January 25, 2020

Trump’s Space Force Logo Was Apparently a Surprise to the Pentagon (Source: Washintonian)
At 4:31 on Friday, President Trump tweeted an image of what he said is the Space Force’s official “new logo.” Just minutes before, I had been on the phone with a spokesperson for the Space Force—who had told me something else entirely. I had been interviewing the spokesperson about the particulars of various Space Force accoutrements that are in the works—the branch’s uniform, song, and, as it so happened, official seal. Funny I should ask, the spokesperson said—he happened to be looking at mockups for a possible seal on the office’s desktop computer screen. “That is all being kicked around right now as I speak,” he said.

Throughout the 15-minute conversation, the spokesperson seemed to suggest that the Pentagon was some distance away from choosing an official seal. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s still in progress,” he said, things that are “under design and conceptual stages right now—same with logos, branding, that type of effort.” Focus groups are currently evaluating some of the designs, he told me. One reason for the slow pace, he said, is copyright law: “Trademark, copyright stuff, also for [potential] seals,” he said. “So that’s why it’s a process.”

The spokesperson said to check back in after the 36th annual Space Symposium in April. “We don’t want to get too ahead—there’s nothing official,” he told me. Then, five minutes after the call ended, Trump tweeted the logo, which many observers have noted closely resembles the fictitious logo of Star Trek’s Starfleet Command. (1/24)

Debate is On Over New Name for Colorado Springs' Space Force Troops (Source: The Gazette)
There is an ongoing problem with the new Space Force: What do you call its personnel? For the moment, the Pentagon is calling them airmen. And that was accurate before Congress converted Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base into the nation’s sixth armed service branch. Now they are a new service and deserving of a new name. Many names are already out. Space cadet, for instance, carries a negative connotation that wouldn’t make it past the brass.

Some have suggested rocketeer, which only reflects part of the job. One suggestion from Twitter is to call them “spacers,” a gender-neutral phrase that would be the “sailor” for the stars. I have actually given this thing thought, after getting past the obvious Star Trek jokes. Historically, cavalry gave other ground troops a huge advantage by sweeping around and taking the enemy from the rear. Those serving in America’s cavalry are proudly called troopers, rather than soldiers. I think the men and women in this new service have earned an honorable title from the work they do every day. They are troopers. (1/23)

Parachute System for Russia's New "Eagle" Crew Capsule to be Completed in 2023 (Source: TASS)
Work on the creation of a parachute system for the new Eagle spacecraft will be completed in 2023. This was announced by the Director General of the Research Institute of Parachute Engineering. "Work continues on the development of a parachute system for the promising Orel spacecraft within the framework of a previously concluded state contract with a completion date of 2023," he said.

To date, autonomous ground and flight tests of individual elements of the parachute. "At the moment, the structural appearance of all the major components and elements of the system is fully defined, a cycle of autonomous ground and flight tests of individual elements of the system is carried out for the subsequent transition to the final stages of creating a parachute system," Rozhkov said. Then it is planned to conduct complex tests with a model of the returned apparatus. (1/24)

Building an Orbiting Internet Just for Satellites (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
At present, NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) is the only network that can help route signals from satellites to the correct ground stations. However, TDRSS is rarely accessible to companies, prohibitively expensive to use, and over 25 years old. It’s simply unable to handle the traffic created by all the new satellites. Getting data back to Earth from a satellite is oftentimes one of the bottlenecks that limits an observation system’s capabilities.

With three other engineers, I started Kepler Communications in 2015 to break this bottleneck. Our goal is to create a commercial replacement for TDRSS by building a constellation of many tiny satellites in LEO. The satellites will form the backbone of a space-based mesh network, sending data back and forth between Earth and space in real time. Each of our satellites, roughly the size of a loaf of bread, will operate much like an Internet router—except in space. Our first satellite, nicknamed KIPP after the companion robot from the 2014 sci-fi epic Interstellar, launched in January 2018.

When fully deployed by 2022, Kepler’s network will include 140 satellites spread equally among seven orbital planes. In essence, we’re building an Internet service provider high above Earth’s surface, to allow other satellites to stay in contact with one another and with ground stations, even if two satellites, or a satellite and a ground station, are on opposite sides of the planet. (1/23)

Canadian Space Agency Quietly Supports Maritime Launch Services (Source: SpaceQ)
The Canadian Space Agency does not have a stake in Maritime Launch Services (MLS), nor have they provided them any funding, but in a quiet way, they are supportive. If you talk to people from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) about MLS they’ll say they find the proposal for a Canadian spaceport in Nova Scotia interesting, or that it looks promising. They won’t go on the record and say we support them.

But as was evidenced last week, and in their own way, they publicly voiced support for a Maritime Launch Services initiative. It’s a small thing, but it is important. The support came on the occasion of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between St. Francis Xavier University (StFX) and MLS. According to Joe MacDonald, Executive Director Government Relations & Strategic Initiatives at StFX, the two organizations will work “in the areas of research, scientific testing, technology development, environmental protection, economic development, training and employment of highly qualified personnel.” (1/24)

Bankrupt Vector Proceeding With Sale of Assets (Source: Space News)
Vector, the launch vehicle and smallsat technology company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December, announced Jan. 24 it is proceeding with plans to sell its satellite technology to Lockheed Martin or another bidder. Vector announced that Lockheed Martin has agreed to purchase Vector’s “GalacticSky” software-defined satellite technology for $4.25 million as a “stalking-horse bidder.” That sale will go through unless the company receives “higher or better” bids from others by Feb. 21.

If Vector does get additional bids for GalacticSky, it will be sold at auction Feb. 25. Any higher bids must be worth at least $4.9 million, according to court documents about the sale, to compensate Lockheed for expenses and to pay a $200,000 “break-up fee” for not closing the original agreement.

“GalacticSky was designed to transform the aerospace and satellite industry, moving it from the current approach of providing hardware-centric solutions and capabilities to one based on a much more flexible and cost-efficient software-defined system,” Vector said in a statement about the sale. “Vector’s ultimate vision for GalacticSky was to provide a platform and service that would have allowed developers to build satellite applications and then upload their applications to an already orbiting satellite or constellation.” (1/24)

Relativity Space Could Change the Economics of Private Space Launches (Source: Tech Crunch)
The private launch market is an area of a lot of focus in the emerging space startup industry, not least because it unlocks the true potential of most of the rest of the market. But so far, we can count on one hand the number of new, private space launch companies that have actually transported payloads to orbit. Out of a number of firms racing to be the next to actually launch, LA-based Relativity Space is a prime contender, with a unique approach that could set it apart from the crowd.

I spoke to CEO Tim Ellis about what makes his company different and about what kind of capabilities it will bring to the launch market once it starts flying, something the company aims to do beginning next year. Fresh off a $140 million funding round in October 2019, Relativity’s model could provide another seismic shift in the economics of doing business in space, and has the potential to be as disruptive to the landscape — if not more so — as SpaceX.

“We built the largest metal 3D printers in the world, which we call a ‘Stargate,’ ” Ellis said. “It’s actually replacing a whole factory full of fixed tooling — and having all of our processes being 3D printing, we really view that as being the future because that lets us automate almost the entire rocket production, and then also reduce part count for much larger launch vehicles so our rocket can carry a 1,250-kg payload to orbit.” Because Relativity Space’s  launch vehicle is nearly 10 times larger than those made by Rocket Lab  or Orbex, “it’s a totally different payload class.” (1/23)

Five Features That Make Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser Spaceplane Unique (Source: Forbes)
Sierra Nevada (SNC) is not your typical federal contractor. Created by two Turkish immigrants who arrived in America as students with little more than their backpacks, it has become a trusted supplier of high-tech solutions to the military, the intelligence community and civil agencies such as NASA. Along the way, Eren and Fatih Ozmen—who did not meet until they both attended the University of Nevada—have become billionaires. They remain the sole owners of SNC today, and while their roster of clients has grown to include major aerospace firms and international customers, they remain focused first and foremost on finding affordable high-tech solutions to challenges the U.S. faces.

Dream Chaser is readily adaptable to a range of applications. Its launch site, landing site, vehicle configuration, mission duration and other characteristics can be adjusted to meet the needs of diverse users. Because it does not use highly toxic fuel or require specialized infrastructure, it can land on aircraft runways pretty much anywhere. This offers numerous advantages, for example by getting payloads and astronauts returning from space to their final destinations quickly and safely.

Although only a quarter the length of the Space Shuttle, Dream Chaser has greater carrying capacity than the other spacecraft being used in NASA’s commercial resupply program. Equipped with an expendable cargo module, it can carry six tons into low earth orbit—enough to supply astronauts on the International Space station for half a year. Almost all of that six tons is carried under pressurized conditions. It can also bring back two tons of cargo, including fragile science experiments, thanks to its modest gravity loading on reentry and landing. There is space on board for up to seven astronauts. Click here. (1/14)

Nothing But Net (Source: TIME)
Count on SpaceX to keep things interesting. Once you master getting spacecraft to orbit, why not also figure out a way to land the first stage boosters upright for reuse? Once you build a rocket like the Falcon Heavy, why not load a cherry-red Tesla aboard? Now that SpaceX has succeeded in its critical launch-abort flight, it's time to float a new big idea. This one: Landing the crewed Dragon spacecraft at sea, under parachutes, like the old Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, but catching it in a net supported by barges before it actually hits the water. This would minimize their exposure to corrosive seawater. (1/24)

January 24, 2020

Russia Delays Soyuz Launch for Unspecified Problem (Source: TASS)
Russia's first launch of the year has been delayed at least a day because of an unspecified problem. A Soyuz-2.1a rocket was scheduled to lift off Friday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome carrying a Meridian-M communications satellite, but officials said the launch was scrubbed. The cause of the problem was not identified beyond being an issue with either the rocket or ground equipment, and one source warned the launch could be delayed indefinitely. (1/24)

NASA Will Shut Down Spitzer This Week (Source: Space News)
NASA will shut down a space-based infrared observatory next week. Controllers will send commands to the Spitzer Space Telescope Jan. 30 to put it into a hibernation mode, effectively ending its mission more than 16 years after its launch. NASA announced last year it would wind down the mission because Spitzer is drifting far enough away from the Earth to complicate spacecraft operations, and that it would soon be impossible to operate it effectively. Much of the infrared astronomy that Spitzer had been doing will be continued by the upcoming JWST and WFIRST observatories. (1/24)

SpaceX Picked to Launch Nilesat (Source: BroadcastPro Middle East)
SpaceX has signed a contract to launch a communications satellite for Nilesat. The Egyptian operator will launch its Nilesat-301 satellite in 2022 with SpaceX. Terms of the contract, signed earlier this week, were not disclosed. Nilesat awarded a contract to Thales Alenia Space in December for construction of Nilesat-301. (1/24)

Initial Dragon Test Data Looks Good (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Initial data from the Crew Dragon in-flight abort test by SpaceX Sunday indicates the abort system worked as expected. The data showed the capsule's SuperDraco thrusters ignited 85 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, when the rocket was traveling at 536 meters per second. The thrusters pushed the capsule away from the rocket with a peak acceleration of 3.3g, getting it a "comfortable" distance of 1.5 kilometers from its Falcon 9 by the time aerodynamic forces caused the rocket to break up. A complete analysis of data from the test is expected to take several weeks. (1/24)

Why Is Virgin Galactic Stock Soaring? Short Sellers? (Source: CNBC)
Analysts say they've seen a "significant increase" in interest in the stock among investors, which may be due to broader interest in the space industry. Another reason for the increase may be from traders who shorted the stock and are now buying shares to cover their positions, pushing up the price. The company has made few major announcements in recent weeks that would drive the share price either up or down, but is scheduled to release fourth quarter results Feb. 25. (1/23)

SpinLaunch Flourishing in New Mexico (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
SpinLaunch is revolutionizing access to space by developing the world’s lowest-cost space launch system to place constellations of small satellites into low earth orbit. We have revisited fundamental principles of physics to conceive a completely new launch system, based on the use of kinetic energy in the first stage. This also makes SpinLaunch the first truly environmentally responsible launch system. And because of our innovative approach to launch, we also require innovative partners. This is why we selected to build and test our first mass accelerator at Spaceport America.

New Mexico has a long history of “firsts.” Spaceport America offers a plethora of assets to test new launch systems, including a unique geographic location in the continental United States, strategically located adjacent to historic White Sands Missile Range, allowing for restricted airspace and almost unrestricted test capabilities. And while the Spaceport is in a remote section of the state, it offers strategic access to Las Cruces, home to New Mexico State University with its excellent engineering school. Further, New Mexico historically has been the genesis of innovation in aerospace, dating back to the early days of rocketry, and we are proud to continue this tradition. (1/24)

North Texas Woman-Owned Business Helping NASA Send First Woman to the Moon (Source: KDFW)
A North Richland Hills company is helping NASA get back to the moon. Sey Tec specializes in parts for aerospace, commercial use and defense. The woman-owned company was able to put a face to the missions they work so hard to support. NASA is recognizing the business for its contributions by making key components for its aircraft. A NASA mission to the moon in 2024 is getting a boost from a small, unassuming North Texas company. “Nuts, bolts, screws and washers. We are a woman-owned small business, and we are celebrating 31 years here in North Richland Hills,” said Sey Tec CEO Stephanie Seybert. (1/23)

Blue Origin Ramps Up Team for Blue Moon Lander as it Waits for Word From NASA (Source: GeekWire)
Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has posted more than 50 job openings for its Blue Moon lunar lander program, which is currently under consideration for NASA funding. The online listings put out the word about positions at Blue Origin’s home base in Kent, Wash., ranging from chief engineer to administrative assistant. Most of the positions focus on software engineering and systems development. For what it’s worth, a mockup of the Blue Moon lander is the centerpiece of the O’Neill Building, the company’s new headquarters in Kent.

NASA is due to award the first round of 10-month development contracts for a human landing system as early as this month, with an eye toward ordering landers for the 2024 mission and perhaps a 2025 follow-up demonstration. That plan may have to be reworked, however, because Congress approved only $600 million of the $1 billion that NASA sought for the lander program. Boeing and a team including Dynetics and Sierra Nevada Corp. have also proposed lander concepts, and SpaceX is thought to have done so as well. (1/23)

Space Industry Group Focused on Cybersecurity to Begin Operations in Spring 2020 (Source: Space News)
A space industry organization created to share intelligence on cyber threats is holding its first meeting this week with representatives from government agencies to discuss cybersecurity concerns across the national security, civil and commercial space sectors. The Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or Space ISAC, was formally established in April 2019 as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization. It plans to start operations this spring with the launch of an unclassified portal where companies can share and analyze cybersecurity information. (1/23)

A Space Force Needs Spaceships (Source: Space News)
It has taken until the second decade of the 21st century, but the U.S. government has finally designated space to be a legitimate domain of military operations and has stood up the U.S. Space Force — that’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that the U.S. Space Force has no routine, reliable access to space.

The Space Force will operate in the near-Earth and cislunar domains like our current military operates in the domains of land, sea, and air. The Army and Marines have their land and air vehicles, the Navy has its surface ships and submarines, and the Air Force has its airplanes. But the assets being transferred to the Space Force — satellites and expendable launch vehicles — are akin to lighthouses, buoys, dirigibles, and coastal artillery because we have so far only treated space as a support service.

The U.S. Space Force must acquire responsive, routine, and reliable access to space — starting with launch systems optimize for reaching low Earth orbit (LEO). The Space Force must be equipped with a fleet of responsive, spacefaring vehicles under the operational purview of the Space Force’s equivalent of an Air Force colonel or Navy captain. Currently, the resource requirements for space launch are so large that only a three-star general of above to approve a mission; for launch to be truly operationally responsive, the required resources — and decision-making authority — must be driven down to a level comparable to what’s been required to send a B-2 Stealth Bomber or the now-retired SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft aloft. (1/22)

NASA Administrator Names Director for Center in Maryland (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has named Dennis Andrucyk director of its Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, effective immediately. Andrucyk has been serving as the acting director of Goddard since Dec. 31. Prior to becoming Goddard’s acting center director, Andrucyk was the deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. (1/23)

The New U.S.-Russia Space Race Has Begun (But Moscow May Be Bluffing) (Source: Daily Beast)
Russia's space agency has approved the blueprints for the country’s most powerful rocket since the 1960s space race, a 246-foot-tall monster packing 10 separate engines in five stages. In theory, the new Yenisei rocket, named for a river in central Russia, could boost cosmonauts vast distances, allowing Russia to plan independent missions to the Moon. With Yenisei, the Russians could compete with the Americans in a new wave of space exploration.

The idea behind the Yenisei program is to develop a rocket capable of slinging manned capsules the quarter-million miles to the Moon or to a space station orbiting the Moon. The same rocket could also carry extremely heavy satellites weighing 80 tons or more and place them in orbit around Earth. Russia’s current rockets aren’t up to the task. The Proton rocket, Russia’s most powerful at the moment, can carry just 25 tons to low Earth orbit. While Proton is roughly equivalent to America’s biggest operational rocket, the Delta Falcon Heavy, the Americans are working on a much, much more powerful launch vehicle, one that matches the lifting power of the now-retired Saturn V that shot astronauts to the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  

There is some question about whether Russia’s Roscosmos space agency actually will build the Yenisei. The potential $22 billion price tag, as well as Moscow’s long history of overpromising when it comes to new space technology, bode poorly for its prospects. It’s also possible the Russian government just wants the Yenisei program for leverage in high-stakes negotiations with the United States over the future of U.S.-Russian collaboration in space. "Work with us on future lunar missions,” Moscow could be saying to the Americans, “or we’ll just ride our new Yenisei rockets to the Moon all by ourselves.” (1/23)

Michigan Airport Awaits Spaceport Decision (Source: WLUC)
K.I. Sawyer officials are anxiously awaiting the decision regarding the potential for a spaceport in Marquette County. The Michigan Aerospace Manufacturing Association is expected to announce next Tuesday January 28 the site for a horizontal launch site in Michigan. If selected the impact to the sawyer community and Marquette County could be huge. Estimates are about 1,000 jobs and an investment of between 8.3 and 12 billion dollar over 10 years. The site would be used for small and mid-sized low earth orbit satellites most likely using horizontal take offs. (1/24)

Where Will Space Command Be Headquartered? Alabama Politicians Try to Make Their Case (Source: WHNT)
As impeachment proceedings continue in Washington D.C., the United States Air Force is starting to lay the framework for the newly formed U.S. Space Force. With the uniforms being the newest announcement, the question begs, where will Space Command be headquartered? That announcement could come any time. However, it is expected to take roughly 18 months to really lay out all the logistics for the Space Force. Still, Alabama politicians in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House are not stopping their pitches for why Huntsville should be considered.

"There are other places that want it. Colorado, Florida, and Texas. It's competition. Stiff competition. I think this is the right place for it and I'm going to advocate for it" said Rep. Bradley Bryne who is also looking to move from the U.S. House to the Senate. What does advocating look like in Washington D.C.? Senator Doug Jones office says he brings the matter up in committee meetings, hearings and he writes letters to top secretarys. Jones is part of the Armed Services Committee. (1/23)

EU to Launch Galileo Satellites on Four Ariane 6 Rockets (Source: Aviation Week)
The European Commission has "prebooked" four Ariane 6 rockets for Galileo positioning satellite launches, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton announced on January 22. Breton suggested that Europe buy one additional European launch annually and "award its capacity to highly innovative projects." (1/22)

Former NASA Astronaut is Using a Super Bowl Commercial to Encourage More Women in Space (Source: CNBC)
In 2017, women in the U.S. workforce represented just 25.5% of computer and mathematical roles and 16.2% of architecture and engineering roles. Retired engineer and NASA astronaut Nicole Stott wants to change that. After spending 27 years working with NASA, Stott retired from the space agency in 2015. Since then, she has devoted her time to being a full-time painter, who uses her experience in space as inspiration for her artwork.

As an advocate for science, technology, engineering and math education, Stott also uses her platform to talk about the value of diversifying the STEM industry. This year, for Super Bowl weekend, the former astronaut is teaming up with Olay to star in its new commercial, that’s inspired by NASA’s first all-female spacewalk that took place in October. (1/23)

SpaceX Again Delays Next Launch From Cape Canaveral Spaceport Due to Weather (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX has again delayed its next Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, citing inclement weather in the area of the Atlantic Ocean hosting the booster landing. "Weather in the recovery area continues to be unfavorable so team is now targeting Monday, January 27 for launch of Starlink," SpaceX said Thursday.

Liftoff time from Launch Complex 40 is slated for no earlier than 9:49 a.m. Monday. SpaceX was also targeting this Tuesday for the mission with 60 Starlink satellites destined for low-Earth orbit, but had to delay due to the same reason. Flights that include booster landings, which are most SpaceX missions these days, don't just factor in launch weather – teams have to look at conditions in the Atlantic Ocean, too, which is where the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship is stationed to retrieve boosters. (1/23)

Wilbur Ross Fears ‘Wild West Situation’ as International Space Race Gathers Steam (Source: CNBC)
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has questioned whether a lack of agreed international rules concerning space exploration could inadvertently trigger a lawless “Wild West situation.” His comments come as a new era of space discovery gathers pace, with an ever-growing list of space agencies forming around the world. President Donald Trump’s administration has previously pledged to help get Americans back on the moon. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $738 billion defense policy bill, paving the way for the creation of a Space Force — a top military priority for Trump.

“Who owns space? Who owns whatever we find? If you are the first one to the asteroid, does that mean you have a claim on all of the minerals in that asteroid?” Ross said during a session at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday. “How does it work? Are we getting into kind of a Wild West situation of claim jumpers or will there be some methodology?” (1/22)

UK Spaceport Plans to be Submitted Next Month (Source: Northern Times)
The controversial proposals to create Britain's first vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland are to be finally submitted next month, after recently having gone back to the drawing board. The news was given to a public meeting in Melness – the area most affected by the £17.3m scheme – on Tuesday night. Part of the scheme, which has split the community where it is planned, has been re-designed after feedback from concerned locals and statutory consultees. It had originally been expected last month.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is heading up the Space Hub Sutherland project and has held a series of consultation meetings with local communities. Under the auspices of Tongue, Melness and Skerray Community Council, officials from HIE gave an update at Tuesday's public meeting. But John Williams, chairman of the Protect the Mhoine campaign group, said some locals were shocked at what was being proposed. (1/24)

January 23, 2020

First Commercial Moon Delivery Assignments to Advance Artemis (Source: NASA)
NASA has finalized the first 16 science experiments and technology demonstrations, ranging from chemistry to communications, to be delivered to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program. Scheduled to fly next year, the payloads will launch aboard the first two lander deliveries of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. These deliveries will help pave the way for sending the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface by 2024.

In May 2019, the agency awarded two orders for scientific payload delivery to Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, with both flights targeted to land on the Moon next year. Astrobotic, which will launch its Peregrine lander on a United Launch Alliance rocket, will carry 11 NASA payloads to the lunar surface, while Intuitive Machines, which will launch its Nova-C lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will carry five NASA payloads to the Moon.

One of the payloads is being developed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo) will identify low-molecular weight volatiles. It can be installed to either measure the lunar exosphere or the spacecraft outgassing and contamination. Data gathered from MSolo will help determine the composition and concentration of potentially accessible resources. Click here. (1/22)

The Closest Solar System to Earth is Even Weirder Than We Thought (Source: Air & Space)
Since 2016, astronomers have known that the solar system next door to ours—a triple-sun system—has one planet, Proxima b, located in the so-called habitable zone. Now a group of researchers led by Mario Damasso from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy claims to have discovered a second planet called Proxima c, a super-Earth with nearly two times the mass of Earth.

The newly detected planet completes one orbit around its host star Proxima Centauri every 5.2 years, and is located well beyond the snow line—the distance from the star where it is cold enough for gaseous compounds such as water, ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane to condense into solid ice grains.

The discovery, which is subject to further confirmation, is remarkable on many grounds. First, it leads us to question our traditional thoughts about planet formation, particularly on how a super-Earth can form so far away from its host star, and how planets can have stable orbits in a triple-star system. Second, detecting a planet just a bit larger than Earth so far away from its host star is an impressive technical achievement, requiring very sensitive measurements. And third, the authors—laudably—did not hype their discovery by raising the possibility of life on Proxima c. (1/22)

Meet NASA's New Mighty Women Astronauts; One Will Likely Become the First Woman on the Moon (Source: A Mighty Girl)
When NASA's newest astronaut class graduated this week, it included five mighty women! The new astronauts have spent two years in intensive training in a wide variety of skills, including spacewalking, robotics, International Space Station (ISS) systems, T-38 jet proficiency, and the Russian language. "As astronauts, they’ll help develop spacecraft [and] support the teams currently in space," NASA wrote in a graduation announcement, "and ultimately join the ranks of only about 500 people who have had the honor of going into space." Click here. (1/12)

China's Long March 8 Rocket Will Feature Breakthrough Recovery Technology (Sources: Weibo, Andrew Jones)
In 2020, China ’s new space flight, the Long March 8 will make its first flight, and there will be a breakthrough in rocket recovery technology. It is China's first attempt at a Falcon 9-style vertical takeoff, vertical landing orbital launcher. It features familiar grid fins & landing legs, but notably the side boosters remain attached. Click here. (1/19) 

Virgin Galactic Soars as Investor Interest Rivals Tesla (Source: Bloomberg)
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. is scoring its best monthly performance since going public more than two years ago as investor appetite for the space-tourism company heats up. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote in a Wednesday note that the bank is having more conversations about Virgin Galactic than “any other U.S. stock in our coverage with the possible exception of Tesla.” Shares of the New Mexico-based company rose more than 8% in trading before the market open, on track to add to an eighth consecutive record close.

The stock has boomed 52% in the past nine days after struggling to win over investors following a move to the New York Stock Exchange in late October. This year’s 50% advance is even beating Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc., which has jumped more than 30% to its own record. Tesla shares have more than tripled from a June bottom as Wall Street piles on praise for the company. (1/22)

Study Finds Space Station Microbes are No More Harmful Than Those Found in Similar Ground Environments (Source: NASA)
Rest assured, microbes do not, it turns out, become “super bugs” in space. When humans and equipment go to the International Space Station, microbes such as bacteria and fungi come along for the ride. In the extreme environment, only microbes that are most likely to survive in these conditions thrive. A recent ESA (European Space Agency) study, Extremophiles, found that the resulting microbes are not, however, more resistant to antibiotics or extremophilic – able to thrive in environments previously thought uninhabitable – than those found on Earth in similar conditions. (1/22)

Climate Scientist Explains What the Melting Arctic Means for the World (Source: World Economic Forum)
Since the 1970s, we have lost 75% of the volume of Arctic summer sea ice. The Arctic affects the jet stream, causing extreme weather all over the world. The Arctic used to be white but now it's turning blue, and absorbing more heat in a feedback loop. "What's at stake in the Arctic is actually the future of humanity itself."

As the Arctic Ocean and the glaciers have melted we see that dark blue is absorbing more and more heat which is feeding through the rest of the system. And then we can see that the permafrost is thawing. Now, permafrost, of course, releases methane which is a concentrated [greenhouse] gas. And if all the permafrost in the Arctic is released that is like adding in the CO2 emissions of all EU countries.

On top of that, though, we can see that with the Greenland ice sheet, we are accelerating sea level rise. If we get to a 2 degree warmer world we can see from some of the major cities around the world including Tokyo and New York, that they will indeed be flooded. If we stay at the 1.5 Paris aspirational target we will save the Arctic summer sea ice. Two degrees is not safe; 1.5 definitely is. (1/23)

Heading Into the LEO Revolution (Source: Via Satellite)
For the past seven years, talk of LEO satellites has spread through the industry. 2013 bore a fever of constellation activity. Companies such as OneWeb, SpaceX, LeoSat, and Telesat had all envisioned delivering broadband via hundreds, if not thousands, of LEO satellites. What is the real state of play for LEO, and what do the analysts say? According to Northern Sky Research (NSR), two to three of the megaconstellations currently planned are expected to be successfully launched, even if partially, says Shagun Sachdeva. Over the next five years, more than 4,150 LEO birds are expected to be launched overall. NSR forecasts around 78 Tbps of usable capacity to be brought to the market by the major LEO constellations.

In the case of LeoSat, the company falls into the first exit stage, which is unfortunate as it managed to secure around $2 billion in soft commitments from customers, Sachdeva says. “This emphasizes the fact that strong financial backing is critical for success for LEO constellations. SpaceX and OneWeb both have strong financial support, which will help them get their systems into orbit, even if partially,” she says. Similarly, Amazon’s project Kuiper is expected to be financially strong, whether from outside funds or from being self-funded. However, questions remain as to whether these companies will successfully bypass the second and third exit stages. (1/23)

Astroscale Awarded Up To $4.5 Million From Tokyo Government To Commercialize Orbital Debris Removal (Source: Astroscale)
Astroscale has been awarded a grant of up to $4.5 million from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s “Innovation Tokyo Project” to build a roadmap for commercializing active debris removal (ADR) services. The project, which was launched last year, aims to subsidize up to half of the expenses required for the commercialization and development of innovative services and products for venture companies and small and medium-sized enterprises.

Astroscale received the maximum amount covering half of its US $9 million application and will use the funds over three years to commercialize its ADR services and develop global sales channels with satellite operators, national agencies and the insurance market. The grant will also be used to continue pursuing joint research and development contracts, conduct safety and risk assessments of client satellites, and grow the finance and human resources departments. (1/23)

A California Space Station for Mars Settlement Research (Source: Sputnik)
Inspired by the desire to improve life on Earth and to settle on Mars in future, the team at Interstellar Lab has combined architecture, engineering, product design and science to create closed-loop villages with regenerative life support technologies. Two years after the launch of the project, Interstellar Lab has unveiled its Experimental BIOregenerative Station (EBIOS) which is designed as a scientific and research center for astronauts training. At the same time, according to the Interstellar Lab crew, the village will be open half of the year to families, adventurers and students. The station, which is located in the Mojave Desert in California, is to open its doors in 2021. It incorporates a variety of vital technologies, including water treatment, waste management and food production. (1/23)

NASA's Curiosity Rover Suffers Glitch on Mars, Freezes Up (Source: C/Net)
Can a Mars rover have an existential crisis? NASA's Curiosity rover is wondering just exactly what its place is on Mars after experiencing a technical glitch. "Partway through its last set of activities, Curiosity lost its orientation," wrote Curiosity team member Dawn Sumner, a planetary geologist at University of California, Davis, in a mission update this week. The rover stores  in memory its body attitude and joint orientation. This includes details of the local landscape, the location of its robotic arm and the directions its instruments are pointing. It's all the data that helps the rover know exactly where it is on Mars and how to move about safely. "Curiosity stopped moving, freezing in place until its knowledge of its orientation can be recovered," wrote Sumner. (1/22)

Burst of Gravitational Waves Hit Our Planet on Jan. 14 (Source: Space.com)
A mysterious cosmic event might have ever-so-slightly stretched and squeezed our planet last week. On Jan. 14, astronomers detected a split-second burst of gravitational waves, distortions in space-time … but researchers don't know where this burst came from. The gravitational wave signal, picked up by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Virgo interferometer, lasted only 14 milliseconds, and astronomers haven't yet been able to pinpoint the burst's cause or determine whether it was just a blip in the detectors. (1/22)

Firefly Rocket Test Suffers Anomaly at Texas Site (Source: Space News)
Firefly Aerospace reported a "test anomaly" during an attempted static-fire test Wednesday of the small launch vehicle it is developing. Law enforcement and fire units responded to reports Wednesday evening of a "possible explosion" at the company's test site, north of Austin, Texas, prompting road closures and evacuations of nearby residents. Firefly later said the anomaly caused "a small fire" but no explosion, and that both the rocket and the test stand are intact. The company was preparing to perform its first static-fire test of the first stage of the Alpha rocket with all four of its engines installed. The company earlier said it planned a series of qualification tests of the stage, one of the last major tests before the first flight of the rocket. (1/22)

DirecTV Satellite May Explode in Orbit (Source: Space News)
DirecTV fears one of its satellites could explode because of a battery malfunction. The company informed the FCC its Spaceway-1 satellite suffered an unexplained anomaly in December that caused "significant and irreversible thermal damage" to its batteries. The company says the satellite is relying solely on power directly generated by its solar panels, but will start experiencing eclipses in its geostationary orbit in late February that will require it to use its batteries, risking a "catastrophic battery failure." The company says it's working to decommission the satellite by Feb. 25, when those eclipses will start, but will not be able to deplete all of the spacecraft's onboard fuel by then. Spaceway-1 is a Boeing 702 satellite launched in 2005 that was serving as a backup to DirecTV's other satellites. (1/22)

Boeing Exits DARPA Reusable Spaceplane Project (Source: Space News)
Boeing has dropped out of a DARPA program to develop an experimental reusable spaceplane. DARPA said Wednesday that Boeing informed the agency it was immediately discontinuing work on the Experimental Spaceplane Program, which was to develop a reusable suborbital spaceplane designed to fly 10 times in 10 days. Boeing won a 2017 DARPA competition, in the form of an other transaction authority award that required Boeing to also contribute its own funding, to develop and test what Boeing called Phantom Express. DARPA envisioned using the vehicle, equipped with an expendable upper stage, to place smallsats into orbit affordably and responsively. (1/22)

SpaceX Seeks March 2 Hearing in Lawsuit Against US Air Force (Source: Space News)
SpaceX is seeking a hearing in federal court on its lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force about the Launch Service Agreement (LSA) program. SpaceX filed a request with the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California earlier this month, seeking a March 2 hearing on its suit. SpaceX originally filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims over the program, which awarded agreements to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance to support launch vehicle development. That court ruled it lacked jurisdiction in the case, but allowed SpaceX to transfer its suit to the district court. SpaceX, which proposed using its Starship next-generation vehicle for some launches, argues that Starship is no riskier than the other vehicles being developed by the LSA winners. (1/22)

Russian Scientists Propose Crewed Base on Martian Moon to Control Robots Remotely on Red Planet (Source: Sputnik)
Academics believe a Martian moon base would be considerably cheaper to build than a base on the planet itself, while providing for the real-time control of robots stationed on Mars' surface. A group of Russian, Italian and American scientists have proposed the creation of a long-term habitable base on the Martian moon of Phobos, and are expected to present their ideas at the upcoming Korolev Academic Space Conference 2020 in Moscow next week. (1/23)

Descartes Offers Cloud-Based Geospatial Services (Source: Space News)
Descartes Labs unveiled Wednesday a cloud-based platform for commercial customers that pairs geospatial data sets with modeling tools and applications. The company said its Descartes Labs Platform offers analysts the tools necessary to draw relevant information from geospatial data sets without the need for hiring experts in areas from remote sensing to machine learning. The company says what sets its service apart from similar offerings by other companies is the diversity of geospatial data sets included and the platform's orientation toward commercial customers. (1/22)

Trump: Musk "Does Good at Rockets" (Source: CNBC)
President Trump had this to say about Elon Musk during an interview: "I spoke to him very recently, and he's also doing the rockets. He likes rockets. And he does good at rockets, too, by the way. I never saw where the engines come down with no wings, no anything, and they're landing. I said, 'I've never seen that before.'" (1/22)

Artemis Requires Schedule Discipline, Good Fortune, to Land Humans on Moon in 2024 (Source: The Verge)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said "a lot of things have to go right" for the agency to meet its 2024 deadline of landing people on the moon. In an interview after Sunday's SpaceX in-flight abort test, Bridenstine said funding will be a key factor in determining if the Artemis program can stay on track, along with upcoming tests of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. The agency is looking at options for the human lunar lander program, which received $600 million for fiscal year 2020 versus the $1 billion NASA requested. Bridenstine also confirmed the agency's 2021 budget request, to be released next month, will contain the five-year funding profiles that will provide an estimate of how much the agency thinks the Artemis program will cost. (1/22)

NOAA Relies Increasingly on Private Sector Capabilities (Source: Space News)
The acting administrator of NOAA says the private sector is increasingly a critical partner in the agency's activities, including space. In a speech this week, Neil Jacobs said NOAA was trying to figure out new approaches to public-private partnerships that can offer companies a "win-win business model," but did not go into specifics, including how it might apply to satellite weather observations. NOAA has experimented with purchasing commercial satellite data through a pilot program, but is still working out how to integrate that data into its weather forecasting operations. Jacobs, who has been acting administrator for nearly a year, was nominated by the White House last month to take the job on a permanent basis. (1/22)

New Baikonur Launch Pad Won't Support Crewed Launches (Source: TASS)
A new Russian launch facility will no longer have the ability to support crewed launches. The government of Kazakhstan accepted a Russian proposal that the jointly developed Baiterek complex at the Baikonur Cosmodrome support only satellite launches, and not crewed spacecraft. Doing so, Kazakh officials said, would cut its share of the cost to build it by about 25%. The facility will be used to host launches of the Soyuz-5 under development. (1/23)

India to Fly Humanoid Robot in Crew Spacecraft (Source: Hindustan Times)
India will fly a humanoid robot on a test flight of the crewed spacecraft it is building. The Indian space agency ISRO said the robot, named Vyommitra or "friend of the sky," will be inside the Gaganyaan spacecraft that will make uncrewed test flights late this year and in the middle of next year, prior to the first crewed flight of the spacecraft no earlier than late next year. The robot is designed to mimic actions like manipulating buttons and switches inside the spacecraft and will also measure the conditions future crews will experience in it. (1/23)

Northrop Grumman Honors Lawrence With Next Cygnus (Source: CollectSpace)
Northrop Grumman has named its next Cygnus cargo spacecraft after the first African American astronaut. The company said this week the spacecraft, scheduled launch to the station next month, will be named the "S.S. Robert H. Lawrence" after the late military astronaut. Lawrence was part of the U.S. Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory astronaut corps in the 1960s, but was killed in an aircraft crash in 1967. While the program was canceled before flying any missions, some members of that astronaut corps transferred to NASA and later flew shuttle missions. (1/22)

Oklahoma Hopes for 10,000 New Aerospace Jobs (Source: KOCO)
The Oklahoma Aerospace Commerce Economic Services is looking to boost the industry by adding more than 10,000 employees to the state in the next 10 years. Right now it's expected that there are more than 1,500 job openings in Oklahoma City. The ACES is hosting career fairs in 2020 with the first one taking place in Tulsa last week. Coming up on January 22nd they will be hosting another career fair in OKC. (1/20)

Russia to Supply US With Six RD-180 Rocket Engines This Year (Source: Sputnik)
Russian rocket engine manufacturer NPO Energomash plans to ship six RD-180 rocket engines to the United States this year, government procurement website data shows. The RD-180 engines will be used to power the first stage of the Atlas V launch vehicles. In December, Energomash said that it shipped a total of six RD-180 rocket engines to the United States in 2019. In October, Roscosmos subsidiary Energomash was preparing to deliver three more RD-180 engines for use with Atlas V launch vehicles. Previously, Energomash already shipped three RD-180 rocket engines to the US in June as part of a separate contract. (1/23)

Indian Astronauts to Begin Training in Russia for Country's First Crewed Space Mission (Source: Sputnik)
India's space agency the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) is gearing up for its week-long space mission worth $1.31 billion. Four astronauts have been shortlisted from the Indian Air Force after a series of tests conducted in India and Russia. ISRO Chief K. Sivan said on Wednesday that four shortlisted astronauts would be sent to Russia for an 11-month training program by the end of January, in preparation for India's first crewed space mission - 'Gaganyaan' - scheduled for January 2022. (1/23)

Cocoa Beach Library Hosts Solar Orbiter Mission Talk (Source: City of Cocoa Beach)
Join us on Tuesday, January 28 at 6:00pm in the Community Room at the Cocoa Beach Public Library to listen to Cesar Garcia/ ESA Solar Orbiter Project Manager talk about the upcoming mission, Solar Orbiter, a joint ESA/ NASA collaboration blazing towards the sun. Click here. (1/23)

Brian Stofiel Stumbled Onto the Right Stuff For Orbit: a Plastic Rocket (Source: Riverfront Times)
In reality, there are some additional steps: Collect a few billion dollars, build a rocket taller than a ten-story building, gain access to vast quantities of fuel and, preferably, buy a deserted plot of land that you wouldn't mind obliterating on launch day. Or, you could do it like Brian Stofiel — just print a rocket in your basement and drag it to the edge of space on a weather balloon. Then, and only then, would you fire the rocket, which would have to be light enough to lift with a bit of helium but also sturdy enough to survive a prolonged burn through the upper atmosphere.

You probably wouldn't build that rocket out of plastic. But Stofiel, a St. Louis-based Air Force veteran without a bachelor's degree, is doing just that, utilizing a heat-resistent, chemically treated plastic that he himself invented. Stofiel's breakthrough has caught the attention of rocket scientists who know intimately what it takes to engineer an escape from Earth. His creation, extruded inch by inch by an overworked 3D printer nicknamed "the Beast," is at the heart of what he calls the "Boreas" launch system.

Beneath the rocket, tethered by yet another umbilical rope, would be a space plane with folded, swept-back wings. The size of a Mini Cooper, it looks like the fusion of a fighter jet and an origami crane. Called Artemis, it will hold Boreas' brain. At nineteen miles up, the guidance computer would snap to work, writing a firing solution and sending the cue to Hermes to punch its ticket to space. When Hermes' engine ignites, its plastic motor would eject a pillar of flames at nearly 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. With so little atmosphere remaining, Hermes would need only around two minutes of burn before it enters low-earth orbit.  (03/2019)

Goldilocks and SpaceX Smallsat Rideshare (Source: LinkedIn)
The previous decade saw much in the way of exciting changes and technological developments, accelerated by an environment of high competition. The industry experienced a decline in launch prices, which in turn lowered the barrier of entry for small satellite operators. SpaceX’s Smallsat Rideshare Program announced in late 2019 seems to have set the bar for lowest market prices in its class, but does it represent Goldilocks pricing – not too high, not too low, just right – to become the ideal option for the industry in the decade to come?

NSR’s Small Satellite Markets, 6th Edition forecasts over 8,100 small satellites to be launched in the period between 2018 and 2028. This number represents demand from both constellation and non-constellation satellites in mass ranges below 500 kg to be launched via a growing number of launch programs and vehicles currently and soon-to-be available on the market.

The latter part of the last decade saw a huge surge in interest and excitement in dedicated small satellite launcher development around the world that looked to address demand in this small satellite mass category. These developments are the consequence of high variance in satellite mission needs, and market demand is (and will continue to be) distributed among existing and emerging launch actors. However, most of the new small launchers are still in development and arguably will not survive to see their first orbital launches, due to the capital-intensive and exceptionally long development cycles. (1/21)

UCF Professors’ Space Podcast Leads to Radio Show Invitation (Source: UCF Today)
About 5,000 people a month around the world tune into a space-related podcast launched by three University of Central Florida professors. What started out as conversations while walking to get coffee on campus to perk up the afternoon, turned into the Walkabout the Galaxy  podcast in 2014, which this month led to the professors becoming regular guests on WMFE’s recently launched Are We There Yet? radio show. Click here. (1/22)

January 22, 2020

Aerospike Rocket Engines are More Efficient Than Classic Ones (Source: Space Daily)
On December 20th, 2019 ARCA started the tests for its advanced aerospike engine LAS 25DA, for the water-based, electric Launch Assist System (LAS) rocket. After reading the test data from the sensors for both classic and aerospike rocket engines, we clearly saw that the aerospike rocket engines are more efficient than the classic ones. The tested aerospike engine has a dry weight of 184kg (405lbs) and it's rated to 25 metric tons of thrust. It is currently the world largest, being shy of only 10cm, (4 inches) in diameter compared with the largest circular aerospike engine ever built, Rocketdyne's 250K pounds of thrust from the middle of the 60s. (1/22)

CASIS Delays Meeting to Assess NASA Report (Source: CASIS)
The nonprofit that runs the part of the International Space Station designated a national lab is postponing a public meeting next month. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), also known as the ISS National Laboratory, said Tuesday that it was postponing its annual public meeting that had been scheduled for Feb. 7 because of the impending release by NASA of an independent report on its operations. The delay in the meeting will allow the organization to work with NASA to develop a plan for implementing any recommendations in that report. CASIS has not announced a new date for the meeting. (1/22)

Nine Finalists in Name-The-Rover Contest (Source: NASA JPL)
NASA has picked nine finalists for the name of its next Mars rover. The agency has opened public voting on the nine finalists — Endurance, Tenacity, Promise, Perseverance, Vision, Clarity, Ingenuity, Fortitude and Courage — selected from 155 semifinalists in a student competition. Public voting will remain open through next Monday, although the results will only be a "consideration" in a final selection of the name. NASA will announce the winning name for the Mars 2020 rover in March. (1/22)

Pentagon Advances Plans for Missile Tracking Constellation (Source: Space News)
The Pentagon's Space Development Agency (SDA) is moving ahead with plans for a constellation of missile-tracking satellites. The agency issued a broad area announcement Tuesday seeking technologies that would be used for that satellite constellation. SDA wants to have at least several dozen satellites in orbit by late 2022 with a mix of sensing and communications payloads to locate targets on the ground and at sea, and track advanced missiles such as hypersonic glide vehicles. That constellation will grow over time, and the SDA intends to ultimately deploy multiple constellations that collectively could amount to thousands of satellites. (1/22)

Budget Battle Hampers EU in Space (Source: Space Daily)
The European Union has big plans for its space and defence industries, but cuts to the bloc's proposed budget for 2021-27 of some 200 billion euros ($220 billion) have caused alarm. The European Defence Fund has seen its proposed share fall from 13 to seven billion euros and space programs have lost 20 percent of their allocations.

The initial budget plan earmarked huge growth in funding for defence as the bloc looks to become a more credible geopolitical player, but with richer member states looking to trim their contributions after Brexit, a slimmed-down plan was put forward by Finland when it held the rotating EU presidency. Romanian conservative MEP Christian-Silviu Busoi, chairman of the European Parliament's Industry Committee, warned that the cuts would jeopardise the Galileo program -- the European satellite navigation system -- and Copernicus, the EU's Earth observation program.

The EU's competition and digital supremo Margrethe Vestager warned that money was needed to back "new ideas and new technology" and said she hoped it would be available in the next budget. Budget haggling will rumble on for some time, with EU Council President Charles Michel facing the unenviable task of bridging the near 240 billion euro gap between the demands of the European Parliament and Finland's proposal. (1/21)

EU Provides $222 Million for Space (Source: Space News)
The European Union is providing 200 million euros ($222 million) in funding to support Europe's space industry. Half the funding, announced Tuesday, would be in a form of a loan to ArianeGroup to help the company finance its share of the cost of the Ariane 6. The other half will be invested in funds supporting space startups in Europe. EU officials said the funding represents a "game changer" in its support for European space companies. (1/22)

Capella Reveals SAR Satellite Design (Source: Space News)
Capella Space revealed a new design for its synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites Tuesday. The revised design features a 3.5-meter deployable radar antenna and larger solar arrays. The new satellite design weighs 100 kilograms, twice the size of its prototype, Denali, launched more than a year ago. The company said the revised design, based on customer feedback, will provide improved radar images at a resolution of 50 centimeters. The first of the new satellites, called Sequoia, will launch in March. (1/22)

Dawn Aerospac Considers Air-Launch System (Source: Space News)
A space propulsion startup is also examining an air-launch system. Dawn Aerospace, with facilities in New Zealand and the Netherlands, is commercializing thrusters that use nitrous oxide and propene instead of hydrazine, with the first of those thrusters flying on smallsats launching this year. The company is interested in expanding that technology to an air-launch system, which would feature a suborbital spaceplane than then deploys a two-stage rocket that could place up to several hundred kilograms into low Earth orbit. Company officials said such a vehicle would not fly for at least four years, though. (1/22)

LEGO Plans ISS Model (Source: The Verge)
Space fans who like LEGO, or LEGO fans who like space, be ready to open your wallets again. LEGO announced Tuesday it is releasing a model of the ISS next month. The 864-piece model features the station's current configuration and includes a shuttle and spacewalking astronauts. While the real ISS has a cost in excess of $100 billion by some accounts, the LEGO model can be yours for $69.99. (1/21)

Starliner’s Thruster Performance Receiving Close Scrutiny From NASA (Source: Ars Technica)
Nearly one month ago, Boeing completed the first orbital test flight of its Starliner spacecraft with a near-perfect landing at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. The mission had to be cut short due to a well-publicized timing error that delayed the spacecraft's service module from performing an orbital insertion burn. This caused the thrusters on board the service module, which provides power to Starliner during most of its mission, to fire longer than expected. As a result, the spacecraft did not have enough fuel to complete a rendezvous with the International Space Station, a key component of the test flight in advance of crewed missions.

Two weeks ago, NASA said it had initiated two investigations. One would find the root cause of the "mission elapsed timer anomaly" over the course of about two months, and the second will determine whether another uncrewed test flight of Starliner is required before astronauts fly on the vehicle. The NASA release did not mention thruster performance, but an agency source said that engineers are looking closely at the performance of the Starliner propulsion system.

In addition to four large launch abort engines, the service module has 28 reaction control system thrusters, each with 85 pounds of thrust and 20 more-powerful orbital maneuvering thrusters, each with 1,500 pounds of thrust. he service module thrusters were stressed due to their unconventional use in raising Starliner's orbit instead of performing one big burn. As a result, the company had to shut down one manifold, which effectively branches into several lines carrying propellant to four thrusters. "We even shut down one manifold as we saw pressure go low 'cause it had been used a lot," he said. The NASA source said eight or more thrusters on the service module failed at one point and that one thruster never fired at all. (1/21)

BAE to Buy Business Units From Collins, Raytheon (Source: Space News)
BAE Systems announced Monday it is acquiring GPS and military communications businesses from two companies for more than $2 billion. BAE will buy Collins Aerospace's military Global Positioning System unit for $1.9 billion and Raytheon's Airborne Tactical Radios division for $275 million. These two businesses are being sold in order to clear the antitrust regulatory requirements of the pending merger between Raytheon and United Technologies Corp. BAE Systems officials called the acquisitions "unique opportunities" to expand the company’s defense electronics, radio and GPS business. (1/21)

Rocket Lab Schedules First NRO Launch for Jan. 31 at New Zealand Spaceport (Source: Space News)
Rocket Lab's first launch of 2020 will be a mission for the National Reconnaissance Office. The launch, scheduled for a window that opens Jan. 31 at the company's New Zealand launch site, will fly a payload designated NROL-151, details of which neither the company nor the NRO disclosed in Monday's announcement. This is the NRO's first launch awarded under a program the agency started in 2018 called Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) to use commercial providers to launch small satellites. (1/21)

US and China Plan Civil Space Dialogue (Source: Space News)
American and Chinese officials are planning a bilateral meeting on civil space issues this spring. The Civil Space Dialogue, scheduled for March, will be the first such meeting between the two countries since 2017, after plans for a meeting last year fell through. No reason for the inability to schedule the meeting, earlier reported as to be expected in fall 2019, was offered. The last meeting between the NASA administrator and the head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) was the International Astronautical Congress in 2018 in Bremen, Germany. (1/21)

Skylo Raises $100 Million+ for Connecting Vehicles to Satellites (Source: Space News)
A startup has raised more than $100 million to provide vehicle connectivity using geostationary satellites. Skylo exited from stealth mode Tuesday by announcing it raised $103 million in a Series B round led by SoftBank. The company earlier raised $13 million from several funds, including Boeing HorizonX. Skylo has developed a compact satellite terminal to connect machines to its network using capacity on existing GEO communications satellites. The company argues this approach can provide frequent and affordable connectivity to trucks, boats or other vehicles. (1/21)

Group to Rate Satellite Sustainability (Source: Space News)
A consortium in making progress on a system to rate the sustainability of satellites. The Space Sustainability Rating, announced by the World Economic Forum last year, is being developed by a group of organizations in the U.S. and Europe that seeks to quantitatively measure how well individual satellites or satellite systems ensure the long-term sustainability of space. Current work involves selecting what factors will go into the rating and the weighting factors for each. An initial version of the rating may be ready by late this year or early next year. (1/21)

IceEye Can Track "Dark" Vessels at Sea (Source: Space News)
Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) company Iceye has developed a product that tracks "dark" vessels at sea. Iceye combines observations from its constellation of three SAR satellites with other data sources to provide customers with radar satellite images of vessels that are not broadcasting their identification, position and course with Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders. The technology is designed to help government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and commercial customers curb drug and human trafficking, find illegal fishing vessels and enforce rules against illegal transshipment of goods. (1/21)

2020 U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction (Source: KSCVC)
Veteran astronauts Michael E. Lopez-Alegria, Pamela A. Melroy and Scott Kelly have been selected to receive one of the highest honors in their industry. This May, they will be inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame® at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and will join the just 99 individuals who currently hold that esteemed honor as the “First Class of the New Decade.”

On May 16, 2020 at 11:00 am, join the visitor complex on the bottom floor of Space Shuttle Atlantis to honor these heroes during the 2020 induction ceremony. Selected by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, inductees must have made their first flight at least 17 years before the induction, must be a U.S. citizen, a NASA-trained commander, pilot or mission specialist and have orbited the Earth at least once. (1/21)

Scientists Just Discovered That an Asteroid May Have Ended 'Snowball Earth' 2.2 Billion Years Ago (Source: USA Today)
Some 2.2 billion years ago, an asteroid slammed into the Earth, leaving behind a massive, 43-mile-wide crater in what's now Western Australia, scientists announced. It's the world's oldest known impact site, the new study said, one that also may have changed Earth's climate: It occurred at a time that coincided with Earth’s recovery from an ice age known as "Snowball Earth," where most of Earth’s surface was covered with ice sheets up to 3 miles thick, according to a statement from Imperial College in London.

The impact left behind a scar on the land that's known as the Yarrabubba impact crater. "The age we've got for the Yarrabubba impact structure makes it the oldest impact structure on the planet," said study co-author Chris Kirkland. That's about half the age of Earth itself and 200 million years older than the previous record-holder, the 190-mile-wide Vredefort Dome in South Africa. After blasting into the continental ice sheet, the impact could have released up to 11,000 trillion pounds of water vapor into the atmosphere, a potent greenhouse gas that may have played a role in modifying Earth’s climate. (1/21)

Will the Boeing / SpaceX Space Race Be Fair? (Source: Medium)
Musk made it clear that SpaceX should have hardware delivered by the end of February or at worst early March, and ready for launch shortly thereafter. Bridenstein, on the other hand, stressed the desire for additional tests of the parachute system on the Crew Dragon, and said that NASA is going to be rethinking how to use this new hardware. Specifically, they will consider if they’d like to change their current plan to have a short mission to the ISS, and instead have the astronauts stay for an extended period.

Since NASA is a government funded agency, there are complex politics behind every public message — messages often designed to keep the congress people who write the budgets happy. As we watch the similarly politically motivated actions in the following months, we will be playing close attention to see if Boeing is required to put their capsule through the same tests and experiences the same timeline delays as we’re seeing for SpaceX. Let’s look at the facts:

SpaceX has had a successful launch to the ISS, numerous successful parachute tests, pad abort tests, and now a successful mid launch abort test. They are being asked for potentially more testing of their parachutes. On the other side, Boeing had a parachute not deploy during their on-the-ground abort test, and announced that landing on 2 of 4 parachutes was deemed a success and their schedule would not be effected. They also had an unsuccessful launch to the ISS that is being called a success because they had their capsule return to Earth just fine. Currently, we see plans for a June 2020 launch with three people, and a subsequent launch planned with 4 people in December. These 7 humans will each cost more to launch on these Boeing capsules than they would cost to launch in the proven Russian Soyuz capsules. (1/21)

January 21, 2020

Firefly Aerospace Announces Launch Services Agreement with Innovative Space Logistics (Source: Firefly)
Firefly Aerospace has entered into a Launch Services Agreement with Innovative Space Logistics BV (ISILAUNCH), a launch services subsidiary of Netherlands based ISIS - Innovative Solutions in Space B.V. (ISISPACE). Under the agreement, ISILAUNCH will offer to its customers multiple dedicated and rideshare launch opportunities on the Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle, on missions beginning in 2020. (1/21)

 After Ownership Change, Stratolaunch Confirms That it’s Still Working on Hypersonic Vehicles (Source: GeekWire)
It’s been three months since ownership of the Stratolaunch space venture was transferred from the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen’s estate to a private equity firm, but the new owners say they’re still pursuing one of the old owner’s dreams: hypersonic flight. Stratolaunch’s plans to build and test hypersonic air vehicles were laid out 16 months ago at a Florida conference focusing on space planes and hypersonic systems.

Stratolaunch still has offices in Seattle, and it’s still developing the world’s biggest airplane in California. In the past, the company has highlighted the plane’s capabilities as a flying launch pad for rockets heading to orbit. But in the wake of Allen’s death in 2018 and last October’s transfer of ownership, there’s been increasing speculation that Stratolaunch would put more emphasis on hypersonic vehicle development and testing for military purposes.

Although Stratolaunch has been mostly mum about its plans going forward, today it responded to news reports reviewing its previous hypersonic plans. “Stratolaunch is exploring the development of aerospace vehicles and technologies, including the need for reliable, routine access to space. This exploration includes the need to significantly advance the nation’s ability to design and operate hypersonic vehicles,” company spokesman Art Pettigrue said in a statement emailed to GeekWire. (1/21)

Panchromatic Astronomy on a Budget (Source: Space Review)
At the end of this month, NASA will decomission the Spitzer Space Telescope, the second of the original four Great Observatories to go dark. Jeff Foust reports on what astronomers think NASA should do to continue the promise of the Great Observatories to enable space-based observations over a wide range of wavelengths. Click here. (1/20)
A National Treasure Turns 90 (Source: Space Review)
Today is the 90th birthday of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Eric Hedman reflects on Aldrin’s influence on his own life. Click here. (1/20)
All These Moments Will Be Lost… (Source: Space Review)
Seventeen years ago this month, Columbia lifted off on its final, ill-fated flight. Dwayne Day explains how a fictional story may stir up very real feelings about the mission. Click here. (1/20) 

January 20, 2020

Successful Test Paves Way for SpaceX Crewed Demo-2 Mission (Source: Space News)
The abort test was one of the last major ones for the spacecraft before the Demo-2 crewed test flight to the International Space Station that may take place in the second quarter of this year. NASA will decide in the next few weeks whether to extend that Demo-2 mission to the ISS. That test flight, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board, is currently intended to be only a short-duration mission. However, the agency is studying whether to extend the mission to increase the crew size on the station, which will be down to three people, including only one American, starting in April. Extending the Demo-2 mission would likely delay the launch in order to give the crew more training for ISS operations. (1/20)

Eutelsat Hosted Payload Continues Operations (Source: Space News)
A hosted payload on a Eutelsat communications satellite will continue to operate despite the failure of one of the satellite's solar arrays. The Eutelsat 5 West B satellite has a hosted payload for the European GNSS Agency called GEO-3 that is designed to enhance satellite navigation signals for aircraft as part of the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System, or EGNOS. That payload will continue to operate while the rest of the satellite suffered a 55% loss in capacity because of the failure of the drive assembly in one of the spacecraft's solar arrays. Eutelsat has yet to decide on the size of an insurance claim it will file for the satellite's lost performance. [SpaceNews]

Japan Establishes Military Space Unit (Source: AP)
The Japanese military will establish a new unit devoted to space. The Space Domain Mission Unit will start operations in April as part of the country's Air Self-Defense Force, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a speech Monday. The new unit will be responsible for satellite-based communications and navigation services supporting other military units, and defend those systems from threats. [AP]

A version of China's Long March 5 rocket needed for launching space station modules will make its first flight later this year. The China Manned Space Agency said the Long March 5B rocket will launch for the first time in the first half of this year. The heavy-lift rocket is a version of the Long March 5 optimized for delivering payloads to low Earth orbit, and will be used to launch modules for China's space station. [Xinhua]

Several Canadian companies have won contracts to develop lunar payloads. ABB Inc., Candensys Aerospace Corp., Magellan Aerospace Ltd. and Mission Control Space Systems won a total of five awards from the Canadian Space Agency as part of its Lunar Surface Autonomous Science Payloads program. The agency hasn't disclosed specifics about the awards, but they are expected to cover concept studies and initial technology development of scientific payloads that would later be flown to the surface of the moon. [SpaceQ]

Space: Not the Final Frontier, But the New Wild West (Source: Politico)
Despite talk of a new “space race,” what is happening now resembles less a race than it does a new “Wild West” — similar to the early internet era of the 1990s. The early years of space exploration were driven by a single goal and focus: to be the first to put a person on the moon. Private entities in the space industry worked largely as government contractors. Today, space is no longer the preserve of governments but also that of a growing number of private companies, largely funded by private capital and billionaires with deep pockets.

There are more opportunities in the commercial space industry than ever before. And there’s a growing understanding that these new companies and ideas will disrupt the world in ways we can’t foresee — much in the same way the advent of digital companies such as Facebook and Amazon did. The difference between the U.S. and Europe, says Dylan Taylor — a leading American investor in space and chairman of Voyager Space Holdings — is that U.S. investors “are used to early-stage companies.” Americans have “seen a lot of success stories, of early-stages companies becoming very successful and ultimately having some kind of an exit.”

This is the type of ecosystem that enabled the likes of Google, Amazon and the other big internet giants to flourish — something Europe is hoping to emulate as officials bid to set up a €1 billion wealth fund designed to help home-grown businesses to compete with the giants coming from not only the U.S., but also China. But having money is not enough. You have to be willing to risk it, and embrace the kind of failure that enables companies to grow out of ideas. (1/20)

Congressman Pushing for Space Force Base to be Built in Huntsville (Source: WAFF)
Space Force is still looking for a home. And many people think that Huntsville's existing mix of military and science make it the obvious choice. The Space Force became official in December of 2019. And this week the first member of the Space Force, Air Force general John Raymond was sworn in. He will be the chief of space operations. Byrne says America has been falling behind in space defense. And says it’s critical for our country to step it up, and says he’s confident the Rocket City will play an important part in the Space Force.

“I have been pushing the idea of Huntsville being the headquarters of it. If not the headquarters at least the location where a lot of the most important activities will occur. The Alabama congressional delegation has been extremely unified about this. We have had a very good strong push about it. I think at the end of the day Huntsville will be a huge beneficiary from it,” Byrne said. The man Byrne is seeking to defeat, Senator Doug Jones, has also publicly expressed support for Huntsville’s efforts to get a Space Force base. (1/19)

Spaceport America's Vertical Launch Area Bustling with Activity (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
UP Aerospace achieved a major milestone in fall 2018 when it shot its reusable SpaceLoft rocket into suborbit in two back-to-back launches from Spaceport America. But that NASA-sponsored feat generated barely a blip in public attention. Another SpaceLoft launch with NASA-sponsored microgravity experiments took place in November, again with little fanfare.

In good part, that’s because all eyes are riveted on Virgin Galactic, which is expected to begin suborbital commercial flights from the spaceport this year for paying passengers. But it may also reflect the natural evolution to a “new normal” public mindset regarding spaceflight activity at the spaceport’s vertical launch area, where UP has operated since 2006.

Since then, it has launched the SpaceLoft 13 times from the spaceport, while also conducting test flights on vehicles there for other companies, including Lockheed Martin. It even built a rocket motor factory on-site in 2017, which now provides all engines for its own launches, plus motors for other companies and entities, such as the military and Sandia National Laboratories. UP is headquartered in Colorado, where it manages most of its basic engineering and design work, but its seven-member workforce has spent more than half of each year since 2017 directly at the spaceport, said UP President and CEO Jerry Larson. (1/20)

Spaceport America Seeks Another Big State Investment for Infrastructure, Visitor Center (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
The New Mexico Spaceport is preparing to go viral this year as Virgin Galactic gears up for liftoff in southern New Mexico. Sir Richard Branson is widely expected to board the first commercial passenger rocket to shoot into suborbit sometime in 2020 in an event that could capture global attention as the turning point that marks the dawn of commercial space travel. Rocket flights with paying passengers will soon follow, potentially kicking up an unprecedented groundswell of spectator tourism and worldwide media attention that the spaceport and local industry leaders want to be ready for.

To prepare, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority is seeking $57 million in capital outlay this year for infrastructure projects it considers critical, beginning with $25 million for a welcoming center and visitor access control installations.

In addition, it’s seeking $20 million for space vehicle and payload processing centers for companies operating at the spaceport’s horizontal and vertical launch areas to do on-site assembly of rockets and the microgravity experiments placed in them. It also wants $10 million for the first phase of a new taxiway in the horizontal launch area to run parallel to the current 12,000-foot runway, and it wants $2 million for a modern IT control center for all communications infrastructure at the spaceport. (1/20)

Florida Targets Space Force, Inks New Support Services Contract (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Florida’s aerospace agency has launched a new front in its effort to make the Sunshine State more enticing as a potential player in the nation’s up-and-coming Space Force. The Space Florida Board of Directors on Thursday approved $200,000 for Satellite Beach-based GTOPS, Inc., a veteran-owned business that provides facilities-support services, to further showcase how military bases and businesses in the state are capable of training and equipping President Donald Trump’s new military branch.

“If you can't make the articulate arguments for what capabilities you've got to support missions, you’ll never get those mission assignments,” Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said after Thursday’s meeting in Tallahassee. Florida officials have often pointed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political ties to Trump as they lobby for the new branch, which is expected to be moved from the Department of the Air Force to having its own representation on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon in October. The move is expected to kick-off a five-year phase-in. (1/17)

January 19, 2020

SpaceX Aces Crew Dragon Launch Abort Test, Destroys Rocket On Purpose (Source: Space.com)
SpaceX just took a giant leap forward in its quest to launch astronauts. The private spaceflight company intentionally destroyed one of its rockets on Sunday (Jan. 19) as part of a crucial test of its new Crew Dragon capsule's launch escape system.

The uncrewed test, known as an in-flight abort (IFA) test, is the last major hurdle SpaceX needed to clear before Crew Dragon can begin to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Originally scheduled to launch on Saturday (Jan. 18), the unpiloted crew capsule was grounded for 24 hours due to unfavorable weather conditions at both the launch site and the Crew Dragon recovery zone, the Atlantic Ocean just off the Florida coast. (1/19)

China Plans 39 Million-Mile Race to Mars to Catch Up With NASA (Source: Bloomberg)
China is taking its rivalry with the U.S. to another planet. The Chinese space agency is preparing a mid-year mission to Mars, marking the most ambitious project on an exploration checklist intended to achieve equal footing with NASA and transform the nation’s technological know-how. Landing the unmanned probe on the red planet would cap President Xi Jinping’s push to make China a superpower in space. The nation already has rovers on the moon, and it’s making bold plans to operate an orbiting space station, establish a lunar base and explore asteroids by the 2030s.

“It’s about prestige, the demonstration of technological prowess on the world stage,” said Emily Lakdawalla, a solar system specialist at The Planetary Society nonprofit foundation. “If they can stick the landing, they will accomplish something amazing.” Chinese scientists have plenty of company as they look at least 39 million miles away at what’s called Huoxing, or “fire star,” in Mandarin. Thanks to Mars and Earth being closer in orbit, a phenomenon that happens only every 26 months, this promises to be a breakthrough year for exploring the planet that has fueled countless science-fiction tales. (1/18)

Commercial Spaceflight is No Longer a Pipe Dream. Here's What's Next (Source: CNN)
The last decade gave rise to more than 500 startups in the commercial spaceflight sector, prompting analysts to dub it one of the most exciting new markets to watch. Investors have put more than $25 billion into makers of satellites, rockets and other space innovations since 2009, according to a report published Tuesday by investment firm Space Angels. This year could bring even more attention to the industry, as young companies continue to evolve from wannabes with pitch decks into legitimate businesses.

Instead of chasing angel investments and seed funding, some are graduating to growth capital or attracting more mainstream backers. One or two established startups might even file for an IPO, some investors speculate, potentially giving the industry more credibility on Wall Street. But just like any maturing industry, some companies will go bankrupt, others will join forces to survive and some could be snapped up by bigger competitors.

Venture capitalists only began making significant investments in space startups in the past few years. So the "new space" industry, as some call it, is still very young and has a lot to prove. But Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, predict the global space economy could grow to $1 trillion or more over the next two decades. If the space sector's visionaries have their way, the next decade will see unprecedented business activity in space. (1/17)

A Freshly Cooked Meal In Space? It Could Happen Sooner Than You Think (Source: Forbes)
With both NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and Virgin Galactic on track to launch crew into space this year, the 2020s are on track to become the decade of space tourism. In anticipation of the industry’s expansion, companies such as Bigelow Aerospace have gone as far as to design hotels that will house private space travelers during their stays on orbit. Virgin Galactic, in turn, has a waiting list more than 600 people long for its first suborbital tourist flights.

As a 2010 study by The Tauri Group found, the main customer base for private spaceflight is high net-worth individuals, many of whom are seeking a new luxury travel experience after patronizing the world’s finest hotels and resorts. These individuals, who are willing to pay between $250,000 and $25M USD for a private spaceflight experience, are accustomed to white glove treatment: Not only are they visiting a destination when they travel, but they expect the cream of the crop in accommodation, amenities, and dining during their stay. (1/16)

RUAG Space: High-Tech-Mechanisms for New Generation of All-Electric Satellites (Source: RUAG)
Eutelsat KONNECT satellite has been launched on 16 January on board an European Ariane 5 rocket. The satellite will provide broadband internet services to Africa. For this new generation of European telecommunications satellites, RUAG Space produced mechanisms that point the satellite's electrical engines. The electric propulsion is necessary to bring the satellite exactly into its position and to maintain this position over the lifetime of several years. “To have designed and produced such a complex mechanism in a very short time frame is an extraordinary technical achievement,” says Peter Guggenbach, Executive Vice President RUAG Space. “Our mechanisms are a key element of this new type of all-electric satellite.”

The all-electric Eutelsat KONNECT spacecraft is the first satellite built on the new Spacebus Neo platform from Thales Alenia Space. Electric engines consume significantly less fuel than chemical engines, for example. The Electric Propulsion Pointing Mechanisms (EPPM) were delivered from RUAG Space to Thales Alenia Space, the satellite builder. The mechanisms will be mounted on Eutelsat KONNECT satellite. In total RUAG Space developed and produced 12 mechanisms at its site in Vienna, Austria. (1/18)

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January 18, 2020

Clearwater Facility to Build Electronics for Orion Spacecraft (Source: Fox13 Tampa Bay)
The road to Mars runs through Clearwater. At least, that was part of the message Friday as Lockheed Martin and Honeywell in Clearwater signed a long-term contract to work on NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The Orion vehicle is set to take humans back to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program and eventually could fly people to Mars. But money earmarked for space is spent here on Earth.

As Representative Charlie Crist put it, space is powering Florida’s economy. In fact, he said, this deal and the ensuing missions are nothing less than our future. “The spacecraft that will be taking Americans back to the moon is being partly built right here in our backyard and that’s incredible,” Rep. Crist offered. “It’s an incredible opportunity for Pinellas manufacturers, technicians, and engineers to be part of a new era in American space exploration.” (1/17)

Virgin Galactic Continues Work on Fleet of SpaceShipTwo Vehicles (Source: Space News)
Virgin Galactic is making progress in the development of its next SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane, although the company is saying little about when its existing SpaceShipTwo will be ready to resume test flights. Virgin Galactic announced that the next SpaceShipTwo vehicle achieved a milestone called “weight on wheels,” where the vehicle supported itself solely using its landing gear. All the major structural elements of the vehicle are also in place.

The company said that this vehicle reached the “weight on wheels” stage of completion “considerably faster” than for the previous vehicle, VSS Unity, although it did not quantify how much faster the production went. The company credited the faster production to “a more efficient, modular assembly process, as well as experience curve benefits.” (1/13)

China Reveals Space Plan for 2020 (Source: Xinhua)
China will smash its record for space launches in 2020. The country is going to send more than 60 spacecraft into orbit via over 40 launches this year, according to a plan released Friday in Beijing. "This year will continue to see intensive launches," said Shang Zhi, director of the Space Department of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), at a press conference, where a blue book setting out China's space achievements and future missions was released.

According to Shang, there are three major missions, mainly focusing on the completion of the BeiDou-3 Navigation Satellite System, the lunar exploration and the network of Gaofen observation satellites. Two geostationary orbit BeiDou satellites will be sent into space in the first half of 2020. The Chang'e-5 lunar probe, which is expected to bring moon samples back to Earth, and China's first Mars probe are also planned to be launched this year. In addition, three new types of carrier rockets, which are the Long March-5B, Long March-7A and Long March-8, will make their maiden flights in 2020. (1/17)

SpaceX To Rehearse Worst-Case scenario for Crew Dragon Spaceflights (Source: GeekWire)
SpaceX and NASA are planning a dress rehearsal for something they hope will never happen: a catastrophic failure at virtually the worst time in the launch of a crewed mission to the International Space Station. Fortunately, the closest things to crew members on this in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon spaceship are two test dummies, hooked up to sensors that will tell engineers how flesh-and-blood fliers would have weathered the aborted trip.

If all goes well, that should take care of the final major hurdle before two actual NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, ride a different Crew Dragon to the station and back later this year. Although they’re not flying this time around, they’ve been rehearsing all the steps they’d take before the launch, right down to donning their SpaceX-designed spacesuits and strolling through the elevated walkway leading to the Dragon’s hatch.

About a minute and a half after launch, the Dragon is programmed to fire up its thrusters and pull itself away from the rocket, traveling at 2.3 times the speed of sound. The Falcon 9’s rocket engines will shut down, and the booster is expected to break up as it falls, probably producing some fireworks in the process. Meanwhile, the Dragon should coast into a safe descent, deploy its parachutes, and splash down in the Atlantic about 20 miles offshore. The whole mission should last about 10 minutes from liftoff to splashdown. (1/18)

Made in Space Corporate Headquarters will Move to Jacksonville (Source: First Coast News)
Made in Space, a company that develops state-of-the-art space manufacturing technology to support space exploration, will be moving their corporate headquarters to Jacksonville. The move will reportedly bring a number of new high-paying jobs and help bring an entirely new technology sector to the First Coast. (1/17)

Governor, Space Florida Highlight Aerospace in Jacksonville (Source: Florida Politics)
A second “major announcement” in a week had Gov. Ron DeSantis returning to Jacksonville Friday. The Governor was at Made in Space, a local company that is relocating its corporate headquarters to the Northeast Florida city. DeSantis and Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello spoke at some length about the company and what it represents. DeSantis described a “great renaissance” of space, with a “reinvigorated” NASA.

“In the next several years,” DeSantis said, “we’re going to put American astronauts on the moon.” Made In Space has made multiple visits to the International Space Station, where equipment made in Jacksonville is of galactic importance. DeSantis suggested the relocation from Silicon Valley to Jacksonville was driven by a more hospitable business climate. Meanwhile, Florida is “working hard” to ensure “skilled labor … at a variety of skill levels” is available.

DeSantis has pushed for the U.S. Space Force to locate in Florida, and Space Florida has been highlighted throughout his first year in office. “I’ve talked to the President, mentioned Space Command,” he added, but thus far no commitment to Canaveral and the Sunshine State from the White House. (1/17)

Satellite Beach-Based Company to Receive Space Force Incentive as Program Launches (Source: Florida Today)
Florida’s aerospace agency has launched a new front in its effort to make the Sunshine State more enticing as a potential player in the nation’s up-and-coming Space Force. The Space Florida Board of Directors on Thursday approved $200,000 for Satellite Beach-based GTOPS, Inc., a veteran-owned business that provides facilities-support services, to further showcase how military bases and businesses in the state are capable of training and equipping President Donald Trump’s new military branch.

“If you can't make the articulate arguments for what capabilities you've got to support missions, you’ll never get those mission assignments,” Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said after Thursday’s meeting in Tallahassee. Florida officials have often pointed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political ties to Trump as they lobby for the new branch.

Space Florida officials maintain that luring the combatant command or the components that will make up the bulk of the Space Force will require showing that many of the new agency’s functions already exist in some manner at Cape Canaveral and military bases across the state. (1/17)

Could Future Homes on the Moon and Mars Be Made of Fungi? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Science fiction often imagines our future on Mars and other planets as run by machines, with metallic cities and flying cars rising above dunes of red sand. But the reality may be even stranger – and “greener.” Instead of habitats made of metal and glass, NASA is exploring technologies that could grow structures out of fungi to become our future homes in the stars, and perhaps lead to more sustainable ways of living on Earth as well.

The myco-architecture project out of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley is prototyping technologies that could “grow” habitats on the Moon, Mars and beyond out of life – specifically, fungi and the unseen underground threads that make up the main part of the fungus, known as mycelia.

Ultimately, the project envisions a future where human explorers can bring a compact habitat built out of a lightweight material with dormant fungi that will last on long journeys to places like Mars. Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat – all while being safely contained within the habitat to avoid contaminating the Martian environment. (1/18)

Russia’s New Super-Heavy Rocket to be Cheaper Than US Space Launch System (Source: TASS)
Russia’s new super-heavy carrier rocket Yenisei will be cheaper than the US Space Launch System (SLS), Head of the State Space Corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin wrote on his Twitter. "Our super-heavy rocket will cost considerably less than the American SLS but it is necessary to lay groundwork already today for the solutions that will make the Yenisei even more competitive," he said.

The Roscosmos chief said he agreed with SpaceX founder Elon Musk who had earlier stated that the launch cost of an SLS heavy carrier rocket, which Boeing was developing for delivering astronauts to the Moon, was too high. As the Roscosmos chief said, even the United States with its powerful economy would find it difficult to bear such expenses. (1/17)

Space Industry is Important for Driving UAE Sustainable Development (Source: Gulf Today)
As part of its participation in Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) 2020, the UAE Space Agency discussed its continuous efforts for achieving a sustainable future, both through space exploration as well as the implementation of innovative space technologies. The Agency engaged with the youth and encouraged them to enter the space sector, stressing their role in developing space technologies and utilizing space resources to build a sustainable and bright future on Earth.

Influential delegates from the UAE Space Agency were involved in panel discussions, workshops, networking lunches, and start-up hubs, where they shared insights on the importance of the space industry for driving sustainable development. They took part in the Future Sustainability Summit, Youth4Sustainability Forum, Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy and the Climate Innovation Exchange (CLiX), which the UAE Space Agency is a strategic partner of. (1/17)

AFRL Tests Launch Tech For ‘Austere’ Sites (Source: Breaking Defense)
The traditional image of a rocket launch involves looming gantries, big concrete pads, sprawling bases and it’s all fixed in place. Which can make places like Vandenberg Air Force Base very tempting targets in wartime. To complicate that otherwise simple calculus, the Air Force Research Laboratory is teaming with California startup ABL Space Systems to investigate launching satellites from remote and inhospitable areas, as well as rapid manufacturing techniques that could see rockets delivered almost on-demand.

The Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with ABL for testing of its truck-launched RF-1 rocket addresses concerns that an adversary would target the handful of fixed launching sites in the US. It also bears relevance to Air Force, and presumably now Space Force, interests in injecting resiliency and into the vulnerable national security space architecture.

If the CRADA agreement proves beneficial, “ABL could be a provider of a new capability” to the Air Force and/or Space Force, Nils Sedano, technical advisor of the liquid engines branch at AFRL’s Rocket Propulsion Division at Edwards AFB, told Breaking D in an email. The Air Force “is obtaining technical test data of their propulsion and vehicle developments and being able to use it to further investigate the implementation of Additive Manufacturing upon Rocket Propulsion systems,” he explained. (1/16)

Elon Musk Drops Details for SpaceX Mars Mega-Colony (Source: C/Net)
The first SpaceX Starship orbital prototypes aren't even built yet, but Elon Musk already has big plans for his company's spacecraft, which includes turning humans into an interplanetary species with a presence on Mars. He crunched some of the numbers he has in mind on Twitter on Thursday. Musk doesn't just want to launch a few intrepid souls to Mars, he wants to send a whole new nation. He tossed out a goal of building 100 Starships per year to send about 100,000 people from Earth to Mars every time the planets' orbits line up favorably.

Musk's vision involves loading 1,000 Starships into orbit and then sending them off over the course of a month around prime time for a minimal commute. Travelers would still be looking at spending months on board before reaching the Red Planet. When asked how people would be selected for the Red Planet move, Musk tweeted, "Needs to be such that anyone can go if they want, with loans available for those who don't have money." So perhaps you could pay off your SpaceX loans with a sweet terraforming gig.

In the meantime, Musk is stockpiling money for a reason. "Helping to pay for this is why I'm accumulating assets on Earth," he tweeted. The company is currently building Starships designed to reach Earth orbit after a series of successful "hopper" prototype tests. The reusable spacecraft could have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years, enabling them to make round-trip journeys between the planets. (1/16)

Sierra Nevada Eyes 2021 Launch of Dream Chaser Space Plane (Source: Space.com)
The Colorado-based spaceflight company is on track for a 2021 launch debut of its robotic Dream Chaser space plane, even as the firm shoots for the moon under NASA's Artemis program, Sierra Nevada representatives said. Dream Chaser is set to become the next addition to the fleet of uncrewed cargo vehicles that ferry supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). (Four different freighters currently do the job: Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft, SpaceX's Cargo Dragon, Russia's Progress spacecraft and Japan's HTV ship.)

Dream Chaser was originally designed to carry humans, but its first delivery will be a cargo resupply mission to the space station. In 2014, SNC lost out to SpaceX and Boeing for NASA contracts to launch astronauts. However, in 2016, NASA selected Dream Chaser for its Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract, awarding Sierra Nevada a deal for six cargo missions to the space station by 2024. (1/16)

L3Harris Nabs $12.9M Contract for National Space Defense Center Sustainment (Source: Space Daily)
L3Harris Technologies received a $12.9 million contract modification for National Space Defense Center sustainment effort, the Department of Defense announced. The contract modifies a previous deal for National Space Defense Center sustainment work at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. The deal's announcement comes on the heels of comments by the DoD's undersecretary for defense acquisition and sustainment that space-related acquisitions are not likely to slow down even as the Pentagon restructures the acquisitions bureaucracy. (1/15)

NASA-Funded Space Radiation Studies Could Save Astronauts' Lives (Source: Space Daily)
Physicists are teaming up with computer scientists in a NASA-funded study to help predict solar flares and radiation that can disable spacecraft and potentially kill astronauts. NASA has awarded a $550,000 grant to the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne to begin the three-year machine learning project next month. Computer algorithms will analyze data and imagery from the sun and solar system radiation.

The space agency's goal is to identify warning signs that precede solar radiation events and to better understand their length and severity. Scientists say is important to monitor solar activity and restrict spacewalks when radiation levels are dangerously high. As NASA plans a base on the moon and trips to Mars, the space agency is ramping up space radiation studies. Radiation from solar energy can affect astronauts, spacecraft electronics, signals from GPS satellites and even commercial jetliners on polar routes. High doses of space radiation could make astronauts too sick to function well enough to get home. (1/17)

Luxembourg Establishes Space Industry Venture Fund (Source: Space News)
The government of Luxembourg has invested in a new fund intended to support space startups, a move that will be one of the last for the country’s most prominent backer of the industry. Tthe government invested an undisclosed amount into Orbital Ventures, a new fund based in the country. The fund, the government said in a statement, will invest in “early stage space companies with ground-breaking ideas and technologies.” Other investors in the fund include several financial firms, European space companies OHB and SES, and Promus Ventures, an American venture fund that has invested in a number of space startups. (1/17)

Arianespace Launches Two Satellites (Source: Space News)
Arianespace started a busy 2020 with the launch Thursday of two communications satellites. An Ariane 5 lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana, at 4:05 p.m. Eastern and deployed the Eutelsat Konnect and GSAT-30 satellites into geostationary transfer orbits. Eutelsat Konnect is the first satellite to use the Neosat bus intended to reduce the cost of advanced communications satellites. The spacecraft will provide Ka-band services for Europe and Africa. GSAT-30 was built by the Indian space agency ISRO to replace the existing INSAT-4A satellite. The launch is the first of as many as 22 missions Arianespace expects to conduct this year. (1/17)

Solar Array Failure Drops Eutelsat 5 Capacity to 45% (Source: Eutelsat)
Eutelsat said it's lost more than half the capacity of a satellite launched in October. The company announced Friday that the Eutelsat 5 West B satellite will have only 45% of its projected capacity because of the failure of one of its two solar arrays, a problem first reported shortly after launch. The satellite, expected to enter service later this month, will still operate for its full lifetime, and the company said it has "a number of mitigation actions" planned for affected customers. The Northrop Grumman-built satellite is insured for $192 million. (1/17)

SpinLaunch Raises $35 Million (Source: Space News)
SpinLaunch has raised another $35 million to help it develop an alternative launch technology. The company said it raised the new round from a number of venture capital firms, including Airbus Ventures, the VC arm of Airbus. SpinLaunch has raised $80 million to date to develop what it describes as a "large mass accelerator to provide on demand launches of small satellites" at higher frequencies and lower costs than conventional technologies. SpinLaunch has shared few technical details about its system, but expects to have a prototype system completed later this year at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (1/17)

Environmental Law Could Halt Megaconstellations (Source: Scientific American)
A law student argues that environmental law could be used to halt the launch of megaconstellations like SpaceX's Starlink. In a paper to be published in a Vanderbilt University law journal, a student there says that the FCC may have unlawfully granted a license to SpaceX for Starlink by not performing an environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The FCC has long had a categorical exclusion to performing such reviews, but the paper argues that an environmental review is required because of the potential impacts on the night sky caused by thousands of satellites. It's not clear if any astronomers or other organizations plan to pursue lawsuits to halt the launches and force an environmental review, though. (1/17)

Kiwi Startup Dawn Aerospace Considers Sending Rockets Into Space From Oamaru (Source: Stuff)
Reusable rockets could be taking off from the Otago town of Oamaru and heading into space later this year. Representatives of New Zealand-based startup Dawn Aerospace have signed an agreement with the Waitaki District Council to launch test flights of unmanned rocket-propelled space planes from Oamaru Airport. Dawn Aerospace co-founder James Powell said the site was chosen because of its stable weather, supportive local government and community, and proximity to the company's base in Christchurch. (1/16)

Space Tourism: How Far Has the Industry Come? (Source: The Week)
According to data from marketstudyreport.com, the space tourism market is expected to be worth $1.18bn (£900m) by 2024. Blue Origin is attempting to build a lunar landing system in a bid to deliver the US government’s goal of taking humans to the Moon by 2024. SpaceX is prioritising lunar travel too, and last September unveiled its Starship Mk1 - a prototype for the firm’s reusable launch system - which is capable of carrying up to 100 people to the Moon, Mars or other destinations in space or around Earth, as Space.com reported at the time. Click here. (1/17)

Space-Superiority Exercise Concluded Successfully on U.S. Space Force Birthday (Source: USSF)
Space Flag, the Department of Defense’s premier exercise for training space forces, successfully concluded its eighth exercise iteration (Space Flag 20-1) at the Boeing Virtual Warfare Center on Dec. 20. The two-week exercise started Dec. 9 under the auspices of the former Air Force Space Command, but finished on the very day the U.S. Space Force was established upon President Trump’s signing of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

Space Flag represents a fundamental pivot from viewing space as a benign environment to viewing space as a contested domain of warfare. This critical exercise provides an educational environment where our space warfighters are challenged to defend, fight, and win in space against a thinking adversary in potential future conflicts. (1/16)