March 6, 2021

Female NASA Engineer in Charge of Building the Rocket Aimed at Putting First Woman on the Moon (Source: CBS News)
The first woman to run the Marshall Space Flight Center says women at NASA have come a long way. They will literally go farther than ever before if the rocket she is building can put the first of her gender on the moon. Jody Singer speaks to Bill Whitaker for a 60 Minutes report on NASA's Artemis Program, which intends to put a woman on the moon sometime in this decade.  The story will be broadcast Sunday, March 7, at 7 p.m. on CBS. 

When she joined NASA, Singer was once one of just a few female engineers there; today, she's one of several running the Artemis Program. "Well, number one, I'd say we've come a long way. You know, Charlie and I, we know we've known each other for at least 20 years. We liked each other. But also, we were, you know, sometimes the only women in the room," Singer tells Whitaker. (3/5)

The Costa Rica Space Agency: A Small Step to the First World (Source: Costa Rica News)
Last Thursday, February 18, the law for the creation of the Costa Rican Space Agency was approved in the second debate. This historical fact raises the country as a promoter of education, technology, and diversification of the economy. Said law aims to benefit the province of Guanacaste, which urgently requires the development that said agency will bring. The impact on science, technology, social and economic development that the creation of a space agency brings, is undeniable, but at a time of economic uncertainty the analysis of the usefulness of a space agency is considerable.

If the Coronavirus pandemic left us a valuable lesson it was to appreciate and promote the country’s researchers and technologists. We also realized the need for the Costa Rican state to undergo a strict reengineering of processes that allows it to be more efficient in its use of resources and its contribution to the country. That said, at this time the country cannot limit itself to growing in institutions that promote scientific and educational growth. A space agency brings with it both material and immaterial benefits and both must be considered for the development of the country.

We believe that the work of a space agency is exclusively to explore space, go to Mars and send astronauts to the international space station, but the reality is that space agencies are responsible for many of the technologies that we currently have on earth and are responsible for monitoring of this. Some of the best examples are GPS, satellites, solar panels, UV filters, and development of better vaccines, understanding osteoporosis, and remote surgeries. (3/4)

Opinion: Spending on Space is Wasteful (Source: The Appalachian)
Since NASA’s Perseverance Rover landed on Mars last week, it seems like space has been on everyone’s minds. There’s no doubt about it, space is cool. The idea that we are one tiny speck in the ever-expanding universe is hard to wrap our heads around, but humans are naturally curious creatures so we are inclined to try. The U.S. may be a prominent figure in space exploration but is sending robots into space the best use of our tax dollars, especially with the serious challenges our country faces such as COVID, climate change and income inequality?

Since the founding of NASA in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, federal dollars have been going toward researching and exploring space. A little over a decade later, the U.S. landed a man on the moon – or maybe not depending on who you ask. Space exploration is incredible, but we have to remember that NASA’s funding comes from the pockets of everyday Americans.

The U.S. is the richest country in the world, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have problems. In 2020, more than 50 million Americans experienced food insecurity, which increased due to COVID-19. Closer to home, Watauga County experienced a food insecurity rate of 16.8% last year. The pandemic has been hard on Americans and food insecurity is just one example of how people are struggling. With people struggling to eat in the richest country in the world, is exploring space how our tax dollars should be spent? (3/5)

First Private Trip to the Moon Could Be a Tremendous Boost or Bust for Space Tourism (Source: CBC)
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa's latest plan for a lunar orbital flight is an open-to-the-public contest for berths for eight people in 2023 aboard a new SpaceX rocket. If successful, the pioneering flight could push private spaceflight forward by decades. A failure could keep private citizens firmly on the ground. An accident with the loss of up to a dozen lives would be a catastrophe the whole world would take notice of. It would certainly force a serious evaluation of the whole concept of space tourism. (3/5)

Bezos Visited the New Headquarters of Relativity Space (Source: CNBC)
Jeff Bezos stopped by the gleaming headquarters of Relativity Space on Friday, a person familiar with the visit told CNBC. He toured the facility with Relativity CEO Tim Ellis. Although the nature of the visit to Relativity’s headquarters was unclear, Ellis previously worked at Bezos’ space company Blue Origin. Ellis then left Blue Origin in 2015 to found Relativity with Jordan Noone, a college classmate and former SpaceX propulsion engineer.

The company’s first rocket, Terran 1, is expected to launch for the first time later this year. Terran 1 is priced at $12 million per launch and is designed to carry about 1,250 kilograms to low Earth orbit. That puts Terran 1 in the “medium lift” section of the U.S. launch market, between Rocket Lab’s Electron and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in both price and capability.

Relativity is also working on a second, larger rocket called Terran R – aiming to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in both launch capability and reusability. Terran R is the first of several new initiatives that Ellis expects Relativity to unveil in the year ahead, with the company having raised more than $680 million since its founding five years ago. (3/5)

FAA Announces Delay in Gerogia Spaceport Decisions (Source: Tribune & Georgian)
The FAA announced that decisions on Camden County's spaceport launch site operator’s license and the final environmental impact statement (EIS) will not be released this month. "As previously announced, the FAA had planned to release the Final EIS and Record of Decision (ROD) in March 2021," said Stacey Zee of the FAA. "However, due to ongoing consultation efforts with the Georgia (State Historic Preservation Office) and the (Advisory Council on Historic Preservation), the FAA now intends to release the Final EIS by April 20th and the (record of decision) separately by June 18th."

In addition to those agencies, the FAA also has consulted with several other state and federal agencies to ensure the project is in compliance with the various environmental acts. The FAA launch site operators license being sought by Camden County Board of Commissioners would allow for the construction of "a commercial space launch site, Spaceport Camden, and offer the site to commercial operators to conduct launches of liquid-fueled, small-lift class proven (not unproven/experimental) orbital and sub-orbital vertical launch vehicles." The county has spent more than $8 million on this taxpayer-supported project to date. (3/5)

EU's Galileo Blow: UK Could Launch OneWeb from Cornwall ‘More Effectively’ (Source: Express)
The European Union could be dealt a blow after the Government was handed the capability to launch OneWeb - tipped to be the UK's future replacement for Galileo - from Cornwall "more effectively. Spaceport Cornwall will become Europe’s first horizontal launch site to provide a responsive, affordable and efficient way to send small satellites into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).

Richard Branson has rallied behind the project after his Virgin Orbit successfully completed the first full orbital launch of its LauncherOne system and now wants to make the Cornwall Council-funded project his “only location in Europe”. Express.co.uk previously revealed how Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been handed a "once in a lifetime" post-Brexit opportunity to create up to 350 British jobs and add up to £200million Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy.

Interim head of Spaceport Cornwall Melissa Thorpe has stated that “anything is possible” for the future of the project, including the “possibility” of launching the Government's newly acquired OneWeb system. (3/6)

Success of Mars Rover Distracts From Moon (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
For the last couple of weeks, our nation has been inundated with glowing news reports about the “incredibly exciting and successful” landing on the surface of Mars by NASA’s Perseverance rover. As one who worked on space issues at the Pentagon, has written about space for over 30 years, and worked as a consultant to NASA and space contractors in the past, I am thrilled by this success and truly gratified to see any part of our critically important space program get some desperately needed attention.

As a nation, our main space focus should be entirely on the moon. As exciting as it may be, pouring billions of desperately needed taxpayer dollars into any near-term Mars program is not only the pursuit of fool’s gold, but detracts us from the immense financial and national security benefits of the moon. (3/6)

China Makes New Breakthrough in Heavy-Lift Rocket Engine (Source: Xinhua)
China on Friday successfully conducted a trial run on a 500-tonne-thrust liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene rocket engine, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). It marks a new breakthrough in the country's rocket-engine technologies, and will lay a solid foundation for its follow-up development of the heavy-lift carrier rocket, said the developer. The new engine, with its design and management fully digitalized, provides three times the thrust of a 120-tonne-thrust LOX kerosene high-pressure staged combustion engine, the CASC said, adding that its comprehensive performance indicators are equal to the best in the world. (3/5)

Amid Debris Cleanup, NSF Still Looking for Cause of Arecibo Telescope Collapse (Source: ABC News)
The National Science Foundation said Friday that it could cost up to $50 million just to clean up the debris at the Arecibo radio telescope that collapsed last year in Puerto Rico, adding that investigations into what caused its cables to fail are still ongoing. The update is part of a report that the federal agency, which owns the telescope, had to submit to Congress as the investigation continues into the Arecibo telescope. (3/5)

Fusion Thruster Startup Anticipates “First Town on Mars” (Source: Futurism)
Radiation detection company US Nuclear Corp is trying to woo NASA into signing a contract to develop a fusion-powered spacecraft propulsion system that could take future space travelers all the way to Mars. In a collaboration with Magneto-Inertial Fusion Technologies, Inc. (MIFTI), a UC Irvine spinout focusing on developing a thermonuclear fusion-based generator, the company is hoping to help NASA send the first-ever crewed mission to Mars as soon as the early 2030s.

“Sooner than you think, human engineers and adventurers may be building the first town on Mars,” reads the company’s lofty statement. Fusion power means future space travelers wouldn’t have to shield themselves from the radiation being put out by a nearby fission reaction. Earlier this year, NASA sent out a call to companies, challenging them to come up with electric nuclear (in which thermal energy generates electricity to drive thrusters) and thermal nuclear (in which heat from nuclear reactions acts as the propellant itself) propulsion systems for its next generation of spacecraft thrusters. (3/3)

Virgin Galactic drops 20% on Friday (Source: CNBC)
Billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya, the chairman of Virgin Galactic who took the company public through a SPAC deal in 2019, sold his remaining personal stake this week, a securities filing disclosed. Shares of Virgin Galactic dropped as much as 20% in Friday’s trading from its previous close of $30.30. The company’s stock, down more than 30% this week alone, has lost more than half its value since hitting an all time high of $62.80 in early February. The shares remain barely positive since 2021 began, up about 2%. The stock’s year to date gains reached about 165% when it hit its all time high. (3/5)

Biden Quips Indian-Americans 'Taking Over the Country' in Call to NASA Perseverance Team (Source: Daily Mail)
President Joe Biden told NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Perseverance team that Indian-Americans 'are taking over the country.' Biden made the comment Thursday afternoon during a video chat with the team, that landed the Perseverance rover on Mars last month. 'It's amazing. Indian-descent Americans are taking over the country - you, my vice president, my speechwriter,' Biden told Swati Mohan, the Guidance and Controls Operations Lead of Mars 2020, during the call. (3/5)

Musk's Starbase City Backed by Local Official, Citing Jobs, Tourism (Source: TMZ)
Elon Musk founding his City of Starbase, Texas is getting support from at least one local official ... who says the move could lead to a serious job and tourism boom. Joey Lopez, one of four elected commissioners for Cameron County, tells TMZ ... Elon's SpaceX has already made an impact -- currently known as the unincorporated area of Boca Chica Village -- by attracting tourists who come watch rocket launches. (3/5)

Congressmen Posey and Crist Push to Keep Launch Business in the U.S. (Source: Florida Today)
With the rocket business booming, Congressmen Bill Posey and Charlie Crist want to make sure launches are “made in America.” On Thursday, they re-introduced the American Commercial Space Act to promote the domestic space launch industry giving tax incentives to launch operators for 10 years if they launch from U.S. soil. “It levels the playing fielding field against countries such as Russia and China who heavily subsidize launches to attract more customers,” Posey said last year.

For example, OneWeb builds satellites adjacent to Kennedy Space Center, but actually launches from Russia’s Vostochny cosmodrome, the new spaceport located in Amur Oblast, the Russian Far East. The company has stated they expect to launch from Cape Canaveral at some point in the future. Posey said the U.S. used to have virtually 100% of the world’s commercial launch market but due to “over-regulations” it’s now closer to 15%. (3/5)

March 5, 2021

NASA Hikes Prices for Commercial ISS Users (Source: Space News)
NASA has sharply increased the prices it charges commercial users of the International Space Station for cargo and other resources, a move that has left some companies confused and frustrated. NASA announced Feb. 25 that it was revising the commercial marketing pricing policy it first published in June 2019 as part of a new low Earth orbit commercialization strategy. That policy, which set aside a fraction of station resources for commercial applications beyond research and development, included a price list for resources for cargo to and from the station and crew time to carry out work.

By removing the subsidy, the prices of those services went up significantly. The cost to transport one kilogram of cargo up to the station, known as “upmass,” went from $3,000 to $20,000. The cost to bring that one kilogram back down from the station, “downmass,” went from $6,000 to $40,000. One hour of crew member time, previously $17,500, is now $130,000. The sudden change in prices, which took effect immediately, took some ISS users by surprise. (3/4)

Creator of the First Private Spaceport in Russia Complained About the Bureaucracy (Source: RIA)
The construction of the first private cosmodrome in Russia is being hampered by bureaucracy, Pavel Pushkin, general director of the CosmoKurs company, told RIA Novosti.A cosmodrome and a reusable suborbital space complex were planned to be built in the Nizhny Novgorod region, but, according to Pushkin, the project has been suspended. "Nothing is coordinated on the cosmodrome. Everyone is nodding at each other. We have worked a lot on technology, but in such conditions we have stopped work," the agency's source said.

He said that a year ago the company agreed with the authorities of the Nizhny Novgorod region that, first of all, the sanitary protection zones of the cosmodrome would be coordinated. The corresponding project was sent to the Nizhny Novgorod institute of Rospotrebnadzor, from there to the FMBA, and then to the federal Rospotrebnadzor, but no response has yet been received. According to Pushkin, the regional ministries refuse to help, and Roscosmos cannot do anything, because the coordination of the environmental standards of the cosmodrome is not its specialty. (3/4)

What Blue Origin Has in Store for its Demo on the Moon (Source: Politico)
Blue Origin, which assembled a national team to compete for NASA’s lunar lander, is one of three companies selected last year to begin designing and building vehicles to bring astronauts to the moon. But it plans to do more than prove its concept on the demo mission ahead of delivering astronauts, Brent Sherwood, vice president of Advanced Development Programs at Blue Origin, tells us, by laying the cornerstone for a lunar outpost.

The Demonstration Cargo Landing mission, which will land less than 100 meters from where NASA intends to land crew, will carry a ton of cargo, allowing the space agency to preposition supplies for subsequent missions. And the lander itself is being designed to act as a node for power, Wi-Fi and other communications, Sherwood said. “Our approach is to commission Artemis base camp on that very first demonstration mission,” said Sherwood. “That enables the first crew a year later to be landing at the beginnings of a base.”

Blue has teamed with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. (SpaceX and Dynetics also both won design contracts for the program.) The company is also aiming for more than just NASA missions. Because the lander will have built-in power, computers and telecommunications, it’s well-suited for potential commercial customers who want to work on the moon’s surface, Sherwood said. (3/5)

Massive ‘Space Hurricane’ Captured Spinning Over Earth for the First Time (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
While Florida is no stranger to hurricanes at ground level, the Earth once experienced a 620-mile-wide “space hurricane.” That’s what researchers were calling a phenomenon that formed over the North Pole in 2014 captured for the first time by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. Instead of wind and rain, though, the “space hurricane” was whipping around electrons. Made up of plasma, the vortex spun counter-clockwise and lasted about eight hours, according to the research compiled by scientists from the University of Reading and Shandong University in China. (3/4)

Some Warm to Nelson for NASA (Source: Politico)
The space community seems to be warming to the prospect that former Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida may be nominated to lead NASA. “I’ve heard agreement on the value of his connectivity to the president and his connectivity to the Hill,” Mike French, vice president of space systems at the Aerospace Industries Association, described the sentiment among member companies. “I think that’s a widely shared view, how that can be very helpful to the agency.”

Nelson, who flew aboard the space shuttle, was also instrumental in writing the 2010 NASA authorization bill, which set the framework for the pioneering programs that now deliver cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station relying on commercial providers, French added. NASA declined to comment on any pending nomination. (3/5)

Agile Space Industries Testing and Now Building 3-D Propulsion Systems (Source: Politico)
Agile Space Industries is trying to do for propulsion what SpaceX did for launch, the company’s chief executive officer, Jeffrey Max, tells us. The company has existed for more than 10 years as a place for organizations such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies and NASA to test their propulsion platforms, but about three years ago it began building its own propulsion systems with additive manufacturing. And 3-D printing will allow the company to offer prices 40 to 60 percent lower than traditional companies, Max said, adding “that’s what SpaceX did for launch.”

An idea can be on the test stand in just 48 hours, he explained. “We can evaluate test results, modify the design, do a reprint, get back onto the test stand in another 48 hours,” he said. “This rapid iteration and rapid and design development is … really revolutionary. [The industry would] normally spend several months machining parts and hoping it works.”

This rapid testing ability was an important selling point for Astrobotic, which selected Agile last month to build the propulsion system for its Griffin Mission One, which will deliver a lunar rover to the moon in 2023 under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. “When we claimed that to Astrobotic, they were like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ Then they came to the facility and we showed them and they were like, ‘OK, done, you got this.” (3/5)

SpaceX: More Risks, Better Rockets? (Source: Space Daily)
A prototype of SpaceX's unmanned rocket Starship exploded on Wednesday, the third time a test flight ended in flames. The mishaps may seem like disasters but experts say these incidents are part of the spaceship's development, and even, in a way, beneficial. The repeated test launches are possible due to SpaceX's status as a private company.

"To the best of my knowledge, Elon is using his own money for the Starship tests. Thus he doesn't have to answer to NASA, the Congress or anyone but his own shareholders," said G. Scott Hubbard, who previously worked for NASA and now chairs the SpaceX Commercial Crew Safety Advisory Panel. Meanwhile NASA depends on Congress for its budget, and ultimately answers to the American taxpayer. SpaceX is free to take more risks.

"In the development phase of a project it's much better to try something quickly," McDowell said. "Once you put people on the rocket of course you need to change the approach, but at this stage SpaceX is doing exactly the right thing," he said. Added Lightsey: "By accepting more risk and potential for failure as a privately held company, SpaceX and other companies like it are disrupting the space industry." (3/5)

China's Tianwen-1 Probe to Land on Mars in May or June (Source: Space Daily)
China's Mars probe Tianwen-1 is traveling at a speed of 4.8 km per second in the Mars orbit, and is expected to land on the red planet in May or June, a senior space expert said on Thursday. The probe is functioning normally and has sent home China's first high-definition images of Mars, which contain a large quantity of scientific information, said Bao Weimin, director of the Committee of Science and Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

The probe will survey the topography of the pre-selected landing area and conduct weather observation along the flight routes to avoid dust when landing on Mars, said Bao, who is also a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body. (3/5)

Mission Commander Thrives as 'Space Gardener' (Source: Space Daily)
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins' enthusiasm for learning to grow plants in space has proven fruitful for the agency's Vegetable Production System (Veggie). The Expedition 64 crew member, who arrived at the International Space Station in November 2020 aboard NASA's SpaceX Crew-1 for a six-month science mission, has tended to multiple plant experiments on station.

Astronaut Kate Rubins had already started growing the first of two crops of radishes in the Advanced Plant Habitat when Crew-1 arrived, and Hopkins quickly started assisting with the radishes. He harvested the second crop on Dec. 31, and the space station's crew were able to eat the freshly harvested radishes. On Jan. 4, Hopkins initiated two experiments, VEG-03I, which involved the first successful plant transplants in space, and VEG-03J, which featured the use of new seed film developed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (3/5)

Florida Ends Up With Three Members on House Space Subcommittee (Source: SPACErePORT)
Membership on the House Space Subcommittee has been established by both Democratic and Republican caucuses. The subcommittee now includes Republicans Bill Posey and Daniel Webster, and Democrat Charlie Crist. (3/5)

Rumor Mill: National Space Council Will Continue (Source: SPACErePORT)
Sources say it appears that the Biden administration will retain the National Space Council as an organization responsible for coordinating interagency space policy. Unless its structure is changed, the NSC would be led by Vice President Kamala Harris. (3/5)

DoD Space Development Agency Seeks Proposals for 150-Satellite Constellation (Source: Space News)
The Pentagon's Space Development Agency (SDA) will solicit proposals later this year for up to 150 satellites to be launched in late 2024. Derek Tournear, director of SDA, said Thursday he expected the call for proposals for the "Tranche 1" satellites will be issued in August, with multiple companies selected before the end of the year. The SDA is building a fleet of satellites in low Earth orbit that includes a Transport Layer of data-relay satellites and a Tracking Layer of sensor satellites to detect and track missiles. The specifics of the Tranche 1 procurement, such as what sensors and capabilities these satellites will have, are still being hashed out, Tournear said. (3/5)

Whitesides Moves Further From Virgin Galactic Operations (Source: Space News)
The longtime CEO of Virgin Galactic, who moved to a new position at the company past year, is stepping down. George Whitesides is leaving Virgin Galactic as its chief space officer, but will continue to chair its Space Advisory Board established last month. Whitesides joined Virgin Galactic as CEO in 2010, and moved into the newly created post of chief space officer last July when the company hired Michael Colglazier as its new CEO. His departure is part of a broader change in the company's leadership, which included the recent hiring of a new CFO, president of aerospace systems and vice president of engineering. (3/5)

Virgin Galactic Chairman Sells Personal Stake (Source: Bloomberg)
The chairman of Virgin Galactic has sold his personal stake in the company. Chamath Palihapitiya sold 6.2 million shares in the company this week for $213 million. He sold another set of shares worth nearly $100 million last December. Palihapitiya became chairman of Virgin Galactic when the company merged with Social Capital Hedosophia, a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) he founded. He also made a $100 million personal investment in Virgin Galactic as part of the merger. Palihapitiya has become one of the most prominent advocates for SPACs in general, creating several more such "blank check" companies. (3/5)

Justice Department Subpoenas SpaceX Over Hiring Dispute (Source: CNBC)
SpaceX is fighting a Justice Department subpoena about its hiring practices, calling it "the very definition of government overreach." The Justice Department's Immigrant and Employee Rights unit filed the subpoena as part of a probe started last year after a job applicant who is not a U.S. citizen was rejected for a position there. SpaceX is objecting to the subpoena, which seeks detailed records of the company's hiring, saying it is "excessively overbroad." The company said it didn't base its decision not to hire the applicant because of his citizenship but instead because the company was "unimpressed" with him, and ultimately decided not to fill the position at all. A federal court hearing about the subpoena is scheduled for later this month. (3/5)

California's Vandenberg AFB Expects More Launches in 2021 (Source: Noozhawk)
Vandenberg Air Force Base is expecting more launch activity this year after a quiet 2020. Col. David Rickards, director of staff for the 30th Space Wing and Western Range, said Thursday that Vandenberg hosted only five launches in 2020, four of which were tests of Minuteman missiles. That was the slowest pace of activity "in decades," he said, but anticipates more activity this year, including launches as soon as next month by ULA's Delta 4 Heavy and Firefly Aerospace's Alpha. Rickards said he expects the base to be formally renamed Vandenberg Space Force Base in the near future, with the 30th Space Wing becoming Space Launch Delta 30 by the end of the summer. (3/5)

Space Force Seeks Feedback on Rank Insignia (Source: Air Force Times)
The Space Force is seeking input on its new rank insignia designs. The service is conducting what it calls a "scientifically designed survey" of its enlisted personnel, asking for feedback on a set of designs of new rank insignia. Several designs are offered, including one similar to that used by the Air Force and others that incorporate design elements from other services. The Space Force announced earlier this year that its rank structure will follow that of the Air Force, other than replacing "airman" used in some enlisted ranks with "specialist." (3/5)

American Express Ventures Invests In Boom Supersonic (Source: Simple Flying)
One of the world’s best-known brands has teamed up with Denver-based startup Boom Supersonic. Amex Ventures, a venture capital arm of American Express, is investing in Boom Supersonic. Boom is busy developing a supersonic plane called the Overture. Earning Amex miles on Overture’s first flights? It’s a whole new way to look at the American dream. (3/5)

New Incentive Fund Seeks to Diversify Northwest Florida (Source: Great Northwest)
Northwest Florida has a new $10 million economic development incentive fund called the Industry Resilience and Diversification Fund (IRDF). Companies can receive grant awards up to $2 million to grow their operations in the region. Click here. (3/5)

Bezos Overtook Musk in February to Become the World's Richest Person Again (Source: CNN)
Jeff Bezos has reclaimed his title of world's richest person, ending Elon Musk's roughly six-week reign atop the list. Musk lost about $4.5 billion Tuesday after Tesla shares fell 2.4%, which was enough to knock him to second place on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index ranking. Bezos' net worth also fell as the broader stock market lost a bit of ground -- but his loss wasn't as extreme, only taking a hit of about $372 million. The index currently says Bezos is worth $191 billion compared to Musk's $190 billion. (2/17)

Global Alliance for International Collaboration in Space Plans 2021 Space Congress on Mar. 18-19 (Source: GALIX)
GALIX is being established to enable all countries of the world — both developed and developing — to more effectively pursue and realize the benefits of space. This will involve establishing new institutional, financial, and regulatory practices to help advance collaboration in the development of new space technologies and systems that can benefit all of humankind. A March 18-19 GALIX Inaugural Congress event seeks to expand and diversify international collaboration in space.

The development of space programs often focuses on new space technologies and hardware. Yet the ‘softer parts’ of this enterprise — space policies, regulation, law, education, training, safety and environmental standards, institutional development, and global collaborative arrangements — are also critical for holistic space enterprise that ultimately could help reduce the costs, enhance the benefits, and accelerate timetables for space missions. This latter emphasis is the focus of the GALIX Inaugural Space Congress 2021. Click here. (3/1)

Aerion Backlog for AS2 Hits $10 Billion (Source: Reuters)
Boeing-backed supersonic jet maker Aerion said on Wednesday Berkshire Hathaway’s private aircraft firm, NetJets, has obtained purchase rights for 20 of its AS2 business jets. The AS2 will be powered by engineered synthetic fuel and can reach supersonic speeds of up to Mach 1.4, or about 1,000 miles (1,610 km) per hour, which is 50% faster than conventional business jets, Aerion said.

Production of the jets will begin in 2023 at the firm’s Aerion Park facility in Melbourne, Florida, with the first 300 AS2 aircraft planned for the first decade of production, the company said. The company said it will also develop a supersonic flight training academy for civil, commercial and military supersonic aircraft in collaboration with Berkshire’s professional aviation training provider, FlightSafety International. (3/3)

Failure to Build the Workforce is Bad for Business (Source: Future Aviation Aerospace Workforce)
It is difficult to pin down the actual number of workers needed for the different segments of the aviation/aerospace industry because some segments of the industry simply do not track future workforce requirements. Complicating this is the fact many reports are years old, compounding the confusion from different studies telling us different things.

For instance, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) assesses the state of the workforce annually in partnership with the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics (AIAA) and Aviation Week & Space Technology (AvWeek). However, it does its workforce projections only periodically, with the last published in 2017. On the other hand, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) does not track future workforce needs and the AIA/AIAA projections do not include GAMA needs.

That leaves us without concrete goals since we don’t know how many people will be needed or how many we need to move from not knowing what they want to do to aviation/aerospace. The conclusion is universal, failure to build the workforce needed is bad for business and increasing automation will not make a difference. (3/2)

AFRL, NORTHCOM Eye Commercial Internet Satellites For Arctic (Source: Breaking Defense)
Northern Command is working with Air Force Research Laboratory to test commercial SATCOM capabilities in the Arctic, Air Force officials say — a key part of NORTHCOM head Gen. Glen VanHerck’s new strategy for beefing up joint operations in the ever-more contested far north.

“Communications is incredibly challenging north of 65 [i.e., the 65th parallel] in the Arctic. We’re working with Congress and Space Command and others. I’m encouraged by where we’re going,” NORTHCOM commander Gen. Glen VanHerck told the Air Force Association’s winter meeting Friday. “We’ll have communications capability up there within the next year or so — not only communications capability that that benefits the military, it’ll benefit industry and the civilian partners as well as the Navy in the Alaskan region and across Canada. (3/3)

Hubble Solves Mystery of Monster Star's Dimming (Source: NASA)
The red hypergiant VY Canis Majoris — which is far larger, more massive, and more violent than Betelgeuse — experiences much longer, dimmer periods that last for years. New findings from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope suggest the same processes that occurred on Betelgeuse are happening in this hypergiant, but on a much grander scale.

"VY Canis Majoris is behaving a lot like Betelgeuse on steroids," explained the study's leader, astrophysicist Roberta Humphreys of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. As with Betelgeuse, Hubble data suggest the answer for why this bigger star is dimming. For Betelgeuse, the dimming corresponded to a gaseous outflow that may have formed dust, which briefly obstructed some of Betelgeuse's light from our view, creating the dimming effect. (3/4)

South Korea’s Kencoa Aerospace Expands Space Business in U.S. with New Capital (Source: Space News)
Kencoa Aerospace Corp., a South Korean aircraft assembler and parts supplier that has NASA, SpaceX and Blue Origin as clients, is planning to expand its U.S. parts manufacturing plant in Georgia. The company raised 30 billion won ($26.6 million) in February by issuing convertible bonds to domestic institutional investors and will use a third of the newly raised fund for the expansion of its Eastman, Georgia-based affiliate, Kencoa Aerospace LLC, said a Kencoa investor relations manager.

It has another affiliate, Los Angeles-based California Metal & Supply Inc., producing special materials and alloys for space rockets, engines and other products. Kencoa established its U.S. footholds through a pair of 2017 acquisitions. Kencoa made headlines in late February after announcing its first rocket engine supply deal with Blue Origin. Under the contract, Kencoa Aerospace LLC will produce parts for Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engines. (3/4)

NASA Awards Mars Ascent Propulsion System Contract for Sample Return (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS) contract to Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation of Elkton, Maryland, to provide propulsion support and products for spaceflight missions at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Coupled with the successful touchdown of the Mars Perseverance rover, this award moves NASA and ESA one step closer to realizing Mars Sample Return (MSR), a highly ambitious planetary exploration program that will build upon decades of science, knowledge, and experience of Mars exploration. 

The cost-plus, fixed-fee contract has a potential mission services value of $60.2 million and a maximum potential value of $84.5 million. Work on MAPS begins immediately with a 14-month base period, followed by two option periods that may be exercised at NASA’s discretion. In the next steps of the MSR campaign, NASA and ESA will provide components for a Sample Retrieval Lander mission and an Earth Return Orbiter mission. The Sample Retrieval Lander mission will deliver a Sample Fetch Rover and Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) to the surface of Mars. (3/4)

March 4, 2021

Biden Lauds NASA Team for Giving US ‘Dose of Confidence’ (Source: AP)
President Joe Biden on Thursday congratulated the NASA team responsible for last month’s successful landing of an six-wheeled rover on Mars and for giving the country a “dose of confidence” at a moment when the nation’s reputation as a scientific leader has been tattered by the coronavirus pandemic. Biden speaking in video conference call with the leadership of space agency’s jet propulsion laboratory team expressed awe over the Feb. 18 landing of Perseverance.

Perseverance, the biggest, most advanced rover ever sent by NASA, became the ninth spacecraft since the 1970s to successfully land on Mars, traveling some 300 million miles in nearly seven months, as part of an ongoing quest to study whether there was once life on the planet. “It’s so much bigger than landing Perseverance on Mars,” Biden told members of the NASA team. “It’s about the American spirit. And you brought it back” (3/4)

Thales Alenia Space Lands 2nd Generation Galileo Deal (Source: Via Satellite)
After winning the Telesat deal, Thales Alenia Space has followed up with another major contract worth 772 million euros ($929.8 million) with the European Space Agency (ESA), acting on behalf of the European Union represented by the European Commission. The deal was announced March 3.

Thales Alenia Space will provide six satellites as part of the second generation of Europe’s Galileo constellation. The first satellites of this second generation will be placed in orbit by the end of 2024. With their new capabilities relying on high innovative technologies (digitally configurable antennas, Inter-Satellites Links, use of full electric propulsion systems), these satellites will improve the accuracy of Galileo as well as the robustness to interference and jamming and resilience of its signal. (3/3)

Engineers Repair Valve for Mid-March "Green Run" SLS Hot Fire Test (Source: NASA)
Engineers have successfully repaired a liquid oxygen valve on the Space Launch System rocket’s core stage with subsequent checks confirming the valve to be operating properly. The team plans to power up the core stage for remaining functional checks later this week before moving forward with final preparations for a hot fire test in mid-March at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. NASA anticipates setting a target date for the hot fire next week. (3/3)

Bezos Could Focus on Blue Origin's "Culture" (Source: Quartz)
In 2015, Bezos described “my main job [at Amazon] today: I work hard at helping to maintain the culture.” Perhaps that gives a clue as to what he can do at Blue now—to find some middle ground between Big Aerospace timelines and the frenetic work culture of Silicon Valley. Blue is seen as a less punishing workplace than Musk’s shop, where burnout can seem endemic. One industry source jokes that Blue is where SpaceX employees go to retire.

Bezos can replace all PowerPoints with six-page narrative memos (if he hasn’t already) but it seems unlikely he’ll pare back the company’s ambitions. Some industry observers argue that Blue doesn’t embrace risk in its test and development programs as much as SpaceX does, iterating at a slower pace. As I write this, SpaceX’s next generation rocket is attempting a public test flight—demonstrating a successful landing, followed by another rapid, unexpected disassembly.

The jury remains out on whether SpaceX’s willingness to blow up hardware is exactly what got it into space faster than Blue Origin. But so far, throwing money at the challenge hasn’t been enough for Bezos. He may have to incinerate a few rockets to get where he’s going. (3/4)

Indonesia Purchasing Broadband Satellite From Thales Alenia (Source: Space News)
The Indonesian government has finalized funding for a broadband satellite after a delay. The SATRIA project to develop a Ka-band geostationary satellite has secured about $545 million in funding, partly backed by France's Bpifrance export-credit agency. Thales Alenia Space announced in July 2019 that it had been selected as prime contractor for SATRIA but delays in financing the project meant a preliminary work agreement came only last September, with full financing secured just last month. The delay means Indonesia could miss a March 2022 deadline to put into use a slot in GEO at 146 degrees east. The Indonesian government has asked the International Telecommunication Union for an extension, citing the pandemic, and could move another satellite into that slot. (3/4)

China Developing Two Heavy-Lift Moon Rockets (Source: Space News)
China is proceeding with work on two heavy-lift rockets that could be used for future lunar missions. One vehicle, the Long March 9, would be able to place 140 tons into Earth orbit and 50 tons into a translunar injection trajectory. The Long March 9, which Chinese officials say requires breakthroughs in larger diameter structures and high-thrust engines, is slated to make its first launch in 2030. A second vehicle is a three-core rocket based on the Long March 5, using uprated versions of its YF-100 engines. That rocket would be used for crewed launches, including those for future human missions to the moon. (3/4)

China Releases Mars Images (Source: Xinhua)
China has released the first high-resolution images of Mars from its Tianwen-1 mission. The images, released Thursday, show the surface at a resolution of 0.7 meters and were taken at an altitude of 330 to 350 kilometers. Tianwen-1, which arrived at Mars last month, is currently in a parking orbit ahead of the release of its lander, expected in May or June. (3/4)

NASA Prepares Dragon Capsule for First Reuse with Astronauts (Source: Space Daily)
NASA is preparing for the first time to reuse a SpaceX Dragon capsule, the Endeavor, on a crewed mission in April. The capsule previously took astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station in May. The upcoming Crew 2 mission is planned for launch no earlier than April 20 from Kennedy Space Center.

The capsule as refurbished includes some new components, Stich said, such as parachutes and a heat shield. SpaceX also has boosted the amount of fuel available if the mission must be aborted during an emergency on the launch pad, or just after liftoff, he said. The rocket and capsule "were designed with reuse in mind, like the space shuttle was designed for a certain number of flights," Stich said. Stich noted that SpaceX designed the current Falcon 9 model to be flown 10 times with minimal refurbishment, and already has done that eight times with a single rocket booster. (3/3)

Italian Astronaut Prepares for Second ISS Mission (Source: ESA)
An Italian astronaut will make her second trip to the International Space Station next year. The European Space Agency said Wednesday that Samantha Cristoforetti will fly to the station in the spring of 2022 on either a Crew Dragon or Starliner commercial crew mission. Cristoforetti spent 200 days on the station in 2014 on her first spaceflight. (3/4)

Garriott Goes Extreme (Source: CollectSpace)
A private astronaut is now the first person to visit four extreme locations on, around and below the Earth. Richard Garriott dove this week to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the Earth's oceans, on a commercial deep-submergence vehicle. Garriott, the incoming president of the Explorers Club, previously went to space as a private astronaut in 2008. He is now the first person to have gone into orbit, both the North and South Poles, and the bottom of the ocean. (3/4)

Three-Stage Rocket Launches from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia (Source: NASA)
A three-stage suborbital sounding rocket was launched in the afternoon on March 3, 2021, for the Department of Defense from NASA’s launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The launch was to study ionization in space just beyond the reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. After flying to an altitude of several hundred miles and about 500 miles off-shore, the rocket’s payload released a small quantity of vapor into the near-vacuum of space. There is no danger to public health or the Earth’s environment from the vapor release. (3/3)

SpaceX Launches Starlink Satellites From Cape Canaveral Spaceport, Lands Booster for Eighth Time (Source: Space News)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched another group of Starlink satellites early Thursday. The Falcon 9 lifted off at 3:24 a.m. Eastern from the Kennedy Space Center and deployed its payload of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit 65 minutes later. The rocket's first stage, making its eighth flight, landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean successfully, two and a half weeks after the booster on the previous Falcon 9 launch failed to land. A SpaceX executive said earlier this week that an engine shut down on that earlier launch after hot gas went through a hole in a cover surrounding engine components. (3/4)

Starlink Prototype Lands in Texas, Then Blows Up (Source: Space News)
SpaceX launched and landed a Starship prototype Wednesday, only to have the vehicle explode minutes later. The Starship SN10 prototype flew to an altitude of about 10 kilometers on the flight, lasting nearly six and a half minutes late Wednesday at the company's Boca Chica, Texas, test site. Unlike the previous two Starship test flights, SN10 landed intact, and SpaceX declared the flight a success. Less than 10 minutes later, though, there was an explosion at the base of the vehicle, catapulting it skyward before crashing in flames several seconds later. SpaceX did not disclose what caused the explosion, but noted that another Starship prototype, SN11, will soon be ready for tests. (3/4)

Biden Administration Releases Guidance on Space Security (Source: Space News)
A national security policy by the Biden administration calls for safety and security of outer space. The Interim National Security Strategic Guidance released Wednesday by the White House includes language supporting the exploration and use of outer space "to the benefit of humanity" along with ensuring "the safety, stability, and security of outer space activities." It also endorses "promoting shared norms and forge new agreements" on space and other issues with national security implications. The guidance is to help agencies plan budgets and strategies while the administration continues to work on a more detailed National Security Strategy. (3/4)

Raymond: Space Force Should Not be Politicial Issue (Source: Space News)
The commanding general of the U.S. Space Force says the new service should not be considered a political issue. Gen. John Raymond said in a speech Wednesday that the support the Biden administration has given the Space Force demonstrates that space is an issue of national interest. The creation of the Space Force, he argued, "is already paying great dividends" in helping the U.S. remain the leader in space. (3/4)

Cost of NASA's VIPER Lunar Misssion Spikes After Delay (Source: Space News)
A NASA lunar rover mission has passed a key review, but its price has sharply increased. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) is scheduled to launch in late 2023 to study ice deposits thought to exist at the south pole of the moon. VIPER passed its confirmation review last month and the mission, originally projected to cost around $250 million, now has a formal cost commitment of $433.5 million. NASA did not disclose the reason for the increase, but agency officials said last year they had delayed its launch by about a year to make changes to its design so that it could operate for 100 days on the lunar surface. (3/4)

L.A. Musician Helped NASA Put a Microphone on Mars (Source: KTLA)
It is the martian breeze heard around the world! “That little puff of wind is what saved the day, because that’s the actual sound of the planet,” explained Jason Achilles Mezilis, an L.A.-based musician and NASA consultant. For the first time, a Mars rover captured audio from the red planet “and it worked, which is amazing,” added Mezilis. Mezilis is part of the team that made the recording possible. I spoke with him at his home in Los Angeles, where he explained how his own perseverance landed him a spot on the rover’s audio team.

The LA-based musician figured his studio smarts could help the folks at JPL put the right mic on perseverance. So he wrote a proposal to NASA and they accepted. Similar audio-capturing mics on two previous Mars missions failed. What eventually made it on board is an off the shelf mic that retails for a few thousand dollars. “A half-inch diaphragm condenser microphone,” explained Mezilis, to be specific. (3/1)

Musk, Maezawa Say Moon Mission is On Track for 2023 (Source: Space Daily)
SpaceX will fly its deep-space rocket Starship in orbit "many, many times before 2023" and will take 12 people around the moon that year, the company's founder and CEO Elon Musk announced on Tuesday. "It will be safe enough for human transport by 2023 -- it's looking very promising," Musk said in a video announcement with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.

Maezawa and Musk fleshed out plans for the so-called dearMoon mission, which they first mentioned in a press conference in 2018. That's when Maezawa said he'd purchased a flight on the Starship moon/Mars rocket, before the first prototype had been built. Maezawa originally intended to bring artists with him on the flight. On Tuesday, he said he has broadened his criteria for eight of his fellow passengers to include anyone who can accomplish something greater in their lives by going to space. (3/2)

Stofan to Lead Smithsonian Science and Research (Source: Smithsonian)
Ellen Stofan, director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, has been named the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Science and Research, effective March 14. In this role, Stofan will lead the Institution’s collective scientific efforts and commitment to research. The position oversees the Smithsonian’s science museums, science research centers and Smithsonian Libraries and Archives.

This includes the National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Museum Conservation Institute, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Stofan will report to Meroe Park, Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer. (3/3)

How Salt Water Could Fuel a Mars Mission (Source: Air & Space)
In a new paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Pralay Gayen and two of his colleagues from Washington University in St. Louis introduce a new technology that has the capability to produce oxygen and hydrogen from salt-rich water. The invention has many applications, but it’s especially valuable for a future human mission to Mars.

Perchlorates and other salts have been detected on Mars previously, and pools of liquid brines (very salty water) are also thought to exist below the surface. The method described by Pralay et al. could be used to extract pure oxygen and hydrogen from these underground pools. The high salt content within the brines actually would be an advantage, because it can keep the water liquid at temperatures well below its normal freezing point. The authors demonstrated the validity of this concept by testing their instrument—called a Perchlorate Brine Electrolyzer—with a magnesium perchlorate solution at a temperature of -36o C (-33o F) under a simulated Mars atmosphere.

In electrolysis, a compound is separated into its components with the help of an electrical current. The new invention uses an anode (positive electrode) made of lead ruthenate pyrochlore to produce oxygen and a platinum/carbon cathode (negative electrode) to produce hydrogen. Electrolysis also has been used to extract oxygen from carbon dioxide instead of water, as in the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) currently enroute to Mars onboard NASA’s Perseverance spacecraft. Its objective is to demonstrate the basic technology that could be used to provide future Mars astronauts with life-sustaining oxygen. (3/3)

Lab-Grown Black Hole Behaves Just Like Stephen Hawking Said it Would (Source: Live Science)
In 1974, Stephen Hawking theorized that the universe's darkest gravitational behemoths, black holes, were not the pitch-black star swallowers astronomers imagined, but they spontaneously emitted light — a phenomenon now dubbed Hawking radiation. The problem is, no astronomer has ever observed Hawking's mysterious radiation, and because it is predicted to be very dim, they may never will. Which is why scientists today are creating their own black holes.

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology did just that. They created a black hole analog out of a few thousand atoms. They were trying to confirm two of Hawking's most important predictions, that Hawking radiation arises from nothing and that it does not change in intensity over time, meaning it's stationary. (3/2)

NASA’s Latest Mars Rover Has the Same Processor as an iMac From 1998 (Source: The Verge)
NASA’s Perseverance rover is the most advanced machine that’s ever landed on Mars. But when it comes to rovers, “state of the art” is a subjective term. Perseverance is running on a PowerPC 750, a single-core, 233MHz processor with just 6 million transistors that’s most famous for powering the original iMac from 1998. It’s the same type of processor that NASA already uses in its Curiosity rover, and it also powers the Fermi Space Telescope, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Deep Impact comet-hunting spacecraft, and the Kepler telescope, among others.

That may seem like a waste to some. After all, even with the difficulty of buying computer parts these days, surely NASA could have found the budget for something like Intel’s $500 Core i9-10900K CPU (with 10 cores and a max clock speed of 5.3GHz) somewhere in the $2.7 billion cost of Perseverance. But such an advanced chip is actually a detriment to the unique operating conditions of Mars. That’s largely because Mars’ atmosphere offers far less protection from harmful radiation and charged particles than Earth’s atmosphere. A bad burst of radiation can badly wreck the sensitive electronics of a modern processor — and the more complex the chip, the more can go wrong.

Because of those conditions, Perseverance actually features two computing modules: one is a backup just in case something goes wrong. (A third copy of the module is also on board for image analysis.) To make the system even more durable, the PowerPC 750 chip in Perseverance is a little different than the one in the old iMacs. It’s technically a RAD750 chip, a special variant that’s hardened against radiation and costs upwards of $200,000. (3/2)

The First Space Hotel is Set to Start Construction by 2026 (Source: Washington Post)
While the concept of space tourism may sound ludicrous, plans to launch people into space as a vacation vs. a vocation are well underway. Orbital Assembly, a large space construction company, announced this year in a virtual event on its YouTube channel that it was on track to begin construction on the world’s (er, galaxy’s) first space hotel by 2026, Interesting Engineering reported. John Blincow, chief executive of Orbital Assembly, said the coronavirus pandemic may ultimately delay the construction start date from its original 2025 projection.

He believes it could take just a year or two to assemble Voyager Station, the commercial space station that will house the hotel. “It’s going to happen fast when it starts,” Blincow said. “And we believe it’s going to happen a lot, too, even before we finish the first one. We have buyers for other stations because they’re very, very lucrative.” A trip to the first space hotel should cost $5 million for about 3½ days orbiting the Earth.

That sum may sound extreme, but it’s exponentially cheaper than other up-and-coming opportunities for private citizens — for example, the first would-be spaceflight crew made up of private citizens each paid $55 million a ticket for Axiom Space’s trip up to the International Space Station for eight days. The rotating structure will have artificial gravity, so tourists won’t float through the place like goo in a lava lamp or experience “moon-face” — the head pressure-inducing, sinus-clogging effect caused by microgravity’s impact on the body’s fluid distribution. With their fluids where they’re supposed to be, hotel guests will be able to sleep, eat, shower and use the restroom normally, Blincow said. (3/3)

Astra to Launch NASA Hurricane-Monitoring Cubesats (Source: Astra)
NASA has chosen Astra to help carry out a mission that beautifully reflects our vision of improving life on Earth from space. Under a newly-awarded contract as part of the agency’s Tropics program, Astra will launch six NASA satellites into orbit that will enhance the world’s understanding of some of our deadliest storms – and help our planet build a long-term plan for resilience and sustainability.

Astra will carry out three launches in 2022 to deliver NASA CubeSat satellites that will allow scientists to better measure the temperature, pressure and humidity of hurricanes. This project is especially near and dear to me. Following the five years I spent at NASA working alongside some of the most creative and visionary people I’ve ever met, this is a chance to team up once again. I know firsthand how much hard work and world-class expertise goes into NASA technology, and am proud the agency is putting its trust in Astra’s launch capabilities to deliver its satellites into orbit. (3/3)

March 3, 2021

SpaceX Aims to Expand its Starlink Satellite Operation to Texas (Source: GeekWire)
SpaceX is planning to break ground on a “state-of-the-art manufacturing facility” in Austin, Texas, to support a satellite operation that got its start in Redmond, Washington. The company’s billionaire CEO, Elon Musk, set up the Starlink satellite operation in Redmond five years ago. It’s now said to turn out six satellites per day for SpaceX’s broadband internet constellation, which is in the midst of an expanding beta test. More than 1,000 of the satellites have already been deployed in low Earth orbit, and SpaceX continues to launch them in batches of as many as 60 at a time.

In contrast to SpaceX’s Redmond facility, the Austin factory would build “millions of consumer-facing devices that we ship directly to customers (Starlink dishes, Wi-Fi routers, mounting hardware, etc.),” SpaceX said in a job posting. That part of the operation has been managed from SpaceX’s headquarters in the Los Angeles area. (3/2)

Musk Warms to Texas, Plans "Starbase" Municipality (Source: GeekWire)
California has served as the home base for SpaceX since Elon Musk founded the company in 2020, and Musk’s other major corporate concern, Tesla, is based in the Golden State as well. Musk has soured on California over the past year, however, in part due to restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. Last December, he announced that he’s relocating to the Lone Star State.

Texas is already the main locale for SpaceX’s other grand project, the Starship super-rocket and its Super Heavy booster. Starship prototypes are being tested at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch facility on the South Texas coast. Eventually, SpaceX aims to use the Starship system for purposes ranging from satellite deployment and point-to-point terrestrial travel to trips to the moon and Mars.

Today Musk signaled that he has big plans for that area, reporting in a tweet that he’ll be “creating the city of Starbase, Texas.” In a Twitter exchange, he said his plans for incorporating a city would extend to “an area much larger than Boca Chica.” ... “From thence to Mars, and hence the stars,” he wrote. (3/2)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Completes Final Functional Tests to Prepare for Launch (Source: NASA)
February marked significant progress for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which completed its final functional performance tests at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California. Testing teams successfully completed two important milestones that confirmed the observatory’s internal electronics are all functioning as intended, and that the spacecraft and its four scientific instruments can send and receive data properly through the same network they will use in space. These milestones move Webb closer to being ready to launch in October. (3/1)

Spaceflight Inc. Signs Smallsat Launch Agreements (Source: Spaceflight Inc.)
Spaceflight Inc. has started the year by signing several significant launch agreements with a wide range of organizations, including growing constellations needing routine and reliable launch schedules, smaller payloads requiring affordable bus-like options to popular orbits, firms needing regulatory and logistical guidance, as well as those seeking a personalized taxi service from loading dock to final orbital destination. Organizations signing launch deals with Spaceflight recently include Lynk, Astro Digital, Kleos, BlackSky, Umbra, Orbit Fab and several undisclosed U.S. government payloads. (3/3)

Eastern Range Looks for Ways to Support Additional Launches (Source: Space News)
The Eastern Range and launch providers like SpaceX are looking for ways to increase launch capacity. The range, which includes Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, hosted 32 launches in the last 12 months, but those came from 297 requested launch opportunities, officials said at a recent conference. Innovations like automated flight safety systems allow the range to support more launches since those launches can be scheduled more closely together, but other efforts are in progress, such as adjusting weather rules to decrease the risk of a scrub and automating the process for evaluating launch requests. (3/3)

NGA Seeks to Speed and Improve Services (Source: Space News)
The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) is looking for ways to provide faster and better products and services. Stacey Dixon, deputy director of NGA, said the "great power competition" the U.S. is in requires her agency to expand its supplier base and bring more entrepreneurs and academics into the fold. NGA provides satellite imagery and other geospatial data to the U.S. military, allies and homeland security agencies. The NGA is looking for new approaches for handling big data, for delivering information to customers faster, and changing how it develops and acquires software. (3/3)

Australia's Q-Ctrl Developing Sensors for Lunar Water (Source: Space News)
An Australian company is developing "quantum sensors" for space applications. Q-Ctrl said it is working with Fleet Space Technologies, another Australian company, to install sensors on a proposed group of nanosatellites that would look for water on the moon. The company said its sensors can also detect mineral deposits as well as provide quantum-enhanced precision navigation and timing systems, but provided few details about how such sensors would work and how they differ from more conventional technologies. (3/3)

Spaceport’s Interim Chief Named Executive Director (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
New Mexico's Spaceport America has named a new executive director. The state-run spaceport said Tuesday that Scott McLaughlin, who had been interim executive director since the summer, will take the job permanently. He had been director of business development for the spaceport when the previous executive director, Dan Hicks, was placed on leave and later fired because of violations of state laws and regulations regarding travel and procurement. State officials said McLaughlin had been doing a "fantastic job" on an acting basis, and thus decided he should take the job permanently. (3/3)

Florida Force the Public to Turn In Fallen Spacecraft Parts or Face Jail Time (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
"Finders, keepers" will no longer apply to space hardware under a proposed Florida law. A bill approved by a state senate committee would require people who find space hardware from launches or landings to report the discoveries. Failure to do so would be a misdemeanor with fines of up to $1,000 and one year in jail. Lawmakers said the bill is intended to protect trade secrets of launch companies and thus encourage them to operate from Florida. (3/3)

Biden Administration Has Set Out to Dismantle Trump’s Legacy, Except in One Area: Space (Source: Washington Post)
President Biden wasted no time dismantling wide swaths of Donald Trump’s legacy, revoking more than 30 orders signed by his predecessor while rejoining the Paris climate accord, ending the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries and halting construction on a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. But there is one area of the former president’s policy that Biden has embraced: space. The White House has announced support for two of Trump’s signature initiatives — the Artemis program, and the Space Force.

The endorsement of the Artemis program means it will become the first major deep-space human exploration effort with funding to survive a change in presidents since Apollo, after several fitful efforts to send astronauts back to the moon and beyond ultimately went nowhere. Though many in the space community thought the Trump administration’s goal to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 was impossible and politically motivated, it gave the program momentum. (3/2)

NASA Investigates Landing Problem of SpaceX Rocket Ahead of Crewed Launch (Source: WESH)
NASA’s taking steps to make sure a landing problem after a recent SpaceX rocket launch does not endanger astronauts who’ll also be flying on a SpaceX rocket. Training is almost finished for four astronauts who are next to fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

It’ll be the first time an astronaut capsule will be reused. The capsule flew last year when Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley brought back astronaut flights to the Space Coast. Although space shuttles were reused, it’ll also be the first time astronauts have launched on a used rocket: Their Falcon 9 launched four astronauts in November. (3/1)

Delta IV Heavy Rocket Takes Trek to Launch Pad at Vandenberg AFB Ahead of Spring Liftoff (Source: Noozhawk)
A short trip for a Delta IV Heavy rocket served as the prelude for a much longer trek this spring at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Stretched out on its transporter trailer equipped with 36 wheels, the United Launch Alliance booster recently traveled from the Horizontal Integration Facility to its stand at Space Launch Complex-6 on South Base.

Upon arrival, the hulking rocket was raised into a standing position in anticipation of its blastoff later this spring. The Delta IV Heavy employs three common booster cores side by side to give the rocket more power for carrying monstrous-sized payloads into space. The trip to the launch pad was one of many key milestones before the rocket’s countdown to zero and its longer trip to place a top-secret payload in space for the National Reconnaissance Office for a mission dubbed NROL-82. (3/1)

Australian Engineers Complete Successful Test of New Rocket Engine (Source: Cosmos)
As Australia’s space industry gears up, a team of Australian researchers has successfully tested a new type of engine that could be used in rocket launches. Typical rocket engines burn fuel at a constant pressure in a chamber called a combustor. This engine has a ring-shaped combustor, and it detonates propellant rapidly around the ring.

Once started, there is a self-sustaining cycle of detonation waves travelling around the combustor at very high speeds, exceeding 2.5 kilometres per second. It’s called a rotating detonation engine, or RDE. Once perfected, it could be more fuel efficient and more compact than typical rocket engines, meaning it could be cheaper and launch heavier items. The engine was designed by engineers from RMIT University, and is being developed by a group of researchers from DefendTex, RMIT, University of Sydney and Universit├Ąt der Bundeswehr in Germany. (3/1)

New Design for Russian Super-Heavy Methane-Powered Launch Vehicle Completed (Source: Sputnik)
The new design of a Russian carrier rocket powered by liquefied natural gas (methane) has been put together, a space industry source told Sputnik. "It is planned to create a super-heavy launch vehicle … [with] six side blocks around the central one - all with the RD-182 engine [operating on methane], and the upper stage using the RD-0169 [engine]", the source said.

The Russian SRC (space rocket center) Progress has not been releasing much detail on the new Russian carrier rocket powered by methane in order to protect the developers, SRC Progress General Director Dmitry Baranov told Sputnik in October of last year. In January, a 407 million-ruble ($5.2 million) contract was signed on the development of a rough design of the Amur-SPG rocket. (3/2)

Space Force Should Embrace the Natural Inclusivity of Space Nerds (Source: Defense One)
The first black-white kiss on U.S. television occurred between Lt. Uhura and Captain Kirk, a controversial-for-1968 decision that reflected Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s broader philosophical commitment to addressing race in his science fiction. This bold approach to diversity and inclusion is a fundamental element of the self-selecting group of space nerds that comprise the Space Force. As the newest service branch finds its feet, it should embrace this ethos — a proven aid to recruitment, readiness, and mission success — as fundamental to its identity.

Much of science fiction, from Jules Verne to Nnedi Okorafor, is predicated on a broad definition of diversity and inclusion. To be a space nerd, you have to extend diversity and inclusion considerations beyond intrinsic human demographic metrics – otherness is not just about race, age, sex, religion, and sexual orientation. Otherness in outer space is about different life forms, fundamental communication abilities, and competing values. I have been warned against proselytizing about science fiction when discussing Space Force matters because the general public may misunderstand the intent. But as a community of space nerds, we should acknowledge that our calling to space-related pursuits may also provide us a foundational advantage. (2/28)

March 2, 2021

Cornwall Says 'Actually Maybe We Will Want Space Tourism' (Source: Cornwall Live)
People have called on Cornwall Council not to dismiss space tourism which they say could provide a boost to the economy and new opportunities. Hundreds of people have responded with comments about the possibility of space tourism operating from the planned Spaceport Cornwall after the leader of Cornwall Council said this week that he would tell Sir Richard Branson that it would not be an option. It came after councillors raised questions at this week's full council meeting following reports in the national press that Sir Richard had hinted that his Virgin Galactic could follow Virgin Orbit in operating from Spaceport Cornwall. (2/27)

Waiting is the Hardest Part (Source: Space Review)
Last week, three very different space projects announced delays ranging from weeks to a year or more. Jeff Foust reports on these slips and what they say about the space industry’s struggles to stay on schedule. Click here. (3/1)
 
Don’t Move US Space Command (Source: Space Review)
In January, the Air Force announced it would move the headquarters for US Space Command from Colorado Springs to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. Matthew Jenkins argues that the proposed move is unwise from both fiscal and operational perspectives. Click here. (3/1)
 
India’s Foray Into the Commercial Space Market (Source: Space Review)
An Indian rocket launch over the weekend carried not just nearly 20 satellites, but also marked the beginning of a new phase of Indian space activities. Ajey Lele describes how the launch is part of a broader space commercialization effort by the Indian government. Click here. (3/1)

How Elon Musk Convinced Gwynne Shotwell to Join SpaceX (Source: WIRED)
Before she would become one of two principal leaders at SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell worked with Hans Koenigsmann at a much smaller company in Southern California named Microcosm. In contrast to the laconic German engineer, Shotwell is bold and effervescent. She has plenty of brains but none of the nerdiness or awkwardness that characterizes some engineers. A former cheerleader in high school with a hearty laugh, she could talk to anyone. And often, she and Koenigsmann would go out to lunch.

After Koenigsmann took a new job at SpaceX in May, 2002, Shotwell celebrated by taking him to lunch at their favorite spot in El Segundo, a Belgian restaurant named Chef Hannes. Sometimes, to tease her friend, Shotwell called the eatery Chef Hans-y. After they ate, she dropped Koenigsmann off at 1310 East Grand a few blocks away. The large building was home to perhaps only half a dozen employees at the time. As they pulled up, Koenigsmann invited Shotwell inside to see his new digs. “Just come in and meet Elon,” he said.

The impromptu meeting might have lasted 10 minutes, but during that time Shotwell came away impressed by Musk’s knowledge of the aerospace business. He seemed no dabbler, flush with internet cash and bored after a big Silicon Valley score. Rather, he had diagnosed the industry’s problems and identified a solution. Shotwell nodded along as Musk talked about his plans to bring down the cost of launch by building his own rocket engine and keeping development of other key components in-house.(3/2)

Blue Origin’s Massive New Glenn Rocket is Delayed for Years. What Went Wrong? (Source: Ars Technica)
In the fall of 2017, shortly after he became chief executive officer of Blue Origin, Bob Smith received an extensive briefing on the state of the New Glenn rocket program. The projected launch date for the massive, reusable rocket was 2020, he was told. As Smith assessed the progress on New Glenn to date and drew upon his long experience at Honeywell Aerospace, he soon came to the conclusion that this launch date was unreasonable. "This is not a 2020 launch program," he said at this meeting. "This is a 2022 program, at best."

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos was not present for this, but his response afterward was that he would absolutely not accept any revision to the launch date for the large orbital rocket. Blue Origin should be optimistic with its projections, Bezos said. And then they should meet those projections. Bezos' rocket company, of course, did not meet those projections. Last week Blue Origin said it would not launch until the fourth quarter of 2022, at the earliest.

Bezos originally envisioned a more modest-sized rocket comparable to the Falcon 9 or United Launch Alliance's single-stick Delta IV. In some iterations, New Glenn had just three main engines. This would have represented a more incremental step for a launch company that has yet to put a gram of material into orbit. But instead of offering a waypoint between New Shepard and a massive orbital rocket, Bezos ultimately opted to jump right to the massive, 313-foot-tall version. "It's like if NASA had gone straight from Alan Shepard to the Saturn V rocket, but then also had to make the Saturn V reusable," one former Blue Origin employee said. (3/1)

SpaceWorks Awarded Contract to Develop New Capability for Rescue Package Delivery (Source: SpaceWorks)
SpaceWorks Enterprises has been contracted by the U.S. Air Force to develop its envisioned system for global autonomous delivery of an on-demand Personnel Recovery Kit (PRK). SpaceWorks’ Air-launched Drone Delivery Device will leverage emerging commercial capabilities to provide a solution for PRK deceleration and delivery from deployment speeds of up to Mach 6. The contract was awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Transformational Capabilities Office (TCO).

The AD3 system is designed to quickly deploy and deliver PRKs anywhere in the world from various military aircraft, providing readily accessible life-saving capabilities and equipment to the warfighter. This optimized, low-cost solution is fully functional in a GPS denied environment and features evasive maneuverability and very precise final mile delivery accuracy. (3/2)

China Preparing to Build Tiangong Sation in 2021, Complete by 2022 (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
China is gearing up for its next big leap in space exploration: the construction of its modular crewed space station, the Tiangong. Starting in 2021, the construction of the Tiangong orbital space station is expected to be complete in 2022 after eleven missions, including three launches of different modules, four launches of cargo vehicles and four crewed launches.

This step comes after a phased approach to human spaceflight development, beginning with the uncrewed test flights of a crewed space vehicle (Shenzhou-1 to Shenzhou-4). This was followed by the launch of a crewed mission (Shenzhou-5 with one taikonaut), the launch of a space crew (Shenzhou-6 with two taikonauts and Shenzhou-7 with three taikonauts), and the execution of an extravehicular activity (Shenzhou-7).

China also achieved the launch of a Salyut-1 type space module (Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2), the development of rendezvous and docking (Shenzhou-8), space module occupation and long duration flight (Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10), and the launch of a cargo freighter (Tianzhou-1) for the regular resupply of orbital stations. (3/1)

American Rocketry Challenge Announces Multiple Sites for 2021 Competition’s National Finals (Source: AIA)
To protect the health and safety of teams, teachers, mentors, and families while continuing to build the next generation of STEM leaders, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) will extend competition deadlines and hold National Final Fly-off at multiple regional sites to determine the 2021 American Rocketry Challenge champion. The 2021 National Finals will take place over a two-week period in mid-late June at 10 or more launch sites across the country (to be selected based on the location of this year’s finalists).

“While the pandemic continues to pose challenges for all of us, it is not dampening the enthusiasm or excitement for The American Rocketry Challenge. Our rocketeers’ stories and ingenuity continue to inspire our industry, and we cannot wait to see what they accomplish this year,” said AIA President and CEO Eric Fanning. “Even with the continued challenges, we have found a creative way to have the nation’s top 100 teams compete later in the summer and at sites closer to home. This solution will enable the competition to flourish, while prioritizing the health and safety of the American Rocketry Challenge community.”

The top 100 teams qualifying for the National Finals will be announced on May 21 along with the official launch sites. Over June 12, 13, 19, and 20, launch sites will host multiple three-hour launch windows, consistent with local and state COVID-19 safety requirements, along with federal guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A virtual awards ceremony will be hosted on Monday, June 28, to celebrate the winners of the 2021 American Rocketry Challenge. (3/1)

Thermal Shielding - SpaceX Wins AFRL Contract for Hypersonic Thermal Protection (Source: Space News)
SpaceX won an Air Force Research Laboratory contract to research thermal shields for hypersonic vehicles. The $8.5 million contract will support research on advanced materials and manufacturing techniques for heat shields that protect hypersonic vehicles in flight. The lab said the goal of the research is "to enable low-cost, high volume production of next generation thermal protection systems." SpaceX has extensive experience in thermal protection systems from its launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft programs. (3/2)

Engine Heat Shielding - SpaceX Pinpoints Cause of Landing Failure (Source: Space News)
SpaceX said Monday that an engine on the most recent Falcon 9 rocket shut down in flight, preventing the booster from landing. A company official said at a NASA briefing that covers insulating portions of the Merlin engines on that Feb. 15 launch were "life leaders" in the Falcon 9 fleet, with the most flight experience of such components.

The cover on one engine had a small hole that allowed hot gas into the engine, causing it to shut down. The rocket was still able to successfully deploy its payload of Starlink satellites but with the failed engine the booster did not have enough thrust to make a landing. NASA said it's following the issue, but noted that the Falcon 9 first stage that will be used for next month's Crew Dragon mission doesn't have anywhere near the same level of use as the one lost on the Starlink mission. (3/2)

Military Payload Set for Cygnus Flight to ISS (Source: Space News)
The Space Development Agency will fly a payload on a Cygnus cargo mission to the space station later this year. The Persistent Infrared Payload is scheduled to be part of the NG-16 Cygnus mission, launching as soon as this July. Northrop Grumman received a $13.8 million contract last year for flying the payload on the cargo vehicle. The payload will collect sample data to develop algorithms that sensors will use to identify hypersonic missiles flying in low orbits. Data will be collected during the Cygnus resupply mission from shortly after berthing with the ISS until the end of the mission a few months later. (3/2)

Can Technology Open Spaceflight to Disabled Astronauts? (Source: WIRED)
What would it be like to have a spaceship with a truly diverse crew—not the mix of alien species seen in so many sci-fi series, but human beings with all kinds of bodies? The European Space Agency announced in early February that it is recruiting a new pool of four full-time and 20 reserve astronauts for upcoming missions to the International Space Station, as well as future international missions to the moon. The agency promises the new astronaut class will be more gender-diverse than ever, and will seek qualified individuals with certain disabilities.

During a press conference two weeks ago, ESA officials told reporters the agency would open its upcoming application pool to include candidates who have a lower limb deficiency in one or both legs or feet, either congenitally or due to amputation; people who have differences in the lengths of their legs; or people who are less than 130 centimeters (4 feet, 3 inches) tall. This new height standard is considerably shorter than NASA’s existing requirement that astronauts must stand between 5 feet, 2 inches and 6 feet, 3 inches. All ESA astronaut candidates also need to have at least a master’s degree in a science, technology, or engineering field, or have training as a test pilot, and be younger than 50 years old.

ESA spokesperson Marco Trovatello says the application process, which opens March 31 and continues through May 28, is just the beginning for the so-called “parastronaut” program. The last time the agency had astronaut openings, they received more 8,000 applications. Trovatello says that agency officials consulted with both NASA and the International Paralympic Committee before making the announcement. “We have informed all our ISS partners regarding our intent,” Trovatello wrote in an email to WIRED. “But we have to run the feasibility study first.” (3/2)

South Korea's Hanwha Expanding in Space Sector (Source: Space News)
South Korean aircraft engine producer Hanwha Aerospace is working to expand its space business. Hanwha paid $96.8 million in January to take a 30% stake in Satrec Initiative, a South Korean satellite manufacturer. That deal is part of an effort by a "space task force" within Hanwha to identify opportunities to grow its space business. That's included an acquisition of one satellite antenna company, Phasor Solutions, and a partnership with another, Kymeta. (3/2)

Cosmonauts Filling Cracks in ISS Module (Source: TASS)
Russian cosmonauts will spend several days fixing an air leak on the ISS. Work started Monday to fill a crack in the Zvezda module using sealant and polyurethane foam, work that's expected to take five days to complete. The crack is located in the "intermediate chamber" of the module, which was sealed off over the weekend. Air pressure in that chamber dropped by more than a third by Monday. (3/2)

China Close to Picking Name for Mars Rover (Source: Xinhua)
China has announced the three finalists for the name of its Mars rover. The China National Space Administration said the top three names from an online poll are Zhurong, a fire god from Chinese mythology; Nezha, a Chinese mythological figure; and Hongyi, a Chinese term for having a broad and strong mind. A panel of experts will now weigh in on the name for the rover, which is part of the Tianwen-1 mission currently orbiting Mars and scheduled to land in May or June. (3/2)

Crew Dragon on Track for April Launch, Maybe Starliner CST-100 Too (Source: Space News)
That Crew Dragon mission remains on schedule for launch next month, but a Boeing CST-100 Starliner test flight is facing more delays. NASA officials said at a briefing Monday they're still targeting April 20 for the launch of the Crew-2 mission, although the date may change by a few days in order to maximize the launch opportunities. NASA wants to launch Crew-2, and return the Crew Dragon on the Crew-1 mission currently at the station, by early May to avoid constraints with both the splashdown and sun angles at the ISS. An April 2 launch of Starliner on an uncrewed test flight, though, will likely be delayed because preparations are running about two weeks behind schedule. NASA and Boeing have not identified a new launch date. (3/2)

Insulation Failure - Chinese Hyperbola-1 Commercial Launch Failure Blamed on Foam Debris (Source: Space News)
A Chinese commercial launch failed last month because of foam insulation. The Hyperbola-1 rocket launched Feb. 1 but appeared to veer off course shortly after liftoff. An investigation found that foam insulation designed to fall off the vehicle got stuck in one of four grid fins at the base of the first stage. The foam later broke off but changed the angle of the fin, causing the rocket to go off course. Beijing-based iSpace said it will strengthen management and technical capabilities, enhance quality awareness, improve risk identification and take other measures as it prepares for another Hyperbola-1 launch in a few months. (3/2)

Meet Diana Trujillo, a Trailblazing Flight Director for NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover (Source: CBS News)
NASA aerospace engineer Diana Trujillo came to the U.S. with only $300 and worked housekeeping jobs to pay for school. Now, she's a flight director for the Mars Perseverance rover. Click here. (3/1)

Abbey: Biden Should Reconsider Need for SLS Rocket (Source: Baker Institute)
The SLS has suffered significant cost overruns and schedule delays. A 2020 Office of Inspector General (OIG) report stated the cost of the booster had already grown by nearly 30% (about $2 billion) and that the first launch of the rocket, originally planned for late 2017, would be delayed to June 2021 or later.2 The lack of transparency relative to the program’s costs also made it difficult to determine the expected true cost of the program. NASA had estimated the development costs through its first launch to have grown to $8.75 billion, when a launch had been assumed in November 2020, an increase of 25%.

In view of the current availability of a significant number of commercial launch vehicles with proven payload capabilities, as well as the industry’s progress in providing a launch vehicle with significantly greater lift capabilities, the Biden administration should reconsider the need for the SLS during its annual budget review. Its launch costs are much greater than those being quoted for existing rockets, as well as those projected for larger commercial boosters with comparable payload capabilities to the SLS. Affordability must always be considered in view of demanding budgets and in view of the availability and the acceptability of lowercost alternatives. (3/2)

Crew Members Wanted! Join Yusaku Maezawa on the Journey to the Moon! (Source: DearMoon)
“dearMoon” -- the first civilian lunar orbital mission -- is planned to lift off in 2023. Two years after the press conference that drew international attention, MZ has a big update to share. The video also contains a special message from SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk. Click here. (3/2)

SpaceX Planning Starlink Manufacturing Facility in Texas (Source: @joroulette)
A new job posting says SpaceX is building a Starlink manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas. "To keep up with global demand, SpaceX is breaking ground on a new, state of the art manufacturing facility in Austin, TX." (3/2)

Space Tango Plans Orbital Mini Space Station in Two Years (Source: Space Daily)
Kentucky-based Space Tango, a firm that conducts science experiments on the International Space Station, has plans to launch its own miniature, automated orbital research platform in about two years. Space Tango has small research containers, or CubeLabs, on the space station. Bustling business and growing need for such experiments in microgravity led the company to plan its own space station, founder and CEO Twyman Clements said. He declined to say how much the company would spend on the project or how much each spacecraft might cost.

The space station, named ST-42, would be little more than a capsule with solar panels for electrical power and a heat shield. The interior could be reconfigured depending on what each mission required, Clements said. The spacecraft has been in the design phase for about two years. Space Tango is trying to decide what type of propulsion ST-42 would have, he said.

Space Tango hasn't chosen a launch provider, but Clements said he has looked at ride-sharing launches with California-based companies SpaceX and Rocket Lab, among others. Space Tango, which has about 22 employees, plans to launch a test prototype in 2023 that wouldn't have a heat shield, just to test launch and spaceflight, Clements said. Typical missions would remain in a low-Earth orbit for about two weeks, he said. Plans call for the capsule to splash down near Florida, where Space Tango plans an initial processing facility near Kennedy Space Center. (3/2)

Ice Frozen Under Mars' Surface Offers Major Resource to Aid Future Settlements (Source: Space Daily)
Frozen water is hiding beneath the dust-covered surface of Mars, and scientist Ali Bramson wants to find it. She sees a chance to both sustain future human explorers and answer questions about the red planet's climate. Bramson, a Purdue University assistant professor of planetary science, was part of recent research to determine the location and depth of the subsurface ice. The results of the NASA Subsurface Water Ice Mapping (SWIM) project were published in Nature Astronomy.

Her work in SWIM focused on radar subsurface discovery and mapping of ice deposits in Mars' northern hemisphere. Another SWIM project Bramson participated in, completed in December, examined the southern hemisphere. Bramson said work toward finding the ice deposits - possibly created by snowfall - and determining how accessible it is from the surface has been building in recent years. Findings will offer early ideas about where Mars habitats could be located. (3/2)