ISRO launches PSLV return to flight mission with 31 satellites


India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle successfully returned to flight Thursday night.

The PSLV lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 10:59 p.m. Eastern and placed into orbit a Cartosat 2 imaging satellite and 30 secondary payloads. Among the secondary payloads were four Dove cubesats for Planet, four Lemur-2 cubesats for Spire, a prototype broadband smallsat for Telesat and the first synthetic aperture radar smallsat for Finnish company Iceye. The launch was the first for the PSLV since an August mission that failed when the rocket’s payload fairing did not separate. [Spaceflight Now]

News from AAS

A NASA test has confirmed that pulsars could provide a deep-space navigation system. A study used the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) experiment on the International Space Station to measure the arrival times of signals from pulsars. Tiny changes in those arrival times allowed researchers to pinpoint the station’s location to within five kilometers. The results, presented Thursday at the American Astronomical Society meeting, demonstrate how pulsars could help future missions beyond Earth orbit determine their location. [Nature]

Differences in the measurement of a key cosmic constant could be a sign of new physics. In a talk at the AAS meeting this week, Adam Riess, who shared a Nobel Prize in physics in 2011 for discovering the accelerating expansion of the universe, noted measurements of the Hubble constant derived from supernova measurements are different from that calculated by the Planck mission, which looked at the cosmic microwave background created shortly after the Big Bang. The difference is not yet large enough to be considered statistically significant, but Riess called it “pretty serious” and worthy of additional work to reduce the errors. [BBC]

Astronomers have spotted the black hole in the center of a distant galaxy releasing a pair of “burps” of particles. Images from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory showed two sets of high-energy particles released by a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy 800 million light-years from Earth. The two bursts of particles, which took place about 100,000 years apart, appear to be created as the black hole ingests gas from a companion galaxy. []

Top Stories

United Launch Alliance scrubbed a Delta 4 launch after a series of glitches, including one that halted the countdown in the final minute. ULA halted one launch attempt less than 90 seconds before liftoff Thursday afternoon because of an issue with a swing arm on the launch pad. The problem was resolved later in the afternoon and another launch attempted, only to be halted less than 30 seconds before liftoff because of a valve problem. ULA later scrubbed the launch, and will try again Friday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. The rocket is carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. [Noozhawk]

Pentagon officials declined to answer questions about the status of the Zuma mission during a briefing Thursday. Defense Department spokesperson Dana White, asked if the mission was a success, referred reporters to SpaceX, the launch provider, and said she could not provide more information due to the classified nature of the mission. SpaceX has said its Falcon 9 rocket performed as planned. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Thursday at a Houston conference she could not discuss the mission: “You know I can’t talk about that. It’s not my story to tell.” [SpaceNews / Ars Technica]

The two commercial crew test flights planned by SpaceX this year have been delayed by four months, according to a NASA schedule released Thursday. The schedule states that an uncrewed test flight is now planned for August, followed by a crewed test flight in December; the previous version of the schedule listed those flights as planned for April and August, respectively. SpaceX did not provide details about the reasons for the delay, saying that it made “significant progress” last year on its Crew Dragon vehicle and that it continues to expect to fly the test missions this year. The schedule left unchanged Boeing’s schedule, which calls for an uncrewed test flight in August and a crewed mission in November. [SpaceNews]

China launched a pair of Beidou navigation satellites Thursday. The Long March 3B rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 6:18 p.m. Eastern and placed the two satellites into medium Earth orbits. The satellites are part of an effort by China to complete a constellation of satellites providing navigation services globally by 2020. []

Rocket Lab will make another attempt to launch its second Electron rocket later this month. The company announced Thursday that it will open a nine-day window for the mission, lifting off from its New Zealand launch site, on the evening of Jan. 19 Eastern time (afternoon of Jan. 20 local time.) The company attempted to launch the rocket last month, but weather conditions and technical issues scrubbed several attempts, including one just two seconds before liftoff. [SpaceNews]

Other News

SpaceX carried out a dress rehearsal of a Falcon Heavy static-fire test, but not the test itself, Thursday. The company performed a wet dress rehearsal, fueling the giant rocket on the pad at the Kennedy Space Center, but did not ignite the engines. The static fire test of the first Falcon Heavy is now expected no sooner than Saturday. [Florida Today]

Virgin Galactic carried out what may the be last glide flight of its second SapceShipTwo before powered test flights start. The glide flight, performed Thursday in the skies above Mojave, California, was the seventh for this vehicle and the first in more than five months. The company said it performed “extensive analysis, testing and small modifications” to the vehicle in recent months to prepare for powered test flights. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said last month the company expected to perform one more glide flight before powered tests start. [SpaceNews]

The Air Force plans to invest in smallsats and new sensors, rather than large satellites, to improve its weather forecasting. Air Force officials said budget constraints, and the fact that weather forecasting is not a primary mission, has driven the emphasis on smaller satellites. Those efforts include a contract awarded to Ball Aerospace for two satellites equipped with passive microwave imaging radiometers and energetic charged particle sensors. It’s also soliciting proposals for Weather System Follow-on satellites equipped with instruments to characterize clouds and provide imagery in theaters of combat. [SpaceNews]

NOAA expects its future satellite system to feature a mix of large and small spacecraft in a variety of orbits. The agency’s recent Satellite Observing System Architecture looked at a range of options, from continuing to use a small number of large spacecraft to swarms of smaller satellites, and found benefits to a hybrid approach that mixes elements of both. Steve Volz, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Services, said that hybrid concept has the benefit of being “resilient and adaptive” in the event of an individual spacecraft failure. The study serves as a starting point for planning for NOAA satellites systems that would fly in the 2030s and 2040s. [SpaceNews]

China and France are increasing their cooperation in space ventures. The leaders of the two countries’ space agencies signed a memorandum of understanding this week on climate change and space exploration issues during a visit to China by French President Emmanuel Macron. That agreement covers dissemination of data from an oceanography satellite that the two countries jointly developed and is slated for launch later this year. The countries are also collaborating on an astrophysics mission, the Space Variable Objects Monitor, scheduled for launch in 2020. [gbtimes]

Thick layers of water ice may exist just below the surface of Mars, easily accessible by future explorers. A study released yesterday found evidence for the water layers in high-resolution images of steep slopes in the polar regions of the planet. The layers are up to 100 meters thick and are just a few meters below the surface, making them accessible for any future human missions there. The ice layers can also provide scientists with insights into the history of the Martian climate. []