May’s top stories: Nasa’s Messenger mission ends, European drone project

Nasa's Messenger spacecraft crashed into Mercury at 8,750mph, France, Italy and Germany partnered on development of a UAV, and Bombardier announced a scale-down in production of business jets putting 1,750 jobs at risk. Aerospace-technology.com wraps-up the key headlines from May 2015.


VAMP

Bombardier reduces business jet production risking 1,750 jobs

Global

Bombardier confirmed plans to scale-down production of Global 5000 and Global 6000 business jets, placing around 1,750 jobs at risk.

The decision to cut production of the business aircraft came in response to a slump in order levels, which in turn was affected by tough economic conditions and geopolitical issues in regions such as Latin America, China, and Russia, the company said.

The proposed downsizing will begin in June and continue through the first quarter of 2016, affecting up to 1,000 jobs in Montreal, around 480 in Toronto, and 280 in Belfast.

Bombardier Business Aircraft president Éric Martel said: "We have seen an industry-wide softness in demand recently in certain international markets and are taking steps to adjust our production accordingly."

Nasa's Messenger mission craft crash lands on Mercury

Messenger

Nasa's Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (Messenger) spacecraft completed its mission around Mercury and crashed into the planet's surface at speeds of 8,750mph.

Launched in August 2004, Messenger spacecraft was placed into orbit in March 2011 and followed a path through the inner solar system.

According to the mission controllers at John's Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland, the crash created a 50ft-wide crater on the planet's surface.

Nasa's deep space network (DSN) station in California received no signal at the time the spacecraft would have emerged from behind the planet.

France, Italy and Germany collaborate on drone project

France, Italy and Germany agreed to jointly develop of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to reduce Europe's dependency on the US and Israel for the technology.

Under the partnership, the countries will work together to design a medium-range, long-endurance (Male) aircraft, with plans to put it into service by 2025.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was quoted by Reuters as saying: "It's a very important step for European cooperation, a critical cooperation which we must have at our disposal in many theatres of operation."

The partners intend to develop a drone capable of operating at an altitude of up to 9,000m, to be used for civilian purposes such as border control, firefighting and disaster monitoring.

Northrop Grumman's lighter-than-air vehicle will explore Venus

VAMP

Northrop Grumman announced it is developing a lighter-than-air vehicle to explore Venus' environment and determine the origins of life on Earth.

Named Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP), the semi-buoyant platform will travel at altitudes of up to 68km over the planet's clouds to gather scientific data.

VAMP will be deployed on orbit and float into Venus's atmosphere using solar-powered propellers, where it will operate for more than a year. The vehicle has a wing span of 55m.

Northrop Grumman formed a scientific advisory board to assist the company during development of the VAMP vehicle.

Progress cargo spacecraft failure delays ISS crew return

An unmanned cargo spaceship failed to complete its ISS re-supply mission and burnt up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, forcing the Russian space agency to postpone the return of three cosmonauts onboard the station.

Russia had planned to bring the crew home on 14 May; however, the agency now requires them to stay there until early June, and pushed back the launch of a replacement crew to late July.

ISS Russian segment head Vladimir Solovyov was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: "They have accepted it with understanding and agreed to work an extra month or so in orbit.

"In accordance with space and aviation regimen, we can't immediately make a manned launch."

Avianca finalises $11bn deal for 100 Airbus A320neo aircraft

Avianca

Avianca finalised an agreement with Airbus to purchase 100 A320neo family aircraft for approximately $11bn.

The companies signed a memorandum of understanding in February for the deal, which is said to be largest in Latin America's aviation history.

Under the deal, Avianca will buy A319neo, A320neo and A321neo aircraft, which will be used to replace Avianca's fleet operating from its hubs in Bogota, Lima and San Salvador.

Avianca CEO Fabio Villegas Ramirez said: "Thanks to the A320neo family's fuel efficiency, technical reliability and unique passenger comfort, we can further Avianca's fleet modernization process, while connecting the region and supporting its development."

Moon Express MX-1 to transport lunar laser ranging arrays

MX-1

Moon Express signed a deal with Italy's National Laboratories of Frascati (INFN-LNF), and the University of Maryland of US to carry new-generation lunar laser ranging arrays to the Moon.

The company will transport MoonLIGHT instruments on the first four of its missions.

Planned for lift-off aboard the Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander in 2017, MoonLIGHT will be used alongside Apollo Cube Corner (CCR) retroreflector arrays to test principles of Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Gulfstream G500 business jet makes first flight

G500

General Dynamics' subsidiary Gulfstream Aerospace completed first flight of its G500 business jet.

The G500, part of Gulfstream's new family of clean-sheet aircraft, took-off from Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.

During the 2hr 16min flight, the aircraft climbed to an altitude of 15,000ft, and achieved an air speed of 194k.

Experimental test pilots Scott Martin and Kevin Claffy were at the controls, while flight test engineer Bill Osborne provided on-board support.

Atlas V rocket launches satellite to test in-space solar propulsion

LightSail

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully lifted-off a Planetary Society's LightSail satellite onboard the US Air Force's X-37B space plane, to test in-space solar propulsion technology.

As the solar photons strike LightSail's Mylar sails, the momentum generated will accelerate a spacecraft continuously.

The spacecraft is part of a secondary payload called ULTRASat on the AFSPC-5 mission.

LightSail satellite's critical functions will be evaluated in low-Earth orbit, and a second mission is planned for 2016.

European space agencies collaborate on altered gravity aircraft

Zero-G

The ESA, France's space agency CNES, and German aerospace centre DLR have joined to conduct scientific experiments on an altered gravity aircraft.

Named A310 ZERO-G, the parabolic science aircraft is the revamped version of an Airbus A310.

The altered gravity aircraft is designed to not only to offer weightlessness by varying the thrust and angle of attack, but also offer other gravity levels such as those found on the Moon or Mars.

During the flights, the aircraft was subjected to an up-and-down trajectory angled at up to 50°, to create weightlessness.