January 21, 2019
Sources: Firefly Aerospace is Behind Florida Rocket Project (Source: Reuters)
Firefly Aerospace Inc, a resurgent rocket company founded by a former SpaceX engineer, plans to build a factory and launch site at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Spaceport in a $52 million deal, people familiar with the project said. The Firefly project is strategically important for the Texas-based startup as it competes with several other new entrants vying to cash in on a big jump in the number of small satellites expected in the coming years.
Companies like Firefly, Virgin Orbit, and Rocket Lab are among the most promising companies designing miniaturized launch systems to link a broader swath of the economy to space at lower cost. Firefly and Space Florida, the state’s spaceport authority, declined to comment, citing confidentiality agreements. A Florida project code-named “Maricopa” was publicly disclosed in November by Space Florida, but officials have been tight-lipped on specifics. Two people familiar with the project said Firefly is the company involved, though one of the people said the deal had not been finalized.
Beginning around 2020, around 800 small satellites are expected to launch annually, more than double the annual average over the past decade, according to Teal Group analyst Marco Caceres. Firefly aims for a first flight in December of its Alpha rocket, which is capable of carrying around 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) into low-Earth orbit at a cost of about $15 million per flight. (1/16)
Air Force Grants 3D Rocket Printer Relativity Space a Launch Pad at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: CNBC)
Relativity Space, a three-year-old start-up that aims to build rockets using 3D printers, announced a contract Thursday with the U.S. Air Force to build and operate a launch facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. "Cape Canaveral is the premier launch site in the U.S.," Relativity CEO Tim Ellis told CNBC.
The five-year "multi-user" agreement means Relativity can begin operating out of Launch Complex 16, or LC-16, the historic location of hundreds of American space launches. There is no monetary exchange or lease payment to the Air Force for this contract. The agreement includes an option to extend for an exclusive 20-year term. "We have a very clear path toward having this be an exclusive use site for us in the future," Ellis said. Click here. (1/17)
ULA’s Vulcan Rocket Design 'Nearly Fully Mature' (Source: Reuters)
United Launch Alliance will conduct the final design review for its new flagship Vulcan rocket within months, it said on Wednesday, as the aerospace company heads for a showdown with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and others in the launch services market. The final design review is a crucial milestone as the company tries to move into full production ahead of a first flight in spring 2021 after slipping from its initial 2019 timetable. (1/16)
NROL-71 Launches on ULA Delta 4 From California Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully completed its first flight of 2019. The launch utilized the largest rocket in ULA’s arsenal to send a classified payload into space. In doing so the company finally managed to move past a saga of delays. ULA’s Delta IV Heavy rocket had been selected to send the classified NROL-71 payload to orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6). NROL-71 had been slated to get underway on Sept. 26, Dec. 7, 8, 18, 19, 20 and 30 (in 2018). On Jan. 5, 2019 ULA stated that the launch date was “under review.” (1/19)
Blue Origin Aims to Launch Delayed New Shepard Flight Monday (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Blue Origin plans to launch the next test flight of its New Shepard suborbital booster Monday from West Texas as the commercial space company moves closer to flying people to the edge of space. The company, founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, said in a tweet that teams have resolved an unspecified “ground infrastructure issue” that delayed the mission from December, and weather looks good for launch Monday.
The single stage New Shepard will lift off from Blue Origin’s test facility north of Van Horn, Texas. Blue Origin says it will provide a live webcast of the flight, which is scheduled to take off at 9 a.m. The launch will mark the 10th flight of a New Shepard rocket, and the fourth flight of the reusable New Shepard vehicle currently in service. (1/19)
New Video Rendering of Blue Origin Launch Operations at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket will serve commercial, civil and national security customers from around the world. It will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 36 with the first launch targeted for 2021. Click here. (1/17)
Drone Aviation Expands Manufacturing Capacity in Jacksonville (Source: Jacksonville Business Journal)
Jacksonville-based Drone Aviation Holding Corp. is expanding its capacity to manufacture tethered drones and aerostats to meet demand. The company has partnered with an unnamed manufacturer with access to a 100,000-sq. ft. facility equipped with flight testing facilities in order to fulfill a $3.8 million contract signed earlier this month. Drone Aviation will continue to conduct proprietary manufacturing, software and electronics design, final assembly and systems integration from its Jacksonville headquarters. (1/15)
The Fall and Rise of Florida's Space Coast (Source: Super Cluster)
As the space shuttle touched down from its final mission in 2011, Gerry Mulberry hoped a rebound was around the corner. "This area got hit bad,” said Mulberry, a former shuttle engineer. He said he remembers thinking at the time "you know, maybe over the long run it will turn out ok." Mulberry was one of roughly 8,000 NASA and civilian employees laid off in 2011 when NASA ended the shuttle program, the United States' fourth human spaceflight program that employed a significant percentage of Florida's space coast workforce.
“With shuttle, we had the dual whammies. The bad economy kicked in at the same time,” said Jim Tully, a 24-year veteran engineer of the shuttle program and mayor of Titusville from 2008 to 2016. Tully was at the helm of the city when a large portion of its 46,000 residents worked on the other side of the Indian River, at Kennedy Space Center.
In the Apollo days they had even more people out there, and when that program ended... there were just an amazing number of layoffs and the housing market just completely collapsed." “You would’ve thought that we would’ve learned our lesson locally from that incident, but we didn’t,” reflected Tully, alluding to when President Richard Nixon ended the Apollo program in 1972 after putting 12 U.S. astronauts on the moon. Click here. (1/8)
Why SpaceX is Ramping Up its Florida Staff While Cutting Hundreds of Workers in California(Source: Orlando Business Journal)
It's no secret that SpaceX has a lot of irons in the fire as it continues to innovate the space industry, but the rocket business is not only hard — it's also expensive. That's why the company is laying off 10 percent of its staff in California. However, it's still hiring in Florida. Bloomberg confirmed that many of those job cuts will be at SpaceX's California headquarters and the cut jobs include production managers, avionics technicians, machinists, inventory specialists and propulsion technicians.
The layoff announcement didn't surprise Laura Forczyk at Astralytical. She said SpaceX had to hire a lot of talent initially to handle the development of the new vehicles and its Starlink satellite service. However, since the company is far enough along on those plans, it decided now was the time to cut back. "Payroll is often company’s largest expense. SpaceX needs to cut costs wherever it can to remain competitive in the marketplace to gain customers and to pay for its expensive projects before those projects become profitable," Forczyk said.
However, SpaceX's Florida staff isn't feeling the burn of the layoffs. In fact, the company has nearly 40 job openings in Cape Canaveral, including openings for various engineers in its launch engineering section, technician and trade skill workers, security and supply chain management. Forczyk said the reason for this is because Florida's SpaceX workforce caters to the company launch services — an area that especially will need more workers in the time ahead. (1/16)
SpaceX Layoffs Include 577 Positions at California Headquarters (Source: Bloomberg)
SpaceX is taking the ax to its headquarters in California. Hours after launching its first rocket of the new year on Friday morning, the Elon Musk-led company told employees that roughly 10 percent of SpaceX’s workforce would be laid off. Stunned workers were sent home early to await notification to their private email addresses about their fate.
The vast majority of Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s more than 6,000 employees are employed at its headquarters and rocket factory in Hawthorne, California, and hundreds of others are based in Seattle, Florida, Washington, D.C. and Texas. Some 577 positions will be cut in Hawthorne, according to Jan Vogel, executive director of the South Bay Workforce Investment Board. Those cut include production managers, avionics technicians, machinists, inventory specialists and propulsion technicians. (1/13)
Dragon Cargo Capsule Leaves ISS, Splashes Down Off California Coast (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Dragon cargo spacecraft departed from the International Space Station Sunday night and splashed down in the Pacific several hours later. The Dragon spacecraft, flying the CRS-16 cargo mission, was released by the station's robotic arm at 6:33 p.m. Eastern and, after a deorbit burn, splashed down off the Baja California coast at 12:12 a.m. Eastern Monday. The Dragon, launched last month, returned to Earth with science payloads and unneeded station hardware. (1/14)
SpaceX Nears Falcon 9 Lunar Rideshare Launch as Main Satellite Arrives in Florida (Source: Teslarati)
SpaceX and customers Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), SpaceIL, and Spaceflight Industries are reportedly one month away from the NET February 18th launch of Indonesian communications satellite PSN VI (since renamed Nusantara Satu), commercial moon lander Beresheet, and additional unspecified smallsats.
In an encouraging sign that the mission’s launch date might hold, the PSN VI communications satellite – manufactured and delivered by Space Systems Loral (SSL) – arrived at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral, Florida payload processing facilities in late December 2018 and is likely to be joined by SpaceIL’s Beresheet spacecraft in the next few weeks. (1/15)
SpaceX Build Starship Prototypes at Texas Site, Abandons Los Angeles Port Plan (Source: Space News)
SpaceX will shift work on prototypes of its Starship vehicle to Texas as the company appears to abandon plans for a new manufacturing facility at the Port of Los Angeles. The company said in a statement Wednesday that it would build and test Starship prototypes at its South Texas launch site to "streamline operations." The first such vehicle is expected to begin low-altitude test flights there in the next month or two.
The company hasn't disclosed plans for later production of its next-generation launch system, but local officials said SpaceX has backed out of an agreement announced last year to lease property at the Port of Los Angeles where SpaceX was to build a facility for producing those vehicles. Editor's Note: Elon Musk tweeted that some reporting of this news was in error, and that SpaceX will assemble only the prototype Starship items at the Texas site. Final production would be in California. (1/17)
SpaceX Gearing Up for Starship Tests at Boca Chica (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
At the southern tip of Texas, SpaceX is preparing to begin testing their interplanetary spacecraft. The first Starship test vehicle, dubbed Starhopper, is in advanced stages of construction, and SpaceX facilities at Boca Chica and McGregor are preparing to support a flight test program beginning this year. SpaceX has suggested both Boca Chica and Cape Canaveral as launch sites for operational, orbital Starship missions that would utilize the Super Heavy booster.
The new South Texas Launch Site was originally intended to be a third launch facility for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles, in addition to Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. While current plans now focus on the Starship and Super Heavy vehicles, the layout of the launch site appears to be largely unchanged. A building permit reading “operational hopper pad for rocket launches” is posted at the location of the originally proposed launch pad.
After years of minimal changes to the Boca Chica landscape, with SpaceX’s workforce focusing on the Falcon Heavy and Commercial Crew programs, a significant workforce has arrived to begin preparations for Starship. Construction crews have flattened a hill into a causeway, with a ramp at the east end for the pad site. Concrete trucks have most recently been seen at the pad site itself, as well as hardware for pad infrastructure including trusses, pipes, and electrical conduit. The pad will initially support atmospheric “hop” tests of the Starship test vehicle that is under construction nearby. (1/14)
Spin Launch Chooses New Mexico for Something (Source: Spaceport America)
In a Jan. 14 tweet, Spaceport America announced they are "pleased to announce a new space company coming to New Mexico -- SpinLaunch. An addition of 20 new jobs will be added locally, as well as investment by SpinLaunch of $7M in construction capital and $1M in local infrastructure development for the company." Editor's Note: I could find no other news about this announcement, neither on the Spaceport America website nor Spin Launch's. (1/17)
Virgin Orbit Confirms Interest in Guam Launches (Source: Guam Daily Post)
Virgin Orbit executives confirm they're interested in performing launches from Guam. The company, developing the LauncherOne vehicle that is air-launched from a Boeing 747, said they believe the island's international airport is "the best first place to go" as it expands launch operations. Virgin Orbit foresees carrying out a campaign of launches from the island over a month of two, rather than basing the system on the island permanently. Those launches would require the airport to have an FAA spaceport license, and the airport authority doesn't expect to submit a license application until March. The first LauncherOne orbital mission, flying from California, is expected to take place early this year. (1/14)
Stratolaunch Scales Back Operations After Paul Allen's Death (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
Stratolaunch, the Seattle-based space venture created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen seven years ago, says it’s discontinuing its programs to develop a new type of rocket engine and a new line of rockets. The company said it would continue work on the world’s largest airplane, which is designed to serve as a flying launch pad for rockets.
Last week, Stratolaunch put its 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage plane through a high-speed taxi test that many saw as a precursor for its first test flight at Mojave Air and Space Port. “Stratolaunch is ending the development of their family of launch vehicles and rocket engine. We are streamlining operations, focusing on the aircraft and our ability to support a demonstration launch of the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL air-launch vehicle,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We are immensely proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to first flight in 2019.”
The dramatic turn of events comes three months after Allen’s death. Employees were told today that more than 50 people were being laid off as a result of the streamlining strategy, according to two sources who aren’t employed by Stratolaunch but are familiar with the operation. The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said about 20 employees were staying on to work on the plane and prepare for the flight test. (1/18)
Closing the Space Launch Information Gap (Source: Space Daily)
The space revolution is underway. The excitement in the industry is palpable, and new staggering achievements are being accomplished at almost a daily rate. There is also a rapidly increasing tempo of new company announcements, new players who want to serve existing space markets or create new ones. New space companies are creating significant value, but how can anyone see through the hype to know which companies will be successful?
For someone who wants to invest in these companies, it can be quite a dizzying experience. How can an investor know which companies are actually real? Which companies have technology that works, experienced leadership teams, and enough financing to see their plans through? The SpaceFund Reality rating (SFR) is an effort to provide critical, intelligent, and non-biased information about the status of the growing space industry, and to make as much of this data available to the public as possible. The SFR rating is designed to be a general guide, and is not intended as a critique or endorsement of any one company. (1/15)
| Astranis Wins Contract for Alaska Broadband Satellite (Source: Space News)
Astranis is building its first small geostationary satellite, with a focus on Alaska. Pacific Dataport signed a contract for capacity on the satellite worth "tens of millions of dollars." The 300-kilogram satellite is planned for launch in the second half of 2020, and will bring 7.5 gigabits per second of Ka-band capacity to Alaska. The Astranis satellite, which is not yet named, is the third small geostationary satellite ordered across the industry in the past five months, following Hong Kong-based GapSat's September purchase of GapSat-1 from Terran Orbital, and Swedish startup Ovzon’s December purchase of Ovzon-3 from SSL. (1/16)
Aireon Takes Loan to Pay Iridium (Source: Space News)
Aireon has taken out a $200 million loan to allow the aircraft-tracking company to make hosting payments to Iridium. Aireon said it signed the credit facility with a Deutsche Bank-led group of investor funds Dec. 21, and that it used the new funds to pay satellite operator Iridium $35 million before the end of 2018 for hosting its sensor payloads on the Iridium Next constellation. Aireon fell behind on making the $200 million in hosting payments it owes Iridium, in part because Iridium Next delays also hamstrung deployment of Aireon's revenue-generating sensor network. (1/17)
Gogo Satellite Broadband for Aircraft Sees Subscriber Growth (Source: Gogo)
In-flight connectivity provider Gogo said more than 1,000 aircraft are now online with the company’s 2Ku satellite antennas, and that it has installed satellite connectivity systems on approximately 1,300 commercial aircraft. Gogo said it completed 477 aircraft in-flight connectivity system installations in 2018, marking the second consecutive year where installs topped 450 aircraft. As of Dec. 31, around 1,000 more aircraft were in backlog awaiting 2Ku installations, the company said. (1/16)
Boeing Invests in Flat-Panel Venture (Source: GeekWire)
Boeing is investing in a company that makes flat-panel satellite antennas. Boeing HorizonX Ventures led the $14 million Series A round in London-based Isotropic Systems, a company developing antennas that use optical beam steering. HorizonX Ventures has now invested in several space-related startups, including Internet-of-Things satellite venture Myriota, propulsion developer Accion Systems and optical communications company BridgeSat. (1/17)
Isotropic Systems Raises $14M in to Advance Space-Based Connectivity (Source: Space Daily)
Isotropic Systems Ltd., the next-generation integrated satellite terminal solution provider, has announced a $14 million Series A round of funding led by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, with participation from WML, Space Angels and Space Capital.
"The Series A financing builds on an exceptional year for Isotropic which saw a rapidly growing roster of strategic partners and customers who are poised to unlock the full potential of high-throughput satellites and mega-constellations across all orbits," said John Finney, founder and chief executive officer of Isotropic Systems. (1/18)
Harris Wins $75 Million for MUOS Terminals (Source: Harris)
Harris Corp. received a $75 million order from the U.S. Marine Corps to upgrade user terminals for compatibility with the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite constellation. The Marine Corps placed the order though a five-year Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity contract from 2017. Under the new contract award, Harris will upgrade the Marine Corps Falcon 3 AN/PRC-117G manpack radio fleet so that Marines can use the radios to talk and share data more easily around the world using the MUOS constellation. Harris said it will also provide ancillary devices such as antennas that make radios capable of supporting satcom-on-the-move while connected to MUOS. (1/16)
General Atomics Acquisitions Bring Focus on Space Business (Source: Space News)
General Atomics is winning business in the smallsat market after the acquisition of two manufacturers. General Atomics acquired Miltec and the U.S. subsidiary of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., using them to form the basis of a smallsat business unit that is offering a satellite bus called Orbital Test Bed. The company recently won three government contracts from the Air Force and NASA for payloads using that bus, in part using hosted payloads approaches. (1/15)
Satellogic Plans to Launch Remote Sensing Constellation From China (Source: Space News)
Satellogic announced Tuesday that it will launch a constellation of remote sensing satellites on Chinese rockets. The Buenos Aires-based company said it plans to launch 90 satellites on as many as six Long March 6 rockets, starting in the fall of 2019 and continuing through 2020. The constellation will enable the company to collect multispectral imagery of the entire planet with weekly revisit times. The satellites also carry a hyperspectral payload, which the company says is primarily experimental for now. (1/15)
Scottish Skyrora's Rocket Launch Bid Moves Closer to Lift-Off (Source: The National)
In a major development in what has been dubbed the new space race, a groundbreaking 3D-printed rocket engine is nearing completion thanks to a partnership between Edinburgh-headquartered Skyrora and Hampshire-based Frazer-Nash Manufacturing. The engine will be tested in the coming weeks at Spaceport Cornwall. It will be the first advanced liquid-fuel engine tests by a British small-satellite launcher to take place in the UK since the legendary Black Arrow program in the 1960s.
Frazer-Nash has used innovative techniques to create the nickel alloy “upper stage” rocket engine components that will eventually power and manoeuvre Skyrora rockets and payloads once they reach orbit. Additive manufacturing (AM), also referred to as 3D printing, is a process of creating a three-dimensional part layer by layer. It works by adding material to create the desired shape, instead of having to remove material through methods such as machining. (1/12)
British Rocketeers in the New Space Age (Source: E&T)
The UK is the only country in history to have developed a launch capability only to throw it away. A new generation of rocket builders has now picked up the baton hoping to secure the UK’s spot in the still rather exclusive club of spacefaring nations. When the UK government announced plans to have rocket launches conducted from British soil as early as 2020, many questioned the feasibility of such a vision – especially the ambitious timeline.
The spaceport itself might not be a problem. One important element, however, is missing – a functional small-satellite launcher. The UK doesn’t aim to fly those Falcons, Arianes or Soyuzes that lift massive satellites to all sorts of orbits from established spaceports in the USA, Russia or French Guiana. It aims to target the small satellite market – quite understandably, since the country is among the global leaders in the development and manufacture of small satellites with masses below 500kg.
The UK’s aspiring spaceport operators hope to capitalize on the presence of established manufacturers of small satellites, such as Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), or relative newcomers, such as Glasgow-based cubesat maker Clyde Space. Customers of these companies could benefit from being able to launch from the north of Scotland or Cornwall, rather than having to transport their spacecraft to the other side of the world. (1/17)
Italy's Avio Borrows Euros for Propulsion Tech Development (Source: Avio)
Italian rocket builder Avio is borrowing 10 million euros from the European Investment Bank. The funds will support new space propulsion technologies for Europe’s next-generation Vega C and Ariane 6 launchers, the company said. Avio is the prime contractor for Vega C, which will have the same first-stage booster as the Ariane 6 strap-on side boosters. Avio said the new loan will help the company expand its industrial capacity at its plant in Colleferro, Italy, to meet anticipated production volumes. The financing follows a 40-million-euro loan Avio received from the European Investment Bank in 2017, and has the same conditions, Avio said. (1/16)
Small Thrusters for Small Satellites: Trends and Challenges (Source: Space Review)
As interest in smallsats grows, so does the need for propulsion systems that can make such spacecraft more capable. Researchers from Singapore and Australia examine the current state of research in smallsat propulsion technologies. Click here. (1/15)
NanoAvionics Expands Support for British Space Sector with New UK Sales and Technical Support Office (Source: NanoAvionics)
Smallsat bus and propulsion supplier NanoAvionics of Lithuania and Florida is opening a sales office in the United Kingdom. The company appointed Tariq Sami as its U.K. sales director for the new office, located in the Harwell Space Cluster in Oxfordshire. More than 950 people across 89 organizations work at the space cluster. Harwell Campus partner and director Angus Horner said he was confident the new office “will be a catalyst for even stronger collaboration between NanoAvionics and the leading research facilities and space companies located at Harwell.” (1/16)
Space Startups' New Mission: Entertaining Earthlings (Source: Nikkei)
Want to check crowd sizes at Disneyland, find out the best time to view cherry blossoms or, perhaps, arrange a romantic night watching shooting stars? Japanese space startups say they will soon have the answers. These young companies are diversifying beyond specialties like weather forecasting and astronomical observation, recognizing their technology can be used for other practical -- and sometimes not so practical -- pursuits.
"Isn't it helpful if Google Maps update every 10 minutes?" asked Shunsuke Onishi, CEO of Fukuoka venture iQPS. The small company -- it has a team of 11 people and 100 million yen ($910,000) in capitalization -- aims to place 36 mini radar satellites into Earth's orbit as early as 2024 and create a virtually real-time map. "We want to create a world where people can check how crowded Tokyo Disneyland is before going there, for instance," Onishi said. (1/14)
This Russian Start-Up Wants to Put Billboards in Space. Astronomers Aren’t Pleased (Source: Discover)
Imagine this: you’ve just fled from the city to your nearest national park to gaze deeply into the infinite abyss of space and contemplate how your own existence fits into the curtain of the universe. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see bright white letters spelling “KFC” spring across the horizon in a long arc. A few minutes later, it’s gone.
That’s the idea behind Orbital Display, a Russian startup’s effort to bring billboard advertisements to low-earth orbit using a grid of tissue box-sized satellites called “CubeSats.” Orbiting approximately 280 miles above ground, these tiny satellites will unfurl Mylar sails some 30 feet in diameter to catch and reflect sunlight, creating a pixelated matrix. The company, StartRocket, has proposed using this tech to display a knockoff of the Coca-Cola logo and other brand emblems, as well as allow governments to flash urgent notifications during emergencies. (1/14)
UAE Space Investments Exceed AED 22 Billion (Source: The National)
The UAE Space Agency (UAESA) has reportedly launched a National Plan for the Promotion of Space Investment aiming to increase domestic and foreign investment in the UAE space sector. The initiative promises to transform the nation into a regional hub for commercial space activities and advanced research and development.
It also aims to encourage local investment vehicles to consider funding opportunities in the space sector, both domestically and globally. The strategy also contributes to the UAE’s Science, Technology & Innovation Policy, as well as the UAE Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It envisions a competitive national economy based on knowledge, innovation, and future technological applications that integrate the latest physical and digital technologies, while also encouraging small and medium enterprises.
The investment plan is based on the National Space Policy issued in 2016, which called for a comprehensive approach to attracting and promoting investment in the space industry, encouraging and facilitating commercial space activity, and establishing the UAE as a major regional and global hub for space activities and advanced research and development. (1/15)
Maxar Faces Stock-Drop Suit Over Inflated Assets, Tech Lies (Source: Law360)
Maxar Technologies Inc. has been slapped with a proposed shareholder class action accusing the Colorado space technology company of using its $2.4 billion acquisition of a space imaging business to inflate its assets and hiding problems with one of the vendor’s satellites, causing dramatic stock plunges when the truth came out. (1/16)
Maxar Replaces CEO (Source: Space News)
Maxar Technologies replaced its chief executive Monday. The company announced that Howard Lance was leaving the positions of president and CEO, and would be replaced by Daniel Jablonsky, who had been president of DigitalGlobe, a division of Maxar. Lance led Maxar for less than three years during a time that it was shifting from a Canadian to an American company, a process that included the acquisition of DigitalGlobe. Maxar has suffered from a number of recent problems, including soft demand for geostationary orbit satellites that led the company to consider divesting Space Systems Loral, as well as the failure earlier this month of the WorldView-4 satellite. (1/15)
NewSpace Must Be Regulated (Source: Space News)
Move fast and break things, the mantra of Silicon Valley startups, has created a scapegoat for tech founders who do just that: break things. And it’s not just with Facebook breaking democracy — the contagion of dismissing regulation has now spread to the space sector with Swarm Technologies going as far as breaking the law.
Swarm Technologies, the Silicon Valley creator of “SpaceBee” pico satellites, has found itself in hot water with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the regulatory body of international communications by radio, wire and satellites. Swarm disregarded a decision by the FCC which refused a license to launch its satellites because pico satellites, being much smaller than nanosatellites, could not be safely detected and hence tracked in space. Swarm launched the satellites anyway aboard an Indian polar satellite launch vehicle.
This has sparked debate in the space law community. Space lawyer Daniel Porras, a Space Security Fellow for the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research, stated on Twitter “So, the big question remains, who is the ‘responsible’ State for the bees if they weren’t authorized? India denied responsibility, even if liable. [The] US can say they never authorized [the launch] and they never should have flown.” So why is it that the tech darlings of Silicon Valley are being allowed to self-regulate in an environment where abuse of power against the public good is so rampant? (1/16)
The 4 Things That Could Hobble the Commercial Space Revolution (Source: Popular Mechanics)
The private space industry will have a lot to celebrate in 2019. Virgin Galactic will launch its suborbital space tourism business. NASA astronauts will again fly to the International Space Station from U.S. soil, and on hardware owned by private companies. Small satellites will enjoy their own dedicated launches, no longer relegated to being secondary payloads on expensive flights. And NASA has begun to turn to the private sector for its lunar plans.
Yet the Grateful Dead said it best: When life seems like easy street, there is danger at your door. It’s a melodic warning to be on guard, one that is particularly appropriate to the commercial space industry as it roars into an epic 2019. Not content to be optimistic, Popular Mechanics reached out to some experts to find what headwinds the private space revolution might face this year. Click here. (1/15)
Cruz Pledges Another Commercial Space Reform Bill (Source: Space News)
A key senator said he'll make a second effort this year to pass a commercial space regulatory reform bill. The Space Frontier Act passed the Senate last month by unanimous consent but died in the House when it did not get the two-thirds majority needed for passage under suspension of the rules. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who chairs the Senate's space subcommittee, said Tuesday he'll seek to pass the bill again this year, along with a new NASA authorization bill. Either bill will include a provision extending ISS operations to 2030. Cruz said that he hopes space will continue to enjoy bipartisan support in Congress despite the "intense partisan discord" there on other issues. (1/16)
Mark Kelly Urged to Seek Senate Seat (Source: Roll Call)
An advocacy group is seeking to draft former astronaut Mark Kelly to run for a Senate seat in 2020. The 314 Action group, which backs candidates for political office that have scientific backgrounds, is planning a "six-figure" ad campaign to build up support for a potential run in 2020 by Kelly, a Democrat, for the seat currently held by Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.). McSally was appointed to fill the seat once held by the late John McCain, but will have to run for election in 2020 to fill the remainder of McCain's final term, which runs through 2022. Many observers consider Kelly, married to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, as one of the strongest potential candidates for the seat. (1/17)
Government Shutdown Blamed for Space Company's Layoffs (Source: GeekWire)
The ongoing government shutdown has forced one space technology company to lay off 20 percent of its workers. Tethers Unlimited said the company laid off 12 engineers because government employees processing invoices for projects it is doing for NASA and DARPA have been furloughed. The remaining staff are supported by commercial projects, the company said. The partial government shutdown is now in its fourth week, a record for the longest shutdown ever, with no sign of a near-term resolution. (1/14)
Don’t Blame the Government Shutdown for SpaceX Delays (Source: The Atlantic)
Last week, as the impasse between President Donald Trump and congressional lawmakers calcified, NASA announced that the first significant test of the year, an uncrewed SpaceX launch, would be pushed from late January to no earlier than February. Several news reports suggested the shutdown had contributed to yet another delay.
It hasn’t—at least not yet. NASA and SpaceX tell The Atlantic that, despite speculation, the government shutdown hasn’t affected their work. NASA says the astronaut program, known as Commercial Crew, is part of a small group of NASA activities that are exempt from the government closure, including International Space Station operations, the agency says. (1/16)
Experts Worry Government Shutdowns Will Drive NASA Employees to the Private Sector (Source: Houston Chronicle)
NASA employees have endured three government shutdowns in the past year, each time halting their groundbreaking work as political skirmishes in Washington, D.C., are hashed out. The first two came in the beginning months of 2018, but they were short: more of an annoyance, really.
But the current closure — which started Dec. 22 and has no end in sight — has been beyond frustrating for many, not just because of money lost but because of work delays. It’s been enough of a hindrance that some experts worry it could drive NASA engineers to the fast-growing space projects in the private sector. (1/14)
When Wallops Flight Facility Shuts Down, it Hurts Science — and Potentially Wallops Itself(Source: DelMarVa Now)
As the partial government shutdown began, federal departments and agencies began to close. On the Eastern Shore of Virginia, non-essential employees at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility went home. Halfway across the country, in Iowa, Phil Kaaret began to worry. Kaaret is a professor at the University of Iowa and the principal investigator on an experiment known as HaloSat, a small satellite that orbits the planet and studies the halo of the Milky Way galaxy. He relies on people at Wallops to be able to communicate with his satellite.
Without them, it was possible the scientist was going to miss out on important information. The employees he worked with were declared essential, which means they were able to continue doing their jobs (albeit without pay), after just a few days. If it had been much longer, however, Kaaret would have been concerned. "If I were to be going three weeks without it, I would start worrying not only about the science but also if the satellite itself is OK," Kaaret said.
There is no way to know for sure how many employees are furloughed right now, but many Wallops employees work with people around the world on scientific expeditions. When the government shuts down and they're not able to do their work, it can hurt scientific experimentation. It can also hurt Wallops itself. The facility may miss out on the potential for collaboration with other researchers or groups. Scientists may also opt to go elsewhere, including private companies, to meet their needs when it comes to getting to or studying space. (1/12)
Shutdown Could Bring NASA JPL Furloughs (Source: Space News)
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory may have to start furloughing people in the next few weeks if the partial government shutdown continues. The lab, operated by Caltech for NASA, remains open because its contracts were funded in advance, unlike NASA field centers. However, Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum said Tuesday that JPL "may have to adjust staffing levels" should the shutdown extend into next month. An extended shutdown could jeopardize progress on missions under development at JPL, like the Mars 2020 rover: "The window for Mars 2020 is not going to wait," said one employee. (1/16)
JSC Workers Protest Shutdown (Source: KPRC)
Furloughed NASA employees are planning to hold a rally today outside the gates of the Johnson Space Center. The protest against the ongoing partial government shutdown, now in its 25th day, is being organized by the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees. Those employees are increasingly worried about how they will make ends meet as the shutdown continues with no end in sight. (1/15)
Shutdown Impacting NASA SLS Program (Source: Politico)
The government shutdown is impacting NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). Qualification testing on the SLS’s intertank and hydrogen tank has stopped at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “The intertank was undergoing testing when the government shut down, so that’s been interrupted,” according to John Shannon, the SLS program manager at Boeing. It also means testing can’t even begin on the hydrogen tank, which arrived at Marshall last week. The testing to ensure rocket components can withstand harsh launch conditions has already been completed for the engine.
The furlough also means NASA and Boeing employees have halted modifications to the stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss., that will hold the rocket during a test-fire of all four engines. “That test stand is owned by NASA,” said Shannon, who worked for space agency for 25 years before joining Boeing in 2015. “[So] that work has come to a halt during the shutdown.” Boeing thinks it will be able to catch up and deliver the first completed rocket to NASA as planned in the late fall. (1/14)
Myers Renominated by Trump for NOAA Position (Source: Space News)
The White House has renominated a controversial figure to serve as NOAA administrator. The White House announced Wednesday that it was resubmitting the nomination of Barry Myers to lead NOAA after the Senate failed to take up the nomination before the end of the previous Congress. Myers earlier faced opposition from Senate Democrats about conflict of interest issues since he served as CEO of AccuWeather. Myers has since left AccuWeather and sold his interest in the company. The White House also renominated four people to serve on the board of the Ex-Im Bank that the Senate failed to take up last year. The board currently lacks a quorum, preventing it from approving large deals, like satellite and launch contracts. (1/17)
In 2019 Let’s Address the ‘Real Problems’ in National Security Space (Source: Space News)
For all of the talk about the establishment of a Space Force, much remains unclear and uncertain. The Trump administration continues to drive towards an end goal in which a Space Force in some form or fashion is established. What that entity looks like, does or fixes by its creation has yet to be answered. Indeed, The Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), which was tasked with developing a plan for the establishment of a Space Force warned in an unclassified executive summary that “we cannot definitively know before it is implemented that any design will produce the expected benefits.”
The most concerning issue in this Space Force discussion is that it doesn’t actually seem to be about space. The U.S. government is about to spend — and will spend — an enormous amount of energy and taxpayer dollars on the wrong issues: What do we do about China’s new killer satellite? Sorry, we’re too busy designing new logos. SpaceX’s future mega constellation seems to offer greater capabilities for our soldiers and Marines in the field. Maybe, but we really need to get these uniforms right. Russia’s satellites seem to be getting really close to ours, shouldn’t we do something? Probably, but we need to get the bases sorted out first. (1/13)
Steve Carell Creating Netflix Comedy on Space Force (Source: Netflix)
Steve Carell will star in a new workplace comedy series he co-created with The Office’s Greg Daniels about the people tasked with creating a sixth branch of the armed services: the Space Force! Click here. (1/16)
US Missile Defense Review Endorses Space Sensor Layer (Source: Washington Post)
A missile defense review scheduled for release today is expected to call for development of new space-based sensors and possibly interceptor systems. The review, to be released at a Pentagon event today featuring President Trump, will recommend the deployment of a new constellation of satellites to track missiles. Some Defense Department officials have previously supported such a system, particularly to track hypersonic missiles. The report may also call for the study of space-based weapons to intercept missiles. (1/16)
Can Missile Defense Expansion Survive Congressional Budget Pressures? (Source: Defense News)
“I will accept nothing less for our nation than the most effective, cutting-edge missile defense systems,” Trump said. “We have the best anywhere in the world. It's not even close.” But unless Congress approves the major funding increase that will be required to make it all a reality, many of those programs may fall by the wayside — and questions are emerging over whether these systems will be funded by a Democratic House of Representatives that is looking to cut defense spending.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-WA, signaled at the competing budget pressures in a hallway interview after the rollout, saying: “It’s not sustainable to expand everything.” “I mean, you saw the Air Force, they wanted 25 percent more planes than were currently projected.” Smith said. "We got the nuclear modernization program that’s enormously expensive; we’re hellbent to have a 355-ship Navy; they want an end strength — I forget what the hell it was Trump said about that. Missile defense, they want more for that. I would like to have a discussion about the choices involved.” (1/17)
Trump’s New Missile Policy Relies Heavily on Largely Unproven Technologies (Source: Defense One)
The new missile-defense strategy rests most of its hopes on other technologies that essentially do not exist, and may never do so. The review says, for example, that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could be networked with new sensors and outfitted with new missiles to take out adversary missiles on the launch pad. Tests have shown that the F-35 can do this. But the distance is the larger problem: the jet basically has to be in the enemy’s airspace already.
The notion of multiple F-35s loitering over China and Russia waiting to kneecap rockets during liftoff is a fantasy. Another possible way to hit ascending missiles s with lasers mounted on satellites in low Earth orbit. In the review, Pentagon leaders declare that they will be studying taking a good look at the potential. This is one of the most controversial aspects of the policy, since it is, in essence, a declaration of an intent to weaponize space.
Trump expressed a desire to remove bureaucratic hurdles that inhibiting the export of U.S. missiles. In fact, the review’s release was delayed by months,in part by considerations about how to strike the right tone with allies. It seems to acknowledge that the best defense for the U.S. homeland against missiles, particularly from Russia and China, begins with foreign partners who are deeply interested in joining your collective defense. That’s difficult to do while you’re alienating them. (1/17)
How the U.S. Is Quietly Winning the Hypersonic Arms Race (Source: Daily Beast)
In the test, the destroyer USS Dewey fired 20 of the hypervelocity projectiles from its standard, five-inch-diameter gunpowder cannon, officials told the website of the U.S. Naval Institute. The new projectile is more aerodynamic than old-style shells and features tiny fins and a radar guidance system that helps it to hone in on a target at speeds as fast as seven times the speed of sound. That’s roughly three times the velocity a normal naval shell can achieve.
Far-flying and accurate, the shells in theory can target ships, ground targets, aircraft and even incoming missiles. At first glance, the American test might appear to be the least remarkable of the three countries' 2018 hypersonics trials. It didn't involve a new gun or missile, just a new, super-aerodynamic shell. The shell is non-nuclear. The Pentagon didn't formally announce the test or circulate any photos.
But the U.S. test arguably is the most likely to result in the widespread deployment of a truly transformational new weapon. And it underlines the Pentagon's advantage over the Russian and Chinese militaries in the hypersonics race. While Russia, China and the United States all are developing a wide array of new hypersonic weapons, it’s telling which systems each country has prioritized. (1/16)
Air Force Turns to Nontraditional Contracting for Space Technology Projects (Source: Space News)
The Air Force just over a year ago formed a Space Enterprise Consortium to expedite the development and prototyping of satellites, ground systems, space sensors and other technologies that U.S. adversaries are advancing at a rapid pace.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson hailed the SpPEC as a successful business model that cuts red tape considerably compared to traditional defense contracting. The consortium so far has started 34 projects worth about $110 million and has been authorized to fund nearly $400 million in additional projects over the next four years. (12/31)
Airbus Wins DARPA Contract to Develop Small Constellation Satellite Bus for Blackjack Program(Source: Airbus)
Airbus Defense and Space Inc. has been awarded a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a satellite bus in support of the Blackjack program.
DARPA describes the Blackjack program as an architecture demonstration intending to show the military utility of global low-earth orbit constellations and mesh networks of lower size, weight and cost. DARPA wants to buy commercial satellite buses and pair them with military sensors and payloads. The bus drives each satellite by generating power, controlling attitude, providing propulsion, transmitting spacecraft telemetry, and providing general payload accommodation including mounting locations for the military sensors. (1/14)
Nuclear Arms Treaty Faces Collapse After Failed US-Russia Talks (Source: Space Daily)
The survival of a key nuclear arms control treaty was cast further in doubt Tuesday after the US and Russia blamed each other for pushing the agreement to the brink of collapse. Senior diplomats from both countries met in Geneva amid widespread concern over the fate of the bilateral Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which successfully put an end to a mini-arms race after it was signed in 1987.
US President Donald Trump said in October that his country would pull out of the deal unless Russia stops violating it. Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to develop nuclear missiles banned under the treaty if it is scrapped. "The meeting was disappointing as it is clear Russia continues to be in material breach of the Treaty and did not come prepared to explain how it plans to return to full and verifiable compliance," US Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Andrea Thompson, said in a statement. (1/15)
Iran Is Preparing a Launch. But Is It For a Space Rocket Or a Missile? (Source: NPR)
"We're seeing all kinds of activity," says Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who is analyzing the images as they come in. In recent days, he has noticed cars and trucks moving around the site. "We saw a large number of fuel trucks show up, suggesting that there is fuel being moved to the site," Lewis says. "We can also just see all kinds of activity at both launch pads."
Iran has said publicly that its motives are peaceful. It soon intends to launch several satellites for communications and remote-sensing as part of the nation's long-running space program. But in a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently called the planned launches "provocative." He said these launches, if they happen, are really about developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The technology used by Iran, he said, is "virtually identical" to what's needed for an ICBM. So which is it? (1/14)
US Says Satellite Attempt Shows Iran Threat (Source: Space Daily)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused Iran of posing a missile threat after Tehran defied his warnings and tried to put a satellite into orbit, albeit unsuccessfully. Pompeo renewed his charge that the launch defied UN Security Council resolution 2231 of 2015, which endorsed an international agreement, from which the United States has withdrawn, on ending Iran's nuclear weapons.
"In defiance of the international community & UNSCR 2231, Iran's regime fired off a space launch vehicle today," Pompeo tweeted. "The launch yet again shows that Iran is pursuing enhanced missile capabilities that threaten Europe and the Middle East," he wrote. The reaction was relatively muted for a member of President Donald Trump's administration, which has ramped up pressure for months on Iran in hopes of crippling its economy and scaling back its influence in the region. (1/15)
Iranian Launch Fails to Deliver Satellite (Source: AP)
An Iranian satellite launch ended in failure early Tuesday. The Simorgh rocket lifted off from the Imam Khomeini Space Center carrying a small satellite called Payam. However, the Iranian government said a problem with the rocket's third stage prevented the payload from reaching orbit. The launch was the first of two that Iran was planning to carry out. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously warned Iran from performing the launches, which he argued were a cover for a ballistic missile development program. Many outside observers, though, see few links between the satellite launches and missile development. (1/15)
Macron's 'Space Force' Coming? (Source: Sputnik)
The development of space industry has become France's priority, CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall said, commenting on the government's effort to increase investment in the sector. However, the agency has not received any specific orders regarding the formation of full-fledged "space forces" so far, he said. The National Center for Space Studies (CNES), the French government space agency, is waiting for French President Emmanuel Macron to make strategic decision on forming the country's "space force", said Jean-Yves Le Gall, emphasising that CNES has long been involved in the development of military satellites. (1/15)
Report: China Making Progress in Military Space (Source: Space News)
A new report by the Defense Intelligence Agency concludes that China is making progress in improving its military space capabilities. The unclassified report did not identify any new advances in Chinese space technologies, but found that the country is becoming increasingly adept at militarizing commercial space technologies. The report suggests China is building up space capabilities as a way to deter the United States or others from intervening in military conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region. (1/17)
Chinese Company's Boeing Satellite Deal Under Investigation (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Two U.S. government agencies are investigating a satellite deal involving a company backed by a Chinese fund. The Securities and Exchange Commission notified Global IP that it should retain all documents about its work with Boeing for a communications satellite as well as documents involving China Orient Asset Management Co., a Chinese state-owned firm that invested in Global IP.
The Commerce Department is also investigating the deal as it involved export licenses it oversees. Boeing canceled Global IP's contract for a satellite after reports last month that the company was controlled by Chinese investors, raising concerns about transfer of sensitive technologies. (1/14)
China Offers Elon Musk Permanent Residency (Source: Space Daily)
Tesla boss Elon Musk has been offered a "green card", China said Thursday, a privilege enjoyed by an elite group of foreigners, including several Nobel laureates and a former NBA star. Musk was in China for the ground-breaking of Tesla's first overseas factory, which will allow it to sell vehicles directly in the world's largest market for electric vehicles.
The high-profile entrepreneur met with Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday in Beijing, where they discussed Tesla's China ambitions, said the State Council -- the country's cabinet. "I hope to build Tesla's Shanghai factory into a global example," Musk told Li, according to a readout. "I really love China, I'm willing to visit here more often." (1/10)
The Small Ways NASA Still Cooperates with China’s Space Program, Despite a Ban (Source: Quartz)
The US banned the space agency from working with China and its state-owned companies out of concerns regarding national security and technology transfers. As a result, China was locked out of the International Space Station because NASA is one of the participating bodies. More recently, scientists from other countries such as Germany and Sweden who were helping China with its exploration of the far side of the Moon were cautious of not falling afoul of US export controls on sensitive technology.
China’s space agency, however, announced that the two countries had shared data on its exploration of the far side of the Moon. “Cooperation is the joint will of scientists,” said Wu Yanhua, deputy director of China’s National Space Agency in a press conference yesterday (Jan. 14). He also noted that both organizations have met “frequently.”
According to Wu, NASA had proposed to use its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which orbits the Moon, to observe the landing of the Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the lunar far side. Wu said that China had told NASA the exact landing time and position of the spacecraft, but the LRO wasn’t in the right position to do so as it wasn’t able to adjust its orbit with what little fuel it had left. Before the touchdown on Jan. 3, the LRO managed to capture pictures of the landing site. (1/15)
Why the Chang’e-4 Moon Landing is Unique (Source: Space Review)
Earlier this month China landed its second spacecraft on the Moon, and became the first country to land on the lunar farside. Namrata Goswami warns that, despite these achievements, the West continues to underestimate China’s space program. Click here. (1/15)
Giant Leaf for Mankind? China Germinates First Seed on Moon (Source: Guardian)
A small green shoot is growing on the moon after a cotton seed germinated onboard a Chinese lunar lander, scientists said. The sprout has emerged from a lattice-like structure inside a canister after the Chang’e 4 lander touched down earlier this month, according to a series of photos released by the Advanced Technology Research Institute at Chongqing University.
“This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface,” said Xie Gengxin, who led the design of the experiment, on Tuesday. Plants have been grown previously on the International Space Station, but this is the first time a seed has sprouted on the moon. The ability to grow plants in space is seen as crucial for long-term space missions and establishing human outposts elsewhere in the solar system, such as Mars. (1/15)
China's Moon Cotton Experiment Ends in Freezing Lunar Night (Source: Space Daily)
A cotton seedling that sprouted on the moon has been left to die as China's historic lunar lander continues a freezing night-time nap that will last as long as two earth weeks, scientists said. The Chinese space agency announced earlier this week that the seed had germinated inside a special canister aboard the Chang'e-4 probe, after the spacecraft on January 3 made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon.
The mini biosphere -- which operated for over 212 hours -- was shut down as planned on Saturday, said Chongqing University, which designed the experiment. The lander also carried potato and arabidopsis seeds -- a plant of the mustard family -- as well as fruit fly eggs and yeast. Temperatures inside the ecosystem were expected to plunge below minus 52 degrees Celsius (minus 61.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and the organisms will be "in a frozen state", the university said in a statement on Tuesday. (1/18)
Chinese Use Space Radiation to Mutate Food Crops (Source: Space Safety)
Exposure to radiation is one of the well-studied hazards of spaceflight. But what if you could turn that hazard to advantage? That’s what China has attempted to do by sending plant seeds to space, then cultivating the resultant mutations. In early experiments begun in 1987 Jiang Xingcun, a scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, discovered that spaceflight can increase mutation rates by hundreds of times that experienced on Earth. 12% of seeds sent to space in satellites manifested mutations of some kind in such experiments.
Since that time, China has sent more than 400 plant seed species to space. The method has produced giant eggplants, half-meter long cucumbers, and peppers with improved yields and reduced seeds, among other products. Of course, not all mutations produce favorable results. “It’s not like that after traveling in space for a few days, the seeds will turn out with all the desired traits we want,” said Liu Min, a scientist who specializes in seed technology and consults for the China Academy of Space Technology. Scientists must isolate desired genes from the well-travelled seeds via a breeding program.
The drive for advancing seed mutation is rooted in the need to feed China’s growing population. Currently, more than half of vegetable seeds planted by Chinese farmers are imported. Chinese agronomists are anxious to provide domestic alternatives. Scientists have also investigated Cobalt-60 induced mutations, but the radioactive material is hazardous and hard to come by. (1/14)
China Plans More Lunar Missions (Source: Xinhua)
China announced plans for a new series of lunar missions Monday. The missions will follow Chang'e-5, a lunar sample return mission planned for launch late this year. Chang'e-6 will attempt to return samples from the south pole of the moon, Chang'e-7 will perform "comprehensive surveys" at the south pole and Chang'e-8 will test technologies for a future crewed research base.
The Chinese space agency CNSA did not announce a schedule for those missions. Chinese officials also said Monday that it exchanged data with NASA about its Chang'e-4 mission that landed on the far side of the moon, with China providing data on the time and place of the landing so that NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter could image the site afterward. (1/14)
China Hopes for International Lunar Cooperation (Source: Space News)
China is emphasizing international cooperation in its future lunar plans. At a press conference earlier this week about the status of the Chang'e-4 lander, officials said they expect to work with Russia's future Luna 26 lunar orbiter mission, which in turn will support future Chinese lander missions. Wu Yanhua, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration, said China and other countries have discussed "whether we need to establish a research station on the moon for 3D printing and for other technologies" that could be enabled by those future Chinese missions, still in their conceptual design stage. (1/16)
China Ready to Cooperate with Russia in Operating its Future Orbital Station (Source: TASS)
China is ready to cooperate with Russia in operating its yet-to-be created orbital station and to let some other countries participate in similar projects, the secretary-general of the China National Space Administration, Li Guoping, told a news conference on Monday. "Russia is one of China’s main partners in space cooperation," he said adding that the two countries held annual meetings devoted to cooperation in space exploration. Both countries, he said, were pushing ahead with joint aerospace projects in accordance with China’s program for 2018-2022. (1/14)
|Bridenstine and Rogozin Discuss US/Russia Cooperation (Source: Space News)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine spoke with his Russian counterpart by phone Monday. The Russian state space corporation Roscosmos said that Dmitry Rogozin talked with Bridenstine, with the two emphasizing cooperation on the International Space Station and other projects. The call came 10 days after NASA announced that a visit to the U.S. by Rogozin had been indefinitely postponed after congressional criticism. NASA confirmed the call took place but referred media to the Roscosmos statement, citing the ongoing U.S. government shutdown. (1/15)
Russia to Complete Military Satellite Constellation Blagovest in April (Source: Sputnik)
The launch of the fourth and last military communications satellite of Russia’s Blagovest constellation is tentatively planned for April, a source in the space industry told Sputnik. The communications satellites will be spread out evenly to provide seamless global coverage. They are equipped with modern Ka and Q-band transponders and support high-speed Internet, telephony and other broadcasting services.
The Russian Defense Ministry has successfully deployed three satellites to the geostationary orbit since 2017. The system is expected to operate for 15 years. "The satellite will be delivered to the Baikonur space port in late February and will be ready for launch atop a Proton-M rocket in the first half of April," the source said. (1/16)
Russian Astronomy Spacecraft Unresponsive in Orbit (Source: TASS)
A Russian radio telescope in orbit has malfunctioned. Spektr-R did not respond to commands from spacecraft controllers over the weekend, and efforts to restore contact with the spacecraft will continue today. The spacecraft, launched in 2011, is in a highly elliptical orbit around the Earth with a 10-meter antenna for radio astronomy observations. (1/14)
Soyuz Spacecraft Assembly to be Fully Monitored by Video Cameras (Source: Space Daily)
Russia's Rocket and Space Corporation Energia has introduced video surveillance at all stages of the construction of Soyuz spacecraft after a drilled hole in the household compartment of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft was found. "There was a video recording system that monitored the main assembly sites. Now, it has been installed in three more assembly areas where operations were carried out without video surveillance," the source said. (1/14)
Uncrewed Test Considered for Russia’s New Soyuz Capsule (Source: TASS)
Russia may launch a Soyuz spacecraft without a crew in September as a test of a new launch vehicle version. The uncrewed test flight would use the Soyuz-2 rocket, which has been used for satellite and cargo spacecraft launches but has yet to be used for a crewed flight. Soyuz spacecraft are currently launched on the Soyuz FG rocket, but the final four vehicles of that version will be flown this year. (1/17)
Russia Kicks Off Work on Countering 'Hazards' From Outer Space (Source: Space Daily)
According to the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), researchers have so far detected around 18,000 hazardous objects in space, 99 percent of which are asteroids. The presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences agreed upon developing a national program to research the issues and methods of countering hazards from space, such as asteroids, comets and space debris, Scientific Director of the Academy's Astronomy Institute, Boris Shustov, told Sputnik on Thursday.
The researcher recalled that in 2010, the academics already suggested that a federal program on countering threats from asteroids, comets and space debris be initiated but it was rejected by Roscosmos. At the RAS presidium session on space hazards on Tuesday, the head of the strategy planning and special programs directorate of Roscosmos, Yuri Makarov, suggested that a national plan on countering such risks should be developed.
According to Shustov, Russia's contribution to detecting dangerous asteroids and comets is 0.1 percent while the United States is the most active country in this area. In 2017, European Space Agency (ESA) reported that a potential space intruder, measuring 15-30 meters (49-98 feet) flew past the Earth at a distance of 44,000 kilometers (27,340 miles). (1/17)
Bulgarians Still Dream About Space Four Decades After Their First Crewed Mission (Source: Space Review)
Besides being the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the first Bulgarian in space. Svetoslav Alexandrov recaps that country’s history in spaceflight and how, after a hiatus, it is trying to become more active in space again. Click here. (1/15)
Japan Space Agency to Monitor Deterioration of Infrastructure Via Satellite (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has developed a system to efficiently monitor the deterioration of infrastructure — such as river embankments, airports and harbors — using the Advanced Land Observing Satellite Daichi-2. According to JAXA, it can monitor a wide area at once, which is expected to significantly reduce the amount of labor needed for inspections. The system will be available for a fee to the central government, local governments and private companies, to improve their disaster prevention measures
The Daichi-2 sends radio waves to the ground and measures reflected waves. The features of the reflected waves change according to the shape of the land, allowing the detection of shifts in the ground. JAXA applied this function to develop a system that can detect the sinking and collapse of embankments, airports and harbors. It began an experiment to verify the technology in cooperation with companies in fiscal 2014. (1/13)
Japan's Epsilon Rocket Launches Multiple Satellites (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
A Japanese rocket successfully launched several small satellites Thursday night. The Epsilon rocket lifted off on schedule at 7:50 p.m. Eastern from the Uchinoura Space Center, the fourth flight of the small launch vehicle. The rocket's primary payload was Rapid Innovative Payload Demonstration Satellite 1, a small technology demonstration satellite, along with six smaller secondary payloads. Among those other satellites was ALE-1, a satellite by Japanese startup ALE that will later demonstrate the ability to create artificial shooting stars for entertainment purposes. (1/18)
Arianespace Plans 12 Launches in 2019 (Source: Space News)
Arianespace is planning to carry out at least a dozen launches in 2019, including a record number of Vega missions. The launch services provider has scheduled four Vega launches in 2019, as well as the inaugural flight of the new Vega C rocket. Arianespace expects to carry out three to four Vega launches a year in the future given small satellite demand.
Also on the company's manifest are five Ariane 5 missions and at least three Soyuz launches, including one carrying the first 10 OneWeb satellites. Additional Soyuz launches of OneWeb satellites, from Baikonur rather than French Guiana, could also take place later in the year depending on satellite readiness. (1/16)
UAE Space Agency Adopts National Plan for the Promotion of Space Investment (Source: Satellite Pro Me)
The UAE Space Agency (UAESA) has launched a National Plan for the Promotion of Space Investment. Aiming to increase domestic and foreign investment in the UAE space sector and encourage local investment vehicles to consider funding opportunities in the space sector, both domestically and globally, the initiative promises to transform the nation into a regional hub for commercial space activities and advanced research and development. (1/14)
New Online SETI Tool Tracks Alien Searches (Source: Space Daily)
A new online tool will assist amateurs and professionals in digging through massive data banks to uncover new clues into the search for alien life. As researchers around the globe continue their quest to find physical proof of extraterrestrial life, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) has introduced new software to assist anyone with an interest in 'what's out there' to study the data and draw their own conclusions.
Anew web tool called Technosearch enables anyone to log on and view, study or mine every publication in the entire database. The database includes the document covering every SETI search, beginning in 1960 and continuing to the present day. In keeping with the mission statement of the organization - in part - 'to apply the knowledge gained', users can gain access to all the information to date and draw their own conclusions. (1/16)
From Volcanoes on Mars to Scarps on Mercury - How Places on Other Worlds Get Their Names (Source: Space Daily)
The New Horizons spacecraft, which flew past Pluto in 2015, successfully completed a flyby of "Ultima Thule", an object in the Kuiper belt of bodies beyond Neptune on January 1, 2019. The name Ultima Thule, signifying a distant unknown place, is fitting but it is currently just a nickname pending formal naming. The official names of the body and of the features on its surface will eventually be allocated (this could take years) by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which celebrates its centenary in 2019.
The IAU's achievements during its first few decades include resolving contradictory sets of names given to features on the Moon and Mars by rival astronomers during the previous few centuries. The nomenclature working group's task would then have been largely over, had the space age not dawned - allowing space probes to send back images revealing spectacular landscape details on planets and their moons. (1/16)
Evidence of Changing Seasons, Rain on Titan's North Pole (Source: Space Daily)
An image from the international Cassini spacecraft provides evidence of rainfall on the north pole of Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons. The rainfall would be the first indication of the start of a summer season in the moon's northern hemisphere. "The whole Titan community has been looking forward to seeing clouds and rains on Titan's north pole, indicating the start of the northern summer, but despite what the climate models had predicted, we weren't even seeing any clouds," said Rajani Dhingra. "People called it the curious case of missing clouds." (1/17)
NASA May Decide This Year to Land a Drone on Saturn's Moon Titan (Source: Space.com)
The spacecraft that have peered through the yellowish haze surrounding Saturn's moon Titan discovered a strange, yet strangely familiar world where life could theoretically take root. Now, scientists want to return — this time buoyed by Earth's fascination with drone technology.
That's precisely what a team of scientists working on a proposed mission called Dragonfly want to do: combine terrestrial drone technology and instruments honed by Mars exploration to investigate the complex chemical reactions taking place on Saturn's largest moon. Later this year, NASA will need to decide between that mission and another finalist proposal, which would collect a sample from a comet. (1/16)
Saturn Rings Younger Than Thought (Source: AP)
Saturn's rings may be less than 100 million years old. A new study published Thursday concluded the rings may have formed between 10 and 100 million years ago, a fraction of the 4.5-billion-year age of the planet itself. The age estimate is based on data collected by the Cassini spacecraft near the end of its mission that estimated the mass of the rings. Scientists think the rings could have formed from the collision of two of Saturn's moons, or a moon and a comet. (1/17)
Asteroid Impacts on the Rise (Source: Science)
The number of asteroid impacts has grown significantly in the last several hundred million years. Planetary scientists used data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to date craters on the moon, concluding that the impact rate there, and thus also for Earth, has increased by a factor of 2.5 in the last 300 million years. The cause of the increase in impacts is not yet known. (1/17)
NASA's Deep-Space Nuclear-Power Crisis May Soon End, Thanks to a Clever New Robot in Tennessee (Source: Business Insider)
The US government says a new robot is poised to help it create a reliable, long-term supply chain of plutonium-238, a radioactive material NASA requires to explore deep space. NASA uses Pu-238 to power its most epic space missions— among them New Horizons (now beyond Pluto), the Voyagers (now in interstellar space), and Cassini (now part of Saturn).
As Pu-238 radioactively decays and generates heat, devices called radioisotope power sources convert some of that energy into electricity. Because Pu-238 takes centuries to cool down, the contraptions can keep a robot humming for decades. But Pu-238 is human-made and one of the rarest and most valuable materials on Earth. In fact, the last time anyone manufactured it in earnest was during Cold War-era nuclear-weapons production. Today, NASA has perhaps three missions' worth of the stuff left before the supply runs out. (1/14)
New Technique More Precisely Determines the Ages of Stars (Source: ERAU)
How old are each of the stars in our roughly 13-billion-year-old galaxy? A new technique for understanding the star-forming history of the Milky Way in unprecedented detail makes it possible to determine the ages of stars at least two times more precisely than conventional methods, Embry-Riddle researchers reported this week at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting.
Current star-dating techniques, based on assessments of stars in the prime or main sequence of their lives that have begun to die after exhausting their hydrogen, offer a 20-percent, or at best a 10-percent margin of error, explained Embry-Riddle Physics and Astronomy Professor Dr. Ted von Hippel. Embry-Riddle’s approach, leveraging burnt-out remnants called white dwarf stars, reduces the margin of error to 5 percent or even 3 percent, he said. (1/10)
Dark Matter Hunters Are Looking Inside Rocks for New Clues (Source: WIRED)
A subterranean paleo-detector would work in a manner similar to current direct-detection methods, according to Freese and her colleagues. Instead out outfitting a lab with a large volume of liquid or metal to observe WIMP recoils in real time, they would look for fossil traces of WIMPs banging into atomic nuclei. As nuclei recoil, they would leave damage tracks in some classes of minerals.
If the nucleus recoils with enough vigor, and if the atoms that are perturbed are then buried deep in the earth (to shield the sample from cosmic rays that can muddy the data), then the recoil track could be preserved. If so, researchers may be able to dig the rock up, peel away layers of time, and explore the long-ago event using sophisticated nano-imaging techniques like atomic force microscopy. The end result would be a fossil track: the dark matter counterpart to finding a sauropod’s footprint as it fled a predator. (1/14)
NASA Engineers Restoring Hubble Camera Functions (Source: NASA)
A malfunctioning camera on the Hubble Space Telescope is nearly ready to resume operations. NASA said Tuesday that engineers were able to restore operations of the Wide Field Camera 3 after resetting some electronics in the instrument that were reporting erroneous values. The camera is expected to resume normal science operations by the end of the week. The instrument, installed on the telescope nearly a decade ago, was taken offline Jan. 8 after reporting out-of-range voltage levels. (1/16)
Hubble Returns to Full Service (Source: NASA)
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is once again fully functional after an instrument returned to service Thursday. NASA said the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument resumed operations midday Thursday, a little more than a week after it went offline because of anomalous voltage readings. Engineers reset the camera's electronics to correct the problem. (1/17)
Repairing, and Building, Future Space Telescopes (Source: Space Review)
While the James Webb Space Telescope is not designed to be serviced after launch, large space telescope missions that follow likely will. Jeff Foust reports that some astronomers and engineers are looking beyond merely servicing telescopes in space but rather assembling them there. Click here. (1/15)
UCF's Steam-Powered Spaceship Could Cruise the Cosmos Indefinitely Without Running Out of Gas (Source: NBC)
Come one, come all and behold the future of space travel: steam power! No, seriously; half a century after the world's first manned space mission, it seems that interplanetary travel has finally entered the steam age. Scientists at UCF in Florida have teamed up with Honeybee Robotics, a private space and mining tech company based in California, to develop a small, steam-powered spacecraft capable of sucking its fuel right out of the asteroids, planets and moons it's exploring.
By continuously turning extraterrestrial water into steam, this microwave-sized lander could, theoretically, power itself on an indefinite number of planet-hopping missions across the galaxy — so long as it always lands somewhere with H20 for the taking. "We could potentially use this technology to hop on the moon, Ceres, Europa, Titan, Pluto, the poles of Mercury, asteroids — anywhere there is water and sufficiently low gravity," Phil Metzger, a UCF space scientist and one of the chief minds behind the steampunk starship, said. Metzger added that such a self-sufficient spacecraft could explore the cosmos "forever." (1/15)
UF Collaborates with NASA to Launch Small GPS Satellite (Source: Independent Florida Alligator)
Tyler Ritz doesn’t just want to be an astronaut. He also wants to leave a piece of his work in space. Ritz, a 24-year-old UF aerospace engineering doctoral student, was one of more than two dozen UF students who, over five-and-a-half years, built the smallest satellite able to operate an atomic clock, which uses the most accurate time and frequency standards. The satellite made its way to space on Dec. 16.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Ritz said. “You sit there with it 24/7, and it’s weird because that’s the last time anyone would ever get to see this thing because it’s getting launched 500 km in the air.”
Rocket Lab launched the UF-built satellite and 12 other research cube satellites — a small standard-shaped satellite that does one job — as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites, an initiative that was created to attract and retain students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Ritz said. The UF satellite will work to provide more accurate location and timing for GPS services. (1/14)
Antarctica Ice Melt Has Accelerated by 280% in the Last 4 Decades (Source: CNN)
A pair of new studies released on Monday share a same ominous message -- that our planet's ice is melting at an alarming rate, which is bad news for global sea levels. Antarctica's crucial ice sheet has been melting for at least a 39 year period. Ice is disappearing faster in each successive decade. Ice loss in Antarctica has increased from 40 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion tons) per year from 1979-90 all the way up to 252 gigatons per year from 2009-17, a 6-fold increase.
And that melt-rate has been accelerating in the most recent decades, up 280% in the second half of the nearly 40 years compared to the first half. Understanding Antarctica and the delicate balance of ice melt draining into the Southern Ocean, and the replenishing snowfall over the continent's interior, is critically important when estimating how much seas will rise around the globe as a result of global warming. The continent holds a majority of the planet's ice and if melted, would cause the average sea level to rise 188 feet (57.2 meters).
One study looked at 176 different basins around Antarctica where ice drains into the ocean and found that the rate of melting is increasing, especially in areas where warm, salty water intrudes on edges of the ice sheets. The study did not find a corresponding increase in the long-term trend of snowfall accumulation in the interior of Antarctica, which had been previously believed to counter the ice loss and minimize sea level rise. The imbalance between melting ice and replenishing snowfall means the continent is out of balance and thus increasing sea levels as the excess meltwater flows into the ocean. (1/14)
Satellites are Ending the Age of the Missing Airplane (Source: Quartz)
In 2010, the FAA mandated that all US aircraft would need to use a system called ADS-B, which means “Automatic Dependent Surveillance—Broadcast.” Essentially, by 2020, aircraft are required to broadcast their location, derived from GPS, each second. A network of ground stations across the country collects this information and feeds it to air traffic controllers, who now use it to gain real-time knowledge of where planes are flying. If you’ve used the service FlightAware, you’ve seen ADS-B data.
However, ground receivers need to be within about 172 miles (277 km) of the aircraft to collect ADS-B signals. Out over the ocean, there’s still a knowledge gap between the planes and the air traffic controllers they can’t reach. The solution Thoma had in mind when Aireon was founded in 2011: more satellites.
Specifically, Aireon has installed payloads on 75 Iridium satellites that have been launched over the past two years, with the final installment reaching orbit in a SpaceX rocket on Jan. 11. These payloads are designed to detect ADS-B signals wherever they are broadcast, whether over the open ocean or a mountain range, finally providing continuous tracking of aircraft anywhere on Earth. The satellites are already processing more than 13 billion ADS-B messages each month. (1/12)
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