The Best Laid Plans: Europe’s Ambitious Launch Year Goes Awry Due to International Tensions, Schedule Delays

The James Webb Space Telescope lifted off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, at 13:20 CET on 25 December 2021 on its exciting mission to unlock the secrets of the Universe. (Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Christmas Day 2021, an European Ariane 5 rocket roared off its launch pad in French Guiana with the most expensive payload the booster had ever carried, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope. The launcher performed perfectly, sending the most powerful space telescope on a journey to its final destination 1.5 million km (900 million miles) from Earth. The launch was so accurate that Webb should have sufficient propellant to perform science operations for much longer than its planned 10-year lifetime.

There was a collective sigh of relief among the European, American and Canadian scientists and engineers involved in the long-delayed program. It was a superb Christmas gift to a world suffering through the second year of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

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UK Space Companies Partner to Complete Development of Advanced Deployable SAR Antenna

Synthetic aperture radar antenna (Credit: Oxford Space Systems)

HARWELL, UK (Oxford Space Systems PR) — Oxford Space Systems (OSS) and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) have completed the build of an innovative deployable Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) antenna payload for the next generation of high-performance low-cost Earth Observation radar small satellite missions. The new SAR payload, which comprises of a highly stowage-efficient deployable antenna from OSS and a high bandwidth radar instrument and RF system from SSTL, has been exclusively designed in the UK, supported by a grant from the UK Space Agency’s National Space Technology Programme. 

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NASA, ESA Finalize Agreements on Climate, Artemis Cooperation

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, right, and ESA (European Space Agency) Director General Josef Aschbacher pose for a photograph following the signing of two agreements at the ESA Council meeting in Noordwijk, Netherlands, June 15, 2022. The agreements aim to further advance the space agencies’ cooperation on Earth science and Artemis missions. (Credits: ESA/S.Corvaja)

NOORDWIJK, Netherlands (NASA PR) — NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and ESA (European Space Agency) Director General Josef Aschbacher signed two agreements Wednesday at the ESA Council meeting in Noordwijk, Netherlands, further advancing the space agencies’ cooperation on Earth science and Artemis missions.

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From the Earth to the Moon and on to Mars – ESA and NASA take decisions and plan for the future

Noordwijk, The Netherlands (ESA PR) — The next steps in exploring and using space for the benefit of European citizens were this week on the agenda at ESA’s Council meeting in ESA/ESTEC, the Netherlands on 14 and 15 June. The possibility of the first-ever European astronaut to set foot on the Moon, a telecommunication satellite for lunar exploration and a mission to return precious rock samples from Mars were all discussed.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson joined the meeting with ESA Member States in a decisive gesture to advocate for Europe’s strong role in multiple projects which reinforce the enduring partnership between the two leading space agencies.

“From understanding our changing planet to exploring Mars, I hugely value the cooperation we have with NASA” says ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.  “By contributing key European hardware and services to exciting programmes such as Artemis and Mars Sample Return, we are building Europe’s autonomy while also being a reliable partner.”

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CIRCE Space Weather Suite Announced for First UK Satellite Launch

CIRCE CAD models courtesy of Blue Canyon Technologies.

Dstl’s miniaturised space weather instrumentation suite will be aboard Virgin Orbit which is aiming to launch from Spaceport Cornwall later in 2022.

LONDON (Dstl PR) — The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s (Dstl) miniaturised space weather instrumentation suite will be one of the payloads aboard Virgin Orbit which is targeting the first UK satellite launch this summer from Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay. Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One rocket takes off horizontally, carried aloft by a modified Boeing 747 jet, named Cosmic Girl.

The Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction Cubesat Experiment (CIRCE) satellite mission comprises two 6U cube-satellites that will be launched into a near-polar low Earth orbit in a string-of-pearls configuration (targeting 555 kilometres altitude). Each 6U satellite bus measures 10cm by 20cm by 30cm (the size of a cereal box), and will fly almost identical instrument capability on both satellites. Dstl is partnering with the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) on the joint mission.

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The Moon – Where no Satnav has Gone Before

Lunar Pathfinder satellite (Credit: Surrey Satellite)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The test version of a unique satellite navigation receiver has been delivered for integration testing on the Lunar Pathfinder spacecraft. The NaviMoon satnav receiver is designed to perform the farthest ever positioning fix from Earth, employing signals that will be millions of times fainter than those used by our smartphones or cars.

“This engineering model of our NaviMoon receiver is the very first piece of hardware to be produced in the context of ESA’s Moonlight initiative, to develop dedicated telecommunications and navigation services for the Moon,” explains Javier Ventura-Traveset, Head of ESA’s Navigation Science Office and managing all ESA lunar navigation activities.

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Satellites Around the Moon Come Another Step Closer

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA is going to the Moon – in collaboration with its international partners – and seeks to build a lasting lunar link to enable sustainable space exploration.

The agency has now evaluated initial ideas to create a network of lunar telecommunications and navigation satellites.

Creating a commercial telecommunications and navigation service for the Moon will allow many of the dozens of planned lunar missions to share the same infrastructure to communicate with Earth, as well as to find their way on the lunar surface.

The service is needed because the planned missions are becoming regular trips to Earth’s natural satellite rather than one-off expeditions.

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UK Satellite Firm Signs Launch Deal with SpaceX

Satellite Vu will share a ride into space on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to green the planet.

LONDON, 21 February (Satellite Vu PR) – UK space firm, Satellite Vu, have signed a launch deal with Elon Musk’s renowned aerospace company, SpaceX, to launch the world’s highest resolution thermal imaging satellite in early 2023. 

Satellite Vu will be part of a rideshare launch on one of SpaceX’s Transporter missions aboard Falcon 9, which have proven to be the most reliable rockets to launch satellites into orbit in recent years. 

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Satellite Vu to Publicly Share Carbon Emissions Data in Major Climate Change Commitment

LONDON (Satellite Vu PR) — Satellite Vu, an Earth observation company that offers the highest-resolution thermal imagery and insights, are set to make their carbon emissions data available to the public to raise awareness and promote accountability towards business sustainability. 

The COP26 summit at the end of 2021 reaffirmed the call for governments and businesses to take action against climate change. The global aim, initially crafted by an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, is to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050, and Satellite Vu will become one of the first major space companies to share their carbon emissions data publicly in a drive towards these goals. 

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Satellite Vu Signs Deal with Surrey Satellite Technology to Build World’s First High Resolution Thermal Imaging Satellite

LONDON, 16th December 2021 (Satellite Vu PR) — British scale-up Satellite Vu, an Earth observation company that offers the highest-resolution thermal imagery and insights, has formally signed a contract with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to build its first satellite.

The new satellite is due to be launched into low earth orbit in Q4 2022.

The satellite will collect thermal data day and night of both the natural and the built environment at any location on the planet. The full constellation will have the ability to measure the heat signature of any building multiple times a day, enabling Satellite Vu to derive new insights in real time about building heat loss, activity and insulation. 

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Surrey Satellite to Lead UK Space Agency Project to Study Active De-orbit of Space Debris

Novel technology will be required for these ambitious steps, which are proposed as part of the new ‘Protect’ Accelerator, one of three currently being defined to help shape Europe’s future in space. (Credit: ESA)

The LEOPARD (Low Earth Orbit Pursuit for Active Debris Removal) study will define concepts for de-orbiting 2 uncooperative UK space assets from low earth orbit

GUILDFORD, UK (Surrey Satellite PR) — Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has been selected to lead a UK Space Agency study to define the mission requirements for a complex mission to de-orbit two non-operational space debris targets. SSTL is a world-leader in the manufacture and in-orbit operation of small satellites, and has valuable experience in two previous Active Debris Removal (ADR) demonstration missions; RemoveDEBRIS, which concluded a series of debris retrieval demonstrations in January 2019, and Astroscale’s 2021 ELSA-d mission for which SSTL supplied the Client “target” satellite.

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ESA Signs Contract with GomSpace to Build Scout CubeMAP

The Scout CubeMAP mission is a constellation of CubeSats that focus on understanding and quantifying atmospheric processes in the upper troposphere and in the stratosphere. (Credit: CubeMAP consortium)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA has signed a contract with GomSpace to build the Scout CubeMAP mission. Embracing the concept of New Space, CubeMAP is a trio of nanosatellites to help quantify atmospheric processes in the upper atmosphere and how they impact our climate. The constellation will measure water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide and aerosols – all of which play a key role in the greenhouse effect and climate change.

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Two New Satellites Mark Further Enlargement of Galileo

Soyuz rocket lifts off with the Galileo 27 and 28 satellites. (Credit: Arianespace webcast)

KOUROU, French Guiana (ESA PR) — Europe’s largest satellite constellation has grown even bigger, following the launch of two more Galileo navigation satellites by Soyuz launcher from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 5 December. Galileo satellites 27-28 add to an existing 26-satellite constellation in orbit, providing the world’s most precise satnav positioning to more than 2.3 billion users around the globe.

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UK Government Backs Space Technology to Tackle Climate Change

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — Trailblazing technology that will help tackle climate change and predict global disasters using satellites is receiving new funding from the UK Space Agency.

Eleven UK organisations have been awarded a share of just under £7 million of government funding to put into action the latest advances in space innovation. The majority of the projects focus on climate change or environmental management, with others designed to secure our telecommunication systems and protect digital infrastructure against cyber-attacks.

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European Software-defined Satellite Starts Service

Quantum satellite in thermal vacuum facility. (Credit ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — A telecommunications satellite that can be reprogrammed in-orbit, offering unprecedented mission reconfiguration capacity, has successfully passed its in-orbit acceptance review.

Developed under an ESA Partnership Project with satellite operator Eutelsat and prime manufacturer Airbus, Eutelsat Quantum is pioneering a new wave of flexible satellites developed with the European space industry.

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