Space

An artist’s conception shows Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket lifting off from Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Relativity Space Illustration) Seattle-based has signed a launch services agreement to put payloads on Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket. , a startup that got its start in Seattle but is now headquartered in Los Angeles, says the agreement covers the purchase of a first launch that’s scheduled to take place in late 2021. There are also options for additional rideshare launches in the future, the company said in a news release. Spaceflight is a service offering of that specializes in arranging launch logistics for payloads on a variety of vehicles, including rockets from SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, Europe’s Arianespace consortium and Rocket Lab. The payloads typically share a ride alongside other satellites. Spaceflight has made arrangements for nearly 240 spacecraft from organizations in 32 countries, including the Israeli-made Beresheet lander that made its way to the moon (). Relativity was founded in late 2015 by CEO Tim Ellis and chief technology officer Jordan Noone, who both had connections to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture. After relocating from the Seattle area to L.A., Relativity picked up from billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban and other investors. The company’s key innovations have to do with autonomous additive manufacturing: Nearly everything on the Terran 1, including its Aeon 1 rocket engine, will be 3-D printed. That’s aimed at driving launch costs for a rocket capable of sending 2,750 pounds of payload into low Earth orbit down to $10 million. Over the past 14 months or so, Relativity has struck one deal with NASA to at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and another deal with the Air Force to at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida. Relativity is planning its first test launch of the Terran 1 by the end of 2020. Last month, Relativity to put satellites for a global internet constellation into low Earth orbit, or LEO, starting no earlier than 2021. It also said it would , a Thai space startup focusing on Internet of Things applications, in 2022. No financial details have been provided for any of the launch deals, including the newly announced agreement with Spaceflight. However, the company said last year that it had more than $1 billion worth of tentative commitments for launches from commercial and government entities. Curt Blake, Spaceflight’s CEO and president, said Terran 1’s capabilities fit a useful niche in his company’s offerings. “We consistently look for innovative new technologies that provide flexible, reliable and low-cost access to space for our customers,” Blake said in today’s news release. “Relativity’s autonomous platform and 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket delivers key advantages in launching rideshare payloads.” Ellis said he and his teammates at Relativity were excited about the prospect of working with Blake’s team “to offer industry-defining lead time, flexibility, and cost for smallsats and cubesats and meaningfully expand the total launch capacity available through Spaceflight’s offering.” “We look forward to building the space economy together and supporting disruptive commercial and government payload missions,” Ellis said.
May 06, 2019
Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle lifts off from its New Zealand pad. (Rocket Lab via YouTube) sent a trio of research satellites for the U.S. military into orbit tonight from a launch pad that’s thousands of miles from America’s shores, in New Zealand. The Los Angeles-based company’s low-cost Electron rocket lifted off from its seaside launch facility on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 6 p.m. May 5 local time (11 p.m. PT May 4). It was Rocket Lab’s second launch of 2019, and its sixth mission overall. Minutes after liftoff, the Electron’s second stage separated from the first-stage booster, and then released its “kick stage” in preparation for deploying the satellites. Rocket Lab is known for giving each mission a quirky name. That’s in line with the sensibility associated with New Zealanders, including Peter Beck, the company’s founder and CEO. This mission was nicknamed “That’s a Funny-Looking Cactus,” which serves as a nod to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the Defense Department’s is headquartered. The three satellites sent up for the Space Test Program’s STP-27RD mission include: , built by Denver-based York Space Systems. The satellite is designed to demonstrate an X-band synthetic aperture radar system — and, more generally, demonstrate to the Pentagon that York’s 150-kilogram (330-pound) S-Class satellites can satisfy its operational requirements. This marks York’s first satellite launch. , also known as the Space Plug-and-Play Architecture Research Cubesat-1. This U.S.-Swedish satellite is designed to demonstrate the use of modular, miniaturized avionics for military applications in space. , or the Falcon Orbital Debris Experiment, built by the Air Force Academy. This 4-inch-wide nanosatellite will release two stainless-steel ball bearings that will be tracked from the ground to watch for changes in background atmospheric density over time. The goal of the experiment is to fine-tune techniques for monitoring orbital debris and getting a better fix on space situational awareness. Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 has been cleared for U.S. government and military missions even though it’s located in a country half a world away. The company is , at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia’s Wallops Island. The Electron rocket is designed to put payloads weighing as much as 225 kilograms (500 pounds) in low Earth orbit for a bargain-basement price of $5 million. The total payload for tonight’s launch came to more than 180 kilograms (400 pounds), which was the most weight launched on an Electron to date.
May 05, 2019
Scientists work in the LIGO Hanford control room. (Caltech / MIT / LIGO Lab Photo / C. Gray) The science teams for the , or LIGO, and Europe’s today laid out the details of their recent detections, including a crash between neutron stars, three black hole mergers and what may be the first observed collision of a neutron star and a black hole. Astronomers and their fans have been talking about the detections for days, thanks to the fact that LIGO and Virgo are quickly sharing the raw results from their current observing run. But today’s statements provided the most authoritative views from researchers running the two gravitational-wave detectors. The April 26 detection of a cosmic collision known as S190426c is the most intriguing event. The subtle signal of a far-off disturbance in the gravitational force was picked up by LIGO’s twin detectors at Hanford in Eastern Washington and at Livingston in Louisiana. The Virgo detector in Italy also detected the signal. The signal is consistent with what might be expected if a black hole were to swallow a neutron star, roughly 1.2 billion light-years from Earth. Such an event has never been observed before. “Unfortunately, the signal is rather weak,” Patrick Brady, a physicist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, said in a. “It’s like listening to somebody whisper a word in a busy café; it can be difficult to make out the word or even to be sure that the person whispered at all. It will take some time to reach a conclusion about this candidate.” One day earlier, the Virgo detector and the LIGO Livingston detector picked up the signal of a neutron star merger that occurred about 500 million-light years away. The LIGO Hanford detector was offline at the time, which reduced the detector networks ability to focus in on the origin of the signal, dubbed S190425z. Only one such neutron star collision has been reported previously, and that set off with multiple astronomical instruments. Last month’s neutron star events sparked a similar effort, but researchers say neither of the gravitational-wave sources has been spotted by other means. The current LIGO-Virgo observing run, which began on April 1, has also turned up three likely black hole mergers, which adds to 10 previous smashups of that sort. LIGO’s two detectors pick up gravitational disturbances in the fabric of spacetime that are given off by faraway black hole crashes and other cosmic cataclysms. Such disturbances show up as tiny shifts in spatial dimensions, just barely affecting the paths of laser beams that shoot back and forth through 2.5-mile-long (4-kilometer-long) tunnels at the Hanford and Livingston detectors. Scientists made their in 2015, which earned the. Since then, the Advanced Virgo detector has , and LIGO’s equipment has been upgraded as well. The fact that so many detections are now being made in such a short time span suggests that the nearly four-year-old field of gravitational-wave astronomy will exceed expectations in the months to come. “The latest LIGO-Virgo observing run is proving to be the most exciting one so far. We’re already seeing hints of the first observation of a black hole swallowing a neutron star. If it holds up, this would be a trifecta for LIGO and Virgo — in three years, we’ll have observed every type of black hole and neutron star collision,” said Caltech’s David Reitze, executive director of LIGO. “But we’ve learned that claims of detections require a tremendous amount of painstaking work — checking and rechecking — so we’ll have to see where the data takes us.”
May 02, 2019
Scientists work in the LIGO Hanford control room. (Caltech / MIT / LIGO Lab Photo / C. Gray) The science teams for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, and Europe’s Virgo detector today laid out the details of their recent detections, including a crash between neutron stars, three black hole mergers and what may be the first observed collision of a neutron star and a black hole. Astronomers and their fans have been talking about the detections for days, thanks to the fact that LIGO and Virgo are quickly sharing the raw results from their current observing run. But today’s statements provided the most authoritative views from researchers running the two gravitational-wave detectors. The April 26 detection of a cosmic collision known as S190426c is the most intriguing event. The subtle signal of a far-off disturbance in the gravitational force were picked up by LIGO’s twin detectors at Hanford in Eastern Washington as well as at Livingston in Louisiana. The Virgo detector in Italy also detected the signal. The signal is consistent with what might be expected if a black hole were to swallow a neutron star, roughly 1.2 billion light-years from Earth. Such an event has never been observed before. “Unfortunately, the signal is rather weak,” said Patrick Brady, a physicist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee who serves as spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. “It’s like listening to somebody whisper a word in a busy café; it can be difficult to make out the word or even to be sure that the person whispered at all. It will take some time to reach a conclusion about this candidate.” One day earlier, the Virgo detector and the LIGO Livingston detector picked up the signal of a neutron star merger that occurred about 500 million-light years away. The LIGO Hanford detector was offline at the time, which reduced the detector networks ability to focus in on the origin of the signal, dubbed S190425z. Only one such neutron star collision has been reported previously, and that set off a grand campaign to document the event with multiple astronomical instruments. Last month’s neutron star events sparked a similar effort, but researchers say neither of the gravitational-wave sources has been spotted by other means. The current LIGO-Virgo observing run, which began on April 1, has also turned up three likely black hole mergers, which adds to 10 previous smashups of that sort. LIGO made the first-ever detection of gravitational waves from a black hole merger in 2015. Since then, the Virgo detector has come online, and LIGO’s equipment has been upgraded. The fact that so many detections are being made in such a short time span suggests that the nearly four-year-old field of gravitational-wave astronomy will exceed expectations in the months to come. “The latest LIGO-Virgo observing run is proving to be the most exciting one so far. We’re already seeing hints of the first observation of a black hole swallowing a neutron star. If it holds up, this would be a trifecta for LIGO and Virgo — in three years, we’ll have observed every type of black hole and neutron star collision,” Caltech’s David Reitze, executive director of LIGO, said in today’s news release. “But we’ve learned that claims of detections require a tremendous amount of painstaking work — checking and rechecking — so we’ll have to see where the data takes us.”
May 02, 2019
Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster touches down on its West Texas landing pad at the end of a successful flight. (Blue Origin via YouTube) Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, today sent dozens of science experiments and other payloads to space and back on its suborbital New Shepard rocket ship. Today’s liftoff marked the 11th uncrewed test mission in the New Shepard program, and the fifth go-round for this particular reusable booster and its capsule. The main mission was to check out the launch system in preparation for flying people later this year, but Blue Origin said it flew — including a 3-D printer and a scientific centrifuge designed for use in zero-gravity. Liftoff took place at Blue Origin’s testing and launch facility in West Texas at 8:35 a.m. CT (6:35 a.m. PT) after only minor delays. “Look at her go!” launch commentator Ariane Cornell exclaimed as the New Shepard booster’s hydrogen-fueled BE-3 rocket engine blasted the craft into clear skies. Toward the top of the ride, the capsule separated from the booster and coasted upward to an unofficial peak altitude of 346,406 feet. That’s 66 miles, or 106 kilometers — well above the 100-kilometer Karman Line that’s internationally accepted as the edge of space, but well below the 119-kilometer mark that the same New Shepard craft reached last July. The unofficial maximum ascent velocity was a supersonic 2,217 mph, or 3,567 kilometers per hour. The crew capsule and its contents experienced a few minutes of weightlessness at the maximum altitude, leading Cornell to muse over what passengers might feel. “If only we were in there, guys,” she said. “It’s coming.” Within minutes, the booster relit its engine to make a controlled touchdown on its landing pad, while the capsule floated down to a separate touchdown on the end of a parachute. Mission elapsed time was 10 minutes and 10 seconds, Blue Origin said. Today’s flight came three and a half months after Blue Origin’s previous New Shepard flight. If that tempo continues, and if Blue Origin truly intends to begin crewed flights by the end of the year, there can’t be many more uncrewed practice runs left on the test schedule. The first people to climb on board are likely to be Blue Origin employees — perhaps former NASA astronauts such as or . Paying passengers would follow, but Blue Origin has yet to say how much a ticket will cost. New Shepard hardware is produced at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., and shipped down to Texas for flight. Cornell said people wouldn’t ride in the New Shepard capsule that was tested today, but in an upgraded capsule that’s currently sitting in Blue Origin’s “barn” in Texas. “Because it’s such a special capsule to us, we actually decided to name the newest capsule that’s just in the barn the ‘RSS First Step,’ ” Cornell said. ” ‘RSS’? Reusable Spaceship, of course. And ‘First Step’ because it is our first capsule that is going to be taking people. It’s going to enable our vision of millions of people living and working in space.” In addition to the New Shepard suborbital space program, Blue Origin is working on an orbital-class rocket called New Glenn, a new breed of rocket engine called the BE-4, and a lunar lander called Blue Moon. New Glenn and the BE-4 are due to make their space debut in 2021, and Blue Moon could make its first delivery to the moon in the early 2020s.
May 02, 2019
The SpaceBelt data storage constellation takes advantage of a ring of satellites in low Earth orbit as well as geostationary satellites in higher orbits. (Cloud Constellation Illustration) has chosen , the U.S.-European joint venture based in Tukwila, Wash., to build satellites for its cloud-based data storage service. The satellite constellation, known as SpaceBelt, is scheduled to go into operation in late 2021. It’s designed to give customers a secure place in space to park sensitive data, accessible only through Cloud Constellation’s telecommunications links. “It’s basically the cloud transformation of space,” chief commercial officer Dennis Gatens told GeekWire in advance of today’s announcement. The SpaceBelt concept calls for putting 10 satellites in equatorial low Earth orbit (or LEO), at an altitude of about 400 miles (650 to 700 kilometers), with third-party satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) providing the connections to Cloud Constellation’s proprietary data terminals on the ground. Such a system combines the accessibility of GEO satellites with the low cost of LEO satellites. Cloud Constellation CEO Cliff Beek said that LeoStella, a by Europe’s and Seattle-based , was chosen not only because its pricing was “very competitive,” but also because it promised to deliver all 10 satellites in 24 months. Beek declined to say how much LeoStella was being paid for the satellites. “I can tell you in general terms that our total capex [capital expenditure] was about $480 million, but with LeoStella’s efficient way of building the satellite, making it smaller, our total raise was about $340 million,” he said. “That price is not all LeoStella. That’s the total project capex, with in-orbit delivery.” Last year, Cloud Constellation from Hong Kong-based HCH Group, and the fundraising effort has continued since then. A drawing shows the design for the SpaceBelt satellites. (LeoStella / Cloud Constellation Illustration) LeoStella’s chief technology officer, Brian Rider, said providing satellite solutions for the likes of Cloud Constellation was the reason why LeoStella was created. “The SpaceBelt DSaaS [data storage as a service] will bring a powerful new capability for global data security,” Rider said in today’s news release. “The technology exists to leverage affordable satellites to create the on-orbit cloud, and we are very excited to bring our solutions to the SpaceBelt mission.” Beek said SpaceBelt’s satellites will weigh in the neighborhood of 507 to 530 pounds (230 to 240 kilograms) and will be built at the , just south of Seattle. LeoStella is also building a , a subsidiary of Spaceflight Industries. Another Spaceflight Industries subsidiary, known simply as , happens to handle logistical arrangements for satellite launches — and Beek said Cloud Constellation could well make use of Spaceflight’s services. He said Arianespace’s rockets — for example, the or the — are among the launch vehicles being considered most seriously, due to the equatorial location of Arianespace’s spaceport in French Guiana as well as the Ariane 6’s payload capacity. “There’s a possibility to get all 10 into one launch,” Beek said. “It gets us into revenue-ready faster doing it that way.” Space-based cloud services may sound far-out, but the concept is drawing a surprising level of interest. Last year, Amazon Web Services , and next month a Lockheed Martin executive is due to talk up the idea of at Amazon’s first re:MARS conference. Meanwhile, IBM has paired up with SES Networks to provide . Cloud data storage could conceivably be facilitated in the future by the massive broadband data constellations currently being planned by , , , and other companies. But Gatens argued that Cloud Constellation held a “time-to-market advantage” because its entire 10-satellite constellation could be deployed more quickly. Who’d use space-based data storage? “We did get some early expressions of interest from various digital currency groups who came in and wanted to protect their vaults against cyberattacks,” Beek said. “But more relevant would be financial institutions who are looking to send transactional information from Point A to Point B, and just absolutely want to make sure that information about that customer segment is protected. The financial institutions seem to have the highest use cases.” Beek said blockchain companies might offer space-based services as a differentiator for their market offerings. (That market’s also being targeted by Singapore-based as well as , which was formerly known as and remains headquartered in Redmond, Wash.) Gatens said space-based data storage could be attractive for any application that’s looking for airtight security or a backup system that’s literally air-gapped. “There’s a strong interest for health care … protecting patient information where nurses and doctors require real-time access to data,” he explained. “If there’s an interruption in service as the result of a disaster or a malicious attack, the information, including the keys, can be stored on SpaceBelt. There’s a pretty broad range of verticals that we’re addressing, and we could mention government and military as well.” And data storage isn’t necessarily the final frontier. “The next generation of what we’re working on right now is the ability to do compute capabilities in space,” Beek said. “Right now, we’re looking to do just the storage, being able to secure data and host it. A few years from now, we’ll be working on processing capability … which reduces the latency for decision-making for space-based economies.” Cloud computing on the moon, or on Mars?
May 02, 2019
Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster lands itself at the end of a test flight in July 2018. (Blue Origin Photo) Blue Origin, the private space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, says it’s sending up its on its next test flight as early as Thursday morning with 38 scientific payloads on board. The launch and landing at Blue Origin’s spaceport in West Texas are due to be and , with liftoff set for 8:30 a.m. CT (6:30 a.m. PT). There’s always a chance of delay, due to weather or technical issues. Blue Origin has through Sunday. This will be the 11th uncrewed New Shepard test flight, principally aimed at checking the safety and reliability of the launch system for crewed suborbital spaceflights to come. The flight profile calls for Blue Origin’s hydrogen-fueled booster to send up the crew capsule, and then separate and land itself on a pad not far from where it took off. The capsule would experience a few precious minutes of weightlessness at the top of the ride, and then descend on the end of a parachute to a semi-soft landing. For , Blue Origin has been selling spots in the crew capsule for science experiments that take advantage of the zero-gravity trip. NASA says nine of the experiments due to fly this week are supported by the space agency’s Flight Opportunities program. One of those experiments will test a , including a fireproof payload cabinet and 3-D-printed frames. The hardware, developed by a nonprofit group called , has flown previously on high-altitude balloons and a stratospheric glider. This will mark the first flight on an actual space vehicle. “It’s such a huge milestone,” Elizabeth Kennick, president of Teachers in Space, . “This opens the door to flying more experiments for more schools, and that means exposing more teachers and students to the promise of spaceflight.” The eight other NASA-supported experiments include: This experiment is aimed at confirming that a 3-D printer can manufacture metal components in microgravity. Flown for the University of Kentucky. Texas-based NanoRacks will test a centrifuge designed for use on suborbital space vehicles. Centrifuges are vital instruments for determining how biological and physical processes react to microgravity as well as Martian and lunar gravity. This fluid experiment will provide benchmark data to feed into the development of a program for modeling low-gravity fluid configurations inside a cryogenic tank. Flown for Purdue University. This medical device could assist in treating space-based emergencies, such as a collapsed lung. It would collect blood in microgravity, allow lungs to continuously inflate, and store blood for transfusion. Flown for Orbital Medicine, Richmond, Va. This instrumentation package is designed to characterize the flight environment (for example, acceleration, acoustics, temperature, pressure, humidity) of suborbital vehicles that are candidates for testing new space technologies. Flown for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. This thermal management technique addresses the limitations of current cooling methods for miniaturized devices and electronics needed for technology payloads on space-bound missions. Flown for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. This experiment aims to enable researchers to observe cell function in real time during flight, in order to understand how microgravity and space exposure effects human physiology — critical insights for long-duration missions. Flown for HNu Photonics, Kahului, Hawaii. This payload addresses the need for detailed understanding of the behavior of space dust, regolith and other particles on the surfaces of small bodies in space, to inform both robotic and human space exploration. Flown for University of Central Florida. We’ve asked Blue Origin for details on the other 29 scientific payloads that are scheduled to fly, and will update this report with anything we hear back. Blue Origin executives have said they expect to start putting people on board New Shepard later this year, and eventually researchers could well fly along with their payloads. New Shepard hardware is produced at the company’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., and shipped down to West Texas for launch. It’s possible that Bezos will touch upon plans for New Shepard’s suborbital spaceflights during an in Washington, D.C. In addition to the New Shepard program, Blue Origin is developing an orbital-class and the that it will require. It’s also working on a that could figure in NASA’s plans to send payloads and people to the lunar surface in coming years.
May 01, 2019
Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster lands itself at the end of a test flight in July 2018. (Blue Origin Photo) Blue Origin, the private space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, says it’s sending up its New Shepard suborbital spaceship on its next test flight as early as Thursday morning with 38 scientific payloads on board. The launch and landing at Blue Origin’s spaceport in West Texas are due to be and , with liftoff set for 8:30 a.m. CT (6:30 a.m. PT). There’s always a chance of delay, due to weather or technical issues. Blue Origin has clearance for launch from the Federal Aviation Administration through Sunday. This will be the 11th uncrewed New Shepard test flight, principally aimed at checking the safety and reliability of the launch system for crewed suborbital spaceflights to come. The flight profile calls for Blue Origin’s hydrogen-fueled booster to send up the crew capsule, and then separate and land itself on a pad not far from where it took off. The capsule would experience a few precious minutes of weightlessness at the top of the ride, and then descend on the end of a parachute to a semi-soft landing. For more than a year, Blue Origin has been selling spots in the crew capsule for science experiments that take advantage of the zero-gravity trip. NASA says nine of the experiments due to fly this week are supported by the space agency’s Flight Opportunities program. One of those experiments will test a , including a fireproof payload cabinet and 3-D-printed frames. The hardware, developed by a nonprofit group called , has flown previously on high-altitude balloons and a stratospheric glider. This will mark the first flight on an actual space vehicle. “It’s such a huge milestone,” Elizabeth Kennick, president of Teachers in Space, . “This opens the door to flying more experiments for more schools, and that means exposing more teachers and students to the promise of spaceflight.” The eight other NASA-supported experiments include: This experiment is aimed at confirming that a 3-D printer can manufacture metal components in microgravity. Flown for the University of Kentucky. Texas-based NanoRacks will test a centrifuge designed for use on suborbital space vehicles. Centrifuges are vital instruments for determining how biological and physical processes react to microgravity as well as Martian and lunar gravity. This fluid experiment will provide benchmark data to feed into the development of a program for modeling low-gravity fluid configurations inside a cryogenic tank. Flown for Purdue University. This medical device could assist in treating space-based emergencies, such as a collapsed lung. It would collect blood in microgravity, allow lungs to continuously inflate, and store blood for transfusion. Flown for Orbital Medicine, Richmond, Va. This instrumentation package is designed to characterize the flight environment (for example, acceleration, acoustics, temperature, pressure, humidity) of suborbital vehicles that are candidates for testing new space technologies. Flown for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. This thermal management technique addresses the limitations of current cooling methods for miniaturized devices and electronics needed for technology payloads on space-bound missions. Flown for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. This experiment aims to enable researchers to observe cell function in real time during flight, in order to understand how microgravity and space exposure effects human physiology — critical insights for long-duration missions. Flown for HNu Photonics, Kahului, Hawaii. This payload addresses the need for detailed understanding of the behavior of space dust, regolith and other particles on the surfaces of small bodies in space, to inform both robotic and human space exploration. Flown for University of Central Florida.
May 01, 2019
The peaked roof that covers Blue Origin’s construction site looms between a traffic sign and a tree in Kent, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) KENT, Wash. — Construction workers have raised the roof on a new headquarters and research-and-development facility for , the private space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. For now, the roof protects a bare patch of concrete laid out on a , about 16 miles south of Seattle. But don’t be fooled by the spartan setting: Even on a Saturday, workers wearing hardhats were making progress on what’s expected eventually to become a 236,000-square-foot warehouse-style building and more than 100,000 square feet of office space. Blue Origin , on the opposite side of the street from the company’s existing 26-acre production facility and headquarters, from a longtime farming family in 2017 for $14.1 million. The company has also been using a 120,000-square-foot warehouse just up the street. Bezos’ company dropped a hint or two about the construction site’s future role earlier this month in a tweet: We’ve gone vertical with our new HQ and R&D facility in Kent, WA! We're continuing to add to our world-class team and excited for a large new facility that will support rapid growth. Thanks to Mayor and as well as everyone involved with the construction. — Blue Origin (@blueorigin) Blue Origin didn’t immediately respond to a request for further details, such as the total cost of the project or the timetable for completion. We’ll update this report with anything we hear back. For what it’s worth, Kent building permits list Sierra Construction among the lead contractors for Blue Origin’s “Project Farmland,” but the work doesn’t show up among the. As noted on Twitter, Blue Origin is dealing with rapid expansion: As of last summer, the company’s workforce was estimated at more than 1,500, and Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying . Nearly 500 job openings are currently listed on . And nearly all of those jobs are based in Kent. In addition to the Kent headquarters expansion, Blue Origin is gearing up for production of its orbital-class New Glenn rocket at its 750,000-square-foot factory in Florida, with the first liftoff from a nearby launch facility . Just last month, the company . The roof structure provides shelter for workers building Blue Origin’s expanded headquarters and research-and-development facility. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) Blue Origin has also broken ground on a That factory will turn out BE-4 engines for the New Glenn as well as for United Launch Alliance’s next-generation, semi-reusable Vulcan rocket. This month, Blue Origin to refurbish and use an engine test stand nearby at Marshall Space Flight Center. In addition to the New Glenn and BE-4 projects, Blue Origin is testing in West Texas, with an eye toward putting people on board starting later this year. There’s also a that’s expected to win more of the spotlight due to . The New Shepard spaceships and their hydrogen-fueled BE-3 rocket engines are being built in Kent and then shipped down to Texas for testing and launch. BE-4 engines will also be built in Kent and test-fired in Texas, at least until the Alabama factory comes online. Based on everything that Bezos and his space venture are aiming to get done in the next couple of years, the Kent expansion project seems likely to proceed in line with Blue Origin’s motto: which is Latin for “step-by-step, ferociously.”
April 29, 2019
New renderings of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket, shared by CEO Elon Musk on Twitter early today, show the shiny spaceship sitting on bare ground on the moon and Mars. The artwork is similar to that came out a couple of years ago when Musk laid out the architecture for the Starship launch system (which was then known as the BFR) at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia. Starships on Mars — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) Starship on the moon — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) Since then, SpaceX has begun launch-pad tests of a Starship prototype nicknamed the Starship Hopper, or StarHopper, at the company’s Boca Chica facility in South Texas. There’s been a series of tethered test firings of the methane-fueled Raptor engine that’s destined to be used on Starship, that took place over the weekend. Last December, Musk promised to provide a about the Starship program once the StarHopper starts flying. His release of updated renderings could be a signal that he’s gearing up for that presentation. The fact that today’s freshened-up renderings have numbers in the upper right corner suggests the slideshow is in the works. The revised rendering of Starship on the moon confirms that Musk and SpaceX are still thinking hard about using the spaceship as an integrated lunar lander. That could to the moon in 2024. SpaceX is targeting the early to mid-2020s for a Starship round-the-moon flight, as well as the start of Mars odysseys. But as Musk has said in the context of his other CEO job, at the Tesla electric-car company, Sharp-eyed fans picked up on the fact that the revised Starship moonscape shows the spaceship standing by itself, with no landing pad or other structures in the background. That sparked a question — and an answer: How is going to safely land Spaceship without a landing zone? Can it tolerate landing & taking off on a not perfectly flat area? Moon surface is quite irregular. — Felix (@gatoparlante) Yes — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) Others noted that Starship has a . But couldn’t that be said about most spaceships, including Blue Origin’s suborbital craft? To paraphrase , sometimes a rocket is just a rocket. For what it’s worth, Blue Origin has its own plans for a lunar lander, nicknamed , and . For folks who are fans of commercial space ventures as well as “Game of Thrones,” Starship vs. Blue Moon could be the new Starks vs. Lannisters.
April 29, 2019
A simulation shows how a 4,425-satellite constellation could be deployed for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service. (Mark Handley / University College London) The Federal Communications Commission today approved SpaceX’s proposed revisions in its plan to put thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit to provide global broadband connectivity, clearing the way to start launching satellites next month. SpaceX already that would use Ku- and Ka-band radio spectrum to beam internet data, but last November, the company asked the FCC to that would put more than a third of the satellites in 550-kilometer-high (340-mile-high) orbits rather than the previously approved 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) orbits. Eventually, SpaceX plans to to enhance the constellation’s coverage. Rival companies working on their own low-Earth-orbit constellations, including the international OneWeb consortium and Kepler Communications, raised concerns about SpaceX’s proposal to modify its satellites’ orbital arrangement. They said the readjusted orbits could increase the potential for interference with their planned communications systems. But the FCC accepted SpaceX’s claims that it would avoid causing interference and overruled the objections. Other objections focused on whether SpaceX’s lower-orbiting satellites might pose a collision risk. The FCC also accepted SpaceX’s reassurances on that issue. “SpaceX claims, because all its satellites have propulsion and are maneuverable to prevent collisions, they are considered to pose zero risk to any other satellites in this orbital region,” the FCC said in . Regulators also took note of SpaceX’s assertion that the satellites in 550-kilometer orbits will dispose of themselves within five years, due to the effects of atmospheric drag. Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, praised the FCC’s action in an emailed statement: “This approval underscores the FCC’s confidence in SpaceX’s plans to deploy its next-generation satellite constellation and connect people around the world with reliable and affordable broadband service. Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing.” SpaceX says that first wave of satellites will be launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida no earlier than May. The company’s facility in Redmond, Wash., has been playing the lead role in developing and producing Starlink satellites. Last year, the satellite development team that was aimed at accelerating progress on the multibillion-dollar project and moving forward with design revisions. In addition to the satellite clearances, SpaceX has submitted an application to operate as well as its back from the satellites to the global internet. Two of those gateways will be in Washington state, in Redmond and North Bend, and the constellation’s telemetry, tracking and command station would be in Brewster, Wash. SpaceX has said an initial version of its Starlink service could offer high-speed connectivity starting in the 2020-2021 time frame. SpaceX is required to put half of its constellation’s satellites into operation by 2024. To facilitate that task, SpaceX is laying the groundwork for its super-heavy-lift in Texas. Schemes to provide internet access from above have been proliferating over the past few years. SpaceX and are generally judged to have made the most progress on their plans. Kepler Communications, a 2016 graduate of the Techstars Seattle startup incubator, is . This month, Amazon acknowledged that it’s planning its own satellite broadband network, . Other potential players in the market include , , and . Alphabet’s Loon and HAPSMobile, a joint venture involving SoftBank Corp. and Aerovironment, highlighted a different approach to the high-speed connectivity challenge this week when they .
April 26, 2019
Is Jeff Bezos planning to send a lander to the moon’s south pole? It’s possible to leap to that conclusion, based on an enigmatic tweet from , the Amazon CEO’s private space venture. The tweet consists of a photograph taken during British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s famously difficult Antarctic expedition, showing the ship Endurance stuck in polar pack ice. Accompanying the picture is a date: “5.9.19.” 5.9.19 — Blue Origin (@blueorigin) It so happens that Bezos is due to provide an update on Blue Origin on May 9 — in Washington, D.C., where the Satellite 2019 conference is being held that week. Two years ago, Bezos , but Shackleton’s ship suggests that this year’s announcement will be more, um, adventurous. Bezos has frequently talked about the craters in the moon’s polar regions as the preferred places for lunar exploration and settlement. “We know that there’s water there. There’s ice there. There are probably other interesting things in those craters as well,” at a space conference in Los Angeles. “And then we also know that on the rims of the craters at the poles of the moon, there are places where you have almost perpetual sunlight,” he added. “Literally there are some peaks where you only have about 10 hours of darkness per year, and those perpetual peaks of light are conveniently located right next to the perpetual dark areas where all these interesting volatiles reside. So it’s almost like somebody set this up for us.” To go there, Blue Origin is developing a lander called that would be capable of delivering up to 5 tons of cargo to the lunar surface. Blue Origin executives have said the lander , which fits in well with NASA’s intention to put astronauts on the moon by 2024. What’s the connection to Shackleton’s ship? One of the potential targets in the moon’s south polar region is . All this doesn’t necessarily mean that Bezos will announce a mission to Shackleton Crater on May 9. But the teaser tweet does suggest that Blue Origin is planning a mission to one of the billionaire’s favorite off-Earth frontiers, the polar regions of the moon. There’s enough there for some entertaining speculation from Notre Dame planetary geologist and engineer ; Skycorp CEO , author of the book “Moonrush”; Space News’ and other space-watchers: New Shackleton? — Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) Shackleton Crater at the lunar south pole … Too obvious? — Alan Boyle (@b0yle) Maybe too difficult. Very steep slopes into Shackleton makes for difficult access from the rim. I would be looking at Peary Crater in the North because only part of it is in permanent shadow (with a water ice signature at the surface) so humans can land in the crater in sunlight. — Clive R. Neal (@Neal148409276) — Dennis Wingo (@wingod) I think you and I are on the same page — Clive R. Neal (@Neal148409276) The Shackleton saga is inspiring, but it’s also a cautionary tale: The literally ground to a halt in 1915 when Endurance got stuck in the ice of the Weddell Sea. After months adrift, the ship was crushed by the grinding ice and disintegrated, stranding . A small party led by Shackleton journeyed hundreds of miles across forbidding seas and terrain to arrange a rescue in 1916, . Fortunately, robotic lunar landers won’t face those kinds of perils — but there’s plenty that could go wrong. Just ask the Israel’s SpaceIL team, whose this month .
April 26, 2019
A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is hauled aboard a recovery ship at the end of a mission to the International Space Station in March. (SpaceX Photo) SpaceX suffered a setback in preparations for its first crewed launch to the International Space Station today when one of its Crew Dragon spacecraft experienced an anomaly during an engine test firing in Florida. No injuries were reported, but the anomaly threw up a huge pillar of smoke from SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 during testing of the Dragon’s Super Draco thrusters. The static-fire test was being conducted in preparation for an in-flight abort test. The in-flight abort test is meant to demonstrate the Crew Dragon’s system for rocketing the crew to a safe landing in the event of an emergency experienced in the early stages of flight. The uncrewed abort test is a necessary step toward sending astronauts to the space station on a different Crew Dragon by . Today’s anomaly seems likely to force a change in that schedule. Here’s what SpaceX had to say in an emailed statement: “Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test stand at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand. “Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test. Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners.” SpaceX did not immediately provide further details about the anomaly — for example, whether the Crew Dragon being tested today was the spacecraft slated for use in the in-flight abort test, or whether the craft was seriously damaged. Florida Today to the effect that the Dragon was nearly destroyed. SpaceX previously conducted a , and an was completed successfully last month. In a tweeted statement, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the space agency and SpaceX were assessing the anomaly and working together to ensure that astronauts will be flown safely when the time comes: NASA has been notified about the results of the Static Fire Test and the anomaly that occurred during the final test. We will work closely to ensure we safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program. — Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) Check back for updates to this developing story.
April 20, 2019
Satellites could extend cloud computing to the final frontier. (Lockheed Martin Illustration) Is the final frontier the next frontier for cloud computing? One of the in June suggests that Lockheed Martin is putting serious thought into the idea of space-based cloud services. The presentation, titled “Solving Earth’s Biggest Problems With a Cloud in Space,” features , vice president and chief information officer at Lockheed Martin Space. Just because an executive is talking about the subject doesn’t necessarily mean the aerospace giant has a plan in the works. But the concept would fit in nicely with Lockheed Martin’s , a cloud-based satellite communications and control service. It’s also worth noting that Amazon unveiled plans this month for a 3,236-satellite constellation,, which would make broadband internet access available to the estimated 4 billion people around the world who are currently underserved. Extending cloud networks into space would provide yet another boost for global commerce, and potentially for global welfare as well. Here’s how the possibilities are described in the abstract for Hodge’s talk: “Can a cloud in space impact the world’s poverty? Are there ways to make agriculture more efficient? Can internet connectivity for the world change how the world lives? Join this interactive discussion as we consider new approaches to solving Earth’s problems including how a cloud in space could positively impact our lives using space data.” In response to our inquiries, Lockheed Martin spokesman Chris Pettigrew said he had nothing further to share at this time but would keep us posted. Amazon had no immediate comment on Hodge’s upcoming presentation. But the fact that Hodge will be on the stage alongside Amazon executives and some of their partners at other companies, such as the , suggests that Amazon likes what Lockheed Martin has in mind. Space-based data services are already a thing. For example, Amazon Web Services is , which makes use of the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation to extend the reach of AWS’ Internet of Things applications. from the International Space Station in ultra-high-definition 4K resolution — and has . Other ventures are revving up as well: The , which styles itself as a space nation, was designed to test long-term data storage in orbit. A company called ConnectX is that would store digital currency. Singapore-based and , the Redmond, Wash.-based venture formerly known as Planetary Resources, have similar blockchain-based plans in the works. Yet another relevant venture is , which from HCH Group Company in Hong Kong for its SpaceBelt satellite cloud network. The idea is to store data (or at least the encryption codes for cloud accounts in terrestrial data centers) in a secure, space-based system where hackers can’t get at it. The Los Angeles-based venture aims to have its constellation of cloud-connected satellites operating in low Earth orbit by the end of 2021. Cloud Constellation lists SpaceChain, IBM and ArabSat among its partners, but hasn’t yet said who would manufacture or launch its satellites. Will Lockheed Martin and Amazon find new places to shine in this constellation of commercial ventures? Stay tuned … and watch the skies.
April 19, 2019
A 1965 photo shows a Saturn V first-stage rocket engine being test-fired at Marshall Space Flight Center’s Test Stand 4670 in Alabama. Blue Origin has struck a deal with NASA to refurbish and use the facility, which has been inactive since 1998. (NASA Photo) Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ has signed an agreement with NASA for the use of a historic test stand at NASA’s in Huntsville, Ala. Under the terms of a Commercial Space Launch Act agreement, Blue Origin will upgrade and refurbish to support testing of its BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines, NASA said today. “This test stand once helped power NASA’s first launches to the moon, which eventually led to the emergence of an entirely new economic sector – commercial space,” . “Now, it will have a role in our ongoing commitment to facilitate growth in this sector.” The 300-foot-tall, vertical firing test stand was built in 1965 to test rocket engines for NASA’s Saturn V rocket, and was later modified to support testing of the space shuttle external tank and main engine systems. It hasn’t been used since 1998. NASA identified the test stand as an underused facility and posted a notice of availability in 2017 to gauge commercial interest in its use. Blue Origin responded to the notice, and a team was commissioned to explore a partnership. The Alabama connection got stronger last year when , which is fueled by liquefied natural gas, to power the first stage of its next-generation Vulcan rocket. That opened the way for Blue Origin to in Huntsville. Blue Origin also plans to use the BE-4 as well as the hydrogen-fueled BE-3U engine on its own orbital-class New Glenn rocket. BE-4 engines are currently being built at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., but production will shift to Alabama once the Huntsville factory is finished. Both New Glenn and the Vulcan rocket are due to go into service in 2021. “I am thrilled about this partnership with NASA to acceptance-test both BE-4 and BE-3U engines at Test Stand 4670, the historic site for testing the Saturn V first stage and the space shuttle main engines,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said. “Through this agreement, we’ll provide for the refurbishment, restoration and modernization of this piece of American history – and bring the sounds of rocket engines firing back to Huntsville.” Marshall Center Director Jody Singer said she was “thrilled to welcome Blue Origin to our growing universe of commercial partners.” “This agreement ensures the test stand will be used for the purpose it was built,” Singer said. Blue Origin will pay for the investments it makes to prepare the test stand for use, plus any direct costs NASA incurs as a result of Blue Origin’s use of the stand.
April 18, 2019
Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket lifts off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, sending a robotic Cygnus cargo capsule into orbit. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls) Almost four tons of supplies, hardware and are heading to the International Space Station after today’s launch of a robotic Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship. The spacecraft, dubbed the SS Roger Chaffee in honor of one of the astronauts killed in the 1967 Apollo 1 launch-pad fire, was sent into orbit from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast at 4:46 p.m. ET (1:46 p.m. PT) atop Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket. The afternoon launch could be seen from a wide area of the East Coast’s mid-Atlantic region. Cygnus’ 7,600-pound shipment includes experiments aimed at manufacturing high-quality optical fiber in zero-gravity, as well as nanoparticles that could someday be used for drug delivery. A host of nanosatellites are on board and due for deployment either from the space station or from the cylindrical Cygnus craft itself. Another piece of hardware aboard the Cygnus, known as the , will serve as a mechanical “sniffer” to detect external ammonia leaks from the station’s cooling system. This is the 11th Cygnus mission flown under the terms of a cargo resupply contract with NASA, but the first to make use of a . Among the late payloads was a that will be used in a study of their immune response to a tetanus vaccine under zero-G conditions. Astronauts will use the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm to haul in the Cygnus for its berthing early Friday. It’ll spend a couple of months hooked up to the station, and will then be set loose for a first-of-its-kind, free-flying orbital mission that could last into the fall. At the end of its mission, the robotic craft will descend to a fiery end during atmospheric re-entry.
April 17, 2019