Ariane 5 carries two commercial commsats to GTO

Arianespace carried two geostationary commsats to transfer orbit with an Ariane 5 launch from the Centre Spatiale Guyanais in Kourou, 20 Jun 2019 2143 UT.

The first satellite deployed was T-16, one of the final planned satellites for the DirecTV television service, which is now owned by AT&T. The 6330 kg Airbus E3000LX commsat will reach the Clarke Belt with a traditional kick motor, with electric station-keeping once on-orbit. The satellite is capable of operating from any of DirecTV’s five main orbital slots between 99° and 119° W, providing primary coverage of the US with separate spotbeams for Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico/the Virgin Islands.

The second satellite, Eutelsat 7C, is an all electric propulsion design, a first for both Eutelsat and bird-maker Space Systems/Loral (now part of Maxar). By patiently waiting 120 days to reach its final orbit, the 1300 Class satellite avoids mass penalty of a second engine system, weighing just 3400 kg instead of the usual 5500 to 6500. Once it reaches position, 7C will supplement Eutelsat 7B, still in operation at the 7° E orbital slot.

Arianespace has scheduled the next launches for Vega on 5 Jul 2019, and Ariane 5 on 24 July.

Canadian radarsats and astronaut pressers

As the anniversary of Apollo 11 approaches, astronaut interviews are in growing demand! Today, Anne McClain and Christina Koch spoke to CNN and North Carolina’s Our State Magazine.

The major launch of the week was Wednesday’s RADARSAT Constellation Mission. The successor to the venerable RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2, the triplet of satellites will use C-band electronic radar to provide digital elevation data to a variety of GIS users, from farmers and foresters to climate researchers. The satellites are built and operated by MDA, for the Canadian Space Agency. The Falcon 9 launch took place on a foggy California morning, 1417 UT 12 June 2019.

GPS glitch grounds airliners

Outage regions for the Global Positioning System, 8 June 2019. (Credit: FAA)

Passenger airline flights were affected Saturday and Sunday 8 and 9 June 2019, due to an expected minor signal outage, plus a glitch with a particular type of GPS receiver. The affected planes were mostly Bombardier CRJ-200 and CRJ-700s, but also included CRJ-900s, as well as Boeing 737 and 767s.

Reports on indicate particular concerns with GPS receivers supplied by Rockwell Collins. In case the airplane’s barometer were to fail, the onboard GPS receiver must be able to track altitude accurately enough to maintain normal operations in the Class A airspace above FL180. This requires a GPS vertical accuracy within 500 feet (152 meters), and that the GPS constellation be in fairly good alignment – which, every now and then, just doesn’t happen.

That’s what occurred this weekend over a region over the Great Lakes and extending out over much of North Dakota and Manitoba, such that certain areas can expect, in theory, up to 40 minutes of signal loss on Sunday. The FAA estimated still further regions in the US could be affected by the outage. As affected planes wait for a technical fix, they are flying below 18000 feet, or simply being replaced by unaffected aircraft.

Airliners with the strictest requirements for their their GPS accuracy had to rely on alternative navigation modes when operating in the red region. (Credit: FAA)

In addition to highlighting the performance of one supplier’s GPS solution in an edge case, the incident also serves to highlight an increasing dependence on GPS for airline operations. Aviators have expressed concern about the trend of airports turning off their ILS, VOR, and NDB navigation systems. Many of these decisions assume that GPS will always be available, which may well be more than 98% correct. It’s the last 2% that may lead to unexpected problems.

China’s first sea launch

A Long March 11 rocket lifts off from the Yellow Sea, 5 Jun 2019 (Credit: China Central TV, via Weibo)

China’s first sea launch delivered three satellites to orbit. The mobile sea launch platform, escorted by Chinese Coast Guard cutters, moved into position and launched a Long March 11 rocket at 0406 UT 5 Jun 2019.

The four-stage solid rocket carried two Jilin-1 earth observation satellites, as well as the CAS-6 Amateur Radio satellite, a 50 cm, 50 kg unit with one VHF narrowband transponder, AX.25 telemetry, and a CW beacon.

SpaceX CRS-17 unberths, and the news of the week

SpaceX CRS-17 departs ISS, 03 Jun 2019 (Credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX CRS-17 was released from the ISS today at 1601 UT. As we wait for it to land, here’s a roundup of the week’s space news:

Orbital missions

Plesetek Soyuz-2 GLONASS launch, 0600 UT 27 May 2019
ISS EVA217, 1615 UT 29 May 2019
Baikonur Proton-M Yamal-601 launch, 1742 UT 30 May 2019

The Washington Post interviewed Christina Koch and Nick Hague about life in space.

David Saint-Jacques is also keeping up a high pace of media appearances before he returns to Earth at the end of the month:
Montréal C2, 24 May 2019 (CSA, NASA)
Umiujaq Q&A, 31 May 2019
ARISS Yellowknife, 27 May 2019
Saint-Jacques also had an ARISS contact in Saskatoon on the 27th.

Space Policy and Announcements

Commercial Lunar Payload Services executives gather at Goddard Space Flight Center, 30 May 2019 (Credit: NASA TV)

NASA announced the first three awards for Commercial Lunar Payload Services, where private companies will promise to build and send landers to the moon. Each of three teams has a separate set of science partners working on payloads that will be mounted on the landers, which are each about 2 to 3.5 meters around, a bit smaller than a compact car.

OrbitBeyond (Edison, New Jersey) is slated to reach the moon first, in September 2020, after launch on a Falcon 9. Astrobotic (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and Intuitive Machines (Houston, Texas) will land in June or July 2021. Astrobotic’s lander is being designed in India and is sponsored in part by German logistics provider DHL.

FAA COMSTAC Committee, 30 May 2019
The FAA has extended the comment period for its new streamlined space launch rules. [SpaceNews]

EU-ESA Space Council met in Brussels, 28 May 2019
As the EU is wont to do, they’ve sliced the entire meeting into Euronews-sized chunks. You can view the full press conference: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 (Plus B-roll, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

NASA Advisory Committee, 30 May 2019