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Boeing Starliner completes software requalification

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WASHINGTON — Boeing has completed a requalification of software on its commercial crew spacecraft as it prepares to launch the vehicle on a second test flight as soon as late March.

Boeing announced Jan. 18 it completed a “formal requalification” of the software on its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. That work included reviews of the software itself as well as the processes by which Boeing developed and tested the software.

“The work this team put into exhaustively wringing out our software is a defining moment for the program,” John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Starliner, said in a company statement. “We’re smarter as a team having been through this process, and most importantly, we’re smarter as a human spaceflight community.”

Software problems were at the root of a flawed initial test flight, known as Orbital Flight Test (OFT), of the spacecraft in December 2019. Starliner’s timer was off by 11 hours, causing the spacecraft to think to think it was in a different mode of flight immediately after spacecraft separation. The spacecraft ended up using more fuel for its thrusters than planned to achieve orbit, ruling out a planned docking with the International Space Station.

Engineers then found a second software problem that could have caused the spacecraft’s service module to bump into the crew capsule after separation just before reentry. That risked damaging the capsule’s heat shield or causing the capsule’s orientation to become unstable. A software patch to correct the problem was installed just hours before reentry on that shortened test flight.

Boeing executives said two months after the OFT mission that they were revising their software development processes to address those issues. “We’re going to apply additional rigor to systems engineering and software development,” said John Mulholland, Starliner program manager at Boeing at the time.

An independent review of the OFT mission generated 80 recommendations, with software requirements, development and testing accounting for a large fraction of them. NASA said in December that Boeing had completed work on more than 90% of the recommendations.

Boeing is not finished with testing the Starliner software. Additional work is planned with United Launch Alliance to test integration of Starliner with its Atlas 5 launch vehicle, and with NASA to test joint operations with the ISS.

Boeing will also perform an end-to-end simulation of the upcoming second OFT mission, including complete testing of the software from prelaunch operations through docking, and from undocking to landing. Boeing acknowledged last year they didn’t do end-to-end software testing, instead breaking up the tests into smaller segments.

That next OFT flight, known as OFT-2, is scheduled for March 29. Boeing agreed last year to perform the second uncrewed test flight at its own expense to complete the testing of the spacecraft, including docking with the ISS, before flying astronauts on the Crew Flight Test (CFT) later this year.

That test flight could take place slightly earlier. Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters, said at a Jan. 13 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee that it may be possible to move up the launch to March 25, although NASA and Boeing have not made a formal decision on a revised launch date for OFT-2.

He praised Boeing for the work they have done to correct the problems with Starliner found during the original OFT mission. “They have certainly not taken their foot off the gas, and we continue to work with Boeing and get them ready for their OFT-2 flight,” he said.

If the OFT-2 mission is successful, the CFT mission would follow, sending astronauts Mike Fincke, Nicole Mann and Barry Wilmore to the ISS as soon as this summer. NASA previously contemplated extending the CFT mission from a couple weeks to as long as several months to maintain a U.S. presence on the ISS.

That extended CFT mission is unlikely now, McAlister said, with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in service. The Crew-1 mission is currently at the station and expected to remain there until May. Crew-2 is scheduled to launch in the spring, overlapping with Crew-1, while a third Crew Dragon mission, Crew-3, is planned for the fall.

“Now that SpaceX is operational, we don’t see the need to necessarily stress that,” he said, noting there was no official decision yet on the length of the CFT mission. “We’re thinking of making that a regular test flight.”

Source: https://spacenews.com/boeing-starliner-completes-software-requalification/

Aerospace

New stealth bomber will rival USAF’s B-21 Raider, China claims

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A Chinese drone manufacturer claims to have created a stealth bomber that rivals the US Air Force’s B-21 Raider, which is currently in development.

Zhongtian Feilong Intelligent Technology (ZFIT) has claimed the unmanned aircraft, called Feilong-2, could be used for precision strikes on key assets such as enemy command centres, military airstrips and aircraft carriers, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

The company also says the drone could be used with swarm drones for reconnaissance and surveillance.

Related: When will the B-21 stealth bomber be officially revealed?

The completed prototype closely matches Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider in terms of speed, attack range, payload and stealth, while also being cheaper to make and more durable.

ZFIT claims the aircraft’s features mean the US Air Force’s B-21 “has already fallen behind, even before it enters service,” SCMP reported. The drone has an internal payload capacity of 6 tonnes and an operating range of 4,350 miles and it can be flown at an altitude of 49,000ft.

The Chinese drone comes close to Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider in terms of speed, attack range, payload and stealth capabilities – but Zhongtian Feilong claims its unmanned aircraft is cheaper to produce and is expected to last longer.

This image of the Feilong-2 stealth bomber was published on social media by Zhongtian Feilong Intelligent Technology

The B-21 Raider is a new stealth aircraft being developed to replace the US Air Force’s aging bomber fleet.

Designed to be long-range, highly survivable and capable of carrying a mix of conventional and nuclear ordinance, the B-21 will join the US nuclear triad as flexible nuclear deterrent.

The bomber, developed and manufactured by Northrop Grumman in Palmdale, California, has been given a new schedule by the US Air Force.

Related: US Air Force reveals more on B-21 Raider stealth bomber

The aircraft was originally meant to fly as early as December 2021, according to USAF, but a new schedule means it will not have its first flight until 2022.

Aviation Week reports the new schedule still implies a factory rollout of the next generation bomber in the second half of 2021.

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Source: https://www.aero-mag.com/b-21-bomber-rival-china-22042021/

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Airbus launches shake-up of aerostructures activity in Europe

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Airbus launches shake-up of aerostructures activity in Europe

Image: Premium Aerotec

Airbus has provided more details of its industrial shake-up in Europe, primarily regarding aerostructures activities in France and Germany.

The aircraft manufacturer has reaffirmed its intention to build a stronger aerostructures assembly value chain across its industrial system to its social partners, and considers aerostructures assembly as core to its business.

Airbus presented its plans to create two integrated aerostructures assembly companies at the heart of its industrial system in order to reinforce its value stream management and prepare the company for its short- and long-term future.

As part of these plans, and upon successful completion of the ongoing social process, the new company in France would bring together the activities currently managed within Airbus in Saint-Nazaire and Nantes together with those of STELIA Aerospace worldwide.

Related: Aerospace Manufacturing spoke toAirbus’s head of zero emissions about its new zero-emission Hydrogen ZEROe aircraft

Another company in Germany would bring the activities of Stade and Structure Assembly of Hamburg together with those of Premium Aerotec in Nordenham, Bremen and partly in Augsburg, while rebalancing activities towards the upper part of the value chain and reviewing its involvement in the manufacturing of detail parts.

These two new aerostructures assembly companies, both wholly owned by Airbus, would no longer be suppliers to Airbus but become integrated within the Airbus perimeter, simplifying both governance and interfaces in a new industrial setup.

Their distinct status would also enable them to focus on their industry segment and be leaner and more agile, fostering competitiveness, innovation and quality to the benefit of the Airbus programmes of today and tomorrow.

Airbus also intends to create a new global player in the detail parts business, anchored in Germany. Born out of today’s Premium Aerotec, this new entity, with its scale and advanced technologies, would be empowered to capitalise on the significant long-term growth prospects with Airbus as well as external customers, on both civil and military platforms.

In Spain, Airbus continues to work on solutions with its social partners to optimise the current industrial and aerostructures set-up in the Cádiz area in order to ensure its viability, resilience and competitiveness for the future.

www.airbus.com

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Watch live: SpaceX readies for Crew Dragon launch before dawn Friday

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Live coverage of the countdown and flight of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft, and Crew-2 astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet on a flight to the International Space Station. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

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Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/04/22/falcon-9-crew-2-mission-status-center/

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OQ Technology secures launches for propriety satellites as connected device market ramps up

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TAMPA, Fla. — OQ Technology, a Luxembourg space startup created to connect internet of things (IoT) devices to 5G technology, has signed a multi-launch deal with rideshare specialist Spaceflight to loft its own small satellites.

The company has been running tests on satellites owned by Denmark’s Gomspace, demonstrating narrowband spectrum capabilities on the 3GPP standards used by terrestrial wireless providers.

OQ Technology’s first satellite will launch this year, according to founder and CEO Omar Qaise, followed by another in the 2021/2022 timeframe to provide “latency tolerant” services.

Those services, supported by hosted payloads on other satellites, will be for customers that do not need more than a few updates from sensors per day. Agriculture customers, for instance, that can wait a few hours for data about humidity or soil temperature.

OQ Technology announced April 6 that Lithuania-based NanoAvionics is building a satellite called MACSAT, based on its flagship 6U cubesat buses and equipped with S-band transceivers.

Qaise said OQ Technology’s Spaceflight agreement covers the launch of six more satellites in 2022. He said it will pick a manufacturer for those spacecraft in the middle of this year. 

The agreement includes an option for Seattle-based Spaceflight to arrange the launch of a second batch of satellites, which OQ Technology has earmarked for the end of 2022 or the start of 2023 to improve capacity and latency.

OQ Technology envisages a constellation of more than 60 spacecraft in total.

The venture expects to have “real-time coverage everywhere by 2024. In fact we are already in talks with oil and gas, and mobile telecom companies to provide service trials,” according to Qaise.

He told SpaceNews early customers are mostly in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America, although it is planning trials in the United States where it is considering expanding.

There is a bigger market for “real-time and latency intolerant applications,” Qaise added, including tracking smart cars, commanding and monitoring drones, telematics and alarms for fire or leak detection on oil pipes.

Qaise declined to say how much financing it has secured to date, but said “it is a mix between private funding and revenues from government and institutional contracts.”

Private investors from the United Arab Emirates are also supporting the startup.

IoT rush

OQ Technology is one of dozens of small satellite IoT startups that are racing to expand their services.

A flurry of IoT satellites launched in the last week of March, including inaugural satellites for two startups: Spain-based Sateliot and Australia’s Myriota.

Sateliot expects to begin offering commercial services next year, and like OQ Technology its network will work with 5G IoT standards used by terrestrial telcos.

Qaise said its satellites will be larger and more powerful than Sateliot’s, and will also have a first-mover advantage after earlier tests with its own patented technology. 

To accelerate market access and widen its geographical coverage, he said OQ Technology is also exploring partnerships with geostationary (GEO) satellite operators.

Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek said in August it had successfully tested narrowband IoT technology over Alphasat, the L-band satellite that U.K-based Inmarsat operates in GEO.

U.S. startup Skylo emerged from stealth in early 2020, with $116 million funding, to develop technology to connect IoT sensors to existing GEO satellites.

“In the end we should have a network of our own LEO satellites, hosted payloads, and partner GEO satellites to provide reliable and continuous 5G IoT coverage for users anywhere in the world,” Qaise said.

“I cannot comment on who we are talking with but we are starting to reach out to operators.”

Smallsat IoT companies have moved from design plans to real commercial service in the last couple of years, Northern Sky Research senior analyst Alan Crisp noted.

In addition to recent satellite launches, Crisp said an increasing number of partnerships are targeting specific applications, such as mining and agriculture, are also moving ahead.

“With these launches and partnerships, it is clear that smallsat IoT isn’t only gaining momentum, it is accelerating,” he told SpaceNews.

“And with each new satellite launched, reduced latency and higher quality of service is achieved, resulting in a more desirable product with each launch. Pricing isn’t quite as originally promised, yet these price points compared to existing satellite IoT services will open up a whole new market opportunity.” 

Smallsat IoT will grow to more than five million satellite terminals by 2029, according to the baseline scenario in NSR’s latest report on the market. 

“With so many potential smallsat IoT constellations being planned in the coming years, NSR’s high growth scenario identifies 15 million satellite terminals in 2029 should more of these constellations become fully launched,” Crisp said. 

“Smallsat IoT really does have the potential to expand the satellite market to a whole new type of customer.”

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Source: https://spacenews.com/oq-technology-secures-launches-for-propriety-satellites-as-connected-device-market-ramps-up/

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