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NASA clears Boeing Starliner for launch on second unpiloted test flight

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STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on July 17, 2021. Starliner will launch on the Atlas V for Boeing’s second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier in the day.

NASA and Boeing held a day-long flight readiness review Thursday and cleared the company’s CST-100 Starliner astronaut ferry ship for launch July 30 on a second unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station.

The spacecraft’s maiden flight in December 2019 was marred by major software problems that prevented a planned rendezvous and docking with the station. Next week’s Orbital Flight Test No. 2, or OFT-2, will test a wide variety of upgrades and improvements intended to clear the way for a piloted flight by the end of the year.

“After reviewing the team’s data, and the readiness of all the parties, everybody said ‘go’ for the launch,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s director of spaceflight. “To me, this review was a reflection of the diligence and the passion of this Boeing and NASA team that really chose to learn and adapt and come back stronger for this uncrewed demonstration mission.”

Liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is targeted for 2:53 p.m. EDT next Friday, roughly the moment Earth’s rotation carries pad 41 into the plane of the space station’s orbit.

If all goes well, the commercially built, reusable spacecraft will carry out an automated rendezvous with the lab complex, moving in for docking at the Harmony module’s forward port just after 3 p.m. the next day. The ship will depart five days later for parachute descent to touchdown near White Sands, New Mexico.

“We’ll test the NASA docking system, we’ll test the rendezvous sensor system,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. “Those things you can test on the ground, in analysis and in testing in simulators, but at some point, you’ve got to go fly those systems.”

Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human spaceflight directorate, participates in the flight Readiness Review Thursday. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Over the past 18 months, he said, “the Boeing and NASA team have worked side by side to resolve numerous issues, to go through and close out requirements, and we’re really ready to go fly now. So it’s an exciting time.”

Boeing and SpaceX are both under contract to NASA to provide commercial crew capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, ending the agency’s sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for transportation to low-Earth orbit.

Under a $2.6 billion contract, SpaceX has designed and built a crewed version of its Dragon cargo ship that rides into orbit atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Boeing’s Starliner is being developed under a $4.2 billion contract and relies on the Atlas 5 for the ride to orbit.

SpaceX successfully carried out two test flights of its Crew Dragon capsule, one unpiloted and one with a two NASA astronauts on board, and has now launched two four-person crews to the space station for long duration stays.

Boeing carried out an unpiloted test flight of its Starliner capsule in December 2019, but major software problems and a communications glitch prevented a rendezvous with the station and nearly led to the loss of the spacecraft.

As it was, flight controllers were able to direct the ship to a safe landing, but plans to launch a piloted test flight were put on hold.

After a lengthy joint review with NASA, a variety of corrective actions were ordered and Boeing eventually opted to launch a second unpiloted test flight to demonstrate the capsule’s readiness to carry astronauts.

Assuming the flight test goes well, the first crew is expected to fly aboard a Starliner before the end of the year. OFT-2 is a major step in that direction, both for NASA and for Boeing.

“So from the standpoint of how important is this to the Boeing company, this is extremely important,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s commercial crew program. “This is a serious and unforgiving business, so we take it very seriously. It’s extremely important to us that we’re successful on this flight.”

Based on the work done over the past 18 months to address shortcomings and implement improvements across the board, “we are very confident that we are going to have a good flight,” he said. “Will there be some learning? There will absolutely be some learning during this flight. It is a test flight.”

But lessons learned will “help us build the safest vehicle we can for the crew flights. So it’s of paramount importance that we have a successful flight.”

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Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/07/22/nasa-clears-boeing-starliner-for-launch-on-second-unpiloted-test-flight/

Aerospace

British government releases national space strategy

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WASHINGTON — The British government released a highly anticipated space strategy Sept. 27 that outlines its plans to turn the country into a major global space power, but does away with a key metric it had been using to measure its progress.

The National Space Strategy sets five general goals for the United Kingdom in space, including growing its space economy, promoting its values of a “open and stable international order” in space, supporting research and innovation, defending national interests and using space for national and global challenges like climate change.

Those goals are supported by four pillars: growing the U.K. space sector, enhancing international collaboration, becoming a science and technology “superpower” and developing resilient space capabilities and services.

“At the heart of this strategy, we recognize and state clearly that we see this as part of a global race for the new space economy, and the U.K. has some very strong strengths that we want to play to,” said George Freeman, appointed science minister in the U.K. government earlier in the month, during a presentation at the U.K. Space Conference Sept. 27.

He also emphasized the role for collaboration, including with Europe, despite Britain’s departure from the European Union. That would primarily be done through the European Space Agency, he said, as well as “a number of other programs” with Europe. “We will only achieve the full potential of this great sector through collaboration internationally, and that starts here in Europe.”

One near-term issue for such collaboration is the role that the U.K. will have in the Copernicus program of Earth observation satellites, a joint effort of ESA and the E.U. The final Brexit agreement last December allowed the U.K. to participate in Brexit, but the British and European governments have yet to work out a detailed agreement governing that participation.

“The U.K. might have left the European political union, but we’re not leaving the European scientific, cultural and research community,” he said. “We want to make sure that, post our withdrawal from the E.U., we become an even stronger player in that research community.” He said Copernicus was a “vital” part of that strategy but offered no details on when an agreement governing British participation in the program would be completed.

The strategy also said little about government funding of programs to support those goals. Freeman noted a governmentwide spending review is due out in October that will provide more details. “Let me reassure you,” he said, “we wouldn’t be launching this strategy now if we weren’t fully committed to it.”

The strategy includes 10 “focus areas” that the British government says represent the “highest impact opportunities” it will concentrate resources on. Those areas range from smallsat launches to promoting space sustainability and using space technology to modernize transportation systems.

Those goals, and the rest of the document, included few quantitative metrics for judging progress. The strategy calls for the U.K. to be a “leading provider” of smallsat launch services and be “at the forefront” of Earth observation but provided little to measure how successful the country is at those goals.

During a later panel discussion at the conference, the audience noted the strategy was missing the one metric that the British government had been promoting for several years: a goal of capturing 10% of the global space economy by 2030.

The omission was deliberate, said Rebecca Evernden, director for space at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. “It’s been quite a long time since that initial 10% target was set,” she said. “We concluded that we needed a more sophisticated way to measure growth in the various parts of the U.K. space sector which is less clumsy, if you like, than a single headline growth target which is somewhat subject to the whims of foreign exchange rates and other factors that can perhaps skew the big picture of what is a very strong growth story in the U.K.”

She said government agencies were working on a series of “goals, ambitions and metrics” to determine progress against those goals but offered no additional information on when those goals would be ready.

According to the space strategy document, the U.K. space sector generated 16.4 billion pounds ($21 billion) in 2019 out of a global space economy of 270 billion pounds, giving the U.K. a market share of 6%. However, the report hinted that the U.K. was lagging toward that original 10% goal: it projected the global space economy to grow at an annual rate of 5.6% through 2030, while the national space economy was growing in recent years at an annual rate of 4.7%.

Andrew Stanniland, chief executive of Thales Alenia Space U.K., suggested on the conference panel there was some urgency for growing British space capabilities. “We’re already behind the rest of the world,” he said. “If we don’t outpace them, we’ll never catch up.”


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Source: https://spacenews.com/british-government-releases-national-space-strategy/

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Aerospace

Space Development Agency revises Transport Layer procurement, with fewer satellites per launch

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The agency has extended until Oct. 8 the deadline for proposals for the Transport Layer Tranche 1

WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency revised a request for proposals that previously had sought bids for 144 satellites. It is now seeking proposals for 126 satellites, and will procure the other 18 at a later time.

SDA Director Derek Tournear said Sept. 27 on a DefenseOne virtual event that the change was made after it was determined that the original plan to launch six stacks of 24 satellites would not work due to launch vehicle constraints. Each stack had to be reduced to 21 satellites. 

The agency has extended until Oct. 8 the deadline for proposals for the Transport Layer Tranche 1. The 126 data-relay communications satellites will be connected in a mesh network. 

In the original RFP issued Aug. 30, SDA had asked for 126 “baseline” communications satellites to be launched in 2024 and an additional 18 “partner payload program” satellites — known as P3 — that would carry hosted payloads. The revised RFP was posted Sept. 14.

The P3 satellites will be a mix of 12 UHF (ultra-high frequency) and S band, and six that will carry yet-to-be determined payloads from the Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. Army or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Tournear said SDA initially planned to launch six planes of 24 satellites — 21 baseline and three P3. “But as we started to work through the national security space launch Phase 2 requirements, that presented some constraints,” he said. 

“We needed a seventh launch for the P3 satellites,” he said. 

SDA still plans to buy the 18 P3 satellites but they will be in a separate solicitation, said Tournear. Once it was determined that they would require another launch, “it made sense to do a separate solicitation.”

Tournear did not elaborate on the specific launch vehicle constraints. According to industry sources, SDA had to reduce the stack to 21 because SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in its recoverable booster configuration could not accommodate 24 satellites in one launch. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance are the launch service providers under the the national security space launch  Phase 2 contract. These sources said the Space Force required the SDA to configure its payloads so they could be launched by either provider. 

SDA will procure a commercial launch for the P3 satellites, said Tournear, “These will be all demonstration prototypes, not operational satellites.”


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Source: https://spacenews.com/space-development-agency-revises-transport-layer-procurement-with-fewer-satellites-per-launch/

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Aerospace

MDA highlights speedy tasking, broad coverage of Radarsat-2 follow-on

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SAN FRANCISCO – MDA’s Radarsat-2 follow-on will include a C-band synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellite in a mid-inclination orbit capable of collecting imagery in a 700-kilometer swath at a resolution of 50 meters per pixel.

Customers will be able to task the new MDA SAR satellite to obtain imagery within one hour, compared with four hours for Radarsat-2. Speedy tasking means customers will be able to re-task the satellite to obtain additional imagery within a single orbit, an MDA spokewoman told SpaceNews.

In addition, MDA plans to delivery imagery and data to customers within 15 minutes of acquisition, compared with less than one hour for Radarsat-2.

MDA has not yet announced how or when it will launch the Radarsat-2 Continuity Mission. Radarsat-2, built by MDA in partnership with the Canadian government and launched in 2007, continues to provide data and imagery to government and commercial customers.

By sending the Radarsat-2 follow-on into an inclined orbit, MDA seeks to offer customers imagery of sites at different times of the day. With the new satellites, MDA also plans to “offer enhanced client-controlled priority tasking, guaranteeing image collection when needed,” according to a Sept. 27 news release.

The Radarsat-2 follow-on is designed to cover large geographic areas. Imagery of the entire New Zealand Exclusive Economic zone, for example, could be obtained within 24 hours.

“For decades, governments, commercial and institutional customers worldwide have counted on MDA’s Earth-observation data to tackle some of the world’s biggest issues including national sovereignty and maritime border protection, illegal fishing, natural disasters and the effects of climate change,” MDA CEO Mike Greenley said in a statement. “Leveraging the latest innovation and scientific advancements to provide a new level of real-time and actionable insight, our fourth generation Earth-observation satellite will once again change how and when we see our planet.”


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Source: https://spacenews.com/mda-radarsat-continuity-mission-details/

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Status of satellite unknown after China conducts pair of launches in 2 hours

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HELSINKI — The status of a classified satellite launched from southwest China Sept. 27 remains unknown more than 12 hours after liftoff.

A Long March 3B rocket lifted from Xichang Satellite Launch Center at around 04:20 a.m. Eastern Monday marking China’s second orbital launch of the day.

The launch was expected following the issuance of airspace closure notices and was apparently confirmed by footage posted on Chinese social media shortly after liftoff. 

However no confirmation of launch success or failure has so far been released by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), the country’s main space contractor, nor state media. Chinese launch successes and failures are typically announced shortly after confirmation. The mission payload also remains unknown.

Sightings of an object over New South Wales, Australia, were likely a burn of the Long March 3B’s upper stage, indicating the launch was still progressing well.

Data from U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (SPCS) later indicated the payload entered a transfer orbit of 177 x 40,105-kilometer orbit inclined by 51 degrees for a targeted inclined geosynchronous orbit. 

A second object cataloged from the launch indicates the payload—possibly the experimental Shiyan-10 satellite according to a swiftly-deleted social media post—successfully separated from the rocket’s upper stage.

Without information from authorities it is currently unknown if the satellite is healthy or possibly suffering an issue such as a failure to deploy its solar arrays. 

The payload launched Monday will need to use its own propulsion to enter its intended orbit, raising its perigee, or nearest point to Earth in its orbit. Space tracking data will show if the required engine burn takes place in the coming days, providing an indication that the satellite is active.

ChinaSat-18 (Zhongxing-18) remains in geosynchronous transfer orbit after an issue suffered following launch in August 2019. An insurance claim filing indicated that the satellite suffered complete power failure.

Kuaizhou-1A returns to action

China’s first launch of the day had taken place two hours earlier at 2:19 a.m. Eastern at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. 

The mission saw a successful return-to-flight of the Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket developed by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) and operated by its spinoff Expace. 

The 20-meter-long, four stage rocket successfully sent the Jilin-1 Gaofen (“high resolution”) 02D Earth observation satellite into a 532 x 545-kilometer orbit inclined by 97.5 degrees for Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co. Ltd. 

The satellite will provide optical resolution of better than 0.75 meter and multi-spectral resolution of 3 meters, similar to previous Jilin-1 Gaofen 02 series satellites.

CGST is a commercial offshoot of the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics (CIOMP), which belongs to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the country’s national academy for natural sciences. 

The company is building out its Jilin-1 constellation of “high performance optical remote sensing satellites”. It now has more than 30 satellites in orbit and is targeting 138 satellites by 2030. 

Late last year Changguang Satellite secured $375 million for its constellation plans. Jilin satellites are named for the province in which CGST is based.

The Jilin-1 Gaofen 02C satellite was lost in a Kuaizhou-1A launch failure in September 2020 which had kept the launcher grounded until today. The Kuaizhou-1A is expected to launch  Jilin-1 Gaofen 02F in the near future.

Monday’s launches were China’s 35th and 36th orbital launches of 2021, and the first for CASIC’s offshoot Expace. CASC has now launched 33 times and is targeting more than 40 missions this year, while private firm iSpace failed with two solid rocket launches. 


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Source: https://spacenews.com/status-of-satellite-unknown-after-china-conducts-pair-of-launches-in-2-hours/

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