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A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:33 p.m. EDT May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, for an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission. The specific duration of the mission is to be determined.

As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.

Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX’s next-generation human space vehicle and were selected for their extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle.

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Photo: NASA

Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station. Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things. In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.

After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

Although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.

Upon conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.

The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.

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Space

NASA sounding rocket finds helium structures in Sun’s atmosphere

NASA sounding rocket finds helium structures in Suns atmosphere

(7 August 2020 – NASA Goddard) Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen. But scientists aren’t sure just how much there actually is in the Sun’s atmosphere, where it is hard to measure.

Knowing the amount of helium in the solar atmosphere is important to understanding the origin and acceleration of the solar wind – the constant stream of charged particles from the Sun.

In 2009, NASA launched a sounding rocket investigation to measure helium in the extended solar atmosphere – the first time we’ve gathered a full global map. The results, recently published in Nature Astronomy, are helping us better understand our space environment.

Previously, when measuring ratios of helium to hydrogen in the solar wind as it reaches Earth, observations have found much lower ratios than expected. Scientists suspected the missing helium might have been left behind in the Sun’s outermost atmospheric layer – the corona – or perhaps in a deeper layer. Discovering how this happens is key to understanding how the solar wind is accelerated.

A composite image of the Sun showing the hydrogen (left) and helium (center and right) in the low corona. The helium at depletion near the equatorial regions is evident. (courtesy: NASA)

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HERSCHEL sounding rocket launches from the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. (courtesy: White Sands Missile Range)

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A composite image shows the Sun with open magnetic field lines (colored) overlapping with regions with enhanced helium abundance. (courtesy: NASA)

To measure the amount of atmospheric helium and hydrogen, NASA’s Helium Resonance Scattering in the Corona and Heliosphere, or HERSCHEL, sounding rocket took images of the solar corona. Led by the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C., HERSCHEL was an international collaboration with the Osservatorio Astrofisico di Torino in Italy and the Institute d’Astrophysique Spatiale in France.

HERSCHEL’s observations showed that helium wasn’t evenly distributed around the corona. The equatorial region had almost no helium while the areas at mid latitudes had the most. Comparing with images from ESA/NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the scientists were able to show the abundance at the mid latitudes overlaps with where Sun’s magnetic field lines open out into the solar system.

This shows that the ratio of helium to hydrogen is strongly connected with the magnetic field and the speed of the solar wind in the corona. The equatorial regions, which had low helium abundance measurements, matched measurements from the solar wind near Earth. This points to the solar atmosphere being more dynamic than scientists thought.

The HERSCHEL sounding rocket investigation adds to a body of work seeking to understand the origin of the slow component of the solar wind. HERSCHEL remotely investigates the elemental composition of the region where the solar wind is accelerated, which can be analyzed in tandem with in situ measurements of the inner solar system, such as those of the Parker Solar Probe. While the heat of the Sun is enough to power the lightest element – ionized hydrogen protons – to escape the Sun as a supersonic wind, other physics must help power the acceleration of heavier elements such as helium. Thus, understanding elemental abundance in the Sun’s atmosphere, provides additional information as we attempt to learn the full story of how the solar wind is accelerated.

In the future, scientists plan to take more observations to explain the difference in abundances. Two new instruments – Metis and EUI on board ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter – are able to make similar global abundance measurements and will to help provide new information about the helium ratio in the corona.

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ThinKom wins Defense Innovation Unit contract

ThinKom wins Defense Innovation Unit contract

(6 August 2020 – Thinkom) The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has awarded a contract to ThinKom Solutions to test and evaluate one of the company’s commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) aeronautical phased-array antenna systems as a solution for next-generation communications on U.S. Navy ships.

Under the seven-month contract, ThinKom is delivering a ThinAir® Ka2517 antenna system for on-board testing to meet U.S. Navy requirements for Multi-Domain Tactical Communications (MDTC). The Ka-band antenna, based on the company’s patented VICTS technology, will demonstrate the capability to be integrated onto a U.S. Navy ship. A concurrent design study phase will evaluate performance modifications requested by the Navy.

DIU is a U.S. Department of Defense organization focused exclusively on fielding and scaling commercial technology across the U.S. military to help solve critical problems. Through its agile processes, contract authorities and diverse team of experts, DIU has reduced the time it takes to identify a problem, prototype a commercial solution and implement it into the field to 12 to 24 months.

ThinKom’s industry-leading VICTS phased arrays are currently installed on more than 1,550 commercial aircraft and have accrued more than 17 million flight hours, demonstrating mean time between failure (MTBF) rates well in excess of 100,000 hours. The Ka2517 terminals are in full production and currently operational on a fleet of U.S. government aircraft.

ThinKom’s COTS Ka2517 satellite antenna meets the DIU requirements for low-cost, low-risk, proven technology for use on U.S. Navy ships, such as the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000). (courtesy: U.S. Navy)

“ThinKom’s VICTS technology currently meets all of the DIU requirements for a low-cost, low-risk COTS solution that can be deployed on a DDG-1000 class destroyer,” said Bill Milroy, chief technology officer for ThinKom Solutions. “With millions of hours of service under the extreme dynamic and environmental conditions of modern commercial and military jet aircraft, ThinKom’s low-profile, compact VICTS antennas are ideally positioned to meet the Navy’s performance requirements on a platform at sea.”

“Our VICTS phased-array antennas are also uniquely capable — and proven — to provide uncompromising emission controls to meet the most stringent requirements for precision sidelobe control and grating lobe suppression, which are critical factors on a modern naval ship. Additionally, VICTS arrays, operating across the spectrum from C-band to W-band, have been verified by multiple third-party system integrators to be RF compatible with low radar cross section and low observable platforms and installations. Sidelobes are suppressed to enhance the low-probability-of-detection/interception and anti-jamming characteristics of the antenna, even when intentionally scanning to low elevation angles.”

ThinKom’s VICTS antennas have successfully completed multiple ground and in-flight tests demonstrating seamless interoperability across satellites in low, medium and geostationary orbits with extremely fast switching speeds of less than one second and very high data throughput rates. In all cases, ThinKom antennas have demonstrated unmatched spectral efficiency, beam agility, interference control, low-angle tracking and seamless inter-constellation operation.

About ThinKom Solutions

ThinKom Solutions, Inc., is a leading provider of innovative, highly affordable, compact broadband antennas and products for aeronautical, vehicular, user terminal, gateway, satellite and man-portable applications. The company’s primary products uniquely enable near-term worldwide availability of high-data-rate connectivity in the X-, Ku-, Ka- and Q-bands. ThinKom offers a range of reliable, proven technology solutions for the consumer, enterprise, first responder, civil, military and intelligence communities.

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Thales Alenia Space will build SES-22 and SES-23 satellites

Thales Alenia Space will build SES 22 and SES 23 satellites

(7 August 2020 – Thales Alenia Space) Thales Alenia Space has announced that it has signed a contract with SES to build SES-22 and SES-23, geostationary communications satellites.

These two new satellites are designed to provide digital broadcasting services over North America.

(courtesy: Thales Alenia Space)

Thales Alenia Space will be responsible for the design, production, testing of the satellites and support of the payload in-orbit acceptance tests. SES-22 and SES-23 are based on the proven Spacebus 4000 B2 platform and will be 3.5-ton class satellites at launch.

These satellites are the 11th and 12th satellites based on the Spacebus 4000 B2 platform to be built by Thales Alenia Space. The two satellites will help SES meet the Federal Communications Commission’s accelerated C-band clearing deadlines in the United States and will contribute to the effort to clear spectrum necessary to roll out 5G in the United States.

Hervé Derrey, President and Chief Executive Officer of Thales Alenia Space, said “The robustness and flight proven heritage of our Spacebus 4000 B2 platform, combined with our ability to timely and quickly deliver SES-22 and SES-23, have been key elements leading to the decision of SES working with us to replace its existing C-Band fleet. This demonstrates Thales Alenia Space’s expertise in developing tailored solutions that meet each operator’s specific needs to clear the C-Band spectrum.”

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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