NASA seeking proposals for two new private astronaut missions to ISS

NASA said Friday it was seeking proposals from commercial companies for two new private crewed missions to the International Space Station. The first mission would likely take place between fall of 2022 and mid-2023. The second one would follow sometime between mid-2023 and the end of 2023.

Private astronaut missions are a relatively recent initiative from NASA, part of its Commercial low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Development program. For most of humanity’s history in space, trips to the ISS were reserved for astronauts from countries’ respective space agencies.

Houston-based startup Axiom Space was awarded the first private astronaut mission, to take place in January 2022. That mission will carry four private astronauts for an eight-day mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA will pay Axiom $1.69 million for services associated with the mission.

Each of the new missions can be up to 14 days and proposals are due by July 9. The agency specified that the missions must be brokered by a U.S. company and use approved U.S. transportation spacecraft. (Axiom’s private mission will use a SpaceX Crew Dragon.)

NASA said that enabling private manned missions such as this one may help “develop a robust low-Earth orbit economy where NASA is one of many customers, and the private sector leads the way.” Thanks to the significantly decreased launch costs – due in large part to innovations in rocket reusability, led by SpaceX – as well as a whole new ecosystem of ‘new space’ companies that have sprung up over the last five years, space has become busier than ever.

The agency also said LEO could eventually be used as a “training and proving ground” for the planned Artemis program – humanity’s long-awaited return to the moon – and missions even deeper into the solar system.

#artemis, #artemis-program, #commercial-spaceflight, #international-space-station, #low-earth-orbit, #nasa, #private-spaceflight, #space, #spaceflight, #transportation

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SpaceX launches Dragon cargo spacecraft to the Space Station with new Falcon 9

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is once again heading to the International Space Station.

The company launched its 22nd Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission for NASA on Thursday. This is the fifth capsule SpaceX has sent to ISS in the last twelve months, SpaceX director of Dragon mission management Sarah Walker noted in a media briefing Tuesday. It’s also the first launch of the year on a new Falcon 9 rocket booster.

The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 1:29 PM eastern time, right on schedule despite the threat of storm clouds from the south and east. The first stage separated as planned and touched down on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship in the Atlantic Ocean eight minutes after launch. The second stage, which takes the capsule to orbit, separated 12 minutes after launch, also right on schedule.

Image Credits: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 Rocket launch vehicle is sending more than 7,300 pounds of research materials, supplies, and hardware, including new solar arrays, to the ISS crew. It’s the second mission under SpaceX’s new CRS contract with NASA; the first took place last December.

Dragon is carrying a number of research experiments to be conducted on the ISS, including oral bacteria to test germ growth with Colgate toothpaste; a number of tardigrades (also affectionately called water bears), primordial organisms that will attempt to fare and reproduce in space environments; and an investigation that will study the effects of microgravity on the formation of kidney stones – an ailment that many crew members display an increased susceptibility to during spaceflight.

The capsule is also delivering fresh food, including apples, navel oranges, lemons, and avocados.

Of the over 7,300 pounds of cargo, around 3,000 pounds will be taken up by a new roll-out, “flex blanket” solar array developed by space infrastructure company Redwire. As opposed to more traditional rigid paneled solar arrays, flex blanket technology provides more mass and performance benefits, Redwire technical director Matt LaPointe told TechCrunch.

The arrays were placed in the Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. It’s the first of three missions to send iROSA solar arrays to the station, with each mission carrying two arrays, LaPointe said. Once installed, the six iROSA arrays will collectively produce over 120KW of power. Redwire, which announced in March that it would go public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, says the new iROSA arrays will improve the ISS’s power generation by 20-30%.

The Dragon capsule is set to arrive at the space station at around 5 AM on June 5, where it will autonomously dock on a port of the Harmony module of the ISS. It will spend more than a month with the station before splashing down in the Atlantic with research and return cargo.

#aerospace, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #nasa, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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SpaceX will launch four private astronaut missions to the Space Station through 2023

SpaceX is going to be providing more rides to private astronauts to the International Space Station, on top of the previously announced mission set to take place as early as next January. All four of these flights will be for Axiom, a private commercial spaceflight and space station company, and they’re set to take place between early next year through 2023.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 spacecraft make up the first commercial launch system certified for transporting humans to the ISS, and they’ve already delivered three groups of NASA astronauts to the orbital lab, including one demo crew for its final qualification test, and two operational crews to live and work on the station. In May, Axiom and NASA revealed the details of their AX-1 mission, the first all-private launch to the ISS, which will carry four passengers to the station on a Crew Dragon to live and work in space for a duration of eight days in total.

NASA and SpaceX will be providing training to all four of the Axiom crews set to make the trip to the station. And while neither SpaceX or Axiom has shared more details yet  on what the other three missions will entail, or when they’re set to take place, four missions in two years technically absorbs all the existing capacity NASA has allocated for private astronaut missions, which is set at 2 per year, for 2022 and 2023.

One private astronaut flight to the ISS is already set for 2021: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa booked a ride to the station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket for early December. Maezawa booked through Space Adventures, which has already provided a handful of trips for deep-pocketed private astronauts over the course of the past couple of decades.

Axiom meanwhile envisions a somewhat less niche, and more continually active future for commercial orbital space stations. The company is already working on a commercial module to be added to the existing ISS, and has designs on building a fully private successor to the station in future. Booking four trips with multiple crew members in two years goes a long way towards showing there’s more than just very sporadic demand from eccentric rich people for this kind of offering.

#axiom, #elon-musk, #falcon, #human-spaceflight, #international-space-station, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #space, #space-adventures, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #yusaku-maezawa

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Space Station May Host Wave of TV Shows and Films

A Discovery reality TV competition, a Russian medical thriller and more productions could be heading to the orbital outpost in the next year.

#axiom-space-inc, #discovery-channel, #international-space-station, #maezawa-yusaku, #movies, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #private-spaceflight, #reality-television, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp, #travel-and-vacations, #whitson-peggy

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China’s Ambitious Plans in Space: The Moon, Mars and Beyond

China deployed a land rover on the surface of Mars on Saturday. The mission is one of many on its schedule as it challenges U.S. dominance of space exploration.

#china, #international-space-station, #mars-planet, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #space-and-astronomy, #space-stations, #tianwen-1-mars-mission

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SpaceX’s inaugural Moon tour private astronaut is heading to the International Space Station first

SpaceX private spaceflight ambitions got a big boost in 2018 when Japanese entrepreneur and billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced he’d be taking a trip aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon on a round-trip flight passing the Moon. Maezawa is still on track to make that trip by 2023 according to current schedules, but he’s so eager to get to space that he just announced he’ll make a visit to the International Space Station as a private astronaut this December.

Maezawa will go as a client of Space Adventures, on a Russian Soyuz rocket set to take off from Kazakhstan on December 8, and he’ll be accompanied by his production assistant Yozo Hirano. Space Adventures is the same company behind prior Soyuz commercial spaceflight missions, including the trip made by Anousheh Ansari in 2006 and Guy Laliberté in 2009, among others. Laliberté’s trip was the most recent, with space tourism at the station officially on hold since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 since Soyuz has been the only means to access the ISS. Now that SpaceX is flying regular astronaut shuttle missions, however, tourist trips are back on.

The trip that Maezawa plans to take will take place over the course of 12 days, and he’ll be doing three months of training prior to the mission in Russia to get ready for the experience. In addition to being the first private astronaut visit to the ISS in over 10 years, this is also the first time that two private astronauts will fly on board the same Soyuz at the same time. Maezawa and Hirano will also be the first Japanese citizens to make the journey as private individuals.

It may seem like overkill to get to visit space twice in a lifetime as a private astronaut, but Maezawa says he’s driven by a curiosity of “what’s life like in space?” which will of course be useful information to have on the planned Moon mission, which will spend three days getting there, make a loop around our natural satellite, and then spend three days coming back. He’s also planning to post the experience to YouTube, which is why Hirano is accompanying him to document.

#anousheh-ansari, #astronaut, #human-spaceflight, #international-space-station, #moon-mission, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #soyuz, #space, #space-adventures, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #yusaku-maezawa

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Axiom Space and NASA detail first fully private human launch to the Space Station, set for January 2022

Houston-based startup Axiom Space and NASA unveiled more details Monday about the forthcoming Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1), the first fully private human mission to the International Space Station.

The Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1) spaceflight mission will ferry four private astronauts to the International Space Station in January 2022. The eight-day mission will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a SpaceX Crew Dragon. While in space, the crew will be living and working in the U.S. segment of the ISS.

NASA will be paying Axiom $1.69 million for services associated with the mission, such as transporting supplies to the ISS, though that does not include other reimbursable agreements between the two entities.

There’s a “high degree of confidence in the late January date” for the launch, Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said.

Axiom in January released the identity of the crew members: Canadian investor Mark Pathy, investor Larry Connor, and former Israeli pilot Eytan Stibbe. Leading the crew as mission commander is former NASA astronaut and Axiom Space VP Michael López-Alegría, who has four spaceflights under his belt.

Pathy, Connor and Stibbe will engage in research missions while onboard. Pathy will be collaborating with the Montreal Children’s Hospital and the Canadian Space Agency; Connor, the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic; and Stibbe, to conduct scientific experiments coordinated by the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“Larry and Mark are very serious individuals who are dedicated to being the best they can be in the mold of a NASA astronaut and they’re not interested in being tourists,” López-Alegría said during the media briefing. “They want to do their part to improve humankind.”

To prepare for the mission, the four crew members will go on a “camping trip” in the Alaskan foothills for training in July, López-Alegría said. He will start full-time training around August, with Larry starting in September. The rest of the crew will start in October, with around two-thirds of their time dedicated to ISS-specific training and the rest dedicated to training with SpaceX. The staggered schedule is due to the differing responsibilities between the crew members while on board. Axiom will be using the same contractor that NASA uses to train its astronauts.

While Suffredini declined to specify how much the private astronauts paid for their space on the flight, he said he “wouldn’t argue with” widely reported figures in the tens of millions. The Washington Post in January reported that the ticket prices came in at $55 million each.

Prices may not always be so high, but Suffredini said that the industry is likely at least a decade away from serious price drops that might make space travel feasible for the average space-goer.

Axiom intends to offer astronaut flights – both private and national – to the International Space Station and eventually its own privately-funded space station. While Axiom has “things lined up” for AX-2, AX-3 and AX-4, “like everyone we have to compete for the opportunity,” Suffredini said. The number of missions to the ISS is limited because there are only two docking ports on the ISS, Station deputy manager Dana Weigel added. That suggests that additional stations will be necessary to meet the burgeoning demand for both commercial and scientific space missions.

The company also in January 2020 won a NASA contract to develop and install a commercial module to the Harmony docking port of the ISS as early as 2024.

Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said that recent announcements on commercial spaceflights from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic in addition to the Axiom mission have heralded “a renaissance in U.S. human spaceflight.”

“A lot of times history can feel incremental when you’re in it, but I really feel like we are in it this year. This is a real inflection point with human spaceflight,” he said.

#aerospace, #axiom-space, #commercial-spaceflight, #international-space-station, #nasa, #private-spaceflight, #space, #spaceflight, #tc

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Space Aged: Bottle of Wine From Space Station Could Sell for $1 Million

The bottle of Pétrus from 2000 — which is being sold by Christie’s — comes with a second bottle of “terrestrial” wine, a custom trunk, a decanter, glasses and a corkscrew crafted from a meteorite.

#anson-jane-journalist, #auctions, #bordeaux-france, #christies, #france, #international-space-station, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp, #space-stations, #wine-spectator-magazine, #wines

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Watch SpaceX Make the First Nighttime Splash Down Since 1968

Crew-1, which launched to the space station in November, will head home in the capsule called Resilience.

#florida, #gulf-of-mexico, #international-space-station, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #panama-city-panama, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp

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How to Watch SpaceX Splashdown With 4 Astronauts

Crew-1, which launched to the space station in November, will head home in the capsule called Resilience.

#gulf-of-mexico, #international-space-station, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp

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SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites

SpaceX has launched another batch of Starlink satellites, adding 60 more to the constellation on orbit. This is the 24th Starlink launch in total, and means SpaceX has now sent up over 1,500 Starlink spacecraft, with around 1,438 of those still in operation. This is the first Starlink launch since April 7 — which, surprisingly, is the biggest gap between these launches in quite a while.

This year, SpaceX’s overall launch calendar has been dominated by Starlink launches, as the company seeks to expand the availability, quality and coverage of its low Earth orbit broadband internet network. SpaceX also opened up availability of Starlink service this year, and now seems to be mostly supply-constrained on the consumer receiver terminal side, rather than necessarily on network capacity or regional ability.

Regarding that few week gap in the Starlink launch pace, it’s not like SpaceX was slacking in the meantime; the launcher sent up its second crew of astronauts destined for the International Space Station in a flight just last week. Plus, it has two three additional Starlink launches tentatively scheduled to happen in May.

This latest launch took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 11:44 PM EDT (8:44 PM PDT) on Wednesday, and it used a flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage booster, which was used on six prior missions, including four Starlink launches.

#aerospace, #broadband, #falcon-9, #florida, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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4 Astronauts Float Into the International Space Station and Open Arms

The crew arrived on Saturday on the Dragon Endeavour, a spacecraft built by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration company.

#dragon-endeavor, #international-space-station, #musk-elon, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-stations, #starlink-satellite-constellation-spacex

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Watch SpaceX launch its second crew of Space Station astronauts on a flight-proven Falcon 9 live

SpaceX is set to launch its second operational commercial crew mission to the International Space Station for NASA, with a liftoff time of 5:49 AM EDT (2:49 AM PDT) on Friday morning. The flight will carry four astronauts, including two from NASA, one from JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and one from the ESA (European Space Agency), to the station, where they will begin a regular tour of duty conducting science experiments, and maintaining and upgrading the orbital platform.

This is the second commercial crew mission for SpaceX, which officially qualified its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket for human flight last year. NASA then launched four astronauts using SpaceX’s human-certified launch system later that year in November, becoming the first private company to deliver people to the ISS, and the first American vehicle to do so since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. Since the end of that program, NASA has relied on buying rides aboard Russian Soyuz rockets to keep up its representation on the ISS.

There’s already a SpaceX Crew Dragon at the Space Station from that Crew-1 launch last year, and it was relocated to another port on the station earlier this month in preparation for the arrival of the one flying for Crew-2. The Crew-1 Dragon capsule is set to return back to Earth with astronauts on board once they’re relieved by this flight’s crew, likely later this month on April 28.

One major notable change for this launch is the use of a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket booster. SpaceX has previously used new boosters fresh from the factory for its human launches, though it has a spotless track record when it comes to booster re-use for its cargo flights. It’s also the first re-use of a dragon spacecraft, and both components of this launch system actually previously supported human launches, with the first stage serving during Crew-1, and the Dragon capsule providing the ride for Demo-2, which flew astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

The astronauts on today’s flight are Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur from NASA, as well as Akihiko Hoshide from JAXA and Thomas Pesquet from the ESA. As mentioned, liftoff time is set for 5:49 AM EDT, but SpaceX will begin streaming live hours in advance at approximately 1:30 AM EDT on Friday (10:30 PM PDT on Thursday).

#aerospace, #commercial-crew-program, #esa, #european-space-agency, #falcon, #international-space-station, #japan-aerospace-exploration-agency, #jaxa, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #shuttle, #space, #space-station, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Crew-2 Rocket Launch: How to Watch

It will be the third flight of the company’s Crew Dragon capsule with people onboard.

#hoshide-akihiko, #international-space-station, #kimbrough-shane, #mcarthur-k-megan, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #pesquet-thomas-1978, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp, #space-shuttles

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SpaceX wins NASA contract to develop human landing system for returning to the Moon

The winner of NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) contract award is SpaceX, which bid $2.9 billion for the privilege of developing the means by which NASA astronauts will return to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo program. SpaceX was in the running alongside Blue Origin and Dynetics, but reportedly undercut both those prospective suppliers considerably with its bid, according to The Washington Post.

SpaceX proposed using its Starship spacecraft, currently under development, as the landing vehicle for astronauts once they arrive at their lunar destination. The HLS is a key part of NASA’s Artemis program, which will begin with uncrewed flights, followed by a Moon fly-by with a human crew, and eventually a human lunar landing at the South Pole of the Moon, during a mission which had been targeting 2024 as its fly date.

NASA announced that SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics made up the entirety of its field of approved vendors for bidding on the HLS contracts back in April last year. Since then, both Blue Origin (which bid alongside a “national team” that included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper) and Dynetics have built full-scale models of their system and submitted proposals detailing their plans for the functional versions to NASA for consideration. Meanwhile, SpaceX has been actively testing functional prototypes of its Starship spacecraft in Texas, and is also in the process of developing the Super Heavy booster that will propel it to the Moon once it’s ready.

The plan here was for NASA to have chosen all three companies to build out initial versions in order to satisfy the early requirements of the contract, and then ultimately, it was generally thought that the agency would select a couple from the list of three to build human landers, in order to provide it with some flexibility when it comes to means of getting to the lunar surface. That’s essentially how NASA operated with its Commercial Crew program for the International Space Station, which saw awards for both SpaceX and Boeing to build astronaut transport spacecraft. SpaceX has already qualified and begun to operate its vehicle, and Boeing hopes to bring its option online either late this year or early next.

SpaceX has won a lot of trust at NASA by delivering on the Commercial Crew program with a reliable, reusable human-rated spacecraft in the Crew Dragon. The Post also says that in addition to its attractive pricing, NASA wasn’t drawn to Starship’s flexibility and cargo capacity, since it’s aiming to be able to fly not just humans, but also large quantities of supplies and materials to the Moon, and eventually, beyond.

Starship is a long way off from that goal at the moment, however; SpaceX has been quickly developing new iterations in a rapid prototyping approach to its test phase, but the most recent Starship high-altitude flight ended poorly with an explosion prior to landing. Other elements of the test program, however, including showing that Starship can successfully reorient itself in mid-air and slow its decent for landing, have been more successful on past tests. None of the tests so far have left Earth’s atmosphere, however, nor have they involved any human flight testing, both of which will require a lot more development before the spacecraft is deemed mission-ready.

SpaceX was also the launch provider chosen to deliver components of the Lunar Gateway satellite in 2024, working with Maxar, which will produce the actual Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost. These, however, will be delivered via Falcon Heavy, which has already had multiple successful launches.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #astronaut, #blue-origin, #boeing, #commercial-crew-program, #commercial-spaceflight, #dynetics, #international-space-station, #lockheed-martin, #northrop-grumman, #outer-space, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starship, #tc, #texas, #the-washington-post

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SpaceX is outfitting it Dragon spacecraft with an observation down for space tourists

SpaceX is set to make a change to its Crew Dragon spacecraft for its forthcoming history-making all-civilian launch, currently set for September 15. That Dragon will replace its International Space Station docking mechanism with a transparent dome, through which passengers will be able to take in an awe-inspiring surround panorama of space and the Earth from an orbital perspective.

The glass dome will be at the ‘nose’ of the Dragon capsule, or its topmost point when it’s loaded upright on top of a Falcon 9 rocket readying for launch. There should be space for one passenger to use it at a time, and it’ll be opened up once the spacecraft is safely out of Earth’s atmosphere, exposed by a protective cover that can be flipped back down to protect the observation deck when the spacecraft re-enters on its return trip.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called it “the most ‘in space’ you could possibly feel” in a tweet sharing a concept render of the new modification in use. During a press briefing for the upcoming tourist flight, which is called ‘Inspiration4’ and led by billionaire Jared Isaacman, it was described as being similar to the exiting cupola on the International Space Station in terms of the views it affords.

The ISS cupola is an observatory module built by the European Space Agency (ESA) and installed in 2010. Based on these renders from SpaceX, the Dragon version will be a continuous unbroken transparent surface, whereas the ISS cupola is made up of segmented panes separated by support structure, so that could mean Dragon provides a better view.

International Space Station cupola exterior.

International Space Station cupola exterior.

This modification could pave the way for a more permanent alternate configuration of Dragon, one best-suited for SpaceX’s planned commercial passenger missions, most of which will likely aim to do orbital tours without any actual docking at the ISS. It’s possible the company will make further cabin modifications when the vehicle isn’t configured for crew delivery to the orbital science station.

SpaceX also revealed new details about the Inspiration4 mission today, including its planned launch date of September 15, and a three-day mission flight duration. The remaining two passengers on board the four-person crew were also revealed this morning.

#aerospace, #ceo, #commercial-spaceflight, #elon-musk, #esa, #european-space-agency, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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An Astronaut’s Heart Shrank From Space Travel, Study Finds

After almost a year in space, Scott Kelly’s heart diminished, but he remained reasonably fit.

#circulation-journal, #gravitation-and-gravity, #heart, #international-space-station, #kelly-scott-j, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #space-and-astronomy, #space-stations

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NASA and SpaceX sign a special info sharing agreement to help avoid Starlink collisions

NASA doesn’t just let anyone launch whatever they want to space without checking in with the agency about potential impacts to its own assets on orbit, including the International Space Station (ISS). The agency has a standard set of guidelines around so-called “Conjunction Assessment,” which is basically determine the risk that a close approach between in-space objects might occur, which in turn could potentially result in a collision. This assessment determines when and where something flies, as you might expect.

Today, NASA published a new agreement between itself and SpaceX that goes above and beyond its standard Conjunction Assessment practices. The special agreement, which exists under the mandate of the Space Act that allows NASA to work with any company in order to fulfill its mandate, is defined as a ‘nonreimbursable’ one, or just one in which no money changes hands, which is designed to benefit both parties involved.

It effectively lays out that because SpaceX operates Starlink, which is the largest existing on-orbit constellation of spacecraft, and which is growing at a rapid pace, and because each of these is equipped with the ability to maneuver itself autonomously in response to mission parameters, there needs to exist a deeper ongoing partnership between NASA and SpaceX for conjunction avoidance.

Accordingly, the agreement outlines the ways in which communication and information sharing between NASA and SpaceX will exceed what has been typically been expected. For NASA’s part, it’ll be providing detailed and accurate info about its planned missions in advance to SpaceX so that they can use that to properly program Starlink’s automated avoidance measures whenever a mission is happening where NASA assets might cross paths with the constellation. It’ll also be working directly with SpaceX on improving its its ability to assess and avoid any incidents, and will be providing technical support on how SpaceX might better mitigate “photometric brightness,” or the reflectivity of its Starlink spacecraft.

Meanwhile, SpaceX will be responsible for ensuring its Starlink satellites take ‘evasive action’ to ‘mitigate close approaches and avoid collisions with all NASA assets.” It’ll also be required to provide time frame ‘cut-outs’ for periods when Starlink satellites aren’t able to employ their collision avoidance, which mostly occurs during the phase right after they’re launch when they’re still being activated and put into their target orbits.

Another key point in the agreement is that SpaceX plan Starlink launches so the they’re at minimum either 5km above or below the highest and lowest points of the International Space Station’s orbit as it makes its way around the Earth. Finally, SpaceX is also expected to share its own analysis of the effectiveness of its satellite dimming techniques, so the agency can adjust its own guidance on the subject accordingly.

The full agreement is embedded below, but the main takeaway is that NASA clearly wants SpaceX to be a better low-Earth partner and citizen as the size of its constellation pushes past the 1,200 mark, on track to grow to around 1,500 or more by year’s end. Also, NASA’s putting a lot of trust and responsibility in SpaceX’s hands – basically it’s laying out that Starlink’s built-in autonomous capabilities can avoid any really danger that might arise. The way NASA has structured this document also leaves open the possibility that it could repurpose it for other constellation operators – a growing need given the number of companies working on networks of low-Earth orbit spacecraft.

#aerospace, #collision-avoidance, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #policy, #satellite, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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SpaceX flies Falcon 9 rocket booster for a record 9th time, delivers 3rd batch of Starlink satellites in two weeks

SpaceX has delivered another 60 Starlink satellites to orbit — meaning it has sent 180 in total to join its 1,000+ strong constellation in the past two weeks alone. Today’s launch also set a record for SpaceX for its Falcon 9 rocket reusability program, since it was the ninth flight and ninth landing for this particular first-stage booster.

The booster was used previously on a variety of missions, including five prior Starlink launches, as well as the Demo-1 mission for the company’s Crew Dragon capsule, which was the uncrewed test flight that proved it would work as intended from launch all the way to docking with the International Space Station and then returning back to Earth.

SpaceX set its prior reusability record in January this year – another Starlink launch – using this very same refurbished first stage, which had just flown in December of last year before that. SpaceX not only wants to continue to show that it can re-fly these boosters more and more times, but also that it can turn them around quickly for their next mission, since both speed and volume will have a significant impact on launch costs.

Rocket reuse is of particular importance when it comes to these Starlink missions, which are happening with increasing frequency as SpaceX pushes to expand the availability of its Starlink broadband internet service globally. As mentioned, this is the third launch of 60 satellites for the constellation in just 10 days — the most recent launch happened just Thursday, and the first of this trio took place the Thursday before that.

From here, expect SpaceX to just continue to launch at roughly this pace for the next little while, since it has two more planned Starlink launches before March is over, including one tentatively set for next Sunday. As the company is its own customer for these missions, it’s eating the cost of the launches (at least until Starlink starts operating beyond its current beta and bringing in more revenue) so re-flying boosters is a good way to help mitigate the overall spend.

#aerospace, #broadband, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #hyperloop, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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Satellite constellation operator Spire Global to go public via $1.6 billion SPAC

Monday brings with it not one, but two space SPACS – there’s Rocket Lab, and there’s Spire Global, a satellite operator that bills itself primarily as a SaaS company focused on delivering data and analytics made possible by its 100-plus spacecraft constellation. SPACs have essentially proven a pressure-release valve for the space startup market, which has been waiting on high-profile exits to basically prove out the math of its venture-backability.

Spire Global debuted in 2012, and has raised over $220 million to date. It will merge with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called NavSight Holdings, in order to make a debut on the NYSE under the ticker ‘SPIR.’ The combined company will have a pro forma enterprise value of $1.6 billion upon transaction close, which is targeted for this summer.

The deal will provide $475 in funds for the company, including via a PIPE that includes Tiger Global, BlackRock and Hedosophia. Existing Spire stockholders will wind up with around 67% of the company after the businesses combine.

Spire’s network of satellites is designed to provide customers with a ‘space-as-a-service’ model, allowing them to operate their own payloads, and access data collected via an API their developers can integrate into their own software. The model is subscription-based, and is designed to get customers up and running with their own space-based data feed in less than a year from deal designs and commitment.

Existing investors in Spire Global include RRE Ventures, Promus Ventures, Seraphim Capital, Mitsui Global Investment and more, with its most recent round being a raised of debt financing. The company has launched satellites via Rocket Lab, its companion in the Monday SPAC news rush. The satellites it operates are small cube satellites, and it has launches on a wide range of launch vehicles, including SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the Russian Soyuz, ISRO’s PSLV, Japan’s H-2B, ULA rockets, Northrop Grumman’s Antares and even the International Space Station.

Spire got its start from very humble origins indeed – tracing all the way back to a Kickstarter campaign that was successful with just over $100,000 raised from backers.

#aerospace, #api, #blackrock, #corporate-finance, #falcon, #international-space-station, #japan, #kickstarter, #mitsui, #northrop-grumman, #outer-space, #private-equity, #promus-ventures, #rocket-lab, #rre-ventures, #satellite, #seraphim-capital, #spac, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #spire-global, #tc, #tiger-global, #transport

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Rocket Lab debuts plans for a new, larger, reusable rocket for launching satellite constellations

Because news of its SPAC-fueled public market debut wasn’t enough, Rocket Lab also unveiled a new class of rocket it has in development on Monday. The launch vehicle, called Neutron, will be able to carry 8 metric tons (around 18,000 lbs) to orbit, far exceeding the cargo capacity of Rocket Lab’s current Electron vehicle, which can host only around 660 lbs. Neutron will also have a fully reusable first-stage, designed to launch on an ocean landing platform, not unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster.

Rocket Lab says that Neutron will be designed to service increased demand from customers launching large multi-satellite constellations. The heavier lift will mean that it can take more small satellites up at one time to get those constellations in orbit more quickly. Its cargo rating also means it should be able to deliver up to 98% of all currently-forecasted spacecraft launching through 2029, according to Rocket Lab, and provide resupply services to the International Space Station. Rocket Lab also says it’ll be capable of human spaceflight missions, indicating an ambition to make it the company’s first human-rated spacecraft.

Neutron could significantly expand Rocket Lab’s customer base, and it’ll also improve costs and economics vs. what Electron can do now, thanks to a design focus don efficiency and reusability. The rocket will launch from Rocket Lab’s Wallops, Virginia facility, and since there’s already a launch pad in place for it, the company expects it’ll be able to fly Neutron for the first time by 2024. In addition to its LA-based HQ and the Wallops launch site, Rocket Lab anticipates it’ll be building a new Neutron production facility somewhere in the U.S. to build the new rocket at scale.

While it won’t have the launch capacity of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, it’s still intended to be a rocket that can also carry smaller payloads to the Moon and even deep space beyond. The medium-lift category in general is generating a lot of interest right now, given the projections in the amount and variety of constellations that both private and public organization are expected to put into orbit over the next decade. Constellations are offering advantages in terms of cost and coverage for everything from communications to Earth observation. Another rocket startup, Relativity Space, just unveiled similar plans for a larger launch vehicle to complement its first small rocket.

#aerospace, #electron, #exit, #falcon, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #louisiana, #outer-space, #relativity-space, #rocket-lab, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spaceport, #spacex, #startups, #united-states, #virginia

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Space startup Gitai raises $17.1M to help build the robotic workforce of commercial space

Japanese space startup Gitai has raised a $17.1 million funding round, a Series B financing for the robotics startup. This new funding will be used for hiring, as well as funding the development and execution of an on-orbit demonstration mission for the company’s robotic technology, which will show its efficacy in performing in-space satellite servicing work. That mission is currently set to take place in 2023.

Gitai will also be staffing up in the U.S., specifically, as it seeks to expand its stateside presence in a bid to attract more business from that market.

“We are proceeding well in the Japanese market, and we’ve already contracted missions from Japanese companies, but we haven’t expanded to the U.S. market yet,” explained Gitai founder and CEO Sho Nakanose in an interview. So we would like to get missions from U.S. commercial space companies, as a subcontractor first. We’re especially interested in on-orbit servicing, and we would like to provide general-purpose robotic solutions for an orbital service provider in the U.S.”

Nakanose told me that Gitai has plenty of experience under its belt developing robots which are specifically able to install hardware on satellites on-orbit, which could potentially be useful for upgrading existing satellites and constellations with new capabilities, for changing out batteries to keep satellites operational beyond their service life, or for repairing satellites if they should malfunction.

Gitai’s focus isn’t exclusively on extra-vehicular activity in the vacuum of space, however. It’s also performing a demonstration mission of its technical capabilities in partnership with Nanoracks using the Bishop Airlock, which is the first permanent commercial addition to the International Space Station. Gitai’s robot, codenamed S1, is an arm–style robot not unlike industrial robots here on Earth, and it’ll be showing off a number of its capabilities, including operating a control panel and changing out cables.

Long-term, Gitai’s goal is to create a robotic workforce that can assist with establishing bases and colonies on the Moon and Mars, as well as in orbit. With NASA’s plans to build a more permanent research presence on orbit at the Moon, as well as on the surface, with the eventual goal of reaching Mars, and private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin looking ahead to more permanent colonies on Mars, as well as large in-space habitats hosting humans as well as commercial activity, Nakanose suggests that there’s going to be ample need for low-cost, efficient robotic labor – particularly in environments that are inhospitable to human life.

Nakanose told me that he actually got started with Gitai after the loss of his mother – an unfortunate passing he said he firmly believes could have been avoided with the aid of robotic intervention. He began developing robots that could expand and augment human capability, and then researched what was likely the most useful and needed application of this technology from a commercial perspective. That research led Nakanose to conclude that space was the best long-term opportunity for a new robotics startup, and Gitai was born.

This funding was led by SPARX Innovation for the Future Co. Ltd, and includes funding form DcI Venture Growth Fund, the Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, and EP-GB (Epson’s venture investment arm).

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #ceo, #funding, #gitai, #international-space-station, #nanoracks, #nasa, #outer-space, #recent-funding, #robot, #robotics, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startups, #tc, #united-states

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Relativity Space unveils plans for a new, much larger and fully reusable rocket

3D-printed rocket company Relativity Space has just revealed what comes after Terran 1, the small launch vehicle it hopes to begin flying later this year. It’s next rocket will be Terran R, a much larger orbital rocket with around 20x the cargo capacity of Terran 1, that will also be distinguished from its smaller, disposable sibling by being fully reusable – across both first and second-stages, unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

I spoke to Relativity Space CEO and founder Tim Ellis about Terran R, and how long it’s been in the works for the space startup. Ellis said that in fact, the vision every since Relativity’s time at Y Combinator has included larger lift rockets – and much more.

“When I founded Relativity five years ago, it always was inspired by seeing SpaceX launching and landing rockets, docking with the International Space Station, and this idea that going to Mars was critically important for humanity’s future, and really expanding the possibilities for human experience, on Earth and beyond,” Ellis told me. “But that all of the animations faded to black right when people walked out [of spaceship landing on Mars], and I believed that 3D printing had to be this inevitable technology that was going to build humanity’s industrial base on Mars, and that we needed to really inspire dozens, or even hundreds of companies to work on making this future happen.”

The long-term goal for Relativity Space, Ellis said, has always been to become an “end-product 3D printing company,” with its original Terran 1 light payload rocket simply representing the first of those products it’s bringing to market.

“3D printing is our new tech stack for aerospace, and really is rewriting something that we don’t feel has fundamentally changed over the last 60 years,” he said. “It’s really bringing automation that replaces the factory fixed tooling, supply chains, hundreds of thousands of parts, manual labor and slow iteration speed, with something that I believe is needed for the future on Earth, too.”

Terran R, which will have a payload capacity of over 20,000 kg (more than 44,000 lbs) to low-Earth orbit, is simply “the next logical step” for Relativity in that long-term vision of producing a wide range of products, including aerospace equipment for use right here on Earth. Ellis says that a larger launch vehicle makes sense given current strong customer demand for Terran 1, which has a max payload capacity of 1,250 kg (around 2,755 lbs) to low-Earth orbit, combined with the average size of satellites being launched today. Despite the boon in so-called ‘small’ satellites, many of the constellations being build today have individual satellites that weigh in excess of 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs), Ellis points out, which means that Terran R will be able to delivery many more at once for these growing on-orbit spacecraft networks.

A test fire of the new engine that Terran R will use for higher thrust capabilities.

“It’s really the same rocket architecture, it’s the same propellant, same factory, it’s the same printers, the same avionics and the same team that developed Terran 1,” Ellis said about the forthcoming rocket. That means that it’s actually relatively easy for the company to spin up its new production line, despite Terran R actually being quite functionally different than the current, smaller rocket – particularly when it comes to its full reusability.

As mentioned, Terran R will have both a reusable first and second stage. SpaceX’s Falcon 9’s first stage (a liquid fuel rocket booster) is reusable, and detaches from the second stage before quickly re-orienting itself and re-entering Earth’s atmosphere for a propulsive landing just after entering space. The Falcon 9 second stage is expendable, which is the space term for essentially just junk that’s discarded and eventually de-orbits and burns up on re-entry.

SpaceX had planned to try to make the Falcon 9 second stage reusable, but it would’ve required too much additional mass via heat shielding for it to make sense with the economics it was targeting. Ellis was light on details about Terran R’s specifics, but he did hint that some unique use of fairly unusual materials made possible though 3D printing, along with some sparing use of generative design, will be at work in helping the Relativity rocket’s second stage reusable in a sustainable way.

“Because it’s still entirely 3D-printed, we’re actually going to use more exotic materials, and design geometries that wouldn’t be possible at all, traditionally, to manufacture,” Ellis said. “It’s just too complicated looking; it would be way too difficult to manufacture traditionally in the ways that that Terran R is designed. And that will actually make it a much more reusable rocket, and really helped build the best reusable rocket possible.”

Terran R will also use a new upper stage engine that Relativity Space is designing, which is also unique compared to the existing engines used on Terran 1. It’s 3D printed as well, but uses a copper thrust chamber that will allow it to have higher overall power and thrust capabilities, according to Ellis. When I spoke to Ellis on Thursday evening, Relativity had just completed its first full success duration test of the new engine, a key step towards full production.

Ellis said that the company will share more about Terran R over the course of this year, but did note that the existing large 3D printers in its production facilities are already sized correctly to start building the new rocket – “the only change is software,” he said. He also added that some of the test sites Relativity has contracted to use at NASA’s Stennis Space Center are able to support testing of a rocket at Terran R’s scale, too, so it sounds like he’s planning for rapid progress on this new launch vehicle.

#3d-printing, #aerospace, #ceo, #falcon, #falcon-9, #generative-manufacturing, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #relativity-space, #space, #space-sustainability, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #tim-ellis, #transportation, #y-combinator

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Europe Wants to Diversify Its Pool of Astronauts

In its first hiring drive in over a decade, the continent’s space agency is looking to recruit disabled people and more women.

#disabilities, #europe, #european-space-agency, #european-union, #international-space-station, #space-and-astronomy, #women-and-girls, #womens-rights

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SpaceX reportedly raises $850M in new funding

SpaceX has raised a fresh round of funding, totalling $850 million, per a new report by CNBC, citing sources “familiar” with the matter. The new capital brings the total valuation of the company, which is still privately-held, to around $74 billion according to the report.

This is a massive round, by most standards – but not by SpaceX’s own. The space launch company, which was founded in 2002, has raised a total of over $6 billion to date including this latest injection, with a $2 billion venture round raised last August. That funding was invested at a valuation of $46 billion, meaning the company’s value, at least in the eyes of private investors, leapt considerably in the six months separating the two raises.

SpaceX has accomplished a lot between now and then, including building its Starlink broadband constellation to more than 1,000 active satellites; launching its first operational NASA crew to the International Space Station aboard a Dragon spacecraft; launching not one, but two high-altitude flight tests of its Starship spacecraft with relatively good results; and launched its first dedicated rideshare mission, demonstrating the viability of a big potential new group of launch customers.

While the company has achieved a lot on the back of its existing capital, its recent successes no doubt provided a good base to go out and get more. That’s likely going to go to good use, since it has plenty of work yet to do, like continued develop of Starship to prove out its space-worthiness, and the capital-intensive activity of building Starlink into a true, globe-spanning network.

#aerospace, #broadband, #falcon-9, #funding, #hyperloop, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #starship, #tc

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Axiom Space raises $130 million for its commercial space station ambitions

One of the new space startups with the loftiest near-term goals has raised $130 million in a Series B round that demonstrates investor confidence in the scope of its ambitions: Axiom Space, which has been tapped by NASA to add privately-developed space station modules to the ISS, announced the new funding led by C5 Capital on Tuesday.

This is the latest in a string of high-profile announcements for Axiom, which was founded in 2016 by a team including space professionals with a history of demonstrated expertise working on the International Space Station. Eventually, Axiom hopes to go from adding the first private commercial modules to the existing station, to creating their own, wholly private on-orbital platforms – for research, space tourism and more.

Axiom announced the people who will take part it it first ever private astronaut launch to the ISS, which is set to fly next January using a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket. Axiom is the service provider for the mission, brokering the deal for the private spacefarers and setting up training and mission profile. That should be the first time we see a crew made up entirely of private individuals (ie., not astronauts selected, trained and employed by their respective national government) make its way to the station.

The company was also in discussions with Tom Cruise about filming at least part of an upcoming film aboard the ISS, and it’s in development with a production company on a forthcoming competition reality show that will see contestants vie for a spot on a private flight to the station.

Axiom is emerging as the leading linkage between private human spaceflight and the existing infrastructure and industry, covering both public sector partners like NASA, and the ‘rails’ of the bourgeoning industry – SpaceX and its ilk. It’s been focused on this unique opportunity longer than most in the private market, and it has all the relationships and in-house expertise to make it work.

This new, significant injection of capital will help the company hire, as well as boost its ability to construct the pieces of its forthcoming private space station modules, as well as its eventual station itself. The Houston-based company aims to put its ISS modules on the station by 2024, and it has raised $150 million to date.

#aerospace, #axiom-space, #c5-capital, #funding, #houston, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #recent-funding, #science, #space, #space-station, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startups, #tc

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Space Cargo Unlimited looks to space to make wine grape vines more resistant to climate change

The commercialization of space isn’t just about what new sensors we can put into orbit on cheaper and smaller satellites — it’s also about studying and leveraging the advantages of a microgravity environment on manufacturing and production. European startup Space Cargo Unlimited is focused on turning microgravity benefits into viable commercial ventures on Earth, and it just announced it will be working with global vine nursery company Mercier on applying the benefits of space to create more-hardy wine grape vines.

Space Cargo Unlimited has already done some work on how microgravity can impact wine — it shipped a crate of red wine to the International Space Station in 2019, and then returned it to Earth last year after a full 12 months aging aboard the station in near zero-G. Now, the startup has formed a subsidiary dedicated to in-space biotech specifically, Space Biology Unlimited, and it’s going to be the one working with Mercier on figuring out how to grow new grape vine varietals that are more resistant to changes in the climates in which they grown.

In addition to the case of Bordeaux that Space Cargo Unlimited sent up, the company also sent 320 vine canes (basically the core structure of a vine that results from the maturation of the juvenile shoot), and it just recently received those back on SpaceX’s cargo return trip from the ISS. Those canes, half from Cabernet grapes and half from Cabernet Sauvignon, have shown “unprecedented biological changes” according to Mercier CEO Guillaume Mercier in a statement. They’ll now be cloned and studied to see if they provide any advantages in terms of potential for growth on “our fast-warming planet,” he added.

Everything from battery production, to additive manufacturing, to basic chemical and medical manufacturing has been tested in a microgravity environment. Microgravity can reduce the physical strain of gravity, most obviously, to make production of complex structures possible where it wouldn’t be on Earth. The unique environment, which also includes a much different radiation profile, also leads to unexpected variances in the growth and development of organic structures that, while they don’t occur naturally on Earth, can sometimes be replicated to achieve useful outcomes.

The effects of microgravity have been studied using the ISS for years, but more affordable and frequent access to space has made it a much more promising commercial avenue for many companies and startups that previously wouldn’t have been able to justify the associated costs or time frames around the work. Space Cargo Unlimited is one of the companies that looks well-positioned to capitalize on this growing trend.

#additive-manufacturing, #aerospace, #canopy, #international-space-station, #manufacturing, #radiation, #science, #space, #space-cargo-unlimited, #spacex, #tc, #wine

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Prime Movers Lab raises $245 million for second fund to invest in early stage science startups

After revealing its first fund just last year, a $100 million pool of investment capital dedicated to early stage startups focusing on sustainable food development, clean energy, health innovation and new space technologies, Prime Movers Lab is back with a second fund. Prime Movers Lab Fund II is larger, with $245 million committed, but it will pursue the same investment strategy, albeit with a plan to place more bets on more companies, with an expanded investment team to help manage the funds and portfolio.

“There are a lot of VCs out there,” explained founder and general partner Dakin Sloss about the concept behind the fund. “But there aren’t many VCs that are focused exclusively on breakthrough science, or deep tech. Even though there are a couple, when you look at the proportion of capital, I think it’s something like less than 10% of capital is going to these types of companies. But if you look at what’s meaningful to the life of the average person over the next 30 years, these are all the companies that are important, whether it’s coronavirus vaccine,s or solar energy production, or feeding the planet through aquaponics. These are the things that are really meaningful to to making a better quality of life for most people.”

Sloss told me that he sees part of the issue around why the proportion of capital dedicated to solving these significant problems is that it requires a lot of deep category knowledge to invest in correctly.

“There’s not enough technical expertise in VC firms to choose winners intelligently, rather than ending up with the next Theranos or clean tech bubble,” he said. “So that’s the first thing I wanted to solve. I have a physics background, and I was able to bring together a team of partners that have really deeply technical backgrounds.”

As referenced, Sloss himself has a degree from Stanford in Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy. He was a serial entrepreneur before starting the fund, having founded Tachyus, OpenGov and nonprofit California Common Sense. Other Partners on the team include systems engineer Dan Slomski, who previously worked on machine vision, electro-mechanical systems and developing a new multi-phase flow fluid analyzer; Amy Kruse, who holds a PhD in neuroscience and has served as an executive in defence technology and applied neuroscience companies; and Carly Anderson, a chemical engineer who has worked in biomedicine and oil & gas, and who has a PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering. In addition to core partners with that kind of expertise, Prime Movers Lab enlists the help of venture partners and specialist advisors like former astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Having individuals with deep field expertise on the core team, in addition to supplementing that with top-notch advisors, is definitely a competitive advantage, particularly when investing in the kinds of companies that Prime Movers Lab does early on in their development. There’s a perception that companies pursuing these kinds of hard tech problems aren’t necessarily as viable as a target for traditional venture funding, specifically because of the timelines for returns. Sloss says he believes that’s a misperception based on unfortunate past experience.

“I think there are three big myths about breakthrough science or hard tech or deep tech,” he said. “That it takes longer, that it’s more capital intensive, and that it’s higher risk. And I think the reason those myths are out there is people invested in things like Theranos, and the clean tech bubble. But I think that there were fundamental mistakes made in how they underwrote risk of doing that.”

Image Credits: Momentus

To avoid making those kinds of mistakes, Sloss says that Prime Movers Lab views prospective investments from the perspective of a “spectrum of risk,” which includes risk of the science itself (does the fundamental technology involve actually work), engineering risk (given the science works, can we make it something we can sell) and finally, commercialization or scaling risk (can we then make it and sell it at scale with economics that work). Sloss says that if you use this risk matrix to assess investments, and allocated funds to address primarily the engineering risk category, concerns around timeframes to return don’t really apply.

He cites Primer Movers Lab’s Fund I portfolio, which includes space propulsion company Momentus, heading for an exit to the public markets via SPAC (the company’s Russian CEO actually just resigned in order to smooth the path for that, in fact), and notes that of the 15 companies that Fund I invested in, four are totally on a path to going public. That would put them much faster to an exit than is typical for early stage investment targets, and Sloss credits the very different approach most hard science startups take to IP development and capital.

“The inflection points in these types of companies are actually I think faster to get to market, because they’ve spent years developing the IP, staying at relatively low or attractive valuations,” he said. “Then we can kind of come in, at that inflection point, and help them get ready to commercialize and scale up exponentially, to where other investors no longer have to underwrite the difference between science and engineering risk, they can just see it’s working and producing revenue.”

Companies that fit this mold often come directly from academia, and keep the team small and focused while they’re figuring out the core scientific discovery or innovation that enables the business. A prime example of this in recent memory is Wingcopter, a German drone startup that developed and patented a technology for a tilt-wing rotor that changes the economics of electric autonomous drone flight. The startup just took its first significant startup investment after bootstrapping for four years, and the funds will indeed be used to help it accelerate engineering on a path towards high-volume production.

While Wingcopter isn’t a Prime Movers Lab portfolio company, many of its investments fit the same mold. Boom Aerospace is currently working on building and flying its subscale demonstration aircraft to pave the way for a future supersonic airliner, while Axiom Space just announced the first crew of private tourists to the International Space Station who will fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 for $50 million a piece. As long as you can prove the fundamentals are sound, allocating money turning it into something marketable seems like a logical strategy.

For Prime Movers Lab’s Fund II, the plan is to invest in around 30 or so companies, roughly doubling the number of investments from Fund I. In addition to its partners with scientific expertise, the firm also includes Partners with skill sets including creative direction, industrial design, executive coaching and business acumen, and provides those services to its portfolio companies as value-add to help them supplement their technical innovations. Its Fund I portfolio includes Momentus and Axiom, as mentioned, as well as vertical farming startup Upward Farms, coronavirus vaccine startup Covaxx, and more.

#advisors, #articles, #astronaut, #business-incubators, #ceo, #chris-hadfield, #clean-energy, #corporate-finance, #deep-tech, #entrepreneurship, #executive, #falcon, #finance, #funding, #international-space-station, #machine-vision, #momentus, #money, #neuroscience, #oil, #prime-movers-lab, #private-equity, #serial-entrepreneur, #stanford, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #theranos, #venture-capital, #wingcopter

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Missions to Mars, the Moon and Beyond Await Earth in 2021

Here’s a preview of what to expect in space and astronomy in the year to come.

#astrobotic-technology-inc, #china, #emirates-mars-mission, #international-space-station, #intuitive-machines-llc, #james-webb-space-telescope, #jupiter-planet, #mars-planet, #moon, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #perseverance-mars-rover, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #solar-system, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp, #tianwen-1-mars-mission, #travel-and-vacations, #united-arab-emirates

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A Year of Watching Earthly Beauty Burn

From orbit, satellites send tragic evidence of climate change’s destructive power. This film covers 10 days, Sept. 7-16, 2020, a period of intense fires activity in North and South America.

#air-pollution, #amazon-jungle, #anxiety-and-stress, #australia, #brazil, #california, #canada, #carbon-capture-and-sequestration, #china, #colombia, #colorado-state-university, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #deaths-fatalities, #earth, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #european-union, #fires-and-firefighters, #floods, #forests-and-forestry, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #gulf-coast-us, #hurricane-laura-2020, #international-space-station, #marshall-tex, #new-zealand, #north-america, #oregon, #pantanal-brazil, #politics-and-government, #sacramento-calif, #seasons-and-months, #stanford-university, #texas, #united-states, #washington-state, #weather, #western-states-us, #wildfires

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Voyager Space Holdings to acquire majority stake in commercial space leader Nanoracks

Voyager Space Holdings continues to build up its portfolio of strategic space service offerings with the acquisition of a majority stake in X.O. Markets, the parent company of Nanoracks. Nanoracks has provided commercial space services for years now, and most recently provided the Bishop Airlock that was installed on the International Space Station. Bishop is the first dedicated commercial permanent airlock on the ISS, and will provide a major increase in capabilities in terms of providing access to the orbital platform for private small satellites and research.

This is Voyager’s third major acquisition this year, after it picked up a majority stake in The Launch Company, a launch support company that provides services and hardware to facilitate launches, and that works with companies including Relativity, Firefly Aerospace and Virgin Orbit. Voyager also picked up Pioneer Astronautics (an R&D company that works on propulsion, fuels, rapid prototyping and much more) in 2020, as well as Altius Space Machines in 2019. Altius is a startup that works on technology for on-orbit satellite servicing.

Nanoracks is probably its highest-profile acquisition, since the company has been involved in over 1,000 ISS projects, spanning on-station research and small satellite launch from the platform, as well as other orbital and deep space missions. Nanoracks created a commercial space testing platform outside o the ISS, and will be demonstrating a technology on a SpaceX mission next year that could eventually be used to convert spent upper stages from launch vehicles into orbital commercial mini space stations.

Voyager Space Holdings continues its strategic acquisition of new space companies, building out a portfolio that can offer clients significantly more ‘full-service’ solutions than any of these individual companies taken together. Commercial details of these arrangements aren’t shared, but they increasingly represent one path to exit for smaller companies addressing elements of the larger commercial space sector in fairly specialized ways.

#aerospace, #firefly-aerospace, #international-space-station, #ma, #nanoracks, #outer-space, #pioneer-astronautics, #private-spaceflight, #relativity, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #virgin-orbit, #voyager-space-holdings

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Dedicated commercial human in-space operations are coming sooner than you may realize

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

The main company leading those plans in the near-term is Axiom Space, a private space station service provider, and eventual operator. Axiom is founded and led by people with International Space Station experience and expertise, and the company already operates R&D missions on behalf of private clients on the ISS with the help of NASA astronauts. It’s planning to begin shuttling entire flights of private astronauts to the station starting in 2021, and it’s also building a new, commercial space station to ultimately replace the ISS on orbit once that one is decommissioned.

Axiom Space’s Chief Business Office Amir Blachman joined us at TC Sessions: Space last week, on a panel that included NASA Chief of Exploration and Mission Planning, Sierra Nevada Corporation Senior Vice President and former astronaut Janet Kavandi, as well as Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch+) co-founder Melodie Yashar. The panel was focused on how public and private entities are preparing for a (relatively near) future in which humans spend more time off Earth – and further away from it, too.

“It’s now it’s, it’s been now for a couple years already,” Blachman said, in response to a question about how far off humans beyond NASA astronauts living in space actually is. “Axiom, sends crews to the International Space Station today on our own missions, while we’re building the new commercial space station that will succeed ISS when it’s decommissioned. Our first mission with a crew of four astronauts launches 12 months from now, and the four crew members have already gone through medical, they’ve done their suit fittings, we’ve already integrated our medical operations and training team with our launch provider. We’ll launch that crew in 2021, another crew in 2022, two crews and 2023, four in 2024 – and it grows from there.”

Both Blachman and Meranci talked about the importance of automation and robotic systems on both Axiom’s future commercial space stations, and on NASA’s future habitats on the lunar surface, and on the lunar Gateway that will remain in orbit around the Moon and act as a staging ground for lunar missions.

“ISS was meant to be tended all the time,” Meranci said. “It’s not meant to be an uncrewed station. And while the flight controllers on the ground do a lot of the actual operation of it, it’s meant to have people there to perform maintenance. We don’t have that luxury, when you start talking about the lunar architecture, the Gateway will be tended only when the crew arrives, and the stuff on the surface will be tended only for, you know, a week at first and then longer over time. But you still want to have all of those things be capable of doing useful science or useful exploration even without the crew. So the ability to do tele robotics, maintain things via ground command and things like that so that when the crew arrives, they can just throw the hatch open and get to work would be the ideal state.”

We’ve been working under the assumption that these habitats and critical infrastructure on Mars, and now more recently on the Moon should be constructed, and should be thought of as being constructed, as autonomously as possible,” Yashar added. “So we typically design for precursor missions, which would happen even before a crew arrives, hoping that almost all of the systems through construction, materials, excavation, materials handling, and all of the other systems that we’ve been looking at would more or less happen as autonomously as possible.”

Kavandi, too, echoed the sentiments of the others with regards to the degree to which modern human space systems will incorporate automation. I asked whether that would introduce complexity, but she said that rather, it should accomplish the opposite. Somewhat ironically, the path forward for human activity in space actually involves a lot less human activity – at least when it comes to the business of operating and maintaining in-space infrastructure.

“Advanced technology thing can sometimes add simplicity,” “As we’ve increased our capabilities over the years, with computers, for instance, they’ve become easier to use, not harder to use. The objective is to try to minimize crew time and crew maintenance so that you can concentrate your time, your time for doing research, or whatever it is that you’re supposed to do up there, whatever your mission happens to be. So the more we can simplify the interfaces, the more that we can have automation, where the crew only has to intervene when something is going wrong, but generally thingsgo smoothly, and they don’t have to do anything, that is an ideal situation. And in that case, you have a lot more free time available to then actually do the work that you’re up there for.”

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Watch SpaceX launch a U.S. spy satellite live and bring its booster back for a landing on terra firma

SpaceX is launching a Falcon 9 today from Kennedy Space Center, with a launch window that spans three hours and opens at 9 AM EST (6 AM PST). The mission will carry a spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and will include a recovery attempt for the first-stage booster used on the Falcon 9 vehicle.

This Falcon 9’s first stage has already flown four times previously, including during two of SpaceX’s commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station for NASA, and during a Starlink launch, as well as for SAOCOM 1B, a satellite launch operation for the Argentinian space agency in August.

SpaceX will be attempting a landing back at its landing pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, a rarer occurrence vs. its use of its two drone landing ships positioned out in the ocean. SpaceX’s at-sea launches were introduced to allow for recovery of rocket boosters that didn’t have enough fuel remaining on board to make it all the way back to land – meaning this NRO mission’s parameters allow for a ‘return to sender’ trip back home.

Typically, when there’s a longer launch window, SpaceX will aim to launch at the beginning, depending on weather conditions. If that’s the case today, the stream above should begin at around 8:45 AM EST (15 minutes prior to the opening of the window).

#aerospace, #falcon, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spy, #starlink, #tc

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Watch SpaceX launch a SiriusXM broadcasting satellite live during its 25th flight of 2020

SpaceX is already having a banner year, with major accomplishments including its first human spaceflight, and it’s aiming to pad its current record-breaking launch year with a 25th flight today. The launch will carry SiriusXM-7, a broadcasting satellite for satellite radio service SiriusXM, delivering it to a geostationary transfer orbit from Space Launch Complex-40 in Florida.

This is actually the second launch that SpaceX has conducted just this week, after flying its 21st commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA on December 6. SpaceX has a nearly two hour window for today’s launch, beginning at 11:21 AM EST (8:21 AM PST), and weather is currently looking good.

The booster used on this launch flew during Demo-1, the first crewed flight for SpaceX ever, which brought astronauts to the ISS in May, as well as during a RADARSAT launch, and four separate Starlink launches during 2020. This will be its seventh flight, tying a record for SpaceX’s flight-proven first-stage boosters. It’ll attempt to land aboard the company’s drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean after deploying its second stage and cargo.

The broadcast above should begin around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window, so long as everything is tracking on time.

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NASA and Boeing set do-over Starliner orbital test flight for March 2021

NASA and Boeing are looking to March 29, 2021 as the earliest possible date for their Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2), a key qualifying demonstration mission in their ongoing Commercial Crew spaceflight program. Boeing is the second company selected by NASA to build and qualify a human space launch system for transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and it’s still working towards certifying its vehicle while SpaceX, the other company selected, has already flown its first active service mission.

Boeing originally flew the first version of this mission last December. The company’s Starliner CST-100 crew spacecraft took off as planned aboard a ULA rocket, which performed its part of the mission perfectly. The capsule encountered an error with its onboard mission timer, however, and due to a momentary blackout in ground communications, it wasn’t able to be corrected in time to preserve enough fuel to keep Starliner on track to rendez-vous with the Space Station, which was among the primary goals of the demonstration flight.

Boeing managed to still conduct a successful re-entry, descent and recovery of the Starliner capsule – all good tests of other key mission goals. But the company and the agency eventually decided that the OFT test would need to be repeated before any final, crewed demonstration mission took place.

After a lengthy and thorough investigation, Boeing and NASA both implemented changes to their software development process and partnership to ensure that future errors like the one that affected the mission timer wouldn’t take place. The partners had initially hoped to re-fly this mission sometime this month, approximately a year after the first try, but the timelines have slipped since then and at last mention, the first quarter of next year was the earliest likely window.

NASA hopes to have Boeing’s spacecraft certified so that it can rely on not one, but two providers of commercial transportation services for astronauts to low-Earth orbit. That diversified provider mix should also help spur increased commercial activity in Earth’s orbit centred on human spaceflight.

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Space manufacturing startup Varda, incubated at Founders Fund, emerges with $9 million in funding

From a young age, Will Bruey, the co-founder and chief executive of Varda Space Industries, was fascinated with space and running his own business.

So when the former SpaceX engineer was tapped by Delian Asparouhov and Trae Stephens of Founders Fund to work on Varda he didn’t think twice.

Bruey spent six years at SpaceX. First working on the Falcon and Dragon video systems and then the bulk of the systems actuators and controllers used in the avionics for the crewed Dragon capsule (which recently docked at the International Space Station). `

According to Asparouhov, that background, and the time that Bruey spent running his own angel syndicate and working at Bank of America getting a grounding in finance and startups, made him an ideal candidate to run the next startup to be spun out of Founders Fund .

Like other Founders Fund companies, Palantir and Anduril, Varda takes its name from the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. Named for the Elf queen who created constellations, the company has set itself no less lofty a task than bringing manufacturing to space.

News of the funding was first reported by Axios.

While companies like Space Tango and Made In Space already are attempting to make a viable business out of space manufacturing, they focus on small scale pilots and experimental projects. Varda separates itself by its loftier ambition — to manufacture commercially viable products at scale in space.

To be economically viable, these products have to be very very high value, and according to the IEEE there are already some goods that fit the bill. Things like carbon nanotubes and fiber optic cables, organs, and novel materials are all potential targets for a space manufacturing company, because they can conceivably justify the high cost of material transportation.

Image Credit: Getty Images/AbelCreativeStudio

“Manufacturing is the next step for commercialization in space,” said Bruey. “The primary driver that makes us economical is success in the launch business.”

With now-established companies like SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Blue Origin, and upstarts like Relativity Space, Spinlaunch, and the newly launched Aevum Space all driving down the cost of launching objects into space, the next wave of commercialization is coming.

Varda’s backers, which put $9 million into the company, were led by Founders Fund and Lux Capital . Additional participation came from Fifty Years, Also Capital, Raymond Tonsing, Justin Mateen, and Naval Ravikant.

These investors are all placing a bet that the biggest returns could be in manufacturing. As a result of their investments, Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens and Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe are both taking seats on the company’s board.

“The first things we will manufacture are things with high dollar per-unit-mass value,” said Bruey. “As we establish our manufacturing platform that will ramp into the longer term vision of offloading manufacturing for all space operations.”

There are two categories of space manufacturing in the industry to come, according to Bruey and Asparouhov and those are additive manufacturing for making products to be used in space, and manufacturing in space for terrestrial applications. It’s the second of these that Varda focuses on. “Nothing we will be doing will be 3D printing,” said Asparouhov. “We will be focused on making things in space that we can bring back to earth.

The company may not be working on 3D printing, but its manufacturing facilities won’t look like anything on Earth. Initially, they’ll be unmanned, according to a blog post published by Fifty Years. Then they’ll manufacture things in space that benefit from low gravity. Finally, the company intends to build the first inrastructure that can harvest source materials for new products in-space via asteroid mining.

“Varda can make manufacturing sustainable by eliminating the need to destructively extract earth’s resources, help cure chronic diseases, deepen our understanding of biology, help connect more people to the Internet, and usher in higher-throughput and lower energy methods of computation,” Fifty Years co-founder Seth Bannon wrote in a direct message. “Bringing human industry into the stars — this is entrepreneurship at its boldest! Varda is the sort of big swing ambition venture capital was invented for.”

 

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