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(6 January 2021 – Flexitech) Following the success of the Flexitech Aerospace range of ultra-wideband antennas, with many now on current satellites, a new lower frequency antenna has been added to the range.

The new antenna model, CBS 8-12, provides continuous coverage from 800MHz to 12GHz in a small volume suited to small satellites. Measuring 14cm by 7cm, with a 714g mass, the antenna provides excellent RF performance with a hemispheric pattern and has a single SMA connector.

CBS 8-12 800MHz to 12GHz Ultra-wideband Antenna (courtesy: Flexitech)

For applications where coverage of L, S and X and Ku-band is required, it provides a single antenna solution. This antenna provides a low frequency option but with coverage up to Ku-Band for satellite applications such as spectrum surveys, geo location and multiband communications payloads in a low mass, small size package.

About Flexitech Aerospace

Flexitech Aerospace is an RF engineering company providing analysis, design and manufacturing of satellite RF communications systems and components. Located in Orlando, FL, Flexitech Aerospace has developed and manufactured a wide range of RF systems and components many of which have achieved TRL9. This includes large deployable helical, Yagi and dipole antenna designs successfully deployed and currently in orbit as well as omni coverage antennas for TT&C and multiband operations.

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ESA books two payload missions on Airbus Bartolomeo platform

ESA books two payload missions on Airbus Bartolomeo platform

(21 January 2021 – Airbus) The European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus have agreed on service orders for two independent payload missions to be launched to the Bartolomeo payload hosting facility on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2022 and 2024, respectively.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus have agreed on service orders for two independent payload missions to be launched to the Bartolomeo payload hosting facility on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2022 and 2024, respectively. (courtesy: Airbus)

The first payload mission is ESA’s Exobiology Platform (EXPO). This facility carries a set of radiation experiments aimed at better understanding the evolution of organic molecules and organisms in the space. Placed in a Zenith-facing slot, the facility will connect two scientific modules to Bartolomeo. These modules will host everything needed for the experiments, including the scientific sample containers, fluidics systems and sensors related to the individual experiments called Exocube, IceCold and OREOcube. At the end of the three-year mission, the samples will be returned to Earth for detailed investigation and analysis.

The second payload is the Euro Material Ageing experiment platform (SESAME), developed by the French Space Agency (CNES). This mission will study the ageing behaviour of new materials in space and will also make use of Bartolomeo’s payload return option. After a year of exposure in space, the experiments will be returned to Earth, allowing scientists to thoroughly investigate the samples and fully understand the effects of the space environment on the materials.

These service orders, amounting to € 6.5 million, are the first under a new framework agreement which ESA and Airbus have put in place, pre-defining the overall commercial conditions for ESA payload missions on Bartolomeo.

“With this framework contract, we are making it significantly easier for ESA to use the Bartolomeo Service for quick and affordable use of the ISS,” said David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration. “Commercial arrangements have been streamlined, which enables our researchers to enjoy the full benefits of Bartolomeo’s short lead times and high flexibility. We are very pleased to have the first two ESA payloads secured on the platform, and are looking forward to using this new European asset on the ISS.”

Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus, said: “We are looking forward to working with our partners at ESA on bringing these two and future payloads to space – and back again as needed. The strong interest from across ESA and other institutions as well as a number of commercial players confirms the need for our efficient and affordable payload hosting solutions in LEO.”

Airbus’ Bartolomeo platform was launched and robotically attached to the ISS Columbus Module in 2020. Following the final connection of the cabling during an Extravehicular Activity (EVA), or ‘spacewalk’, in early 2021, the platform will be ready for in-space commissioning.

Bartolomeo is an Airbus investment into the ISS infrastructure, enabling hosting of up to twelve external payloads in the space environment, providing unique opportunities for in-orbit demonstration and verification missions. It is operated in a partnership between Airbus, ESA, NASA and the ISS National Laboratory.

Bartolomeo is suitable for many types of missions, including Earth observation, environmental and climate research, robotics, material sciences and astrophysics. It provides sought-after payload-hosting capabilities for customers and researchers to test space technologies, verify a new space business approach, conduct scientific experiments in microgravity or enter into in-space manufacturing endeavours.

Launch opportunities are available on every servicing mission to the ISS, which occur about every three months. The payload accommodation allows slots for a wide range of payload mass, from 5 to 450 kg. As an evolution of the platform, Airbus will provide optical data downlink capacity of one to two terabytes per day.

Payloads can be prepared and ready to operate within one and a half years after contract signature. Payload sizes, interfaces, preparation before launch and integration processes are largely standardised. This reduces lead times and significantly reduces costs compared to traditional mission costs.

Airbus offers this easy access to space as an all-in-one mission service. This includes technical support in preparing the payload mission; launch and installation; operations and data transfer; and an optional return to Earth.

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NASA’s Deep Space Network welcomes a new dish to the family

NASAs Deep Space Network welcomes a new dish to the

(22 January 2021 – JPL) A powerful new antenna has been added to the NASA Space Communications and Navigation’s Deep Space Network (DSN), which connects us to the space robots exploring our solar system.

Called Deep Space Station 56, or DSS-56, the dish is now online and ready to communicate with a variety of missions, including NASA’s Perseverance rover when it lands on the Red Planet next month.

The new 34-meter-wide (112-foot-wide) dish has been under construction at the Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex in Spain since 2017. Existing antennas are limited in the frequency bands they can receive and transmit, often restricting them to communicating only with specific spacecraft. DSS-56 is the first to use the Deep Space Network’s full range of communication frequencies as soon as it went online. This means DSS-56 is an “all-in-one” antenna that can communicate with all the missions that the DSN supports and can be used as a backup for any of the Madrid complex’s other antennas.

Deep Space Station 56 (DSS-56) (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“DSS-56 offers the Deep Space Network additional real-time flexibility and reliability,” said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator and program manager of NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN). “This new asset symbolizes and underscores our ongoing support for more than 30 deep space missions who count on our services to enable their success.”

With the addition of DSS-56 and other 34-meter antennas to all three DSN complexes around the world, the network is preparing to play a critical role in ensuring communication and navigation support for upcoming Moon and Mars missions and the crewed Artemis missions.

“The Deep Space Network is vital to so much of what we do – and to what we plan to do – throughout the solar system. It’s what connects us here on Earth to our distant robotic explorers, and, with the improvements that we’re making to the network, it connects us to the future as well, expanding our capabilities as we prepare human missions for the Moon and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA’s headquarters in Washington. “This latest antenna was built as an international partnership and will ultimately benefit all of humanity as we continue to explore deep space.”

With DSS-56’s increased flexibility came a more complex start-up phase, which included testing and calibration of a larger suite of systems, before the antenna could go online. On Friday, Jan. 22, the international partners who oversaw the antenna’s construction attended a virtual ribbon-cutting event to officially mark the occasion – an event that had been delayed due to historic snowfall blanketing much of Spain.

“After the lengthy process of commissioning, the DSN’s most capable 34-meter antenna is now talking with our spacecraft,” said Bradford Arnold, DSN project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Even though pandemic restrictions and the recent weather conditions in Spain have been significant challenges, the staff in Madrid persevered, and I am proud to welcome DSS-56 to the global DSN family.”

More About the Deep Space Network

In addition to Spain, the Deep Space Network has ground stations in California (Goldstone) and Australia (Canberra). This configuration allows mission controllers to communicate with spacecraft throughout the solar system at all times during Earth’s rotation.

The forerunner to the DSN was established in January 1958 when JPL was contracted by the U.S. Army to deploy portable radio tracking stations in California, Nigeria, and Singapore to receive telemetry of the first successful U.S. satellite, Explorer 1. Shortly after JPL was transferred to NASA on Dec. 3, 1958, the newly-formed U.S. civilian space program established the Deep Space Network to communicate with all deep space missions. It has been in continuous operation since 1963 and remains the backbone of deep space communications for NASA and international missions, supporting historic events such as the Apollo Moon landings and checking in on our interstellar explorers, Voyager 1 and 2.

The Deep Space Network is managed by JPL for SCaN, which is located at NASA’s headquarters within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The Madrid station is managed on NASA’s behalf by Spain’s national research organization, Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (National Institute of Aerospace Technology).

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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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