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(28 August 2020 – NASA) NASA has selected five proposals for concept studies of missions to help improve understanding of the dynamics of the Sun and the constantly changing space environment with which it interacts around Earth.

The information will improve understanding about the universe as well as offer key information to help protect astronauts, satellites, and communications signals – such as GPS – in space.

Each of these Medium-Class Explorer proposals will receive $1.25 million to conduct a nine-month mission concept study. Following the study period, NASA will choose up to two proposals to go forward to launch. Each potential mission has a separate launch opportunity and timeframe.

The Sun sends out a constant stream of particles and energy, which drives a complex space weather system near Earth and can affect spacecraft and astronauts. NASA has chosen five new mission concept studies for further development to study various aspects of this dynamic system. (courtesy: NASA)

“We constantly seek missions that use cutting edge technology and novel approaches to push the boundaries of science,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Each one of these proposals offers the chance to observe something we have never before seen or to provide unprecedented insights into key areas of research, all to further the exploration of the universe we live in.”

NASA’s heliophysics program explores the giant, interconnected system of energy, particles, and magnetic fields that fills interplanetary space, a system that constantly changes based on outflow from the Sun and its interaction with the space and atmosphere around Earth.

“Whether it’s looking at the physics of our star, studying aurora, or observing how magnetic fields move through space, the heliophysics community seeks to explore the space system around us from a variety of vantage points,” said Nicky Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We carefully pick missions to provide perfectly placed sensors throughout the solar system, each offering a key perspective to understand the space that human technology and humans increasingly travel through.”

Each of these new proposals seeks to add a new puzzle piece to understanding that larger system, some by looking at the Sun, some by making observations closer to home.

The proposals were selected based on potential science value and feasibility of development plans. The cost for the investigation ultimately chosen for flight will be capped at $250 million and is funded by NASA’s Heliophysics Explorers’ program.

The proposals selected for concept studies are:

Solar-Terrestrial Observer for the Response of the Magnetosphere (STORM)

STORM would provide the first-ever global view of our vast space weather system in which the constant flow of particles from the Sun – known as the solar wind – interacts with Earth’s magnetic field system, called the magnetosphere. Using a combination of observation tools that allow both remote viewing of Earth’s magnetic fields and in situ monitoring of the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field, STORM would track the way energy flows into and throughout near-Earth space. Tackling some of the most pressing questions in magnetospheric science, this comprehensive data set would provide a systemwide view of events in the magnetosphere to observe how one region affects another, helping to untangle how space weather phenomena circulate around our planet. STORM is led by David Sibeck at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

HelioSwarm: The Nature of Turbulence in Space Plasmas

HelioSwarm would observe the solar wind over a wide range of scales in order to determine the fundamental space physics processes that lead energy from large-scale motion to cascade down to finer scales of particle movement within the plasma that fills space, a process that leads to the heating of such plasma. Using a swarm of nine SmallSat spacecraft, HelioSwarm would gather multi-point measurements and be able to reveal the three-dimensional mechanisms that control the physical processes crucial to understanding our neighborhood in space. HelioSwarm is led by Harlan Spence at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Multi-slit Solar Explorer (MUSE)

MUSE would provide high-cadence observations of the mechanisms driving an array of processes and events in the Sun’s atmosphere – the corona – including what drives solar eruptions such as solar flares, as well as what heats the corona to temperatures far above that of the solar surface. MUSE would use breakthrough imaging spectroscopy techniques to observe radial motion and heating at ten times the current resolution – and 100 times faster – a key capability when trying to study the phenomena driving heating and eruption processes, which occur on time scales shorter than previous spectrographs could observe. Such data would enable advanced numerical solar modeling and help unpack long-standing questions about coronal heating and the foundation of space weather events that can send giant bursts of solar particles and energy toward Earth. MUSE is led by Bart De Pontieu at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, California.

Auroral Reconstruction CubeSwarm (ARCS)

ARCS would explore the processes that contribute to aurora at size scales that have been rarely studied: at the intermediate scale between the smaller, local phenomena leading directly to the visible aurora and the larger, global dynamics of the space weather system coursing through the ionosphere and thermosphere. Adding crucial information to understanding the physics at the border between our atmosphere and space, these observations would provide insight into the entire magnetospheric system surrounding Earth. The mission would use an innovative, distributed set of sensors by deploying 32 CubeSats and 32 ground-based observatories. The combination of instruments and spatial distribution would provide a comprehensive picture of the drivers and response of the auroral system to and from the magnetosphere. ARCS is led by Kristina Lynch at Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Solaris: Revealing the Mysteries of the Sun’s Poles

Solaris would address fundamental questions of solar and stellar physics that can only be answered with a view of the Sun’s poles. Solaris would observe three solar rotations over each solar pole to obtain observations of light, magnetic fields, and movement in the Sun’s surface, the photosphere. Space researchers have never collected imagery of the Sun’s poles, though the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter will provide oblique angle views for the first time in 2025. Better knowledge of the physical processes visible from the pole is necessary to understand the global dynamics of the entire Sun, including how magnetic fields evolve and move throughout the star, leading to periods of great solar activity and eruptions approximately every 11 years. Solaris is led by Donald Hassler at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

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SPAINSAT NG programme successfully passes Preliminary Design Review (PDR)

SPAINSAT NG programme successfully passes Preliminary Design Review PDR

(22 October 2020 – Thales) The SPAINSAT NG programme, owned and operated by Hisdesat, has successfully passed the preliminary design review (PDR) of the payloads and the full satellite, including PDR of Pacis 3 elements.

SPAINSAT NG is being manufactured by a consortium of four co-primes from Airbus in Spain and France, and Thales Alenia Space in Spain and France.

(courtesy: Hisdesat)

This important milestone confirms the soundness of the preliminary design and technical capabilities of the SPAINSAT NG satellite system.

It was achieved in the expected timeframe despite the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 health crisis, thanks to the commitment of all project teams who have continued to work at full capacity, combining remote work with face-to-face activity in the workplace.

“Successfully passing the satellite and payloads PDR, including Pacis 3, in the planned schedule shows the outstanding commitment and performances of all the teams working in this challenging program. I really much appreciate the efforts of anyone, from our main end customer and partner in the SPAINSAT NG PPP the Spanish Ministry of Defense and the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism as lender of the program, till CDTI, ESA, Hisdesat, Airbus DS, Thales Alenia Space and the rest of the industry working in the program”, said Miguel A. García Primo, Hisdesat CEO.

The SPAINSAT NG programme comprises two satellites, SPAINSAT NG I and II which will be situated in different geostationary positions to operate in X, military Ka and UHF bands.

The communication payloads of both satellites are provided by Spanish industry, including integration of the Communications Module in Spain, a major step forward for Spanish industry. Airbus in Spain is responsible for the X band payload, while Thales Alenia Space in Spain is responsible for the UHF and Ka band payloads. Other companies from Spanish space industry are also involved. The UHF payload is a new development in Spain, positioning the country at the forefront of the few countries in the world with national systems in the military UHF band.

The satellites are based on the Eurostar Neo platform, Airbus’ new geostationary telecommunications satellite product, a significant evolution of the highly reliable and successful Eurostar series with an entire range of major innovations. SPAINSAT NG includes an X band fully flexible payload, employing active antennas with in orbit reconfiguration capability, an onboarddigital processor that will interconnect the X and Ka band payloads for cross-banding, and a dedicated high speed service link enabling fast re-configuration.

“The successful PDR is an important milestone for the development of the SPAINSAT NG programme, which is on-track and on-schedule thanks to the huge professionalism and commitment of the project team,” said Eduardo Bellido, CEO of Thales Alenia Space in Spain. “For the first time we lead in Spain the development and integration of the payloads for a programme like SPAINSAT NG, which positions us at the forefront of space technology with the capacity to integrate large space systems. This will allow us to take the lead of new payloads and instruments in future missions.”

“Spain has always been at the centre of Airbus’ space activities. This milestone represents an extraordinary achievement as it clearly validates we have succeeded in further developing our expertise and capabilities on new technologies,” said Fernando Varela, Head of Airbus Space in Spain. “We are now ready for the next stage and on track with the integration of the communication modules in our clean rooms.”

The development of SPAINSAT NG is supported by the Spanish Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI) in the framework of a Partnership Project (PP) between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the satellite operator Hisdesat, called Pacis 3.

ESA Partnership Project supports the development and integration of innovative satellite payload elements, such as the reconfigurable transmit and receive X-band active antennas, and the deployable pallet with individually steerable Ka-band antennas. The Partnership Project will de-risk the partner’s investments to answer market needs through the development of sustainable end-to-end system up to in-orbit validation. It will also demonstrate novel pooling and sharing concepts to ultimately provide more affordable, flexible and secure communications services for governmental users in Europe.

“The Pacis 3 Partnership Project with Hisdesat is an important step within the Govsatcom Precursor project, part of ESA’s Space Systems for Safety and Security Program” stated Elodie Viau, ESA’s Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications. “Pacis 3 shows how the European space industry can respond to a globally emerging market of secure satellite communications. Partnership Projects, provide an effective and collaborative environment to introduce innovative systems and services, up to in-orbit validation.”

spainsat 2

(courtesy: Thales Alenis Space)

New AIT facility

The construction of a new clean room in Thales Alenia Space site in Madrid is progressing on-schedule to be ready for the SPAINSAT NG payload assembly, integration and test activities. This unique, cutting-edge facility in Spain will add more than 600 m2 clean area to the existing 2000 m2. With a free height of 12.5 meters in the inside, the facility is equipped with bridge cranes with lifting capacity up to 12 tons each, prepared for the integration of payloads and instruments of large dimensions for all type of space missions, spanning telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation and science.

The first of these New Generation SPAINSAT satellites will be launched at the end of 2023 and the second one a year later, guaranteeing the continuity of secure communications services.

The SPAINSAT NG satellites will have an operational lifetime of 15 years, remaining in service up to 2039.

About Airbus

Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. In 2019, it generated revenues of € 70 billion and employed a workforce of around 135,000. Airbus offers the most comprehensive range of passenger airliners. Airbus is also a European leader providing tanker, combat, transport and mission aircraft, as well as one of the world’s leading space companies. In helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions worldwide.

About Hisdesat

Hisdesat was born in 2001 as an operator of satellite government services to act fundamentally in the areas of defense, security, intelligence and external services. Since 2005, the company provides secure satellite communications services to government agencies in different countries and since September 2018, it provides Earth observation services with radar technology through the PAZ satellite, successfully launched on February 22nd. At present, the company is developing new constellations of maritime Satellite Traffic Information Satellites (AIS).

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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Orbcomm’s new, versatile communication device enables solution providers to easily add satellite connectivity to IOT applications

Orbcomms new versatile communication device enables solution providers to easily

(20 October 2020 – Orbcomm) Orbcomm today announced that it has launched the ST 2100, a state-of-the-art satellite communications device that enables solution providers to easily add satellite connectivity to their IoT applications and expand to dual-mode connectivity in remote areas with limited cellular coverage.

Orbcomm’s rugged and environmentally sealed ST 2100 is targeted for a number of vertical markets, such as fleet management, maritime and utilities, including fixed and mobile assets.

Orbcomm’s state-of-the-art satellite communications device enables solution providers to easily add satellite connectivity to their IoT applications. (courtesy: Orbcomm)

Orbcomm’s ST 2100 can be quickly and easily integrated into a variety of IoT applications with minimal development. Solution providers can leverage the versatile ST 2100 to provide backup satellite connectivity or serve as the sole communications device where cellular networks are unavailable or unreliable, including areas with high network congestion. The power-efficient device offers maximum reliability and security by allowing messages to be sent during temporary power loss. The device also includes a built-in navigation module that enables global reporting of location data to provide complete visibility for industrial IoT solutions. In addition, over-the-air satellite updates allow the ST 2100 to receive updated firmware versions without having to send a technician to the site, saving time and money to enable new features. With Orbcomm’s new device, solution providers can deliver ubiquitous and affordable dual-mode connectivity to customers, along with enhanced communication reliability, improved asset visibility and access to new markets and geographies.

“Orbcomm is continuing to focus on dual-mode innovation as a key driver to growth, and we’re pleased to launch our new ST 2100 for solution providers to cost-effectively add satellite connectivity to their IoT applications and quickly expand their market reach,” said Craig Malone, Orbcomm’s Executive Vice President of Product Development. “By leveraging Orbcomm’s strength in satellite IoT, we’ve created a robust, satellite communications device that enhances the reliability, performance and longevity of asset tracking and monitoring solutions nearly anywhere in the world.”

About Orbcomm

Orbcomm (Nasdaq: ORBC) is a global leader and innovator in the industrial Internet of Things, providing solutions that connect businesses to their assets to deliver increased visibility and operational efficiency. The company offers a broad set of asset monitoring and control solutions, including seamless satellite and cellular connectivity, unique hardware and powerful applications, all backed by end-to-end customer support, from installation to deployment to customer care. Orbcomm has a diverse customer base including premier OEMs, solutions customers and channel partners spanning transportation, supply chain, warehousing and inventory, heavy equipment, maritime, natural resources, and government.

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OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully touches asteroid

OSIRIS REx spacecraft successfully touches asteroid

(20 October 2020 – NASA) NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft unfurled its robotic arm Tuesday, and in a first for the agency, briefly touched an asteroid to collect dust and pebbles from the surface for delivery to Earth in 2023.

This well-preserved, ancient asteroid, known as Bennu, is currently more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth. If Tuesday’s sample collection event, known as “Touch-And-Go” (TAG), provided enough of a sample, mission teams will command the spacecraft to begin stowing the precious primordial cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, they will prepare for another attempt in January.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission readies itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu. (courtesy: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

“This amazing first for NASA demonstrates how an incredible team from across the country came together and persevered through incredible challenges to expand the boundaries of knowledge,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Our industry, academic, and international partners have made it possible to hold a piece of the most ancient solar system in our hands.”

At 1:50 p.m. EDT, OSIRIS-REx fired its thrusters to nudge itself out of orbit around Bennu. It extended the shoulder, then elbow, then wrist of its 11-foot (3.35-meter) sampling arm, known as the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and transited across Bennu while descending about a half-mile (805 meters) toward the surface. After a four-hour descent, at an altitude of approximately 410 feet (125 meters), the spacecraft executed the “Checkpoint” burn, the first of two maneuvers to allow it to precisely target the sample collection site, known as “Nightingale.”

Ten minutes later, the spacecraft fired its thrusters for the second “Matchpoint” burn to slow its descent and match the asteroid’s rotation at the time of contact. It then continued a treacherous, 11-minute coast past a boulder the size of a two-story building, nicknamed “Mount Doom,” to touch down in a clear spot in a crater on Bennu’s northern hemisphere. The size of a small parking lot, the site Nightingale site is one of the few relatively clear spots on this unexpectedly boulder-covered space rock.

“This was an incredible feat – and today we’ve advanced both science and engineering and our prospects for future missions to study these mysterious ancient storytellers of the solar system,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “A piece of primordial rock that has witnessed our solar system’s entire history may now be ready to come home for generations of scientific discovery, and we can’t wait to see what comes next.”

“After over a decade of planning, the team is overjoyed at the success of today’s sampling attempt,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Even though we have some work ahead of us to determine the outcome of the event – the successful contact, the TAGSAM gas firing, and back-away from Bennu are major accomplishments for the team. I look forward to analyzing the data to determine the mass of sample collected.”

All spacecraft telemetry data indicates the TAG event executed as expected. However, it will take about a week for the OSIRIS-REx team to confirm how much sample the spacecraft collected.

Real-time data indicates the TAGSAM successfully contacted the surface and fired a burst of nitrogen gas. The gas should have stirred up dust and pebbles on Bennu’s surface, some of which should have been captured in the TAGSAM sample collection head. OSIRIS-REx engineers also confirmed that shortly after the spacecraft made contact with the surface, it fired its thrusters and safely backed away from Bennu.

“Today’s TAG maneuver was historic,” said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The fact that we safely and successfully touched the surface of Bennu, in addition to all the other milestones this mission has already achieved, is a testament to the living spirit of exploration that continues to uncover the secrets of the solar system.”

“It’s hard to put into words how exciting it was to receive confirmation that the spacecraft successfully touched the surface and fired one of the gas bottles,” said Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The team can’t wait to receive the imagery from the TAG event late tonight and see how the surface of Bennu responded to the TAG event.”

The spacecraft carried out TAG autonomously, with pre-programmed instructions from engineers on Earth. Now, the OSIRIS-REx team will begin to assess whether the spacecraft grabbed any material, and, if so, how much; the goal is at least 60 grams, which is roughly equivalent to a full-size candy bar.

OSIRIS-REx engineers and scientists will use several techniques to identify and measure the sample remotely. First, they’ll compare images of the Nightingale site before and after TAG to see how much surface material moved around in response to the burst of gas.

“Our first indication of whether we were successful in collecting a sample will come on October 21 when we downlink the back-away movie from the spacecraft,” Moreau said. “If TAG made a significant disturbance of the surface, we likely collected a lot of material.”

Next, the team will try to determine the amount of sample collected. One method involves taking pictures of the TAGSAM head with a camera known as SamCam, which is devoted to documenting the sample-collection process and determining whether dust and rocks made it into the collector head. One indirect indication will be the amount of dust found around the sample collector head. OSIRIS-REx engineers also will attempt to snap photos that could, given the right lighting conditions, show the inside of the head so engineers can look for evidence of sample inside of it.

osiris 2

These images show the OSIRIS-REx Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) sampling head extended from the spacecraft at the end of the TAGSAM arm. The spacecraft’s SamCam camera captured the images on Nov. 14, 2018 as part of a visual checkout of the TAGSAM system, which was developed by Lockheed Martin Space to acquire a sample of asteroid material in a low-gravity environment. The imaging was a rehearsal for a series of observations that will be taken at Bennu directly after sample collection. (courtesy: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

A couple of days after the SamCam images are analyzed, the spacecraft will attempt yet another method to measure the mass of the sample collected by determining the change in the spacecraft’s “moment of inertia,” a phrase that describes how mass is distributed and how it affects the rotation of the body around a central axis. This maneuver entails extending the TAGSAM arm out to the side of the spacecraft and slowly spinning the spacecraft about an axis perpendicular to the arm. This technique is analogous to a person spinning with one arm extended while holding a string with a ball attached to the end. The person can sense the mass of the ball by the tension in the string. Having performed this maneuver before TAG, and now after, engineers can measure the change in the mass of the collection head as a result of the sample inside.

“We will use the combination of data from TAG and the post-TAG images and mass measurement to assess our confidence that we have collected at least 60 grams of sample,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at Goddard. “If our confidence is high, we’ll make the decision to stow the sample on October 30.”

To store the sample, engineers will command the robotic arm to place the sample collector head into the Sample Return Capsule (SRC), located in the body of the spacecraft. The sample arm will then retract to the side of the spacecraft for the final time, the SRC will close, and the spacecraft will prepare for its departure from Bennu in March 2021 — this is the next time Bennu will be properly aligned with Earth for the most fuel-efficient return flight.

If, however, it turns out that the spacecraft did not collect enough sample at Nightingale, it will attempt another TAG maneuver on Jan. 12, 2021. If that occurs, it will touch down at the backup site called “Osprey,” which is another relatively boulder-free area inside a crater near Bennu’s equator.

OSIRIS-REx launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Sept. 8, 2016. It arrived at Bennu Dec. 3, 2018, and began orbiting the asteroid for the first time on Dec. 31, 2018. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth Sept. 24, 2023, when it will parachute the SRC into Utah’s west desert where scientists will be waiting to collect it.

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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