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NASA and SpaceX sign agreement on spaceflight safety

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WASHINGTON — SpaceX has agreed to maneuver any of its Starlink satellites that come close to the International Space Station or other NASA spacecraft in low Earth orbit as part of an agreement between the agency and the company.

NASA announced March 18 it had signed a Space Act Agreement with SpaceX regarding coordination of operations of the ISS and other NASA spacecraft with SpaceX’s growing fleet of Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit. The agreement, NASA said in a statement, is intended to “formalize both parties’ strong interest in the sharing of information to maintain and improve space safety.”

“With commercial companies launching more and more satellites, it’s critical we increase communications, exchange data, and establish best practices to ensure we all maintain a safe space environment,” Steve Jurczyk, NASA acting administrator, said in the statement.

According to the agreement, SpaceX will use the autonomous collision avoidance feature of its Starlink satellites to move then in the event of any close approaches with NASA spacecraft. That is intended, the agreement states, to avoid a case where both parties maneuvered.

“NASA has agreed to not maneuver in the event of a potential conjunction to ensure the parties do not inadvertently maneuver into one another,” the agreement states. “NASA will operate on the basis that the autonomous maneuvering capability of the Starlink satellites will attempt to maneuver to avoid conjunction with NASA assets, and that NASA will maintain its planned trajectory unless otherwise informed by SpaceX.”

The agreement outlines the roles and responsibilities of NASA and SpaceX regarding sharing information on orbital positions and maneuver plans. It requires SpaceX to notify NASA at least a week before each Starlink launch so NASA can determine if that mission poses any collision avoidance issues. SpaceX also agreed to launch Starlink satellites into initial orbits that do not come within five kilometers of the ISS or other NASA spacecraft. SpaceX will also avoid “any notifiable conjunctions” with the ISS in general, which NASA defines as a volume of space 50 by 50 by 4 kilometers, centered on the station.

The announcement didn’t explain the origins of the agreement, which was apparently drafted several months ago. The text of the agreement notes that SpaceX’s Starlink system has “over 600 assets currently in orbit,” a figure it exceeded months ago as it launches new satellites at a frenetic pace. SpaceX currently has 1,260 Starlink satellites in orbit, according to statistics maintained by spaceflight expert Jonathan McDowell.

NASA spokesperson J.D. Harrington told SpaceNews there was not a specific incident, such as a close approach by a Starlink satellite to a NASA spacecraft, that led to the agreement. “The technical teams from NASA and SpaceX have worked together for some time to ensure consistent and timely communications,” Harrington said. “This agreement came about as an offshoot of our work together on human and cargo spaceflight communications.”

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment about the NASA agreement.

The company has long emphasized its use of automation on Starlink satellites to decide when to perform collision avoidance maneuvers. The company is not alone, though, as other companies planning megaconstellations are adopting similar approaches.

“Every operator I’ve talked to has a tremendous amount of automation in their systems,” said Ted Muelhaupt, principal director of the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, during a presentation at a March 9 workshop on space traffic management by the LRA Institute. “Effectively, these vehicles are on ‘auto-drive’ and the operators themselves may not know when a vehicle chooses to maneuver.”

While that may increase efficiency, he warned it makes it far more difficult to predict close approaches several days in the future since spacecraft may maneuver in what can seem to be an unpredictable fashion. “When these vehicles are doing autonomous maneuvers, small maneuvers, they are making the assumptions that went into avoiding them in the first place invalid,” he said. “If you put two large constellations near one another, all these get greatly magnified.”

In addition to collaboration on avoiding spacecraft close approaches, the agreement between NASA and SpaceX also covers efforts to reduce the brightness of Starlink satellites, which may interfere with astronomical observations. NASA said it will share “technical expertise and lessons learned to collaborate with SpaceX on developing approaches to monitoring and mitigating photometric brightness” of satellites, while SpaceX said it will share similar insights with NASA “to inform Agency guidance development.”

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Source: https://spacenews.com/nasa-and-spacex-sign-agreement-on-spaceflight-safety/

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Virgin Galactic unveils new spaceship for its growing fleet

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Virgin Galactic has unveiled the company’s first SpaceShip III in its growing fleet, VSS Imagine.

The spaceship showcases Virgin Galactic’s innovation in design and astronaut experience. Imagine also demonstrates progress toward efficient design and production, as Virgin Galactic works to scale the business for the long-term.

VSS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flights planned for this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing colour and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space.

Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.

As VSS Imagine begins ground testing, manufacturing will progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet. The introduction of the SpaceShip III class of vehicles is an important milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.

VSS Imagine is unveiled ahead of VSS Unity’s next test flight, which is planned for May 2021.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, commented: “Today we unveiled our SpaceShip III class of vehicles, marking the beginning of the Virgin Galactic fleet. VSS Imagine and Inspire are stunning ships that will take our future astronauts on an incredible voyage to space, and their names reflect the aspirational nature of human spaceflight. Congratulations to our dedicated team who worked so brilliantly to achieve this milestone.”

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, added: “Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves. As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships. All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea. Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet.”

www.virgingalactic.com

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Source: https://www.aero-mag.com/virgin-galactic-unveils-new-spaceship-for-its-growing-fleet/

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

Hexcel has announced its role within the recently launched UK-based project called ASCEND (Aerospace and Automotive Supply Chain Enabled Development) that will focus on developing high-rate manufacturing and processing technologies that will accelerate the development of new, lightweight advanced composite materials.

The composites company will join lead partner GKN Aerospace and 13 other project stakeholders in a collaboration across the UK supply chain to develop the technologies and automation equipment required to manufacture lightweight, more fuel-efficient structures for sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive industries.

Hexcel will contribute to the ASCEND project framework, developing a new HexPly fast cure prepreg system that will significantly reduce component processing times compared to existing aerospace prepregs.

In addition to its new fast curing prepreg technology, Hexcel’s range of Liquid Composite Moulding (LCM) products will be incorporated into the ASCEND project work packages. The project will use both HiTape advanced unidirectional dry carbon reinforcements and HiMax multiaxial non-crimp fabrics reinforcements.

The ASCEND project will allow Hexcel to collaborate with Tier 1 companies, engineers, tooling specialists, and production equipment OEMs to deliver both prepreg and liquid composite moulding solutions that meet both the performance targets and satisfy the processing requirements for high-rate automated manufacture.

The technical integration enabled by the ASCEND project partnerships will ensure a complete understanding of customer performance and processing needs, coupled with the opportunity to industrialize new technologies utilizing the extensive capabilities of GKN’s Global Technology Centre in Bristol.

Paul Mackenzie, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Hexcel, said “We are  proud to be part of the ASCEND program, and we look forward to working with other leading companies as we develop processes and materials that help to make the next generation of sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive vehicles possible. This project offers the perfect platform for Hexcel to collaborate and further develop our HexPly, HiMax, and HiTape technologies.”

The ASCEND partners working alongside Hexcel include Assyst Bulmer, Airborne, Cobham Mission Systems Wimborne, Cygnet Texkimp, DES Composites, FAR-UK, Hive Composites, LMAT, Loop Technology, McLaren Automotive, The National Composites Centre, Solvay Composite Technologies, Rafinex, and Sigmatex (UK).

Together, the group looks forward to delivering the material and automation innovations that will power more sustainable mobility solutions of the future.

www.hexcel.com

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes extends landing gear kits contract with Magellan

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes division has extended its component supply contract with Canada-based supplier Magellan Aerospace.

Under this long-term contract, Magellan will continue to supply landing gear kits and structural components for Boeing platforms such as the 737, 767, and 777.

The contract extension also shows that Magellan meets Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ cost, quality and performance requirements.

Magellan business development, marketing and contract vice-president Haydn Martin said: “Securing this major business extension for key Boeing platforms is foundational for our New York and Kitchener facilities as the aerospace industry works to recover from the impact of the global pandemic.

“The confidence that Boeing has placed in Magellan is significant and demonstrates our ability to offer our customers comprehensive and reliable solutions.”

For Boeing, the company is using a vertical integration strategy that leverages global resources in Ontario, New York City, and India.

It has also made significant investments across all its facilities regarding manufacturing technology and the workforce to enhance its competitiveness worldwide.

Magellan will deliver these kits and hardware from its facilities in Kitchener, Ontario and New York City, New York. The company will also produce an extra supply of kits to reduce production risk.

Deliveries will be made directly to Boeing’s assembly facilities in Renton and Everett, Washington, US.

Last month, Magellan signed a five-year renewal agreement with Avio Aero to supply magnesium and aluminium castings.

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/boeing-commercial-aircraft-magellan/

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ZeroAvia raises new funding for hydrogen-electric engine development

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Zero-emission aviation firm ZeroAvia has raised $24.3m in new funding to support the development of a 2MW hydrogen-electric engine.

Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Horizons Ventures, an existing investor, led the latest funding round and was joined by new investor British Airways.

Other investors, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, Shell Ventures, and SYSTEMIQ, also joined the financing.

The financing takes the company’s total private investment to more than $53m while the total funding raised is close to $74m since its formation.

ZeroAvia’s funding comes a few months after the UK Government, through the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), and Innovate UK, announced a $16.3m (£12.3m) grant to deliver a 19-seat hydrogen-electric powered aircraft in the market by 2023.

The new funding will accelerate the hydrogen-electric powertrain development for a ten to 20-seater regional aircraft.

ZeroAvia aims to commercialise the engine as early as 2024. The company aims to enter the more than 50-seater commercial aircraft segment by 2026.

The funding will also de-risk the company ambition to power a 100-seat single-aisle aircraft by 2030.

ZeroAvia CEO and founder Val Miftakhov said: “This new funding, in conjunction with our other recent milestones, will significantly accelerate our path to zero-emission solutions for larger regional aircraft at a commercial scale.

“With many airlines lining up and ready to make the shift to zero-emissions, we expect to see wide-scale adoption of this technology.”

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/zeroavia-electric-raising-funds/

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