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New Australian satellite to launch

Artist's impression of the Jabiru-1 satellite

Artist's impression of the Jabiru-1 satellite, due to launch in 2014 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

IT WAS ANNOUNCED TODAY that Australian communications company NewSat has chosen Arianespace to launch its first satellite, Jabiru-1, in 2014.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, and Adrian Ballintine, founder and Chief Executive Officer of NewSat Limited (NewSat), today signed the launch services contract for the Jabiru-1 satellite at Satellite 2012 in Washington, DC.

Jabiru-1 will be boosted into geostationary transfer orbit by an Ariane 5 launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Centre, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, during the fourth quarter of 2014.

Geostationary transfer orbit is a “halfway” orbit, from which a satellite’s own rocket  motor then boosts it into its final orbit.

Jabiru-1 is currently being built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems using an A2100 platform. Weighing 5,900 kg at launch, it will be fitted with 50 Ka-band transponders configured in a variety of multi-spot, steerable and regional beams.

Launch of an Ariane 5 rocket

Launch of an Ariane 5 rocket

Jabiru-1’s high-powered capacity will provide flexible communication solutions to enterprise and government customers across Asia, the Middle East and eastern Africa. It offers a design life of 15 years.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen by NewSat to launch their first satellite. Arianespace is particularly proud of this opportunity to serve a new Australian operator. For us, this latest contract provides further recognition of the outstanding quality and competitiveness of our launch services.”

The announcement comes only months after Arianespace also won the competition to launch Optus’ next satellite, Optus 10.

“Jabiru-1 is very important for us and we are very pleased to entrust Arianespace with its launch, since Arianespace sets the world standard in this market,” said Adrian Ballintine. “It is extremely important for us at NewSat to know that our first satellite will be launched by Arianespace and by Ariane 5, both synonymous with reliability and excellence.”

Arianespace is the world’s leading launch service & solutions company, providing innovation to its customers since 1980. As of 1st March 2012, Arianespace had performed 204 Ariane launches (298 payloads), 26 Soyuz launches (24 at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and two at the Guiana Space Centre) and the first launch of Vega. It has a backlog of 23 Ariane 5, 15 Soyuz and two Vega launches, equal to more than three years of business.

More information:

Arianespace

NewSat

Adapted from information issued by Arianespace.

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Space junk reaches ‘tipping point’

Diagram showing space junk in Earth orbit

Earth is circled by millions of pieces of space junk, or orbital debris, many of which pose a serious risk to satellites and astronauts. Is it time to do something about it?

ALTHOUGH NASA’S PROGRAMMES to track meteoroids and orbital debris have responsibly used their resources, the agency’s has not kept pace with increasing hazards posed by abandoned equipment, spent rocket bodies, and other debris orbiting the Earth, says a new report by the US National Research Council.

NASA should develop a formal strategic plan to better allocate resources devoted to the management of orbital debris. In addition, removal of debris from the space environment or other actions to mitigate risks may be necessary.

Some scenarios generated by NASA’s meteoroid and orbital debris models show that debris has reached a “tipping point,” with enough currently in orbit to continually collide and create even more debris, raising the risk of spacecraft failures, the report notes.

In addition, collisions with debris have disabled and even destroyed satellites in the past; a recent near-miss of the International Space Station underscores the value in monitoring and tracking orbital debris as precisely as possible.

Challenges for NASA

“The current space environment is growing increasingly hazardous to spacecraft and astronauts,” said Donald Kessler, chair of the committee that wrote the report and retired head of NASA’s Orbital Debris Programme Office.

“NASA needs to determine the best path forward for tackling the multifaceted problems caused by meteoroids and orbital debris that put human and robotic space operations at risk.

Space junk impact on space shuttle Endeavour

A small piece of space junk punched a hole through the inside of one of space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay doors, where heat radiators were situated.

The strategic plan NASA develops should provide a basis for prioritising efforts and allocating funds to the agency’s numerous meteoroid and orbital debris programmes, the report says.

Currently, the programmes do not have a single management and budget structure that can efficiently coordinate all of these activities. The programmes are also vulnerable to changes in personnel, as nearly all of them are staffed by just one person.

A global problem

The strategic plan, which should consider short- and long-term objectives, a schedule of benchmark achievements, and priorities among them, also should include potential research needs and management issues.

Removal of orbital debris introduces another set of complexities, the report adds, because only about 30 percent of the objects can be attributed to the United States.

“The Cold War is over, but the acute sensitivity regarding satellite technology remains,” explained committee vice chair George Gleghorn, former vice president and chief engineer for the TRW Space and Technology Group.

Although NASA has identified the need for removing debris, the agency and U.S. government as a whole have not fully examined the economic, technological, political, and legal considerations, the report says.

For example, according to international legal principle, no nation may salvage or otherwise collect other nations’ space objects.

Therefore, the report recommends, NASA should engage the U.S. Department of State in the legal requirements and diplomatic aspects of active debris removal.

The study was sponsored by NASA.

Adapted from information issued by the US National Academy of Sciences. Images courtesy NASA.

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Earth from Space —Triple trouble in the Atlantic

Satellite image of a trio of storms in the Atlantic

A trio of storms in the Atlantic, spotted by the GOES-13 weather satellite.

A WEATHER SATELLITE captured a triple-header in the tropics when it snapped three tropical cyclones in one image in the Northern Hemisphere.

The image—taken by the GOES-13 satellite on July 20—shows a consolidating low pressure area called System 99L in the eastern North Atlantic Ocean, Tropical Storm Bret several hundred kilometres east of South Carolina, and Hurricane Dora off the west coast of Mexico.

The image was created by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

System 99L is a low-pressure area that may reach tropical depression status in the next day or two. It is located about 900 kilometres east-northeast of Bermuda and is moving to the northeast at 32 kilometres per hour.

The US National Hurricane Centre gave System 99L a 90 percent chance building to a tropical depression in the following 48 hours.

Text adapted from information issued by Rob Gutro, NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre. Image courtesy NASA / NOAA GOES Project, Dennis Chesters.

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Russian rocket prepares for lift-off

Soyuz-2.1a rolling out to the launch pad at Baikonur

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket with the Fregat upper stage and 6 Globalstar-2 satellites has been rolled out to launch pad 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

AT THE BAIKONUR COSMODROME in Kazakhstan, a Soyuz-2.1a/Fregat rocket is being prepared for launch with a payload of six communications satellites for the Globalstar company.The Soyuz is one of the world’s most reliable commercial launch vehicles. On October 19, 2010 a Soyuz booster was used to successfully launch six new Globalstar second-generation satellites. It was also successfully utilized on eight previous occasions to launch Globalstar’s first generation satellites. Later this year Globalstar plans to conduct two additional launches of six satellites per launch also using the Soyuz. The human-rated Soyuz launcher is used to transport astronauts and cosmonauts to the international space station.

The Globalstar second-generation satellite constellation is designed to last for 15 years, twice the lifespan of Globalstar’s first generation satellites.

Launch is due for 0258 GMT on July 11. To get an idea of what it will be like, here’s a video of a similar Russian launcher lifting off from Baikonur:

And here’s a bunch of photos of the Soyuz being prepared for launch:

Soyuz-2.1a rolling out to the launch pad at Baikonur

Soyuz-2.1a is the latest version of the venerable Soyuz rocket family.

Soyuz-2.1a rolling out to the launch pad at Baikonur

This Soyuz-2.1a has a Fregat upper stage attached, enabling it to carry a heavier payload.

Soyuz-2.1a rolling out to the launch pad at Baikonur

The Soyuz-2.1a is 46.1 metres high, 2.95 metres wide on its main body, and weights 300 tonnes.

Soyuz-2.1a rolling out to the launch pad at Baikonur

Soyuz rockets can be launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, Plesetsk in Russia, and soon from the French spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana.

Soyuz-2.1a rolling out to the launch pad at Baikonur

The modern 2.1a version of the Soyuz launcher has improved engines and a new digital flight control system.

Soyuz-2.1a rolling out to the launch pad at Baikonur

Since May 2009, there have been five successful Soyuz-2.1a launches out of six attempts.

Adapted from information issued by Roscosmos PAO / Yuzhny Space Centre / Globalstar.

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Aussie ‘plasma thruster’ set for blast off

Plasma thruster-powered spacecraft

The Australian plasma thruster will help satellites travel for longer and further into deep space.

A $3.1 MILLION GRANT from the Federal Government will help the Australian National University (ANU) propel Australian satellite technology and exploratory missions into the furthest reaches of deep space.

The University will partner with national and international bodies to make a revolutionary plasma thruster engine, invented and developed at ANU, ready for spaceflight. If successful, the engine could be used in satellites and deep space missions as soon as 2013.

Project leader Professor Rod Boswell, from the Plasma Research Laboratory in the ANU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, said the engine will be based on his colleague Professor Christine Charles’ Helicon Double Layer Thruster (HDLT).

“The HDLT is the first thruster of its kind in the world and can be used to keep satellites in their desired orbit as well as in interplanetary travel,” he said. “It is an elegant, almost fuel-independent as well as energy and cost effective, propulsion system.

The future of space propulsion

Plasma thruster engines are set to be the future of all space exploration and satellite activities. They have characteristics that will eventually lead to their wide deployment as space propulsion systems.

They are much less powerful than conventional chemical rocket engines, but in principle are more efficient, for long periods of time, making them ideal for deep space missions.

HDLT apparatus with Orson Sutherland, Dr Christine Charles and Professor Rod Boswell.

HDLT apparatus with Orson Sutherland, Dr Christine Charles and Professor Rod Boswell.

In the long term, the development of plasma thruster technology will extend the range of human and robotic exploration into the Solar System and beyond.

In the short term these types of thrusters will become important to the telecommunications industry because they are ideally suited for station keeping, or keeping satellites in their orbits, for long periods of time. This will extend their operational lifetimes and save huge sums of money.

Professor Boswell added that the HDLT can also be used to de-orbit satellites that have reached the end of their missions.

“These satellites are at risk of becoming hazards for other satellites,” he said. “This is something which spacecraft manufacturers take very seriously.

“An inexpensive, light, reliable way of moving satellites at the end of their life into a graveyard orbit or into an orbit where they eventually re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up is commercially very attractive.”

Australian know-how

The grant won by Professor Boswell and his colleagues in the Plasma Research Laboratory will also help build a space simulation facility at ANU. Based at Mt Stromlo Observatory in Canberra, the Space Simulation Facility will incorporate a thermal/vacuum device that will enable testing of the HDLT and other satellites in space-like conditions.

The facility will also be made available to other scientists, astronomers and industry bodies seeking to develop space equipment.

The grant to ANU forms part of a $6.1 million investment in space research and education announced last Friday by Innovation Minister, Senator the Hon Kim Carr.

Adapted from information issued by ANU. Images courtesy ANU and NASA.

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Satellites needed for NBN

Artist's impression of an Optus satellite in orbit

With Australia's increasing reliance on space technology, including the NBN, there is a need for 2 or 3 extra satellites.

  • Australia is heavily reliant on space technology
  • 2 or 3 extra satellites will be needed to provide services

WHEN WE THINK OF SPACE, most of us think of rockets and robots and, whether or not we realise it, these and other space technologies form a fundamental part of our lives.

With Australia’s investment in new communications satellites as part of creating the National Broadband Network (NBN), it is more important than ever to understand the benefits of space technology.

Dr Rosalind Dubs, Chair of the Australian Government’s Space Industry Innovation Council, stresses the importance of driving productivity and innovation through space technologies.

“It’s estimated the global space market will be worth one trillion dollars by 2020,” Dr Dubs said. “If Australian companies can capture just a few percent of this business, this would represent a worthwhile contribution to the national economy, strengthen national self-reliance and deliver broader spin-off benefits.”

Dr Dubs said while most of the NBN’s high speed internet will be delivered by fibre optic cables, 3 to 4 per cent of Australians live in regional areas where this would be prohibitively expensive. Two to three satellites will be acquired to provide high-speed internet services (around 12 Mbps) where the fibre optic cables or wireless will not reach.

These new satellites will make the NBN an important milestone in Australia’s space infrastructure. They are expected to provide opportunities for the development of Australian space capabilities and downstream applications.

Space provides value for money

“International experience suggests that every $1 million invested in space-borne capability results in around $6 million of downstream services application revenue,” Dr Dubs said. “For example, think of the many GPS-receiver and accurate positioning-related businesses that have grown out of the US Global Positioning System.”

Australia from space

The space sector is likely to become crucial for Australia in the coming decade.

Australians in remote areas will reap huge benefits from the NBN’s satellites, but satellite technology can also improve city dwellers’ mobile internet, phone and television services, and improve the ability for navigation devices to receive GPS signals in high rise cities where some satellites are out of view.

Beyond these day-to-day benefits, satellites collect data about weather, climate, oceans, land, geology, ecosystems, and natural and human-induced hazards.

“Integrating this data into real-world applications is essential if we are to effectively manage our planet and its resources, particularly as we tackle natural disasters and climate change,” Dr Dubs said.

Crucial for Australia

Satellites provide us with infrastructure that can improve our quality of life and increase our knowledge of the world around us. But to do so, both government and commercial organisations must invest in building expertise, strengthening capabilities, and developing real, practical applications for satellite data. The payoff will be worthwhile.

“Space capability is much like IT. It is an enabling technology that will lead to productivity increases,” Dr Dubs said. “The Australian Government has recognised that more active involvement in the space sector is likely to become crucial for Australia in the coming decade, not just for defence and national security reasons, but because everyday life depends more and more on satellite services.”

To find out more about Australia’s space-related activities or the Space Industry Innovation Council, visit http://www.space.gov.au/

Adapted from information issued by SIIC.

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Australia back in the space race

Australia from space

Australia from space. A new space centre at the University of NSW aims to get the nation back into the space race.

Australia’s space capabilities have received a significant boost with the opening of the country’s first centre for satellite and space engineering at the University of NSW (UNSW).

The new Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) will develop technologies for satellite navigation; Earth observation applications such as monitoring of disasters, climate change and mine subsidence; national security; and space vehicle engineering.

NASA space shuttle astronaut Jan Davis was the guest of honour at the centre’s launch.

ACSER Director, Associate Professor Andrew Dempster of the School of Surveying and Spatial Information Systems, said Australia lacks its own satellites at a time when the global space industry was expanding rapidly.

UNSW A/Prof Andrew Dempster with astronaut Jan Davis

UNSW A/Prof Andrew Dempster with astronaut Jan Davis

In an article published on the opinion website The National Times, Associate Professor Dempster has outlined the role ACSER can play in building up Australia’s space technology capabilities.

“Interest in space is booming as the number of satellites being launched escalates, and that increase will affect everything from smartphones and cars to innovations in industry, mining, agriculture, communication and security,” he said.

“At ACSER we are developing systems to enable real-time, highly accurate mapping of the Earth’s surface, and technologies to allow new satellite navigation systems to communicate with each other, improving service accuracy and availability.

“Australia was the fourth country in the world to launch a satellite—we did that in the 1960s—but we’ve lagged ever since. We will be working to establish an Australian presence in the space industry,” he said.

ACSER combines the expertise of researchers in the UNSW faculties of Engineering and Science, and UNSW@ADFA (Australian Defence Force Academy).

Adapted from information issued by UNSW / NASA.

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Ice satellite burns up

Artist's impression of ICEsat

ICEsat spent seven years in Earth orbit, gathering valuable data on polar regions ice sheets and sea ice.

A NASA satellite has met a fiery end as controllers directed it to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

The satellite, known as the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, orbited Earth for seven years, gathering valuable data on the polar regions and helping scientists develop a better understanding of ice sheets and sea ice dynamics.

University of Colorado at Boulder undergraduates, who have been helping to control five NASA satellites from campus, participated in the unusual decommissioning.

The control team at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)—made up primarily of undergraduates who work side-by-side with LASP professionals—uploaded commands for the satellite to burn its remaining fuel and switched off the transmitter.

The satellite successfully re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on August 30 and largely burned up, with pieces of debris falling into the Barents Sea—part of the Arctic Ocean north of Norway and Russia—said LASP Missions Operations and Data Systems Director Bill Possel. Built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., ICESat spacecraft worked perfectly throughout the entire mission, said Possel.

According to Darrin Osborne, LASP flight director for ICESat, the students had specific procedures to follow during the satellite decommissioning.

“They ran calculations to determine where the spacecraft was located and made predictions for NASA ground stations that tracked it,” he said. “The students did this seven days a week until the decommission was complete.”

University of Colorado LASP students and staff

University of Colorado students and staff helped NASA decommission the ICEsat satellite.

Students in charge

The LASP team continues to operate four satellites for NASA from LASP’s Space Technology Building. They include the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, or SORCE mission, a US$100 million satellite designed and built by LASP to study how the Sun’s variation affects Earth’s climate.

A second satellite, the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere mission, or AIM, is looking at polar clouds that may be related to increases in carbon dioxide and methane in Earth’s atmosphere.

The LASP control team also operates the US$600 million Kepler satellite, a NASA spacecraft that has identified more than 700 potential planets orbiting other stars since its launch in 2009, as well as the QuikSCAT satellite that measures global wind speeds and directions on Earth, helping to improve weather forecasting and predict tropical cyclones.

LASP is one of a handful of institutes in the world that provide undergraduates the training and certification needed to operate NASA spacecraft, said Possel. LASP employs 20 undergraduates as LASP satellite operators, where they work for at least three years.

The opportunity to assist with the decommissioning of a spacecraft is rare. The last time a NASA satellite re-entered Earth’s atmosphere was in January 2002, when the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer spacecraft was decommissioned.

Adapted from information issued by University of Colorado at Boulder / Glenn Asakawa / NASA.

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Remembering Echo 1

Fifty years ago, NASA launched its first communications satellite, Echo 1. Made from mylar polyester film and measuring about 100 feet across, the balloon-shaped spacecraft was designed as a passive communications reflector for transcontinental and intercontinental telephone, radio, and television signals. During orbit, a special recorded message from President Dwight Eisenhower was bounced off Echo 1 and picked up by radio operators across the USA.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Video: dual-satellite launch

The Arianespace company celebrated its third successful launch of 2010, as an Ariane 5 rocket on flight V196 thundered into space on August 4 from the Spaceport launch complex in Kourou, French Guiana.

Aboard the rocket were two satellites that will provide telecommunications services to Africa, the Middle East and Persian Gulf states: NILESAT 201 for Egyptian-based Nilesat, and RASCOM-QAF1R for the Pan-African satellite operator, RascomStar-QAF. Both spacecraft were built by Thales Alenia Space.

The heavy-lift Ariane 5 delivered an estimated total payload lift performance of 7,085 kg, which included 6,250 kg for the NILESAT 201 and RASCOM-QAF1R satellites, plus their integration hardware and the SYLDA 5 dual-payload dispenser system.

NILESAT 201 was released first in the flight sequence, being deployed from the top of Ariane 5’s payload “stack” at just under 29 minutes into the mission. With a lift-off mass of about 3,200-kg, the satellite carries 24 Ku-band and 4 Ka-band transponders, and is to be positioned at an orbital slot of 7 deg. West. It will provide direct television broadcasting for the Middle East, Africa and Gulf states, and also has the relay capability to open new markets such as broadband Internet access.

The RASCOM-QAF1R platform weighed approximately 3,050 kg at lift-off and is to be operated from an orbital position of 2.85 degrees East. It is designed to deliver communications services to rural parts of Africa, including long-distance domestic and international links, direct TV broadcasts and Internet access.

Three more Ariane 5 flights planned for the rest of this year. In addition, preparations continue for the upcoming introductions of the Soyuz and Vega launchers at the Spaceport.

Adapted from information issued by Arianespace.

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