Weekly Space News Roundup 18th April 2021 | Early Access

Northrop Grumman maintains their lead at successful on-orbit docking manoeuvres with Intelsat

(Image: Northrop Grumman)

Intelsat operates a 41 satellite fleet in geosynchronous orbit at 35,786km in altitude, where their orbit matches the rotation of the Earth. This means that a ground station, such as a TV satellite dish, can point permanently in one direction, rather than having to track satellites across the sky, adding complexity, weight and cost.

High capability satellites offering communications services from GEO are required to be much more powerful and thus larger and more expensive than the small satellites we are all used to seeing in the NewSpace explosion within Low Earth Orbit. Just to give you a genera idea here, we aren’t taking cubesat (10cm to a side) up to washing machine.. we’re talking up to a small lorry (that’s truck in American English). The Intelsat 36 spacecraft had a launch mass of over 3 metric tons.

Northrop Grumman have developed a satellite known as the Mission Extension Vehicle or MEV, which finds, rendezvous with, captures and then hosts, pretty much any old satellites which is running out of fuel, and has a rocket nozzle.

Intelsat have successfully partnered with Northrop Grumman twice now, to extend the life of perfectly functional, but low on fuel, satellites in their constellation.

(Image: Northrop Grumman)

Due to the high launch mass, high manufacturing costs of these complex and large spacecraft, it is much cheaper to extend the life of a GEO satellite than to replace it. It’s also better for the environment. GEO is so far from Earth, that satellites left there defunct, would not fall back to the Earth for thousands of years before the tenuous odd molecules of the upper atmosphere are able to drag it down. As a result, space junk can and has been formed in popular orbits, and to maintain a satellite’s manoeuvrability and serviceability beyond the circa 10 or 15 years that most are designed for is desirable on all fronts.

Alba Orbital are in the news twice this week. Once as they prepare for their next launch, and again, most significantly, for completing an impressive, important and seminal funding round

(Image: Alba Orbital)

Glasgow based Alba Orbital, led by Tom Walkinshaw has been developing under their own steam for a number of years, whilst participating in an accelerator scheme with American Y Combinator, the driving finance behind Twitch, Dropbox, Reddit, AirBnB and many more, with a combined value in excess of $300 billion.

Closing the deal of a lifetime, as Alba, currently a team of 11, secured YC funding, Tom said: “Taking part in YC and to have them as our first investor after years of bootstrapping has been an immense privilege and we are super excited to have completed the recent W21 batch. YC’s track record speaks for itself and we are trying our best to follow in the footsteps of those giants who have come before us.” And told Giant-Leap: “Stay times, things are going to get more interesting for sure”!

This is an important moment for the UK Space Industry, and for Scotland. Y Combinator has never invested in Scottish business before, and to realise the value within not only the booming satellite industry in Glasgow, but the New Space industry throughout the UK is a crucial commercial pressure to add to the reportedly timid UK venture capital firms who are struggling to invest in UK Space businesses with anything like the hunger of American firms such as Y Combinator.

As Alba celebrate this success and we look for the business growth that their sought-after further VC investment is sure to bring, Alba are preparing for their next satellite launch and are advertising the last remaining cube-sat slot on their Alba Cluster 4, which is a SpaceX payload due to fly in December 2021.

(Image: Alba Orbital)

The UK Space Industry is preparing for July’s Space-Comm Expo taking place in Farnborough

(Images: Space-Comm Expo)

The free B2B (business to business) event is due to launch for the first time on 7th July 2021 for 2 days at the Farnborough International Exhibition & Conference Centre just under the Eastern thresholds of Farnborough Airport.

Numerous UK businesses are due to be there, the latest of the string being MAGDRIVE, joining over 100 top names such as AAC Clyde Space, who regular Giant-Leapers will know we discuss all of the time, BAE Systems, Satellite Applications Catapult, Maxar Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Leonardo, Northrop Grumman, Raptor Aerospace, Raytheon UK, Skyrora…the list goes on, and on, and on. It’d be quicker for you to just book yourself ready to attend rather than go through the whole list. That way you’ll get to hear from key speakers such as Dr Philip Orumwense who is the Commercial Director at Crown Commercial Services. Key if you want to sell you want to sell into government, Helen Sharman, the first Briton to go to space, Melissa Thorpe, the interin head at Birgin Orbit’s UK base, Spaceport Cornwall and more.

Northrop Grumman is new fairly well known to be planning to operate ABL rockets out of the same Spaceport as Skyrora, Scotland’s Shetland Space Centre

(Image: Lockheed Martin)

UK Pathfinder, will be the ABL rocket system to launch out of Shetland Space Centre, perhaps disappointingly not UK manufactured, and not carrying a maroon nosecone (if you know, you know), the US Super-Prime has confirmed a bulk order of 26 rockets for launch across their global estate through 2025, and a further 32 before the end of the decade. Some but not all of these launches will be conducted from Scotland, further securing the UK’s ambitions to become the 7th global nation with a satellite launch capability.

Gravity Challenge 03 takes another step forward, opening entries from industry in response to the 12 published challenges

Last week we reported on the 12 challenges which have been released. If you missed that, here's a link to the LinkedIn article. A week since the gauntlet was laid down, and the challenge has opened up to Space businesses to respond with solutions. We’ll keep you posted on some of the more awesome entries and surprising collaborations that come through.

Job of the Week

RHEA Group are seeking a full time Satcom Flight Products Engineer to be based in Harwell, Oxfordshire. Applications are open until 21st April 2021 and seeks someone with at least 4 years of payload experience, project management and satcom flight hardware. They are also keen for someone eligible for a security vetting clearance here in the UK, or in the EU. A link to the full job advert.

CV’s and cover letters to the RHEA recruitment team at [email protected].

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