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(21 November 2020 – ESA) The Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite has been launched into orbit around Earth on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Using the latest radar altimetry technology, this new satellite is set to provide a new overview of ocean topography and advance the long-term record of sea-surface height measurements that began in 1992 – measurements that are essential for climate science, for policy-making and, ultimately, for protecting the lives of millions at risk of sea-level rise.

Carrying the 1.2 tonne Sentinel-6 satellite, the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, US, at 17:17 GMT (18:17 CET, 09:17 PST) on 21 November. The satellite was delivered into orbit just under an hour after liftoff and contact was established at the ground station in Alaska at 19:49 CET.

Launch of the Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (courtesy: ESA)

ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, said, “I’m extremely proud to have seen Copernicus Sentinel-6 liftoff this evening and know that it’s well on its way to starting its mission of continuing the measurements of sea level that are so needed to understand and monitor the worrying trend of rising seas. I would not only like to thank the ESA teams that have worked so hard to get to this point, but also the EC, Eumetsat, NASA, NOAA and CNES, and, of course, we very much look forward to further fruitful cooperation between our respective organisations.”

With millions of people living in coastal communities around the world, rising seas are at the top of the list of major concerns linked to climate change. Monitoring sea-surface height is critical to understanding the changes taking place so that decision-makers have the evidence to implement appropriate policies to help curb climate change and for authorities to take action to protect vulnerable communities.

Over the last three decades, the French–US Topex-Poseidon and Jason mission series served as reference missions, and in combination with ESA’s earlier ERS and Envisat satellites, as well as today’s CryoSat and Copernicus Sentinel-3, they have shown how sea level has risen about 3.2 mm on average every year. More alarmingly, this rate of rise has been accelerating; over the last few years, the average rate of rise has been 4.8 mm a year.

Now in orbit, Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will soon pick up the baton and extend this dataset – a dataset that is the ‘gold standard’ for climate studies. The mission comprises two identical satellites launched sequentially – so in five years, Copernicus Sentinel-6B will be launched to take over. The mission as a whole will ensure the continuity of data until at least 2030.

Each satellite carries a radar altimeter, which works by measuring the time it takes for radar pulses to travel to Earth’s surface and back again to the satellite. Combined with precise satellite location data, altimetry measurements yield the height of the sea surface.

The satellites’ instrument package also includes an advanced microwave radiometer that accounts for the amount of water vapour in atmosphere, which affects the speed of the altimeter’s radar pulses.

While heritage has been key to the mission’s design, Sentinel-6 brings, for the first time, synthetic aperture radar into the altimetry reference mission time series. To ensure that no bias is introduced into the time series, the radar instrument operates in a continuous burst mode, simultaneously providing conventional low-resolution mode measurements and the improved performance of synthetic aperture radar processing.

To ensure that the data time series is continuous despite the change of instrument technologies, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is spending its first year in orbit flying just 30 seconds behind Jason-3.

Orbiting at an altitude of over 1300 km and reaching 66°N and 66°S, Sentinel-6 provides sufficient measurements to map the height of the sea surface over 95% of the world’s ice-free oceans every 10 days.

While Sentinel-6 is one of the European Union’s family of Copernicus missions, its implementation is the result of a unique cooperation between the European Commission ESA, Eumetsat, NASA and NOAA, with contribution from the CNES French space agency.

The European Commission’s Director-General for Defence Industry and Space, Timo Pesonen, said, “We are very pleased to welcome this newcomer to the EU’s fleet of Copernicus Sentinel satellites. Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will enable delivering enhanced products and information concerning the oceans and the atmosphere to improve the daily lives of our citizens. The arrival of this satellite is another success for Copernicus, for Europe, for all mission partners and worldwide.”

ESA has been responsible for the development of the Poseidon-4 radar altimeter and development of the Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, as a whole. It is also responsible for the procurement of Copernicus Sentinel-6B on behalf of the European Commission and Eumetsat.

Transfer of ownership goes to the EC at the point of liftoff. ESA takes care of the early orbit phase as well as in-orbit verification planning, and supports flight operations performed by Eumetsat.

Eumetsat is responsible for the development of the ground segment and for operations after the launch and early orbit phases. Eumetsat processes the data and delivers the data products services to European users.

Eumetsat’s Director General, Alain Ratier, said, “Data from Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will be the most accurate yet and will be used to gain a deeper understanding of global sea-level rise, a key indicator of climate change. The data will also be used for weather forecasting, from improving the accuracy of seasonal forecasts to predicting the tracks of hurricanes and cyclones.”

NASA has the responsibility for the launch services, the development of the microwave radiometer, the laser retroreflector and GNSS radio occultation receiver. It also provides ground segment support and contributes to the operations and data processing in the US. NASA and NOAA share responsibility for the distribution of data products to users in the US.

“Mike Freilich helped ensure NASA was a steadfast partner with scientists and space agencies worldwide, and his love of oceanography and Earth science helped us improve the understanding of our beautiful planet,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science at the Agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “This satellite, so graciously named for him by our European partners, will carry out the critical work Mike so believed in – adding to a legacy of crucial data about our oceans and paying it forward for the benefit of future generations.”

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Northrop Grumman completes validation test of new rocket motor for United Launch Alliance

Northrop Grumman completes validation test of new rocket motor for

(21 January 2021 – Northrop Grumman) Northrop Grumman conducted a validation ground test of an extended length 63-inch-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63XL) today in Promontory.

This variation of the company’s GEM 63 strap-on booster was developed in partnership with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide additional lift capability to the Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Northrop Grumman conducted a validation test of its GEM 63XL rocket motor on Jan. 21 at its Promontory, Utah, facility. The GEM 63XL will support the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle. (courtesy: Northrop Grumman)

“This new motor optimizes our best-in-class technologies and leverages flight-proven solid rocket propulsion designs to provide our customers with the most reliable product,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman. “Evolving the original GEM 63 design utilizes our decades of GEM strap-on booster expertise while enhancing capabilities for heavy-lift missions.”

During today’s static test, the motor fired for approximately 90 seconds, producing nearly 449,000 pounds of thrust to validate the performance capability of the motor design. Additionally, this firing verified the motor’s internal insulation, propellant grain, ballistics and nozzle in a hot-conditioned environment.

Northrop Grumman has supplied rocket propulsion to ULA and its heritage companies for a variety of launch vehicles since 1964. The GEM family of strap-on motors was developed starting in the early 1980s with the GEM 40 to support the Delta II launch vehicle. The company then followed with the GEM 46 for the Delta II Heavy, and the GEM 60, which flew 86 motors over 26 Delta IV launches before retiring in 2019. The first GEM 63 motors supported ULA’s Atlas V rocket in November 2020.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

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SSC and Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands to collaborate in optical communication

SSC and Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands to collaborate in

(21 January 2021 – SSC) SSC and Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands (Airbus DS NL) have signed an MOU for collaborative activities regarding ground equipment for space-to-ground optical communication.

The agreement will accelerate the development of commercially viable optical ground stations that will be offered by Airbus DS NL and used by SSC in delivering ground network services.

One of the collaborative activities in developing this capability includes optical communication tests against the CubeLCT optical terminal on the Photo Images Cross Laser (PIXL-1) Mission, organised in close co-operation with project partner TESAT. PIXL-1 will be launched the 22nd of January.

“Airbus Netherlands will be an important partner as SSC continues to add optical communication solutions to our global network of ground stations. Their modern infrastructure and industry-leading knowledge will be a vital contribution to our service offering”, says Stefan Gardefjord, CEO at SSC.

Optical communication between ground stations and satellites in orbit enables broadband connectivity via space, providing a secure and efficient solution for the fast-growing worldwide demand for data.

“Optical communication will be a game changer in this era in which we increasingly share data. We have a strong desire to work with Swedish Space Corporation to further build up our capabilities for optical ground stations, as they have been at the forefront of ground stations services for decades”, says Maarten Schippers, CEO at Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands.

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ESA books two payload missions on Airbus Bartolomeo platform

ESA books two payload missions on Airbus Bartolomeo platform

(21 January 2021 – Airbus) The European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus have agreed on service orders for two independent payload missions to be launched to the Bartolomeo payload hosting facility on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2022 and 2024, respectively.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus have agreed on service orders for two independent payload missions to be launched to the Bartolomeo payload hosting facility on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2022 and 2024, respectively. (courtesy: Airbus)

The first payload mission is ESA’s Exobiology Platform (EXPO). This facility carries a set of radiation experiments aimed at better understanding the evolution of organic molecules and organisms in the space. Placed in a Zenith-facing slot, the facility will connect two scientific modules to Bartolomeo. These modules will host everything needed for the experiments, including the scientific sample containers, fluidics systems and sensors related to the individual experiments called Exocube, IceCold and OREOcube. At the end of the three-year mission, the samples will be returned to Earth for detailed investigation and analysis.

The second payload is the Euro Material Ageing experiment platform (SESAME), developed by the French Space Agency (CNES). This mission will study the ageing behaviour of new materials in space and will also make use of Bartolomeo’s payload return option. After a year of exposure in space, the experiments will be returned to Earth, allowing scientists to thoroughly investigate the samples and fully understand the effects of the space environment on the materials.

These service orders, amounting to € 6.5 million, are the first under a new framework agreement which ESA and Airbus have put in place, pre-defining the overall commercial conditions for ESA payload missions on Bartolomeo.

“With this framework contract, we are making it significantly easier for ESA to use the Bartolomeo Service for quick and affordable use of the ISS,” said David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration. “Commercial arrangements have been streamlined, which enables our researchers to enjoy the full benefits of Bartolomeo’s short lead times and high flexibility. We are very pleased to have the first two ESA payloads secured on the platform, and are looking forward to using this new European asset on the ISS.”

Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus, said: “We are looking forward to working with our partners at ESA on bringing these two and future payloads to space – and back again as needed. The strong interest from across ESA and other institutions as well as a number of commercial players confirms the need for our efficient and affordable payload hosting solutions in LEO.”

Airbus’ Bartolomeo platform was launched and robotically attached to the ISS Columbus Module in 2020. Following the final connection of the cabling during an Extravehicular Activity (EVA), or ‘spacewalk’, in early 2021, the platform will be ready for in-space commissioning.

Bartolomeo is an Airbus investment into the ISS infrastructure, enabling hosting of up to twelve external payloads in the space environment, providing unique opportunities for in-orbit demonstration and verification missions. It is operated in a partnership between Airbus, ESA, NASA and the ISS National Laboratory.

Bartolomeo is suitable for many types of missions, including Earth observation, environmental and climate research, robotics, material sciences and astrophysics. It provides sought-after payload-hosting capabilities for customers and researchers to test space technologies, verify a new space business approach, conduct scientific experiments in microgravity or enter into in-space manufacturing endeavours.

Launch opportunities are available on every servicing mission to the ISS, which occur about every three months. The payload accommodation allows slots for a wide range of payload mass, from 5 to 450 kg. As an evolution of the platform, Airbus will provide optical data downlink capacity of one to two terabytes per day.

Payloads can be prepared and ready to operate within one and a half years after contract signature. Payload sizes, interfaces, preparation before launch and integration processes are largely standardised. This reduces lead times and significantly reduces costs compared to traditional mission costs.

Airbus offers this easy access to space as an all-in-one mission service. This includes technical support in preparing the payload mission; launch and installation; operations and data transfer; and an optional return to Earth.

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