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Vega rocket launches latest Sentinel Earth observation satellite

Sentinel-2B lifts off on a Vega launcher from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana at 01:49 GMT on March 7. Credit: Stephane Corvaja/ESA

A Vega rocket launched the latest Sentinel Earth observation satellite Monday night.

The Vega, on its ninth launch to date, lifted off on schedule at 8:49 p.m. Eastern from Kourou, French Guiana, and placed the Sentinel-2B satellite into orbit.

The spacecraft carries a suite of multi-wavelength sensors for land imaging, and will work in conjunction with the Sentinel-2A satellite launched in 2015.

The satellite is part of the EU’s Copernicus program of Earth observation. [BBC]


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Some industry analysis and investors warn a bubble may soon burst in part of the space market. In sessions at the Satellite 2017 conference Monday, they noted a consolidation that appears to be underway in the Earth observation market, as well as the large number of launch companies that are struggling to raise money from skeptical investors. While startups today can generally raise initial Series A funding rounds relatively easily, a big challenge in the coming years will be their ability to raise larger Series B and C rounds. [SpaceNews]

Smallsat developers say they’re struggling with a launch botteneck. Companies said difficulties getting their spacecraft launched have slowed their growth despite the increasing interest in using smallsats for a variety of applications. A panel at the Satellite 2017 conference also said smallsat developers need to specialize on providing solutions for specific industries, because, as one investor said, “the market is saturated with companies that are broad and shallow.” [SpaceNews]

Ahead of a widely anticipated speech, Jeff Bezos showed off Blue Origin’s first BE-4 engine. Bezos, in a series of tweets, said the first BE-4 engine built by Blue Origin is done, with two more engines in development “close behind.” The company is expected to ship the engine to its West Texas test site soon for a series of tests. The engine is being developed both for Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket as well as United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. Bezos is expected to provide an update on the company’s plans in a talk this morning at Satellite 2017. [GeekWire]

Launch ranges need to rethink their operations in order to handle much higher launch rates promised by reusable rockets. Traditional range systems, said panelists at a Satellite 2017 session, are designed for low flight rates from expendable rockets, and may not be able to handle much higher flight rates promised by reusable vehicles in development. Reusable vehicles could also lead developers, like the Air Force, to reconsider how they approach satellite development. [SpaceNews]

The Air Force is looking once again to smallsats as a means to mitigate losses in the event of a conflict in space. The growing capability of smallsats, coupled with concerns about the loss of larger spacecraft in the event of a space conflict, are leading to renewed assessments of the use of smallsats as low-cost, responsive means to provide capabilities, panelists said at Satellite 2017 Monday. That concept will be tested with the Operationally Responsive Space Office’s latest smallsats, ORS-5 and ORS-6, scheduled for launch later this year. [SpaceNews]

Teleports need to adapt to the increasing demands of satellite systems, including the proliferation of constellations. Teleport companies said at Satellite 2017 Monday they need to develop ground systems with 50 times the performance of previous systems for one-tenth the cost to keep up with demands from high-throughput satellite in GEO and smallsat constellations in LEO. More, and smaller, teleports are also needed to match demand, they said. [SpaceNews]

China is considering development of an air-launch system. A concept proposed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology would place a solid-fuel rocket inside a Y-20 cargo plane, which would release the rocket at altitude. The rocket would be able to place a 100-kilogram payload into orbit, and could be upgraded for launching 200-kilogram satellites. The system would be designed to be responsive, with only 12 hours of preparation needed for a launch. The report didn’t indicate when the first launch of this system might take place. [China Daily]

A variety of payloads, including dozens of cubesats, are being prepared for launch on a Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station this month. The Cygnus will carry 3,400 kilograms of cargo to the station, with launch scheduled for the evening of March 19. Among the payloads on the Cygnus will be 38 cubesats, four of which will deployed from the Cygnus itself and the rest from the station. Other payloads on the vehicle include an advanced plant growth habitat and an experiment to collect data on reentry conditions experienced by Cygnus at the end of its mission. [Space.com]

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Vega rocket launches latest Sentinel Earth observation satellite

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