The 10 Biggest Spaceflight Stories Of 2020

While 2020 was a difficult year around the world with the challenges that have come with the coronavirus pandemic, space continued to reach new heights.

This year alone, two spacecraft grabbed precious samples from asteroids, human spaceflight saw a new spacecraft, NASA astronaut Christina Koch set a new record for longest duration spaceflight made by a woman and SpaceX took major leaps forward in commercial spaceflight with the first commercial crewed launches.

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To All The Rockets We Lost In 2020 And What We Learned From Them

Launching rockets is hard. Most of the time we get it right, but sometimes unexpected things happen. Perhaps it’s because of a stage failure or perhaps it’s because of using a daring prototype, like SpaceX’s Starship. But, as devastating as a failure can feel, it can help the teams behind these launches to learn and grow, helping them to continue to improve spaceflight.

Below is a list of the craziest rocket explosions and failures of 2020 (not including situations where a rocket had an anomaly en route but was still able to reach orbit (such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Starlink rocket launch of March 18) or the numerous launch aborts of 2020 due to situations like weather or technical issues).

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Russia To Send Equipment For Investigating Air Leak To ISS In February — Roscosmos

Equipment for a detailed study of a pressure leak aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will be delivered by Russia’s Progress space freighter in February 2021, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said on Tuesday.

“In February, we will send a Progress space freighter to deliver vital supplies, first of all equipment for a more detailed study into causes of the air leak aboard the station,” the space official said in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda radio station on Tuesday.

Read more at: TASS

Year in Review 2020: Success and Failure (Part 1)

As the curtain finally falls on one of the worst and most tragic years in living memory, for the United States—in terms of space exploration, at least—2020 has been a banner dozen months, with launch vehicles lifting multiple payloads for multiple customers into multiple Earth orbits and despatching a pair of robotic explorers to the Sun and Mars.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which now holds the record for the most-flown active U.S. orbital-class booster, logged no fewer than 26 launches between January and December, whilst United Launch Alliance (ULA) completed six missions with its Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy fleet. Northrop Grumman Corp. twice flew its Antares 230+ rocket to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), whilst the Minotaur IV, Electron, Rocket-3 and LauncherOne vehicles achieved a mixture of spectacular success and dismal failure.

Read more at: Americaspace

Year in Review 2020: Humans into Deep Space (Part 2)

If the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic affected people in 2020, then its negative effects were also paid forward to NASA as the agency worked to prepare critical hardware for humanity’s first return to lunar distance with a crewed vehicle in almost a half-century. Throughout much of this most challenging of years, the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center (SSC) in Bay St. Louis, Miss., has played host to the Core Stage of the gigantic Space Launch System (SLS) that will launch Artemis-1 around the Moon, towards the end of 2021.

Read more at: Americapsace

China’s New Carrier Rocket Long March-8 Makes Maiden Flight

China’s new medium-lift carrier rocket Long March-8 made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending five satellites into planned orbit, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The rocket blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of southern China’s island province of Hainan at 12:37 p.m. (Beijing Time).

The Long March-8 rocket has a total length of 50.3 meters, with a takeoff mass of 356 tonnes. It can carry a payload of at least 4.5 tonnes to a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 700 km.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

No Bomb-Grade Uranium In Space, Says White House

A month before it turns over the White House, the Trump administration has issued a new policy on space nuclear reactors that all but prohibits the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel. NASA, which had previously planned to use an HEU-fueled reactor to provide power on the lunar and Martian surfaces, now promises to use only low-enriched uranium (LEU).

In a space policy directive issued on 16 December, President Trump spelled out a “national strategy for space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP)” that applies to both radioisotope power systems and fission reactors being developed to provide surface power and to propel spacecraft and rovers.

Read more at: physics today

Boeing Sets The Date For Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test Redo

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is entering the home stretch of final assembly and checkouts before its orbital flight test now slated to launch March 29, 2021 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

In the coming weeks teams will load the crew module with cargo including Starliner’s “test dummy” Rosie the Rocketeer for her second attempt to reach the International Space Station.

The uncrewed flight test aims to fix the software issues that plagued the unsuccessful test flight in Dec. 2019 that caused the capsule to miss docking with the space station.

Read more at: Florida today

NASA SLS Exploration Upper Stage Passes Critical Design Review

The Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) for future flights of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket has passed its Critical Design Review, or CDR.

A panel of experts evaluated the EUS in the latest review to determine that the stage’s design meets requirements for future missions. This most recent assessment certifies the EUS meets critical design requirements to withstand deep space environments and when completed will ensure astronaut safety. The review board also evaluated testing processes, the ability of the industrial base to supply parts and tooling, and production plans.

Read more at: scitech daily

ESA Signs Deals For Its First Reusable Transport Spaceplane

The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed contracts for its first reusable space transportation system. Known as Space Rider, it is a robotic laboratory about the size of a couple of eight-seater minivans.

ESA has signed two contracts. The first is for delivery of the spacecraft by co-prime contractors: Thales Alenia Space Italy and Avio. The second covers delivery of the ground segment (the infrastructure needed to launch and operate the Space Rider) by Italian co-prime contractors: Telespazio and Altec.

Read more at: Guardian

China Ponders Moon Base Within Five Years

According to a report, China’s national space agency said it would invite other agencies and foreign partners to work jointly on the project if possible, with the next lunar mission likely to take place in the next five years.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced it will analyse whether it can build a permanent base on the moon, media reports revealed on Thursday.

China’s space agency will explore the potential lunar base in a future Chang’e-8 mission, a Global times report found, adding the new expedition would also test emerging 3D printing capabilities to construct the base.

Read more at: Moon daily

Canada Will Be Second Country In History To Send Astronaut To Moon

A Canadian astronaut will join NASA astronauts on the first crewed mission to the moon in over 50 years, making Canada the second nation to have an astronaut fly around the moon.

The first crewed mission, known as Artemis II, will orbit around the Moon similar to the Apollo 8 mission in order to test NASA’s Orion spacecraft. It’s slated for 2023.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space, took to Twitter to express his excitement over the historic announcement.

Read more at: Florida today


Autonomous Ravn X Drone to Launch Satellites From Airport Runways

Huntsville Alabama’s Lowe Mill arts and entertainment center offers studios to artists of all kinds—sculptors, bookbinders, woodworkers. It’s the kind of place where, in more normal times, visitors might wander open studios and take ceramics classes.

It’s also, evidently, the kind of place where one designs autonomous drones to launch rockets.

Read more at: Singularity hub

Dedicated Commercial Human In-Space Operations Are Coming Sooner Than You May Realize

If you’ve ever heard someone refer to the idea of “working in space,” you’d be forgiven for thinking they were describing a science-fiction plot. But the number of humans actively working beyond Earth’s atmosphere — and living significant chunks of their lives there, too — is about to start growing at a potentially exponential rate. Given how small that population is now, the growth might look slow at first — but it’s happening soon, and plans are in place to help it start ramping up quickly.

Read more at: Techcrunch

China Aims For Commercial Race With At Least 20 Long March-8 Rocket Launches A Year

China will streamline assembly of itsLong March-8 rocketand aim to make more than 20 launches a year, according to the programme’s chief officer.

Commander-in-chief Xiao Yun said on an official government WeChat account that China’s goal was to launch rockets as simply and quickly as possible. His remarks were published on Tuesday, hours after the new rocket’s maiden launch from the southern island of Hainan.

Read more at: SCMP

The International Space Station Is Now Home To The World’s 1st Commercial Airlock

The International Space Station is now sporting a shiny new piece of hardware.

On Monday (Dec. 21), the first commercial airlock ever sent to the International Space Station (ISS) was attached to its exterior. The new structure is a bell-shaped airlock that is designed to transfer payloads and other materials from inside the station out into the vacuum of space.

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SpaceX, Blue Origin, Dynetics Await NASA Lunar Lander Decision

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and a lesser-known company, Huntsville, Ala.-based Dynetics, are preparing for a major decision by NASA early in 2021 about which company will build human-carrying landers for trips to the moon.

The three space firms were selected in April to submit proposals early this month. Having done that, they now await NASA’s decision, which is scheduled for February. The space agency has indicated it could pick one or two of the proposals.

Read more at: moondaily

Firefly Aerospace’s Debut Alpha Launch Set to Demonstrate Space Electric Thruster System

Space Electric Thruster System (SETS), a Noosphere Ventures aerospace company, will undergo field testing in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) as part of the debut launch of the Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket, which is scheduled for the beginning of 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, U.S.A.

“The goal of the first SETS mission is to demonstrate and confirm the space worthiness and performance of the system under real conditions, and receive the necessary telemetry,” commented SETS CEO Viktor Serbin.

Read more at: spacedaily

Preparing For “Earth To Earth” Space Travel And A Competition With Supersonic Airliners

Commercial spaceflight companies are preparing to enter a new market: suborbital flights from one place to another on Earth. Aiming for fast transportation for passengers and cargo, these systems are being developed by a combination of established companies, such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, and new ones like Astra.

Technical and business challenges lie ahead for this new frontier, and an important piece is the coming wave of supersonic aircraft which could offer safer but slower alternatives to spaceflight. These two different approaches could face off in the 2020s to be the future of transportation on Earth.

Read more at: NASA spaceflight

We’re Never Going to Mine the Asteroid Belt

Where would science fiction be without space mining?

From Ellen Ripley in Alien and Dave Lister in Red Dwarf, to Sam Bell in Moon and The Expanse’s Naomi Nagata, the grittier end of interstellar drama would be bereft if it weren’t for overalled engineers and their mineral-processing operations.It’s such an alluring vision that real money has been put toward its realization. Alphabet Inc.’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, and Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron (director of the Alien sequel Aliens) all invested in Planetary Resources Inc., which raised venture finance with its mission of mining high-value minerals from asteroids and refining them into metal foams that could be shot back down to Earth.

Read more at: Bloomberg

Why I’m Flying To Space To Do Research Aboard Virgin Galactic

Unlike researchers in virtually every other field of science, space researchers have long been limited to operating their experiments by remote control. Why? Because for many decades it was simply not possible or not practical to send themselves into space to do their work. This forced us to routinely have to incorporate expensive and often failure prone automation into our experiments to replace the human operator.

But now, that paradigm is shifting, thanks to the development of crew-carrying commercial suborbital space vehicles by companies such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin.

Read more at: Hill

Fraunhofer and Airbus sign Contract for a Payload Mission on the ISS Bartolomeo Platform

Airbus and Fraunhofer EMI have signed a contract for an in-orbit demonstration mission on the Bartolomeo platform of the International Space Station (ISS). With this mission, Fraunhofer EMI enables its spin-off ConstellR to demonstrate the core measurement technology required for highly accurate land surface temperature (LST) monitoring on a global scale.

The ConstellR payload is an innovative multispectral imaging payload comprising a thermal infrared detector and advanced data processing hardware. It will utilise a 3U-slot (i.e. roughly 3000 cm³) on the ArgUS Multi-Payload Carrier, a plate designed to co-accommodate several smaller payloads on one Bartolomeo payload site.

Read more at: Airbus

Mission Space Logistics: DHL Moves From Global To Galactic Forwarding

DHL Global Forwarding, the air and ocean freight specialist of Deutsche Post DHL Group, normally moves goods that stay in the Earth’s atmosphere. Now they have partnered with D-Orbit, a specialized company covering the entire lifecycle of a space mission, including logistics services, for the first time. Together with the company’s own innovation team DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation (CSI), the freight forwarding expert set up logistics to help the ION Satellite Carrier in its journey into space. Developed and designed by D-Orbit, the satellite carrier is planned to launch at Cape Canaveral, the world’s most famous space base in Florida in January 2021.

Tim Scharwath, CEO, DHL Global Forwarding, Freight, states: “We are excited about this partnership for two key reasons. First, D-Orbit shares our vision of reliable, safe and sustainable logistics to connect people and to improve lives.

Read more at: DHL


ESA Clean Space Tackles Space Junk One Component At A Time

Through a novel approach to testing, the European Space Agency’s Clean Space initiative is assisting in the development of satellite components that are designed for demise, an approach to satellite development that advocates for the safe disposal of spacecraft by destructive atmospheric reentry.

The ESA Clean Space initiative was launched in 2012 to consider the environmental impact of the agency’s missions across their entire life cycle. A primary focus of Clean Space since its earliest days has been mitigating space debris through “design for demise.” The goal: making design choices that ensure a spacecraft component has less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of surviving reentry and posing a threat to people on the ground.

Read more at: Spacenews

Op-Ed | Protecting Our Assets From Space Debris

On Nov. 2, the United States and its International Space Station partner nations celebrated 20 years of humans continuously living and working in outer space. Much has changed in the space environment over the past two decades, but one thing is clear: congestion in space — especially the explosive growth in space debris — has created an increasingly dangerous environment for our astronauts and satellites in orbit.

Read more at: Spacenews

Omnibus Spending Bill Funds Commerce Department Space Traffic Management Work

The Commerce Department will be able to accelerate it work on space traffic management after Congress provided the agency with most, but not all, the funding it requested for that effort.

The fiscal year 2021 omnibus spend bill, released Dec. 21 and approved by the House and Senate later that day, will provide $10 million for the Office of Space Commerce in 2021. That bill also merges the office with the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) office, which regulates commercial remote sensing satellites.

Read more at: Spacenews

Japan Developing Wooden Satellites To Cut Space Junk

Sumitomo Forestry said it has started research on tree growth and the use of wood materials in space.

The partnership will begin experimenting with different types of wood in extreme environments on Earth.

Space junk is becoming an increasing problem as more satellites are launched into the atmosphere. Wooden satellites would burn up without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground when they plunge back to Earth.

Read more at: BBC

Coverage Of “Wooden Satellites” Misses The Point

We here at Ars were somewhat surprised to stumble across a BBC headline indicating that a university-industry partnership in Japan was working on developing wooden satellites. The plan is less insane than it sounds—wood is a remarkable material that’s largely unappreciated because of its ubiquity. But most of the reasons to shift to wood given in the coverage of the plan completely misses the mark.

Read more at: Arstechnica

NASA Approves Two New Missions To Study Space Weather

NASA has given the go-ahead to a pair of heliophysics missions designed to aid the study of space weather.

Both the Extreme Ultraviolent High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope Epsilon Mission, or EUVST, and the Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer mission, or EZIE, aim to illuminate the physics of solar wind, solar flares and coronal mass ejections, the phenomena that produce electromagnetic storms and propel them toward Earth.

Read more at: UPI

Dealing With Dust: A Back-To-The-Moon Dilemma

If the political, technical and budgetary stars align for NASA and its partners in coming years, the moon could be the go-to place as the century unfolds. Astronauts would again explore Earth’s celestial next-door neighbor, perhaps setting in motion future mining endeavors to extract ices likely lurking in sunlight-shy craters for processing into water, oxygen, and rocket propellant. Humans that “settle in” on the moon could well be a future prospect.

The next chapter in the U.S. human exploration of the moon, the Artemis Project, will dispatch crews there for extended periods of time, building upon Apollo’s heritage.

Read more at: Spacenews

Israeli Satellite Strays From Path To Prevent Collision With NASA’s Terra

Some days you open your email to find a spam message from a Nigerian prince asking for money, and there are other days when you find a message from the European Space Agency (ESA) warning that your satellite is on a collision course with another, and you better do something about it fast.

That’s what happened at the beginning of December to the Israeli-French environmental research satellite Venus’ operational team. Israel Aerospace Industries constructed it along with the Israel Space Agency and the Ministry of Science and Technology in a collaboration with the French space agency.

Read more at: calcalistech

New Radiation Vest Technology Protects Astronauts, Doctors

NASA is testing a space radiation protection vest aboard the International Space Station that could shield astronauts from deadly solar flares on missions to the moon and Mars.

Solar storms with high doses of radiation are among the biggest threats to astronauts on deep space missions. The worst such storms could make space flyers too sick to function and eventually kill them.

The new vest is designed with flexible polyethylene shapes to fit men or women and protect their most vulnerable organs.

Read more at: Spacedaily

A Rocket From 1966 Has Found Its Way Back to Earth’s Orbit

Fifty-four years ago, NASA launched the Surveyor 2, an uncrewed mission to explore the surface of the moon. Alas, the spacecraft went into a tumble en route, after a failed course-correction burn, and it slammed into the lunar surface at 2.7 kilometers per second. But the rocket booster used during its launch followed a different trajectory into space and has now begun orbiting Earth. That’s the conclusion of astronomers who have been studying 2020 SO, an unusual object first spotted this past August.

Read more at: Wired

The Upside Of Volatile Space Weather

Although violent and unpredictable, stellar flares emitted by a planet’s host star do not necessarily prevent life from forming, according to a new Northwestern University study.

Emitted by stars, stellar flares are sudden flashes of magnetic energy. On Earth, the sun’s flares sometimes damage satellites and disrupt radio communications. Elsewhere in the universe, however, robust stellar flares also have the ability to deplete and destroy atmospheric gases, such as ozone.

Read more at: Spacedaily

Will the Next Solar Cycle Surprise Us?

Now that we’ve passed the longest night of the year, many are eager to see the Sun — and astronomers are among them. Every clear day, solar astronomers image the face of the Sun, counting up the dark spots they see there. And a new prediction says they’ll see far more in the coming months and years than they expected. But whether that prediction holds remains to be seen.

Read more at: Sky and Telescope

There Are No Real Rules for Repairing Satellites in Space—Yet

The communications satellite Intelsat 901 had lived a useful life, having beamed signals back and forth from Earth since 2001. But by late 2019, it was starting to run out of fuel. Without an intervention, it would have to go live in a “graveyard orbit”—a region away from operational instruments. There, beyond the population of more lively satellites, Intelsat 901 would ellipse impotently around Earth, along with other satellites that were perhaps totally functional but running on empty.

Read more at: Wired

NASA Concerned About Space’s Growing Trash Problem

2020 has been a banner year for the space industry with a record number of 31 launches from Kennedy Space Center and five more in Virginia and California.

With more stuff going to space, there’s also more trash in space — nearly 6,000 tons — and it’s becoming a major problem.

NASA says low-Earth orbit is a space junk yard filled with millions of pieces of rockets, spacecraft and satellites flying at speeds up to 18,000 miles per hour – almost seven times faster than a bullet.

Read more at: Florida today

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