Thuraya Telecommunications Company and the company’s service partner, Xtra-Link, are exhibiting at Europort, the international exhibition for maritime technology.

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At the event, the satellite operator is showcasing their latest maritime terminal, Thuraya Atlas IP+, as well as a range of its SATCOM equipment ideal for on-sea and vessel connectivity. Held from November 7th to 10th in the port city of Rotterdam, this year’s edition is anticipating up to 30,000 attendees and 1,100 exhibitors from more than 40 countries.

Thuraya Atlas IP+ is a maritime-specific broadband terminal specifically designed to deliver added value to end-users seeking enhanced connectivity and operational efficiency onboard ships. It supports simultaneous voice and broadband IP data connectivity at speeds of up to 444Kbps and features improved power efficiency, a smaller form factor, and greater versatility than rival products. The voice calls are via the Thuraya Talk VoIP service allowing for cost effective communication. Other functionality includes port forwarding, which automatically transfers data from shipboard equipment and devices in support of M2M reporting routines; an English/Chinese web interface; a built-in firewall; and the ability to use the terminal for vessel tracking increasing the effectiveness of fleet management.

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As an established provider of maritime communications services, Thuraya is committed to delivering superior, competitively priced voice and data solutions that run over a robust and steady satellite network. At Europort, the company is stationed at booth 6404 where representatives will meet with maritime officials from around the world and display best-in-class satellite communications offerings. Apart from the new Thuraya Atlas IP+ terminal, the company’s product exhibit also includes maritime terminals like the Thuraya Atlas IP, Thuraya Orion IP, and the Thuraya SeaStar.

Keith Murray, Thuraya’s Senior Product Manager for Maritime, said that Europort is an ideal platform to meet with senior maritime decision makers. As a leading international forum for maritime markets and technology, it is also the best setting for us to showcase Thuraya Atlas IP+, the company’s new maritime broadband terminal — among customers and experts who understand the product’s relevance and have a specific need for it. Thuraya monitors the maritime market closely and listens to our customer’s needs. This gives us a keen perception of the market expectations, from developing products and services that integrate seamlessly with different vessel types to assist in delivering communication systems for crew welfare and cargo management that are best placed to reduce operating cost, improve efficiency and maintain crew morale.

Mustang 6A Rocket Launch, November 4, 2017, Spaceport America (Photo: J. Perry, Launch Crew, White Sands Research and Developers, LLC)

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The Rocket Team built and launched a rocket, and recovered the payload section. All went well with one exception.

Spaceport America announced the launch today of the first Mustang 6A rocket which was built by The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) Rocket Team in collaboration with White Sands Research and Developers, LLC (WSRDs).

The launch of the Mustang 6A, designed to reach an apogee of 24,000 feet, took place Saturday morning from Spaceport America’s north Lunar Launch Pad.

The mission was an operational success and accomplished most of the mission objectives, which involved testing of several newly designed and innovative subsystems. These custom-designed subsystems performed according to design and the payload section was recovered fully intact. The rocket, however, did not attain its intended apogee.

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The mission patch was designed by Chip Wyly and Lenora Jaramillo-Wyly. It utilizes symbols from the logos of WSRDs (Zia-enclosed Mach cone) and NMT (M-Mountain), and depicts the Mustang rocket heading towards Polaris, the North Star, which is used to verify alignment of the launch rail and meteorological equipment. Photo by Dr. C. Lohn, WSRDs’ President and Launch Crew Member

Dan Hicks, CEO of Spaceport America, summed it up, “We are proud of the New Mexico Tech team and its student members for their recent launch effort on November 4th at Spaceport America. We are pleased to work with these fine examples of the next generation of space industry engineers and scientists.”

The launch took place at 07:35 AM (MDT), only four minutes after the planned launch time of 7:31AM MDT (sunrise). The mission window actually would have allowed launch until nearly 11:00 AM MDT. Dr. Christina Lohn, WSRDs’ CEO remarked, “This mission took enormous preparation by WSRDs’ launch crew and the NMT rocket team, but it really paid off with a smooth operation under changing weather conditions.”

The current mission was the third NMT rocket launch hosted at Spaceport America, and each group of students has been welcomed and supported by the spaceport crew. This team reached the highest operational level yet in terms of safety, proficiency, adherence to schedule, and professionalism. Dr. Lohn, added, “We want to thank the Spaceport America staff and its Protective Services contractor, who were very helpful throughout the preparations, up to and including active participation in our Mission Readiness Review and Mission Dress Rehearsal.”

Boeing’s 3D printed parts that were incorporated in the SES 15 satellite. Photo: Boeing.

To combat the slowdown in Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite orders, Boeing Satellite Systems International is rapidly implementing new technology in its satellite designs and manufacturing processes, Mark Spiwak, the company’s president, said in an interview with Via Satellite. According to Spiwak, the company’s advanced payloads can help accommodate customers who desire more flexible assets as they prepare for the future of the industry.

Manufacturers across the board have observed a significant and consistent downtrend in recent years, with the number of GEO orders slipping from between 20 and 25 on average per year to just 17 in 2016. This year, which Spiwak described as “pretty paltry so far,” is shaping up to be similarly sluggish — and he believes this trend could extend into the foreseeable future.

Spiwak noted two factors critical to the slowdown. “One is some of the larger High Throughput Satellite (HTS) systems, specifically ViaSat’s, are really driving the dollars per bit down. That’s causing people to rethink their business plans,” he said, as companies must reconsider their price points in the face of cheaper bandwidth.

Secondly, Spiwak said, operators have grown hesitant to commit themselves to new significant investments as the industry trend toward Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) systems starts to take shape. Companies are beginning to realize the potential advantages of leveraging hybrid systems, Spiwak has observed — particularly those with data-driven applications at their core, such as gaming or banking, which can benefit greatly from the reduced latency of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. “I think some of that is causing the operators to pause their traditional buying habits,” he said.

Nonetheless, for certain business models it’s simply hard to beat the economics of a GEO satellite, Spiwak said, and to meet the needs of those operators Boeing is working to evolve its systems’ capabilities. For example, the company recently patented technology for Built-In Testing (BIT), which allows its digital payloads to automatically loop back certain signals and test themselves, saving precious man-hours, cutting test times, and resulting in much shorter delivery schedules.

Another of the company’s recent patents centers on the stacking process for its Small Platform (SP) satellite family, which allows Boeing to launch two payloads simultaneously. Eutelsat and ABS were some of the first benefactors of the technology, launching Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS 2A together in a combined SpaceX mission.

Spiwak additionally highlighted all-electric propulsion systems and 3D printing as game changing technologies Boeing is incorporating across its space business. “We’re implementing this as part of our standard design processes,” he said.

Spiwak sees digital payloads as key to ensuring Boeing’s satellites remain relevant far into the future. Unlike analog, digital payloads in combination with Phased Array Antennas (PAAs) allow operators to track ground terminals, reshape beams and move bandwidth around to suit their needs. “Operators are no longer stuck with a fixed coverage area and fixed bandwidth over the 15 or 20 years of life of the satellite,” he said.

Boeing is also pursuing a “high degree of commonality” between the technology used in its GEO satellites and its NGSO systems, according to Spiwak. Not only will this strategy help stave off smallsat manufacturers encroaching on Boeing’s market share, it will also “drive affordability, drive down the dollar per bit, [and] make things simpler for us to build,” he said. Moreover, it gives Boeing the opportunity to qualify its manufacturing and test processes on a larger scale — a critical capability given that Boeing is toying with the idea of launching its own LEO broadband constellation.

But even as the industry softens its focus on GEO, Spiwak is optimistic the business models surrounding such assets will still have a place, and doesn’t believe that the lower number of GEO orders is indicative of the industry’s overall health. Operators are taking a beat to rejig their strategies due to the breakneck pace of innovation, but growth opportunities remain plentiful, he said. “We’re going to see a continued drive to using bandwidth efficiently,” Spiwak said. “I think there’s huge market potential here to provide greater connectivity and greater value to the customers.”

An Australian startup is developing a new ion engine that could potentially recycle space junk into fuel to provide thrust for satellites on orbit. According to Neumann Space Founder and Chief Scientist Patrick “Paddy” Neumann, the company’s technology will offer a new level of fuel efficiency while also providing an incentive to clean up space debris.

The Neumann Drive, which is currently at TRL 4 according to NASA’s Technology Readiness Level scale, is a wire-triggered pulsed cathodic arc system. In other words, it functions much like an arc welder, using electricity to heat the fuel material on the tip of a metal cathode. Once ionized, the material is funneled out into space, producing thrust for the asset.

According to Neumann, current flight-rated electric propulsion systems such as Hall effect thrusters use xenon as their propellant. A gas at room temperature and pressure, xenon must be held under high pressure to increase the amount carried in the tank volume, he said. Conversely, because the Neumann Drive uses solid conductive propellants, the system doesn’t require a tank to hold the fuel materials — “nor do we need pumps, pipes, regulators or other pieces of support hardware,” he added.

Neumann Space designed the system to use materials such as aluminum, titanium and magnesium for fuel, “thus creating a motive for cleaning up near-Earth space,” Neumann said. Recycling aluminum is a particularly useful capability, as approximately 7,000 tons of space junk sitting above Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) is made of aluminum and could potentially be turned into fuel rods for this technology.

However, Neumann highlighted magnesium and molybdenum as the most promising propellants. “We like magnesium for its very high specific impulse (approximately 10,000s), and molybdenum for its combination of good specific impulse (approximately 5,000s) [and] better thrust-to-power ratio,” he said. Specific impulse is akin to fuel efficiency per pound of material, or “miles per gallon for rockets,” as Neumann phrased it.

Molybdenum is also about 10.3 times as dense as water, he added, making it ideal for volume or power constrained missions.

The higher efficiency of the Neumann Drive relative to current thrusters could potentially enable missions that “would otherwise be uneconomical, such as satellite servicing, space tugs and asteroid mining,” Neumann said. The company has also been able to produce thrust at higher specific impulse than any flight-rated system, which means the drive could send vehicles to more distant destinations while also delivering bigger payloads.

Like Fleet CEO Flavia Tata Nardini, Neumann is an advocate for an Australian national space body. He noted that because Australia is not known for producing space hardware, investors there are not fully cognizant of the risks and opportunities in the sector, which meant it was difficult to secure initial funding for the venture.

“While Australia has the Space Policy Unit and Space Coordination Committee at the federal level, neither of these organizations function as a single point of contact for international organizations looking to partner with Australian entities on space activities, nor do they have the authority to initiate Australian space activities. Personally, I would love for Australia to have a single governing body for space activities — possessing ministerial access and independence — and look forward to the day when we have such,” he said.

Neumann Space is currently finalizing development of its technology before launching the thruster up to the International Space Station (ISS) in February 2019, where it will conduct on-orbit testing atop an Airbus Defense and Space module. The team expects to bring the product to market between 2020 and 2022, initially offering propulsion for small satellites in the 100- to 250-kg range. “Larger vehicles would be to operate multiple arrays in parallel,” he added. “We also believe that we would be able to miniaturize the system so that it would fit into the volume format of a single CubeSat unit, thus providing propulsion for 3U CubeSats and similar.”

Neuman sees this technology as a general boon for the industry, as it could enable more space activities at lower engineering and financial costs. “We hope that pulsed arc thrusters become more common in future, not only for selfish reasons involving the financial success of our company, but also for what it would mean for broader human activities in space,” he said.