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(4 September 2020 – NASA Goddard) NASA is preparing for the first launch of a sounding rocket since the coronavirus pandemic began in the United States.

The DUST-2 mission, which is short for the Determining Unknown yet Significant Traits-2, will carry a miniature laboratory into space, simulating how tiny grains of space dust – the raw materials of stars, planets and solar systems – form and grow. The launch window opens at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on September 8, 2020.

DUST-2, a collaboration between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, follows up on the DUST mission launched in October 2019. Like its predecessor, DUST-2 will fly on a sounding rocket, a suborbital rocket that makes a brief trip into space before falling back to Earth. Sounding rockets provide cost-effective access to space and remain one of the most efficient ways to achieve near-zero gravity, a critical requirement for the mission.

DUST-2’s goal is to study how individual atoms, shed by dying stars and supernovae, stick together. When they do, they form dust grains – some of the basic building blocks of our universe.

An artist’s concept of a protoplanetry disk surrounding a forming star that is ejecting jets of material (yellow beams). Such disks contain countless tiny dust grains, many of which become incorporated into asteroids, comets, and planets. (courtesy: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

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The DUST-2 sounding rocket on the launch rail at White Sands Missile Range. (courtesy: NASA/NSROC/Ted Gacek)

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The payload team conducting Attitude Control System phasing tests at White Sands Missile Range. From left: John Yackanech, Jesus Martinez, Ken Starr, Ted Gacek. (courtesy: NASA/NSROC/Ahmed Ghalib)

“What we’re trying to do is duplicate what happens in at least two astrophysical environments,” said principal investigator Joe Nuth, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “One is when [dust] grains form when stars die, as they blow off their outer atmospheres. The other is during the formation of solar systems, where you’re actually forming planets from the vaporized dust of star-forming clouds.”

Both environments involve atoms colliding, sticking together, and forming dust grains. But exactly how dust grains form and grow depends on many different factors. Nuth and his collaborator, Yuki Kimura of Hokkaido University in Japan, designed DUST-2 to study which factors are most important.

The refrigerator-sized mini-laboratory will launch aboard a Black Brant IX sounding rocket, reaching an altitude of about 210 miles high before beginning to fall back down to Earth. A lot happens in the next six and a half minutes. Thirty seconds into freefall, the first of its six experiments – all slight modifications of one another – kicks on. Inside a sealed chamber, a tiny filament begins to heat up. The thin coating of iron, silicon, magnesium and other particles sprayed onto the filament diffuse into the surrounding chamber. Some of these atoms will collide and stick – the beginnings of a dust grain – while others ricochet away. Each minute, another chamber turns on until the payload parachutes back to Earth for recovery.

Back in the lab, Nuth, Kimura and their teams will study the grains that formed in each of the six chambers. Hotter particles collide more often, so they will measure how grains formed differently farther or closer to the hot filament. Some elements may block one another from growing dust grains, so they will study which elements ended up in each grain. They’ll also explore a surprise finding from the DUST-1 mission: In that experiment, dust grains that formed in argon gas with a small fraction (5%) of oxygen tended to smush together more than those formed in pure argon, a non-reactive noble gas.

“Without the oxygen, the atoms were like little billiard balls that touched and stuck,” said Nuth. “But with oxygen, when the billiard balls touched, they partially merged together. That was something we didn’t suspect.”

Their hunch is that oxygen lowered the melting point of the dust grain, so that incoming particles mashed into partly molten material. To test this idea, DUST-2 removed all oxygen and replaced it with a small quantity (about 5%) of hydrogen.

“If that’s the case, we should get none of that merging with hydrogen,” Nuth said. “So we’ll see if it pans out.”

The experiment also includes a new carbon fiber heating filament for more precise control of the temperature. But the biggest difference between DUST-1 and DUST-2 is in mission operations – it’s the first sounding rocket to launch during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team has implemented many new processes in the background to ensure the launch can happen while protecting the health of the workforce.

“As we carefully evaluated each task, we developed new ways to accomplish some of our hands-on work to minimize the risk of exposure,” said John Hickman, deputy program manager for NASA’s Sounding Rockets Program.

Every four hours, the team sanitizes all surfaces and equipment. “In addition to masks we have eye protection – face shields and safety glasses,” said Eric Roper, NSROC mission manager who oversaw operations at White Sands. “We’ve worked pretty hard to develop a culture of doing these things as second nature.”

It seems to be working – even with the new precautions, launch preparations have proceeded on schedule.

“Honestly it’s going about the same pace as usual,” said Roper. “The team’s done a phenomenal job adapting to the situation.”

NASA’s Sounding Rockets Program is managed at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility, which is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA’s Heliophysics Division funds the Sounding Rockets Program for the agency.

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Bishop Airlock cycles pre-purchased by NASA and European Space Agency

Bishop Airlock cycles pre purchased by NASA and European Space Agency

(20 October 2020 – Nanoracks) Nanoracks has announced that both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have pre-purchased Bishop Airlock Cycles for agency and third-party use.

The Nanoracks Bishop Airlock, launching this Fall to the International Space Station (ISS), is the first-ever commercially built, owned, and operated airlock on the ISS and provides five times the existing payload volume currently available on station.

ESA has pre-purchased five airlock cycles, and NASA six, with an option for four additional cycles at a discounted rate.

The Nanoracks Team prepares the Bishop Airlock for final inspections at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) in October, 2020. (courtesy: Nanoracks)

“The signature of this contract is a concrete sign of the European stake in the expanding low-Earth orbit economy,” says Sylvie Espinasse, Head of the European Space Agency’s Washington DC office. “Following ESA member States’ investment in International Space Station research and development, European industry is now stepping in and forging innovative ties with US companies, which bodes very well for the future!”

“We’re thrilled to see both NASA and ESA leveraging commercially available opportunities on the Space Station,” says Nanoracks CEO Jeffrey Manber. “This is how public-private partnerships are supposed to work. Through our Space Act Agreement with NASA, we have been provided access to Node 3 where the Bishop Airlock will live. We then privately funded the Bishop Airlock, using no taxpayer funds for the hardware, and are in turn providing a service at a competitive rate to both the US and European governments, allowing the ISS to function at optimal levels of productivity.”

Some Bishop use-cases include CubeSat and MicroSat deployment, hosted payloads, microgravity and robotics experiments, Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) support, and more.

Nanoracks is continuing to expand use-case opportunities to the US government and is in discussions with NASA on multiple utilization efforts. The Bishop Airlock is allowing NASA to follow the agency goal of serving as one of many customers for commercial services in space, allowing the low-Earth orbit market to expand from beyond just government-provided products and services.

“We designed Bishop with the future in mind. We knew at the beginning that the first ideas of how to leverage this platform were just that – the first,” says Brock Howe, Bishop Airlock program manager. “But as Bishop has come to life, the ways researchers and engineers are looking at this platform are evolving and we’re excited to build out custom missions for our customers, beyond the scope in which we first imagined Bishop would be used.”

About Nanoracks

Nanoracks LLC, an XO Markets company, is the world’s leading provider of commercial space services. Nanoracks believes commercial space utilization will enable innovation through in-space manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, fiber optics – and more, allow for revolutionary Earth observation, and make space a key player in finding the solution to Earth’s problems.

Today, the company offers low-cost, high-quality solutions to the most pressing needs for satellite deployment, basic and educational research, and more – in over 30 nations worldwide. Nanoracks’ future goals are focused on the re-purposing of the upper stages of launch vehicles in-space and converting these structures into commercial habitats, both humanly and robotically tended, throughout the solar system.

XO Markets, the world’s first commercial space holding company, includes Nanoracks LLC, Nanoracks UAE, and wholly owned subsidiaries DreamUp and Nanoracks Space Outpost Europe (Nanoracks-Europe).

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Paradigm’s SWARM950 type approved for use on Inmarsat with ST Engineering iDirect 950mp

Paradigms SWARM950 type approved for use on Inmarsat with ST

(20 October 2020- Paradigm) Paradigm’s rugged carry-on SWARM950 terminal is now Type Approved on Inmarsat’s Global Xpress network, providing extreme flexibility for high throughput, secure data services around the world.

The SWARM950 is powered by the PIM providing the user with higher throughputs as a result of its enhanced power offering. With its ST Engineering iDirect 950mp modem, it also offers military grade security over both the commercial and military satellite frequencies.

(courtesy: Paradigm)

Jon Godfrey, Paradigm’s General Manager stated: “Our SWARM terminal has always outperformed other hand carry satcom terminals, now with the highly capable 950mp modem and type approval on GX it will be impossible to beat for high throughput and flexibility in every location around the world”.

The PIM in the SWARM950 is the brains behind the terminal. It provides network flexibility and intelligent operation to the user and enables the terminal to achieve the highest possible throughput in any location, as well as having the ability to operate in TRANSEC mode and being FIPS 140-2 encryption compliant, as required.

Already recognised as a low SWaP terminal, the SWARM950 provides full Mil-Ka and Ka-Band operation and can also operate in either Ku or X-band as operational requirements demand. The PIM950 is lightweight, power-efficient and industrialised to MIL-STD in order to meet the most rigorous military and government demands for mobile, tactical terminals providing security and always-on broadband capabilities.

“Adding the 950mp modem alongside a Mil-Ka capable, higher power BUC creates a highly flexible hand carry system which enables end users to use G2X Land services over Global Xpress anywhere in the world, whilst also accessing their own national MILSATCOM systems on the same device. With options to switch to other bands on the same easy to use system, this is an extremely versatile, low SWAP government user terminal” said James Marley, Sales Director, Land Sector, Inmarsat Global Government.

This flexibility of the SWARM950 is enhanced even further by the PIM terminal controller offering a simple to use interface for the modem, baseband switching, pointing and setup functions. The PIM has a built-in visual crosshair and audio pointing device so that any non-skilled user can easily operate the terminal reducing both training and operational costs. With only three parts to assemble, the SWARM950 can also be setup in under 90 secs. The PIM also supports Power over Ethernet devices and provides a multitude of services to the end user – from VLAN setup and management to smart auto-selecting of AC and DC power interfaces.

The SWARM950 will give Military and Government users operating at multiple locations all over the world the capability to achieve data, voice and video connectivity at the level they require.

“It’s essential that troops operating in harsh, challenging environments have the communications equipment that can withstand the conditions,” commented Koen Willem, Head of International Government Satcom, ST Engineering iDirect. “SWaP, security and efficiency are built into both the 950mp board and the SWARM terminal so that users can be assured of maximum uptime and throughput wherever and whenever it’s needed.”

About Paradigm

Paradigm provides state-of-the-art satcom solutions, making satellite communication simple for everyone. Military & Government, NGOs and Commercial & Enterprise customers are all supported with easy-to-use, cost-effective and state-of-the-art global satellite communication solutions.

Paradigm has extensive engineering experience designing, manufacturing and delivering customised satellite terminals and earth stations for a wide range of industries and sectors, developing close relationships with customers, and giving valuable insight into their key requirements.

Paradigm is a UK-based, independent and privately owned company with Europe’s largest satcom warehouse. Incorporating an extensive logistics capability, Paradigm is able to deliver extremely efficient and cost-effective global services and unique solutions, from the provision of satcom equipment and terminals to the design and installation of complete turnkey systems.

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Thales Alenia Space selected by Airbus as partner to the Mars Sample Return Mission

Thales Alenia Space selected by Airbus as partner to the

(14 October 2020 – Thales) Thales Alenia Space has signed an Authorization To Proceed (ATP) with Airbus Defence and Space, prime contractor of the program, to contribute to the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), the key element of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) Mission, which will be carried out through an international cooperation led by NASA.

A first tranche, worth around €11 million, will be related to the B2 phase for a global contract value of around €130 million.

(courtesy: ESA)

Thales Alenia Space will be responsible for:

  • supplying the Communication System, consisting of the elements allowing the data transmission between Earth and ERO and Mars
  • designing the crucial Orbit Insertion Module (OIM) and related thermo-mechanical, propulsion and electrical architectures
  • the Assembly Integration and Test (AIT) phase for the Proto-Flight model of the ERO Spacecraft composing elements in its test facilities of Turin and Toulouse.

The Earth Return Orbiter spacecraft is composed by the Return Module and the Orbit Insertion Module. The Return Module (RM) hosts the NASA payload devoted to the capture of the Martian samples orbiting around Mars, of their containment and delivery to Earth. The Orbit Insertion Module (OIM) is an additional chemical propulsive stage, for inserting the spacecraft into Mars orbit. This module is crucial as he will allow to reduce the spacecraft velocity enabling the Martian gravity to capture ERO in a stable orbit. After the maneuver successfully completed, IOM will be separated from RM in order to save mass prior to the return to Earth.

Hervé Derrey, CEO of Thales Alenia Space stated: “We are enthusiastic to be part of the core team on this revolutionary mission of bringing Mars to Earth, that will open a new frontier in Mars exploration missions. Mars Sample Return has an immense scientific importance, that could lead to new findings regarding Martian geology, climate and life itself. Our involvement in this new mission is not only reflecting our Space for Life aspiration but will take advantage of all we already have developed in term of technologies including the planetary protection duty.”

Massimo Claudio Comparini, Senior Executive Vice President Observation, Exploration and Navigation at Thales Alenia Space, added: “Thales Alenia Space will bring its expertise in the Mars exploration domain, leading the ExoMars 2016 and 2022 missions to search for life on the Red Planet. The Trace Gas Orbiter launched in 2016 in orbit around Mars is analyzing the Martian atmosphere before becoming the communication relay for all the upcoming missions landing on Mars”.

Leonardo is also widely involved in Mars exploration missions, from the ExoMars 2016 and 2022 missions to the Mars Sample Return program. On this latter program, Leonardo is studying and designing the two robotic arms that will collect and transfer the Martian samples on the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV).

About the Mars Sample Return mission

By 2031, the Mars Sample Return mission will collect in situ Mars surface samples and bring them back for study in terrestrial laboratories. Firstly, the MSR Sample Retrieval Lander will descend to the planet’s surface carrying the Sample Fetch Rover (SFR) and the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). SFR will collect the samples from the Martian surface that have been cached by the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and the SFR will transfer these samples into Mars Ascent Vehicle, a mini-rocket developed by NASA, which will launch them into Mars orbit. In that moment, the ERO spacecraft, that will be launched in 2026, will be ready to locate and capture the samples released by the MAV. After the capture, the samples will then be sealed in a biological containment system and placed inside an Earth Entry Vehicle. ERO will then leave Martian orbit and head back to Earth. When it arrives back in Earth orbit, it will release the Earth Entry vehicle that will be recovered on ground and the sample analyzed.

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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