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(22 September 2020 – NRAO) The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has joined a new NASA space mission to the far side of the Moon to investigate when the first stars began to form in the early universe.

Artist illustration of the Dark Ages Polarimetry Pathfinder (DAPPER), which will look for faint radio signals from the early universe while operating in a low lunar orbit. Its specialized radio receiver and high-frequency antenna are currently being developed by NRAO. (courtesy: NRAO/AUI/NSF, Sophia Dagnello)

The universe was dark and foggy during its “dark ages,” just 380 thousand years after the Big Bang. There were no light-producing structures yet like stars and galaxies, only large clouds of hydrogen gas. As the universe expanded and started to cool down, gravity drove the formation of the stars and black holes, which ended the dark ages and initiated the “cosmic dawn,” tens of millions of years later.

To learn more about that dark period of the cosmos and understand how and when the first stars began to form, astronomers are trying to catch energy produced by these hydrogen clouds in the form of radio waves, via the so-called 21-centimeter line.

But picking up signals from the early universe is extremely challenging. They are mostly blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere, or drowned out by human-generated radio transmissions. That’s why a team of scientists and engineers have decided to send a small spacecraft to lunar orbit and measure this signal while traversing the far side of the Moon, which is radio-quiet.

The spacecraft, called the Dark Ages Polarimetry Pathfinder (DAPPER), will be designed to look for faint radio signals from the early universe while operating in a low lunar orbit. Its specialized radio receiver and high-frequency antenna are currently being developed by a team at the NRAO’s Central Development Laboratory (CDL) in Charlottesville, Virginia, led by senior research engineer Richard Bradley.

“No radio telescope on Earth is currently able to definitively measure and confirm the very faint neutral hydrogen signal from the early universe, because there are so many other signals that are much brighter,” said Bradley. “At CDL we are developing specialized techniques that enhance the measurement process used by DAPPER to help us separate the faint signal from all the noise.” This project builds upon the work of Marian Pospieszalski who developed flight-ready low noise amplifiers at the CDL in the 1990s for the highly-successful Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), a spacecraft that gave the most precise figure yet for the age of the universe.

DAPPER will be part of the NASA Artemis program with the goal of landing “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon by 2024. It will likely be launched from the vicinity of the Lunar Gateway, the planned space station in lunar orbit intended to serve as a communication hub and science laboratory. Because it is able to piggy-back off of the surging interest in sending humans to lunar soil, DAPPER will be much cheaper to build and more compact than a full-scale NASA mission.

NRAO will spend the coming two years designing and developing a prototype for the DAPPER receiver, after which it will go to the Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley for space environmental testing.

“NRAO is very pleased to be working on this important initiative,” said Tony Beasley, director of the NRAO and Associated Universities Inc. vice president for Radio Astronomy Operations. “DAPPER’s contributions to the success of NASA’s ARTEMIS mission will build on the rapid growth of space-based radio astronomy research we’ve seen over the past decade. As the leading radio astronomy organization in the world, NRAO always looks for new horizons, and DAPPER is the start of an exciting field.”

DAPPER is a collaboration between the universities of Colorado-Boulder and California-Berkeley, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Bradford Space Inc., and the NASA Ames Research Center. Jack Burns of the University of Colorado Boulder is Principal Investigator and Science Team Chair. Project website for DAPPER.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

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Most advanced SBIRS missile warning satellite ready for 2021 launch

Most advanced SBIRS missile warning satellite ready for 2021 launch

(2 December 2020 – Lockheed Martin) Lockheed Martin today announced the U.S. Space Force has determined the fifth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite (SBIRS GEO-5) is complete and ready for launch in 2021.

Built in a record time and at no additional cost to the government for the upgrade, SBIRS GEO-5 is the first military space satellite built on the company’s modernized, modular LM 2100 combat bus. SBIRS GEO-6, launching in 2022, is also being built on the new bus designed for speed and resilience.

Lockheed Martin’s SBIRS GEO-5 satellite, the first military space satellite built on a modernized LM 2100 combat bus, built in record speed, is ready for a 2021 launch. (courtesy: Lockheed Martin)

“SBIRS’ role as an ever-present, on-orbit guardian against global ballistic missile threats has never been more critical,” said Tom McCormick, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Systems. “In 2019 alone, SBIRS detected nearly one thousand missile launches, which is about a two-fold increase in two years.”

“Completing the production of a complex missile-warning satellite during the challenging COVID environment is a huge accomplishment and is a testament to Lockheed Martin’s professionalism and dedication to the security of our Nation,” said Capt. Alec Cook, Space and Missile Systems Center’s SBIRS GEO-5/6 Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations lead.

Both SBIRS GEO-5 and GEO-6 are slated to join the U.S. Space Force’s constellation of missile warning satellites, equipped with powerful scanning and staring infrared surveillance sensors, which protect our nation 24-7. These sensors collect data that allow the U.S. military to detect missile launches, support ballistic missile defense, expand technical intelligence gathering and bolster situational awareness on the battlefield.

SBIRS GEO-5 was officially completed on Oct. 29, 2020.

LM 2100 Bus: Focuses on Speed and Resiliency

The LM 2100 bus is the result of a Lockheed Martin internally-funded, multi-year modernization initiative. It is designed to provide greater resiliency and cyber-hardening; enhanced spacecraft power, propulsion and electronics; common components and procedures to streamline manufacturing; and a flexible design that reduces the cost to incorporate future, modernized sensor suites.

“We added even further enhanced resiliency features to the LM 2100 to create an initial ‘combat bus’ for the Space Force. SBIRS GEO-5 has proven itself a valuable incremental step towards achieving the resilient missile warning that will be provided by the Next Gen OPIR Block 0 System, the follow-on to SBIRS,” added McCormick.

In June 2015, the Air Force agreed to rebaseline SBIRS GEO-5 and GEO-6 to upgrade both satellites to Lockheed Martin’s modernized LM 2100 bus at no additional cost. From that point, SBIRS GEO-5 was completed in approximately five years, in line with the government’s need to increase production speed and address emerging threats, and still supporting the government’s original 2021 launch date.

Besides SBIRS GEO-5 and GEO-6, the LM 2100 space vehicle is the baseline for three Next Gen OPIR Block 0 GEO satellites expecting to launch starting in 2025; and the future GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) satellites, which are expected to launch starting in 2026.

Lockheed Martin is proud to be part of the SBIRS team led by the Production Corps, Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Division, at the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California. Lockheed Martin Space, Sunnyvale, California, is the SBIRS prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Azusa, California, as the payload integrator.

About Lockheed Martin

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 110,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

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EM Solutions secures second L3Harris order

EM Solutions secures second L3Harris order

(3 December 2020 – EM Solutions) EM Solutions has recently received a second order to supply its Ka-band transceivers for the L3Harris Technologies Panther II Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT).

The new contract, valued at more than $US2M, will deliver over 100 Ka-band transceivers to L3Harris across the first half of 2021.

Ka band transceiver (courtesy: EM Solutions)

EM Solutions CEO Dr Rowan Gilmore, said “We are delighted to have been chosen as the exclusive provider of our latest broadband Ka-band transceivers into the new Panther II program. These transceivers build further upon our core technology that has been supplied over recent years into numerous maritime, airborne and land mobile systems. Based on the latest GaN technology, they cover both the military Ka-band spectrum and commercial Ka-band as well.”

Jerry Adams, general manager of VSAT for L3Harris, said “L3Harris and EM Solutions have been working for several years to perfect a transceiver that had the right size and weight for the Panther II terminal, yet was powerful enough to meet the tough WGS satellite certifications. The new transceiver fits the bill perfectly.”

Adams continued “We are pleased that our collaboration with EM Solutions has yielded such great results, so that our Panther II manpack terminal will remain at the forefront of military satellite communications, globally. The Panther II terminal is the smallest physical terminal in use by the Marines. It can be carried as a manpack and set up by an individual within 10 minutes.”

The contract award to EM Solutions follows an earlier order to supply 50 transceivers that are already being delivered to L3Harris.

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Contract signed for new Copernicus ROSE-L mission

Contract signed for new Copernicus ROSE L mission

(3 December 2020 – ESA) ESA and Thales Alenia Space have today signed a contract to develop the new high-priority Copernicus Radar Observation System for Europe in L-band (ROSE-L) environmental monitoring mission – as part of Europe’s Copernicus programme.

The contract was signed in the presence of Riccardo Fraccaro, Undersecretary of the Italian Prime Minister’s Office, and ESA’s Director General, Jan Wörner.

With launch planned in 2028, ROSE-L will provide continuous day-and-night all-weather monitoring of Earth’s land, oceans and ice, and offer frequent images at a high spatial resolution.

During its 7.5-year lifetime, the ROSE-L mission will realise new information that cannot be gathered by existing satellites or through other means. ROSE-L will deliver essential information on forests and land cover, leading to improved monitoring of the terrestrial carbon cycle and carbon accounting.

The mission will also greatly extend our ability to monitor minute surface displacements and helping detect geohazards. It will automatically map surface soil moisture conditions and monitor sea and land ice, greatly helping climate change research and mitigation.

Radar Observation System for Europe in L-band (ROSE-L) (courtesy: Thales Alenia Space)

From its 690 km polar orbit, ROSE-L will carry an active phased array synthetic aperture radar instrument. The radar antenna will be the largest planar antenna ever built measuring an impressive 11 metres by 3.6 metres – roughly the size of 10 ping-pong tables.

With a contract secured worth €482 million, Thales Alenia Space in Italy is the prime contractor for the mission, with Airbus Defence and Space in Germany responsible for the radar instrument. The industrial team includes 29 companies (including 15 SME’s) from 15 countries.

ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, said, “I am extremely glad to sign the ROSE-L contract today. ROSE-L will not only complement the radar capabilities of the current Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, but will also provide a new set of measurements of vegetation, ice and ocean parameters. It will be a key satellite mission to better understand climate change and simulate its impact on humankind.”

The European Commission’s Director-General for Defence Industry and Space, Timo Pesonen, commented, “We are happy to see the signature of the ROSE-L contract today. Its features are expected to respond to several needs we have identified in particular in land management and in ocean monitoring. We look forward to welcoming ROSE-L in the Copernicus Constellation.”

The contract for ROSE-L is the last of the six new high-priority candidate missions to be signed. The six Copernicus high-priority Sentinel Expansion missions are planned to complement the current capabilities of the Sentinels and address EU policy priorities and gaps in Copernicus user needs.

The European Copernicus flagship programme provides Earth observation and in situ data, as well as a broad range of services for environmental monitoring and protection, climate monitoring and natural disaster assessment to improve the quality of life of European citizens.

Copernicus is the biggest provider of Earth observation data in the world – and while the EU is at the helm of this environmental monitoring programme, ESA develops, builds and launches the dedicated satellites. It also operates some of the missions and ensures the availability of data from third party missions.

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