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(17 September 2020 – ESA) While on Earth, satellites are kept in immaculate cleanrooms to protect their instruments from harmful dust particles.

If those instruments fail to function properly in space, however, it could be because of particle contamination during launch. Now a British company has developed a device to identify whether this is the case.

Following successful trials of a prototype sensor, space-tech company XCAM is working with ESA to develop a flight-ready device that monitors dust contamination on payloads during and shortly after launch.

The device will provide data to demonstrate whether or not precious cargos – such as Earth-observing satellites – stay clean on their way into space.

XCAM’s prototype monitoring device (courtesy: ESA)

Payloads are protected from the elements within a secure capsule in the upper part of launcher called the fairing. Once outside the Earth’s atmosphere, the fairing separates, exposing its contents to space.

Cleanrooms protect spaceborne equipment from contamination during assembly, but vibrations and shocks during launch may shake up residues in the fairing that can affect how the payload operates.

Dust particles can contaminate optical surfaces, such as those found on Earth-observing satellites, as well as affecting the performance of sensitive mechanical equipment.

XCAM’s sensor keeps track of contamination remotely to provide continuous measurements in real-time.

The company is now working with ESA to develop a device that will be used in the fairing of the European Vega-C launcher. The gadget must be able to withstand the mechanical loads of launch such as acoustics and vibrations – and then survive in space for long enough to relay data back to Earth for analysis.

It will enable satellite launchers to provide evidence to their customers that payloads are kept spotless on their way into orbit.

“It was fantastic for XCAM to work on such an exciting project with ESA at the prototype stage, but to have been able to go beyond that, and win the contract to develop the flight qualified system is even better,” says Karen Holland, chief executive of XCAM.

“Following these achievements, XCAM has recently received several highly prestigious awards nominations for our work in the field of digital imaging systems. As a very small company of just 15 people, we are very pleased to be recognised by the awards judges.”

“Because of the very peculiar contamination mechanisms it presents, and the lack of monitoring inside the fairing, the launch phase is somewhat of an unresolved question for contamination engineers – which makes control of particulate very challenging,” says Riccardo Rampini, technical officer for the XCAM project.

“With the development of a novel sensor capable of operating before and during launch, which will provide real-time information on the particulate inside the fairing of a launcher, ESA will soon provide a solution to this problem.”

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Impact craters reveal details of Titan’s dynamic surface weathering

Impact craters reveal details of Titans dynamic surface weathering

(29 October 2020 – JPL) Scientists have used data from NASA’s Cassini mission to delve into the impact craters on the surface of Titan, revealing more detail than ever before about how the craters evolve and how weather drives changes on the surface of Saturn’s mammoth moon.

Like Earth, Titan has a thick atmosphere that acts as a protective shield from meteoroids; meanwhile, erosion and other geologic processes efficiently erase craters made by meteoroids that do reach the surface. The result is far fewer impacts and craters than on other moons. Even so, because impacts stir up what lies beneath and expose it, Titan’s impact craters reveal a lot.

This composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn’s moon Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, captured in 2015. Several places on the image, visible through the moon’s hazy atmosphere, show more detail because those areas were acquired near closest approach. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho (courtesy: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho)

The new examination showed that they can be split into two categories: those in the fields of dunes around Titan’s equator and those in the vast plains at midlatitudes (between the equatorial zone and the poles). Their location and their makeup are connected: The craters among the dunes at the equator consist completely of organic material, while craters in the midlatitude plains are a mix of organic materials, water ice, and a small amount of methane-like ice.

From there, scientists took the connections a step further and found that craters actually evolve differently, depending on where they lie on Titan.

Some of the new results reinforce what scientists knew about the craters – that the mixture of organic material and water ice is created by the heat of impact, and those surfaces are then washed by methane rain. But while researchers found that cleaning process happening in the midlatitude plains, they discovered that it’s not happening in the equatorial region; instead, those impact areas are quickly covered by a thin layer of sand sediment.

That means Titan’s atmosphere and weather aren’t just shaping the surface of Titan; they’re also driving a physical process that affects which materials remain exposed at the surface, the authors found.

“The most exciting part of our results is that we found evidence of Titan’s dynamic surface hidden in the craters, which has allowed us to infer one of the most complete stories of Titan’s surface evolution scenario to date,” said Anezina Solomonidou, a research fellow at ESA (European Space Agency) and the lead author of the new study. “Our analysis offers more evidence that Titan remains a dynamic world in the present day.”

Unveiling Secrets

The new work, published recently in Astronomy & Astrophysics, used data from visible and infrared instruments aboard the Cassini spacecraft, which operated between 2004 and 2017 and conducted more than 120 flybys of the Mercury-size moon.

“Locations and latitudes seem to unveil many of Titan’s secrets, showing us that the surface is actively connected with atmospheric processes and possibly with internal ones,” Solomonidou said.

Scientists are eager to learn more about Titan’s potential for astrobiology, which is the study of the origins and evolution of life in the universe. Titan is an ocean world, with a sea of water and ammonia under its crust. And as scientists look for pathways for organic material to travel from the surface to the ocean underneath, impact craters offer a unique window into the subsurface.

The new research also found that one impact site, called Selk Crater, is completely covered with organics and untouched by the rain process that cleans the surface of other craters. Selk is in fact a target of NASA’s Dragonfly mission, set to launch in 2027; the rotorcraft-lander will investigate key astrobiology questions as it searches for biologically important chemistry similar to early Earth before life emerged.

NASA got its first close-up encounter with Titan some 40 years ago, on Nov. 12, 1980, when the agency’s Voyager 1 spacecraft flew by at a range of just 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers). Voyager images showed a thick, opaque atmosphere, and data revealed that liquid might be present on the surface (it was – in the form of liquid methane and ethane), and indicated that prebiotic chemical reactions might be possible on Titan.

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Cassini was an orbiter that observed Saturn for more than 13 years before exhausting its fuel supply. The mission plunged it into the planet’s atmosphere in September 2017, in part to protect moons that have the potential of holding conditions suitable for life.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA, and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed, and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

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Jerry Welsh new CEO of ICEYE US, ramping up US manufacturing and operations

Jerry Welsh new CEO of ICEYE US ramping up US

(29 October 2020 – ICEYE) ICEYE today announced that Jerry Welsh, who joined ICEYE in 2017 as COO/CFO, will take on the CEO role for ICEYE US.

Welsh, an operations and technology expert who specializes in scale-up strategy recently oversaw the completion of ICEYE’s $87 million Series C financing. He will lead a team focused on deploying capital to scale operations and serve the needs of US customers.

Jerry Welsh, CEO of ICEYE US (courtesy: ICEYE)

“2020 has been an incredible year for ICEYE,” said Welsh, CEO of ICEYE US. “I am looking forward to broadening our footprint and deepening our impact in the US. Our next steps include expanding teams on East and West coasts, creating US production facilities, and developing a US satellite operations center. We will continue to champion the revolutionary value of SAR technologies to US government and commercial markets.”

ICEYE, which has raised a total of $152 million in funding to date, has big plans for continued growth through the rest of 2020 and into 2021. The company successfully launched two radar imaging satellites last month and is on track to launch additional satellites by the end of the year. ICEYE is planning to deploy eight additional satellites in 2021, including spacecraft manufactured and launched in the United States.

“Jerry has been an incredible asset to the ICEYE team for several years and will build upon our solid foundation in the US,” said Rafal Modrzewski, CEO and co-founder of ICEYE. “We are thankful to Dr. Mark Matossian for his prior leadership in helping ICEYE accomplish our initial phase for US growth.”

The US organization is further strengthened by the addition of Eric Jensen, who departs Boeing’s satellite division as an industry leader in US government solutions. With over a decade of experience in aerospace engineering, sales, and product strategy, Jensen will focus on delivering ICEYE’s unique capabilities to US customers.

“It is an honor to be joining ICEYE at such an exciting time for the company,” said Jensen, President, ICEYE US. “ICEYE continues to demonstrate leadership in the commercial SAR segment with a growing constellation, a robust product portfolio, and validation by customers worldwide. In the US, we will build upon the trust earned among key adopters to offer imagery, ground station services, value-added analytics and dedicated spacecraft missions. I am privileged to help catalyze the company’s growth in the service of our US customer base.”

About ICEYE

ICEYE is building and operating its own commercial constellation of radar imaging satellites, with SAR data available to global customers since 2018. With the company’s unique satellite constellation capabilities, ICEYE empowers others to make better decisions in governmental and commercial industries. The company is tackling a tremendous global need for timely and reliable information, with world-first aerospace capabilities and a New Space approach. ICEYE’s radar satellite imaging service, designed to deliver very frequent coverage, both day and night, helps clients resolve challenges in sectors such as maritime, disaster management, insurance, and finance.

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OSIRIS-REx In the midst of sample stowage

OSIRIS REx In the midst of sample stowage

(28 October 2020 – NASA Goddard) Yesterday, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission successfully placed the spacecraft’s sample collector head into its Sample Return Capsule (SRC).

(courtesy: NASA)

The first image shows the collector head hovering over the SRC after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The second image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. Both images were captured by the StowCam camera.

Today, after the head was seated into the SRC’s capture ring, the spacecraft performed a “backout check,” which commanded the TAGSAM arm to back out of the capsule. This maneuver is designed to tug on the collector head and ensure that the latches – which keep the collector head in place – are well secured. Following the test, the mission team received telemetry confirming that the head is properly secured in the SRC.

Before the sampler head can be sealed into the SRC, two mechanical parts on the TAGSAM arm must first be disconnected – these are the tube that carried the nitrogen gas to the TAGSAM head during sample collection and the TAGSAM arm itself. Over the next several hours, the mission team will command the spacecraft to cut the tube and separate the collector head from the TAGSAM arm. Once the team confirms these activities have executed as planned, they will command the spacecraft to seal the SRC.

StowCam, a color imager, is one of three cameras comprising TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System), which is part of OSIRIS-REx’s guidance, navigation, and control system. TAGCAMS was designed, built and tested by Malin Space Science Systems; Lockheed Martin integrated TAGCAMS to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and operates TAGCAMS.

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