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Arianespace Vega launcher delivers first Pléiades Neo satellite in orbit




Arianespace has successfully delivered the first satellite of the Pléiades Neo constellation in its planned orbit.

The satellite was launched onboard Arianespace’s European launcher Vega from French Guiana.

After being placed in orbit, the solar arrays of the satellite were deployed and the first telemetry signals were received.

Airbus’ control centre in Toulouse, France, commanded the satellite and initiated early orbit phase activities with the aim of acquiring the first image next week.

The spacecraft will undergo an in-orbit calibration phase prior to opening for commercial service.

Later this year, Airbus will launch another satellite Pléiades Neo 4 onboard the Vega rocket.

Airbus Defence and Space intelligence head François Lombard said: “The launch of this first Pléiades Neo satellite will pave the way to new services and great opportunities for our customers, thanks to its high accuracy and increased reactivity.

“The Pléiades Neo constellation will definitively boost the 30cm imagery market, bringing a lot of innovation and coverage capacity to the commercial and governmental end-users.”

The Pléiades Neo project will comprise four identical satellites that are entirely funded, designed, manufactured, owned and operated by Airbus.

Each satellite will cover half a million square kilometres a day at a 30cm native resolution, providing high-level insights to commercial and institutional customers for the next decade.

Customers will access freshly acquired and archive data, as well as extensive analytics through Airbus’ OneAtlas digital platform.

The Pléiades Neo constellation will work alongside the existing Pléiades satellites and the remaining Airbus Earth observation satellite fleet.

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Russian actress, Japanese entrepreneur cleared for space station visits





Russian actress Yulia Peresild participates in a press conference Thursday in Moscow. Credit: Roscosmos

Russian actress Yulia Peresild and filmmaker Klim Shipenko will join cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov for a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station on Oct. 5 to shoot scenes for an upcoming movie, the Russian space agency announced Thursday.

“At the end of 2020, an open competition was announced for the lead role in the first feature film to be filmed in space,” Roscosmos said on its website. Peresild, 36, and Shipenko, 37, were selected “based on the results of medical and creative selection.” Training will begin in June.

“They will have to go through, among other things, tests on a centrifuge, a vibration stand, to make introductory and training flights on an airplane in zero gravity, to undergo parachute training,” Roscosmos said. The training and the flight will be covered by Russia’s Channel One television network.

In a related development, Roscosmos and Space Adventures, a company that brokers commercial flights to the space station, announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and an assistant, Yozo Hirano, will launch aboard another Soyuz Dec. 8.

Maezawa, founder of ZoZotown, one of Japan’s largest retail websites, also has chartered an eventual flight around the moon aboard a SpaceX Starship rocket.

The two 12-day Soyuz flights were expected, but Thursday’s announcement makes it official, meaning NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, launched to the station last month with two Russian cosmonauts, will remain in orbit for nearly a full year before another seat is available to bring him back to Earth.

He knew when he launched April 9 that his planned six-month mission could be extended if Roscosmos approved the launch of an actress and director in September. But he said he was prepared for a longer stay.

“We try to make sure we’re ready for anything,” he told CBS News before takeoff. “I certainly feel emotionally prepared. … I’m going to try to really be meditative about the time, try to focus on positive things. I think you could end up in a tough spot if you don’t recognize that it’s a challenging environment.”

Former astronaut Scott Kelly holds the record for the longest U.S. spaceflight, logging 340 days aboard the space station in 2015-16. If Vande Hei returns next March 28 aboard the next available Soyuz as expected, he will set a new NASA record, spending 353 days in orbit.

Vande Hei is not the only station crew member getting a mission extension. Cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov, who launched with Vande Hei and Oleg Novitskiy, will remain aboard the outpost when Novitskiy departs Oct. 17 with Peresild and Shipenko. Dubrov also will log 353 days in space before returning to Earth with Vande Hei and Shkaplerov next March.

The upcoming Soyuz launches, along with two SpaceX Crew Dragon flights carrying all-civilian crews, are the latest milestones in a new era of commercial human spaceflight. If the current launch schedule holds up, 12 non-government “astronauts” will reach orbit over the next seven months, the same number of professional government astronauts from NASA, the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, and China.

SpaceX plans to launch four civilians to low-Earth orbit aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft in September in a mission, dubbed Inspiration4, to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

That flight, chartered by billionaire Jared Isaacman, will not visit the space station. But in January, Houston-based Axiom Space plans to launch four private citizens to the lab complex aboard another Crew Dragon, the first commercial flight to the outpost by an all-civilian crew.

Japanese fashion entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa will launch aboard another Soyuz on Dec. 8, joining cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and Yozo Hirano, Maezawa’s production assistant, for a 12-day flight to the space station. Credit: Roscosmos/Space Adventures

In addition, Blue Origin, owned by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos, plans to launch a non-government crew on a sub-orbital space flight July 20, the company’s first piloted launch of its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft. Additional up-and-down flights to space are planned before the end of the year.

Virgin Galactic, owned by Richard Branson, also is gearing up to begin piloted sub-orbital spaceflights. Both companies plan to launch “space tourists” as well as government-sponsored crew members and microgravity payloads.

“This truly is a renaissance in U.S. human spaceflight,” Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said earlier this week during a briefing about the Axiom mission. “I think that’s the perfect word for what we’re experiencing.

“This is a real inflection point, I think, with human spaceflight. I’m very bullish on the tourism market and the tourism activity, I think more people are going to fly, they’re going to want to do more things in space. The more things they want to do, that will attract more people. … It’s just what we envisioned for the Commercial Crew Program when we embarked on that about 10 years ago.”

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Starlink teams up with Google for ground infrastructure




TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX will install ground stations within Google’s data centers for its Starlink broadband satellites under a new cloud partnership.

The alliance aims to expand the reach of Google Cloud customers to their data, services and applications without the need for nearby cell towers. 

After connecting to a Starlink constellation that is becoming increasingly available worldwide, they can increase performance by running applications within Google data centers.

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said that, in return, Starlink customers will leverage Google’s infrastructure and capabilities for secure connections.

Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of infrastructure at Google Cloud, said in a statement: “Applications and services running in the cloud can be transformative for organizations, whether they’re operating in a highly networked or remote environment.

“We are delighted to partner with SpaceX to ensure that organizations with distributed footprints have seamless, secure, and fast access to the critical applications and services they need to keep their teams up and running.”

They expect to provide enterprise customers with new services based on this partnership in the second half of this year.

Although there are currently more than 1,550 Starlinks in orbit following SpaceX’s latest launch May 9, the company remains in beta testing.

Battle in the clouds

Starlink’s Google partnership appears to be more integrated than an alliance announced in October with Microsoft, which will also use the satellites to expand cloud services.

Microsoft said Starlink will support its new space-focused, modular cloud business called Azure Space, which will offer mobile cloud computing data centers that can be deployed anywhere in the world. 

O3b internet satellites that SES operates in medium Earth orbit (MEO) also empower that initiative, supporting customers who use space-based data but are unwilling to invest in ground infrastructure directly to process and analyze it.

SES is jointly investing with Microsoft in Azure Orbital ground stations and MEO gateways, primarily targeting the Earth observation market.

The Luxembourg-based company became the first satellite operator in 2019 to implement ONAP, an open-source platform telecoms companies use to automate their networks, with network functions virtualization (NFV) technology on Azure cloud services.

Cloud computing companies and satellite operators are increasingly coming together to drive down costs and improve network access amid improving virtualization technologies.

In September, Microsoft unveiled a “ground-station as a service” business called Azure Orbital to compete with AWS Ground Station, which is part of Amazon’s cloud-computing branch Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Meanwhile, Amazon is developing its own LEO broadband constellation called Project Kuiper.

Although Project Kuiper has yet to launch a single satellite, Amazon has set aside $10 billion to accelerate its development.

In 2018, established LEO satellite operator Iridium Communications partnered with AWS to develop a network called CloudConnect, targeting the market for connecting internet of things (IoT) devices to the internet.

Established broadband operators with satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) have also been ramping up their cloud partnerships in recent years.

Intelsat, Inmarsat and Viasat, for example, are working with Microsoft as an ‘ExpressRoute’ partner, helping send customer data to the Azure network of fiber-linked data centers.

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OneWeb agrees SoftBank alliance to get Japanese regulatory approvals




TAMPA, Fla. — Japanese internet giant SoftBank has agreed an alliance with OneWeb to expand its low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband services in Japan and worldwide.

The collaboration with SoftBank, which has invested in OneWeb, is an important step toward getting regulatory approvals and setting up ground stations in Japan for the startup’s growing constellation.

SoftBank owns stakes in technology, energy and financial companies worldwide, and also operates a telecoms business in Japan where it serves more than 45 million mobile consumer and enterprise subscribers.

OneWeb said their alliance will promote their combined communications services, including platforms SoftBank is building to digitize company operations.

SoftBank posted net income equivalent to nearly $46 billion for its fiscal year ending March 31, a record for a Japanese listed company. 

Successful bets in the company’s $100 billion Vision Fund and its successor boosted these figures, including gains from South Korean e-commerce company Coupang and food-delivery service DoorDash when they listed on public markets.

The results will grow investor confidence in SoftBank founder Masa Son, who often speaks about investing for a future when ubiquitous connectivity meets “singularity,” when machines can outthink humans.

Son blamed COVID-19 after SoftBank reported its first annual loss in 15 years in 2020, an operating loss of 1.36 trillion yen ($12.7 billion). 

The Japanese company was an early investor in OneWeb. At one point it tried to engineer a merger between the startup and established satellite fleet operator Intelsat, which operates spacecraft in geostationary orbit (GEO).

Holders of Intelsat’s debt shot down that deal in 2017. 

Struggling under nearly $15 billion of debt as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, Intelsat entered bankruptcy protection in May 2020 in a process it is still working through a year later.

COVID-19 also pushed OneWeb into bankruptcy in March 2020. 

After the British government and Indian telecom company Bharti Global rescued OneWeb from Chapter 11 in November, SoftBank returned with a $350 million capital infusion. Hughes Network Systems, which is developing parts of OneWeb’s ground segment, invested $50 million.

On April 27, French satellite operator Eutelsat paid $550 million to buy 24% of OneWeb. 

OneWeb expects to raise the rest of the money it needs to complete its constellation, estimated to be around $500 million, later in 2021.

It has already launched more than a third of its 648 LEO satellite fleet, ahead of its goal to launch partial services before the end of this year, and globally in 2022.

As part of plans to create a new government subsidiary for selling its services, OneWeb said May 10 it will buy Texas-based managed satcoms provider TrustComm for an undisclosed sum.

The acquisition comes after OneWeb, which expects the Department of Defense will be its largest customer, secured a demo contract with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for strategic Arctic locations. Hughes is the prime contractor for that contract.

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The sky’s the limit




The sky’s the limit

Rolls-Royce and Electroflight’s all-electric aircraft ushers in the third age of aviation

Douglas Campbell, technical director of energy storage solution specialists, Electroflight examines the design and manufacturing process of the battery for Rolls-Royce’s zero-emissions aircraft, and how Ansys played a crucial role in simulating materials selection, structural integrity and balanced cooling.

Together, Rolls-Royce and Electroflight are ushering in the third age of aviation, with an all-electric aircraft capable of speeds exceeding 300mph. A primary challenge is optimising the 475kg battery pack for structural strength, thermal management and other critical performance criteria. As the team raced to introduce the world’s fastest zero-emissions aircraft, multiphysics simulation via Ansys, played a crucial role by accelerating battery development and verification.

Rolls-Royce is an aviation pioneer, but the company is focused on the future with an innovative all-electric aircraft. If propeller planes and jets represented the first two ages of aviation, then the third age is certainly focused on sustainable design and zero emissions.

Any new aircraft designs must be as carbon-neutral as possible

Developed as part of Roll-Royce’s ACCEL initiative ― which stands for Accelerating the Electrification of Flight ― in 2021, the aircraft will attempt to shatter the existing 210mph speed record for an all-electric design. The airframe has already reached speeds of over 300mph, fitted with a traditional internal combustion engine, so the ACCEL team has high hopes. Just as impressive as the aircraft’s speed is its range. It is capable of making the 200-mile trip from London to Paris on a single battery charge. In addition, a further objective for both the Rolls-Royce and Electroflight teams was to track and document the sustainability for the overall project, which they are proud to have offset, to make the project net zero emissions.

A battery with wings

Energy-storage performance at this level requires novel engineering approaches and revolutionary battery design. Instead of relying on in-house resources, Rolls-Royce turned to Electroflight, a Gloucestershire-based start-up that develops high reliability energy storage solutions for aerospace electrification applications.

The resulting lithium-ion battery pack incorporates three separate battery assemblies that provide electricity to three high-power electric motors, developed by Oxford-based YASA, a manufacturer of lightweight electric motors and controllers. Based on a proprietary axial-flux design, YASA has been able to deliver a small, lightweight engine configuration that produces more than 500hp, to support the aircraft’s record-breaking speeds.

While a lightweight engine design may be achievable, even the most power-dense lithium-ion batteries are by necessity, heavy. With more than 6,000 battery cells and an impressive 90% energy efficiency, the battery assembly, designed by Electroflight, produces enough energy to power 250 homes. It also weighs in at 475kg and commands a great deal of space in the aircraft’s fuselage, leading some observers to call the aircraft a battery with wings.

The battery’s size and weight might be viewed as disadvantages, but Rolls-Royce and Electroflight capitalised on these features by leveraging the battery pack as a key structural element for the one-seater aircraft. This meant the airframe and the battery pack had to be optimised simultaneously to ensure that both elements were integrated to balance energy and propulsion with lift.

Another potential downside was the well-documented thermal effects of lithium-ion batteries. To manage the battery packs’ natural propensity to generate heat, Electroflight engineers designed an innovative cooling system that pumps a liquid coolant mixture, composed of water and glycol, through plates between the batteries. Thermal loads are managed as the lithium-ion cells contact the cooling plate, even during the high-power demands of the aircraft performance.

Electroflight’s advanced battery management system gathers thousands of data points per second, providing the pilots with the information needed to extract maximum performance from the battery system when making record attempts. With safety in mind, the Electroflight team engineered the aircraft to land safely with just a single battery pack in operation.

Simulation speeds design

To model and solve many of the advanced challenges involved in the battery assembly’s design, Electroflight relied on a suite of Ansys simulation solutions, including Ansys Mechanical, Ansys Discovery, Ansys Fluent and Ansys Granta Materials Selector. Engineering simulation helped the Electroflight team address three critical issues: materials selection, structural integrity and balanced cooling.

The electric aircraft has been developed as part of Roll-Royce’s ACCEL initiative

With the battery pack’s sheer size, relative to the aircraft itself, Electroflight concluded that the pack needed to be a structural member for the small craft, transferring flight loads from the power system to the airframe throughout the aircraft operating and performance cycles. Fulfilling this function required careful analysis and optimisation of the battery assembly design. The team wanted to minimise weight, while also ensuring both effective transfer of the flight loads and avoiding vibration modes that may align with any of the system operational frequencies.

Supporting the Electroflight team, Ansys provides full structural and frequency analysis of the battery assembly using Ansys Mechanical. This led to various adjustments to the assembly design, notably the design of new clamps to adjust the stiffness of the full assembly, avoiding resonant frequencies aligned with the propellor operating frequencies.

The individual battery cells are mounted in a compact, back-to-back arrangement located on a polymer mounting plate. The 3D printed frame material originally intended for use was found to have reduced stiffness properties as temperatures increased. Electroflight needed to select a material with a glass transition temperature that was greater than the battery operating temperature, which was a difficult challenge. The team used Granta to down-select materials based on specific requirements. Using Ansys Mechanical and Granta, a 30% glass fibre-filled polycarbonate was identified to be the optimal material. Simulation helped the team meet this difficult material challenge during the design phase.

Optimisation keeps it cool

Because thermal load is a central concern for lithium-ion batteries, Electroflight engineers leveraged Discovery and Fluent to model the battery cooling system and study the thermal performance for the full battery assembly in real-world operation conditions. The team applied adjoint solution methods in Fluent, which were developed specifically for confined inner flows, to characterise the battery’s innovative cooling system performance. The software automatically explored the operating envelope for a given design, morphing the arrangement to a more-optimal shape, guiding the Electroflight team to an optimised design. Because adjoint simulation provided a roadmap showing which regions of the battery were most sensitive to overheating, developers could focus their efforts accordingly.

Together, the Ansys solutions helped the Electroflight team understand a host of sophisticated issues ―from sustainability and manufacturability, to operating limitations ― and optimise the battery design accordingly. The team was under significant time and cost pressures to meet the milestones associated with the recent test flights, and simulation via Ansys helped solve key engineering challenges rapidly and effectively. Ansys not only helped Electroflight verify the battery pack’s final design prior to the test flights, but answer a number of incredibly complex questions on the way there.

Sustainability takes flight

As the global aerospace industry looks ahead, clearly any new aircraft designs must be as carbon-neutral as possible. This creates an entirely new set of challenges for engineering teams, from materials selection to the many facets of energy production and efficiency. Granta tools were able to support this sustainability effort, developing new processing and approaches to fully understand and minimise the project environmental footprint.

Backed by Rolls-Royce’s tradition of aviation leadership and Electroflight’s unique expertise in battery systems ― and armed with best-in-class tools from Ansys ― the Electroflight team is successfully taking on those challenges. With a series of test flights now completed, the partners’ confidence in the future of sustainable aviation is soaring.


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