Space

The Blue Origin space venture aims to add to the massive facility it’s already built near Cape Canaveral in Florida. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has filed plans for expanding its Florida rocket manufacturing facility onto a vacant 90-acre plot of land next door, . The newspaper reported today that the plans for a “South Campus” on Space Commerce Way, near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, are laid out in documents filed with the St. Johns River Water Management District. The land would be used to establish “programs complimentary to those constructed on the adjacent North Campus,” the documents say. Construction on the new site is due to begin in July, with the final building phase to be wrapped up a year from now. The buildings would provide space for manufacturing and provisioning of commercial launch vehicles, Florida Today reported. The site would include a warehouse that could be expanded later. In response to GeekWire’s inquiry, Blue Origin said it had nothing to add to the Florida Today report. Blue Origin has erected a 750,000-square-foot factory on the 126-acre North Campus site for building orbital-class New Glenn rockets. “We’re making parts for the first booster already down there,” Brett Alexander, Blue Origin’s vice president of sales and strategy, said this week at the American Astronautical Society’s in Maryland, The first New Glenn launch from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 36 is . The company builds its suborbital New Shepard rockets, as well as its BE-3 and BE-4 engines, at its headquarters facility in Kent, Wash. BE-4 engine production is expected to , in preparation for New Glenn’s maiden launch. Florida has been attracting an increasing level of interest as a base for commercial rocket production as well as for launches. and recently struck deals for facilities in Florida, and this week SpaceX founder Elon Musk said his company’s next-generation Starship and Super Heavy booster would be . A prototype for Starship, known as the , has been going through ground testing at a SpaceX launch site near Brownsville in South Texas and is expected to begin short-hop test flights . In other Blue Origin news: as saying that the company has looked at ways to repurpose the New Glenn’s second stage in orbit, perhaps as a habitation or storage facility. Alexander said at the Goddard Memorial Symposium that the ideas were explored in a study conducted for NASA on commercialization of space operations in low Earth orbit. He said “we don’t have actual plans at this moment” to follow through on the ideas. Alexander said Bezos has invested “north of $2.5 billion” to develop the New Glenn booster. About a billion dollars of that amount has been spent on the Florida manufacturing and launch facilities, he said, “in addition to what we’re doing with engine development and the manufacturing and design up in Kent.” The West Texas test program for Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard spaceship is on track to start carrying people in the “third or fourth quarter of this year,” Alexander said.
March 22, 2019
NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Anne McClain swap batteries during a spacewalk. (NASA Photo) Two rookie spacewalkers took on a battery replacement project on the International Space Station that will continue next week with history’s first all-female spacewalk. During today’s six-hour, 39-minute operation, NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Anne McClain replaced a set of outdated nickel-hydrogen batteries with more powerful lithium-ion batteries for the power channel on one pair of the station’s solar arrays. , including scraping up bits of debris on the station’s exterior and photographing a bag of repair tools and the airlock thermal cover that’s opened and closed for spacewalks. Another set of batteries for a different power channel is due to be replaced a week from today. McClain will be joined by NASA’s Christina Koch, who’ll be making her first-ever spacewalk. Women have been doing spacewalks , but always in the company of men. By coincidence, the two ground controllers charged with overseeing that spacewalk will be women as well. Hague and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques are due to take on the third spacewalk in the series on April 8. They’ll lay out jumper cables between the Unity module and a spot on the midpoint of the station’s backbone to establish a redundant path for power to the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm. They’ll also install cables to expand wireless communication coverage and hard-wired computer networking capability.
March 22, 2019
Space has always fascinated us geeks. Thanks to Star Wars, Star Trek and countless other science fiction media, gazing at the stars and dreaming of being an astronaut was a big part of childhood for many of us. It seems like NASA discovers something new all the time, like the of unexpected plumes erupting from an asteroid. But you don’t have to be an astronaut or even work for NASA to get into a space career. In fact, the space industry has been growing right here in Seattle. On March 28, Space Entrepreneurs is hosting a panel called , featuring guests from a number of companies in the region, outlining how you building your own future in the final frontier. It’s no news that Facebook played a big part in the political climate in recent years. Inadvertently or not, the effects of that involvement have rippled through the country. This is the subject of “Zucked,” a book by Silicon Valley investor Roger McNamee. McNamee will be discussing his book in a on March 30 with Ross Reynolds of KUOW. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : A panel featuring a number of women executives at WeWork Holyoke in Seattle; 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 28. : An event where five companies pitch their ideas to the audience at The Collective in Seattle; 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 29. A monthly event where attendees can play around with virtual reality at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle; 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 29. : A discussion about the growing number of contractors at big tech companies at the Capitol Hill Library in Seattle; 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 30. : An event featuring panels and discussions regarding pay equity at PayScale in Seattle; 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 2. : An event featuring competitions about Harry Potter at Mox Boarding House in Bellevue; 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 2. : A two-day conference exploring science and how it’s used in policy and covered by the media at the Tiffany Center in Portland; Thursday and Friday, April 4 and 5. For more upcoming events, check out the , where you can find meetups, conferences, startup events, and geeky gatherings in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Organizing an event? .
March 22, 2019
The software-defined SWIFT-SLX S-band radio is designed to fit on a CubeSat-class satellite. (Tethers Unlimited Photo) Tethers Unlimited weathered a wave of bad news over the winter, but now some good news has bloomed. The company, headquartered in Bothell, Wash., reports that its SWIFT-SLX S-band radio has been successfully operated in orbit. The compact software-defined radio provided two-way communications between Harris Corp.’s first small satellite, known as HSAT-1, and the satellite’s ground operators, Tethers Unlimited said this week in a news release. HSAT was by India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, . SWIFT-SLX is designed to fit on CubeSat-class spacecraft, and can be configured to meet a wide range of mission needs, including in-flight adjustment of operating frequencies for S- and L-band communications. Development of the radio was supported with Small Business Innovation Research grants from the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Army Space and Missile Defense Center. “Our team has worked very hard to bring the SWIFT radios to the level of maturity and quality necessary to meet the needs of top-tier customers such as Harris Corp.,” Tethers Unlimited CEO Rob Hoyt said. “The great performance of the SWIFT-SLX right out of the gate is a big testament to our SWIFT team’s efforts and the collaborative support of the Harris integration team.” Hoyt noted that Tethers Unlimited has delivered a number of additional radios for other flight missions. “This success should give those other programs confidence that our SWIFT radios will perform well for their missions,” he said. Tethers Unlimited works on a variety of space technologies, including programmable radios for small satellites as well as in-space manufacturing and advanced space propulsion modules. Last month, aboard the International Space Station for testing. In January, Tethers Unlimited had to lay off 12 engineers — roughly 20 percent of its staff — when a partial federal government shutdown held up reimbursements for contract work that was completed in late 2018. Payments resumed after the shutdown ended, and Hoyt has said the company could start staffing up again if it wins new contracts.
March 21, 2019
This view of asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on Jan. 19 was created by combining two images taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Other image processing techniques were applied, such as cropping and adjusting the brightness and contrast of each image. (NASA / Goddard / Univ. of Arizona / Lockheed Martin Photo) NASA’s has spotted something that hasn’t been seen up close on an asteroid before: plumes of particles erupting into space. The mission’s scientists shared pictures of the plumes as well as the unexpectedly rugged terrain on the asteroid, known as Bennu, today at the in The Woodlands, Texas. They also published a . “The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, . “And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started.” Bits of material were first spotted floating up from Bennu on Jan. 6, shortly after OSIRIS-REx went into an . Lauretta and his colleagues determined that the particles didn’t pose a hazard to the spacecraft, and they’re continuing to analyze the plumes and their possible causes. “We don’t know the mechanism that is causing this right now,” Lauretta said. Many of the particles were ejected clear of the asteroid and sailed out into space, 70 million miles from Earth, but the team tracked some particles that orbited Bennu as tiny satellites before returning to the asteroid’s surface. The plumes make Bennu one of about a dozen . OSIRIS-REx’s scientists didn’t expect to see such activity when the probe was launched in 2016. They also didn’t expect to see so many boulders strewn across Bennu’s surface. And that could be a problem. The main purpose of the OSIRIS-REx mission is to perform a touch-and-go maneuver, collect samples from the surface and put them in a capsule that would be delivered to Earth during a flyby in 2023. OSIRIS-REx’s mission planners expected to identify a clear area measuring 82 feet wide as the target for the touch-and-go. But because the surface is so rugged, the team hasn’t been able to find a hazard-free spot that wide. Now the team is looking for smaller areas to target, and adjusting its sampling plan to do a more precise touch-and-go maneuver. “Throughout OSIRIS-REx’s operations near Bennu, our spacecraft and operations team have demonstrated that we can achieve system performance that beats design requirements,” said Rich Burns, the mission’s project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Bennu has issued us a challenge to deal with its rugged terrain, and we are confident that OSIRIS-REx is up to the task.” In addition to the particle plumes and rocky terrain, OSIRIS-REx’s scientists are reporting a change in Bennu’s rotation rate, due to a cycle of heating and cooling known as the , or YORP effect. It turns out that Bennu’s spin is . Scientists have also detected a on Bennu’s surface, which serves as . OSIRIS-REx stands for “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer.” The probe is due to spend another two years studying Bennu and securing its sample from the surface. If all goes according to plan, it will begin the trip back to Earth in March 2021 and drop off the sample capsule during an Earth flyby in September 2023.
March 19, 2019
An artist’s conception shows a OneWeb satellite in orbit. (OneWeb Illustration) The international says it’s raised another $1.25 billion in funding for its internet satellite constellation, ensuring a ramp-up in its production and launch campaign with the aim of offering high-speed global access by 2021. OneWeb says its new capital infusion is coming from Japan-based SoftBank Group, Mexico-based Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies and the Rwandan government — and will bring total investment to $3.4 billion. “This latest funding round, our largest to date, makes OneWeb’s service inevitable and is a vote of confidence from our core investor base in our business model and the OneWeb value proposition,” OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said today in a . OneWeb’s first six satellites were launched last month from Arianespace’s spaceport in French Guiana, atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket. OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture with Airbus, is rampling up satellite production in Florida, and the company aims to start launching 30 satellites at a time by the end of this year. The goal is to have more than 600 satellites in low Earth orbit to make high-bandwidth, low-latency data services to the estimated 4 billion people around the world who are currently underserved. Among the likely first applications: emergency and disaster response, educational access and enhanced communications in developing regions. That’s presumably why the Rwandan government is in on the latest financing round. In addition to Europe’s Airbus and Arianespace, OneWeb’s partners include the Virgin Group and Hughes Communicaitons. The venture’s launch providers include Arianespace, Virgin Orbit and . OneWeb isn’t alone in pursuing the low-Earth-orbit satellite access market: SpaceX is aiming to put up, with service projected to start in the 2020-2021 time frame. SpaceX’s facility in Redmond, Wash., is playing a key role in developing the Starlink satellites. Canada-based is also planning to put a broadband satellite constellation in low Earth orbit, and has also. Marcelo Claure, chief operating officer of SoftBank Group Corp. and CEO of SoftBank Group International, argued that recent developments — including the financing round announced today — show that OneWeb “has extended its first-mover advantage and is on track to become the world’s largest and first truly global communications network.” “OneWeb’s potential is undeniable as the growth in data from 5G, IoT, autonomous driving and other new technologies drives demand for capacity above and beyond the limits of the existing infrastructure,” Claure said.
March 18, 2019
Lisa Young, conservator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, adjusts the gloves that Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin wore on the moon, on display as part of the “Destination Moon” exhibit at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Aldrin’s helmet and visor can be seen on display, and in the famous moon picture seen in the background at left. (Museum of Flight Photo) The countdown is on for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and that means the appointment books for space luminaries and their fans are filling up like the propellant tanks on a Saturn V rocket. Seattle’s is one of the epicenters for the festivities, thanks to its status as the next stopover for the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling. Due to a remodeling project at the National Air and Space Museum, some of the choicest Apollo artifacts are going on the road. The Museum of Flight will be hosting the exhibit starting next month and running all the way through the July 20 anniversary into the Labor Day weekend. Just this week, curators worked in a sealed-off section of the museum to get the helmet and the gloves worn by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin ready for the exhibit. A magnifying glass was positioned near the cuff of a glove to give museumgoers a close look at the checklist of tasks Aldrin was given for his moonwalk. The checklist reminded him about an important chore: . “Destination Moon” officially opens on April 13, but VIPs will get sneak peeks starting a couple of weeks before that date. There’s a , featuring talks by Apollo flight directors Glynn Lunney, Gerry Griffin and Milt Windler. A is planned for April 6. The exhibit’s centerpiece is Columbia, the Apollo 11 command module that orbited the moon and brought the astronauts back to Earth, but Seattle museumgoers will be getting a bonus. , the Museum of Flight is displaying the that were recovered from the Atlantic Ocean’s floor during an expedition . July will be prime time for Apollo celebrations: For example, there’s (July 13-20), featuring Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt and famed flight director Gene Kranz. A gala is being planned at the in Florida on July 16, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s launch, and the National Air and Space Museum plans to present on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., from July 16 to 20. ( for a detailed rundown.) Many of the details for those celebrations are up in the air, so to speak. It’s not yet exactly clear which Apollo astronauts will be at which events. But there’s one place where Buzz Aldrin is sure to turn up in July: the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., where he’s organizing a . Tickets for the event start at $1,000. (The $3,500 Ultimate VIP tickets are already sold out.) “I am still in awe by the fact that I walked on the moon,” Aldrin . “I look forward to commemorating this historic milestone by reflecting on the mission that changed the course of human history and sharing my own vision for the future of space exploration.” Seattle may not have Aldrin in July, but the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace conference is in Renton, Wash., on July 17-19. NewSpace will focus on commercial space ventures that could facilitate trips to the moon and onward to Mars within the next decade or two. There’s so much going on in July that one 50th-anniversary space gathering had to be moved to September. The Space Studies Institute, founded by Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill, is planning a conference on Sept. 9-10 at the Museum of Flight to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings as well as the 50th anniversary of O’Neill’s “High Frontier” space settlement concept. will take a fresh look at the High Frontier idea, and take stock of new technologies in fields ranging from habitat and facility design, to space transportation to life-support systems and space resources. Conference chairman Edward Wright said the conference will also take on the “800-pound gorilla” hanging over the concept: Is space settlement economically viable? “How will you pay for these settlement efforts? What will these people be doing? Who will create the jobs?” he asked. “People talk about having a million settlers on Mars, but I haven’t heard a really good idea about what these settlers will be doing.” Not having an answer to those questions is arguably the biggest reason why humans haven’t gone back to the moon for nearly 50 years. Over the past five decades, there have been all sorts of ideas about what financial opportunities await in space, ranging from , to , to from the moon, to . Figuring out the killer app for space settlement would truly be one giant leap. But Wright is realistic about the challenge. “Our goal for this year is not to come up with the answers,” he said, “but to figure out what the questions are.”
March 16, 2019
A Russian Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending three spacefliers to the International Space Station. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls) NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin finally made it to the International Space Station today, five months after their. The two spacefliers were due to join the station’s crew last October, but as they were ascending from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, one of their Soyuz rocket’s side boosters knocked into the main core, causing a rare abort and activation of the Soyuz capsule’s escape system. The capsule was thrown clear of the rocket, and Hague and Ovchinin made a safe but rather rocky ballistic landing. It took weeks to — a bent sensor — and ensure that the anomaly wouldn’t reoccur. It took months more to get the pair back into the flight rotation. Today’s trouble-free launch from Baikonur sent them into space in the company of a third crew member, rookie NASA astronaut Christina Koch. Six hours later, the trio arrived at the space station and joined three crewmates who have been : NASA’s Anne McClain, Canada’s David Saint-Jacques and Russia’s Oleg Kononenko. During a space-to-ground video conference with friends and family in Baikonur, Hague said “this flight was infinitely better than the last one.” Koch’s husband, Bob Koch, told her that her “space face” looked adorable. “I haven’t even seen my space face yet, so we’ll see,” Koch replied. When astronauts start their stints on the space station, more blood tends to pool in the upper body due to the lack of gravity. That often gives a newly arrived spaceflier’s face a filled-out or puffy appearance. The effect subsides as the body adjusts to microgravity. Koch’s first trip into space will mark a first in space history: She and McClain are scheduled to take on the world’s first all-women spacewalk on March 29, to replace batteries fed by the station’s solar arrays. At Mission Control in Houston, lead flight director Mary Lawrence, lead flight controller Jackie Kagey and Canadian flight controller Kristen Facciol will round out the spacewalk team.
March 15, 2019
An artist’s conception shows NASA’s Orion deep-space crew capsule with its European Service Module placed beneath it and an upper stage powering it out of Earth orbit. (NASA Illustration) NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a Senate hearing today that his agency is looking into an option to double up commercial launch vehicles in order to keep a crucial test mission for its Orion spaceship and European-built service module on schedule for mid-2020. The shift would take NASA’s own heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, out of the rotation for the uncrewed test flight around the moon, known as Exploration Mission 1 or EM-1. “Certainly there are opportunities to utilize commercial capabilities to launch the Orion crew capsule and the European Service Module around the moon by June of 2020, which was our originally stated objective,” Bridenstine told Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Some of the SLS’ critics (and defenders) might see the move as one more step toward canceling the multibillion-dollar, oft-delayed rocket development project. Bridenstine, however, insisted that the shift for EM-1 was part of a strategy for making sure a follow-up flight that would send astronauts around the moon, , wouldn’t face even further delays. “The goal is to get back on track,” he said. Bridenstine said that NASA planners determined last week that the preparations for EM-1 wouldn’t make the previously anticipated June 2020 launch date. In response, he asked mission teams to take a serious look at commercial options. The SLS is designed to be the most powerful rocket built since the Saturn V rocket that sent astronauts to the moon a half-century ago. Commercial heavy-lift rockets, such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 Heavy, aren’t considered powerful enough to send the Orion crew capsule and its European-built attachment all the way around the moon. However, Bridenstine said it might be possible to use one rocket to put the two-element spaceship into Earth orbit, and a second rocket to send up a separate upper stage. The two payloads would then dock in Earth orbit, fire the rocket engine on the upper stage, and continue the trip around the moon and back. We need to consider all options to meet the Exploration Mission-1 target launch date of June 2020, including launching on commercial rockets. — Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) That scenario isn’t a slam-dunk. “We do not right now have the ability to dock the Orion crew capsule with anything in orbit,” Bridenstine said, “so between now and June of 2020 we would have to make that a reality.” Wicker noted that there wasn’t much time between now and mid-2020, but Bridenstine said there might be time enough. “We have amazing capabilities that exist right now that we can use off the shelf to accomplish this objective,” the NASA administrator said. Bridenstine said the decision on whether to proceed with the shift could be made in the next couple of weeks. “Every moment counts, because I want to be clear: NASA has a history of not meeting launch dates, and I’m trying to change that,” he said. He said it was too early to determine the cost of taking the commercial, two-launch route for EM-1. “There are options to achieve the objective, but it might require some help from Congress,” said Bridenstine, a former congressman from Oklahoma. Bridenstine said the SLS program would continue, with a “full-up green run test” to be conducted at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in preparation for the crewed EM-2 launch, which is currently scheduled for 2023. A green run test involves firing the rocket’s engines on a ground-based test structure rather than actually launching the rocket. Such a scenario could mean that the SLS’ first true liftoff to space would have astronauts aboard, with no preliminary uncrewed launch. The , released earlier this week, already calls for reducing spending on SLS development by 17.4 percent, to $1.78 billion. The spending plan also opens the door for using commercial rockets to deliver the first elements of the international Gateway space platform to lunar orbit. NASA wants to have the Gateway up and running by 2024. For years, critics of the SLS have said it could be overtaken by emerging commercial heavy-lift offerings such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin’s yet-to-built New Glenn rocket. The possibility of launching components on multiple heavy-lift rockets and assembling them in orbit could open the door wider for arguments that the SLS is unnecessary. Here’s how Bridenstine’s testimony was greeted today on Twitter: If that capability were demonstrated, is the beginning of a very bright future. Once your mission can be bigger than one rocket, you can do the Moon, asteroids, Mars. It literally takes the cork out of the bottle, just as Von Braun planned it in the 50’s. — Jeff Greason (@JeffGreason) Here is what is absolutely stunning. In two days NASA and White House officials have acknowledged the agency does not need SLS for: Lunar Gateway AssemblyScience missionsCrew missions to lunar orbit Folks, that's everything SLS was going to do for the next 15 years, at least. — Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) This is just a remarkable amount of candor. Yes, a lot of people have been shouting about this for a long time. But they've been drowned out by Big Aerospace. Now it's out there. Truly one of these moments: — Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) SLS/Orion Troops are not happy, think it's political (a bit of irony there given SLS/Orion's beginnings). Delta IV-H was what came to his mind, but EM-1 stripped down. So yeah, "EFT – the extended cut." Opted against (despite permission) passing on some comments. — Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight)
March 13, 2019
An artist’s conception shows NASA’s Space Launch System in flight. (NASA Illustration) The White House’s spending plan for fiscal year 2020 aims to give a boost to the Space Force, but would dial down work on NASA’s Space Launch System, zero out the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, leave salmon in the lurch and slash science spending on other fronts. When it comes to outer space, the brightest spotlight falls on lunar exploration and space commercialization — which is in line with the priorities of the National Space Council, headed by Vice President Mike Pence. And when it comes to earthly realms in science and technology, artificial intelligence and quantum computing shine. It’s important to remember, however, that every year’s budget request is pronounced “dead on arrival” by critics in Congress. That’s particularly so this year, with Democrats in control of the House. “President Trump has somehow managed to produce a budget request even more untethered from reality than his past two,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said after today’s release. If history is any guide, Congress could well save research programs — and the Space Launch System, or SLS — from the most draconian cuts. Here’s a quick sector-by-sector rundown on science and technology spending in the White House proposal released today: NASA: The space agency’s overall budget would come in at $21 billion, 2.2 percent below the current fiscal year’s level. There’d be a 5 percent cut for planetary science and a 7.8 percent cut for Earth science. WFIRST is slated for elimination, as it was last year. The $9.7 billion James Webb Space Telescope would get 15 percent more money to cover anticipated cost growth. Space technology would receive a 9.4 percent boost, with funding for a Lunar Service Innovation Initiative that would support technology development for moon missions. Perhaps the biggest switch has to do with the SLS: Its funding would be reduced 17.4 percent. NASA would slow down development of the beefed-up SLS Block 1B — and use commercial rockets to send payloads to lunar orbit in the 2020s and to Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter, in 2023. For details, check out analyses by the and . Space Force: The Trump administration wants to create a sixth military branch focused on space defenses, under the aegis of the Air Force, and today’s budget proposal says spending on the Space Force “will scale up responsibly and deliberately over the next several years in order to address increasing threats and maintain strategic stability.” The White House is asking for $72 million in the upcoming fiscal year to create the Space Force headquarters. Funding for existing space-centered defense programs will be shifted over to the Space Force portfolio. Eventually, the Space Force could account for about $500 million in spending annually. For details, check out . Technology development: Citing a statement from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the budget request would allocate $850 million for artificial intelligence development and $430 million for quantum information science across several agencies — including the Energy Department and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The request seeks , aimed at supporting upgrades in information technology at federal agencies. Defense applications in computer science are supported as well, to the tune of $208 million for the Defense Department’s and $9.6 billion for. Medical research: The budget request slashes funding for the National Institutes of Health by 13 percent, to $34.4 billion for fiscal year 2020. A new initiative to study and treat pediatric cancers would receive $50 million as the first installment of a $500 million, decade-long commitment. NIH’s Centers for AIDS Research would receive $6 million to follow through on a White House plan to reduce HIV infections by 90 percent over the coming decade. But the overall reductions are drawing fire from science advocacy groups. “We’ll work with Congress in a bipartisan way and reject these cuts to American science,” Benjamin Corb, public affairs director for the , said in an email. For details, . A male chinook salmon hugs the bottom of a waterway. (NOAA / NWFSC Photo / John R. McMillan) Environmental research: The Environmental Protection Agency’s overall budget would shrink by 31 percent, to $6.1 billion. Funding for EPA’s science and technology programs would be reduced by 40 percent, to about $440 million. At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the White House seeks to eliminate several grant and education programs, including Sea Grant, Coastal Zone Management Grants and the . (The salmon program was established by Congress in 2000 to reverse the declines of Pacific salmon and steelhead, focusing on California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.) At the Energy Department, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, also known as ARPA-E, would be zeroed out. The tax credit for electric vehicles would also be repealed. Congress seems likely to step in and save at least some of these programs from the chopping block, as it has in previous years. For details, check out . Basic research: The National Science Foundation’s budget would be trimmed 12 percent, from $8.1 billion to $7.1 billion. There’s little detail about exactly what would be axed, however. Generally speaking, the budget proposal is not going over well with the scientific community. “If enacted, the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the fiscal year 2020 non-defense discretionary budget would derail our nation’s science enterprise,” Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, .
March 11, 2019
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship hits the waters of the Atlantic Ocean for splashdown. (NASA via YouTube) SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean today, ending a six-day uncrewed test run preparing the way for astronaut trips to the International Space Station later this year. Scorch marks were visible on the side of the 27-foot-long craft as it descended at the end of four red-and-white parachutes and hit the water at 5:45 a.m. PT. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had said the hypersonic plunge through the atmosphere was his “biggest concern,” but the capsule appeared intact. SpaceX’s recovery ship headed out to pull the Dragon onto its “nest” and bring it back to shore for inspection. After splashdown, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine gave a shout-out to predecessors going back more than a decade, for setting up a commercial crew program aimed at filling the gap left by the space shuttle fleet’s retirement in 2011. “This is an amazing achievement in the history of the United States of America, and it just really exemplifies what we can achieve when we maintain that constancy of purpose,” he said. The Crew Dragon was and spent several days . No humans were aboard, when the Dragon unhooked itself at 11:31 p.m. PT Thursday and backed away from its port on the station’s U.S.-built Harmony module, 250 miles above the planet. But the Dragon went through all the steps that will have to be executed when astronauts climb aboard the next spaceship, as early as this July. Once the Dragon reached a safe distance, NASA’s Mission Control in Houston radioed its congratulations to SpaceX’s team, the station’s crew and partners around the world. “We wish this new asset to human spaceflight fair winds and following seas as it returns to Earth for its splashdown in the Atlantic,” Mission Control said. “You have all made us proud today.” Aboard the station, NASA astronaut Anne McClain returned the compliment on behalf of the three-person crew. “We want to take a moment to recognize this milestone accomplishment that marks the inaugural mission of the commercial crew program,” she said. “Fifty years after humans landed on the moon for the first time, America has driven a golden spike on the trail to new space exploration feats through the work of our commercial partner SpaceX and all of the talented and dedicated flight controllers at NASA and our international partners.” McClain said “it won’t be long” before astronauts start riding SpaceX’s Crew Dragon as well as Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, another space taxi that’s being developed for NASA’s use. “We can’t wait,” she said. The Crew Dragon is an upgraded version of the robotic cargo-carrying Dragon that has been ferrying payloads to and from the space station since 2012. The past week’s flight marked the first-ever Crew Dragon space trip, known as Demonstration Mission 1 or DM-1. A spacesuit-wearing, sensor-laden mannequin nicknamed Ripley (in honor of Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” sci-fi movies) rode in one of the Dragon’s seats, to document what living, breathing astronauts would hear and feel. A plush-toy version of Earth was also included as a zero-gravity mascot, along with 400 pounds of supplies. About 300 pounds of cargo, including unneeded hardware and scientific samples, were packed aboard the Dragon for the return trip. But the plush toy, nicknamed Li’l Earthie, is staying behind. NASA said the toy would be brought back to Big Earth when two NASA astronauts — Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken — fly on Demonstration Mission 2 to the space station. “I think our plan is to have him teach us,” Behnken said, referring to Li’l Earthie. “He’s going to welcome us aboard probably when we get there. … He’s a full-fledged crew member.” Some issues still need to be resolved before that crewed mission. For example, some tweaks may need to be made to the thruster system, and the parachute system still has to be fully certified for crewed flights. Additional issues may turn up as a result of Demo-1’s post-flight assessment, or during an upcoming test of the Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort system. Few people would be surprised if Demo-2 was launched later than July. Boeing, meanwhile, is scheduled to send an uncrewed Starliner to the space station no earlier than next month, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Starliner’s first crewed flight would follow, in August or later. Because of the schedule uncertainties, NASA has been talking with the Russians about buying more rides aboard Soyuz spacecraft, at a price that could amount to $80 million or more per seat.
March 08, 2019
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship floats away from the International Space Station, with its nose cone still flipped open after undocking. (NASA via YouTube) SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship undocked from the International Space Station and headed toward what could be the most stressful phase of its autonomously controlled test flight: atmospheric re-entry and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. No humans were aboard the 27-foot-long craft when it unhooked itself at 11:31 p.m. PT Thursday and backed away from its port on the station’s U.S.-built Harmony module, 250 miles above the planet. But the Dragon went through all the steps that will have to be executed when astronauts take their first ride, as early as this July. Once the Dragon reached a safe distance, NASA’s Mission Control in Houston radioed its congratulations to SpaceX’s team, the station’s crew and partners around the world. “We wish this new asset to human spaceflight fair winds and following seas as it returns to Earth for its splashdown in the Atlantic,” Mission Control said. “You have all made us proud today.” Aboard the station, NASA astronaut Anne McClain returned the compliment on behalf of the three-person crew. “We want to take a moment to recognize this milestone accomplishment that marks the inaugural mission of the commercial crew program,” she said. “Fifty years after humans landed on the moon for the first time, America has driven a golden spike on the trail to new space exploration feats through the work of our commercial partner SpaceX and all of the talented and dedicated flight controllers at NASA and our international partners. McClain said “it won’t be long” before astronauts start riding SpaceX’s Crew Dragon as well as Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, another space taxi that’s being developed for NASA’s use. “We can’t wait,” she said. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is an upgraded version of the robotic cargo-carrying Dragon that has been ferrying payloads to and from the space station since 2012, a year after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet. The past week’s flight marked the first-ever Crew Dragon space trip, known as Demonstration Mission 1 or DM-1. A spacesuit-wearing, sensor-laden mannequin nicknamed Ripley (in honor of Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” sci-fi movies) rode in one of the Dragon’s seats, to document what living, breathing astronauts would hear and feel. A plush-toy version of Earth was also included as a zero-gravity mascot, along with 400 pounds of supplies. About 300 pounds of cargo, including unneeded hardware and scientific samples, were packed aboard the Dragon for the return trip. Thruster firings set the spacecraft on a course to jettison its unpressurized “trunk,” descend through Earth’s atmosphere, deploy its parachutes and splash down off Florida’s Atlantic coast at about 8:45 a.m. ET (5:45 a.m. PT) today. NASA TV coverage is due to start at 7:30 a.m. ET (4:30 a.m. PT): Just after the , SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he was most worried about the flight’s final phase. “I’d say hypersonic re-entry is my biggest concern,” he told reporters. If all goes well, a recovery ship will pick up the Dragon and bring it to shore for inspection. Some issues still need to be resolved before the next Crew Dragon is cleared to carry two NASA astronauts — Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken — on Demonstration Mission 2 to the space station. For example, some tweaks may need to be made to the thruster system, and the parachute system still has to be fully certified for crewed flights. Additional issues may turn up as a result of Demo-1’s post-flight assessment, or during an upcoming test of the Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort system. Few people would be surprised if Demo-2 was launched later than July. Boeing, meanwhile, is scheduled to send an uncrewed Starliner to the space station no earlier than next month, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Starliner’s first crewed flight would follow, in August or later. Because of the schedule uncertainties, NASA has been talking with the Russians about buying more rides aboard Soyuz spacecraft, at a price that could amount to $80 million or more per seat.
March 08, 2019
If there was ever any doubt that Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft was able to , a should put those doubts to rest. The black-and-white video clip, shot by the probe’s CAM-H monitoring camera, shows the sampling horn being lowered to the sunlit surface. Hayabusa 2 creeps nearer and nearer to its shadow, and suddenly there’s a spray of debris as the probe fires a bullet made of tantalum and backs away. “Rocks reaching sizes of several tens of centimeters in diameter were ejected,” the Hayabusa 2 team said today in a . “Many chips of this released debris are flattened plate-shaped and appear to reach quite a high altitude.” Hayabusa 2’s sampling horn is designed to capture some of that debris. “The potential for sample collection is high,” the team reported. Some of the fine-grained debris even ended up sticking to the lens of a different camera that’s used for optical navigation. An image captured by that camera was released soon after the Feb. 21 touchdown The probe is scheduled to descend toward the asteroid again this week and next week. The piece de resistance will come in early April, when Hayabusa 2 is due to shoot a 4.4-pound lump of copper at the asteroid (known as the ) to create an artificial crater and free up more samples. Ryugu is currently more than 200 million miles from Earth. Late this year, Hayabusa 2 will start the homeward journey, and it’ll drop off a sample container with bits of Ryugu by the end of 2020.
March 05, 2019
An image captured by the Beresheet lunar lander shows a plaque with the Israeli flag in the foreground, and Earth in the background. (Beresheet / SpaceIL Photo) An Israeli lunar lander gets photobombed by Earth in a selfie released today by SpaceIL’s Beresheet mission team. The selfie was captured from a distance of more than 23,000 miles (37,600 kilometers) as the Beresheet lander went through maneuvers aimed at getting it to a lunar landing next month. “In the photo of Earth, taken during a slow spin of the spacecraft, Australia is clearly visible,” the mission team said in today’s photo advisory. “Also seen is the plaque installed on the spacecraft, with the Israeli flag and the inscriptions ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ and ‘Small Country, Big Dreams.’ ” The Beresheet lander, which is the size of a dishwasher and takes its name from the Hebrew phrase for “In the Beginning,” was built by and with nearly $100 million in backing from Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and other private donors. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket , with a logistical assist from Seattle-based Spaceflight. Since then, the spacecraft has executed a sequence of rocket firings designed to raise its elliptical orbit high enough to enter the moon’s sphere of gravitational influence. Beresheet , but it’s that should lead to a landing in a relatively flat area of the moon known as Mare Serenitatis. In addition to its flag-emblazoned plaque, the spacecraft is carrying a CD-sized “time capsule” that contains digitized files of children’s drawings, photos and information about Israeli culture. During its weeklong science mission, Beresheet will measure the moon’s magnetic field and send back high-resolution views of its surroundings — no doubt including an Apollo-style picture of Earth looming above the lunar surface.
March 05, 2019
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is docked to the International Space Station. (NASA TV via YouTube) SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship docked with the International Space Station for the first time today, marking a successful uncrewed rehearsal of the procedure that astronauts will go through when they make their first arrival with the next flight. The 27-foot-tall spacecraft made contact with a docking adapter on the space station’s Harmony module at 2:51 a.m. PT, as the station flew over the Pacific Ocean just north of New Zealand. That “soft docking” was the first step in an hours-long procedure to latch the Crew Dragon securely to the station, hook up power and data connections, and open the way for hatch opening. “Congratulations to all of the teams on a successful docking,” NASA astronaut Anne McClain radioed from the station. No astronauts were riding the Crew Dragon for this flight. Instead, a spacesuit-wearing, sensor-laden mannequin nicknamed Ripley was placed in one of the seats to document what crew members would hear and feel during future trips. The gumdrop-shaped craft also contained about 400 pounds of supplies and equipment. Today’s docking came about 27 hours after , on an uncrewed maiden voyage aimed at demonstrating that all of its systems will be safe for crewed flights. Cargo versions of the Dragon have flown to the station 16 times since 2012, but the Crew Dragon represents a significant upgrade. While cargo Dragon spacecraft have been pulled in for their berthing with the station’s robotic arm, the Crew Dragon is built to guide itself autonomously to its hookup. Humans would need to take control only to override the software system in the event of a glitch. The Crew Dragon’s autonomous capability caused some concern among Russian space officials in advance of today’s rendezvous. They worried that if the uncrewed vehicle’s computer malfunctioned, the Dragon might have crashed into the station — much as a Russian Progress cargo craft . To address such concerns, the space station’s three crew members were put on standby to retreat into their Soyuz lifeboat if necessary. Also, the Crew Dragon’s approach procedure included a test to demonstrate that the crew could issue commands to have the capsule back away from a standoff distance of about 140 meters (460 feet). The Dragon passed all of its pre-docking tests, clearing the way for the docking. Over the next several days, the crew will check out the onboard systems, unload cargo and get the Dragon ready for its return flight. On the night of March 7-8, the spacecraft is scheduled to back away from its port on the station, descend through the atmosphere, open its parachutes and splash down into the Atlantic Ocean. A recovery team will be dispatched to pick up the capsule and check out how Ripley fared. The current schedule calls for NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to take their seats on the next Crew Dragon demonstration flight in July. That schedule may slip, however, depending on how much more the Dragon needs to be tweaked after the uncrewed test flight. Boeing, meanwhile, continues work on a different type of space taxi known as the CST-100 Starliner. The Starliner is currently due to make its first uncrewed test flight no earlier than April, and its first crewed flight no earlier than August. Both companies have received billions of dollars from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts safely to and from the station. Getting those spacecraft flying would mark the restoration of a U.S. crew-launching capability that was lost when the space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. Since that time, NASA has had to buy seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for crew rotations, at a cost that has escalated to more than $80 million per seat. NASA and the Russians are discussing one last purchase, just to make sure U.S. astronauts have access to the station even if the start of space taxi service has to be delayed. SpaceX’s successful launch drew notice from President Donald Trump on Saturday. “We’ve got NASA “rocking” again,” . “Great activity and success. Congrats to SPACEX and all!” “Thank you on behalf of SpaceX,” CEO Elon Musk . “Also, thank you to NASA, without whom this would not be possible.” Here are a few of the top tweets from the docking sequence: The last time the Shelton family sent Mission Control Center a bouquet of roses was July 9, 2011, after the last U.S. space shuttle launched. The Shelton's continued that tradition Saturday sending a bouquet celebrating the launch of the first . — Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) This short overview describes the makeup of the now approaching the station targeting a 6am ET docking today. — Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) Proximity docking sequence underway. Dragon shadow visible on on solar arrays. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) View of docking adapter from 's camera: — Alan Boyle (@b0yle) SpaceX Crew Dragon has docked with International — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) Roscosmos sends its sincere compliments to the colleagues from in connection with the successful trial docking of the new spacecraft — РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) SpaceX team in Hawthorne control, Dragon docked to Station above — Elon Musk (@elonmusk)
March 03, 2019
Onlookers take pictures at SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket rises from its launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Floridal. (SpaceX / NASA via YouTube) SpaceX’s Crew Dragon was sent into space atop a Falcon 9 rocket tonight, beginning a crucial test of a spaceship that’s destined to carry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Liftoff took place right on time at 2:49 a.m. ET Saturday (11:49 p.m. PT Friday) from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. the origin point for the last shuttle mission as well as for trips to the moon in the Apollo era. Within minutes, the Falcon 9’s second stage put the uncrewed capsule into orbit, while the first-stage booster made a successful at-sea landing on a drone ship stationed hundreds of miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. The late-night event, watched by hundreds of onlookers near the Florida launch site and thousands of webcast witnesses, marked the first orbital flight of a privately built spaceship designed to carry humans. “It’s a critically important event in American history,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, hours before the launch. “We’re on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011.” Although no humans are aboard this first Crew Dragon capsule, you could argue that there’s a mechanical crew member. SpaceX placed a spacesuit-wearing, sensor-laden mannequin in one of the Dragon’s seats, to gauge how rigorous the ride will be for actual astronauts later this year. Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, shied away from calling the test device a dummy. “We call it a ‘smartie,’ and her name is Ripley,” he said at a pre-launch briefing. The name pays tribute to the spaceflying character played by Sigourney Weaver in the “Alien” series of sci-fi movies. It also brings a bit of anthropomorphic gender balance to SpaceX’s test mannequins: For last year’s maiden launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, the test payload included a Tesla Roadster with a dummy nicknamed “Starman” in the driver’s seat. The Crew Dragon is an upgraded version of the cargo-carrying Dragon that’s . This mission is designed to test all of the spacecraft’s systems in advance of crewed missions later this year. Kathy Lueders, program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said it’s critical to wring out as much of the risk posed by a brand-new type of vehicle as possible before people climb on board. “This is an invaluable exercise for us, to learn in the space environment how these systems will be working, and then making sure that these systems are ready to go for when we’re going to put our crews on them,” she said during Thursday’s pre-launch briefing. Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana said the uncrewed mission is also serving as a rehearsal for ground operations. “This isn’t just a test flight for the vehicle,” he told reporters during a launch-pad news conference today. “This is a test flight for the entire leadership management team.” In addition to Ripley, the craft will be carrying 400 pounds of supplies and equipment for the station. The robotically controlled rendezvous is scheduled to take place early Sunday morning. Over the past few weeks, Russian space officials have voiced concerns about whether there was adequate backup computer capacity on the Dragon for the crucial hookup. To address those concerns, NASA and Roscosmos worked out a plan to have the station’s three crew members ready to take shelter in a docked Soyuz spacecraft in case the rendezvous goes horribly awry. A spacesuit-wearing, instrument-laden mannequin nicknamed “Ripley” sits inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship. A Planet Earth plush toy sits on a nearby seat to serve as what SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called a “super high tech zero-g indicator.” (Elon Musk via Twitter) Assuming all proceeds according to plan, NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canada’s David Saint-Jacques will open the hatch, run tests and inspect the Dragon’s interior after docking. Meanwhile, cameras attached to the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm will inspect the exterior. The Dragon is due to stay docked to the station for five days, and then unhook itself and descend to an Atlantic Ocean splashdown on March 8. “Obviously It’s something that we have to practice in preparation for actual crew flight, to make sure that we are fast on the right spot, that we have all the potential medical attention at the right time,” Koenigsmann said. NASA back in 2014 to develop commercial space taxis for transporting astronauts to and from the space station, in order to fill the gap left behind by the space shuttle fleet’s retirement in 2011. In the interim, NASA has been paying the Russians as much as $80 million per seat for rides back and forth on Soyuz spacecraft. Boeing is expected to send its Starliner space capsule on an uncrewed flight to the space station for the first time sometime this spring. The current schedule calls for SpaceX’s first crewed launch of the Crew Dragon to occur in July, for a trip to the space station known as Demonstration Mission 2 or Demo-2. Boeing’s first crewed Starliner launch is scheduled to take place no earlier than August. The crews for those missions have already been chosen. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will ride the Dragon, while the Starliner will carry NASA’s Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke as well as Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson (a former NASA space shuttle commander). There’s a good chance that the stated flight schedule will slip. “I think we’d all agree that we’re not ready for the Demo-2 mission,” Behnke told reporters today. For example, NASA wants to make sure SpaceX has fully addressed concerns about the Falcon 9’s composite-wrapped helium tanks, which were redesigned after a launch-pad explosion in 2016. Also, the Crew Dragon’s parachutes are still being tested, and there may need to be some design tweaks made to the craft’s thruster system. Additional “unknown unknowns” may well come to light during the uncrewed test flights, or during upcoming tests of the launch abort systems for the Crew Dragon and Starliner spacecraft. Because of those uncertainties, NASA has been talking with the Russians about buying additional Soyuz seats just to make sure U.S. astronauts have continued access to the space station if further delays arise. This is an updated version of a report that was first published at 11 a.m. PT March 1.
March 02, 2019