Launch of ExoMars rover delayed to 2022 Spaceflight Now – Spaceflight Now

The Rosalind Franklin rover for the ExoMars mission completed a series of environmental tests at an Airbus Defense and Space facility in Toulouse, France, in late 2019. Credit: Airbus

Most parts of the joint European-Russian ExoMars lander and rover are nearly ready for launch, but trouble with parachutes, electronics, software and concerns about the growing coronavirus pandemic have delayed the missions departure to Mars from this year until 2022, officials announced Thursday.

The leaders of the European Space Agency and Roscosmos Russias space agency said Thursday that the ExoMars mission would not launch as scheduled this July.

We have made a difficult but well-weighed decision to postpone the launch to 2022, said Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos. It is driven primarily by the need to maximize the robustness of all ExoMars systems as well as force majeure circumstances related to exacerbation of the epidemiological situation in Europe, which left our experts practically no possibility to proceed with travels to partner industries.

I am confident that the steps that we and our European colleagues are taking to ensure mission success will be justified and will unquestionably bring solely positive results for the mission implementation, Rogozin said in a statement Thursday.

The mission was supposed to blast off from Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Proton rocket during a planetary launch window in July or August. But officials said Thursday several challenges will keep the mission from launching this year.

Instead, the ExoMars mission will take off during the next Mars launch window between August and October 2022, officials said. The lander will target touchdown in a region named Oxia Planum in the northern hemisphere of Mars between April and July 2023.

The primary difficulty facing the ExoMars team involves ensuring the missions European-made parachutes are ready to slow the lander during descent through the Martian atmosphere.

Four parachutes two pilot chutes and supersonic and subsonic main chutes will slow the ExoMars lander after it enters the Martian atmosphere. The lander will jettison the parachutes and ignite braking rockets to slowly settle onto the surface of Mars.

Engineers encountered parachute failures during two high-altitude drop tests over northern Sweden last year.

With help from experts at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, engineers traced the problem to the parachute bags, and not with the parachutes themselves, according to ESA. Engineers modified the way the parachutes are released from the bags to ease their extraction and avoid frictional damage, ESA said.

Teams have completed a series of ground-based extraction tests at JPL, and the main parachutes are ready for two final high-altitude drop tests in Oregon in the coming weeks, ESA said.

But mission managers wanted to take more time to ensure the ExoMars lander and rover safely get to the surface of Mars.

We want to make ourselves 100 percent sure of a successful mission, said Jan Wrner, ESAs director general. We cannot allow ourselves any margin of error. More verification activities will ensure a safe trip and the best scientific results on Mars.

The European-built Rosalind Franklin rover, named for the famedBritish chemist and X-raycrystallographer whose work contributed to DNA research, recently passed final pre-launch thermal and vacuum tests at an Airbus facility in Toulouse, France. Rosalind Franklin is the first European Mars rover, and it is fully outfitted with a payload of nine scientific instruments, including a drill to dig up to 2 meters (6.6 feet) into the Martian soilcollect core samples for analysis in the mobile robots on-board laboratory.

The Russian-built module designed to carry the European rover to the surface of Mars is also complete. The RussianKazachok stationary lander, from which Rosalind Franklin will deploy after touchdown, is fully equipped with its 13 scientific experiments.

The descent module has been undergoing propulsion system qualification in the past month. TheKazachok platform has also been undergoing environmental testing in Cannes, France, to verify the spacecrafts ability to withstand the harsh conditions of space, according to ESA.

I want to thank the teams in industry that have been working around the clock for nearly a year to complete assembly and environmental testing of the whole spacecraft, Wrner said in a statement. We are very much satisfied of the work that has gone into making a unique project a reality and we have a solid body of knowledge to complete the remaining work as quickly as possible.

The Rosalind Franklin rover and Kazachok lander were previously supposed to launch in 2018, but officials rescheduled the mission for 2020 after both vehicles ran into development delays. Their launch, now delayed to 2022, is the second of two separate missions developed under the ExoMars program.

The European Space Agencys ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander launched in March 2016 aboard a Russian Proton rocket. The orbiter successfully entered orbit around Mars later that year, and it continues taking pictures and gathering data on methane and other gases in the Martian atmosphere that could indicate the presence of ongoing biological or geologic activity.

The Schiaparelli probe crashed during its attempt to land on Mars.

The ExoMars program was approved by ESA member states in 2005. At that time, the European Mars rover was scheduled to launch in 2011. But that schedule soon eroded, and ESA and NASA signed agreed in 2009 to partner on the ExoMars missions.

NASA backed out of the partnership in 2012, and ESA signed an agreement in 2013 to proceed with the ExoMars program without major participation from the United States. NASA continued developing electronics and a mass spectrometer for the rovers largest science instrument, which will search for organic compounds and biomarker in the Martian soil.

Despite the delay in the second ExoMars launch until 2022, three other Mars missions remain scheduled for launch during this years planetary launch window in July and August.

NASAs Perseverance rover, formerly known as Mars 2020, will take off in July from Cape Canaveral. A Chinese Mars rover is also being prepared for launch later this year, and the United Arab Emirates Hope Mars orbiter is slated to launch on a Japanese H-2A rocket this summer.

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Launch of ExoMars rover delayed to 2022 Spaceflight Now - Spaceflight Now

NASA could have a timeline for Boeing’s next Starliner flight by the end of the month – Space.com

NASA has still not decided whether it will require Boeing to complete a second uncrewed test flight of the company's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which failed to reach the International Space Station in its first attempt in December 2019. But the agency may have a game plan ready by the end of the month.

In a teleconference with reporters on Friday (March 6), Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said that NASA is "shooting for the end of the month to have a review between ourselves and Boeing." After making their decision about the best path forward for Boeing's troubled Starliner program, the reviewers will deliver a plan to the head of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Doug Loverro.

However, it could still take a while before NASA can announce when the next Starliner mission will launch and whether there will be astronauts on board because NASA and Boeing expect to spend "several months" fixing a myriad of technical problems on Starliner, Loverro added during the teleconference.

Related: Boeing's 1st Starliner flight test in photos

Following Starliner's failure to reach the International Space Station on Dec. 20, a joint NASA-Boeing independent review team identified 61 "corrective actions" to address two major software problems and a communications issue that arose during the mission, called Orbital Flight Test (OFT).

The first problem that became apparent had to do with the spacecraft's on-board timer, which had pulled an incorrect time from the Atlas V rocket on which it launched. Because the so-called "mission elapsed timer" was 11 hours off, Starliner did not complete an orbit insertion burn after launching into space, and that prevented it from completing its mission.

A second critical software problem was identified later on during the flight, shortly before Starliner began to make its way back to Earth for a parachute-assisted landing. A valve-mapping error in the spacecraft's service module could have potentially caused an in-space collision after that disposable part of the spacecraft separated from the crew module.

The third major problem was a temporary drop in communications between Starliner and NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, which transmit data between spacecraft and data stations on Earth. If this communications dropout had not happened, ground controllers could have potentially corrected the timing issue and manually commanded the spacecraft to do its orbit insertion burn. NASA and Boeing are still investigating the cause of this communications issue, which appears to have been radio interference, but Boeing officials have said that it could be solved by replacing Starliner's antenna.

Loverro said that NASA is now designating the OFT mission a "high-visibility close call," which the agency defines as an incident during a space mission in which "the potential for a significant mishap could have occurred and should be investigated to understand the risk exposure and the root cause(s) that placed equipment or individuals at risk," according to NASA's Commercial Crew blog.

"We could have lost a spacecraft twice during this mission," Loverro said. "We could have lost it at the beginning of the mission and we could have lost it at the end of the mission. But thankfully the Boeing guys were able to go through the software and the Johnson [Space Center] guys were able to test it and find the errors. So it's clearly a close call."

While NASA and Boeing have only identified these three specific issues, the review team has come up with a list of 61 corrective actions. That doesn't necessarily mean that there are 61 separate problems with Starliner, Jim Chilton, senior vice president at Boeing Space and Launch, said in the teleconference. Rather, he said the list is of "61 ways to get better in three categories."

When asked if NASA could make that list of 61 corrective actions available to the public, Loverro said, "I don't know. We haven't had that conversation with Boeing, and we'd have to have that conversation."

In addition to implementing specific software fixes to address the three critical issues previously disclosed, Boeing has been asked to more broadly improve its engineering and testing procedures for new spacecraft. In the engineering department, NASA has asked Boeing to "strengthen its review process, including better peer and control board reviews, and improve its software process training," according to the NASA blog.

NASA has also asked Boeing to "increase the fidelity in the testing of its software during all phases of flight," and to perform full, end-to-end ground tests during mission simulations something the company did not do before launching Starliner.

The review team is also looking to identify possible organizational issues that could have contributed to the problems with Starliner. NASA plans to conduct a "organizational safety assessment" while performing an evaluation of the workplace culture at Boeing as well as NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

"We're going to look at both Boeing's organizational processes and NASA's organizational processes in order to go ahead and make sure we truly do learn from this event, and that we know how to fix it and make sure it doesn't happen again," Loverro said.

Boeing was originally scheduled to launch the first crewed test flight of its Starliner spacecraft to International Space Station in the summer of 2020, but that mission has been postponed indefinitely as the company works with NASA to prove that the spacecraft can safely transport astronauts to and from space.

Meanwhile, SpaceX, the other private company that NASA has commissioned to fly astronauts to the space station, is gearing up to launch the first crewed mission of its Crew Dragon spacecraft in May, following a successful uncrewed test flight in March 2019.

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and onFacebook.

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A Solar System of Fire and Ice – The Atlantic

In the 1970s, as the Voyager mission cruised toward the outer planets, scientists predicted that the spacecraft would find moons like our own. The moons around Jupiter, for example, are about the size of our moon or smaller, so it stood to reason that they, too, would be cold, still, and speckled with craters. Instead, Voyager found the first, surprising evidence of volcanic activity somewhere besides our planet. It was very hard for people to accept that such a small moon like Io could still have active volcanism, because Io should have cooled a long time ago, Lopes said.

In the 40 years since, planetary scientists have moved from monitoring eruptions on Earth to finding them sprinkled across the solar system. Soon, perhaps, they will get a closer look at what exactly makes these extraterrestrial blasts tick.

The team targeting Io knows about a phenomenon the Voyager scientists didnt, called tidal heating. Io orbits between Jupiter and two of the planets other moons, Europa and Ganymede, and this configuration means that Io is subject to the gravitational forces of all three. The constant tugging heats up Ios interior, melting rock into lava. As the moon stretches and shrinks over the course of a brisk 42-hour orbit, cracks emerge on its surface, and the lava escapes through.

Its changing the shape of the whole planet, says Alfred McEwen, a planetary geologist at the University of Arizona who is leading the mission concept to Io. Lava, loosed from the interior, flows like muddy waters in a flash flood and fills in craters, regularly smoothing out the moons terrain. Many of the exoplanets that astronomers have discovered so far orbit close enough to their stars to experience the same kind of tidal heating, which makes Io a particularly suitable analogue for understanding worlds beyond our neighborhood, McEwen says.

Closer to home, theres Venus, where the surface is a mosaic of volcanic features, from peaks to plains, shaped from eons of roiling activity. We see huge fields of small volcanoes in places on Venus that remind us of the little guys we see in Iceland, says James Garvin, the chief scientist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center and the lead on one of the Venus missions. The planets volcanoes, numbering in the hundreds, are thought to have petered out long ago, but scientists have found evidence that some activity might be under way right now.

A few years ago, an infrared camera on a European spacecraft peered through the planets thick atmosphere and caught spots on the surface suddenly heating up and cooling down again. Smrekars mission to Venus would send a spacecraft to orbit the planet, map its topography, and determine whether theres still some churning going on. Another mission, led by Garvin, will drop a probe through Venuss atmosphere into a potentially volcanic area, moving down as if we were descending in a helicopter ourselves, he says. The probe would have the capability to analyze atmospheric gases and pick out signatures of recent eruptions.

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Watch how the only woman in space today celebrated International Women’s Day – Space.com

The only woman in space right now made a special presentation for International Women's Day this Monday (March 9).

Floating in the Kibo module of the International Space Station in a dress and stockings that she wore in 2019 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 12 (alongside her colleagues, who wore an assortment of throwback looks for the anniversary), NASA astronaut Jessica Meir spoke in a video posted to Twitter Monday about why we need diverse perspectives to accomplish big goals in space exploration.

"It takes all sorts of people from diverse backgrounds to explore the unknown and to make things that are seemingly impossible, possible," said Meir, an astronaut on the three-person Expedition 62. "When we all work together, there is no limit to what we can accomplish."

Related:Women in Space: A Universe of Firsts in Photos

Meir recently pushed spaceflight boundaries, though she didn't speak about this specific accomplishment in the video. She and a former crewmate, astronaut Christina Koch (who recently returned to Earth after a record-setting 328 days in space, the longest spaceflight ever made by a woman), performed the first three all-woman spacewalks in history, in 2019 and 2020.

While in space, Meir has also celebrated her identity and heritage as a Jewish woman, including wearing festive socks to celebrate Hanukkah and bringing an Israeli flag with her to space, according to The Times of Israel.

The video she posted Monday paid tribute to the women who came before her, while looking to the future, when the first woman walks on the moon, a milestone that NASA aims to accomplish by 2024.

"I am thankful for the amazing women who paved the way for me to do research in space," Meir said. "NASA is pushing the boundaries of exploration and working hard to send the first woman and next man to the moon as part of the Artemis program."

As of 2019, only 64 of the 566 people to fly to space have been women. The first woman to fly to space was Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963, and the first U.S. woman in space was Sally Ride, in 1984. Women have achieved a number of other incredible orbital milestones, including commanding the space shuttle, performing spacewalks and commanding the International Space Station.

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3D beating heart tissue experiment heads to Space Station – UW Medicine Newsroom

Note to editors and reporters: Live coverage on NASA Television of the SpaceX CRS-20 cargo launch carrying this experiment is scheduled at 8:30 p.m. EST, 11:30 p.m. PST March 6 and will be replayed twice on March 7. Coverage of the rendezvous with the International Space Station will be at 5:30 a.m. EST Monday, March 8, with installation at 8:30 a.m. All times are subject to change due if weather or launch conditions are unfavorable




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Space exploration can take a toll on the human heart. Astronauts are at risk for changes in their cardiac function and rhythm. To learn how microgravity and other physical forces in space exact their effects on heart muscle, a Tissue Chips in Space project has now been packed and is awaiting launch to the International Space Station.

The experimental equipment consists of small, compact devices, a little bit larger than cell phone cases. The holders contain a row of tiny, 3-D globs of beating heart tissue grown from pluripotent stem cells, generated from human adult cells. The heart muscle tissue is supported between two flexible pillars that allow it to contract freely, in contrast to the rigid constraints of a Petri dish.

The devices also house a novel invention from the University of Washington. It automatically senses and measures the contractions of the heart tissues, and reduces the amount of time the astronauts will need to spend conducting this study.

The flexible pillars contain tiny magnets, explained UW graduate student Ty Higashi, one of the inventors. When the muscle tissue contracts, the position of the embedded magnets changes, and the motion can be detected by a sensor, he said. That information is then sent down to a laboratory on Earth.

This model will recapitulate, on a miniature scale, what might be happening to the architecture and function of heart muscle cells and tissues in astronauts during a space mission.

The project head is Deok-Ho Kim, a professor in bioengineering, who recently joined the Johns Hopkins University faculty in Baltimore. He and co-investigator, Nathan Sniadecki, a professor in mechanical engineering, began this study two years at the UW Medicine Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM). Jonathan Tsui, a postdoc in bioengineering, Ty Higashi, a graduate student in mechanical engineering , and other members of the UW project team, continue the cross-country collaboration in Seattle. The team is working with several NASA and National Institutes of Health groups, and researchers at other universities, on this effort.

Sniadecki said that each of the tissues heading to the International Space Center contain about a half million heart cells.

They act like a full tissue, he explained. They contract, they beat and you can actually see them physically shorten in the dish. Were actually able to see little heart beats from these tissues.

The SpaceX shuttle delivering this scientific payload is expected to leave from Cape Canaveral no earlier than 8:50 p.m. PST (11:50 p.m. EST) Friday, March 6. The exact departure schedule depends on the weather and other factors.

Once on board, the experiment will run for 30 days before being returned to Earth for further analysis. A related space-based experiment will follow skyward later, to see if medications or mechanical interventions can offset what the heart muscle endures during extended space missions.

The space program is looking at ways to travel longer and farther, Sniadecki said. To do so, they need to think about protecting their crews. Having treatments or drugs to protect astronauts during their travel would make long term space travel possible.

Guarding against cardiac problems would be especially critical during space travel at distances never attempted before, such as a mission to Mars, said Sniadecki. This opportunity to really kind of push the frontier for space travel is every engineers dream.

He added, We also hope to gather information that will help in preventing and treating heart muscle damage in people generally, as well as in understanding how aging changes heart muscle.

Microgravity is known to speed up aging, and likely influence other cell or tissue properties. Because aging is accelerated in space, studies on the International Space Station is a way to more quickly assess this process over weeks, instead of years.

I think the medicine side of it is extremely helpful on Earth, too, because what we discover could potentially lead to treatments for counteracting aging, Sniadecki said.

This space medicine research project is funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. This heart tissue study is part of the national Tissue Chips in Space program.

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3D beating heart tissue experiment heads to Space Station - UW Medicine Newsroom

A new way to provide internet for the masses from space – Politico

Once you get to this size, the whole business model changes," said Gedmark, a former executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. "The satellite is just big enough to serve one country or a large U.S. state like Alaska, which is our first customer. Youre providing capacity for one country instead of a whole continent, and it changes the game.

Astranis' Alaska satellite will launch at the end of the year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and start providing internet services in early 2021.

Gedmark, who was also director of flight operations for the X Prize Foundation, spoke about how Astranis approach will lead to lower prices and why hes initially focusing only on commercial customers and not government agencies.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

We started this company with a very simple thesis, which is that there is just a huge amount of good we could do in the world with small satellites specifically for telecommunications. When I say small satellites, I mean microsatellites that we launch up to geostationary orbit. GEO is this unique orbit. The satellites there are orbiting the Earth at the same rate the Earths surface is orbiting. To an observer on the ground ... the satellite appears to be at a fixed point in the sky and appears to never move. For satellite TV, you can have a fixed dish on your house. ...Thats why this orbit is so special. It means you can have the simplest possible off the shelf equipment on the ground and its very easy to roll out to people.

The satellites built for GEO have been these huge goliath satellites. Theyve gotten bigger over time, not smaller unlike literally all other electronics we know and love. Now theyre the size of a double decker bus. That can make sense in some cases because they are designed to cover an entire continent with satellite TV or some satellite internet. The challenge is it takes many years to build them, theyre very expensive and you have to build your business case around serving an entire continent.

We saw the boom happening with small satellites. My co-founder and I are both aerospace engineers by background. We wondered why isnt anyone using small satellites for GEO telecoms. It doesnt make any sense. The answer is that its hard. There are real technology challenges there. We had to do the math and decide we could tackle those challenges and build a real working satellite in the microsatellite class.

Once you get to this size, the whole business model changes. The satellite is just big enough to serve one country or a large U.S. state like Alaska, which is our first customer. Youre providing capacity for one country instead of a whole continent, and it changes the game.

The orbit is the biggest key difference in the execution. If youre comparing us to the low-Earth orbit constellations, their satellite is orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes or so, so you need thousands of satellites to provide a commercially viable service that doesnt have gaps. We can get started with one satellite and have a satellite dedicated to that country or region.

The oher big difference is our models show well be able to get to a lower cost of ultimate capacity. That matters to these customers. They just want to know how much do i have to pay to get a gigabyte of data. Getting that number down as low as we can to really start getting more of the unconnected online is the ultimate goal. Our approach of building many of these small satellites for GEO will get us to the absolute lowest cost per byte.

We have launched a satellite into space. It was a technology demonstrator satellite, not the one were building for Alaska. That was four and a half years ago. The satellite were building for Alaska is slated to launch at the end of this year. We signed a launch contract with SpaceX to launch on a Falcon 9, and well be providing internet in the early part of next year.

There are many parts of Alaska where there is no internet connectivity at all. The places where there is service, its very common to pay $300 a month for internet we would call DSL speeds. Thats what were going to change. Right off the bat for the people that will get service starting next year, they will be able to get true broadband speeds for less than $99 a month. Thats five times the speed at one-third the price.

We are targeting a variety of customers. A lot of what were most excited about are rural areas or more extreme terrain, where its that much more expensive to try and run fiber. There are a lot of places around the world that have deserts, jungles, mountains, glaciers. Its just not economical to run fiber everywhere and it wont be for a very long time.

Is there government interest in this?

Weve certainly seen a lot of interest in what were doing because what were doing is very unique, but we really are focused on commercial missions and specifically right now executing on this mission for Alaska. Thats our focus right now.

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The most innovative space companies of 2020 – Fast Company

As the Trump administration toyed with the idea of a Space Force, the privately funded space industry chugged along with essential (if less sexy) infrastructure and technological advances. SpaceX continued work on its Starlink mega-network of satellites, which hopes to provide high-speed internet to organizations including the U.S. Air Force in even the most remote corners of the world, while companies including Swarm Technologies, Spaceflight, and Momentus set their sights on democratizing the space industry by providing alternatives to high-tech, high price-tag options.

For building up its Starlink satellite constellation

Not just a launch company, SpaceX is quietly building its own mega-network of satellites. It launched 120 Starlink satellites (which power SpaceXs satellite internet) in 2019, and by early 2020 plans to launch another 120. SpaceXs ambitions seem even largerits requested a license for up to 42,000 satellites. The U.S. Air Force is testing connecting to Starlink satellites on aircraft. SpaceX has raised more than $1.3 billion in new funding in 2019.

For creating sandwich-size, low-fi affordable satellites

Swarm Technologies grilled-cheese-size satellites are lower cost (and lower tech) than is typical. The constellation networks created by companies like SpaceX and OneWeb aim to provide fast, high-speed, low-latency connection to sophisticated systems operated by the likes of the U.S. Air Forceat an equally high cost. But Swarms technology aims to fill in the gaps for less data-intensive communications, assisting organizations that want remote access to a network but dont necessarily need the speediest, most powerful connection. In 2019, for example, the company partnered with Ford to help it get better connectivity with cars in even the most remote parts of the world. It also partnered with the National Science Foundation to send ground station and handheld trackers to Antarctica.

For introducing ride share for space cargo

Spaceflight operates ride shares to space, allowing companies to reserve cargo space in launches for significantly lower prices than a traditional private launch. It launched its first dedicated ride share mission in late 2018, and since has been ferrying satellites for organizations including research centers, museums, middle schools, and more for both commercial and educational purposes. In addition to physically getting cargo to space, Spaceflight also helps less experienced players through the logistics of licensing and approval, and provides transparent pricing.

For designing a craft that NASA will send to explore Titan in search of E.T.

In 2019, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Labs Dragonfly craft design was selected as NASAs next New Frontiers mission to Titan (a moon of Saturn), to search for extraterrestrial life. Dragonfly will launch in 2026, and reach the moon by 2034.

For inventing satellites that see through weather patternsand send images to the cloud

Capella Space builds satellites that can see through clouds and weather patterns. In 2020, it will launch a constellation of satellites and ground infrastructure in partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to allow instant downloads through the Amazon cloud.

For launching two human brain organoid models to the International Space Station

The respected lab-in-a-box company sent up its first experiment to the International Space Station using living brain organoids. Researchers will use them to study the effects of microgravity on the human brain.

For developing a promising method of using water to move satellites in orbit

Momentus is developing an innovative water-based propulsion system for moving satellites and cargo around in space. The system would allow companies to launch satellites into low orbit generally, then drive those satellites to correct placement.

For making more efficient satellite propulsion systems

Microsatellite company Accion Systems was one of 14 U.S. companies selected in 2019 for NASA Tipping Point partnership, developing moon and Mars technologies. Accion will work with NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to replace the cold gas propulsion system used for interplanetary CubeSats with a more efficient ion electrospray propulsion system. The company received $3.9 million for the project, with anticipated launch in the summer of 2021.

For engineering a high-volume assemble line for satellites

In 2019, OneWeb opened the worlds first high-volume, assembly line high-facility building advanced satellites in Florida. It also successfully launched the first 6 satellites of a planned 650 in Phase 1 of a mega constellation of small satellites, delivering affordable Internet access in a joint venture with Airbus.

For attempting the first private lunar landing

In 2019, Israel-based SpaceIL came tantalizingly close to landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. It was the first-ever attempt to deliver a privately funded lunar lander to the moons surface.

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Space mining could lead to string of human colonies on alien planets – The Sun

ASTEROID mining could be a catalyst for humans colonising other planets, according to a new study.

The space rocks are desirable targets because they can contain precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum.


After Nasa's budget was increased back in 2018, Texas senator Ted Cruz said: "Ill make a prediction right now. The first trillionaire will be made in space."

That wasn't the first time that prediction had been made as scientists have had their sights set on the wealth that asteroids could bring for years.

There are around 9,000 asteroids that fly near Earth regularly and mining their resources could prove to be very useful for our planet.

A recent study released by market research firm Report Linker revealed that the technology created to mine these asteroids could improve spaceflight capabilities and the tech necessary for living on other planets.


The study stated: "Asteroid mining or space mining could help start the colonization of planets where finding water would be imperative.

"Also, the water can be broken down into hydrogen (used as fuel) and oxygen (air to breathe) and water is used to help grow food, as well as protective shield from the harsh rays from the space such as UV, infrared and others."

The study also claimed that asteroid mining tech could become a good defence against any dangerous asteroids heading for Earth.


Nasa is eyeing up a nearby asteroid that contains enough gold to make everyone on Earth a billionaire.

Psyche 16 is nestled between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and is made of solid metal.

As well as gold, the mysterious object is loaded with heaps of platinum, iron and nikel.

In total, it's estimated that Psyche's various metals are worth a gargantuan 8,000 quadrillion.

That means if we carried it back to Earth, it would destroy commodity prices and cause the world's economy worth 59.5trillion to collapse.

What's the difference between an asteroid, meteor and comet?

Here's what you need to know, according to Nasa...

In other space news, Elon Musk will be sending three space tourists on a 10-day holiday to theInternational Space Station next year.

Lettuce has beensuccessfully grown in space.

And, the most detailed panorama ever snapped fromthe surface of Marshas been unveiled by Nasa.

What are your thoughts on space mining? Let us know in the comments...

We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online Tech & Science team? Email us at tech@the-sun.co.uk

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Space mining could lead to string of human colonies on alien planets - The Sun

All Alone in Interstellar Space, Voyager 2 Is About to Lose Contact With Home – ScienceAlert

It's lonely out there in deep space. Especially when a spacecraft has travelled so far into the vast emptiness, interstellar space is now all it can truly call home.

Of course, this was always Voyager 2's fate.The spacecraft which launched over 40 years ago and now stands as NASA's longest-running space mission was designed to venture out to the boundaries of our Solar System. For decades, it's done just that, but the incredible voyage is about to encounter a challenge it hasn't faced in all that long, lonesome journeying.

NASA has announced that Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) the only antenna on Earth that can send commands to the Voyager 2 spacecraft is going silent, and not for a short time.

The giant dish, located in Australia, and roughly the size of a 20-storey office building, requires critical upgrades, the space agency says. The Canberra facility has been in service for almost 50 years, so it's not surprising that the ageing hardware needs maintenance.


Nonetheless, the work comes at a cost. For approximately 11 months until the end of January 2021, when the repairs are expected to be complete Voyager 2 will be totally alone, coasting into the unknown in a quiescent mode of operation designed to conserve power and keep the probe on course until DSS43 comes back online.

"We put the spacecraft back into a state where it will be just fine, assuming that everything goes normally with it during the time that the antenna is down," explains Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"If things don't go normally which is always a possibility, especially with an ageing spacecraft then the onboard fault protection that's there can handle the situation."

During this almost year-long period of radio silence, the silence will only be one-way. Other antennas in the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) will be configured to receive any signals Voyager 2 broadcasts to Earth; it's just that we won't be able to say anything back, even if we need to.

Artist's concept of Voyager 2. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

While NASA has done everything it can to prepare Voyager 2 for the communications blackout, it's still a gamble a calculated one, sure, but also seemingly an unprecedented predicament in the long duration of this historic space mission.

"There is risk in this business as there is in anything in spaceflight," CDSCC education and public outreach manager Glen Nagle told The New York Times. "It's a major change and the longest downtime for the dish in the eighteen years I've been here."

According to the space agency, the biggest unknowns are whether Voyager 2's automated thrust control systems which fire several times a day to keep the probe's antenna oriented towards Earth will work accurately for such an extended period, and whether power systems designed to keep Voyager 2's fuel lines sufficiently heated will also do their job.

The new challenge comes only days after NASA confirmed the spacecraft had resumed normal operations following a scare in January, when an anomaly triggered Voyager's autonomous fault protection routines.

The malfunction meant the spacecraft failed to perform a scheduled flight manoeuvre on January 25. Painstaking assessments from NASA engineers on Earth ultimately fixed the issue, with controllers having to wait 34 hours for each single response from Voyager 2, given the 17-hour transmission time for signals to travel to and from the distant probe.

Rectifying the problem involved turning five key scientific instruments off and turning them back on again something that reportedly had never been done before but luckily the reboot worked a charm.

Here's hoping the next 11 months proves equally successful for the far-flung Voyager 2, currently located over 17 billion kilometres (roughly 11 billion miles) from Earth, and scientifically confirmed to have now entered interstellar space, much like its twin before it, Voyager 1 (the only other human-made object to have travelled so far).

When DSS43 upgrades are complete, the repairs will not only bolster our communications with Voyager 2 but will future-proof the facility for other upcoming missions, including future Mars missions.

Before that, though, perhaps the most pressing matter will be to reconnect ties with this famous pioneer from decades ago, as it sails ever further away, on its one-way trip to the stars.

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All Alone in Interstellar Space, Voyager 2 Is About to Lose Contact With Home - ScienceAlert

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


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.


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

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

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

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.


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