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(7 December 2020 – Millennium Space Systems) Two Millennium Space Systems-built small satellites were successfully launched into low-Earth orbit last month – and the company’s engineers, as well as the world’s amateur satellite tracking community, now are watching them as they race back to Earth.

Artist’s impession of ALCHEMY and AUGURY satellites in orbit (courtesy: Millemmium Space Systems)

“We all are striving to be good stewards of the space environment,” said Tom Russell, interim CEO of Millennium Space Systems. “DRAGRACER is part of our proactive support to being those good stewards. This experiment adds to the body of knowledge on a unique, yet credible, alternative solution to mitigate the orbital debris problem and it is applicable to all sizes and classes of LEO satellites.”

The DRAGRACER satellites were launched Nov. 19 atop a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle in New Zealand. One satellite, called ALCHEMY, is equipped with a 70-meter Tethers Unlimited Terminator Tape that was unfurled in low-Earth orbit. The tether increases the surface area of the spacecraft and it is expected to sink and burn up as it falls from Earth’s upper atmosphere in approximately 45 days. The other satellite, AUGURY, the control for the scientific experiment, is expected to follow a natural decay trajectory of between five and seven-and-a-half years.

Millennium Space Systems engineers are monitoring the telemetry of both satellites as they return to Earth and comparing flight data with predictive deorbit models. The amateur satellite tracking community can follow DRAGRACER’s progress and provide data and images via a web portal.

The DRAGRACER mission is a collaborative effort of Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing subsidiary; Tethers Unlimited; mission launch service provider TriSept; and Rocket Lab.

“The population of space debris is already growing exponentially and, with numerous companies and government programs launching constellations of hundreds or thousands of satellites into low-Earth orbit, responsible stewardship of the orbital environment is crucial to ongoing use of space for commerce and defense,” said Robert Hoyt, founder and president of Tethers Unlimited. “We are very excited and grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate our Terminator Tape as a cost-effective and low-mass solution for safe disposal of satellites at the end of their missions.”

TriSept brokered the rideshare slot for the DRAGRACER mission spacecraft and led the integration of the payload aboard the launch vehicle. DRAGRACER marks TriSept’s 71st space mission, as the firm has now enabled the launch of over 200 satellites aboard 20 different launch vehicles from 13 launch sites across the globe.

“The TriSept team is thrilled to have led the integration effort for this historic DRAGRACER mission,” said Rob Spicer, TriSept CEO. “TriSept is committed to working with spacecraft manufacturers, technology partners, and government and commercial programs across the space industry in driving access to space for what are often game-changing missions such as DRAGRACER.”

About Millennium Space Systems

Millennium Space Systems is a Boeing [NYSE: BA] subsidiary, headquartered in El Segundo. Founded in November 2001, Millennium provides credible alternatives for relevant and affordable solutions to today’s space industry challenges. The company designs flight systems and develops AS 9100-certified mission and system solutions for the Intelligence Community, Department of Defense, NASA and civil space customers. With Millennium’s proven ALTAIR and AQUILA products, Boeing is further positioned to offer customers the full range of tailored space capabilities and missions.

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Ground-breaking South Australian space mission lead by SmartSatCRC

Ground breaking South Australian space mission lead by SmartSatCRC

(19 January 2021 – SmartSat) South Australia is embarking on a bold mission with industry, lead by SmartSat, to design and build a satellite to deliver space-derived services to the state.

(courtesy: SmartSat)

The South Australian Government’s SASAT1 Space Services Mission will send the locally manufactured 6U small satellite to low Earth orbit and employ an Internet of Things (IoT) data collection service along with a hyperspectral electro-optical payload for Earth observation.

The IoT and Earth observation data will improve the delivery of state services with candidate applications in emergency services, environment and mining.

Set to accelerate the state’s space economy, the SASAT1 Space Services Mission will also strengthen the competitiveness of South Australian businesses in the small-satellite supply chain and pave the way for external investment and future growth in Australia and abroad.

SmartSat will lead the mission and application prototyping, with Adelaide-based satellite manufacturing company Inovor Technologies designing and building the satellite and South Australian space company Myriota contracted for IoT space services.

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Gilmour Space begins main engine tests ahead of its first commercial Eris rocket launch in 2022

Gilmour Space begins main engine tests ahead of its first

(20 January 2021 – Gilmour Space) Australian rocket company, Gilmour Space Technologies, has ushered in the New Year with a successful hotfire of the world’s largest single-port hybrid rocket engine.

(courtesy: Gilmour Space)

“We achieved a record 91 kilonewtons (or 9 tonnes-force) of thrust in the initial verification test of our main engine,” said Adam Gilmour, CEO and co-founder of Gilmour Space, a Queensland-based company that is developing a three-stage rocket capable of launching small satellites into low earth orbits.

“This is the engine that will be powering the first and second stages of our Eris orbital vehicle as it launches into space,” he explained. “I’m happy to report that all systems performed very well during this 10-second test. Our team will be going through the results and conducting longer duration and higher thrust tests in the weeks ahead.”

A leading space company in Australia, Gilmour Space continues to demonstrate key sovereign space and industry capabilities as it prepares to launch its first commercial payloads from Australian companies Space Machines Company and Fireball International.

“We are delighted by this successful hotfire test, which demonstrates Gilmour’s progress towards a successful orbital launch next year,” said Rajat Kulshrestha, co-founder and CEO of Space Machines Company. “Together with Space Machines Company, important sovereign launch and in-space transport capabilities for Australia are becoming a reality.”

“Many of our Eris launch vehicle components have completed development testing, and the first flight articles are on the manufacturing floor ready for assembly,” said Mr Gilmour. “2021 is going to be the year we build our rocket.”

About Gilmour Space Technologies

Gilmour Space Technologies is a world leading hybrid rocket company based in Queensland, Australia, that is developing a new breed of lower-cost, reliable and dedicated rockets that will launch small satellites into low earth orbits from 2022.

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NASA CubeSat to demonstrate water-fueled moves in space

NASA CubeSat to demonstrate water fueled moves in space

(19 January 2021 – NASA Ames) A NASA CubeSat will launch into low-Earth orbit to demonstrate a new type of propulsion system.

Carrying a pint of liquid water as fuel, the system will split the water into hydrogen and oxygen in space and burn them in a tiny rocket engine for thrust.

NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator, or PTD, series of missions demonstrates novel CubeSat technologies in low-Earth orbit, providing significant enhancements to the performance of these small and effective spacecraft. The first mission of the series, PTD-1, is slated to launch this month aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the Transporter-1 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Illustration of Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator-1 spacecraft, demonstrating a water-based propulsion system in low-Earth orbit. (courtesy: NASA)

nasa 7

This Hydros hardware unit is a water-based propulsion system, sized for CubeSats. The system uses electricity to produce gas propellants – hydrogen and oxygen – from liquid water and burns these gases in a rocket nozzle to generate thrust. This technology will be demonstrated in space during NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator-1 mission. Hydros was developed by Tethers Unlimited, Inc., in Bothell, Washington. (courtesy: Tethers Unlimited Inc./Mason Freedman)

“We have a driving need for small spacecraft propulsion systems,” said David Mayer, PTD-1 project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “The need is for many reasons: to reach a destination, maintain orbit, maneuver around other objects in space, or hasten de-orbit, helping spacecraft at end-of-life, to be good stewards of an increasingly cluttered space environment.”

This addresses a major concern, as spacecraft can become orbital debris at the end of their missions. The longer defunct spacecraft stay in orbit, the greater chance of spacecraft-to-spacecraft collision, creating more debris.

Water as Fuel

The choice of fuel used in spacecraft propulsion systems can come with serious safety precautions. Traditional, high-performance fuels pose risks, including toxicity, flammability, and volatility. The use of such rocket fuels for in-space propulsion systems require extensive safety measures, and this drives up mission cost.

“To make these propulsion systems feasible for CubeSats, good propulsive performance needs to be balanced by safety,” said Mayer. “PTD-1 will meet this need with the first demonstration of a water-based electrolysis spacecraft propulsion system in space.”

PTD-1’s propulsion system will produce gas propellants – a mix of hydrogen and oxygen – from water, only when activated in orbit. The system applies an electric current through water to chemically separate water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gases, in a process called electrolysis. The CubeSat’s solar arrays harness energy from the Sun to supply the electric power needed to operate the miniature electrolysis system.

These gases are more energetic fuels than water; burning hydrogen and oxygen gas in a rocket nozzle generates more thrust than using “unsplit” liquid water as propellant. This strikes a better balance between performance and safety for spacecraft propulsion, meaning CubeSats will get more bang for the buck.

“What’s new is that this system uses water as the fuel in an energetic way, with an inherently safe system,” said Mayer. “This mission will show that we can use water electrolysis in a rocket engine in space – that’s pretty cool.”

Water is an inexpensive “green” resource for propulsion, non-toxic and stable. Green propellants like water are easier to handle, cheaper to obtain, and safer to integrate into spacecraft.

“We are disallowed from using high-performance propulsion systems in CubeSats because of the nature of how we launch these missions, namely by being attached to other spacecraft,” said Mayer.

Most CubeSats and other small spacecraft launch to space as secondary payloads, often riding to space alongside larger and more expensive payloads. The use of traditional “high-performance” rocket fuels for CubeSat propulsion systems are avoided because the onboard presence of such fuels would increase mission risk to other payloads and the launch vehicle. The inability to use these fuels limits performance for small spacecraft propulsion systems.

“Water is the safest rocket fuel I know of,” said Mayer.

A Low-Cost, Effective Propulsion System

The PTD-1 spacecraft is a 6-unit CubeSat, comparable in size to a shoebox. Its flight demonstration, lasting four to six months, will verify propulsion performance through programmed changes in spacecraft velocity and altitude executed by the water-fueled thrusters. The mission will show that this safe, low-cost, high-performance propulsion system works in space and will pave the way for operational small spacecraft missions.

Flight qualification and demonstration of this technology increases small spacecraft mobility and capability for use in future science and exploration missions. This technology could be applied in future deep-space missions using water resources found off Earth such as from comets or the Moon and Mars.

The propulsion system, named Hydros, was developed by Tethers Unlimited, Inc., in Bothell, Washington. This technology was initially developed under a NASA Small Business Innovation Research contract and then matured under a NASA Tipping Point partnership. The PTD spacecraft bus was developed by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc., in Irvine, California. Tyvak is also performing payload integration and operations for the PTD-1 mission.

NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the PTD series. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland collaborates as the payload lead on the PTD-1 mission. The mission launches as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites 35, funded by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division of Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The PTD mission is managed and funded by the Small Spacecraft Technology program within the NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

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