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World’s first reprogrammable satellite deployed in space

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A sophisticated telecommunications satellite that can be completely repurposed while in space was successfully launched late last night.

Developed under a European Space Agency Partnership Project with satellite operator Eutelsat and prime manufacturer Airbus, Eutelsat Quantum is the first commercial fully flexible software-defined satellite in the world.

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The satellite – which will be used for data transmission and secure communications – was launched on board an Ariane 5 launcher on 30 July from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

It has since reached geostationary orbit some 36 000 km above Earth, where it has deployed its solar array and is communicating well with its operator on Earth.

Because the satellite can be reprogrammed in orbit, it can respond to changing demands during its lifetime.

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Its beams can be redirected to move in almost real time to provide information to passengers on board moving ships or planes. The beams also can be easily adjusted to deliver more data when demand surges.

The satellite can detect and characterise any rogue emissions, enabling it to respond dynamically to accidental interference or intentional jamming.

The satellite will remain in geostationary orbit for its 15-year lifespan, after which it will be safely placed in a graveyard orbit away from Earth to avoid becoming a risk to other satellites.

Quantum is a UK flagship project with most of the satellite developed and manufactured by British industry. Airbus is the prime contractor and was responsible for building the satellite’s innovative payload, while Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd manufactured the new platform.

The successful launch was carried out by Ariane 5 operated by Arianespace (a subsidiary of ArianeGroup), at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, with the support of teams from the French space agency CNES.

The performance required of the Ariane 5 for this launch was 10,515 kg, including 9,651 kg for both payloads. Ariane 5 was also equipped with a cryogenic upper stage called ESC-D, whose tanks were extended for this mission, with an overall mass of the stage at liftoff of more than 19 metric tons.

This first launch of Ariane 5 in 2021 was a double success for the Ariane team as it also delivered a second telecommunications satellite Star One D2 for the operator Embratel, thereby confirming the launcher’s exceptional reliability.

“With this new Ariane 5 success, the first in 2021, Arianespace is pleased to be continuing its service to two of its most loyal customers, operators Embratel and Eutelsat,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace. “This mission with two highly innovative satellites on board has reconfirmed how the competitiveness and reliability of our launch solutions serves the ambitions of our customers. We are committed to their total satisfaction.”

ArianeGroup is the lead contractor for the development and production of Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 launchers. The company coordinates an industrial network of more than 600 companies (including 350 SMEs).

ArianeGroup oversees the entire Ariane 5 industrial supply chain, from performance optimisation and associated studies, to production and mission-specific data and software. This chain includes equipment and structures, engine manufacturing, integration of the various stages, and launcher integration in French Guiana.

ArianeGroup delivers a flight-ready launcher on the launch pad to its subsidiary Arianespace, which operates the flight from lift-off, on behalf of its customers.

Congratulations to ArianeGroup for an important contribution to Europe’s achievements in Space with this successful launch.

France

Successful launch of Unseenlabs' fourth satellite: French company now has the most advanced constellation in the field of RF signal interception from space

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Unseenlabs, the European leader in satellite-based radio frequency (RF) geolocation of ships at sea, has successfully deployed the fourth satellite in its fleet. Tuesday morning at 1:47 a.m. UTC (3:47 a.m. French time), Arianespace's VEGA launch vehicle placed Unseenlabs' BRO-4 (Breizh Reconnaissance Orbiter-4) nano-satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of (approximately) 551 km, via Flight VV19. Unseenlabs, a pioneering French new space start-up, successfully launched its first satellite (BRO-1) in August 2019.

Two years later, it now has the most advanced constellation in its field. In effect, the company is building a constellation of satellites dedicated to radiofrequency geolocation that allows customers to monitor and track signals from ships at sea. Applications range from providing shipping companies with up-to-date vessel position data, to providing governments with tools to fight illegal fishing. Unseenlabs’ service performance is increased several-fold with each new launch. The successful launch of BRO-4 again confirms the leading status of the French company. Unseenlabs said on April 27 that it had raised €20 million to help it grow its constellation to between 20 and 25 satellites by 2025.

This fourth launch also confirms European know-how: by choosing to collaborate with the French group Arianespace, Unseenlabs sends a powerful message to all the players in the new space and European aerospace industries. Collaborations of this kind must be encouraged over the next few years to guarantee Europe's sovereignty in this field. About Unseenlabs Founded in 2015, Unseenlabs is an innovative company of French origin, a European leader in satellite-based RF geolocation of ships at sea. Its proprietary onboard satellite technology allows for the geolocation of any vessel at sea in near-real-time, to the nearest kilometer, from a single nano-satellite.

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Unseenlabs provides a wide range of maritime stakeholders with accurate and up-to-date vessel position data, enabling better monitoring of activities at sea. Whether it is to meet maritime companies' data needs or help institutions and organizations fight against illegal and anti-environmental behaviors, such as illegal fishing or illegal waste dumping, the Unseenlabs service is a tool to serve the oceans.

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Estonia

Estonia to lead the way in oxygen production on Mars in close cooperation with the European Space Agency

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The European Space Agency (ESA) and National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (NICPB) in Estonia have signed a partnership agreement for investigating the electrochemical splitting of CO2 for carbon and oxygen production in Mars conditions. The agreement comes at an exciting time where the race for human exploration of Mars has been so far split between the world leading superpowers. Estonia, with its 1.3 million population, is also getting into the Mars game now.

Estonian scientists led by the Energy Technologies Laboratory of the NICPB have proposed a study for developing a reactor technology where CO2 is electrochemically split into solid carbon and gaseous oxygen, which are then separated and stored. The technology used for this process is molten salt carbon capture and electrochemical transformation (MSCC-ET) where the CO2 molecule is broken up via a carbonate salt electrolyte. On Mars, it could be a solution to two problems: energy storage and oxygen production. Even more since the conditions are perfect as the atmosphere of Mars consists over 95% of carbon dioxide with only about 0.1% oxygen.

ESA and NICPB have agreed to put their respective competence and  facilities at each other’s disposal for the purpose of testing the viability of MSCC-ET for usage on Mars and developing a reactor that could work as both an energy storage and oxygen generation device. "It will provide a great opportunity for Estonian scientists to contribute to European space research and interact with space industry experts to take the next step in inhabitating the Red Planet," said the head of Estonian Space Office Madis Võõras.

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In order to actively support the research ESA has agreed to co-fund a Post-Doc Study of Dr Sander Ratso, who will be carrying out his research over the course of 24 months in the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics in Tallinn, and the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. "It is clear that oxygen generation and energy storage are completely new use cases for this proposed method and there are many unknowns that we are going to face," mentioned Ratso. "However, we might be on the verge of a great scientific discovery for the humankind," he continued.

Dr Ratso has defended his PhD thesis on carbon catalysts for fuel cell cathodes. He has received multiple honours and scholarships for his outstanding work in studying electrochemical systems. Ratso is also the co-founder of an Estonian based startup UPCatalyst, which produces sustainable carbon nanomaterials from CO2 and waste biomass for a vast range of applications ranging from biomedicine to battery technologies.

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Estonia

Estonian start-up signs contract with European Space Agency to develop closed cathode hydrogen fuel cells for lunar and Mars exploration missions

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Estonian cleantech start-up PowerUP Energy Technologies has signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop a 1kW liquid-cooled closed cathode hydrogen fuel cell stack which will be used on Lunar cargo ships (Lunar nights survival) and potentially also on rovers. Normally fuel cells are open cathode, however, due to lack of oxygen on the moon and Mars, closed cathode fuel cells are used. Robotic rovers are then usually remotely controlled and carry a payload of scientific instruments with the goal of performing experimental investigation over a distributed area of the surface of the astronomical object. This kind of design has found particular relevance regarding moon and Mars exploration. 

There have been several research and development activities on regenerative PEM fuel cell systems for space applications in the past decade. These studies have targetted mainly two kinds of applications: commercial applications and more particularly large telecommunication platforms and science applications, with planetary exploration missions. 

Talking about the collaboration, CEO of PowerUP Energy Technologies, Dr. Ivar Kruusenberg said: “Usually fuel cells are open cathode. This means that they take oxygen from the surrounding air, but in the case of Mars and Moon missions, there is no oxygen. To tackle this, with the help of ESA we will develop a 1kW closed cathode hydrogen fuel cells stack that could work in such space missions. This stack would serve as an additional energy source that will be integrated with solar panels and batteries. In cases where the solar panels could not be used to charge the batteries such as during nighttime, that is when our stack will come into play. I believe fuel cell systems have a great potential in space missions to the Moon or to Mars, particularly to power supply robotic rovers and cargo ships, such as in the current case. We are extremely excited to be developing this under the European Space Agency’s guidance.”

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One of the major goals of this project is to reduce the complexity of fuel cell systems and substitute ancillary systems with non-moving parts. While the first prototype of the stack is expected to be completed by 2023, the project has already kicked off this month. 

About PowerUP Energy Technologies

PowerUP Energy Technologies is an Estonian cleantech start-up that produces best-in-class hydrogen fuel cell-based electric generators and proton exchange membrane fuel cells. PowerUP’s technology is based on their co-founders’ 15 years of scientific research in the field of fuel cells and energy technologies. Their generators have diverse use cases in industries such as marine, telecommunication, military, construction, hospitals, off-grid homes, and rescue forces to name a few. UP® product range is sustainable since it only emits water vapour, compact and lightweight, operates silently and requires minimal maintenance. Their first commercial product 400W portable generator and they are soon launching 200W, 1kW and 6kW generators. PowerUP Energy Technologies serves as a sustainable alternative to power generation in today’s world and helps its users in various industries to reach the global net-zero targets. 

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