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(5 January 2021 – NASA Goddard) NASA’s Lucy mission is one step closer to launch as L’TES, the Lucy Thermal Emission Spectrometer, has been successfully integrated on to the spacecraft.

“Having two of the three instruments integrated onto the spacecraft is an exciting milestone,” said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy project manager from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The L’TES team is to be commended for their true dedication and determination.”

Lucy will be the first space mission to study the Trojan asteroids, leftover building blocks of the Solar System’s outer planets orbiting the Sun at the distance of Jupiter. The mission takes its name from the fossilized human ancestor (called “Lucy” by her discoverers) whose skeleton provided unique insight into humanity’s evolution. Likewise, the Lucy mission will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the birth of our solar system more than 4 billion years ago.

L’TES instrument in the cleanroom at Arizona State University (courtesy: NASA/ASU)

L’TES, developed by a team at Arizona State University (ASU), is effectively a remote thermometer. It will measure the far infrared energy emitted by the Trojan asteroids as the Lucy spacecraft flies by an unprecedented seven of these objects during this first ever mission to this population.

The instrument arrived at Lockheed Martin Space on December 13 and was successfully integrated on to the spacecraft on December 16. By measuring the Trojan asteroids’ temperatures, L’TES will provide the team with important information on the material properties of the surfaces. As the spacecraft will not be able to touch down on the asteroids during these high speed encounters, this instrument will allow the team to infer whether the surface material is loose, like sand, or consolidated, like rocks. In addition, L’TES will collect spectral information using thermal infrared observations in the wavelength range from 4 to 50 micrometers.

“The L’TES team has used our experienced designing, manufacturing, and operating similar thermal emission spectrometers on other missions such as OSIRIS-REx and the Mars Global Surveyor as we built this instrument,” said Instrument Principal Investigator, Phil Christensen. “Each instrument has its own challenges, but based on our experience we expect L’TES to give us excellent data, as well as likely some surprises, about these enigmatic objects.”

Despite the challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemics, Lucy is on schedule to launch in October 2021 as originally planned.

“I am constantly impressed by the agility and flexibility of this team to handle any challenges set before them,” said mission Principal Investigator, Hal Levison of Southwest Research Institute. “Just five years ago this mission was an idea on paper, and now we have many major components of the spacecraft and payload assembled, tested, and ready to go.”

In addition to L’TES, Lucy’s High Gain Antenna, which will enable spacecraft communication with the Earth for navigation and data collection, as well as precise measurement of the masses of the Trojan asteroids, was recently installed. It joined L’LORRI, Lucy’s highest resolution camera, built by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which was installed in early November. Lucy’s remaining scientific instrument, L’Ralph, the mission’s color imaging camera and infrared spectrometer, is scheduled to be delivered in early 2021.

Southwest Research Institute’s Hal Levison and Cathy Olkin are the principal investigator and deputy principal investigator of the Lucy Mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin Space is building the spacecraft. Lucy is the 13th mission in NASA’s Discovery Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Discovery Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

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Ground-breaking South Australian space mission lead by SmartSatCRC

Ground breaking South Australian space mission lead by SmartSatCRC

(19 January 2021 – SmartSat) South Australia is embarking on a bold mission with industry, lead by SmartSat, to design and build a satellite to deliver space-derived services to the state.

(courtesy: SmartSat)

The South Australian Government’s SASAT1 Space Services Mission will send the locally manufactured 6U small satellite to low Earth orbit and employ an Internet of Things (IoT) data collection service along with a hyperspectral electro-optical payload for Earth observation.

The IoT and Earth observation data will improve the delivery of state services with candidate applications in emergency services, environment and mining.

Set to accelerate the state’s space economy, the SASAT1 Space Services Mission will also strengthen the competitiveness of South Australian businesses in the small-satellite supply chain and pave the way for external investment and future growth in Australia and abroad.

SmartSat will lead the mission and application prototyping, with Adelaide-based satellite manufacturing company Inovor Technologies designing and building the satellite and South Australian space company Myriota contracted for IoT space services.

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Gilmour Space begins main engine tests ahead of its first commercial Eris rocket launch in 2022

Gilmour Space begins main engine tests ahead of its first

(20 January 2021 – Gilmour Space) Australian rocket company, Gilmour Space Technologies, has ushered in the New Year with a successful hotfire of the world’s largest single-port hybrid rocket engine.

(courtesy: Gilmour Space)

“We achieved a record 91 kilonewtons (or 9 tonnes-force) of thrust in the initial verification test of our main engine,” said Adam Gilmour, CEO and co-founder of Gilmour Space, a Queensland-based company that is developing a three-stage rocket capable of launching small satellites into low earth orbits.

“This is the engine that will be powering the first and second stages of our Eris orbital vehicle as it launches into space,” he explained. “I’m happy to report that all systems performed very well during this 10-second test. Our team will be going through the results and conducting longer duration and higher thrust tests in the weeks ahead.”

A leading space company in Australia, Gilmour Space continues to demonstrate key sovereign space and industry capabilities as it prepares to launch its first commercial payloads from Australian companies Space Machines Company and Fireball International.

“We are delighted by this successful hotfire test, which demonstrates Gilmour’s progress towards a successful orbital launch next year,” said Rajat Kulshrestha, co-founder and CEO of Space Machines Company. “Together with Space Machines Company, important sovereign launch and in-space transport capabilities for Australia are becoming a reality.”

“Many of our Eris launch vehicle components have completed development testing, and the first flight articles are on the manufacturing floor ready for assembly,” said Mr Gilmour. “2021 is going to be the year we build our rocket.”

About Gilmour Space Technologies

Gilmour Space Technologies is a world leading hybrid rocket company based in Queensland, Australia, that is developing a new breed of lower-cost, reliable and dedicated rockets that will launch small satellites into low earth orbits from 2022.

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NASA CubeSat to demonstrate water-fueled moves in space

NASA CubeSat to demonstrate water fueled moves in space

(19 January 2021 – NASA Ames) A NASA CubeSat will launch into low-Earth orbit to demonstrate a new type of propulsion system.

Carrying a pint of liquid water as fuel, the system will split the water into hydrogen and oxygen in space and burn them in a tiny rocket engine for thrust.

NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator, or PTD, series of missions demonstrates novel CubeSat technologies in low-Earth orbit, providing significant enhancements to the performance of these small and effective spacecraft. The first mission of the series, PTD-1, is slated to launch this month aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the Transporter-1 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Illustration of Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator-1 spacecraft, demonstrating a water-based propulsion system in low-Earth orbit. (courtesy: NASA)

nasa 7

This Hydros hardware unit is a water-based propulsion system, sized for CubeSats. The system uses electricity to produce gas propellants – hydrogen and oxygen – from liquid water and burns these gases in a rocket nozzle to generate thrust. This technology will be demonstrated in space during NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator-1 mission. Hydros was developed by Tethers Unlimited, Inc., in Bothell, Washington. (courtesy: Tethers Unlimited Inc./Mason Freedman)

“We have a driving need for small spacecraft propulsion systems,” said David Mayer, PTD-1 project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “The need is for many reasons: to reach a destination, maintain orbit, maneuver around other objects in space, or hasten de-orbit, helping spacecraft at end-of-life, to be good stewards of an increasingly cluttered space environment.”

This addresses a major concern, as spacecraft can become orbital debris at the end of their missions. The longer defunct spacecraft stay in orbit, the greater chance of spacecraft-to-spacecraft collision, creating more debris.

Water as Fuel

The choice of fuel used in spacecraft propulsion systems can come with serious safety precautions. Traditional, high-performance fuels pose risks, including toxicity, flammability, and volatility. The use of such rocket fuels for in-space propulsion systems require extensive safety measures, and this drives up mission cost.

“To make these propulsion systems feasible for CubeSats, good propulsive performance needs to be balanced by safety,” said Mayer. “PTD-1 will meet this need with the first demonstration of a water-based electrolysis spacecraft propulsion system in space.”

PTD-1’s propulsion system will produce gas propellants – a mix of hydrogen and oxygen – from water, only when activated in orbit. The system applies an electric current through water to chemically separate water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gases, in a process called electrolysis. The CubeSat’s solar arrays harness energy from the Sun to supply the electric power needed to operate the miniature electrolysis system.

These gases are more energetic fuels than water; burning hydrogen and oxygen gas in a rocket nozzle generates more thrust than using “unsplit” liquid water as propellant. This strikes a better balance between performance and safety for spacecraft propulsion, meaning CubeSats will get more bang for the buck.

“What’s new is that this system uses water as the fuel in an energetic way, with an inherently safe system,” said Mayer. “This mission will show that we can use water electrolysis in a rocket engine in space – that’s pretty cool.”

Water is an inexpensive “green” resource for propulsion, non-toxic and stable. Green propellants like water are easier to handle, cheaper to obtain, and safer to integrate into spacecraft.

“We are disallowed from using high-performance propulsion systems in CubeSats because of the nature of how we launch these missions, namely by being attached to other spacecraft,” said Mayer.

Most CubeSats and other small spacecraft launch to space as secondary payloads, often riding to space alongside larger and more expensive payloads. The use of traditional “high-performance” rocket fuels for CubeSat propulsion systems are avoided because the onboard presence of such fuels would increase mission risk to other payloads and the launch vehicle. The inability to use these fuels limits performance for small spacecraft propulsion systems.

“Water is the safest rocket fuel I know of,” said Mayer.

A Low-Cost, Effective Propulsion System

The PTD-1 spacecraft is a 6-unit CubeSat, comparable in size to a shoebox. Its flight demonstration, lasting four to six months, will verify propulsion performance through programmed changes in spacecraft velocity and altitude executed by the water-fueled thrusters. The mission will show that this safe, low-cost, high-performance propulsion system works in space and will pave the way for operational small spacecraft missions.

Flight qualification and demonstration of this technology increases small spacecraft mobility and capability for use in future science and exploration missions. This technology could be applied in future deep-space missions using water resources found off Earth such as from comets or the Moon and Mars.

The propulsion system, named Hydros, was developed by Tethers Unlimited, Inc., in Bothell, Washington. This technology was initially developed under a NASA Small Business Innovation Research contract and then matured under a NASA Tipping Point partnership. The PTD spacecraft bus was developed by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc., in Irvine, California. Tyvak is also performing payload integration and operations for the PTD-1 mission.

NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the PTD series. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland collaborates as the payload lead on the PTD-1 mission. The mission launches as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites 35, funded by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division of Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The PTD mission is managed and funded by the Small Spacecraft Technology program within the NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

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