Astra targets December for next orbital launch attempt

Astra is set to launch it’s next orbital rocket, with a window that opens on December 7 and lasts for 12 days following until December 18, with an 11 AM to 2:30 PM PT block each day during which the launch could occur, depending on weather and conditions on the ground. This is the startup’s Rocket 3.2, a slightly revised and improved version of the Rocket 3.1 launch vehicle it flew in September.

Alameda-based Astra is a startup focused on building a small, relatively cheap-to-build launch vehicle that can carry small payloads to space at a rapid clip, with flexible launch location capabilities. It’s founded by former NASA CTO Chris Kemp, and backed by funding including Mac Benioff, Innovation Endeavors, Airbus Ventures, Canaan Partners and others, and it already has an active rocket assembly factory operating in the East Bay.

The company was originally founded with the goal of winning DARPA’s Launch Challenge, though the deadline for that has since passed. Astra still aims to essentially satisfying the functional requirements of that competition, by creating a launch vehicle that can be launched essentially on-demand when needed by clients looking for more responsive and mobile spaceflight capabilities, including the U.S. Department of Defense.

The goal of this next flight is similar to the goal of Rocket 3.1 in September: Essentially to study the startup’s rocket and boost its efficiencies while building its effectiveness. Actually reaching orbit isn’t a primary goal yet, but is a secondary, nice-to-have aim of this launch, which will take off from Kodiak in Alaska. The company already learned a ton from its first launch, including lessons that led to changes and improvements made to Rocket 3.2. It has always aimed for a three-flight initial orbital launch test series, and will also fly a Rocket 3.3 after this one incorporating additional lessons learned.

#aerospace, #airbus-ventures, #alaska, #astra, #canaan-partners, #chris-kemp, #east-bay, #flight, #launch-vehicle, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #rocket, #science, #space, #tc


Voyager Space Holdings to acquire multi-launch site startup The Launch Company

Voyager Space Holdings, one of the companies that has been on a bit of an acquisitive spree recently as it looks to put together a comprehensive and multi-vertical space technology offering, has announced that it intends to acquire The Launch Company, an Anchorage-based startup that is focused on “streamlining the launch process,” with the ultimate aim of building a launch site capable of playing host to multiple users for quick turnaround between launches from different providers.

Already, The Launch Company has worked with a number of companies in the new space sector, including Firefly, Relativity, and Virgin Orbit. It’s been involved in the DARPA launch challenge, which was designed to kickstart the development of mobile and responsive multi-vehicle launch capabilities. The company’s focus on flexible and responsive launch services is in high demand not only in the emerging commercial space industry, but also for deep-pocketed and consistent clients like the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force.

Voyager has been focusing on assembling holdings that allow it to provide clients across the space industry with more vertical integration throughout the process of designing and launching a mission. They acquired Pioneer Technologies earlier this year, which is working with NASA on Artemis program elements, and also acquired Altius Space Machines, a satellite interface, servicing and design company last year.

#aerospace, #anchorage, #artemis-program, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #department-of-defense, #ma, #nasa, #orion, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #u-s-air-force, #voyager-space-holdings


SpaceX’s Crew Dragon docks with the International Space Station for first operational mission

SpaceX’s astronaut-ferrying Crew Dragon spacecraft is now docked to the International Space Station in Earth’s orbit, marking the successful completion of the first phase of its inaugural operational mission. Dragon was certified for human spaceflight earlier this month by NASA after having completed the development and testing program with a successful human demonstration flight earlier in 2020.

Dragon lifted off from Florida on Sunday evening, carrying four astronauts, including NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi. The spacecraft then spent a little over a day on orbit, moving into position to meet the Space Station and prepare for docking. It completed that late on Monday night, acting completely autonomously using SpaceX’s automated docking software to connect to the Space Station’s new international docking adapter, and then the hatch was opened by the existing ISS crew and the newly arrived team members made their way over.

The successfully docking and hatch opening means that SpaceX and NASA have achieved their goals so far with the Commercial Crew program: Creating a viable and effective means of launching people from the U.S. to space, and to the ISS. This mission’s astronauts will now spend the next six months at the Space Station, with Dragon attached, and then they’ll return likely next June in the second and final phase of this inaugural mission, which will prove that the system also works for coming back to Earth.

#aerospace, #commercial-crew-program, #florida, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-station, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-states


SpaceX Crew Docks at the International Space Station

“Docking confirmed,” the company founded by Elon Musk announced Monday night.

#associated-press, #international-space-station, #kennedy-space-center, #private-spaceflight, #space-and-astronomy, #space-stations


SpaceX’s ‘Resilience’ Lifts 4 Astronauts Into NASA’s New Era of Spaceflight

The crew will spend some 27 hours in a capsule built by the private company before docking with the space station Monday night.

#black-people, #glover-victor-j-jr, #hopkins-michael-s, #hopkins-shannon, #international-space-station, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #noguchi-soichi, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp


SpaceX and NASA successfully launch four astronauts to space for first operational Dragon crew mission

SpaceX has become the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station, marking the culmination of years of work in partnership with NASA on developing human spaceflight capabilities. At 7:27 PM EST (4:27 PM PST), NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Michael Hopkins, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi left launch pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS.

SpaceX’s human launch program was developed under the Commercial Crew program, which saw NASA select two private companies to build astronaut launch systems for carrying astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil. SpaceX was chosen alongside Boeing by NASA in 2014 to create their respective systems, and SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket became the first to achieve actual human flight certification from NASA earlier this year with the successful completion of its final, Demo-2 test mission, which flew to the ISS with two U.S. astronauts on board.

To get to this point, SpaceX had to complete a number of milestones successfully, including a fully automated uncrewed ISS rendez-vous mission, and a demonstration of both a launch pad abort and post-launch abort emergency safety system for the protection of the crew. During the Demo-1 mission, while all actual launch, docking and landing was handled by SpaceX’s fully autonomous software and navigation, astronauts also took over manual control briefly to demonstrate that this human-piloted backup would operate as intended, if required.

So far, Crew-1 is proceeding as expected, with a picture-perfect takeoff from Florida, and a successful recovery of the first-stage booster used on the Falcon 9 rocket used to launch Dragon. Crew Dragon ‘Resilience’ also departed from the second-stage of the Falcon 9 as planned at just after 10 minutes after liftoff, and there will be a 27 hour trip in orbit before the Dragon meets up with the ISS for its docking, which is scheduled to take place at around 11 PM EST (8 PM PST) on Monday night. Once fully docked, the astronauts will disembark and go over to the station to begin their active duty stay, which is set to last until next June.

From left, the crew of Crew-1: NASA’s Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins; JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi Image Credits: SpaceX

Three of the four astronauts on this mission have been to space previously, but for pilot Victor Glover, it’s his first time. These four will join NASA’s Kate Rubins, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov on the station, bringing the total staff complement to seven (an increase from its usual six that NASA says will free up more time for the astronauts to perform experiments, as opposed to their tasks related to regular daily maintenance of the station).

This is the first time that astronauts have launched to space during a regular operational NASA mission since the end of the Shuttle program in 2011. It marks an official return of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, and should hopefully become the first in many human flight missions undertaken by SpaceX and Dragon – across both NASA flights, and those organized by commercial customers.

#aerospace, #astronaut, #boeing, #commercial-crew-program, #dragon, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #pilot, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-states


SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are now officially certified for human spaceflight by NASA

SpaceX and NASA have completed the multi-year certification program for the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft launch system, the first ever human-rated commercial space system to be developed. The final stage in the certification process was the Demo-2 mission that SpaceX launched earlier this year, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on May 30, 2020, and now all necessary review of the results of that successful mission is complete.

NASA announced the milestone via its official blog, noting that this certification included a Flight Readiness Review in preparation for the first ever official ISS crew mission of the Falcon 9 and Dragon, which is set for this Saturday, November 14 – weather permitting. That will carry four astronauts, including three from NASA and one from Japan’s space agency, to the ISS for an official full-length stay conducting experiments and maintaining the orbital station.

This is the final step in the multi-mission certification process, which included a number of previous launches including an uncrewed ISS docking mission, which ran fully automated, and a launch pad abort test to demonstrate how the launch vehicle’s safety system would work in the unlikely event of an accident following launch but prior to reaching orbit. SpaceX also developed and extensively tested a new parachute system for controlling the descent of the Dragon crew capsule upon it’s return from the station to Earth.

NASA says that it and SpaceX performed an “extensive analysis of the test flight data” following the Demo-2 mission, which concluded in August with a successful return to Earth carrying Behnken and Hurley back from the station.

#aerospace, #commercial-spaceflight, #falcon, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #japan, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc


Moon exporation startup ispace opens new U.S. office and hires SpaceX to lead development of next lander

Japanese startup ispace, which is developing lander technology to support exploration of the Moon, is opening an office in Denver, the company announced today. The Colorado location was chosen because of its access to local aerospace engineering talent, and the plan is for the company to quickly staff up a full local engineering team. ispace also announced that it has hired Kursten O’Neill, a seven year SpaceX vet, who will oversee development of ispace’s next-generation lunar lander craft.

The U.S. expansion comes as ispace looks to work more closely together with NASA, both through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, where ispace is currently partnering with U.S.-based space specialist Draper on its bid to provide lunar lander transportation services for the agency. ispace also hopes to leverage its international footprint to help be a strategic linkage between the U.S. and its international partners more broadly across the Artemis program, which is NASA’s mission series intended to help humans return to the Moon and establish a more permanent presence there for continued science and research purposes.

ispace is set to launch its first lunar landers for its Mission 1 and Mission 2 operations, currently planned to take place starting with a debut launch in 2021. Its planned Mission 3 will be the first to carry its forthcoming next-generation lander, to be designed and manufactured in the U.S. by a team led by O’Neill, which will boast a larger footprint and greater payload capacity.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #colorado, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #denver, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #lunar-lander, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-states


Virgin Galactic readies first spaceflight from Spaceport America for ‘later this this fall’

Virgin Galactic is getting ready to fly its first mission to space from its Spaceport America facility in New Mexico. This is the site that the company will use to host all of its commercial flights, and making it to space from this launch locale is crucial to getting to that point.

Earlier this year, Virgin Galactic successfully flew a number of tests of its SpaceShipTwo launch craft from New Mexico, but these didn’t include a trip to space. That launch, which will be performed by two of the company’s test pilots (while also carrying a number of experiments for the passenger hatch) should happen before the year is out, hopefully putting Virgin Galactic on pace to begin offering its commercial services next year to paying passengers.

Those private astronauts will include one newly announced individual: Dr. Alan Stern, a noted and well-regarded planetary scientist who has held a number of positions, and is most recently the associate Vice President of South West Research Institute’s Space Science and Engineering Division. Dr. Stern is the first researcher named to be flying on board Virgin Galactic’s commercial spacecraft on a NASA-funded science mission.

This won’t be the first of SpaceShipTwo’s commercial flights, it seems. Stern’s trip will take place on a “yet unscheduled” suborbital flight from Spaceport America in the future. Stern will be conducting two key pieces of science aboard the spacecraft, including actually wearing instrumentation that monitors his vial signs throughout, as well as using a low light camera to see how well observing space from the vantage point of inside the SpaceShipTwo cabin works.

#aerospace, #alan-stern, #new-mexico, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spaceport, #spaceport-america, #spaceshiptwo, #suborbital-spaceflight, #tc, #virgin-galactic


How a 2nd-Grade Class Sent a Science Experiment to Space

“Any school district now that affords football can afford spaceflight.”

#blue-origin, #education-k-12, #fireflies, #indiana, #private-spaceflight, #research, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #science-and-technology, #space-and-astronomy


Blue Origin’s New Shepard Rocket Launches a New Line of Business

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket hasn’t flown space tourists yet, but it has found a business niche with NASA and private science experiments.

#bezos-jeffrey-p, #blue-origin, #innovation, #moon, #private-spaceflight, #research, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #science-and-technology, #southwest-research-institute, #space-and-astronomy


Blue Origin successfully launches and lands New Shepard, with a first-ever external booster payload

Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin launched its first mission of 2020 today, flying a New Shepard sub-orbital rocket from its West Texas testing facility. This particular rocket has flown a total of seven times including today, and this is now the 13th flight of a New Shepard vehicle overall. Today’s launch included a test of NASA’s active landing sensor system, which will be used to build an autonomous, precise and flexible landing system for future Moon landing vehicles.

The NASA landing system test also marks a first for Blue Origin – the first time it has tested flying a payload on the outside of New Shepard. To date, all New Shepard payloads have traveled inside the capsule atop the booster, but the external test here was necessary in order to perform measurements of the instruments that will be used to provide repeatable, precision landing capabilities to future spacecraft.

While NASA was obviously previously able to land on the surface of the Moon, it’s looking to upgrade the technology it uses to do so in order to be able to handle the challenging task with full automation, and with much higher precision for hitting very specific targets on the lunar surface – and providing spacecraft the ability to do so over and over again, reliably, since NASA’s goal with its Artemis generation of Moon missions is to establish a more permanent human research presence on our large natural satellite.

A number of experiments are also on board that capsule, which returned to Earth with a soft, parachute-aided landing. This launch also included a new heat shield used on the rocket as part of testing for future New Glenn flights, the next generation of Blue Origin spacecraft which will be able to handle orbital payload launches, adding to Blue Origin’s current suborbital capabilities with New Shepard.

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #jeff-bezos, #new-shepard, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #robotics, #science, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #tc


Watch Blue Origin launch its reusable New Shepard rocket live, with a key NASA system test on board

Blue Origin is set to return to active flight today, after a hiatus of nearly a year since its last launch in December 2019. Today’s launch is a mission for the company’s New Shepard reusable sub-orbital rocket – a record-setting sixth flight for this particular rocket, which first flew and landed back in December 2017. Today’s launch includes a system design to test elements of NASA’s Deorbit, Descent and Landing Sensor technology, which will provide key automation for use in future landers for the Moon and Mars that will be able to intelligently identify and avoid potential hazards on target landing zones.

This test will include recover of both the rocket and the capsule for the New Shepard launch vehicle. The Rocket will land back at the West Texas launch and landing site with a controlled, engine-powered descent, and the capsule will descend via parachute. The capsule will contain a variety of experiments and other payloads, including postcards from Blue Origin’s nonprofit organization Club for the Future provided by children from across the country.

The launch is set to take place at 8:35 AM CDT (9:35 AM EDT/6:35 AM PDT), with the livestream above beginning at around 9:05 AM EDT (6:05 AM PDT). The stream will include a message from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Blue Origin is increasingly working closely with NASA, including on a human landing system that could be the means for getting the next human astronauts to the surface of the Moon.

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #jim-bridenstine, #nasa, #new-shepard, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #tc


Spacebit books a second trip to the Moon via NASA’s commercial lunar payload program

UK-based robotic rover startup Spacebit has booked a second payload delivery to the Moon, aboard the Nova-C lander that Intuitive Machines is planning to send in 2021 as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Spacebit already has a berth aboard the Astrobotic Peregrine lander that’s set to go to the Moon in July 2021, flying atop a Vulcan Centaur rocket, and so this would follow quickly on the heels of that mission, with a current mission timeframe of October 2021 to deliver the Intuitive Machines lander via a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Spacebit’s Asagumo 4-legged walking rover is set to fly on that first CLPS mission (which NASA created to source commercial partners for delivering experiments and payloads to the Moon along with over private cargo ahead of its Artemis crewed Moon missions). For this second Nova-C lander launch, Spacebit is preparing a wheeled rover that will carry a small NASA scientific module. Both the wheeled and the walking rover are designed to help assess what kind of resources are available on the surface of the Moon, with the aim of providing support for the Artemis program.

This will provide Spacebit with multiple opportunities to assess the makeup of the regolith (the equivalent of soil for other planets), which is its primary goal with these missions. The different rover designs will also mean it can better assess which is more amenable to the task. The 4-legged design is intended to make the walking rover better able to deal with uneven surfaces, allowing it to potentially even explore lava flow tubes and other cave-like areas that could be suitable for natural shelter and future lunar habitat creation.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #astrobotic-technology, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #intuitive-machines, #nova, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spacebit, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc


Britain Is Getting Ready for Its Space Race

Spurred by Brexit, London is backing companies that will build satellites and haul them into orbit.

#airbus-industrie, #cornwall-england, #european-union, #great-britain, #great-britain-withdrawal-from-eu-brexit, #oneweb-inc, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #satellites, #virgin-orbit


Blue Origin job listing sheds more light on its space-based orbital habitat ambitions

Blue Origin founder and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has made no secret of his ambition to eventually create orbiting space stations that act as places for people to live and work – he outlined a vision based on space settlement designs first conceived by physicist Gerard K. O’Neill at a Blue Origin event, including its lunar lander reveal, last year. Now, however, Blue Origin has issued a job posting seeking a person who will be tasked with leading its efforts around “Orbital Habitat Formulation” (via Space News).

The job posting seeks a person who will be responsible for developing the ultimate vision of “millions of people living and working in space,” with a near-term goal of developing space stations in low Earth orbit that take cues from the existing International Space Station (ISS), but that also go “beyond” that existing shared international research structure, in part by fostering “value-creating economic activity.”

Here’s the core description from the listing:

As Blue Origin’s Formulation Lead for the Orbital Habitat product line, you will lead development of technical concepts, product strategies, business cases, customer relationships, market-shaping outreach, industrial partnerships, implementation approaches, and supply chain. Partnering with business development professionals, you will develop a detailed understanding of NASA, other government, and commercial needs and guide the iterative development of product strategy. You will be accountable for capturing external and internal sponsorship funding to establish viable LEO destination systems in the 2020s. You will directly impact the history of human spaceflight.

Blue Origin also says that what they’re building will be “fundamentally different” from stations like the ISS, which are designed for “small, professional trained crews.” It sounds like they want to make them quite a bit more habitable and practical for non-expert users, who are there primarily for commercial purposes – not to be astronauts first and foremost.

We’re probably still quite a ways away from the idealistic concept vision that Bezos shared at last May’s event, pictured above. But depending on how badly he wants it to happen, we could have Blue Origin commercial space habitats in orbit sooner than some might think.

#aerospace, #amazon, #blue-origin, #ceo, #international-space-station, #jeff-bezos, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-station, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #supply-chain, #tc


CMU’s MoonRanger robot rover will be the first to search for water ice on the Moon in 2022

Carnegie Mellon University and spinoff space startup Astrobotic are developing a robotic rover to look for water on the Moon, and the little bot just passed the crucial preliminary design review phase, putting it one step closer to its inaugural mission planned for 2022. MoonRanger is aiming to be the first robotic detective to investigate whether buried ice is present in sufficient quantities to be useful to future lunar explorers.

MoonRanger could well be the first, provided it sticks to its schedule, but it’ll have competition from NASA’s own water ice-hunting rover – a golf-cart-sized robotic explorer called VIPER which is aiming to touchdown on the Moon in December, 2022. The goal of VIPER is to help look for the presence of water ice near the Moon’s surface in order to help prepare the way for the planned human landing in 2024, which kicks off efforts on the part of NASA and its partners in the international space community to establish a permanent human science and research presence on our large natural satellite.

Like VIPER, MoonRanger is destined for the South Pole of the Moon, and will be a kind of advance scout for NASA’s mission. Ideally, MoonRanger, delivered by Masten Space Systems’ XL-1 lunar lander under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, will confirm the presence of water ice in decent amounts, and then VIPER will arrive a bit later with the ability to drill deeper, and to perform more rigorous on-site analysis.

MoonRanger will be much smaller than VIPER, at roughly the size of a suitcase, but it will have the ability to travel at speeds previously unheard-of for extraterrestrial exploratory robots. The CMU bot will be able to cover up to 1,000 meters (almost two-thirds of a mile) over the course of a single day. That small size means it’ll rely on a relay to send any communications back to Earth – a process which will involve transmitting to the Masten lander, which will relay that back to scientists here at home using its much higher-powered communications array.

#aerospace, #astrobotic, #astrobotic-technology, #carnegie-mellon-university, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #lunar-lander, #masten-space-systems, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #robotics, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #viper


Blue Origin targets this Thursday for New Shepard reusable rocket launch with NASA landing system test

Blue Origin just announced the timing of its next rocket launch – and it’s surprisingly soon, in just two days on Thursday, September 24. The launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle will be its 13th overall for that category of launch craft, and the 7th in a row for this particular rocket. The payload will include an even dozen commercial cargo items, including a Deorbit, Descent and Landing Sensor Demonstration done in partnership with NASA – basically a highly-precise automated landing system that will help NASA land on the Moon and eventually Mars.

That payload is unique not just because of the technology involved in the landing system, but also because it’ll actually be mounted to the exterior of the New Shephard’s booster stage, rather than in the capsule that rides atop it. This is the first time that Blue Origin has carried a payload that way, and the company expects it could pave the way for similar future missions, enabling sensing at high altitudes, and experiments made possible through use of equipment exposed to the external environment.

Other payloads on this flight will include postcards from the Blue Origin-founded nonprofit Club for the Future, which are collected by students at schools across the world. There are also additional experiments from Johsn Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab, Space Lab Technologies, mu Space Corp, other NASA experiments,and more.

Blue Origin plans a second test flight for the landing technologies on board, and overall these are emanated to help de-risk use of the sensors for later operational viability.

The company has set the launch for 10 AM CDT (11 AM EDT), and it’ll take off from its launch facility in West Texas. The launch will bore broadcast live, and a stream will start 30 minutes prior to liftoff time, and include a special message from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine about the agency’s collaboration with Blue Origin. The last New Shepard launch took place last December, so it’s been nearly a year since the company has flown one of its spacecraft.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #blue-origin, #jim-bridenstine, #nasa, #new-shepard, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc


Contestants will compete for a SpaceX trip to the International Space Station in new reality TV show

There’s a reality TV competition show in the works that will feature a 2023 trip to the International Space Station as the grand prize, Deadline reports. The production company behind the show, which will be called ‘Space Hero,’ has booked a seat on a SpaceX Dragon crew spacecraft set to make the trip to the ISS in 2023, and will make it the reward for whoever comes out the winner in a competition among “everyday people from any background who share a deep love for space exploration,” according to the report.

The competition will be an ersatz astronaut training program of sorts, including physical challenges, as well as puzzles and problem-solving tasks, as well as emotionally challenging scenarios, according to Deadline. That will lead up to what producers are currently planning will be a live episode featuring a global viewer vote about who ultimately will win. The show will also include documenting the winner’s ISS trip, including their launch and 10-day space station stay, as well as their return journey and landing.

To bring all these pieces together, the reproduction team is working with Axiom Space, a private space travel services provider and mission operator, as well as NASA, with which it’s discussing what might be done in terms of STEM education add-ons for this planned programming.

Apparently, Deadline says that Survivor creator and reality industry giant Mark Burnett has previously tried multiple times to create a reality show with a trip to space as the main component. One such effort, an NBC-based program called ‘Space Race,’ was created in partnership with Richard Branson and focused on Virgin Galactic, but it was ended after that company’s fatal testing accident in 2015.

There’s also a movie production in the works that’s bound for the Space Station as a filming location, and those efforts are being spearheaded by Tom Cruise, who will star in the yet untitled project. NASA has repeatedly said it welcomes increased commercialization of low Earth orbit and the ISS, and it also intentionally sought out private partners like SpaceX for its US-based astronaut launch vehicles, in the hopes that they would be able to book other, private clients for flights to help defray mission costs.

#aerospace, #astronaut, #international-space-station, #media, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #richard-branson, #science, #space, #space-exploration, #space-station, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #survivor, #tc, #tom-cruise, #virgin-galactic


The Search for Life on Venus Could Start With Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab may be able to send a small spacecraft to probe the clouds of Venus long before NASA or other space agencies are able to do so.

#beck-peter-scientist, #extraterrestrial-life, #private-spaceflight, #research, #rocket-lab, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #satellites, #space-and-astronomy, #venus-planet, #your-feed-science


Missions to Venus: Highlights From History, and When We May Go Back

Much visited in an earlier era of space exploration, the planet has been overlooked in recent decades.

#european-space-agency, #extraterrestrial-life, #india, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #private-spaceflight, #research, #rocket-lab, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #ussr-former-soviet-union, #venus-planet


NASA is looking to buy Moon dirt from private companies – no return shipping required

NASA wants to procure samples of lunar soil from private contractors, the agency announced today in a blog post by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. This is part of the agency’s overall ambitions around returning humans to the Moon by 2024, and establishing a sustained human research presence there. NASA is asking for proposals from commercial space companies to offer up their proposals for collecting a small amount of rocks or dirt from “any location” on the Moon’s surface, along with a photo of the collection process and resulting sample.

The proposals ask only that private companies collect the material – they’re not responsible for actually getting it back to Earth for study. They will need to do an “in-place” handoff of the collected sample to the agency – on the Moon, but that’s much less of a challenge than shipping it all the way back here, and the specifics around retrieval will be handled by NASA “at a later date.”

Some stipulations and specifics to keep in mind: NASA wants the retrieval of the materials to take place before 2024, along with the ownership handoff. This is also open to companies internationally, so it’s not just for U.S. private space companies, and it’s also possible that NASA will make more than one award under the program. In terms of payouts, winning companies will get 10 percent o the total contract value at the time of the award, another 10 percent at launch of their retrieval vehicle, and the final 80 percent once the sample is collected and handed off.

There are a number of companies working on extraterrestrial resource collection, so this call could get some interesting applicants. It’s worth noting that this is separate from NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which offers contracts for transporting experiments to the lunar surface aboard landers – but you can bet some of those startups and companies will be vying for the chance to use said landers and robotic rovers in development to pick up some Moon dirt for NASA.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #jim-bridenstine, #moon, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #robotics, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #united-states


NASA issues new call for lunar payload deliveries from its commercial Moon lander partners

NASA wants its private commercial space company partners to make more Moon deliveries on its behalf: The agency just issued another request for scientific and experimental payloads that need lunar delivery sometime in 2022, in part to help pave the way for NASA’s Artemis human lunar landing mission planned for 2024.

NASA previously established its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program in order to build a stable of approved vendors for a special special type of service, namely providing lunar landers that would be able to handle last-mile delivery of special payloads to the Moon. It now counts 14 companies on this list of vendors, including Astrobotic, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Firefly to name a few, who are eligible to bid on contracts it creates to take specific cargo to the lunar surface.

Already, NASA has contracted two batches of payloads under the CLPS program, which will make up four planned total launches already under contract, including Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One set for June 2021; Intutive Machines IM-1 for October the same year; Masten’s Mission One for December 2022; and Astrobotic’s VIPER mission for sometime in 2023.

The list of new payloads for this round include a variety of scientific instruments, including a lunar regolith (that’s the Moon equivalent of soil) adhesion testing device; X-ray imagers; a dust shield created by the interaction of electric fields; and an advanced Moon vacuum for returning surface samples to Earth for more testing.

NASA’s private partners on the CLPS list will now be able to submit bids to cary the new list of 10 experiments and demonstrations, with the goal of delivering said equipment by 2022. The agency expects to pick a winner for this latest award by the end of this year.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #astrobotic, #astrobotic-technology, #blue-origin, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #lockheed-martin, #lunar-lander, #moon, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #x-ray


Boeing and NASA target December for second try at uncrewed orbital demonstration flight

NASA and Boeing have provided some updates around their Commercial Crew plans, which aim to get Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft certified for regular human flight. The CST-100 and Boeing’s Commercial Crew aspirations hit a snag last year with a first attempt of an uncrewed orbital flight test, which did not go to plan thanks to a couple of software errors that led to an early mission ending, and a failure to reach the International Space Station as intended.

In a blog post on Friday, NASA said that it and partner Boeing were aiming to fly the re-do of that uncrewed test no earlier than December 2020. This will involve flying the fully reusable Starliner CST-100 without anyone on board, in a live, fully automated simulation of how a launch with crew would go, including a rendezvous and docking with the ISS on orbit, and a return trip and controlled landing and capsule recovery.

During the original OFT last December, the spacecraft took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V as planned, but encountered an issue with its onboard mission timer shortly after disengaging from the launch vehicle. That caused it to misfire its thrusters and expend fuel, and a communication error meant that NASA was not able to correct the issue until it had used too much fuel to allow it to continue to the Space Station as planned. The capsule did safely return to Earth, however, and provided valuable test data on the way.

NASA and Boeing subsequently undertook a comprehensive review of Boeing’s software development program, as well as the agency’s own practices surrounding the public-private partnership, and determined a number of corrective actions. That review ended in July, and the partners have now been working to get back to a second demonstration flight.

Boeing has a lot riding on this re-do, since NASA’s other partner in the Commercial Crew program, SpaceX, is now at least a year ahead in terms of its qualification program. SpaceX recently successfully completed its first crewed demonstration mission of its Dragon spacecraft, and could launch its first operational astronaut mission to the International Space Station as early as October.

Provided OFT-2 goes as intended for Boeing, Starliner could be ferrying its first passengers for a crewed demonstration launch as early as June 2021, with plans for a first operational mission now set for December 2021. All these dates are subject to change, of course.

#aerospace, #astronaut, #boeing, #commercial-crew-program, #commercial-spaceflight, #international-space-station, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #simulation, #space, #space-station, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-launch-alliance


SpaceX will launch Masten’s first lander to the Moon in 2022

SpaceX has secured a contract to act as the launch partner for Masten Space Systems, one of the companies awarded a NASA launch contract under that agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Masten’s first lunar mission is set to take pace 2022 if all goes to plan, and will take the company’s XL-1 lunar lander to the south pole of the Moon with NASA payloads including scientific experimentation instruments on board, as well as cargo from commercial passengers.

NASA’s CLPS program is part of its broader efforts to expand partnerships with commercial space companies in order to ultimately lower its costs by sharing providers with other customers from private industry and commercial ventures. It’s also a key staging component for NASA’s Artemis program, which ultimately aims to put the first American woman and the next American man on the surface of the Moon by 2024.

The science equipment on Masten’s lander will help the agency study the lunar south pole by gathering key data about the area. NASA’s Artemis III mission will aim to land in the same part of the Moon’s surface, and CLPS landers will help it to be informed about the conditions and prepared with resources left in place by some of the uncrewed landers.

So far, there are four planned lunar lander missions scheduled under CLPS, including Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander launch in June 2021, Intuitive Machines’ following shortly after in October 2021, Masten’s now set for December 2022, and Astrobotic’s VIPER launch of its larger Griffin lander in 2023. SpaceX has been contracted for the Intuitive Machines and Masten launches, while ULA’s Vulcan is set to take Astrobotic’s Peregrine vehicle to the Moon.

#aerospace, #artemis, #artemis-program, #astrobotic-technology, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #intuitive-machines, #lunar-lander, #masten-space-systems, #outer-space, #partner, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #transportation, #viper


India’s first Earth-imaging satellite startup raises $5 million, first launch planned for later this year

Bengaluru-based Pixxel is getting ready to launch its first Earth imaging satellite later this year, with a scheduled mission aboard a Soyuz rocket. The roughly one-and-a-half-year old company is moving quickly, and today it’s announcing a $5 million seed funding round to help it accelerate even more. The funding is led by Blume Ventures, Lightspeed India Partners, and growX ventures, while a number of angel investors participated.

This isn’t Pixxel’s first outside funding: It raised $700,000 in pre-seed money from Techstars and others last year. But this is significantly more capital to invest in the business, and the startup plans to use it to grow its team, and to continue to fund the development of its Earth observation constellation.

The goal is to fully deploy said constellation, which will be made up of 30 satellites, by 2022. Once all of the company’s small satellites are on-orbit, the the Pixxel network will be able to provide globe-spanning imaging capabilities on a daily basis. The startup claims that its technology will be able to provide data that’s much higher quality when compared to today’s existing Earth imaging satellites, along with analysis driven by PIxxel’s own deep learning models, which are designed to help identify and even potentially predict large problems and phenomena that can have impact on a global scale.

Pixxel’s technology also relies on very small satellites (basically the size of a bear fridge) that nonetheless provide a very high quality image at a cadence that even large imaging satellite networks that already exist would have trouble delivering. The startup’s founders, Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal, created the company while still in the process of finishing up the last year of their undergraduate studies. The founding team took part in Techstars’ Starubst Space Accelerator last year in LA.

#aerospace, #artificial-intelligence, #bengaluru, #blume-ventures, #earth, #google, #imaging, #learning, #lightspeed-india-partners, #louisiana, #mentorships, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #recent-funding, #satellite, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #techstars


SpaceX raises $1.9 billion in largest funding found to date

SpaceX has raised $1.9 billion in new funding, per a filing with the SEC from Tuesday which was first spotted by Reuters. The company had been reported to be in the funding process earlier by Bloomberg, which pegged the post-money valuation of SpaceX at $46 billion following this raise.

The new funding for the still private SpaceX hardly comes as a surprise; The Elon Musk -led private launch company has been seeking funding since earlier this year, but Bloomberg reported last week that it increased the size of investment it was seeking owing to strong demand from the investment community.

The round was reportedly oversubscribed, though there isn’t yet much information available about who participated in the round (Bloomberg’s report said Fidelity Investments was among the largest in, but they did not confirm). SpaceX might be better positioned than ever to seek significant resources from investors, given the string of high-profile successes it has recorded recently.

Those include completing the first ever private human spaceflight mission to take off from U.S. soil. That mission, Demo-2, took off from Florida in May and returned the astronauts it carried to Earth earlier this month after a two-month stint at the International Space Station. Its successful completion means SpaceX can now regularly supply transportation services to and from the ISS – and puts them closer than ever to offering commercial spaceflight services for private tourists, researchers and more.

SpaceX has also made good progress on its Starlink spacecraft development program, with a successful short test flight of the prototype this month, and it won multiple multi-year contracts from NASA and the U.S. government for launch services this year.

It’s currently in the process of a very capital-intensive endeavor, too, which could explain the size of the round: Deploying Starlink, the massive satellite constellation that it will own and operate, and that will provide commercial and residential broadband internet services to customers in hard to reach areas once it’s active. Just this morning, SpaceX launched 58 more Starlink satellites, but it will have to launch many more before it can achieve its goal of global coverage.

#aerospace, #broadband, #elon-musk, #fidelity-investments, #florida, #hyperloop, #international-space-station, #launch-services, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #recent-funding, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #startups, #tc, #u-s-government, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states


NASA and SpaceX target October 23 for first operational astronaut launch

NASA and SpaceX have set a specific target date for Crew-1, the first operational crewed mission for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Crew-1 will carry astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Oliver, Mike Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi to the International Space Station, and will mark the first regular service mission of the Dragon spacecraft following its certification at the conclusion of its development and testing program.

Crew Dragon’s final major milestone in that process was Demo-2, the mission launched on May 30 with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board. While Hurley and Behnken completed that mission with a successful return to Earth earlier this month, that was still technically part of the qualification process for Crew Dragon and for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, in order to certify it for human spaceflight so that it could begin regular mission operations – which kick off with Crew-1.

NASA says that the late October date (it had earlier discussed a late September timeframe as a possibility) in order to allow for the upcoming Soyuz spacecraft traffic from Russia to the ISS, as well as the departure of the current Space Station crew at the end of their current rotation. It’s also still pending a full review of the data and qualification criteria of Crew Dragon and the Demo-2 mission, which definitely appears to have gone pretty much exactly to plan, but which still will be examined under a microscope by NASA and SpaceX staff to ensure that was indeed the case.

If this data review goes well, and Crew-1 flies in October, then Crew-2 should take place next spring, bringing up four more astronauts to relieve the Crew-1 astronauts for another tour of science and Space Station operations.

#aerospace, #falcon, #international-space-station, #mike-hopkins, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #russia, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc


Amazon Satellites Add to Astronomers’ Worries About the Night Sky

The F.C.C. approved the company’s 3,236-satellite constellation, which aims to provide high-speed internet service around the world.

#amazon-com-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #corporate-social-responsibility, #federal-communications-commission, #pollution, #private-spaceflight, #research, #satellites, #space-and-astronomy, #telescopes-and-observatories


NASA Astronauts Safely Return to Earth: ‘Thank You for Flying SpaceX’

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley returned to Earth in the first water landing by an American space crew since 1975.

#behnken-robert-l, #florida, #gulf-of-mexico, #hurley-douglas-g, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #pensacola-fla, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp, #united-states-politics-and-government


SpaceX and NASA successfully return Crew Dragon spacecraft to Earth with astronauts on board

SpaceX and NASA have made history once again, successfully completing the crucial final phase of their Demo-2 mission for the Crew Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX’s first spacecraft made for human flight. This marks the end of this last demonstration mission, which flew NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on May 30, where they remained for two months prior to making the return trip on Sunday.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon appears to have performed exactly as intended throughout the mission, handling the launch, ISS docking, undocking, de-orbit and splashdown in a fully automated process that kept the astronauts safe and secure throughout. This final phase includes recovery of Behnken and Hurley at sea in the Gulf of Mexico using SpaceX’s GO Navigator recovery vessel, which also seems to be going smoothly so far, though it’s still in progress. Behnken and Hurley are confirmed to be safe and healthy, however, and the capsule is ideally positioned int he water.

With the successful completion of this mission, everything should be in place to allow for the full certification of Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 as rated for human spaceflight according to NASA’s exactly standards – provided a final, thorough review of the entire mission from start to finish doesn’t reveal any remaining issues that need tidying up. Again, based on what we’ve seen, it looks like a more or less picture-perfect mission for Demo-2 from start to finish, so I wouldn’t expect any major barriers to certification. Note that this is also the first human splashdown in 45 years – when the final Skylab crew did that in 1974.

That means that the next step for Crew Dragon is to begin regular service as America’s primary source of transportation to and from the Space Station . The first of its operational missions, designated Crew-1, is currently set to take place sometime in late September, and will carry three NASA astronauts and one JAXA astronaut to the station for a regular tour as crew members of the orbital science platform.

This now also means that NASA will have control over its own transportation method for its astronauts (and astronauts from friendly nations) to and from the Space Station since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. The Commercial Crew program was designed to provide just that, but rather than having NASA responsible for the launch and transportation spacecraft as with the Shuttle, it’s partnering with private companies to offer it commercial service for those flights – SpaceX is now the first to complete the testing and development program, and Boeing is in process of becoming a second commercial ride provider for NASA to rely on.

NASA wants to ensure continued access to the ISS, and is also hoping to save money long-term and enable the commercial space industry by sharing rides aboard the Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner with commercial astronauts. SpaceX has already partnered with a company to begin selling return trips aboard Crew Dragon (without an ISS stop) for private spacefarers, and Dragon has a total of seven potential seats for flying people, with NASA missions only ever slated to occupy four of those spots.

#aerospace, #america, #falcon, #gulf-of-mexico, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-station, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc


Live: Follow the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Astronaut Return

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are preparing for a Gulf of Mexico splashdown on Sunday in the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

#behnken-robert-l, #gulf-of-mexico, #hurley-douglas-g, #international-space-station, #motion-sickness, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #pensacola-fla, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp


SpaceX Crew Dragon to Bring 2 NASA Astronauts Home

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are getting ready to splash down after two months in orbit.

#behnken-robert-l, #gulf-of-mexico, #hurley-douglas-g, #hurricanes-and-tropical-storms, #international-space-station, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp


ispace reveals the final design of its lunar lander ahead of its first mission to the Moon in 2022

Japanese new space startup ispace has revealed the final design of its HAKUTO-R lunar lander, a spacecraft set to make its first touchdown on the Moon in 2022 if all goes to the updated plan (it had been set to fly in October 2021 until today). ispace is one of the companies selected by NASA for its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to deliver various payloads to the Moon ahead of NASA planned human mission to the lunar surface in 2024.

The lander is just a bit taller than a person, at around seven and a half feet tall (it’s basically that wide and long as well). The design includes 4K color cameras that will beam back images throughout the mission, as well as fuel tanks for holding its propellant, solar panels for power generation, landing gear, thrusters and payload compartments for holding up to 66 lbs of experiments and other materials.

ispace also announced adjusted timing for its first lunar lander missions for HAKUTO-R as mentioned. The first will now take place in 2022, using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and carrying commercial payloads including equipment for conducting scientific experiments. The second is now set for 2023, and will carry a small rover that will survey the Moon and pave the way for potential long-term commercial investment on the lunar surface.

#aerospace, #astrobotic-technology, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #lunar-lander, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #tc


Take a first look inside Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft for private astronauts

As part of its continued preparations to begin its commercial passenger spaceflight operations, Virgin Galactic has revealed the final design the interior cabin of its VSS Unity spacecraft. The company unveiled the interiors during a virtual event today, and offered members of the press (myself included) a special tour of the interior in VR. The cabin is designed with customer experience top-of-mind, as you might expect for a trip that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to take.

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity will offer up to six passengers an unparalleled trip to suborbital space, where they’ll experience weightlessness in zero gravity and have the chance to observe the curve of the Earth and the blackness of the cosmos beyond the atmosphere. The cabin is entirely designed around optimizing the safety, comfort and freedom of the paying private astronauts throughout the journey – from the flight up while attached to the carrier craft, to the high-G burn after the Unity separates from that carrier transport, to the free-floating in-space wander, and finally to the high-G return to Earth at a very different inclination from the initial atmospheric exit.

To make this work, Virgin Galactic created carbon fibre and aluminum seats that combine 3D soft material weaves with metallic, rose gold accents and fabrics created in partnership with Under Armour (who also created the custom spacesuits passengers will wear) to ensure that all private astronauts flying on Unity are as protected and comfortable as possible during the parts of the flight where they’ll experience three times the normal gravity of Earth. These custom-fit seats are tailored in terms of sizing to each individual passenger, and feature thoughtful details like a channel in the centre of the headrest that can accommodate pony tails, for instance.

The five-point harness that’s build into the seats can be unfasten using a single clasp, whereupon the straps with the fastening hardware retract into the seat automatically to ensure they’re safely out of the way during the free-flight zero-gravity portion of the trip, but easy enough to find for when they need to strap back in for the return trip.

All the seats are also designed to do double duty as handholds during the free float – as is just about everything else in the passenger cabin. That’s also why the seats have a cantilevered mounting post that offers free space underneath each, which is more room for exploration once the Unity exits Earth’s atmosphere and concepts like up and down lose significance.

Throughout the cabin, Virgin used soft materials for this same reason, and there are a total of 17 windows throughout the interior (including three for the two-person crew), with each of the passenger-accessible windows rounded with a soft material ‘halo’ complete with a handhold edge and integrated camera. Virgin has put cameras throughout the cabin, in fact, and each provides high-quality photo capture tuned by imaging experts for the specific lighting conditions of the trip. The thinking here is that all the private astronauts should be guaranteed great documentation of their experience, without having to worry about actually capturing any of that themselves. Virgin says it’ll be providing some of this imagery pretty much immediately upon landing so that spacefarers can share to their social accounts right away.

Every seat is a window seat, with one to the side and one above, for taking in the breathtaking views. There’s also a large mirror that covers the entirety of the rear bulkhead separating the cabin from the rocket engine, which provides the astronauts with the ability to check out their zero-G antics.

The seats also change orientation and inclination based on which part of the journey is happening, from upright for those 3.5Gs on the rocket ride straight up, to a reclined position for the atmosphere-skimming 3G velocity-slowing re-entry. Each seat also has an information display that can provide data about what’s happening during the flight – though the pilot and co-pilot aren’t fully separated from the main cabin, so you can theoretically just ask them questions about the trip live as well.

Virgin Galactic also took the in-flight mood lighting that its airliner counterpart pioneered and translated it for space, with dynamic lighting reacting to each stage of the trip and emanating from various strategically placed and non-obvious cabin lights. Take a look below for more detailed photos of the cabin interior, including a configuration that allows three passengers but saves room on the other side of the cabin for experiments, one other way Virgin Galactic plans to monetize its service.

The company still has some final preparations yet to do before it can begin flying its paying customers, but with the interior of VSS Unity complete, it’s closer than ever to its goal. This is definitely a unique offering, so it’s hard to judge the product without any available reviewers, but it’s clear that Virgin Galactic has put a lot of thought, consideration and expertise into developing a spaceship interior designed to work for everyone who can afford to take the trip.

#aerospace, #astronauts, #commercial-space, #commercial-spaceflight, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-tourism, #tc, #virgin, #virgin-galactic


Dawn Aerospace unveils the Mk II Aurora suborbital space plane, capable of multiple same-day flights

Just like we enjoy a range of different possible modes of transportation on Earth, the potential of the space economy allows for many different types of of vehicles and launch systems. Dawn Aerospace took the wrapper off one today, a suborbital spaceplane called the Dawn Mk-II Aurora that’s smaller than a compact car and that will be capable of making multiple return trips to suborbital space per day.

The Mk-II is, as its name suggests, a second iteration of the concept created by Dawn. The Mk-I was actually built and flew in May 2018, demonstrating its ability to fire up its rockets during flight after taking off horizontally from a traditionally airstrip. One of the Mk-II’s key capabilities is its ability to take-off and land at conventional runways, obviating the need for specialized and expensive vertical launch compounds.

Dawn Aerospace was founded in Delft, in the Netherlands, with ties to the Technical University of Delft, and also operates out of New Zealand, which has a growing reputation in the New Space industry stemming from being the home of Rocket Lab, one of the most successful new companies operating commercial launch services. The company’s entire mission is built around sustainable space-based economy, and it also has a thriving business in CubeSat propulsion, building systems that use food-grade propellants for safe fuels that don’t carry as much of an environmental cost.

Image Credits: Dawn Aerospace

The Mk-II Aurora approaches the goal of sustainable commercial spaceflight in a different way, promising flights to 60 miles and above for payloads of 3U, which is small but perfectly suitable for a range of scientific experiments. It’ll be able to fly and return for multiple trips per day, at a cost of roughly $50,000 per flight, with realtime downlink communications capabilities.

Dawn has plans for a Mk-III iteration of its space plane that will be 60 feet long and be able to carry payloads weighing between 110 and 220 lbs all the way to orbit. Combined with its ability to do multiple daily flights and take off and land from conventional runways anywhere in the world, that would be a game-changer for the small satellite launch industry.

#aerospace, #aurora, #cubesat, #dawn, #flight, #launch-services, #netherlands, #new-zealand, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-lab, #science, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spaceplane, #tc


SpaceX and NASA target September for first operational astronaut crew launch

SpaceX and NASA are aiming to launch the first official operational mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon human-rated spacecraft sometime in September, the agency revealed via a media update this week. The launch had been tracking towards an August date, but the updated timeframe indicates “late September,” allowing time for the completion of the current Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission which will see astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley return to Earth using the SpaceX spacecraft potentially as early as August 1.

The Demo-2 mission, while it carried actual astronauts to the International Space Station, is actually the final step in the test and development phase of human-rating Crew Dragon and Falcon 9, meaning that they’ll then be qualified for regular service transporting astronauts in the eyes of NASA. Crew-1 is the first operational mission, meaning the first considered a standard part of SpaceX’s contract to provide regular astronaut transportation.

Crew-1 is set to carry three NASA astronauts, including Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, to the ISS, along with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi. The launch will take place from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and will deliver the astronauts to the Space Station for a full-length stay, during which time they’ll work with their international peers on various experiments and research for both NASA and partners.

There are of course some dependencies here that are required for Crew-1 to take place by the end of September, including the successful return of Hurley and Behnken from the ISS. That part of the Demo-2 mission needs to go smoothly in order to complete SpaceX’s certification process, and will require retrospective study by NASA to confirm smoother operation, which takes some time.

Behnken and Hurley have just completed another key test for the Crew Dragon while docked at the ISS, called a “habitability assessment,” involving opening and closing the docking hatch, making sure they can operate the waste system as intended, and moving cargo back into Crew Dragon from the Station. All of this is checking off requirements on the long list of items NASA requires for its certification.

#aerospace, #astronaut, #falcon, #florida, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-station, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-states


Scrutinizing SpaceX, NASA Overlooked Some Boeing Software Problems

The agency identified the causes of mishaps in orbit during an uncrewed test flight of its Starliner spacecraft in December.

#boeing-company, #computers-and-the-internet, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp


Virgin Galactic to buy seats on rockets and train private astronauts for Space Station trips

Space tourism company Virgin Galactic has just revealed a novel extension of their business mode, through a new agreement signed with NASA enabled by the Space Act Agreement. The arrangement will see Virgin Galactic purchase seats on spacecraft bound for the orbiting International Space Station, as well as provide training and supplies and resources for those individuals. Virgin Galactic is in the process of developing its own, sub-orbital space tourism program using its own spacecraft that will launch from a carrier airplane, but this deal would involve use of other spacecraft that have the capacity to reach orbit and the ISS – which Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo can’t do.

The most likely candidate for where Virgin will be procuring those seats right now is SpaceX, although Virgin’s press release announcing the news does not mention the Elon Musk-led company. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which is currently docked at the ISS after its first ever successful astronaut-carrying launch last month, is likely to become the first human-rated private spacecraft certified by NASA upon its return to Earth, likely happening sometime around August. Crew Dragon can hold as many as seven people per launch, and NASA is only ever going to use a maximum of four seats, the agency has said, with hopes that private individuals, including researchers and tourists, will buy up remaining tickets to help offset the costs of launch.

Virgin Galactic will essentially be operating a launch services business for private astronauts, similar to the one set up by Space Adventures, which has an agreement in place with SpaceX, and which previously brokered trips to the ISS for private astronauts including Anousheh Ansari aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. Again, SpaceX hasn’t been mentioned here specifically, and Virgin Galactic will likely also be seeking access to Boeing’s Starliner crew spacecraft once it’s operational and certified to transport human to the ISS, too. It is interesting to note that SpaceX’s arrangement with Space Adventures thus far focuses only on orbital fly-and-return missions for Crew Dragon, and not on any flights that would involve actually docking at the ISS.

Also worth noting is that Virgin Galactic will be procuring and training private astronauts including individual citizens, as well as government-sponsored scientific research missions. So publicly-funded scientists that aren’t specifically NASA astronauts will likely also go through Virgin. The private spaceflight company says it will use its Spaceport America facility in New Mexico for “some elements of the training program.”

Virgin Galactic’s move from being a private spaceflight launch provider, to a services and procurement company working between NASA and private spaceflight launch companies, is definitely a large and significant shift in its business. It should definitely decrease the company’s time to revenue as it continues to develop and test its own human launch capabilities, a process which obviously carries a lot more overhead than working with existing, already certified launch providers as an intermediary provider.

#aerospace, #anousheh-ansari, #boeing, #commercial-spaceflight, #flight, #international-space-station, #new-mexico, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #russia, #science, #space, #space-adventures, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spacex, #tc, #virgin-galactic


They Want to Sell Balloon Rides 19 Miles Up. Haven’t We Heard This Before?

Seven years ago, entrepreneurs planned trips to the stratosphere, but tourists never got off the ground. They’re trying again.

#balloons, #maccallum-taber, #poynter-jane, #private-spaceflight, #space-and-astronomy, #space-perspective-inc, #travel-and-vacations, #world-view-enterprises-inc


What’s next for space tech? 9 VCs look to the future

Space is a special category of VC investment in the best of times — and the COVID-19 pandemic is not the best of times.

Still, investors focused on and familiar with space see a lot of opportunity in the market, regardless of any prevailing global economic difficulties. One big reason why is that regardless of how tight pursestrings get tied, space still represents a significant — and growing — source of government and defense spending. It’s also the source of some of the most important technological development since the advent of the internet, including the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS), which has revolutionized any number of businesses and industries.

That’s unlikely to be an exception in terms of the potential commercial impact of space — more like a model for future innovation, according to our respondents, who include:

Chad Anderson, Space Capital

What are you looking for in your next investment?

The mass distribution of Earth Observation (EO) data has begun. Much the same way that Trimble, Magellan and Garmin distributed the GPS signal in the 1980s and ’90s and ultimately gave rise to Location-Based Services (LBS). Companies like Waterloo, Ontario-based SkyWatch are aggregating supply and making EO data easily accessible through an API, which will give rise to millions of new applications. We are just now beginning to see the first of those applications come online, focused on serving large markets like agriculture, insurance, energy and more. Once this unprecedented amount of new data gets into the hands of consumers, it will fundamentally change the way we interact with our planet. We believe the investment opportunity in this segment will be as big, if not bigger, than LBS.

With roughly a decade of exponential growth in GPS applications, this is only the beginning. Even while GPS infrastructure and distribution continues to improve, the next generation of applications are testing its technical limits, with the need for persistent coverage in dense urban areas, centimeter location accuracy for both indoor and outdoor environments, alternative solutions in GPS-denied environments, and protection against GPS spoofing attacks. Computer vision and GPS are combining to enable a new level of precise positioning and we are actively looking at these new use cases.

We are also very interested, and actively investing, in cybersecurity. Ten years ago, the number of actors in space was extremely limited, so security was clearly less of a concern. There is an old adage with regards to commercial sat comms — it’s not that their security is bad, it’s that they have no security (of course, military assets are a different story — e.g., GPS is very secure). With the sudden entrance of hundreds of new companies and dozens of new space agencies operating in space, cyber threats suddenly pose a very real risk to business continuity and government operations. Combine this with new technological advances being applied to the space domain and there is clearly a lot of catching up to do. Fortunately, companies like Singapore-based SpeQtral are leveraging quantum technologies to offer a secure, scalable solution for distributing symmetric encryption keys using satellites as trusted key exchanging nodes. We continue to look at this area.

What advice do you have for your portfolio companies in terms of new and emerging opportunities?

#aerospace, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #extra-crunch, #investor-surveys, #private-spaceflight, #rob-coneybeer, #saic, #satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startups, #tess-hatch, #venture-capital


Interstellar Technologies’ privately-developed MOMO-5 rocket falls short of reaching space

Private launch companies seeking to lower the coast of reaching space continue to develop new vehicles, and the latest to attempt a trip to space is Interstellar Technologies (IST), a Japanese private launch company founded in 2003. The company first launched a vehicle in 2017, but the launch didn’t go exactly as planned and failed to reach space – in 2019, its MOMO-3 sounding rocket did break the Karman line, though just barely, and unfortunately its MOMO-5 sounding rocket launched today did not make space as planned, instead apparently suffering some kind of malfunction and loss of control around the time it reaches max Q, or the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure prior to exiting Earth’s atmosphere..

MOMO-5 took off at 8:15 PM UTC (4:15 PM EDT), and liftoff seemed to go smoothly. This demonstration launch was meant to build on IST’s existing development program, and put it closer to establishing a new, affordable rocket option fo redelivering small payloads to orbit using a small, affordable rocket that the company describes as a “family sedan for the stars.”

IST’s approach is interesting it that in doesn’t claim to be cutting-edge; instead, the company says that it focuses on leveraging “legacy methods” of rocketry, along with advances including additive manufacturing and more modern materials to reduce costs as much as possible and lower the bar in terms of affordability to serve a wide range of customers. To some extend, that’s similar to the approach taken by SpaceX and Rocket Lab, but IST’s approach is even less focused on modernization, and more intent on efficiencies, than some of its operational competitors, which could theoretically give it a cost advantage once it starts serving companies with regular commercial launches.

MOMO-5 launched from Hokkaido, Japan, in a mission rescheduled from the end of 2019 and earlier this year due to a number of delays, including COVID-19 and the May holidays observed in the country. MOMO-5 measures a little over 30-feet tall, and weighs around 2,200 lbs, making is smaller than Rocket Lab’s Electron.

We’re waiting on official word from IST about what went wrong with today’s launch, and will provide more info when it’s available.