How is the space sector doing during COVID-19?

The runaway situation of insecurity is tough for all the industrial sector on many levels and space is not excluded from this unprecedented circumstance. Despite all, space surely has something in common with the Covid-19 confinement: isolation. Astronauts have immeasurable experience with isolation, and a few have chimed in with their expert advice for staying in during the lockdown.

Looking at the only encouraging consequence of the lockdown imposed by many States, the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite has recently mapped air pollution across Europe and China and revealed a significant drop in nitrogen dioxide concentrations.

Space companies and organisations continued to announce a row of delays and closures, but major events in the space sector continued to happen during the last weeks.

Europe's first commercial external platform on the International Space Station (ISS) was launched on 7 March 2020 aboard SpaceX CRS-20. The Airbus-built Bartolomeo platform is a major step towards commercial ISS use in Europe, offering companies and research institutions ideal conditions for exposing their experiments and technological developments to the direct conditions of space.

On March 21st, OneWeb launched 34 satellites on board of the Soyuz-2-1b launcher but only a week later it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The internet London-based OneWeb - formerly known as WorldVu – has been aiming to launch at least 648 satellites to deliver global broadband connectivity (Ku-band payloads). In a press release, CEO Adrian Steckel stated that "It is with a very heavy heart that we have been forced to reduce our workforce and enter the Chapter 11 process while the Company's remaining employees are focused on responsibly managing our nascent constellation and working with the Court and investors".

ESA and the Roscosmos Space Corporation have agreed to postpone the launch of the second ExoMars mission to 2022. ESA Director General Jan Wörner and Roscosmos Head Dmitry Rogozin also decided to conduct further tests on the final hardware and software of the spacecraft. Always regarding the joint endeavour, ESA Director General stated that “We want to make ourselves 100% sure of a successful mission. We cannot allow ourselves any margin of error. More verification activities will ensure a safe trip and the best scientific results on Mars”

In the field of exploration, early March James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Full Mirror Deployment was a success! Technicians and engineers have been meticulously checking off a long list of final tests the observatory will undergo before being packaged for delivery to the European facility in French Guiana. The ambitious project sees the collaboration of ESA, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency and will be ready for the lift-off in 2021 on board of the Arian 5-ECA.

Worldwide, NASA has temporarily paused the work on the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule that will be used for its forthcoming Artemis missions, which will ultimately return the next American man and the first American woman to the surface of the Moon. The rocket and the spacecraft were undergoing production and testing activities ahead of the first Artemis mission, which had been scheduled for no earlier than April 2021. The shutdown comes amid NASA’s decision to heighten restrictions at two of the agency’s centres - Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana and the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The ground test that should take place later this year – the Green Run test – will ignite all the rocket’s engines simulating the SLS launch.

On the 15th of April, Russia tested its A-235 PL-19 Nudol direct-ascent antisatellite (DA-ASAT) weapon system. The DA-ASAT was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome and impartial observers suppose that the Nudol DA-ASAT interceptor missile carried a kill vehicle that did not strike any large objects in Low-Earth orbit (LEO).

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