November 18, 2019
House Committee Hearing Airs Doubts About Artemis (Source: Space News)
A House committee raised doubts about NASA's current approach to returning humans to the moon by 2024. At a hearing this week by the House Science Committee's space subcommittee, members of both parties questioned the agency's existing plans and noted the lack of funding for them so far. Republican members in particular argued for an approach that makes greater use of the SLS over commercial launch vehicles, saying it would be simpler and increase the odds of mission success. The hearing's two witnesses, former astronaut Tom Stafford and retired executive Tom Young, endorsed that alternative, and argued against "experiments" on contracting for the program, like the purchase of commercial services for lunar landers. (11/15)
Senators Introduce NASA Authorization Bill (Source: Space Daily)
U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-TX, chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, along with ranking member Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ, and Sens. Roger Wicker, R-MS, and Maria Cantwell, D-WA, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced the NASA Authorization Act of 2019. This bill expands and improves upon the bipartisan legislation Sen. Cruz introduced in December 2018 and provides NASA the clear direction needed to advance our nation's space initiatives and investments and assert the United States' global leadership in the final frontier. (11/13)
NASA Authorization Bill Moves Forward (Source: Space News)
The Senate Commerce Committee approved a NASA authorization bill Wednesday. The committee approved the bill, introduced a week earlier, on a voice vote as part of a package that included nearly 20 amendments that made minor changes to the bill. The act's key provisions, including authorizing an extension of the International Space Station to 2030, remained intact. The committee also approved a separate bill renaming NASA's Plum Brook Station in Ohio after Neil Armstrong. (11/14)
Continuing Budget Resolution Threatens NASA and Military Space Projects (Source: Space News)
An extended delay in a final 2020 spending bill could be "debilitating" for military space programs, a Pentagon official warns. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the funding stalemate is setting back critical space programs that the Air Force included in its fiscal year 2020 budget request, many of which he said are classified. The Air Force, like the rest of the government, is funded under a continuing resolution (CR) set to expire next Friday, although another, one-month CR is expected. An extended CR would also delay plans to establish a Space Force.
An extended CR could also hurt NASA's ability to get humans back to the moon by 2024. An agency official said Tuesday that NASA is starting to review proposals submitted last week for human-rated lunar landers, with the goal of awarding initial contracts in January. That schedule, though, could be pushed back if a final 2020 spending bill isn't in place by then. NASA sought $1 billion for lunar lander work in a budget amendment in May, but the House provided no funding for it in its spending bill while the Senate provided less than $750 million. (11/13)
Trump is Focused on the China Trade War When He Should Be Concerned About Space (Source: Washington Post)
While President Trump’s trade war with China continues to play out on Earth, the real fight for future economic dominance is going on over his head: literally.
In late October, a top Chinese space policymaker revealed plans to establish an Earth-moon space economic zone by 2050, with the potential to generate $10 trillion annually. That’s a tenfold increase over the ambitions articulated by the U.S. secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, in an op-ed this year. The plan paints a picture of a domain from the Earth to the moon and nearby asteroids in which China, not the United States, is the lead player, deciding the norms and rules of the game.
The moon, with its abundant resources including Helium 3 for nuclear reactors, water in the form of ice, iron ore, titanium and platinum, offers humanity the materials to become a space-faring species. That’s not merely a matter of science fiction: The country that establishes a viable jumping-off point from the moon will be the first to get the opportunity to benefit from trillion dollars worth of space-based resources, among them lunar and asteroid mining and space-based solar power. (11/14)
'Get Back to the Moon and Forget the Lunar Orbiting Space Station' (Source: Politico)
Physicist Ed Gibson was in the first class of NASA astronauts trained as scientists rather than military pilots. He served on the support crew for Apollo 12, the second mission to land men on the moon — and spent a record 84 days in space aboard Skylab, the precursor to the International Space Station. A longtime aerospace consultant, author and speaker, Gibson has advised NASA on a host of projects, including running a controversial oversight board for the Orion spacecraft that was accused of conflicts of interest.
He makes no secret of his current views that the space agency is on the wrong track by continuing to put so much of its scarce resources into the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion capsule after so many years of delays — and when new and cheaper commercial alternatives are so promising. "People have fallen in love with them but they got old and expensive, and I think they're more worried about keeping some of the aerospace companies in fit shape than the American taxpayer,” he complains.
Gibson supports returning astronauts to the moon, but he's also among the vocal group of space insiders who contend that building a lunar orbiting Space Station first will just slow things down. "If that is needed in the future, show that it really is needed," he said. "You don't want to be living in lunar orbit or Mars orbit for a long period of time. That's why I think it's great to just go to the surface to shield yourself [from the radiation]. Then, if you want to go somewhere, you go out and, obviously, you've got to suffer whatever radiation there is, and you’ve got to have your spacecraft or your spacesuit to give you some added protection. (11/16)
Advanced Electric Propulsion Thruster for NASA's Gateway Achieves Full Power Demonstration (Source: Space Daily)
Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA recently demonstrated an Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) thruster at full power for the first time, achieving an important program milestone. Aerojet Rocketdyne-developed AEPS thrusters are slated to be used on the Power and Propulsion Element of NASA's Gateway, the agency's orbiting lunar outpost for robotic and human exploration operations in deep space.
The state-of-the-art AEPS Hall thruster operated at 12.5 kilowatts (kW) as part of its final conditioning sequence during testing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The thruster demonstrated stable operation at power levels ranging from 4.2 kW to 12.5 kW. Full electric propulsion thruster string integration will take place early next year. (11/11)
Lunar Cubesat Mission Could Locate Ice to Sustain Human Presence (Source: Space Daily)
As we venture forward to the Moon and establish a sustained lunar presence, finding and understanding water on the lunar surface becomes increasingly important. Lunar water is largely in the form of, but not necessarily limited to, water ice. Astronauts on the Moon could use this ice for various crew needs, potentially including rocket fuel.
The Lunar IceCube mission, led by Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, will study water distribution and interaction on the Moon. The mission will carry a NASA instrument called Broadband InfraRed Compact High-Resolution Exploration Spectrometer (BIRCHES) to investigate the distribution of water and other organic volatiles. NASA scientists will use this data to understand where the water is on the Moon, its origins and how we can use it. (11/11)
Alien Hunters Need the Far Side of the Moon to Stay Quiet (Source: WIRED)
Last month, the SETI permanent committee of the International Astronautical Association hosted its second round of negotiations about the lunar farside in Washington, DC. The exploration of the moon might seem like an issue outside the purview of this group of professional alien hunters, but the far side of the moon is the most radio quiet place in the inner solar system and they want to keep it that way in case ET calls. Indeed, they argue that the fate of the lunar farside may determine whether we ever detect a signal from an extraterrestrial intelligence. (11/15)
Sizing NASA’s Future Spacesuits (Source: Aviation Week)
Advanced digital modeling of the human form that incorporates 3D and motion body scans holds great promise for the design and development of new generations of spacesuits, according to Bonnie Dunbar, a retired five-time NASA space shuttle astronaut Dunbar leads an effort she describes as “a bit science fiction” to improve the fit and mobility of the garments at the Texas A&M University Aerospace Human Systems Laboratory (AHSL). (11/11)
Long Space Missions Can Change Astronaut Brain Structure and Function (Source: Space News)
Spaceflight changes astronauts' brain structure and function, a new study shows. Researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina looked at how the human brain adapts to the microgravity environment of space. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of NASA astronauts, the researchers found widespread structural changes in the brain, especially after long-duration space missions, according to a statement. "This study looks at cognitive changes in the brains of astronauts," Donna Roberts, a neuroradiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, said in the statement. "Not a lot is known about cognitive impairment in humans during spaceflight." (11/15)
Zero Gravity Made Some Astronauts’ Blood Flow Backwards (Source: New Scientist)
Being in zero gravity can have strange effects on the body – now it’s emerged that it can make people’s blood flow backwards. The changes to circulation caused two astronauts to develop small blood clots, which could have been fatal – but fortunately the man and woman affected came to no harm. The blood changes happened in a vessel called the left internal jugular vein, one of two that normally move blood out of the head when we are lying down.
When we are upright, they mostly collapse to stop too much blood from draining out of the head, with our circulation taking a different route through veins with more resistance instead. On Earth, people have occasionally been spotted with backwards blood flow in the left internal jugular vein if there is a blockage lower down, such as from a tumor growing in the chest.
Zero gravity is known to change people’s blood flow, so Karina Marshall-Goebel of KBR in Houston and colleagues wondered if it would also affect this vein. They carried out measurements and ultrasound scans of this blood vessel in nine men and two women both before and after their missions on the International Space Station, as well as 50 and 150 days into their flights. In two of the astronauts, the blood flow was backwards – perhaps because the lack of gravity caused organs in the chest to shift around, pressing on the vein lower down, says Marshall-Goebel. She adds that this vein is predisposed to be blocked based on where it lies in the body. (11/15)
NASA Inspector General Warns of Possible Delays in Launching New U.S. Spacecraft (Source: CBS News)
NASA's inspector general warned that Boeing and SpaceX both face major technical challenges that threaten to delay initial flights of U.S. commercial astronaut ferry ships. If the worst-case scenario plays out, NASA could be forced to reduce its presence aboard the International Space Station to a single astronaut for an extended period, the audit said.
"[Commercial Crew] schedule assessments as of June 2019 suggest final certification for Boeing and SpaceX to fly crewed missions may not occur before summer 2020," the inspector general reported. "By this time, the Soyuz launch schedule will have decreased from two missions every six months to a single flight — a scenario that will result in a single U.S. astronaut and two Roscosmos cosmonauts on the station beginning in April 2020 barring any adjustments to current crew schedules." (11/15)
Commercial Cargo’s Next Phase (Source: Space Review)
The launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station earlier this month marked the start of a new round of NASA contracts to support the ISS. Jeff Foust reports on the changes existing companies are making to their cargo vehicles as well as one new entrant. Click here. (11/11)
Inspector General Report Says NASA Risks Losing Access to the ISS in 2020 (Source: Space News)
NASA’s inspector general warned in a new report that, because of commercial crew delays, utilization of the International Space Station will drop sharply in 2020 and that NASA runs the risk of losing access entirely by next fall. The Nov. 14 report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded that, because of continuing delays by both Boeing and SpaceX, neither company is likely to be certified by NASA for regular flights to the station before the summer of 2020.
Official commercial crew program (CCP) schedules reviewed by the OIG state that SpaceX will have its final certification review for its Crew Dragon spacecraft in January 2020, while that review for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is scheduled for February. Those reviews, though, would take place only after the successfully completion of both companies’ crewed test flights, which are unlikely to take place before then. (11/15)
US Vice President to Boeing, SpaceX: You've Got Until the Spring (Source: Al Jazeera)
United States Vice President Mike Pence has announced that Boeing and SpaceX, the private US aerospace companies contracted to provide NASA's astronauts their ride to the International Space Station (ISS), would begin their Commercial Crew space transport operations within roughly four months. The vice president made his announcement on Thursday at the same time that NASA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a damning report depicting a space agency willing to accept serious delays and to pay Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars for cost overruns.
Pence told a crowd of engineers and scientists working at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, "After years of being out of the launch business, we're going to be back. And before spring arrives next year, we're going to send American astronauts on American rockets, from American soil, back into space. "We're going to have our own platforms to take us back, and we don't need to hitch a ride with the Russians any more," he said.
In light of the OIG report, Pence's deadline puts SpaceX - and more specifically Boeing - on notice that missed deadlines and cost overruns associated with NASA's Commercial Crew Program are no longer acceptable. The OIG report states that delivery of a reliable launch system - rocket and spacecraft - is already two years behind schedule. (11/15)
NASA OIG Report Criticizes NASA Payment Increase to Boeing for Commercial Crew (Source: Space News)
A report Thursday by NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) criticized additional payments made to Boeing for commercial crew work. The report said that NASA paid Boeing $287.2 million for "additional flexibilities" in scheduling future CST-100 Starliner missions, in part because of concerns of a gap in crew access. The report concluded that the majority of that additional payment was unnecessary, since NASA could take other steps to mitigate any gap in ISS access. The report also argued that NASA officials felt the additional payments were necessary to keep Boeing in the commercial crew program. Both NASA and Boeing defended the payments, and Boeing said it never considered withdrawing from the program. (11/15)
NASA Faulted for ‘Unnecessary’ $287.2 Million Boeing Payment (Source: Bloomberg)
NASA paid Boeing Co. an “unnecessary” $287.2 million premium for work on a new space vehicle -- a payment meant to compensate for scheduling delays caused by the company, a government audit found. The additional compensation, disclosed in a NASA Inspector General report, was intended to mitigate the effects of a delay in four planned flights to ferry astronauts to the space station, according to the audit. But NASA postponed the flights because Boeing had missed its own deadlines, the report said.
“For these four missions, NASA essentially paid Boeing higher prices to address a schedule slippage caused by Boeing’s 13-month delay” in finishing a design review, auditors wrote. The report also found that NASA used flawed assumptions in 2016 when it calculated an 18-month schedule gap that prompted the extra cash. (11/15)
NASA Report Finds Boeing Seat Prices are 60% Higher Than SpaceX (Source: Ars Technica)
On Thursday, NASA's inspector general released a report on the space agency's commercial crew program, which seeks to pay Boeing and SpaceX to develop vehicles to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.
Although the report cites the usual technical issues that the companies are having with the development of their respective Starliner and Dragon spacecraft, far more illuminating is its discussion of costs. Notably, the report publishes estimated seat prices for the first time, and it also delves into the extent that Boeing has gone to extract more money from NASA above and beyond its fixed-price award.
Boeing's per-seat price already seemed like it would cost more than SpaceX. The company has received a total of $4.82 billion from NASA over the lifetime of the commercial crew program, compared to $3.14 billion for SpaceX. However, for the first time the government has published a per-seat price: $90 million for Starliner and $55 million for Dragon. Each capsule is expected to carry four astronauts to the space station during a nominal mission. (11/14)
US Has Paid Russia $3.9 Billion for Ferrying Astronauts to ISS, More to Come? (Source: TASS)
As of July 2019, NASA had purchased 70 Soyuz seats worth $3.9 billion to ferry 70 U.S. and partner astronauts to and from the Station, says NASA Inspector General Paul Martin’s report published on Thursday. He also underlined that "after 2017 when the Commercial Crew Program contractors were initially scheduled to begin crewed missions, NASA has used or contracted for 12 additional Soyuz seats at a cost of approximately $1 billion, or an average of $79.7 million per seat." Martin recommends "purchasing additional Soyuz seats and extending the missions of crewmembers" to address the potential crew reduction. He advises NASA management to make effort in order to persuade the US Congress to pay Russia. (11/15)
Months After An Explosion, SpaceX Successfully Test Fires its Astronaut Capsule Engines (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Seven months after a SpaceX astronaut capsule exploded during testing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Elon Musk’s rocket company has tried the test again — this time successfully. On Wednesday, SpaceX completed a series of static fire engine tests to its spacecraft, called Crew Dragon, the same test that ended in flames on April 20 when a leaking component set off a domino effect that ended with plumes of smoke wafting over the Space Coast.
This time, the engines performed as expected. SpaceX ignited a set of the capsule’s thrusters that are used largely to maneuver the spacecraft in space with no problem. That was followed by a nine-second, full-duration firing of another set of engines that move the vehicle away from the rocket in case of an emergency after liftoff. It was during this particular test that the explosion occurred in April.
On Wednesday, the engines fired successfully, helping to clear the way for SpaceX to meet its next milestone for NASA: An in-flight abort test to prove the spacecraft is capable of moving away from a Falcon 9 rocket in the case a problem occurs mid-flight. There is not yet a date for the test, but SpaceX and NASA have said their ultimate goal, a mission with crew, will come next year. (11/14)
SpaceX and Boeing Set for Launch-Packed Holiday Season on the Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
After a slower-than-average second half of the year for Space Coast rocket launches, SpaceX and Boeing are slated to bring 2019 to a close with a mission-packed December. SpaceX broke a two-and-a-half-month dry spell last Monday when a Falcon 9 rocket launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport with 60 Starlink satellites, setting the stage for at least three – and up to five – more flights through the end of the year.
First up on the Eastern Range is a Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon spacecraft, which will take supplies to the International Space Station no earlier than 12:48 p.m. on Dec. 4. If previous ISS missions are any indication, this flight will include a booster landing at Cape Canaveral's Landing Zone 1 about eight minutes after takeoff. It will mark SpaceX's 19th uncrewed flight to the ISS.
In the second half of December, SpaceX is slated to take the JCSAT-18 / KACIFIC-1 communications satellite on a Falcon 9 from the Cape's Launch Complex 40. The spacecraft will provide coverage for Asia. Two more missions could fly in December, though firm timing has not yet been established, and both could slip into 2020. Boeing and ULA, meanwhile, are targeting no earlier than Dec. 17 for an uncrewed "orbital test flight" of a Starliner spacecraft, which like Crew Dragon was selected by NASA to return American astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil. (11/15)
Blue Origin’s Alabama Rocket Engine Plant Shaping Up, and It’s Big (Source: AL.com)
A new aerial photograph shows the size of the new rocket engine plant Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin is building in Alabama. All 400,000 square feet of the new $200 million plant appear to be roofed in and ready for interior development. The plant will build Blue Origin’s new BE-4 engine for the company’s own rockets and rockets made by nearby United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Ala. ULA supplies rockets mostly for national security launches. The new Alabama plant will employ about 350 people and will also produce Blue Origin’s smaller BE-3 engine.
Bezos has always been interested in space, he told a group of reporters visiting his rocket plant near Seattle in 2016. He has degrees in computer science and electrical engineering from Princeton and said he has been fascinated with space “since I was five years old.” Bezos told reporters then that considers himself “incredibly fortunate” to do that. He “won a lottery called Amazon,” Bezos said, and now “can fulfill my childhood dream.” The rocket plant is not the only connection Blue Origin has to Huntsville. The company is working to retrofit an original Saturn V engine test stand at the Marshall Space Flight Center to test its engines including the ones built in Huntsville. (11/13)
Blue Origin CEO On Rocketry, Space Tourism and the Relationship with Amazon (Source: CNBC)
Once super secretive, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin has been steadily emerging from stealth. Founded in 2000, the space company has been simultaneously working on various initiatives that together speak to its broader vision: human space flight capabilities that will help establish the infrastructure for humanity to colonize space. Blue Origin, which has been almost completely funded by Bezos, has been gearing its suborbital New Shepard space tourism service, which will compete against newly public Virgin Galactic as soon as next year.
It's developing its orbital New Glenn rocket, targeting a first flight in 2021, that it hopes will win national security launch contracts, including the Air Force's already-contested Launch Service Procurement. The company also recently submitted its bid for NASA's lunar lander competition, partnering with well-established space heavyweights Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper, and spearheading the effort as the team's prime contractor. Click here. (11/12)
Construction of Starship 39A Launch and Landing Facility Picking Up the Pace at KSC (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The construction of the new Starship launch and landing facility at Pad 39A is in full swing as heavy equipment lays the foundations at the iconic Kennedy Space Center pad complex. Built alongside the 39A ramp, a new launch mount will be installed for what will be the maiden launch of SpaceX’s Starship Mk2 prototype rocket. The facility also includes a landing pad that will be eventually used for returning vehicles. (10/7)
Could Kennedy Space Center Launch Pads Be At Risk As Climate Changes? Experts Say Yes (Source: Florida Today)
Created to propel humankind beyond the limits of Earth, Kennedy Space Center is now facing a terrestrial threat — the warming of our home planet, leading to sea level rise, erosion and catastrophic flooding — that could hinder our push to deep space. To protect the nation’s most historic launch pads and the only place in the United States capable of launching humans to orbit, NASA is building a massive dune along the coast but experts say that isn’t enough, leaving some to consider the unthinkable:
What if Kennedy Space Center had to move to higher ground? “It’s almost the same type of thing as saying ‘We’re going to move the White House two blocks to the left.’ You wouldn’t, right? Because you’ve invested in the infrastructure. It’s the hand we’ve been dealt since the ‘60s when the pads were first built,” NASA’s Public Affairs Officer Gregory Harland said.
By conservative estimates, NASA projects Kennedy Space Center will experience 5 to 8 inches of sea level rise by the 2050s. But if pollution continues to warm the planet causing polar ice to melt more rapidly, then NASA predicts 17 to 24 inches by the 2050s. What that means is that launch sites at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station could find themselves at major risk from coastal flooding, according to a new analysis by scientists with the non-profit Climate Central. (11/14)
Explorers Rediscover Florida (Source: Site Selection Magazine)
Florida Secretary of Commerce Jamal A. Sowell, who also serves as president & CEO of Enterprise Florida, recently retraced his family’s many trips to the coast for launches when he attended celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. “As we talk with other companies, Frank DiBello’s great work is now being highlighted on a national level,” he says, noting that aerospace expertise extends to every corner of the state. “Florida has a brand that others just can’t replicate.”
Building on a schedule that has included visits to Morocco, Vietnam, Ghana and Israel, Secretary Sowell led a delegation to the 2019 Paris Air Show involving some 25 companies that resulted in around $2 million in sales during the event and $40 million in total projected sales, as well as some simmering company expansions. He says talent and workforce are priority No. 1 for the company leaders he met.
“Not only do we have a top university system, but we have the talent,” he says. Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis recently helped launch an apprenticeship program for the aerospace industry, and there is about $2 million in funding available through Pathway to Career Opportunities grants. The state’s university system, he says, “is not only delivering high-demand workforce, but valuable research, fueling the innovation economy. And this year the legislature founded the Florida Talent Development Council, “which puts education leaders, workforce stakeholders and business leaders around the table to focus squarely on developing workforce pools for the future.” (11/13)
Northrop Grumman Expands Arizona Campus for Missile Defense Work (Source: Phoenix Business Journal)
Northrop Grumman Corp. has opened its expanded Chandler campus as the home for its aerospace launch vehicle business. The 633,000-square-foot campus supports national defense and aerospace projects, including the U.S. missile defense program and satellite launches for the U.S. Air Force, NASA and commercial customers. The bulk of the company’s launch vehicle design, development, manufacturing and testing occurs on this campus.
In September, the Chandler facility started work on a new $1.1 billion contract for missile targets for the U.S. Department of Defense's Missile Defense Agency. Blake Larson, Northrop Grumman's president of Innovation Systems, said the company has a heritage in the state that spans more than three decades, with business continuing to grow rapidly in Arizona. The 47-acre Chandler campus will house more than 2,500 employees. Orbital ATK announced the expansion of its launch vehicles operations with a new Chandler campus in March 2018. The business in Chandler began in the 1980s. (11/13)
Spaceport America Brings Promise of Economic Revitalization (Source: Santa Fe New Mexican)
New Mexico long has been dependent on income from oil and gas as a primary source of revenue, and while that has gone up and down over the years, the state is experiencing a tremendous windfall offering opportunities to make investments that will grow other sectors of the economy. Strategic investments will enhance the already thriving aerospace and commercial space industry in the state and create the infrastructure necessary to attract some of the billions projected to be invested in commercial space in the next several decades.
Space may not be the first “tradition” that comes to mind about New Mexico, but the state already has a long history of contributions to space flight. Robert Goddard, known as the “father of modern rocketry,” made his home in Roswell. A rocket testing facility, now called White Sands Missile Range, was created by the government in 1945, is still a major component of U.S. military and space research and testing, and includes a NASA test facility.
Investments in Spaceport America and other space-related infrastructure also will enhance the growth of the already substantial commercial space industry in New Mexico. A recent report by New Space New Mexico identified over 60 companies in the space industry that already make a home in the state. And an initiative called STEM Boomerang is going into its third year of helping young New Mexican professionals looking for good jobs in the tech industry connect with businesses, agencies and research institutions looking for employees. (11/17)
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall Proposes Amendments to Bill to Boost New Mexico Space Economy (Source: KRQE)
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is pushing to bolster New Mexico’s growing space economy. He was among a bipartisan group of senators to add amendments to a new NASA bill. Sen. Udall said one of the amendments focuses on pushing NASA to consider the use of commercial spaceports, like Spaceport America in southern New Mexico, for civil space missions and operations.
Virgin Galactic has moved into the Spaceport as the company ramps up test flights. The state spent almost $220 million to build it. Udall thinks the Spaceport needs a lot more support and is being underutilized. He hopes this amendment will help give it a boost. “We will see as this develops as an industry; it’s already a significant industry,” said Udall. “It’s growing jobs in New Mexico, and other areas may be developed and become fruitful and lucrative for New Mexico.” (11/14)
Space Industry Works with Government in New Info Sharing Center (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
The acknowledgement of space assets as critical infrastructure has enabled the establishment of the Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center to help ward off cyberthreats. "We think this is a great opportunity for us to be able to bring some of that expertise in -- in how you protect data and how you move data around and the threats that go along with that -- to the ISAC," said Chris Bogdan, who leads Booz Allen Hamilton's aerospace unit.
There are about two dozen ISACs within the US. These nonprofit organizations essentially act as an industry go-between, sharing knowledge about cybersecurity and other threats. “Because these ISACs are sector-focused and member-driven, they can select the specific cyberthreat information and perform analysis on what is particularly relevant to the industry in which the members operate.” But until this year there was no ISAC dedicated to space. (11/8)
Legislation to Create a Space Force in 2020 ‘Still Possible But By No Means Guaranteed’ (Source: Space News)
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said Nov. 13 that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch. “It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill.
When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.” The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border. There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military. (11/13)
No Guarantee of Space Force Inclusion in Defense Authorization (Source: Space News)
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee says there's no guarantee a final version of a defense authorization bill will establish a Space Force. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) told reporters Wednesday that negotiations with the Senate to reconcile their separate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act were going "reasonably well." However, he expressed doubts the final version would include language authorizing a Space Force. The Space Force, he said, was a "higher echelon" issue that is proving divisive, even as the House and Senate make progress on lesser issues. Smith said a central concern on both sides is not knowing how much a Space Force will cost and the details of how it will be organized. (11/14)
"Space Domain Awareness" a New Watchword for Air Force (Source: Space News)
For the U.S. Air Force, "space situational awareness" has been replaced by new terminology. A memo last month says that "space domain awareness" (SDA) is the new term the service will use to identify and track objects, reflecting a new mindset that sees space as a domain of warfare. That memo formally defines SDA as "identification, characterization and understanding of any factor, passive or active, associated with the space domain that could affect space operations and thereby impact the security, safety, economy or environment of our nation." (11/15)
USAF Driving Satellite Bus Commonality (Source: Aviation Week)
As the U.S. Air Force pursues the idea of a new “Century Series” of fighter aircraft, it is promoting a similar effort for satellites in which the service would create a spacecraft bus with common components and processes that can be customized for individual missions. Such a modular bus design will save time, reduce complexity and cut costs up to 20% over existing contracts, the service says. (11/15)
Lockheed Martin Receives $3.3B Contract for Work on Air Force Classified Communications Satellites (Source: Space News)
Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $3.3 billion contract for support services on classified military communications satellites, the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center announced Nov. 15. The 10-year indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract is for operations and support of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF), Milstar and Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) III constellations. (11/15)
Air Force Funds "Launcher" Small Launcher (Source: Space News)
An Air Force contract is helping another small launch vehicle company. Launcher received $1.5 million from the Air Force during the Space Pitch Day competition in San Francisco earlier this month. That funding will help accelerate development and testing of the company's E-2 rocket engine that will power its small launch vehicle. The company's Rocket-1, scheduled for first flight in 2024 and using five E-2 engines, is designed deliver 773 kilograms to low Earth orbit. (11/14)
Chinese Rockets Launch Small Satellites (Sources: NasaSpaceFlight.com, Xinhua)
One Chinese rocket launched an imaging smallsat Tuesday night. The Kuaizhou-1A rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 10:40 p.m. Eastern and placed a Jilin-1 satellite into orbit. The satellite is part of a constellation intended to provide data for natural resources and disaster management. The satellite, the 14th in the overall constellation, will produce high-resolution color and multispectral imagery.
Hours later, a second Chinese rocket launched a group of smallsats. The Long March 6 rocket launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center at 1:35 a.m. Eastern Wednesday carrying five Ningxia-1 satellites. The satellites are part of a remote sensing system being developed by a Chinese company, Ningxia Jingui Information Technology Co., Ltd. (11/13)
China’s Earth-Moon Space Economic Zone Venture (Source: Space Review)
Chinese officials recently discussed a long-term vision of an economic zone spanning from the Earth to the Moon and Mars that they believe could be worth $10 trillion by 2050. Ajey Lele examines if that concept seems credible for the Chinese to achieve. Click here. (11/11)
China Tests Mars Lander (Source: AP)
China tested the lander it plans to fly to Mars next year. The test Thursday at a site outside Beijing demonstrated the lander's ability to avoid obstacles and land on the Martian surface. The test used a rigging system to simulate the lower gravity on Mars. China plans to fly a lander, carrying a rover, on a mission launching in mid-2020 that will also include a Mars orbiter. (11/14)
New Russian Medium Lift Rocket Ready in Mid-2020s (Source: Space News)
A new Russian medium-lift rocket won't enter commercial service until the mid-2020s. GK Launch Services said in a recent interview that the Soyuz-5 rocket likely won't be commercially available in 2026, with flight tests scheduled to begin in 2023. The current design of the vehicle makes use of versions of existing rocket engines, including the RD-171 engine in its first stage, and launches from Baikonur will use facilities originally developed for the Zenit rocket. The Soyuz-5 will be able to place up to 17.3 tons in low Earth orbit and 5 tons in geostationary transfer orbit, but the company isn't disclosing a price for the rocket. (11/11)
Russia Plans to Have 20 Remote Sensing Satellites by 2022 (Source: TASS)
Russia plans to start creating a national remote satellite sensing center next year and, by 2022, the country is expected to have about 20 remote sensing satellites on the orbit, said Valery Zaichko, the deputy director of the navigational space systems department of Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos. "By 2025, even starting from 2022, we plan to have about 15-20 spacecraft as part of Russia’s orbital group, including for hydrometeorological and radar survey, Zaichko said on Monday, during a conference, headlined ‘Modern challenges for remote sensing of the Earth from space.’
The official said that Russia’s current remote sensing orbital group has 11 satellites, mostly of the Kanopus family. An Elektro-L satellite will be launched by the end of the year. Three more satellites, including Resurs-P and Meteor satellites, are to be put into the orbit by 2020. In the same year, Russia will start creating a space system headlined Arktika (Arctic). (11/12)
Russia Plans to Launch About 30 Next-Generation Navigation Satellites (Source: Sputnik)
The Russian satellite grouping has 23 operational satellites, with two in maintenance, one spare and one in a flight test phase. The satellites circle the Earth at an altitude of about 11,000 miles and ensure complete coverage of the surface and global signal availability. Russia is planning to launch about 30 global navigation satellites which will be added to its aging navigation satellite constellation, according to revealed documents. According to the documents, 20 carrier rockets will be used to launch 28 satellites in 2021-2030. (11/12)
Kremlin: $169 Million Stolen Out of $1.4 Billion Allocated for Vostochny Spaceport Construction (Source: TASS)
A total of 11 billion rubles (about $169 million) were stolen during the construction of the Vostochny spaceport in the Russian Far East and only 3.5 billion rubles ($53.8 million) were returned to the state coffers, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday. The Kremlin spokesman thus commented on a statement by President Vladimir Putin who said at a government meeting on Monday that dozens of criminal cases and jailings had failed to put things in order at the Vostochny spaceport’s construction site. (11/11)
Putin Complains of Continued Corruption at Vostochny Spaceport (Source: TASS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin complained about corruption in the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Putin said Monday that even convictions have failed to stop companies from embezzling the government. "However, things have not been put in order there the way it should have been done," he said. Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, responded by saying that those who were responsible for that corruption "have long been removed from the construction site and are serving their prison terms." A government report estimates that, of the $1.4 billion allocated for spaceport construction, $169 million was stolen by companies involved in that work, with only $53.8 million recovered to date. (11/12)
Russia's Space Agency in Talks on Sending Turkish, Egyptian, Saudi Astronauts Into Space (Source: TASS)
Roscosmos is in talks with Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia hashing over the possibility of sending their astronauts into space, Dmitry Rogozin, director of Russia’s state space corporation, told an international forum dubbed "Baikonur is the cradle of world cosmonautics" on Tuesday. "Earlier, it was believed that with the advent of American spacecraft, there would be no need for Soyuz spacecraft anymore, but this turned out to be exactly the opposite."
"And now we see that the Energia corporation, Roscosmos and our Kazakh colleagues have received new requests and seen a new interest from countries seeking to get their first experience on a spaceflight from Baikonur," Rogozin said. "At the moment, we are in talks with other potential participants on this project. These are Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many other countries." (11/12)
UAE's Bold Vision for Space (Source: Flight Global)
No-one could accuse the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of lacking a long-term vision for space. The country has a project to put settlers on Mars by 2117. Its recent achievements and immediate objectives are impressive too. The Gulf nation has just sent an astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS), and in June, the Arab world’s first probe to the Red Planet will take off. Named Hope, the craft is scheduled to reach its destination in 2021, the 50th anniversary of the UAE.
The UAE’s efforts are not just about “a rich country trying to get a return on investment”, but promoting the nation as a pioneer in space exploration and science, says Mohamed Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency, set up five years ago to spearhead the national space strategy, and the first fully fledged space agency in the region. “The UAE is a country of vision,” he says. “We always talk about the future.”
When Hazza Al Mansouri began his mission to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 25 September, it was a moment of huge pride for the UAE. During our visit in late September, electronic billboards on gantries across Dubai’s 12-lane Sheikh Zayed highway proclaimed: “Good luck, Hazza. The nation is with you.” The former military pilot and his back-up were chosen in 2017 from 4,000 applicants to train as the first Emirati astronauts. (11/16)
Spacebit Unveils UK's Lunar Lander-Hopper (Source: Zawya)
A prototype of the UK’s first Lunar lander – the Spacebit ‘Lunar Lander-Hopper’ will be unveiled at the Dubai Airshow, which opens today at DWC’s airshow site. Built by Spacebit, one of the lunar economy’s brightest stars, the ‘Lunar Lander-Hopper’ is due to be developed in the UK, in cooperation with Ukraine's Yuzhnoye. The Lander-Hopper prototype and a 3D model of the Spider Moon Rover will be displayed by Spacebit on the Yuzhnoye Design Buro stand at the airshow. (11/17)
India Considers Another Lunar Lander (Source: PTI)
India's space agency ISRO is reportedly considering flying another lunar lander mission in as soon as a year. ISRO sources claim that the agency is considering launching a stand-alone lander mission as soon as November 2020, although there are no details on how the lander could be built so quickly or how much it would cost. A report into the failed landing in September of the Vikram lander, part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, is ready for final approval by the Indian government, with the expectation the report will then be released to the public. (11/14)
Indonesia to Build the Nation's First Spaceport in Papua (Source: Jakarta Post)
Indonesia plans to construct its first spaceport in Biak, Papua, to serve as the location of the country’s rocket test launches, the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) has confirmed. “We will build [the spaceport] just like LAPAN’s rocket launch site we have in South Garut [West Java]. However, it will be bigger so that it can be used for larger rocket test launches,” LAPAN flight and aerospace study center head Robertus Heru Trijahyanto said.
Biak was chosen as the place to build the new spaceport because the regency’s vast area was deemed ideal to support LAPAN’s plan to do a larger rocket test launch in 2024, he said. Citing the Karman line ─ the imaginary line marking where space begins ─ Heru said the space border was 100 kilometers above Earth's surface. LAPAN, however, plans to test launch a rocket that could go up to 300 km above Earth. (11/12)
EU Must Boost Spending in Space or Be Squeezed Out (Source: AFP)
The EU needs to boost space funding and improve its strategy to compete with military superpowers and smaller upstarts, a panel of experts told MEPs on Tuesday. The experts, including from the UN and the European Commission, said an estimated 60 percent of the world's economy depends directly or indirectly on "space tools" like satellite imaging, tracking and internet connectivity.
The EU faces competition not only from established players like the US, but also from emerging competitors like China, India, Iran and Singapore. The experts highlighted the increasing willingness of major powers to move the military to the centre of their space strategy. Although the experts said the EU was taking its first timid steps towards a common defence structure, the bloc's funding was dwarfed by the US. (11/13)
Space Contributing Growth to New Zealand Economy (Source: Stuff)
New Zealand's space economy is small but growing. A report prepared by Deloitte for the New Zealand government released Thursday concluded the country's space industry contributed 1.69 billion New Zealand dollars ($1.08 billion) to the country's economy in the last year. That industry is led by Rocket Lab, which builds and launches rockets in the country, but the report also highlighted the role many small businesses play in the overall economy. (11/14)
Rocket Lab Introduces Robotic Manufacturing System to Increase Electron Production (Source: Space News)
In its ongoing quest to increase launch vehicle production, Rocket Lab has unveiled a new industrial robotic system designed to speed up manufacturing of its Electron rocket. Rocket Lab announced Nov. 13 it has started to use “Rosie,” a custom-designed robotic manufacturing system that can produce the carbon composite components of the Electron rocket in just 12 hours, a process that used to take more than 400 hours.
Rosie — named after the robotic housekeeper from The Jetsons cartoon series — takes up 140 square meters, large enough to encompass an entire first stage of the Electron rocket as well as its smaller second and kick stages and payload fairings. “It takes every carbon composite component from Electron and effectively processes all of those components so they’re ready for final assembly,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said in an interview. “We can process a complete Electron now in 12 hours.” (11/14)
SpaceX Launches its Falcon 9 Rocket with 60 Starlink Satellites on Veterans Day (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on Nov. 11. The rocket carried 60 Starlink communications satellites for SpaceX. This was the fourth use of the Falcon-9 first stage, and the second use of the rocket's fairing. Te Falcon 9’s first stage supported the Iridium-7, SAOCOM-1A, and Nusantara Satu missions, and the fairing was previously flown on Falcon Heavy’s Arabsat6A mission earlier this year.
Following stage separation, SpaceX landed the Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Recovery of the two fairing halves was originally planned by called off on the day prior to launch. (11/11)
SpaceX Faces Competitors in Race to Build Internet-Satellite Constellation (Source: Space Daily)
SpaceX's new batch of satellites brings the Starlink constellation population to 120. As part of its satellite Internet operation, SpaceX plans to launch some 12,000 satellites over the next half-decade. SpaceX isn't the only company trying to build a satellite constellation capable of providing global Internet coverage. Last winter, OneWeb launched six small satellites. Tests confirmed the mini constellation produces a serviceable signal, and the company expects to launch another 60 satellites in early 2020.
OneWeb, which is targeting an initial constellation population of 650, and later 2,000, expects to begin offering service in the Arctic by the end of 2020 and global coverage in 2021. There's more competition on the way. Richard Branson's Virgin Group, Boeing, Amazon and LeoSat Enterprises, a Washington, D.C., company are all in the early stages of pursuing satellite Internet constellations. As the newest space race heats up, some veterans of the communications industry may be experiencing deja vu.
"There were around a dozen constellations that were launched in the 1990s. Some of these are still around, but most went bankrupt or folded." Most of the early ventures failed because ground-based systems grew quickly and efficiently, meeting the needs of most consumers in the United States and other developed economies. Over the last twenty years, tremendous gains have been made both in satellite and communications technologies. The innovations of terrestrial communications systems, specifically cellular communications technologies, have yielded smaller, cheaper and more efficient components -- antennas, dishes, transmitters -- which have been rather easily adapted for use in space. (11/11)
SpaceX Says Upgraded Starlink Satellites Have Better Bandwidth, Beams, and More (Source: Teslarati)
SpaceX successfully launched its second batch of 60 Starlink satellites, featuring a variety of upgrades as part of the move from v0.9 to v1.0 spacecraft. During SpaceX’s launch webcast, the hosts revealed a number of intriguing new details about those upgrades, shedding a bit more light on what exactly has changed. SpaceX said the v1.0 satellites have 4 times the individual bandwidth of the v0.9 spacecraft.
SpaceX launched its first dedicated Starlink mission in May 2019, placing 60 “v0.9” satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) in what was essentially a beta test at an unprecedented scale. At the time, SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk disseminated a substantial amount of information, essentially taking the veil off of (part of) the company’s Starlink satellite program. In terms of the basics, Starlink v0.9 satellites were said to weigh approximately ~225 kg (500 lb) apiece, although the final mass – said to be the heaviest payload SpaceX had ever launched – suggested that that figure excluded the mass of krypton propellant.
All told, Musk said that the payload weighed ~18.5 tons but never clarified whether that was in imperial or metric units, leaving a potential range of 16,700-18,500 kilograms (36,800-40,800 pounds). In general, Musk was quite confident that SpaceX’s custom-built phased array antennas were effectively the best in the world even in their v0.9 beta-test iteration. Additionally, he noted that inter-satellite optical (i.e. laser) links would have to wait a generation or two before becoming part of the operational constellation. (11/12)
Study: 12-Satellite Imagery Constellation Could Deploy for $300 Million (Source: Space News)
A new study concludes that a high-resolution imagery constellation is less expensive than ever. The study, announced Wednesday at the NewSpace Europe conference in Luxembourg, concluded a 12-satellite constellation, producing imagery at a resolution of one meter, can be deployed for $300 million. The study by RRE Ventures and PJT Partners, a New York investment bank, concluded there is still strong demand for Earth imagery despite a proliferation of satellite systems because of a desire for fast revisit times. (11/13)
EchoStar Purchases Smallsats for IoT (Source: Space News)
EchoStar is buying two smallsats to jump-start an Internet of Things (IoT) constellation. The satellites, to be built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, will be used for an S-band IoT system EchoStar obtained through its acquisition of Helios Wire last month. EchoStar acquired Helios Wire for $26 million and will spend less than $10 million to build and launch the two new satellites. With Helios Wire newly under its control, EchoStar still hasn't decided on how many satellites will be in that constellation, the company's president said recently, as it instead works to secure S-band spectrum rights. (11/15)
Globalstar and Nokia to Offer African Phone Service (Source: Globalstar)
U.S. satellite operator Globalstar and Nokia have teamed up to provide communications solutions in Africa. The two companies collaborated on a product that links Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud platform using Globalstar’s S-band spectrum for terrestrial LTE services. Globalstar has market access to use its S-band spectrum for terrestrial networks in South Africa, Mozambique, Gabon, Botswana, and Rwanda. Nokia has become a value-added reseller for Globalstar through their partnership. (11/13)
Loft Raises $13 Million for Small Satellite Services (Source: Space News)
Loft Orbital has raised $13 million as the startup seeks to expand its "condosat" smallsat services. The company's Series A round was led by Foundation Capital with participation from several other funds, bringing the total raised to date to $20 million. Loft Orbital is developing smallsats that can carry multiple payloads for customers who don't want to operate their own smallsats. The company's first satellite, YAM-2, will launch by the middle of 2020 carrying payloads for five customers. (11/15)
BlackSky Secures $50 Million Financing From Intelsat (Source: Space News)
Geospatial data provider BlackSky announced Nov. 12 it has secured a $50 million loan from global communications satellite operator Intelsat. The senior secured loan will finance BlackSky’s infrastructure and product development for commercial and government customers. In addition to the financing deal, O’Toole said, BlackSky and Intelsat are establishing a commercial partnership to jointly develop data and imagery products to be distributed via Intelsat’s communications services. (11/12)
Kepler Demonstrates Polar Coverage (Source: SpaceQ)
Kepler demonstrated the ability of its satellite system to provide high-bandwidth communications in polar regions. The Canadian company said a German icebreaker participating in a scientific expedition near the North Pole was able to communicate with Kepler's two demonstration satellites at a rate of 100 megabits per second. Kepler said the demonstration showed the potential of its planned constellation to provide store-and-forward communications of large amounts of data. (11/11)
Telesat Postpones Constellation Manufacturer Selection (Source: Space News)
Telesat will postpone the selection of a manufacturer for its satellite constellation until next year. Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg said last week that decision, which had been expected this year, will now come in the first quarter of 2020. That decision was originally between Airbus Defence and Space and a team of Maxar Technologies and Thales Alenia Space, but Maxar and Thales have split and are now competing separately. Goldberg didn't say in an earnings call if that split was a factor in Telesat's decision to push back a selection. (11/11)
OneWeb Seeks Dismissal of Intelsat Lawsuit (Source: Space News)
OneWeb and its largest investor, SoftBank, are seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Intelsat. That suit, filed in a New York court in September, argued that OneWeb and SoftBank breached contracts, committed fraud and conspired to steal confidential and proprietary information. OneWeb terminated a deal with Intelsat where Intelsat would have exclusive rights to OneWeb's capacity in four industry sectors. OneWeb and SoftBank say the suit should be dismissed since a finalized purchase agreement and a service-level agreement was never reached. (11/13)
LeoSat Suspends Operations (Source: Space News)
Broadband satellite constellation startup LeoSat has suspended operations. Mark Rigolle, CEO of LeoSat, said the company laid off its 13 employees after earlier investors Hispasat and Sky Perfect Jsat declined to put more money into the company in order to complete a $50 million Series A funding round. LeoSat still exists as a legal entity, Rigolle said, and its founders continue to look for new funding, but otherwise the company has effectively ceased operations. LeoSat proposed a constellation of 78 to 108 satellites to provide broadband services and had commitments from potential customers worth up to $2 billion, but could not convince investors to fund the $3 billion constellation. (11/14)
Virgin Galactic Announces Third Quarter Results (Source: Virgin Galactic)
Third quarter results for VG reflect the three months ended September 30, 2019, prior to the closing on October 25, 2019 of the recent business combination (the “Business Combination”) between VG’s predecessor, VGH, LLC, and Social Capital Hedosophia, a public investment vehicle. The Business Combination provided net proceeds to VG of over $430 million, which VG intends to use to fund its operations. Pre-transaction owners of VGH, LLC retained over 58% ownership of VG following the Business Combination.
Recent business highlights include the transition of approximately 60% of Virgin Galactic operations personnel from the headquarters in Mojave to Spaceport America, located in New Mexico. The company achieved several operational milestones at Spaceport America, including the relocation of mothership VMS Eve, completing installation of the ground infrastructure, ground tests of all systems to ensure they are flight-ready and unveiling the operational hubs of Spaceport America as open and operational. (11/12)
Virgin Galactic’s IPO Launches a Pivotal Phase for Space Tourism (Source: Quartz)
The route to success in the space tourism industry is bound to be a wild ride and Branson is hoping his first mover advantage will bring healthy returns in the long run. Indeed, this high-risk venture could well pay off–it’s just a question of when. Although it has yet to fly any paying passengers and is currently loss making, Virgin Galactic aims to be profitable by 2021, based on completing 115 flights that generate $210m in revenue. By 2023, it is forecasting revenues of $590m and expects to have flown more than 3,000 passengers.
Since that number is a tiny portion of the target market of high net-worth individuals with assets of at least $10m, its projections could well be achievable. And, currently, Virgin Galactic appears to be ahead of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin in fulfilling the vision of space tourism. While Virgin Galactic has failed to deliver on expectations in the past–it missed its own targets for flights commencing and experienced a catastrophic accident in 2014–it has more recently made substantial progress. (11/8)
Advanced Electric Propulsion System Passes Full-Power Test Milestone (Source: New Atlas)
Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA's Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) thruster has passed a major milestone, completing its first full-power test. Designed to be used by NASA's Gateway lunar orbital outpost as well as manned and unmanned deep-space missions, the AEPS Hall thruster ran stably at power levels ranging from 4.2 kW to 12.5 kW at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The AEPS will be a key component of the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) module of Gateway, where they will draw 25 kW from the roll-out solar array (ROSA) assembly, which is capable of generating up to 60 kW. Each of the engines consists of a Xenon Hall thruster, a power processing unit for controlling the electrical power feed, and a Xenon flow controller to throttle the engine's thrust. Backed up by chemical monopropellant thrusters, they will act as the main propulsion and maneuvering system for Gateway. Using 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) of xenon as a propellant, the thrusters are designed to have a service life of 50,000 hours. (11/14)
Near-Earth Space Governance is All About the Money (Source: Space Review)
The growth of commercial space activities is placing new pressures on existing governance regimes in space on topics ranging from space traffic management to export control. Adam Routh argues that the solution is not new treaties but rather a growing network of bilateral agreements that address those concerns. Click here. (11/11)
Combining Satellites, Radar Provides Path for Better Forecasts (Source: Space Daily)
Every minute counts when it comes to predicting severe weather. Combing data from cutting-edge geostationary satellites and traditional weather radar created a path toward earlier, more accurate warnings, according to researchers who studied supercell thuderstorms in the Midwest. "We know satellites have an advantage in producing forecasts earlier, and radar has more confidence in where clouds should be and where thunderstorms will be moving. The question was whether these two types of observations would complement each other if combined together. We found, for at least one severe weather event, assimilating satellite and radar simultaneously leads to the best forecasts." (11/12)
Sentinel for Sea-Level Rise Enters Testing (Source: BBC)
The next satellite tasked with maintaining the "gold standard" measurement of sea-level rise is about to enter final testing. Sentinel-6a will pick up from the long-running Jason series of spacecraft when it launches in November 2020. These missions track the height and shape of Earth's oceans with microwave altimeters. Since 1992, the orbiting instruments have observed sea level go up by an average of 3.2mm per year. This trend is accelerating, however. The most recent five-year period, from 2014 to 2019, has witnessed a 4.8mm/yr increase. (11/15)
The Growing Problem of Space Debris (Source: Interesting Engineering)
In 1958, the Space Age officially began with the launch of humanity's first artificial satellite - known as Sputnik 1. Constructed and orbited by the Soviet Union, this satellite was a simple technology demonstrator designed to emit radio pulses. However, the impact its deployment had was much more far-reaching than that. Not only was this a pivotal moment in the history of human spaceflight, and a big scare for the West, it was also the first of thousands of satellites to be launched from Earth.
Today, roughly sixty years later, some 8,950 satellites have been launched by more than 40 nations into orbit. Based on the most recent estimates, about 5,000 of these satellites remain in orbit, though most have reached the end of their lifespan. Only around 1,950 of these satellites remain operational while the rest have become space debris. These now-defunct satellites are joined by thousands of bits of debris, which are collectively referred to as "space junk".
Given the situation, there are those who have advocated for a "No New Launches" policy. However, a 2005 study conducted by the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office (ODPO) found that even if no future launches occurred, collisions between existing objects would still increase the debris population at a rate faster than atmospheric drag would remove objects. This scenario highlights the need for an active debris removal (ADR) program. This would need to consist of mitigation strategies being adopted at the earliest phases of mission planning, and remediation strategies that call for the deorbiting of debris. (11/2)
University of Florida Lab Investigates Space Debris (Source: MIT Technology Review)
On a sweltering day in August, in a windowless strip mall office in north-central Florida, Rafael Carrasquilla and a dozen other students wore surgical gloves as they picked through piles of dust with tweezers. They were hunting for tiny slivers of carbon fiber only millimeters long, almost invisible to the naked eye. There were no ventilation fans, no sneezing or sudden movements at the lab bench. When they found one, they logged its appearance in a database, bagged it, tagged it, and placed it among tens of thousands of others painstakingly organized in ranks of plastic bins.
Carrasquilla leads the fragment characterization effort for the University of Florida, part of a NASA-led experiment called DebriSat that began in 2011. DebriSat was created to answer a question: What happens when a piece of orbital debris slams into a satellite at thousands of miles per hour? If such a collision occurs in orbit, it’s impossible to keep track of the resulting chaos. The only way to answer that question with confidence is to cause a catastrophic impact in a laboratory down here on Earth, where conditions can be carefully controlled and results meticulously catalogued.
Orbital debris comes in many shapes and sizes, from fragments similar to those Carrasquilla’s group was analyzing to full-size rocket boosters left in space. In orbit, even miniature fragments are capable of damaging satellites or penetrating space suits. Kinetic energy increases with the square of an object’s velocity—and impacts in orbit typically happen at over 20,000 miles per hour, so that even tiny carbon-fiber needles can cause damage. “The biggest mission-ending risk to operational spacecraft comes from small, millimeter-size orbital debris, not big fat objects,” says NASA's Jer Chyi “JC” Liou. Click here. (11/11)
Astronauts on Spacewalk Prepare AMS Cosmic Ray Detector for Repair (Source: CollectSpace)
Astronauts working outside of the International Space Station have completed the first in a series of at least four complex spacewalks to repair a state-of-the-art cosmic ray detector.
Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and astronaut Drew Morgan of NASA got off to a good start on Friday (Nov. 15) on what has been described as the most challenging spacewalks since the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope more than a decade ago. Over the course of 6 hours and 39 minutes, the two Expedition 61 crew members began the tasks needed to replace the failing cooling system for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a $2 billion science instrument that was not designed to be worked on in space.
"We're going to perform what could be considered open heart surgery on this amazing experiment," said Parmitano, prior to the start of Friday's extravehicular activity (EVA, or spacewalk). "It's a combination of things that makes this EVA so challenging. You have certainly an access problem ... AMS is in a remote area without handles or locations to hold onto, because it was not made to be repaired [on] EVA." (11/15)
Martian Methane Mystery Continues (Source: ESA)
The mystery of Martian methane continues. ESA said that its two orbiters, Mars Express and ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, failed to detect any methane in the Martian atmosphere even as NASA's Curiosity Mars orbiter detected its strongest burst of methane yet at the surface. Scientists think the methane burst measured by Curiosity lasted less than a day and was mixed into the atmosphere before the orbiters could pass over the site. (11/14)
Bones on Mars (Source: TIME)
Fossil hunters have been digging up remains of extinct species on Earth for centuries. Now the work is about to begin on Mars. A paper just published in the journal Icarus announced the identification of a ring of mineral deposits in the Jezero crater, which will be the landing site of the Mars 2020 rover, set for launch next year. The ring is rich in carbonates, the stuff of fossils and sea shells. The deposits could wind up being nothing but carbonates—or they could be a whole lot more. We'll know soon enough. (11/15)
New Name Solves a Nasty Problem (Source: TIME)
There was a lot of happy high-fiving on Jan. 1, 2019 when the New Horizons spacecraft flew by the Kupier Belt object known as MU69, which, at 6.6 billion km (4.1 billion miles) from Earth, is the most distant body ever reconnoitered by a spacecraft. The object was nicknamed Ultima Thule, or "beyond the known world," which describes it well and, not insignificantly, sounds kind of cool.
Only it's not. Indeed, it's deeply uncool. Ultima Thule turns out also to be the name of the mythical world that the early 20th-century German group known as the Thule Society claimed was the origin of the Aryan people. And the Thule Society later flowed directly into the German Workers' Party, which later became known as the Nazi party. So: not good. NASA thus wisely (and quickly as these things go), announced that it was changing the official name of MU60 to Arrokoth, or sky in the language of the Native American Powhatan language. A sweet name—and a wise move. (11/15)
WFIRST Passes Design Review, But Costs a Continued Concern (Source: Space News)
NASA's WFIRST space telescope passed its preliminary design review amid uncertainty about its budget. The mission completed the review at the beginning of the month, and NASA officials say that development of the infrared space telescope is on track for a launch in 2025. NASA's fiscal year 2020 budget included no funding for WFIRST, but both House and Senate versions of appropriations bills do fund the mission. One complication is that the lower amount of funding for WFIRST in the Senate bill could force NASA to replan the mission and potentially delay its launch. (11/12)
Japanese Asteroid Probe Ready to Return Home, With Samples (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
Japan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft will begin its journey back to Earth this week. Project officials said Tuesday that the spacecraft will use its electric propulsion system to depart the vicinity of the asteroid Ryugu this week, beginning a journey back to Earth that will take about a year. The spacecraft is returning samples it collected from the surface of the asteroid earlier this year. (11/12)
NASA Scientists Detect Huge Thermonuclear Blast Deep in Space (Source: Science Alert)
NASA recently detected a massive thermonuclear explosion coming from outer space. The culprit seems to be a distant pulsar, the space agency reports, which is the stellar remains of a star that blew up in a supernova but was too small to form a black hole. NASA spotted the burst because it sent out an intense beam of x-rays that got picked up by the agency's orbital observatory NICER. All in all, it serves as a potent reminder: space is an extremely dangerous, extremely metal place. (11/10)
We May Finally Understand the Moments Before the Big Bang (Source: Live Science)
There's a hole in the story of how our universe came to be. First, the universe inflated rapidly, like a balloon. Then, everything went boom. But how those two periods are connected has eluded physicists. Now, a new study suggests a way to link the two epochs. In the first period, the universe grew from an almost infinitely small point to nearly an octillion (that's a 1 followed by 27 zeros) times that in size in less than a trillionth of a second.
This inflation period was followed by a more gradual, but violent, period of expansion we know as the Big Bang. During the Big Bang, an incredibly hot fireball of fundamental particles — such as protons, neutrons and electrons — expanded and cooled to form the atoms, stars and galaxies we see today. The Big Bang theory, which describes cosmic inflation, remains the most widely supported explanation of how our universe began, yet scientists are still perplexed by how these wholly different periods of expansion are connected. To solve this cosmic conundrum, a team of researchers simulated the critical transition between cosmic inflation and the Big Bang — a period they call "reheating."
When the universe expanded in a flash of a second during cosmic inflation, all the existing matter was spread out, leaving the universe a cold and empty place, devoid of the hot soup of particles needed to ignite the Big Bang. During the reheating period, the energy propelling inflation is believed to decay into particles, said Rachel Nguyen. "Once those particles are produced, they bounce around and knock into each other, transferring momentum and energy," Nguyen told Live Science. "And that's what thermalizes and reheats the universe to set the initial conditions for the Big Bang." (11/11)
There’s Growing Evidence That the Universe Is Connected by Giant Structures (Source: Motherboard)
Galaxies within a few million light years of each other can gravitationally affect each other in predictable ways, but scientists have observed mysterious patterns between distant galaxies that transcend those local interactions. These discoveries hint at the enigmatic influence of so-called “large-scale structures” which, as the name suggests, are the biggest known objects in the universe. These dim structures are made of hydrogen gas and dark matter and take the form of filaments, sheets, and knots that link galaxies in a vast network called the cosmic web.
We know these structures have major implications for the evolution and movements of galaxies, but we’ve barely scratched the surface of the root dynamics driving them. Scientists are eager to acquire these new details because some of these phenomena challenge the most fundamental ideas about the universe. “That’s actually the reason why everybody is always studying these large-scale structures,” says Noam Libeskind, a cosmographer. “It’s a way of probing and constraining the laws of gravity and the nature of matter, dark matter, dark energy, and the universe.”
For instance, a study published in The Astrophysical Journal in October found that hundreds of galaxies were rotating in sync with the motions of galaxies that were tens of millions of light years away. “This discovery is quite new and unexpected,” said lead author Joon Hyeop Lee, an astronomer at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, in an email. “I have never seen any previous report of observations or any prediction from numerical simulations, exactly related to this phenomenon.” (11/11)
Scientists Find a New Way to Measure Gravity (Source: Big Think)
You drop something and it falls. That's how you know where is gravity, right? Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, improved upon this age-old test to find a new and potentially more useful way to measure gravity using lasers suspending atoms in midair. The usual approach to measuring gravity involves making something fall, preferably in a long shielded tube or tower, and then measuring it as it flies by with an instrument. While this age-old method connects to our everyday experience of gravity, it has limitations. For one, the opportunity to understand gravitational effects is very brief during such a test. There are also other forces, like magnetic fields, at play, possibly affecting the results.
The new technique developed by a team of researchers, led by physicist Victoria Xu, doesn't rely on making anything fall. Instead it pinpoints the differences in atoms in a superposition state. Superposition is the physics principle that says a system can be in multiple states until it's measured. What the researchers figured out is a process that starts by releasing a cloud of cesium atoms in a small chamber. Then they used flashing lights to split some of them into superposition states. Once the atoms were taken apart in this way, lasers were employed to keep them in fixed positions. (11/16)
Why Dark Matter's No-Show Could Mean a Big Bang Rethink (Source: New Scientist)
We see its effects in how stars move within galaxies, and how galaxies move within galaxy clusters. Without it, we can’t explain how such large collections of matter came to exist, and certainly not how they hang together today. But what it is, we don’t know. Welcome to one of the biggest mysteries in the universe: what makes up most of it. Our best measurements indicate that some 85 per cent of all matter in our universe consists of “dark matter” made of something that isn’t atoms.
Huge underground experiments built to catch glimpses of dark matter particles as they pass through Earth have seen nothing. Particle-smashing experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, which we hoped would create dark matter, haven’t – at least as far as we can tell. The hunt for dark matter was never supposed to be easy. But we didn’t expect it to be this hard.
Dark matter’s no-show means that many possible explanations for it that people like me favored just a decade ago have now been ruled out. That is forcing us to radically revisit assumptions not only about the nature of dark matter, but also about the early history of our universe. This is the latest twist in a long-running saga: our failure to detect the particles that make up dark matter suggests that the beginning of the universe may have been very different from what we imagined. (11/13)
A Black Hole Threw a Star Out of the Milky Way Galaxy (Source: New York Times)
There are fastballs, and then there are cosmic fastballs. Now it seems that the strongest arm in our galaxy might belong to a supermassive black hole that lives smack in the middle of the Milky Way. Astronomers recently discovered a star whizzing out of the center of our galaxy at the seriously blinding speed of four million miles an hour. The star, which goes by the typically inscrutable name S5-HVS1, is currently about 29,000 light-years from Earth, streaking through the Grus, or Crane, constellation in the southern sky. It is headed for the darkest, loneliest depths of intergalactic space. (11/14)
Brit Poll Sees Pessimism on Earth's Future (Source: Press Association)
A new poll claims more than a third of Britons expect humans will have to live in space because of deteriorating conditions on Earth. The British poll, published Monday, said that 37% concluded that humans will have to move off the planet because it will become uninhabitable. The poll also found that 29% of people would pay to go to space "if it were easily accessible to the general public" but that only 18% would use their savings to do so. The poll was commissioned by Asgardia, the quixotic Earth-based "space nation." (11/12)
Ex-Astronaut Set for Trial in Wreck That Killed 2 Girls (Source: ABC News)
A former space shuttle commander is set for trial next month in Alabama on reckless murder charges in a wreck that killed two girls. Court records show the trial of one-time NASA astronaut James Halsell Jr. is scheduled for Dec. 9. The 63-year-old Halsell was arrested after a wreck killed 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13-year-old Jayla Latrick Parler in rural Tuscaloosa County in 2016. (11/15)
The Space Artist Who Saw Pluto Before NASA (Source: Guardian)
On 7 November, David Hardy opens a new exhibition called Visions of Space alongside 19 fellow space artists. Space art (or astronomical art) is an art movement just like modernism or impressionism. Its early pioneers included American artist , who painted what he saw in a telescope, and French astronomer-artist Lucien Rudaux, who made an atlas of the Milky Way – and created impossibly accurate paintings of Mars in the 1920s and 1930s. Together, they’re known as the Fathers of Modern Space Art. Click here. (11/11)
'For All Mankind' on Apple TV+ Officially Renewed for Season 2 (Source: Space.com)
After nearly a month of reports, Apple TV+'s fictionalized version of the 1960s race to the moon, "For All Mankind," has officially been renewed for a second season. Season 1 of "For All Mankind," which depicts an alternate history where the Soviet Union beat the United States to the moon, debuted on the Apple TV+ streaming service Nov. 1. But hints at a second season were already in the air even as the first episodes touched down (that's a moon landing pun). (11/14)
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