The first fine for space pollution, a mission to clean space debris, a prestigious award for an Israeli researcher, moon missions, and the new moon fashion: This Week in Space

The First Fine for Space Pollution

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States, has for the first time imposed a fine on a company for failing to properly deorbit a communication satellite as committed, marking a significant step in space pollution regulation. The satellite in question, EchoStar-7, was launched in 2002 for Dish, a television broadcasting company. Like many other communication satellites, it was originally placed in a geostationary orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers, where it remains stationary relative to a point on Earth. At the time of the launch, there were no regulations in place mandating the deorbiting of such satellites at the end of their operational life.  

However, in 2012, the company applied to the FCC for an extension of its satellite's operation and committed to maintaining sufficient fuel reserves to raise its orbit by 300 kilometers upon retirement, in order to prevent potential hazards to other satellites in the geostationary orbit. Last year, it was revealed that the satellite lacked the necessary fuel to achieve the committed orbit change, managing only about a 120-kilometer increase instead of the pledged 300 kilometers. Following negotiations with the FCC, the company agreed to pay a fine of $150,000 for failing to meet its deorbiting commitment.

It's worth noting that this fine, though a significant step, is largely symbolic, considering the high cost of such satellites and the substantial revenues of the company from its operation. Nevertheless, in the space industry, it is viewed as a crucial initial move, and industry experts expressed hope that in the future, the FCC will impose more substantial fines on companies that fail to meet their commitments to prevent space debris accumulation. The head of the FCC's enforcement bureau, Egal, hinted at such possibilities, stating, “, as hinted by the FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan A. Egal “As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be certain that operators comply with their commitments,” he said. “This is a breakthrough settlement, making very clear the FCC has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules.”

 To prevent space debris accumulation, every satellite must have an "exit plan" at the end of its operational life. Illustration of a Communication satellite | Illustration: naratrip2, Shutterstock

Japanese Funding for Space Cleanup

Astroscale, which maintains a development center in Israel, has secured an $80 million contract  from the Japanese government. for a preparation mission The mission is a preparation to collect space debris in low Earth orbit. The Ministry of Science in Tokyo has chosen Astroscale to develop a mission demonstrating its capability to closely inspect, photograph, and analyze a large, defunct satellite while remaining in space. This mission is scheduled to be completed by 2028. The international company currently belongs to a Japanese conglomerate and operates in the United States, Britain, France, as well as in Israel. In addition to methods for removing space debris, its primary product is a system designed to extend the operational lifespan of communication satellites that have run out of fuel. An Astroscale satellite will attach to such satellites, effectively acting as an external engine,  enabling adjustments and corrections that guarantee continued and reliable functionality.

Both of Astroscale's missions - satellite life extension and space debris cleanup, rely on satellites equipped with the ability to precisely dock with other satellites. This ability is partly based on computer vision technology developed at Astroscale's Israeli center, which is an evolution of the Israeli company Effective Space.

 Clearing the debris. Astroscale's ELSA-d satellite approaches to capture a satellite during an attempt to remove space debris | Illustration: Astroscale

The Moon and Us 

About a month and a half after the crash of the Russian spacecraft Luna 25 during its landing attempt on the moon, the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, announced that the reason for the accident was the overly prolonged operation of Luna 25’s  engines. The spacecraft's engines fired for 127 seconds during the landing maneuver instead of the scheduled 84 seconds and an onboard control unit failed to turn the engines off due to failure in receiving the necessary data from the spacecraft's accelerometers, which likely malfunctioned due to conflicting computer commands, the agency wrote in a Telegram message.

Russia planned to send three more unmanned missions to the moon between 2027 and 2030, but Roscosmos's director, Yuri Borisov, said this week at the International Astronautical Congress in Azerbaijan that the subsequent missions might be expedited due to this summer's failure. Borisov emphasized the commitment to the lunar program, stating,  "Nobody is sitting idly by, and we are determined to continue with the moon program. We are considering advancing the Luna 26 and Luna 27 missions to get the results we need as quickly as possible," 

In contrast, slowing down moon missions is the Japanese company iSpace. The company recently announced its intention to launch a larger moon lander than initially planned, postponing its third lunar mission from 2025 to 2026. The upgraded landing craft, APEX 1.0,  will boast a payload capacity of approximately 300 kilograms of cargo to the moon, a tenfold increase over its current lander series. This adjustment primarily serves its principal client, NASA, the U.S. Space Agency, which selected iSpace to launch multiple experiments to the moon under a $55 million contract as part of the CLPS project. Notably, the Japanese company faced a failed moon landing attempt around six months ago, which ended in a crash. In 2024, iSpace intends to make another landing attempt with its current-generation lander before transitioning to the newer, larger model.

Meanwhile, the American company Intuitive Machines has successfully completed the construction of the moon lander NOVA-C, designed for launch aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. After numerous delays and postponements, the company is eagerly anticipating to finally launch it, aiming for a soft landing of an American spacecraft on the moon, for the first time since the completion of the Apollo program.

The spacecraft that crashed, and those that might land safely. Luna 25 (right), NOVA-C (center) and the Japanese APEX 1.0 lander | Illustrations: Roscosmos, Intuitive Machines, iSpace

Awards Pour in for Peretz

The Israeli researcher, Dr. Eliad Peretz, Technology Program Manager and Lead Researcher for new space missions at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, received news this week that he will be honored with the Goddard Award for his exceptional achievements in the field of engineering. Just a few months ago, Peretz received NASA's Exceptional Achievement Medal, one of the agency's highest honors, for his work in leading the agency’s research programs. The award is now being presented to him for "excellence in leadership, initiative, and creative engineering solutions as an early-career researcher that will transform our understanding of exoplanets in other solar systems."

Peretz, 40, is currently leading several of NASA's research projects. These include the use of a dedicated satellite for calibrating telescopes both on the ground and in space and enhancing their resolution capabilities (ORCAS, ORKID); developing arrays to study solar X-ray radiation in sub-orbital flights (FOXSI); development of a miniature satellite for solar research (PADRE); creating devices for lunar missions and in-depth studies of the solar system; a satellite for studying the Van Allen belts – which are formed by Earth's magnetic field; as well as the development of an ultraviolet telescope to characterize the activity of other suns with exoplanets.

"It's a genuine honor to receive an award named after such a prolific and influential scientist. Robert Goddard is considered the father of modern rocket propulsion, a physicist with vision and ingenious inventive abilities, after whom our research center is named," Peretz told the Davidson Institute website. "I am proud of the teams I lead in researching the mysteries of the universe, excited about the future, and look forward to seeing the devices and missions we've designed and built launched to the moon and space, deepening our knowledge of the universe."

Peretz added that he still doesn't know when the award ceremony will take place, as it is one in a series of Goddard awards bestowed by the space agency across many fields.  He also expressed his desire to visit Israel in the upcoming months and celebrate his achievements, "particularly at the Technion, as the education I received there greatly contributed to my journey."

 "Proud of the teams I lead in researching the mysteries of the universe." Eliad Peretz | Photo: NASA.

Astronauts to Wear Prada

Axiom Space, which won a contract from the U.S. Space Agency for the development and production of spacesuits for astronauts landing on the Moon as part of the Artemis program, has announced a partnership with the renowned Italian fashion house Prada. Engineers from Prada are expected to accompany all stages of the development of the spacesuits designed for activity on the Moon's surface, working alongside Axiom's experts to refine materials and design solutions. Their collective goal is to ensure astronauts' utmost comfort and protection in the challenging conditions and the hostile lunar environment. "Prada's technical expertise with raw materials, manufacturing techniques, and innovative design concepts will bring advanced technologies instrumental in ensuring not only the comfort of astronauts on the lunar surface, but also the much-needed human factors considerations absent from legacy spacesuits," said CEO of Axiom Space, Michael Suffredini.

Axiom promises that the new suits, named AxEMU, will offer improved flexibility for astronauts and incorporate tools to assist them in their work. Additionally, they will include enhanced safety features to protect the astronauts in the challenging lunar environment. The company's statement did not specify the financial scope of the collaboration with the fashion house. Last year, Axiom won a NASA contract to supply lunar suits for the initial missions of the Artemis program at a cost of about 230 million dollars. Should NASA decide to order additional suits in the future, the contract's total value could surpass $3 billion.

Pioneering lunar suits that will enable improved work on the Moon. A prototype of Axiom's lunar suit glove | Photo: Axiom Space.