On Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 1:42 p.m. local time, Arianespace successfully launched an Earth observation satellite for defense and security purposes from the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana (South America), using a medium-lift Soyuz launcher.

This payload, CSO-2, is the second dedicated military observation satellite in France’s Optical Space Component (CSO – Composante Spatiale Optique), a program conducted by CNES and DGA for operation by the French Armed Forces and the country’s Space Command.

“I want to thank the Arianespace teams for their unwavering commitment throughout this exceptional year, as well as CNES and the French Ministry of the Armed Forces for their renewed confidence on the occasion of this second launch of a satellite in the Optical Space Component. Many thanks to all the employees of the Space Center and to CNES, also, for mobilizing with us for this last mission of the year, which closes the global launches 2020. And congratulations to our Russian partners and our legendary Soyuz rocket for this third success in less than a month,” declared Stéphane Israël, the Arianespace Chief Executive Officer, several minutes after the launch. “We’re all the more proud of this success knowing that the Optical Space Component satellites will provide invaluable support in accomplishing the missions of women and men who are engaged daily in theaters of operations.”

The Optical Space Component comprises three identical satellites placed in polar orbits at different altitudes, with two assigned missions: reconnaissance for CSO-1 and CSO-3; identification for CSO-2. As a successor to the Helios 1 and 2 systems, the CSO system meets France’s operational requirements for global intelligence and strategic surveillance, providing up-to-date information about the geographic environment and in the support of operations. The CSO program is developed in a national framework within the program MUSIS (Multinational Space-based Imaging System).

The CSO-2 satellite will acquire very-high-resolution images in the visible and infrared wavelengths – day or night and in fair weather – using a variety of imaging modes to meet a broad range of operational needs.

CSO-2 is the 45th satellite launched by Arianespace for CNES and DGA. The CSO 1 spacecraft also was orbited by a Soyuz from the Guiana Space Center, with its launch performed on December 19, 2018.

Arianespace’s order book backlog now includes 10 more missions for French institutions (CNES/DGA): CSO-3; Syracuse 4A and 4B; three satellites for the CERES system; and four satellites for the CO3D system (in partnership with Airbus Defence and Space).

Airbus Defence and Space France built the CSO-2 satellite as prime contractor, with Thales Alenia Space France supplying the optical instrument. CSO-2 was the 130th satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space to be launched by Arianespace.

Including today’s mission, Arianespace has now launched 75 defense and security satellites: 53 for France and its European partners, along with 22 for export. These spacecraft were designed for applications in secure telecommunications, as well as for Earth observation.

Today’s launch, the 25th with Soyuz mission since its introduction at the Guiana Space Center in 2011, was Arianespace’s 10th and final launch of 2020. The year’s five Soyuz flights were conducted from three different spaceports: the Guiana Space Center; Baikonur Cosmodrome; and Vostochny Cosmodrome – providing exceptional flexibility for Arianespace’s launch services offering.

About Arianespace

Arianespace uses space to make life better on Earth by providing launch services for all types of satellites into all orbits. It has orbited more than 650 satellites since 1980, using its family of three launchers, Ariane, Soyuz and Vega, from launch sites in French Guiana (South America) and Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Arianespace is headquartered in Evry, near Paris, and has a technical facility at the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, plus local offices in Washington, D.C., Tokyo and Singapore. Arianespace is a subsidiary of ArianeGroup, which holds 74% of its share capital, with the balance held by 15 other shareholders from the European launcher industry.

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Iodine thruster could slow space junk accumulation

Iodine thruster could slow space junk accumulation

(22 January 2021 – ESA) For the first time ever, a telecommunications satellite has used an iodine propellant to change its orbit around Earth.

The small but potentially disruptive innovation could help to clear the skies of space junk, by enabling tiny satellites to self-destruct cheaply and easily at the end of their missions, by steering themselves into the atmosphere where they would burn up.

Iodine thruster used to change the orbit of a small satellite for the first time ever (courtesy: ThrustMe)

The technology could also be used to boost the mission lifetime of small CubeSats that monitor agricultural crops on Earth or entire mega-constellations of nanosats that provide global internet access, by raising their orbits when they begin to drift towards the planet.

The technology was developed by ThrustMe, a spin-off company from the École Polytechnique and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and supported by ESA through its programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES).

It uses a novel propellant – iodine – in an electric thruster that controls the satellite’s height above Earth. Iodine is less expensive and uses simpler technologies than traditional propellants.

Unlike many traditional propellants, iodine is non-toxic and it is solid at room temperature and pressure. This makes it easier and cheaper to handle on Earth.

When heated, it turns to gas without going through a liquid phase, which makes it ideal for a simple propulsion system. It is also denser than traditional propellants, so it occupies smaller volumes onboard the satellite.

ThrustMe launched its iodine thruster on a commercial research nanosat called SpaceTy Beihangkongshi-1 that went into space in November 2020. It was test fired earlier this month before being used to change the orbit of the satellite.

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Skynet 6A successfully passes Preliminary Design Review

Skynet 6A successfully passes Preliminary Design Review

(14 Janaury 2021 – Airbus) Airbus has successfully completed the first key phase of the Skynet 6A project with the achievement of the Preliminary Design Review (PDR).

The project now has permission to move into the next phase leading to the Critical Design Review (CDR).

Airbus was awarded the Skynet 6A contract in July 2020 and teams across its sites in Stevenage, Portsmouth and Hawthorn have been working on the programme to achieve this key milestone. Meetings with the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) were held virtually enabling the review board to take place in October and the PDR being achieved in November.

Skynet 6A (courtesy: Airbus)

Richard Franklin, Managing Director of Airbus Defence and Space UK said: “This is excellent news and demonstrates our joint commitment to work in partnership to achieve the programme schedule. The progress we are making in building the UK MOD’s next generation military satellite and getting to this stage, despite current restrictions, really highlights the flexible and strong working relationship we have built with the Defence Digital team. Skynet 6A, to be built entirely in the UK, will significantly enhance the UK’s milsatcoms capability, building on the heritage of the four Skynet 5 satellites which were also built by Airbus, and which are all still operating perfectly in orbit.”

Teams from across the space and ground segments in Airbus worked closely with their MOD counterparts to keep the programme on track.

Skynet 6A will extend and enhance the Skynet fleet. The contract signed with the UK MOD in July 2020 involves the development, manufacture, cyber protection, assembly, integration, test and launch, of a military communications satellite, Skynet 6A, planned for launch in 2025. The contract also covers technology development programmes, new secure telemetry, tracking and command systems, launch, in-orbit testing and ground segment updates to the current Skynet 5 system. The value of the contract is more than £500 million.

The Skynet 5 programme, provided by Airbus as a full service outsource contract, has provided the UK MOD with a suite of highly robust, reliable and secure military communications services, supporting global operations since 2003. Airbus has been involved in all Skynet phases since 1974 and this phase builds on a strong UK commitment to space manufacturing in the UK. The programme commenced by using the legacy Skynet 4 satellites and then augmenting them with a fully refurbished ground network before launching the Skynet 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D satellites between 2007 and 2012.

The Skynet 5 programme has reduced or removed many of the technical and service risks for the MOD, whilst ensuring unrivalled secure satcoms and innovation to UK forces. Through the many years of delivering an exceptionally reliable Skynet service the Airbus teams have managed to significantly extend the lifespan of the Skynet satellites many years beyond their design life, offering significant additional value for money and capability to the UK.

The Skynet 6A satellite is based on Airbus’ Eurostar Neo telecommunications satellite platform. It will utilise more of the radio frequency spectrum available for satellite communications and the latest digital processing to provide both more capacity and greater versatility than Skynet 5 satellites. The satellite will feature electric orbit raising propulsion as well as electric station keeping systems for maximum cost effectiveness. Complete satellite integration will take place at Airbus facilities in the UK followed by testing using RAL Space testing facilities at Harwell in Oxfordshire supporting the UK Space Agency initiative for sovereign UK end-to-end satellite production and support.

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Tests prove carbon-fibre fuel tank for Phoebus upper stage

Tests prove carbon fibre fuel tank for Phoebus upper stage

(20 January 2021 – ESA) Recent tests show that lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced plastic is strong enough to replace metal used in upper-stage rocket structures.

This is an important milestone in Europe for the development of a prototype of a highly-optimised ‘black’ upper stage, Phoebus, a joint initiative by MT Aerospace and ArianeGroup, funded by ESA.

The key goal of the Phoebus project is to increase launch vehicle payload performance by over two tonnes by reducing the mass of the upper stage through new design and lighter materials. At the same time, Phoebus shall also reduce production costs.

Test of carbon-composite oxidiser tank (courtesy: MT Aerospace)

Carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) materials, or carbon composites, allow new architectures and combinations of functions otherwise not possible using metallic materials. CFRP is lightweight and dark in appearance and will be used for the cryogenic propellant tanks as well as primary and secondary structures of Phoebus, hence the name ‘black’ upper stage.

Furthermore, their manufacturing process allows for an integrated layout that results in fewer parts compared to a comparable metallic configuration, thereby reducing production and assembly costs.

“The technology challenges include developing the machine capability that allows high-precision placement of the carbon composite materials and identification of the optimal subsequent curing steps to set the composite. The carbon fibre must withstand the extremely low temperatures of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants whilst ensuring no leaks,” explained Kate Underhill, ESA propulsion engineer.

“CFRP material can be chemically very reactive with oxygen, therefore the proper selection of an appropriate material system of fibres and resin is an especially demanding task. Mastering this compatibility is a crucial milestone, which has now been achieved within the Phoebus project.”

During experiments by MT Aerospace on a testing site managed by Rheinmetall in Unterlüß, Germany, a subscale CFRP tank was tested with liquid oxygen. During these tests, the tank was filled and drained multiple times, pressurised beyond operational limits and shock tested to ensure no ignition event of the oxygen tank.

The test tank was equipped with a variety of sensors to monitor pressure, temperature, strain or a possible leakage. The analysis of the results and the overall good structural integrity of the liquid oxygen tank prove the technology.

Test of carbon-composite oxidiser tank (courtesy: MT Aerospace)

This achievement clears the way for further activities and indicates that the Phoebus demonstrator is on track. The next steps are the application of the CFRP material to a leak-tight liquid hydrogen tank design, and finally, a proper upscaling to and ground testing of the near full-scale Phoebus upper stage structural demonstrator in 2023.

These activities are being carried out within the Future Launchers Preparatory Programme of ESA’s Directorate of Space Transportation.

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