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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#212 - Space News Week

This week Chris joins Matt to talk about Crew Dragon, Copernicus Sentinel 6, Vega woes, Arecibo nightmare, Chang'e 5, Astroscal, UK Space and Sainsburys.

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.

The Doctor (David Tennant)

1963 – The BBC broadcasts An Unearthly Child (starring William Hartnell), the first episode of the first story from the first series of Doctor Who, which is now the world's longest-running science-fiction drama

2015 – Blue Origin's New Shepard space vehicle became the first rocket to successfully fly to space and then return to Earth for a controlled, vertical landing.


Fans of this podcast may like Matt's new podcast Re-covering Queen

What’s been happening!!

Well lots of drinking opportunity this episode.

First Up, our astronaut of the week and his fellow travellers, are safe aboard the ISS, in a picture-perfect journey to the ISS.

  • Docked at IDA2

  • Expedition 64

All crew members highly experienced but only the Japanese Astronaut had flown from US soil before, with Glover the only Rookie.

Staying with SpaceX

Not only are they now the number one route to the ISS, they are also the number one route for anything going into Space. One thing is for certain the Falcon 9 totally hits the sweet spot with innovation, size, performance cost, pizzaz etc, and it is safe to say it is the rocket industry. We no longer count launches just as countries but now it’s a company that rules the roost.

So big launch for Falcon 9

The Copernicus Sentinel-6 mission, also referred to as the Jason-CS mission, is a satellite altimeter which was developed by European Space Agency (ESA) part of the European Copernicus programme led by the European Commission, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and technical support from France's National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) (Centre national d'études spatiales).

The Sentinel-6 program includes two identical satellites, to be launched five years apart,

  • Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, which launched on 21 November 2020

  • Sentinel-6B, which will launch in 2025

  • measure sea level change from space

  • measured without interruption since 1992

Michael H. Freilich (January 14, 1954 – August 5, 2020) was an American oceanographer who served as director of the NASA Earth Science division from 2006–2019, he lost his battle with Cancer, but was so well-loved the satellite was named after him.

The satellite bounces radar off the ocean and measures the journey time and combines that with its very precise positioning data to give average sea level readings. This is a gold standard in climate science and is one of the most crucial measurements being done. Since this method has been used, we have worryingly seen sea levels rise about 3.2 mm on average every year. More alarmingly, accelerating; over the last few years, to 4.8 mm a year. Building on the heritage of sats like Cryosat this one carries a Synthetic Aperture Radar, which is the nuts in the Satellite tech world.

The ownership of this satellite is very complex. So it’s been built by ESA and NASA, by the normal contractors, The mission is co-funded by the European Commission, the European Space Agency, EUMETSAT and the US through NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). EUMETSAT will exploit the Copernicus Sentinel-6 mission in synergy with Copernicus Sentinel-3 and its own missions to deliver an integrated stream of marine data to users.

Airbus built the Propulsion system here in the UK.


  • improve knowledge and understanding of the role of the ocean in climate change;

  • increase understanding of how human activities impact the health of the global ocean;

  • be crucial for developing mitigation and adaptation policies in coastal areas and for small island States.

The Leak in the ISS

The two Sergey’s were out on an EVA trying to fix a leak in the Russian part of the space station. It was reported as being like a scratch in the Zevdya Module and matched with rubber and silver foil. However, it’s still not clear whether the leak has indeed been fixed.

Disaster for Ariane

Vega VV17

The Arianespace Vega has suffered its second failure. The liquid propellant AVUM

the fourth stage malfunctioned at the beginning of its burn. Arianespace reports that control system cables were connected incorrectly during assembly. The AVUM and its attached payloads fell in the Arctic, off the coast of Yakutia.

The payloads lost were the Spanish imaging satellite SARSAT-Ingenio

and the French Taranis scientific satellite,

The fault does not appear to be a design fault but human error, a cable inserted somehow the wrong way, so as the upper stage tried to make any correction it was correcting in completely the wrong direction and made the upper stage spin out of control.

It’s hard to assess what’s worse a design fault or human error. A design fault can lead to long delays of the program, and human error is just embarrassing in some ways.

But. although it shouldn’t, this makes me even more stressed about the Ariane 5 launch for James Webb in just under a year. It doesn’t matter how reliable a rocket is one mistake by a single person can destroy billions of dollars of equipment.

Arecibo dish

The world-famous Arecibo dish looks almost certain to be demolished.

The Dish, which has a unique capability of actually using radar to look at objects, has gone past the point of safe repair.

The cables holding up the very heavy receiver, are much weaker than design spec. The receiver is on an 820-tonne platform suspended 150 m above the dish by 18 cables running from three reinforced concrete towers, one 111 m (365 ft) high and the other two 81 m (265 ft) high, placing their tops at the same elevation.

Interesting side note.

The Gregorian telescope is a type of reflecting telescope designed by Scottish mathematician and astronomer James Gregory in the 17th century and first built in 1673 by Robert Hooke. James Gregory was a contemporary of Isaac Newton. Both often worked simultaneously on similar projects. Gregory's design was published in 1663 and pre-dates the first practical reflecting telescope, the Newtonian telescope, built by Sir Isaac Newton in 1668. However, Gregory's design was only a theoretical description, and he never actually constructed the telescope. It was not successfully built until five years after Newton's first reflecting telescope.

NSF's Sean Jones stated, "This decision is not an easy one for NSF to make, but safety of people is our number one priority." The lidar facility will remain operational

No facility in the world, including FAST in china, does what Arecibo does, ie beam radar (light) into space and bounce it off objects, this is the only way to see the shape and exact positioning of asteroids for example.

It’s built into a sinkhole and stuff grows underneath the dish still. It’s a spherical dish due to its type of operation, moving the receiver above and obviously, the dish doesn’t move so if you have a parabolic dish you would get weird astigmatism spending on where you put the receiver.

Built in the 1960’s - Used to

  • 1964: Determine the rotation period of Mercury as 88 days, not 59 as previously thought

  • 1968, the discovery of the periodicity of the Crab Pulsar (33 milliseconds) by Lovelace and others provided the first solid evidence that neutron stars exist

  • 1974 Hulse and Taylor used it for their Nobel prize-winning discovery of a binary pulsar

  • 1989: Imaged an asteroid, first direct image ever, 4769 Castalia

  • 1990: Discovered the first exoplanets. with the observation of the discovery of pulsar PSR B1257+12

  • In 1974, the Arecibo Message, an attempt to communicate with potential extraterrestrial life, was transmitted from the radio telescope toward the globular cluster Messier 13, about 25,000 light-years away

  • The telescope also originally had military intelligence uses, including locating Soviet radar installations by detecting their signals bouncing off the Moon

China's Chang'e-5 spacecraft

  • Will return the Moon samples to Earth for the first time since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

  • The samples may be the youngest ever returned to Earth at 1.2 billion years old,

  • NASA’s Apollo astronauts returned moon rocks aged between 3.1 and 4.4 billion years old.

  • Chang’e-5 will help scientists understand what was happening late in the Moon’s history, as well as how Earth and the solar system evolved.

  • Launch probably today! For my mind the most exciting mission of 2020.

  • Oceanus Procellarum—the Ocean of Storms—a dark-grey region in the Moon’s northwest corner visible with the unaided eye from Earth.

  • The specific landing site, near a 70-kilometre-wide mound named Mons Rümker

  • Mons Rümker is a raised region formed by volcanic activity late in the Moon's history. It is about 70 kilometres wide and rises more than a kilometre above the surrounding area

  • Talked about this on 210

UK Space

Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that the UK was getting its own SpaceCommand.

  • About a year after the US

  • Commonwealth Space Command to stand shoulder to shoulder with UK allies

  • The more perilous situation since the cold war

  • Johnson, "the international situation is more perilous and more intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War and Britain must be true to our history and stand alongside our allies. To achieve this, we need to upgrade our capabilities across the board."

  • In April, Air Vice Marshall Harvey Smyth was appointed the ministry's first space commander

  • £7 billion portfolio for the next decade

  • UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace "the threat Russia poses to our national security, with a provocative test of a weapon-like projectile from a satellite threatening the peaceful use of space."

  • British Air Force Chief Marshal Mike Wigston warned that orbital space surrounding the Earth had become a "contested war-fighting domain"

  • US critizized by Russia and China a creation of a military entity that does exactly what it claims to mitigate: the militarization of space.

  • UK's Space Command is likely to take over development of the new Skynet 6 communications satellites and the possible creation of a UK Global Navigation Satellite System, along with surveillance satellites and ballistic missile defense radar networks.

  • UK Gov, already spent 500 million on One Web, the rescued 650 mega constellation, which it shares with an Indian Comms Giant. Bharti

  • Could this be similar to what the US Space Force are doing and paying SpaceX to adapt some of their MEgaconstalltion sat to help with Ealry warning systems.

  • Uk increased it’s ESA spend by 15% to £474Mil

  • Lockheed have pulled out of Sutherland and are looking at Shetland for a launch in 2021. Meanwhile Johnson said that the opening of the commonwealth's Space Command would be accompanied by a new satellite launch site in Scotland, which would "launch its first rocket in 2022." di he mean Sutherland, Shetland ...or somewhere new?

  • OneWeb is targeting Dec. 17 for it’s return to flight with a 36-satellite launch by Arianespace from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia.

  • Earlier this week, the satellites were shipped from OneWeb Satellites production facility in Florida to Vostochny and are now undergoing preparation for launch.

  • dual production lines brought back into service.

  • OneWeb has 74 satellites in-orbit.

  • The company plans to continue launches through 2021 and 2022, in order to begin commercial connectivity services to the U.K. and the Arctic region in late 2021, with plans to expand to global services in 2022.


Space Debris

Astroscale this week announced that its End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) mission will launch on a Soyuz rocket operated by GK Launch Services from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, in March 2021.

  • The ELSA-d mission will demonstrate multiple dynamically complex capture activities necessary to remove defunct objects from orbit using an innovative approach consisting of a servicer (~175kg) and a client (~17kg), launched together.

  • The servicer, equipped with proximity rendezvous technologies and a magnetic capture mechanism, will repeatedly release and dock with the client, which has been prepared with a ferromagnetic docking plate.

  • Astroscale intends to prove the capabilities required for debris removal, including client search, inspection and rendezvous, and both non-tumbling and tumbling docking.

  • Astroscale will operate ELSA-d out of the UK using the In-Orbit Servicing Control Centre National Facility (IOCC) developed by a team led by Astroscale. The IOCC, located at the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell, Oxfordshire, was developed specifically for satellite servicing missions.

  • “Astroscale UK is proud to be operating this exciting mission,” says John Auburn, Managing Director of Astroscale’s UK office. “ELSA-d will be groundbreaking in so many ways — it will demonstrate the first semi-autonomous capture of a non-responsive, tumbling client, as well as the first identification of a client located outside the servicer’s sensor field of view.”

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