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Kaboom! The Biggest Space Bloopers of 2019 – Space.com

Spaceflight is hard, and sometimes things don't go to plan. But by looking at past missions and learning from their mistakes, we can make future missions all the better. The year 2019 had a few major "lessons learned" for entities all around the world.

From difficulties landing on the moon, to a few rocket explosions, engineers definitely had some new things to think about for the next time.

Related: The Greatest Spaceflight Moments of 2019

Iran experienced its fair share of rocket failures in 2019. In January, the third stage of a rocket called Simorgh did not reach its "necessary speed" to successfully heft the Payam satellite into its planned orbit, Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi told AP News.

In February, satellite images from company DigitalGlobe showed an Iranian satellite called Doosti ("Friendship" in Persian) likely launched, but multiple sources suggested it did not make it safely to orbit. Then in August, more satellite imagery from Planet showed a rocket that had apparently exploded on the pad, in footage that was first shared exclusively with NPR.

This nation had an extraordinarily productive late 2019, when (among many other milestones) it successfully launched two rockets in three hours from different launch sites and two rockets in six hours from the same launch area. But there were some mistakes along the way.

Chinese private company OneSpace had a launch failure in March 2019 that was later attributed to a gyroscope issue. In May, a Long March 4C rocket from the Chinese government failed during launch, due to an issue with the rocket's third stage. An August launch of a Long March 3B rocket appeared to go well at first, but then its main payload the Chinasat 18 satellite failed to communicate with Earth.

In April of this year, Israel aimed for the moon with a novel lander called Beresheet built by the private group SpaceIL. The probe, which launched Feb. 21 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, was poised to become the first privately built moon lander to softly set down on the lunar surface. But when it arrived at the moon on April 11, something went wrong.

Instead of landing safely on the moon's Sea of Serenity, Beresheet missed its landing burn and crashed into the lunar surface instead. Despite the failure, SpaceIL has vowed to build a new Beresheet and return to the moon in the mid-2020s.

An engine test of SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which will eventually bring astronauts to the International Space Station, did not go to plan on April 20. Local media reports and images showed a huge plume of smoke emanating from the test site.

"Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test stand at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida," a company spokesperson told Space.com in a statement. "The initial tests completed successfully, but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand." A leaky valve and faulty component were later found to be the causes of the fire.

SpaceX has since fixed the problem and performed a series of successful ground tests of Crew Dragon's abort system. The company will launch an uncrewed In-Flight Abort test flight no earlier than Jan. 11, and aims to begin flying people to the space station in 2020.

French company Arianespace experienced a major anomaly in July when its Vega rocket, carrying the United Arab Emirates' FalconEye1 satellite, failed to get the rocket or the satellite safely into space. In September, the European Space Agency said that the Z23 motor which powers the second stage of the rocket was the cause.

"The commission identified the anomaly's most likely cause as a thermo-structural failure in the forward dome area of the Z23 motor," ESA wrote In a statement. Vega will most likely return to flight in 2020 once corrective action is taken to stop the failure from happening again, the agency added.

On Sept. 6, the India Chandrayaan-2 moon lander Vikram made a descent to the moon then stopped communicating with Earth.

The Indian Space Research Organisation spent more than two months trying to find the little lander, before determining that it had indeed crashed on the surface. The suspected cause is an issue with the braking thrusters, which were supposed to slow down Vikram during its last few feet before soft-landing. Vikram instead "hard landed" within view of its landing site.

The InSight Mars lander experienced a number of issues trying to get its drill deep enough into the Martian surface to look at heat flow on the Red Planet.

During several attempts, the "mole" got stuck because the regolith (soil) was harder than expected. At one point, the mole even popped out of the hole. Engineers eventually hit upon the idea of using a robotic arm to pin the drill against the soil during penetration.

As of late December, the mole is moving under the surface again.

An Exos Aerospace suborbital sounding rocket (which flies into the upper atmosphere) failed during a launch attempt on Oct. 26. The Suborbital Autonomous Rocket with GuidancE (SARGE) rocket's mission ended after the launch attempt at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The problem was later traced to the failure of a part underneath the nose cone; the nose cone fell back into the rocket and the rocket's trajectory veered beyond recovery.

Starship Mk1 had an anomaly in November, blowing its top during a cryogenic pressure test at SpaceX's facilities near the South Texas village of Boca Chica.

SpaceX plans to move to more advanced prototypes of Starship rather than repairing and retesting this particular one, CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet. These prototypes are forming part of the testing program for Starship, which is expected to bring astronauts into deep space (including Mars) in the coming years.

SpaceX was already building a second Starship prototype, the Mk2, in Florida. After the Mk1 anomaly, the company decided to put its resources behind the construction of a third new prototype, the Mk3, at its Boca Chica test site.

Like SpaceX, Boeing has a NASA contract to fly eventually fly astronauts on trips to the International Space Station. To do that, Boeing has built a new space capsule, called the CST-100 Starliner, which is designed to launch into orbit on an Atlas V rocket, dock itself at the station and return to Earth to make a land-based landing with parachutes and airbags.

On Dec. 20, Boeing launched the first Starliner test flight to the International Space Station, but the uncrewed mission never made it to its destination. A mission clock error caused the Starliner to think it was in a later part of its mission, leading the spacecraft to use propellant it vitally needed for the trip to the station. In the end, Starliner's clock error and a communications issue forced Boeing to abandon hopes of reaching the space station. The planned eight-day mission was cut to just three, with Starliner returning to Earth and landing successfully.

While Starliner successfully launched and landed, its failure to reach the space station has NASA and Boeing discussing whether another uncrewed test flight will be required before astronauts can start flying on the spacecraft in 2020.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Kaboom! The Biggest Space Bloopers of 2019 - Space.com

‘I Can’t Wait to Try It Out’: Starliner’s 1st Riders Welcome Capsule Back to Earth – Space.com

Perhaps nobody was more excited to see Boeing's first Starliner spacecraft touch down safely yesterday (Dec. 22) than Mike Fincke, Nicole Mann and Chris Ferguson.

Those three astronauts will fly the first crewed Starliner mission, a demonstration flight to the International Space Station (ISS) that's targeted to launch sometime next year. And yesterday morning's landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, which wrapped up Starliner's two-day, uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT), brought that upcoming trip a little closer.

"Three parachutes, six airbags and a beautiful soft landing," Fincke said yesterday from White Sands, where he, fellow NASA astronaut Mann and Boeing's Ferguson had gathered to watch the touchdown. "I can't wait to try it out."

Related: Boeing's 1st Starliner Flight Test in Photos

OFT launched early Friday morning (Dec. 20) on a planned eight-day mission that was supposed to feature a docking with the ISS. But Starliner suffered an error with its onboard timing system, which manifested soon after liftoff. As a result, the capsule was not able to perform the engine burn required to send it on its way to the orbiting lab.

Launch and landing went well, however, and the reusable capsule was able to notch a number of other milestones during its 48 hours in space, noted Ferguson, a former NASA astronaut himself.

"Awesome conclusion to the first Starliner mission. Landed within a few hundred meters of target. Systems checked out very well. No dock.... but many flight test objectives complete. This was a great @BoeingSpace day!" he said via Twitter yesterday.

During a press conference held Friday shortly after launch, both Fincke and Mann said the timing anomaly didn't worry them. The issue wasn't a dangerous one, the astronauts said. And they added that, had crewmembers been aboard, they could have troubleshot the timing issue and gotten Starliner on the proper path to the ISS manually.

"We are looking forward to flying on Starliner," Mann said Friday. "We don't have any safety concerns."

NASA's Commercial Crew Program has funded the development of both Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, in an effort to return an orbital human spaceflight capability to American soil. Since NASA's space shuttle fleet was retired in July 2011, the nation has been dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get its astronauts to and from the orbiting lab.

Crew Dragon aced its version of OFT, a six-day uncrewed mission called Demo-1, this past March. SpaceX is now prepping for a critical in-flight test of the capsule's emergency escape system on Jan. 11. A crewed test flight to the ISS would then follow for the California-based company.

It's unclear when Starliner will be cleared to carry Fincke, Mann and Ferguson up on their demo mission, which is called Crew Flight Test (CFT). It will take a while for the NASA and Boeing teams to go through all the data from OFT, at which point a decision will be made whether to go ahead with CFT or launch another uncrewed mission that actually makes it to the ISS.

And whenever CFT gets off the ground, this particular Starliner won't be involved. The newly returned capsule will be prepped for Boeing's first contracted, operational mission. That flight will be commanded by NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who revealed yesterday that the flight-proven Starliner now has a name: "Calypso."

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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'I Can't Wait to Try It Out': Starliner's 1st Riders Welcome Capsule Back to Earth - Space.com

U.S. tests ways to sweep space clean of radiation after nuclear attack – Science Magazine

Aurorae were seen widely after Starfish Prime, a 1962 nuclear test in space.

By Richard StoneDec. 26, 2019 , 11:45 AM

The U.S. military thought it had cleared the decks when, on 9 July 1962, it heaved a 1.4-megaton nuclear bomb some 400 kilometers into space: Orbiting satellites were safely out of range of the blast. But in the months that followed the test, called Starfish Prime, satellites began to wink out one by one, including the worlds first communications satellite, Telstar. There was an unexpected aftereffect: High-energy electrons, shed by radioactive debris and trapped by Earths magnetic field, were fritzing out the satellites electronics and solar panels.

Starfish Prime and similar Soviet tests might be dismissed as Cold War misadventures, never to be repeated. After all, what nuclear power would want to pollute space with particles that could take out its own satellites, critical for communication, navigation, and surveillance? But military planners fear North Korea might be an exception: It has nuclear weapons but not a single functioning satellite among the thousands now in orbit. They quietly refer to a surprise orbital blast as a potential Pearl Harbor of space.

And so, without fanfare, defense scientists are trying to devise a cure. Three space experimentsone now in orbit and two being readied for launch in 2021aim to gather data on how to drain high-energy electrons out of the radiation belts. The process, called radiation belt remediation (RBR), already happens naturally, when radio waves from deep space or from Earthour own radio chatter, for example, or emissions from lightningknock electrons trapped in Earths Van Allen radiation belts into the upper atmosphere, where they quickly shed energy, often triggering aurorae.

Natural precipitation happens all the time, says Craig Rodger, a space physicist at the University of Otago. But it would not nearly be fast enough to drain nuclear-charged radiation belts, where electron fluxes can be millions of times higher than in Earths Van Allen belts.

Scientists got a glimpse of a potential solution from NASAs Van Allen Probes, which launched in 2012 and ducked in and out of Earths radiation belts until the mission ended last summer. It offered a deep dive into natural remediation processes, showing how radio waves resonate with high-energy electrons, scattering them down the magnetic field lines and sweeping them out of the belts. Compared to 10 years ago, we just know so much more about how these wave-particle interactions work, says Geoff Reeves, a space physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Now, researchers are ready to try artificial remediation, by beaming radio waves into the belts. Physicists have tested using the U.S. Navys very low frequency (VLF) antenna towers, powerful facilities used to communicate with submarines, says Dan Baker, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a lead investigator on the Van Allen Probes. The antennae of the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Alaska and the giant dish of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico might also be enlisted to generate cleansing radio beams.

An orbiting RBR platform, closer to the target, could be more effective. In June 2019, the U.S. Air Force launched what it bills as the largest uncrewed structure ever flown in space: the DSX dipole antenna. Nearly as long as a U.S. football field, DSXs primary mission is to transmit VLF waves into the Van Allen belts and measure precipitating particles with onboard detectors. Its a new way to prod the belts and explore basic questions in space physics, says DSXs principal investigator, James McCollough at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

A team of scientists at Los Alamos and NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center is spearheading a second experiment in VLF precipitation. In April 2021, the team plans to launch a sounding rocket carrying the Beam Plasma Interactions Experiment, a miniature accelerator that would create a beam of electrons, which in turn would generate VLF waves capable of sweeping up particles. Reeves, who leads the experiment, believes the compact electron accelerator could ultimately be a better broom than a gigantic VLF antenna. If we validate it with this experiment, we have a lot more confidence we can scale it up to higher power, he says.

A third experiment would coax the atmosphere itself to kick up turbulent waves that would draw down electrons. In the summer of 2021, the Naval Research Laboratory plans to launch a mission called the Space Measurements of a Rocket-Released Turbulence. A sounding rocket will fly into the ionospherean atmospheric layer hundreds of kilometers up thats awash in ions and electronsand eject 1.5 kilograms of barium atoms. Ionized by sunlight, the barium would create a ring of moving plasma that emits radio waves: essentially a space version of a magnetron, the gadget used in microwave ovens.

The missions should help show which RBR system is most feasible, although an operational system may be years off. Whatever the technology, it could bring risks. A full-scale space cleanup might dump as much energy into the upper atmosphere as the geomagnetic storms caused by the Suns occasional eruptions. Like them, it could disrupt navigation and communication for commercial airliners. And it would spawn heaps of nitrogen oxides and hydrogen oxides, which could eat away at the stratospheric ozone layer. We dont know how great the effect would be, says Allison Jaynes, a space physicist at the University of Iowa.

Besides safeguarding against a nuclear burst, RBR technology could have a civilian dividend, Jaynes notes. NASA and other space agencies have long wrestled with shielding astronauts from the Van Allen belts and other sources of radiation on their way to and from deep space. VLF transmitters might be used to clear out high-energy electrons just before a spacecraft enters a danger zone. When we become more active space travelers, she says, it could provide a safe passage through the radiation belts.

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U.S. tests ways to sweep space clean of radiation after nuclear attack - Science Magazine

SpaceX Says A Step Closer to Launching Manned Space Mission – International Business Times

KEY POINTS

SpaceX said it moved one step closer to launching a manned space flight after it successfully completed its 10th parachute drop test.The Elon Musk-led space exploration company's Crew Dragon astronaut capsule will be ready for launch in the first quarter if everything goes according to plans.

The latest drop inNew Mexico on December 22 tested the three-parachute Mark 3 system, which replaced Mark 2 earlier this year.According to a report bySpaceNews, the company will attempt ten more drop tests to continue analyzing the safety data before moving forward.

The successful test has given the company a lead over its competitors, including Boeing, in the race to get a new capsule certified by Nasa for crude space flight. Mark 3 solves problems with deployment by using a process known as asymmetrical loading of the chutes.

Personnel from NASA, SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force have begun practicing recovery operations for the SpaceX Crew Dragon. Using a full-size model of the spacecraft that will take astronauts to the International Space Station, Air Force parajumpers practice helping astronauts out of the SpaceX Crew Dragon following a mission. Photo: SpaceX/ Public Domain Emergency escape and safety have been the primary focus of NASA while developing a new space program. The agency is not willing to send another craft into space containing humans unless they can safely eject and land.

SpaceX will now sit down withexperts and pour over the data from the ten drop tests making any necessary changes before the next ten are completed. There is a race to get the space program back in action, but SpaceX is focused on the safety of the astronauts.

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SpaceX Says A Step Closer to Launching Manned Space Mission - International Business Times

Christmas Eve at the Moon: Apollo 8’s Historic Message Beamed to Earth Today in 1968 – Space.com

Fifty-one years ago, the world got a Christmas Eve message from on high.

On Dec. 24, 1968, the astronauts of NASA's Apollo 8 mission beamed home gorgeous images of their home planet as seen from lunar orbit, read some verses from the book of Genesis and wished the people of Earth a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

"We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice," Apollo 8's Frank Borman said during 40th-anniversary celebrations in 2008, according to a NASA feature about the mission. "And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate."

Related: Apollo 8: NASA's First Crewed Trip Around the Moon in Pictures

That audience was indeed huge. About one-quarter of the world's population saw or heard the broadcast, current NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said in a video published last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8.

Apollo 8 was a historic mission. Borman and fellow crewmates Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first humans ever to orbit a world beyond Earth. And Anders took one of the most famous photos of all time on that Christmas Eve the iconic "Earthrise" image, which is widely credited with helping to spur the modern environmental movement.

Apollo 8 was also the first crewed flight of the huge Saturn V moon rocket, which launched the Apollo 11 crew on their epic mission to the lunar surface in July 1969. (The first crewed mission of the Apollo program, Apollo 7, launched to Earth orbit atop a Saturn IB in October 1968.)

Apollo 8 launched on Dec. 21, 1968 and splashed down here on Earth six days later. The crucial engine burn that rocketed the mission homeward from lunar orbit occurred a few hours after the famous Christmas Eve broadcast.

When contact with mission control was re-established on Christmas morning, Lovell broke the news of a successful burn by saying, "Please be informed: there is a Santa Claus."

"That's affirmative," Ken Mattingly, the capsule communicator at mission control who was on duty at the time, responded. "You're the best ones to know."

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Christmas Eve at the Moon: Apollo 8's Historic Message Beamed to Earth Today in 1968 - Space.com

Hurricane season is over, but threats to Space Coast rocket launches are still out there – Florida Today

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In 2017, as Hurricane Irma churned in Atlantic waters with its sights set on Florida, an Air Force spaceplane tasked with a top secret mission sat on the pad at Kennedy Space Center, waiting for its ride to space.

Some 600 miles to the southeast on Sept. 7, the 400-mile-wide Irma was a Category 5 storm packing maximum sustained winds of 175 mph a catastrophic scenario for anyone in its path, including the Boeing-built X-37B. In 72 hours, the outer bands of Irma would start spinning uncomfortably close to the Space Coast.

The Air Force had a critical decision to make: thread the needle and launch the robotic spacecraft before Irma hit, or wait for the storm to pass? Its ride to orbit, SpaceXs Falcon 9, could be ready in time. So could company and Air Force support personnel.

Turns out the safest place for the 29-foot-long spacecraft was anywhere other than Cape Canaveral.

It was far safer up on orbit than it was anywhere else we could put it on the Cape, Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith said in 2018, then commander of the 45th Space Wing, which oversees two bases responsible for the United States busiest spaceport. We launched that rocket and I immediately drove from there back to Patrick Air Force Base and signed a total evacuation order for the wing.

Luckily for the Space Coast, Irma ended up shifting west, but it still followed the spine of the Sunshine State. The price tag for statewide damages: about $50 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The storm and ones since highlight the precarious position the Eastern Range can find itself in during hurricane season, which ended Nov. 30 and begins on the first day of June. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center are Americas national security, science, and commercial space focal points. There are no comparable backups.

Since the Capes founding as a spaceport in 1950, dozens of storms have threatened operations. But despite technological advances since the dawn of the Space Age, an analysis of 170 years of storms shows there is no single, reliable pattern at work. And there are still countless mysterious surrounding the colossal entities of low pressure, potentially affecting forecasting and preparedness.

But these uncertainties have reaffirmed the importance of one defense tool: vigilance.

A new chapter in spaceflight began in July 1950 with the launch of the first rocket from Cape Canaveral: Bumper 8.(Photo: NASA/U.S. Army)

Before towering, propellant-packed rockets dotted the horizon, Cape Canaveral not the city to the south, but the land to the north was home to sprawling wetlands, sleepy fishing houses, and the occasional cemetery. Ancient cultures walked along these beaches as far back as 5,000 B.C.

But when officials in charge of Americas efforts to gain a foothold in space realized launches over land could fail and come crashing down over populated areas, a new challenge was added.

In many ways, Cape Canaverals selection as the future spaceport was written in the stars. It was situated with views of the Atlantic to the east, meaning rockets could launch away from people and over water. Its proximity to the equator meant rockets would also benefit from an extra push thanks to Earths rotation, a critical advantage that helps expend less fuel after liftoff. The Capes protrusion also meant launches could target slightly northern or southern trajectories without interfering with land.

And it helped, of course, that few people lived there.

Cape Canaverals role as a spaceport began in July 1950 with the launch of a repurposed German V-2 rocket. Prior to the kickoff of this Space Age, hurricane data exists going back as far as 1850, but lacks critical information obtained by satellites that would become more advanced in the 1960s and beyond.

We measure these things so well now, said Philip Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State Universitys Department of Atmospheric Science. We were flying one plane a day and it was very rudimentarily operated. Now we have all this amazing satellite data and were flying multiple planes almost constantly as these things are approaching land.

An analysis of the data shows that since that first launch in 1950 and through 2019, 45 systems ranging from tropical storms on the low end to Category 4 hurricanes on the high end have come within 100 statute miles of the Cape. Of those, 31 were tropical storms and 14 were Category 1 and above. Any of those intensities, however, would be enough to delay a launch or reorganize operations around its effects.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale rates storms by wind speed, starting with Category 1 at 74 mph all the way up to Category 5, which begins at 157 mph. Systems under 74 mph but above 39 mph are classified as tropical storms and were used in this analysis due to their ability to affect spaceflight operations.

But attempting to find trends in that data even when looking back as far as 1850 doesnt offer the Eastern Range much in the way of predicting the future.

Theres no long-term trend in the number of land-falling hurricanes or major hurricanes, Klotzbach said. But with that being said, the Space Coast in the past few years has had some very close calls.

Aside from Irma in 2017 and its impacts on X-37B, hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Dorian in 2019 seriously threatened the Cape. Just a few dozen miles are all that separated the Space Coast from the Category 4 and Category 2 storms, respectively.

Long-term trends aside, Klotzbach points to several issues when it comes to hurricane data:

Thanks to satellites and general advances in technology, its difficult to compare todays storms to the past;

With sea level rise, even if the storm frequencies and intensities stay the same, surges from hurricanes will likely cause more water damage;

More people live on coastlines than ever before, meaning its hard to compare damages wrought by previous storms versus how much damage future ones will do;

A potentially warmer atmosphere fueled by climate change also means storms could hold more water, presenting yet another threat in the form of increasingly intense rainfalls;

And modern structures, including those at the Cape, can withstand incredibly high winds, but an increase in water presence is something that cant easily be overcome.

Klotzbach also draws attention to mysteries in his field that impact both in favor of and against hurricanes.

A short-term oscillation of storm patterns, for example, has been present in the Atlantic for hundreds of years. For 20 to 30 years, the Atlantic basin will produce powerful storms, then quietly subside for an equal amount of time due to unknown mechanisms. From the 1940s to the late 1960s, for example, Florida was hit by five Category 4 hurricanes in six years, followed by a comparatively quiet period until 1995. But the length of these cycles means the National Hurricane Center and other entities really only have reliable, high-tech data for two instances since 1950 and five to seven if looking back to 1850.

El Nio and La Nia, meanwhile, are names for the opposite ends of a cycle of temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere. While they occur in the Pacific, their impacts can carry over into the Atlantic basin,especially during hurricane season.

Thats one of the biggest questions we dont know the answer to, Klotzbach said. If we get more El Nio events, that could mean even if the waters get warmer due to climate change, a strong enough El Nio could kill the hurricane season regardless.

But studies have shown the oscillation could go either way in the future, he said.

Yet another issue impacting data and hurricanes is wind shear, a powerful force that can help tame and even direct hurricanes along their path. Strong enough wind shear can tear a hurricane apart; too weak, and it can continue relatively unabated.

Hurricanes respond to a lot of different factors, Klotzbach said. They respond to the water temperatures, which should go up (with climate change); they respond to temperatures throughout the atmosphere, which are also going to go up even more; and then the shearing winds may change, meaning if they become stronger that could counteract other factors.

Taken together, these issues and countless more show that regardless of how many satellite constellations orbit the Earth and how advanced technology becomes, mysteries will fight on. Datacenters full of supercomputers crunching wind shear, temperature, and other inputs can help with short-term predictions, but long-term patterns are difficult to forecast.

The data is important, but Earth is always changing.

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If its short-term forecasts that are the most reliable, then the answer is constant vigilance, or constantly being prepared and on guard.

To achieve that, new structures at the Cape and even some of the old have been built to withstand powerful hurricanes. The iconic Vehicle Assembly Building, where NASAs Apollo Saturn V and space shuttles were stacked, has withstood impacts from dozens of storms and survived with moderate damages at worst.

The same can be said for launch pads: Atlas, Delta and Vulcan rocket operator United Launch Alliance, for example, said all its facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are hurricane-rated. Most structures are able to handle up to Category 3 winds, which begin at 111 mph.

And for launch weather officers and the overall 45th Weather Squadron, which provides weather support to the Air Force station and Kennedy Space Center, their work doesnt just happen on launch days.

We are in constant contact with all of our partners, where that is NASA, Boeing, SpaceX or ULA, said Will Ulrich, a launch weather officer with the Air Forces 45th Weather Squadron. If we see a threat developing in the Atlantic, even out there seven days before, we are receiving calls and trying to provide them information to make decisions.

When youre talking about rockets and the buildings that store those rockets, it takes a significant amount to time for them to secure and move everything, Ulrich said, noting that the forecasting is still required outside hurricane season.

That year-round necessity, he said, reaffirms the idea that launch operations arent all about launch day. As of this writing in December, a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket is in its vertical integration facility at Launch Complex 37, a full seven months before its flight in June with a classified spacecraft. That means during the entire window of preparation whether or not the rocket is in the hangar, whether or not the spacecraft is stacked on top of the rocket can be months-long. And in the case of human rated vehicles, that timeline could be years.

This means the six months of hurricane season are critical to U.S. access to space, which has long been touted as a warfighting domain by the military, but so are the six months devoid of major storm activities. Whether its billion-dollar national security spacecraft or a batch of communications satellites slated for low-Earth orbit, the stakes are high for the worlds busiest spaceport.

The infrastructure and the robustness of that infrastructure are at the forefront of our minds every day, said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Air Forces Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, California.

There are many other sites as well that we consider critical infrastructure to our nations space enterprise, he said, referencing Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It is also active for launches, but its position on the West Coast makes it less efficient and, in turn, far less active than Cape Canaveral. Its primary advantage comes from being able to launch rockets to the south on polar trajectories, a capability unmatched by Florida.

The Air Forces massive investments into forecasting and preparedness along with its government and commercial partners still come together in the off season. This December alone, up to five launches are slated to take flight from the range.

True to poetic form, X-37B stands out as one of the highlights of 2019. After skirting by Irma in 2017 and spending a record-breaking two years on orbit, the mini-shuttle returned to its Kennedy Space Center runway for a horizontal landing in October, completing its clandestine mission.

Considering the storm activity that Florida saw in the interim, Gen. Monteith had been right: the safest place for X-37B was indeed on orbit.

Contact Emre Kelly at aekelly@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.

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Hurricane season is over, but threats to Space Coast rocket launches are still out there - Florida Today

ULA gets the nod to launch GOES-T satellite – SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceFlight Insider

December 23rd, 2019

The Atlas V with GOES-R before launch. Photo Credit: Chris Giersch / NASA Edge

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. NASA has selected a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket to ferry the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-T to orbit.

ULA is pleased once again to be selected to launch a GOES mission and we look forward to working with our mission partners from NASA and theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) for this important launch, said Tory Bruno, ULAs president and chief executive officer.ULA and its heritage vehicles have a long history with the GOES Program and have launched all 17 operational missions to date.

The space agencys Launch Services Program selected the Atlas V (in its next-to-most powerful iteration, the 541) to push the satellite through Earths dense atmosphere.

If everything goes as it currently envisioned, GOES-T should be launch in December of 2021 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Stations Space Launch Complex 41 located in Florida.

United Launch Alliance was selected via a competitive Launch Service Task Order evaluation viathe NASA Launch Services II contract.

GOES-T is designed to provide weather (to include solar and space) and is the third of the next generation weather satellites that NASA is launching on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Tagged: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41 The Range ULA United Launch Alliance

SpaceFlight Insider is a space journal working to break the pattern of bias prevalent among other media outlets. Working off a budget acquired through sponsors and advertisers, SpaceFlight Insider has rapidly become one of the premier space news outlets currently in operation. SFI works almost exclusively with the assistance of volunteers.

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ULA gets the nod to launch GOES-T satellite - SpaceFlight Insider

10 Things That Blasted Through Space in 2019 – Space.com

Zooming through space

Big rocks, small rocks, dust and astronauts these are just a few things that hurtled through the inky darkness of space over the past year. Sometimes, objects came crashing to Earth, but we couldn't always tell exactly what they were. From pyramid-size asteroids to black hole-buddies, here are 10 things that blasted through space in 2019.

Related: The Greatest Spaceflight Moments of 2019More: The Private Spaceflight Decade: How Commercial Space Truly Soared in the 2010s

On Sept. 25, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir climbed aboard a spacecraft docked at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and blasted off toward the International Space Station. With picture-perfect timing, Meir's best friend, astronaut Christina Koch, snapped a photo of her ascent during the second stage of the rocket launch. "What it looks like from @Space_Station when your best friend achieves her lifelong dream to go to space," Koch wrote in a tweet.

In mid-September, a mammoth space rock hurtled past Earth but thankfully, it was about 3 million miles (5 million kilometers) away when it did. Asteroid 2000 QW7 measures between 1,000 and 2,000 feet (300 to 600 meters) wide and glided by our planet moving at about 14,361 mph (23,100 km/h). Although the asteroid posed no danger on this time around, NASA has kept track of the rock since 2000 and shall continue to track its future travels. The asteroid will next drift near Earth on Oct. 19, 2038.

Three asteroids flew past Earth on Sept. 9 of this year, and initially, NASA scientists predicted that one of the space rocks might cut its pass pretty close. By "pretty close," they meant that the asteroid might come within 310,000 miles (500,000 km of Earth, well outside even the moon's orbit. The near-Earth objects had fallen under the gravitational influence of nearby planets and all veered toward our home planet. The three asteroids all passed the planet within a 12-hour time window, and with plenty of room to spare.

In August, a Ukrainian skywatcher named Gennady Borisov spotted a comet streaking across the sky. Turns out, the ball of ice and dust may have been visiting from beyond our solar system. After numerous sightings, scientists named the comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) and tracked its course over time. The comet's trajectory appeared to follow a hyperbola shape, unlike most comets seen in our solar system, which race around the sun in elliptical orbits. Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) may be the second interstellar object to pass through our cosmic neighborhood, apart from 'Oumuamua, which was discovered in October 2017.

In January, astronomers caught sight of a dying star's final moments as the celestial body let loose a dramatic burst of ultrahigh-energy light, known as a gamma-ray burst (GRB). The GRB took place about 7.5 billion light-years away from the Earth, and carried light particles with energies measuring trillions of electronvolts that are trillions of times more powerful than the photons from our own sun. While GRBs aren't a rare occurrence, astronomers often struggle to capture measurements of the bursts because the event itself may last only a fraction of a second. With the help of telescopes like MAGIC and the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.), scientists expect to catch more in the future.

A cloud of debris circling a star serves as the only remaining evidence of a massive asteroid's cataclysmic destruction. In 2018, a white dwarf star in our galaxy suddenly began to shine brighter and brighter, and its luminescence continues to build even today. Now, scientists finally think they know why. They theorize that the star entrapped an enormous asteroid in its gravitational field and tore the space rock to bits, creating a cloud of metallic bits. Light from the star heated the asteroid bits until they emitted their own light, an effect that made the star itself appear brighter through Earth's telescopes.

A near-Earth object called 2019 SX5 boasts similar dimensions as the Great Pyramid of Giza and recently flew right past our planet. The asteroid whizzed by Earth at about 49,000 mph (78,900 km/h), but luckily, its trajectory placed the massive rock about 4 million miles (6 million km) away. According to current estimates, enormous asteroids fly by Earth every few days in fact, a different pyramid-size rock glided past the planet in July.

Hundreds of meteors raced across the heavens in November in a rare event known as a "unicorn" meteor shower. The alpha Monocerotid meteor shower takes place every year but usually includes only a handful of meteors. This year, scientists predicted that onlookers might see up to 1,000 meteors light up the sky near the unicorn constellation, Monoceros, hence the whimsical name of the shower. The meteors originally formed from the dust trail of a comet that occasionally veers extra close to Earth's orbit. The closer the comet, the more meteors tend to form.

Three monstrous black holes about 1 billion light-years from Earth are steadily scooching toward each other, and someday, they will probably collide. The supermassive black holes lie at the center of three merging galaxies, sucking up dust and gas from their surroundings. Currently, the distance from one black hole to the next ranges from 10,000 light-years to 30,000 light-years, but scientists predict that the black holes will eventually merge just like their parent galaxies.

Mysterious flaming objects rained from the sky in Chile in September, and officials weren't sure what the UFOs were or where they came from. Based on geological surveys of sites where the objects crashed, experts determined the fireballs probably weren't meteorites but may have been falling space debris. A month later, something thought to be a meteor burned over northeast China, lighting up the midnight sky until it almost seemed like daytime. The fireball cast dark shadows on the ground as it made its way across the heavens, according to local news reports.

Originally published on Live Science.

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10 Things That Blasted Through Space in 2019 - Space.com

SpaceX poised to accelerate launch cadence with series of Starlink missions – Spaceflight Now

File photo of a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaverals Complex 40 launch pad. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX teams across the United States are readying for what the companys chief operating officer predicts will be a record number of launches in 2020.

Before the end of January, SpaceX aims to perform four Falcon 9 launches from Floridas Space Coast three for the companys Starlink broadband network, and a crucial in-flight abort test for the Crew Dragon spacecraft no earlier than Jan. 11.

SpaceX has performed its final launch of 2019, finishing the year with 13 missions 11 using the single-stick Falcon 9 and two employing the Falcon Heavy with three booster core connected together. All 13 of the missions were successful.

The company accomplished 21 launches in 2018, and 18 in 2017.

That adds up to 52 successful missions in a row one of the longest-running success streaks in the global launch industry since a Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral during final preparations for a pre-flight test-firing in September 2016, damaging the launch complex and destroying an Israeli communications satellite.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceXs president and chief operating officer, said the company is poised to launch a lot more rockets next year.

I think in 2020 well do more, and thats because of Starlink, she said in a roundtable discussion with reporters earlier this month. I think we will have 14 or 15 non-Starlink launches, and then well fly Starlink as often as we can.

I need second stages to be built a little bit faster, but we would probably shoot for 35 to 38 missions next year, Shotwell said.

Every Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch needs a new second stage produced at SpaceXs factory in Hawthorne, California. But many of SpaceXs launches utilize reused first stage boosters. That eases pressure on production teams, SpaceX officials said.

The company says it plans to build around 10 new Falcon 9 first stages in Hawthorne next year. Thats down from around 16 to 18 new first stages that SpaceX manufactured a couple of years ago. The reduction in the booster build rate has allowed SpaceX to reassign engineers and technicians to other roles within the company, officials said.

The Crew Dragons abort test in January will utilize a Falcon 9 rocket launched from pad 39A at NASAs Kennedy Space Center. Around a minute-and-a-half after launch, the Falcon 9s Merlin first stage engines will shut down, and the Crew Dragon capsule will fire its SuperDraco abort thrusters to fire away from the top of the launch vehicle.

The high-altitude escape exercise will prove the capsules ability to safely carry its astronaut passengers away from an in-flight rocket failure before NASA clears the Crew Dragon to carry humans later in 2020. The Crew Dragon will parachute to a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off Floridas east coast, where SpaceX teams will retrieve it and return it to port.

NASA is paying SpaceX more than $3 billion to develop, build and fly Crew Dragon spaceships to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station.

The in-flight abort test was previously scheduled for late December, then Jan. 4. The new target launch date of Jan. 11 is pending approval from the U.S. Air Forces Eastern Range, according to NASA.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft SpaceX is preparing for the high-altitude abort test completed a series of engine hotfire tests on a stand at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in November. The test-firings verified SpaceXs fix for a valve issue that caused the explosion of a Crew Dragon capsule during a similar hotfire test in April.

Shotwell estimated the explosion of the Crew Dragon capsule in April alone caused three to four months of delay in SpaceXs commercial crew program.

Up to 180 Starlink satellites will be launched on the next three Falcon 9 missions dedicated to building out a fleet orbiting relay stations for SpaceXs planned global Internet service.

The next launch, scheduled for Jan. 3 at approximately 10:20 p.m. EST (0320 GMT on Jan. 4) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Stations Complex 40 launch pad, will add around 60 satellites to the 120 spacecraft SpaceX has shot into orbit on two previous Falcon 9 missions in May and in November.

SpaceX plans to operate the initial block of 1,584 Starlink satellites in orbits 341 miles (550 kilometers) above Earth. The company, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually field a fleet of up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations.

SpaceX confirmed Thursday that it plans a Falcon 9/Starlink launch in late January from pad 40. The update followed similar announcements from SpaceX on the schedule for two preceding Starlink missions in late December and mid-January, both also from Complex 40.

The late December launch has been delayed to Jan. 3.

Shotwell had predicted SpaceX would perform more than 13 launches in 2019, but some of the missions were delayed.

I think the only ones we delayed are a couple of Starlinks, and then crew, Shotwell said. For the first time, were waiting for our customers, which is a much happier place for us to be.

Shotwells forecast of SpaceXs 2020 launch manifest presumes the company can launch a Starlink mission as often as twice per month, each with up to 60 satellites.

Production on Starlink is going really well, she said earlier this month in a meeting with reporters at SpaceXs headquarters in Hawthorne, California. I think the next flight (set) was shipped to the Cape. We build roughly seven satellites Starting into the new year, you should see a mission every two-to-three weeks from us. We will hold a Starlink mission for a customer launch. But that should be roughly the cadence.

The flat-panel Starlink satellites, built at a SpaceX facility in Redmond, Washington, fill the volume of the Falcon 9s payload fairing. Each satellite weighs around 573 pounds, or 260 kilograms, and the Starlink craft stacked together form the heaviest payload SpaceX has ever launched.

Highlights of SpaceXs planned 2020 launch schedule include the Crew Dragons first mission with astronauts, scheduled as soon as the first quarter of the year. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly aboard the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station after launching on a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In late 2020, SpaceX plans to launch its fourth Falcon Heavy rocket from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center with a U.S. Air Force payload. For that mission, designated AFSPC-44, the Falcon Heavy will target a high-altitude circular geosynchronous orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) above Earth.

SpaceX also plans to launch two Dragon cargo missions from Cape Canaveral to the space station in 2020 in March and August and two Air Force GPS navigation satellites are slated to ride Falcon 9 rockets into orbit from Floridas Space Coast in March and July.

An Argentinian radar observation satellite named SAOCOM 1B is scheduled for launch in March from Cape Canaveral on top of a Falcon 9 rocket. That mission, targeting a polar sun-synchronous orbit, was moved from Vandenberg Air Force Base and will be the first polar orbit launch from Florida since 1960.

SpaceX launches at Vandenberg will resume in November 2020, when a joint U.S.-European oceanography satellite named Sentinel 6A will lift off from the California launch base on a Falcon 9 rocket.

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SpaceX poised to accelerate launch cadence with series of Starlink missions - Spaceflight Now

Human Spaceflight In 2020: What Lies Ahead – Forbes

Last Thursday, NASA confirmed that The Boeing Company had completed readiness reviews for a December 20, 2019 launch of its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch will be the first flight of Boeings CST-100 Starliner vehicle developed under NASAs Commercial Crew Program, and the second flight overall for the Commercial Crew Program following SpaceXs uncrewed Dragon 2 launch in March. Pending a successful OFT mission, Boeing plans to launch a crewed mission aboard its Starliner spacecraft early next year. Similarly, SpaceX plans to launch crew to the ISS using its Dragon 2 spacecraft in the near future, pending a successful In-Flight Abort Test in January.

For years, the industry has eagerly awaited SpaceX and Boeings first crewed launches. The last space vehicle to receive human-rating certification was NASAs Space Shuttle in 1981. Since then, space agencies and private companies around the globe have poured significant financial and human capital into developing new crew vehicles, but none of these efforts has yet resulted a crewed mission.

As the year draws to a close, spacecraft manufacturers have begun looking towards 2020 for their next chance to launch humans into space. Below is a peek at what we can expect from the industry next year.

1. Crewed launches from both NASA Commercial Crew Program providers

NASA introduced to the world on Aug. 3, 2018, the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on ... [+] American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttles retirement in 2011. The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeings CST-100 Starliner and SpaceXs Crew Dragon. The astronauts are, from left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover.

NASAs Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has provided funding to U.S.-based private companies to develop orbital human spaceflight capabilities since the first phase of program awards (Commercial Crew Development 1, or CCDev 1) in 2010. The program was created in order to reduce U.S. reliance on Russia for human spaceflight capabilities after the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. Since 2011, NASA has paid Russia approximately $86 million per seat to launch astronauts to the ISS aboard its Soyuz spacecraft.

After supporting 6 companies through the initial development and proposal phases of the program, NASA ultimately selected Boeing and SpaceX for Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts in 2014. The multibillion dollar CCtCap contract provides funding for each provider to complete an uncrewed mission to the ISS, verify its vehicles in-flight abort capabilities, and finally complete a crewed demonstration mission during which two NASA astronauts are successfully ferried to and from the ISS.

Though the program has experienced the delays common to human spaceflight development, it had a productive year in 2019, with one uncrewed test flight complete and another on the books for this month. While the program has not publicly released specific launch dates for its crewed flights, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has expressed confidence that the providers will launch crew in the first half of 2020.

Boeings CST-100 Starliner

Boeing's first CST-100 Starliner spacecraft sits atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on pad ... [+] 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on December 4, 2019 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Starliner crew capsule, designed to carry as many as seven astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), is scheduled to make its first unmanned test flight to the ISS on December 19. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Boeings CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is scheduled to launch its OFT mission to the ISS aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on December 20. According to NASAs press release, the spacecraft will dock to the ISS on December 21 and will remain attached for approximately a week. On December 28, the spacecraft will undock from the ISS and re-enter the Earths atmosphere before performing a parachute and airbag-assisted landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The OFT launch comes on the heels of the Starliner Pad Abort Test, which the company successfully completed at the beginning of November. Boeing previously experienced a setback when during a 2018 attempt of the test, a propellant leak occurred during engine shutdown. Based on the results of the subsequent anomaly investigation, Boeing implemented an operational control to prevent the leakage from re-occurring.

Since Boeing has chosen to verify its vehicles in-flight abort capabilities via analysis rather than test, the OFT mission is intended to be the vehicles final flight test before it launches crew early next year. The vehicles crewed flight test (CFT) will provide ISS transportation for 3 crew: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Edward Mike Fincke, along with Boeing Commercial Crew Director and former NASA astronaut Christopher Ferguson. Upon successful execution of the mission, Ferguson could become the first individual in history to travel to the ISS in both a government and commercial capacity.

SpaceXs Crewed Dragon 2 Spacecraft

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft which is designed to carry people and cargo to orbiting destinations ... [+] such as space stations, is displayed at the SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles on July 21, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

SpaceXs Dragon 2 vehicle (sometimes referred to as Crew Dragon) launched to the ISS for the first time this March, when it successfully completed an uncrewed 5 day mission before splashing down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. Shortly afterwards, the company experienced a setback when the same vehicle used for this mission exploded on a test stand in Cape Canaveral during a capsule static fire. SpaceX has since completed a full investigation of the anomaly, which traced the fault back to a leaky component that has since been replaced on its other capsules. A newly assembled capsule completed a successful static fire earlier this month, and the company remains on track for a January 2020 launch of its In-Flight Abort Test ahead of its crewed Demo-2 mission early next year.

SpaceXs Demo-2 mission will provide ISS transportation for NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who have undergone training with the company at their Hawthorne, California headquarters for several years. Though the company has been given the option to transport a SpaceX employee or private passenger to the ISS on this test flight in addition to the two NASA astronauts, SpaceX has not publicly announced any plans to do so.

2. Crewed launches of commercial suborbital vehicles

Suborbital human spaceflight has captured the public imagination since the 1990s, when renewed interest from investors in space tourism began spurring development of affordable spaceflight options. For the low price of $100,000 to $1M USD, companies such as XCOR Aerospace, WorldView and Armadillo Aerospace promised private citizens a taste of the astronaut experience with short hops into space. Though the experience would last only a few hours and provide less than 10 minutes of weightlessness, the substantial price reduction from orbital tourism opportunities (which often cost upwards of $20M USD) gave hope to those who dreamt of bringing space exploration to the masses.

Unfortunately, launching humans into space is difficult, and many early players in the commercial suborbital market faced technical and financial setbacks that forced them to shut their doors. Over time, the competition has been whittled down to Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, who have emerged as the pack leaders with their New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo vehicles. While both companies have experienced repeated delays in their flight schedules, both have been completing successful test flights on a regular basis. As of fall 2019, executives from both companies have publicly stated that they expect crewed flight to occur within the next few months. If things continue to go as planned, 2020 could finally be their year.

Blue Origins New Shepard

Participants enjoy the Blue Origin Space Simulator during the Amazon Re:MARS conference on robotics ... [+] and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 5, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Blue Origins New Shepard suborbital rocket and capsule have been under development since at least 2006, when the programs first subscale demonstration vehicle first flew. Since April 2015, the fully integrated New Shepard system has visited space regularly, and on its second flight the rocket became the first in history to land vertically on Earth after visiting space.

Named after Alan Shepard, the first American man to visit space, New Shepard was intended from the start to be a crewed transportation system. However, to date, the vehicles flights have carried only cargo beyond the Karman line. As of December 2019, Blue Origin has completed 12 test flights of the vehicle, 9 of which have carried commercial payloads. Recent tests have also carried a dummy named Mannequin Skywalker, which is outfitted with sensors to measure how future commercial passengers could be affected by the flight.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith has talked about the first crewed flight of New Shepard happening as early as 2018, but this date has repeatedly been pushed back. Smith has attributed these delays to the companys desire to be cautious and thorough, so as not to jeopardize passenger safety.

As of December 2019, the company has not publicly announced a date for the first crewed flight of the capsule, but founder Jeff Bezos has hinted that he expects it to occur in the near future. The first passengers on New Shepard are likely to be Blue Origin employees, and the company has stated that it will not begin taking deposits for commercial passenger flights until these initial crewed flights have occurred.

Virgin Galactics SpaceShipTwo

MOJAVE, CA - FEBRUARY 19, 2016 - Sir Richard Branson, center, poses with the employees for photos ... [+] by the new Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo at its roll out in the Mojave Desert, about a year and a half after Virgin's last rocket plane broke into pieces and killed the test pilot. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Virgin Galactics human spaceflight capabilities have technically been in development since 1996, when the Ansari XPRIZE was created to award $10M USD to a team who could launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice in two weeks. Mojave Aerospace Ventures (MAV), a joint venture between Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Burt Rutans Scaled Composites, ultimately won the prize with its SpaceShipOne reusable spaceplane design and White Knight launcher. Following the award, MAV signed a contract with Virgin Galactic to develop a suborbital spacecraft based on the XPRIZE-winning technology for space tourism. This deal resulted in the formation of The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, to manufacture the spacecraft.

Since 2004, the team has been hard at work developing Virgin Galactics spaceplane and launcher, dubbed SpaceShipTwo and White Knight 2. A mockup of the design was revealed to the press in January 2008, with a company statement that the vehicle itself was around 60% complete at the time.

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 24: Virgin Galactic Flight Simulator in January 24th, 2008 - Test pilot Brian ... [+] Binnie in the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo flight simulator, which will take passengers a year to just over 100 km altitude; Virgin Galactic's first world is the spaceline owning an (Photo by Thierry BOCCON-GIBOD/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

As is often the case in human spaceflight, the vehicles development has not been without hiccups. In July 2007, an explosion occurred during a SpaceShipTwo oxidizer test at Mojave Air and Space Port, killing three employees and injuring three others with flying shrapnel. The company suffered an additional setback in October 2014 when a SpaceShipTwo vehicle broke up during a crewed test flight and crashed in the Mojave desert. The vehicles co-pilot was killed and the pilot was seriously injured. A subsequent inquiry by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the crash was caused by the co-pilots premature deployment of the spacecraft air brake device for atmospheric re-entry. The board also cited inadequate design safeguards against human error, poor pilot training and lack of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight as contributors to the accident.

Since conclusion of the NTSB investigation in 2015, the SpaceShipTwo team has conducted 13 successful crewed test flights using its upgraded VSS Unity spaceship. These tests are in addition to the 54 successful test flights that occurred using the VSS Enterprise ship prior to its 2014 crash. Since the crash, Virgin Galactic has also taken over construction of the spacecraft from Scaled Composites, and has redesigned critical components in house to ensure passenger safety.

To date, more than 600 individuals have put down deposits for crewed tourist flights onboard SpaceShipTwo. The total price tag for a flight is $250,000 USD, and customers are asked to front half the ticket price to reserve their spot in advance. A specific launch date for the vehicles first commercial passenger flight has not been announced, but founder Sir Richard Branson said earlier this year that he hoped it would occur in months not years. In fall 2019, the company began its Astronaut Readiness Program, a preparatory course for customers that have reserved seats onboard one of the companys first passenger flights.

3. Steady launch cadence for Russias Soyuz

KYZYLORDA REGION, KAZAKHSTAN - JUNE 6, 2018: A Soyuz-FG rocket booster carrying the Soyuz MS-09 ... [+] spacecraft with the ISS Expedition 56/57 prime crew members, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Alexander Gerst, Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, and NASA astronaut Serena M. Aunon-Chancellor, aboard blasts off to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Sergei Savostyanov/TASS (Photo by Sergei SavostyanovTASS via Getty Images)

While NASAs Commercial Crew providers continue their work towards operational flights, Russias Soyuz vehicle retains its monopoly on crew transportation to the ISS. Launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz program has been transporting astronauts and cosmonauts into orbit since 1968. With a fatality rate of 1 in 63 people sent to orbit, Soyuz is thus far the safest human spaceflight system in history. (In contrast, the Space Shuttles fatality rate was approximately 1 in 56.)

As of December 2019, Soyuz Expeditions 62 and 63 are on the books for April and May 2020 launches, respectively. Each mission will ferry a crew of 3 astronauts between the Earth and ISS. While NASA hopes to reduce its dependence on the Russians for ISS transportation in the near future, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated in October 2019 that the agency was looking into purchasing an additional Soyuz seat for fall 2020 or spring 2021 to protect for additional Commercial Crew delays. Although both Commercial Crew partners are expected to launch crew in early 2020, Bridenstine noted that when it comes to human spaceflight development, usually things dont go according to plan.

4. Chinas Shenzhou 12 mission and Tiangong Space Station

BEIJING, Oct. 19, 2016 -- Photo taken on Oct. 19, 2016 shows the screen at the Beijing Aerospace ... [+] Control Center showing a simulated picture of an automated docking between the Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft and the orbiting space lab Tiangong-2. The Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft successfully completed its automated docking with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab Wednesday morning, according to Beijing Aerospace Control Center. (Xinhua/Ju Zhenhua via Getty Images)

As of 2019, China is the only nation with human spaceflight capabilities that is not a member of the ISS program. The Chinese manned spaceflight initiative, called the Shenzhou program, successfully sent its first crew member into orbit in October 2003. Since then, the country has successfully completed 5 other crewed missions using its Shenzhou spacecraft and Long March rocket.

The last of these 5 missions - Shenzhou 11 - was launched in October 2016. After a 4 year hiatus, China plans to send its next crew up in 2020. As China does not participate in the ISS, the country plans to create its own Tiangong Space Station, which will be constructed, owned, and operated solely by the Chinese government. Tiangong is expected to have an orbital lifetime of at least 10 years and to be able to accommodate 3 to 6 astronauts at a time, making it a project of similar scale to the ISS. The Chinese government has stated that it aims to complete construction of the station by 2022.

Looking beyond 2020, the rest of the decade appears rife with opportunity for both the commercial space industry and for government programs with deeper space ambitions. NASAs Artemis program aims to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. The program has yet to announce a launch date for its uncrewed Artemis 1 test flight, but earlier this month, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated that he believed it would be sometime in 2021 based on the current Space Launch System (SLS) development schedule.

A model of the SLS rocket on display during the 35th Space Symposium at The Broadmoor in Colorado ... [+] Springs, Colorado on April 9, 2019. - NASA is preparing to use the SLS rocket to send US astronauts to the moon in 2024. The four day symposium is the largest space trade show in the world, attracting leaders focusing on space technology, satellite development, rocket design, and space policy. (Photo by Jason Connolly / AFP) (Photo credit should read JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images)

SpaceX, in turn, looks to continue pushing the boundaries by exploring destinations beyond the ISS. The companys #dearMoon project, which is scheduled for launch no earlier than 2023, aims to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to orbit the Moon in a SpaceX Starship vehicle along with a crew of several artists. In addition to advancing human spaceflight, one of the projects major goals is to inspire the creation of new art to promote peace across the world. Initial tests of the Starship system have commenced in Boca Chica, Texas, using subscale models of the spacecraft.

SpaceX Starship design as of September 2018, at the unveiling of the #dearMoon mission.

The successful certification and operation of any of the aforementioned vehicles will be a huge milestone, both for the space industry and for humanity as a whole. If the 2010s were the decade of SpaceX, perhaps the 2020s will be the decade where space tourism finally becomes a reality. With a little luck, it could even be the decade where humans once again venture beyond low-Earth orbit.

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Human Spaceflight In 2020: What Lies Ahead - Forbes

Will commercial space flight be like Ad Astra? We went to a flight base to check it out – SYFY WIRE

Science fiction has long been the domain of fanciful imagination, particularly as it pertains to movies set in space. A significant portion of space-faring sci-fi asks the viewer to imagine what life might be like in the distant future, or with the benefit of incredible, as-yet-undeveloped, technology. Or else it asks us to imagine first contact with an alien civilization. Spoilers: it usually doesnt turn out well.

Ad Astra, directed by James Gray and starring Brad Pitt, does something a little different, though not wholly unheard of. It imagines a world just a few decades off, one which appears, for the most part, as a reasonable facsimile of what space travel of the future might actually be like and not too far into the future, either.

**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Ad Astra below**

Ad Astra isnt without its own flights of fancy. There are Moon pirates, the pursuit of alien contact, and at least a couple of middle fingers cast lovingly toward the law of physics. But for the most part, and despite most of it taking place off-world, it feels grounded. There isnt any time travel, no cryogenic pods, and no warp drive. Space travel, as portrayed in the film is arduous, slow, and, at times, lonely.

Ahead of Ad Astra's home release, SYFY WIRE traveled to the deserts of New Mexico (almost an alien planet in its own right) to visit Spaceport America, talk with astronauts, NASA engineers, and commercial space travel experts, about the film, the role of science fiction, and the future of space travel, which has become the next frontier in human transport.

THE PRESENT AND FUTURE OF COMMERCIAL SPACEFLIGHT

Roy McBride (Pitt) works as an astronaut on the International Space Antenna, a massive piece of engineering designed in hopes of communicating with non-human intelligences elsewhere in the universe. When a dangerous burst of energy from the far reaches of the solar system destroy the antenna, McBride barely survives a vertigo-inducing freefall from terrifying heights.

Once back on the surface, Roy embarks on a mission to save the world from a potentially catastrophic event that threatens all life on Earth. The explosions on the antenna were only the beginning, the hint of a far greater cosmic threat, originating near Neptune.

Getting to the far reaches of the solar system will take several crafts and a layover on Mars, but first he has to get to the Moon. And in order to do that, he has to ride coach, so to speak.

Rather than take a government-operated craft to the Moon, McBride flies Virgin Atlantic. Its an interesting story choice and one which does a lot of world-building without having to say too much. Commercial spaceflight, in the world of Ad Astra, is mundane. Common. There are flight attendants and (expensive) onboard amenities. Space is no longer the domain of the few, dominated by world governments and those chosen few. Instead, its available to anyone and everyone. At least everyone willing and able to shell out the cash.

Science fiction often hand waves the technology needed to accomplish large-scale travel to, and extended living in, space. The service Ad Astra, and movies like it, provide is to present at least one possible way forward. And thats important.

One of the biggest missions of science fiction in general, whether its movies or novels, is to tell us what is possible, or what could be possible, and give us some optimism that we can get to that point, said Robert Yowell, former NASA Engineer and technical adviser for Ad Astra.

Private companies have been pursuing commercial spaceflight for decades. At least since the 70s, designs have been floating around which intended to carry dozens of people off-world. These plans never materialized.

From a certain point of view, consumer spaceflight is already happening. In 1984 and 85, Charles Walker became the first non-government individual to go to space. He flew a total of three shuttle missions on behalf of his employer, McDonnel Douglas Co, who paid NASA $40,000 per flight.

In 1990, Toyohiro Akiyama flew to MIR, on behalf of the Tokyo Broadcasting System. The total cost is in dispute but ranges in the tens of millions.

As of earlier this year, NASA has opened the International Space Station to commercial enterprises. In addition to commercial research, the ISS is being opened up to commercial astronaut missions. According to the announcement, there will be two slots for commercial astronauts each year, beginning as early as 2020. These missions will be short-term, up to 30 days, and will be privately funded, dedicated commercial flights.

This would mark a considerable shift in the culture of spaceflight, effectively beginning a new era of regular non-government human activities in space.

While commercial flights to the ISS would open the door to space for private citizens, several companies arent content to wait for permission. In fact, Virgin, the company which ferried Roy McBride to the Moon, is making moves to get there itself.

Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight arm of the Virgin Group, is developing its own planes intended for commercial spaceflight. The original intent was to have flights in progress by 2009, but the project encountered a few setbacks, not unheard of in this arena.

Still, earlier this year, two of Virgins test pilots were awarded astronaut wings by the U.S. Department of Transportation after a successful flight to 51.4 miles above Earths surface, surpassing the 50-mile benchmark recognized by the department.

Virgin Galactic is currently operating out of Spaceport America, in New Mexico. The site serves as the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world. Sitting on 18,000 acres, the spaceport offers a rocket launchpad, hangers for holding spacecraft, and an impressive runway built with landing space planes in mind.

Once Virgins commercial operations get off the ground, the primary focus will be tourism. The company will offer suborbital flights for a fee, but thats just the beginning. While initial flights will take off and land at the same location, the ultimate goal is point-to-point flights to different locations around the world. This would require considerably more spaceports in varying locations, but could revolutionize travel. At least for those who can afford it.

Because these flights would be happening at such high altitudes and traveling at such incredible speeds, travel times would be drastically reduced. These sorts of point-to-point spaceflights could deliver a passenger from L.A. to Hong Kong in two hours.

Daniel Hicks, CEO of Spaceport America, however, holds a grander view of what theyre trying to do. Yes, they are trying to accomplish the decades-old dream of spaceflight for the common person, but it isnt just about making money.

We are at a precipice now, where exploration by sailing ship was in the fourteenth century. If you look at the timeline between Columbus and Sir Francis Drake, it was hundreds of years. Because there was no economic reason to do it. Now were at a point where people understand there is money to be made in space. And thats going to open up the doors to exploration to allow flights to Mars, etc. NASA was the genesis for all of this and NASA should never go away. But commercialization is really what the world has been waiting for the past few decades, Hicks said.

Theres good reason to believe Hicks might be right. During a panel on the future of spaceflight, at Spaceport America, each of the panelists, Robert Yowell, Ellen Ochoa, Leland Melvin, and Daniel Hicks spoke of witnessing Apollo 11 and the way it influenced them, in ways they might not have understood at the time, to ultimately pursue paths which lead them into space. And in the case of Melvin and Ochoa, into space itself.

While activities in space, both crewed and uncrewed, have continued since Apollo weve been missing that spark of excitement for some time, the electric anticipation and sense of victory over nature and over our own limitations, which will inspire the next generation of explorers.

Maybe the proliferation of commercial space travel, is just the thing we need to get todays kids excited about pushing into that final frontier.

When asked about what was exciting in space travel today, Melvin said, One of the most exciting things is you can have a panel like this and have a discussion with a Hispanic woman and an African American male astronaut on the panel. The representation in movies and in real life, in space, is helping everyone feel like they have a seat a the table to be part of this journey.

While the pioneering work by NASA and other space agencies around the world is immeasurable, moving space into the private sector and making it available to everyone, is the next logical step opening up the possibility for everyone to be part of the journey.

Its reasonable to expect continued delays, not just from Virgin Galactic, but from all commercial spaceflight endeavors. Traveling in space is a dangerous undertaking, one which requires considerable caution. This is one area in which its better to be right than it is to be fast.

With any luck, companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Horizons, and SpaceX will realize the dream of extending human spaceflight to humanity, at large, in the coming decades. Until then, weve got our dreams and our stories. But we might want to rethink building an Applebee's on the Moon.

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Will commercial space flight be like Ad Astra? We went to a flight base to check it out - SYFY WIRE

Timeline of Soyuz launch with CSG 1 and CHEOPS – Spaceflight Now

Follow the key events of the Soyuz ST-A rockets ascent into orbit from the Guiana Space Center with the first COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation, or CSG 1, radar observation satellite, the European Space Agencys CHEOPS exoplanet telescope, and three CubeSats.

A listing of exact times for the flights major events is posted below.

Data source: Arianespace

T-0:00:03: Engines at Full Thrust

T+0:00:00: Liftoff

T+0:01:57: Jettison Boosters

T+0:03:16: Jettison Fairing

T+0:04:47: Core Stage Separation

T+0:08:49: Soyuz/Fregat Separation

T+0:09:49: First Fregat Ignition

T+0:20:13: First FregatShutdown

T+0:22:43: CSG 1 Separation

T+1:00:55:Second Fregat Ignition

T+1:41:40: APAS-S Separation

T+1:52:35: Third Fregat Ignition

T+2:20:55: Fourth Fregat Ignition

T+2:24:41: CHEOPS Separation

T+3:29:15: Fifth Fregat Ignition

T+4:02:35: Sixth Fregat Ignition

T+4:10:44: BeginSeparation of CubeSats

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Timeline of Soyuz launch with CSG 1 and CHEOPS - Spaceflight Now

Successful launch continues deployment of SpaceX’s Starlink network – Spaceflight Now

SpaceXs Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral at 9:56 a.m. EST (1456 GMT) Monday. Credit: Steven Young/Spaceflight Now

Sixty upgraded satellites for SpaceXs Starlink broadband network rocketed into orbit Monday from Floridas Space Coast, debuting performance enhancements and notching new firsts in SpaceXs list of rocket reuse accomplishments.

SpaceXs second batch of Starlink satellites joined 60 previous broadband-beaming spacecraft in orbit after deployment from a Falcon 9 rocket Monday, adding to a network that may eventually include thousands of satellites broadcasting high-speed Internet signals from space.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 climbed away from Cape Canaverals Complex 40 launch pad at 9:56 a.m. EST (1456 GMT), turned toward the northeast and soared through scattered clouds on a gorgeous Veterans Day morning.

Nine kerosene-fueled Merlin 1D engines powered the Falcon 9 with 1.7 million pounds of thrust, sending the rocket into the sky with a thundering sendoff. It was the first launch to take off from a Cape Canaveral launch pad since Aug. 22, and SpaceXs first satellite launch since Aug. 6.

The Falcon 9s first stage shut down and detached from the rockets second stage around two-and-a-half minutes into the flight. Moments later, the Falcon 9s second stage lit its single Merlin powerplant to propel itself into orbit with the Starlink payloads, then the rockets nose cone opened and fell away, revealing the Starlink satellites after transiting through the thick, lower layers of the atmosphere.

The first stage booster returned to a propulsive landing on SpaceXs drone ship Of Course I Still Love You holding position around 400 miles (250 kilometers) downrange from Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean, roughly due east of Charleston, South Carolina. The rocket completed its fourth mission, following three previous launches and landings two last year, and one in February that helped loft into space an Indonesian communications satellite and the Israeli Beresheet moon lander.

Mondays launch was the first time SpaceX flew a Falcon 9 booster on a fourth mission. It also marked another first for SpaceX, which demonstrated its capability to reuse a payload fairing recovered from a previous launch.

The bulbous payload shroud protects satellites during the first few minutes of flight, then drops away from the rocket in two halves. The fairing halves flown Monday originally launched on a Falcon Heavy mission April 11, then parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, where SpaceX teams pulled them from the sea for inspections, refurbishment and reuse.

SpaceX planned to attempt to catch both fairing halves with two specially-outfitted boats Monday. But managers ordered the ships to port due to concerns about rough seas.

SpaceX now has two fairing recovery ships in its fleet, both equipped with giant nets to catch composite fairing halves as they gently fall to the sea under parachutes. The fairings also carry cold gas thrusters to control their descent.

On previous missions, SpaceX has tried to catch one fairing half using a single boat. The company successfully caught one piece of the fairing for the first time after a July 25 launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket.

Pursuing the prime objective of Mondays mission, the Falcon 9s second stage engine switched off about nine minutes after launch, and the rocket coasted over Europe and the Middle East before reigniting its engine at around 10:41 a.m. EST (1541 GMT) to circularize its orbit. The Falcon 9 aimed for an altitude of around 174 miles (280 kilometers) for deployment of the Starlink satellites, and a member of SpaceXs launch team confirmed the rocket achieved an on-target orbit.

The Falcon 9 sent commands at 10:56 a.m. EST (1546 GMT) to release retention pins holding the Starlink satellites to the launcher, and live video from a camera on-board the rocket showed the 60 flat-panel spacecraft receding in the blackness of space.

The satellites, but at a SpaceX facility in Redmond, Washington, are designed to gradually disperse over the coming hours and days. Ion thrusters fed by krypton fuel will maneuver the satellites into operational 341-mile-high (550-kilometer) orbits inclined 53 degrees to the equator.

SpaceX says 1,440 of the satellites are needed to provide Internet service over the populated world, a service level the company says could be achieved after 24 launches.

The Starlink network could offer service for northern parts of the United States and Canada after six launches, according to SpaceX.

SpaceX could launch thousands more Starlink satellites if merited by market demand. The Federal Communications Commission has authorized SpaceX to operate nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites broadcasting inKu-band, Ka-band and V-band frequencies, with groups of spacecraft positioned at different altitudes and in various planes in low Earth orbit.

Documents filed with the International Telecommunication Union last month suggested SpaceX could add another 30,000 Starlink satellites to the network, growing its total size to 42,000 spacecraft.

The Starlink network is rapidly becoming a core business area for SpaceX, which is competing with companies like OneWeb and Amazons Project Kuiper to deploy fleets of thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit to beam broadband Internet signals from space to users around the world.

Developers of the so-called mega-constellations in low Earth orbit say their networks offer key advantages over traditional satellite Internet architectures, which relay on satellites in higher orbits, where radio transmissions even traveling at the speed of light take longer to reach.

SpaceX has launched more satellites than either of its chief competitors Amazon has not yet launched any and the spacecraft that lifted off Monday will introduce new capabilities to the Starlink network.

Since the most recent launch of Starlink satellites in May, SpaceX has increased spectrum capacity for the end user through upgrades in design that maximize the use of both Ka- and Ku-bands, SpaceX wrote in a press kit for Mondays launch. Additionally, components of each satellite are 100% demisable and will quickly burn up in Earths atmosphere at the end of their life cycle a measure that exceeds all current safety standards.

SpaceX said the new Starlink spacecraft design can provide a 400 percent increase in data throughout per satellite, and each satellite carries double the number of steerable phased array broadband beams than on earlier Starlink platforms.

The first 60 Starlink satellites, which launched May 23, carried only Ku-band antennas. At the time, SpaceX said 95 percent of the materials in each of the first 60 satellites would burn up in the atmosphere after their missions were complete.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceXs president and chief operating officer, said last month that the company plans to begin launching Starlink spacecraft equipped with inter-satellite laser crosslinks some time mid-to-late next year.

Three of the 60 satellites launched in May have stopped communicating with ground controllers, but SpaceX officials say they are pleased with the overall performance of the initial block of Starlink spacecraft.

The U.S. Air Force is testing Internet connections between aircraft and SpaceXs Starlink satellites to evaluate the networks suitability for future military use, and Elon Musk, SpaceXs founder and CEO, said he sent a tweet last month through a Starlink satellite.

We still have ways to go from tweets to 4K cat videos, but we are on our way, joked Lauren Lyons, a SpaceX engineer who hosted the companys webcast of Mondays launch.

Skywatchers with clear skies at twilight could see the Starlink satellites passing overhead in a train-like formation after Mondays launch, similar to observations of the first 60 satellites following their launch in May.

The satellites reflected more sunlight than expected, creating a shimmering spectacle and sometimes flaring to be as bright as the brightest stars in the sky. The satellites appeared to dim over time, and observations became less frequent as they spread out in their orbital plane.

The bright satellites drew the ire of many astronomers, who worried the addition of thousands of similarly-bright satellites could interfere with scientific observations using ground-based telescopes.

The Royal Astronomical Society said in June that the large number of broadband satellites proposed by SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb and Telesat presents a challenge to ground-based astronomy.

The deployed networks could make it much harder to obtain images of the sky without the streaks associated with satellites, and thus compromise astronomical research, the society said in a statement.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory, funded by the National Science Foundation, said in May it was working with SpaceX to jointly analyze and minimize any potential impacts on astronomical observations caused by radio transmissions coming from the Starlink satellites.

These discussions have been fruitful and are providing valuable guidelines that could be considered by other such systems as well, the NRAO said in a statement. To date, SpaceX has demonstrated their respect for our concerns and their support for astronomy.

The NRAO said it continued to monitor, analyze and discuss the evolving parameters of the Starlink system. The NRAO identified several proposals under consideration, including exclusion zones and other mitigations around the National Science Foundations current and future radio astronomy facilities.

SpaceX says it is actively working with leading astronomy groups from around the world to make sure their work is not affected by the Starlink satellites. Engineers are taking steps to make the base of future Starlink satellites black to help mitigate impacts on the astronomy community, SpaceX said.

But SpaceX says satellites launched Monday do not incorporate the change.

SpaceX says it will adjust Starlink orbits should it be necessary for extremely sensitive space science observations, and the company has touted the ability of its next-generation Starship vehicle to send giant astronomical telescopes into space.

We have also proactively reached out to leading astronomy groups from around the world to discuss the Starlink mission profile, scientifically assess the impacts on astronomy activities and evaluate any helpful mitigations moving forward, a SpaceX official said.

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Successful launch continues deployment of SpaceX's Starlink network - Spaceflight Now

What it takes to be a space pilot – Astronomy Magazine

Lifting OffFlying into space is a coveted job. That demand means companies are able to choose the most qualified pilots. And top of that list for qualifications: hours in flight.

The more experience you have, the more likely you are to have encountered situations that are more challenging, says David Mackay, Chief Pilot for Virgin Galactic.

It only happened because I met Burt, and he saw that I built a plane accurately and it flew very well, Melvill recalls. He flew it himself and he then trained me himself to be a test pilot of his aircraft.

Melvill would go on to pilot Virgins SpaceShipOne, making the first commercial flight into space in 2004. But Melvills story is unique.

I dont know anyone else who went the path I went. No recollection of anybody who was lucky enough to get to do what I did, Melvill says.

Typically, test pilots receive their training through military branches, as Mackay did. On top of that, they spend countless days in flight simulators to prepare future commercial space pilots for all conceivable situations.

As we approach the flight day itself [the pilots] will be in the in the simulator every day, sometimes twice a day doing repeated profiles, Mackay says. In the airline industry, typically youre in the simulator every six months and were in it on a daily basis.

Its somewhat akin to going to a doctors office. The doctor informs you of all the known risks associated with the particular procedure or operation and once the patient has been informed of that, some documentation is signed and then the procedure proceeds, says Kelvin Coleman, the Federal Aviation Administrations Deputy Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation. We ensure that consultation is made, and that documentation is in place before those space flight participants and crew members can fly.

For commercial space pilots who have successfully completed an authorized flight into space defined in the U.S. as 50 miles above Earths surface where effects like weightlessness become apparent the Office of Commercial Space Transportation recognizes their achievements with Astronaut Wings. To date, seven commercial astronauts have received Astronaut Wings. Those flying under government programs, like NASA, are not eligible for Astronaut Wings.

Were in a test program and, you know, it makes complete sense to have test pilots working on an aircraft that is still in the test program, Mackay says. Maybe one day we dont need test pilots and on the other hand there are an awful lot of [pilots] who are really interested in doing this. And you know, why not get the most experienced and best-qualified pilots you possibly can?

Aside from flight experience and the ability to communicate clearly with a large team, a commercial space pilot also needs another crucial attribute: a passion for their job.

One of the most important things, of course, is that we want somebody who is highly motivated and really keen to see the project succeed. And a good team player, it takes a big team of people to make this work, Mackay says.

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What it takes to be a space pilot - Astronomy Magazine

Spaceflight alters heart cells but they quickly recover back on Earth – New Scientist News

By Ruby Prosser Scully

Joseph Wu lab, Stanford University School of Medicine

Human heart cells are altered by spaceflight but return mostly to normal when back on Earth. The findings could help scientists understand why astronauts hearts change and how to prevent it.

Previous studies of astronauts have found that spaceflight reduces both heart rate and blood pressure and increases the amount of blood pumped by the heart. But most research on how this happens has been done either on animals or on whole human tissues or organs.

To gain further insights, Alexa Wnorowski at Stanford University in California and her colleagues performed experiments using human heart cells.

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First, they took blood from three people with no history of heart disease. They then reprogrammed some of the blood cells into stem cells that were then coaxed to form heart muscle cells.

Half of the heart muscle cells were put on a SpaceX spacecraft travelling to the International Space Station for a resupply mission. The other half were kept on Earth for comparison.

After five and a half weeks, the cells in orbit were returned to the ground and the scientists examined the effects of microgravity on them.

Read more: What happened when one twin went to space and the other stayed home?

The team found differences in the way that 3000 genes were expressed in these cells. The most notable changes were to genes responsible for metabolism and the functioning of mitochondria, which are the energy powerhouses of cells.

Around 1000 of these genes were still different after 10 days back on Earth, which is equivalent to roughly 4 to 5 per cent of all known human genes. But most of the genes responsible for the changes to the cells mitochondria and metabolism had returned to normal.

It isnt clear from this study what effects the changes might have on astronauts. A previous study looked at two people who were twins: one went to space for a year and the other remained on Earth. It found changes to genes associated with cell mitochondria and metabolism in blood cells in the twin who had been to space. These werent seen in the other twin.

This raises the possibility that spaceflight has similar effects on multiple cell types, including heart and blood cells, says Wnorowski. But its also not quite enough data to draw that large of a conclusion, she says.

The team plans to send 3D tissue structures with multiple different cells types on an upcoming trip to the International Space Station to see how they are affected.

Journal reference: Stem Cell Reports, DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2019.10.006

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Spaceflight alters heart cells but they quickly recover back on Earth - New Scientist News

4 Things to Know About New Space Company Virgin Galactic – Motley Fool

At some point in the not-too-distant future, the global space industry will be worth $1.1 trillion -- maybe as much as $1.8 trillion -- according to the space analysts at investment bank Morgan Stanley.

And now there's a pure-play way to invest in that: Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE), shares of which began trading last week.

We first told you about space tourism company Virgin Galactic's plans to go public -- without actually doing an IPO -- back in July. Taking an unconventional route to the public markets, Virgin Galactic would first sell half its shares to publicly traded shelf-company Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings (SCH), then reverse-merge into SCH and label the entire combined company "Virgin Galactic."

Voila! Instant virtual IPO.

Now that Virgin Galactic is public and its shares have had a few days to trade around a bit, we thought you might like to know a bit more about "the world's first and only publicly traded commercial human spaceflight company" (their words, not mine).

Virgin Galactic shares jumped as much as 10% on the day of the name change, but ended the day right back where they began at $11.79 per share -- and it's been all downhill since. The day after "Virgin Galactic" became publicly tradable, shares lost 7% of their value... then 4% more the day after that... and 11% the day after that!

The good news is that by the end of the week, short-sellers apparently decided they had made enough money, and bought back some shares. But in the end, Virgin Galactic stock was down 18% in its first week of trading.

Hardly the result Sir Richard Branson -- or investors -- had hoped for.

Why are investors starting to sour on Virgin Galactic stock? Part of the reason may be that they've finally gotten a good, close look at its numbers. You see, the day after it began trading, Virgin Galactic filed an "8-K" report with the SEC, which included an "unaudited, pro forma, condensed" review of some of its financial information.

Among the revelations from this document: Virgin Galactic has almost no revenue -- but lots of losses.

Admittedly, coming from a company that has yet to make its first commercial spaceflight, this shouldn't be too surprising. But for investors with only a passing familiarity with Virgin Galactic's status, the numbers might have come as a bit of a shock.

Over the first six months of 2019, this company with an $1.8 billion market capitalization (that'sS&P Global Market Intelligence's latest estimate) has booked only $2.4 million in sales -- and racked up $96.4 million in net losses.

The good news is that for the time being at least, Virgin Galactic is in a good position to absorb these losses as it awaits its first commercial spaceflight (now expected to take place sometime in 2020).

Thanks largely to the cash that came with SCH's investment, Virgin Galactic now boasts a $536.6 million bank account, and no long-term debt. Almost all of its debts are short-term in nature, and the bulk of them ($81.1 million) consist of customer deposits -- obligations the company should quickly begin satisfying once it begins flying tourists to space commercially.

That's about it from the perspective of "dollars-and-cents" revelations from the report. No mention of free cash flow. No guidance for what to expect the numbers to look like going forward. (As I mentioned, Virgin gave us only an "unaudited, pro forma, and condensed" snapshot.) But one other revelation bears examination.

After the merger, Sir Richard Branson, in the form of "Vieco US," controls 58.8% of Virgin Galactic's shares. Shareholders of what used to be SCH own 40.2%. The remaining 1% of Virgin Galactic's shares, believe it or not, are now owned by Boeing (NYSE:BA) -- which, having its own space business, might ordinarily be considered a Virgin Galactic competitor! Boeing's venture arm HorizonX, you see, made a $20 million investment to take a 1% share in Virgin Galactic when it went public.

And this is interesting because it gives Boeing insight into the company. Boeing can use that to learn how good of a business space tourism might become without making investments of its own. It also gives Boeing insight into any advances Virgin Galactic might make in commercial air transport.

After all, beginning next year, and for years to follow, Virgin planes will be making regular flights at ultra-high altitudes and hypersonic velocity. In so doing, they're bound to learn interesting things about how passenger airplanes perform at very high speeds, in very thin atmospheres. Indeed, Virgin Galactic's CEO says this will be an "exciting part" of Virgin's business in future years. Over and above the excitement of flying into space, the path Virgin spacecraft take to get to space could blaze a new trail for intercontinental passenger transport, cutting travel times between Los Angeles and Tokyo from 11 hours ... to just two hours.

(Commenting on this aspect of the business earlier this year, investment bank UBS opined that while Virgin Galactic's primary reason for being -- space tourism -- might become a $3 billion industry a decade from now, hypersonic business travel could be worth as much as $20 billion annually.)

Unsurprisingly, this interests Boeing, too. Last month, Boeing HorizonX Ventures head Brian Schettler told CNBC that Boeing intends to use its Virgin Galactic investment "to explore" not just "commercial access to space," but also "high-speed mobility" of commercial airplanes as well.

As Virgin Galactic spins up its business and prepares to issue its first earnings report, investors might want to "explore" this aspect of Virgin Galactic's business model as well.

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4 Things to Know About New Space Company Virgin Galactic - Motley Fool

Mercury is making a rare ‘transit’ across the sun. Here’s how to watch. – NBCNews.com

Skywatchers around the world have the opportunity to witness a rare astronomical event Monday that occurs just 13 times each century.

Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system, is set to inch across the face of the sun in whats known as a transit, and several organizations are planning to broadcast the celestial event live online.

During the Mercury transit, the planet will pass between Earth and the sun, and while this chance alignment occurs, skywatchers here will be able to see Mercury appear as an inky black dot crossing the suns bright disk.

The planet Mercury is a very small, terrestrial planet, and its quite a bit closer to the sun than we are, so itll just be a tiny little black spot, said Patti Boyd, an astrophysicist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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The transit will begin Monday at 7:35 a.m. ET, and the entire event will last a little more than five hours. People on the East Coast of the United States, Central America and South America will be able to witness the entire transit because Mercury will start marching across the solar disk after the sun has already risen.

For the rest of North America and parts of Europe and Africa, sunrise will occur while the transit is already in progress, but skywatchers should still be able to catch part of the event, weather permitting. The transit of Mercury will not be visible in Australia and much of Asia, but enthusiasts can still catch all the action, thanks to almost real-time images from NASAs Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Slooh, an online observatory, is planning to livestream the event on YouTube, beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET. The Virtual Telescope Project, which collects images from remotely controlled telescopes around the world, will also broadcast the transit of Mercury online.

To watch the transit in person, do not look at the sun directly with the naked eye, including through binoculars or telescopes. Observing the sun without proper protection can lead to serious and permanent vision damage.

Rather, Boyd recommends using eclipse glasses, which are designed with certified solar filters to make viewing safe. But even with eclipse glasses, it will likely be difficult to spot Mercury.

The dot will be very small, she said. Even for people with perfect vision, itll be a stretch to make out the faint, circular dot crossing the face of the sun.

From Earth, its only possible to see transits of Mercury and Venus. Though a Mercury transit will occur again in 2032, the next one that will be visible from the continental United States is in 2049.

Transits of Venus are even more rare; the last one occurred in 2012, and the next one wont take place until 2117.

Denise Chow is a reporter and editor at NBC News MACH.

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Mercury is making a rare 'transit' across the sun. Here's how to watch. - NBCNews.com

Japanese ‘Shooting-Star’ Satellite to Launch on Landmark Rocket Lab Flight This Month – Space.com

Rocket Lab's 10th launch will be memorable in multiple ways.

We already knew that the company's Electron rocket will take some big strides toward reusability on the upcoming mission, which is scheduled to lift off from New Zealand on Nov. 25. And we just learned that Electron will loft seven satellites on this flight, including a small Japanese craft designed to create artificial meteor showers.

The shooting-star satellite, known as ALE-2, was built by Tokyo-based company Astro Live Experiences as part of its "Sky Canvas" project. ALE-2 is 24 inches long by 24 inches wide by 31 inches tall (60 by 60 by 80 centimeters), weighs 165 lbs. (75 kilograms) and is packed with 400 0.4-inch (1 centimeter) spheres that are designed to burn up high in Earth's atmosphere, creating a gorgeous sky show.

Related: Rocket Lab and Its Electron Booster (Photos)

"With this launch, we are a step closer to realiz[ing] the man-made shooting star," Astro Live Experiences CEO Lena Okajima said in a statement. "Please look forward to the world's first demonstration we are aiming [for] in 2020, which will be a major milestone for ALE."

As its name suggests, ALE-2 is the Japanese company's second such satellite. The first, ALE-1, launched this January aboard a Japanese Epsilon rocket and is also scheduled to deploy its colorful sky pellets sometime in 2020, after some on-orbit tests, company representatives have said.

The artificial meteors will travel more slowly through Earth's sky than real ones and will thus remain visible longer 3 to 10 seconds, ALE representatives have said. The pellets are designed to burn up completely between 37 and 50 miles (60 to 80 kilometers) above Earth's surface and therefore will pose no threat to people on the ground or planes in the air, according to a company FAQ.

ALE envisions creating artificial showers for big events, such as the opening ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The "shooting stars" should be visible to people across a region about 125 miles (200 km) wide, company representatives have said.

A look at the ALE-2 satellite designed to create artificial meteor showers from orbit.

(Image credit: ALE)

An artist's illustration of ALE's ALE-2 "shooting star" satellite.

(Image credit: Business Wire)

The other six satellites going up on the Electron later this month are ATL-1, a Hungarian craft that will test a new thermal isolation material; FossaSat-1, a Spanish communications satellite that can fit in the palm of your hand; NOOR 1A and NOOR 1B, communication satellite demonstrators operated by the U.S. company Stara Space; SMOG-P, a payload built by students at Hungary's Budapest University of Technology and Economics that will measure electromagnetic pollution; and TRSI Sat, which will be run by ACME AtronOmatic, a company that provides flight-tracking services to the aviation community and other users.

You can read more about these payloads in this Rocket Lab statement.

The Nov. 25 mission, which Rocket Lab calls "Running Out of Fingers," will be the company's 10th launch overall and sixth of 2019. But Rocket Lab plans to ramp up its cadence considerably, eventually getting Electron rockets off the ground every week, or perhaps even more frequently.

To help make that happen, the company wants to start recovering and reusing the first stage of the two-stage, 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron, which is capable of lofting a maximum of about 500 lbs. (225 kg) to orbit.

Running Out of Fingers will mark a big step toward this goal, if all goes according to plan. The first stage flying on Nov. 25 is outfitted with a variety of sensors and navigation gear, as well as a reaction-control system that will allow the booster to orient itself as it descends.

The main goal is to "see if we can bring this back from space into the atmosphere without breaking up or disintegrating," Lars Hoffman, Rocket Lab's senior vice president of global launch services, said during a panel discussion yesterday (Nov. 6) at the U.S. Air Force's first Space Pitch Day in San Francisco. "We will learn from that, and then we'll move on, move on, move on."

If everything works out, Rocket Lab will eventually move on to catching falling Electron first stages with a helicopter, then inspecting and reflying them in relatively short order.

Running Out of Fingers, like all previous Rocket Lab missions, will lift off from the company's Launch Complex 1, on New Zealand's North Island. But Electron rockets will soon start flying from American soil as well. Launch Complex 2, which Rocket Lab has been building at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia, should be ready to host missions before the end of 2019, company representatives have said.

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Japanese 'Shooting-Star' Satellite to Launch on Landmark Rocket Lab Flight This Month - Space.com

The Importance of Spacecraft Abort Tests – Forbes

Boeings CST-100 Starliners four launch abort engines and several orbital maneuvering and attitude ... [+] control thrusters ignite in the companys Pad Abort Test, pushing the spacecraft away from the test stand with a combined 160,000 pounds of thrust, from Launch Complex 32 on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Early Monday morning, Boeings CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed its first pad abort test, marking completion of an important technical milestone ahead of their uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) currently scheduled for later this year. SpaceXs Dragon 2 spacecraft, which like Starliner is being developed under NASAs Commercial Crew Program, is slated to completed a static fire test soon ahead of its fully integrated In-Flight Abort Test.

Whats the difference between these tests, and why do they matter?

Pad Abort

A pad abort test demonstrates a spacecrafts ability to transport crew and/or cargo to safety in the event of an emergency on the launch pad prior to launch. To demonstrate this capability, the spacecrafts launch abort system (sometimes referred to as a launch escape system) is activated during a trial run, during which the spacecraft must both clear the launch pad and land safely within its authorized landing zone. The setup for this trial run includes a spacecraft with a flight-like abort system, but generally does not include a launch vehicle as it would not be used during the test.

SpaceX Pad Abort Test Concept of Operations

A launch abort system can be thought of as the spacecraft equivalent of a fighter pilots ejection seat. However, instead of ejecting the pilot from the spacecraft, the launch abort system ejects the entire spacecraft away from the launch vehicle and pad. Both Commercial Crew vehicles utilize a pusher abort system, in which the spacecrafts built-in propulsion module is used to propel the vehicle to safety. Since the propulsion module is fully integrated into the spacecraft, these systems have the advantage of providing an abort capability at any point during flight.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - MAY 6: In this handout provided by the National Aeronautics and Space ... [+] Administration (NASA), SpaceX completes the first key flight test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, a vehicle designed to carry astronauts to and from space, on May 6, 2015 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

Some other vehicles, including Russias Soyuz spacecraft, NASAs Apollo capsules, and more recently, NASAs Orion spacecraft, have used an extra solid-fueled rocket to achieve the same goal. This extra rocket is mounted above the capsule on a tower, and is used to tow the spacecraft away from the launch vehicle if an abort is triggered. If not used, these systems are discarded several minutes into flight, after which options for abort are limited to the vehicles remaining system capabilities.

Apollo pad abort test

Boeings test on Monday is reported to have met all of NASAs required criteria for a successful pad abort demonstration. SpaceXs Dragon 2 spacecraft successfully completed an equivalent test in May 2015.

In-Flight Abort

In contrast with a pad abort test, an in-flight abort test verifies a spacecrafts ability to keep crew and/or cargo safe during emergencies that occur after the vehicle has already lifted off the launchpad. In addition to the capability verified by a pad abort test, an in-flight abort test confirms that the spacecraft is able to abort as expected under the high dynamic pressures seen during ascent into space.

To perform this test, a spacecraft with a flight-like abort system must be integrated onto a launch vehicle. The vehicle then launches and performs a nominal ascent until it reaches its maximum dynamic pressure (often referred to by engineers as max q). At this point in the flight profile, the abort system is activated and used to separate the spacecraft from the launch vehicle. To complete the test, the separated spacecraft must be safely returned to Earth.

Of note, in-flight aborts that occur during operational flight will sometimes result in the spacecraft continuing the mission but aborting into a lower orbit than originally planned (usually referred to as an abort to orbit). The choice to return to Earth or to abort to orbit is dependent on multiple factors, including the altitude already achieved at time of abort, the objectives of the mission, and on which trajectory has the greatest chance of saving the crew.

As of November 2019, neither NASA Commercial Crew vehicle has yet completed an in-flight abort test. The last NASA-funded vehicle to complete this test was the Orion spacecraft, which did so in July 2019.

A NASA Orion test vehicle lifts off aboard a booster rocket from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape ... [+] Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch was a test to evaluate Orion's launch abort system designed to quickly get astronauts safely away from their launch vehicle if there is a problem during ascent to space. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The hardware for SpaceXs Dragon 2 In-Flight Abort Test has already arrived at the launch site in Cape Canaveral, with NASA and industry officials stating that the test is likely to occur before the end of 2019. Since SpaceX has already completed its uncrewed demonstration mission for Dragon 2 (Demo-1), the In-Flight Abort Test will be one of the final Dragon 2 hardware demonstrations ahead of the vehicles first crewed flight in 2020.

While NASAs Commercial Crew Program requires all providers to complete verification of an in-flight abort capability prior to crewed flight, Boeing has opted to complete this verification via analysis instead of via test. SpaceXs In-Flight Abort Test will therefore be the Commercial Crew Programs only flight hardware demonstration of an in-flight abort scenario.

A Brief History of Spacecraft Aborts

Though it is rare for a spacecraft to experience an abort scenario, there are several documented instances of aborts during crewed space missions that highlight the necessity of vehicle abort capabilities.

NASAs Space Shuttle experienced its only in-flight abort on STS-51F, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on July 29, 1985. The Challenger spacecraft used for this mission experienced multiple failed sensor readings on its main engines, forcing the crew to perform an in-flight Abort To Orbit (ATO) maneuver. This maneuver required manual intervention by the missions commander to switch the cockpit abort mode switch to ATO and depress the abort switch button, which activated the flight control software sequence for an ATO abort. While the spacecraft aborted its initial flight path and did not reach its intended orbit, the mission was still carried out successfully at a slightly lowered than planned orbital altitude. Due to the Shuttles unique vehicle design, aborting to orbit was considered preferable to returning to Earth, which was considered far riskier.

STS-51F lands safely at Edwards Air Force Base after successfully completing its mission.

Russias Soyuz vehicle has experienced 3 launch aborts during its multi-decade history of flight. The first of these occurred in 1975, when the Soyuz 18-1s second stage failed to separate prior to the rockets third stage ignition. The vehicles flight computer detected an anomaly and triggered an in-flight abort, but as the vehicle had already reached an altitude of 145km, its launch abort tower had already been jettisoned. As a result, the Soyuz capsules on-board propulsion systems had to be used for the abort. Both crew members survived and were successfully recovered.

The only documented instance of a crewed pad abort occurred during Soyuz T-10-1, which was slated to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 26, 1983. The launch vehicle for this mission caught fire on the pad, triggering a pad abort. The Soyuzs launch abort system separated the spacecraft just two seconds before the launch vehicle exploded, saving the crews lives.

Soyuz T-10-1 spacecraft uses its Launch Escape System to launch away from the exploding launch ... [+] vehicle.

The most recent instance of a Soyuz abort was in October 2018, when Soyuz MS-10 experienced an in-flight anomaly during staging that caused one of the boosters to slide down the core stage and rupture the tank. The launch abort system successfully activated once the anomaly was detected, pulling the capsule away from the launch vehicle and to safety. Both crew members were recovered alive and in good health.

Every spacecraft manufacturer builds its abort systems with the hope that they will never need to be used. But when it comes to human spaceflight, you cant be too safe.

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The Importance of Spacecraft Abort Tests - Forbes

Buy Virgin Galactic stock because space tourism will be safer than you think, analyst says – CNBC

Vertical Research Partners is the first firm to begin covering Virgin Galactic, initiating the space tourism venture's stock with a "buy" rating and saying its risk "is misunderstood."

"We think the technical risk to SPCE's human spaceflight program is less draconian than the stock appears to be pricing in," analyst Darryl Genovesi said in a note to investors.

Virgin Galactic began trading publicly last week, following the completion of its merger with Chamath Palihapitiya's venture Social Capital Hedosophia. Genovesi sees Virgin Galactic, ticker 'SPCE,' as a standout for being the only stock investors can trade in a niche but growing market.

"SPCE is the only means by which a public equity investor may gain pure-play exposure to human spaceflight, a socially-important endeavour, and the only means by which a public equity investor may gain ANY exposure to space tourism, creating scarcity value that we think can drive the stock higher as the risk-profile becomes better understood by investors," Genovesi said.

Shares of Virgin Galactic initially rose in trading on Tuesday following Genovesi's call. But the stock reversed course midday, slipping 3.4% from its previous close of $9.35 a share. Vertical Research has a $20 price target on the stock, more than double its current price.

Virgin Galactic spacecraft Unity fires its engine and heads to space with its first test passenger on board in February 2019.

Virgin Galactic | gif by @thesheetztweetz | CNBC

Virgin Galactic plans on flying high net worth individuals through extreme environments, and an accident mid-flight could be fatal. In 2014, an accident during a Virgin Galactic test flight killed its co-pilot. Since that fatal crash, the company updated the spacecraft and has spent the last few years verifying its rocket-powered vehicle can safely and repeatedly fly people to the edge of space.

Genovesi noted the safety risk as a particular weight on Virgin Galactic's stock price, saying "the market appears to imply a high probability of failure, higher than we believe is appropriate." His firm believes investors are using "a Space Shuttle like crash rate" to estimate Virgin Galactic's potential failure rate. The Space Shuttle had two fatal accidents in 135 flights, or a crash rate of 1.5%. But that isn't an accurate comparison, Genovesi says.

"Shuttle's mission profile was much more demanding than SPCE's space tourism mission profile is," Genovesi said.

Vertical Research partners sees Virgin Galactic's spacecraft as more comparable to the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft flown by NASA and the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s. The X-15 crashed once in 199 flights, a crash rate of 0.5%.

"And that was 50 YEARS AGO, meaning SPCE can likely to better," Genovesi said. "Additionally, we don't think a catastrophic failure would necessarily end the program as both Shuttle and X-15 programs continued following their respective fatal crashes and SPCE appears to have retained ~90% of its backlog through its fatal crash in 2014."

Virgin Galactic has 603 customers signed up to fly once it begins commercial operations next year, at a price of $250,000 per ticket. Genovesi reiterated an advantage outlined by Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides to CNBC last week: The space tourism venture is essentially a bet on the fast growing luxury experiences market.

"Globally, we think around 2 million people can experience this over the coming years at this price point," Whitesides said.

The analyst believes Virgin Galactic represents an opportunity to invest in three areas: The rapidly growing luxury consumer market, the pioneering of new technologies and "the recently popular theme of experiences over possessions."

"In short, we don't think SPCE will have any trouble getting customers to sign up to come to space while the economics of its operation (70% incremental EBITDA margins) are highly attractive," Genovesi said.

CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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Buy Virgin Galactic stock because space tourism will be safer than you think, analyst says - CNBC


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