Aerospace

Former U.S. Air Force secretary Heather Wilson joins Maxar’s board of directors

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Wilson currently is president of the University of Texas El Paso.

WASHINGTON — Former secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson has joined the board of directors of Maxar Technologies, the company announced Jan. 19. 

Wilson currently is president of the University of Texas El Paso. She was the Air Force’s top civilian from May 2017 through May 2019 and previously was a congresswoman representing New Mexico. 

Wilson was appointed to the Maxar board but still has to be elected by the company’s stockholders at their next annual meeting later this year. Maxar’s board is led by retired Air Force general Howell Estes and one of its members is retired Air Force general Robert Kehler.

Maxar is the U.S. government’s largest supplier of satellite imagery and geospatial intelligence. Wilson will provide Maxar strategic advice as the company seeks to grow its national security and intelligence business.

Maxar’s executive vice president and chief technology officer Walter Scott told SpaceNews that the company sees a rising demand from U.S. defense and intelligence agencies for technologies that can rapidly analyze and exploit data. In 2020 Maxar acquired Vricon, a supplier of satellite-derived 3D data aimed at the defense and intelligence markets,

Scott said Maxar plans to use Vricon’s technology to create virtual training environments for the U.S. military. So-called “digital twins” of the planet also could be used by the military for navigation and targeting.

Maxar plans to launch its first two next-generation WorldView Legion satellites as early as September 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This is a highly anticipated event, said Scott, as these satellites will provide new imagery capabilities from different orbits with with higher revisit rates.

Source: https://spacenews.com/former-u-s-air-force-secretary-heather-wilson-joins-maxar-board-of-directors/

Aerospace

Lockheed Martin to upgrade GPS satellites for in-orbit servicing

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WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin is redesigning the bus used for Global Positioning System satellites so they can be upgraded with new hardware on orbit, a company executive said Feb. 25.

Eric Brown, senior director of military space mission strategy at Lockheed Martin, said this is significant because the thinking today is that “once something was on orbit you were done with it.” He said that thinking will change as capabilities for in-space servicing and logistics become available in the years ahead.

The redesigned LM2100 commercial bus will be used in the future version of GPS 3 satellites known as GPS 3F. Lockheed Martin expects the third satellite of the GPS 3F line will have the upgraded bus, Brown said during a panel discussion at the Air Force Association’s aerospace warfare virtual symposium. 

The panel was moderated by Brig. Gen. Steve Whitney, director of space programs for the Department of the Air Force. Whitney, who previously ran the GPS program at the Space and Missile Systems Center, noted that on-orbit servicing is an emerging technology in the space industry and DoD satellites should take advantage of it. 

Brown said innovations in on-orbit logistics and servicing are driving the industry to think of new ways of designing satellites. 

“We are going to have the capability to enable on-orbit docking, which will allow us to do on-orbit upgrades for bringing in a new processor, bringing in new sensor technologies, things like that, that permit us to increase the relevance and the mission capability of a space platform,” he said.

The LM2100 is a large platform used for satellites in the range of 2,300 to 6,500 kilograms. 

Brown said Lockheed Martin has been working on this upgrade for some time. One of the motivators was concerns that satellite upgrades on orbit have been viewed as “a really risky proposition” and that there are now technologies to make that possible with less risk. 

Joseph Cassady, executive director for space at Aerojet Rocketdyne, also was on the panel and mentioned the company’s’ interest in in-space logistics.

Brown said Lockheed Martin plans to work with Aerojet Rocketdyne in this area. “When we talk about the maturity of things like rendezvous and proximity operations, we’ve got a lot of capability around as an industry, and certainly Aerojet Rocketdyne is a tremendous company looking at things like that as well,” said Brown.

Lockheed Martin in December announced it intends to acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne. 

“Given the announcements we’ve had in the past couple of months, Lockheed Martin looks to partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne on out into the future, as part of the family,” Brown said. 

SpaceNews

Source: https://spacenews.com/lockheed-martin-to-upgrade-gps-satellites-for-in-orbit-servicing/

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Automaker Geely gains approval for satellites for self-driving constellation

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A render of a satellite in low Earth orbit for the Geely satellite constellation for autonomous self-driving.

HELSINKI — Chinese private automaker Geely has got the green light to begin manufacturing satellites for navigation, connectivity and communications needed for self-driving cars.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) approved a license for a new facility Taizhou, Zhejiang province, in which Geely is based, to begin manufacturing earlier in February.

Geely announced plans for the $326 million Taizhou project in March last year and now plans to begin production in October. The facility will have an estimated production output of over 500 satellites per year, according to a press release.

The satellite constellation will provide Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to X-(V2X) communications to realize full autonomous self-driving. 

Geely has not released a figure for the total planned number of satellites it aims to launch, but the production capacity suggests thousands. Geely says the constellation will not need costly base stations to realise self-driving. 

Geely is planning to launch two demonstration satellites in the first half of this year with the goal of testing navigation enhancement. While GPS, Beidou and other GNSS satellite systems provide positioning accuracy to the level of meters, navigation enhancement to the centimeter level is required for driverless vehicles. 

The pair of 130-kilogram satellites were understood to have been transported to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in June 2020. It is possible launch has been delayed by launch failures of commercial Kuaizhou rockets shortly after.

Geely’s plans are understood to involve combining navigation enhancement and connectivity to create a smart, comprehensive “mobility ecosystem”.

Geely has recently been branching out into trucking, rail, drones and developing deeper cooperation with Volvo while also looking towards low Earth orbit.

Commercial space expansion

Geely’s move follows a number of government decisions going back to late 2014 to allow private capital into the formerly closed-off space sector.

Hundreds of firms focusing on launch vehicles, satellite manufacture, ground stations and downstream applications have since sprung up. 

China’s Geely Technology Group states it saw the NDRC decision to add “satellite internet” to a list of “new infrastructures” in April 2020 as an opportunity to establish an industrial chain including research and development, design, manufacturing, launch and market application for its own satellite network.

A subsidiary of Geely, Zhejiang Shikong Daoyu Tech Co, has also undertaken a satellite $637 million satellite internet-related project in Qingdao, Shandong province. 

Xu Zhihao, CEO of Geely Technology Group, said that satellite manufacturing is crucial for the entire satellite industry chain and the Taizhou facility will meet the development needs of this rapidly developing industry, including shortening development cycles of micro-satellites, faster technology updates, and more functionality. 

Geely’s plans could provide lucrative opportunities for emerging commercial launch providers if they can get to the pad and prove reliability, boosting Chinese government objectives of creating a commercial space ecosystem and new supply chains.

State-owned spinoffs China Rocket Co. Ltd., Expace and CAS Space and nominally private companies Galactic Energy, iSpace, OneSpace, Deep Blue Aerospace and Landspace are planning launches this year.

Chinese megaconstellations

Geely is far from the only entrant into LEO constellations in China. Giant state-owned space and defense contractors China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) also have plans for constellations of large numbers of low Earth orbit satellites, namely the Hongyan (CASC) and Honyun and Xingyun (CASIC) constellations.

These variously aim at providing coverage in remote areas, maritime and aviation connectivity, and Internet and Things and backhauling services.

Additionally a spectrum application has been filed with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for a constellation named “GW”. The mystery constellation would consist of nearly 13,000 satellites and is understood to have state-owned satellite and telecommunications entities as the planned operators. Galaxy Space, a private company, also plans a 5G LEO constellation.

SpaceNews

Source: https://spacenews.com/automaker-geely-gains-approval-for-satellites-for-self-driving-constellation/

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Nicole Robinson named president of Ursa Space Systems

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SAN FRANCISCO – After 14 years at satellite communications fleet operator SES, Nicole Robinson is taking on a new role: president of Ursa Space Systems, a geospatial analytics firm based in Ithaca, New York.

Robinson was SES senior vice president of global government when she began talking in 2020 with Adam Maher, Ursa Space CEO and co-founder.

“I did my homework to understand synthetic aperture radar (SAR), Earth-observation and the role Ursa was playing in the market,” Robinson told SpaceNews. “The more I learned, the more I thought, ‘There’s something I can bring to this team that can help take them to the next level.’”

Ursa Space, founded in 2014, acquires imagery and data from SAR satellite operators around the world, which it fuses them with other types of data to answer questions for government and commercial customers. The company is well known, for example, for monitoring crude oil storage around the world.

With Robinson’s support, Ursa “plans to expand its product offerings for both commercial and government customers,” according to the company’s Feb. 26 news release.

Although Robinson was not eager to leave SES, which she said felt like home, she has been intrigued by space industry startups since SES purchased O3b in 2016.

“The energy that came from this 100-person [O3b] team imprinted on the DNA of SES, which had been operating a certain way for decades,” Robinson said. “That energy, thought leadership and pushing the envelope was something that I wanted more of.”

Robinson is joining Ursa during an unusually busy year for SAR. Companies around the world are establishing or expanding their SAR satellite fleets.

“I think there will be upwards of 40 SAR satellites by the end of 2021, about double what we had last year,” Robinson said. “Ursa will be retrieving all of that information into our platform.”

SpaceNews

Source: https://spacenews.com/nicole-robinson-joins-ursa/

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NASA and Roscosmos leaders speak as plans finalized for flying astronaut on upcoming Soyuz flight

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MS-18 cosmonauts

WASHINGTON — It is increasingly likely that a NASA astronaut will fly on a Russian Soyuz mission to the International Space Station in April as the agency finalizes an agreement with its Russian counterpart.

In a Feb. 25 statement, Roscosmos said that its director general Dmitry Rogozin, spoke that day with NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk. The conversation, Roscosmos stated, included congratulations from Rogozin on the landing last week of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover and discussions of the upcoming launch of Russia’s Arktika-M satellite to monitor conditions in the Arctic.

The statement also mentioned “mutual content with the level of cooperation between Roscosmos and the US space agency including the International Space Station program” that appeared to include Soyuz flights. “The parties also touched upon the arrangement to maintain continuous presence of Russian and American crews at the ISS,” the readout said.

NASA announced Feb. 9 that it was working to obtain a seat on the next Soyuz mission to the ISS, Soyuz MS-18, scheduled for launch April 9. The agency said it would obtain the seat through the exchange of “in-kind services” rather than a direct purchase, an arrangement believed to involve a third party, commercial spaceflight company Axiom Space.

That announcement was tied to the publication of a “sources sought” procurement filing, a necessary step to identify any alternative arrangements before concluding the deal. The deadline for responding to the filing was Feb. 19.

NASA officials have said little publicly about its efforts to obtain the Soyuz seat, citing the ongoing procurement. “That’s an active procurement right now, and I’m just really not in a position where we can talk about it,” Kenny Todd, deputy manager of the ISS program at NASA, said during a Feb. 24 briefing about a pair of upcoming spacewalks at the station.

Todd declined to say even who NASA is considering to fly on that Soyuz seat, if it does obtain it. However, a Roscosmos press release Feb. 24 that discussed training by Russian cosmonauts for the upcoming mission appeared to confirm the identity of that astronaut.

In one image, cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov were training in a simulator. Visible on their flight suits was the Soyuz MS-18 mission patch, which included their names along with “Vandei Hei,” an apparent reference to NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. He has been considered the most likely astronaut to fly the mission, given that he was the backup to Kate Rubins on the previous Soyuz mission to the station last October, alongside Novitsky and Dubrov. Vande Hei had also been seen in some photos in recent months training alongside Russian cosmonauts assigned to the prime and backup crews.

patch
The Soyuz MS-18 mission patch with the names of the crew, including Mark Vande Hei. Credit: Roscosmos

The Roscosmos statement did not mention Vande Hei, but also did not mention Sergey Korsakov, originally assigned to Soyuz MS-18. Rogozin told the Russian news agency TASS Feb. 24 that the upcoming Soyuz flight would have “an international crew,” but did not elaborate.

NASA officials have long talked about having “mixed crews” on both Soyuz and commercial crew missions to the ISS, with a NASA bartering seats on CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft in exchange for seats on Soyuz spacecraft. Doing so would ensure at least one Russian and one American on the station at all times should one vehicle suffer problems that take it out of service for an extended period.

That exchange will ultimately be done through an agreement between NASA and Roscosmos, but NASA officials have said that would not be done in time for the April Soyuz mission. The process by which NASA, at nearly the last minute, is seeking to get a seat on the Soyuz launch has raised questions on Capitol Hill.

In a Feb. 23 letter to Jurczyk, Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Brian Babin (R-Texas), the ranking members of the full House Science Committee and its space subcommittee, respectively, asked for a briefing on NASA’s plans to obtain the Soyuz seat. “After spending billions of taxpayer dollars on developing capabilities to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, it is important for Congress to understand NASA’s existing agreements and future plans for accessing the International Space Station,” they wrote.

NASA did not release its own readout of the call between Jurczyk and Rogozin, and the agency did not respond to a request for comment on the Russian statement.

SpaceNews

Source: https://spacenews.com/nasa-and-roscosmos-leaders-speak-and-plans-finalized-for-flying-astronaut-on-upcoming-soyuz-flight/

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