March 30, 2020
Pandemic Puts Pressure on Time-Sensitive Space Missions (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Lucy is in pieces: solar arrays, a telescope structure and various other components of the Jupiter-bound spacecraft are being built across the U.S. It’s a stage of development particularly susceptible to disruption — and right now, the novel coronavirus has disrupted the entire country. Had COVID-19 appeared in the fall of 2020, all of Lucy’s pieces would be in the hands of Lockheed Martin. Ready for assembly and integration. But with parts spread throughout the supply chain, Hal Levison, principal investigator for the Lucy mission, is keeping a close eye on the spacecraft.
It must stay on track for a narrow 21-day launch window that starts Oct. 21, 2021, to study the Trojan asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit around the sun. “Lucy is actually in a place that’s very vulnerable,” said Levison, chief scientist for Southwest Research Institute’s facility in Boulder, Colo., the team leading the NASA Lucy mission. Studying the realms beyond Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t make space missions immune to the troubles within it. Sick employees, social distancing precautions and economic uncertainty have placed many ambitions in limbo. Click here. (3/27)
Virgin Orbit Work Deemed Essential (Source: Space News)
Virgin Orbit will continue work during the pandemic after being deemed essential. The company said Friday that it will pause work at its Long Beach, California, headquarters for a week, with staff unable to work remotely to be paid in full. The company said its development of the LaunchOne rocket, with U.S. government customers, qualified it to continue operating after that one-week pause. Rocket Lab said it would continue work at its U.S. headquarters, also in Long Beach, with a "significantly reduced number of mission critical personnel" working on site, because it was considered an essential business. (3/23)
Virgin Orbit Will Continue Operations in California, as an "Essential Service" (Source: Space News)
Virgin Orbit announced March 20 that it will continue operations at its facility in Long Beach, California, after state officials categorized the work as an essential service that should not be completely shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. On March 19, California, Los Angeles County and Long Beach issued a series of “Safer at Home” orders that closed all non-essential businesses and requires most of the state’s 40 million inhabitants to stay at home until further notice. The city, county, and state orders provide exemptions for certain businesses and industries deemed essential services.
“In conversations with our representatives, we have learned that our work of developing and operating our flexible, responsive space launch system for our customers, including those at NASA and in the U.S. Department of Defense, has been deemed as one such essential service, and that therefore we have been exempted from many of the “Safer At Home” shelter in place restrictions,” Virgin Orbit Kendall Russell said in a statement. (3/21)
Italy's Avio Exempt From National Pandemic Lockdown (Source: Space News)
Italian launch vehicle company Avio has obtained an exemption to a nationwide lockdown that allows the company to remain in operation. Avio CEO Giulio Ranzo said in an earnings call Thursday that the current closure of the European spaceport in French Guiana shouldn't impact revenues of Avio, which builds the Vega rocket, as long as it reopens within two to three months. He added he believed that French officials share Avio's sense of urgency to restart spaceport operations, and that a Vega launch postponed by the shutdown could take place as soon as 10 days after the spaceport reopens. Avio, whose revenues fell 5% in 2019 but had a 5% increase in profits, did not issue financial guidance for 2020, saying the coronavirus pandemic has made forecasting futile for now. (3/26)
SpaceX Workers Exposed to COVID-19 (Source: CNBC)
SpaceX has instructed some employees to self-quarantine after potential exposure to the coronavirus. One SpaceX employee and one employee of a company that provides medical services at SpaceX's Hawthorne, California, headquarters have tested positive for COVID-19. SpaceX has asked about those employees who had close contact with those individuals to self-quarantine and monitor their health for two weeks. That facility, like many others in the aerospace industry, remains open as it is classified as part of a "critical infrastructure" sector. (3/25)
SpaceX Produces Hand Sanitizer and Face Shields for Hospitals (Source: The Verge)
SpaceX is producing hand sanitizer and face shields for hospitals. A team at the company that normally works on spacesuits and other equipment for crews is building face shields, donating 75 of them to a hospital in Los Angeles. The company, like many others, is producing its own hand sanitizer, and also plans to host a blood drive. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who earlier this month dismissed the coronavirus pandemic as "dumb," recently purchased 1,000 surplus ventilators from China to provide for California hospitals. (3/26)
Musk is Donating 1,200 Ventilators from China to L.A.’s Coronavirus Fight (Source: Fortune)
Elon Musk, the chief executive officer of Tesla Inc. and an outspoken skeptic of the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, donated more than 1,000 ventilators to officials in Los Angeles to meet demand as the pandemic becomes more severe. The billionaire said in a tweet he helped acquire 1,255 of the machines from China last week and arranged them to be air-shipped to Los Angeles. He thanked Tesla staff and customs officials in China and Los Angeles for assistance. (3/24)
French Space Agency Donates 90,000 Face Masks to Hospitals (Source: Space News)
Hospitals in Toulouse, France, received 90,000 face masks from the French space agency CNES this week in an effort to help limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the agency’s president. In an interview March 24, Jean-Yves Le Gall said CNES had a stockpile of face masks because of a French policy initiative roughly a decade ago directing government agencies to keep masks on hand in the event of a global pandemic. Many of the masks are beyond their designated three-to-five-years. (3/27)
Citing Coronavirus, OneWeb Files for Bankruptcy (Source: Florida Today)
OneWeb, the parent company of an organization that manufactures internet-beaming satellites at Kennedy Space Center, filed for bankruptcy late Friday, citing the coronavirus pandemic as a significant driver behind the decision. In a release, the OneWeb said it filed for Chapter 11 relief in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York and hoped to sell its business "in order to maximize the value of the company."
"It is with a very heavy heart that we have been forced to reduce our workforce and enter the Chapter 11 process," OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said in a statement, confirming COVID-19 as the main reason. "The company's remaining employees are focused on responsibly managing our nascent constellation and working with the court and investors."
The company did not specify how much of its workforce at the KSC division, located near Blue Origin on Space Commerce Way, would be impacted. OneWeb is the parent company, while OneWeb Satellites is a separate division that manufactures the spacecraft at KSC. OneWeb also operates an administrative office in Suntree. Editor's Note: Maybe a good opportunity for Jeff Bezos/Blue Origin to acquire a near-complete megaconstellation. (3/28)
OneWeb Collapses After SoftBank Funding Talks Fall Through (Sources: Financial Times, WIRED)
OneWeb, the satellite internet start-up, is preparing for bankruptcy and to lay off most of its staff, after failing to secure new funding from investors including its biggest backer SoftBank, according to people familiar with the situation. The company could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US as soon as Friday, according to people involved in the preparations, putting most of its more than 500 employees at risk of losing their jobs.
OneWeb had been in talks with Softbank to raise as much as $2bn in fresh funding before the coronavirus outbreak roiled financial markets, according to people familiar with the discussions. As markets plunged, OneWeb and SoftBank could not agree terms for a potential bridge loan to give the start-up time to secure new investors. One person close to the discussions said that those talks collapsed on Saturday, just hours before OneWeb launched more than 30 “micro satellites” from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to a constellation that it had originally envisaged would total around 640.
It’s too early to tell what will become of OneWeb’s assets as it moves through bankruptcy protection, people familiar with the proceedings told WIRED. OneWeb will retain enough employees to continue operating the satellites already in orbit, but most of the company’s 500 staffers will be laid off. As for the satellites, there aren’t enough in orbit to provide anything close to global or even regional coverage. It’s unclear whether they will be kept in orbit and used for limited internet service or intentionally deorbited by the company. (3/27)
FCC Approves 1 Million Terminals for SpaceX Starlink (Source: Space News)
The FCC has granted SpaceX a license for up to 1 million user terminals. The terminals would be used as part of SpaceX's Starlink broadband megaconstellation. SpaceX has disclosed few details about those terminals, although Elon Musk described them as a "thin, flat, round UFO on a stick" that can be simply pointed at the sky and plugged in. (3/23)
Satellite Stocks See Sharp Decline (Source: NSR)
A 35-50% decline in stock prices among several major satellite operators is likely indicative of deeper concerns than the coronavirus, according to Northern Sky Research. Smaller business backlogs, shorter capacity contracts and limited product differentiation are other factors that likely spooked investors, the research firm said. NSR estimates that negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, which have battered stocks in and outside of the satellite industry, will continue for at least two to three financial quarters. Businesses focused on satellite connectivity to aircraft, ships and oil and gas sites will feel greater financial stress from COVID-19, while satellite TV, consumer broadband and cellular backhaul are likely to see higher demand, NSR said. (3/25)
Maxar: COVID-19 May Slow Satellite Deliveries (Source: Space News)
Satellite manufacturer Maxar says the pandemic may slow spacecraft deliveries. The company said in a SEC filing Friday that the company temporarily closed satellite manufacturing facilities in California in compliance with "stay at home" directives from local officials last week, but reopened them after determining it was considered an "essential business" and could thus still operate. The company has sent "force majeure" notices to its customers, though, warning that the pandemic could cause delays in the completion of satellites being built there. (3/23)
Small Space Companies at Risk of Failure During Pandemic (Source: Space News)
A space industry trade group is warning small companies may not survive the pandemic without a government stimulus package. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation says that while some of its larger members, like Blue Origin and SpaceX, will be able to weather the crisis, smaller companies that are suppliers are in greater jeopardy. The organization sent a letter to Congress last week requesting a number of measures to bolster its members, including a $5 billion grant or low-interest loan program to help small and medium firms survive the next several months. (3/24)
Bigelow Lays Off Entire Workforce (Source: Space News)
Bigelow Aerospace laid off its entire workforce Monday, blaming restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. The company said that it laid off its employees because of an order by the state government in Nevada, where the company is based, to close all nonessential businesses. Other sources claimed 68 employees were affected, and that while Bigelow said it would rehire employees after the state order was lifted, they expected the layoffs to be permanent. Bigelow Aerospace was established more than 20 years ago to develop commercial space habitats using an expandable module technology licensed from NASA. The company flew two prototype modules in 2006 and 2007 with a third, BEAM, currently installed on the International Space Station. (3/24)
Farnborough Air Show Canceled (Source: FIA)
Other coronavirus updates: The Farnborough International Airshow 2020 has been canceled. Event organizers said Friday it reached the decision to cancel the event, scheduled for July 20-24, because of "the unprecedented impact" of the pandemic that "make it impossible for us to create and host the Airshow this July." The event is one of the biggest of the year in the aerospace industry, and one where space has taken on increased prominence in recent years. (3/23)
Space in Uncertain Times (Source: Space Review)
Much of the space industry, like the broader economy and society, has ground to a halt in the last few weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. Jeff Foust reports on what has shut down and what is continuing more or less as usual in spaceflight, at least for now. Click here. (3/23)
The Coronavirus Pandemic, as Seen From Space (Source: Axios)
Miles above Earth, the global effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic can be seen unfolding at a rapid and dramatic scale. Why it matters: Tracking the effects of the virus from space can help organizations understand the pandemic without sending people into harm's way, and it can promote transparency and accountability around efforts to combat the virus. What's happening: Planet — a company that operates more than 100 Earth-imaging satellites — has been snapping before and after photos of airports, bridges and other locations to show how social distancing efforts have cleared roads and tourist destinations around the world. Click here. (3/27)
Remote Sensing Imagery In Demand During Pandemic (Source: Space News)
Satellite imagery companies are seeing growing demand because of the pandemic. Companies that provide imagery or value-added services based on imagery say more customers are interested in those services to monitor changes in economic activity, from decreased industrial output to changes in oil reserves. Satellite data is also being used for remote monitoring of facilities to avoid exposing people to travel risks. (3/24)
How to Survive Pandemic Reentry (Source: The Atlantic)
After falling miles through the atmosphere, Christina Koch emerged from her space capsule with a big smile on her face. The NASA astronaut had spent 328 days on the International Space Station. When she finally touched back down last month, the warmth of the sun on her skin felt glorious. And as she laid eyes on the dozens of search-and-rescue workers around the capsule, her brain raced to process the new faces.
“I only interacted in person with 11 other humans over the course of almost a year,” Koch told me. “Just seeing [new people] immediately when I came out of the capsule was definitely shocking.” On the day Koch landed in early February, the Houston Chronicle, NASA Mission Control’s hometown paper, ran a picture of her on the front page. Below it was an article reporting that, although there were no confirmed cases in Texas, business owners were worried about the effects of the new coronavirus.
Koch got a taste of normal life for a few weeks before public-health experts advised millions of Americans to stay indoors and the United States became, as of yesterday, the country with the world’s most reported coronavirus cases. Now she has found herself cooped up again, this time in her home in Galveston, Texas. Koch has returned to a uniquely anxious time on Earth, but she is unusually well prepared for the situation: Astronauts spend six months or longer away from their loved ones, living and working on a station about the size of a six-bedroom house, with personal quarters the size of phone booths. (3/27)
Magnificent Isolation: What We Can Learn From Astronauts About Social Distancing and Sheltering in Space (Source: Space Review)
Calls for self-quarantine and “social distancing” in response to the pandemic have some people seeking to learn from the experience of explorers. Deana Weibel examines what astronauts, including the late Al Worden, can teach us about handling isolation in extreme circumstances. Click here. (3/23)
The Pandemic Has Grounded Humankind (Source: The Atlantic)
Like many other workplaces, space agencies around the world have instructed employees to work from home. A European spaceport in South America postponed all upcoming launches. NASA halted testing on its next big space telescope, which is supposed to launch this time next year. The outbreak helped delay a joint project between the Russian and European space agencies that was supposed to send out a rover to investigate whether life ever existed on Mars. Earth and Mars reach their closest proximity only about every two years, so the rover must now sit in storage until 2022. Even if this world rights itself before then, we still have to wait for the rest of the cosmos to catch up before visiting another one.
Space-exploration delays are a tiny drop in the bucket of cancellations around the world. But they show how the pandemic has upended civilization more clearly than the postponement of important conferences or even the Summer Olympics have. Space exploration has long been seen as a marker of human ambition, a testament to our capacity to think beyond our earthly existence—and then actually loft ourselves toward the skies. As the threat of COVID-19 compels people to stay indoors, it also locks us in our own planet. The coronavirus is here, and we’re stuck with it. (3/26)
Employee at Kennedy Space Center Tests Positive for Coronavirus (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center's first positive coronavirus case was confirmed Monday, though officials believe circumstances surrounding the exposure likely mean the employee was not on-center when contagious. Tracy Young, a spokesperson for KSC, said employees were notified Sunday that a KSC team member tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
"This employee was last at the center more than 10 days ago," Young said. "Based on the circumstances and elapsed time since the employee was on site, we believe it was acquired after they had started teleworking and there is no additional risk at the center from this person." KSC is currently operating at "Stage 3" of NASA's Response Framework, which means mandatory telework, limited center access to mission-essential personnel, and limited travel. (3/23)
NASA Raises Pandemic Response Level (Source: NASA)
More NASA centers have moved to Stage 4, the highest level of response to the coronavirus pandemic. NASA said Tuesday half its 18 facilities, which include field centers as well as NASA Headquarters and facilities run by field centers, are now at Stage 4, which requires all personnel to telework with the exception of those needed for safety and security of the sites. Among the latest centers to go to Stage 4 are the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Some centers have gone to Stage 4 after personnel were diagnosed with COVID-19, while others have done so because of growing spread of the disease in their communities or shelter-in-place directives from local or state governments. NASA said one Goddard employee had tested positive for COVID-19, as has one at the Michoud Assembly Facility. (3/25)
NASA Offers Supercomputing Support for Pandemic Response (Source: OSTP)
NASA is part of a new consortium announced Sunday by the Office of Science and Technology Policy to provide supercomputing resources for researchers responding to the pandemic. NASA will offer its High-End Computing Capability at the Ames Research Center to the consortium, which also includes the Department of Energy, NSF, industry and academia. (3/23)
NASA Working to Aid Federal Pandemic Response (Source: Space News)
NASA is looking for ways to aid the federal government's response to the pandemic. In an online town hall with employees Wednesday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other officials said that NASA "will be more and more involved as days go on" as it coordinates potential roles with other federal, state and local agencies. NASA will be soliciting ideas for potential contributions from employees, and will be part of an interagency meeting today about how it can assist in the production of ventilators. Bridenstine said that while he is thinking about how to get the agency back to normal operations "in an orderly way," he said the agency would take a cautious approach about reopening centers, taking into account conditions at each center. (3/26)
NASA Leadership Assessing Mission Impacts of Coronavirus (Source: NASA)
To protect the health and safety of the NASA workforce as the nation responds to coronavirus (COVID-19), agency leadership recently completed the first assessment of work underway across all missions, projects, and programs. The goal was to identify tasks that can be done remotely by employees at home, mission-essential work that must be performed on-site, and on-site work that will be paused.
“We are going to take care of our people. That’s our first priority,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Technology allows us to do a lot of what we need to do remotely, but, where hands-on work is required, it is difficult or impossible to comply with CDC guidelines while processing spaceflight hardware, and where we can’t safely do that we’re going to have to suspend work and focus on the mission critical activities.”
The agency has defined mission-essential work as that which must be performed to maintain critical mission operations to ensure the schedule of time-sensitive mission-critical launches, or work to protect life and critical infrastructure. This includes work to support America’s national security and mission-essential functions for the nation. NASA leadership will continually assess all activities as the situation evolves. (3/20)
NASA Halts JWST Work During Pandemic (Source: Space News)
NASA has halted work on the James Webb Space Telescope as it prioritizes essential activities during the coronavirus pandemic. NASA announced late Friday that it was suspending work on integration and testing of the telescope at a Northrop Grumman facility in California, with agency officials acknowledging that this will likely cause more delays for the mission. NASA is continuing to work on the Mars 2020 mission, which it considers a high priority because of its narrow launch window that opens in mid-July for only a few weeks. International Space Station operations and commercial crew development are also being prioritized. (3/23)
NASA's Mars Rover Perseverance Still on Track for July Launch Despite Coronavirus Outbreak (Source: Space.com)
NASA is determined to get its life-hunting Mars rover off the ground this summer despite the coronavirus outbreak. Space agency officials remain optimistic that the car-size Perseverance rover, the centerpiece of the Mars 2020 mission, will be ready to launch during a three-week window that opens on July 17. The stakes are high, because such windows come just once every 26 months, when Earth and the Red Planet align properly for interplanetary missions.
"We’re going to ensure that we meet that launch window in July," Lori Glaze, the director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said during a virtual town hall meeting on March 19, according to Space News. "As of right now, and even if we go to a next stage of alert, Mars 2020 is moving forward on schedule. And everything is, so far, very well on track." (3/21)
Russia: Pandemic Won't Postpone ISS Crew Return (Source: TASS)
Roscosmos says the pandemic will not postpone the return of the current crew on the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, along with Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, are scheduled to return home April 17, a little more than a week after a new crew arrives at the station. While Kazakhstan, home to both Baikonur Cosmodrome as well as the landing site for Soyuz spacecraft, has imposed travel restrictions, Roscosmos said it is "interacting with partners and considering options" to allow launch and landing activities to continue as planned. (3/26)
Space Council Meeting Postponed (Source: Space News)
The White House has postponed the National Space Council meeting that had been scheduled for Tuesday. The White House announced Saturday the meeting would be rescheduled for a date to be announced. It offered no reason for the delay, but the chair of the council, Vice President Mike Pence, is also leading the White House's task force responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting was originally scheduled to take place at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, but them moved to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington. (3/23)
Senate Pandemic Relief Bill Includes $10 Billion for DoD (Source: Space News)
The Senate passed a massive coronavirus relief bill Wednesday night that includes more than $10 billion for the Defense Department. The bill, approved on a 96-0 vote, provides $10.5 billion for the Defense Department, with $2.4 billion of that intended to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on suppliers. Among the other agencies included in the bill is NASA, which will receive $60 million to cover costs related to the pandemic. The bill, with an overall cost of $2.2 trillion, is expected to win passage in the House later this week. (3/26)
DoD Urges Contractors to Keep Working (Source: Space News)
The Defense Department is asking its contractors, including those in aerospace, to continue working during the pandemic. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said in a memo Friday that companies that are considered part of the defense industrial base "have a special responsibility" to maintain normal work schedules. Industry groups such as the Aerospace Industries Association and Commercial Spaceflight Federation have called upon the administration and Congress to support their companies as they continue to work. In response, the Pentagon has ordered contracting officers to increase so-called progress payments to suppliers amid concerns that many small businesses are running out of cash. (3/23)
DoD Contractors' Work Deemed "Essential" Allowing Work to Continue (Source: Washington Technology)
Employees of defense companies and suppliers can still report to work on their normal schedules even if local and state governments tell citizens they have to stay at home amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a Friday memo to industry obtained by Washington Technology, Defense Department acquisition chief Ellen Lord wrote that the defense industrial base is part of the nation's "critical infrastructure sector” and includes companies and their subcontractors that provide products and services under contract to the Defense Department. (3/20)
DoD Increases Progress Payments to Contractors to Shore Up Cash-Strapped Suppliers (Source: Space News)
The Pentagon has ordered contracting officers to increase so-called progress payments to suppliers amid concerns that many small businesses are running out of cash during the COVID-19 national emergency. The progress payment rates for DoD contractors have been increased from 80 percent to 90 percent for large companies, and to 95 percent for small businesses, Kim Herrington, acting principal director for defense pricing and contracting, wrote in a March 20 memo.
Progress payments are made to contractors, usually on a monthly basis, for costs incurred and work performed under a contract. A 90 percent rate means that if $1 million in expenses are submitted on the program, DoD will reimburse $900,000. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, said DoD is working with industry groups to help “mitigate impacts from COVID-19.” (3/22)
Army Says Coronavirus Mitigation Efforts 'Have Proven Insufficient' As It Suspends Some Non-Critical Training (Source: CNN)
The US Army says mitigation efforts to blunt the spread of the coronavirus "have proven insufficient" within the service and it is suspending "non-mission essential functions," including some non-critical training of units in the field and physical fitness training involving large numbers of troops, according to an internal Army directive dated Thursday that was obtained by CNN.
"Mitigation measures taken by the Army to blunt the spread of COVID-19 have proven insufficient," the internal order said. The coronavirus "continues to spread geographically as the number of infected persons continues to rise," it added, saying "additional measures and actions are required to protect the force from further spread of COVID-19." (3/26)
DoD's SMC Working to Support Contractors During Pandemic (Source: Space News)
The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) is finding ways to help its contractors during the pandemic. Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of SMC, the U.S. Space Force's main procurement arm, said he had talked with local governments that issued stay-at-home orders to ensure that space companies are recognized as essential businesses and can remain open. SMC also intends to keep up the flow of contracts to small businesses during the crisis. Thompson said he was concerned foreign investors from nations considered adversaries of the United States will move in to rescue ailing space companies during this crisis and try to capture their technology. (3/26)
Pandemic Delays Renaming of Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Source: Florida Today)
The pandemic is putting on hold some name changes related to the Space Force. Plans to rename Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station have been postponed, officials said. That name change had been expected for this month, possibly involving a ceremony at the bases. The Space Force has not announced a new date for renaming those facilities or others being transferred to the new service. (3/25)
Space Force Ups the Launch Ante at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Aviation Week)
A recent 45th Space Wing commander set a goal of 48 launches annually by 2020. In July and August of 2019, the Air Force Eastern Range supported four launches in four weeks, and in December 2019 there were two launches in the same week. In January 2020 the Eastern Range was prepared to launch twice in the same day. "We want to launch when anybody needs us to launch," says Wing Commander Gen. Douglas Schiess. He envisions achieving launch-on-demand by implementing different scheduling practices and improving infrastructure. (3/27)
Space Force Sees No Delays in Launches From Pandemic (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Space Force does not expect the pandemic to restrict launches from Cape Canaveral. The Space Force's 45th Space Wing that operates the range is working with a reduced staff in an effort to practice social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, but said upcoming launches will continue as planned. That includes the Atlas 5 launch of the AEHF-6 satellite scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Military or contractor personnel who would typically attend launches for training or as observers are not being allowed to view upcoming launches. Public viewings have been closed, which eliminates the need to deploy security staff. (3/25)
COVID-19: Raymond Says No Impact On Space Ops; Space Fence Operational (Source: Breaking Defense)
Gen. Jay Raymond said today the COVID-19 pandemic has had no affect on Space Command/Space Force readiness and US space capabilities, so far. As proof, he rattled off a long list of Space Force achievements as its 100-day anniversary approaches, including yesterday’s successful launch of the final Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite for classified military communications and the fact that Space Fence situational awareness radar is being declared operational today. (3/27)
Pentagon Fleshing Out Space Force Organizational Details (Source: National Defense)
As the fanfare around the new military service dies down, many unanswered questions surrounding the structure of the Space Force still remain. The newest member of the armed services was officially stood up in December and received its first budget from the Trump administration as a “separate but co-equal” branch in February. But structurally, the details of organizing, manning and training the new service and its members will be hammered out in the coming months.
Gen. John “Jay” Raymond was sworn in as the Space Force’s first chief of space operations in January. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett assigned more than 16,000 uniformed and civilian members of the Air Force to the Space Force, the service’s vice commander, Lt. Gen. David Thompson said in February. Most of those personnel came from what was formerly known as Air Force Space Command. The service is expected to grow substantially, Thompson said during remarks at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. (3/23)
Missile Defense Agency's Future Debated as Space Force Rises (Source: Breaking Defense)
Senior DoD officials and top military leaders currently are pondering how to organize future missile defense acquisition, including the possible break up of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) by transferring its authorities to the Army, Air Force, Navy and Space Force, insiders say. MDA’s fate is under the microscope as DoD and military leaders struggle to consolidate space acquisition since the creation of the Space Force. While no final decisions regarding missile defense acquisition have been made, DoD officials and experts say that fundamental questions about the ‘who, what and why’ of missile defense need to be resolved.
A key question in the internal discussions is whether MDA’s acquisition authorities will move to the Space Force once the new space acquisition secretariat is created in 2022. This could either be done by subsuming MDA en masse into the Space Force, currently headed by Gen. Jay Raymond, sources say. Or it could be done by shifting only MDA’s space-related development/acquisition authorities — such as for missile detection and tracking, but also perhaps for long-range ICBM defense — to Space Force. If MDA’s space-related activities were to be shifted to the Space Force, this begs the follow-on question of whether its other activities ought to be turned over to the other services. (3/27)
Inside the Space Force’s Push to Integrate and Change Acquisition (Source: FNN)
Despite threats from the coronavirus, the Space Force is still moving full steam ahead setting itself up as the newest military service. “The current environment hasn’t slowed our ability to do any space operations. There have been no bumps or hiccups in the road,” Shawn Barnes, the point man for space integration and acquisition told Federal News Network. “We are moving out as rapidly as we can on standing up the Space Force.”
Barnes ironically spent time at the Agriculture Department in the 1980s assisting vaccine development for dangerous infectious animal diseases. But today, his focus is less on the microscopic and more on the macroscopic in helping to set up a force around a military domain that is the size of the universe. One of Barnes’ roles is helping set up the Space Acquisition Council, which will oversee the many facets of space procurement in the Defense Department — a main selling point for the creation of the Space Force was the consolidation of the acquisition process. (3/27)
Space Force Is Sifting Through 700 Crowdsourced Name Suggestions for its Troops (Source: Military.com)
The new U.S. Space Force is moving forward with plans to announce key information about its development, even as the military ramps up its response to the coronavirus outbreak. One imminent announcement concerns what Space Force troops will be called, the service's top general, Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, said Friday.
"The naming of our space professionals, we did a crowdsourcing ... with over 700 responses to that, and we're narrowing down that list, and I think you'll be hearing an announcement on that in the very near future," Raymond, the first-ever chief of space operations, told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon. The Pentagon in February began soliciting ideas from individuals already assigned to the fledgling service in an effort to decide on a future, gender-neutral nomenclature. (3/27)
ULA Atlas 5 Launches Satellite From Florida Spaceport for Space Force (Source: Space News)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 successfully launched a military communications satellite Thursday afternoon. The Atlas 5 551 lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 4:18 p.m. Eastern, nearly 90 minutes later than planned after a problem with a ground system hydraulic pump controller halted the countdown in its final minute. The payload, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) 6 satellite, was deployed from the rocket's Centaur upper stage several hours later. The Lockheed Martin-built satellite completes the AEHF system, which provides protected military communications. The launch also carried a cubesat secondary payload, TDO-2, with payloads that will test optical calibration and satellite laser-ranging technologies for space domain awareness. (3/26)
Rocket Lab Delays Launch Due to Pandemic (Source: Space News)
Rocket Lab is delaying its next launch because of the coronavirus pandemic. The company said Tuesday its next Electron launch from New Zealand, which had been scheduled for March 30, was postponed after the New Zealand government issued new orders closing all nonessential businesses. That mission, called "Don't Stop Me Now" by the company, was to launch three NRO payloads and two university cubesats. (3/25)
Astra Suffers Another Anomaly at Alaska Spaceport (Source: Space News)
Astra has canceled a planned launch this week after its rocket was damaged in a "anomaly" in tests Monday. The "Rocket 3.0" vehicle was being prepared for a launch as soon as Tuesday from Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska when the company said it was damaged. Astra did not disclose the extent of the damage or when the launch might be rescheduled. Spaceport officials told a local radio station Monday that they had activated an emergency response plan because of the anomaly, adding that no injuries were reported but that the area around the launchpad was "hazardous." (3/24)
Astra Rocket Damaged in Alaska Pre-Launch Test (Source: Space News)
Small launch vehicle startup Astra has postponed its next launch attempt after the rocket was damaged in what local officials say was an “anomaly” during a prelaunch test. Astra had been preparing for a launch of its “Rocket 3.0” vehicle as soon as March 24 from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska. A previous launch attempt March 2, part of the now-completed DARPA Launch Challenge, was scrubbed less than a minute before liftoff after sensors reported anomalous data.
However, notices to airmen, or NOTAMs, posted by the Federal Aviation Administration restricting airspace around and downrange from the launch site for launch attempts March 24 and 25 were taken down late March 23. Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, said the rocket had been damaged in prelaunch testing earlier in the day. “We’ll be rescheduling launch,” he said, but had not selected a new launch date. He did not elaborate on the damage the rocket sustained. (3/24)
Capabilities on the Cusp: the Impact of a Responsive, Flexible Launch Challenge With No Winner (Source: Space Review)
The DARPA Launch Challenge ended earlier this month without a winner when the last remaining company scrubbed their final launch attempt. Todd Master, manager of the competition, explains how the DARPA Launch Challenge evolved and offers lessons learned for the future of responsive launch. Click here. (3/23)
Boeing's First Crewed Starliner to Be Launched to ISS on 31 August (Source: Sputnik)
The first manned spacecraft of the Boeing company, called Starliner, will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on 31 August, a source in the Russian space and rocket industry said. "The launch of the first manned Starliner spacecraft is scheduled for 31 August", the source said. In December 2019, the Starliner spaceship set off on its first test flight to the International Space Station, but docking was canceled after Starkiner failed to execute an orbit-insertion burn on schedule. (3/24)
Boeing Starliner Flight Raises Profile of Space Network (Source: Space News)
When Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner failed to reach the International Space Station in December, initial reports pegged part of the problem to NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS). Later analysis revealed software issues led to Starliner’s abbreviated test flight. Still, the mission raised the profile of TDRSS and underscored the need for robust communications in low Earth orbit.
Since the 1970s, NASA has updated its Space Network repeatedly to keep up with demand. Seven satellites and four ground stations provide the bulk of communications for more than 40 missions including the International Space Station, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey. Some Space Network satellites are more than two decades old. Nevertheless, the Space Network continues to offer reliable global coverage 24-hours a day for missions led by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other government agencies. (3/25)
Relativity: Spaceflight Imprinted With Flexibility (Source: Forbes)
Commercial space is booming and for many of today’s space enthusiasts the innovations coming out of entrepreneurial startups are more interesting than anything NASA or European Space Agency are flying. Earth orbit is already busy with commercial imaging satellites, commercial television and radio satellites and even commercial resupply flights to the International Space Station. This year we will see space tourism take off (literally) and the expansion of mega-constellations of communications satellites providing global Internet and messaging capabilities. This is an exciting time to be in Southern California, the historical center of aerospace development, even if we are under the coronavirus lockdown. I’m using my quarantine to look at cool local startups.
I’m proud to have been an adviser to SoCal’s Relativity Space since its founding. This Long Beach based startup 3D-prints orbital rockets and has its roots in the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Astronautical Engineering program. The founders, Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone were leaders in USC’s Rocket Propulsion Lab, an exciting USC student group that I covered in last week’s column. Ellis and Noone have developed uniquely dynamic manufacturing capabilities which differentiate Relativity from its peers in an increasingly competitive space launch market. While still in their early twenties, these two millennials scored seed investments from Mark Cuban and Silicon Valley’s prestigious Y Combinator accelerator. Since then, they have raised $185 million in venture funding. Relativity is well on its way to becoming a space unicorn! (3/26)
China Launches Spy Satellite on Long March 2C Rocket (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
China launched a set of reconnaissance satellites late Monday. A Long March 2C rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 11:43 p.m. Eastern and placed a trio of Yaogan-30 satellites into orbit. While Chinese officials say the satellites will be used for "electromagnetic probes and other experiments," Western observers believe the satellites are used for signals intelligence or imaging for the Chinese military. (3/24)
China Readies to Launch Long March 5B Ahead of Crewed Missions (Source: Space News)
China is proceeding with launch preparations for the first Long March 5B mission. The heavy-lift rocket will carry a prototype new-generation crewed spacecraft payload designed to be capable of deep space travel, including crewed lunar missions. Measures introduced to contain the COVID-19 outbreak have altered, but not halted, launch preparations, with a launch expected in the latter half of April. The mission is also proceeding despite the failure last week of the Long March 7A, which shares commonalities with the Long March 5B. (3/24)
China Develops New System to Quickly Find Fallen Rocket Debris (Source: Space Daily)
China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center Wednesday announced the development of a new positioning system that can greatly shorten the time searching for rocket debris. The system has proved efficient in seeking out fallen rocket pieces after the center launched the 54th BeiDou satellite into space on March 9. The satellite was sent into space by a Long March-3B carrier rocket. With the guidance of the system, the center staff just spent 25 minutes finding the rocket boosters, while in the past, it would take them several hours or even half a month to complete such a task. (3/19)
Japan's New H3 Rocket Remains On Track for 2020 Debut (Source: Space News)
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) remains on track to launch the first H3 rocket by the end of this year. A company executive said that while the coronavirus pandemic forced it to adopt teleworking, MHI still expects to perform a static-fire test of the rocket's second stage in May or June and then start integrating the first H3 rocket for a launch around the end of the year. The H3 is designed to be less expensive than the existing H-2 so that MHI can remain competitive in the global launch market. (3/26)
India Planning Launch of 10 Earth Observation Satellites by March 2021 (Source: Sputnik)
In 2019, India launched four earth observation satellites, from a target of six. For the next financial year, the plan is to add a further eight. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is planning to launch 10 earth observation satellites by March 2021, space minister Jitendra Singh said in Parliament.
The earth observation satellites are used mainly in land and agriculture but their images are also important to the military, for border observation. ISRO is also planning to launch 26 missions, including unmanned orbital spacecraft Gaganyaan. The 26 missions will also include three communication satellites, two navigation satellite, three space science satellite, a technology demonstration, 10 PSLV, three GSLV II, a GSLV III and two small satellite launch vehicles. (3/23)
SpaceX Stacks Third Starship Prototype Ahead of Testing (Source: Space.com)
SpaceX's newest Starship prototype is standing tall. The latest test version of the Mars-colonizing Starship spacecraft, called the SN3, has been stacked at SpaceX's South Texas facilities, new photos tweeted out by company founder and CEO Elon Musk show. Musk posted two images on Twitter about 45 minutes apart early Thursday morning (March 26). The first shows the SN3's tank and engine sections sitting side-by-side in an assembly facility, and the second shows them joined.
SN3 is short for Serial No. 3; the prototype is the third iteration of the latest Starship design. Completion of the stacking milestone suggests that SpaceX, which has been moving very quickly on the Starship project, will begin testing the vehicle soon. Such testing will begin with pressure trials, which have felled other Starship prototypes. But if the SN3 makes it through that gauntlet, it will likely get to spread its wings. Musk has said he aims to conduct short flights in Earth's atmosphere with the SN3, then fly higher and longer test missions with the SN4. (3/27)
NASA to Support Falcon-9 Engine Failure Investigation (Source: Space News)
NASA will participate in a SpaceX investigation of an engine anomaly during last week's Falcon 9 launch. The agency said Tuesday its commercial crew program will be part of the investigation into the premature shutdown of one of nine engines in the rocket's first stage. That shutdown did not prevent the launch from successfully placing its payload of Starlink satellites into orbit on the fifth flight of that booster, but that first stage did fail to land on a droneship. NASA said that, for now, it is maintaining a launch of the Demo-2 commercial crew mission for mid-to-late May. (3/25)
Dragon Parachute Test Ends Early with Helicopter Drop (Source: Space News)
A botched Crew Dragon parachute test Tuesday could also revise the schedule for that mission. SpaceX said that a helicopter carrying a Crew Dragon parachute test article was forced to release that test article early when it became unstable. The parachutes were not armed at the time of the release and thus did not deploy, and the test article was destroyed. SpaceX said this was not a failure of the parachute system itself because the parachutes never had a chance to deploy. SpaceX said earlier this month it was wrapping up its parachute tests, with only a couple left to perform before the system would be certified for flight. SpaceX said it is working with NASA "to determine the testing plan going forward" before flying Demo-2. (3/25)
SpaceX Wins Logistics Launch Contract for Gateway Supply (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected SpaceX as the first U.S. commercial provider under the Gateway Logistics Services contract to deliver cargo, experiments and other supplies to the agency’s Gateway in lunar orbit. The award is a significant step forward for NASA’s Artemis program that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 and build a sustainable human lunar presence. At the Moon, NASA and its partners will gain the experience necessary to mount a historic human mission to Mars.
SpaceX will deliver critical pressurized and unpressurized cargo, science experiments and supplies to the Gateway, such as sample collection materials and other items the crew may need on the Gateway and during their expeditions on the lunar surface. NASA is planning multiple supply missions in which the cargo spacecraft will stay at the Gateway for six to 12 months at a time. These firm-fixed price, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts for logistics services guarantee two missions per logistics services provider with a maximum total value of $7 billion across all contracts as additional missions are needed. (3/27)
NASA Looks For Additional Orion Engines (Source: Space News)
NASA is seeking proposals for the production of a new main engine for the Orion spacecraft. NASA issued a request for proposals last week for the Orion Main Engine program to build a new main engine for the Orion spacecraft. The first five Orion missions will use engines originally built for the space shuttle's orbital maneuvering system. The new engines will be required to meet existing performance, interface and other standards for the Orion service module, rather than redesign the service module to accommodate an improved engine. (3/26)
NASA's Orion Spacecraft Ready for Final Artemis I Launch Preparations (Source: Space Coast Daily)
NASA’s Orion spacecraft for Artemis I returned to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week after engineers put it through the rigors of environmental testing at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. At Kennedy, the spacecraft will undergo final processing and preparations prior to launching on the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon that will ultimately lead to the exploration of Mars. The spacecraft – comprised of the crew module and service module – arrived in Ohio during the fall of 2019, where two phases of testing occurred inside the world’s largest space simulation vacuum chamber. (3/27)
Aerojet Recommends Artemis Lunar Lander Changes (Source: Space News)
An Aerojet Rocketdyne study recommends minimizing the number of launches needed for an Artemis lunar lander and using storable, rather than cryogenic, propellants. The study, performed as part of a NASA contract last year, initially found that two-element landers, with an ascent and descent stage launched separately, were preferable to three-element landers that required a transfer module in addition to the ascent and descent stages.
Later work found that the best approach to achieving a 2024 landing it to launch the two-element lander as an integrated vehicle on an SLS, which would also eliminate the need for the lunar Gateway for that initial mission. The Aerojet study also recommended using storable propellants for the lander's propulsion system because of concerns about the lack of maturity of cryogenic fluid management technologies needed for propellants like liquid hydrogen. (3/23)
Hunting for Water on the Moon (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A map of possible water beneath the surface of the Moon’s South Pole, based on temperature data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. ESA is preparing a surface sampling payload that will prospect for lunar water among other resources. It is due to be flown to the Moon aboard Russia’s Luna-27 lander in 2025. Researcher Hannah Sargeant of the UK’s Open University has made Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Europe 2020 Innovation list for her work developing an improved method of extracting lunar water in support of the project.
The overall payload is called Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation, or PROSPECT. A drill called ProSEED will extract samples, expected to contain water ice and other chemicals that can become trapped at the extremely low temperatures expected; typically -150 °C beneath the surface to lower than -200 °C in some areas. Samples taken by the drill will then be passed to the ProSPA chemical laboratory, being developed by an Open University team. These samples will then be heated to extract these cold-trapped volatiles and enable follow-up analysis. (3/27)
Help NASA Design a Robot to Dig on the Moon (Source: Space Daily)
Digging on the Moon is a hard job for a robot. It has to be able to collect and move lunar soil, or regolith, but anything launching to the Moon needs to be lightweight. The problem is excavators rely on their weight and traction to dig on Earth. NASA has a solution, but is looking for ideas to make it better. Once matured, robotic excavators could help NASA establish a sustainable presence on the Moon under the Artemis lunar exploration program, a few years after landing astronauts on the surface.
Engineers have tested various configurations of a Moon-digging robot called RASSOR - short for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot - in a large lunar simulant sand box at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Now, NASA is asking the public to help design a new bucket drum, the portion of the robot that captures the regolith and keeps it from falling out. The regolith can then be transported to a designated location where reverse rotation of the drum allows it to fall back out. (3/17)
The Key to Future Mars Exploration? Precision Landing (Source: Air & Space)
Landing on an open plain is safer, but scientifically kind of dull. On past missions, Chen says, NASA wanted each site “to be a parking lot.” To turn Jezero, once a no-go, into a landing pad, the team is relying on terrain-relative navigation, or TRN. The technology, which JPL researchers have been working on since 2004, enables more precise landings by giving the vehicle a visual landing system. Using a camera, it scans the ground for landmarks, compares those images to onboard maps, and estimates its position. Tie this to related advances in hazard detection and avoidance, and now they have a better shot at not landing in a sand trap. Click here. (3/23)
Russian to Study if Space Suits Can Bring Microbes Into ISS From Exterior (Source: Sputnik)
Russian scientists intend to study whether cosmonauts during a space walk could pick up microorganisms on their space suits and bring them into the International Space Station (ISS), a department head of the Institute for Biological and Medical Issues of the Russian Academy of Sciences said in an interview.
"We are currently planning to conduct an experiment on the ISS dubbed 'Lovushka' ['trap'] to research what particles and microorganisms 'stick' to the surface of the station; as well as an experiment 'Episcaph' to explore the possibility of cosmonauts picking up such microorganisms on their space suits and bringing them inside the station upon returning from a spacewalk", Vyacheslav Ilyin said. According to the scientist, the ISS' outer hull is home to various microorganisms that could have come from Earth's atmosphere, including spores of microorganisms living in the soil. (3/25)
NASA Seeks to Commercialize Ground Station Operations (Source: Space News)
NASA is seeking to commercialize much of its space communications operations. NASA already relies on commercial and university ground stations to provide two-thirds of communications and tracking for its Near Earth Network, which supports suborbital and orbital missions as well as rocket launches and satellite operations at Lagrange points. NASA is seeking industry assistance in replacing the Space Network, which provides communications for more than 40 missions through the TDRS satellites and ground stations. NASA plans a multistep campaign to encourage development of commercial space-based relay networks before the current TDRS spacecraft reach the end of their lives. (3/25)
NASA's CIO Retiring, Setting Up NASA's Reorganized, Consolidated IT Future (Source: FNN)
NASA is just getting started on what many expect to be a transformational reorganization. This transformation, executives hope, will set the space agency up to develop the next great rocket or space probe in a more coordinated, efficient and secure way. Renee Wynn, the outgoing NASA chief information officer, said she challenged her staff to come up with a new strategy to improve how NASA manages its IT staff, resources and systems. Implementing this new strategy will be at the top of the next CIO’s to-do list.
Wynn is retiring after about 30 years in government. Her last day is now April 30 or thereabouts instead of her original plan of leaving on March 31, a NASA spokeswoman confirmed. Wynn kicked off this reorganization effort about a year ago trying to use the authorities under the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) to get what she has called the “custody and control” of all IT across NASA. One of the first steps was getting NASA leadership to sign off on the reorganization effort. Wynn said that happened in late 2019 so the real work is getting started this year. (3/27)
NASA Solar Research Satellite Ends Mission (Source: NASA)
A NASA space science satellite has shut down after a 17-year mission. NASA's Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) spacecraft powered down last month after far exceeding its original five-year lifetime. SORCE provided highly accurate measurements of solar irradiance used for climate models. That data is now provided by the a sensor installed on the ISS in 2017, with a similar sensor scheduled for launch on a spacecraft in 2023. (3/24)
ESA Suspends Four Science Missions to Reduce Staffing Requirements (Source: Space News)
ESA is suspending operations of four science missions to reduce staffing requirements as its mission control center. The four missions — Cluster, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, Mars Express and Solar Orbiter — will be placed into a safe mode, with science operations halted, to reduce the number of people required to work at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany. It also allows ESA to use those remaining staff on higher priority activities, like the upcoming Earth gravity-assist flyby of the BepiColombo mission to Mercury next month. (3/25)
China's FAST Telescope Identifies 114 Pulsars (Source: Space Daily)
China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, has identified 114 new pulsars since its trial operation began in September 2016. The gigantic telescope carried out nearly 1,000 hours of observation from Jan. 1 to March 23, 2020, according to the FAST Operation and Development Center of the National Astronomical Observatories of China. A pulsar is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star, which emits two beams of electromagnetic radiation. (3/24)
Future Space Telescopes May Probe Titan-Like Exoplanets (Source: Space.com)
Saturn's huge moon Titan is one of the most intriguing worlds in the solar system. Titan boasts hydrocarbon rivers and seas that could potentially harbor "strange life," as well as a subsurface ocean of liquid water where Earth-like organisms might be able to make a living. Titan also has a thick, nitrogen-dominated atmosphere where complex chemistry — perhaps even the sort that leads to life — is known to occur. And now, researchers have determined that the smoggy haze of Titan-like exoplanets could be visible with the next generation of space telescopes.
While most exoplanet hunts focus on finding worlds similar to Earth, one team wanted to know if upcoming instruments could identify potentially habitable worlds dramatically different from our own. Using simulations, they modeled Titan-like worlds around a variety of star types. They considered worlds "Titan-like" if they were far enough from their star for methane to condense and had a high enough water-to-rock ratio to spew volatile compounds into the atmosphere that could create a haze. Between red dwarfs and sunlike stars are K-stars. Titan-like worlds around K-stars could feature hazes that form lower down, with smaller particles than those around sunlike stars, according to the new study.
LUVOIR is a proposed multi-wavelength space telescope under consideration by NASA as a future observatory. With the next generation of space telescopes, like LUVOIR, astronomers could probe the haze-rich worlds around all three types of stars. The insights they glean could reveal a great deal about these planets' atmospheres, helping researchers better understand a different type of potentially habitable environment than the more traditional Earth-like world. "If we get LUVOIR, we'll be able to characterize these planets," Felton said. (3/26)
Astronomers Have Found the Edge of the Milky Way At Last (Source: Science News)
Our galaxy is a whole lot bigger than it looks. New work finds that the Milky Way stretches nearly 2 million light-years across, more than 15 times wider than its luminous spiral disk. The number could lead to a better estimate of how massive the galaxy is and how many other galaxies orbit it. Astronomers have long known that the brightest part of the Milky Way, the pancake-shaped disk of stars that houses the sun, is some 120,000 light-years across. Beyond this stellar disk is a disk of gas.
A vast halo of dark matter, presumably full of invisible particles, engulfs both disks and stretches far beyond them. But because the dark halo emits no light, its diameter is hard to measure. Now, Alis Deason, an astrophysicist at Durham University in England, and her colleagues have used nearby galaxies to locate the Milky Way’s edge. The precise diameter is 1.9 million light-years, give or take 0.4 million light-years, the team reports. To put that size into perspective, imagine a map in which the distance between the sun and the Earth is just one inch. If the Milky Way’s heart were at the center of the Earth, the galaxy’s edge would be four times farther away than the moon actually is. (3/23)
Scientists Calculate Age of Massive Neutron Star Crash That Helped Form Our Solar System (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers are on the hunt for the remnants of the neutron-star collision that gave Earth its precious metals. When neutron stars merge, they spew a wealth of short-lived elements into their surroundings, and these materials become part of later-forming solar systems. Now scientists are trying to close in on the merger that seeded our solar system by tracing the elements produced by the original decaying material. From that work, they believe the responsible merger occurred 100 million years before and 1,000 light-years away from the birth of our solar system.
"It was close," the project's lead scientist, Szabolcs Marka, who is a physicist at Columbia University, told Space.com. "If you look up at the sky and you see a neutron-star merger 1,000 light-years away, it would outshine the entire night sky." Marka and his colleague Imre Bartos, an astrophysicist at the University of Florida, used meteorites from the dawn of the solar system to track down the collision. They analyzed the isotopes — flavors of elements with different numbers of neutrons in their atoms — in these rocks. (3/26)
New Paper Suggests Life Could Be Common Across The Universe, Just Not Near Us (Source: Science Alert)
The building blocks of life can, and did, spontaneously assemble under the right conditions. That's called spontaneous generation, or abiogenesis. Of course, many of the details remain hidden to us, and we just don't know exactly how it all happened. Or how frequently it could happen. The world's religions have different ideas of how life appeared, of course, and they invoke the magical hands of various supernatural deities to explain it all. But those explanations, while colorful tales, leave many of us unsatisfied.
'How did life arise' is one of life's most compelling questions, and one that science continually wrestles with. Tomonori Totani is one scientist who finds that question compelling. Totani is a professor of Astronomy at the University of Tokyo. He's written a new paper titled Emergence of life in an inflationary universe. Totani's work leans heavily on a couple concepts. The first is the vast age and size of the Universe, how it's inflated over time, and how likely events are to occur. The second is RNA; specifically, how long a chain of nucleotides needs to be in order to "expect a self-replicating activity" as the paper says. (3/25)
New Old Data Found From Voyager Uranus Flyby (Source: Space.com)
Scientists reanalyzing Voyager 2 data found something missed during the spacecraft's flyby of Uranus more than 30 years ago. A new analysis of magnetic field data from Voyager 2 detected an "abrupt zigzag" in the magnetic field, lasting just a minute, that was missed in the original analysis of the data. Scientists believe that is a sign of a plasmoid, or a bubble of plasma, in the planet's magnetic field, possibly containing gas extracted from the planet's atmosphere. (3/27)
More Dark Matter Science (Source: Science)
The coronavirus pandemic hasn't stopped astrophysicists from engaging in one of their favorite activities: arguing about the nature of dark matter. A paper published in the journal Science this week concluded that so-called "sterile neutrinos," a type of neutrino heavier that classic ones, can't be the material that makes up the dark matter halo surrounding the galaxy. Physicists looked for predicted X-ray emissions from sterile neutrinos in areas of the sky that were otherwise devoid of X-ray sources, but saw nothing. Other physicists, though, argue that the analysis done in that paper was wrong, and that their own observations detected the X-ray signature expected from sterile neutrinos. (3/27)
Workers Versus Investors: What Will Big Aerospace Do With Federal Bailouts? (Sources: NASA Watch, Aviation Week, CNBC)
"It is vital for governments, lawmakers and industry leaders to recognize that aviation will need help getting through such destructive upheaval. But in some cases, the optics will invite legitimate criticism. For example, Boeing has returned nearly $50 billion to its shareholders over the past five years while investing far less. Now it wants taxpayers to cough up tens of billions for a bailout? U.S. airlines are no better: They have sent 96% of free cash flow to shareholders over the last five years. And what about those airlines in Europe that should have been allowed to die long ago? Will they use this crisis as leverage for yet another government rescue?"
Trump says he is 'OK' with forbidding buybacks as condition of corporate bailouts. "President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he would not oppose barring companies that receive federal assistance during the coronavirus pandemic from conducting stock buybacks." (3/22)
Rethinking 'Shareholders First' (Source: Aviation Week)
Encouraged by the late economist Milton Friedman and success stories such as General Electric's, aerospace companies began to adopt "shareholders first" in the 1990s. Traditional manufacturing declined in favor of profit growth driven by financial services. Employees were the first casualty, with unions weakened and raises curtailed. For example, until recently, Honeywell imposed mandatory unpaid leave on its employees, while it was making 20% margins.
Boeing spent an average of $12.8 billion in share buybacks and dividends in 2018 and 2019, while averaging just $2.2 billion in R&D. This is not just a Boeing problem; it is a corporate America problem. In 2018, share buybacks and dividends for the S&P 500 were an astounding 109% of net income. "Shareholder first" needs to be replaced with a more balanced version of capitalism if the aerospace industry is to thrive in the long run. (3//26)
SpaceX Needs to Maximize Manufacturing Efficiency (Source: Aviation Week)
At one time, SpaceX planned to produce 4 or so Falcon core stages per year, says COO Gwynne Shotwell. But that rate of production became unnecessary once SpaceX finalized a booster design that is expected to fly 10 times with minimal refurbishment between launches. Boosting Falcon first-state manufacturing to 40 per year, however, would have helped the company learn more about improving production technologies, Shotwell says. "Manufacturing is hard to do, and I think the U.S has kind of lost the magic. We have a lot to learn from others."
Elon Musk wants a fleet of 1,000 Starships, but he is starting to feel the heavy hand of time. "If we don't improve our pace of progress, I'm definitely going to be dead before we go to Mars," he says. Which may explain Musk's latest mantra: "If the schedule is long, the design is wrong." (3/27)
Venezuelan Satellite Tumbling in Unusable Orbit (Source: Space News)
Venezuela's only government-operated communications satellite is tumbling in an unusable orbit. VeneSat-1 left its orbital slot in geostationary orbit March 13 and is currently tumbling in an elliptical orbit slightly above GEO. VeneSat-1's operator, the Venezuelan space agency ABAE, had issued no status reports on the satellite. VeneSat-1 was built by China Great Wall Industry Corporation and launched in late 2008 with a planned 15-year lifetime. (3/24)
Indian Startup Helps ISRO Set Up Satellites in a Cheap, Eco-Friendly Manner (Source: Better India)
India has come a long way from Aryabhatta, the first in the long line of satellites that the country has launched into space. Since then, our nation has placed into orbit 319 satellites for 33 different countries! This feat, however, wouldn’t have been possible without the existence of propulsion systems that help satellites maneuver in space and maintain a proper orientation once it is in the orbit.
“Just as cars need engines to move, satellites need propulsion systems to reach their dedicated orbits and to stay in these orbits by maintaining proper orientation. Propulsion systems form an integral part of all satellites,” says 27-year-old Rohan M Ganapathy, the co-founder of Bellatrix Aerospace, a research-driven company. Founded in February 2015, the Bengaluru based startup develops propulsion systems and orbital launch vehicles for satellites. (3/26)
APT Sees Revenues Decline (Source: Space News)
Hong Kong-based satellite operator APT Satellite blamed regional competition for a decline in revenues. The company said revenues fell 14% in 2019 as new national satellites for Bangladesh and Indonesia started operation, increasing the supply of satellite capacity and driving down prices. APT Satellite said that while it is making inroads in China, it sees continued "oversupply and keen competition" in the market in 2020. (3/25)
SEAKR to Build Satcomm Payload for Space Force (Source: Space News)
SEAKR Engineering will help develop a satellite communications payload for the U.S. Space Force. Lockheed Martin selected Colorado-based SEAKR as part of Lockheed's team for the Protected Tactical Satcom (PTS) program, a partnership expected to be formally announced this week. Lockheed is one of three companies with PTS awards from the Space and Missile Systems Center under Other Transaction Authority agreements that require prime contractors to either co-invest in the program or partner with nontraditional suppliers, like SEAKR. (3/23)
Conservation Charity Objects to Scotland Spaceport Plans (Source: Press and Journal)
A leading conservation charity has objected to Britain’s first vertical launch spaceport planned for a remote part of Scotland. The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) has also written to Scottish Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart asking him to call in the application for the spaceport in Sutherland – but also all others in the country. Spaceports are also planned for Unst in Shetland and the Uists in the Outer Hebrides. (3/27)
A New Tracker for Satellites and Debris (Source: ArianeGroup)
ArianeGroup is adding an eighth observatory to its GEOTracker network for tracking satellites and debris. GEOTracker started in 2017 with six telescopes — two in France, two in Australia, one in Spain and one in Chile. Last year ArianeGroup added a seventh site in Germany, near Munich. Its eighth site will be located at the Centre for Appropriate Technology in Northern Australia. Though called GEOTracker, ArianeGroup’s telescope network can monitor geostationary and medium Earth orbits. (3/25)
Slingshot Aerospace Secures $3 Million for Analytics (Source: Space News)
A startup has secured $3 million in government and private funds to accelerate the deployment of artificial intelligence-driven data analytics. Slingshot Aerospace received a $1.5 million SBIR award from the U.S. Air Force, matched by $1.5 million in investment by ATX Venture Partners and Revolution's Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, two firms that previously invested in the startup. The company uses algorithms to analyze data collected by satellites and aerial drones for defense, disaster response and commercial applications. The funding will specifically support development of a system for use by the Air Force Special Operations Command. (3/26)
Iceye Offers 25 Centimeter Resolution Imagery (Source: Space News)
Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) company Iceye says it can now produce satellite imagery with a resolution of 25 centimeters. Iceye produces the high-resolution SAR imagery with data acquired by a single satellite staring at a location for 10 seconds. The Finnish company plans to begin offering customers access to the 25-centimeter SAR imagery in mid-2020 from its current constellation of three SAR satellites. (3/26)
GHGSat Satellite to Provide Methane Emission Data on Oil Fields (Source: SpaceQ)
GHGSat has a contract with Bloomberg to provide satellite data on methane emissions. The Canadian company said it started providing data to Bloomberg in February, focusing on the Permian Basin in West Texas, a major oil producing region. The data from GHGSat's satellite will be combined with other sources for a Bloomberg product that tracks emissions. GHGSat has two more satellites scheduled for launch later this year, and says it will announce more analytics deals in the coming weeks. (3/27)
Observing Phytoplankton Via Satellite (Source: Space Daily)
Thanks to a new algorithm, researchers at the AWI can now use satellite data to determine in which parts of the ocean certain types of phytoplankton are dominant. In addition, they can identify toxic algal blooms and assess the effects of global warming on marine plankton, allowing them to draw conclusions regarding water quality and the ramifications for the fishing industry.
The tiny phytoplankton found in the world's oceans are tremendously productive, and create half the oxygen we need to breathe. Just like land-based plants, they use photosynthesis to produce carbohydrate, which they use as an energy source. They grow, divide and produce enormous quantities of biomass, the basis of all marine life. In addition, they are an essential food source for small crustaceans, fish and mussel larvae, which are themselves staples for larger fish. When phytoplankton are in short supply, it jeopardizes the food web for all other marine organisms. (3/23)
New Satellite-Based Algorithm Pinpoints Crop Water Use (Source: Space Daily)
The growing threat of drought and rising water demand have made accurate forecasts of crop water use critical for farmland water management and sustainability. But limitations in existing models and satellite data pose challenges for precise estimates of evapotranspiration - a combination of evaporation from soil and transpiration from plants. The process is complex and difficult to model, and existing remote-sensing data can't provide accurate, high-resolution information on a daily basis.
A new high-resolution mapping framework called BESS-STAIR promises to do just that, around the globe. BESS-STAIR is composed of a satellite-driven biophysical model integrating plants' water, carbon and energy cycles - the Breathing Earth System Simulator (BESS) - with a generic and fully automated fusion algorithm called STAIR (SaTellite dAta IntegRation). (3/23)
NASA Satellites Help Forecast Yellowstone Wildlife Migration (Source: Space Daily)
The bison population has really exploded over the last two decades in Yellowstone National Park. This creates complex situations for wildlife managers when the animals follow good grazing opportunities beyond the boundaries of the park and come into contact with surrounding communities. A NASA study has now found a link between climate change effects on the productivity of grasslands and the proliferation of bison in Yellowstone, by compiling 20 years of data from two NASA Earth science satellites.
The work also shows how the same data, available in near-real time, can aid the park's conservation efforts by providing daily maps of green grass cover that help forecast the movements of bison. The research project looked specifically at how long the growing season lasts in Yellowstone, from snowmelt in spring to first snowfall in autumn, and the vegetation that covers the land in between. The satellite data revealed that the season for vegetation growth has been getting longer, likely a result of climate change decreasing the severity of winters and warming average temperatures overall. (3/13)
Wall Street Remains Bullish on Virgin Galactic (Source: Investors Business Daily)
Wall Street remains bullish about Virgin Galactic even in the current economic climate. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas upgraded Virgin's stock Tuesday from equal-weight to overweight, but lowered his price target for the stock from $30 a share to $24. Morgan Stanley's optimism is based on the long-term potential for the company to develop hypersonic point-to-point passenger transportation, despite industry expectations that such systems are still many years in the future. He cautioned that near-term demand for suborbital space tourism "could be hampered" by the coronavirus pandemic. Virgin Galactic's stock closed up more than 25% in trading Tuesday. (3/25)
Virgin Galactic Customers Should Focus On View, Not Weightlessness (Source: Forbes)
"Be in the moment. You will have expectations about everything. There’s going to be some apprehension, as well, because you’ve not done it before. The fear of the unknown is a powerful driver. Focus and try to absorb as much as you can. You’ll be surprised about the sensory overload. That said, all the training you’ve had will help. Rely on it so that you can control the things you can control."
"As for the view, try to etch it into your memory, because it’s amazing. Your perspective on the world and your place in it will change because of what you see. But it goes quick. Your mind can play tricks on you. The things that I thought happened in a second lasted minutes, and some things that lasted minutes felt like seconds. Again, try to be in the moment, absorb it as much as you can, because it is so fleeting." (3/27)
SASC Staffer Joins Parsons (Source: Space News)
A former Senate Armed Services Committee staffer has taken a position as an executive with Parsons. John "J.R." Riordan will be the senior vice president of business development for Parsons' space and geospatial business. Riordan previously led the committee's strategic forces staff overseeing nuclear, missile defense and space issues. In his new job, he will be responsible for business development, account management and customer engagement for Parsons' growing space business in the national security market. (3/24)
An Astronaut's Tips for Living in Space or Anywhere (Source: Space Daily)
One thing astronauts have to be good at: living in confined spaces for long periods of time. Here are some tips for all who find yourself in a similar scenario. Nearly 20 years successfully living on the International Space Station and more than 50 flying in space did not happen by accident. NASA astronauts and psychologists have examined what human behaviors create a healthy culture for living and working remotely in small groups. They narrowed it to five general skills and defined the associated behaviors for each skill. NASA astronauts call it "Expeditionary Behavior," and they are part of everything we do. Click here. (3/24)
Astronauts in Space are Beaming Positivity to the People of Earth (Source: Space.com)
Astronauts at the International Space Station are sharing positivity and stunning images of our home planet from their temporary home in orbit as the world grapples with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday (March 26), NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan shared a hopeful sentiment from the International Space Station on Twitter. Alongside a stunning image of the Earth, with a piece of the space station in view, he wrote: "Even during our toughest times, we live on a beautiful planet. Stay strong planet Earth, we're in this together. #SpaceStation4all." (3/27)
Capsule on Fire: An Interview with Robert Seamans About the Apollo 1 Accident (Source: Space Review)
Robert Seamans was deputy administrator of NASA during the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, and was one of the officials who testified at a Senate hearing about it months later. Dwayne Day finds new insights about Seamans and his relationship with administrator James Webb in an interview from more than 20 years ago. Click here. (3/23)
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