‘Comm Check’: Remembering Columbia’s Final Flight Home, OTD in 2003

For 16 days in January 2003, the seven men and women of shuttle Columbia’s STS-107 crew—Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Mission Specialists Dave Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Mike Anderson and Laurel Clark and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon of Israel—worked around-the-clock to complete 80 scientific experiments spanning a variety of disciplines from life sciences to fluid physics and from materials research to Earth observations. Eighty-seven missions after Challenger, they had serviced the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) four times, docked nine times with Russia’s Mir orbital complex and had begun building the sprawling International Space Station (ISS) in low-Earth orbit.

Read more at: Americaspace

SpaceX Violated Launch License In Starship SN8 Launch

The Federal Aviation Administration said that SpaceX violated the conditions of a launch license for its Starship vehicle during a launch in December, prompting an investigation that delayed tests of another vehicle.

In a Feb. 2 statement, the FAA said that SpaceX had requested a waiver to its FAA license for suborbital test flights of its Starship vehicle before the Dec. 9 flight of the Starship SN8 vehicle. That waiver, the FAA said, would have allowed SpaceX to “exceed the maximum public risk allowed by federal safety regulations.”

Read more at: Spacenews

US Still Committed To Landing Artemis Astronauts On The Moon, White House Says

The Biden administration’s crucial first 100 days in office now includes a big human spaceflight pledge.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday (Feb. 4) that President Joe Biden will carry on the Artemis program to land humans on the moon in the coming years. Artemis began under Biden’s predecessor, then-President Donald Trump.

“Through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the moon — another man and a woman to the moon,” Psaki told reporters in a White House press briefing Thursday.

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UN And UK Sign Agreement To Promote Space Sustainability

The agreement will help nations ensure that outer space remains safe and sustainable for future generations.

The increasing complexity of space missions, the emergence of large constellations of satellites and the increased risks of collision all affect the long-term sustainability of space activities. And there are currently approximately 170 million objects in orbit – mainly debris – which could collide with satellites vital to services we use every day.

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Scottish Rocket Firm’s ‘Space Tug’ Gives Space Sustainability Dream A Lift

Scottish rocket development company Skyrora has conducted successful trials of a ‘space tug’ which it hopes can ensure the UK becomes a leader in tackling the issue of space junk.

The Orbit Transfer Vehicle – part of its Skyrora XL rocket due to launch in 2023 – could clear debris, reposition satellites and remove defunct satellites from orbit.

In the week that the UK and UN signed a historical agreement on space sustainability, Edinburgh-based Skyrora has thrown its support behind the initiative.

Read more at: Insider


China’s Surging Private Space Industry Is Out To Challenge The US

China’s space program might have been slowed by the pandemic in 2020, but it certainly didn’t stop. The year’s highlights included sending a rover to Mars, bringing moon rocks back to Earth, and testing out the next-generation crewed vehicle that should take taikonauts into orbit—and possibly to the moon—one day.

But there were a few achievements the rest of the world might not have noticed. One was the November 7 launch of Ceres-1, a new type of rocket that, at just 62 feet in height, is capable of taking 770 pounds of payload into low Earth orbit. The launch sent the Tianqi 11 communications satellite into space.

Read more at: Technology review

Virgin Galactic Ordered Safety Probe After Wing Of Spacecraft Was Damaged During 2019 Flight, Book Says

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic had just had its second successful flight to the edge of space, a daring mission that it said put it one step closer to finally flying tourists and making it the “world’s first commercial spaceline.”

But when the ground crew wheeled the suborbital spacecraft back into the hangar, company officials discovered that a seal running along a stabilizer on the wing designed to keep the space plane flying straight had come undone — a potentially serious safety hazard.

Read more at: Washington post

China’s Ispace Fails To Reach Orbit In 2nd Launch Attempt

The first private Chinese company to reach orbit met with failure Monday (Feb. 1) during its second attempt to go to space.


iSpace’s four-stage Hyperbola-1 rocket failed after liftoff while attempting to carry the cubesat-sized Fangzhou-2 (Ark-2) satellite into space, which also never made it.

Media reports indicate the launch attempt happened around 4:15 p.m. local time (3:15 a.m. EST; 0815 GMT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, which covers north and northeastern China.

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Northrop Grumman Test-Fires Rocket Motors For New Vulcan Centaur Booster

Northrop Grumman and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully performed a crucial rocket motor test for ULA’s next-generation rocket, Vulcan Centaur, in preparation for a debut launch later this year.


On a test stand in Promontory, Utah, the companies did a 90-second “validation ground test” for the motor, which will help power a Northrop Grumman strap-on booster for Vulcan Centaur. The rocket will use the strap-on boosters for additional lift capability, which is handy for situations such as sending large satellites into space.

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Groundbreaking Biofuel Rocket Could Be ‘Uber For Space’

Snow swirled and a biting wind sent temperatures plummeting to several degrees below zero as the Stardust 1.0 made its debut at a former military base in Maine.

Strapped to a trailer and pulled by a pick-up truck along a runway once used by B-52 bombers in the Cold War, it wasn’t the most glamorous entrance for a rocket about to make history.

And it very nearly didn’t as the subzero conditions played havoc with the electronics and clouds moved in.

Read more at: BBC

SpaceX Starship Crashes After Suborbital Flight

A second prototype of SpaceX’s Starship reusable launch vehicle performed a suborbital flight Feb. 2, only to crash while landing.

The Starship SN9 vehicle lifted off at about 3:25 p.m. Eastern from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, test site. SpaceX planned to fly the vehicle to an altitude of 10 kilometers before landing on a pad at the test site.

The liftoff and ascent of the vehicle went as expected, according to commentary on the SpaceX webcast by company engineer John Insprucker. The vehicle reached the 10-kilometer mark four minutes after liftoff and, after hovering briefly, flipped to a horizontal orientation to glide back to the landing pad.

Read more at: Spacenews


America’s New Strategy for Space Nuclear Power

Among the flurry of executive orders and proclamations signed during his final weeks in office, President Trump issued two directives that have received little fanfare—about space. One directive concerns enhancing the cybersecurity of GPS satellites. The other is perhaps more exciting: It focuses on exploring Mars and the moon. 

Since the late 1960s, the United States has leveraged nuclear energy technology to help power spacecraft. Recent examples include the ongoing New Horizons mission, the Cassini mission to Saturn and the Voyager 1 mission to reach interstellar space for the first time in history.

Read more at: lawfare blog

White House To Realign Responsibilities For Space Policy Oversight

The Biden administration is giving the White House National Security Council oversight responsibilities for space policy, giving credence to speculation that the National Space Council will be discontinued.

The White House in a Feb. 4 memo said the National Security Council from now on will issue “national security memorandums” to replace the former administration’s space policy directives as “instruments for communicating presidential decisions about national security policies of the United States.”

Read more at: Spacenews

Space Force has Biden’s ‘Full Support,’ White House says

The nation’s newest military branch just got a vote of confidence from the Biden administration.


The U.S. Space Force has “the full support of the Biden administration,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a news conference today (Feb. 3). 

“The desire for the Department of Defense to focus greater attention and resources on the growing security challenges in space has long been a bipartisan issue informed by numerous independent commissions and studies conducted across multiple administrations,” she added.

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Biden Admin Expected To Rein In ‘Space Power’ Push

Advocates of expansive US ‘spacepower’ — via aggressive actions to “dominate” the heavens from Earth’s orbit to beyond the Moon — are likely to find the Biden administration much less supportive of their dreams, say a range of former DoD and US military officials, insiders and long-time space policy wonks.

Incoming space policy makers are expected to rein in the current Space Force and Space Command focus on — or, as some critic have charged, obsession with — fighting wars in space with China and Russia, out to the Moon, Mars and, in theory anyway, infinity.

Read more at: Breaking defense

DoD Faces Tough Decisions On Space Rules

The Pentagon has long professed its commitment to ‘responsible’ behavior in space, but has never clearly articulated what that means in either peace or war. This year that may change.

What’s changed? Britain sponsored a a UN resolution charging member nations to make clear their views on both what milspace actions by others they see as threatening and what they consider to be acceptable during peacetime. The Trump Administration supported it. The resolution’s goal is to reduce risks of misunderstandings and miscalculations that can lead to, or escalate, conflict, UK Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva Aidan Liddle told the Secure World Foundation in December. 

Read more at: Breaking defense


Is There Life On Mars? Not If We Destroy It With Poor Space Hygiene

Next month, three new spacecraft arrive at Mars. Two represent firsts for their countries of origin, while the third opens a new era of Mars exploration. The first is the UAE’s Emirates Mars Mission, also known as Hope, which enters orbit on 9 February. Shortly after, China’s Tianwen-1 settles into the red planet’s gravitational grip and in April will deploy a lander carrying a rover to the surface.

Both of these missions are groundbreaking for their countries. If they are successful, their makers will join the US, Russia, Europe and India in having successfully sent spacecraft to Mars. However, it is the third mission that is destined to capture the most headlines.

Read more at: Guardian

Human Space Programme: Isro To Send First Unmanned Flight By This December

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is planning to send the first unmanned flight into space by the end of 2021.

In a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, Minister of State in the Department of Space and Department of Atomic Energy, Jitendra Singh said that the first manned mission of Gaganyaan is planned after two unmanned flights, and the first unmanned flight is scheduled by December 2021.

It may be noted that under Gaganyaan mission, India plans to send three astronauts into space. They will orbit at about 400 km above the earth for five to seven days before returning.

Read more at: Business standard

Remastered Images Reveal How Far Alan Shepard Hit A Golf Ball On The Moon

Fifty years ago this week, NASA astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. made space history when he took a few golf swings on the Moon during the Apollo 14 mission, successfully hitting two golf balls across the lunar surface. Space enthusiasts have debated for decades just how far that second ball traveled. It seems we now have an answer, thanks to the efforts of imaging specialist Andy Saunders, who digitally enhanced archival images from that mission and used them to estimate the final resting spots of the golf balls.

Saunders, who has been working with the United States Golf Association (USGA) to commemorate Shepard’s historical feat, announced his findings in a Twitter thread. Saunders concluded that the first golf ball Shepard hit traveled roughly 24 yards, while the second golf ball traveled 40 yards.

Read more at: Arstechnica