It’s Not Official, But Sources Say the secretive Zuma Satellite was Lost
On Sunday night SpaceX launched the Zuma satellite into space. What we know for sure is that the first stage of the rocket behaved nominally enough such that it was able to safely return to Earth and make a land-based landing along the Florida coast.
SpaceX, however, never officially confirmed mission success. On Monday, Ars began to hear discussion from sources that the mysterious Zuma spacecraft—the purpose of which was never specified, nor which US military or spy agency had backed it—may not have survived. According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.
Later on Monday afternoon another space reporter, Peter B. de Selding, reported on Twitter that he too had been hearing about problems with the satellite. “Zuma satellite from @northropgrumman may be dead in orbit after separation from @SpaceX Falcon 9, sources say,” de Selding tweeted. “Info blackout renders any conclusion – launcher issue? Satellite-only issue? — impossible to draw.”
Read more at: Arstechnica
A Space Station is Expected to Fall Out of the Sky. You’ll Probably be Fine
Sometime around the start of spring, a 9.4-ton Chinese space station is expected to come hurtling back to earth.
The space station, Tiangong 1, is predicted to make that return trip in mid-March, give or take a few weeks, according to an analysis by the Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center in California. But don’t worry: Odds are no one will be hurt.
“It most probably will not harm anyone,” said Andrew Abraham, a member of the team behind the analysis. “The odds of being struck by a piece of this space station as it’s re-entering are exceptionally tiny.” While the researchers are confident that humanity will likely be spared, their ability to precisely forecast the re-entry is limited.
Read more at: NY Times
Tiangong-1 Space Laboratory Containing Hazardous Substance to Crash to Earth in March
According to new calculations, China’s space laboratory, Tiangong-1 will fall to Earth in March of 2018. While most parts of the spacecraft are likely to burn up in the atmosphere, there are concerns that some pieces, containing highly-toxic chemicals, may hit the ground.
Beijing lost control over Tiangong-1 on March 16, 2016. It is believed that the space station ceased functioning due to a dysfunctional battery charger. Since then, the module has been unable to recharge its batteries from its two solar arrays. However Chinese officials provided little information stating only that the laboratory had started to descend gradually and would eventually fall to Earth.
China finally confirmed in mid-September of 2016 that the spacecraft was heading for an imminent re-entry, but they still did not disclose whether the station’s descent is controlled or not. First announcements made by the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CSME) indicated that Tiangong-1 was (at that time) orbiting at an average altitude of 230 miles (370 kilometers) and was descending for its fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere in late 2017.
Read more at: Spaceflight Insider
Russia Lost a $45 Million Weather Satellite Due to Human Error, Official Says
Read more at: Space.com
The Race for Space-Based Internet is On
Internet access beamed down from space could drastically change the way we get online. Establishing quality high-speed satellite internet from low or medium earth orbit (LEO and MEO, respectively) would give whoever did it access to all 4 billion or so people who don’t have Internet access yet. With enough bandwidth, such a network could become instant competitors to telecoms like AT&T and Verizon without the monumental infrastructure costs of putting down fiber. There are eight companies currently shooting for the goal, 2018 will be a big year for all of them, as Aviation Week notes.
Some of these companies, like SpaceX, Samsung and Boeing, are well known. Others, like OneWeb, Telesat LEO, SES O3B,Iridium Next and LeoSat have less name recognition so far, but will help spur competition in the field.
Read more at: Popular Mechanics
Will Commercial Crew Come Through in 2018?
The last time Americans flew into space from U.S. soil was nearly seven years ago in July 2011. Four astronauts flew Atlantis to the International Space Station (ISS) on the 135th and final mission of the 30-year space shuttle program.
Ever since, NASA astronauts have been hitching rides to ISS aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft at an ever increasing cost that comes with having a monopoly. Meanwhile, the space agency has watched the schedules for the two commercial crew vehicles being developed by Boeing and SpaceX slide to the right year by year.
This is the year all that is supposed to change. Both companies are scheduled to fly automated and crew test flights to the space station. The question is will they?
Read more at: Parabolic arc
Will 2018 be a Step Forward or a Step Back for SpaceX?
It’s hard to argue against the claim that 2017 was the best year in SpaceX’s fifteen-year history. Many will point to its successful reuse of Falcon 9 first stages, flown on five missions during the year. Some will note the repairs to Space Launch Complex 40, which resumed launches last month, or bringing Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center back to life for the first launches there since the end of the shuttle program.
But perhaps the real achievement for SpaceX in 2017, and why it was so successful, was that it was a “no drama” year for the company. The company had no launch failures like in 2015 and 2016 that grounded it for months and raised doubts that SpaceX could really revolutionize the space industry. In 2017, SpaceX just launched and launched and launched: 18 times, all successfully. That’s the same number of launches that China carried out, using a broad lineup of vehicles, and unlike SpaceX, not all of those launches were successful.
Read more at: Space review
Russia Pushing to Partner with NASA on Lunar Gateway
Russia is assembling a new group of engineers who will be responsible for crafting the nation’s lunar exploration strategy. It’s another sign that a highly ambitious human space program is gaining steam in Moscow.
The new department was created inside RKK Energia space corporation, Russia’s premier developer of human spacecraft that is responsible for the venerable Soyuz.
Officially, Moscow has been on a path to put a human on the Moon since 2013, when President Putin approved a general direction for human space flight in the coming decade. The program had been stalling for several years due to falling prices for oil, the main source of revenue for the Russian budget. Last year, however, the Russian lunar exploration effort was given a new impetus when the Kremlin made a strategic decision to cooperate with NASA on the construction of a habitable outpost in the orbit around the Moon, known as Deep Space Gateway, DSG.
Read more at: Arstechnica
SpaceX Shows Off Stunning Pictures of its Falcon Heavy Rocket Fully Assembled on the Launchpad
Last week, SpaceX rolled out its new Falcon Heavy rocket to one of the company’s Florida launchpads, turning the vehicle upright for the very first time. Now SpaceX has released stunning photos and video from that exercise, showing off the vertical, fully assembled Falcon Heavy in all its glory on the pad it’s going to take off from later this month.
On Thursday, SpaceX did what is known as a “fit check” of the rocket, to see if the Falcon Heavy can travel to its primary launchpad, called LC-39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and stand upright on the site. The pad was originally used by NASA to support launches of the Saturn V rocket to the Moon, as well as launches of the Space Shuttle.
Read more at: Verge
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Intelsat S.A. Orders Mission Extension Vehicle 2 to Increase Life Span of Intelsat Spacecraft
Intelsat S.A. has awarded a contract for use of the second Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-2) spacecraft. Produced by Orbital ATK, the MEVs provide mission extension services to satellites already on orbit and are slated to begin undertaking their tasks within the coming months.
“Work on MEV-1 is progressing rapidly toward a late 2018 launch with system-level testing beginning this spring,” said Tom Wilson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Logistics, LLC subsidiary via a company-issued release. “With the launch of MEV-2, Orbital ATK will continue to pioneer in-space satellite servicing for commercial operators. Intelsat’s commitment to a second MEV demonstrates not only the market demand for our servicing vehicles, but also the customer’s confidence in our product.”
Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK is currently in the process of producing MEV-1 which, like its sibling, is being readied to service a spacecraft that is already on orbit
Read more at: Spaceflight Insider
#SpaceWatchGL Forecast: Orbital Debris – An Industry Call to Action at GVF Satellite Hub Summit 2018
We hear the same thing over and over again at industry conferences all over the world: ‘We must do something about orbital debris’ and yet, somehow, there has been a failure to act. This is a hugely serious problem that has the potential to cause catastrophic collisions in orbit, putting critical communications and observation satellites out of service and in turn, causing thousands of new orbital debris to add to the already polluted space environment.
Perhaps it’s down to the fact that there has been just one catastrophic collision event, in February 2009, when an Iridium satellite was destroyed by an untracked spent Soviet rocket stage. With one major and a small handful of minor instances involving space debris, has this made the space industry sit back and wait for something more to happen before it actually gets around to acting on what is a real and present threat?
Read more at: Space Watch
Astronauts Celebrate 20th Birthday of PLA’s Astronomical Unit
All Chinese astronauts who have traveled to space have reviewed the oath they took when they joined a special People’s Liberation Army battalion. The ceremony has been held as part of a series of events to celebrate the 20 birthday of the battalion. The battalion is responsible for training China’s astronauts.
During the latest ceremony, the astronauts pledged to train harder in the days ahead so as to stand ready for space missions at any time. The PLA battalion for astronaut training was created in in January, 1998. 14 pilots were initially selected to launch the new battalion’s training programs. 7 new pilots were added to the unit in 2010, bringing the total number of China’s astronauts to 21. 11 of them have made trips to space on the heels of Yang Liwei to become the first Chinese astronaut in space in 2003. 51-year-old Jing Haipeng currently holds the Chinese record for space flights at three.
Read more at: China.org
Astronauts Identify Mystery Microbes in Space for the 1st Time
NASA astronauts successfully sequenced the DNA of microbes found aboard the International Space Station, marking the first time unknown organisms were sequenced and identified entirely in space. The astronauts found the mystery microbes were two commonly associated with the human microbiome.
Previously, microbes had to be sent to Earth for analysis, and this new sequencing marks an important step in diagnosing astronaut illnesses and, someday, identifying any DNA-based life found on other planets, NASA officials said in a statement. Researchers back on Earth have now verified the microbe identifications are correct, marking the experiment a success.
Read more at: Space.com
This AI-Fortified Bot will Build the First Homes for Humans on Mars
When humans are finally ready to relocate civilization to Mars, they won’t be able to do it alone. They’ll need trusted specialists with encyclopedic knowledge, composure under pressure, and extreme endurance—droids like Justin. Built by the German space agency DLR, such humanoid bots are being groomed to build the first martian habitat for humans. Engineers have been refining Justin’s physical abilities for a decade; the mech can handle tools, shoot and upload photos, catch flying objects, and navigate obstacles. Now, thanks to new AI upgrades, Justin can think for itself. Unlike most robots, which have to be programmed in advance and given explicit instructions for nearly every movement, this bot can autonomously perform complex tasks—even those it hasn’t been programmed to do—on a planet’s surface while being supervised by astronauts in orbit.
Read more at: Wired
Boeing CST-100 Starliner One Step Closer to Flight with Completion of DCR
The first flight of Boeing’s CST-100 “Starliner” spacecraft is one step closer to the launch pad with the successful completion of an Atlas V Launch Segment Design Certification Review (DCR). Colorado-based United Launch Alliance announced on Thursday, Jan. 4, that the review had been completed in support of Boeing’s efforts to send astronauts to the International Space Station via Starliner.
The DCR was conducted at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in early December of 2017. If everything continues to go as it is currently planned, an uncrewed test flight of Starliner could take place as soon as August of this year (2018). The Orbital Flight Test (OFT) booster of the Atlas V 422 rocket is currently undergoing final assembly at ULA’s facilities located in Decatur, Alabama.
The Centaur upper stage has completed pressure testing and other hardware, like the launch vehicle adapter and aeroskirt are currently on schedule to support test articles and, eventually, flight.
Read more at: Spaceflight Insider
NASA Closer to Launching Astronauts from US Once Again
NASA is another step closer to launching astronauts to the International space station from U.S. soil. Two private companies will soon ferry astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida’s Space Coast.
United Launch Alliance will launch Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on an Atlas V rocket. ULA announced it reached a critical milestone by receiving what’s called a Design Certification Review last month.
That means ULA can continue testing the hardware and software of the rocket ahead of test flights. NASA saidBoeing will continue to work on three Starliner space capsules this year at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule’s abort engines as well as parachutes will continue testing throughout 2018.
Read more at: wmfe
Scientific Ballooning Takes Off
Private companies want to take scientific experiments sky-high in 2018 — aboard high-altitude balloons.
For decades, agencies including NASA and France’s National Centre for Space Studies have flown balloon-borne experiments to realms higher than aeroplanes can reach but lower than satellites’ orbits. Now, companies such as World View of Tucson, Arizona, are lofting payloads quickly and cheaply into the stratosphere, between 16 and 30 kilometres up. The commercial balloon flights have new capabilities that open up fresh types of science — such as low-cost monitoring of natural disasters, or testing how to explore Venus by studying Earth’s geology, says Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and a co-founder of World View.
Read more at: Nature
Q&A: Leadership Lessons from NASA
Paul Sean Hill, former flight director and director of mission operations for human spaceflight at Nasa, shares wisdom from the control room
What makes a great team?
A high trust environment in which everyone is free to engage in every discussion and second-guess every decision.
What traits do you look for when building one?
Competence first: do they know their stuff? Then: do they know the difference between what they actually know and what they only think? Are they willing to accept new ideas and information? Can I rely on them to share their thoughts fully with me and the rest of the team?
Read more at: director.co.uk
Put Telescopes on the Far Side of the Moon
Plans to return to the Moon are getting serious. Last month, US President Donald Trump declared that the next time US astronauts blast off, they will be headed to our rocky satellite. In September, the European Space Agency made its strongest call yet for the installation of a permanent, human-inhabited village at the lunar southern pole. China’s National Space Administration is pursuing a human outpost there, among other lunar projects, and private entrepreneurs are enthusiastic about mining minerals on the Moon and making rocket fuel for further space exploration.
But these initiatives are more technical and economic than scientific. Unless we start planning now, they will lack an exceptional asset — a lunar radio telescope. This would be uniquely poised to answer one of humanity’s most profound questions: what are our cosmic origins?
Read more at: Nature
Glassy Debris Points to Relatively Recent Asteroid Impact in Southeast Asia
A kilometer-size asteroid slammed into Earth about 800,000 years ago with so much force that it scattered debris across a 10th of our planet’s surface. Yet its impact crater remains undiscovered. Now, glassy remains believed to have come from the strike suggest the asteroid hit southeast Asia as our close ancestors walked the Earth.
“This impact event is the youngest of this size during human evolution with likely worldwide effects,” says Mario Trieloff, a geochemist at the University of Heidelberg in Germany not involved in the research. Large impacts can disrupt Earth’s climate by spewing dirt and soot high into the atmosphere, where it can block sunlight for months or even years.
Read more at: Science magazine
My Year on “Mars”
The wind sweeps quietly across the barren, dry landscape. There is not a shrub in sight, not a tree, not a single blade of grass that the wind might disturb. Only barren grayish-red rocks.
The wind never touched us as we peered out of our only window, which was more of a porthole than a real window. We did hear it though as it swept across our white dome perched on the slope of the volcano.
We lived and worked for an entire year halfway up Mauna Loa under conditions similar to those that explorers on Mars will encounter. We called the 1,200-square-foot space that we lived in our “habitat,” and whenever we left it we had to wear spacesuits. We each had our own tiny room outfitted with a bed, a small table, a stool and a chest of drawers.
Read more at: Scientific American
2018 May (almost) be the Year for Commercial Human Suborbital Spaceflight
For years, advocates of commercial human suborbital spaceflight have argued that a new era in commercial spaceflight was right around the corner. Vehicles carrying people, either for tourism or for research, would soon enter service, they claimed, opening up new markets. The problem, though, is such claims have been made for at least a decade: after all, when SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X PRIZE in 2004, Virgin Galactic said it would be flying vehicles based on its technology as soon as late 2007 or 2008.
Perhaps now, though, such claims carry more weight. With both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic making progress—if at times slow and uneven—on their vehicles, there’s optimism that the days of commercial human suborbital spaceflight may be soon at hand. For those interested in flying experiments, those days have already arrived.
Read more at: Space review
Cosmic Couture: The Urgent Quest to Redesign the Spacesuit
Doug Wheelock never really liked his spacesuit. “It may look cool, but it’s 35 years old, smells like a locker room and there’s some discolouration on the inside,” he says. Yet that dilapidated old thing was all that stood between him and deadly cold nothingness during the NASA astronaut’s six spacewalks. “It’s actually kind of scary when you think about it,” he says.
Wheelock is talking about the puffy-looking white suit with the reflective visor that NASA calls the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). These suits are among the most famous pieces of clothing ever worn, but they are well past their shelf life.
Read more at: NewScientist
Ukraine’s Lofty Ambitions, Fallen to Earth
Ukraine was once a vital part of the Soviet space program, home to many research institutes and rocket factories. Now, wracked by war and shaken by political upheaval, the nation struggles to hold on to its scientific traditions. On a recent visit, I was struck by the determination of researchers stripped of the resources taken for granted in the West. The biologist still tending a jar filled with bacteria once destined for space. The retiree holding together a small astronomy museum in Kiev with spare parts and pluck.
From black garbage bags and duct tape, Tatiana Kovalchuk-Skorokhodnik, of the Ukrainian Space Agency, has built a mobile “planetarium” for children. With holes pricked in the makeshift dome, she has reconstructed the starry night skies above Ukraine.
Read more at: NY Times
NASA Streamlines Management Requirements for Some Science Missions
NASA has enacted new policies intended to streamline the management of low-cost science missions with the highest tolerance for risk.
The new policies for what are known as Class D missions, briefed at scientific meetings last month and a town hall meeting at NASA Headquarters Jan. 3, will reduce the number of reviews and level of documentation levied on such missions to give them more freedom to take innovative approaches.
“We want to make sure that we’re not over-managing these missions,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said at a NASA town hall meeting Dec. 12 during the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in New Orleans. “What I mean is that we don’t weigh down the missions with more process than is needed and suffocate the innovation than enables them.”
Read more at: Spacenews
The New National Security Strategy Prioritizes Space
The current administration seeks to make space a public policy priority. The re-establishment of the National Space Council and the administration’s announcement earlier this month to prioritize the return of astronauts to the moon have signaled this.
The 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS), which prioritizes U.S. leadership in military, commercial, and scientific components of space, is no exception to the administration’s continued desire to “make America great again in space.” As space evolves into a more globally competitive industry, the economic vitality of the U.S. space sector will support key national security goals to “promote American prosperity” and “advance American influence.”
Read more at: The Hill
Sell Spaceport for $1 and Let Experts Operate it
Spaceport America – our spaceport – is a problem for us. It has cost over $220 million and counting so far, but has returned virtually nothing on that investment.
I agree with Dan Hicks, the current spaceport director, who says that our spaceport must become competitive with 10 currently licensed spaceports around the country, and many others around the world, if it is to have a future. He estimates the cost to reach that level of capability at about $7 billion. Remember, so far we have built an airport – huge runway and hangar for Virgin Galactic’s White Knight aircraft – with minimal ability to handle vertical launch vehicles, which is where the future lies, according to Mr. Hicks.
He looks past Virgin Galactic, to the day when Spaceport America is the equivalent of Cape Canaveral, launching astronauts and satellites into space on a regular basis.
Read more at: lcsun
Op-ed | Why Bill Nelson Should Support Jim Bridenstine for NASA Administrator
The 2017 session of the current Congress ended with Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) still not confirmed by the full Senate to become NASA administrator. The lack of action persists, even though Bridenstine’s nomination cleared the Senate Commerce Committee, albeit on a party-line vote, in early November. President Trump, who still warmly supports his nominee, will have to re-nominate Bridenstine this month, which should be just a matter of filing paperwork.
The reason Bridenstine is having problems getting a full senate vote for confirmation is that Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), is leading the Senate Democratic Caucus in total opposition to his appointment. During Bridenstine’s confirmation hearing last fall, Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee led a full-throated, tag-team assault on Bridenstine, painting him as divisive on social issues and accusing him of being a “climate denier” and, most curious of all, a politician.
Read more at: Spacenews
Paul & Shark CEO Andrea Dini Paid $20,000 for a Zero-gravity Experience
Andrea Dini, CEO and President of Italian fashion brand Paul & Shark, is looking for an “out-of-the-world experience” this year.
The third-generation of the family to lead the company, Dini has enlisted himself for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic project. Branson’s venture aims to fly passengers to space for a few minutes of zero-gravity experience.
Dini, who spent $20,000 as down payment, says the space plane was to take off last year. “Unfortunately, I heard that there was some problem with the aircraft’s engine and the project has been further delayed,” he tells ETPanache during his India visit last month. “I was told that the total ticket will be between $100,000 and $150,000.”
Read more at: Economic Times
Read more at: Spaceflight 101
Air Force ISR ‘Flight Plan,’ Industry Day Coming: Stealth, Space, Cyber, & AI
The Air Force is finalizing a high-tech “flight plan” for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance investments, the deputy chief of staff for ISR said here. The service can’t keep buying more and more drones to collect more and more data and then hiring more and more human analysts to plow through it, Lt. Gen. Veralinn “Dash” Jamieson told a small group. So the new strategy will make better use of satellites, cyberspace, advanced aircraft like the F-35 and B-21, and even publicly available information on the Internet, as well as artificial intelligence to help analyze the vast amounts of incoming data.
The plan will focus on investments for the upcoming Five-Year Defense Plan (FYDP) but projects out to 2035, Jamieson said. The document should be done this spring, but she’ll preview it at a Feb. 2 industry day.
Read more at: Breaking defense
Astronaut John Young, who Flew in Space 6 Times, Dies at 87
John Young, who was one of NASA’s most experienced astronauts and the first to fly in space six times, including a moon landing, died on Friday after complications from pneumonia. He was 87.
In NASA’s history, few astronauts were more accomplished than John Young. His career was filled with firsts: he was the first to fly in space six times. He was on the first Gemini mission and he commanded the first shuttle flight. (He was also one of 12 people to walk on the moon.)
“If anybody deserves the title of legend it would be John Young,” said Andrew Chaikin, an author who has written extensively on NASA.
Read more at: NPR
A Bittersweet Homecoming (part 1)
Homecoming for returning astronauts is usually a joyous occasion: crews are greeted by their families, their support teams, and an admiring public. However, the prelude to homecoming on February 1, 2003, was punctuated by an ominous note. That morning, none of the shuttle’s signature dual sonic booms filled the skies and homes of Central Florida. During a shuttle’s return, this was unthinkable. An eerie silence, instead, shook bystanders to their core. Former shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach, co-author of Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew, chillingly described his feelings standing by, waiting for painful, interminable minutes, by Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility:
Read more at: Space review
IAASS to Offer New Training Course
ISS Payloads Design and Operations Safety
14-16 February 2018 – Livorno (Tuscany), Italy
The course is designed to provide the participant with an understanding of safety requirements, procedures and processes that are used for design and operations of payloads for the International Space Station. The target audience are safety engineers and managers, system engineers, QA personnel, project managers responsible for development, integration and operation of payloads/cargo for ISS. To learn more about the course and on how to register, download the Course Brochure.
Please complete the registration form (in the brochure) and email to: [email protected] not later than 1 February 2018.
Read more at: IAASS