Space

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
Team SpaceIL says this was the last picture taken by the Beresheet lunar lander, at a distance of 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the lunar surface. (SpaceIL Photo) A manually entered command apparently set off a chain reaction of events that led to last week’s crash of an Israeli-built lunar lander during its attempt to touch down on the moon, the mission’s managers said today. Preliminary results of an investigation into the crash indicate that the manual command was entered into the spacecraft’s computer, which caused the main engine to switch off and stay off during the Beresheet lander’s descent. That led to the failure of the nearly $100 million lunar mission, which took its name from the Hebrew words for “In the Beginning.” The privately funded SpaceIL team and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries said that the investigation is continuing, and that final results will be released in the coming weeks. Today’s statement did not make clear who entered the command, or whether it was entered inadvertently or intentionally. “”I am proud of SpaceIL’s team of engineers for their wonderful work and dedication, and such cases are an integral part of such a complex and pioneering project,” Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn, SpaceIL’s president and principal backer, said in a news release.” What is important now is to learn the best possible lessons from our mistakes and bravely continue forward. That’s the message we’d like to convey to the people in Israel and the entire Jewish world. This is the spirit of the Beresheet project.” In the wake of last week’s crash, Kahn declared that he would back a follow-up mission called Beresheet 2. “The mission we started, I hope we can complete,” . “This is my goal. As for my message for all the youngsters — if it doesn’t work at first, stand up and complete it. And this is what I’m doing.” Even though the lander didn’t survive the crash, that a retroreflector provided by NASA might still be functional. The passive reflector, which is shaped like small mirror ball, is designed to reflect light sent out by the laser altimeter on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Signals bouncing back from the retroreflector could help NASA zero in on the crash site, and the device could continue to serve as a guidance marker for future lunar spacecraft even if it’s just sitting among the rest of Beresheet’s wreckage. The wreckage also contains a miniaturized archive known as the . The archive looks like a DVD and contains the equivalent of 30 million pages of documents and images, including the complete English-language version of Wikipedia, micro-etched onto 25 thin nickel discs. “Based on the durability of the payload desk and estimated impact, we believe the Lunar Library to be intact. Now the hunt is on to find where exactly on the moon it landed,” the Arch Mission Foundation said in a statement. “The Arch Mission Foundation is putting together a team of experts — everyone from Stephen Wolfram to a world-class treasure hunter — to help locate the disc. This also means that Beresheet’s mission was a success in at least delivering the first commercial payload to the moon.” The foundation laid out its plan to hunt for the disk in a white paper titled .
April 17, 2019
NASA astronaut Christina Koch conducts botany research aboard the International Space Station. (NASA Photo) Just days after the , the space agency says two more extended stays on the International Space Station are in the works. One of the missions will set a world record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, and it’s already in progress. NASA astronaut , who went into orbit in March, is having her tour of duty extended to 328 days. That exceeds the 288 days spent in orbit by NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, the . And it comes close to the 340-day NASA record set by Scott Kelly in 2015-2016. (But for what it’s worth, the duration falls far short of the 437-day, 18-hour record set by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov on Russia’s Mir space station in 1994-1995.) Koch said spending nearly a year in space will be “awesome.” “I had known this was a possibility for a long time, and it’s truly a dream come true to know that I can continue to work on the program that I valued so highly my whole life,” the 40-year-old engineer said in a NASA space-to-ground video interview. “To be able to contribute to that and to give my best every day to that for as long as possible is a true honor and a dream come true.” NASA astronaut , who’s due for launch to the space station in July, will also be spending a stint in space lasting longer than 250 days, although the space agency didn’t announce a precise time frame. Jennifer Fogarty, chief scientist of the Human Research Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the extended missions will build upon past studies focusing on the health effects of long-term spaceflight — including the data gleaned from Kelly’s flight. “Astronauts demonstrate amazing resilience and adaptability in response to long-duration spaceflight exposure,” . “This will enable successful exploration missions with healthy, performance-ready astronauts.” During Kelly’s tour of duty, his medical and genetic profile was compared with that of his identical twin down on Earth, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. The findings from the experiment, published in the journal Science, didn’t reveal any previously unknown deal-breakers for long space journeys — but they did raise concerns about the potential effects of space radiation, to cite one example. Such concerns will have to be fully addressed in preparation for long-term trips to the moon, Mars and perhaps beyond. Today’s announcement also revealed that , who was a colleague of Koch and Morgan in NASA’s astronaut class of 2013, will be making her first spaceflight in September. That Soyuz launch will also carry the United Arab Emirates’ first astronaut, , to the station for an eight-day mission. Almansoori, a military fighter pilot, will fly under the terms of a spaceflight participant contract with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. Such an arrangement is the template that NASA is likely to use for spaceflight participants who such as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon or Boeing’s Starliner. Here’s the sequence of missions as announced by NASA: June 24: Current Expedition 59 crew members of NASA, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency and Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos will return to Earth. Koch and fellow NASA astronaut , and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin will remain aboard the space station and begin Expedition 60. July 20: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov are scheduled to launch to the space station and join Expedition 60, returning the orbiting laboratory’s crew complement to six. Parmitano and Skvortsov will return in February 2020 with Koch, leaving Morgan behind for his extended stay. Sept. 25: Meir is scheduled to launch to the station with Almansoon and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka. Almansoon will return with Hague and Ovchinin Oct. 3. Meir and Skripochka will return in spring 2020 with Morgan.
April 17, 2019
The Falcon Heavy center core booster lands on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. (SpaceX via YouTube) Mother Nature has splashed cold water over SpaceX’s triumphant triple booster landing in the wake of. Literally. After sending the Arabsat-6 telecommunications satellite on the first leg of its journey to geostationary orbit on Thursday, the three first-stage rocket cores went their separate ways. Two side boosters touched down safely at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, not far from their launch pad. The center core landed on a drone ship christened “Of Course I Still Love You,” stationed several hundred miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. The center core’s landing was a first. During the Falcon Heavy’s , the center core missed its target. SpaceX was planning to reuse all three cores — as well as the two halves of the rocket’s nose cone, or fairing — on future launches. Unfortunately, the center core didn’t make the trip back to shore intact. Today SpaceX explained why in a statement: “Over the weekend, due to rough sea conditions, SpaceX’s recovery team was unable to secure the center core booster for its return trip to Port Canaveral. As conditions worsened with eight- to ten-foot swells, the booster began to shift and ultimately was unable to remain upright. While we had hoped to bring the booster back intact, the safety of our team always takes precedence. We do not expect future missions to be impacted.” The company didn’t immediately respond to inquiries as to the center core’s current status — for example, whether it was adrift in the ocean. SpaceX usually employs a system known as the to secure recovered Falcon 9 boosters on the drone ship’s deck, but that system couldn’t be used this time around because the Falcon Heavy core booster had a different mechanical interface. The company plans to use the system for the next Falcon Heavy mission, . In other SpaceX news: NASA has for the agency’s , or DART, which aims to demonstrate the capability to deflect an asteroid by hitting it with a spacecraft at high speed. SpaceX will get about $69 million for the 2021 launch on a Falcon 9 rocket. , SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the award “underscores NASA’s confidence in Falcon 9’s capability to perform critical science missions while providing the best launch value in the industry.” The Wall Street Journal quoted Shotwell as for global internet access. “It’s worthy of the hard thought and the hard work we’re putting into it. But is it feasible with our approach or not? It’s still [to be determined],” the Journal quoted her as saying in a February interview. Shotwell has expressed similar sentiments about the plan’s financial prospects
April 15, 2019
Stratolaunch’s twin-engine airplane makes its first flight. (Stratolaunch Photo) , the aerospace venture founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, sent the world’s biggest airplane into the air today for its first flight test. The twin-fuselage plane, which incorporates parts from two Boeing 747 jumbo jets and has a world-record wingspan of 385 feet, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a flight that lasted two and a half hours. For , Stratolaunch has been working with Mojave-based Scaled Composites on the project, which aims to use the plane as a flying launch pad for orbital-class rockets. The first flight test had been . “We finally did it,” Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said today during a briefing. Stratolaunch’s plane, which has been nicknamed Roc after a giant mythical bird, took off at 6:58 a.m. PT and went through a series of in-flight maneuvers, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, steady heading side slips and simulated landing approach exercises. Floyd said it reached a maximum speed of 173 mph and maximum altitude of 15,000 feet. The plane “flew much as we expected,” Scaled Composites test pilot Evan Thomas said. “We saw a few little things that were off-nominal, but really, for a first flight, it was spot-on,” he said. Observers said the plane appeared to , and Thomas confirmed that there were “a couple of corrections to line up in the slowdown.” But all things considered, Floyd said it was a “fantastic first flight.” WOW. First flight of the worlds largest airplane. History is made. — Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) Floyd said the Stratolaunch team dedicated the flight to Paul Allen. “It was an emotional moment to personally watch this majestic bird take flight,” he said. “To see Paul Allen’s dream come to life in front of my very eyes was truly inspiring and incredibly satisfying to me. I had imagined this moment for years, but I never imagined the experience without Paul standing next to me. Even though he wasn’t there today as the plane lifted gracefully from the runway, I did whisper a ‘thank you’ to Paul for allowing me to be part of this remarkable achievement.” The flight was hailed as well by Paul Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, who oversees privately held Stratolaunch as chair of Vulcan Inc. and trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust. “We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today’s historic achievement,” she said in a statement. “The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement, and we congratulate everyone involved.” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate, also . “A historic milestone for the Stratolaunch team with this record setting aircraft taking flight! This is about going to the edge of space and beyond!” he wrote. “I only wish the late @PaulGAllen could see this – his memory and impact lives on.” The Roc lands safely, bringing to a conclusion the first flight of the worlds largest airplane at . — D. Stamos/Helodriver (@SpacecoastPix) A year ago, Stratolaunch executives said they planned to fly the plane this past summer, but on-the-ground runway tests took longer than expected. After Allen’s , the venture went through a round of restructuring. In January, , put its plans to develop its own rocket engine and lineup of launch vehicles on hold, and said it would focus on flight-testing its monster airplane. The plan ahead calls for further tests over the next 12 to 18 months, with the aim of . Stratolaunch has already struck a deal to use to send payloads weighing as much as 816 pounds (370 kilograms) to low Earth orbit. Launches would begin once the plane, nicknamed Roc, wins full certification. Stratolaunch’s air-launch system is designed to carry multiple rockets up to an altitude of about 40,000 feet, and then drop them into the air to fire up their rocket engines. The advantage of such a system is that it can take off from any runway that’s long enough to accommodate the plane, fly around bad weather if need be, and launch a satellite into any orbital inclination. Potential customers range from commercial satellite operators to the U.S. military. It’s not clear, however, just how big of a market niche Stratolaunch will occupy. Because satellites are getting smaller and smaller, with more and more capabilities, some say the world’s biggest plane may be too big to make business sense. Stratolaunch was a spinoff from Allen’s backing for the . Other air-launch spin-offs include Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, two ventures that are under the wing of British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. This week, Virgin Orbit announced a deal to with its LauncherOne air-launch system
April 13, 2019
WOW. First flight of the worlds largest airplane. History is made. — Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) , the aerospace venture founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, sent the world’s biggest airplane into the air today for its first flight test. The twin-fuselage plane, which incorporates parts from two Boeing 747 jumbo jets and has a world-record wingspan of 385 feet, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California for what’s expected to be a flight lasting a couple of hours. Stratolaunch didn’t immediately issue any statements about the flight, which had been anticipated for months — but Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate, invoked Allen’s memory in his tweeted congratulations: A historic milestone for the team with this record setting aircraft taking flight! This is about going to the edge of space and beyond! I only wish the late could see this – his memory and impact lives on. — Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) Allen founded Stratolaunch in 2011 to develop the large carrier airplane as a flying launch pad for orbital-class rockets. A year ago, Stratolaunch executives said they planned to fly the plane this past summer, but on-the-ground runway tests took longer than expected. After Allen’s death in October at the age of 65, the venture went through a round of restructuring. In January, Stratolaunch reduced its staff, put its plans to develop its own rocket engine and lineup of launch vehicles on hold, and said it would focus on flight-testing its monster airplane. The plan ahead calls for further tests over the next 12 to 18 months, with the aim of . Stratolaunch has already struck a deal to use Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus rocket to send payloads weighing as much as 816 pounds (370 kilograms) to low Earth orbit. Launches would begin once the plane, nicknamed Roc, wins operational certification. Stratolaunch’s air-launch system is designed to carry multiple rockets up to an altitude of about 40,000 feet, and then drop them into the air to fire up their rocket engines. The advantage of such a system is that it can take off from any runway that’s long enough to accommodate the plane, fly around bad weather if need be, and launch a satellite into any orbital inclination. Potential customers range from commercial satellite operators to the U.S. military. It’s not clear, however, just how big of a market niche Stratolaunch will occupy. Because satellites are getting smaller and smaller, with more and more capabilities, some say the world’s biggest plane may be too big to make business sense. Stratolaunch was a spinoff from Allen’s backing for the SpaceShipOne private space effort that won a $10 million prize in 2004. Other air-launch spinoffs include Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, two ventures that are under the wing of British billionaire Richard Branson. This week, Virgin Orbit announced a deal to use Guam as a base of operations for sending small satellites into space with its LauncherOne air-launch system
April 13, 2019