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China is developing plans for a 13,000-satellite megaconstellation

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HELSINKI — China is to oversee the construction and operation of a national satellite internet megaconstellation through coordinating the country’s major space actors. 

Recent comments by senior officials indicate that plans are moving ahead to alter earlier constellation plans by space sector state-owned enterprises and possibly make these part of a larger “Guowang” or “national network” satellite internet project. 

Spectrum allocation filings submitted to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by China in September last year revealed plans to construct two similarly named “GW” low Earth orbit constellations totaling 12,992 satellites. 

The filings indicate plans for GW to consist of sub-constellations ranging from 500-1,145 kilometers in altitude with inclinations between 30-85 degrees. The satellites would operate across a range of frequency bands.

Bao Weimin, a senior official with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), China’s main space contractor, made a first public acknowledgement of the megaconstellation plan in an interview with Shanghai Securities News March 7, stating “we are planning and developing space-based internet satellites and have launched test satellites.”

“A “national network” (Guo Wang) company will also be established to be responsible for the overall planning and operation of the satellite internet construction,” Bao added.

On Monday Ge Yujun, president of China Spacesat Co., Ltd., a CASC subsidiary, told ThePaper that the Hongyan and Hongyun broadband constellations previously planned CASC and sister state-owned giant China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) respectively would be altered by authorities.

Ge said that “relevant national departments” are conducting overall planning for constellation construction and that he understands that the original plans for Hongyan and CASIC’s Hongyun will “undergo major changes”.

The Hongyan-1 satellite ahead of launch in 2018.
The Hongyan-1 satellite ahead of launch in 2018. Credit: CAST

Both constellations, announced around 2018, were to consist of hundreds of communications satellites in low Earth orbit. A handful of technology verification satellites have since been launched. CASC was planning to have an initial 60 Hongyan satellites in orbit by 2022. 

The comments suggest that the older constellations may form part of the new, larger “national network” project.

It is unclear how the project will proceed but the development of satellite internet has become a national priority.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) added “satellite internet” to a list of “new infrastructures” in April 2020. 

The recently approved 14th Five-year Plan for the period 2021-2026 and “long-range objectives through 2035” call for an integrated network of communications, Earth observation, and navigation satellites. 

China has already constructed its Beidou navigation and positioning system and is deploying Gaofen satellites for its  China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS).

Additionally private enterprise Galaxy Space in 202 launched its Yinhe-1 to test Q/V and Ka-band communications. Beijing Commsat Technology Development Co., Ltd., earlier this year received government funding from the China Internet Investment Fund (CIIF) for research and industrialization of satellites. It is unclear what role, if any, such firms will play in the national network project.

Ian Christensen, director of private sector programs at Secure World Foundation, sees the “GW” or national network project as potentially serving a number of goals for China. These include supporting domestic technology and economic development goals and contributing to China’s soft power diplomacy and regional leadership efforts. 

“Development of the constellation will also provide domestic employment, anchor space-related industry clusters, and contribute to economic development through serving and enabling domestic connectivity needs,” Christensen says. He adds that the project could also be used as a tool for soft power, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative or diplomacy efforts in nearby regions.

With constellations such as SpaceX’s Starlink and OneWeb already underway and Amazon this week ordering Atlas 5 missions for its Kuiper broadband satellites, the planned GW constellation brings even more urgency to the need to address issues related to the deployment of megaconstellatons including space debris and space traffic management.

“I personally would take the likelihood of the successful deployment of the GW constellation seriously. It should place further emphasis and urgency on the need to improve global coordination practices for the deployment and operation of large constellations,” Christensen says. 

“Space safety is an area where there are shared interests between U.S and Chinese actors, including both government and private sector actors, but overall geopolitical trends make meaningful dialogue challenging.”

Proposed and developing megaconstellations are raising concerns of the heightened risk of orbital debris. The growing number of satellites in LEO is also a threat to visible astronomy.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/china-is-developing-plans-for-a-13000-satellite-communications-megaconstellation/

Aerospace

Rocket Lab prepares to recover second booster at sea after May 15 launch

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Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck shared more details on the company’s next launch, which is set to take off from its New Zealand facility on May 15. The Electron vehicle will be carrying satellites from BlackSky, but delivering that payload is only half of the mission: the other half will be recovering the booster stage after an ocean splashdown.

This is the second of three planned booster recovery missions, part of Rocket Lab’s long-term plan to reach reusability for its launch vehicle, an achievement most famously held by its competitor SpaceX. The first recovery mission, dubbed “Return to Sender,” successfully splashed down in the Atlantic in November. While Beck told reporters Tuesday the condition of that booster “was remarkable,” this upcoming mission nevertheless features a number of component and system upgrades aimed at further fortifying the booster.

Most notably, the booster will be equipped with a redesigned heat shield made out of stainless steel, rather than aluminum, “designed to carry the reentry loads as well as the ascent loads,” Beck said. Electron must endure temperatures as high as 2400ºC during reentry, conditions the original equipment wasn’t intended to handle.

The company is also introducing what it’s calling the Ocean Recovery and Capture Apparatus, or ORCA, a dedicated system to help lift the rocket stage out of the water and onto the deck of a ship. Rough seas in November presented a challenge to the recovery effort, though ultimately the booster was not damaged.

The mission will also reuse components from the recovered booster, which (although the booster itself was dismantled) were subsequently inspected and requalified for flight. “From here on in, we should be able to reuse this system on every single launch vehicle that we’ve been bringing back,” Beck said.

Rocket Lab is pursuing a unique route to reusability. As opposed to the approach from SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rockets use powered decelerations and landings, Rocket Lab’s approach with Electron is to decelerate the vehicle passively using the atmosphere and a parachute.

The reentry method is constrained by the size of the launch vehicle, Beck explained. “You don’t really have that ability to carry extra fuel to do maneuvers or deceleration burns or anything like that,” he said. Instead, the vehicle enters engines-first and propagates a massive shockwave on its journey back to Earth, carefully managed to reduce peak heat on its vulnerable parts. This results in a nearly negligible payload reduction: about 10%, as opposed to the 30-40% required for a propulsive landing. These are very tight margins, Beck acknowledged:

“This is not a simple thing to do. It sounds pretty basic – let’s just bring the stage back and put it under a parachute and splash down – but actually, doing it with no significant reentry elements and just using the atmosphere to do all the work is really challenging.”

The final splashdown recovery mission will take place before the end of 2021, Beck said, and will include improvements to the decelerator and a more general block upgrade. Once these missions are complete, Rocket Lab will turn to its ultimate goal: to do away with splashdown recovery altogether and to retrieve the booster mid-descent under its parachute using a helicopter.

Looking ahead, the company’s next rocket will be the Neutron, “a vehicle designed for reusability from day one,” Beck said. The Neutron will be much larger than its predecessor and capable of lifting heavier payloads to orbit. He estimated that Rocket Lab will construct one Neutron rocket per year and aim to operate a fleet of four to begin with.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/11/rocket-lab-prepares-to-recover-second-booster-at-sea-after-may-15-launch/

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Space Force renames Florida-based launch wing Space Launch Delta 45

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The Space Force also plans to rename the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Space Launch Delta 30

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force has officially renamed the 45th Space Wing that oversees Florida’s launch ranges Space Launch Delta 45, the service announced May 11.

Plans to rename the former Air Force space launch wing were announced last month.  To create its own identity separate from the Air Force, the Space Force is naming its units deltas.

A virtual changeover ceremony held at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, was posted on YouTube May 11.

The 45th Space Wing was stood up in November 1991 and has since supported nearly 800 military, civil and commercial space launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and from the Kennedy Space Center. The unit oversees the Eastern Range that extends 10,000 miles from the Florida coastline through the South Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean. 

The wing took its numerical designation from the 45th Bombardment Group that protected the U.S. Atlantic coastline during World War II. 

On Tuesday the Space Force unveiled the emblem of Space Launch Delta 45. The midnight blue and silver gray of the Delta represent the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. In the lower center of the Delta, a large glow represents the Earth, a smaller globe symbolizes the moon and other planets. The border is the transition from sky to space. The small delta’s flight path is red to indicate the stresses of launch during spaceflight. The path is left to right to represent prograde departure routes of launch vehicles on the Eastern Range.

The commander of Space Launch Delta 45 is Brig. Gen. Stephen Purdy.

The Space Force also plans to rename the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Space Launch Delta 30.

Both launch units currently report to the Space Force’s Space Operations Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Space Force announced last month that the launch wings later this year will be realigned under Space Systems Command, a new field command to be based in Los Angeles that will replace the Space and Missile Systems Center.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/space-force-renames-florida-based-launch-wing-space-launch-delta-45/

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Environmental factors most important among ESG: Poll

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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to address climate change as part of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues of companies and businesses.

In a poll Verdict has conducted to assess which among the three ESG factors is most important as ranked by companies, a majority 45% voted environmental factors to be the most important, while 37% voted corporate governance and 18% voted social factors to be the most important.

Social factors was the second most important, according to 56% of the respondents, followed by corporate governance (23%) and environmental factors (21%).

Corporate governance was accorded the third rank by 40% of the respondents, followed by environmental factors (34%) and social factors (26%).

The analysis is based on 241 responses received from the readers of Verdict between 01 February and 12 April 2021.

Significance of ESG factors

The three ESG factors are usually interlinked, and equally drive sustainable performance of a company or business although at varying degrees. Investors are employing these non-monetary factors in their search for potential growth opportunities and material risks.

Each of the ESG factors have different material effect on a business or sector. Environmental factors, for example, are more important for the renewables sector, but not as important for the services sector.

Environmental issues have currently garnered much attention amid the coronavirus pandemic from a political and economic viewpoint. Climate change, global warming, and carbon emissions are quantifiable and can be easily reported by a company although social and governance factors are equally important to attract investors.

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/environmental-factors-most-important-among-esg-poll/

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Senate Intelligence chairman wants further review of decision to relocate U.S. Space Command

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Sens. Warner and Bennett argue that U.S. intelligence agencies are affected by the move but their needs were not considered.

WASHINGTON —  The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is backing efforts by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to challenge the relocation of U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama.

In a May 11 letter to President Biden, Warner and Bennet argue that the Trump administration rushed to recommend the move of U.S. Space Command without fully considering the impact on the intelligence community that works hand-in-hand with the military to protect U.S. satellites from threats. 

The Air Force on Jan. 13 announced that the Army Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, had been selected as the permanent headquarters of U.S. Space Command, which currently is based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Since then, Colorado lawmakers have pushed back, arguing that the decision — announced one week before a change in administration — appeared to be politically motivated given the large presence of military space installations and space industry workforce in Colorado.

Warner and Bennett are making the case that U.S. intelligence agencies also are affected by this move but their needs were not considered. 

“We are concerned this decision did not take into account how such a move may affect Intelligence Community (IC) dependencies and missions. We therefore request you review the process by which this decision was made, and to ensure IC equities are fully considered,” the senators wrote in the letter to Biden. 

They note that Colorado has made investments in facilities such as the National Space Defense Center to “enhance collaboration and interoperability” between intelligence and military operators. “It is critical that any decision to move Space Command from its current location take into account the potential effects of such a move on the operational integration between the IC and DoD space communities at NSDC and at other joint sites in Colorado,” said the letter.

At the request of Colorado lawmakers, the relocation decision currently is being reviewed by the DoD inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he supports the Air Force’s decision-making process. 

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Source: https://spacenews.com/senate-intelligence-chairman-wants-further-review-of-decision-to-relocate-u-s-space-command/

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