Pioneering Start: PIXL-1 Small Satellite with the World’s Smallest Laser Terminal in Orbit

CubeSat with laser terminal. (Credit: DLR CC-BY 3.0)
  • The PIXL-1 small satellite was successfully launched on January 24, 2021 at 4:00 p.m. CEST, with the OSIRIS4CubeSat / CubeLCT laser terminal on board
  • The aim of the mission is to test optical communication systems for small satellites, to develop them further until they are ready for the market and to provide a reference system for a new communication standard
  • Technology transfer: The development was carried out on behalf of the German industrial partner Tesat-Spacecom (TESAT), who will produce the laser terminal in series

OBERPFAFFENHOFEN, Germany (DLR PR) — The PIXL-1 small satellite was successfully launched into orbit on January 24, 2021 at 4:00 p.m. CEST from the US spaceport Cape Canaveral with a Falcon-9 launcher from the US company SpaceX. The smallest laser transmission terminal in the world is on board the satellite: “OSIRIS4CubeSat” enables data transmission up to a hundred times faster than conventional radio links and was developed by scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in close cooperation with the German telecommunications company TESAT based in Backnang near Stuttgart. It provides an important platform for investigating scientific questions. The laser terminal is designed for series production and is sold by TESAT under the name “CubeLCT.” In this way, new value chains are being created in Germany as a business location.

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Exolaunch Delivers 30 Small Satellites into Orbit on SpaceX’s First Dedicated Rideshare Launch

BERLIN (Exolaunch PR) — Exolaunch, the leading rideshare launch and deployment services provider for the NewSpace industry, announced a successful launch of 30 commercial, space agency, and university satellites for its customers from Europe and the U.S. on the first dedicated rideshare mission of SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program. The mission, named “Zeitgeist,” lifted off on January 24 at 15:00 UTC on Falcon 9 “Transporter-1,” completing one of the largest and most diverse rideshare missions for Exolaunch.

Zeitgeist kicked-off the first of several rideshares Exolaunch will manifest on Falcon 9 as part of a multi-launch agreement with SpaceX. On this mission, Exolaunch provided deployment, mission management and integration services to the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Dresden Technical University, ICEYE, NanoAvionics and other commercial companies for IoT, Earth observation and scientific applications.

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NASA InSight’s ‘Mole’ Ends Its Journey on Mars

Illustration of HP3 mole instrument on NASA’s InSight Mars lander. (Credit: DLR)

The heat probe hasn’t been able to gain the friction it needs to dig, but the mission has been granted an extension to carry on with its other science.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The heat probe developed and built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and deployed on Mars by NASA’s InSight lander has ended its portion of the mission. Since Feb. 28, 2019, the probe, called the “mole,” has been attempting to burrow into the Martian surface to take the planet’s internal temperature, providing details about the interior heat engine that drives the Mars’ evolution and geology. But the soil’s unexpected tendency to clump deprived the spike-like mole of the friction it needs to hammer itself to a sufficient depth.

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Exolaunch Integrates 30 Small Satellites for SpaceX First Dedicated Rideshare Launch

A rendering of rideshare smallsat deployments from Falcon 9 into space. (Credit: Exolaunch)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Exolaunch PR)–Exolaunch, the leading rideshare launch and deployment services provider for the NewSpace industry, begins its launch campaign to integrate 30 small satellites from the U.S. and Europe aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rideshare mission scheduled for no earlier than January 2021. This is the first dedicated rideshare mission of SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program and the first of several rideshares Exolaunch is manifesting on Falcon 9 as part of a multi-launch agreement the company signed with SpaceX earlier this year.

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NASA and DLR Strength­en Co­op­er­a­tion

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — On 17 December 2020, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) extended their framework agreement on bilateral cooperation for a further ten years.

The agreement was signed by NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, Professor Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, and Member of the DLR Executive Board and Head of the DLR Space Administration, Walther Pelzer, who met via video conference to mark the occasion.

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3 Things We’ve Learned From NASA’s Mars

Credit: NASA

InSight scientists are finding new mysteries since the geophysics mission landed two years ago.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s InSight spacecraft touched down Nov. 26, 2018, on Mars to study the planet’s deep interior. A little more than one Martian year later, the stationary lander has detected more than 480 quakes and collected the most comprehensive weather data of any surface mission sent to Mars. InSight’s probe, which has struggled to dig underground to take the planet’s temperature, has made progress, too.

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ArianeGroup Signs Contract with ESA to Develop Themis Reusable Stage Demonstrator

Themis rocket in flight. (Credit: CNES)
  • The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded ArianeGroup the contract for the initial development phase of the Themis reusable rocket stage demonstrator
  • This first contract, worth 33 million euros, was awarded to ArianeGroup following preparatory work done by ArianeWorks, the innovation accelerator platform created by the French space agency CNES and ArianeGroup
  • Themis, powered by the Prometheus engine, will enable Europe to develop technologies for future low-cost reusable launchers

PARIS (ArianeGroup PR) — ArianeGroup has received a 33-million-euro contract from the European Space Agency (ESA), to begin the first development phase for the Themis reusable rocket stage demonstrator. Themis will use Prometheus, the very low-cost rocket engine demonstrator currently under development as an ESA programme.

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An Exciting Day for Science and Exploration

Hayabusa2 capsule with parachute in the Woomera Prohibited Area. (Credit: JAXA)

by Thomas Zurbuchen
Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate

Today marks an exciting and historic event as precious samples from asteroid Ryugu have been brought to Earth by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 mission. This is an extremely challenging endeavor and we commend and congratulate Japan on being not only the first nation that has been able to carry out a successful asteroid retrieval mission, but to now have done so for the second time!

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DES­TINY+ – Ger­many and Japan Be­gin New As­ter­oid Mis­sion

Destiny spacecraft (Credit: JAXA/Kashikagaku)
  • In 2024, the Japanese-German space mission DESTINY+ will launch on a journey to asteroid 3200 Phaethon.
  • The mission’s key instrument is the German DESTINY+ Dust Analyzer (DDA), which will collect and analyse cosmic dust samples during the entire flight of the spacecraft.
  • The cooperation agreement for the bilateral mission was signed by DLR and JAXA on 11 November 2020 as part of a joint strategy dialogue meeting.

COLOGNE (DLR PR) — How did life arrive on Earth? To investigate this and to address fundamental questions about the evolution of celestial bodies in our Solar System, the Japanese-German space mission DESTINY+  (Demonstration and Experiment of Space Technology for  INterplanetary voYage with Phaethon fLyby and dUst Science), will launch in 2024 on a journey to asteroid 3200 Phaethon.

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4.5-bil­lion-year-old Ice on Comet ‘Fluffi­er than Cap­puc­ci­no Froth’

Af­ter sev­en hours of freefall, Philae touched the Ag­ilkia land­ing site (top left out­side the im­age) at walk­ing pace as planned. How­ev­er, Phi­lae could not an­chor it­self be­cause the an­chor har­poons pro­vid­ed for this pur­pose did not ac­ti­vate. Due to the low grav­i­ty, Phi­lae bounced off the sur­face, rose to a height of more than one kilo­me­tre, col­lid­ed with a cliff edge while falling, touched the comet’s sur­face a sec­ond time (TD2) and fi­nal­ly came to a halt af­ter two hours (TD3). The lo­ca­tion of TD2 was un­known un­til re­cent­ly and could on­ly now be re­con­struct­ed. Phi­lae was lo­cat­ed in a place with suf­fi­cient sun­light to pro­duce enough en­er­gy to run its ten ex­per­i­ments for ap­prox­i­mate­ly 60 hours. (Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)
  • Reconstruction of second surface contact by Rosetta’s Philae lander during unplanned ‘hopping’ in November 2014 before its final ‘touchdown’.
  • The probe, rotating like a windmill, scraped a furrow in a highly porous, dark rocky area made of ice and dust on comet 67P, exposing 4.5-billion-year-old ice.
  • The ice has very weak internal cohesion and a consistency that is fluffier than cappuccino froth.

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — After years of detective work, scientists working on the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta mission have now been able to locate where the Philae lander made its second and penultimate contact with the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014, before finally coming to a halt 30 metres away. This landing was monitored from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Philae Control Center.

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Ariane 6 Launch Delayed to Second Quarter of 2022

Artist’s impression of Vega-C launcher in flight. (Credit: ESA-Jacky Huart)

Vega-C and Ariane 6 are being developed by ESA to assure Europe’s independent access to space. The maiden flight for Vega-C is planned to take place in June 2021, that for Ariane 6 for the second quarter of 2022.

PARIS (ESA PR) — Solid progress is being made on both Vega-C and Ariane 6 development programmes. Since March, some technical events and the COVID-19 pandemic have both impacted the progress of activities. Uncertainty from COVID-19 still persists globally to date.

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The INNOspace Masters 2019/20 Awards Clever Ideas for Tomorrow’s Space Travel

The overall winner of the INNOspace Masters 2020. (Credit: DLR)
  • On October 14, 2020, the winners of the INNOspace Masters competition were honored in an online conference.
  • More than 300 companies, start-ups, universities and research institutions in 15 European countries answered the call.
  • The new 2020/21 competition will start under the motto “Innovations for sustainable infrastructures – in space and on earth”.

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — Under the motto “New Ideas between Space and Earth”, the space management of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) searched the fifth INNOspace Masters competition for new ideas and concepts that address current challenges in space travel and other industries and offer innovative solutions. Five competition categories – called “Challenges” – from different development and innovation phases in the value chain were available for the participants to choose from. 

The “DLR Space Management Challenge” focused on the research and development phase, while the industrial partners Airbus and OHB were looking for proposals for solutions that were already ready for the market. DB Netz AG, since this year an additional industrial partner of the competition, focused on innovations from the space industry for the monitoring, inspection and maintenance of the rail infrastructure. The “ESA BIC Start-up Challenge”, which was aimed at the start-up

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NASA InSight’s ‘Mole’ Is Out of Sight

NASA’s InSight retracted its robotic arm on Oct. 3, 2020, revealing where the spike-like “mole” is trying to burrow into Mars. The copper-colored ribbon attached to the mole has sensors to measure the planet’s heat flow. In the coming months, the arm will scrape and tamp down soil on top of the mole to help it dig. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Now that the heat probe is just below the Martian surface, InSight’s arm will scoop some additional soil on top to help it keep digging so it can take Mars’ temperature.


PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s InSight lander continues working to get its “mole” – a 16-inch-long (40-centimeter-long) pile driver and heat probe – deep below the surface of Mars. A camera on InSight’s arm recently took images of the now partially filled-in “mole hole,” showing only the device’s science tether protruding from the ground.

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Im­proved Safe­ty in Space – GES­TRA Space Radar Ready to Be­gin Op­er­a­tions

Front of the GESTRA phased antenna (Credit: DLR)
  • After five years of development and construction, the first German space radar with transmitter and receiver units has been installed at Schmidtenhöhe near Koblenz.
  • Close cooperation between the DLR Space Administration, the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR) and the German Space Situational Awareness Centre.
  • GESTRA data will also be used to improve security in low-Earth orbit at the European level.

Activity in space continues to increase. Several thousand satellites, spacecraft and other objects orbit Earth at altitudes of between 300 and 3000 kilometres. In addition to the inactive satellites and upper stages of rockets that are left behind here after missions, there are hundreds of thousands of smaller pieces of debris.

Satellites and other space infrastructure such as the International Space Station (ISS) need to be continuously monitored to avoid collisions. Active objects can engage in evasive manoevres, while inactive space debris such as disfunctional satellite parts, or the remains of rockets, pose a threat.

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Testing a Fiery Reentry

COLOGNE (ESA PR) — What would a satellite look like as it burns up in the atmosphere? Researchers attempted to duplicate this fiery fate for a bulky satellite electronics box using a plasma wind tunnel.

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