Tag Archive for: Nasa

The brightness of AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 satellite in low Earth orbit is causing concern among astronomers due to its potential impact on night sky observations. Here are some key points about this situation:

  1. Bright Satellite: BlueWalker 3, a prototype satellite launched by AST SpaceMobile in September 2022, has been observed to be exceptionally bright in the night sky. After deploying a large 64-square-meter antenna to support direct-to-device communications, the satellite’s brightness increased substantially, making it one of the brightest objects in the night sky.
  2. Magnitude Measurements: Astronomers use a magnitude scale to measure the brightness of celestial objects. BlueWalker 3’s brightness increased from magnitude 6, which is the limit of naked-eye observations in dark areas, to magnitude 0.4. This made the satellite as bright as certain prominent stars like Procyon and Achernar.
  3. Concern for Astronomy: The increase in brightness of commercial satellites like BlueWalker 3 poses challenges for astronomers. It can interfere with observations of celestial objects and impact the quality of astronomical research. Larger and brighter commercial satellites, particularly those in planned constellations, are of particular concern.
  4. Ongoing Trend: The study highlights an ongoing trend of launching larger and brighter commercial satellites. Given the plans to launch many more such satellites in the future, the potential impact on astronomy is a growing concern.
  5. Mitigation Efforts: Astronomical organizations, such as the International Astronomical Union Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference (IAU CPS), are actively studying the impact of satellite constellations on astronomy and working on methods to mitigate these impacts.
  6. Balancing Space Activities: The situation underscores the need for a balance between space activities, including satellite deployments, and the preservation of the pristine and dark night sky that astronomers rely on for their research.

As more commercial satellites are launched into orbit, addressing their impact on ground-based astronomy remains a challenge that requires cooperation between space operators and the astronomical community to find workable solutions.

AST SpaceMobile’s response to concerns about the brightness of its satellites and their impact on astronomy involves several measures and collaboration with space and astronomy organizations:

  1. Collaboration with NASA and Astronomy Working Groups: AST SpaceMobile is collaborating with NASA and certain astronomy working groups to develop advanced industry solutions to address concerns related to the brightness of its satellites. While not directly addressing the observations in the paper, the company is actively engaging with experts in the field to find solutions.
  2. Brightness Reduction Measures: The company is working on practical methods to reduce the brightness of its satellites. This includes “roll-tilting flight maneuvers” to minimize sunlight reflection to the ground. Additionally, AST SpaceMobile plans to incorporate anti-reflective materials on its future satellites to further mitigate the issue.
  3. Comparatively Smaller Constellation: AST SpaceMobile emphasizes that its satellite constellation will be smaller in terms of the number of satellites. The company estimates that it will require only about 90 satellites to achieve substantial global coverage. In contrast, larger constellations, such as OneWeb and SpaceX, have significantly more satellites in orbit.
  4. Cooperation with Astronomical Community: Other satellite operators, like SpaceX, have also worked with astronomers to address concerns about satellite brightness. SpaceX, for instance, has taken steps to reduce the brightness of its Starlink satellites and signed coordination agreements with organizations like the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF is working on similar agreements with other satellite constellation operators, including Amazon and OneWeb, to ensure cooperation in mitigating the impact on astronomy.

As satellite constellations continue to expand, these efforts reflect the increasing recognition of the importance of balancing the benefits of satellite technology with the preservation of dark skies for astronomical research. Collaboration between space operators and the astronomical community is essential in finding effective solutions to this issue.

Astronomers have raised concerns not only about the optical brightness of AST SpaceMobile’s satellites but also the potential for radio astronomy interference:

  1. Radio Astronomy Interference: AST SpaceMobile’s satellites operate in frequencies allocated for terrestrial communications, which are in close proximity to the frequencies used for radio astronomy. Radio telescopes are typically situated in “radio-quiet zones” to avoid interference from terrestrial sources. However, satellite transmissions in these frequencies could potentially interfere with radio astronomy observations, even within designated radio-quiet zones.
  2. Coordination Measures: AST SpaceMobile has stated its intent to avoid broadcasting from its satellites into or near the U.S. National Radio-Quiet Zone in Virginia and West Virginia. The company also plans to avoid other radio astronomy locations as required, even if they are not officially recognized. This proactive measure is designed to minimize the potential interference with radio astronomy.
  3. Balancing Progress and Impact: Astronomers acknowledge the need for improved connectivity and internet access, especially in rural and underserved areas. However, they emphasize the importance of balancing this progress with the negative impact of bright satellites on the night sky and radio astronomy observations.

In summary, the coexistence of satellite constellations and astronomical research presents challenges, particularly in addressing issues related to optical brightness and radio frequency interference. Collaboration between satellite operators, astronomy organizations, and regulatory bodies is crucial to finding solutions that ensure both progress in satellite technology and the preservation of dark skies for astronomical research.


The development of a new, large, and reusable launch vehicle marks a significant step in Japan’s ambitious space exploration endeavors. This project, undertaken collaboratively by JAXA and MHI, is a response to the evolving landscape of space exploration. As space missions become more complex and frequent, there is a growing demand for versatile and cost-effective launch systems that can adapt to a wide range of payloads and mission profiles.

The initiative, backed by Japan’s revised space policy, reflects a forward-looking vision. This vision encompasses not only achieving cost savings and improving launch efficiency but also contributing to environmental sustainability. Reusable launch vehicles hold the promise of reducing space debris and lowering the environmental impact of space exploration.

As space exploration enters an exciting phase with missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, Japan is positioning itself as a key player in this global endeavor. The new rocket, which builds on the advancements of the H3, aims to increase satellite capacity, making it more versatile for various mission requirements. Moreover, by incorporating reusability, Japan seeks to drive down the costs associated with space missions, making space more accessible and affordable for scientific research, commercial ventures, and international collaboration.

While the new rocket’s design and development are still in their early stages, it represents Japan’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of space exploration. The collaboration between JAXA and MHI, both renowned for their contributions to space technology, underscores Japan’s intention to remain at the forefront of space exploration and contribute to a more sustainable and efficient future for space transportation. As this project progresses, it holds the potential to open new possibilities for international cooperation in space exploration and research.

The consideration of fuel options, such as liquid methane and liquid hydrogen, for the new rocket underscores the evolving landscape of space exploration technologies. Liquid methane, in particular, has gained prominence as an environmentally friendly and cost-effective propellant choice for rocket engines. The interest in methane propulsion aligns with global trends observed in the United States and China, where both government agencies and commercial firms have been working on methane-liquid oxygen launchers.

JAXA has a goal of reducing the cost per kilogram to low Earth orbit (LEO) by about half compared to the H3 rocket reflects a broader industry objective of driving down launch costs. Achieving this cost reduction will not only make space access more affordable but will also facilitate an increase in launch frequency, accommodating a more diverse array of space missions.

While specific details about the new rocket’s design and capabilities remain in development, its intended purpose is clear: to transport cargo vehicles to lunar orbit and landers to the moon’s surface. This lunar capability is particularly significant, aligning with the global push for lunar exploration, including NASA’s Artemis program and other international lunar missions.

The new rocket, anticipated to be ready for the 2030s, presents an exciting opportunity for Japan to play a pivotal role in lunar exploration and potentially support human spaceflight endeavors in the future. By leaving space for private space companies to contribute to Japan’s space transportation capabilities, the plan promotes innovation, fostering a competitive environment and driving advancements in space technology.

As the global space sector continues to expand, these developments align Japan with the international community’s shared aspirations for scientific research, exploration, and commercial ventures in space. Collaboration and partnerships are at the heart of this vision, with both public and private entities contributing to the future of space transportation and exploration.

On July 17th, a Rocket Lab Electron rocket successfully placed seven smallsats into orbit for three different customers. This launch not only marked a significant achievement in satellite deployment but also moved the company closer to realizing its goal of reusing the Electron rocket’s booster.

The launch took place at Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand‘s Mahia Peninsula at 9:27 p.m. Eastern Time. Originally scheduled for July 14th, the launch was delayed to allow the company to make final preparations for both launching the rocket and recovering the booster.

During the mission, the Electron rocket’s kick stage executed multiple burns to deploy the payloads into their respective orbits. The deployment sequence began with four NASA Starling 6U smallsats and two Spire 3U smallsats, which were placed into a 575-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit. Subsequently, after two additional burns, the kick stage released Telesat’s LEO 3 satellite into a 1,000-kilometer orbit approximately an hour and 45 minutes after liftoff.

Among the payloads were four NASA Starling satellites that will test autonomous swarm operations, two Spire satellites intended to enhance the company’s weather data collection capabilities, and Telesat’s LEO 3 satellite, the largest spacecraft on the mission. LEO 3, built by the University of Toronto’s Space Flight Laboratory for Telesat, will aid the Canadian satellite operator in ongoing tests for its future Lightspeed constellation, which had previously been carried out by another prototype satellite nearing the end of its operational life.

The “Baby Come Back” mission presented Rocket Lab with an opportunity to test the viability of recovering and reusing the first smallsats stage of its Electron rocket. As part of their ongoing efforts, the company introduced several modifications to the rocket and adjusted its recovery approach. The initial plan to capture falling boosters mid-air was changed to allow them to land in the ocean. The mission’s webcast showed the retrieved booster on a ship shortly before the final satellite’s deployment.

Rocket Lab’s CEO, Peter Beck, expressed their progress towards reusability, stating that they are now closer than ever to achieving the first relaunch of a booster. Beck mentioned that the recovered booster was in excellent condition.

Beck did not provide a specific timeline for when reusability might be achieved. However, the company plans to reuse a Rutherford engine on an Electron launch later in the year. Wayne McIntosh, the team lead for Electron reusability at Rocket Lab, outlined a series of flight tests in the works before actual reuse is considered.

McIntosh stated that there will be incremental changes introduced in future launches, with a significant shift in the 45th flight. This launch dubbed the “golden child,” will involve sealing changes that will enable accurate vehicle disposition for reuse. The “Baby Come Back” mission marked the 39th flight of an Electron rocket.

Rocket Lab’s recent launch marked its seventh mission this year, encompassing six orbital launches and the launch of the suborbital variant named Hypersonic Accelerator Suborbital Test Electron (HASTE) from Virginia.

According to Peter Beck, the company’s CEO, Rocket Lab is sticking to its earlier projections of conducting up to 15 Electron launches in this year, a count that includes both orbital missions and HASTE flights. Beck acknowledged that the primary challenge in achieving this launch rate has been customer readiness. He mentioned that they anticipate a busy upcoming season as customers aim to finalize their preparations.

The shifts in the market, such as the bankruptcy of Virgin Orbit, have also influenced Rocket Lab’s operations. For instance, NorthStar Earth and Space, initially planning to launch their space situational awareness satellites with Virgin Orbit, switched to Rocket Lab and signed a contract to launch their first four satellites this autumn on an Electron rocket. Beck highlighted that Rocket Lab has observed increased interest from customers who had initially intended to launch with other providers. Notably, the NASA Starling satellites, originally slated for a Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket launch, were eventually manifested for Rocket Lab’s mission.

Peter Beck noted that there has been a notable increase in defections from various emerging launch providers this year compared to previous years. Delays and concerns about early flight risks seem to be driving this shift. This trend indicates a degree of uncertainty and volatility within the industry as it continues to evolve.

Beck explained that in the early stages when all providers had only a few launches under their belts, the mission risk was relatively equal for everyone. However, as the industry matures and more launches are completed, the willingness to take on extra risk for potential cost savings diminishes. This is leading customers to opt for providers with proven track records and reliable services.

Rocket Lab has a launch planned for the end of the month, and the company intends to reveal further details about this upcoming mission in the near future.

The launch of NASA’s TROPICS CubeSats via Rocket Lab’s Electron marked a significant milestone in the development of a constellation designed to monitor tropical storms. Here’s an overview of the key details:

  • Mission Name: Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS)
  • Launch Vehicle: Rocket Lab Electron
  • Launch Date and Time: May 7, 9 p.m. Eastern Time
  • Launch Site: Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand
  • Payload: Two TROPICS CubeSats
  • Mission Objective: TROPICS aims to monitor and study the development of tropical storms, specifically focusing on their precipitation and intensity. The constellation uses microwave radiometers on each CubeSat to gather temperature and water vapor data, which are essential for understanding storm dynamics.
  • Constellation Design: The TROPICS constellation comprises a total of four CubeSats. The launch of the first two satellites was followed by another launch of the remaining two satellites about two weeks later.
  • Orbital Parameters: The Electron rocket placed the TROPICS cubesats into a 550-kilometer orbit at an inclination of 32 degrees. The kick stage of the Electron, typically used for circularizing orbits, also performed the inclination change necessary for the mission.
  • Monitoring Capability: With four satellites operating together, the TROPICS constellation will be able to provide hourly updates on tropical storm development. This data is expected to be valuable for monitoring the formation and behavior of tropical weather systems, including hurricanes.

This launch comes after a previous attempt, during which the first satellites in the TROPICS constellation were lost due to a launch failure of a different rocket. The successful launch of the TROPICS CubeSats via the Electron demonstrates the resilience and determination of space agencies and companies to overcome setbacks and continue advancing scientific research and capabilities.

The TROPICS Cubesats constellation, designed to monitor tropical storms and improve our understanding of their development and intensity, holds significant potential for advancing weather forecasting capabilities. Here are additional key points about TROPICS and its journey:

  • Unique Data Collection: The TROPICS constellation gathers data in the microwave wavelength region of storms with hourly frequency. This data will provide insights into the fundamental processes driving tropical storms, leading to a better understanding of their behavior and aiding in more accurate track and intensity forecasts.
  • Improved Forecasting: By analyzing the data collected by TROPICS, scientists and meteorologists aim to enhance their ability to predict the paths and intensities of tropical storms, including hurricanes. This can have significant implications for disaster preparedness and response.
  • Launch Setback and Recovery: TROPICS originally planned to deploy a six-satellite constellation, but the first two satellites were lost due to the failure of an Astra Rocket 3.3 launch in June 2022. This setback prompted NASA to secure a new launch provider, Rocket Lab, to carry the remaining four satellites into orbit using the Electron rocket.
  • Revised Launch Plan: NASA selected Rocket Lab in November 2022 to launch the remaining TROPICS cubesats. The agency’s Venture-class Acquisition of a Dedicated Rideshare (VADR) contract facilitated this task order, valued at $12.99 million. The successful launch of the first two satellites via Rocket Lab’s Electron is a significant step forward in recovering from the initial launch failure.
  • Collaborative Effort: TROPICS is a collaborative effort involving organizations such as NASA, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and Rocket Lab. The combination of expertise from these entities contributes to the success of the mission and its ability to provide valuable data for scientific research.
  • Future Possibilities: With a total of four satellites planned for the TROPICS constellation, the project is well-positioned to make significant contributions to the field of tropical storm research and forecasting. The data collected by TROPICS can be used to refine models and simulations, ultimately improving our understanding of these complex weather phenomena.

The successful launch of the TROPICS cubesats by Rocket Lab represents a triumph over challenges and setbacks, showcasing the resilience and determination of the space industry to advance scientific knowledge and technology.

The decision to move the TROPICS satellite launches from Virginia to New Zealand was driven by the need to align the launch schedule with the upcoming storm season. Here are some additional details about the decision and its implications:

  • Timeline and Launch Site: Rocket Lab announced on April 10 that it would change the launch site for the two TROPICS missions from Virginia to New Zealand. The decision was prompted by the timeline required to get the satellites into orbit for the storm season, which didn’t align with the schedule for launching from Virginia.
  • Mission Requirements: The change in the launch site did not impact the ability to meet the mission’s requirements, as both locations could fulfill the technical needs of the mission. NASA officials expressed their willingness to accommodate the change as long as the launch provider could meet the necessary mission criteria.
  • Cost and Logistics: According to Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck, the change in launch sites did not incur additional costs for NASA. While there were some logistical adjustments and paperwork involved in shifting the launch to New Zealand, they were minor and manageable. The TROPICS mission manager at the launch site had to deal with time zone differences to coordinate the launch activities.
  • Operational Timeline: Pending a successful second launch, NASA anticipates having the four-satellite TROPICS system operational by the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season in the summer. While the original plan was for a six-satellite constellation, having four satellites still allows TROPICS to meet its requirement of providing valuable data with revisit times slightly longer than initially planned.
  • Revisit Times: The decision to proceed with a four-satellite constellation instead of the originally intended six does lead to slightly longer revisit times between data collections. However, the TROPICS mission remains effective in achieving its objectives, including providing essential data for understanding tropical storm formation and intensification.

Ultimately, the change in launch sites for the TROPICS missions demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability of space missions to ensure they are best suited to meet their scientific goals and operational requirements.