Satellite Firms Debate New Commerce Space Safety Rules

A growing number of US satellite owners/operators want to see the Commerce Department develop new on-orbit safety rules, particularly for the increasingly congested Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Nonetheless, industry officials say, there remain strong pockets of resistance to any new regulations especially among aggressive space startups.

The new Office of Space Commerce  is led by Kevin O’Connell. The Trump Administration’s June 2018 Space Policy Directive-3 (SPD-3) National Space Traffic Management Policy mandates that Commerce take over civil/commercial space situational awareness (SSA) responsibilities from the Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron and regulate new types of space activities such as satellite servicing. It also has been given presidential authority to review US orbital debris mitigation practices followed by all space operators –including the US military.

Read more at: Breaking defense

Intelsat Still Searching For Cause Of IS-29e Loss, Replacement Satellite TBD

Intelsat estimates the in-orbit failure of its first high-throughput satellite will cost the company between $45 million and $50 million in revenue for the year.

Luxembourg and Virginia-based Intelsat said it is still working with Boeing on understanding why the uninsured, three-year-old Intelsat-29e satellite it built sprung a fuel leak three weeks ago and stopped communicating shortly after.

The investigation has so far indicated that Intelsat-29e’s failure is unrelated to the propulsion issues with Intelsat-33e, a Boeing-built satellite that launched in 2016, Steve Spengler, Intelsat’s chief executive, said April 30.

Read more at: Spacenews

FAA Commercial Space Office Reorganization Focuses On Efficiency

The Federal Aviation Administration office charged with overseeing commercial space transportation is planning a reorganization that will seek the make the office more efficient, but could mean the end of some of its work promoting the industry.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced the planned restructuring of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, or AST, in an April 24 speech in Florida about the growing commercial space industry, a talk that got little attention outside the state’s Space Coast region.

“Today I’m announcing that the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation is undertaking an extensive reorganization,” she said in her prepared remarks. That effort will be led by Wayne Monteith, a retired Air Force general who took over as associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the FAA in January.

Read more at: Spacenews

Space Station Power Problem Delays Crs-17 Dragon Launch

An issue with the International Space Station’s power grid is prompting mission managers to delay the launch of the CRS-17 Dragon resupply mission to at least Friday.

SpaceX and NASA had been planning to launch a Falcon 9 rocket with the CRS-17 Dragon mission at 3:59 a.m. EDT (07:59 GMT) May 1, 2019, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. However, NASA said on April 29 that ground-based teams “identified an issue” with the space station’s power system and were “working to identify the root cause and restore full power to the system.”

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Dragon Was Destroyed Just Before The Firing Of Its Superdraco Thrusters

During a news conference Thursday in advance of a SpaceX supply mission to the International Space Station, the company’s vice president of mission assurance, Hans Koenigsmann, provided some additional details about a failure with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft 12 days ago.

In the company’s most expansive comments to date, Koenigsmann said the “anomaly” occurred during a series of tests with the spacecraft, approximately one-half second before the firing of the SuperDraco thrusters. At that point, he said, “There was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed.”

Read more at: Arstechnica

A Dark Cloud On Commercial Crew’s Horizon

It wasn’t clear at first what caused the dark cloud spotted that sunny Saturday afternoon on Florida’s Space Coast, but it couldn’t have been good.

On that afternoon, surfers and other beachgoers, as well as one newspaper photographer, saw a dark, reddish cloud rising from somewhere in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. With no launches or other test activities publicized in advance, what caused it was initially a mystery.

By late in the day, base officials and SpaceX had announced what had happened: the company was testing its Crew Dragon vehicle at Landing Zone 1 (the former Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral) when something went wrong.

Read more at: Spacereview

SpaceX’s Unnerving Silence on an Explosive Incident

The smoke was visible for miles.

The day, April 20, was sunny on the Florida coast, with few clouds. The plumes, thick and glowing orange, rose over the horizon and crawled across the sky. Beachgoers stopped to stare. A photographer for Florida Today, on assignment to cover a surf festival, turned the lens away from the waves and snapped some pictures.

The ashy clouds were coming from Cape Canaveral. The only time you want to see smoke wafting from that vicinity, the site of historic space launches, is after a successful liftoff—and there were no rockets in the sky that day.

Read more at: Atlantic

Facing 2024 Deadline, NASA Issues A Report Defending The Lunar Gateway

On Wednesday, as NASA continued to press lawmakers to support an accelerated plan to return humans to the Moon, the space agency began distributing a document titled Why Gateway? in defense of a return. The document summarizes why NASA thinks a space station near the Moon is critical to human exploration, and it was first shared internally by the Gateway program office at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The document can be read here.

Read more at: Arstechnica

Aluminum Scam Results in Two NASA Mission Failures

An Oregon aluminum manufacturer has admitted to falsifying critical tests on aluminum sold to NASA over a 19 year period, agreeing to pay a $46 million fine to the Department of Justice.

NASA says the scam was at the heart of two failed missions—2009’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory, which carried equipment designed to take the most precise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide to date, and 2011’s Glory, which was also meant to aid in climate research—where the Taurus XL rockets protective nose cones failed to separate on command. Both rockets plummeted back to earth.

Read more at: Fortune

New Institute Eyes HOME in Deep Space

In a significant step toward human-crewed space missions to the moon or Mars, NASA has awarded a grant of up to $15 million over five years to a new research institute led by the University of California, Davis. The HOME (Habitats Optimized for Missions of Exploration) Space Technology Research Institute will develop enabling technology for spacecraft and deep-space bases of the future.

HOME is led by Professor Stephen Robinson, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC Davis and a former astronaut.

Read more at: UC Davis

What It Takes To Fly Virgin Orbit’s Huge Plane That Launches Rockets Into Space

Right now, hundreds of space startups are racing to develop newer, smaller rockets, in order to take advantage of the proliferation of smaller satellites within the aerospace industry. Many of these companies want to get to space the old-fashioned way, by making a rocket that takes off vertically from the ground. But one company has eyed another method for getting to space — by launching underneath the wing of a giant airplane.

This is the strategy of Virgin Orbit, the sibling company to Richard Branson’s space tourism venture Virgin Galactic. Virgin Orbit has developed a small rocket called LauncherOne that can put satellites the size of washing machines into orbit. And its launchpad resides at 35,000 feet. Virgin Orbit owns a Boeing 747 airplane, called Cosmic Girl, which carries LauncherOne up into the sky. From there, the rocket will drop from underneath Cosmic Girl’s left wing and then ignite, climbing the rest of the way to orbit.

Read more at: Verge

X-37B Military Space Plane’s Latest Mystery Mission Passes 600 Days

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane has now been circling Earth for more than 600 days on its latest mystery mission.

The reusable robotic vehicle, which looks like a miniature version of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters, launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 7, 2017.

As of today (April 30), the space plane has been aloft for 601 days, on a mission known as Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) because it’s the fifth flight of the X-37B program.

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How To Rescue Dragon, Starliner, And Orion Crews At Sea

In preparation for the return of crew launches from the United States, the Department of Defense, in coordination with the U.S. Air Force and rescue dive teams, have outlined how they would rescue the crews of a Dragon, Starliner, and/or Orion spacecraft should they abort into the sea or perform an off-nominal ocean landing.

The procedures are only in regard to rescuing a crew, with the recovery of the individual capsules being left to the respective agencies.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

Killer Asteroid Flattens New York In Simulation Exercise

After devastating the French Riviera in 2013, destroying Dhaka in 2015 and saving Tokyo in 2017, an international asteroid impact simulation ended Friday with its latest disaster — New York in ruins. Despite a simulated eight years of preparation, scientists and engineers tried but failed to deflect the killer asteroid.

The exercise has become a regular event among the international community of “planetary defense” experts.

The latest edition began Monday near Washington, with the following alert: an asteroid roughly 100 to 300 meters (330 to 1,000 feet) in diameter had been spotted and according to rough calculations had a one percent chance of hitting the Earth on April 29, 2027.

Read more at: Space daily

NASA Chief Warns That People Need To Take The Threat Of A Meteor Crashing Into Earth Much More Seriously

NASA’s administrator warned that the threat of a meteor crashing into Earth is bigger than we might think.

Jim Bridenstine told the International Academy of Astronautics’ Planetary Defense Conference on Monday that “the reason it’s important for NASA to take this seriously is something you call the ‘giggle factor,’” or scientific theories that seem too ridiculous to be likely.

“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood. It’s not about movies. This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life, and that is the planet Earth,” he added.

Bridenstine noted that in February 2013, a meteor measuring 20 meters (about 65 feet) in diameter and traveling at 40,000 mph entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded over Chelyabinsk, in central Russia.

Read more at: Business Insider

Pow! A Meteorite Slammed into the Moon at 38,000 MPH During Lunar Eclipse

A meteorite smashed into the moon’s surface at 38,000 miles per hour (61,000 kilometers per hour) while our lunar neighbor was in total eclipse in January, a new report reveals.

Observers saw a flash during the Jan. 20 to 21 eclipse, when the object collided with the moon and carved out a crater about 10 to 15 meters (33 to 50 feet) in diameter. It was traveling fast enough to have been able to cross the United States in just a few minutes, but, luckily for Earth, it slammed into the moon instead.

Astronomers measured a 0.28-second flash from the impact, the first ever filmed during a lunar eclipse. Lunar eclipses happen when the moon passes into the Earth’s shadow during its normal orbit around our planet. The moon turns a reddish or orange color, because only sunlight around the edges of Earth’s shadow can reach the moon’s surface.

Read more at:

Committee To Review NASA Planetary Protection Policies

NASA will establish an independent committee to review its planetary protection policies to reflect new developments in human space exploration and commercial spaceflight.

In an April 23 statement, the agency said it will create an independent Planetary Protection Review Board to recommend any updates to existing regulations intended to prevent contamination of potentially habitable worlds by NASA spacecraft, or contamination of the Earth by any life that may exist on those worlds.

“It’s vital we revisit the planetary protection guidelines put in place in a previous era to ensure our protection standards reflect the current and future realities of space exploration,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in the statement.

Read more at: Spacenews

Chinese Firms Space Transportation And Linkspace Test Reusable Launcher Technologies

Two Chinese launch startups have successfully carried out tests of technology demonstration rockets as part of quests to develop reusable launch vehicles.

New Chinese launch firm Space Transportation carried out a test April 22 in northwest China in cooperation with Xiamen University, launching a 3,700-kilogram technology demonstrator named Jiageng-1.

Launch took place at 7:28 p.m. Eastern April 22, with Jiageng-1 reaching a maximum altitude of 26.2 kilometers and a top speed of above 4,300 kilometers per hour. The rocket was recovered at a designated landing site.

Read more at: Spacenews

Firefly Has Successfully Tested The Upper Stage Of Its Alpha Rocket

Last Thursday, on a green expanse at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, Firefly Aerospace prepared to test the second stage of its Alpha rocket. After years of development, engineers bolted the rocket stage to a vertical test stand and began to feed kerosene and liquid oxygen into the engine.

Then, for 300 seconds, the rocket’s Lightning-1 engine fired, blowing white and yellow flame out of its exhaust nozzle. The five-minute test demonstrated the performance of the engine and upper stage over an entire cycle of flight in space, during which the upper stage would boost a satellite and insert into orbit.

Read more at: Arstechnica

Blue Origin Is A Step Closer To Taking Space Tourists After It Landed Its Rocket Again

It’s part of the company’s preparations to start flying humans later this year.

The mission: The uncrewed flight took off from a facility in west Texas on May 2, 2019. It’s the 11th test flight and the fifth time this specific reusable rocket has flown to space and back. It flew 38 payloads, including science experiments for schools, universities, and government agencies.

The grand plan: Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, plans to eventually take tourists into space. Specifically, it will take them 62 miles (100 kilometers) up, where they can experience a few minutes of zero gravity before returning to Earth.

Read more at: Technology review

Six Suborbital Research Payloads From MIT Fly To Space And Back

Blast off! MIT made its latest foray into research in space on May 2 via six payloads from the Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, tucked into Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable space vehicle that took off from a launchpad in West Texas.

It was also the first time in the history of the Media Lab that in-house research projects were launched into space, for several minutes of sustained microgravity. The results of that research may have big implications for semiconductor manufacturing, art and telepresence, architecture and farming, among other things.

“The projects we’re testing operate fundamentally different in Earth’s gravity compared to how they would operate in microgravity,” explained Ariel Ekblaw, the founder and lead of the Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative.

Read more at: MIT

Japan’s Private Rocket Reaches Outer Space For First Time

A Japanese aerospace startup funded by a former internet maverick successfully launched a small rocket into space Saturday, making it the first commercially developed Japanese rocket to reach orbit.

Interstellar Technology Inc. said the unmanned MOMO-3 rocket exceeded 100 kilometers (60 miles) in altitude before falling into the Pacific Ocean. It was launched from the company’s test site in the town of Taiki on Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido and flew about 10 minutes.

“We proved that our rocket developed with a lot of commercially available parts is capable of reaching the space,” Interstellar Technologies CEO Takahiro Inagawa told a news conference from Hokkaido.

Read more at: ABC news

Lower Orbit Granted For First Spacex Starlink Satellites

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted SpaceX approval to launch its first group of Starlink communication satellites, which are designed to provide a system of low-cost, high-performing broadband internet access from space, in a lower orbit than initially planned.

Starlink is an ambitious project aimed at establishing a network of satellites capable of providing high-speed internet access worldwide. When complete, it is expected to encompass nearly 12,000 satellites costing an estimated total of $10 billion, all of which is planned to be designed, built and launched over the next decade.

The first batch of the small satellites—a total of 1,584, which are expected to begin launching as early as May 2019—has already arrived in Florida in preparation for launch. In the lead up to launch, the FCC has granted SpaceX’s request to lower the orbits of the first group of satellites from the original 715 miles (1,150 kilometers) above the Earth to 340 miles (550 kilometers).

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Progress Continues On Dream Chaser Space Plane

Over the last several weeks, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) released a number of updates regarding its progress on the Dream Chaser space plane ranging from the completion of a NASA development milestone to an updated color scheme.

Dream Chaser is one of three vehicles planned to resupply the International Space Station in NASA’s second phase for the agency’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, also called CRS2. The other two are SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft.

However, Dream Chaser is still in development. Possibly the most visible aspect of SNC’s updates over the last month or so is that the body assembly, or pressure vessel, for the first flight vehicle is in the final stages of fabrication. It is being built by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, among other subcontractors.

Read more at: Spaceeflight Insider

China Private Rocket Firm Signs 100-Mln-Yuan Contracts With UK, Italian Counterparts

China’s private rocket company Land Space Technology Corporation Ltd. signed contracts with UK’s Open Cosmos and Italy’s D-Orbit Thursday, totaling over 100 million yuan (14.8 million U.S. dollars).

The Hangzhou-based company will seek cooperation with the two overseas launch service and mission management providers in the launch of CubSat, a miniaturized satellite for space research and in-orbit delivery, according to Land Space.

Land Space’s strength in technology and its strong team give Open Cosmos confidence in our cooperation, said Tristan Laurent, vice president of Open Cosmos.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

China Plans To Launch Carrier Rocket At Sea

China plans to launch a Long March-11 carrier rocket at sea this year, which is expected to lower the cost of entering space.

The rocket has been named “CZ-11 WEY” under an agreement between the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, China Space Foundation and a Chinese automobile producer.

China’s first seaborne rocket launch is scheduled for mid-2019 in the Yellow Sea, said Jin Xin, deputy chief commander of the rocket, at a press conference of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation earlier this year.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

China Develops Unique Heat-Resistant Material For Hypersonic Aircraft

Chinese scientists have developed a new heat-resistant material for hypersonic aircraft which can endure over 3,000 C from friction caused by a Mach 5-20 flight within the atmosphere.

The lead scientist on the project said the material outperforms all similar foreign-made ones with its high melting point, low density and high malleability.

The new material enables a hypersonic aircraft to fly at Mach 5-20 within the atmosphere for several hours, as the high heat resulting from the friction between the aircraft and the air reaches between 2,000 C to 3,000 C, a temperature normal metal would not be able to endure.

Normal metals melt at around 1,500 C, but this new material can bear over 3,000 C for an extended period, state-owned Hunan Television reported recently.

Read more at: Globatimes

Self-Cleaning Space Suit Could Help NASA Astronauts Avoid Harmful Dust On Moon, Mars

Just as Batman’s suit protected him from enemy attacks in his quest to save Gotham City, Boeing engineer Kavya Manyapu began envisioning a super suit that would protect astronauts from brutal environmental attacks in their quest to explore space.

But the astronauts’ fight is with something much smaller — though arguably, no less dangerous — than Batman’s. Their battle is with dust.

Read more at: Houston chronicle

Photobioreactor: Oxygen And A Source Of Nutrition For Astronauts

Airbus is bringing another experimental system to the International Space Station (ISS) in the form of the photobioreactor (PBR). The PBR, developed by the University of Stuttgart and built by Airbus on behalf of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), is designed to convert part of the CO2 extracted by the ‘LSR’ Life Support Rack on board the ISS into oxygen and biomass, which could help to save valuable resources during future long-term missions into space.

Future human research missions are expected to take astronauts to the Moon and Mars. A deciding factor for the success of these missions will be keeping the resources carried to a minimum. As it is both difficult and expensive to send new supplies from Earth, the greatest possible closure of the respective resource cycles for water, oxygen and food is of vital importance. Most waste water is already reprocessed into fresh water on the ISS.

Read more at: Airbus

Stop Ageing in Space

Wrinkles, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a clumsy brain are all natural consequences of getting old. As our cells rust over time, a key to fighting chronic disease may be in tiny, smartly designed particles that have the potential to become an anti-ageing supplement. A European experiment seeking innovative antioxidants is on its way to space.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft lifted off today from Cape Canaveral, in the United States, destined for the International Space Station. Among its cargo are living cells and ceramic particles that will coexist for six days in an incubator.

The samples travel cozy and warm, stored at a temperature of about 30°C, to meet the stresses of life in space. Weightlessness, artificial gravity and radiation will impact the culture, and researchers on Earth are eager to know how.

Read more at: ESA

NASA Teams Up With Israeli Biotech Firm To Work On Solving Long Duration Spaceflight

It is one of the biggest hurdles NASA must overcome before astronauts embark on long duration space travel to Mars or building permanent settlements on the moon: how to minimize the heavy toll exacted on even the most physically fit human bodies in zero gravity.

So to help ensure astronauts don’t arrive at their destination too weak to explore, the space agency has teamed up with Pluristem, an Israeli biotech company, to investigate whether injecting them with cells derived from a mother’s nutrient-rich placenta can increase muscle volume — a process now in trials on Earth for the elderly.

Read more at: Politico

Armenia To Gain Access To Russian Remote Sensing Satellite Data

Armenia will be able to get data from Russian remote sensing satellites under an agreement concluded between Russian Space Systems Company and Armenia’s Geokosmos, the Company’s press office announced on Monday.

“in the course of the visit, the delegations of Geokosmos and Russian Space Systems agreed on commencing joint work to modernize the station of receiving and processing remote sensing satellite data located in Armenia, which will allow Geokosmos to obtain data in the regime of direct data transmission from the Earth remote sensing satellites of the Russian orbital grouping,” the press office said in a statement.

Under a sub-license agreement, Geokosmos will be able to both obtain the relevant data and disseminate it. The Russian Space Systems press office stressed that this would allow the Armenian company to boost its possibilities for creating geo-information services and “localizing Russian and foreign solutions in this sphere.”

Read more at: TASS

The Race To Develop The Moon

In January, the China National Space Administration landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon, the side we can’t see from Earth. Chang’e-4 was named for a goddess in Chinese mythology, who lives on the moon for reasons connected to her husband’s problematic immortality drink. The story has many versions. In one, Chang’e has been banished to the moon for elixir theft and turned into an ugly toad. In another, she has saved humanity from a tyrannical emperor by stealing the drink. In many versions, she is a luminous beauty and has as a companion a pure-white rabbit.

Read more at: Newyorker

Japan To Announce Participation In US Lunar Project By Year-End

Japan plans to announce by the end of the year it will participate in a U.S. project to build a lunar orbiting space station, science minister Masahiko Shibayama said Thursday.

Shibayama, the minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, made the remark related to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Gateway project after meeting with the space agency’s Administrator Jim Bridenstine in Washington.

“While taking into account developments in the United States and other related parties, we would like to advance coordination with the space policy committee and other related organizations (in Japan) so that we can announce our participation this year,” Shibayama said at a press conference.

Read more at: Mainichi

High Cost, Lack Of Support Spell Trouble For 2024 Moon Landing [Updated]

It was only a little more than one month ago that Vice President Mike Pence gave NASA a bold new direction—a goal of landing humans back on the Moon by 2024. Be urgent, he told the space agency. Work with purpose. We can, and must, do better as a nation in space, he said.

Read more at: Arstechnica

Thompson: AFSPC Will Use Mega Constellations

Air Force Space Command’s vice commander says he is “highly confident” that large Low Earth Orbit constellations (known in DoD jargon as ‘proliferated LEO’) will be part of the future military space architecture.

“We will be using proliferated LEO,” Lt. Gen. David Thompson told a New America Foundation conference today in response to my question. “It is simply a matter of for what missions.” He explained that DoD first has to understand “how close to truly operationally-capable” services can be provided by commercial firms. “We have to make smart bets.”

Read more at: Breaking defense

Space Adventures Reaches Settlement With Would-Be Lunar Tourist

Space tourism company Space Adventures has reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought nearly two years ago by a man who signed up for the company’s proposed mission around the moon but later sought a refund of his deposit.

The suit, filed by Harald McPike, was formally dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia April 18, according to court filings. That dismissal came after the two sides reached a settlement in a March 28 meeting with a judge.

The filings do not state the terms of the settlement. A spokesperson for Space Adventures confirmed April 26 that the company had settled the suit, but declined further comment. The law firm of Clare Locke LLP, which represented McPike in the suit, did not respond to a request for comment.

Read more at: Spacenews

NASA Was Two Decades Behind The Soviets In Putting A Woman Into Space

MISSION MOON: Nearly 50 years have passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. Ourspecial Apollo 50 anniversary coverage explores how the country came together to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the lunar surface by 1970, NASA’s bold missions – and crippling tragedies – since that historic day, and the future of space exploration and Houston as America’s “Space City.”

Read more at: Houston Chronicle