|July 26, 2021
Blue Origin Launches First Suborbital Crew (Source: Space News)
Blue Origin successfully performed the first crewed launch of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle Tuesday with founder Jeff Bezos and three others on board. New Shepard lifted off from the company's West Texas site at 9:12 a.m. Eastern, with the capsule reaching a peak altitude of about 107 kilometers before landing 10 minutes later. Bezos was joined on the flight by his brother Mark, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen. Blue Origin executives said before the launch they were ready to start flying people after 15 uncrewed test flights, and saw no need to fly company employees as test astronauts first.
The crew praised the experience of flying on New Shepard even as Bezos faced criticism for spending his wealth on space. Bezos said at a post-flight event that the experience "dramatically exceeded" his expectations, views shared by the other three. Blue Origin plans to perform two more crewed New Shepard flights this year carrying paying customers, and Bezos said the company has tallied nearly $100 million in private sales of seats on those and future missions. Others, though, criticized Bezos for spending money on space rather than terrestrial alternatives. One congressman announced he would introduce legislation to levy a tax on space tourism flights. (7/21)
Bezos Says Demand for Space Tourism Flights is Already 'Very, Very High' (Source: The Hill)
Speaking during a presentation following his space travel company’s successful launch, the Blue Origin founder said that many people are ready to pay for tickets for a ride into space. “The demand is very, very high,” he said, per CNBC. Bezos added that Blue Origin is approaching $100 million in sales revenue. During the first flight of the company's New Shepard, the auction for a seat aboard went for $28 million.
While the New Shepard was crewed with only four commercial passengers, Bezos clarified that the goal of Blue Origin is “to fly human missions twice more this year.” However, he is unsure of what the exact number of crewed New Shepard launches will occur in 2022. Prior to more streamlined ticket sales and flights, the company intends to undergo more testing in Texas to research both cargo and passenger flights. (7/20)
Bezos’s Space Base Coexists Uneasily With Middle-of-Nowhere Texas Town (Source: Bloomberg)
Jeff Bezos' road to space passes through Van Horn, Texas. Van Horn, population less than 2,000, considers Bezos a neighbor. The few inhabitants of this vast patch of West Texas have historically sustained themselves through ranching, mining, oil, and irrigated farming. The town’s citizenry will be wondering just how Bezos' space obsession may change their lives and fortunes. The company completed the main launchpad in 2014 and has added other facilities for engine testing, rocket housing, and a training facility and lounge.
Blue Origin has also been building in town: One 48-unit apartment building on the town’s main street, along with 12 single-family houses. These have filled up with mostly well-paid, highly educated employees, most from out of state. Several have joined the local school board and the town council and some have joined up as volunteer firefighters. But Blue Origin’s presence has caused the city’s annual budget to take a hit. Historically, Van Horn had been a low- and moderate-income town that qualified for state and federal grants to help pay for infrastructure. Now, the influx of high-paid engineering staff has changed its demographics, making Van Horn ineligible for those grants.
Blue Origin says it has helped bring in more than $1 million for the community through grants to the benefit of the school district, food bank and town infrastructure. The company says it also has an agreement with the school district to support higher education and job skills funding. City officials confirm that Blue Origin has written letters to support the town’s attempts to get funding for various projects. And personnel from the spaceport have given classes on robotics at the local high school and engaged in tutoring. (7/19)
Miami High School Takes Pride in Alumnus Jeff Bezos, Other Astronaut (Source: CBS Miami)
When Amazon’s executive chairman Jeff Bezos launches into space on Tuesday, those at Palmetto Senior High School in Pinecrest will be watching one of their own with pride. “It’s amazing to think that someone from our public school here in Miami is going up to space, it’s just incredible. We are so excited and we are proud and we can’t wait to see it,” said Katie Abbott. She said Bezos isn’t the first Palmetto Alum to make it into space. Dominic Gorie was a NASA astronaut on the International Space Station and other missions. "We are just as proud of him as we are of Mr. Bezos,” she said.
Graduating in the early 1980s, Bezos was top of his class as the Valedictorian, as well as President of the school’s Science Honor Society. School superintendent Alberto Carvalho tweeted, “Inspired by our teachers Jeff Bezos was taught to always reach for the unimaginable.” (7/19)
New Wrinkle for Space Tourism: Deciding Who Counts as an Astronaut (Source: Axios)
Bezos and Branson are hoping to lure wealthy customers into space tourism, in part, with the promise of becoming astronauts — but the definition of who is considered an astronaut isn't clear-cut. NASA and the military's definitions have specific criteria and are reserved for their employees. In order to receive commercial astronaut wings, you have to be an employee of the company performing the launch, certified by the FAA and be a crewmember performing some kind of job during the mission.
It's possible that, by that definition, Branson will receive FAA commercial astronaut wings, while Bezos won't. Virgin Galactic classified Branson as a crew member, whose job was to evaluate the astronaut experience. The Blue Origin vehicle that will carried Bezos is autonomous — no one onboard needs to act as a pilot or flight crew. Oliver Daemen, the 18-year-old paying customer on the Blue Origin flight, definitely won't get official FAA wings, because he's paying for the trip. Editor's Note: Branson's role was as an 'evaluator' of the exprience. Bezos might claim the same, even though there were no pilots. (7/21)
FAA Revises "Astronaut" Criteria (Source: Space News)
The FAA has revised the criteria it uses for awarding commercial astronaut wings. The FAA first awarded the wings in 2004 to crew members on FAA-licensed launches going above an altitude of 50 miles. The new criteria, contained in an order released Tuesday, also require those individuals to have conducted activities on their flights "essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety." That may restrict the number of people eligible to receive those wings, but the order also allows the FAA to issue "honorary" wings to people who don't meet all the criteria. FAA astronaut wings are ceremonial and don't have any legal significance. (7/22)
Is Washington Ready for Space Tourism to Take Off? (Source: Politico)
When Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos blasts off on Tuesday with three other space tourists, a nascent industry will take a major step toward realizing its out-of-this-world dreams. Can Washington catch up? The first human space flight for the New Shepard will come on the heels of Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson’s historic trip to the edge of space last week aboard the rocketship SpaceShipTwo.
Together, the milestones are predicted to boost consumer confidence and propel further development of new spacecraft to support a global transportation system via low-Earth orbit. But many space policy experts and members of oversight committees in Congress are concerned that the government isn’t prepared for it — especially the office at the FAA that is responsible for regulating the new industry, but is widely viewed as overworked and understaffed.
Whether ensuring public safety, managing growing space traffic or mitigating environmental hazards, there is no framework for regulating private space travel. And while many experts say the industry is still too new to settle on details, they contend federal agencies are already way behind. “There are many open questions,” said Laura Seward Forczyk, founder of Astralytical, an aerospace consulting firm. “There will come a time when the U.S. government, the FAA, will decide that it needs to regulate this sector in a way that is close to the airline industry. It is not going to be perfectly safe initially — no one expects it to be — but it needs to become safer as it becomes less experimental. (7/19)
FAA Opens Houston Office to Support Space Launches in Texas, New Mexico [and Oklahoma?] (Source: FAA)
The FAA has opened a Houston office to support commercial launches in Texas and New Mexico. The FAA said Monday its new Houston Space Safety Office will host personnel responsible for launches from SpaceX's Boca Chica site, Blue Origin's West Texas site and Spaceport America in New Mexico. SpaceX complained earlier this year it had to postpone a Starship test from Boca Chica because an FAA safety inspector could not get to the site in time. (7/20)
Democrat Proposes Taxes on Commercial Space Flights for Nonscientific Purposes (Source: The Hill)
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said he is planning to introduce legislation that would establish excise taxes on commercial space flights with human passengers that aren't focused on scientific research. Blumenauer is a senior member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. He raised concerns about the environmental impacts of the growing space tourism industry, and said that wealthy people making space trips should pay taxes that are similar to the taxes people pay for airplane flights. (7/20)
Tulsi Gabbard Torches Bezos, Blue Origin (Source: New York Post)
Former US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard ripped Jeff Bezos ahead of his successful trip to space, telling him to “do the world a favor” and “stay up there.” Gabbard, a Democrat who represented Hawaii in the House before running for president in 2020, voiced her views ahead of the highly publicized launch in a pair of tweets Tuesday morning. “Bezos, please stay up there. Do the world a favor,” Gabbard wrote in the first post. (7/20)
Congress Can’t Agree on Big Things. Let Billionaires Handle Space (Source: Washington Post)
Before both flights, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) tweeted: “Should billionaires play out their space travel fantasies, or should we invest in schooling, provide healthcare, and create prosperity for everyone? We need a wealth tax.” This week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), said he’ll introduce legislation that would tax wealthy passengers on space flights that don’t have scientific goals, in order to “support the public good.” They’re not wrong that there are plenty of problems here on Earth that need attention, and resources. But what’s wrong with letting the billionaires take a turn at tackling outer space?
You or I might not choose to spend money the way Bezos, Branson or SpaceX’s Elon Musk have. But it’s one giant leap from there to suggesting that Congress is better at spending money, or that a private space race, which right now looks like a game of one-upmanship between famous rich guys, can’t ultimately redound to the public good.
In a country where there is ever-increasing disagreement about policy priorities, the proper role of the state, and the trustworthiness of our elected officials, it’s time to take seriously the idea that government may not always be primed to take on some of our biggest problems. As Bezos explained to CNBC, there’s a broader vision: “What we’re really trying to do is build reusable space vehicles. It’s the only way to build a road to space, and we need to build a road to space so that our children can build the future.” (7/24)
Forget Branson and Bezos—the Real Deal Comes This Fall (Source: TIME)
The storm of press that the Branson and Bezos missions occasioned has largely overlooked a much bigger space deal coming in September, when yet another billionaire—Jared Isaacman, the CEO of Shift4 Payments, an online payments company—goes aloft with three other civilian astronauts aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on a mission dubbed Inspiration4. Isaacman purchased all four seats for an undisclosed sum, though judging by the prices in the commercial space market, $50 million each is a not unreasonable guess. (7/23)
Ex-NASA Chief Envisions a Future Where Humans Go to Space Stations Owned by Corporations (Source: CNBC)
The future of space innovation will be controlled by corporations, ex-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. Bridenstine’s remarks came as Blue Origin launched its first crewed spaceflight Tuesday morning, with its founder, Jeff Bezos, on board. “Space is really big. We’re only just now scratching the surface of it,” Bridenstine said.
These missions are led by “entrepreneurs that are investing their own money. They’re not getting billions and billions of dollars from the federal government to help develop their product here,” said Bridenstine, currently senior advisor to private equity firm Acorn Growth Cos. “The goal for all of these folks is to drive down costs and increase access and really to do it through innovation.” (7/20)
How Can You Become a Space Tourist? (Source: Space Daily)
Two companies are offering short suborbital hops of a few minutes: Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. In both cases, up to six passengers are able to unbuckle from their seats to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and take in the view of Earth from space.
Virgin Galactic has said regular commercial flights will begin from 2022, following two more test flights. Their waiting list is already long, with 600 tickets so far sold. But the company predicts it will eventually run up to 400 flights per year. Two seats on one of the first flights are up for grabs in a prize draw. As for Blue Origin, no detailed calendar has been announced. "We're planning for two more flights this year, then targeting many more in 2022," a spokesperson said.
Another way to get to space is via reality television. Space Hero, an upcoming show, says it plans to send the winner of a competition to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2023. SpaceX is also getting into the space tourism game, but its plans involve journeys that are far longer. The costs are also predicted to be astronomical -- tens of millions of dollars. (7/19)
The Case Against Space Tourism (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The last time there was talk about sending an ordinary person into space, NASA was doing the talking. In 1985 Christa McAuliffe beat out more than 11,000 other applicants to win a seat on the space shuttle Challenger. Almost overnight, she became a national celebrity: America’s teacher in space. NASA had a journalist-in-space program ready to go, with applicants including Walter Cronkite and Norman Mailer.
When reporters asked McAuliffe whether she was nervous about rocketing into orbit, she repeated what she had been told: that the shuttle was as safe as a passenger jet. In fact, like today’s Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic vehicles, the space shuttle was an engineering experiment in progress. Professional astronauts have a full understanding of the risks. Civilians like Christa McAuliffe don’t. (7/22)
Note to Rich Space Racers: Dream Bigger (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)
It is astonishing to think that for less than 1 per cent of his wealth, Jeff Bezos could fund the production of enough vaccines to inoculate the entire world against COVID-19. Instead, he’s engaged in pursuing a Plan B space race to achieve what humans already did, better, 50 years ago. Count me out from Branson’s “generation of dreamers”. I’m a Millennial. Our dreams extend as far as owning a house. Yet “space tourism”, as Branson calls it, is here to stay: another idea foisted on us by a very rich man that makes about as much sense as sending a submarine into a labyrinthine Thai cave system to locate lost schoolchildren. (7/23)
Don’t Be Duped Into Loving or Hating Space Tourism (Source: NBR)
Of course, space tourism is easy to criticize. The implications for climate change are, on the face of it, dire. If you were already horrified by the carbon costs of plane travel, then you will be devastated by the costs of space tourism. If space tourism becomes as common as Earthbound tourism, then its emissions will likely significantly contribute to human-induced climate change. There is also something inherently distasteful about sending billionaires to space while so many people down here on Earth are suffering.
On the other hand, it is easy to argue that space tourism is ultimately a good thing for sustainability. Advances in space technology – whether in space tourism or other segments of the space economy – make space more accessible, and that is important. How do you think we even understand humanity’s impact on Earth, anyway? Spaceborne sensors are critical for looking back on the Earth system and seeing it as a whole. Our understanding of human-induced climate change is built in no small part on comparative planetology.
One can debate the comparative weight of the merits, of course; acknowledging there are multiple views does not require you become paralyzed with indecision. You can still be open-minded and act. The point is: it is false to deny that there are valid arguments on both sides, that there are compelling rationales both for and against space tourism. It is not worth your time to listen to commentators who claim to have crystal balls telling them the future, that space tourism will certainly save or destroy humanity. (7/24)
Former Virgin Galactic CEO to Launch on the Company's Next Spaceflight Test (Sources: CNBC, Parabolic Arc)
George Whitesides, the former CEO of Virgin Galactic, will fly on the company's next spaceflight test. Sir Richard Branson made the announcement at a party on July 11 in Las Cruces, New Mexico — following his own spaceflight — after thanking Whitesides for leading the company for a decade. Whitesides was the only member of the next crew who Branson mentioned at the celebration, with three more people expected to join the spaceflight.
According to Parabolic Arc, Whitesides had the SpaceShipTwo flight test included in a new contract he negotiated with Virgin Galactic last summer when they made him chief space officer and hired Michael Colglazier as CEO. The deal included a flight opportunity for his wife Loretta. (7/23)
Virgin Galactic Flight Test Director Departs Company (Source: CNBC)
Mark “Forger” Stucky, Virgin Galactic’s flight test director and pilot, is no longer with the space tourism company. “I am now a former Director of Flight Test and former SpaceShipTwo pilot,” Stucky wrote in a post on LinkedIn. He added in a comment on LinkedIn that he did not leave the space tourism company “on my own timeline.”
Virgin Galactic confirmed to CNBC that Stucky “is no longer employed,” but did not explain further. “We thank him for his 12 years of service on the flight test program,” a Virgin Galactic spokesperson said in a statement. Stucky helped develop Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system, serving first as the engineering test pilot for Scaled Composites — which built the spacecraft for Virgin Galactic — before spending the last six years as Virgin Galactic’s lead test pilot and director of flight testing. (7/22)
Virgin Galactic Stock Has Worst Week Ever (Source: Bloomberg)
Despite the success of its SpaceShipTwo flight, Virgin Galactic stock had its worst week ever last week. The company's shares fell 39% last week, in part because of plans it announced the day after Branson's flight on SpaceShipTwo that it would sell up to $500 million in stock. Investors also expected the company to make more news about its sales and growth plans after the flight. Virgin Galactic stock has been notorious for its volatility: its shares fell 43% in 13 days after going up 260% in the preceding 30 days. (7/19)
Virgin Galactic Takes Back Seat As Best Way To Profit From Space (Source: Investor's Business Daily)
Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic (SPCE) launched an out-of-the-world race of egos. But investors care more about making money on space — and some ETFs offer top spots that might be less obvious. Five main ETFs aiming to profit from space take distinct approaches — to the point they're hardly related. But that's likely to be the norm and an advantage. Investing in space is in such infancy, many individual stocks in the race will likely deliver heartache. ETFs are looking to temper this risky proposition by including more established S&P 500 stocks.
To understand just how unpredictable space investing is, just look at how the main ETFs treat Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic is arguably the poster child for the space race. It's publicly traded, unlike Bezos' Blue Origin or Elon Musk's SpaceX. And the scarcity of established pure-play space stocks fuels Virgin Galactic shares. Shares are up nearly 40% this year, easily topping the gains of all the major space ETFs. And that's despite some major concerns. The company is expected to lose money annually until eking out a profit of $40 million in 2024, says S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Also concerning is the fact Branson himself is a seller. The Branson-controlled Virgin Group Holdings unloaded more than 5.5 million shares, or roughly 10% of its Virgin Galactic position, as of the end of June. Virgin Group is still the No. 1 holder, though, with 23% of shares outstanding. And yet, one of the largest space ETFs, Cathie Wood's ARK Space Exploration & Innovation ETF (ARKX), doesn't own Virgin Galactic at all. Meanwhile, it's a No. 2 holding in SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF (XAR). (7/22)
You Don't Have to Be Rich to Cash in on the Space Race (Source: CNN)
Average folks may not be able to saunter into space like Jeff Bezos just yet. But the frenzy around exploring the final frontier doesn't have to be alien territory for the typical Earth-bound investor. Several publicly traded companies and exchange-traded funds have shot into orbit, capitalizing on a growing fascination with space. Click here. (7/20)
Space Economy Grows to $447 Billion (Source: Space Foundation)
The global space economy grew by 4.4% in 2020 according to a new report. The Space Report 2021 by the Space Foundation, released last week, estimated the global space economy to be $447 billion in 2020, up from a revised total of $428 billion in 2019. Commercial space activity grew even faster, up 6.6% to $357 billion. (7/19)
Star-Gazing Investors Launch More Money Into Space Tech (Source: CrunchBase)
Venture funding in space travel, satellite communication and aerospace — which includes space-related technologies such as thrusters and propulsion systems — hit a new high last year, and that record is likely to be eclipsed this year. According to Crunchbase data, nearly $5.2 billion in venture funding has gone into space tech funding already this year — including huge rounds such as SpaceX’s $850 million round and Long Beach, California-based Relatively Space‘s$650 million Series E. (7/23)
August Targeted for Rocket Lab SPAC (Source: Business Wire)
Rocket Lab's merger with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) could be completed next month. Vector Acquisition Corp., the SPAC that announced in March it would merge with Rocket Lab, announced its shareholders will vote on the deal Aug. 20. That vote is the final milestone in the merger, which would make Rocket Lab a publicly traded company and provide several hundred million dollars in capital to fund development of its Neutron rocket. (7/23)
Green Light for Rocket Lab Return to Flight (Source: Gisborne Herald)
Rocket Lab has concluded an extensive review into the cause of the anomaly that resulted in the loss of its Running Out Of Toes launch in May. With the root cause of the issue identified and corrective measures in place, Electron will be back on the pad for the next mission from Launch Complex 1 later this month, a company statement said. “The May 15 anomaly occurred after 17 successful orbital flights of the Electron launch vehicle, which has deployed more than 100 satellites to orbit since 2018. (7/21)
Rocket Lab Completes Anomaly Review, Next Mission on the Pad in July (Source: Rocket Lab)
Leading launch and space systems company Rocket Lab today announced it has concluded an extensive review into the cause of the anomaly that resulted in the loss of its “Running Out Of Toes” mission launched on May 15, 2021. With the root cause of the issue identified and corrective measures now in place, Electron will be back on the pad for the next mission from Launch Complex 1 later this month.
The May 15 anomaly occurred after 17 successful orbital flights of the Electron launch vehicle which has deployed more than 100 satellites to orbit since 2018. Immediately following the anomaly, Rocket Lab launched a rigorous internal review, assembling its investigation team with oversight by the FAA. The investigation team scoured thousands of channels of telemetry and systems data from the flight and worked systematically through an extensive fault tree analysis to determine the cause of the failure.
The review concluded that an issue occurred within the second stage engine igniter system almost three minutes and 20 seconds into the flight. This induced a corruption of signals within the engine computer that caused the Rutherford engine’s thrust vector control (TVC) to deviate outside nominal parameters and resulted in the engine computer commanding zero pump speed, shutting down the engine. With corrective measures now in place, Rocket Lab is returning to the pad with an even more reliable launch vehicle to meet a busy launch schedule in the second half of 2021. (7/19)
Virginia County Rezones Near Spaceport to Accommodate Rocket Lab Manufacturing (Source: Shore Daily News)
Supervisors in a Virginia county have approved rezoning plans for a proposed Rocket Lab launch vehicle factory. The Accomack County Board of Supervisors approved rezoning of 28 acres of land near the Wallops Flight Facility that currently hosts a chicken farm. That rezoning will allow Rocket Lab to build a factory there for its Neutron rocket. Rocket Lab announced plans for Neutron, a medium-class rocket, earlier this year, and said it wanted to build a factory for producing it near the Wallops launch site to make it easy to transport the vehicle. (7/22)
NASA Michoud Signs Lease for 50 Acre Development (Source: GCAC)
Industrial Realty Group, LLC (IRG) announced Tuesday that it signed a long-term ground lease with NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF). The agreement is for a 50-acre development parcel within MAF, one of the largest production facilities in the nation. IRG's future development is expected to be up to 1,000,000 square feet of buildings developed in phases. The target users include light assembly, manufacturing, distribution, and office space. "When we look at property, we are always searching for creative solutions that benefit all parties," said Stuart Lichter, President of IRG.
"In this instance, IRG can provide NASA an excellent long-term plan for its underutilized land in Orleans Parish, while developing a dynamic project resulting in job creation and economic growth." According to Robert Champion, director of MAF, "The agreement with IRG allows MAF to offset some production costs and gives new purpose to this part of the installation." The first phase of development is expected to produce a 400,000 square foot warehouse building. A project timeline will be based on market demand. (7/21)
Cecil Air and Spaceport Plans Space Launches (Source: Action News Jax)
F-18s are among many aircraft that use Cecil Air and Spaceport’s runways. Soon, they’ll be sharing with spacecraft. ”We have done rocket testing here at Cecil already, and we are very excited for the future of space,” airport director Kelly Dollarhide said. Dollarhide says two exciting potential launches are in the works. The first, Aevum Space Logistics, is a company that plans to use an unmanned drone the size of a jet to launch aircraft into space.
The second potential launch would be by a company called Space Perspective, which wants to launch a gondola held by a giant balloon, and yes, you can ride the gondola. There’s currently no set timeline for that, as Space Perspective is waiting on the FAA’s approval. Cecil Spaceport plans to make some initial launches into space around Spring and Summer of 2022. (7/23)
Cecil Airport and Spaceport Unveils Mission Control for Commercial Spaceflight (Source: WJCT)
More than a decade after the FAA granted a spaceflight permit to Jacksonville’s Cecil Airport and Spaceport, the commercial airport is unveiling a traffic control center that’s better capable of handling horizontal-launch flight into suborbit. The new Dr. Norman Thagard Mission Control Center is named in honor of the Jacksonville astronaut and Paxon School graduate who completed five missions in space and was the first American astronaut to ride to space on a Russian spacecraft.
The control center includes a terminal for managing spaceflight and a new 126-foot air traffic control tower for commercial flights. Air traffic control specialist Tim Altman said moving from the old 60-foot tower to the new one was like switching from a Razr flip phone to a brand new iPhone. (7/23)
Sierra Space Secures Senior Aerospace Exec Tom Vice as CEO (Source: Business Wire)
Sierra Space, the new commercial space subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), has named senior aerospace executive Tom Vice as the company’s Chief Executive Officer. Vice joins Sierra Space following an extensive career in aerospace, including most recently serving as CEO for Aerion Corp. Editor's Note: Aerion abruptly halted operations in May 2021, amid plans to develop major manufacturing operations on Florida's Space Coast. Vice is a Space Coast resident. (7/19)
FAA Website Shares Sierra Space Dream Chaser Proposed Operations at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: FAA)
The FAA developed a project website for the public to learn more about Sierra Space Corporation’s proposed plan to land its Dream Chaser reentry vehicle at the Space Florida Launch and Landing Facility at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. People interested in the project can subscribe to receive project updates and information about opportunities for public involvement.
The Dream Chaser is a reusable reentry vehicle and would be launched as payload on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from a different site. Sierra Space has a contract with NASA to carry supplies to and from the International Space Station. This proposed project is currently in the pre-application consultation phase. Once the FAA receives Sierra Space’s license application, the agency will begin its license evaluation process. Click here. (7/23)
Roscosmos Says US Greenlit Import of More Russian RD-181M Rocket Engines for Antares (Source: Sputnik)
The United States has approved the purchase of a new batch of the Russian-made RD-181M space rocket engines, said a spokesman for the Russian space agency Roscosmos. "The US government has approved the contract between NPO Energomash [Roscosmos subsidiary] and US Orbital Sciences LLC company. This means that there will be new supplies of engines and new launches of American rockets with Russian 'hearts'," Vladimir Ustimenko said.
The deal gives hope for the possible normalization of relations between the countries, where business and efficiency will play a more important role than momentary decisions, which are not related to cosmonautics, Ustimenko added. (7/21)
SpaceX Tests Super Heavy Engines (Source: Space.com)
SpaceX performed the first static fire test of a Super Heavy booster Monday evening. The Booster 3 prototype fired its three Raptor engines for a few seconds on a test stand at the company's Boca Chica, Texas, test site. Elon Musk said that firing was a full-duration test, and suggested the company might consider performing one with nine Raptor engines installed depending on the progress building the next booster, which will be used for the first Starship orbital launch attempt as soon as later this year. (7/20)
SpaceX's Genius New Rideshare Launcher (Source: Primal Space)
Over the last few years, rockets have gotten cheaper and satellites have gotten smaller. Because of this, SpaceX has started their new Rideshare program, which allows smaller satellites to go to space for a much lower price. Click here for the video. (7/23)
NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Europa Clipper Mission to SpaceX (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected SpaceX to provide launch services for Earth’s first mission to conduct detailed investigations of Jupiter's moon Europa. The Europa Clipper mission will launch in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The total contract award amount for launch services is approximately $178 million. Europa Clipper will conduct a detailed survey of Europa and use a sophisticated suite of science instruments to investigate whether the icy moon has conditions suitable for life. (7/23)
SpaceX to Launch the Europa Clipper Mission for a Bargain Price (Source: Ars Technica)
After years of speculation, NASA officially announced Friday that SpaceX's Falcon Heavy would launch what is arguably the space agency's most important Solar System exploration mission of the 2020s—the Europa Clipper. Slated to launch in October 2024, the $4.25 billion mission will spend much of the remainder of this decade flying to the Jovian system before entering an elongated orbit around Jupiter. The spacecraft will then make as many as 44 flybys of Europa.
The total contract award amount for launch services is approximately $178 million, NASA said in a news release. This is a significant moment for SpaceX, as the company will be entrusted with one of NASA's highest-priority exploration missions. The deal also saves NASA about $2 billion.
The selection of a launch vehicle for this ambitious mission has been subjected to a long, drawn-out political process. Originally, at the urging of Congress, NASA planned to launch the spacecraft on its Space Launch System rocket. There were two reasons for this. Legislators (particularly US Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL) wanted to find additional missions for the SLS rocket. And second, the powerful SLS rocket had the ability to get the Clipper to Jupiter within about four years. (7/23)
Starliner Readies for Launch Atop Atlas 5 (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Boeing's CST-100 Starliner is installed on its Atlas 5 rocket for a test flight next week. Crews attached Starliner to the Atlas 5's upper stage over the weekend as part of preparations for the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission launching July 30 from Cape Canaveral. OFT-2 will be an uncrewed test of the vehicle that will include a docking with the International Space Station. The original OFT mission in late 2019 suffered technical problems that kept it going to the station. (7/20)
NASA Confirms July 30 CST-100 Launch to ISS From Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Space News)
NASA confirmed plans Thursday to launch Boeing's CST-100 Starliner next week on an uncrewed test flight. At the end of a flight readiness review, NASA and Boeing said they were ready to launch the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission on July 30. OFT-2 will attempt to complete the objectives of the first OFT mission in late 2019, which was cut short by software and communications problems. Boeing has implemented 80 recommendations from an independent review last year of the OFT mission. A successful flight would allow NASA to proceed with the first crewed flight of Starliner, but agency managers declined to state when that might take place other than no earlier than the end of this year. (7/23)
Investors Balk at Momentus SPAC (Source: Space News)
Some investors who planned to participate in the merger of in-space transportation company Momentus with a SPAC have dropped out. As part of a settlement with the SEC last week, Stable Road Acquisition Corporation had to give investors who agreed to participate in a standalone funding round, intended to raise an additional $175 million, the opportunity to withdraw. Investors accounting for $118 million chose to drop out, although other investors joined the round, bringing its revised total to $110 million. Stable Road shareholders are scheduled to vote on the merger Aug. 11. (7/20)
Accion Systems Raises $42 Million (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Accion Systems, a leading manufacturer of the world’s most advanced ion electrospray in-space propulsion systems, today announced $42 million in Series C funding. The investment brings Accion Systems’ valuation to $83.5 million and Tracker Capital has acquired a majority stake in the company. The funding will accelerate the development of Accion’s next-generation propulsion system and scale up its manufacturing to meet the surging demand for in-space propulsion. (7/21)
Space Launch Players Are Building Up Navies As They Take Rocketry To Sea (Source: Forbes)
Oceangoing ships have always been an important—if underestimated—part of America’s space program. In the early stages of space exploration, ships were used in virtually every stage of NASA’s launch and recovery process. In 1965 alone, America deployed 58 separate naval vessels for astronaut recovery missions (and some of those were dispatched multiple times), while operating a separate government-owned space fleet of 21 range ships, two experimental at-sea rocket-launchers and a specialized satellite communications ship.
In addition, an armada of forgotten barges and other vessels did the logistical busy-work of securing launch areas or schlepping rocket boosters along America’s inland waterways, moving boosters and rockets down the Mississippi basin and over to testing and launching facilities on the Gulf Coast. With SpaceX’s additions, along with Blue Origin’s future landing/recovery ship Jacklyn, America’s revitalized space navy merits more attention than it gets. It is a fascinating blend of two powerful industries, workforces and political influencing networks that, normally, fight each other for resources. Click here. (7/20)
Houston, Are We Going to Have a Problem with Space Nuclear Power? (Source: The Bulletin)
NASA and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have outlined the benefits of nuclear propulsion for space exploration and made important proposals to develop the technologies needed to send humans to Mars. As useful as this work is, space nuclear power isn’t just about propulsion. The dynamic commercial space and national security sectors can also benefit from nuclear capabilities and have an important role to play in developing dual-use technologies that have both military and civilian applications, though with some caveats to ensure human safety.
While the National Academies report published in February advocates for the use of nuclear power in propulsion, nuclear power for non-propulsion applications is becoming increasingly attractive as the commercial space sector seeks to expand its activities. It would be prudent to discuss and establish policy on the use of space nuclear power now, so that policy and safety concerns can be fully addressed during the development proposed by NASA and the National Academies.
Rather than be blindsided by onrushing events and technology developments in space—not to mention the actions of ambitious foreign space competitors that may well give scant regard to safety considerations—the US would do well to assess the space nuclear power landscape and the desirability and implications of potential space nuclear power applications. The US should lead the way in identifying the types of applications that should be encouraged, those where caution may be indicated, and perhaps some applications that should be discouraged because the risks outweigh potential benefits. (7/19)
Lawmakers Position U.S. to Become the Galaxy’s Garbage Man as Space Trash Piles Up (Source: Washington Times)
America took on the mantle of the world’s policeman in the 20th century and Congress is now poised to make the U.S. the galaxy’s garbage man in the 21st century. Legislation working its way through Congress would fund the development of new capabilities to track space trash and establish a federal office to monitor the trash and other objects in space.
Advocates for a more aggressive U.S. effort on this front cite the mounting dangers of space trash. A boom of the commercial space industry and increased space exploration by other countries is cluttering the road to the final frontier with piles of space junk and traffic jams. Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee’s space and science panel, said Thursday that she is comfortable being identified as the “space junk lady” because she wants the U.S. to take a lead role in developing space situational awareness, space traffic management, and space policy for earthlings to follow. (7/23)
Can the World Avoid War in Cyberspace—and in Space? (Source: Foreign Policy)
Billionaire rocket launches and ongoing cyberattacks reveal that, without norms governing conflict, there could be chaos. We are moving beyond the age of exploration in space to the age of commercialization. I suspect that in several decades, many of us will be traveling, working, maybe even living in space. It will be an extension of life on Earth—more like the oceans today than some far-off domain.
But, to get there, we will need investment and innovation, and today’s advances will unlock future breakthroughs that we cannot yet see. I’m particularly thrilled to see that this is coming from the private sector. I think the worst thing we could do is start to consider space as merely a forum for great-power competition between the United States and China. That would militarize space at the cost of all these potential commercial advances.
Commercializing space will require securing space, and China and Russia present some of the biggest threats in that domain—they are building capabilities, including direct ascent anti-satellite missiles, to destroy space-based assets. So, making this work will require the United States and its allies to extend their terrestrial military advantages to outer space. Washington needs to invest in military capabilities to deter and defend against hostile adversary attacks. (7/23)
Japanese Astronaut Says ‘Space Diplomacy’ Can Save the Earth (Source: PassBlue)
Naoko Yamazaki made space history not only as the second woman astronaut from Japan, but also by participating in the record-setting 2010 NASA space shuttle mission STS-131 to the International Space Station, or ISS. Launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., the mission marked the first time that four women were together in the ISS at once. It set a record as the longest Discovery space shuttle mission as well, lasting more than 15 days.
A member of the EarthShot Prize Council, a global environment project, Yamazaki practices an astronaut’s “citizen diplomacy,” as she calls it, which includes promoting the application of experiential knowledge and technology of space ecosystems for solving Earth’s environmental issues. She thinks that space diplomacy can contribute much value to global diplomacy, especially to both environmental diplomacy and science diplomacy in planetary and outer-space affairs.
In Japan, Yamazaki advises the government on space policy and promotes the teaching of STEM among youths, especially young women. She co-founded the Space Port Japan Association in 2018, which promotes the country’s aeronautics industry. She also teaches, lectures widely in schools and science museums and contributes her expertise as an astronaut-citizen-diplomat in many forums. Recently, she was a visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. (7/22)
Global Rules and Incentives Needed to Make Space Sustainable (Source: Space News)
Space industry executives warned of a lack of globally accepted rules and incentives to make space a sustainable environment. At a webinar Tuesday, executives said efforts to craft norms of behavior are fragmented and not well-coordinated. They called for a more inclusive effort to bring all space organizations together to create "harmonized, if not standardized" rules of behavior. That also includes developing processes for removing debris that has accumulated in orbit. (7/21)
DoD Endorses Norms of Behavior in Space (Source: Breaking Defense)
The Defense Department has endorsed the creation of norms of behavior in space. In a formal memo earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin outlined five "Tenets of Responsible Behavior" for military space activities, from avoiding the creation of long-lived debris to operating with due regard to others. Space security experts saw the memo as a positive first step towards more detailed guidelines for space operations, but cautioned that opposing only the creation of "long-lived" debris could allow some kinds of ASAT tests to continue. (7/21)
More Questions Than Answers For Milspace Norms (Source: Breaking Defense)
A new study by The Aerospace Corporation finds that there are four strategic decisions that US policy-makers will need to consider — and perhaps more crucially, weigh tradeoffs among –in developing norms of behavior for space, including domestic buy-in, and the choice of initial negotiating partners. The new study, “Building Normentum: A Framework for Space Norm Development,” comes as US Space Command is working to implement the first-ever official DoD guidance on norms for US military space operations.
Creating norms for military space operations could help reduce the chance of miscalculation, misperceptions and thus the risk of conflict. While there are sets of norms that guide military operations in both peacetime and conflict in the air, land and sea domains, there are few agreed internationally in the space domain. In particular, the study cautions decision-makers that while many domestic stakeholders support both the concept of international norms and the need for US leadership in developing those tenets, the priorities and perceived needs among those stakeholders are widely disparate. Click here. (7/20)
Updating Space Doctrine: How to Avoid World War III (Source: War on the Rocks)
The clock is ticking because the United States has been inviting an orbital Pearl Harbor for decades. Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, calls our military satellites “big, fat, juicy targets.” He’s correct. They are both exquisite and relatively defenseless, just as the U.S. Air Force designed them. There are also constellations of NASA, commercial, and allied satellites that are completely vulnerable. At least the fleet at Pearl Harbor had big guns — its mistake was being caught off-guard. In comparison, most satellites are naked. Click here. (7/23)
SpOC Commander Sees Spacefaring Guardians in Future (Source: Air Force Magazine)
As military operations in space move farther from the Earth, the head of Space Operations Command believes Guardians joining the Space Force now may eventually need to enter orbit or transit through space to make quick decisions to protect American interests in space. “As we think about future threats, as we think about where commerce may go, human history tells us that where commerce goes that we have had a need to have a military defense,” Lt. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting told Air Force Magazine by phone from SpOC headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. (7/23)
Space Force Seeking Alliances in Europe to Guard Orbit (Source: Politico)
The U.S. military's Space Force is looking to develop partnerships with European countries to counter threats in orbit from the likes of Russia and China, according to General John W. Raymond, the Pentagon's chief of space operations. "We have seen what China and Russia have done in developing a suite of capabilities designed to deny our access to space," Raymond told journalists Thursday following meetings in Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands aimed at building support for measures to provide "stability" in orbit.
Raymond said Beijing and Moscow had both developed jamming systems, targeted energy weapons and satellites installed with offensive weaponry, along with Earth-based missiles capable of taking out spacecraft. France and the U.K. have also launched military space units over the last few years and Raymond said the U.S. already has a dialogue with both countries. The plan is to now widen that cooperation to include other friendly nations. This month, Germany also officially opened its own space military unit. (7/22)
Air Force Experiments on Space Hardware Radiation (Source: Space News)
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has completed a two-year experiment to study the effects of radiation on space hardware. The Demonstration and Science Experiments (DSX) spacecraft launched on a Falcon Heavy in 2019 to study the harsh radiation environment of medium orbits. AFRL says it completed more than 1,300 tests using DSX, which featured the largest self-supporting deployable structure on a robotic spacecraft. (7/20)
More Colorado Air Force Facilities Transitioning to Space Force (Source: Space News)
Three Air Force facilities in Colorado Springs will become Space Force bases next week. Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station will officially become U.S. Space Force bases in ceremonies scheduled for July 26. The renamings will be the latest in a series that has seen Air Force bases take on Space Force designations as part of establishment of the new service. (7/22)
Flattops From Space: the Once (and Future?) Meme of Photographing Aircraft Carriers From Orbit (Source: Space Review)
Aircraft carriers, given their size and distinctive shape, stand out in satellite imagery. Dwayne Day explores the long history of taking images of carriers from space, from spysats in the Cold War to commercial imagery of Chinese, Indian, and other carriers. Click here. (7/19)
Lockheed Martin Tops List of Donors to 'Sedition Caucus' (Source: Popular Information)
In the first six months of 2021, Lockheed Martin has already donated to 53 members of Congress who voted on January 6 to overturned the election results. The defense contractor has donated to more GOP objectors than any other major company, according to an analysis of new FEC filings. (7/19)
Parsons Contract with Space Force Extended (Source: Space News)
The Space Force has extended a contract with Parsons Corp. to develop satellite ground station services. Braxton Technologies, a company recently acquired by Parsons Corp., received a $139.4 million contract this week to continue development and prototyping of the Space Force's next-generation ground system for satellite operations, called enterprise ground services. Braxton's work on the project dates back to a small business innovation research award in 2017. The project features a suite of satellite command-and-control services that uses open standards and a common platform to operate a wide range of satellites. (7/23)
Air Force Selects 29 Companies for Comm Network Support (Source: Space News)
Several space companies are among the 29 selected by the Air Force for contracts to feed data into a common network. Umbra, Kymeta, Hughes Network Systems and Hypergiant Galactic Systems received indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts last week for the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) program, which seeks to ensure sensors from all the services feed data into a common network. JACD2 highlights the importance of artificial intelligence to analyze data and imagery as well as space-based communications to transmit them. (7/19)
Air Force Tasks Rhea Space Activity to Build Rapid-Response Lunar Communications Spacecraft (Source: Rhea Space Activity)
As U.S. operations in space steadily move further away from Earth orbit, the rapidly growing 'New Space' company Rhea Space Activity (RSA) is pleased to announce that it has been selected by the Air Force for a Phase I, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) 2021 Space Force Pitch Day award to investigate a bi-modal, solar-thermal propulsion system that would provide rapid repositioning capabilities for a future United State Space Force (USSF) deep space communications spacecraft. (7/19)
Umbra Awarded $950M Air Force IDIQ Contract (Source: Space Daily)
Umbra has been awarded a $950,000,000 ceiling indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract for the maturation, demonstration, and proliferation of capability across platforms and domains, leveraging open systems design, modern software, and algorithm development to enable Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). (7/20)
NRO Limits Purchases of Commercial Imagery to US Companies (Source: Breaking Defense)
The National Reconnaissance Office has decided not to purchase commercial imagery from companies outside the United States. The NRO informed senators earlier this year that it would only buy images and other geospatial products from U.S. companies. The NRO says the decision is intended to comply with language in last year's defense authorization bill to "leverage, to the maximum extent practicable, the capabilities of United States industry" when buying commercial satellite imagery and other data. Some in Congress and elsewhere in the national security community disagree with that interpretation, saying it goes counter to efforts by other agencies to buy commercial data more broadly, including from companies in allied nations. (7/20)
NGA Opens Moonshot Labs in St. Louis (Source: NGA)
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will host a special ceremony celebrating the opening of Moonshot Labs, its first-ever unclassified, collaborative innovation space, Friday, July 23, at the T-REX innovation center in downtown St. Louis. Moonshot Labs, NGA’s first-ever unclassified innovation center, is about 12,000 square feet of shared workspace at T-REX that aims to foster collaboration among the government, industry and academic geospatial community members in the St. Louis region. (7/19)
Commerce Department Needs Support for Space Role (Source: Politico)
It’s been three years since a presidential directive required the Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce to develop a clearinghouse to ensure that the growing number of satellites and orbital debris don’t literally take down the growing commercial space industry. And on Thursday there were some pointed questions about the delay during a hearing convened by the Senate Commerce Space and Science Subcommittee.
What’s “holding up the process and what needs to be done to pick up the pace?” asked Sen. Cythia Lummis (R-WY). “This really was a resource question,” Kevin O’Connell, the former head of the office, responded. He noted that “when I arrived at the office in 2018 no one had led the office in 10 years” and it had a “very very small staff.” He added: “We had a very very small budget in the office. It needs to be resourced now.” Tom Stroup, president of the Satellite Industry Association, agreed,telling lawmakers that “”action and funding are needed now.” (7/22)
NOAA Restoring GOES-17 Operations After Computer Reset (Sources: NOAA, Space News)
NOAA is restoring operations of a weather satellite that malfunctioned Thursday. The GOES-17 weather satellite went into safe mode early Thursday when an onboard computer reset. NOAA said engineers were working to recover operations of the spacecraft, and the agency was prepared to bring GOES-15 into service as a backup if needed. GOES-17 operates at the GOES-West location in geostationary orbit, but NOAA said in June that it would replace GOES-17 ahead of schedule because of problems with its main instrument found shortly after its 2018 launch. (7/23)
Court Denies Viasat Attempt to Halt Starlink Launches Pending Legal Action (Source: Space News)
A federal appeals court denied a motion from satellite operator Viasat to stop SpaceX from enlarging its Starlink megaconstellation. Viasat had requested a stay on a SpaceX license modification that allows it to continue building out the low-Earth-orbit constellation, while legal action seeking to compel a thorough environmental review of the broadband network plays out through the court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled July 20 that Viasat, which operates broadband satellites in geostationary orbit, “has not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review.” The court also granted a motion to expedite the appeal, setting dates that end with an Oct. 26 deadline for final briefs to clear the way for oral arguments. (7/23)
Akash Demonstrates Fast Data Rate for Small Satellite (Source: Akash)
Akash Systems showed it could transmit data at a rate of 650 megabits per second from a miniature satellite radio. The X- and S-band radio "achieved the fastest known data rate from a palm-sized package within a bandwidth of 120MHz," the company announced July 21. With higher transmission rates, small satellite operators can transfer "very high-resolution images and videos back down to Earth" in minutes, Felix Ejeckam, Akash co-founder and CEO, said by email. (7/23)
HawkEye 360 Completes Milestone in Preparation to Launch Second Cluster (Source: HawkEye 360)
HawkEye 360 Inc., the first commercial company to use formation flying satellites to create a new class of radio frequency (RF) data and data analytics, today announced it has successfully completed environmental testing of its second cluster of three satellites. This significant milestone for HawkEye Cluster 2 clears the way to prepare for launch, which is scheduled for late 2020. HawkEye Cluster 2 will join the company’s first cluster of satellites that were launched in December 2018, doubling the size of HawkEye 360’s constellation. (7/16)
Lynk Plans to Launch Multiple Satellites for Cellular Connectivity (Source: Space News)
Lynk will launch satellites designed to provide cellular connectivity on a future SpaceX rideshare mission.The company says it worked with Spaceflight to book the launch of "multiple" satellites on a rideshare mission in December, and is looking at opportunities for additional launches next year. The company plans to take advantage of the FCC's streamlined regulations for licensing smallsats to allow an initial group of satellites to provide commercial service. (7/20)
Canada's Exodus Orbitals Plans Reconfigurable Satellite Launch (Source: Space News)
Exodus Orbitals plans to launch its first satellite next year to demonstrate its ability to serve a variety of applications. The Canadian startup says the satellite, planned for launch next March, is designed to be reconfigured from the ground so that different customers can use it in different ways. That first satellite will carry Earth observation instruments. The company tested the software required for its satellites on OPS-SAT, an ESA cubesat launched in 2019. (7/22)
Canada's SSA Gets Government Funding for Climate Monitoring (Source: Space News)
A Canadian startup working on its own SSA satellite system has received government funding to also perform climate change monitoring. NorthStar Earth & Space is working with the Canadian Coast Guard on the project, using an airborne hyperspectral sensor system to monitor sensitive marine and coastal environments. NorthStar is currently working on a constellation of satellites for SSA services, and plans to later develop a separate constellation for hyperspectral Earth imaging. (7/23)
Canada’s NorthStar Wants to Play Traffic Cop in Space (Source: Globe and Mail)
A Montreal-based company that’s raised more than $80 million from some high profile investors thinks it has the solution for space congestion. “The more we use space, the more you can expect that debris will accumulate,” says Stewart Bain, the chief executive officer of space monitoring firm NorthStar Earth & Space Inc. “What you want to do is have a good idea, using technology, of where everything is, so you’re not operating blind.”
That’s where Skylark, NorthStar’s space-traffic-management constellation, comes in. Comprising 12 satellites outfitted with telescopes, Skylark will provide a much more comprehensive view compared with current ground-based monitoring systems. The company’s software algorithms, meanwhile, will be able to predict the trajectory of a piece of space debris, giving satellite operators more time to maneuver out of the way. (7/20)
Luxembourg Developing Quantum Satellite System (Source: Space News)
Satellite operator SES is leading a consortium to develop a communications system for Luxembourg that uses quantum encryption. The group will devise a satellite and terrestrial network for Luxembourg's Quantum Communications Infrastructure project, whose backers say will provide better cybersecurity for critical infrastructure. SES says satellite-enabled cybersecurity will be an integral element of reliable quantum communications infrastructures. Luxembourg is also participating in the EU's broader European Quantum Communication Infrastructure. (7/19)
Comtech Wins Brazilian Contract for Satellite Equipment and Services (Source: Comtech)
Comtech Telecommunications Corp. (NASDAQ: CMTL), a world leader in secure wireless communications technologies, announced today, that during its fourth quarter of fiscal 2021, its Government Solutions segment was awarded a $3.2 million follow-on contract from the Brazilian military to supply additional satellite equipment and services for its Air Traffic Control network. (7/19)
Malaysian Satellite Drifts From Orbital Slot (Source: Space News)
Malaysian operator Measat says it's maintained control of an aging communications satellite that has drifted out of its slot in geostationary orbit. Measat-3 has been drifting westward from its slot at 91.5 degrees east in GEO for nearly a month, raising concerns the company had lost control of the spacecraft. ExoAnalytic Solutions, a space tracking company, first detected a problem June 21, and noted it appeared to be tumbling. Measat said Saturday it has maintained continuous telemetry and command control, and deactivated the spacecraft's transponders to avoid causing interference. The Boeing-built satellite launched in 2006, and Measat ordered a replacement satellite, Measat-3d, in 2019. (7/19)
Japan’s QZSS Constellation to Receive Replacement Satellite (Source: GPS World)
The successor to the first quasi-zenith satellite, dubbed Michibiki, is expected to launch this year. Michibiki was launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in September 2010 and was transferred to the Cabinet Office in 2017. The replacement satellite is now undergoing prototype testing at the satellite manufacturer’s facility. (7/20)
UK-Australia Funding Partnership for "Space Bridge" (Source: Space Daily)
The first collaborative activity within the UK-Australia Space Bridge framework is being launched today by Australia's SmartSat CRC, UK Science and Innovation Network, and the Satellite Applications Catapult with the support of Austrade and the Australian Space Agency. The Satellite Applications Catapult, based at the Harwell Space Cluster in Oxfordshire, and Australia's Smartsat CRC will fund research projects that align to the mutual benefits of both countries and create collaboration through the Space Bridge. (7/20)
ESA and Avio Proceed with Upgraded Vega Launcher Development (Source: ESA)
ESA and Avio signed a contract for development of a new version of the Vega rocket. The contract, valued at 118.8 million euros, covers work on the Vega-E rocket slated for introduction in the mid-2020s. Vega-E will replace the upper two stages of the Vega and Vega-C with a single upper stage powered by a liquid oxygen/methane engine. The Vega-E is intended to improve the Vega's performance and reduce its cost. (7/22)
China Launches Imaging Satellites (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
China launched another set of Yaogan imaging satellites. A Long March 2C rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 8:19 p.m. Eastern Sunday and placed the three Yaogan-30 satellites into orbit. A small communications satellite, Tianqi-15, was also on the launch. The launch reportedly included an attempt to recover the rocket's payload fairing. (7/20)
China Tests Suborbital Spaceplane (Source: Space News)
China launched a suborbital vehicle Friday to test a reusable launch system. The vehicle launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and later landed at an airport just over 800 kilometers away at Alxa League in Inner Mongolia. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. announced the flight but provided no imagery or other information about the flight. This test comes after a September 2020 launch of what was likely a reusable spaceplane that spent several days in orbit before landing. (7/19)
China Tests Fairing Recovery (Source: Xinhua)
China confirmed it conducted a test to control the landing of payload fairings on a recent launch. The July 18 launch of a Long March 2C featured the use of parachutes to slow the descent of payload fairing sections, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology stated. The technology is intended to allow for more accurate landings of the fairings, reducing the size of the landing zones by more than 80%. (7/22)
Russia Launches Long-Delayed ISS Module (Source: Space News)
Russia launched a long-delayed International Space Station module Wednesday, but the module has since run into technical problems. A Proton rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and placed the Nauka module into orbit nearly 10 minutes later. While Roscosmos declared the launch itself and provided no further updates, Russian industry sources say the module has suffered a number of technical problems, including with infrared sensors and thrusters.
It wasn't immediately clear how serious the problems were or if they would affect the scheduled July 29 docking of Nauka with the station. Nauka, whose launch was delayed by years because of a series of problems during its development, will provide crew quarters, a docking port and lab and cargo space for the station's Russian segment. (7/22)
Nauka Module Problems Appear Resolved, Pirs Module Disconnect Delayed (Source: Space News)
Russia launched a long-delayed module for its segment of the ISS July 21, but the module encountered technical difficulties after reaching orbit. Those problems, which appear to have since been resolved, prompted Roscosmos to postpone the removal of the Pirs airlock module that the newly launched Nauka module would replace. Roscosmos said it would wait until July 23 to remove and deorbit Pirs as planned. Nauka, meanwhile, completed two correction maneuvers hours after its launch, allaying concerns the module’s propulsion system was out of commission. (7/23)
Dragon Capsule Switches Ports on ISS (Source: NASA)
A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft moved from one International Space Station docking port to another early Wednesday. The Crew-2 spacecraft, with four astronauts on board, undocked from the forward port on the Harmony module at 6:45 a.m. Eastern and, after moving to a distance of 60 meters from the station, maneuvered and redocked with the zenith port of the Harmony module 50 minutes later. The maneuver frees up the forward port for the upcoming CST-100 Starliner uncrewed test flight, scheduled for launch July 30. (7/21)
SpaceWorks to Conduct High-Altitude Drop Test of RED-4U Small Payload Return Capsule (Source: SpaceWorks)
SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc (SEI), along with Earthly Dynamics LLC (EDC) and Aerial Delivery Solutions LLC (ADS), will attempt to autonomously land SEI’s RED-4U Capsule within specified range of a target after release from an altitude of 100k ft. This test will be the latest in a steady progression to advance SpaceWorks’ product line of Reentry Device (RED) capsules, including the RED-25 and RED-4U, that provide on-demand downmass capabilities from Earth orbit. The mission, designated Suborbital Test Vehicle 2 (STV-2), is funded through NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. (7/22)
Perseverance Prepares for Mars Sample Collection (Source: CBS)
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover will soon collect its first sample for later return to Earth. Mission scientists said at a briefing Wednesday that they expect to collect the first sample in the next few weeks from the floor of Jezero Crater, which the rover has been exploring since its landing there in February. Scientists are trying to determine if the rocks in the crater floor are primarily igneous or sedimentary; the latter would be further evidence that the crater floor was once a lake bed. Perseverance will collect dozens of samples over the course of its mission to be returned to Earth in the early 2030s by two future missions developed in cooperation with ESA. (7/22)
Perseverance Rover Begins Hunt for Signs of Martian Life (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has begun its search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. Flexing its 7-foot (2-meter) mechanical arm, the rover is testing the sensitive detectors it carries, capturing their first science readings. Along with analyzing rocks using X-rays and ultraviolet light, the six-wheeled scientist will zoom in for closeups of tiny segments of rock surfaces that might show evidence of past microbial activity.
Called PIXL, or Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, the rover's X-ray instrument delivered unexpectedly strong science results while it was still being tested, said Abigail Allwood, PIXL's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Located at the end of the arm, the lunchbox-size instrument fired its X-rays at a small calibration target - used to test instrument settings - aboard Perseverance and was able to determine the composition of Martian dust clinging to the target. (7/21)
Europe's Mars Orbiter Finds No Trace of Methane on Red Planet (Source: Space.com)
A joint European-Russian spacecraft orbiting Mars has found no signs of gases related to the existence of life in the atmosphere of Mars, according to three new studies. Scientists were hunting for telltale signs of methane gas in data from a spacecraft called the Trace Gas Orbiter, which arrived at Mars in 2016 as part of the ExoMars mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia's Roscosmos.
Specifically, they used two instruments to look for traces of methane, as well as the byproducts of its chemical reactions triggered by sunlight, ethane and ethylene. But despite gathering over two and a half years worth of measurements from one of the instruments (called the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite, or ACS) and over a year's worth of data from the other (known as Nadir Occultation MArs Discovery, or NOMAD) the researchers found no trace of their target gases. (7/22)
NASA Seeks Industry Feedback for Artemis Moon Landing Services (Source: NASA)
NASA initiated collaboration with industry in the agency’s first formal step in establishing regular crewed transportation to the lunar surface as a part of Artemis. In a request for information (RFI), NASA is asking U.S. companies for feedback to inform the agency’s plan for purchasing human landing system services to ferry astronauts from Gateway in lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon.
Additionally, NASA is asking companies to answer questions about the potential for developing the capability for large, mission-critical cargo deliveries to the surface of the Moon during separate missions with the HLS. Through Artemis, NASA and its international and commercial partners will establish a cadence of trips to the Moon where they will conduct science investigations, technology demonstrations, and establish a long-term presence to prepare for humanity’s next giant leap – sending astronauts on a roundtrip to Mars. Responses to the RFI are due Aug. 4. (7/21)
Hubble Back Online with Backup Systems (Source: Space News)
The Hubble Space Telescope resumed science operations Saturday after a month-long outage. NASA said controllers successfully switched the telescope to a backup payload computer and resumed operations of its instruments. Hubble stopped observations June 13 when the payload computer malfunctioned, an issue engineers believe was caused by a faulty power control unit. The nearly five-week outage was the longest for Hubble in years. (7/19)
Astronomy Flagships, Past and Future (Source: Space Review)
Astronomers are awaiting the final report of the astrophysics decadal survey, which will make recommendations on future large missions to pursue. Jeff Foust reports that as NASA waits for the report, it’s busy getting past recommendations launched or recovered from technical and policy problems. Click here. (7/19)
NASA Investigates Renaming James Webb Telescope After Anti-LGBT+ Claims (Source: Nature)
NASA is considering whether to rename its flagship astronomical observatory, given reports alleging that James Webb was involved in persecuting gay and lesbian people during his career in government. Keeping his name on the $8.8-billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) — set to launch later this year — would glorify bigotry and anti-LGBT+ sentiment, say some astronomers. But others say there is not yet enough evidence against Webb, who was head of NASA from 1961 to 1968. They are withholding judgement until NASA finishes an internal investigation. (7/23)
Onward and Upward for NASA's Bill Nelson (Source: KPCW)
On Cool Science Radio, Bill Nelson, NASA’s 14th administrator comes on the show. In March of 2021, President Biden nominated Nelson to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He was confirmed by unanimous consent by the United States Senate on April 29, 2021, and sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on May 3. Click here for the interview. (7/22)
Marsquakes Reveal Red Planet has Surprisingly Large Core, Thin Crust (Source: Space.com)
Quakes on Mars have unveiled its interior to an unprecedented degree, revealing surprising details about the Red Planet's crust, mantle and core. Measurements taken by NASA's InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander have uncovered details, including a crustal layer that varies dramatically from previous understanding, a mantle less dense than the surface and a core that is larger and less dense than previously estimated, new results reveal. (7/23)
Jupiter's Volcanic Moon Io is Emitting Strange Radio Waves and NASA's Juno Probe is Listening (Source: Space.com)
NASA's Juno spacecraft is "listening" in on radio emissions from Jupiter's volcanic moon Io, allowing researchers to discover what triggers the strange radio waves. Of all the planets in our solar system, Jupiter has the largest and most powerful magnetic field, which extends so far that some of the planet's moons orbit within it. Because Io is closest to the planet, the moon is "caught in a gravitational tug-of-war" between Jupiter and two other large moons, according to NASA. These opposing pulls cause massive internal heat, which has led to hundreds of volcanic eruptions across the moon's surface. (7/23)
Moon Formation Detected Around Exoplanet (Source: Science)
Astronomers have spotted evidence of one or more moons forming around an exoplanet. Images of a young star system, PDS 70, by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array show a dust disk that includes two exoplanets still forming. One of the planets has its own dust disk that astronomers believe could form moons. While astronomers have discovered thousands of exoplanets, there's been no conclusive discoveries yet of "exomoons" orbiting them. (7/23)
Assessing and Celebrating the Global Impact of the “First Lady Astronaut Trainees” (Source: Space Review)
On Tuesday, Wally Funk, one of the women who passed astronaut medical exams more than 60 years ago, will finally go to space on New Shepard. James Oberg says the impact of the so-called “Mercury 13” goes beyond a long-awaited spaceflight. Click here. (7/19)
The Woman Who Brought Us the World (Source: MIT Technology Review)
Had Virginia Tower Norwood listened to her high school guidance counselor, she would have become a librarian. Her aptitude test showed a remarkable facility with numbers, and in 1943, he could think of no better way for a young woman to put such skills to use. Luckily, Norwood didn’t suffer from the same lack of imagination. The salutatorian of her Philadelphia high school class, she had long been devouring logic puzzles and putting the slide rule her father had given her at age nine to good use. Norwood ignored her counselor’s advice and applied to MIT.
She would go on to become a pioneering inventor in the new field of microwave antenna design. She designed the transmitter for a reconnaissance mission to the moon that cleared the way for the Apollo landings. And she conceived and led the development of the first multispectral scanner to image Earth from space—the first in a series of satellite-based scanners that have been continuously imaging the world for nearly half a century. (6/29)
How 2 Moms Partnered to Make Science Fashion for All (Source: Inc.)
When Jaya Iyer saw an astronaut's drawing of a dinosaur in space, she saw an out-of-this-world business opportunity. Now, thanks to a new Netflix show, she's hoping to see sales skyrocket. Today, the Netflix series Motherhood in Focus debuts an episode interviewing former NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg about balancing her work in space and motherhood on earth. She'll be wearing a dress she and Iyer designed for Iyer's fashion line.
The astronaut and entrepreneur partnered over their shared mission to help promote STEAM -- science, technology, engineering, art, and math -- education and to break down gender stereotypes in clothing. Nyberg, in addition to being an astronaut and mechanical engineer, is also a textile artist. During a mission on the International Space Station in 2013 she had sewn a stuffed dinosaur toy to connect with her then-3-year-old, dinosaur-obsessed son.
The partnership with Iyer was "a perfect fit," says Nyberg. The stuffed animal inspired the "Dinos in Space" print, now on clothing and handbags. Iyer founded her educational apparel brand Svaha after she was unable to find a girl's style outer-space T-shirt for her 2-year-old daughter who dreamed of being an astronaut. (7/20)
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