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(8 October 2020 – ESA) The qualification model of the P120C motor configured for Ariane 6, has been static fired on the test stand at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana in a final test to prove its readiness for flight.

Advanced features make this new motor a pivotal achievement of European industry. It is an example of innovative thinking and optimisation that allows Europe to equip two very different launch vehicles with the same solid rocket motor.

Depending on the configuration, two or four P120C boosters will be strapped onto the sides of the future Ariane 6 heavy-lift rocket, the P120C will also serve as the first stage of the smaller Vega-C launch vehicle.

This huge P120C motor was filled with 142 tonnes of solid propellant inside its 13.5 m long and 3.4 m diameter casing and was moved from the integration building to the dedicated stand used for testing solid propulsion stages.

After ignition it burned for 130 seconds, delivering a maximum thrust of about 4500 kN simulating liftoff and the first phase of flight. No anomalies were seen and, according to initial recorded data, the performance met expectations. A full analysis of these test results and inspection of all components will confirm readiness of this motor for the debut launch of Ariane 6.

P120C motor for Ariane 6 transfer to test stand (courtesy: ESA)

“This firing of the P120C motor paves the way for its use on Ariane 6. It is proof of the hard work and dedication of all the teams involved who have made this test possible despite the COVID-19 crisis. This accomplishes an important milestone towards flight,” commented Stefano Bianchi, Head of Space Transportation Development at ESA.

Avio in Italy built this motor case in one piece by winding carbon-fibre composite for a strong and rigid lightweight shell casing. ArianeGroup in France developed the advanced P120C nozzle, while Nammo in Norway provided the igniter. The propellant was cast by Regulus in French Guiana. Advanced manufacturing techniques have been incorporated by Europropulsion in horizontal robotic integration of the nozzle too. Efficient production methods have shortened production cycles and optimised costs.

Europropulsion built three models of the P120C for testing: a development model (DM) configured for Vega-C; a first qualification model (QM1) also configured for Vega-C; and a second qualification model (QM2) configured for Ariane 6.

This hot firing of QM2 is the third and final test of the P120C. It follows the test of the development model in July 2018 and the first qualification model in January 2019.

The test stand was modified with some specific mechanical and avionics adaptations for the Ariane 6 configuration. This test aimed to observe increased performance characterised by a higher burning rate in a shorter combustion time than in the DM and QM1 motors.

The environmental impacts of every P120C test are measured in a similar way to any launch. Air quality and water pollution are checked in real time around the test bench, in the cities of Kourou and Sinnamary, and at launch observation sites. The measurements are then analysed by the Institut Pasteur.

All measurements on this test so far, indicate an extremely low impact on the ecosystem. This is also thanks to the strict meteorological constraints on wind speed at sea level and at certain altitudes, and the required absence of rain.

Completion of this test is an important achievement and maintains the development schedule for Ariane 6 and Vega-C. The ‘Ground Qualification Review 2’ of all the data collected will finally confirm this motor is qualified for use on Ariane 6.

Ariane 6 will extend Europe’s capabilities to independently access space and offer more opportunities for the commercial and institutional market worldwide while reducing costs.

ESA, France’s CNES space agency, and Europropulsion which is jointly owned by Avio and ArianeGroup, collaborated on this test.

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Intellian launches C700 Iridium Certus maritime terminal

Intellian launches C700 Iridium Certus maritime terminal

(27 October 2020 – Intellian) Intellian has launched its C700 Iridium Certus maritime terminal, one of the most powerful and technically advanced Iridium Certus terminal on the market.

With its best-in-class RF performance, the C700 can deliver out-of-the-box uplink speeds of 352kbps and downlink speeds of 704kbps by default, with equally impressive low-elevation-angle RF efficiency thanks to its unique 12-patch phased array antenna technology. It will support three high-quality, low-latency phone lines simultaneously; and as a solid-state antenna with no moving parts inside, the C700 is especially robust, requiring no scheduled maintenance over its lifetime.

C700 Iridium Certus maritime terminal (courtesy: Intellian)

The advanced performance of the C700 provides customers across all markets with the flexibility to deploy it as the primary communication antenna or as a companion to a VSAT system for seamless redundancy. For primary communications, the Below Deck Unit (BDU) incorporates key features which make it ready to deploy without additional cost, including firewall, IP PBX, WAN port and built-in Wi-Fi. Hardware and software functions such as these, incorporated into the system, make the C700 the most powerful, feature-rich L-band solution on the market, delivering best in class performance and functionality. The innate stability and reliable connectivity afforded by the C700 also make it an ideal platform for future safety services, including the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

The C700 delivers installation efficiency both through the product design and the commissioning process. The BDU, weighing approximately 1.2kg, is available as a standalone bulkhead mount system or a 19” all-in-one rack-mount version. With its small, lightweight and space-saving form factor, the C700 can be carried on board by just one technician or crew member for rapid and low-cost installation. Once the C700 is installed, the built-in, user-friendly AptusLX software enhances the commissioning and setup experience of customers and partners.

Wouter Deknopper, Vice President and General Manager of Maritime, Iridium, observes: “Many vessel owners and operators may decide against VSAT for budgetary reasons, lack of deck space or the absence of adequate coverage on their voyage routes, so Iridium Certus is ideal as a primary means of communication, supported by the ease of upgrading to the C700 from an existing system.

“Iridium Certus also excels as a VSAT companion, combining the benefits of LEO with GEO, and L-band with Ku-band. VSAT can suffer from certain degradations and also isn’t global. That’s where you need a strong hybrid system, and Intellian of course is a highly respected manufacturer of maritime VSAT antennas and the new C700, so it is in a strong position to offer a very competitive turnkey hybrid package on the market. The flexibility of the airtime packages Iridium and our partners offer for Intellian customers is also an essential consideration in such uncertain times for the shipping industry and beyond.”

L-band is particularly resistant to rain fade and other forms of atmospheric interference, and the C700’s 12-element antenna arrangement is designed to supply rapid and efficient tracking performance, leading to optimal high-speed data and voice connections. Troels Christensen, Product Manager, EMEA, Intellian, explains: “The signal stability is exceptional even on fast boats or smaller vessels in rough seas, where you may experience heavy pitch and roll.”

An attractive proposition for crew communications with its multiple high-quality voice lines, the C700 is also protected with Intellian’s international support and service network infrastructure, and comes with a three-year warranty for parts and labor. “The fact that it can be retrofitted by reusing a vessel’s old mast mount, cables and power supply saves additional time and money,” adds Mr. Christensen. “There’s no need for extra boxes, there are no hidden costs, and Iridium Certus provides truly global coverage, even at the poles, so the C700 is an L-band innovation that pays ample dividends not just for smaller vessels, but right across the board.”

Eric Sung, CEO, Intellian Technologies, concludes: “We’re delighted to partner with Iridium and believe our C700 is a great addition to our innovative maritime product portfolio. The new C700 antenna is a great choice for multiple customer segments, delivering an affordable solution which leads the market in speed and functionality.”

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International consortium adds hyperspectral imaging and communication payloads to NanoAvionics’ rideshare mission named D-2/AtlaCom-1

International consortium adds hyperspectral imaging and communication payloads to NanoAvionics

(23 October 2020 – NanoAvionics) NanoAvionics has revealed the remaining three payloads of its ‘D-2/AtlaCom-1’ rideshare mission hosted on board its M6P 6U nanosatellite bus.

The additional payloads, a camera for hyperspectral remote sensing, a new high-gain X-band antenna and an upgraded X-Band downlink transmitter, are all part of an international collaboration by an international consortium and its partners called “HyperActive”.

The consortium partners for this international collaboration comprise Dragonfly Aerospace (South Africa), Space JLTZ (Mexico) and NanoAvionics US as a supplier to the consortium, as well as mission contributors Polytechnical University of Atlacomulco (Mexico), and CubeCom (South Africa). Expected to launch in mid-2021, the primary aim of the HyperActive program is a flight demonstration of the hyperspectral imaging and communication payloads. The secondary aim is to evaluate market interest for hyperspectral imaging data captured and processed as part of the program.

Within this collaboration, NanoAvionics will act as the supplier to the HyperActive consortium, taking care of all aspects related to the satellite mission including among others payload integration, performance testing, spacecraft registration and logistics, frequency allocation and payload on-orbit operations.

NanoAvionics engineer preparing 6U satellite for functional tests. (courtesy: NanoAvionics)

“This program shows how important international collaboration can be to the NewSpace sector and how it enables low barrier entry for space data businesses,” said F. Brent Abbott, CEO of NanoAvionics US, “I’m very proud that NanoAvionics is part of this effort as well as stimulating education development and contributing to global social benefits such as ocean and agricultural monitoring. NanoAvionics also values its role as a strategic ally for space development in Mexico.”

A key instrument of the program is the “Mantis imager”, a hyperspectral camera for remote sensing developed by Dragonfly Aerospace, based in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The Mantis imager has an additional unique software capability allowing it to combine any of the available 148 hyperspectral bands into customizable multispectral bands as required for an individual imaging session – essentially a “software defined” camera. To capture these hyperspectral bands, the camera features a 16-meter native ground sample distance (GSD) and a hyperspectral resolution of 32 meters. Dragonfly Aerospace will also provide an X-band data download ground station for the mission. The high-gain X-band antenna and transmitter to send the data back to Earth, are products of the consortium’s partner CubeCom.

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Mantis Imager (courtesy: Dragonfly Aerospace)

“The team at Dragonfly Aerospace is excited to be working with these great partners on this mission,” said Bryan Dean, CEO of Dragonfly Aerospace. “It fits very well with our plans to team up with leading satellite bus and image processing partners to provide compelling solutions to end users. The Mantis imager is the latest addition to our range of cost-effective hyperspectral imagers which also includes the Chameleon imager that we delivered for flight earlier this year.”

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OSIRIS-REx spacecraft goes for early stow of asteroid sample

OSIRIS REx spacecraft goes for early stow of asteroid sample

(26 October 2020 – NASA) NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is ready to perform an early stow on Tuesday, Oct. 27, of the large sample it collected last week from the surface of the asteroid Bennu to protect and return as much of the sample as possible.

On Oct. 22, the OSIRIS-REx mission team received images that showed the spacecraft’s collector head overflowing with material collected from Bennu’s surface – well over the two-ounce (60-gram) mission requirement – and that some of these particles appeared to be slowly escaping from the collection head, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM).

A mylar flap on the TAGSAM allows material to easily enter the collector head, and should seal shut once the particles pass through. However, larger rocks that didn’t fully pass through the flap into the TAGSAM appear to have wedged this flap open, allowing bits of the sample to leak out.

Because the first sample collection event was so successful, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has given the mission team the go-ahead to expedite sample stowage, originally scheduled for Nov. 2, in the spacecraft’s Sample Return Capsule (SRC) to minimize further sample loss.

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft stowing the sample it collected from asteroid Bennu on Oct. 20, 2020. The spacecraft will use its Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm to place the TAGSAM collector head into the Sample Return Capsule (SRC). (courtesy: NASA/University of Arizona, Tucson)

“The abundance of material we collected from Bennu made it possible to expedite our decision to stow,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “The team is now working around the clock to accelerate the stowage timeline, so that we can protect as much of this material as possible for return to Earth.”

Unlike other spacecraft operations where OSIRIS-REx autonomously runs through an entire sequence, stowing the sample is done in stages and requires the team’s oversight and input. The team will send the preliminary commands to the spacecraft to start the stow sequence and, once OSIRIS-REx completes each step in sequence, the spacecraft sends telemetry and images back to the team on Earth and waits for the team’s confirmation to proceed with the next step.

Signals currently take just over 18.5 minutes to travel between Earth and the spacecraft one-way, so each step of the sequence factors in about 37 minutes of communications transit time. Throughout the process, the mission team will continually assess the TAGSAM’s wrist alignment to ensure the collector head is properly placed in the SRC. A new imaging sequence also has been added to the process to observe the material escaping from the collector head and verify that no particles hinder the stowage process. The mission anticipates the entire stowage process will take multiple days, at the end of which the sample will be safely sealed in the SRC for the spacecraft’s journey back to Earth.

“I’m proud of the OSIRIS-REx team’s amazing work and success to this point,” said NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen. “This mission is well positioned to return a historic and substantial sample of an asteroid to Earth, and they’ve been doing all the right things, on an expedited timetable, to protect that precious cargo.”

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. The University of Arizona, Tucson leads 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, in Tempe, Arizona, 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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