AAV Space News in Brief 9 December 2021

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Airbus, Inmarsat, Goonhilly and GMVNL

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Growing demand for MRO at commercial space firms: With at least 16 students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s AMS program hired at SpaceX and Blue Origin within the past six years, programme leaders credit a steady evolution in the aviation and aerospace sectors — namely, the commercial space boom: an increase in private aerospace companies, rocket launches and space tourism. “The space industry has grown rapidly following the government’s decision to open up contracts to private companies to provide transportation of supplies and personnel to the International Space Station,” said AMS associate professor Marshall Tetterton. “Our students are in demand to commercial space firms, in my opinion, because the program here at Embry-Riddle covers and prepares them for a wide variety of disciplines — such as composites, hydraulics, structural, pneumatics, electrical and powerplant systems — and the core focus is around troubleshooting.” Industry demand for aviation maintenance technicians is higher than ever, corresponding with a projected shortage of both technicians and pilots over the next two decades. According to The Boeing Company’s Pilot & Technician Outlook 2020-2039, 612,000 new civil aviation pilots and 626,000 new maintenance technicians will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet within the next 20 years, even after the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Commercial space firms are only adding to that projected need, however, and according to industry leaders, right now is the most exciting time in the history of space — which means jobs.

ESA selects Airbus for exoplanet mission Ariel: The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with Airbus to build the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (Ariel) mission. Ariel is the fourth medium-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme. Ariel will study the composition of exoplanets, how they formed and how they evolve, by surveying a diverse sample of about 1000 extrasolar planets in visible and infrared wavelengths. It is the first mission dedicated to measuring precisely the chemical composition and thermal structures of transiting exoplanets. The contract is valued at around €200 million. Airbus will lead the European industrial consortium with more than 60 contractors for building the satellite and provide expertise and support to ESA for the development of the payload module. More than 5,000 exoplanets have been identified since the first observation in 1995, but little is known about the chemical composition of their atmospheres. Existing space science missions are delivering results on exoplanets (such as the Airbus-built CHEOPS for ESA), but Ariel will be the first mission dedicated to studying the atmospheres of a large number of exoplanets, including main atmospheric component determination and cloud characterisation. Observations of these worlds will give insights into the early stages of planetary and atmospheric formation, and their subsequent evolution, in turn contributing to the understanding of our own Solar System. They could help us find out whether there is life elsewhere in our universe and if there is another planet like Earth. The mission will focus on warm and hot planets, ranging from super-Earths to gas giants orbiting close to their parent stars, taking advantage of their well-mixed atmospheres to decipher their bulk composition. After its launch, in 2029 on an Ariane 6 launcher, Ariel will be injected onto a direct transfer trajectory to the second Lagrangian point (L2). Thanks to its very stable thermal and mechanical design, the spacecraft will be able to carry out long term observations of the same planet/star system for a duration of between 10 hours and up to three days. Its mission will last four years with a possible extension of at least two years.

UK-generated satnav signal to be delivered by Inmarsat, Goonhilly and GMVNL: Inmarsat is working on a UK Space Agency-funded test project with the European Space Agency, alongside British partners Goonhilly Earth Station Limited and GMVNSL Limited, to deliver the first UK-generated satellite navigation (satnav) signal. The project provides a potential platform for the UK to enhance its capabilities in the Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) domain post-Brexit. Repurposing a transponder from the Inmarsat-3 F5 (I-3 F5) satellite, the test project – UK Space Based Augmentation System or UKSBAS – will provide an overlay signal to augment the United States Global Positioning System (US GPS) satellite navigation system. This can refine the precision of the signal from a few metres to a few centimetres in accuracy. UKSBAS will provide a basis to assess its future development into an operational capability to support safety-critical applications such as aircraft approaching and landing at airports or navigating ships through narrow channels, especially at night and in poor weather conditions. Goonhilly will provide the uplink for the system from Cornwall and software from GMVNSL, based in Nottingham, will generate the ground-based navigation signal. This is a similar system to that already in use in Australia and New Zealand, supported by Inmarsat. UKSBAS will be the first UK-generated national satnav signal. This project could be crucial for UK users who need accurate, high-integrity navigation capabilities to enable their operations, initially covering aviation and maritime operations but with potential extension into rail and other land vehicle applications. For example, UKSBAS will be International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards-compliant. The UK no longer has access to the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) Safety of Life services since leaving the European Union (EU) and is not involved in the EU’s Galileo programme for similar reasons. Therefore, this new national capability supported by current and future Inmarsat satellites could offer a new option for high-integrity, precision navigation across the country, in its airspace and within surrounding waters.

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