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(7 January 2021- Thales) Thales Alenia Space has signed a contract with ESA worth € 2,8 Million for the study, design, manufacture and test of the ATHENA Mirror Assembly Module Demonstrator.

ATHENA (Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics) is the 2nd ‘Large’ mission in the ESA Science Cosmic Vision programme, focusing on the Hot and Energetic processes in the Universe by mapping hot gas structures and determining their physical properties as well as searching for supermassive black holes. The purpose of this mission is to try to understand how does ordinary matter assemble into the large-scale structures we see today and how do black holes grow and shape the Universe.

Artistic views of ATHENA (courtesy: IRAP, CNES, ESA & ACO)

To address the first question, it will be necessary to map hot gas structures in the Universe – specifically the gas in clusters and groups of galaxies, and the intergalactic medium – determine their physical properties and track their evolution through cosmic time. To answer the second question, supermassive black holes (SMBH) must be revealed, even in obscured environments, out into the early Universe, and both the inflows and outflows of matter and energy as the black holes grow must be understood.

Planned to be launched in 2031, Athena will probe 10 to 100 times deeper into the cosmos than previous X-ray missions, to observe the very hottest, high-energy celestial objects. To achieve this challenge, the mission requires entirely new X-ray optics technology.

The ATHENA Mirror will be the largest X-ray optics ever built: the achievement of the very demanding scientific goals requires in fact quite a large effective area in the bandwidth range. Therefore the telescope optics must be able to collect and focus the X-rays through a wide circular structure of about 2.5 m diameter. The Mirror Structure will bear about 600 accurately co-aligned Mirror Modules based on the innovative Silicon Pore Optics technology. It must be stiff and extremely stable to meet the scientific optical performances. The Mirror Assembly Module is then pointed to the two different instruments by means of a complex and very accurate steering system.

Thales Alenia Space is the prime contractor of the activity that will focus in the next 20 months on the design, development and testing of a full scale Mirror Assembly Module demonstrator and will allow the verification of critical functions prior to mission adoption.

The activity is in particular aimed at:

  • demonstrating the capability of manufacturing and integrating a full sized Mirror Assembly compatible with all the functional and interface requirements of the ATHENA mission
  • performing environmental tests to verify the compatibility of the ATHENA Mirror Assembly with the applicable mechanical and thermal loads by means of dedicated testing campaign, including the alignment verification of the Mirror Modules

A dedicated activity is then foreseen to integrate specific thermal control system and perform a representative test campaign.

The overall results will demonstrate the readiness of the relevant technology and process that will be made available for the implementation in the ATHENA spacecraft – planned to start in 2022. This is thus one of the most enabling technologies to make the ATHENA mission possible.

The satellite will consist of a single large-aperture grazing-incidence X-ray telescope, utilizing a novel technology (High-performance Silicone pore optics) developed in Europe, with 12m focal length and 5 arcsec Half Energy Width (HEW) on-axis angular resolution. The focal plane contains two instruments. One is the Wide Field Imager (WFI) providing sensitive wide field imaging and spectroscopy and high count-rate capability. The other one is the X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU) delivering spatially resolved high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy over a limited field of view.

About Thales Alenia Space

Drawing on over 40 years of experience and a unique combination of skills, expertise and cultures, Thales Alenia Space delivers cost-effective solutions for telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, environmental management, exploration, science and orbital infrastructures. Governments and private industry alike count on Thales Alenia Space to design satellite-based systems that provide anytime, anywhere connections and positioning, monitor our planet, enhance management of its resources, and explore our Solar System and beyond. Thales Alenia Space sees space as a new horizon, helping to build a better, more sustainable life on Earth. A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), Thales Alenia Space also teams up with Telespazio to form the parent companies’ Space Alliance, which offers a complete range of services. Thales Alenia Space posted consolidated revenues of approximately 2.15 billion euros in 2019 and has around 7,700 employees in nine countries.

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InSight’s ‘Mole’ ends its journey on Mars

InSights ‘Mole ends its journey on Mars

(14 January 2021 – JPL) The heat probe developed and built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and deployed on Mars by NASA’s InSight lander has ended its portion of the mission.

Since Feb. 28, 2019, the probe, called the “mole,” has been attempting to burrow into the Martian surface to take the planet’s internal temperature, providing details about the interior heat engine that drives the Mars’ evolution and geology. But the soil’s unexpected tendency to clump deprived the spike-like mole of the friction it needs to hammer itself to a sufficient depth.

After getting the top of the mole about 2 or 3 centimeters under the surface, the team tried one last time to use a scoop on InSight’s robotic arm to scrape soil onto the probe and tamp it down to provide added friction. After the probe conducted 500 additional hammer strokes on Saturday, Jan. 9, with no progress, the team called an end to their efforts.

Part of an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the mole is a 16-inch-long (40-centimeter-long) pile driver connected to the lander by a tether with embedded temperature sensors. These sensors are designed to measure heat flowing from the planet once the mole has dug at least 10 feet (3 meters) deep.

In this artist’s concept of NASA’s InSight lander on Mars, layers of the planet’s subsurface can be seen below, and dust devils can be seen in the background. (courtesy: IPGP/Nicolas Sarter)

“We’ve given it everything we’ve got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible,” said HP3’s principal investigator, Tilman Spohn of DLR. “Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions that attempt to dig into the subsurface.”

While NASA’s Phoenix lander scraped the top layer of the Martian surface, no mission before InSight has tried to burrow into the soil. Doing so is important for a variety of reasons: Future astronauts may need to dig through soil to access water ice, while scientists want to study the subsurface’s potential to support microbial life.

“We are so proud of our team who worked hard to get InSight’s mole deeper into the planet. It was amazing to see them troubleshoot from millions of miles away,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This is why we take risks at NASA – we have to push the limits of technology to learn what works and what doesn’t. In that sense, we’ve been successful: We’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions to Mars and elsewhere, and we thank our German partners from DLR for providing this instrument and for their collaboration.”

Hard-Earned Wisdom

The unexpected properties of the soil near the surface next to InSight will be puzzled over by scientists for years to come. The mole’s design was based on soil seen by previous Mars missions – soil that proved very different from what the mole encountered. For two years, the team worked to adapt the unique and innovative instrument to these new circumstances.

“The mole is a device with no heritage. What we attempted to do – to dig so deep with a device so small – is unprecedented,” said Troy Hudson, a scientist and engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California who has led efforts to get the mole deeper into the Martian crust. “Having had the opportunity to take this all the way to the end is the greatest reward.”

Besides learning about the soil at this location, engineers have gained invaluable experience operating the robotic arm. In fact, they used the arm and scoop in ways they never intended to at the outset of the mission, including pressing against and down on the mole. Planning the moves and getting them just right with the commands they were sending up to InSight pushed the team to grow.

They’ll put their hard-earned wisdom to use in the future. The mission intends to employ the robotic arm in burying the tether that conveys data and power between the lander and InSight’s seismometer, which has recorded more than 480 marsquakes. Burying it will help reduce temperature changes that have created cracking and popping sounds in seismic data.

There’s much more science to come from InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport. NASA recently extended the mission for two more years, to Dec. 2022. Along with hunting for quakes, the lander hosts a radio experiment that is collecting data to reveal whether the planet’s core is liquid or solid. And InSight’s weather sensors are capable of providing some of the most detailed meteorological data ever collected on Mars. Together with weather instruments aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover and its new Perseverance rover, which lands on Feb. 18, the three spacecraft will create the first meteorological network on another planet.

More About the Mission

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

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Blue Origin successful demonstrates New Shepard crew capsule upgrades

Blue Origin successful demonstrates New Shepard crew capsule upgrades

(14 January 2021 – Blue Origin) Blue Origin has successfully completed its 14th mission to space and back today for the New Shepard program.

The New Shepard crew capsule outfitted with astronaut experience upgrades landing at Launch Site One. (courtesy: Blue Origin)

Mission NS-14 featured a crew capsule outfitted with astronaut experience upgrades for upcoming flights with passengers onboard. Capsule upgrades included:

  • Speakers in the cabin with a microphone and a push-to-talk button at each seat so astronauts can continuously talk to Mission Control.
  • First flight of the crew alert system with a panel at each seat relaying important safety messages to passengers.
  • Cushioned wall linings and sound suppression devices to reduce ambient noise inside the capsule.
  • Environmental systems, including a cooling system and humidity controls to regulate temperature and prevent capsule windows from fogging during flight, as well as carbon dioxide scrubbing.
  • Six seats.

Also today during ascent, the booster rotated at 2-3 degrees per second. This is done to give future passengers a 360-degree view of space during the flight.

This flight continued to prove the robustness and stability of the New Shepard system and the BE-3PM liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.

Also onboard today were more than 50,000 postcards from Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future. The Club has now flown over 100,000 postcards to space and back from students around the world. More information here.

Key mission stats

  • 15th consecutive successful crew capsule landing (every flight in program, including pad escape test in 2012).
  • The crew capsule reached an apogee of 347,568 ft above ground level (AGL) / 351,215 ft mean sea level (MSL) (105 km AGL/107 km MSL).
  • The booster reached an apogee of 347,211 ft AGL / 350,858 ft MSL (105 km AGL/106 km MSL).
  • The mission elapsed time was 10 min, 10 sec and the max ascent velocity was 2,242 mph / 3,609 km/h.

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Infostellar introduces its new Chief Technology Officer

Infostellar introduces its new Chief Technology Officer

(11 January 2021 – Infostellar) Infostellar has announced the arrival of Steve Montgomery as the company’s Chief Technical Officer (CTO).

In this role, Steve will lead the company’s efforts in building and operating Infostellar’s global network of ground stations, including partner and company-owned assets. Steve will also leverage StellarStation by driving the technical development and expansion of the company’s ground segment products and services.

Steve Montgomery, Chief Technical Officer (courtesy: Infostellar)

“We are thrilled to have Steve join our team. Not only does he bring a wealth of technical expertise in building and operating global space assets, he also brings his experience in developing a startup GSaaS company into an industry leader.” says Infostellar Founder and CEO, Naomi Kurahara.

Kurahara added, “Steve will be a key factor in driving our products and services in the future, thus enabling Infostellar to provide mission critical ground operations to our growing client base.”

Steve has over 27-years of experience building and operating ground stations all over the world. He was a leader in the Universal Space Network team that was acquired by the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) in 2009 and remained with the company until joining Infostellar.

Most recently, Steve held the position of Chief Establishment Director at SSC, where he was directly responsible for the installation and operation of a global network of ground stations in support of a wide variety of international space programs. While at SSC, Steve also held the position of Managing Director of SSC Space Australia Pty Ltd, where he was responsible for SSC’s ground station operations in that region. Additionally, Steve led SSC’s efforts in building a world-class Launch and Early Orbit Operation (LEOP) and On-Orbit communications capability that to this day provides mission critical services to the world’s leading space agencies and companies.

Montgomery said: “I am very pleased to be joining Naomi and the Infostellar team. This company is embarking on a journey that expands ground segment services while reducing capital and operational expenses by fully benefiting from cloud infrastructure. Together we have a unique opportunity to be an enabler of new space applications. ”

About Infostellar

Infostellar is a satellite ‘Ground Segment as a Service’ (GSaaS) provider. We provide flexible and scalable ground station services enabled by our cloud platform, ‘StellarStation’, which virtualizes ground station networks. By lowering the barriers to entry in the ground segment, Infostellar empowers newspace businesses to build better missions and improve the quality of their service. Founded in 2016, Infostellar is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan and has its European office in the UK.

About StellarStation

StellarStation is a flexible, scalable, satellite ground station sharing platform. After a one-time setup, satellite operators can access any ground station across our global network. StellarStation also enables ground station owners to monetise their unused capacity by sharing it with satellite operators.

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