November was packed with updates from the space industry, with spectacular launches from SpaceX and RocketLab, the 20th anniversary of permanent human occupation of the ISS, and the launch of a new Moon mission.
November also marks a breakthrough month for AstroAgency, who have been awarded a development grant from the UK Space Agency to establish a space hub on behalf of the Scottish Space Leadership Council (SSLC).
Want to learn more? Read on for the need-to-know November news in spaceflight, space science, and the space industry.
The first fully operational flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft safely delivered four astronauts —three NASA and one JAXA— to the International Space Station. The new crewmembers will spend around 6 months in orbit before returning to Earth.
The Vega flight VV17 carrying SEOSat-Ingenio and Taranis from the European Guiana Space Centre failed, resulting in the loss of both satellites. SEOSat-Ingenio would have been Spain’s first optical imagining satellite and TARANIS would have studied momentary phenomena which occur during thunderstorms. This is the second failure in the last three Vega launches, and was due to human error — specifically, incorrectly installed cables in an actuator control system.
20 years of humans on the ISS
The International Space Station reached 20 years of continuous human occupation on November 2nd, having hosted 239 astronauts from 19 countries since the first long-term crew, Expedition 1, arrived at the station in 2000.
Rocket Lab Return to Sender
Rocket Lab successfully completed the 16th mission of its Electron launch vehicle, deploying 30 small satellites to orbit. The company also recovered the first stage of the Electron for the first time — paving the way towards a reusable launcher.
Funding for UK space hubs
The UK government has awarded funding to establish 7 space hubs across the UK, which will draw together local authorities, expertise, and businesses to assess current space capabilities and develop plans to grow the UK’s £15 billion space industry.
AstroAgency, working on behalf of the Scottish Space Leadership Council, will establish the Scottish space hub — read more below!
OneWeb emerges from Chapter 11
The broadband satellite constellation company OneWeb has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy following final regulatory approval of its sale to a group of bidders including the UK government. The Indian conglomerate Bharti Global and the British government now each have a 42.2% stake in OneWeb, with other shareholders including SoftBank and Hughes Network Systems. OneWeb plans to launch their next batch of satellites as early as December.
Relativity Space raises $500 million
The US launcher company Relativity Space, known for their advances in 3D-printed rocket parts, raised $500 million in a series D funding round. The company plans to use additive manufacturing to revolutionize how launch vehicles are built and is now valued at $2.3 billion.
AAC Clyde Space awarded €9.9 million for space as a service
AAC Clyde Space, a CubeSat manufacturer based in Scotland and Sweden, has received UK Space Agency funding for a 3-year project named xSPANCION. The project aims to develop “space as a service” and foster the development of an innovative satellite constellation service, with 10 satellites to be manufactured in Glasgow.
ESA supports German launcher startups
The European Space agency has awarded €1.5 million to three German launcher startups: HyImpulse Technologies, Rocket Factory Augsburg, and Isar Aerospace. The funding, €500,000 for each company, will foster the development of European microsatellite launchers and was awarded under the ESA Boost! program.
ESA approves Ariel mission
The European Space Agency approved construction of Ariel, the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey mission. Ariel will be the first mission dedicated to measuring the chemical and thermal properties of exoplanets and is slated to be the third ESA exoplanet mission to launch in a ten-year period. The European space industry will soon be asked to make bids to supply components of the Ariel satellite.
Sentinel 6 launches
SpaceX launched the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Earth Observation satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This satellite is a collaboration between a host of organisations, including ESA, NASA, and the European Commission, and will provide accurate, long-term observations of sea-level rise.
Arecibo Radio Telescope Collapses
The iconic Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico has collapsed following successive failures in its supporting cables. The collapse, which occurred on December 1st, followed an announcement that the telescope would be decommissioned and dismantled by the US National Science Foundation. Two of the cables supporting the telescope’s moveable 820-tonne platform snapped in November, rendering the structure unsafe to use or repair. During its 57 years of operations, the Arecibo telescope made many scientific breakthroughs including the measurement of the rotation period of Mercury, the discovery of the first exoplanets, and the discovery of the first binary pulsar.
As well as contributing to space science, the radio telescope was used to send the famous Arecibo message in an attempt to communicate with potential extra-terrestrial life. It was also widely featured in popular culture, notably in the James Bond film GoldenEye.
Chang’e 5 Lands on Moon
The Chinese Chang'e 5 mission launched towards the moon, landing on December 1st. The mission aims to accomplish lunar sample return — a first for China. The lander segment of the mission landed near Mons Rümker in the Moon’s Ocean of Storms. The landing site contains some of the youngest geological formations on the Moon — only 1 billion years old, in contrast to the 3-billion-year-old rocks sampled during the Apollo missions. If all goes well, the samples will be launched from the lunar surface for a rendezvous and subsequent return to Earth.
Phosphine on Venus?
The heated scientific debate surrounding the recent detection of phosphine on Venus —and its interpretation as a biosignature— continued to evolve following problems with crucial data. Data from ALMA, one of the radio telescopes used to make the original discovery, contained a calibration error and was removed from a public archive by ALMA staff until it could be recalibrated.
This month, the original astronomical team behind the discovery of phosphine published an updated version of their paper, taking into account the recalibrated data. They confirm that they detected phosphine, but at a far lower level than reported in their initial paper.
AstroAgency, working on behalf of the Scottish Space Leadership Council (SSLC), has been awarded a development grant from the UK Space Agency to establish a space hub in Scotland and advance the SSLC into a formalised entity. The ultimate aim of the grant is to connect and promote Scotland’s fast-growing space economy, both nationally and internationally.
Looking for a deep dive into a space topic? Here are some longer reads suggested by the AstroAgency team.
· Learn more about space debris, space situational awareness, and debris removal efforts in this article from ROOM.
· Should we let science or industry pave the way towards other planets in the Solar System? This article highlights the need for a plan to avoid the adverse consequences of planetary exploration.
Interested in learning more? Follow AstroAgency’s Space Industry Updates here.