Space Flight Insider Article

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At Bold Marketing Solutions, Inc., we love to spread news news about our friends. Check out our new Articles menu for information about friends and resources. This article, posted November 24, 2014, is about SpaceFlight Insider, an online magazine delivering news on the space program and space exploration.

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Delivers More than Just News about Space Exploration

Look across the night sky; marvel at the sparkling constellations shining down on you; and breathe in the fact that you are blind to a gazillion stars burning brightly out of view. From the beginning of time as we know it, people like you and me have watched the skies and wondered about the immense promise and mysteries of the heavens. Where will the answers come from? The answer is likely in space exploration. Spaceflight Insider brings real-time answers about this topic closer through diverse and objective perspectives on aerospace and aviation in one comprehensive online publication.

SpaceflightInsider.com—Space Information Platform
PHOTO CAPTION: British Lunar Mission Team rendering for crowdfunded moon mission. Courtesy of SpaceFlightInsider.com

Senior Editor and Spaceflight Insider Founder Jason Rhian noticed that existing space information resources typically delivered news through very specific mediums, based on individual niche interests and business strengths. That observation Rhian to wonder what if a single news outet offered what all of them did in one comprehensive space—compelling photos, a launch schedule, and current news? What if the medium also provided the news objectively, e.g., without political filters?

The result of his musing is a stunning website chocked full of information for aerospace and aviation enthusiasts. Before launching Spaceflight Insider, Rhian contributed to Space.com, Aviation Week, and Universe Today; and he also completed two internships with NASA.

Now Rhian says, “We put all the primary building blocks in place over the past year, and we are excited to debut our first live (video) launch show in December.” That announcement was made possible after constructing the infrastructure needed to transform his concept into a serious media vehicle.

“We want readers to say, “Holy Cow! Everything is here,” Rhian said. “If you’re looking for a brief on a specific launch, space news, photography and illustrations, or even industry contacts, Spaceflight Insider is organizing it for you.“

Telling It Like It Is

Formerly a corrections officer with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office—and inspired by what he believed was inaccurate reporting on the Columbia disaster—Rhian decided in 2003 to pursue his passion for space. “When Columbia exploded, everybody on TV from the space industry acted as if they were better authorities than other people. They seemed to be reporting opinion as fact. Some were saying things that I knew was false. Other people were asking questions that were ridiculous or presenting crazy information as fact. I noticed and remember one major media outlet getting so many things wrong. And I thought that was wrong and rather than get upset – I should do something about it.”

Rhian, who believed that the job of the journalist was to get the facts right, headed to college to learn how to make that happen. “I went back to BCC (Brevard Community College), got my two-year degree, then resigned from the Sheriff’s Office and entered the University of South Florida to pursue my bachelor’s degree in pubic relations.”

Admitting that he doesn’t come from academia, or even the space industry itself, Rhian expressed his goal to deliver an outside, unbiased, journalistic perspective through his online journal.

“But, we also take the time to connect on ‘the inside’. For example, we get people access to events, open doors for them, and help them enjoy what’s happening with launches and space events. As a soldier and corrections officer, I had served my community for 14 years. Now, I am giving myself over to serving the community by telling the space story as honestly and fairly as possible,” Rhian said.

Why does story telling concern Rhian? “There are some space websites whose content delivers vehement opposition to private space comapnies for example. Prejudices also abound about NASA programs and show through in other written reports.” At Spaceflight Insider, we view ourselves first as journalists. We present news openly and objectively. We don’t judge. We report. That’s it. Our job is to tell the story as it is, not as how we would like it to be.” he added.

Spaceflightinsider China’s ‘Micius’ satellite demonstrates intercontinental quantum key distribution for the first time

Spaceflightinsider

China’s Quantum Science Satellite, nicknamed “Micius” (after a fifth century B.C. Chinese scientist) has performed the first intercontinental quantum key distribution by relaying signals between multiple ground stations located in China and Austria.

The test was conducted by a joint China-Austria team of researchers. In a recent study published in Physical Review Letters on January 19, they reported that a decoy-state quantum key distribution between Micius operating in a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and ground stations located in Xinglong, Nanshan (both in China), and Graz (Austria).

“This is the first demonstration of intercontinental quantum key distribution of any kind, and it will stand as a milestone towards future quantum networks,” said Ronald Hanson of the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, whose research focuses on long-distance quantum telecommunication for a quantum internet.

Micius was launched into space on August 15, 2016 by a Long March 2D booster. The satellite was built by the Chinese Academy of Sciences ( CAS ) and weighs around 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms).

The spacecraft is designed to facilitate quantum optics experiments over long distances to allow the development of quantum encryption and quantum teleportation technology.

In order to achieve its scientific objectives, the satellite is equipped with a quantum key communicator, a quantum entanglement emitter, a quantum entanglement source, a quantum experiment controller and processor, and a high-speed coherent laser communicator.

Quantum key distribution (QKD) is a communications method which uses a cryptographic protocol involving components of quantum mechanics. It is based on individual light quanta (single photons) in quantum superposition states that guarantee unconditional security between distant parties. This method is therefore perceived as being more secure than the traditional public key cryptography (which usually relies on the computational intractability of certain mathematical functions).

Now, a team of researchers led by Jian-Wei Pan of the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei, are working to successful demonstrate the use of QKD using laser beams.

As part of the experiment, Micius has relayed quantum encrypted data in the form of images and a video stream between China and Austria – over a distance of 4,700 miles (7,600 kilometers).

“This was, on the one hand, the transmission of images in a one-time pad configuration from China to Austria as well as from Austria to China. Also, a video conference was performed between the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which also included a 280 kilometer [174 mile] optical ground connection between Xinglong and Beijing,” the scientists wrote in the paper .

Micius is part of an international project called Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), led by Chinese scientists. It aims to establish a quantum-encrypted network – a European–Asian network is planned to be launched by 2020, while a global network by 2030. Pan and his colleagues believe that the latest tests conducted with the use of Micius bring them much closer towards building an ultra-long-distance global quantum network.

Boeing – s Starliner crew capsule launches on 1st space flight

Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule launches on 1st space flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Boeing’s new Starliner capsule rocketed toward the International Space Station on its first test flight Friday, a crucial dress rehearsal for next year’s inaugural launch with astronauts.

The Starliner carried Christmas treats and presents for the six space station residents, hundreds of tree seeds similar to those that flew to the moon on Apollo 14, the original air travel ID card belonging to Boeing’s founder and a mannequin named Rosie in the commander’s seat.

The test dummy — named after the bicep-flexing riveter of World War II — wore a red polka dot hair bandanna just like the original Rosie and Boeing’s custom royal blue spacesuit.

“She’s pretty tough. She’s going to take the hit for us,” said NASA’s Mike Fincke, one of three astronauts who will fly on the next Starliner and, as test pilots, take the hit for future crews.

As the astronauts watched from nearby control centers, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the capsule blasted off just before sunrise from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It was a one-day trip to the space station, putting the spacecraft on track for a docking Saturday morning.

This was Boeing’s chance to catch up with SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew provider that completed a similar demonstration last March. SpaceX has one last hurdle — a launch abort test — before carrying two NASA astronauts in its Dragon capsule, possibly by spring.

The U.S. needs competition like this, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Thursday, to drive down launch costs, boost innovation and open space up to more people.

“We’re moving into a new era,” he said.

The space agency handed over station deliveries to private businesses, first cargo and then crews, in order to focus on getting astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars.

Commercial cargo ships took flight in 2012, starting with SpaceX. Crew capsules were more complicated to design and build, and parachute and other technical problems pushed the first launches from 2017 to now next year.

It’s been nearly nine years since NASA astronauts have launched from the U.S. The last time was July 8, 2011, when Atlantis — now on display at Kennedy Space Center — made the final space shuttle flight.

Since then, NASA astronauts have traveled to and from the space station via Kazakhstan, courtesy of the Russian Space Agency. The Soyuz rides have cost NASA up to $86 million apiece.

“We’re back with a vengeance now,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said from Kennedy, where crowds gathered well before dawn.

Chris Ferguson commanded that last shuttle mission. Now a test pilot astronaut for Boeing and one of the Starliner’s key developers, he’s assigned to the first Starliner crew with Fincke and NASA astronaut Nicole Mann. A successful Starliner demo could see them launching by summer.

“This is an incredibly unique opportunity,” Ferguson said on the eve of launch.

Mann juggled a mix of emotions: excitement, pride, stress and amazement.

“Really overwhelmed, but in a good way and really the best of ways,” she said.

Built to accommodate seven, the white capsule with black and blue trim will typically carry four or five people. It’s 16.5 feet (5 meters) tall with its attached service module and 15 feet (4.5 meters) in diameter.

Every Starliner system will be tested during the eight-day mission, from the vibrations and stresses of liftoff to the Dec. 28 touchdown at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Parachutes and air bags will soften the capsule’s landing. Even the test dummy is packed with sensors.

Bridenstine said he’s “very comfortable” with Boeing, despite the prolonged grounding of the company’s 737 Max jets. The spacecraft and aircraft sides of the company are different, he noted. Boeing has long been involved in NASA’s human spacecraft program, from Project Mercury to the shuttle and station programs.

Boeing began preliminary work on the Starliner in 2010, a year before Atlantis soared for the last time.

In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX made the final cut. Boeing got more than $4 billion to develop and fly the Starliner, while SpaceX got $2.6 billion for a crew-version of its Dragon cargo ship.

NASA wants to make sure every reasonable precaution is taken with the capsules, designed to be safer than NASA’s old shuttles.

“We’re talking about human spaceflight,” Bridenstine cautioned. “It’s not for the faint of heart. It never has been, and it’s never going to be.”

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

SpaceX launch of Spaceflight SSO-A – CIMSS Satellite Blog

University of Wisconsin-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center

SpaceX launch of Spaceflight SSO-A

GOES-17 Upper-level (6.2 µm), Mid-level (6.9 µm) and Low-level (7.3 µm) Water Vapor, plus Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm), Near-Infrared “Cloud Particle Size” (2.24 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images [click to enlarge]

* GOES-17 images shown here are preliminary and non-operational *

SpaceX launched a Spaceflight SSO-A mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base (KVBG) in California at 1834 UTC on 03 December 2018. GOES-17 Upper-level (6.2 µm), Mid-level (6.9 µm) and Low-level (7.3 µm) Water Vapor images in addition to Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm), Near-Infrared “Cloud Particle Size” (2.24 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above) showed the hot thermal signature of superheated air from the booster rocket engines, along with a brief cold thermal signature of the booster engine condensation cloud on Water Vapor images. A second hot thermal signature was seen over the adjacent waters of the Pacific Ocean at 1840 UTC as the first stage rocket fired its entry burn to land on a drone ship. Since a GOES-17 Mesoscale Domain Sector was positioned over that region, images were available at 1-minute intervals.

2 Responses to “SpaceX launch of Spaceflight SSO-A”

Raising the color bar: What are the units and their values? It also appears that the loops are mixing the proverbial apples and oranges: brightness temperature and visible reflectance/albedo. I don’t use the same colors on my images and I’m not sure you are using the same ranges either – what do the colors represent?

In the 1.61 µm and 2.24 µm Near-Infrared images, brighter whites indicate a higher reflectance value — which, in this case, is also driven by a hot thermal signature since each of those 2 spectral bands are sensitive to thermal energy (hence the term “near-infrared”). In the 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared image, the color scale transitions from hot infrared brightness temperatures [ºC] on the left to cold on the right. The same principle applies to the 7.3 µm, 6.9 µm and 6.2 µm Water Vapor images — since these are essentially infrared spectral bands, their color scales also transition from warm brightness temperatures [ºC] on the left to cold on the right. If you’d like more information about each of the GOES-17 ABI spectral bands shown in this blog post, I have provided links to their respective Quick Guides. Hope this helps.

KazSTSat and VESTA due to lift-off on Spaceflight s SSO-A SmallSat Express Mission

Spaceflight sso-a

KazSTSat and VESTA due to lift-off on Spaceflight‘s SSO-A SmallSat Express Mission
by Staff Writers
Guildford, UK (SPX) Nov 16, 2018


KazSTSat during assembly at SSTL. Credit SSTL.

KazSTSat and VESTA, two small satellites designed and manufactured at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), are due to launch on Spaceflight‘s SSO-A SmallSat Express Mission on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base later this month.

KazSTSat is a small Earth observation satellite jointly developed by SSTL and JV Ghalam LLP, a joint venture between JSC “National Company Kazakhstan Garysh Sapary” (KGS) and Airbus.

The satellite has a mass of 105kg and will acquire image data at 18.7 m GSD with a swath width of 275 km. The spacecraft carries several experimental and demonstration units, including a beyond diffraction limit imager, a sun sensor, and a novel OBCARM.

KazSTSat will be operated by Ghalam, using a fully virtualized ground segment with S/X-band software defined back-ends deployed at KSAT ground stations in Svalbard and a technology demonstration ground station in Astana.

VESTA is a 3U nanosatellite technology demonstration mission that will test a new two-way VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) payload developed by Honeywell for the exactEarth advanced maritime satellite constellation.

The 4kg satellite has 3-axis pointing capability, an SEU tolerant on-board computer, VxWorks operating system and also flies a Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) VHF deployable antenna system developed by Innovative Solutions in Space for the VDES transceiver.

VESTA will be operated in orbit by SSTL, with the payload data being downlinked directly in S-Band to Goonhilly Earth Station.

The development of VESTA was co-funded by the UK Space Agency through its National Space Technology Programme (NSTP) which stimulates the growth and development of the UK space sector through investing in technology development. The project was led by Honeywell.

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Prelaunch Preview: SpaceX, Spaceflight SSO-A – Everyday Astronaut

Prelaunch Preview: SpaceX | Spaceflight SSO-A

Lift Off Time (Subject to change)
Mission Name and what it is
Launch Provider (What rocket company is launching it?)
Customer (who’s paying for this?)
Rocket
Launch Location
Payload mass
Where’s the satellite going?
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
Where will the first stage land?
Will they be attempting to recover the fairing?
Will they be attempting to recover the second stage?
This will be the:
64th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket, 1st time the same booster has flown three times, 18th reflight of a booster, 19th mission for SpaceX in 2018 (New Annual Record!), 32nd successfully landed core.
Where to watch

Maybe for even more fun you can watch with Tim Dodd, The Everyday Astronaut starting at T minus 30! Come ask questions and join the conversation live!

What’s all this mean?

This is the first time SpaceX will be reflying a booster twice, making it the third time this rocket flies. Confused? Let’s try that again. This is the first time SpaceX will have flown a booster three times. All other boosters prior have only flown twice. This marks an important milestone as SpaceX takes another mighty step towards full, rapid reusability.

For this particular mission with this booster, 1046.3, SpaceX is launching 64 satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket to a low earth sun synchronous polar orbit on a ridesharing mission organized by Spaceflight Industries.

Falcon 9 on the launch pad for Iridium 7 mission – credit: SpaceX

The payload includes 15 microsats and 49 cubesats, from 34 different organizations representing 17 countries. The organizations include governments, commercial companies, universities, a high school, a middle school and an art museum.

SSO-A upper free flyer – credit: Spaceflight Industries

B1046 previously flew the Bangabandhu 1 mission in May and Merah Putih mission in August of this year, both from Florida. SpaceX will be landing the booster on the west coast droneship, Just Read the Instructions. Why do they land on the droneship sometimes, on land other times, or sometimes not at all? Here’s a video for you:

Tim Dodd, The Everyday Astronaut, will be livestreaming this launch starting at T minus 30 minutes. So come ask questions and join the conversation live! If you want the best way to know when a launch is coming, I’d suggest downloading the SpaceXNow OR Launch Alarm apps to stay in the know!

11 Comments

Will this be a drone ship landing or an LZ4 landing?

It will be a drone ship landing. JRTI is the exclusive drone ship for west coast launches.

Tim; I see on another site that this is core B1046.3 !
If that’s so this will be the first 3rd flight of a single core, yes?

Yes. Third flight of booster 1046

WILL THEY BE ATTEMPTING TO RECOVER THE FIRST STAGE?
Yes, the booster will be landing one the west coast droneship, Just Read the Instructions
WHERE WILL THE FIRST STAGE LAND?
Space Launch Complex 4 West (SLC-4W) aka Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California

Booster and first stage are the same thing for Falcon 9. Yes they will be attempting to land it on west coast drone ship.

Quick little thing I think when you hover over this launch in the prelaunch preview tab you should see the boster number.

How far south will this be visible? I’m in Oceanside and wondering if I will get a glimpse.

I can usually see them on the night launches from San Clemente. They usually make it out of the atmosphere and out of site level with my location while looking straight out over the ocean. The graphics that show the visibility from the ground go all the way into Mexico as the launch progresses.
The launches you really want to catch are the ones that happen about an hour before or after sunset as the rocket will pass into the Sunlight while in the upper atmosphere. Those are the best. The last one was really spectacular as it looked totally dark from the ground until the exhaust from the rocket was high enough to reflect the sun and lit up everything on the ground again. I haven’t tried to watch a daylight launch from here, but even at night, from here the rocket starts off as a strange light that looks about like the planes taking off from John Wayne or LAX but it’s about 3 to 5 times brighter. It basically looks like it’s coming from around Santa Monica or just inland of Long Beach. The light gets 10 to 20 times brighter as it subjectively appears to me. The last launch that passed into the sun created a spectical that was about the size of my outstreched hand at arms length.

Since this is a polar orbit the rocket will be heading south. I’m in Vista and consistently see them. Expect it to be lower in the sky then you’d think at about 35 degrees above horizon. Last time it broke through a cloud bank at about 30-60 second. Of course you’ll need a clearish day. Look farther south later (it will be higher)

Hey Tim, is there any way you could add SCRUB info to this page. I saw the date of the launch had changed and immediately came here to see why. But no info :*(

Spaceflight Named to Fast Company – s Annual List of the World – s Most Innovative Companies for 2020, Business Wire

Spaceflight Named to Fast Company’s Annual List of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2020

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Spaceflight Named to Fast Company’s Annual List of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2020 (Graphic: Business Wire)

Spaceflight Named to Fast Company’s Annual List of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2020 (Graphic: Business Wire)

SEATTLE–( BUSINESS WIRE )–Spaceflight, Inc. has been named to Fast Company’s prestigious annual list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2020. The list honors the businesses making the most profound impact on both industry and culture, showcasing a variety of ways to thrive in today’s fast-changing world. This year’s MIC list features 434 businesses from 39 countries.

Spaceflight was recognized by Fast Company for its comprehensive launch services offering, winning praise for its record-breaking dedicated rideshare mission, SSO-A.

“Being named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies acknowledges Spaceflight’s ability to develop and execute creative and inventive approaches to making space more accessible,” said Curt Blake, CEO and president of Spaceflight. “Our first dedicated rideshare mission, SSO-A, was incredibly complex and required our team to seek novel solutions to successfully launch 64 satellites from one vehicle. It was an important milestone for the industry and for Spaceflight, demonstrating the viability of rideshare missions. We remain committed to making space more accessible, executing more missions in 2019 than any other year. We’re poised for another year of growth, working with new launch vehicles and expanding our service offering to make launch more affordable, reliable and flexible.”

SSO-A was Spaceflight’s first-ever dedicated rideshare mission, a launch that sent the largest number of satellites from a U.S.-based launch vehicle to space. SSO-A was an important milestone for Spaceflight, as it gave a significant number of customers access to space in a cost-effective way. Without the option of rideshare, many of these organizations would not have had the funds to purchase a ticket to orbit.

The mission launched 64 satellites from 34 organizations from 17 different countries. This diverse manifest included satellites from Earth observation companies, nonprofit organizations, universities, and even a middle school. To effectively launch the payloads, Spaceflight engineered and constructed a payload stack that safely carried the satellites to space. Additionally, to avoid potential collisions on orbit, Spaceflight developed a sequence that deployed the satellites over the course of five hours.

Spaceflight’s success continued through 2019. The company executed nine missions, the most rideshare launches it had performed in one year, launching more than 50 satellites. One of those 50 satellites was the first privately funded lunar lander, which was launched on the first-ever rideshare mission to Geostationary transfer orbit. In total, Spaceflight has launched nearly 300 satellites across 29 different launches. In 2020, Spaceflight plans to execute more than 10 missions, across five different launch vehicles, including two new launch vehicles.

Spaceflight’s parent company, Spaceflight Industries, recently announced it has signed an agreement to sell Spaceflight’s rideshare business to Japan’s Mitsui & Co., Ltd. and Yamasa Co., Ltd. Upon regulatory approval, Spaceflight will continue to operate as an independent U.S.-based company, with a 50/50 joint venture ownership stake by Mitsui & Co. and Yamasa.

Fast Company’s editors and writers sought out the most groundbreaking businesses on the planet and across myriad industries. They also judged nominations received through their application process. The World’s Most Innovative Companies is Fast Company’s signature franchise and one of its most highly anticipated editorial efforts of the year. It provides both a snapshot and a road map for the future of innovation across the most dynamic sectors of the economy.

“At a time of increasing global volatility, this year’s list showcases the resilience and optimism of businesses across the world. These companies are applying creativity to solve challenges within their industries and far beyond,” said Fast Company senior editor Amy Farley, who oversaw the issue with deputy editor David Lidsky.

SpaceX Rocket Makes Historic 3rd Launch Into Space with 64 Satellites On Board, Space

SpaceX Rocket Makes Historic 3rd Launch Into Space with 64 Satellites On Board

SpaceX has made history yet again.

A Falcon 9 rocket with a twice-flown first stage lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base today (Dec. 3) at 1:31 p.m. EST (1831 GMT; 10:31 a.m. local California time), carrying 64 tiny satellites to orbit.

SpaceX has re-flown used first stages many times, but today’s launch marked the first time a booster had ever propelled payloads to orbit on three separate occasions. The success is therefore an important milestone for SpaceX, which aims to fly all its vehicles repeatedly and frequently. Such rapid reuse could slash the cost of spaceflight, opening the heavens to exploration, company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said. [Launch Photos: SpaceX Falcon 9 Lofts 64 Satellites (and Lands) on Historic 3rd Flight]

And this particular first stage could conceivably fly yet again. The booster stuck its landing today, touching down softly about 8 minutes after liftoff on the SpaceX drone ship “Just Read the Instructions,” which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX also attempted to catch the rocket’s payload fairing — the protective nose cone that surrounds satellites during launch — today with its net-equipped boat, Mr. Steven. (Falcon 9 fairings fall back to Earth in two pieces, each under parachute.) The attempt was unsuccessful, as Mr. Steven’s several prior tries have also been. But SpaceX still plans to reuse the fairing, which cost about $6 million to manufacture, Musk said via Twitter today.

“Falcon fairing halves missed the net, but touched down softly in the water. Mr. Steven is picking them up. Plan is to dry them out & launch again. Nothing wrong with a little swim,” Musk tweeted.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Dec. 3, 2018, carrying 64 satellites to orbit on the SSO-A: Smallsat Express mission. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Today’s mission, called “SSO-A: SmallSat Express,” set three other records as well, as noted by Florida Today’s Emre Kelly. For example, the Falcon 9 first stage became the first booster to lift off from all three currently operational SpaceX orbital launch sites. The first stage helped launched Bangladesh’s Bangabandhu Satellite-1 from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) this past May, and it lofted the Merah Putih spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in August. (KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are next-door neighbors on Florida’s Space Coast.)

SSO-A, which was organized by the Seattle-based company Spaceflight, was also SpaceX’s 19th successful orbital launch of 2018. The company’s previous high for a single year was 18, set last year.

And then there are those 64 satellites — the most spacecraft ever launched to orbit atop a single rocket from American soil. (The international record is 104, set in February 2017 by India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV.)

If all goes according to plan, all 64 spacecraft will separate from the Falcon 9’s second stage less than 45 minutes after today’s liftoff (though 60 will still be aboard two Spaceflight “free flyers,” from which they will deploy over the next four hours). These new denizens of Earth orbit are a diverse and interesting lot. One of the cubesats, called Enoch, carries a golden “canopic jar” containing a bust of Robert H. Lawrence Jr., the first African-American astronaut. (He never made it to space, dying tragically in a training-flight accident in December 1967 at age 32.)

Then there’s another art project, known as Orbital Reflector. The satellite will deploy a shiny, self-inflating sculpture designed to catch the sun and draw skyward the eyes of millions of people down here on Earth. Orbital Reflector is a temporary installation; it will get dragged back into Earth’s atmosphere and burn up within a few weeks, project team members have said.

Also aboard is the Elysium Star 2 cubesat, which is owned by the San Francisco-based startup Elysium Space. Elysium Star 2 is carrying the cremated remains of customers who paid (or whose friends or family paid) $2,490 for a “shooting star memorial” — basically, the chance for bits of yourself to be turned into meteors streaking across the sky. If Elysium Star 2 works as planned, it will be Elysium Space’s first successful orbital mission.

There are also more “traditional” cubesats, including three more “Dove” Earth-observing craft built by the prolific San Francisco company Planet. Sixteen Doves also launched last week aboard a PSLV, which lofted a total of 31 satellites.

The 64 SSO-A satellites consist of 49 cubesats and 15 “microsats,” according to a Spaceflight mission description. More than two dozen of these spacecraft were provided by international organizations, which together involved a total of 17 countries, Spaceflight representatives said.

Many of the payloads were developed by university groups, and a few were even built by high-school teams.

Today’s launch had been slated for mid-November, but it was delayed several times so SpaceX could perform additional checks on the rocket, and to wait for high winds over Vandenberg to die down.

Spaceflight SSO A: Latest News – Videos, Photos about Spaceflight SSO A, The Economic Times – Page 9

SPACEFLIGHT SSO A

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Unidentified satellites reveal the need for better space tracking – The Verge

Why the Air Force still cannot identify more than a dozen satellites from one December launch

The case of the unknown satellites

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On the afternoon of December 3rd, 2018, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took off from the southern coast of California, lofting the largest haul of individual satellites the vehicle had ever transported. At the time, it seemed like the mission was a slam dunk, with all 64 satellites deploying into space as designed.

But nearly four months later, more than a dozen satellites from the launch have yet to be identified in space. We know that they’re up there, and where they are, but it’s unclear which satellites belong to which satellite operator on the ground.

They are, truly, unidentified flying objects.

The launch, called the SSO-A SmallSat Express, sent those small satellites into orbit for various countries, commercial companies, schools, and research organizations. Currently, all of the satellites are being tracked by the US Air Force’s Space Surveillance Network — an array of telescopes and radars throughout the globe responsible for keeping tabs on as many objects in orbit as possible. Yet 19 of those satellites are still unidentified in the Air Force’s orbital catalog. Many of the satellite operators do not know which of these 19 probes are theirs exactly, and the Air Force can’t figure it out either.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that carried the 64 satellites on the SSO-A mission Image: SpaceX

For a good portion of these satellites, it’s possible that they have experienced some kind of technical problem, preventing the operators from contacting the spacecraft in orbit. But part of the identification issue stems from the SSO-A mission’s structure. This was a rocket ride-share, a type of launch that’s become popular in the industry. As satellites grow smaller, operators can pack a bunch of these tiny probes together on larger launch vehicles, sending them into space all at once. But with so many satellites going into orbit at the same time, it can be hard for the Air Force’s technology to distinguish the satellites from each other. And that, in turn, can make it hard for satellite operators to decipher which satellites are theirs.

“When you have objects that are in a cluster, so to speak, it’s very difficult to disambiguate which one is which exactly,” Moriba Jah, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Texas who specializes in space tracking and oversees a tracking site called AstriaGraph, tells The Verge.

Not knowing the exact location of a spacecraft is a major problem for operators. If they can’t communicate with their satellite, the company’s orbiting hardware becomes, essentially, space junk. It brings up liability and transparency concerns, too. If an unidentified satellite runs into something else in space, it’s hard to know who is to blame, making space less safe — and less understood — for everyone. That’s why analysts and space trackers say both technical and regulatory changes need to be made to our current tracking system so that we know who owns every satellite that’s speeding around the Earth. “The whole way we do things is just no longer up to the task,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard and spaceflight tracker, tells The Verge.

How to identify a satellite

Up until recently, figuring out a satellite’s identity has been relatively straightforward. The Air Force has satellites high above the Earth that detect the heat of rocket engines igniting on the ground, indicating when a vehicle has taken off. It’s a system that was originally put in place to locate the launch of a potential missile, but it’s also worked well for spotting rockets launching to orbit. And for most of spaceflight history, usually just one large satellite or spacecraft has gone up on a launch — simplifying the identification process.

“For more traditional launches, where there are fewer objects, it’s fairly simple to do,” Diana McKissock, the lead for space situational awareness sharing and spaceflight safety at the Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron, tells The Verge. As a result, the Air Force has maintained a robust catalog of more than 20,000 space objects in orbit, many of which have been identified.

One of the Air Force’s tracking stations on Diego Garcia, which helps to catalog space objects Image: The Air Force

But as rocket ride-shares have grown in popularity, the Air Force’s surveillance capabilities have sometimes struggled to identify every satellite that is deployed during a launch. One problem is that most of the spacecraft on board all look the same. Nearly 50 satellites on the SSO-A launch were modified CubeSats — a type of standardized satellite that’s roughly the size of a cereal box. That means they are all about the same size and have the same general boxy shape. Plus, these tiny satellites are often deployed relatively close together on ride-share launches, one right after the other. The result is a big swarm of nearly identical spacecraft that are difficult to tell apart from the ground below.

Operators often rely on tracking data from the Air Force to find their satellites, so if the military cannot tell a significant fraction of these CubeSats apart, the operators don’t know where to point their ground communication equipment to get in contact with their spacecraft.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22, though. The Air Force also relies on satellite operators to help identify their spacecraft. Before a launch, the Air Force collects information from satellite operators about the design of the spacecraft and where it’s going to go. The operators are also responsible for making sure that they have the proper equipment (in space and on the ground) to communicate with the satellite. “It’s really a cooperative, ongoing process that involves the satellite operators as much as it involves us here at the 18th, processing the data,” says McKissock.

The struggles of the SSO-A operators

Technical glitches seem to be plaguing at least some of the lost satellites from the SSO-A launch, such as Audacy Zero — a communications CubeSat launched by the company Audacy. “There are still a couple of communication methods we are exploring, but it is looking likely at this point that we have a technical anomaly on the satellite,” Amanda Chia, head of business development at Audacy, tells The Verge.

Another complication to Audacy’s communication efforts is that the company still doesn’t know where their satellite is. Ralph Ewig, Audacy’s CEO, says his team has narrowed it down to five satellites from the launch, but they still aren’t certain which one is theirs. “Having been on the launch of that many other satellites made our diagnostics and troubleshooting a whole lot more difficult than we had originally anticipated,” Ewig tells The Verge.

For some operators, it seems that they were able to get in touch with their satellite at the beginning of the flight when all the satellites were in one big blob and close together in space. But as the probes have spread apart in the last few months, it’s become more difficult to know where to point their communication equipment, since so many identities are still unknown. Some operators have had trouble hearing back from the satellites in recent months.

An artistic rendering of what the fully deployed Orbital Reflector satellite would look like Image: The Nevada Museum of Art

That seems to be the case for Trevor Paglen’s Orbital Reflector — an art project that’s supposed to deploy a giant reflective balloon capable of being seen from Earth. In January, the team behind the satellite said that they had been in contact with the spacecraft, but that the government shutdown had impacted their ability to deploy the balloon. The website for the project states that the team still doesn’t have accurate orbital data for the satellite. “We are working to resolve these issues and will have more conclusive information to share in the near future,” Amanda Horn, a representative for the Nevada Museum of Art, said in a statement to The Verge.

And sometimes, time is of the essence for operators. A satellite may need more immediate communication in order to work properly; perhaps the vehicle needs to be told to orient itself in such a way to keep its batteries charged. “Depending on the design, some satellites, you might not contact them for two years and then you contact them and they’re fine,” says McDowell, who provided detailed tracking information about SSO-A to The Verge. “And other satellites, not so much.”

Where did SSO-A go wrong?

The SSO-A launch isn’t the only example of mistaken satellite identity. Five satellites are still unidentified from an Electron launch that took place in December last year, which sent up 13 objects, according to McDowell. And in 2017, a Russian Soyuz rocket deployed a total of 72 satellites, but eight are still unknown, says McDowell. The SSO-A launch is perhaps the most egregious example of this ride-share problem, as nearly a third of the satellites are still missing in the Air Force’s catalog.

The Air Force says the launch posed a unique challenge. One difficulty had to do with the way the satellites were deployed, according to McKissock, who says it was hard to predict before the launch where each satellite was going to be. The SSO-A launch was organized by a company called Spaceflight Industries, which acts as a broker for operators — finding room for their satellites on upcoming rocket launches. Spaceflight bought this entire Falcon 9 rocket for the SSO-A launch, and created the device that deployed all of these satellites into orbit. One satellite tracker, T.S. Kelso, who operates a tracking site called CelesTrak, agreed with the Air Force, saying that Spaceflight’s deployment platform made it hard to predict each satellite’s exact position. “[Spaceflight] had no way to provide the type of data needed,” Kelso writes in an email to The Verge.

The infographic Spaceflight released before the SSO-A launch, detailing the diversity of satellites and operators. Image: Spaceflight Industries

Another hurdle revolved around the diversity of operators launching on SSO-A. Other launches have sent up even more satellites than the SSO-A mission did, but often the satellites primarily come from one operator. SSO-A boasted a wide range of operators, many of which were newcomers to spaceflight, and the Air Force had the complex task of getting necessary orbital information from each group on the flight. “There were so many different owner operators from 15 different countries, many of whom we hadn’t worked with before,” McKissock says. “That was a unique challenge — harnessing all of that information in an effective way.”

And in the end, the Air Force is sometimes at the mercy of the operators’ information. It’s possible that some of the owners of the unidentified satellite got in touch with their vehicles recently and just have not informed the Air Force where they are. “A lot of what we do is based on the information they provide, but that’s all we can do,” says McKissock. “So if an operator doesn’t want to support the identification process, they don’t have to.” In fact, Kelso, the satellite tracker, says he was able to identify an additional seven satellites of the 19 unidentified ones, by working with the satellite operators. “That suggests 18 SPCS is either not receiving the same reports or discounting them for whatever reason,” he writes.

The Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron has other priorities to consider, too. While identifying spacecraft is something the team always hopes to accomplish on every flight, the main function of the 18th is to track as many objects as possible and then provide information on the possibility of spacecraft running into each other in orbit. The identification of satellites is secondary to that safety concern. “I wouldn’t say it’s not a priority, but we certainly have other mission requirements to consider,” says McKissock.

How do we fix this?

For now, not knowing the identities of all the SSO-A satellites is mostly an inconvenience to the operators that aren’t able to get the full benefits of their satellites. Additionally, if these CubeSats did pose a threat to any nearby spacecraft, there isn’t much that could be done — even if we knew all the vehicles’ owners. CubeSats are too small to have any thrusters, so they wouldn’t be able to move out of the way of an imminent collision.

But there are still safety concerns with unidentified satellites, especially if we cannot identify probes from other countries that pose a threat to US satellites. “If you’re talking about safety, what you really care about is: Where is it? And who do I call if it’s coming close to my satellite?” says Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation focusing on space operations and policy, tells The Verge. That way, if another country’s spacecraft is getting close to, say, the International Space Station, the US knows who to contact to get it moved out of the way.

The SSO-A flight also demonstrates an issue that has plagued space tracking for decades: the ambiguity of what’s happening up above Earth. If a satellite breaks apart in orbit, for instance, sometimes we know why — and sometimes we don’t. Establishing causality in space, with numerous unidentified satellites around the planet, is even more complicated. “When something happens in space, there are multiple things that could have caused it, and they’re equally unknown,” says Jah. “And that’s a problem. We’d love to get to the point where when something happens, you could say, ‘This happened because of this,’ with near absolute certainty.”

The best way to get to that future is to identify everything. And one thing most experts agree on is that the Air Force should be able to name satellites without requiring input from anyone else. “The best case scenario is if the object can be tracked, independent of the owner operator,” says Jah. One idea is to have all operators add uniquely identifiable features to their satellites, something akin to an RFID tag or a license plate that can be read from Earth. Such a regulatory change could come about thanks to Space Policy Directive-3, signed on June 18th, 2018, which focuses on creating guidelines and best practices to help the US figure out what is going on in space at all times.

An AGI visualization of the amount of debris and active satellites currently being tracked around Earth Image: AGI

The problem is this would only work for the US spaceflight industry. There’s no way to force other nations to put license plates on their satellites. The United Nations came up with a set of best practices in 2018 that describes ways in which countries can make their satellites easier to track, except there is no way to strictly enforce these measures. There have already been numerous Chinese launches, for instance, in which multiple satellites have launched on one rocket and the Air Force has been unable to identify some of the probes.

That’s why some argue that the Air Force should improve its identification abilities by turning to the private sector. “There are a lot more potential sources of data that could be leveraged, in addition to the traditional military owned and operated radars and telescopes,” says Weeden. Companies like AGI, LeoLabs, and more are developing new algorithms, radar, and telescopes that the Air Force could use for tracking and identification. In fact, some of these companies helped a few of the satellite operators on SSO-A, such as Audacy, attempt to track down their satellites.

Having better technology options may be helpful, since the Air Force will soon be tracking more objects in space than ever before. Soon, the military will activate what is known as the “space fence,” a new radar system located on an island called the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. It’ll be able to track even smaller objects, which could be difficult for the 18th Space Control Squadron to process. “They’re suggesting anywhere between 100,000 to 200,000 new objects that have never been tracked before that are going to get added to the catalog,” says Weeden. “And their existing computer systems at the 18th just can’t deal with that.”

The Air Force acknowledges that processing the new data will require a lot of extra work. “We are fully aware the exponential increase in. data will make an already complex process more challenging,” Major Cody Chiles, a spokesperson for the Air Force’s Joint Force Space Component Command, said in a statement. “We are preparing for this challenge by actively working with our commercial, interagency, and military partners to identify ways to effectively and efficiently manage the influx of data.”

Adding to the problem is that thousands of new satellites are set to be launched in the years to come, thanks to companies like SpaceX, OneWeb, and more looking to beam internet from space. Earth orbit is going to get crowded, increasing the need for clarity and identification. That means something needs to change soon before the amount of satellites in space quadruples — and we’re faced with the possibility of even more unidentified objects flying around our planet.

Correction April 2nd, 12:55PM ET: An original version of this article noted that an Indian PSLV launch had deployed 72 satellites in 2017, but it was a Russian Soyuz rocket, and the piece has been changed.