SpaceX has completed its 18th launch in 2017, marking a record year for the private space company. It’s the most rockets SpaceX has launched in a single year, beating its previous best by ten missions.
The launch today was for client Iridium, delivering 10 satellites to low Earth orbit for its Iridium NEXT communications constellation. This is the fourth such mission that SpaceX has flown for the company, and the rocket used for this mission was a flight proven Falcon 9 that previously flew in June for the second Iridium mission. Iridium was also the client for SpaceX’s first mission of 2017 back in January – its first flight following a pre-launch accident last September that cost it its rocket and the payload, a Facebook internet satellite.
SpaceX launched its rocket from its launch complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and the mission parameters didn’t include attempting a rocket recovery of the first stage. The first stage underwent a landing sequence as it does when a recovery is attempted, but there was no drone landing ship in the Pacific Ocean to catch it when it touched down.
Iridium’s goal with its NEXT satellite constellation is to provide 100 percent coverage of the globe for tracking all flights in progress in real-time, and it will also be able to monitor every single ship traversing Earth via the same technology, making that info available for its commercial customers.
The next big milestone for SpaceX is coming up quickly: The company is hoping to launch its very first Falcon Heavy rocket in January, 2018. The rocket, which has a tremendous heavy load capacity, is already undergoing preparations for launch at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force base – preparations which include loading its payload, an original cherry red Tesla Roadster.
Galileo Search and Rescue(SAR) officially launched
The European Commission (EC), owner of Europe’s GNSS system, Galileo, made the formal announcement at that time about the start of Galileo Initial Services, the first step towards full operational capability. With further launches continuing to build the satellite constellation, gradual improvements to the system performance and availability worldwide are expected. With that initial announcement, came word that Galileo was now providing three service types, the availability of which will continue to be improved — Open Service (OS), Search and Rescue (SAR), and Galileo’s Public Regulated Service (PRS). Recently, the Galileo SAR was officially launched, signaling yet another milestone brought about by the Galileo satellite constellation. According to the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA), among the many benefits SAR brings is a faster response time when every minute matters. Galileo is the first GNSS constellation offering global SAR capability. Available at sea, in the mountains, across the desert and in the air inside the Galileo/SAR Service Coverage area, this essential Galileo service helps operators respond to a distress signal faster and more efficiently, the GSA states.
The Galileo SAR service is comprised of two components:
• An automatic forward link distress alert
• A unique return link alert that informs the sender that their message has been received (planned to be available at the end of 2018)
Once fully integrated into the COSPAS-SARSAT system, the Search And Rescue
Transponder on Galileo satellites will pick up signals emitted from distress
beacons in the 406 to 406.1 MHz band and broadcast this information to dedicated
ground stations (MEOLUTs) in the L6 band. Once these signals are detected and
the beacons located by the MEOLUTs, COSPAS-SARSAT Mission Control Centres (MCC)
will receive the beacon location information and distribute the data to the
relevant rescue centers worldwide.
The Galileo SAR service is Europe’s contribution to the upgrade of COSPAS-SARSAT, an international satellite-based SAR distress alert detection and information distribution system. Established in 1979 by Canada, France, the United States and the former Soviet Union, it is used to detect and locate emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and individuals. It is designed to provide accurate, reliable and timely alert and location data to help SAR operators find and help people in distress.
With Galileo and the increased positioning accuracy it provides integrated
into COSPAS-SARSAT, users will benefit from:
• a reduction in the time it takes to detect a person at sea or in the mountains from one hour to just 10 minutes after the distress beacon is activated
• improved localization of the distress beacon from 10 kilometers to less than 5 kilometers
• increased availability
• better detection of signals in difficult terrain and weather conditions
• a return link that ensures users that their distress signal has been received and help is on the way (planned to be available end of 2018)
Galileo starts initial services
On December 15, 2016 the European Commission, owner of Europe’s GNSS system, Galileo, formally announced the start of Galileo Initial Services, the first step towards full operational capability.Further launches will continue to build the satellite constellation, which will gradually improve the system performance and availability worldwide.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has overseen the design and deployment of Galileo on behalf of the Commission, with system operations and service provision due to be entrusted to the European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency next year.
"Galileo offering initial services is a major achievement for Europe and a first delivery of our recent Space Strategy,” said European Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, responsible for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (GROWTH). “This is the result of a concerted effort to design and build the most accurate satellite navigation system in the world. It demonstrates the technological excellence of Europe, its know-how, and its commitment to delivering space-based services and applications. No single European country could have done it alone."
Paul Verhoef, ESA’s Director of the Galileo Program and Navigation-related
Activities, added, “Today’s announcement marks the transition from a test system
to one that is operational. We are proud to be a partner in the Galileo program.
Still, much work remains to be done. The entire constellation needs to be
deployed, the ground infrastructure needs to be completed and the overall system
needs to be tested and verified. In addition, together with the Commission we
have started work on the second generation, and this is likely to be a long but
Galileo is now providing three service types, the availability of which will continue to be improved. "Service definition documents" have been completed for all three.
After five years of launches, 18 Galileo satellites are now in orbit, but only 11 will be available for the Open Service and PRS and 12 for SAR services. The most recent four, launched last month, are undergoing testing ahead of joining the constellation next spring. Two satellites are in incorrect orbits due to a 2014 launch anomaly, although the ESA engineers subsequently regained control of the spacecraft and were able to improve the orbits. As a result, one of those satellites can be used for the SAR service. Another spacecraft is currently out of service.
With the declaration of Initial Services Galileo will deliver, in conjunction with GPS, the following capabilities free of charge:
Support to emergency operations: Today it can take hours to detect a person lost at sea or in the mountains. With the Search and Rescue Service (SAR), people placing a distress call from a Galileo-enabled beacon can now be found and rescued more quickly, since the detection time will be reduced to only 10 minutes. This service should be later improved by notifying the sender of the emergency call that he/she has been located and help is underway.
More accurate navigation for citizens: The Galileo Open Service will offer a free mass-market service for positioning, navigation and timing that can be used by Galileo-enabled chipsets in smartphones or in car navigation systems. A number of such smartphones have been on the market since autumn 2016 and they can now use the signals to provide more accurate positions.
By 2018, Galileo will also be found in every new model of vehicle sold in Europe, providing enhanced navigation services to a range of devices as well as enabling the eCall emergency response system. People using navigation devices in cities, where satellite signals can often be blocked by tall buildings, will particularly benefit from the increase in positioning accuracy provided by Galileo.
Better time synchronization for critical infrastructures: Galileo will, through its high precision clocks, enable more resilient time synchronization of banking and financial transactions, telecommunications and energy distribution networks such as smart-grids. This will help them operate more efficiently.
Secure services for public authorities: Galileo will also support public
authorities such as civil protection services, humanitarian aid services,
customs officers and the police through the Public Regulated Service. It will
offer a particularly robust and fully encrypted service for government users
during national emergencies or crisis situations, such as terrorist attacks, to
ensure continuity of services.
The declaration of Galileo Initial Services means that the Galileo satellites and ground infrastructure are now operationally ready. However, because the satellite constellation not complete, stand-alone positioning using only Galileo signals will not available all the time. That's why, during the initial phase, the first Galileo signals will be used in combination with other satellite navigation systems, such as the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).
The full Galileo constellation will consist of 24 satellites plus orbital spares, intended to prevent any interruption in service.