|January 25, 2021
SpaceX Launches Polar Orbit Rideshare Mission From Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
SpaceX launched the first in a series of small satellite rideshare missions Sunday from Cape Canaveral, providing transportation for 143 U.S. and international spacecraft to low Earth orbit, a record number of satellites on a single flight. Liftoff occurred at 10 a.m. EST Sunday after bad weather forced SpaceX to scrub a launch attempt Saturday morning. The rocket's first stage landed successfully downrange near the Bahamas on a droneship, and the two fairing halves were recovered after parachute landings in the Atlantic Ocean. (1/24)
SpaceX Crushes the Record For Most Satellites Launched on One Rocket (Source: Teslarati)
While delayed from Friday to Saturday, SpaceX’s Sunday Falcon 9 launch is on track to obliterate the world’s current record for most satellites launched on a single rocket. Currently set at 104 satellites by an Indian PSLV rocket launch in 2017, all signs point to SpaceX beating that record by almost 50% on its very first dedicated Smallsat Rideshare Program launch. 133 satellites will be launched as early as Saturday at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.
Kicked off in 2019, not long after SpaceX completed its first dedicated rideshare launch for company Spaceflight Industries in December 2018, the Smallsat Program aimed to offer exceptionally affordable prices to companies and institutions open to rideshare arrangements. While primarily centered around more frequent but mass and volume-limited Starlink tag-a-longs, three of which SpaceX has already completed, executives also promised regular bus-like Falcon 9 launches entirely dedicated to rideshare payloads. (1/22)
SpaceX Launches Batch of Starlink Satellites on Record-Breaking Mission (Source: Florida Today)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roared off its Kennedy Space Center pad early Wednesday, delivering a batch of Starlink internet satellites to low-Earth orbit and comfortably breaking another reuse record for the company. Shortly after the 8:02 a.m. liftoff from pad 39A, the 162-foot booster separated from the second stage and landed on the Just Read the Instructions drone ship, completing its eighth flight to date. This new fleet leader, numbered Booster 1051, has now launched several Starlink missions as well as the first Crew Dragon demonstration in March 2019.
The drone ship and first stage should arrive at Port Canaveral before the end of the week. Just over an hour after liftoff, meanwhile, SpaceX confirmed 60 Starlink satellites separated from the upper stage and began their trek to a final orbit roughly 350 miles above Earth's surface. Using built-in thrusters, the satellites will spend the next several weeks refining their positions and ultimately join about 900 other functioning Starlink spacecraft.
Another Falcon 9 is slated to fly before week's end, this time from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The 9:24 a.m. Friday liftoff will take dozens of small payloads to orbit for a variety of organizations, also known as a "rideshare" mission. Because this Transporter-1 mission requires a nearly polar sun-synchronous orbit, Falcon 9 will fly on a rarely seen southern trajectory and hug the coast of Florida. The Of Course I Still Love You drone ship will be waiting to catch the first stage booster about halfway between the Bahamas and Cuba. (1/20)
SpaceX Swaps Out Two Raptor Engines for Starship Flight, After Static-Fire Tests (Source: Space.com)
SpaceX swapped out two Raptor engines on its SN9 Starship prototype, delaying an anticipated test flight. Elon Musk said Friday that, after performing three static-fire tests in one day last week, two of the three engines "need slight repairs" and would be replaced, work completed over the weekend. Another static-fire test could take place as soon as Monday, but plans for a flight similar to that performed by SN8 last month remain uncertain. (1/18)
SpaceX’s Second Super Heavy Booster Enters Production in South Texas (Source: Teslarati)
SpaceX’s South Texas Starship factory has begun fabricating a second Super Heavy booster and taken a significant step forward on the first prototype. Set to be the largest operational rocket stage ever built by more than a factor of two, Super Heavy is the booster tasked with launching a fully fueled and loaded Starship out of the bulk of Earth’s atmosphere. Powered by up to 28 Raptor engines, Super Heavy and Starship will weigh upwards of 5000 metric tons and produce anywhere from 5600 to 7700 metric tons of thrust at liftoff.
Most importantly, though SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has noted that an optimized Starship might be able to reach orbit on a one-way trip, a giant, reasonably efficient booster like Super Heavy is necessary to send Starship into a healthy orbit with all the extra hardware and mass needed to make the orbital spaceship reusable. More than twice as heavy and two-thirds as tall as SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, that will be no small feat. (1/20)
SpaceX Plans to Drill for Natural Gas Near Texas Launchpad (Source: Bloomberg)
Elon Musk recently moved to Texas, where he launches some of his rockets and is building a battery factory. Now, for good measure, he plans to drill for natural gas in the state. The billionaire’s SpaceX intends to drill wells close to the company’s Boca Chica launchpad, it was revealed during a Friday hearing before the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s energy regulator.
Production has yet to start because of a legal dispute between the SpaceX subsidiary Lone Star Mineral Development and another energy company. Tim George, an attorney representing Lone Star, said at the hearing that SpaceX plans to use the methane it extracts from the ground “in connection with their rocket facility operations.”
While it’s unclear what exactly the gas would be used for, SpaceX plans to utilize super-chilled liquid methane and liquid oxygen as fuel for its Raptor engines. The company’s Starship and Super Heavy vehicles are tested at Boca Chica, and orbital launches are planned for the site. George declined to answer further questions and hung up when called for comment. SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. (1/22)
SpaceX Acquires Former Oil Rigs to Serve as Floating Starship Spaceports (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
SpaceX has acquired two former oil drilling rigs to serve as these floating spaceports. Named Phobos and Deimos, after the two moons of Mars, they are currently undergoing modifications to support Starship launch operations. SpaceX has long been hinting at future floating launch and landing sites for their Starship launch system. The super heavy lift launch vehicle will have a large blast danger area and pose noise concerns if launched frequently near populated areas.
Therefore, sea launch platforms will play a key role in the launch cadence SpaceX plans to reach with Starship, including on-orbit refueling flights for deep space missions and transportation from one place to another on Earth. Job postings by SpaceX have indicated that work on offshore launch platforms has begun in Brownsville, Texas, near their Starship manufacturing and launch facilities in Boca Chica.
Positions included crane operators, electricians, and offshore operations engineers, and several of the job listings specified that the position was part of the company’s Starship program. Job descriptions for these positions included responsibilities like “designing and building an operational offshore rocket launch facility” and required the “ability to work on an offshore platform in Brownsville, Texas.” (1/19)
NASA Scraps Old Mobile Launch Platform at KSC (Source: CollectSpace)
NASA is scrapping a mobile launch platform at the Kennedy Space Center that dated back to the Apollo program. Mobile Launch Platform-2 was built in the 1960s and used for both Apollo and shuttle missions. With no plans to use the platform, NASA decided to scrap the platform to free up space where a new mobile launcher will be built for the SLS. NASA received no expressions of interest from museums or other organizations that wanted to preserve the platform. (1/20)
Rocket Lab Launches Secret Satellite (Source: Space News)
Rocket Lab launched a secretive communications satellite for OHB Group early Wednesday. An Electron rocket lifted off from Rocket Lab's New Zealand launch site at 2:26 a.m. Eastern and deployed the GMS-T satellite into a polar orbit an hour and 10 minutes later. The satellite was built by OHB for an undisclosed customer, and is intended to "enable specific frequencies" for future services. OHB disclosed no other details about the satellite or the customer, but some analysts have linked it to a Chinese company, GMS Zhaopin, with ties to KLEO Connect, a German company planning a constellation for internet of things services. (1/20)
Rocket Lab Delayed Launch After Off-Nominal Sensor Data (Source: RNZ)
Rocket Lab scrubbed a launch attempt Saturday to review sensor data. The company said it was getting "strange data" from an instrument not used for flight, but something it wanted to investigate nonetheless. Rocket Lab has rescheduled the launch for Wednesday. The Electron is carrying a communications satellite built by OHB for an undisclosed customer. (1/18)
Rocket Lab Readies Second New Zealand Launch Pad (Source: NZ Herald)
Rocket Lab will soon double its capacity with work on a second launch complex expected to be completed within a few months. Work on the second pad began in December 2019 and was expected to be completed at the end of last year. However, it is now on track to be up and running sometime after March this year.
Rocket Lab's head of communications Morgan Bailey said the addition of a second launch pad would enable more small satellite launches which allow for more weather and climate modelling, increased communications and other scientific endeavors. The new pad, called Launch Complex 1 Pad B, will replicate the layout and systems of the current operational Pad A, including a 7.6-ton strongback and launch mount for the Electron rocket. (1/19)
Northrop's Vulcan Rocket Motor Passes Test (Source: Space News)
Northrop Grumman successfully tested a booster it developed for ULA's Vulcan rocket. Northrop said Thursday it performed a static-fire test of the GEM 63XL solid-fuel booster at a facility in Utah. The test validated the performance of the booster, which generates 449,000 pounds-force of thrust, including how it operates at high temperatures. The GEM 63XL will be used as a strap-on booster for the Vulcan. (1/22)
Blue Origin May Launch Humans in April (Source: Ars Technica)
Blue Origin may launch humans in April. Following the company's New Shepard-14 flight on January 14, it plans one more uncrewed mission before flying passengers, CNBC reports. The next test flight, NS-15, could come as soon as late February, followed by a crewed flight six weeks later, sometime in April.
The company declined to comment on New Shepard's schedule, with a Blue Origin spokesperson saying that the schedule reporting "was speculative and not confirmed." However, this is consistent with what we have heard about the company's plans, that another successful flight would set up human tests. This leaves open the exciting possibility of commercial astronaut flights before the end of 2021. (1/22)
Phantom Space Working on Pathfinding Vehicle (Source: Ars Technica)
In a tweet on Sunday, launch startup Phantom Space said it was nearing completion of a development model for its "Daytona" rocket. "This development model is a manufacturing and design pathfinder of the flight system and will be complete in Q1 this year," the company said. The tweet (now deleted) included an image of what appeared to be this pathfinder inside the factory, with several people standing around.
Everything is not as it seems ... However, sharp-eyed readers noted that the image appeared to be a rendering or perhaps a composite image of a rendered rocket inside a real factory. Eventually, Phantom Space founder Jim Cantrell chimed in, saying, "Guys, its RENDERING - ALL OF IT. Last time I looked, those aren't illegal. Maybe I should review the federal code again." (1/22)
Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo Space Support Vehicle Takes Flight Over Spaceport America (Source: KRQE)
Virgin Galactic flew its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, without SpaceShipTwo, Thursday. The company said the flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico was designed to provide an opportunity for pilots to simulate SpaceShipTwo's glide and landing phases of flight. A second, similar flight of the aircraft is planned for today. SpaceShipTwo last flew in December on a powered test flight aborted just as its engine ignited because of a computer issue. The company hasn't announced a schedule for the next flight of the suborbital spaceplane. (1/22)
Virgin Executive Recommends Biden Retention of Space Council (Source: Space News)
An industry executive called on the Biden administration to retain the National Space Council. Mandy Vaughn, chief executive of VOX Space, the government services arm of Virgin Orbit, said Thursday that the council had "demonstrable success" during the Trump administration in advancing space policy issues, including getting new policies through the interagency coordination process. The new administration has not announced its plans for the council, but many individuals and organizations have endorsed retaining it. Vaughn also serves on the council's Users' Advisory Group. (1/22)
Boeing Completes Software Qualification for Second Starliner Test Flight (Source: Boeing)
The fully assembled Starliner crew module being prepared to fly Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2 is lifted inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing recently completed its formal requalification of the CST-100 Starliner’s flight software in preparation for its next flight. The autonomous spacecraft will fly to the International Space Station during a second uncrewed flight test, Orbital Flight Test-2, in March, ahead of a first crewed flight with NASA astronauts later this year.
Teams in Houston and across the country conducted a full review of Starliner’s flight software and the process by which mission modifications or upgrades will be formally qualified in the future. The team began by evaluating Starliner’s software requirements and the testing associated with its verification. Reviews were conducted to ensure Starliner’s Houston-based Avionics and Software Integration Lab, or ASIL, was sufficiently outfitted and configured to support all testing.
Additional assessments were made to verify the complete integration of software with all recommended flight hardware. Software engineers also validated all the simulators and emulators to ensure they were accurate models. The team then conducted a series of tests to confirm Starliner’s updated software met design specifications. They also conducted static and dynamic tests inside the software integration lab, including hundreds of cases ranging from single command verifications to comprehensive end-to-end mission scenarios with the core software. (1/18)
SLS Green Run Update: Core Stage in Good Condition (Source: NASA)
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket Green Run team has reviewed extensive data and completed preliminary inspections that show the rocket’s hardware is in excellent condition after the Green Run test that ignited all the engines at 5:27 p.m. EST at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. After analyzing initial data, the team determined that the shutdown after firing the engines for 67.2-seconds on Jan.16 was triggered by test parameters that were intentionally conservative to ensure the safety of the core stage during the test.
These preprogrammed parameters are designed specifically for ground testing with the flight hardware that will fly NASA’s Artemis I mission to ensure the core stage’s thrust vector control system safely moves the engines. There is a thrust vector control (TVC) system that gimbals, or pivots, each engine, and there are two actuators that generate the forces to gimbal each engine. The actuators in the TVC system are powered by Core Stage Auxiliary Power Units (CAPU). As planned, the thrust vector control systems gimbaled the engines to simulate how they move to direct thrust during the rocket’s ascent.
Initial data indicate the sensor reading for a major component failure, or MCF, that occurred about 1.5 seconds after engine start was not related to the hot fire shutdown. It involved the loss of one leg of redundancy prior to T-0 in the instrumentation for Engine 4, also known as engine number E2060. Engine ignition begins 6 seconds prior to T-0, and they fire in sequence about 120 milliseconds apart. Test constraints for hot fire were set up to allow the test to proceed with this condition, because the engine control system still has sufficient redundancy to ensure safe engine operation during the test. The team plans to investigate and resolve the Engine 4 instrumentation issue before the next use of the core stage. (1/19)
NASA Mulls A New SLS Test Despite Technical Concerns (Source: Wall Street Journal)
NASA is wrestling with the decision whether to redo ground checks of a mammoth deep-space rocket’s main engines, which prematurely shut off during an aborted test Saturday. NASA officials on Tuesday said preliminary findings indicated that sensors flagged problems with two out of four main engines of the Space Launch System booster built by Boeing Co. But in a briefing for reporters, they clarified earlier updates by revealing that the testing setback resulted from the combination of a malfunctioning sensor and how Saturday’s test was set up rather than design or production defects with the engines themselves.
Outgoing NASA chief Jim Bridenstine and some top aides emphasized that on top of probable schedule delays, extra testing could stress parts of the 212-foot rocket to the point that performing its mission could be problematic. The agency didn’t give a timeline for a decision, though some of its internal safety guidelines suggest that typically a new test would be necessary to demonstrate reliability of the booster's primary propulsion system. (1/19)
Green Run, Yellow Light (Source: Space Review)
Saturday’s Green Run static-fire test was supposed to mark the successful conclusion of a long-running test campaign for the Space Launch System and clear the way for a launch late this year. Instead, Jeff Foust reports, the truncated test raised new questions about the vehicle and its future. Click here. (1/18)
NASA in Alabama: No Decision Yet on Artemis Test Fire (Source: AL.com)
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is “still looking at data to see if we have enough to go forward” from this month’s prematurely shut down test fire of its Space Launch System four engines, the center director said Friday. The engines were fired Jan. 16 “for the first time ever in this configuration,” Singer told a meeting of Downtown Huntsville, Inc..
The test ran “about 67 seconds” instead of the planned eight minutes. “I’ll admit we wanted it to go to the full duration,” Singer said. But she emphasized this was “not just test hardware but flight hardware, so we had to do tender loving care with it.” All parts of SLS except the core stage have been delivered to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a planned launch at the end of this year. “We’re still looking to see if we have enough to go forward,” Singer said. “We have a plan that says we either continue to another green run or we go straight to the Cape.” (1/23)
Artemis Future Not Assured (Source: Politico)
President Joe Biden has not explicitly stated whether he supports the moon mission. He’s widely expected to focus NASA more on climate change research but space experts have pointed out that scientific research and exploration don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Still, his silence on the subject is making some think he won’t be as gung ho about the moon as his predecessor. And virtually all agree the 2024 timeline set by Trump is impossible.
Even if Biden is all in, Congress is skeptical. Lawmakers in both parties enthusiastically support the idea of returning to the moon, but not on the timeline dictated by Trump. The spending bills passed in December also drastically underfunded programs like the human landing system, which will be required to shuttle astronauts to the moon’s surface. Instead of the $3.3 billion requested by the administration, lawmakers approved just $1 billion for the lander in fiscal 2021. (1/22)
Bridenstine Calls for Unity in Space, Science as Jurczyk Assumes Temporary NASA Leadership (Source: UPI)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stepped down as planned Wednesday and posted a message on Twitter to thank employees and all who supported his tenure at the space agency. Bridenstine, who left on the day of President Joe Biden's inauguration, made a public plea for continued support of NASA and planned missions to the moon and Mars.
He referenced historic disagreements at the agency and in Washington over whether to support another moon mission or a Mars mission, or simply to focus on Earth sciences. "It's not about the moon or Mars, which put us in conflict in the House of Representatives between Republicans and Democrats. It's about both," Bridenstine said. "It's about going to the moon to get the science and discovery that we need to learn how to live and work in another world for long periods of time."
NASA associate administrator Steve Jurczyk has become acting administrator. Ellen Stofan, a former NASA chief scientist, has overseen President Joe Biden's transition team for NASA and space policy. (1/20)
Biden Faces Multiple Challenges in Space (Source: Space News)
The new Biden administration is facing several challenges as it takes office. In civil space, the administration will have to decide how it wants to change the schedule or other aspects of the Artemis lunar exploration program, as well as how to implement a transition of space traffic management responsibilities to the Commerce Department. In national security space, the administration will have to address the growth of the Space Force and modernization of launch vehicles and spacecraft systems. (1/21)
A Possible Biden Space Agenda (Source: Space Review)
The incoming Biden Administration has said little about space policy so far, but faces several major issues in the field. Roger Handberg suggests a couple courses of action to address the future of the International Space Station and cislunar transportation. Click here. (1/18)
Here's What Biden Should Prioritize at NASA (Source: Gizmodo)
Despite the ongoing pandemic, there’s much to be excited about in space this year. NASA’s Perseverance rover is less than a month away from landing on Mars; the James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch on Halloween; and the Space Launch System—NASA’s most powerful rocket ever—could see its inaugural launch later this year. And of course, there’s the Artemis program, which is supposed to deliver a woman and man to the lunar surface in just three years.
We will learn much in the coming weeks and months about President Biden’s NASA policy and what his administration believes is the best path forward for the American space program. In the meantime, we reached out to space experts, asking a very simple question: What should be Biden’s NASA priorities? Click here. (1/22)
Comparing the 2010 and 2020 National Space Policies (Source: Space Review)
The White House issued a new national space policy last month, the first update in a decade. Laura Brady and Charles Ellsey compare the 2010 and 2020 policies and find both commonality as well as some key differences. Click here. (1/18)
Biden Features Moon Rock in Oval Office (Source: Washington Post)
The White House's first small step in space involves a moon rock. The Oval Office now has a moon rock on a bookshelf, intended to represent "the ambition and accomplishments of earlier generations" and Biden's interest in science. The moon rock is believed to be one that NASA gave to the White House in 1999 to mark the 30th anniversary of Apollo 11. NASA astronauts currently on the ISS also provided a video message for a celebration of the inauguration Wednesday evening. (1/21)
Space Florida: Few Changes to Space Program Expected Under Biden (Source: News13)
How will space policy look under a Biden administration, and what could it mean for the Space Coast? "I'm sure the Biden administration will put their own fingerprints on it," said Space Florida's Dale Ketcham. President Biden's fingerprints will not only be on the U.S. space program, but also the skyrocketing commercial space ventures led by Space X, United Launch Alliance and soon, Blue Origin.
President Trump's policies benefited America's quest for space more than any leader in recent memory. NASA received more funding to develop the Artemis program and the efforts to go back to the moon after nearly 50 years. paving the way for future missions to Mars and beyond. "I don't anticipate any changes in going to the moon, I don't see anything significant in moving forward with the SLS and Orion Program," Ketcham said. "And certainly no changes on commercial crew program because that was an Obama/Biden initiative."
That could mean even more Space Coast jobs to meet launch operations demand. Will the newly-created Space Force survive? Ketcham expects it to, despite some initial Democratic criticism to the idea. "There will be some efforts from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to roll that back, this administration's not going to do that," he explained. "That horse has left the barn, it's in place, they're going to stick with it." (1/21)
Florida Looks Forward to Supporting Future U.S. Space Command Missions (Source: Space Florida)
“As the Chair of Space Florida, I’m disappointed Brevard County was overlooked for the location of U.S. Space Command Headquarters. I will, however, keep working arduously for the continued growth and advancement of the commercial aerospace industry, as well as the defense and military capability services our state and nation could benefit from,” said Florida Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez.
With today’s announcement, Space Florida congratulates the collective efforts of all interested communities, the Florida Defense Support Task Force, Florida Defense Alliance, and our state and federal elected officials. This teamwork will continue to pay dividends as we pursue other opportunities to house future military space programs, missions and units to meet the threats of the future. Brevard County’s Patrick Space Force Base was one of six locations to participate in the down-select phase of the process. (1/13)
After Space Command, Another Target for Florida (Source: SPACErePORT)
In the wake of a Space Command HQ loss to Alabama -- which likely will be challenged by Colorado and perhaps other states -- Florida might find other wins from the Space Force. The Space Training and Readiness field command (STARCOM) could include as many as 900 personnel shifted from various former Air Force units. It will be led by a two-star and is expected to be formally set-up in 2021.
“We’ve decided that the [training and readiness] topic is important enough and unique enough that we need a group of people who understand it down to its most fundamental levels,” Col. Peter Flores said. According to Breaking Defense: because STARCOM will be a new command, a basing decision will be required to determine where it will be based. And, Flores said, he expects STARCOM will reorganize, and grow, as the Space Force turns its gaze from legacy missions to new ones.
Why Florida? Orlando is now a nexus for DoD education, training, and related modeling/simulation programs, with over a thousand highly skilled workers supporting every DoD component. Adding STARCOM to the regional mix also makes sense because its proximity to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport can provide real-world training experiences for Space Force personnel. (1/18)
Air Force Says Facts, Not Politics Favored Alabama in Space Command HQ Decision (Source: AL.com)
The Air Force defends its decision to locate the U.S. Space Command headquarters in Huntsville, citing a list of government offices and organizations that gave feedback before the decision. Leaders in Colorado are complaining that politics drove the decision, claiming Donald Trump intervened to choose Alabama to reward Sen. Tommy Tuberville, one of the eight Republican senators who challenged portions of the Electoral College certification in Congress.
The Air Force said: “The Secretary of the Air Force thoughtfully considered all input, feedback, staff analysis, best military advice, changes in the strategic environment and what evaluation criteria is the most important...she also received feedback from the National Command Authority, defense oversight committees, senior commanders and functional staff experts. The National Command Authority included Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is unclear who in that group gave Barrett feedback or what that feedback may have been.
The Air Force said this week that Alabama was chosen “based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support and cost to the Department of Defense. Huntsville compared favorable across more of these factors than any other community...” It cited the area’s “large, qualified workforce, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial and recurring costs.” (1/24)
Alabama Incentives Contributed to Space Command HQ Win (Source: AL.com)
The Alabama siting is not final pending an environmental impact study. The final decision is expected in Spring 2023. Asked about incentives from Huntsville and Alabama, the Air Force said it would “defer to the local community of Huntsville for any information related to its self-nomination package.” Mayor Tommy Battle has said the city will be accelerating some major road projects to accommodate the command, including a highway project that will expand and smooth traffic flow into the site.
The State of Alabama is also providing incentives. “We are working through the details to finalize and agreement with local stakeholders and so I am not yet able to provide values of financial support for the U.S. Space Command to locate in Huntsville, AL on Redstone Arsenal,” Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield said this week. “The State of Alabama will be providing support for new housing and recruitment of the workforce.” (1/24)
A Review of Space Strategy Worldviews: 2011 National Security Space Strategy (Source: Space Review)
Policies are often based on certain worldviews that may not be universally shared. Christopher Stone examines how a 2011 strategy document on national security space, intended to deter hostile activities in space, may not be effective. Click here. (1/18)
America Has a GPS Problem. It Is Essential But Vulnerable (Source: New York Times)
Time was when nobody knew, or even cared, exactly what time it was. The movement of the sun, phases of the moon and changing seasons were sufficient indicators. But since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve become increasingly dependent on knowing the time, and with increasing accuracy. Not only does the time tell us when to sleep, wake, eat, work and play; it tells automated systems when to execute financial transactions, bounce data between cellular towers and throttle power on the electrical grid.
Coordinated Universal Time, or U.T.C., the global reference for timekeeping, is beamed down to us from extremely precise atomic clocks aboard Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. The time it takes for GPS signals to reach receivers is also used to calculate location for air, land and sea navigation. Owned and operated by the U.S. government, GPS is likely the least recognized, and least appreciated, part of our critical infrastructure. Indeed, most of our critical infrastructure would cease to function without it.
The problem is that GPS signals are incredibly weak, due to the distance they have to travel from space, making them subject to interference and vulnerable to jamming and what is known as spoofing, in which another signal is passed off as the original. And the satellites themselves could easily be taken out by hurtling space junk or the sun coughing up a fireball. As intentional and unintentional GPS disruptions are on the rise, experts warn that our overreliance on the technology is courting disaster, but they are divided on what to do about it. Click here. (1/23)
New Space Policy Directive Seeks to Augment GPS with Foreign Systems (Source: Space News)
The Trump administration issued a new space policy related to space-based navigation services Friday. Space Policy Directive 7 highlights the growing dependence on the GPS system and suggests government and commercial organizations should have access to backup positioning, navigation and timing technologies as GPS signals are likely to be disrupted. The policy says the United States supports the use of foreign satellite-based services to supplement GPS, but cautions that the government does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of them. The White House released the report late Friday, hours after publishing a report summarizing space policy achievements during the Trump administration. (1/18)
New SecDef to Focus Space Force on Resilience (Source: Breaking Defense)
Lloyd Austin, President Joe Biden's defense secretary, is signaling a shift toward space resilience and away from "the pugilistic aspects" of the US presence in orbit. Asked about any changes to the 2018 National Defense Strategy regarding space he might recommend, Austin said: “Since the NDS was developed, the recognition of the central role space plays in supporting other services in their warfighting role continues to grow. If confirmed, I will ensure the space domain is carefully considered across the range of upcoming strategic reviews.”
The shout-out regarding the mission of Space Force and Space Command to support other services and other types of military operations is noteworthy, given the loud DoD public relations campaign during the Trump era — led by Gen. Jay Raymond who at one time commanded both — to assert a shift to space operations as warfighting operations. Raymond and other senior officers repeatedly stressed that the force was moving beyond its traditional support role. (1/21)
Biden Administration's SecDef Concerned About Space Security (Source: Space News)
The Biden administration's pick for secretary of defense sees growing threats to U.S. national security in space. In a statement submitted for his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Lloyd Austin said he will "ensure the space domain is carefully considered across the range of upcoming strategic reviews" and noted threats posed by Chinese and Russian space activities. Space did not come up during the four-hour hearing other than a request by one senator that Austin investigate the decision announced last week to place the headquarters of U.S. Space Command in Alabama. (1/20)
Biden Selects Officials for DoD Space and Missile Defense Posts (Source: Space News)
The Biden administration has selected policy experts for space and missile defense at the Pentagon. David Zikusoka, aerospace research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, will serve as special assistant at the office of the assistant secretary of defense for space policy. That position, which provides civilian oversight of the space enterprise at the Defense Department, will require Senate confirmation. Leonor Tomero, a senior staff member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, will be deputy assistant director for nuclear and missile defense programs, a post that does not require Senate confirmation. (1/21)
Biden Poised to Build Upon Trump's Treasured Space Force (Source: Washington Times)
Some 2,200 members of the Air Force Space Command formally shifted to the new command last year, and another 3,600 plan to transfer this year. The Space Force will have 6,000 uniformed military personnel and 8,000 civilian employees. “I don’t think the Space Force is in any danger of going away, but I don’t think it will be politically favored the way it was under Trump,” David Burbach, associate professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, told the publication.
Military analysts note that China, India and Russia are rapidly expanding their own ambitions in space. Russia has even created a space force within its traditional air forces. Also helping the Space Force’s cause is that the idea of a separate military service focused exclusively on space had bipartisan backing before Mr. Trump took up the campaign.
The idea had been kicked around for years in Washington and most recently championed on Capitol Hill by Rep. Jim Cooper, Tennessee Democrat, and Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is no longer in Congress. “This is not a Trump idea. He tried to hijack it long after the House Armed Services Committee voted 60-1 to establish a Space Corps,” Mr. Cooper said. “Trump’s blatant support of a Space Force does not make it a Republican idea.” (1/21)
Hyten: U.S. Space Force is ‘On Solid Ground’ Despite Speculation (Source: Space News)
What does a change in administration mean for the U.S. Space Force? “I get that question a lot,” Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Jan. 22. President Biden is not expected to make abrupt changes to U.S. national security programs but there is particular uncertainty surrounding the Space Force because it was so actively championed by the Trump administration. Hyten said he had not yet spoken with President Biden or Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the Space Force. “I don’t know exactly what is going to happen to it,” said Hyten. (1/24)
Space Force Confirms NSTXL Selection (Source: Space News)
The Space Force has confirmed the selection of National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL) to manage its Space Enterprise Consortium. The Space Force delayed an award of the contract to NSTXL last month to look into a court judgment against NSTXL in a lawsuit filed by a former business partner on a separate contract. The Space and Missile Systems Center said Friday that, after that review, it would proceed with the contract with NSTXL. The Space Enterprise Consortium is a group of hundreds of space and defense companies that compete for technology development contracts. Under the 10-year agreement with NSTXL, consortium members will compete for up to $12 billion in projects. (1/18)
Air Force Academy Graduates Space Force Officers (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force Academy will graduate more officers for the Space Force this year. Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, superintendent of the academy, said he expects 116 cadets to graduate this year and commission as Space Force officers, up from 86 last year. The academy has expanded the space curriculum to support the new branch of the military, including courses in space law, strategy and operations, and a program to build satellites. (1/22)
Capitalists in Space (Source: New York Post)
America’s private-sector “conquest” of space continues. The latest: On Sunday, Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit successfully deployed 10 mini satellites into orbit using a two-stage rocket fired from a converted jumbo jet. The company’s LauncherOne rocketed into Earth orbit from “Cosmic Girl,” a specially outfitted Boeing 747-400, over the Pacific. The space vehicle deployed 10 cubesats (miniature research satellites) for NASA’s Launch Services Program. This comes just eight months after an aborted test run last May.
Branson brags that the “magnificent flight” will “unleash a whole new generation of innovators on the path to orbit.” Make it so! Two years ago, Branson’s rocket-powered VSS Unity spaceplane successfully entered suborbital flight above the Earth. In 2018, his Virgin Galactic ferry flew a crew to more than 50 miles above the Earth. Two months ago, Elon Musk’s SpaceX made history by ferrying two astronauts to the International Space Station — the first-ever private manned launch into space.
Along with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and other firms, SpaceX and Virgin Orbit are finding innovative ways to make launches far cheaper and more practical — and so make space more accessible. VOX Space LLC, a Virgin Orbit subsidiary, is set to launch in October under a $35 million, three-mission contract with the US Space Force. Pay attention: The new Space Age is here. (1/19)
Economics In Space (Source: NPR)
One of the most common definitions of economics is the study of the allocation of limited resources: how we use what we have, what we value, and why. There have been plenty of studies done on how economics works on earth. But what about in space? We talk to NASA astronaut Doug "Wheels" Wheelock, who explains how the principles of economics guided trades of goods and services on the International Space Station. He also describes how his experiences changed how he values things often taken for granted on Earth, like birds, wind, and the rain. Click here. (1/21)
FCC C-Band Auction Raises $81 Million (Source: Space News)
An ongoing FCC auction of satellite C-band spectrum has raised nearly $81 billion so far. The auction of the spectrum for terrestrial 5G services is not yet complete, with an assignment phase, where companies awarded spectrum blocks bid for frequency-specific licenses, yet to come. The high value of the bids surprised many, which one analyst attributed to the success T-Mobile has had using similar "mid-band" spectrum for 5G services. In addition to paying for the C-band spectrum itself, winners of the C-band auction are scheduled to pay about $13 billion to compensate satellite operators for clearing spectrum on an accelerated timeline. (1/18)
Google's Parent Shuts Down Effort to Deliver Internet Via Balloons (Source: Axios)
Alphabet is shutting down Loon, one of its "moonshots," which aimed to deliver internet service via high-altitude balloons. The effort was one of several approaches designed to get high-speed connectivity to some of the world's most remote spots and proved useful in the aftermath of disasters that shut down traditional infrastructure. "While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business," Loon chief executive Alastair Westgarth said. (1/21)
Musk Targets Telecom for Next Disruption With Starlink Internet (Source: Bloomberg)
Elon Musk became the world’s richest person this month by upending the global auto industry and disrupting aerospace heavyweights with reusable rockets. Now he’s setting his sights on another business dominated by entrenched incumbents: telecommunications. Musk’s SpaceX has launched more than 1,000 satellites for its Starlink internet service and is signing up early customers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. SpaceX has told investors that Starlink is angling for a piece of a $1 trillion market made up of in-flight internet, maritime services, demand in China and India -- and rural customers such as Brian Rendel.
Rendel became a Starlink tester in November after struggling for years with sluggish internet speeds at his 160-acre farm overlooking Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After he paid about $500 for the equipment, FedEx arrived with a flat dish and antenna. For $99 a month, Rendel is now getting speeds of 100 megabytes per second for downloads and 15 to 20 for uploads -- far faster, he says, than his previous internet provider. “This is a game changer,” said Rendel, a mental health counselor, who can now easily watch movies and hold meetings with clients over Zoom. “It makes me feel like I’m part of civilization again.” (1/22)
M&A in Aerospace Shows Colorado Companies at the Fore of a Changing Industry (Source: Denver Business Journal)
The deals have been coming quickly in the space industry in recent months. At least eight Colorado businesses involved in acquisitions — from the area’s biggest space company, Lockheed Martin, to a payload adapter with a local office — are part of a wave of consolidation reflecting a changing industry. Colorado’s space players are at the heart of a maturing space startup economy poised to play a role in NASA’s return to the moon, the U.S. military’s adoption of new technologies and transformational private-sector use of space.
And some are at the leading edge of a trend in which deals create entrepreneurial, mid-sized space businesses that have resources the startups never had on their own. Denver-based Voyager Space Holdings formed in late 2019 to consolidate promising players. It has acquired ownership or major interests in four companies, and it’s eyeing an IPO this year. A similar new company, Redwire, formed last June by buying Littleton-based Deep Space Systems and combining it with a Massachusetts space startup. Redwire, based in Florida, has since closed five more deals acquiring complementary space businesses, including three more with Colorado ties. (1/21)
Redwire Acquires Oakman Aerospace (Source: Space News)
Redwire has acquired Oakman Aerospace, a Littleton, Colorado firm known for digital engineering and spacecraft development. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. The acquisition announced Jan. 19 is the latest sign that Redwire is continuing to move rapidly to establish a multifaceted space company. “Oakman Aerospace adds a critical capability in digital engineering that will significantly enhance our space infrastructure solutions,” Peter Cannito, Redwire chairman and CEO, said.
“Their modular open systems architecture design and development approach and proprietary commercial off-the-shelf software suite is transforming the way future space capabilities are designed, developed, deployed and operated.” AE Industrial Partners formed Redwire in June 2020 with the acquisitions of Deep Space Systems and Adcole Space. Since then, Redwire has purchased Made In Space, Roccor, Loadpath and now Oakman Aerospace. (1/19)
Leaf Space Reaches €10 Million Funding (Source: Space Daily)
Leaf Space, the Italian ground segment as-a-service company focused on microsatellites, announced it has completed its Series A financing round of 5 million euro, bringing its total funding to 10 million euro. A contribution of 2 million euro came from Primo Space, the investment fund of Primomiglio SGR focused on investments in highly innovative companies in the space industry. The other 3 million euro of investment were between Whysol Investments, acting as lead investor, and RedSeed Ventures, an early-stage investor of the company that had already joined the equity round last spring.
Leaf Space will use the funding to further develop its ground segment services for microsatellite operators in the NewSpace economy and globally scale up its business. During the first trimester of 2021, the company plans to grow its operational ground stations from eight to 11 by deploying and activating stations in Sri Lanka, Canada and Australia. (1/18)
Aurora Insight Plans Cubesat Launch on SpaceX Mission (Source: Space News)
A startup that collects data on radiofrequency transmissions will launch its first operational cubesat this week. Aurora Insight will fly the Bravo cubesat, built by NanoAvonics, on the SpaceX Transporter-1 launch. The company plans to use data from Bravo and a second cubesat, Charlie, to augment terrestrial sensors that gather data to map the availability of radio frequency spectrum and wireless infrastructure. The company flew a technology demonstration cubesat, Alpha, in late 2018. (1/19)
Satellogic to Launch on Multiple SpaceX Rideshare Missions (Source: Space News)
Earth imaging company Satellogic has signed a multi-launch contract with SpaceX. The agreement cover four launches of Satellite satellites as part of dedicated rideshare missions, starting in June, with the option of flying additional satellites as rideshares on Starlink launches. SpaceX will be Satellogic's preferred launch provider after Satellogic previously used Chinese, European and Russian vehicles. Satellogic has 13 operational satellites today and plans to have a constellation of about 60 in service by the end of next year providing high-resolution imagery. (1/21)
Airbus and Thales Alenia to Build Next-Generation Galileo Satellites (Source: Space News)
Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space won EU contracts to build the first set of next-generation Galileo satellites. The European Commission announced Wednesday that each company will build six satellites under contracts to be signed later this month with a combined value of 1.47 billion euros ($1.78 billion). The satellites, to be delivered for launch starting in 2024, feature several upgrades to the spacecraft bus and its navigation payload. OHB, which is the prime contractor for the current generation of Galileo satellites, also bid on the next-generation satellites but was not selected. (1/21)
Exotrail Secures French Government Support to Develop Propulsion Technologies for Small GEO Satellites (Source: Space Daily)
The French Armament General Directorate, through the Defence Innovation Agency, is supporting Exotrail to develop technologies allowing small satellites to operate in geostationary orbit. Under the RAPID program, a funding framework operated by the Defense Innovation Agency, Exotrail will mature its technologies and extend their product portfolio to provide thrust vectoring and cold gas propulsion capabilities for customers.
When operating in geostationary orbit, small satellites face unique constraints not served by the market today. With this program called PROXIMA, Exotrail will develop thrust vectoring and cold gas propulsion using unique in-house expertise and capabilities. Exotrail is a France-based space company which designs, develops, and operate mobility solutions for an agile space. (1/17)
French Startup Demonstrates Iodine Propulsion in Potential Boost for Space Debris Mitigation Efforts (Source: Space News)
French startup ThrustMe has performed the first on-orbit tests of an innovative iodine-fueled electric propulsion system, proving its ability to change a CubeSat’s orbit. ThrustMe’s NPT30-I2-1U, the first iodine electric propulsion system sent into space, is aboard the Beihangkongshi-1, a 12U CubeSat developed by Chinese commercial satellite maker Spacety. (1/22)
Japan’s New H-3 Rocket Almost Complete (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
The first next-generation H-3 rocket is nearing completion, developed as the successor to the H-2A and H-2B. The rocket’s fuselage sections were shown to the press on Saturday at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.’s Tobishima plant in Tobishima, Aichi Prefecture. It is scheduled to be transported by ship to Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture a early as this month, with the aim of launching it in fiscal 2021.
The H-3 is being jointly developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and other entities. They unveiled on Saturday the 37-meter-long first stage section and the 12-meter-long second stage section of the rocket, both of which will carry engines and fuel including hydrogen. The fuselage was enlarged to 5.2 meters in diameter — 30% larger than that of the H-2A — to increase the propulsive power. The developers are aiming to reduce the cost of each launch to about ¥5 billion, about half that of the H-2A. (1/24)
China’s iSpace Advances with IPO Plans, Reusable Launcher Landing Leg Tests (Source: Space News)
Chinese private rocket firm iSpace is planning an IPO while also making progress on technology for a reusable launch vehicle. Beijing-based iSpace is planning to file an initial public offering on the Science and Technology Innovation Board (STAR Market), a market established in 2019 to support tech companies. STAR Market announced the move Jan.12 (Chinese) naming CITIC Securities and Tianfeng Securities as advisory firms.
The STIB was created to focus on companies in high-tech and strategic emerging sectors and support Chinese science and technology innovation, according to Xinhua. Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd., also known as iSpace, became the first nominally private Chinese company to launch a satellite into orbit in July 2019. The company’s Hyperbola-1 four-stage 20.8-meter-tall solid rocket sent two satellites into low Earth orbit after liftoff from Jiuquan, a national launch center.
Last year the company raised $173 million in series B round funding to back development of a new series of launch vehicles and reusable methalox engines. iSpace is currently developing a 28-meter-tall, 3.35-meter-diameter liquid oxygen-methane launcher named Hyperbola-2. (1/19)
China Launches Mobile Communications Satellite (Source: Xinhua)
China launched a satellite for mobile communications Tuesday. A Long March 3B lifted off at 11:25 a.m. Eastern from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center and placed the Tiantong-1 03 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit. The satellite is equipped with a large deployable antenna to provide mobile communications services in China and surrounding regions. (1/20)
China's Lunar Orbiter Proceeds to Lagrange Point for Continued Research (Source: Sky & Telescope)
China's Chang'e-5 orbiter is heading to the Earth-sun L-1 point. The spacecraft completed its primary mission last month when it released its sample return capsule, containing lunar rocks and regolith collected by the mission's lunar lander, as it flew by Earth. The China Lunar Exploration Program said this week the spacecraft will arrive at the L-1 Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth in the direction of the sun, in mid-March to perform observations of the sun and other spacecraft tests. The program said it will evaluate future plans for the spacecraft at that time based on its performance and remaining propellant. (1/22)
China's Lunar Samples Less Dense Than Expected (Source: Reuters)
Samples collected by China's Chang'e-5 lunar mission may have a lower density than expected. Chinese scientists said the lower density would explain why the spacecraft returned 1.73 kilograms of material rather than the expected 2 kilograms, even though the spacecraft completed its sampling work ahead of schedule. Officials said they were establishing plans to share samples with other nations, and wouldn't rule out doing so with the United States despite restrictions in U.S. law regarding bilateral cooperation between NASA and Chinese organizations. (1/19)
China Plans to Launch Solar Research Mission in 2022 (Source: Xinhua)
China's first mission to study the sun will launch next year. The Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory, scheduled for launch in the first half of 2022, will study the sun from low Earth orbit. The spacecraft will carry three instruments to monitor solar activity at a range of wavelengths. (1/21)
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Gets Vaccine Ahead of 91st Birthday (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Apollo 11 astronaut and second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin turned 91 years on Wednesday just days after getting his first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. He posted to Twitter earlier in the week images of him rolling up his sleeves while receiving his first shot of the vaccine.
“I want to thank all the scientists, healthcare workers, and government officials who worked tirelessly to develop and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in record time and safely, to the world,” reads the post. “I urge everyone to sign up for a vaccination as soon as possible when eligible to do, so that life can return to normal soon.” (1/21)
ESA Picks Two Payloads for External ISS Placement (Source: Airbus)
ESA will fly two payloads on an Airbus commercial platform on the International Space Station. The payloads will be installed on the Bartolomeo platform, mounted on the exterior of the Columbus module, in 2022 and 2024. One payload will study the effects of the space environment on organic materials and organisms, while the other will examine how the space environment degrades materials. The contract, valued at 6.5 million euros, is based on an agreement previously signed by ESA and Airbus to allow the agency to use Bartolomeo. (1/21)
EU and ESA Seek Better Cooperation (Source: Space News)
Officials with the European Union and the European Space Agency said they will seek to work more cooperatively. At a conference last week, EU commissioner Thierry Breton went out of his way to praise ESA, and said that the EU will continue to rely on ESA. Relations between the two organizations have frayed in recent years, particularly as the EU took steps that made it appear it was encroaching on ESA's turf. The two organizations are still in negotiations on a partnership agreement that will govern their roles and responsibilities on joint programs like Copernicus and Galileo. (1/22)
Judicial Review for Scottish Spaceport (Source: The Herald)
A court will allow a legal challenge to a Scottish spaceport to proceed. A Scottish court ruled that a judicial review of the proposed Space Hub Sutherland spaceport can continue, with a one-day hearing scheduled for April. Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, the largest private landowner in Scotland, sought the review because of what he said were environmental concerns about the proposed spaceport. He is also an investor in a competing spaceport project in the Shetland Islands. (1/19)
Cornwall Spaceport Test Launch by Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit (Source: The Packet)
Cornwall’s dream of joining the space race could finally be realized – and without too much longer to wait. Spring 2022 when it is hoped the first launch will take off from Spaceport Cornwall. The idea of Cornwall playing a key role in the global space industry was, until a few years ago, nothing but a pipedream. But with Virgin Orbit – a key partner in Spaceport Cornwall – finally completing its first test launch at the weekend it is now something which is within touching distance.
For Melissa Thorpe, the new head of Spaceport Cornwall, her focus is now on next spring and that first launch into orbit. Spaceport Cornwall will be a horizontal launch site where modified airplanes will be used to launch small satellites into orbit above the Earth. The first launch from Spaceport Cornwall had originally been earmarked for October this year but the various delays and the pandemic mean that it is now set for spring 2022.
The regulatory components and legislation are expected to go through Parliament in the summer which will enable Spaceport Cornwall to apply for the licenses required to operate as a spaceport while Virgin Orbit will be able to apply for the licenses needed to launch from the site. (1/23)
Earth Observation Data Could Represent a Billion-Dollar Opportunity for Africa (Source: Space Daily)
Earth Observation [EO] data provides a billion-dollar opportunity for economies on the African continent, one that could create jobs and build new resilience after COVID-19. The report Unlocking the Potential of Earth Observation to address Africa's critical challenges lays out the multiple economic benefits from EO data. The report was written in collaboration with Digital Earth Africa, an initiative that is a world first in providing freely accessible data that maps the entire African continent.
This report marks the first known time the potential impact of EO for Africa has been quantified. According to estimates, EO could be worth up to $2 billion a year thanks to: 1) A strengthened EO industry. Improved use of EO data could lead to an extra $500 million in yearly EO sales along with new job opportunities and increased fiscal revenues; 2) Boosted agricultural productivity. Better data could potentially be worth an extra $900 million a year, thanks to water savings and productivity gains for farmers, not to mention reduced pesticide usage; and 3) Better regulation of gold mining activity. Data allows countries to crack down on illegal mining, providing a potential savings of at least $900 million from reduced environmental damage and fiscal evasion. (1/18)
South African Astronomy Has a Long, Rich History of Discovery – and a Promising Future (Source: The Conversation)
The South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town is the oldest permanent observatory in the southern hemisphere: it turned 200 in 2020. This observatory is a fundamental part of South Africa’s long history of astronomical research, which began when French academic Nicolas-Louis de La Caille visited Cape Town from 1751 to 1753. He undertook a careful examination of every square degree of the southern sky. This resulted in the first comprehensive sky survey ever made, in either hemisphere. (1/12)
India to License Logo Use for Merchandise (Source: Business Today)
ISRO is getting into the merchandise business. The Indian space agency recently announced an opportunity for companies to work with the agency on creating space-themed merchandise involving the ISRO logo or linked to its missions. Such merchandise "can play a game-changing role in creating awareness and kindling interest" by the public in ISRO's missions, the agency said in its announcement. ISRO added that some kinds of merchandise were excluded from any licensing deals, such as doormats, slippers or other items that "might affect the reputation or image of the organization." (1/19)
Dawn Aerospace Aims to Launch New Zealand's 1st Space Plane From a Conventional Airport (Source: Space.com)
A New Zealand-based company has received approval to fly a suborbital space plane from a conventional airport. Dawn Aerospace got the nod from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to fly the company's Mk-II Aurora space plane, which is designed to send satellites into space on multiple flights a day, at a conventional airport whose name and location has not been disclosed yet. Usually such vehicles need to be launched at isolated facilities, because otherwise regulators need to shut down the local commercial air space to allow the space planes to fly out of the atmosphere. (1/22)
South Australia to be First Australian State to Send a Satellite Into Space (Source: Cosmos)
South Australia premier Steven Marshall today announced a $6.5 million partnership with the growing South Australian space industry to send a locally made small satellite into low Earth orbit in 2022. Marshall says SA is the first Australian state government to embark on such an undertaking. Dubbed the SASAT1 Space Services Mission, the satellite will gather information designed to assist and improve such things as emergency services, environment and water-quality monitoring, and mining and bushfire mitigation.
The mission will be led by the SmartSat Cooperative Research Center (CRC) at the University of South Australia, with private SA space companies adding expertise. Adelaide-based Inovor Technologies will design, build and test the 6-unit Apogee satellite bus and deliver it to the launch contractor. Myriota will handle Internet of Things (IoT) space services. (1/20)
Questions on Arms Sales, Funding Bring 2nd Israeli Astronaut Back Down to Earth (Source: Times of Israel)
By all accounts, Eytan Stibbe was a remarkable fighter pilot. He entered the air force in 1976 where he flew Skyhawk, Phantom and F-16 jets. During the First Lebanon War, he distinguished himself as the only F-16 pilot in the history of the Israeli air force who shot down four enemy planes in a single sortie. His commander was Ilan Ramon. In 1985, Stibbe and fellow former fighter pilots Ami Lustig and Roy Ben Yami founded LR Group.
A series of media clips over the years suggest that LR Group’s involvement in weapons sales may have been significant. In October 1997, a Romanian newspaper reported that Bucharest had sold 40 tons of AKM assault rifles to Rwanda, using LR Group as an intermediary. The newspaper reportedly published customs documents showing that the rifles were sent via Yemen. Click here. (1/21)
German Astronomers Recommend Regulations for Satellite Constellations (Source: Space Daily)
The German Astronomical Society (AG), the German association of amateur astronomers (VdS) and the Society of German-Speaking Planetariums (GDP) comment on the rapid increase in the number of satellites in the night sky. Artificial satellites have significant impact on the perception of the natural starry sky and the exploration of our universe.
The degradation of the night sky has a global impact, but the approval of satellite launches is done exclusively by national authorities, such as the Federal Communications Commission in the US. We hereby express our concern about this and call for international regulations for satellite constellations to ensure the protection of the night sky over the entire electromagnetic spectrum for research and as a human cultural asset. (1/19)
Starlink Satellites are Fainter Now, But Still Visible (Source: Sky & Telescope)
The first launch of Starlink satellites two years ago alarmed many amateur and professional astronomers. Lone satellites coursing through the night sky are commonplace, but in May 2019 observers witnessed an unprecedented parade of startlingly bright objects marching across the heavens. To the company’s credit, SpaceX is attempting to address astronomers’ concerns. An initial attempt at dimming a Starlink (dubbed “DarkSat”) by painting parts of it black resulted in thermal problems.
A second attempt involved a sunshade, a visor-like appendage that reduces the sunlight reflected to observers on the ground. The first so-called VisorSat launched on June 4, 2020, on the seventh operational Starlink launch. Since the ninth such launch, on August 7, 2020, all Starlink satellites have been VisorSats. Along with the hardware change for VisorSat, SpaceX also altered the relative orientation of the orbiting satellite bodies and solar arrays to further diminish their brightness. This change in software was instituted on all operational Starlinks.
Another factor that limits the adverse impact of Starlink satellites is that, because of their low orbit, they are not all reflecting sunlight during the darkest part of the night. Furthermore, Earth shadowing makes satellites less visible in the eastern sky early at night and less visible in the west before dawn. So, theoretically anyway, observations can be scheduled by time and by sky region in order to avoid satellites. Starlink satellites will continue to be a distraction to observers for now, but the significantly dimmer VisorSats represent a marked improvement. It remains to be seen if and how other satellite companies will take note and follow suit. (1/22)
One Hull Crack Located in ISS, Another One Suspected (Source: TASS)
The specialists have discovered one more crack at the International Space Station and suspect that yet another one exists, said ISS Russian Segment head Vladimir Solovyov. "So far, we have found one place and suspect another, where as some kind of leak exists. We must bring a powerful microscope on a cargo spacecraft and use to examine this place. We are not totally certain so far," Solovyov said.
He underscored that air loss due to the crack are insignificant. "This leak is like as if you’d drill the hull with a 0.2 mm diameter drill. I’m not sure such drills even exist in household. As for the leak it causes, our [space air] pressure is 750 mmHg, and this alleged crack causes us to lose 0.3 to 0.4 mmHg every day," the official said, adding that emergency leak starts when pressure falls at 0.5 to 1 mmHg per minute. (1/22)
Candidate for the Head of the NASA Office in the Russian Federation Was Denied a Visa (Source: RIA Novosti)
The candidate for the post of the head of the NASA office in Russia did not receive a diplomatic visa in response to a similar step by the United States against a number of Russian diplomats, three sources in the rocket and space industry said. Information on the non-issuance of a visa was confirmed by two more interlocutors of the agency. According to one of them, a similar situation developed with the appointment of the current head of the NASA office in Moscow, Trisha Mack. "After her appointment to Moscow, she spent a year and a half in Houston and flew only for starts and landings in Kazakhstan, because during this period she did not receive a visa," the source explained. (1/23)
NASA May Be Scaling Back Presence in Russia (Source: Sputnik)
NASA may be scaling back its presence in Russia. Russian sources said that NASA is considering reducing the number of employees at the Star City cosmonaut training center and an office in Moscow, and end its permanent presence at a biomedical facility. The moves are reportedly because NASA no longer plans to purchase seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, although the agency has stated its desire to barter seats on its commercial crew spacecraft for Soyuz seats. That's intended to ensure there will always be Americans and Russians on the ISS in the event one spacecraft is grounded. (1/21)
The Future of Spaceflight is Female (Source: Houston Chronicle)
As the director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), an entity funded by NASA’s Human Research Program, I have a bird’s-eye view of what the big concerns are for the health of humans in space. We are investing in innovative research to meet those challenges to make future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. We have to think ahead so that we can provide the right technology and expertise at the right time. Part of that strategic thinking is to support diverse crews. We have to understand how different bodies react to space, and one of our findings may surprise you — women may have advantages when it comes to long-term space travel.
In the last seven decades of human spaceflight, we have seen a dramatic transition in the definition of “the Right Stuff” — the ideal recipe of skills and personal qualities that make for a truly exceptional astronaut. Cockiness and bravado — once thought to be indicators of the mental fortitude to succeed as both a fighter pilot and an astronaut — have been replaced with conscientiousness, integrity, kindness, teamwork and grit. We have the luxury of drawing on lessons from the business sector, where it is clear that diverse teams perform better and achieve more — and get along more smoothly in the process.
If the keys to success are communication and teamwork, who better to send than a woman? We can find abundant evidence in medicine for the better performance of teams that include women leaders. A 2017 retrospective study in the British Medical Journal mapped patient outcomes among thousands of surgeons in the first 30 days following a surgical procedure, uncovering a jaw-dropping 4 percent decrease in mortality if the surgeon was, simply, female. A similar study published the same year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found both mortality and readmission rates to be lower among patients whose doctors were women. (1/23)
New NASA Challenge Offers Prizes for Sprouting Astronaut Food Systems (Source: NASA)
Astronauts need hearty nutrients to maintain a healthy diet in space, but like any of us, they want their food to taste good, too! As NASA develops concepts for longer crewed missions to Mars and beyond, the agency will need innovative and sustainable food systems that check all the boxes. In coordination with the Canadian Space Agency, NASA has opened the Deep Space Food Challenge. The goal is to generate novel food production technologies or systems that require minimal resources and produce minimal waste, while providing safe, nutritious, and tasty food for long-duration human exploration missions. (1/11)
NASA Abandons Mars Mole Dig-Down (Source: Space News)
NASA has ended efforts to deploy a heat flow probe on the InSight lander into the Martian surface. The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package on the lander featured a "mole" designed to burrow several meters into the surface, but got stuck just below the surface shortly after its deployment nearly two years ago. Scientists and engineers worked to try and get the mole deeper into the surface, but last week said they were giving up, with the mole buried just a few centimeters below the surface. InSight's other instruments, including a seismometer and weather station, continue to work well, and NASA extended the lander's mission earlier this month through the end of 2022. (1/18)
EPA and NASA Enter Agreement on Cleanup of NASA Wallops Flight Facility Site (Source: EPA)
The EPA and NASA have reached an agreement on cleaning up contamination at the Wallops Flight Facility. The contamination of soil and groundwater predates NASA's use of the site, and is instead linked to when the U.S. Navy owned Wallops. NASA will carry our remediation work there, funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with oversight by the EPA. The announcement didn't disclose the estimated cost of the cleanup or how long it will take. (1/18)
NASA Green Propellant Test a Success (Source: Space News)
A NASA mission to demonstrate a new "green" propellant was a success. The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM), launched in mid-2019 and operated for 15 months, tested a non-toxic propellant called AF-M315E intended to have performance similar to hydrazine but which is easier and safer to handle. The success of GPIM, those involved in the mission said at a recent conference, is allowing them to move ahead with commercial applications of the propellant, now known as ASCENT. (1/22)
Nanosatellite Thruster Emits Pure Ions (Source: Space Daily)
A 3D-printed thruster that emits a stream of pure ions could be a low-cost, extremely efficient propulsion source for miniature satellites. The nanosatellite thruster created by MIT researchers is the first of its kind to be entirely additively manufactured, using a combination of 3D printing and hydrothermal growth of zinc oxide nanowires. It is also the first thruster of this type to produce pure ions from the ionic liquids used to generate propulsion.
The pure ions make the thruster more efficient than similar state-of-the-art devices, giving it more thrust per unit flow of propellant, says Luis Fernando Velasquez-Garcia, principal research scientist at MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL). The thrust provided by the device, which is about the size of a dime, is minuscule. The force can be measured on the scale of a few tens of micronewtons, a thrust about equal to half the weight of one of the sesame seeds in a hamburger bun. But in the frictionless environment of orbit, a CubeSat or similarly small satellite could use these tiny thrusts to accelerate or maneuver with fine control. (1/22)
A New Satellite Is Going to Try to Maintain Low Earth Orbit Without Any Propellant (Source: Universe Today)
Staying afloat in space can be deceptively hard. Any object placed in low Earth orbit (LEO) must constantly fight against the drag caused by the small number of air molecules that make it up to that height. Usually they counteract this force by using small amounts of propellant. However, smaller satellites don’t have the luxury of enough propellant to keep them afloat for any period of time. But now a team of students from the University of Michigan has launched a prototype satellite that attempts to stay afloat using a novel technique – magnetism.
The project, known as the Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment (MiTEE), launched today on Virgin Galactic’s flight from the Mojave Desert. It’s interdisciplinary team consists of undergraduate through PhD Students at UofM. This is the first project the team has launched, and represents the culmination of six years of effort. That effort resulted in a novel satellite (or more accurately a pair of satellites) that test an even more novel idea – that small enough satellites can use the Earth’s own magnetic field to achieve a small amount of lift.
To test this theory, the team has designed a pair of satellites, one about the size of a loaf of bread, the other one the size of a smartphone, that are connected together via a span of wire. A current is then induced in that wire, and physics gets to do its magic. MiTEE-1 includes a single 1-meter-long rigid boom connecting the two satellites. It will focus on measuring how much current, if any, can be induced by the ionosphere. Follow-on projects would test the tether for use as an actual antenna, and try to measure whether it would be feasible to completely float a pico-satellite system without any propellant. (1/17)
UCF Satellite Launches Successfully into Space from Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne Rocket (Source: UCF)
University of Central Florida planetary science continues its ascent as a leader in space research with another high-profile flight, this time aboard Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, which was blasted into orbit Sunday from the company’s 747 carrier aircraft, Cosmic Girl. The launch took place at 10:50 a.m. at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The research sent into space is a small satellite called Q-PACE, or CubeSat Particle Aggregation and Collision Experiment. It was launched along with eight other CubeSat missions, all selected by NASA.
Q-PACE is a rectangular satellite about a foot long with a width and height of about four inches. A test chamber inside contains particles of various sizes, shapes and compositions, including a collection of small pieces of meteorites known as chondrules. When in orbit, the test chamber will be shaken at different speeds and directions to cause the particles to collide. Different particles will be introduced over several phases, starting with large spherical particles and ending with aggregates of small dust particles and chondrules. These collisions will be recorded with a high-speed camera, and the recordings will be transmitted to ground stations at UCF and the University of Arkansas for analysis. (1/19)
Astronomers Await JWST to Find Massive Black Hole (Source: New York Times)
Astronomers are on the lookout for a missing black hole that should weigh 10 billion times the mass of the sun. The galaxy, located in the cluster Abell 2261, should have a black hole of that size based on similar galaxies, but observations showed a dip in brightness at the center of the galaxy instead. Some astronomers speculate that the black hole is there but currently quiescent and therefore difficult to detect, while others think the black hole might have been ejected from the galaxy. All are counting on future observations by the James Webb Space Telescope to resolve the mystery. (1/20)
The Wondrous Life—and Dramatic Death—of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory (Source: Science)
If a telescope’s 900-ton platform falls in a forest, it most definitely makes a sound. On 1 December 2020, a monumental collapse at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory unleashed a monstrous roar across the tree-covered karst landscape. In the rubble lay key components of a telescope that had delivered some of the most important scientific discoveries of the past half-century: indirect evidence of gravitational waves, a map of the surface of Venus, and detection of the first exoplanets.
But Arecibo was more than just a scientific powerhouse. It was also a cultural icon. The telescope’s singular appearance led to cameos in movies, including Contact and GoldenEye. This video is a virtual tour of the technological advances that led to the telescope’s profound achievements—and a visual timeline of the momentous events that made up its life and death. Click here. (1/22)
How the Famed Arecibo Telescope Fell—and How it Might Rise Again (Source: Science)
Along with the grief have come sharper questions. After surviving numerous earthquakes and hurricanes, why did this scientific crown jewel collapse so unceremoniously on a calm winter morning? Some engineers and astronomers think manufacturing flaws or poor maintenance in a tropical, corrosive environment doomed the suspension cables. Others place blame at the feet of NSF’s astronomy division, which for more than a decade tried to offload Arecibo so it could divert funds to operating newer telescopes.
Meanwhile, astronomers are looking to the future. “First we mourned, then we had a wake, then we got down to work,” says Joanna Rankin, an astronomer at the University of Vermont. Together with Arecibo staff, researchers last month delivered a white paper to NSF describing plans for a new $400 million telescope on the same site. Although any rebuilding effort faces major political and financial hurdles, the proposal aims for an instrument with even more dazzling capabilities than the one that was lost. “There’s been a remarkable amount of commitment and energy,” Rankin says. Click here. (1/14)
Arecibo Replacement Could Support Space Situational Awareness (Source: Space News)
A proposal to replace the giant radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico with a new facility suggests it could be used for tracking space objects as well as for scientific research. Plans for a potential replacement of the 305-meter radio telescope at Arecibo, whose observing platform collapsed Dec. 1, are still in their early phases. One proposal, developed by observatory staff and submitted to the National Science Foundation in a recent white paper, calls for replacing the giant dish with an array of up to 1,000 small dishes, each nine meters across, on a platform spanning the current dish.
The concept in the white paper would double the sensitivity of the single-dish radio telescope and increase sky coverage by 250% compared to the fixed dish, as well as incorporate a new radar system. “From our perspective as the operator, we feel that the 305-meter was really an invaluable tool,” he said. “But, any future visions of the site really need to be centered around the development of a next-generation instrument.”
That new concept, Cordova said, could serve applications beyond astronomy and planetary science. One of the potential applications he listed on a slide in his presentation was space situational awareness (SSA). (1/22)
Spirit of Space Shuttle Challenger Alive and Well in Tallahassee (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
Challenger Learning Centers across the country were built to revive the shuttle’s primary mission: recapture the country’s love of space, science and education. In 2003, after years of hard work from academics, elected officials and community leaders, including former astronauts Dr. Norman E. Thagard and Captain Winston Scott — and in partnership with both Florida A&M University and Florida State University — the Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee opened.
Since then, CLCTLH has served as a tourist destination, community partner, economic engine, employer and educational resource. Partnering with Leon County Schools and school districts across the tri-state service area, CLCTLH has provided free “edu-taining” field trips for K-12 students from Title I schools, free teacher training in the STEM subject areas, free monthly STEM events, free community learning events and more.
In fact, CLCTLH is the K-12 and community outreach facility of the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering. As such, the CLCTLH has served 40,000-60,000 students and approximately 100,000 visitors annually. That is, until, spring 2020, when COVID closed our community, the world as we knew it, and the operations of the CLCTLH changed. Though on-site operations were halted, it did not stop the spirit of the CLCTLH staff and their mission to continue inspiring students to foster an interest in STEM. (1/24)
Bigelow Seeks Secrets to Life After Death (Source: New York Times)
What’s across the River Styx? Robert Thomas Bigelow would like to know. Wouldn’t anyone, especially now? But Mr. Bigelow is not just anyone, or any 75-year-old mourning a wife and confronting his own mortality. He’s a maverick Las Vegas real estate and aerospace mogul with billionaire allure and the resources to fund his restless curiosity embracing outer and inner space, U.F.O.s and the spirit realm.
Now he’s offering nearly $1 million in prizes for the best evidence for “the survival of consciousness after permanent bodily death.” In other words, was Hamlet right to call death an inescapable boundary, “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns?” Or does consciousness in some form survive bodily death — what the Dalai Lama called how we merely “change our clothes”? Is Raymond Chandler’s Big Sleep only a nap?
Mr. Bigelow believes so. “I am personally totally convinced of it,” he said. A daunting quest, perhaps fringe to some, but the shaggy-maned and mustached entrepreneur, the sole owner of Bigelow Aerospace and Budget Suites of America, is not easily put off. He amassed a fortune to pursue his interests, including the designing and building of inflatable astronaut habitats for NASA, like his soft-sided expandable activity module called BEAM attached to the International Space Station. (1/21)
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