Failure of Aging Satellites Could Leave U.S. Partially Blind to Space Weather

Diagam of DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Tne failures of three aging satellites the United States relies upon to forecast space weather could leave the nation partially blind to electromagnetic storms that could severely disrupt electrical grids, communications systems, aviation and Global Positioning System (GPS) dependent navigation.

“The observations that we rely on to provide alerts and warnings are critical. Should we lose some of the key spacecraft that we talk about, I won’t say we’re blind but we’re darn close. It will impact our ability to support this nation’s need for space weather services. And I don’t want to see that happen,” said William Murtagh, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

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House & Senate Hearings Set on Space Situational Awareness, Planetary Defense

House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

Space Situational Awareness

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
02:00 PM
2318 Rayburn House Office Building

Witnesses

Dr. Brian Weeden, Director of Program Planning, Secure World Foundation

Mr. Daniel Oltrogge, Co-Director, Space Safety Coalition, Founder and Administrator, Space Safety Coalition, AIAA Space Traffic Management Space Governance Task Force Chairman, Official International Standards Organization (ISO) representative to the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UN COPUOS)

Professor Joanne Gabrynowicz, Professor Emerita of Space Law, University of Mississippi Law Center

Professor Danielle Wood, Director of the Space Enabled Research Group, Assistant Professor of Media Arts & Sciences and Aeronautics & Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Webcast

https://science.house.gov/hearings/space-situational-awareness-key-issues-in-an-evolving-landscape

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Space Missions of Global Importance: Planetary Defense, Space Weather Protection, and Space Situational Awareness

Wednesday, February 12, 2020
10:00 a.m
Hart Senate Office Building 216

The hearing will focus on U.S. leadership in space missions vital to the global economy and the protection of human health and life on Earth. Witnesses will also discuss policies, programs, and research that are important for planetary defense, space weather protection, and space situational awareness. 

Witnesses:*

Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Mr. William Murtagh, Director, Space Weather Prediction Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

Mr. Kevin O’Connell, Director, Office of Space Commerce, Department of Commerce

Dr. Moriba Jah, Associate Professor, Advanced Sciences and Technology Research in Astronautics, University of Texas

*Witness list subject to change

Webcast

Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing  will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

Likelihood of Space Super-storms Estimated From Longest Period of Magnetic Field Observations

Space weather effects. (Credit: ESA/Science Office)
  • Analysis led by University of Warwick shows ‘severe’ space super-storms occurred 42 years out of 150 and ‘great’ super-storms occurred in 6 years out of 150
  • Super-storms can disrupt electronics, aviation and satellite systems and communications
  • Provides insight into the scale of the largest super-storm in recorded history

COVENTRY, UK (University of Warwick PR) — A ‘great’ space weather super-storm large enough to cause significant disruption to our electronic and networked systems occurred on average once in every 25 years according to a new joint study by the University of Warwick and the British Antarctic Survey.

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House Science Committee Approves Space Weather Bill

Space weather effects. (Credit: ESA/Science Office)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House Science Committee has unanimously approved a bill designed to enable the federal government to coordinate its monitoring of and response to space weather events.

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Germany Invests 3.3 Billion Euros in European Space Exploration, Becomes ESA’s Largest Contributor

  • Three years after the last ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, held in Lucerne, Switzerland, government representatives from the 22 Member States met in Seville, Spain, on 27 and 28 November 2019 and committed a total of almost 14.4 billion euro [$15.87 billion] for space programmes over the next few years.
  • Germany is contributing 3.3 billion euro [$3.6 billion] to ESA programmes focusing on Earth observation, telecommunications, technological advancement and commercialisation / NewSpace.
  • At 22.9 percent, Germany is now ESA’s largest contributor, followed by France (18.5 percent, 2.66 billion euro), Italy (15.9 percent, 2.28 billion euro) and the United Kingdom (11.5 percent, 1.65 billion euro).
  • The ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level is the highest political decision-making body, and it defines the content and financial framework for ESA’s space programmes every two to three years.
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UK Invests in European Space Agency Programs

SEVILLE, Spain (UKSA PR) — The UK Space Agency has today (28 November) announced it will invest £374m [$411.75 million] per year with the European Space Agency (ESA) to deliver international space programmes over the next five years.

The UK is one of the founding members of ESA, an inter-governmental organisation established in 1975 to promote cooperation in space research, technology and applications development. ESA is independent of the EU, bringing together countries across Europe and around the world.

Membership enables the UK to collaborate with space agencies across the world on projects like the International Space Station and the ExoMars programme to send a UK-built rover to search for signs of life on Mars.

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Pegasus XL Launches ICON on Mission to Explore Frontier of Space

Illustration of ICON spacecraft. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (NASA PR) — After successfully launching Thursday night, NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) spacecraft is in orbit for a first-of-its-kind mission to study a region of space where changes can disrupt communications and satellite orbits, and even increase radiation risks to astronauts.

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NASA’s ICON to Explore Boundary Between Earth and Space

Illustration of ICON spacecraft. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith)

UPDATE: Due to weather in the area, NASA and Northrop Grumman have decided to move the Pegasus XL and ICON launch 24-hours to October 10 at 9:30 p.m., with takeoff of the Stargazer L-1011 at 8:32 p.m. NASA’s live broadcast will begin tomorrow at 9:15 p.m. on www.nasa.gov/live.

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On Oct.10, 2019, NASA launches the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, a spacecraft that will explore the dynamic region where Earth meets space: the ionosphere.   

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Upcoming Launches Include Mission Extension Vehicle, ICON and Starlink Satellites

Mission Extension Vehicle refuels satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Four upcoming launches in the United States, Russia and New Zealand feature payloads to refuel a communications satellite, study space weather, expand SpaceX’s Starlink network, and test out new technology.

October 9

Proton
Payloads: Eutelsat 5 West B communications satellite, Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV 1)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Launch Time: 6:17 a.m. EDT (1017 GMT )

This is the first flight of the MEV, which will refuel the Intelsat 901 communications satellite. Both satellites on this launch were built by Northrop Grumman.

October 9/10

Pegasus XL
Payload: Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite
Launch Platform: Stargazer L-1011 aircraft
Departure Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Window: 9:25-10:55 p.m. EDT on Oct. 9 (0125-0255 GMT on Oct. 10)

NASA’s ICON mission will study disturbances in the ionosphere caused by terrestrial weather and solar storms that disrupt radio transmissions and GPS navigation. ICON has suffered repeated delays due to technical problems. The original launch date was in June 2017. The launch is being conducted by Northrop Grumman.

October 14/15

Electron
Payloads: Palisade CubeSat
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Launch Window: 7:00-11:00 p.m. EDT on Oct. 14 (2300-0300 GMT on Oct. 14/15)

Rocket Lab’s “As The Crow Flies” mission is the ninth launch of the Electron rocket Astro Digital’s Palisade technology demonstration satellite is a 16U CubeSat with a next-generation communications system and an an on-board propulsion system.

NET October 17

Falcon 9
Payloads: ~ 60 Starlink 1 communications satellites
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Time: TBD

SpaceX will launch the second group of Starlink 1 broadband satellites no earlier than Oct. 17.

Report: NOAA Errors Led to Diminished Weather Satellites

GOES-17 satellite during processing by Astrotech. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NOAA’s poor management of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R (GOES-R) program has resulted in less accurate meteorological data from the GOES-16 and GOES-17 weather satellites now in orbit, according to an audit by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General (IG). [Full Report]

NOAA’s failure to properly address an overheating problem discovered during ground testing in 2017 led to the degraded performance of GOES-17’s main instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). The GOES-16 satellite, which was already in orbit at the time, is also suffering from overheating of its ABI to a lesser degree, the report found.

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NASA Prepares to Launch ICON — Again

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA and Northrop Grumman currently are preparing the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, spacecraft and the Pegasus XL rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for ferry to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft on Oct. 1, 2019.

The launch has been rescheduled to Oct. 10, 2019, following the completion of a joint NASA/Northrop Grumman investigation into a Pegasus sensor reading that was not within normal limits during previous ferry and launch attempt flights. The cause of the issue is understood, and the flight hardware has been modified to address the issue.

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White House Includes Space in Top 5 Research Priorities

NASA’s Orion spacecraft that flew Exploration Flight Test-1 on Dec. 5, 2014 is seen on the South Lawn of the White House, Sunday, July 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. ( Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Trump Administration has included space research and development to support returning astronauts to the moon by 2024 under NASA’s Artemis program among its top R&D priorities for fiscal year 2021, according to a White House memo.

“Departments and agencies should prioritize in-situ resource utilization on the Moon and Mars, cryogenic fuel storage and management, in-space manufacturing and assembly, and advanced space-related power and propulsion capabilities,” the memo said.

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Intelsat 29e Failure Tied to External Event

An investigation has pinpointed a space weather event or a micrometeroid strike as the most likely cause of the total failure of the Intelsat 29e communications satellite in April, Spaceflightnow reports.

“The failure review board concluded that the anomaly was either caused by a harness flaw in conjunction with an electrostatic discharge event related to solar weather activity, or the impact of a micrometeoroid,” Intelsat said in a discussion document released Tuesday in conjunction with the company’s second quarter financial numbers.

The board formed to investigate the Intelsat 29e failure included members from Boeing, which built the spacecraft, Intelsat and external independent experts.

Intelsat 29e was launched Jan. 27, 2016, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana for a planned 15-year mission. Based on the Boeing 702MP satellite design, Intelsat 29e was positioned in geostationary orbit at 50 degrees west longitude, where its thrusters kept the satellite parked over the same geographic region, with the spacecraft’s orbital velocity matching the rate of Earth’s rotation.

Intelsat reported the conclusions of the board when reporting its second quarter financial results.

“We recognized an impairment charge of $381.6 million during the three months ended June 30, 2019 relating to the failure of Intelsat 29e,” the company said in a press release.

“The impairment charge consisted of approximately $377.9 million related to the write-off of the carrying value of the satellite and associated deferred satellite performance incentive obligations,and approximately $3.7 million related to prepaid regulatory fees,” the statement added.

DLR Creates 7 New Institutes to Further Technology Development

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR) — Digitalisation, climate change and technological disruption are shaping the future. This is where interdisciplinary research at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) proves valuable.

On 27 June 2019, the DLR Senate approved the founding of seven new institutes and facilities. The background to this was a resolution passed in the German Federal Parliament on 23 November 2018. By taking this step, DLR is strengthening Germany as a location for technological research and creating highly-skilled jobs.

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