Plasma Rockets & Solar Storms

Testing Plasma Rocket ComponentsThis Cosmic Journeys video covers the work of Dr. Ben Longmier KF5KMP and his University of Michigan team in developing plasma rockets.

Dr. Ben Longmier and his team from the University of Michigan have traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska to play a small part in a much larger push to revolutionize space travel and exploration.

The team plans to use helium balloons to send components of a new type of rocket engine to an altitude of over 30 kilometers, above 99% of Earth’s atmosphere. The purpose is to test these components within the harsh environment of space. While astronauts train to live and work in zero gravity, or to move around in bulky space suits, these would-be space explorers are preparing to negotiate some of Earth’s harshest environments.

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CubeSat docking planned with Kinect technology

It’s an informal conclusion, of course. But the story of Surrey’s plan to dock CubeSats using Microsoft’s Kinect technology is certainly making the rounds, appearing in traditional places like Satnews and Flightglobal, as well as consumer electronic sources such as Gizmagodo and general news sites like the BBC.

The Kinect-enabled STRaND-2 is the sister craft to the previously announced STRaND-1, which uses smartphone tech.

Developing technology that could be used to separately launch the parts of a much larger craft that would be configured on orbit might bring those larger craft, and more ambitious goals, within reach of the CubeSat community.

It’s been a while since any news was forthcoming, but Cornell has also proposed using CubeSats to test reconfigurable technology that uses “flux-pinning” (video) to achieve similar goals.

Here’s to their success.




Successful test for the F-1 cubesat

F-1 cubesat in protective case

F-1 in its protective case

Thu XV9AA  successfully completed on ground long range communication tests with the F-1 bird. The project team is now undergoing the cubesat safety review to confirm its launch by an HTV cargo in late July.



Successful long range communication test from 50km!

FSpace team has just completed another important milestone by successful performed the long range communication test of F-1 CubeSat to the ground station at a distance of 50km! The team carried the little satellite to top of Tam Dao mountain (about 1300m high), more than 50km from the ground station at FPT building in Hanoi. Despite of heavy fog and high humidity (which was very bad for radio communication) the ground station successfully sent uplink commands to F-1 and the satellite responded correspondingly, reporting its status and taking some photos.

On the long way up…

640 x 480 photo taken by F-1 from Tam Dao mountain

Test successful, let’s have a group photo!


Latest QB50 Newsletter-CubeSat Proposals deadline extended until 30 April


Logo QB50Newsletter 26 March 2012

In This Issue

  1. 1  Call for CubeSat Proposals for QB50
  2. 2  Ground Station Network and

    Frequency Allocation Working Group

  3. 3  Sensor Selection Working Group
  4. 4  Orbital Dynamics Working Group
  6. 6  QB50 Workshops

          7 Environmental test facilities of interest to participate in QB50, not only those who              submitted a Letters of Intent (LoI).

  1. 8  European CubeSat Symposia
  2. 9  CubeSat related conferences in 2012

    QB50 Newsletter can be downloaded HERE

UK Space Agency to send up first satellite

Artist impression of UKube-1

The UK Space Agency has announced plans to launch its first satellite – if it can find the right spaceship to catch a lift from.

The tiny UKube-1 will carry a variety of scientific experiments when it eventually gets off the ground later this year.


The project will see the agency take a leap into launching cubesats – a type of relatively cheap, mini-satellite for space research which has a volume of little more than one litre, a mass of around 1.3kg.

It also marks a significant departure for UKSAformed less than a year ago from the British National Space Centre, which had focused on supplying European Space Agency with parts and expertise for a variety of missions. 

Head of communications Matt Goodman said: ‘We’re still in discussions with potential launch providers for UKube-1, and are working hard to find a launch option for the satellite.

‘Since cubesats tend to “piggy-back” on larger payloads during a launch, finding an opportunity with the right orbital configuration is not straightforward.’

Despite its relatively small budget, UKSA hopes to become a much bigger player in the industry, launching several more satellites in the years to come.

Agency head David Williams said: ‘The idea of cubesat is that we see it as a series with a launch every year or maybe two years allowing the sort of people that wouldn’t normally get access to space to run experiments in it.

‘We’d like to see this being an ongoing programme because it gives university groups, and even school groups and amateur groups, the opportunity to test fly equipment. It also gives industry the opportunity to test fly and to develop ideas on bits and pieces of electronics.’

UKSA is also involved in another ambitious project named Skylon, which is an ‘unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space’, according to the British firm Reaction Engines, which is hoping to build the new craft. 

The project got the green light from the European Space Agency in May last year. Although technologically possible, the project’s major stumbling block appears to be cost.

Mr Williams said: ‘We’re trying to work with [the team] to work out how they can raise the necessary finance and whether government should have any involvement in it in the future.

‘It’s going to be an expensive programme, several billion pounds over quite a long period, and the question is which industries wish to be involved, how UK should it be, how European should it be, should it be an international project?’ he added. ‘The idea of a true single-stage-to-orbit plane is very novel.’

Vega Satellite Launch Vehicle

The Vega (Vettore Europeo di Generazione Avanzata) is a new-generation launch vehicle being developed jointly by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA) for Arianespace.

Vega is named after the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere.

The Vega is a small launcher which can place small to medium-sized satellites into the polar and low-earth orbits. The launch vehicle complements the heavy Ariane 5 and medium Soyuz rockets launched from French Guiana.

Vega development programme history

“The Vega is a small launcher which can place small to medium-sized satellites into the polar and low-earth orbits.”

The development of the Vega launcher commenced under the Vega programme in 1998. The programme is being funded by Italy (65%), France (12.43%), Spain (5%), Belgium (5.63%), the Netherlands (3.5%), Switzerland (1.34%) and Sweden (0.8%).

Vega’s main engine P80 rocket motor was successfully tested in December 2007. The test campaign of the Vega launch vehicle commenced in November 2010.

The test phase validated the operational readiness of the launch vehicle and ground station components. The assembly of the new Vega launcher was completed in February 2011.

The first launch is scheduled for February 2012 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. ESA plans to launch its IXV (intermediate eXperimental vehicle) aboard Vega in 2014.

The marketing activities will commence after the first launch. Arianespace plans to increase the launch frequency from two to four each year.


ASI and Avio have established a new 30-70 partnership called Elv for the programme. ESA and Elv signed the Vega development contract in February 2003.

Elv, as the prime contractor, is responsible for the management of the Vega programme. The company also coordinates the activities of the subcontractors involved. Arianespace provides support services for the qualification and combined test campaign of the rocket.

In December 2011, ESA and the Arianespace signed a contract to study the launch of Vega under the Verta (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment) programme. The programme will test and qualify new vital technologies for future re-entry vehicles.

Vega design

The Vega launch vehicle is designed to support various missions and payload configurations in order to meet different market requirements. It offers payload configurations from a single satellite to one primary satellite plus six micro-satellites.

“ASI and Avio have established a new 30-70 partnership called Elv for the programme. ESA and Elv signed the Vega development contract in February 2003.”

Vega can place multiple payloads into orbit which is uncommon with most small launchers. It can carry payloads of 300kg to 2,500kg based on the type and altitude of the orbit required by the customers.

The vehicle has a length of 29.9m, a diameter of 3.025m and a typical lift-off mass of 137t.

The in-orbit launch capacity of the vehicle is 1,500kg into the polar orbit at an altitude of 700km. The single body launcher is incorporated with three solid propulsion stages and an AVUM (attitude vernier upper module).

The solid propellant motors, supplied by Avio, are covered by composite casing. The motors feature carbon epoxy filament wound casing and nozzle.

The first stage is powered by the P80 solid rocket motor. The second and third stages are powered by Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9 motors respectively. The fourth stage AVUM consists of a UDMH / NTO bipropellant main engine with re-ignition capability and cold gas attitude control system.

Vega launch facilities

The Vega will be launched from ZLV launch complex at Kourou, French Guiana. Based on the ELA-1 (Ensemble de Lancement Ariane No. 1) launch complex, the site was originally used for the Ariane 1 and Ariane 3 vehicles.

The existing facilities, such as the launch pad, mobile gantry and infrastructure, were upgraded for the launch of the Vega.

The original flame ducts of the launch pad were retained. They will transfer exhaust gases during ignition and lift-off of the Vega.

The power and environmental control connections to the launcher and its payloads are provided by a new fixed umbilical mast. Four tall towers erected around the launch table will provide protection against lightning strikes.

The renovated mobile gantry provides provides ideal working conditions to the personnel during the launch vehicle assembly and payload integration.

The operational control centre for the Vega will be within the Spaceport’s Control Centre no. 3 (CDL 3) facility, which is used for Ariane 5 missions. The centre incorporates independent operational control and monitoring systems. The Vega facility will share resources with the ongoing Ariane 5 mission as it is co-located in the CDL-3 building. Continue reading