December 15, 2016

Questions Over SpaceX Losses (Source: Advanced Television)
In June this year SpaceX talked of its forward booked manifest of 70 launches being contracted, and with a value of “over 10 billion” and that the company was “profitable and cash-flow positive”. SpaceX no longer claims that ‘profitable and cash-flow positive’ position in its on-line comments.

That SpaceX is capable of launching at least a rocket per month is undoubted. Indeed, with its Vandenberg launch pad now available it could manage two launches per month. Consequently, a return to profitability can be depended upon once that routine is established. But Musk and his SpaceX team were burning through cash at a rate of “roughly $800-$900 million a year” (in 2013) and – inevitably – more today. That’s likely to be $80-$90 million a month today. And it could be more.

The overall market, and especially satellite operators and notably SpaceX’s now long-suffering clients, can only hope that Musk can keep SpaceX afloat through these troubled times. SpaceX had won an enviable reputation for ingenuity and – prior to the September 1st problem – even reliability. That could quickly evaporate if these launch postponements and delays continue for much longer. (12/13)

What's the Hold-Up at SpaceX? (Source: NBC)
If it's any small comfort, 2016 probably wasn't the most enjoyable year for billionaire Elon Musk, either. SpaceX's first manned flight to the International Space Station has been postponed until 2018, NASA announced on Monday. It's another setback for Musk's space exploration company, which is hoping to blast into the new year with an ambitious launch schedule. SpaceX is hoping to return to flight in January — four months after a rocket explosion damaged its launchpad and destroyed the satellite it had been set to carry into orbit.

"We're continuing to make progress with the investigation into our Sept. 1 anomaly and we are working to safely and reliably return to flight in early January," SpaceX spokesman Phil Larson said in an emailed statement. First, however, the company will have to wrap an investigation into what went wrong.

The incident shows how a single anomaly can become a major setback for a space company, Jim Cantrell, Vector Space Systems CEO and a founding member of SpaceX, told NBC News. "This one was particularly devastating from an organizational perspective," he said. (12/13)

Build a Rocket to Stop Oncoming Asteroids, Says NASA Scientist (Source: Inverse)
A NASA scientist expressed a grim assessment of humanity’s ability to defend itself against an oncoming asteroid or comet crash, at a presentation on Monday. And he advocates building a defense system comprised on a rocket capable of intercepting one those sort of threatening space rocks in order to mitigate or possibly eliminate the ability for an asteroid or comet to wipe out our species.

During a presentation at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting,Joseph Nuth, a researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center spoke about the grave dangers large asteroids and comets pose to life on Earth. While acknowledging the chances of a collision with a rock big enough to pose an existential threat are quite small, he opined that an extinction-level event was not unthinkable, especially given the history of the planet. (12/14)

Real-Life Rogue One: How the Soviets Stole NASA’s Shuttle Plans (Source: Discover)
In the decrepit ruins of a Cold War-era Kazakhstani hangar, buried beneath decades of detritus, there’s a spaceship that was once the last hope of the Soviet space empire. And you’d be forgiven for confusing the Buran shuttles (Russian for “snowstorm”) with say, America’s iconic Space Shuttle Enterprise, which is proudly displayed in a Manhattan museum. Their shapes, sizes and technology are almost identical, apart from the sickle and hammer.

But unlike the American shuttle, which flew 135 times before being mothballed over safety issues and absurd costs, Buran flew just once. The Soviet space program spent itself out of business as the USSR collapsed 25 years ago this month. And with Russia’s interference in American elections, the tale of the hacked space shuttle plans is worth revisiting. Not even Lucasfilm could cook up a plot this rich. Click here. (12/14)

Syrian Crisis Puts Spaceflight Industries’ BlackSky Satellite Data Platform to the Test (Source: GeekWire)
Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries is giving early adopters a preview of its online BlackSky satellite imagery platform, which blends overhead views of sites around the world with social-media posts and other reports about what’s shown in the pictures.

One of the first subjects to be tackled is the humanitarian crisis in the Syrian city of Aleppo, where tens of thousands of civilians have been caught in devastating bombing attacks and house-to-house fighting. That’s apt, because the members of the early adopter program include the United Nations as well as the World Bank and RS Metrics, a company that uses satellite imagery to track global developments. (12/14)

Dear President Trump: Here’s How to Make Space Great Again (Source: WIRED)
Defense thinkers feel embattled in space, focused on protecting our existing investments rather than developing new ones that seize strategic advantage. The first step to make space great again is for the United States to offer a constructive vision that can satisfy many American space needs, including defense. The Trump administration has an opportunity to transcend pessimism in space and focus America where it thrives: aggressive yet peaceful competition.

A new Trump national space policy should declare that the US will be the first nation to mine an asteroid; the first nation to extract resources from Earth’s moon and operate a commercial transportation service to and from the lunar surface; the first nation to operate a propellant depot and on-orbit refueling service; the first nation to operate a private space station; the first fleet of fully reusable launch vehicles; the first profitable solar power satellite; the first to build a comprehensive system to defend Earth from hazardous asteroids and comets. Click here. (12/14)

Long Window for Life on Mars: Hundreds of Millions of Years? (Source:
Parts of Mars were capable of supporting life as we know it for lengthy stretches in the ancient past — perhaps hundreds of millions of years at a time, new observations by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity suggest. Since it landed inside the Red Planet's Gale Crater in August 2012, Curiosity has studied a number of different rocks over an elevational range of about 650 feet (200 meters), which represents a time span of tens of millions to hundreds of millions of years. (12/14)

SpaceX's 1st Mars Mission Won't Carry NASA Science Gear (Source:
NASA doesn't plan to put any science instruments aboard SpaceX's first Mars mission, which could launch as early as 2018, agency officials said. NASA wants to wait until SpaceX proves it can pull off a soft landing on the Red Planet before committing millions of dollars' worth of equipment to the spaceflight company's "Red Dragon" effort, said Jim Green, head of the agency's Planetary Science Division. (12/14)

LIGO Should More Than Double its Gravitational Wave Haul in 2017 (Source: New Scientist)
After LIGO, the deluge. In February this year, it was announced that the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) caught the first ever signs of gravitational waves. Next year, the floodgates will open.

Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time shaken off when a massive body accelerates. On 14 September 2015, when LIGO was still warming up, an unmistakably huge gravitational wave hit. The signal came from a pair of black holes about 30 times the mass of the sun do-si-doing around each other. Their dance got faster and faster until they crashed together and merged into a single, larger black hole. Then, last December, we saw another one.

Now that we know what we’re doing, the next haul should be massive. Having seen two strong events in three months, we should see at least six in the first half of next year – possibly more. Plus, the team has been upgrading LIGO’s detectors and they are 15 to 20 per cent more sensitive now. (12/14)

California Governor: 'If Trump Turns Off Satellites, California will Launch its Own Damn Satellite' (Source: Business Insider)
California Gov. Jerry Brown gave a fiery speech on climate change policy on Wednesday, during which he said, "If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite," according to the LA Times. Brown was speaking at the 2016 meeting of the American Geophysical Union. In November, a top adviser to President-elect Donald Trump suggested the incoming administration would eliminate NASA's earth science programs. (12/14)

Trump to Bezos, Musk, Other Tech Titans: 'No Formal Chain of Command Here' (Source: Boing Boing)
Attendees included Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Alphabet and Google, Elon Musk of SpaceX, and others. Trump told them his regime is "going to be here for you. You’ll call my people, you’ll call me. We have no formal chain of command around here." (12/14)

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