October 11, 2019

Scottish Spaceport to Begin Construction Soon (Source: Space.com)
Construction on a low-cost vertical spaceport in the north of Scotland may commence within a year, pending the approval of a planning application by a local authority. The spaceport, to be called the Space Hub Sutherland, would be built at A'Mhoine on the Moine Peninsula in the county of Sutherland, a few miles from Scotland's Atlantic coast. This facility would enable vertical rockets to launch small satellites into low Earth polar and sun-synchronous orbits.

In early August, the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), a local Scottish government economic and community development agency, signed a 75-year option to lease the land where the spaceport would be built. The development, which would cost $20.7 million, received $3 million of funding from the U.K. Space Agency in July of 2018. (10/10)

NASA, Uber Working Together To Develop Systems For Flying Cars (Source: International Business Times)
NASA and ridesharing firm Uber have teamed up to study and analyze the technology and logistics involved in launching a traffic network for flying cars. The collaboration is part of NASA’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) project. The UAM focuses on developing an air transportation system that caters to low-flying personal and public vehicles as well as package-delivery drones. The UAM will oversee the logistics involved in handling air traffic for flying cars and drones while NASA’s other project, dubbed as the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) will focus on the technology involved in making futuristic air travel possible. (10/9)

When Debris Overwhelms Space Exploitation (Source: Space Daily)
We see more and more reports of debris concern among satellite operators and space observers. Add to this the many recent announcements of multiple broadband satellite constellations that are being funded and developed for launch in the next few years. Just focusing on low Earth orbits (LEO), there are an estimated 15,000 satellites in the works.

For example, Amazon is planning to launch 3,236 satellite and SpaceX is already building the first of 4,000 multi-hundred-kilogram spacecraft. Add all of the broadband satellites to the hundreds of planned CubeSats and we have a new satellite population that is at least an order of magnitude larger than what is now in LEO. This explosion in population will be accompanied by an explosion in debris. The safety and traffic implications are extremely negative.

Assuming no debris removal and control program is implemented, it is estimated that within the next decade the debris population will overwhelm LEO operations to the point that space access may be completely impossible. This cannot be allowed to happen because the world's economy will be set back for at least one or two generations. Since the military depends heavily on space, national defense capabilities will also be seriously diminished. Just imagine not having GPS, direct-to-home TV broadcasts, satellite weather, missile defense detection and many other services we now take for granted. (10/8)

The Latest Battle Over Pluto: Why for Many It’s Still a Planet (Source: Open Mind)
“In my view, Pluto is a planet.” This is a sentence that mostly anyone can utter without having the least repercussion, but when it comes from the mouth of NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, it’s grist for the headlines, to say the least. “You can write that the NASA Administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that. It’s the way I learnt it, and I’m committed to it,” he said in a recent appearance. While the words of the man who runs the world’s first space agency won’t change the status of what is now officially a dwarf planet, the episode reminds us that the controversy has not faded.

Pluto’s official death as a planet occurred on August 24, 2006. After more than three quarters of a century appearing in textbooks as the ninth planet of the Solar System, on that summer Saturday the International Astronomical Union (IAU), meeting in Prague for its 26th general assembly, approved an official definition of planet that left out the small and distant world. Click here. (10/11)

Georgia Spaceport Cites Space Florida's Shiloh Effort as Proof of Need, Progress (Source: SPACErePORT)
Georgia's Spaceport Camden effort took to Twitter on Friday to point out that they are beating Space Florida's "Shiloh" project in the race to build new small-vehicle launch pads. With Space Florida still awaiting completion of a draft Environmental Impact Statement, Camden said "we are well ahead of Florida" despite Shiloh's two-year head start. The Camden tweets pointed to Shiloh's projected Florida economic impact of $350 million and 2,500 jobs, perhaps as a shared justification for developing the southern Georgia spaceport.

However, Space Florida seems to have put Shiloh on a back burner, as new launch companies have opted instead for existing launch pads at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Another reason for Shiloh's dormant status is the diminished demand for launch sites among the various startup small launch companies. (10/11)

Stratolaunch Sold to New Owners. Development Continues (Source: GeekWire)
“Stratolaunch LLC has transitioned ownership and is continuing regular operations. Our near-term launch vehicle development strategy focuses on providing customizable, reusable, and affordable rocket-powered testbed vehicles and associated flight services. As we continue on our mission, Stratolaunch will bring the carrier aircraft test and operations program fully in-house. We thank Vulcan Inc. and Scaled Composites for turning an ambitious idea into a flight-proven aircraft.” (10/11)

New US Early Warning Missile Satellites Clear Design Review (Source: C4ISR)
Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared system, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin for the US Air Force, has passed preliminary design review. "The combined government and contractor team has demonstrated its ability to move with deliberate speed over the past 18 months while maintaining the technical and programmatic rigor needed to ensure success," said Col. Dennis Bythewood of the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center. (10/11)

NASA's Supersonic X-59 QueSST Coming Together at Skunk Works (Source: Space Daily)
For the first time since the initial machined parts were delivered to Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works in November 2018, workers can see the familiar outline of an airplane forming. "It's pretty obvious when you look at it on the production floor. You can see there's an aircraft starting to get built," said Craig Nickol, NASA's project manager for the X-59, which also is known as the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator.

And with the recent completion in September of a major project milestone - known as the Critical Design Review, or CDR - the X-59 will rapidly accelerate its evolution from an airplane on paper toward an airplane ready to roll out of the factory and take flight. Based on the results from the CDR, no show-stopping issues were identified and the pace of assembly work on the X-59 is already ramping up. The X-59's mission is to gather data that has the potential to aid in the opening of a new era of commercial supersonic air travel over land. (10/11)

NASA Engineer's 'Helical Engine' May Violate the Laws of Physics (Source: New Scientist)
For every action, there is a reaction: that is the principle on which all space rockets operate, blasting propellant in one direction to travel in the other. But one NASA engineer believes he could take us to the stars without any propellant at all. Designed by David Burns at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, the “helical engine” exploits mass-altering effects known to occur at near-light speed. Burns has posted a paper describing the concept to NASA’s technical reports server.

It has been met with scepticism from some quarters, but Burns believes his concept is worth pursuing. “I’m comfortable with throwing it out there,” he says. “If someone says it doesn’t work, I’ll be the first to say, it was worth a shot.” Click here. (10/11)

Northrop Grumman Pegasus Launches ICON, Finally (Source: Space News)
A long-delayed NASA space science mission is finally in orbit after a launch Thursday night. A Pegasus XL rocket, released from its carrier aircraft off the Florida coast at 9:59 p.m. Eastern, placed the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite into low Earth orbit. The launch suffered extensive delays because of issues with the Pegasus rocket that were difficult to identify and correct on the ground. No Pegasus launches are currently on Northrop Grumman's manifest, although the company says it has two rockets available and is in discussions with potential customers. ICON will study the interaction between space weather and terrestrial weather in the ionosphere that could improve modeling of space weather activity. (10/11)

More Spacewalks at ISS Support Battery Replacement (Source: NASA)
Two NASA astronauts have started the second in a series of spacewalks to replace batteries in the station's power system. Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan started the spacewalk at 7:38 a.m. Eastern. The spacewalk will continue work started in a spacewalk last Sunday to replace batteries at the far end of the station's truss that are part of the station's power supply. Three more spacewalks are scheduled later this month to complete that work. (10/11)

Air Force Chooses Small Payload Launchers (Source: Space News)
The Air Force has selected eight companies to provide launch services for small and medium-sized payloads. The Orbital Services Program-4 procurement has a total value of $986 million over nine years. The winning companies are SpaceX, Xbow Launch Systems, Northrop Grumman, Firefly Aerospace, United Launch Alliance, Aevum, Vox Space, and Rocket Lab, who will be eligible to compete for as many as 20 missions over the life of the contract.

Editor's Note: Some interesting new vendors here. So where will they launch their low-inclination missions? SpaceX, ULA and Firefly are likely to launch from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, while Northrop Grumman may use either/both Wallops Island and Cape Canaveral. Rocket Lab will launch from Wallops Island. Aevum will launch its spaceplane from Florida's Cecil Field spaceport. Vox Space is Virgin Orbit and has identified California as its base for launches to any orbital inclination (but Florida is also on their list). And Xbow seems to be a rail-launch microsatellite system and may be a commercialization of the military Super Strype system based in Hawaii. (10/11)

ILS President Ousted by Khrunichev (Source: ILS)
The president of International Launch Services is out a day after the company's successful Proton launch. Khrunichev the owner of ILS, announced Thursday that Kirk Pysher was no longer president, but did not give a reason for his departure. John Palme, COO of ILS, will serve as interim president until a permanent replacement is named. The announcement came a day after a Proton launched two commercial satellites in a launch brokered by ILS. (10/11)

Quick Response is Key for Earth Observation (Source: Space News)
Earth observation companies need the ability to rapidly task their satellites to meet urgent imaging demands. In some cases, imagery orders placed within two or three days of tasking are considered emergency orders, and the tasking process remains largely manual. That can make it challenging to respond to calls for images of breaking events, such as attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia last month. (10/11)

Jason-2 Completes Mission But May Remain in Orbit for 1000 Years (Source: Space News)
An Earth science spacecraft that completed its mission this month may remain in orbit for as long as 1,000 years. Engineers completed the decommissioning this week of the Jason-2 spacecraft, draining its batteries and taking other steps to remove sources of energy. However, the spacecraft's orbit, more than 1,300 kilometers high, prevents controllers from deorbiting it within the 25-year timeframe established in orbital debris mitigation guidelines. The spacecraft will instead remain in orbit for 500 to 1,000 years, its orbit decaying at an initial rate of just 40 meters per year. (10/10)

Cygnus Launch From Virginia Delayed (Source: Space.com)
The launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS has slipped by nearly two weeks. NASA said this week the Antares launch of the NG-12 Cygnus mission, previously scheduled for Oct. 21, will now take place Nov. 2 from Wallops Island, Virginia. NASA said that the upcoming departure of the Japanese HTV-8 cargo spacecraft and "other activities" at the ISS, such as the ongoing series of spacewalks, caused the delay. (10/11)

Pioneering Soviet Spacewalker Dies (Source: Independent)
Alexei Leonov, the first person ever to spacewalk, has died. Leonov passed away at 85 after a long illness and will be buried this month, Russian news agency TASS reported, citing his assistant. The cosmonaut made history in 1965, when he stepped outside his spacecraft for just over 12 minutes and floated around, attached by a tether. The pioneering mission nearly ended in disaster when his suit inflated during the spacewalk and he was unable to fit back into the craft. (10/11)

45th Space Wing Commander: Changes Underway to Support Commercial Launch (Source: Space News)
For 2020, the Eastern Range expects anywhere from 33 to 40 launches, said Schiess. To accommodate more launches and make operations more efficient, the range will have to update its infrastructure and change administrative processes, he said. For example, the wing will introduce a new scheduling system that gives launch providers more access and flexibility.

“We will bring in a new scheduling system in the near future,” said Schiess. “I know it sounds crazy. I know you’re thinking: ‘Why wouldn’t you already have this?’” With the new system, launch providers will be able to access the platform “to find the best time to launch,” he said. A simple change like requiring companies to coordinate and work together can bring about huge efficiencies, said Schiess. That was a lesson learned in August when the 45th Space Wing supported back-to-back SpaceX and United Launch Alliance missions. Click here. (10/10)

Pentagon Requests $10.6 Billion For Space Development Agency (Source: Sputnik)
Despite consistent bipartisan pushback and international criticism, the US Department of Defense's newest space agency may see drastic budget increases in the coming years as it looks to deploy some 1,200 satellites. The Pentagon has requested a total of nearly $11 billion in funding for its controversial US Space Development Agency (SDA) over the next five years, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg earlier this month.

The SDA, which is separate from US President Donald Trump's proposed Space Force, was established in March and announced by then-acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan as a response to "continuing actions by our near-peer competitors, China and Russia," that he said may be attempts to "deny, degrade or destroy US space capabilities."

While the agency recently received a $150 million for its set-up, documents filed last month revealed the Pentagon is now requesting a modest budget bump up to approximately $259 million for fiscal year 2021. In the following years, however, SDA officials wish to see their budget balloon to $1.1 billion in 2022, $1.9 billion in 2023 and $3.67 billion in 2024, reported Bloomberg. The increase does appear to taper off at fiscal year 2025, with the Defense Department requesting $3.68 billion. (10/7)

Russia's Roscosmos Plans Shape-Shifting Satellite to Evade Spies (Source: RIA Novosti)
Roscosmos has received a patent for a spacecraft capable of changing its shape when approaching a foreign spy satellite, this is stated in the explanation to the patent registered with the Federal Service for Intellectual Property. The idea of Roscosmos is to create solar panels that can transform from a flat state to a hemisphere, thereby reducing the area of the reflecting surface and the overall visibility of the spacecraft. This is necessary to disguise themselves from foreign satellite inspectors, who can pass by without noticing the spacecraft. (10/9)

Russia to Deploy Over 10 Space Monitoring Stations by 2022 (Source: Sputnik)
Russia will deploy more than 10 new laser-optical and radio-technical space monitoring stations on its territory by 2022, the Russian Defense Ministry said. "It is planned to deploy over 10 new laser-optical and radio-technical systems in Russia that implement various principles of detecting and identifying space objects," the ministry said. The Defense Ministry also said that two new Voronezh-type missile early warning radars will become operational in 2022 in the Komi Republic and the Murmansk region in northern Russia. (10/7)

Putin: Russia is Helping China with Missile Defense System (Source: Space Daily)
Russia is aiding China in building a missile defense system able to counter ballistic and cruise missiles, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed. He added that Russian involvement will give China a measure of protection which only the United States and Russia currently have. China now has only a small, Russian-made S-300 system regarded as a modest deterrent. (10/4)

The Road to Mars Passes Through Boca Chica (Source: Space Cluster)
Boca Chica, Texas exists in some nexus between the United States, Mexico, and now, Mars. It’s the kind of place where you'll have to choose between Tex-Mex and Tex-Mex for just about every meal. Everything is 30 minutes away from everything else. Your connecting flight (on a small rickety jet from Dallas or Houston) will land at an airport the size of a Target.

A few miles away, a new kind of port is being built. This one for space travel. And at the site, a newly-assembled SpaceX Starship prototype is being prepared for its first mission, a test launch that could begin paving a road to other worlds. Click here. (10/1)

Boeing's HorizonX Invests $20M for Stake in Virgin Galactic (Source: Space Daily)
An exploratory division of U.S. aviation giant Boeing will make a $20 million investment for a stake in space tourism company Virgin Galactic. Boeing's venture arm HorizonX will make the investment, which gives the Chicago-based company a minority stake in Virgin Galactic and will boost the latter's valuation to $1.5 billion. "This investment brings together two companies with extensive experience in the space industry," Boeing said in a statement. "Virgin Galactic is a pioneer of commercial human space flight and is the first and only company to have put humans into space in a vehicle built for commercial service." (10/9)

Why Just Being in the Habitable Zone Doesn’t Make Exoplanets Livable (Source: Science News)
K2 18b's star’s “habitable zone” — often defined as the region where temperatures may be just right for liquid water, thought to be crucial for life. K2 18b may even have rain clouds, astronomers reported. That doesn’t mean you should pack your umbrella and go. “Just because a planet is in the habitable zone, doesn’t mean it’s habitable,” says Jessie Christiansen, an astrophysicist at Caltech and NASA Exoplanet Science Institute. “If you queried 100 astronomers, 99 of them would say this planet isn’t habitable.”

In fact, of the 192 or so exoplanets known to spend most of their orbits in their stars’ habitable zones, all but 24 are probably inhospitable gas giants like Jupiter. And even if a rocky planet sits in the habitable zone, like Mars, that doesn’t guarantee anything can live there. Scientists consider the Red Planet to have debatable chances of hosting life. Of the 4,118 exoplanets discovered as of October 1, only 24 might meet the criteria for habitability: They have a mass and radius that suggest a rocky Earthlike surface, and orbit most of the time at a distance from their star that supports liquid water.

Some astronomers argue that the term “habitable zone” is too clumsy, including planets with no chance of habitability while excluding others that might be viable. Scientists from various disciplines are looking to mineral physics, chemistry and insights from ecology to refine the concept of habitability. (10/4)

UK Space Skills Support Sustainable Development (Source: Space Daily)
UK satellite-enabled data technology, delivered through UK Aid, is improving the life chances of people around the world, while boosting the UK economy. Satellite technology and data can improve how we tackle global issues such as deforestation, sustainable food production and disaster response, new analysis shows.

Three new reports, published during World Space Week, which runs from 4 to 10 October, show that space-based solutions are: a) 12 times more cost effective at delivering sustainable forestry; b) 7 times more cost effective in supporting agriculture; and c) Twice as cost effective for ensuring disaster resilience. (10/9)

Building a Launch Vehicle Startup Out of India (Source: NewSpace India)
Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based startup backed by CureFit founders Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, is developing a rocket which can be assembled and launched in a day that will be used to hurl small satellites into space, eyeing a slice of the global market for tiny satellite launches that is expected to grow over the next decade. Skyroot, founded by former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists Pawan Kumar Chandana, Naga Bharath Daka and Vasudevan Gnanagandhi, expects to demonstrate its first rocket by 2021, which it says could potentially reduce launch costs by a third. (10/8)

As NASA Tries to Land on the Moon, It Has Plenty of Rockets to Choose From (Source: Ars Technica)
The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, has mandated that NASA use the agency's SLS rocket to launch the crewed Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit. But for the lunar lander—elements of which will be pre-positioned in lunar orbit prior to the crew's arrival—NASA has given contractors the flexibility to choose their own launch vehicle. Click here. (10/10)

SpaceX Wins NASA Funds to Build and Test Starship’s Orbital Refueling Technology (Source: Teslarati)
On September 27th, NASA announced a new round of Tipping Point funding worth a total of $43.2M that will be dispersed among 14 separate companies, all focused on advancing “important technologies necessary for sustained exploration of the Moon and Mars.” Aside from Blue Origin and a dozen others, SpaceX received $3M to work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) to build and test “cryogenic fluid couplers”, a type of nozzle Starship will need to refuel in orbit.

Noted multiple times over the years (and in recent days) by both SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk, an extremely robust and reliable method of orbital refueling is essential to the success of Starship’s current designed – perhaps more so than any other single aspect of the next-generation launch vehicle. Although Starship-Super Heavy will likely offer respectable performance in single-launch mode, the implicit need to recover and reuse both booster and spacecraft takes a big chunk out of the rocket’s potential capabilities.

Every single kilogram of hardware and propellant meant for Starship recovery and reuse will result in a 1:1 reduction in payload capacity. This becomes highly consequential when recovering the spacecraft involves the addition of something like 100-200 metric tons worth of wings, fins, heat shield tiles, batteries, propellant, and more. Click here. (10/9)

Masten Partners With MSBAI for AI-Augmented Space Flight (Source: MSBAI)
Masten Space Systems announced a new partnership with MSBAI to integrate cognitive artificial intelligence capabilities for autonomous space flight applications. "Masten Space Systems has long been a pioneer in lean ground crews and CONOPS for space launch and landing. We're excited about our new partnership with MSBAI and what we can do with GURU to take us to the next level of pioneering spacecraft operations with minimal terrestrial crews, for lunar delivery missions, and for deep space robotic missions." (10/8)

SpaceX Has Spent ‘Hundreds of Millions’ Extra in Building Astronaut Capsule for NASA, Elon Musk Says (Source: CNBC)
SpaceX is in the final stages of developing the capsule it will use to launch astronauts, a project that has commanded the company’s resources and even finances over the last few years. Known as Crew Dragon, the spacecraft would carry as many as seven people to the International Space Station and more. But, while much of the spacecraft’s funding came from NASA’s award of $2.6 billion in 2014, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk noted in a briefing on Thursday that the company has also put a substantial sum of money itself to build and test the spacecraft.

“We’ve spent actually, I think, quite a lot more than than expected – probably on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars more,” Musk said. Musk spoke alongside NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at SpaceX’s headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, as the pair provided an update on Crew Dragon. The NASA funding for the capsule has come under the Commercial Crew program, which is the agency’s solution to once again launch U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil. Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, astronauts have flown to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. (10/10)

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