February 19, 2018
The Lowdown on NASA's Proposed $19.8B Budget Request (Source: The Verge)
The Trump administration wants to allocate an additional $150 million for NASA to start a new program that will help commercial companies expand their activities in lower Earth orbit — where the space station resides. However, the specifics of that program and how the money will be used have yet to be defined. Though the administration has threatened to cut Earth Science altogether, the program still receives $1.784 billion under the request, slightly cut from the $1.907 billion it received in 2017. Once again, the administration plans to completely cut NASA’s Education program, which funds grants and scholarship programs for students.
The budget request also calls for NASA to pursue a campaign that “will establish US preeminence to, around, and on the Moon,” but it doesn’t call for any drastic changes to NASA’s programs, so those lunar ambitions may just stay ambitions for some time. The budget request calls for NASA to pursue a campaign that “will establish US preeminence to, around, and on the Moon,” but it doesn’t call for any drastic changes to NASA’s programs, so those lunar ambitions may just stay ambitions for some time. (2/12)
Proposed NASA Budget Avoids Giant Leap Toward the Moon (Source: Ars Technica)
The budget to be proposed for NASA on Monday will offer some preliminary support for a lunar exploration program, but has no specific timelines for when humans might return to the surface of the Moon—nor funding to make such an ambitious undertaking happen. Although Congress sets the budget for the United States, this document offers a good overview of the Trump administration's plans for NASA.
The FY 2019 budget provides a top-line number of $19.892 billion for NASA, an increase over the FY 2018 budget of $19.519 billion that is largely attributable to the recent budget agreement passed by Congress, which raises spending levels for defense and discretionary spending. The budget makes several structural changes to NASA's budget, including ending funding for a separate "Space Technology" directorate created by the Obama administration, and rolling that research into the "Deep Space Exploration Systems" account.
It also adds $150 million for a new program to speed up the commercialization of low-Earth orbit, because the White House would like to see NASA funding for the International Space Station end in 2025. Perhaps the most significant thing about this budget proposal is that, although the White House has made a big show about returning humans to the surface of the Moon, there are no giant leaps toward that goal in this plan. Rather there are incremental steps that, if followed over the next decade, may allow astronauts to eventually set foot on the lunar surface again. (2/12)
NASA Budget Proposal Eliminates Jupiter Lander (Source: Space.com)
NASA's 2019 budget proposal includes no funding for a mission to land on Jupiter's moon Europa. The budget, while supporting the continued development of the Europa Clipper multiple-flyby mission, does not include money for the follow-on lander mission. The agency's 2018 request also included no funding for the lander, although a House spending bill did add it. The final 2018 appropriations have yet to be finalized. Despite the lack of funding for the Europa lander in the request, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot noted in a speech this week that the agency is "well on our way to landing a probe there" to determine if the moon is habitable. (2/14)
NASA Budget Plan Cancels WFIRST Telescope (Source: Space News)
The administration's 2019 budget proposal for NASA includes plans to cancel a major space telescope. The budget proposal, released Monday, included the cancellation of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), the next flagship astronomy mission after the James Webb Space Telescope. Agency officials cited the need to free up funding in a budget that is projected to remain flat for several years to support growing exploration programs as a reason to end WFIRST, which had been working to rein in its growing costs.
The proposal also seeks to cancel five Earth science missions and close NASA's Office of Education, as in last year's request. The proposal provides $19.9 billion for NASA, including several new programs for lunar exploration and low Earth orbit commercialization to support an end of NASA operations of the International Space Station in 2025. However, one key member of Congress, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), declared the budget proposal a "nonstarter" on Capitol Hill. (2/12)
Astronomers Oppose WFIRST Cancelation (Source: AAS)
The nation's largest group of astronomers expressed opposition to plans in NASA's proposed 2019 budget to cancel a key mission. Leaders of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) said Wednesday they had "grave concern" about plans to cancel the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission, which the agency seeks to cancel to free up money for other priorities, like exploration. "We cannot accept termination of WFIRST," said AAS President-Elect Megan Donahue, noting the mission was the top priority for flagship-class astrophysics missions in the 2010 decadal survey. AAS also raised concerns about long-term cuts in NASA's astrophysics budget that "will cripple U.S. astronomy." (2/15)
NASA Budget Proposal Includes Full Funding for Supersonic Plane Program (Source: Space.com)
The Trump administration's fiscal year 2019 budget proposal for NASA includes full funding for an experimental supersonic airplane that could one day transport commercial-airline passengers faster than the speed of sound. Known as the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD), this X-plane is scheduled to make its first test flight as early as 2021 and "would open a new market for U.S. companies to build faster commercial airliners, creating jobs and cutting cross-country flight times in half," the White House budget request states. The goal of supersonic aircraft like LBFD is to make commercial airplanes that can fly faster than the speed of sound without generating a loud and obnoxious sonic boom. (2/14)
NOAA Budget Proposal Restores Satellite Funding (Source: Space News)
NOAA's fiscal year 2019 budget request would restore an earlier schedule for two future weather satellites. The proposal increases funding for the Polar Follow On program for the third and fourth JPSS polar-orbiting satellites, folding it into the existing JPSS-2 program. The proposal restores launch readiness dates of 2024 and 2026 for JPSS-3 and 4, respectively, after the 2018 budget request suggested those spacecraft could be delayed. The budget proposal also increases funding for the office within NOAA that licenses commercial remote-sensing satellite systems to address its growing workload, and for the Office of Space Commerce to help it serve as a "single point of entry" for companies seeking to sell satellite data to federal agencies. (2/14)
DOD Budget Plan Includes $9.3 Billion for Space (Source: Space News)
The space portion of the Defense Department's 2019 budget proposal marks a "pivot" that reflects the more contested nature of space. The proposal includes $9.3 billion for space programs and makes changes to account for increasing threats to space assets from Russia and China. The budget ends plans to procure SBIRS missile warning satellites after the sixth satellite, currently under construction, and instead proposes an "evolved SBIRS" intended to be responsive to new threats. The budget also includes funding for a space-based kill assessment experiment for the Missile Defense Agency. (2/12)
Pentagon Space Budget Shaped by Threats From Russia, China (Source: Space News)
The Trump administration’s budget request for the Defense Department includes $9.3 billion for space programs — $4.8 billion for satellites, $2.4 billion for launch vehicles and $2.1 billion for maintenance and support. The funds also cover space tests and classified programs. Officials said this budget marks a “pivot” in military space programs from systems that were built for an era when the United States was unchallenged in outer space to a future when adversaries like China and Russia could threaten U.S. access and freedom to operate in space.
“We are in a more dangerous security environment than we have seen in a generation,” said Maj. Gen. John Pletcher, the Air Force budget director. “Global trends are eroding our advantage in the air and space,” Pletcher told reporters on Monday. He said the new mantra is “defendable space.” The 2019 space budget is 1.5 percent larger than the $7.8 billion request for fiscal year 2018. Overall, the president is proposing a $686 billion budget for the Defense Department, of which $236.7 billion is for research, development and procurement of weapon systems. (2/12)
|Nelson Raps Trump's NASA Budget, Plan to Privatize Space Station (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson came out swinging Monday against President Trump’s proposed NASA budget and plan to turn over the International Space Station to private hands. “The administration’s budget for NASA is a nonstarter,’’ said Nelson, D-Orlando, in a statement. “If we’re ever going to get to Mars with humans on board and return them safely, then we need a larger funding increase for NASA.
“The proposal would also end support for the International Space Station in 2025 and make deep cuts to popular education and science programs,’’ continued Nelson, a former astronaut who flew during the space shuttle era. “Turning off the lights and walking away from our sole outpost in space at a time when we’re pushing the frontiers of exploration makes no sense.” (2/12)
Trump's Privatized ISS 'Not Impossible,' But Would Require 'Renegotiation' (Source: Space Daily)
The White House reportedly plans to request $150 million "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities, which will ensure that commercial successors to the station are operational when they are needed." The ISS costs up to $4 billion a year and the US government has already spent nearly $100 billion over more than a decade to keep it up and running.
A proper reaction to Trump's statement should be based on a precise understanding of the word "privatization." The ISS has been built based on a number of international treaties and one cannot simply dodge these agreements, let alone attempt to privatize the whole station. If a private contractor is to take over the US-owned parts of the ISS, this would be a "fundamental change" that "would at least require renegotiation of the space station agreement," says von der Dunk. (2/16)
ISS After 2025: Is CASIS The Solution Or The Problem? (Source: NASA Watch)
Yesterday NASA held a briefing with Acting CFO Andrew Hunter. When asked about how NASA plans to operate the ISS after 2025 when funding by NASA will cease, Hunter had no answer. The only clue he offered was that CASIS would continue to be part of the NASA space station utilization plan until 2025. Somehow, between now and 2025, NASA claims that it will be handing over all of its operational responsibilities to some yet to be defined private sector entities.
It would seem, therefore, by default, that NASA intends to use CASIS to develop the multi-billion dollar customer base that will take over U.S. operations on the ISS and that NASA would be just another customer. How anyone can expect CASIS to complete a task several orders of magnitude greater than the one that they have failed to accomplish thus far is baffling in the extreme.
All you have to do is read recent GAO and NASA OIG reports to see that there is extreme doubt with regard to CASIS' abilities. Of course, NASA has still refused to deliver the ISS Transition Plan mandated by law and due last year. Based on this budget briefing NASA clearly has no plan and they have only begun to work on it. (2/13)
CASIS Announces Leadership Change (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) has announced that President and Executive Director Gregory H. Johnson plans to leave the nonprofit organization effective March 10, 2018, after serving in that position for nearly five years.
Johnson was named to the position in August 2013 with a mission to lead a diverse team of professionals in the unprecedented challenge to establish a national laboratory in space, the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, and to foster the growth of a community of users and facilities on the lab for Earth benefit.
A national search for a new executive director will begin immediately. Upon Johnson’s departure, CASIS Chairman of the Board of Directors Lt. General (Ret) James A. Abrahamson will resign from the board and will serve as the interim president and executive director until a permanent replacement is appointed. The chairmanship of the board will be assumed by the Vice-Chairman and Chair-Elect Phillip Schein, M.D. (2/16)
5 Things to Know About the International Space Station (Source: AJC)
Frank Slazer, the vice president of space systems for the Aerospace Industries Association, told the Washington Post, "It will be very hard to turn ISS into a truly commercial outpost because of the international agreements that the United States is involved in. It's inherently always going to be an international construct that requires U.S. government involvement and multinational cooperation." Click here. (2/14)
How the Private Space Industry Could Take Over Lower Earth Orbit — and Make Money (Source: The Verge)
The Trump administration wants to end direct NASA funding for the International Space Station by 2025 — but that doesn’t necessarily mean the US will stop sending people into orbit around Earth by then. Instead, NASA hopes to transition the domain of lower Earth orbit, where the space station resides, to the commercial space industry over the next seven years. But what would it take for private space companies to take over this area of space — and what exactly would they do up there? Click here. (2/16)
Commercial Space Ventures Hail NASA Opportunities in Orbit and on the Moon (Source: GeekWire)
The Trump administration’s proposed shift to commercial partners for space operations in low Earth orbit as well as on and around the moon is getting a predictably positive reception from those potential partners. “This moment here, with the shift to the moon, is what we’ve waited 10 years for,” John Thornton, CEO of Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, told Geekwire. Astrobotic has been working on a series of private-sector lunar landing missions and is now looking forward to heightened interest from NASA.
Over the next few years, hundreds of millions of dollars would be set aside for private-sector moon missions and for commercial ventures in low Earth orbit — either by putting private ventures in charge of the U.S. segment of the International Space Station, or by establishing new orbital platforms. Robert Bigelow, founder of Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, said the shift toward commercialization is “Earth-shattering news.”
Two other private ventures, Axiom Space and NanoRacks, have their own plans for orbital space platforms. Axiom Space would consider incorporating some elements of the International Space Station into its own commercial station if they became available sometime after 2024. “We would continue on the work that was already begun on the ISS without throwing it all away,” Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini told CNBC. (2/12)
Bigelow to Launch New Spaceflight Company (Source: Business Insider)
Robert Bigelow, who made billions forming the hotel chain Budget Suites of America, is gearing up to launch a new spaceflight company called Bigelow Space Operations. Bigelow, age 72, already owns Bigelow Aerospace, which he founded in 1999. That company built an inflatable room, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), for NASA to attach to the International Space Station. BEAM launched into orbit and was fully deployed in 2016. Bigelow Aerospace has also reportedly helped conduct research on UFO sightings for a secretive Pentagon program.
The hotel mogul now plans "to announce the creation of a new company: Bigelow Space Operations" on Tuesday, according to an email sent to Business Insider. Bigelow Aerospace representatives did not immediately respond to further questions about the announcement. However, according to a recent tweet from Bigelow Aerospace, the new venture may have more to do with finding new uses for the spacecraft that company has already been developing. (2/17)
World Will Be Shocked by New Space Race (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)
This excitement about the value of space was palpable when I spoke at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, seeing Australian start-ups such as FLEET rub shoulders with multinationals like Lockheed Martin, all with one thing in common - that our future prosperity as a species lies in space. Inspired by the activity of business I wanted to see the workshops of this new space race, and nowhere quite captures that spirit like the Mojave Spaceport in California. (2/13)
Why the Market is Ready for On-Orbit Satellite Servicing (Source: Via Satellite)
Although the technology driving in-orbit satellite servicing has existed for decades, only now has the market evolved to a point where it is economically feasible as a business. According to a panel of experts at a Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) discussion on Feb. 12, the convergence of lower launch costs and shifting priorities for Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite operators has made the idea of in-orbit servicing more commercially viable than in past years.
Tim Deaver, vice president of development for SES Government Solutions, pointed to the dropping cost of satellite capacity as a critical element of the shift. As the industry experiences a downturn in the price of bandwidth (and thus, the revenue any one satellite generates), operators are brainstorming new ways to make the most out of their aging assets, he said.
The panelists agreed this is particularly true for operators that own a limited number of satellites critical to their businesses. Company leaders are seeking new, more creative paths to extend their growth trajectories and, in the process, are softening their traditionally risk-averse postures, said Joe Anderson, director of mission extension vehicle services at Orbital ATK. (2/13)
Industry Groups Vie to Sponsor Reception During Space Council Meeting in Florida (Source: Washington Post)
Ahead of the second meeting of the White House’s National Space Council in Florida next week, a consortium of upstart entrepreneurial companies known as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which includes SpaceX, decided to host a reception for members of the council, who just happen to be some of the most powerful players in Washington. Headed by Vice President Pence, the policymaking council is made up of the secretaries of State, Commerce, Treasury, Transportation and Defense and other top government officials.
But when the groups representing some of the more traditional space contractors, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, caught wind of the party, they complained to the White House, which agreed that they, too, should host the reception. The ultimate party crash? More like “we wanted to make sure the entirety of the industry was represented to the council and not just a subset,” said one industry official. (2/17)
Boeing CEO: Elon Musk and SpaceX are 'Adding Energy to the Space Market' (Source: CNBC)
Boeing is undeterred by all the buzz around SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk, which launched its Falcon Heavy rocket into history last week. "They're adding energy to the space market and we like the attention that that's generating," said Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg. "I think it's good for the country."
"We are building the first rocket to Mars, and, as I told you, it's about 36 stories tall," Muilenburg said. "It's first test flight is in 2019... I firmly believe that the first person that gets to Mars is going to get there on a Boeing rocket." Development for both Falcon Heavy and SLS began about seven years ago. But, while Falcon Heavy roared to life on Feb. 7 at Kennedy Space Center, the first flight for SLS slipped to 2020. (2/16)
World's Largest Plane Could Give Elon Musk The Space Race He's Craving (Source: Jalopnik)
Billionaires are taking to space the way wistful young men take to the sea in 19th Century novels. Last week, Elon Musk launched his Tesla Roadster at the asteroid belt using the world’s most powerful rocket currently in operation. Not to be outdone, Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen also has a big plan (and a big plane) for going to space.
In December of last year, the Stratolaunch performed its first taxi at the Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, CA. While that doesn’t seem terribly exciting, it’s the first step to getting the Stratolaunch, the world’s largest plane ever (via wingspan) into the air. (2/15)
Falcon-9 Vandenberg Launch Delayed Until Wednesday (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has been delayed until Wednesday, Feb. 21. The launch had been previously scheduled for Feb. 16 and Feb. 18. The primary payload is the Paz satellite for Hisdesat of Spain. The spacecraft will provide radar imaging as well as ship tracking and weather data. The flight will use a previously-flown first stage.
Elon Musk’s company will also launch two of its own satellites, Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, that will demonstration technologies needed to provide global broadband services. The company plans to orbit 12,000 in two separate constellations for its Starlink broadband service. (2/17)
Falcon Heavy Finally Takes Flight (Source: Space Review)
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched last week after years of development delays. Jeff Foust reports on the launch and what the future prospects are for the heavy-lift rocket. Click here. (2/12)
SpaceX's Next Falcon Heavy Mission, for Air Force, Targets June Launch From Florida Spaceport(Source: Bloomberg)
SpaceX fans still flying high from last week’s Falcon Heavy rocket launch may want to mark their calendars for June. The U.S. Air Force is targeting that month for its Space Test Program 2 mission, or STP-2, a spokeswoman for the Space and Missile Systems Center said in an email. The launch can take place before SpaceX’s more powerful rocket is certified by the military because the mission is considered experimental. Falcon Heavy will eventually have to complete the validation process to carry out national security launches.
STP-2 has a number of objectives, including demonstrating the new rocket’s capabilities and launching several satellites. It will likely be Falcon Heavy’s first launch for a paying customer. Three commercial satellite operators -- Arabsat, Inmarsat and Viasat -- have also signed on to fly with the 27-engine vehicle, according to SpaceX’s launch manifest. (2/14)
Elon Musk Explains Why SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Core Booster Crashed (Source: Space.com)
That core booster, which was expected to land offshore on SpaceX's drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You," crashed when two of three engines did not fire during a final landing burn, Musk told reporters after the launch. The booster missed the landing ship by about 328 feet (100 meters) and hit the water at 300 mph (484 km/h), damaging thrusters on the nearby droneship, Musk has said.
On Monday, we learned a bit more in Musk's Twitter posts. The two engines did not fire because they ran out of ignition fluid, Musk said. "Not enough ignition fluid to light the outer two engines after several three engine relights," Musk wrote. "Fix is pretty obvious." That suggests a fix might involve simply adding more ignition fluid, though Musk did not elaborate. (2/14)
New SpaceX Drone Ship, A Shortfall of Gravitas, Coming to East Coast (Source: Florida Today)
A new SpaceX drone ship currently under construction will likely call the Space Coast home and help the company handle increased Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy operations, CEO Elon Musk said Monday. The company's third ship, named A Shortfall of Gravitas, will join Of Course I Still Love You for East Coast landing operations, Musk said via Twitter. The latter is based at Port Canaveral and returns Falcon 9 boosters to facilities near the port for post-launch checkouts.
Musk also confirmed that for Falcon Heavy missions, the rocket's two side boosters will not always return to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station like they did during last week's premiere launch. In some cases involving tight fuel margins and heavy satellites, having two ships based on the Space Coast will mean both sail out at the same time and play host to tandem ocean landings. (2/12)
The Falcon Heavy is an Absurdly Low-Cost Heavy Lift Rocket (Source: Ars Technica)
Now that SpaceX's new rocket is finally flying, we can directly compare costs between this new booster and an existing rocket in its class, the Delta IV Heavy, as well as NASA's upcoming heavy lift booster, the Space Launch System. And upon direct comparison, the cost disparities are sobering, proving that commercial development of large rockets likely represents the future of the industry. The Falcon Heavy rocket, with reusable side boosters, costs $90 million. For a fully expendable variant of the rocket, which can lift a theoretical maximum of 64 tons to low-Earth orbit, the price is $150 million.
Only ULA's Delta IV Heavy rocket has this capability today. It is more expensive, but how much more is a matter of some debate. Tory Bruno this week said the Delta IV Heavy costs about $350 million per flight, which is strikingly lower than he cited during a congressional hearing in 2015: "A Delta IV, depending on the configuration, costs between $400 and $600 million." Moreover, the costs referenced by Bruno exclude a "launch capability contract" worth about $1 billion annually, and ULA will make the last flight of a Delta IV Medium rocket in 2019, shifting all of the Delta's fixed costs to the Heavy variant. This will push the per-flight cost above $600 million, and perhaps considerably higher, in the early 2020s.
NASA's Space Launch System will have 6 tons more lift capacity than the Falcon Heavy, and a bigger fairing to carry wider payloads. However, NASA annually spends about $2.6 billion to develop the SLS rocket and ground systems at Kennedy Space Center. Its debut has slipped from 2017 to 2020, costing $7.8 billion more. This $7.8 billion alone could buy 86 reusable Falcon Heavy launches, or 3000 tons of lift for a heck of a moonbase. (2/14)
Why Couldn’t NASA Do This? (Source: Space Review)
The successful test launch of the Falcon Heavy demonstrates, to some, the growing capabilities of the private sector in space compared to agencies like NASA. Mark Wessels argues that it’s time to revisit the roles, and risk acceptance, of NASA and the private sector. Click here. (2/12)
SLS: To Be or Not To Be, or To Be Something Else Entirely (Source: Space Review)
The Falcon Heavy launch creates additional scrutiny for NASA’s Space Launch System, which is still years away from a first launch and will cost far more to develop and operate. Dick Eagleson suggests it’s time to redesign the SLS to incorporate reusability and lower costs, or else it faces an eventual cancellation. Click here. (2/12)
NASA's Lunar Outpost Is Planned to be Ready for Crewed Mission by 2023 (Source: Interesting Engineering)
NASA is considering sending humans to the Moon again. To achieve that, the space agency will also put an outpost in orbit around the Moon. This will also advance capabilities of human space exploration farther from Earth, such as plans to send astronauts to Mars. The space station will be called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway and it will be located in orbit around the Moon. It is designed to be ready for human habitation by 2023.
Similar to the International Space Station, or ISS, it will be assembled in space over time. The first module will be a power and propulsion system, planned for launch in 2022. The space station is planned to use high-power solar electric propulsion to preserve the position of the platform in a lunar orbit. It will also be capable of shifting the orbit closer to or away from the Moon, depending on science and exploration objectives. (2/16)
Lockheed Martin Begins Construction of Moon-Bound Orion (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Lockheed Martin has begun producing the Orion spacecraft that is planned to send NASA astronauts on a journey around the Moon. NASA's Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2) which is currently slated for a 2022 launch date has seen the first two components of the craft's pressure vessel welded together.
Engineers working at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility located near New Orleans welded together the first two parts that are planned for use on the EM-2 mission which should see astronauts travel to the Moon. If everything goes off without a hitch, this flight should mark the first time that a crew has been sent to the Moon’s vicinity since the Apollo 17 mission which took place in December of 1972. (2/14)
Capture the Flag: NASA's Continued Focus on Commercial Crew (Source: Space Daily)
Both Boeing and SpaceX plan to fly test missions without crew to the space station prior to test flights with a crew onboard this year. After each company's test flights, NASA will work to certify the systems and begin post-certification crew rotation missions. The current flight schedules for commercial crew systems provide about six months of margin to begin regular, post-certification crew rotation missions to the International Space Station before contracted flights on Soyuz flights end in fall 2019.
As part of the agency's normal contingency planning, NASA is exploring multiple scenarios as the agency protects for potential schedule adjustments to ensure continued U.S. access to the space station. One option under consideration would extend the duration of upcoming flight tests with crew targeted for the end of 2018 on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. The flights could be extended longer than the current two weeks planned for test flights, and likely less than a six-month full-duration mission. The agency also is assessing whether there is a need to add another NASA crew member on the flight tests. (2/14)
NASA Gears Up for Brisk Launch Pace, Starting with Weather Satellite (Source: SpaceFlightNow)
Engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center tasked with overseeing launches of scientific satellites and interplanetary probes will be responsible later this year for ensuring six major missions safely get into space over a span of a little more than six months, beginning with the launch of NOAA’s new GOES-S weather observatory on an Atlas 5 rocket March 1.
After overseeing the launch of NOAA’s latest weather satellite, NASA plans to put up a spacecraft to search for planets circling other stars, a lander that will travel to Mars, a small satellite to study the interaction between solar activity and Earth’s atmosphere, a probe to travel closer to the sun than any previous mission, and a mission to measure Earth’s thinning polar ice sheets and glaciers.
It’s a big year for NASA’s Launch Services Program, an office headquartered at the Kennedy Space Center charged with ensuring the agency’s robotic missions safely reach space. The brisk pace of launches planned for this year will be spread among six different rocket configurations from six different launch sites. The missions will loft around $6 billion in NASA and NOAA assets, according to Robert Cabana, director of the Kennedy Space Center. (2/15)
NASA Is Bringing Back Cold War-Era Atomic Rockets to Get to Mars (Source: Bloomberg)
In the race to land humans on Mars, NASA is blowing the cobwebs off a technology it shelved in the 1970s — nuclear-powered rockets. Last year, NASA partnered with BWXT Nuclear Energy Inc. for an $18.8 million contract to design a reactor and develop fuel for use in a nuclear-thermal propulsion engine for deep-space travel. While that small start is a long way from the heady days of the Space Race of the Cold War, it marks the U.S. return to an idea that is also being pursued by Russia and China.
Unlike conventional rockets that burn fuel to create thrust, the atomic system uses the reactor to heat a propellant like liquid hydrogen, which then expands through a nozzle to power the craft. That doubles the efficiency at which the rocket uses fuel, allowing for a “drastically smaller” craft and shorter transit time, said Stephen Heister. “This factor is absolutely huge, especially for very difficult missions that necessitate a lot of propellant such as a Mars flight.” (2/15)
Air Force and Aerojet Rocketdyne Renegotiating AR1 Agreement (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force and Aerojet Rocketdyne are working to revise an agreement to support development of the company’s AR1 rocket engine, as questions continue about the engine’s long-term future. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) confirmed that Aerojet Rocketdyne is seeking to revise the Rocket Propulsion System (RPS) award the company received in 2016 to reduce the fraction of development costs the company has to pay.
That award, known as an other transaction authority (OTA), currently requires Aerojet Rocketdyne to cover one third of the costs of work on the AR1 engine. In the company’s latest quarterly filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Nov. 2, it said it had spent $86.1 million on AR1 research and development, out of total costs incurred to date of $236.6 million.
“Aerojet Rocketdyne has approached the Air Force about reducing the industry cost share on the AR1 RPS OTA from 1/3 to 1/6,” SMC said in its response. “The Air Force has gained the necessary approvals to do so, if a mutually beneficial arrangement can be reached with Aerojet Rocketdyne. (2/16)
Musk Offers to Eat Hat if Vulcan Flies DOD Payload by 2023 (Source: Ars Technica)
Elon Musk made an unusual wager about the prospects of a competitor's launch vehicle Monday. Musk, engaged in a discussion on Twitter about the costs of ULA's Delta 4 Heavy and its upcoming Vulcan rocket, said he was skeptical the Vulcan would be certified to launch national security payloads by 2023. "I will seriously eat my hat with a side of mustard if that rocket flies a national security spacecraft before 2023," Musk said. The reply by ULA's Tory Bruno: "Wow." (2/13)
DARPA Planning Responsive Launch Competition (Source: Space News)
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has a checkered history of supporting development of new launch vehicles, is planning to start a competition offering prizes for responsive launch systems. The DARPA Launch Challenge won’t be formally announced until April, but Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said it is part of an effort to harness growing commercial capabilities to address threats to national security space assets.
“We want to be able to enable proliferation and disaggregation of our systems.” One approach for doing so is a prize competition DARPA is developing for responsive launch, intended to foster the development of vehicles that can launch on short notice and from a variety of locations. Kennedy said details about the competition, including the specific rules and the prize purse, are still being developed. (2/12)
Air Force Plans Small Launcher Procurement (Source: Space News)
The Air Force's budget proposal includes a program to purchase small launch services. The "small launch" program expects to spend nearly $200 million over five years to acquire launch services from companies like Stratolaunch and Virgin Orbit. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the goal is to "have a variety of launch capabilities in order to have assured access to space." (2/16)
Vector Announces Five Orbital Launch Reservation with Open Cosmos (Source: Vector Space)
Vector and Open Cosmos announced an agreement to reserve five orbital launches between 2019 and 2023 on the Vector-R launch vehicle. The announcement comes in advance of Vector's first orbital launch in July. Open Cosmos provides end-to-end mission services enabling its clients to focus on in-orbit data. This one-stop-shop to orbit allows companies to have dedicated nanosatellite missions for remote sensing payloads, IoT/telecommunication services, scientific research, or space technology in-orbit demonstrations. Editor's Note: No word on the location of these launches. (2/14)
Stealthy Space Startup Testing its Rocket in Alameda, California (Source: KGO)
People around the Alameda Naval Air Station told us it was the sound of SKY7 overhead that made them look around and notice a strange sight. "I heard helicopters, and when I look behind me, I see a giant truck with a huge missile on it," said Madeleine Tonzi. A member of the team who spoke to us outside the former Navy building told us the startup is an aerospace research and development firm that employs about a hundred people in Alameda. Other than that, the company's not ready to say much more.
Though the company isn't saying much to the press, it's talking a lot with local officials. A lease application filed with the City of Alameda gives some clues about what's in the works: a rocket called Astra that the company claims is the world's smallest. The Astra rocket, which is made to carry only 100 kg, is aimed at launching the new generation of small satellites, the document says. (2/17)
Jacksonville's Cecil Spaceport Gains Access Road with Florida Grant Funds (Source: WOKV)
Nine projects around the state are getting a share of $35 million, including an access road in Jacksonville. Florida Governor Rick Scott stopped in Jacksonville to announce Florida Job Growth Grant Fund projects. The Executive Director of the Department of Economic Opportunity says more than 225 grant proposals were received, which totaled more than $821 million.
$6 million has been approved for the construction of a 1.5-mile access road to the Cecil Commerce Center, to provide access for the manufacturing industry. WOKV is working to learn more details on the specific project. In order to get funding, the state says the projects need to show they will strengthen Florida’s business climate by enhancing community infrastructure or developing workforce training programs. (2/6)
Jacksonville's Cecil Spaceport Plans First Commercial Launch This Year (Source: WJXT)
Hot on the heels of the Space-X launch last week, Cecil Airport is preparing for its first commercial space launch, which could happen as early as the end of the year. The launch was supposed to happen back in 2016, but didn't. The director of the Cecil Spaceport said a lot of details have to be finalized, but it could happen either later this year or early next year.
Construction on a new hangar will begin this month. It will be used for accommodating space operators, assembly and storage. But that's not the only project set to take off. "A new space operation mission control center which will be part of a new air traffic control tower that is going into construction probably later this year," Todd Lindner said.
Could the economy be impacted by commercial space operations? Lindner said a study was done on that exact issue. And while it's too early to see what the future holds, he is certain of one thing: The impact will be significant to Northeast Florida. Lindner also said an environmental assessment was completed on the noise levels. He said it shouldn't be a significant issue in the area. (2/13)
Jacksonville Spaceport Working Toward Generation Orbit, Virgin Galactic Launches (Source: WJCT)
The next step in commercial space flight is set for Jacksonville’s Westside at Cecil Spaceport as officials there are planning a commercial launch for late 2018 or early 2019. Spaceport director Todd Lindner said that when the launch takes place, the flight’s payload will likely be a government satellite.
“One of the markets we are targeting is space tourism, human space flight. It is rather lucrative but expensive to do that. But for those of us who have lived our entire lives wanting to fly in space, this is going to be the opportunity to do that.” Lindner said the Cecil Spaceport is working with private firms Virgin Galactic and Generation Orbit on the launch. (2/14)
Branson Hopes to Upstage Elon Musk in Space (Source: Parabolic Arc)
You might think that just getting something into space this year would be accomplishment enough for Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic way back in 1999. On the other hand, a game of one-upmanship with Musk is great publicity whatever the outcome.
It’s been more than a month since the seventh glide test of SpaceShipTwo Unity on Jan. 11. I’m expecting the first powered flight of this second vehicle fairly soon. Given what happened the last time, it’s going to be a very stressful thing to watch. Meanwhile, Virgin Orbit is moving along toward a flight test of LauncherOne around the third quarter of the year. The company recently tweeted about two launch campaign rehearsals it conducted in Mojave. (2/17)
Branson Hopes for Virgin Flight Soon (Source: CNN Money)
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said he was a "little bit jealous" of SpaceX after its Falcon Heavy launch last week. Branson's company has been working for years on its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, capable of carrying tourists or research payloads, and he said in an interview the vehicle should soon be flying in space. Branson said he would be "disappointed" if the vehicle was not in space "in the next few months," but added that the company would not attempt space flights until its engineers concluded it was safe to do so.(2/14)
Microsoft Edge Boosts SpaceShipTwo Into Virtual Space (Source: GeekWire)
Virgin Galactic hasn’t yet started taking tourists into space on its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, but the company now offers a virtual SpaceShipTwo tour on its website, with a big assist from Microsoft Edge Web Showcase. The upgraded website is a lot clickier — and continues to provide basic information about Virgin Galactic as well as videos, stills and online updates. But the centerpiece is a 3-D, VR-enhanced digital model of VSS Unity, the SpaceShipTwo plane that’s undergoing tests at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port. (2/13)
New Mexico Senate Passes Spaceport Confidentiality Bill (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
The New Mexico Senate passed a bill restricting public access to some spaceport records. The Senate voted 35–5 to approve the bill, which backers of Spaceport America say is necessary to protect private company information and keep the facility competitive with those in other states. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which must pass the bill before the legislative session ends on Thursday. (2/12)
New Mexico Spaceport Confidentiality Bill Clears House Vote (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
The New Mexico House of Representatives approved an amended version of a bill that limits public access to some spaceport records. The House voted 63–1 late Wednesday on the bill, which spaceport officials and advocates say is needed to protect business-sensitive information of customers at Spaceport America, the state's commercial spaceport. The House version is narrower in scope than the Senate version, and must be approved again by the Senate before the legislature adjourns Thursday. (2/14)
Spaceport America Gets Support in New Mexico Legislature (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
It was a good legislative session for Spaceport America, the launch site that might one day propel tourists into space. The agency won new confidentiality protections for its aerospace customers in the last hours of the 30-day session, though lawmakers made significant changes to the bill to narrow what can be kept secret. The Spaceport itself is also in line for some extra money in next year’s budget.
It’s a turnaround from past years, when some lawmakers slammed the $220 million Spaceport as a poor investment for taxpayers or floated the idea of selling it. Legislators on Thursday credited the Spaceport’s new executive director, Dan Hicks, for giving them the confidence to make the agency a priority this year. Hicks, a longtime executive at the nearby White Sands Missile Range, took over the Spaceport in late 2016.
“It’s an asset that’s been underutilized,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat and chairwoman of the House appropriations committee. “It’s a better investment now.” The budget proposal sent to Gov. Susana Martinez includes about $10 million to build a new hangar at the Spaceport in addition to an increased operating budget to pay for engineers and other staff. (2/16)
Colorado Leads World In Aerospace Employment As New Company Moves In (Source: CBS4 Denver)
Colorado is continuing to lead the world in aerospace after Maxar Technologies announced Wednesday it would move its corporate headquarters to Westminster. It is expecting to hire about 800 people over the next decade in Colorado, as DigitalGlobe expands. DigitalGlobe currently has about 1,000 employees in Colorado. Colorado is home to 400 aerospace companies with about 28,000 employees in the field. (2/15)
Lockheed Martin to Build New Facility in Florida, Hire 1,800 (Source: Washington Post)
Lockheed Martin broke ground Tuesday on a new research-and-development facility in Orlando, Florida, where the Bethesda-based defense giant plans to hire 1,800 people to work on new weapons systems for the Pentagon. Engineers at the facility will work to develop new weapons systems including the Long Range Stand-off Missile (LRSO), a plane-launched nuclear cruise missile. The company is in fierce competition with rivals like Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman to capture new defense spending as the Trump administration looks to update the U.S. nuclear arsenal. (2/14)
Asteroid Miners Might Need a Few Good Applied Astronomers to Show Them the Way (Source: GeekWire)
Mining asteroids for water and other resources could someday become a trillion-dollar business, but not without astronomers to point the way. At least that’s the view of Martin Elvis, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who’s been taking a close look at the science behind asteroid mining.
If the industry ever takes off the way ventures such as Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources and California-based Deep Space Industries hope, “that opens up new employment opportunities for astronomers,” Elvis said today in Austin at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In space, the water in asteroids can be more precious than gold — largely because it costs thousands of dollars per pound to launch supplies from Earth. That water could be used to produce oxygen and drinking water for astronauts, plus the propellants for refueling rockets. Other materials may come in handy for use as in-space building materials. But not all asteroids are created equal: Most space rocks will be worthless, Elvis said. (2/17)
Man to Mannequin: Is This Progress? (Source: Space Review)
The images of a sports car launched into space on the test flight of a Falcon Heavy last week attracted the attention of people around the world. Ajey Lele, though, sees the event as a demonstration of the lack of progress in spaceflight in the last half-century. Click here. (2/12)
Making Space Travel Funny for a Change (Source: MetroWest Daily News)
Outer space is a frightening place. For one, there’s no air. Two, it’s dark. And three, it is really, really big. The size of the universe big. All good reasons to take space exploration seriously. Add to that the tagline from the original Alien movie: “In space, no one can hear you scream,” and it’s understandable that space is no joking matter.
So thank goodness for Elon Musk. He lightened the mood some by sending his own Tesla Roadster into orbit around the sun. Why did he do it? I hope for no other reason than it is kind of funny. Just knowing that right now in the dark, airless void of space there is a red roadster being “driven” by Starman, a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit, should put a smile on your face. (2/18)
Forget Countries, Take an Affordable Space Holiday Soon (Source: Khaleej Times)
A trip to space could eventually be as affordable as a regular holiday on Earth, former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, the first person to send a tweet from Space, has said. Massimino is in Dubai to visit the UAE's largest science fair exhibition - the National, Science, Technology and Innovation Festival (NSTI) - taking place at the Festival Arena until February 19.
Massimino, 55, is a former NASA astronaut who was part of the STS-109 Columbia and STS-125 Atlantis shuttle missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. He achieved several spacewalk hours and orbits around the Earth during these missions. He has even played a recurring cameo role in the popular TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
"I think in order to do what we really want to do in space is - first - to have these private companies be successful. All the governments that are participating in space are necessary, but I don't see how you're going to get there without private enterprises being successful," Massimino said. "With what SpaceX has been able to do, and other companies like Blue Origin, they'll surely be able to fly people to space with paying customers and tourists." (2/18)
How Does Space Change the Human Body? (Source: Astronomy)
Scott and Mark Kelly are identical twin brothers. Though that alone does not make them unique, what does is the fact that they are also both astronauts. In order to take advantage of the Kellys’ unique situation, NASA scientists decided to conduct a detailed study on the twins, aimed at unraveling how nature versus nurture plays out in space. Click here. (2/16)
Just Like Love, Space Can Be Hard on the Heart (Source: The Verge)
Ah, Valentine’s Day — a holiday that can certainly take its toll on the human heart. But there’s some small solace for those whose hearts are aching instead of humming today: at least you’re not in space.
Just like love, space isn’t very kind to the heart. In fact, the organ actually changes shape after being in microgravity for a long time. On Earth, the heart hangs in the chest and takes on a somewhat oblong shape because it’s constantly pulled down by gravity. But in space, that gravity is effectively gone — and the heart adjusts. “It no longer hangs there, and the heart becomes more spherical in nature,” Michael Bungo, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Medical School who has studied the effects of spaceflight on the heart, tells The Verge.
The heart may also change shape in space because it doesn’t have to toil as hard. On Earth, the heart is constantly working against gravity to pump blood up from the legs all the way to the head. Without gravity, the heart doesn’t have to do as much work to get the blood where it needs to go. (2/14)
Inside the First Commercial Astronaut Training Program (Source: Motherboard)
John Rost was all smiles as he climbed down from the cockpit of an F-104 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last week. Just 30 minutes before, I had watched Rost and his instructor, former Italian Air Force pilot Piercarlo Ciacchi, taxi down the same runway that hosted space shuttle landings less than a decade before. After idling for a moment, the blue-and-white checkered jet exploded down the runway and went screaming into the restricted airspace around Kennedy.
Rost is the first pilot in a fledgling commercial astronaut training program run by Starfighters Inc., and this was his fourth flight. “That was fucking awesome,” Rost, an amateur pilot who is the CEO of Fiesta Auto Insurance when he’s not training to be an astronaut, said when we spoke after his flight. “It’s just like being on a spaceship. Driving into Kennedy Space Center, flying around and seeing all the launch pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building—you feel like you’re Neil Armstrong.”
Starfighters is attempting to create the first commercial astronaut training program for space tourists who hope to catch a ride on SpaceX or Blue Origin rockets in the future. For now, it offers a high performance training program that teaches pilots like Rost how to fly F-104 fighter jets. The company hopes to one day be part of a more comprehensive astronaut training program, and to play a central role in creating federal regulations for commercial astronaut training programs in the US. Click here. (2/15)
Amateur Astronauts Flock to Starfighters Aerospace as Space Travel Becomes Reality (Source: Observer)
As NASA and its commercial partners are preparing to soon support the first crewed missions to take flight from Florida since 2011, private companies like the Starfighters are anticipating that a new wave of public interest in spaceflight will follow. Originally an aerobatic airshow team with over 500 performances under their belt, the Starfighters are lobbying to become the first certified astronaut training fleet endorsed by NASA to prepare both private pilot and non-pilot citizens for the rigors of space travel. Click here. (2/15)
Florida Polytechnic Student Working to Improve Lives for Astronauts in Space (Source: Spectrum News 9)
A Florida Polytechnic University student is working to reduce depression and anxiety amongst astronauts in space. James Holland and his professor, Dr. Arman Sargolzaei, are working to create wireless sensors for astronaut spacesuits, hoping to make missions in space more enjoyable. They dubbed their product, Smart Sensory Skin, and said it’s much needed technology.
“Being in microgravity for extended periods of time has various effects on the human. The emptiness of space can cause mental wear and tear and just the stress of being in that environment,” explained James Holland. To help alleviate the mental wear and tear, the wireless sensors will detect emotional and physical deficiencies in the astronauts. “It monitors various vitals such as heart rate, temperature, pulse, oxygen consumption and saturation,” Holland said.
The sensors would then communicate with other smart technology to change the environment accordingly. “It could adjust lighting, sound, temperature, to make you more comfortable and less stressed,” Holland said. Sargolzaei said other technology exists but it’s passive, relaying the information to doctors on Earth who then make decisions on how to change the environment. These sensors would be more instantaneous. (2/13)
New Astronaut Training and Mars Base 1 at KSC Visitor Complex Offers Incredible Experience (Source: America Space)
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSVC) recently opened its new Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) Center, giving the public a really fun and interesting interactive learning opportunity to not only train like an astronaut for Mars missions, but to also simulate what a day living and working on Mars would be like, while also helping with real NASA research along the way.
From floating in microgravity chairs simulating spacewalking activities, to conducting surface missions on Mars in Virtual Reality, strapping in to a full-motion Mars Landing and Rover Simulator, launching on NASA’s Orion Capsule for docking with a Mars Transfer Vehicle or conducting a full day of operations on the Red Planet, the new ATX and Mars Base 1 is well worth spending a couple days at for any space geek or aspiring astronaut, young and old. (2/13)
DigitalGlobe and SSL Parent Company Locates HQ in Colorado (Source: Denver Business Journal)
The parent company of DigitalGlobe and Space Systems Loral is moving its headquarters to the Denver area. Maxar Technologies announced Wednesday it would move its corporate headquarters from San Francisco to Westminster, Colorado, using DigitalGlobe's offices there. Maxar, formerly known as MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, acquired DigitalGlobe last year as part of efforts to expand its business and its footprint in the United States. About a dozen people will move from San Francisco to Colorado as part of the relocation. (2/14)
NASA Invites Media to See How Oklahoma Small Business Supports Space Exploration (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA and industry partners will visit Oklahoma the week of Feb. 20, to highlight the work being done across the state to build and supply aerospace components for the agency's new heavy-lift rocket and crew vehicle, the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. SLS will enable a new era of exploration, launching astronauts in the Orion spacecraft on deep space exploration missions to the Moon and ultimately Mars.
Media are invited to Stillwater, Oklahoma, at 10:15 a.m. CST, Wednesday, Feb. 21, to Frontier Electronic Systems, a Native American, woman-owned, small business building electronics critical to controlling the flight of SLS, which will be the world's most powerful rocket. (2/16)
Under New Ownership, Sea Launch to Resume in 2019, With Zenit Rockets, From California(Source: Tass)
A Zenit rocket may be manufactured for the first launch under the restarted Sea Launch project in 2019, co-owner of S7 Group Natalia Filyova said. S7 signed a contract with Sea Launch Group in 2016 on the project’s acquisition. Ukraine’s Yuzhmash, the producer of Zenit launchers, earlier reported it would deliver the first two rockets for the Sea Launch project in 2018. She added that the carrier rocket was being produced by Ukraine with Russia’s assistance while the rocket’s final assembly would take place in the United States.
S7 will not give up Ukrainian-made Zenit rocket rockets for Sea Launch until Russia’s Energiya Rocket and Space produces a new launch vehicle for the project. The company plans to sign a memorandum with Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation for the manufacture of 85 Soyuz-5 rockets (50 plus an option for 35) for launches from the floating sea platform. The Ukrainian side was contracted to deliver 12 Zenit rockets by 2022. (2/16)
140 Successful Tests for Vinci, the [Government Funded] Engine for Ariane 6 (Source: Space Daily)
The re-ignitable Vinci, engine, which will power the upper stage of the Ariane 6 launcher, has now successfully completed its last two subsystems qualification campaigns (M6 and M7) with 140 engine tests conducted. The tests in campaigns M6 and M7, vital for qualification of the engine subsystems, were carried out on the PF52 bench at the ArianeGroup site in Vernon, France, and on the German Aerospace Center DLR's P4.1 bench in Lampoldshausen, Germany.
The Vinci engine was developed by ArianeGroup for Ariane 6 and provides the future European launcher with extreme versatility. Its main feature is its multiple ignition capability: Vinci will be able to re-ignite in flight as many times as necessary, in order to place several payloads in orbit at different locations, according to the specific needs of the mission. This engine will enable Ariane 6 to carry out all types of missions, regardless of duration and target orbit, particularly the deployment of satellite constellations, for which demand will continue to grow. (2/16)
India Planning Heavy-Lift Rocket (Source: The Hindu)
Spurred by SpaceX, India is working on its own design for a heavy-lift launch vehicle. K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian space agency ISRO, said that his agency has "on the drawing board" designs for a vehicle that could place 50 to 60 metric tons into orbit. The agency doesn't yet have a schedule, or budget, for developing such a vehicle. (2/13)
Russian Cargo Mission Launch Scrubbed at Last Minute (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The launch of a Progress cargo spacecraft to the ISS was scrubbed early Sunday. The countdown for the Soyuz launch of the Progress MS-08 spacecraft was halted less than a minute before the scheduled liftoff time of 3:58 a.m. Eastern. Roscosmos had planned to use the launch to test an accelerated approach to the ISS that would have brought the Progress to the station three and a half hours after launch. The launch has been rescheduled for no earlier than Tuesday morning, using the more traditional two-day approach to the station. A similar last-minute scrub took place during a previous Progress launch attempt in October, which had also planned to test the fast approach to the station. (2/12)
Soyuz Launches More Cargo to ISS (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Soyuz rocket launched a Progress cargo spacecraft early this morning after a two-day delay. The Soyuz-2.1a rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 3:13 a.m. Eastern and placed the Progress MS-08 spacecraft into orbit. The launch was scheduled for Sunday but scrubbed in the final minute of the countdown due to a technical issue with the rocket. The Progress is now scheduled to dock with the ISS on Thursday, which will delay a spacewalk by astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Norishige Kanai from Thursday to Friday. (2/12)
Will Canada Develop Its Own Orbital Rocket? (Source: SpaceQ)
In the last week and half there’s been an ongoing discussion as to whether Canada needs and should develop an indigenous orbital rocket launch capability. That’s the topic of this week’s podcast. My guest is Adam Trumpour. Adam is a concept designer at Pratt & Whitney Canada by day, and a rocket developer by night. He develops liquid propellant rocket engines, occasionally consults on the subject and mentors student rocketry groups. Click here. (2/15)
Some Space Startups See Advantages in Canada (Source: Financial Post)
Some satellite startups see advantages to operating from Canada. Kepler Communications, a Toronto company planning a constellation of 50 small satellites to provide communications for Internet of Things applications, launched its first satellite last month on a Chinese rocket. As a Canadian company, it faces fewer restrictions on its choice of launch vehicles than U.S. companies, one Canadian entrepreneur noted, allowing it to take advantage of low-cost Chinese launches. (2/14)
Planet Could Leave Canada Over Ground Station License Delays (Source: Space News)
Planet says it will remove a ground station it set up in northern Canada unless it receives a long-delayed license from the government by June. Planet built the ground station in Canada's Northwest Territories to serve its constellation of Earth-imaging satellites, but is awaiting a remote-sensing license from Global Affairs Canada. A company official speaking Tuesday at the Canadian SmallSat Symposium said that if the company doesn't receive the license by June 1, the two-year anniversary of its application, it will remove the dishes and seek an alternate location, such as Norway. Planet said it has received little in the way of explanation from the government for the delay in processing its application. (2/14)
A Disruptor-in-Chief is Driving Japan's Space Dream (Source: Nikkei)
Takafumi Horie, the maverick internet entrepreneur, is hoping to transform Japan's space industry. Interstellar Technologies, which Horie founded in 2013 but has its origins in 2006 in one of his previous enterprises, plans to launch a rocket this spring, aiming to be the first Japanese company to privately reach space. The 45-year-old disruptor-in-chief envisages a future in which Japan is a space-industry powerhouse, competing with the U.S. in a race that will be driven by private companies rather than governments. It will be a daunting task. Click here. (2/16)
China Launching Toward Record-Breaking Year (Source: Xinhua)
China, meanwhile, is well on its way to a record-breaking year of launch activity in 2018. The country has performed seven launches so far this year, with 35 Long March launches planned for all of 2018. Of those, eight will carry pairs of Beidou navigation satellites as China works to complete a system designed to be on par with GPS and Glonass. The country's largest current rocket, the Long March 5, is expected to return to flight in the latter half of the year after a failed launch last July. (2/14)
China Launches More NavSats (Source: GB Times)
China launched another pair of Beidou navigation satellites early Monday. A Long March 3B rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 12:03 a.m. Eastern and placed the two satellites into medium Earth orbits. The launch was the seventh this year for China and brings the total number of Beidou satellites launched to date to 29. (2/12)
Chinese Rocket Parts, With Deadly Hydrazine, Rain Down on Town (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Following the successful launch of two Beidou satellites on Monday, residents downrange of the launch site suffered the fall of hazardous debris and deadly hydrazine fuel from the Long March 3B rocket. Click here. (2/12)
China’s Reckless Attitude to Space Debris Needs to Change (Source: New Scientist)
Residents of Xiangdu in southern China pointed their smartphones skyward at an object tumbling from the heavens last month. In online footage, the object explodes in fields on a hillside outside town. It turned out to be a strap-on booster from a rocket that had launched two navigation satellites from a site 700 kilometers away. To reinforce the suspicion that this was no accident, the same thing happened again in the same region this week, with similar images of exploding debris near buildings. It was sheer luck no one was killed. The re-entry of China's space station is another looming drama. (2/14)
China and Russia Could Gain Operational Anti-Sat Capabilities Soon (Source: Space News)
U.S. intelligence officials expect China and Russia to have operational anti-satellite systems in the next few years. In the "2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community" report released this week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that anti-satellite systems under development by China and Russia will reach "initial operational capability in the next few years." The report also raised concerns about "experimental" satellites developed by the two countries to perform proximity operations with other spacecraft, which have peaceful but potentially also hostile applications. (2/15)
China's Growing Impact on SatComm (Source: NSR)
China is on a path to become the world's third largest contributor of new satellite communications capacity, according to a new report from Northern Sky Research. The firm projects around 800 Gbps of high-throughput, geostationary satellite capacity will come from China between now and 2026, mostly over Asia. "Since the end of the cold war, the satellite and space industry has been a duopoly between the United States and EU, with other players such as Russia, Japan, and now India playing a secondary role. At some point soon, however, it appears likely China will assume a position as a top tier space nation globally, with significant ramifications for the satellite telecoms industry," NSR wrote. (2/14)
Singapore is About to Take Off as a Spacetech Hub (Source: Tech In Asia)
Singapore is not the first place that comes to mind when people think of the space industry. But an increasing number of spacetech startups are planting its flag there – from companies building low-cost rockets to tech teams innovating in telecommunications, blockchain tech, and more. Government support is growing and foreign companies are also setting up shop in the island nation to take advantage of the impending groundswell. As a new industry, however, it faces challenges. Talent can be hard to find, and cautious investors hesitate to back space startups because they take longer to build a functioning product compared to software companies.
Dr. Bidushi Bhattacharya, a former NASA rocket scientist, has established Bhattacharya Space Enterprises (BSE) in Singapore. The company is fostering a spacetech ecosystem through science projects, training workshops, and community building. She also started Astropreneurs Hub, an incubator aiming to help spacetech startups get off the ground and launch their prototypes – something that should make them more attractive to investors. “I think VCs will be much more comfortable coming in when you have flight heritage,” she explains. (2/14)
UN Group Finalizes Guidelines for Space Sustainability (Source: Space News)
A United Nations working group finalized last week nine guidelines to ensure the long-term sustainability of space. The guidelines, produced by a working group of the UN's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), include improved registration of space objects, performing conjunction assessments for all satellites with the ability to maneuver, and addressing risks with the uncontrolled reentry of space objects. The guidelines join 12 others approved by the committee in 2016 that, while non-binding, may be incorporated into national laws and regulations. (2/15)
Cubesat Operators Intend to Honor 25-Year Deorbit Guideline (Source: Space News)
Operators of large constellations of cubesats say it's a priority for them to abide by the 25-year deorbiting guideline. Officials with Planet and Spire said at a conference last week that they ensure their satellites can reenter within 25 years of the end of the lives, a guideline established by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee and often a requirement when obtaining FCC or other licenses. Other companies in the process of developing cubesat and other smallsat constellations said abiding by the guideline, intended to mitigate the creation of additional orbital debris, is a priority for them as well. (2/12)
Tesla's Orbit Could Bring It Back Near Earth in 2091 (Source: CBS)
The Tesla launched by that Falcon Heavy won't be returning to the vicinity of the Earth any time soon. Astronomers analyzing the orbit of the vehicle found that the first close approach of the vehicle to the Earth won't be until 2091, when it may pass closer to the Earth than the moon. They concluded that the vehicle has about a 50 percent chance of colliding with a planet in the next few tens of millions of years, but a "relatively small chance" of colliding with the Earth in the next million years. (2/15)
Robonaut is Broken on ISS. Will Return to Earth (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
NASA plans to bring Robonaut 2, its malfunctioning robot on the ISS, back to Earth for repairs. The humanoid robot has not been working normally on the station since work in 2014 to add legs to the unit. Engineers believe the robot is suffering from electrical problems that are degrading some of its electronics. NASA plans to ship Robonaut back to Earth on an upcoming cargo mission, where it will be either repaired or replaced with another unit. (2/15)
Spacewalkers Repairing ISS Robotic Arm Again (Source: AP)
Astronauts have started a spacewalk outside the International Space Station to complete repairs of its robotic arm. Mark Vande Hei and Norishige Kanai started the planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk at 7:00 a.m. Eastern. The two will wrap up work to replace a latching end effector, or "hand," on the Canadarm2 robotic arm carried out during a spacewalk last month. The spacewalk was previously planned for Thursday but delayed a day by the rescheduled Progress cargo spacecraft docking, which took place Thursday. (2/16)
In Oman Desert, European Venture Sets Sights on Mars (Source: Space Daily)
Would-be astronauts in aluminum-coated suits venture out in rovers from a sprawling camp in Oman's barren desert: a simulation by a European venture aiming to one day help humans survive on Mars. Behind a barbed wire fence protected by soldiers from the Gulf sultanate, researchers in prefab facilities work away on experiments that include trying to grow vegetables in inhospitable terrain chosen for its resemblance to the red planet. Run by the Austrian Space Forum, a mainly volunteer collective, with the backing of the Omani government, the AMADEE-18 Mars Analog Mission has brought together researchers, inventors, space professionals and enthusiasts. (2/13)
Danish Architect Envisions Life on Mars with UAE-Based Mars Science City (Source: Mars Daily)
Could humans ever live on Mars? Award-winning architect gave a positive answer and even a timescale to this question: in 100 years. Bjarke Ingels, named by Time magazine in 2016 as among the "100 Most Influential People in the World," said he had already been working at the first step of human's occupation of the planet - a project called Mars Science City.
The $140 million research city is a "viable and realistic model to simulate living on the surface of Mars," according to the government of United Arab Emirates (UAE), which launched the project last year. "We want to create a prototype where you can experience how it's going to feel like living in Mars, and for education, research and exhibitions," said Ingels, who is also the designer of the project, at the World Government Summit 2018 held in Dubai Monday. (2/14)
Did Crystals from Ancient Lakes on Mars Form These Tiny, Weird Things? (Source: Space.com)
NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars found tiny, dark bumps on a Martian ridge that are similar to those found around gypsum crystals that form in drying lakes on Earth, according to a statement from the space agency. The tiny bumps are less than a half an inch wide. Some are star-shaped, while others are part of more complex V-shaped "swallowtails." The features are not crystals themselves, but could have formed over the crystals, like plaster over a mold. Researchers think the features are yet another sign that liquid water once flowed on the Red Planet.
"These [types of features] can form when salts become concentrated in water, such as in an evaporating lake," Sanjeev Gupta, a Curiosity science team member at Imperial College, London, said in a statement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Gupta previously studied gypsum crystals in the rocks of Scotland. (2/14)
Five Years after the Chelyabinsk Meteor: NASA Leads Efforts in Planetary Defense (Source: NASA)
NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program has been growing in response to increased awareness of asteroid impact risks. The program focuses on finding asteroids 460 feet (140 meters) and larger that represent the most severe impact risks to Earth. The goal of the program is to find at least 90 percent of these asteroids early enough to allow deflection or other preparations for impact mitigation. By January 2018, discovery of near-Earth objects of all sizes had surpassed the 17,500 mark – an 84 percent increase since January 2013.
“Thanks to upgraded telescopes coming online in recent years, the rate of asteroid discovery has increased considerably,” said Kelly Fast, manager of NASA’s NEO Observations Program. “Over 8,000 of these larger asteroids are now being tracked. However, there are over twice that number still out there to be found.”
In January 2016, NASA established a Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), tasked with ensuring the early detection of potentially hazardous objects – asteroids and comets whose orbits can bring them within about 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) of Earth, and of a size large enough to reach Earth’s surface. PDCO is responsible for tracking and characterizing any potentially hazardous objects, issuing warnings about potential impacts, and providing timely and accurate communications about any actual impact threat while leading the coordination of U.S. Government planning for a response. (2/15)
Kepler Data Reveals 95 New Exoplanets (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers analyzing data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft have identified 95 new exoplanets. Scientists used data from Kepler's extended mission, known as K2, to find planets ranging in size from smaller than the Earth to larger than Jupiter. The discoveries bring the total number of exoplanets found by Kepler to nearly 2,440, about two thirds of all exoplanets discovered to date. (2/16)
Discovery of Alien Life Might Not Bring the Response You'd Expect (Source: NBC)
“War of the Worlds. “Independence Day.” “Pacific Rim.” Hollywood is no stranger to tales of space aliens, and most seem to culminate in an epic fight to save the human race. But let’s say we discover space aliens not on Main Street but on some distant planet. Will we panic — or heave a global ho-hum? A new study suggests the latter response is the more likely one.
For the research, a team led by Dr. Michael Varnum, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, analyzed the language used in and the tone of news reports describing three potential discoveries of extraterrestrial life. Click here. (2/18)
Oxygen Ions May Be an Easy-to-Track Sign of Life on Exoplanets (Source: Ars Technica)
Most (about seventy percent) of the stars in our Galaxy are M dwarf stars, and many of them have associated planets. The search for signs of life has largely focused on these planets, primarily because there are so many of them. However, the environments do not seem to be especially welcoming. Because M dwarf stars are dim, the hospitable zones around them are very close to the star. As a result, the planets get stuck in a gravitational lock: their orbital period and their rotational period are the same. This means that (just like our moon) these planets always have the same hemisphere facing their sun.
Like Earth, Venus and Mars are small rocky planets; they have permanent atmospheres like Earth, and their atmospheres are exposed to the same solar radiation as Earth’s. Data from the Pioneer Venus Orbiter and the Viking descent probe on Mars show that they have very similar ionospheres to each other—which don’t contain a lot of atomic O+ ions. Know what else Venus and Mars are missing? Photosynthesis.
Dalba’s contention is that photosynthesis on a planet’s surface, which generates a surfeit of molecular oxygen, is the only thing that can account for these atomic O+ ions in a planet’s ionosphere. The mere existence of life throws a planet’s atmosphere out of chemical balance. O+ would be a neat biomarker because there isn’t a numerical cutoff required—just the dominance of O+ among the ionic species in the upper atmosphere would indicate “thriving global biological activity” on the planet below. (2/18)
Crypto-Currency Craze 'Hinders Search for Alien Life' (Source: BBC)
Scientists listening out for broadcasts by extra-terrestrials are struggling to get the computer hardware they need, thanks to the crypto-currency mining craze, a radio-astronomer has said. SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers want to expand operations at two observatories. However, they have found that key computer chips are in short supply.
"We'd like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]... and we can't get 'em," said Dan Werthimer. Demand for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining. "That's limiting our search for extra-terrestrials," Dr. Werthimer told the BBC. "This is a new problem, it's only happened on orders we've been trying to make in the last couple of months."
Other radio-astronomers have been affected. A group looking for evidence of the earliest stars in the universe was recently shocked to see that the cost of the GPUs it wanted had doubled. "We're in the process of expanding our telescope - we got a grant from the National Science Foundation here in the United States to do so," said Aaron Parsons at the University of California at Berkeley. (2/14)
SpaceX Hits Two Milestones in Plan for Low-Latency Satellite Broadband (Source: Ars Technica)
SpaceX's satellite broadband plans are getting closer to reality. The company is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite Internet service in the US. Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market. SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite Internet services. Click here. (2/15)
SpaceX Gets Set to Launch Prototype Starlink Internet Satellites (Source: GeekWire)
The first test satellites for SpaceX’s global internet constellation are being prepped for launch as early as this week — three years after SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the project in Seattle. The prototype spacecraft, known as Microsat 2a and 2b, are reportedly to be included as secondary payloads on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, due for launch on Saturday. The primary payload is a 3,000-pound Spanish radar observation satellite called Paz. (2/11)
Ajit Pai (Net Neutrality Killer) Urges FCC to License SpaceX Constellation (Source: Space News)
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai called on his agency to license SpaceX's planned broadband constellation to serve customers in the United States. Pai said licensing SpaceX, which has two demonstration satellites launching Saturday, will help bridge the nation's digital divide, connecting regions that are unreached or poorly served by current internet providers. SpaceX is one of 12 companies seeking FCC approval for non-geosynchronous satellite systems. So far, the FCC has approved three: OneWeb, Telesat and Space Norway. (2/14)
Marshall Tech Cleans Your Air, Keeps Your Beer Cold and Helps with Math (Source: Space Daily)
As rockets roar off of launch pads and spacecraft beam data back from distant planets, the technologies that enable those mighty feats are being put in your hands every day as products and technologies called spinoffs. They are the result of NASA's innovation being put in the hands of the public where new tools and goods to improve life on Earth are born. Click here. (2/12)
NASA Scientist Gets Turkish Prison Sentence (Source: Science)
A Turkish-American NASA scientist has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in Turkey. Serkan Golge, who had been working as a NASA scientist studying the effects of radiation on astronauts, was arrested in Turkey in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt while visiting family there. Golge was accused of being a supporter of the Islamic cleric the government claims was the backer of the coup, a claim he and his family deny. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the government was "deeply concerned" about the conviction. (2/12)
Fake Research Paper Based on Star Trek: Voyager's Worst Episode Published by a Scientific Journal (Source: io9)
“Threshold” is one of the most infamous Star Trek episodes ever. You know what’ we’re talking about—the one with Warp 10 and the weird evolved amphibians. Well, it was also the recent subject of a fake scientific research paper submitted in a test to expose the ever-growing problem of “predatory” scientific journals.
An anonymous biologist looking to expose how easy it was to get fake news into supposedly peer-reviewed scientific journals—inspired by a recent attempt that got a paper about Star Wars’ midi-chlorians published in three different journals—recently submitted a paper titled “Rapid Genetic and Developmental Morphological Change Following Extreme Celerity.” The author was listed as “Doctor Lewis Zimmerman,” which is actually the name of the holoengineer that programmed Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram.
The paper was essentially a recap of the events of “Threshold,” the godawful season two episode in which Voyager’s helmsman Tom Paris attempts to break the theoretical “Warp 10” speed barrier, something never done in Trek’s universe. Turns out, it’s for good reason, because apparently when you do reach the “extreme celerity” of Warp 10, you turn into a weird amphibian-person, capture your captain, evolve them into a weird amphibian-person, and then fully evolve into actual space salamanders and mate with each other. (2/16)
Air Force Procuring Improved GPS Satellites (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force is kicking off a "full and open competition" for a new set of GPS satellites. The service issued a solicitation for bids Tuesday for 22 GPS 3 satellites, with production anticipated to start in 2019. The Air Force has a contract for 10 GPS 3 satellites with Lockheed Martin, but is seeking improved designs that are more resistant to jamming. The contract could be worth up to $10 billion, and Boeing and Northrop Grumman are expected to compete against Lockheed for the award. (2/14)
Satellites Detect Accelerating Sea-Level Rise (Source: AP)
Satellite data indicate the rise in sea levels caused by climate change is accelerating. The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, used 25 years of ocean topography satellite data to conclude that the rate of sea level rise was increasing because of both warming waters and melting ice. Scientists said sea levels could rise by 60 centimeters by the end of the century. (2/13)
It’s Not a Plane, It’s Not a Star – It’s a Satellite (Source: ERAU)
Soon you will see a new, bright light in the night sky. However, it is not a star or even a plane. According to Popular Mechanics, it’s a satellite sent to orbit by New Zealand company Rocket Lab. The small satellite, called the Humanity Star, is a carbon fiber, geodesic sphere made of 65 highly reflective panels. As it orbits, the Humanity Star spins rapidly and reflects sunlight back to Earth. (2/13)
American Signals Intelligence Satellites and the Vietnam War (Source: Space Review)
Signals intelligence satellites played a role monitoring Soviet activities during a key event late in the Vietnam War. Dwayne Day describes how that took place and how it marked the changing use of intelligence satellites. Click here. (2/12)
The Astro-Couple (Source: Air & Space)
In those early days of space exploration, that’s about all astronaut wives could do. Since then, there have been more than a dozen astronaut couples who’ve both experienced spaceflight firsthand. NASA’s first class of space shuttle astronauts—the first to include women—had three such couples: Rhea Seddon and Hoot Gibson, Bill and Anna Fisher, and Steve Hawley and Sally Ride. Click here. (2/14)
Tesla Launch Boosts Hot Wheels Sales (Source: CollectSpace)
SpaceX's launch last week of a Tesla Roadster has boosted the sales of a toy replica. Included on the actual Roadster launched on a Falcon Heavy was a Hot Wheels version of the car, sitting on the dashboard. The Hot Wheels Roadster sold for $1.09 when it was introduced in toy stores in 2016, but today is selling for upwards of $100 on eBay. The models for sale, though, lack something in the model flown last week: a miniature version of the spacesuit-wearing mannequin sitting in the front seat. (2/13)
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