Latest Agnikul Cosmos News
May 23, 2021
Nationwide and state-level lockdowns over the last year, supply chain issues, and other adversities caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have affected the schedules of India’s ambitious Space Launch vehicle Startups. Trying to establish in an extremely high-risk and low-return industry, these firms run by young techies are going on with their work by accepting the realities of the new normal. Delays are part of the game, but the mission to launch an indigenously designed and developed Private rocket from India is very much on! For these deep-tech startups, acclimatizing to the new normal is about staying away from labs and test facilities, not being to physically work as a team, modifying fabrication techniques, switching to tasks that can be fulfilled from home, and having to look for alternate strategies, etc. For Hyderabad-based Skyroot Aerospace, the testing of their Cryogenic engine (which requires liquid oxygen as an oxidizer) has been put on hold, until the Oxygen situation across India improves. Building techniques that utilized liquid oxygen have been avoided and welding without oxygen is the new engineering method in place. The firm was hoping for an end-2021 maiden launch, but under the current circumstances, the company feels that mid-2022 would be a realistic target. “Usually certain technical components reach us within two months, but with the supply chain disruption, they take up to six months. There are production issues at the steel manufacturers’ end, imports of few components are delayed. However, we have to focus our resources on other important work that can be performed from home, such as – design optimization, improving cost and efficiency etc. Even in terms of vendors, we have had to explore other options” Pawan K Chandana, CEO, Skyroot Aerospace told Zee Media. Reducing hardware testing, going in for more simulations, increased focus on design and software coding has been the lockdown strategy for Chennai-based Agnikul Cosmos. Their team believes that delays are universal and has affected work across sectors. They hoped for a maiden launch in 2022, but are now certain that it would almost be until late-2022 for their rocket to lift off. The firm has also shut down all kinds of work involving liquid oxygen and made it a point to share the details of vendors to those in need of medical oxygen. “By re-prioritizing, we are able to do quite a lot while working from home. There are issues at both the supply and demand end, but there is no point in waiting for the prevailing situation to end. The teams are working very hard and it’s encouraging how private space firms in India are being taken very seriously and provided government backing” Srinath Ravichandran, CEO and co-founder of Agnikul Cosmos told Zee Media. Once the Covid-19 situation improves, the respective firms hope to perform crucial tests of their rocket components at private facilities and those of the Government-run Indian Space Research Organization(ISRO). The Sooner these tests are performed, the higher the likelihood of the companies being able to stick to their rented launch schedule, amid the challenging times. With its vast pool of multi-domain engineering talent in India, private firms foraying into space technology is a natural progression. But the real fillip for this field has been the Central Government’s sectoral reforms to enable private participation and the technical support being provided by the ISRO, via an arm called In-Space. Skyroot and Agnikul have recently raised $11 million each in Series A funding. Speaking about the investment, Srinath Ravichandran, Co-founder and CEO, Agnikul, said, “In these difficult times for humanity as a whole, we are thankful to be able to find excitement, as our investors continue to reaffirm their confidence in our strategy of democratizing small satellite launches. We are thankful to have ISRO ’s guidance and happy that the Government is enabling private space tech ventures. With this support from the Government and investors, we look forward to an exciting next step for our company and in the process, simplifying access to space. “This round adds more fuel to our rocket program and will support in completing development and testing of all subsystems of our first launch vehicle Vikram-1 and strengthening our world-class team,” said naga Bharath Daka, Co-Founder and COO of Skyroot. Updated 1:20 p.m. Eastern with company statement. WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo made its first flight to space in more than two years May 22, completing the first in a series of four suborbital flights planned by the company over the next several months. The SpaceShipTwo vehicle named VSS Unity, with pilots CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay on board, took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico at 10:34 a.m. Eastern, carried aloft by its WhiteKnightTwo aircraft. The plane released VSS Unity at 11:26 a.m. Eastern, at which time the spaceplane fired its hybrid rocket motor for approximately 60 seconds. VSS Unity ascended on a suborbital trajectory, achieving a peak altitude of 89.2 kilometers before gliding back to a runway landing at Spaceport America at 11:43 a.m. Eastern. The company did not webcast the flight, providing only updates via social media, although NASASpaceFlight.com did webcast the successful release and powered ascent of the vehicle . “Today’s flight showcased the inherent elegance and safety of our spaceflight system, while marking a major step forward for both Virgin Galactic and human spaceflight in New Mexico,” Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement after the flight. “We will immediately begin processing the data gained from this successful test flight, and we look forward to sharing news on our next planned milestone.” The flight was the first human launch to space from New Mexico. Besides the two pilots on board, the vehicle carried payloads for NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. This was the first SpaceShipTwo flight since one in December that was aborted just as the hybrid motor ignited. The plane glided back to a safe landing, and the company traced the problem to electromagnetic interference from a new flight computer system, an issue the company spent several months correcting. After addressing a potential maintenance issue with WhiteKnightTwo, the company confirmed plans for this test flight May 20 . The flight was the first trip to space for SpaceShipTwo since a February 2019 flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. That flight carried three people to the edge of space, but also suffered damage to a horizontal stabilizer only recently revealed, prompting a safety review and a series of upgrades to the vehicle. This was the first of four SpaceShipTwo missions the company has scheduled for this year. The company plans on the next flight to carry four employees, along with the two pilots flying the vehicle, to test the passenger cabin and flight procedures that future customers will follow. That would be followed by a third flight with the company’s founder, Richard Branson, on board. That will still be considered a test flight, company executives said last fall when they announced those plans. “Who better to assess the experience of what we’re doing here?” Colglazier said then. A fourth flight is intended to be a fully commercial flight for the Italian Air Force, carrying payloads and several people. Virgin said in its May 10 earnings call that the flight will generate $2 million in revenue, or $500,000 per seat. The company hasn’t published a schedule for those upcoming flights, other than expecting them to be completed by the fall. Both VSS Unity and the VMS Eve WhiteKnightTwo vehicle will then go into a “multi-month” maintenance period before beginning regular commercial operations, which Virgin Galactic now anticipates to be no sooner than early 2022. That schedule is far behind the company’s original schedule from 2004, which anticipated beginning commercial flights before 2010. Virgin Galactic suffered extensive development delays, as well as an October 2014 test flight accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Enterprise, and killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury. As with the aborted test flight in December, Virgin Galactic did not invite media or many guests to Spaceport America to observe this test. The company said in December that pandemic-related restrictions prevented it from hosting guests at the spaceport. However, nearly all of the state has now moved to “turquoise” in a color-coded framework , the lowest level of risk that allows most businesses to nearly fully reopen. “Fifteen years ago, New Mexico embarked on a journey to create the world’s first commercial spaceport,” said Branson in the statement. “Today, we launched the first human spaceflight from that very same place, marking an important milestone for both Virgin Galactic and New Mexico.” “After so many years and so much hard work, New Mexico has finally reached the stars,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. HELSINKI — China’s Zhurong rover descended onto the surface of Mars late May 21, a week after the vehicle’s historic landing in Utopia Planitia. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced Saturday that the six-wheeled Zhurong had reached the surface at 10:20 p.m. Eastern Friday. The rover will now begin science and exploration tasks in Utopia Planitia with six science payloads, including optical and multispectral cameras and ground-penetrating radar. Zhurong had been stationed atop a landing platform since its successful May 14 entry, descent and landing . The rover carried out automated systems checks and environmental surveying in preparation for deployment. China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter, carried the rover to Mars, had altered its orbit Monday in order to relay data from Zhurong to Earth. Low data rates had meant that the first images from Zhurong were not released until May 19. Front and rear hazard avoidance camera views of Zhurong descending onto the Martian surface today (CNSA/PEC) https://t.co/YdDi91cdVS pic.twitter.com/laPwXTttoI Zhurong is part of the Tianwen-1 mission and is China’s first independent interplanetary expedition. The spacecraft launched in July 2020 and entered Mars orbit Feb. 10. After months of collecting high-resolution imagery to map its landing area, Zhurong targeted an area inside Utopia Planitia, understood to center on coordinates of 110.318 degrees East longitude and 24.748 degrees North latitude, successfully landing at 109.9 East and 25.1 degrees North. The rover aims to return data on potential water-ice deposits, weather, topography and geology, complementing science carried out by missions from other space agencies. A forward hazard avoidance camera view during Zhurong rover deployment onto Mars. Credit: CNSA/PEC The presence of water ice at the low latitudes of Utopia Planitia could have implications for understandings of potential past or present habitability and was as future crewed Mars missions. Zhurong has a design lifetime of 90 days during which the Tianwen-1 will act in a relay role in its current 8.2-hour orbit. The Tianwen-1 orbiter carries seven instruments of its own and is planned to enter a 7.8-hour orbit to carry out its science objectives. It is unknown if the Zhurong mission will be extended and how this will influence the plans for Tianwen-1. The Tianwen-1 mission built on technologies and capabilities developed through the Chang’e lunar program orbiters, lander and rovers, as well as head shielding and parachute expertise from Shenzhou human spaceflight endeavors. One of the first images returned from Zhurong rover, showing solar arrays and the surface of Utopia Planitia. Credit: CNSA/PEC TAMPA, Fla. — Starfish Space, a startup founded by former Blue Origin and NASA engineers, is developing space tugs to help manage rapidly growing megaconstellations. SpaceX is planning to launch tens of thousands of Starlink broadband satellites to join the more than 1,600 it already has in orbit, and a growing number of constellation operators are following suit. While this creates new opportunities for the expanding space industry, it also poses novel challenges in increasingly crowded skies. Kent, Washington-based Starfish aims to launch an all-electric spacecraft called Otter in 2023 or 2024, promising services including extending the operational lives of satellites, moving them to different orbits and removing debris. It joins an emerging market for in-orbit servicing, which saw Northrop Grumman’s MEV-2 satellite servicer dock to an operational satellite for the first time April 12 to extend its life. Tokyo-based startup Astroscale plans to carry out its first end-to-end test of key technologies for in-orbit debris removal this summer. But these spacecraft are significantly larger and more expensive than the Otters that Starfish is developing, according to co-founder Trevor Bennett. Otter, designed for LEO and geostationary orbit (GEO) applications, will also cut costs using all-electric instead of chemical propulsion. Using all-electric propulsion provides “10x better gas mileage,” said Bennett, who founded the startup in late 2019 with Austin Link after they met while working as flight sciences engineers at Blue Origin. Since then, Starfish has secured early-stage investments led by venture capital firm Boost VC. In December, the startup secured $15,000 from Hyperspace Challenge, a business accelerator run by the Air Force Research Laboratory and CNM Ingenuity for the U.S. Space Force, to develop autonomous technology for space. Starfish has also received funding under the U.S. Department of Defense’s Small Business Innovation Research program to develop mobility and logistics technology. Servicing a new market Bennett said a business case exists now for in-orbit satellite servicing in GEO, particularly for life extension, and will soon emerge for LEO — including debris removal. “As we launch more and more satellites these problems compound, and the opportunities compound,” he told SpaceNews in an interview. Starfish envisages operating a fleet of dozens of Otters in orbit that can be called upon to assist another satellite, providing extra thrust to extend its life or de-orbiting it if there is a component failure. “As we think about the space debris problem, there’s really the external influence — where you’re dodging somebody else’s debris or somebody else’s satellite — and then also your internal problem, where if you’ve already put your satellite up there and you want to maintain your lane of traffic … you have a self-interest to remove your own satellites,” Bennett said. “And that’s where we can help augment some of these constellations to allow them to operate through uncertainty, because space is an uncertain environment. There could be a number of challenges that might arise.” In-orbit tests Starfish will soon test its flight software on thrusters Benchmark Space Systems is developing, which will be part of a condosat launching in June on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission to demo in-orbit refueling. The thrusters will be refueled with hydrogen peroxide by Orbit Fab’s Tanker-001 Tenzing, in a mission that is taking place on an Astro Digital-built condosat. Starfish said May 18 it is integrating its Cephalopod rendezvous, proximity operations and docking (RPOD) software with the thrusters. Benchmark’s chemical Halcyon propulsion system and Starfish’s autonomous Cephalophod RPOD software aim to gain flight heritage during the inaugural Orbit Fab mission. “Orbit Fab is thrilled to see the enthusiasm and expertise driving innovative collaborations like this one between Starfish Space and Benchmark Space Systems focused on honing capabilities that will fuel the future of space,” Orbit Fab CEO Daniel Faber said in a statement. “The more partnerships there are pushing new ideas and innovations, the sooner the broader space industry will catch the wave of new in-space services like our Orbit Fab Gas Stations in Space™ tanker set to launch RPOD maneuver demonstrations in a matter of days.” Bennett added that Starfish will test its software later this summer on a TILE 2 thruster from Accion Systems, which uses electric propulsion and is also on the condosat. Next summer, he said Otter will demonstrate a capture mechanism it is calling Nautilus. He declined to disclose how the capture system will work. While Starfish’s space tows involve two independent bodies that come together in-orbit to interact, others are developing tugs that integrate with satellites on the ground before launch. They are mainly targeting last-mile delivery services, serving growing demand for sending small satellites to custom orbits once launched on a rocket. Spaceflight, which is brokering the June rideshare mission that will launch Orbit Fab’s Tanker-001 Tenzing, is expanding a suite of space tugs called Sherpa that will use Benchmark’s thrusters. In April, German launch services provider Exolaunch unveiled a line of Reliant space tugs , aiming to also remove debris after sending satellites to custom orbits. Momentus, another in-space transportation startup, has plans to raise $310 million to support its Vigoride service by merging with a SPAC, or special-purpose acquisition company. A pathfinder core stage fr ULA’s Vulcan rocket on pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station earlier this year. The Vertical Integration Facility is pictured in the background.. Credit: United Launch Alliance United Launch Alliance could load cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen propellants into a Vulcan rocket test article at Cape Canaveral for the first time in the coming weeks, timing key tests for the next-generation rocket in between flights of Atlas 5 rockets that will share the same launch complex for the next few years. ULA is using its operational Atlas 5 rocket, meanwhile, to validate elements of the more powerful Vulcan Centaur rocket well before the new launcher’s first flight. The readiness of new BE-4 first stage engines supplied by Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s space company, is driving the schedule for the first Vulcan test launch. The first Vulcan rocket should be ready for launch by the end of this year, said John Elbon, ULA’s chief operating officer, in early May. Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the launch enterprise division at the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, said Wednesday that the first Vulcan launch could occur late this year or in early 2022. The Space Force will be the largest customer for ULA’s Vulcan rocket, which is set to launch on two certification flights before launching its first U.S. military mission — known as USSF-106 — in early 2023. An Atlas 5 launch Tuesday with a U.S. military satellite tested an upgraded version of the RL10 upper stage engine that will fly on the Centaur upper stage of the Vulcan rocket, and the next Atlas 5 launch in June will be the first to use a Vulcan-like payload shroud made in the United States rather than in Switzerland. Construction and checkouts of new launch pad systems for the Vulcan Centaur rocket are nearly complete, according to Ron Fortson, ULA’s director and general manager of launch operations. “This is going to be a dual-use pad,” Fortson said recently as he guided reporters around pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force station. “No one has done that before, where you basically launch an Atlas, and a whole different product line, Vulcan, on the same pad.” The Atlas 5 rocket’s Russian-made RD-180 engine burns kerosene fuel in combination with liquid oxygen. The liquified natural gas, or methane, fuel burned by the Vulcan’s twin first stage BE-4 engines required ULA to install new storage tanks at pad 41. The three 100,000-gallon methane storage tanks are located on the north side of pad 41. The company, a 50-50 joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, also upgraded the launch pad’s sound suppression water system, which dampens the intense acoustics generated by a rocket launch. The liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant storage facilities at pad 41 also had upgrades to accommodate the larger Centaur upper stage that will fly on Vulcan rockets. The new Centaur 5 upper stage for the Vulcan rocket measures 17.7 feet (5.4 meters) in diameter, more than twice the width of the Centaur 3 upper stage on the Atlas 5. The Centaur 5 will be powered by two RL10C-1-1 engines, rather than the single RL10 engine flown on most Atlas 5s, and will carry more than two-and-a-half times the propellant as the current Centaur. Fortson said ULA has finished testing of the new methane storage tanks, and flowed the cryogenic fluid through ground supply lines leading to the launch mount at pad 41. “We’ve already filled these tanks up so we can kind of understand the properties,” Fortson said. “We’ve flowed the propellant through all the lines. We call them cold flow tests. We flowed through all the lines all the way up to the connection with the VLP, which is the Vulcan Launch Platform, with the Vulcan rocket sitting on top.” The Vulcan Launch Platform is a new mobile launch table that will carry the Vulcan Centaur rocket from ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility to pad 41. Ground crews raised the Vulcan pathfinder core stage on the platform earlier this year and rolled the rocket to the launch pad for the first round of ground tests. ULA stored the VLP and the Vulcan pathfinder stage inside the company’s nearby Spaceflight Processing Operations Center at Cape Canaveral while the the company readied the most recent Atlas 5 rocket for takeoff with the military’s SBIRS GEO 5 early warning satellite. With the Atlas 5 and SBIRS GEO 5 successfully launched Tuesday, the Vulcan team will again roll the rocket out to pad 41 to continue the pathfinder testing. ULA will start stacking the next Atlas 5 rocket inside the VIF for a launch scheduled June 23 with the Space Force’s STP-3 mission. ULA plans to build on the earlier ground system flow tests by loading fuel into the Vulcan booster for the first time. “When we bring the VLP out the next time, that’s when we’ll start to actually doing those tests to flow through the vehicle,” Fortson said. This infographic from ULA shows modifications to pad 41 to support Vulcan missions. Credit: United Launch Alliance The Vulcan pathfinder vehicle arrived at Cape Canaveral in February on ULA’s rocket transport ship from the company’s factory in Decatur, Alabama. The Atlas 5 launch Tuesday was the first Atlas 5 mission in more than six months, but ULA’s launch cadence is expected to pick up this year. After the STP-3 launch June 23, the next Atlas 5 launch is scheduled July 30 with a test flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule. “We’ve got to work the Vulcan work in between the launches,” Fortson said. “We’ve got STP-3 coming up right after this. They have small windows to come do work and try and do tests, and then we put another vehicle out here.” The tanking tests on the Vulcan pathfinder rocket, which has ground test units of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines, will help engineers determine how they will load propellants into Vulcan on launch day. “We’ll learn about all the properties and how it operates, and we’ll develop our CONOPS (concept of operations) based on that,” Fortson said. ULA has lots of experience with super-cold liquid hydrogen, another cryogenic rocket fuel, on the company’s Delta 4 rocket family and on the Centaur upper stage. ‘They’re both ultra-cold,” Fortson said. “They’ve got different properties. We’re just trying to learn how it behaves as we transfer it through. “All this testing we’re doing right now is really to fully understand the properties of this gas and how it’s going to perform when we put it into the vehicle,” Fortson said. “That’s really what we’re going to be doing for the next few months here.” While the Vulcan’s ground systems are getting wrung out, ULA is using its operational rocket launches to test technology that will fly on the next-gen launch vehicle. The launch Tuesday debuted a new variant of the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engine on the Centaur upper stage. The hydrogen-fueled engine’s newest version, called the RL10C-1-1, comes with a performance improvement and is easier to build, according to ULA. The RL10C-1-1 engine has a longer nozzle than the engines flown on previous Atlas 5 rockets, and introduces a new 3D-printed injector, which flew on its first operational mission, said Gary Wentz, vice president of government and commercial programs at ULA. According to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s website, the RL10C-1-1 engine produces about 1,000 pounds of additional thrust over the RL10C-1 engine version used on previous Atlas 5 rockets. More than 500 RL10 engines have flown on rockets since the 1960s. ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket will also use the RL10C-1-1 engine variant, as will all future Atlas 5s except missions with Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule, which uses a unique dual-engine Centaur upper stage. Last year, a new strap-on solid rocket booster built by Northrop Grumman launched for the first time on an Atlas 5 flight. A larger version of the Northrop Grumman-made booster will fly on Vulcan missions, and on most future Atlas 5 flights. The new booster replaces an Aerojet Rocketdyne strap-on booster that has flown on Atlas 5 launches since 2003. Aerojet Rocketdyne’s solid-fueled motors will continue launching Atlas 5 rockets carrying crew missions into orbit, but this week’s mission was the last military-procured Atlas 5 flight to use the old booster design. The Aerojet Rocketdyne boosters were certified for astronaut launches. ULA has merged the avionics and guidance systems on its Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets into a common design, which will also fly on the Vulcan Centaur. Next month, ULA plans to debut the final major Vulcan-like system that will first fly on the Atlas 5: a payload fairing produced in a simpler, less expensive way than previous Atlas 5 nose shrouds. Artist’s illustration of a Vulcan Centaur launch with six solid rocket boosters. Credit: United Launch Alliance The 17.7-foot-diameter (5.4-meter) payload fairing set to launch on the STP-3 mission next month looks the same as fairings that have flown on past Atlas 5 rockets. But the fairing is the product of a new industrial partnership between ULA and the Swiss company RUAG Space, which previously built all of the 5.4-meter Atlas 5 fairings at a plant in Switzerland. The smaller Atlas 5 nose cone used on some missions comes from a ULA facility in Harlingen, Texas. ULA and RUAG developed a new payload fairing production line at the existing Atlas, Delta, and Vulcan factory in Alabama. The production line in Alabama uses a new process that simplifies the steps required to construct the fairing. The “out of autoclave” manufacturing method can cure the carbon fiber composite fairing using only an oven, eliminating a high-pressure autoclave that limits the size of pieces that can fit inside, according to ULA. The change allows payload fairings to be produced in two halves instead of 18 or more smaller pieces. That results in fewer fasteners, doublers, and less opportunities for defects, ULA said in a blog post last year. It’s also faster and cheaper to manufacture the payload fairing using the new method, according to ULA. ULA plans 30 or more additional Atlas 5 missions before retiring the rocket in favor of the Vulcan Centaur. In April, Amazon purchased nine Atlas 5 flights to begin launching satellites for the company’s Kuiper internet network. A spokesperson for the the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center said last week that six national security missions remain to fly on Atlas 5 rockets in the next couple of years, not counting the SBIRS GEO 5 mission launched Tuesday. The Space Force last year announced multibillion-dollar contracts to fly the military’s most critical national security payloads on ULA Vulcan Centaur rockets and SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launchers through 2027. Space News reported Thursday that the Space Force and ULA have agreed to move the first military mission assigned to a Vulcan Centaur rocket to an Atlas 5 rocket. That mission, designated USSF-51, is scheduled to launch in 2022.