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(14 December 2020 – ESA) Scientists have used satellite data from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, combined with the Sentinel-5P satellite, to detect individual methane emissions from space.

While carbon dioxide is more abundant in the atmosphere, and therefore more commonly associated with global warming, methane is more potent as a heat-trapping gas. It usually enters the atmosphere mainly from landfill sites, livestock farming, rice agriculture and the fossil fuel industry – particularly during coal, oil and gas extraction and transportation.

Until recently, no straightforward solution has existed to detect individual methane emissions and track them back to their original sources. The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, launched in 2017, is the first Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring the atmosphere and is the first satellite to provide regular imagery of Earth for emission detection. However, the spatial resolution of its measurements limited the ability to correctly attribute methane emissions to their sources.

Methane hotspot detected with Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery. The image of the location is displayed on the left, while the corresponding methane enhancement image can be seen on the right. This clearly shows the methane plumes over the area. (courtesy: ESA, contains modified Copernicus data (2020), processed by Kayrros)

mapping 2

The methane cloud as detected by Copernicus Sentinel-5P on 24 September 2020. (courtesy: ESA, contains modified Copernicus data (2020), processed by Kayrros)

Now, scientists from Kayrros, a European technology start-up, have succeeded in developing a tool that can accurately detect individual methane emissions. By combining data from the Sentinel-5P satellite with measurements from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 infrared spectral range channels, scientists can now easily detect, quantify and attribute methane emissions to their sources.

This was first demonstrated during the summer of 2020, when a methane leak occurred in the Permian Basin – a major shale oil and gas production region in the United States. The leak was detected and quantified on 24 September 2020 by an aerial campaign commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund, a leading international non-profit organisation.

Despite being detected, it was impossible to identify when the leak had started or the volume of methane released. The combination of Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-5P satellite data, with Kayrros technology, was used to identify the leak.

Antoine Rostand, President of Kayrros, said, “The results showed that the leak began on 4 July 2020, and that it had been detected 12 times between that date and its final disappearance on 26 September. Using proprietary quantification algorithms, we ascertained that these 12 quantifications ranged between five and 20 tonnes of methane per hour.”

Kayrros had previously detected other methane plumes over the same location during the summer, but this was the first clear spotting of the event using both Copernicus Sentinel-2 and Copernicus Sentinel-5P data in a synergistic way.

“Using Copernicus Sentinel-2 images for methane hotspot detection is a major technical breakthrough as the satellite was not initially designed for this particular purpose,” commented Claus Zehner, ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P Mission Manager. “This is important for methane monitoring efforts as the use of these data allows for the constant monitoring of oil and gas production areas around the world and will support the implementation of the recently released European Commission Methane strategy.”

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Space

NASA’s Deep Space Network welcomes a new dish to the family

NASAs Deep Space Network welcomes a new dish to the

(22 January 2021 – JPL) A powerful new antenna has been added to the NASA Space Communications and Navigation’s Deep Space Network (DSN), which connects us to the space robots exploring our solar system.

Called Deep Space Station 56, or DSS-56, the dish is now online and ready to communicate with a variety of missions, including NASA’s Perseverance rover when it lands on the Red Planet next month.

The new 34-meter-wide (112-foot-wide) dish has been under construction at the Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex in Spain since 2017. Existing antennas are limited in the frequency bands they can receive and transmit, often restricting them to communicating only with specific spacecraft. DSS-56 is the first to use the Deep Space Network’s full range of communication frequencies as soon as it went online. This means DSS-56 is an “all-in-one” antenna that can communicate with all the missions that the DSN supports and can be used as a backup for any of the Madrid complex’s other antennas.

Deep Space Station 56 (DSS-56) (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“DSS-56 offers the Deep Space Network additional real-time flexibility and reliability,” said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator and program manager of NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN). “This new asset symbolizes and underscores our ongoing support for more than 30 deep space missions who count on our services to enable their success.”

With the addition of DSS-56 and other 34-meter antennas to all three DSN complexes around the world, the network is preparing to play a critical role in ensuring communication and navigation support for upcoming Moon and Mars missions and the crewed Artemis missions.

“The Deep Space Network is vital to so much of what we do – and to what we plan to do – throughout the solar system. It’s what connects us here on Earth to our distant robotic explorers, and, with the improvements that we’re making to the network, it connects us to the future as well, expanding our capabilities as we prepare human missions for the Moon and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA’s headquarters in Washington. “This latest antenna was built as an international partnership and will ultimately benefit all of humanity as we continue to explore deep space.”

With DSS-56’s increased flexibility came a more complex start-up phase, which included testing and calibration of a larger suite of systems, before the antenna could go online. On Friday, Jan. 22, the international partners who oversaw the antenna’s construction attended a virtual ribbon-cutting event to officially mark the occasion – an event that had been delayed due to historic snowfall blanketing much of Spain.

“After the lengthy process of commissioning, the DSN’s most capable 34-meter antenna is now talking with our spacecraft,” said Bradford Arnold, DSN project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Even though pandemic restrictions and the recent weather conditions in Spain have been significant challenges, the staff in Madrid persevered, and I am proud to welcome DSS-56 to the global DSN family.”

More About the Deep Space Network

In addition to Spain, the Deep Space Network has ground stations in California (Goldstone) and Australia (Canberra). This configuration allows mission controllers to communicate with spacecraft throughout the solar system at all times during Earth’s rotation.

The forerunner to the DSN was established in January 1958 when JPL was contracted by the U.S. Army to deploy portable radio tracking stations in California, Nigeria, and Singapore to receive telemetry of the first successful U.S. satellite, Explorer 1. Shortly after JPL was transferred to NASA on Dec. 3, 1958, the newly-formed U.S. civilian space program established the Deep Space Network to communicate with all deep space missions. It has been in continuous operation since 1963 and remains the backbone of deep space communications for NASA and international missions, supporting historic events such as the Apollo Moon landings and checking in on our interstellar explorers, Voyager 1 and 2.

The Deep Space Network is managed by JPL for SCaN, which is located at NASA’s headquarters within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The Madrid station is managed on NASA’s behalf by Spain’s national research organization, Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (National Institute of Aerospace Technology).

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Iodine thruster could slow space junk accumulation

Iodine thruster could slow space junk accumulation

(22 January 2021 – ESA) For the first time ever, a telecommunications satellite has used an iodine propellant to change its orbit around Earth.

The small but potentially disruptive innovation could help to clear the skies of space junk, by enabling tiny satellites to self-destruct cheaply and easily at the end of their missions, by steering themselves into the atmosphere where they would burn up.

Iodine thruster used to change the orbit of a small satellite for the first time ever (courtesy: ThrustMe)

The technology could also be used to boost the mission lifetime of small CubeSats that monitor agricultural crops on Earth or entire mega-constellations of nanosats that provide global internet access, by raising their orbits when they begin to drift towards the planet.

The technology was developed by ThrustMe, a spin-off company from the École Polytechnique and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and supported by ESA through its programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES).

It uses a novel propellant – iodine – in an electric thruster that controls the satellite’s height above Earth. Iodine is less expensive and uses simpler technologies than traditional propellants.

Unlike many traditional propellants, iodine is non-toxic and it is solid at room temperature and pressure. This makes it easier and cheaper to handle on Earth.

When heated, it turns to gas without going through a liquid phase, which makes it ideal for a simple propulsion system. It is also denser than traditional propellants, so it occupies smaller volumes onboard the satellite.

ThrustMe launched its iodine thruster on a commercial research nanosat called SpaceTy Beihangkongshi-1 that went into space in November 2020. It was test fired earlier this month before being used to change the orbit of the satellite.

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Skynet 6A successfully passes Preliminary Design Review

Skynet 6A successfully passes Preliminary Design Review

(14 Janaury 2021 – Airbus) Airbus has successfully completed the first key phase of the Skynet 6A project with the achievement of the Preliminary Design Review (PDR).

The project now has permission to move into the next phase leading to the Critical Design Review (CDR).

Airbus was awarded the Skynet 6A contract in July 2020 and teams across its sites in Stevenage, Portsmouth and Hawthorn have been working on the programme to achieve this key milestone. Meetings with the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) were held virtually enabling the review board to take place in October and the PDR being achieved in November.

Skynet 6A (courtesy: Airbus)

Richard Franklin, Managing Director of Airbus Defence and Space UK said: “This is excellent news and demonstrates our joint commitment to work in partnership to achieve the programme schedule. The progress we are making in building the UK MOD’s next generation military satellite and getting to this stage, despite current restrictions, really highlights the flexible and strong working relationship we have built with the Defence Digital team. Skynet 6A, to be built entirely in the UK, will significantly enhance the UK’s milsatcoms capability, building on the heritage of the four Skynet 5 satellites which were also built by Airbus, and which are all still operating perfectly in orbit.”

Teams from across the space and ground segments in Airbus worked closely with their MOD counterparts to keep the programme on track.

Skynet 6A will extend and enhance the Skynet fleet. The contract signed with the UK MOD in July 2020 involves the development, manufacture, cyber protection, assembly, integration, test and launch, of a military communications satellite, Skynet 6A, planned for launch in 2025. The contract also covers technology development programmes, new secure telemetry, tracking and command systems, launch, in-orbit testing and ground segment updates to the current Skynet 5 system. The value of the contract is more than £500 million.

The Skynet 5 programme, provided by Airbus as a full service outsource contract, has provided the UK MOD with a suite of highly robust, reliable and secure military communications services, supporting global operations since 2003. Airbus has been involved in all Skynet phases since 1974 and this phase builds on a strong UK commitment to space manufacturing in the UK. The programme commenced by using the legacy Skynet 4 satellites and then augmenting them with a fully refurbished ground network before launching the Skynet 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D satellites between 2007 and 2012.

The Skynet 5 programme has reduced or removed many of the technical and service risks for the MOD, whilst ensuring unrivalled secure satcoms and innovation to UK forces. Through the many years of delivering an exceptionally reliable Skynet service the Airbus teams have managed to significantly extend the lifespan of the Skynet satellites many years beyond their design life, offering significant additional value for money and capability to the UK.

The Skynet 6A satellite is based on Airbus’ Eurostar Neo telecommunications satellite platform. It will utilise more of the radio frequency spectrum available for satellite communications and the latest digital processing to provide both more capacity and greater versatility than Skynet 5 satellites. The satellite will feature electric orbit raising propulsion as well as electric station keeping systems for maximum cost effectiveness. Complete satellite integration will take place at Airbus facilities in the UK followed by testing using RAL Space testing facilities at Harwell in Oxfordshire supporting the UK Space Agency initiative for sovereign UK end-to-end satellite production and support.

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