SpaceX Rocket Explodes on Launchpad With Facebook’s Internet Satellite on Board

SpaceX Rocket Explodes on Launchpad With Facebook's Internet Satellite on Board

SpaceX Rocket Explodes on Launchpad With Facebook’s Internet Satellite on Board
HIGHLIGHTS
The explosion destroyed the Israeli communications satellite
Mark Zuckerberg disapointed over SpaceX’s launch failure
The accident is the second of its kind since SpaceX was founded in 2002
An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad during a test in Florida on Thursday, destroying a satellite that Facebook planned to use to beam high-speed internet to Africa.

The blast at Cape Canaveral – though it caused no injuries – marks a setback for the California-based private space firm and its founder, internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, who wants to revolutionize the launch industry by making rocket components reusable.

“Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation,” Musk tweeted. “Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.”

Dramatic footage broadcast by ABC News showed the rocket burst into a roaring ball of flame amid what appeared to be a succession of blasts – sending its payload tumbling to the ground as a dense plume of black smoke filled the air.

“At approximately 9:07am ET (13:07 GMT), during a standard pre-launch static fire test for the Amos-6 mission, there was an anomaly at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 resulting in loss of the vehicle,” the firm said.

“Per standard operating procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.”
But the explosion destroyed the Israeli communications satellite that the Falcon 9 was due to deliver into orbit on Saturday — drawing a dismayed reaction from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg.

“As I’m here in Africa, I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent,” Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page.

Facebook was contracted to use the Amos-6 to provide broadband internet coverage for large parts of sub-Saharan Africa and other remote parts of the world as part of the social media giant’s Internet.org initiative.

“Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well,” Zuckerberg said, referring to the solar-powered plane being developed by Facebook to make the internet available in remote areas.

“We will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided.”

European satellite operator Eutelsat – Facebook’s partner in the project – said in a statement it was committed to expanding broadband access in Africa despite the loss of the Amos-6.

Heaviest payload
A Nasa spokeswoman told AFP that emergency services at the nearby Kennedy Space Center were monitoring the situation and conducting air quality tests to ensure there is no threat to the health of staff.

Officials at the center advised workers to remain inside until further notice, but Brevard County Emergency Management said there was no threat to the public from the incident.

The Amos-6 was the heaviest payload to date for a SpaceX rocket, with an estimated value of between $200-300 million (roughly Rs. 1,337 crores to Rs. 2,004 crores), according to John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

The accident – the second of its kind since SpaceX was founded in 2002 – comes just over a year after a Falcon 9 rocket failed after liftoff on June 28 2015, destroying a Dragon cargo capsule bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

Before that, SpaceX had logged 18 successful launches of the Falcon 9 – including six of 12 planned supply missions to the ISS carried out as part of a $1.6 billion (roughly Rs. 10,696 crores) contract with Nasa.

It had carried out another eight successful launches since June 2015, including last month when a Falcon 9 successfully placed a Japanese communications satellite in orbit, and then landed intact on a floating drone ship.

(Also see: SpaceX Propels Cargo to Space Station, Lands Rocket)

Before then the firm lost several rockets as it attempted to land them upright on an ocean platform at the end of a flight — a crucial part of its strategy for reusable spacecraft.

‘Valuable experience’
While the blast is likely to disrupt SpaceX plans for six more launches between now and January 2017, experts made clear that such incidents are a normal part of the space learning curve.

“It’s clearly a setback, but how great the setback is and how long the delay, it’s impossible to know until there is more information available,” said Logsdon.

He noted that the launch pad damaged on Thursday was distinct from the one that will serve to launch SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, intended to ferry astronauts to the ISS starting in late 2017.

Nasa said in a tweet that Thursday’s SpaceX explosion “reminds us that spaceflight is challenging. Our partners learn from each success & setback.”

Loizos Heracleous, a professor of strategy at Warwick Business School, said such setbacks were par for the course – and would not affect SpaceX’s stated long-term goals of slashing the cost of space flight through the use of reusable rockets, and eventually colonizing Mars.

“SpaceX is gathering valuable experience, and each accident brings lessons on how to enhance the integrity of the craft for future missions,” he said.

“Given that SpaceX is working to provide Nasa with a way to transport not just cargo, but also astronauts to the International Space Station, it is especially crucial that such learning takes place before that happens.”

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Tags: SpaceX, Falcon 9, Elon Musk, Facebook, Science, Internet

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Qualcomm Meets IT, Telecom Ministers for Satellite Project

Qualcomm Meets IT, Telecom Ministers for Satellite Project

Electronics chip major Qualcomm Monday met IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha to discuss its satellite connectivity project and production of chips, used in devices like mobile phones.

“They really intend to expand their footprint. They have great experience in the field of chip design. They are very excited about expansion of mobile manufacturing in India,” IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters after meeting with Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs.

“I also asked him to explore the possibility of … bring in satellite connectivity in hilly areas of India. He has told me these are very exciting areas and area of his concern,” Prasad said further.

Qualcomm met the IT Minister to discuss a slew of issues around its expansion in India, venture fund and its new global satellite based communications network – OneWeb.

Jacob also met Sinha to discuss OneWeb which the company expects to launch in 2019-20.

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“We also spoke about investment in satellite company called OneWeb that is going to build over 700 satellites, launch those by 2019 and 2020. It will provide mobile broadband to most remote areas of the country and will have connectivity from a terminal on ground, up through sky into the rest of the network,” Jacobs said after meeting Sinha.

Qualcomm’s OneWeb communications network will be made of low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite constellation made up of hundreds of satellites, orbiting at approximately 1,200 kilometers and working in coordination to create the world’s largest coverage footprint. Unlike existing Geosynchronous (GEO) satellite solutions, which orbit at approximately 36,000 kilometres, the OneWeb satellite constellation will be closer to the earth to reduce response time to and from satellites.

“It will have cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity so people will be able to use phones and tablets to get access to Internet to get connectivity that way. We want to do that with schools for education purposes, with hospitals, put them in rural communities to give connectivity,” Jacobs said.

He also said that the company is foreseeing development of mobile ecosystem in the country not just assembling but also designing and manufacturing of devices.

“That will then create whole ecosystem for all components that need to go in mobile phones. We see that building up over the time with right incentives so we get into advance manufacturing of semiconductor chips. We have seen this happening in other countries and we see India is really set up to this as well,” Jacobs said.

When asked about its status to start production of chipset in India, he said that Qualcomm has had initial discussion with manufacturers of chips but not reached to the stage where production details can be firmed up.

Qualcomm designs chipsets on its own but get them produced from semiconductor plants of its partners.

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Tags: Qualcomm, Ravi Shakar Prasad, Paul Jacobs, Apps, Chips, Internet

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Israeli Startup Bets on ‘Smart’ Satellite Antennas for Global Web Access

Israeli Startup Bets on 'Smart' Satellite Antennas for Global Web Access

Israeli startup Skyfi is looking to outflank Facebook and Google in a race to provide worldwide Internet access by developing the first self-correcting antenna that can turn mini-satellites into powerful transmitters covering the globe.

The two technology leaders are working on ways to beam Internet access from the sky to remote areas,Google with high-flying balloons and Facebook with a combination of drones and larger, more complex satellites.

But it will take an orbiting cluster of 60 miniature, or nano, satellites, each about the size of a shoe box, to provide full coverage of earth, said Raz Itzhaki Tamir, a veteran of Israel’s aerospace industry who co-founded Skyfi four years ago.

The way he hopes to do it is by using a parachute-like antenna that deploys once in space. The antenna can then mechanically adjust itself for imperfections in the transmitter’s surface, allowing a stronger signal to pass, and even alter the direction it points should broadcast needs change over the course of the satellite’s life.

That may not sound like much, but those are two major hurdles that have limited satellite operators for years.

While the company says it has a working “proof of concept”, the technology has yet to be proven in space, so don’t expect a fleet of Internet-providing nanosatellites for at least a few years. But the antenna alone could be big business in the meantime.

Thousands of new satellites will be launched into space in the coming decade and many will use technology from Israel, which has built on its military expertise to capture a sizeable chunk of the growing commercial space market, particularly in the field of miniaturization.

Skyfi raised $3 million in a round led by Jerusalem Venture Partners, one of the country’s most successful venture capital funds, and says it has signed letters of intent to sell its antennas to global players such as Lockheed Martin and Spacecom.

Spacecom, which is collaborating with Facebook to beam Internet services to Africa, said that if the new Skyfi antenna is successful, it would be in huge demand.

“This type of solution will conquer the market, because it addresses some of the most serious and bothersome issues for satellite operators,” said David Pollack, Spacecom’s chief executive.

For now, Skyfi is perfecting its system by testing a large version of the antenna in a 50-square-meter (yard) echoless chamber that simulates the conditions of space. It plans to launch its first unit in the next 18 months.

“Currently, if an antenna is not perfect, you have to live with it, with the losses,” said Tamir. “We can change that and be flexible, thus gaining more revenue from the satellite.”

© Thomson Reuters 2016

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Tags: Internet, Nanosatellites, Satellite, Science, Skyfi, Smart Satellite, Web
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Nasa, Japan Make 2.95 Million Satellite Earth Images Free

Nasa, Japan Make 2.95 Million Satellite Earth Images Free

All Earth imagery – consisting of more than 2.95 million individual scenes from a prolific Japanese remote sensing instrument operating aboard Nasa’s Terra spacecraft since late 1999 has now been made available to users everywhere at no cost , Nasa announced on Friday.

“The public will have unlimited access to the complete 16-plus-year database for Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument, which images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet,” the US space agency said in a statement.

ASTER’s database currently consists of more than 2.95 million individual scenes. The content ranges from the devastating aftermath of flooding in Pakistan to volcanic eruptions in Iceland and wildfires in California.

Previously, users could access ASTER’s global digital topographic maps of Earth online at no cost, but paid METI a nominal fee to order other ASTER data products.

Launched in 1999, ASTER has far exceeded its five-year design life and will continue to operate for the foreseeable future as part of the suite of five Earth-observing instruments on Terra.

“We anticipate a dramatic increase in the number of users of our data, with new and exciting results to come,” said Michael Abrams, ASTER science team leader at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to ASTER’s US science team.

ASTER is used to create detailed maps of land surface temperature, reflectance and elevation.

The instrument acquires images in visible and thermal infrared wavelengths, with spatial resolutions ranging from about 15 to 90 meters.

The broad spectral coverage and high spectral resolution of ASTER provide scientists in numerous disciplines with critical information for surface mapping and monitoring of dynamic conditions and changes over time.

Example applications include monitoring glacial advances and retreats, monitoring potentially active volcanoes, identifying crop stress, determining cloud morphology and physical properties, evaluating wetlands, monitoring thermal pollution, monitoring coral reef degradation, mapping surface temperatures of soils and geology, and measuring surface heat balance, Nasa said.

To access the data, users can visit the link.

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Tags: ASTER, Internet, Nasa, Science
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Isro to Launch Sixth Navigational Satellite on Thursday

Isro to Launch Sixth Navigational Satellite on Thursday

India is slated to put into orbit its sixth navigation satellite on Thursday evening, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) announced in Chennai on Monday.

The 1,425-kg IRNSS-1F – Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System-1F – would hurtle into space on board its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) on March 10, the Isro said.

The rocket will blast off around 4pm from the spaceport at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, about 80km from Chennai.

This will be already the second rocket launch for India in 2016. The first one was on January 20 when a PSLV rocket put into orbit the IRNSS-1E satellite in text-book style.

Till date India has launched five regional navigational satellites (IRNSS-1A, 1B, 1C, ID and 1E) as part of a constellation of seven satellites to provide accurate position information service to users across the country and the region, extending up to an area of 1,500km.

Though the full system comprises nine satellites — seven in orbit and two on the ground as stand-by – the navigation services could be made operational with four satellites, Isro officials had said earlier.

Each satellite costs about Rs. 150 crores and the PSLV-XL version rocket costs about Rs. 130 crores. The seven rockets would entail an outlay of about Rs. 910 crores.

The entire IRNSS constellation of seven satellites is planned to be completed in 2016 itself.

The first satellite IRNSS-1A was launched in July 2013, the second IRNSS-1B in April 2014, the third on October 2014, the fourth in March 2015, and the fifth in January this year.

The seventh satellite IRNSS-1G is expected to be launched in the second half of 2016.

Once the regional navigation system is in place, India need not be dependent on other platforms.

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Tags: India, Isro, PSLV, PSLV C 32, Satellites, Science
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