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SpaceX successfully launches CRS-20, recovers their 50th Falcon 9 Booster

Northrop Grumman Successfully Completes Cold Static Test of Second Stage for OmegA Rocket

SpaceX successfully launches fourth batch of Starlink satellites

Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort’s successful completion clears way for crewed flights

Boeing’s Starliner capsule begins much-delayed first flight: UPDATE

Northrop Grumman’s NG 12 paints the sky in honor of an American legend

Delta IV Medium ends 17-Year run with 100% success

CRS-18 Falcon and Dragon brave storms to begin 18th ISS flight

Night time is the right time for SpaceX STP-2 mission

Anomaly occurs during OmegA first stage static fire test

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Testing Deficiencies Identified

Michael McCabe March 9th Cape Canaveral, FL – Details are emerging about exactly what and how testing was performed prior to Boeing launching their Starliner test capsule on December 20, 2019, a flight which resulted in a mixed outcome instead of what was supposed to be a resounding and highly anticipated success.

Northrop Grumman Successfully Completes Cold Static Test of Second Stage for OmegA Rocket

Patrick Attwell February 28th PROMONTORY, Utah – Feb. 28, 2020 – Northrop Grumman has successfully completed a cold static test of the second stage of its OmegA rocket in Promontory, Utah, completing the full-duration (approx. 140 seconds) firing on the afternoon of February 27.

New Horizons parallax project seeks public participation

Laurel Kornfeld February 21st NASA’s New Horizons mission is seeking public participation in a project aimed at imaging the two closest stars, Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359, from Earth on April 22 and 23, the same day the spacecraft will photograph them from almost five billion miles (eight billion km) away.

Pluto’s heart feature controls its winds

Laurel Kornfeld February 20th Pluto’s iconic heart feature, named Tombaugh Regio, functions as a “beating heart” that controls the small planet’s winds and might even play a role in shaping its surface features.

Arrokoth data sheds light on planet formation

Laurel Kornfeld February 19th Data returned by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft taken during its January 2019 flyby of Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) Arrokoth, also known as 2014 MU 69, located four billion miles from Earth, supports the theory that planet formation in the solar system occurred in a gentle rather than violent process.

ULA successfully launches Solar Probe aboard Atlas V

Theresa Cross February 10th CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launched a NASA probe its way to our Sun. At 11:03 p.m. EDT, February 9, the rocket left Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Pluto’s hazy atmosphere is similar to that of Titan

Laurel Kornfeld February 2nd Pluto is often compared to Neptune’s largest moon Triton, but its hazy atmosphere is actually more akin to that of Saturn’s largest moon Titan, which is sometimes viewed as an analog of early Earth.

Artemis I Orion spacecraft advancing through tests at Plum Brook Station

Michael Cole January 31st SANDUSKY, OHIO — Testing is fully underway on the Orion spacecraft for the upcoming Artemis I test flight mission at NASA’s Plum Brook Station testing facility in Sandusky, Ohio. The Orion crew capsule, integrated with its European Service Module, is currently inside the facility’s Space Environments Complex undergoing thermal vacuum tests in the largest thermal vacuum chamber in the world.

SpaceX successfully launches fourth batch of Starlink satellites

Theresa Cross January 29th CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX launched their fourth batch of approximately 60 satellites for the Starlink broadband network at 9:06am EDT, January 29, after carefully “evaluating extreme weather in the recovery area,” according to SpaceX.

NASA broadcast celebrates Spitzer telescope’s accomplishments

Laurel Kornfeld January 24th In a live broadcast on Wednesday, January 22, NASA celebrated 16 years of incredible accomplishments by the Spitzer Space Telescope, one of its four “Great Observatories” in space.

Spitzer telescope to be decommissioned after 16 years

Laurel Kornfeld January 20th NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which has studied the universe in infrared light since its launch in August of 2003, will be decommissioned on Thursday, January 30, 2020.

Gallery: SpaceX’s Dragon clears safety check paving way for crewed missions

Michael McCabe January 19th CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Images from the Jan. 19 test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft which successfully demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to pull astronauts away from the rocket in the event of an accident on its way to orbit.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Testing Deficiencies Identified

Michael McCabe March 9th Cape Canaveral, FL – Details are emerging about exactly what and how testing was performed prior to Boeing launching their Starliner test capsule on December 20, 2019, a flight which resulted in a mixed outcome instead of what was supposed to be a resounding and highly anticipated success.

Northrop Grumman Successfully Completes Cold Static Test of Second Stage for OmegA Rocket

Patrick Attwell February 28th PROMONTORY, Utah – Feb. 28, 2020 – Northrop Grumman has successfully completed a cold static test of the second stage of its OmegA rocket in Promontory, Utah, completing the full-duration (approx. 140 seconds) firing on the afternoon of February 27.

Artemis I Orion spacecraft advancing through tests at Plum Brook Station

Michael Cole January 31st SANDUSKY, OHIO — Testing is fully underway on the Orion spacecraft for the upcoming Artemis I test flight mission at NASA’s Plum Brook Station testing facility in Sandusky, Ohio. The Orion crew capsule, integrated with its European Service Module, is currently inside the facility’s Space Environments Complex undergoing thermal vacuum tests in the largest thermal vacuum chamber in the world.

SpaceX successfully launches fourth batch of Starlink satellites

Theresa Cross January 29th CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX launched their fourth batch of approximately 60 satellites for the Starlink broadband network at 9:06am EDT, January 29, after carefully “evaluating extreme weather in the recovery area,” according to SpaceX.

Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort’s successful completion clears way for crewed flights

Theresa Cross January 19th SpaceX successfully completed yet another milestone under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to send astronauts to the International Space Station – the In Flight Abort Test.

SuperDraco engines set to be tested during SpaceX in-flight abort

Theresa Cross January 19th KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — With the in-flight Crew Dragon abort test set to launch in less than an hour, let’s take a look into the incredibly powerful and spacecraft specific SuperDraco engine.

SpaceX, NASA monitoring weather ahead of in-flight abort test.

Sean Costello January 19th CAPE CANAVERAL. Fla. — As the sun rises and the shorelines of the Space Coast communities fill with eager spectators, SpaceX and NASA engineers have their attention focused on the early Sunday morning weather systems.

SpaceX poised to take large step toward human space flight

Cullen Desforges January 17th SpaceX is ready to check off another box on the list of requirements that need to be completed before the company can send crewed missions to the International Space Station.

NASA graduates its newest class of Astronauts

Sean Costello January 10th As NASA prepares to send astronauts to destinations far beyond Earth, a new breed of space flyers has joined the elite cadre of the agency’s astronaut corps.

New Year, new headquarters for Blue Origin

Laurel Kornfeld January 9th With Blue Origin opening its new headquarters, 2020 appears to be a year of further expansion for NewSpace.

SpaceX starts 2020 with Starlink launch

Patrick Attwell January 6th SpaceX’s Starlink constellation just got a major boost.

What’s in a name? Mars 2020 wouldn’t know, it doesn’t have one – yet

James Rice December 30th NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is on the verge of traveling to the Red Planet and beginning its search for evidence of Martian life. But it’s missing something very important.

Launch of Shijian 20 lights up Chinese skies and exploration ambitions

SpaceFlight Insider December 28th China has big plans for its space program. But before it can achieve them, it needed to make sure a key launch vehicle was up to the task. A recent mission suggests that it is.

Russia launches final Rockot with trio of communications satellites

SpaceFlight Insider December 27th Russia launched its final mission on the nation’s 2019 manifest when it sent three communications satellites to orbit on Friday, Dec. 27. The flight marked the close of a vehicle designed for violence.

Boeing Blunder! Starliner timing failure prevents ISS rendezvous

SpaceFlight Insider December 20th “Unplanned but stable.” That’s how Boeing referred to the first flight of its Starliner “space taxi.” In layman’s terms, the spacecraft was placed in the wrong orbit and won’t be going to the International Space Station.

Boeing’s Starliner capsule begins much-delayed first flight: UPDATE

Cullen Desforges December 20th CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – After almost a year of continued delays, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner has finally launched. It is the culmination of years of development, but there’s still a ways to go before astronauts will be soaring aloft in the vehicle.

New Horizons parallax project seeks public participation

February 21st
NASA’s New Horizons mission is seeking public participation in a project aimed at imaging the two closest stars, Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359, from Earth on April 22 and 23, the same day the spacecraft will photograph them from almost five billion miles (eight billion km) away.

Pluto’s heart feature controls its winds

February 20th
Pluto’s iconic heart feature, named Tombaugh Regio, functions as a “beating heart” that controls the small planet’s winds and might even play a role in shaping its surface features.

Arrokoth data sheds light on planet formation

February 19th
Data returned by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft taken during its January 2019 flyby of Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) Arrokoth, also known as 2014 MU 69, located four billion miles from Earth, supports the theory that planet formation in the solar system occurred in a gentle rather than violent process.

ULA successfully launches Solar Probe aboard Atlas V

February 10th
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launched a NASA probe its way to our Sun. At 11:03 p.m. EDT, February 9, the rocket left Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Pluto’s hazy atmosphere is similar to that of Titan

February 2nd
Pluto is often compared to Neptune’s largest moon Triton, but its hazy atmosphere is actually more akin to that of Saturn’s largest moon Titan, which is sometimes viewed as an analog of early Earth.

NASA broadcast celebrates Spitzer telescope’s accomplishments

January 24th
In a live broadcast on Wednesday, January 22, NASA celebrated 16 years of incredible accomplishments by the Spitzer Space Telescope, one of its four “Great Observatories” in space.

Spitzer telescope to be decommissioned after 16 years

January 20th
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which has studied the universe in infrared light since its launch in August of 2003, will be decommissioned on Thursday, January 30, 2020.

Gallery: SpaceX’s Dragon clears safety check paving way for crewed missions

No in-flight abort for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft today

January 18th
SpaceX has been forced to stand down from today’s attempt to test out a critical element of the company’s crew-rated spacecraft.

Boeing releases video from recent OFT mission

January 16th
Boeing has released video from its failed attempt to send its “Starliner” spacecraft to the International Space Station.

Processing of Starlink 2 booster underway, following return to Port Canaveral

January 11th
SpaceX’s B1049.4 returned to Port Canaveral January 9, 2020 after the completion of its fourth flown mission delivering the third set of Starlink satellites into low-Earth-orbit (LEO). This is Spacex’s first launch supported by the newly-created U.S. Space Force and its forty-eighth successful booster recovery.

CRS-19 Dragon wet and waiting for next mission

January 7th
After spending nearly a month berthed to the International Space Station, a SpaceX Cargo Dragon capsule left the Station and splashed down marking the successful completion of its mission.

OPINION: 2019 – Numbers and Names

January 1st
Well that happened. 2019 was a roller-coaster of ups and downs that will have far-reaching consequences for future space exploration efforts.

SpaceX prepares for first of many Starlink launches in 2020

December 31st
2020 looks to be a big year for space. The next twelve months could see the U.S. regain a long-lost capability and another rover should be sent on its way to the Red Planet. SpaceX is planning to kick off 2020 with the launch of the next batch of Starlink satellites.

NASA Mars 2020 rover passes driving test

December 27th
Remember how stressful it was taking your first driver’s test? Now imagine driving a car that’s worth $2.5 billion.

Soyuz MS-10 abort: What happened and how will it affect the International Space Station? SpaceFlight Insider

Spaceflight Insider

The flight of two Expedition 57 crew members ended about two minutes into the flight when an abort event occurred. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

If NASA needed additional cause to accelerate the agency’s Commercial Crew Program – it received it this morning. As of this writing, none of the 16 nations involved in the International Space Station Program have a means of traveling to the lab.

After July of 2011 and prior to Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018; cosmonauts and astronauts have traveled to the ISS via the Russian Soyuz rocket and spacecraft duo. This morning that system encountered a failure that caused an abort resulting in Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague to touch down back on Earth – far earlier than expected.

A disappointed Nick Hague holds his wife after the Oct. 11 abort. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

NASA held a press conference at noon (EST) at the space agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to provide details about the anomaly. NASA Public Affairs Officer Brandi Dean noted in her opening remarks that it had been “an eventful day.”

That day began with a Soyuz-FG rocket lifting off from Launch Complex 1 at the Baikonur Cosmodrone and after about two minutes into the flight an abort scenario unfolded.

After the launch vehicle had left the pad, everything appeared to be normal with the rocket’s first stage performing as its counterparts have done so many times in the past with the stage separating and the strap on boosters falling away. It is at this point that things went as it is referred to in the space community “off nominal.”

The crew on board became aware there was a problem had occurred via a booster emergency light, this let them know that there was a problem with the ascent stage. Shortly thereafter their abort motors fired to life. The MS-10 crew were then accelerated very quickly and away from the booster. The crew then activated the ballistic reentry mode. By all accounts the crew performed flawlessly during this incident. They were not alone in being praised for their professional handling of what must have been a stressful situation. The launch team on the ground remained in contact with Hague and Ovchinin throughout the event.

“I hope they get down safe, that was the only thing going through my mind,” Wiseman said.

The MS-10 duo spent an estimated 34 minutes in a ballistic landing trajectory before touching down. Search and Rescue teams were essentially waiting for them and the pair were recovered shortly thereafter. Officials with NASA stated that the SAR team was with the cosmonaut/astronaut “immediately.”

During the sequence of events that took place before they landed, the intended Expedition 57 crew members encountered some rotation of the vehicle as well as 6 to 7 times Earth’s gravity. They appear to have endured this with little-to-no impact to their health.

Roscosmos will now open a commission to discover what wrong during Thursday’s flight and to determine how to prevent similar problems on upcoming missions that use Soyuz. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

Estimates provided by NASA placed the MS-10 spacecraft at about 31 miles (50 kilometers) in altitude (the Kármán Line, places the “border” of space at around 62 miles or 100 km) when the abort occurred.

“This is, in my opinion, a good news story,” The Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office, Reid Wiseman said. “The crew is back on the ground and have been reunited with their families. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is there, he has been meeting with the crew and so, certainly from the crew perspective, we’re well trained for an abort, we never anticipate one but we kind of expect one and our procedures walk us through each phase of the ascent and which phase we’ll be in. So you’re ready at all times for that abort.”

The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, will now open an investigation as to the cause of the accident under a “commission.” Investigations are something Roscosmos is getting additional experience with of late. This makes the second investigation in less than six weeks that the agency has had to open.

The last of these reviews was opened after a pressure leak that originated from the MS-09 Soyuz on August 30 was detected. While quickly discovered and repaired, the source of the leak, a small hole drilled into the spacecraft, caused Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin to make statements involving sabotage and threats of criminal charges.

Given that another Soyuz spacecraft has encountered yet another problem in so short a time span – raises concerns about the agreement NASA has with Russia to fly NASA astronauts on Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of approximately $75 million a seat. NASA’s International Space Station Operations Integration Manager, Kenny Todd deferred the question of whether NASA would have to pay for the unfulfilled MS-10 mission.

In terms of this latest mishap, Todd, stated that the commission’s investigation would begin “soon” and that the U.S. Space Agency anticipates whatever findings are made will be shared with NASA.

Today’s dramatic turn of events will have some impact on the station’s current residents: European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst (commander), Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev (flight engineer) and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor (flight engineer). The trio is currently scheduled to be on board the ISS through December. This should provide Roscosmos with the better part of two months to understand what caused the accident and to correct this deficiency.

In the short term, the failure of MS-10 to reach orbit means upcoming extra-vehicular activities (EVAs) will not take place as they were originally envisioned.

“The one activity that we’re taking a hard look at this point is our EVA plans, we had planned to do a couple of spacewalks over the next two weeks and we’ll be looking hard at that since one of our EVA spacewalkers is still on the ground,” Todd said. “We’ll have to look at that plan closely and see what makes sense in terms of how we conduct those spacewalks.”

The Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office, Reid Wiseman, stated that while it was unfortunate today’s vehicle failure ended with the best possible outcome – the return of the crew to their families. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

At present, and given that the $100 billion station’s complement will have two less personnel on board, the orbiting lab is well stocked with supplies.

For long term operations at the station, the pause in Soyuz flights could have a significant impact. Given there are no crew-rated spacecraft currently in service and the one that was is now under investigation, there is no means to launch anyone to the station.

Each Soyuz spacecraft has an operational “life’ of about 200 days. This raises the concern the ISS could, if whatever today’s accident was caused by is not discovered soon enough, could be left without a crew. This is actually something NASA has prepared for. In fact, if required, the station could be operated by controllers on the ground.

Throughout the course of the day, NASA officials repeatedly expressed support for and confidence in their Russian colleagues.

While the launch’s outcome might have been less than a resounding success, Todd and Wiseman noted that, in the end, the success of Soyuz’s abort procedures ensured the safe return of Hague and Ovchinin and that was the most important factor to be considered.

“It’s the entire international partnership that makes up the International Space Station. There’s a number of countries around the world that help make this project happen. Clearly over the last seven years we have relied in the Russians to help get our astronauts into space and that partnership has continued to grow,” Todd said. “I think the ability to work through issues, the openness that gets displayed on both sides…I won;t say it’s unparalleled, but certainly we’re very proud of the relationship that we here at NASA [have] with our Roscosmos and Energia friends that we’ve developed through the years.”

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Richard Mitnick

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Origin Story

The Origin Story for the Blog

I am telling the reader this story in the hope of impelling him or her to find their own story and start a wordpress blog. We all have a story. Find yours.

The oldest post I can find for this blog is “From FermiLab Today: Tevatron is Done” at the End of 2011 (but I am not sure if that is the first post, just the oldest I could find.

But the origin goes back to 1985, Timothy Ferris Creation of the Universe PBS, November 20, 1985, available in different videos on YouTube; The Atom Smashers, PBS Frontline November 25, 2008, centered at Fermilab, not available on Youtube; and The Big Bang Machine, with Sir Brian Cox of U Manchester and the ATLAS project at the LHC at CERN.

In 1993, our idiot Congress pulled the plug on The Superconducting Super Collider, a particle accelerator complex under construction in the vicinity of Waxahachie, Texas. Its planned ring circumference was 87.1 kilometers (54.1 mi) with an energy of 20 Tev per proton and was set to be the world’s largest and most energetic. It would have greatly surpassed the current record held by the Large Hadron Collider, which has ring circumference 27 km (17 mi) and energy of 13 TeV per proton.

If this project had been built, most probably the Higgs Boson would have been found there, not in Europe, to which the USA had ceded High Energy Physics.

The project’s director was Roy Schwitters, a physicist at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Louis Ianniello served as its first Project Director for 15 months. The project was cancelled in 1993 due to budget problems, cited as having no immediate economic value.

Some where I learned that fully 30% of the scientists working at CERN were U.S. citizens. The ATLAS project had 600 people at Brookhaven Lab. The CMS project had 1,000 people at Fermilab. There were many scientists which had “gigs” at both sites.

I started digging around in CERN web sites and found Quantum Diaries, a “blog” from before there were blogs, where different scientists could post articles. I commented on a few and my dismay about the lack of U.S recognition in the press.

Those guys at Quantum Diaries, gave me access to the Greybook, the list of every institution in the world in several tiers processing data for CERN. I collected all of their social media and was off to the races for CERN and other great basic and applied science.

Since then I have expanded the list of sites that I cover from all over the world. I build html templates for each institution I cover and plop their articles, complete with all attributions and graphics into the template and post it to the blog. I am not a scientist and I am not qualified to write anything or answer scientific questions. The only thing I might add is graphics where the origin graphics are weak. I have a monster graphics library. Any science questions are referred back to the writer who is told to seek his answer from the real scientists in the project.

The blog has to date 900 followers on the blog, its Facebook Fan page and Twitter.I get my material from email lists and RSS feeds. I do not use Facebook or Twitter, which are both loaded with garbage in the physical sciences.

That is my Origin Story

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richardmitnick 10:31 am on November 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: “Two centaur missions proposed to NASA’s Discovery program”, Astronomy ( 8,524 ), Astrophysics ( 5,651 ), Basic Research ( 11,670 ), Cosmology ( 5,844 ), Proposed Centaurus mission, Proposed Chimera mission, Spaceflight Insider

From Spaceflight Insider: “Two centaur missions proposed to NASA’s Discovery program”

November 22nd, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld


Artist’s depiction of Chiron, the largest known centaur, surrounded by a ring. Image Credit: European Southern Observatory

Two separate proposals to study centaurs have been submitted for the latest round of NASA’s Discovery missions. The Discovery program funds solar system exploration missions in the $1 billion range, including launch and flight costs.

Once thought to be asteroid-comet hybrids, centaurs, which are icy planetesimals that orbit between Jupiter and Neptune, are now recognized as Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) that were recently perturbed and scattered inward into the region of the gas and ice giant planets. Once in this region, they are perturbed by the giant planets and either expelled from the solar system, thrown back into the Kuiper Belt, or captured into the orbits of Jupiter-family comets.

Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

The latter occurs sometime between several hundred thousand and several million years after the planetesimals enter the giant planets’ region–a relatively short time in astronomical scales.

Nearly 20 proposals were submitted to NASA’s Discovery program in response to a December 2018 Announcement of Opportunity (AO) by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Discovery missions, which complement larger missions, seek answers regarding the formation and evolution of the solar system, the conditions under which life emerged on Earth, and both the hazards faced by and resources needed for human space exploration.

Titled Centaurus and Chimera, the two proposed centaur missions are very different from one another. Centaurus, whose principal investigator is Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, is a flyby mission that would visit several centaurs. Chimera, whose principal investigator is Walter Harris of the University of Arizona‘s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, is an orbiter that would study one centaur, Centaur 29P/Schwassman-Wachmann 1 (SW1) in detail.

SW1, along with Chiron, the first centaur discovered and largest one known, are among Centaurus‘s flyby targets.


This image, created via a stack of 20 separate photos, shows comet SW1 after it experienced an outburst. The image on the left was processed to show the various jets emitted during the outburst. Image Credit: By Juan lacruz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

“Working closely with deputy PI Kelsi Singer, our science team, and JPL mission designers, we have found a really unusual trajectory that lets us explore a series of targets of different sizes,” Stern emphasized.

Both Centaurus and Chimera will be solar-powered, thanks to new technology that makes it possible for solar panels to operate beyond the orbit of Saturn. That technology was first tested on NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, when that spacecraft was turned partially away from the Sun.

The ability to use solar panels at such a great distance allows NASA to save plutonium for use in much more distant missions.

“Centaurus is a non-nuclear Discovery proposal to make the first reconnaissance of centaurs–escaped Scattered Disk KBOs–and other primitive bodies, via a series of reconnaissance flybys,” according to a poster presentation about the mission presented by Singer at the American Astronomical Society‘s (AAS) Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) 51st Annual Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in September of this year.


Poster presented to 51st DPS Meeting outlining proposed Centaurus mission. Image Credit: Kelsi Singer, SwRI

Onboard the spacecraft, should the mission be selected, will be a suite of imagers, both color and panchromatic; multiple spectrometers, which will study objects’ surface geology and composition, atmospheres, and any detected satellites or rings.

“In total, the Centaurus payload involves four experiments, all with direct lineage to instruments in flight and in build for other missions,” Singer noted.

Chimera, should it be chosen, will orbit SW1 for at least two years and possibly longer, if the mission is extended. It will enter a close orbit around the centaur to monitor its activity, map its surface characteristics, observe surface changes over time, and monitor outbursts up close. To accomplish these tasks, the spacecraft will be equipped with visible cameras, including one with three filters, which will search for specific features within the coma; thermal cameras, which will measure temperature changes on SW1’s surface; a mass spectrometer, which will study gas composition, and an infrared spectral imager that will identify the composition of both the coma and surface.

The latter instrument will also look for carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water, and minerals.

“Centaurs are a source population for comets moving inward from beyond Neptune in chaotic orbits. They drift in and bounce around chaotically for a few million to a few tens of millions of years. Twenty-five to 30 percent wind up scattered into the inner solar system, where they become short-period Jupiter-family comets,” Harris stated.

“The big question is, how do we relate what these objects were (KBOs) with what they become? The answer is the centaur–an intermediate state.”

SW1 was discovered in 1922, eight years before Pluto was found, and was the first object other than a planet found with an orbit entirely beyond Jupiter. It has been observed undergoing regular outbursts, making it the most active small body in the outer solar system. Scientists estimate it has a 70 percent chance of becoming a Jupiter-family comet within the next 10,000 years.

Next month, four of the Discovery mission proposals will be selected to move on to the next phase, a detailed concept study, which must be submitted by November 2020. Scientists and space engineers selected by NASA will review these studies, rate them, and select two for flight some time in 2021.

Flight dates for both missions, should they be chosen, based on favorable planetary alignments will be either 2025-2026 or 2028-2029.


This GIF depicts SW1 brightening during a September 2018 outburst. Image Credit: Alphonse Diepvens, Belgium

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SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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richardmitnick 7:51 am on November 5, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: “NASA funds study of possible Pluto orbiter”, Astronomy ( 8,524 ), Astrophysics ( 5,651 ), Basic Research ( 11,670 ), Cosmology ( 5,844 ), Kuiper Belt ( 9 ), National Academy Planetary Decadal Study, Planetary Science Decadal Survey, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Spaceflight Insider

From Spaceflight Insider: “NASA funds study of possible Pluto orbiter”

November 4th, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld


Artist’s rendering a Pluto orbiter flying in front of Pluto’s large moon Charon. Image Credit: Ron Miller for Astronomy magazine

NASA is funding a study by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to explore the feasibility, nature, and cost of a return mission to Pluto, this time with an orbiter.

The study comes four years after the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto on July 14, 2015, revealing it to be a stunningly beautiful and complex world.

NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

However, because that mission was a fast flyby, only one of Pluto’s hemispheres was mapped in high resolution. Data collected was limited to conditions of that particular day rather than observations of seasonal and geological changes over time. Just 40 percent of Pluto and Charon were mapped in high resolution, and no close approaches were made to the system’s four small moons.

One of 10 studies NASA has approved in anticipation of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, a document issued once every decade by the National Academy of Sciences outlining priorities for planetary science missions, the orbiter proposal will focus on “the important attributes, feasibility, and cost of a possible Pluto future orbiter mission.

SwRI conducted its own internal study of a potential Pluto orbiter in 2018, led by New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern. which addressed both spacecraft design, science instruments, launch vehicle, and chemical propulsion the mission would need.

A major study finding was that the mission could save fuel by using close flybys of Pluto and Charon as gravity assists. Such maneuvers were conducted by the Cassini mission via Titan flybys and would significantly reduce the fuel the spacecraft would have to carry upon launch.

NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft


An enhanced-color image of Pluto’s large moon Charon. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Even with the use of this maneuver, an orbiter would weigh about five times as much as New Horizons because it would have to carry enough fuel to brake at Pluto and enter orbit.

Following the New Horizons flyby, scientists debated whether to return to Pluto with an orbiter or visit other dwarf planets and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) with flyby missions.

Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

SwRI’s 2018 study confirms a single spacecraft could orbit the Pluto system for two years, then use a gravity assist from Charon to propel it to a second dwarf planet as well as a small KBO similar to Ultima Thule, New Horizons‘ second flyby target.

“This is groundbreaking. Previously, NASA and the planetary science community thought the next step in Kuiper Belt exploration would be to choose between ‘going deep’ in the study of Pluto and its moons or ‘going broad’ by examining smaller Kuiper Belt Objects and another dwarf planet for comparison to Pluto. The planetary science community debated which was the right next step. Our studies show you can do both in a single mission: it’s a game changer,” Stern emphasized.

According to Tiffany Finley, a software specialist at SwRI‘s Space Science and Engineering Division, who took part in the 2018 study, an orbiter could make five or more flybys of each one of Pluto’s small moons, study Charon up close, inspect both Pluto’s equatorial and polar regions, and sample Pluto’s atmosphere.

Like NASA’s Dawn mission, which orbited both dwarf planet Ceres and protoplanet Vesta, a Pluto orbiter could use xenon ion propulsion to travel to a second target and enter orbit around it.

NASA/DLR Dawn Spacecraft (2007-2018)

The orbiter would need a much faster communication system than New Horizons, which took 16 months to return all the data it collected to Earth. That means a much higher storage volume than New Horizons‘ 16 GBs of storage and both a transmitter and dish antenna that are 10 times more powerful than those New Horizons carried. Both the technology and software required for these already exists.

Ideally, the orbiter would send data back to Earth approximately every 15 to 30 days.

SwRI‘s study, which envisions launching in the late 2020s or early 2030s, also proposes the spacecraft be equipped with reaction wheels that would enable it to regularly conduct pointing maneuvers at various targets.

Goals for an orbiter outlined in the 2018 study include mapping all of Pluto and Charon in high resolution, using radar to determine the depth of Pluto’s glaciers, studying its atmosphere using a mass spectrometer, identifying the compounds on the surface and in the atmosphere, and using a thermal mapper to learn what is powering the glaciers and whether Pluto hosts any active ice volcanoes. Additionally, a magnetometer would determine whether Pluto’s core is still active while lidar would map those areas near Pluto’s poles that are in permanent shadow.

Radio tracking will allow scientists to answer the question of whether Pluto contains a subsurface ocean of liquid water, which would make it one of the solar system’s growing numbers of ocean worlds, such as Europa and Enceladus, that could potentially host microbial life.

Upon completion, the new, NASA-funded study will be submitted to the National Academy Planetary Decadal Study, which begins next year. The results of all Decadal Survey studies will be published in 2022.


Look back image of Pluto’s atmospheric hazes, surface ice mountains, and plains, taken 15 minutes after closet approach. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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richardmitnick 3:31 pm on August 27, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: Astronomy ( 8,524 ), Astrophysics ( 5,651 ), Basic Research ( 11,670 ), Cosmology ( 5,844 ), NASA Administrator Says Pluto Is Still a Planet And Things Are Getting Heated, Pluto ( 10 ), Science Alert ( 304 ), Spaceflight Insider

From Spaceflight Insider: “Second group of names approved for features on Pluto” and Defense of Pluto’s Status as a planet

August 26th, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld


A composite of images collected by New Horizons’ instruments during the spacecraft’s July 2015 Pluto flyby, this annotated map shows the newly-approved names in yellow and the ones approved in 2017 in white. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Ross Beyer

A second set of names for features on Pluto, already used informally by members of NASA’s New Horizons mission, has received formal approval by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the organization that names celestial objects and their features.

Submitted by the New Horizons mission, these 14 names honor pioneering explorers on Earth, space missions, scientists and engineers who have studied Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, and underworld mythology. Like the first set of 14 names for various features on Pluto’s surface, which were approved in 2017, all of these came from a 2015 public naming campaign organized jointly by the New Horizons mission, the SETI Institute, and the IAU.

NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

That campaign, titled “Our Pluto,” established a list of themes for names to be assigned to features on Pluto, Charon, and the system’s four small moons in advance of the July 2015 Pluto flyby. Themes for surface features on Pluto included names for the underworld from various world mythologies; gods, goddesses, and dwarfs associated with the underworld; heroes and other explorers of the underworld; writers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt; and scientists and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Participants could vote for names from a list of nominations suggested by the organizers or nominate a name of their choosing under the established categories.

____________________________________________________

From Science Alert
NASA Administrator Says Pluto Is Still a Planet, And Things Are Getting Heated
26 AUG 2019
MICHELLE STARR

NASA Administrator Says Pluto Is Still a Planet, And Things Are Getting Heated.

Saturday 24 August 2019 marked a vexing anniversary for planetary scientists. It was 13 years to the day that Pluto’s official definition changed – what was once numbered among the planets of the Solar System was now but a humble dwarf planet.

But not everyone agreed with the International Astronomical Union’s ruling – and now NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has added his voice to the chorus declaring support for Pluto’s membership in the Solar System Planet Club.

“Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet,” he said during a tour of the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“You can write that the NASA Administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learnt it, and I’m committed to it.”

Now, this doesn’t officially change anything, and his reasoning is a little facile – having learnt something one way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way, thank you geocentrism. It’s an off-the-cuff lighthearted remark, and that’s fine.

But it just so happens that planetary scientists have been banging the Pluto planet drum for years, and their reasons are a little more considered. Actually, a lot more.

When the IAU removed Pluto from the list of what had been nine planets in the Solar System in August 2006, the move was a corollary of its official definitions of planets and dwarf planets.

Before that, there had been no official definitions of these objects, which created problems when astronomer Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology and colleagues discovered an object that seemed to be bigger than Pluto. (This object was later designated a dwarf planet, and named Eris, after the Greek goddess of strife and discord.)

The difference between a planet and a dwarf planet that changed Pluto’s status? Pluto – hanging out as it does in the Kuiper Belt asteroid field – has not cleared “the neighbourhood around its orbit” of other rocks.

This helped to resolve the perceived problem of other objects around the same size of Pluto, of which there are potentially hundreds. If Pluto was in the planet club, what was keeping the rest of the riff-raff out?

Planetary scientist Alan Stern, leader of NASA’s New Horizon’s mission, has been vocal about his disappointment with the decision to de-planet Pluto since it was made.

“My conclusion is that the IAU definition is not only unworkable and unteachable, but so scientifically flawed and internally contradictory that it cannot be strongly defended against claims of scientific sloppiness, “ir-rigor,” and cogent classification,” he wrote in September 2006.

“The New Horizons project, like a growing number of the public, and many hundreds if not thousands of professional research astronomers and planetary scientists, will not recognise the IAU’s planet definition resolution of Aug. 24, 2006.”

And so he has not. In fact, earlier this year, he debated Ron Ekers of the IAU, defending Pluto’s planet status.

It’s not just that only 424 of around 9,000 IAU members voted on the resolution, nor that hundreds of planetary scientists immediately petitioned against it.

It’s also that Pluto has its own multilayered atmosphere, organic compounds, weather, moons.

It has landscapes – rocky mountain ranges and wide plains. It has avalanches, maybe plutoquakes, maybe even liquid oceans. And that the definition based on orbital clearing has no historical merit.

And even if it did, one could argue that other planets haven’t cleared their neighbourhoods either – there are a lot of asteroids hanging around both Earth and Jupiter’s orbits (although not nearly as many as the Kuiper Belt.)

Scientists last year argued that a planet should be defined as an object that has become large enough to become a sphere.

“It turns out this is an important milestone in the evolution of a planetary body, because apparently when it happens, it initiates active geology in the body,” explained planetary physicist Philip Metzger of the University of Central Florida.

So far, the IAU has shown no signs of backing down, but neither do Pluto’s supporters. Perhaps Bridenstine joining Team Pluto will renew the fight. And we, for one, stand by to welcome our hundreds of new planetary pals.

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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richardmitnick 11:33 am on August 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: “NASA teaming up with commercial companies for return to the Moon”, Spaceflight Insider

From Spaceflight Insider: “NASA teaming up with commercial companies for return to the Moon”

August 5th, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld


NASA has issued a request for proposals for the space agency’s new Artemis Program. Image Credit: NASA

To achieve the goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2024, NASA announced it is teaming up with commercial companies to develop new technologies for landing on and taking off from the lunar surface.

On July 30, the space agency issued a public call for commercial companies to build both small and medium-sized lunar landers and rovers capable of bringing science experiments and power sources to the Moon as part of its new Artemis program. The project seeks to land astronauts, including one or more women, on various regions of the lunar surface, including its South Pole. Nine companies have already signed on to a program known as the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

“Our commercial partners are helping us to advance lunar science in an unprecedented way. As we enable broader opportunities for for commercial providers through CLPS, we’re enlarging our capabilities to do novel measurements and technology development scientists have long wanted to do at the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

In October 2018, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate issued an Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity (ACO) seeking private companies to contract with on the many components of future space missions. These include advanced communication, navigation, and avionics; advanced materials for rockets and spacecraft; entry, descent, and landing technologies; in-space manufacturing and assembly of equipment; power systems, including solar cells; propulsion, and other exploration technologies.

Through a public-private collaboration program known as Swamp Works, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is partnering with both SpaceX and Lockheed Martin to make Artemis a reality. With SpaceX, KSC hopes to develop the technology needed to vertically land rockets on the Moon. This could be difficult because of potential interaction between plumes generated by rocket engines and lunar soil, known as regolith.

“Missions to the lunar surface present challenges from rocket engine plume effects as they interact with the regolith surface to eject high-velocity dust particles and rocks,” explained Rob Mueller, senior technologist for advanced projects development at KSC‘s Exploration Research and Technology Programs. “To mitigate the damage to equipment during landings and takeoff, we’ll work on technologies such as launch and landing pads, and blast protection berms or walls to make operations on the Moon sustainable and safe for NASA and all of our partners. These types of risk mitigations become exponentially more important as landers increase in size, and Kennedy‘s Swamp Works is at the forefront of developing new technological solutions for this based on related computer modeling tools and testing.”

NASA hopes that in working together, KSC‘s Swamp Works program and SpaceX can develop technologies capable of landing astronauts on both the Moon and Mars, Mueller emphasized.

KSC‘s partnership with Lockheed Martin seeks to grow plants in space autonomously with the help of robotics. If successful, this could function as a food source for astronauts on future deep space missions. Bryan Onate, chief of KSC‘s Life Sciences and Utilization Office, said the public-private partnership already has a team of engineers, scientists, interns, and other contractors working on the project.

“Exploring beyond low-Earth orbit will require long-duration stays on the Moon and eventually Mars, meaning we are focused on providing plant growth systems that will supplement and sustain the crews’ nutrition and implement autonomous operations as required. So we are excited to be taking part in this collaborative opportunity, which will develop new technology to enable future missions.”

NASA hopes to reduce both the cost and the amount of time needed to develop new technologies for Artemis and for subsequent long-term crewed space missions by working together with commercial spaceflight companies.

“The Artemis program integrates our science and exploration goals, and we are using our commercial partners to help meet those goals with an innovative and cost-effective approach. The ability to land heavier payloads on the lunar surface is a service that NASA has a key interest in. We’re looking forward to innovative proposals and possibly more partners to advance what we’ve already started with CLPS,” emphasized Steve Clarke, NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration in science.

Thirteen commercial companies have been contracted with through the ACO for a total of 19 public-private partnerships.

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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richardmitnick 10:28 am on July 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: Applied Research & Technology ( 6,241 ), Mars 2020 rover, NASA JPL – Caltech ( 294 ), Spaceflight Insider

From Spaceflight Insider: “I have the power! Mars 2020 rover completes critical milestone”

July 29th, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld


Does this power system make my butt look big? While this likely isn’t what the Mars 2020 rover was thinking when this photo was taken, the robot is getting closer to taking flight. Photo Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA Mars 2020 rover schematic

With just one year to go before the Mars 2020 rover’s scheduled launch, work is commencing on the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) that will serve as the rover’s power source.

Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, approved this next stage of the rover’s construction on July 24. As the first robotic spacecraft equipped with technology capable of selecting its own landing site, Mars 2020 is viewed by NASA as paving the way for crewed space missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Construction of the rover, which viewers can now watch live online thanks to a camera installed in the clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, is proceeding on target. All of its interior parts have now been built except for the highly complex Adaptive Caching Assembly, which has a total of 3,000 parts, including seven motors.

“The progression of the Mars 2020 rover project is on schedule. The decision to begin fueling the MMRTG is another important milestone in keeping to our timetable for a July 2020 launch,” Zerbuchen emphasized.

After launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 17, 2020, when Earth and Mars are in ideal positions relative to one another for the trip, the rover is scheduled to land in Jezero Crater on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021, using a sky crane descent landing system. Favorable alignments of Earth and Mars every two years reduce the amount of power and therefore cost needed for the journey.

Mars 2020‘s design and landing system are based on those used on the Curiosity rover, which touched down inside Mars’ Gale Crater in August 2012 and is still functioning nearly seven years later.

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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richardmitnick 4:44 pm on July 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: Pluto ( 10 ), Spaceflight Insider

From Spaceflight Insider: “Conference keeps focus on Pluto following New Horizons flyby”

July 23rd, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld


Image Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory


Three years after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft gave humankind our first close-up views of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, scientists are still revealing the wonders of these incredible worlds in the outer Solar System. Marking the anniversary of New Horizons’ historic flight through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, mission scientists released the highest-resolution color images of Pluto and Charon. This image was taken as New Horizons zipped toward Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015, from a range of 22,025 miles (35,445) kilometers. This single color MVIC scan includes no data from other New Horizons imagers or instruments added. The striking features on Pluto are clearly visible, including the bright expanse of Pluto’s icy, nitrogen-and-methane rich “heart,” Sputnik Planitia.
These natural-color images result from refined calibration of data gathered by New Horizons’ color Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The processing creates images that would approximate the colors that the human eye would perceive, bringing them closer to “true color” than the images released near the encounter.
This image was taken as New Horizons zipped toward Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015, from a range of 22,025 miles (35,445) kilometers. This single color MVIC scan includes no data from other New Horizons imagers or instruments added. The striking features on Pluto are clearly visible, including the bright expanse of Pluto’s icy, nitrogen-and-methane rich “heart,” Sputnik Planitia.
Date 18 July 2018
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Alex Parker

A four-day science conference organized by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), Universities Space Research Association (USRA), and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) held July 14-18 focused on findings obtained by the New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the Pluto system in 2015 and Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule in 2019.

NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

Titled The Pluto System after New Horizons, the conference, which featured presentations by many planetary scientists, addressed Pluto’s geology, atmosphere, orbital dynamics, and system origin as well as the nature of the double-lobed Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) and the radiation environment in the Kuiper Belt as measured by the spacecraft.

It included poster sessions on topics such as the topography of Pluto and Charon, stellar occultations by Pluto in 2017 and 2018, composition of the early solar nebula based on the findings at Ultima Thule, computer simulations based on data returned by New Horizons‘ seven science instruments, and numerous related topics.

Held at JHUAPL‘s Kossiakoff Center Kossiakoff Center, the conference also included discussions of followup observations from the ground as well as a possible return to the Pluto system with an orbiter. According to New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado (SwRI), if an orbiter is sent, it is likely to launch in the 2030s and arrive at Pluto during the 2040s.

The conference was a followup to a similar Pluto Science Conference held in July 2013, at which time planetary scientists used both data collected during ground-based observations and via computer models to anticipate what New Horizons would find during its 2015 Pluto flyby. That conference concluded with the announcement of a post-flyby conference then planned for the summer of 2017. A subsequent two-year delay enabled participants to incorporate data from the Ultima Thule flyby as well as data about the Kuiper Belt environment collected by the probe.

Noting the recent 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, Kevin Schindler of the Lowell Observatory used the example of the Moon to describe the sequential stages of exploration required to learn about a celestial object. While the Moon has been observed since ancient times, Pluto is not visible to the naked eye and therefore has been studied for less than a century, he stated.


The conference’s topics detailed continued study of Pluto and its family of natural satellites. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Steve Gribben

“If we are to comprehensively characterize Pluto, and by extension, any other planetary body, we must continue the quest for knowledge with continued multi-stage exploration.”

Stern pointed out that due to Pluto’s 6.38-day-long rotation, New Horizons was able to image only one of its hemispheres, the “near” or “encounter” side, in high resolution. Pluto’s far side could be imaged only in low resolution because it was photographed at a greater distance, so scientists are uncertain as to whether that side is as heterogeneous as the near side is.

Pluto’s diverse geology is most evident on the near side, which features a variety of terrains including dunes, cryovolcanoes, mountains of water ice, bladed terrain, and the young, geologically active left side of its heart feature, known as Sputnik Planitia. Its surface hosts volatile ices and complex organics known as tholins, produced by the interaction of sunlight with surface methane.

The European Southern Observatory‘s (ESO) European Extremely Large Telescope, scheduled for construction during the 2020s, will be able to image Pluto at about the same resolution as New Horizons did at the far side.

ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. located at the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 3,060 metres (10,040 ft).

While ground-based observations can and will be used to monitor changes in the planet’s color and composition, ultimately, “We need to go back with an orbiter,” Stern emphasized.

At the 2013 conference, many scientists predicted Pluto would resemble Neptune’s large moon Triton, which likely orbited the Sun directly before being captured into the giant planet’s orbit. Yet ground-based observations of both worlds with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope revealed Pluto’s atmosphere may be more like that of Saturn’s moon Titan.

ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

While Pluto’s upper atmosphere contains high levels of hydrogen cyanide (HCN), Triton’s atmosphere shows only a weak HCN signal. Pluto’s atmosphere also has abundant methane while Triton’s does not.

Kirby Runyon of Johns Hopkins University‘s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences noted that New Horizons‘ findings, along with the discovery of nearly 4,000 exoplanets over the last 20 plus years, indicate pedagogy of the solar system needs to change from memorization of a short list of planet names to a focus on a larger, more complex solar system with inner, middle, and outer zones.

Links to abstracts of all the presentations are available for reading on the conference’s Program and Abstracts website. Conference presentations and discussions will be the subject of a book, also titled The Pluto System After New Horizons, scheduled to be published in 2020 as part of the University of Arizona Space Science Series.

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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richardmitnick 1:03 pm on July 2, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: Astronomy ( 8,524 ), Astrophysics ( 5,651 ), Basic Research ( 11,670 ), Complex organic molecules have been discovered in the plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Cosmology ( 5,844 ), Enceladus ( 9 ), Spaceflight Insider

From Spaceflight Insider: “Saturn’s moon Enceladus has conditions that could support microbial life”

July 4th, 2018 [Just found this]
Laurel Kornfeld


Scientists didn’t know why Enceladus was the brightest world in the solar system, or how it related to Saturn’s E ring. Cassini found that both the fresh coating on its surface, and icy material in the E ring originate from vents connected to a global subsurface saltwater ocean that might host hydrothermal vents. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Complex organic molecules have been discovered in the plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The data transmitted back to Earth by the Cassini Saturn orbiter, which ended its service above the ringed world on Sept. 16, 2017.

Located in the moon’s south polar region, the plumes are made up of ice-covered materials that contain complex organic compounds. Hydrothermal vents beneath the moon’s surface mix up materials from its core, Enceladus’ subsurface ocean and transport the solution upward in the forms of vapor and ice grains.

Smaller, simpler organic compounds were already detected in the plumes years ago by Cassini. However, this is the first time complex organic molecules, which are made up of hundreds of atoms, have been found on Enceladus. These molecules are rarely seen beyond Earth.

The presence of liquid water, hydrothermal vents, and complex organic molecules make the moon’s subsurface ocean potentially habitable for life.


Hydrothermal activity in Enceladus’ core and the rise of organic-rich bubbles. Image Credit: ESA; F. Postberg et al (2018)

Bubbles of gas rising up within the ocean could be transporting these complex molecules from the moon’s porous core to the ocean’s surface just beneath its icy shell. Through cracks in the vents, these bubbles scatter the organic material, some of which is released into space.

Complex organic molecules are produced by both biological and complex chemical processes and can also transported by meteorites, so their discovery is not proof that Enceladus harbors life.

Frank Postberg and Nozair Khawaja of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, who led the study of Cassini‘s data and confirmed the presence of the complex organic molecules, continue to study the composition of the ice and heavy molecules found in Enceladus’s plumes.

“In my opinion, the fragments we found are of hydrothermal origin; in the high pressures and warm temperatures we expect there, it is possible that complex organic molecules can arise,” Postberg said.

A similar process occurs on Earth, where hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the oceans generate complex organic molecules. Microbial life has been found in some of these vents on Earth, which may have played a role in the start of life on our planet.

A paper on the study has been published in the journal Nature.

“Continuing studies of Cassini data will help us unravel the mysteries of this intriguing ocean world,” said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory via an agency-issued release.

Cassini, a collaborative project between NASA, ESA and (ASI). Launched on October 15,1997 atop a Titan IVB/Centaur rocket, the mission had spent almost twenty years (19 years and 335 days) in space. The spacecraft spent some 13 years orbiting Saturn and its moons and deployed a lander, Huygens, the only current vehicle to be placed on a world in the outer solar system.


Cassini in orbit above the gas giant Saturn. Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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richardmitnick 1:36 pm on June 29, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: Astronomy ( 8,524 ), Astrophysics ( 5,651 ), Basic Research ( 11,670 ), Cosmology ( 5,844 ), Rocket Lab’s Electron launches seven small satellites from New Zealand, Spaceflight Insider

From Spaceflight Insider: “Rocket Lab’s Electron launches seven small satellites from New Zealand”

June 29th, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld


The “Make It Rain” Electron rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 1 at 12:30 a.m. EDT (04:30 UTC), on Saturday 29 June 2019. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, a private American company that manufactures and launches small satellites, put seven satellites via its Electron vehicle during a launch from New Zealand.

Liftoff occurred at 12:30 a.m. EDT (04:30 GMT) on Saturday, June 29. The mission had launch dates of June 27 and 28 but was pushed back to the twenty-ninth. Each day between June 27 and July 10 Rocket Lab had a two-hour launch window to get the vehicle off the pad.

The rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 1 in Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand a site that could become very busy in the coming days. According to Rocket Lab: Rocket Lab’s next mission is yet to be announced, but is scheduled for lift-off from Launch Complex 1 in the coming weeks. Rocket Lab’s manifest is booked with monthly launches for the remainder of 2019, scaling to a launch every two weeks in 2020.

Nicknamed “Make it Rain” after Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries’, rain-drenched home, Saturday’s launch was the seventh for Rocket Lab‘s Electron launch vehicle and the third to take flight this year.

Following liftoff and separation of the rocket’s first stage, the satellites were delivered into an elliptical orbit by Electron’s second stage about 56 minutes after the rocket had left the pad. The rocket’s Kick Stage ignited, carrying the payloads into a circular orbit. Once that is accomplished the Kick Stage fell back to Earth and burned up in its atmosphere.

As noted, the mission is being launched on behalf of Spaceflight Industries, a commercial company that books and manages low-cost satellite launches and ride shares for private companies, non-profits, and governments, with the goal of making space more accessible. According to Spaceflight Now, the payloads launched on this latest mission include two Prometheus nano-satellites for US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the BlackSky Global 3 commercial Earth observation satellite, two SpaceBEE data relay satellites on behalf of Swarm Technologies, a technology demonstration CubeSat named ACRUX 1 for Australia’s Melbourne Space Program, and a seventh, unidentified satellite.

Initially conceived in 2013, Electron is designed to launch small satellites rapidly, reliably, and affordably. According to Rocket Lab, “We’ve designed Electron to be built and launched with unprecedented frequency, while providing the smoothest ride and most precise deployment to orbit.” Its “Kick Stage” is built to bring satellites to very precise orbits, then de-orbit without leaving any parts in space.

“Congratulations to the dedicated teams behind the payloads on this mission, and also to our team for another flawless Electron launch,” says Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. “It’s a privilege to provide tailored and reliable access to space for small satellites like these, giving each one a smooth ride to orbit and precise deployment, even in a rideshare arrangement.”

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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richardmitnick 12:19 pm on June 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: Applied Research & Technology ( 6,241 ), Basic Research ( 11,670 ), COSMIC-2 satellite, Earth Observation ( 662 ), NOAA to launch six weather satellites later this month, Spaceflight Insider, Taiwan National Space Organization, The small satellites will be operated from Taiwan

From Spaceflight Insider: “NOAA to launch six weather satellites later this month”

June 18th, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld


Artist’s depiction of the COSMIC-2 satellite on orbit. Image Credit: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plans to launch six remote-sensing micro-satellites next week, which will monitor weather in space and on Earth beginning approximately seven months after launch.

A joint endeavor among NOAA, the Taiwan National Space Organization (NSPO), the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO), the project is named the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate or COSMIC-2. It is the successor to COSMIC, a system of weather-monitoring satellites launched in 2006.

Known as FORMOSAT-7 in Taiwan, the mission will feature six satellites in orbits near Earth’s equator. Approximately the size of a kitchen oven, each satellite will be equipped with three science instruments, which will study temperature and humidity in the tropics and sub-tropics, the regions on Earth with the most moisture. This distinguishes them from the satellites used in the first COSMIC mission, which orbited near the planet’s poles.

The science instruments will measure the density, temperature, pressure, and moisture in Earth’s atmosphere as well as electron density and space weather conditions in the ionosphere, the ionized region of Earth’s upper atmosphere, which extends 50 to 600 miles (80 to 1,000 km) above the planet’s surface.


Artist’s Rendering demonstration Radio Occultation Technique. Image Credit: The NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service

Data collected by the science instruments will be used in NOAA computer models to predict weather conditions around the world as well as solar storms.

“This latest generation of COSMIC satellites will continue to build on the successes of the program. The COSMIC satellites keep scientists and forecasters informed of minute changes in the atmosphere and space, with this latest batch of satellites ensuring that this critical data is collected from the poles to the tropics,” emphasized Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. NOAA is a project of the US Department of Commerce.

Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator, noted, “COSMIC-2, in concert with the infrared and microwave sounding instruments carried on polar-orbiting satellites operated by NOAA and its US and international partners, will help provide a complete set of global data for use in NOAA‘s operational weather prediction models.”

COSMIC-2 will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on June 24 at the earliest. Following launch, the small satellites will be operated from Taiwan and will undergo a variety of tests expected to take approximately seven months before they begin collecting data.

Louis W. Uccellini, director of NOAA‘s National Weather Service (NWS), explained, “COSMIC-2 will gather information about the vertical temperature and humidity of the atmosphere in the tropics, which hold most of the moisture that drives global weather patterns. The high quality and large number of observations from the COSMIC-2 data stream will improve the accuracy of our weather forecast model outputs for our national and global areas of responsibility.”

The six satellites will use a new technique known as radio occultation to measure the bending of signals from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) as those signals pass through Earth’s atmosphere. Studying bent signals provides scientists with important information about the atmosphere’s pressure, temperature, and moisture level, which will lead to better weather forecasting.

Video courtesy of NOAA SciJinks

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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richardmitnick 11:58 am on May 21, 2019 Permalink | Reply
Tags: “Data shows Jupiter’s magnetic field changes over time”, Astronomy ( 8,524 ), Astrophysics ( 5,651 ), Basic Research ( 11,670 ), Cosmology ( 5,844 ), Spaceflight Insider

From Spaceflight Insider: “Data shows Jupiter’s magnetic field changes over time”

May 21st, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld


An illustration of Jupiter’s magnetic field at a single moment in time. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard/Moore et al.

Jupiter’s internal magnetic field undergoes changes over time, NASA’s Juno orbiter confirmed after recent science flybys of the giant planet.

The discovery is the first ever detection of internal magnetic field changes in a planet, known as secular variation, beyond Earth. According to NASA, Juno mission scientists arrived at their conclusion by studying 40 years of Jupiter data collected by several missions, including Pioneers 10 and 11, Voyager 1, Ulysses, and Juno.

Magnetic fields must be studied and measured from a close vantage point. Equipped with a magnetometer, which can map a magnetic field in three dimensions, Juno accomplished this in its first eight science flybys of the giant planet, yielding data that helped scientists produce a new model of Jupiter’s magnetic field.

“Secular variation has been on the wish list of planetary scientists for decades,” said Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas, in a NASA news release. “This discovery could only take place due to Juno’s extremely accurate science instruments and the unique nature of Juno’s orbit, which carries it low over the planet as it travels from pole to pole.”

By studying data collected during the various missions to Jupiter, beginning with the Pioneers, scientists discovered that small magnetic field changes occurred over time, likely caused by the planet’s atmospheric winds, which penetrate as far as 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) into the planet’s interior, where gases are transformed into very conductive liquid metal, cutting through and stretching the magnetic field.

The biggest magnetic field changes occurred in a powerful magnetic area near Jupiter’s equator, known as the Great Blue Spot. Unlike the planet’s well-known Great Red Spot, the Great Blue Spot cannot be seen with the naked eye. Juno scientist Kimee Moore of Harvard University suspects this one magnetic “hot spot” could be responsible for all magnetic field changes within the planet.

“It is incredible that one narrow magnetic hot spot, the Great Blue Spot, could be responsible for almost all of Jupiter’s secular variation, but the numbers bear it out,” Moore said, adding future science flybys would focus on creating a planet-wide map of these changes.

The findings of the study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, are expected to help scientists better understand not only Jupiter’s interior structure and atmospheric dynamics, but also those of Earth.

Launched in June 2005, Juno traveled 1.74 billion miles (2.8 billion kilometers) before entering into a polar orbit around Jupiter in July 2016. The initial plan was for the spacecraft to move from a 53-day orbit to a closer one of 14 days, but that was scrapped after a problem with helium valves sent it into safe mode in October of that year.

According to the revised mission, Juno was to conduct 12 close science flybys before the end of its prime mission in July 2018. One month before that deadline, NASA extended the mission to July 2021, increasing the number of flybys.


Juno arrived in orbit above Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Since that time, the spacecraft has revolutionized humanity’s knowledge of the gas giant. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider.

The polar orbit science flybys were planned to protect Juno from the giant planet’s radiation, which could destroy its electronic instruments and solar panels. After speeding around the planet and getting to a “perijove” (the closest part of an orbit around Jupiter) of only about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers), the spacecraft’s trajectory takes it out to an “apojove” (the farthest part of an orbit around Jupiter) of roughly 5 million miles (8.1 million kilometers).

The first spacecraft to make repeated close flybys of Jupiter’s mysterious cloud tops, Juno captured stunning images of storms and cloud swirls in the planet’s atmosphere using its color JunoCam camera. One of its first findings was that the giant planet’s poles are covered by dense storms the size of the Earth. Another was that the planet’s iconic belts and zones, especially the one closest to Jupiter’s equator, penetrate far into the planet.

Juno flew directly over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in July 2017, where it imaged tangled masses of clouds weaving around one another and found that the storm penetrates approximately 200 miles (300 kilometers) into the planet’s atmosphere. Analysis of JunoCam’s photos of the Great Red Spot will help scientists better understand the phenomenon’s evolution over time.


Enhanced-color image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot as seen by Juno. This image was produced by Jason Major, a “citizen scientist” who used data from the JunoCam instrument on the spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Jason Major

Using its ultraviolet spectrograph and energetic-particle detector instruments, Juno observed powerful auroras over the planet’s poles. While the auroras are aligned with Jupiter’s magnetic field and are between 10 and 30 times more powerful than auroras on Earth, they are not always visible. Furthermore, the mechanism that powers Jupiter’s auroras is significantly different from that which powers auroras on Earth, a phenomenon that continues to puzzle scientists.

With data collected by Juno’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), mission scientists created a 3D infrared movie depicting the powerful cyclones and anti-cyclones over the poles, which power the planet’s magnetic field. JIRAM detected infrared light originating within the planet and successfully studied the weather as far as 45 miles (70 kilometers) beneath the cloud tops.

Juno also detected powerful lighting in Jupiter’s highly-charged atmosphere. While lightning on Earth is most common near the equator, on Jupiter, it occurs mostly at the poles.

The three-year mission extension is expected to enable the probe to provide answers to questions generated by its initial discoveries, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said last year.

“With every additional orbit, both scientists and citizen scientists will help unveil new surprises about this distant world,” Zurbuchen said.

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

SpaceFlight Insider is creating space news, photography, videography and live webcasts, Patreon

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About

Who are we?

SpaceFlight Insider is a team of individuals working to produce daily content in the form of stories, exclusive interviews, a photographic library, videos, live webcasts and more. In total more than 100 pieces of content are produced each month along with coverage of launches around the world.

What we feature

In the last few years, SpaceFlight Insider has created one of the best launch calendars currently in use. Additionally, we have an ever-expanding gallery of photographs and video packages and an array of assets including fleets of remote still and video cameras which collect imagery from the pads themselves during launches.

At present, SpaceFlight Insider is the only comparable media outlet to host live webcasts during launches at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (we hope to expand that to other locations in the near future).

Importantly, the “Insider” in our name is not us, rather it references you. We do our best to bring you as much information about the space industry to make you an insider. For example, if a user has a question, we do our best to get an answer from someone in the industry, be it an astronaut or an engineer working on a spacecraft.

Additionally, we feature multiple small things that improve the experience of our viewers, including a feature on the upper right side of the website that changes the style from dark with white text to a more traditional light with black text.

Why do we need your help?

Providing these services is a labor of love for the SpaceFlight Insider team. However, regular travel, equipment procurement and maintenance, as well as paying editors, writers and photographers consumes much of what funds we have managed to acquire so far. All of these efforts require a great deal of infrastructure, manpower and coordination to achieve.

We want to create a place where people can turn to for all the information they want regarding space exploration and development. We want to deliver high quality video, audio, imagery and much more to give you an insider’s view of the whole industry. We will go so far as to take your questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations.

Two big items we are working on right now include increasing the quality of our SFI Live shows and adding to a new section of our website called, “The Hangar.”

For the live show, we currently broadcast during most launches at Cape Canaveral. However, we want to begin streaming in high quality from the remote areas most launch facilities are located. But since enough mobile data is hard to come by a special device is needed for higher quality. We already have this device, but the cost to use it per month is nearly $1,000.

We also want to purchase equipment to support our live webcasts, including professional camera equipment, a sound mixing board, a pop up tent, and lights, just to name a few. These will also help us with exclusive interviews as well.

Here is an example of one of our high quality shows:

The Hangar is a database of launch vehicles, spacecraft and more. We want to provide you with all the information you could want from the basic all the way down to the details.

We plan on rolling this feature out on our website in phases, but to “finish” it will take a lot of hard work and dedication. We’d like to be able to pay those on our team that work on it.

Why should you care?

We are a news organization that prides ourselves with telling the whole story of space exploration, both the good, the bad as well as the ugly. As journalists, we don’t pick favorites. That doesn’t mean we want anybody to fail – just the opposite. We want to see every space organization succeed, but in order for that to happen, truth and facts need to be reported.

We also do what many other outlets (especially in terms of our live webcasts) have ceased to do in the post-shuttle era, and will continue to do so.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. If we can’t pay the bills, let alone our staff – which currently consists of mostly volunteers and hard-working space enthusiasts – then we can’t do everything we can to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

If you like space, and want more space news, launch videos, images and podcasts, then help us by becoming a Patron of SpaceFlight Insider.

Space Flight Insider Article

What happened to spaceflight insider?

At Bold Marketing Solutions, Inc., we love to spread news news about our friends. Check out our new Articles menu for information about friends and resources. This article, posted November 24, 2014, is about SpaceFlight Insider, an online magazine delivering news on the space program and space exploration.

SpaceFlightInsider.com
Delivers More than Just News about Space Exploration

Look across the night sky; marvel at the sparkling constellations shining down on you; and breathe in the fact that you are blind to a gazillion stars burning brightly out of view. From the beginning of time as we know it, people like you and me have watched the skies and wondered about the immense promise and mysteries of the heavens. Where will the answers come from? The answer is likely in space exploration. Spaceflight Insider brings real-time answers about this topic closer through diverse and objective perspectives on aerospace and aviation in one comprehensive online publication.

SpaceflightInsider.com—Space Information Platform
PHOTO CAPTION: British Lunar Mission Team rendering for crowdfunded moon mission. Courtesy of SpaceFlightInsider.com

Senior Editor and Spaceflight Insider Founder Jason Rhian noticed that existing space information resources typically delivered news through very specific mediums, based on individual niche interests and business strengths. That observation Rhian to wonder what if a single news outet offered what all of them did in one comprehensive space—compelling photos, a launch schedule, and current news? What if the medium also provided the news objectively, e.g., without political filters?

The result of his musing is a stunning website chocked full of information for aerospace and aviation enthusiasts. Before launching Spaceflight Insider, Rhian contributed to Space.com, Aviation Week, and Universe Today; and he also completed two internships with NASA.

Now Rhian says, “We put all the primary building blocks in place over the past year, and we are excited to debut our first live (video) launch show in December.” That announcement was made possible after constructing the infrastructure needed to transform his concept into a serious media vehicle.

“We want readers to say, “Holy Cow! Everything is here,” Rhian said. “If you’re looking for a brief on a specific launch, space news, photography and illustrations, or even industry contacts, Spaceflight Insider is organizing it for you.“

Telling It Like It Is

Formerly a corrections officer with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office—and inspired by what he believed was inaccurate reporting on the Columbia disaster—Rhian decided in 2003 to pursue his passion for space. “When Columbia exploded, everybody on TV from the space industry acted as if they were better authorities than other people. They seemed to be reporting opinion as fact. Some were saying things that I knew was false. Other people were asking questions that were ridiculous or presenting crazy information as fact. I noticed and remember one major media outlet getting so many things wrong. And I thought that was wrong and rather than get upset – I should do something about it.”

Rhian, who believed that the job of the journalist was to get the facts right, headed to college to learn how to make that happen. “I went back to BCC (Brevard Community College), got my two-year degree, then resigned from the Sheriff’s Office and entered the University of South Florida to pursue my bachelor’s degree in pubic relations.”

Admitting that he doesn’t come from academia, or even the space industry itself, Rhian expressed his goal to deliver an outside, unbiased, journalistic perspective through his online journal.

“But, we also take the time to connect on ‘the inside’. For example, we get people access to events, open doors for them, and help them enjoy what’s happening with launches and space events. As a soldier and corrections officer, I had served my community for 14 years. Now, I am giving myself over to serving the community by telling the space story as honestly and fairly as possible,” Rhian said.

Why does story telling concern Rhian? “There are some space websites whose content delivers vehement opposition to private space comapnies for example. Prejudices also abound about NASA programs and show through in other written reports.” At Spaceflight Insider, we view ourselves first as journalists. We present news openly and objectively. We don’t judge. We report. That’s it. Our job is to tell the story as it is, not as how we would like it to be.” he added.

Bachelor – s Degree in Spaceflight Operations, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Bachelor of Science in
Spaceflight Operations

Imagine the challenges one could face every day if their career were dedicated to launching a brand-new facet of space exploration and travel. Amazingly, there is a degree to match your ambitions. Embry-Riddle offers the world’s first Spaceflight Operations degree program. Linking the commercial space industry and regulatory agencies with Embry-Riddle’s well-established aviation and aerospace connections, this program teaches students to solve challenges such as airspace traffic coordination, launch operations, and training and certification requirements.

Students can be part of the world’s first commercial space operations degree program. An innovator in aerospace and aviation education, Embry-Riddle is backed with expertise and committed to teaching an interdisciplinary curriculum that aligns with global space industry demands.

Embry-Riddle collaborates with the Space Generation Advisory Council to promote space activities and strengthen the space workforce through education and career development.

This non-engineering degree program has been structured with the help of the commercial space industry and affiliated space agencies, including NASA and the FAA-Commercial Transportation office (FAA-AST), to help match the strengths of the graduates with the industry’s needs.

Students in this innovative program can specialize in either Space Policy and Operations or Operations Science and Technology.

DEGREE DETAILS

About Spaceflight Operations at the Daytona Beach, FL Campus

The Bachelor of Science in Spaceflight Operations program opens a doorway into one of the newest and most innovative non-engineering fields in the aerospace industry. This unique program focuses on policy, operations, safety, training, human factors, and planning elements of commercial and private space operations. The interdisciplinary nature of this program prepares students to integrate the many different factors involved in space operations while also allowing them to specialize in either Space Policy and Operations or Operations Science and Technology.

The Bachelor of Science in Spaceflight Operations degree is housed in the Department of Applied Aviation Sciences in the College of Aviation.

Embry-Riddle’s Spaceflight Operations program is designed to prepare students for work in the commercial spaceflight industry. Graduates will be skilled in areas of space policy, operations, regulation and certification, as well as spaceflight safety, space program training, management, and planning.

Embry-Riddle’s undergraduate Spaceflight Operations degree is an interdisciplinary program that encompasses the human factors of space flight and training; the safety, security, and risk assessment of space operations; and the simulation, training, and planning involved with the space flight projects, vehicles, and spaceports.

This new degree program introduces students to the exciting and expanding world of commercial and private space flight, private and cooperative space programs, and the growing area of commerce in space research.

The campus is adjacent to the Daytona Beach International Airport and the NextGen Test Bed, and is also close to NASA and Kennedy Space Center.

The Private Spaceflight Decade: How Commercial Space Truly Soared in the 2010s, Space

The Private Spaceflight Decade: How Commercial Space Truly Soared in the 2010s

A lot has happened in the past 10 years.

Historians may look back at the 2010s as the decade in which commercial spaceflight really started taking off.

Private companies are doing a lot more in the final frontier today than they were 10 years ago, including ferrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), landing and reflying rockets, and manufacturing products off Earth.

Since 2010, and especially since 2013 or 2014, “it has been an enormous change — a sea change, almost,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a nonprofit trade association. “It’s mind-boggling.”

Private cargo flights galore

Let’s start with those robotic ISS resupply missions, which NASA has funded through a series of commercial cargo deals. SpaceX has flown 19 contracted missions to date with its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket, with the first coming in October 2012. Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft and Antares rocket made their first fully operational run in January 2014 and have racked up 11 more launches since then. (Both companies suffered one cargo-mission failure; an Antares exploded on the pad in October 2014, and a Falcon 9 broke apart in flight in June 2015.)

About half of those Dragon-Falcon 9 missions have featured landings of the rocket’s first stage, showcasing one of the important trends that SpaceX pioneered in the 2010s: the recovery and reuse of orbital hardware by a private company.

SpaceX first notched a booster touchdown during an orbital flight in December 2015. Since then, the company has pulled off nearly four dozen additional landings, many of them coming on specialized ships at sea. SpaceX routinely reflies these first stages, too, often multiple times.

And the Dragon capsule is reusable, and increasingly reused, as well. For example, the two most recent SpaceX resupply missions, which launched on July 25 and Dec. 6, respectively, featured Dragon spacecraft that had already made two trips to the orbiting lab.

Such activity is key to SpaceX’s long-term vision. The company aims to slash the cost of spaceflight enough to make bold exploration feats economically feasible. Indeed, Elon Musk has repeatedly stressed that he founded SpaceX back in 2002 primarily to help achieve one particularly ambitious goal: to colonize Mars.

SpaceX has already lowered the cost of getting to space considerably. The company currently sells launches of the workhorse Falcon 9 for $62 million and the newer, more powerful Falcon Heavy for $90 million. Those rockets can loft 50,265 lbs. (22,800 kilograms) and 140,660 lbs. (63,800 kg), respectively, to low Earth orbit (LEO), according to SpaceX’s spec sheet.

That works out to about $2,720 per kg to LEO for the Falcon 9, and $1,410 per kg for the Falcon Heavy. For comparison, the cost to LEO for NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiters was about $54,500 per kg, according to a recent report by Harry Jones of NASA’s Ames Research Center. (SpaceX is also widely acknowledged to be considerably cheaper than its competitors in the commercial sector, but comparisons are tricky because those other companies generally don’t publish their launch prices.)

Another company, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, also began routinely landing and reflying rockets in the 2010s. Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle has performed 11 successful touchdowns to date, with the first coming in November 2015. The most recent iteration of the reusable New Shepard has flown six such missions. To date, these test flights have hauled experiments to suborbital space and back for 100 customers, Blue Origin representatives said.

Rocket Lab is yet another private launch provider that broke new ground in the past decade, pioneering dedicated missions for small satellites via its 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron rocket. The two-stage Electron first lifted off in May 2017 and now has 10 flights under its belt, the last nine of which have been completely successful.

During the most recent mission, which launched on Dec. 6, Rocket Lab guided the Electron’s first stage back down toward Earth in the proper orientation for recovery — a big step toward rocket reuse, which the company plans to start implementing as early as next year. But Electron rockets won’t land vertically like New Shepard and Falcon 9 first stages do; instead, Rocket Lab plans to pluck the falling boosters out of the sky with a helicopter.

Not all of the rocket action is being conducted by American companies, either. For example, Beijing-based OneSpace, which aims to give small payloads rides to suborbital space and to orbit, launched for the first time in 2018.

Lots going on

The variety and capabilities of the hardware carried by such rockets have surged over the past decade as well.

For example, the 2010s saw the dawn of the off-Earth-manufacturing era. That milestone occurred in September 2014, when a 3D printer built by California-based startup Made In Space rode to the ISS (aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule for good measure).

Since then, Made In Space has launched a handful of other machines to the orbiting lab, including equipment that manufactures the high-value optical fiber ZBLAN.

The company is also developing in-space assembly technology known as Archinaut, which Made In Space envisions will help repair, upgrade and refuel satellites in orbit and build entirely new structures as well. This past July, NASA awarded the company nearly $74 million to give Archinaut an orbital test, which could come as early as 2022.

Advances by the private space sector have also made it much easier to see what’s happening here on Earth. For instance, the San Francisco-based company Planet first launched its sharp-eyed Dove Earth-observation satellites to orbit in 2013, and several hundred have been lofted to date.

These tiny spacecraft, each of which is about the size of a loaf of bread, capture imagery for use by a wide variety of customers. Some of these photos have considerable national security utility; Doves have helped analysts keep tabs on the North Korean and Iranian rocket and missile programs, for instance.

Communications tech also leaped ahead in the 2010s, Stallmer said, citing the launch of more-capable broadband satellites. And much bigger things are to come in this respect. SpaceX launched its first 120 Starlink spacecraft in 2019 and eventually aims to loft up to 12,000 of these satellites (including another 60 before the year is out). Several other companies, such as OneWeb and Amazon, have similar goals. (These planned megaconstellations have come with some controversy, however. Astronomers have expressed concerns about how Starlink and its ilk will affect their observations, and other folks in the space community worry about the space-junk hazard such craft pose.)

The 2010s also saw the increased commercialization of the ISS. For example, Texas-based NanoRacks, which helps customers get their gear up and running on the station, got its first foothold on the orbiting lab in 2010.

NASA has been encouraging this trend, as well as increased private activity in deep space. In the past year or two, for example, the American space agency has started reserving space on commercial lunar landers.

The delivery of scientific experiments and technology demonstrations to the moon by these private robotic craft will help NASA put boots on the lunar surface by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on and around Earth’s nearest neighbor by the end of the 2020s, agency officials have said. Indeed, NASA even wants the private sector to help get those astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

This is just a sampling of the past decade’s advances, of course; there are far too many to detail in a single story.

Driving factors

Several factors are driving such progress, Stallmer said. One of the biggest catalysts is the drop in the cost to access space.

“If people have to spend 50% less on launching a payload, it enables them to open a larger market on development of what they can do and build on the ground,” Stallmer told Space.com.

And what they can build on the ground is increasingly efficient and capable, given the ever-increasing miniaturization of electronics that’s exemplified by Planet’s flock of Doves. It also helps that those two sides — launch and payload — have been acting in increasing synergy in recent years, Stallmer said, noting a better alignment of supply and demand in the space sector.

Space companies also found it increasingly easy to access private capital throughout the 2010s, Stallmer said. The numbers back this up: According to the venture capital company Space Angels, $24.6 billion has been invested in the commercial space sector since 2009 — and $5 billion of that has been pumped in just in the first three quarters of 2019.

Investors’ pockets have been opened, at least in part, by the successes notched throughout the decade by companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic (which flew landmark crewed test flights to suborbital space in December 2018 and February 2019). And these high-profile pioneers have pushed the industry forward in other ways as well, Stallmer said.

Such companies have inspired people to start their own space outfits and also seeded them with talent. For instance, up-and-coming launch provider Relativity Space, which recently announced that it had raised $140 million from investors in its latest funding round, was founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone — alums of Blue Origin and SpaceX, respectively.

Not so fast

But it hasn’t all been wine and roses for private spaceflight in the 2010s. Milestones have been much harder to come by in a particularly high-profile field: human spaceflight.

Consider Virgin Galactic, which aims to fly paying customers to and from suborbital space aboard its six-passenger spaceliner, SpaceShipTwo. The company is nearly ready to start doing so, but the timeline has shifted considerably to the right over the years. Back in 2004, after all, Richard Branson predicted that his newly founded company would begin commercial space-tourism operations by 2007.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard is designed to carry people as well, but it doesn’t yet have any crewed flights under its belt, though that seems likely to change soon. (It’s tough to say much about New Shepard timeline shifts, because Blue Origin has mostly avoided publicly announcing target dates throughout its 19-year history.)

Then there are the crew-carrying orbital vehicles. In 2010, NASA began encouraging the development of these spacecraft via the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, to fill the shoes of the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle fleet. In September 2014, Boeing and SpaceX emerged as the big winners of this competition, each scoring multibillion-dollar contracts to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the ISS.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner are on target to start this taxi service soon, perhaps in 2020. But again, that’s later than the primary stakeholders had hoped. When NASA officials announced the SpaceX and Boeing deals in September 2014, for example, they said they hoped at least one of the two capsules would be up and running by 2017.

Part of the responsibility for these delays rests with the U.S. Congress, which did not fund the Commercial Crew Program adequately in its early years, said space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

But the wait also reinforces a simple and sobering reality about exploration: “Human spaceflight is hard,” Logsdon told Space.com.

Numerous examples make this point. For example, Virgin Galactic’s progress has been slowed by two fatal accidents, one on the ground in 2007 at the facilities of design and manufacturing partner Scaled Composites and another in 2014, during a rocket-powered test flight of the first SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Enterprise. And the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule that performed a historic uncrewed demonstration flight to the ISS in March no longer exists; it was destroyed a month later during a ground-test accident, setting SpaceX back some.

And just today (Dec. 20), Boeing’s Starliner experienced problems during its first orbital mission, an uncrewed test flight that was supposed to go to the ISS. An error with the capsule’s timing system prevented that rendezvous, and Starliner is now scheduled to come back down to Earth on Sunday morning (Dec. 22) without achieving a number of major test-flight goals.

But these companies are working through such issues, and exciting things may well be just over the horizon. Seeing Crew Dragon, Starliner, SpaceShipTwo and New Shepard come fully online will be thrilling enough. But shortly thereafter, a private spaceship could carry people to deep space for the first time. After all, SpaceX is working on a 100-passenger, Mars-colonizing craft called Starship, and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already booked a flight around the moon with a target launch date of 2023.

“The 2010s were ‘getting ready,’ and we’re close to ready,” Logsdon said about private human spaceflight. “Hopefully, 2020 will see ‘getting started.'”

This was the decade the commercial spaceflight industry leapt forward – The Verge

This was the decade the commercial spaceflight industry leapt forward

Led by SpaceX, there’s been a paradigm shift in the business of space

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Two years into the decade, on May 25th, 2012, a small teardrop-shaped capsule arrived at the International Space Station, packed with cargo and supplies for the crew living on board. Its resupply mission at the ISS wasn’t remarkable, but the vehicle itself was unique: it was a Dragon cargo capsule, owned and operated by a private company called SpaceX.

Before 2012, only vehicles operated by governments had ever visited the ISS. The Dragon was the first commercial vehicle to dock with the station. The milestone was a crowning achievement for the commercial industry, which has permanently altered the spaceflight sector over the last 10 years.

This decade, the space industry has seen a shift in the way it does business, with newer players looking to capitalize on different markets and more ambitious projects. The result has been an explosion of growth within the commercial sector. It’s allowing for easier access to space than ever before, with both positive and negative results. Such growth is providing the commercial space industry with lots of momentum coming into the 2020s, but it’s unclear if this pace is something that can be kept up.

A new paradigm

Commercial companies have been involved in spaceflight since the dawn of space travel. Private companies built the Saturn V rocket for NASA, which took the first humans to the surface of the Moon. But for much of the 20th century, the companies that built those rockets and spacecraft weren’t purely focused on space travel. Instead, behemoth contractors specialized in space technologies, while also focusing on other areas of tech such as aviation and defense. They pursued purely government contracts — either from NASA or the Department of Defense — and most often the government told them exactly what to do.

“Under the old model, the government would hire a Lockheed or a Boeing or somebody to build one of these rockets,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation, tells The Verge. “Almost all the money would come from the government, and the government would have almost complete control over what was built.” It’s the way the Space Shuttle was built; the way the International Space Station was built; the way the future James Webb Space Telescope is being built. All of these things are owned and operated by NASA, though they’ve all been built by contractors.

NASA’s Space Shuttle, built by contractors, flew its final flight in 2011 Image: NASA

For years, companies with the most spaceflight experience pursued these juicy government gigs, forsaking the private market. The US’s biggest launch provider since 2006, the United Launch Alliance, was mostly established to loft national security satellites for the DoD. “Because our companies became only interested in and focusing on the government customer, by 2010, at the beginning of the decade, we had no market share at all in the commercial space launch industry,” Greg Autry, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California specializing in new space, tells The Verge. “If a private company from Thailand wanted to launch a TV satellite or an Israeli company wanted to launch a communications satellite, an American launch vehicle was not even a consideration.”

But in the 2000s, a new player emerged in the commercial space arena. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., helmed by billionaire Elon Musk, took a different route than the contractors. The company was purely focused on space travel, with a very ambitious long-term goal: start a settlement on Mars someday. First, it had to build actual rockets, and the company had to be profitable doing so. Armed with private investment from Musk and early adopters, SpaceX started developing rockets on its own. And rather than focus entirely on government contracts, SpaceX pursued any customer it could, from NASA and the DoD, to commercial and international satellite operators. If you had something that needed to get to space, SpaceX wanted to fly it for you.

As SpaceX strived to make a name for itself, NASA started to experiment with a new way of doing business. Known as fixed-price contracting, the idea worked liked this: The space agency would put out a call for a service (for instance, a way to transport cargo to the ISS). Companies would then pitch their own ideas and vehicles to make that happen. If NASA liked the pitch, it would hand over a lump sum of money as investment, and the company would go into development. Once the vehicle was complete, NASA would pay for the use of it. It was meant to be a win-win. NASA would pay less money up front for a service, and private companies would own and operate their final creations.

This model was perfect for a company like SpaceX. It could use the investment from the government to supplement the development of its rockets, and then ultimately use the rockets to make money once development was complete. “That caused them to think creatively,” Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA under the Obama administration, tells The Verge. “There was a guaranteed market if you could get there.” That’s exactly what happened after SpaceX was tasked by NASA to start servicing the International Space Station. Once the company had developed its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX tried to put as many satellites on top of the vehicle as possible.

SpaceX’s Dragon, captured by the robotic arm on the International Space Station, in May 2012 Image: NASA

To capture more customers, SpaceX strove to bring down launch costs through new methods of manufacturing and a vertically integrated business. Famously, SpaceX relentlessly pursued making its rockets reusable, by landing them after each flight — a feat that’s meant to save the company on manufacturing costs. SpaceX has reaped the benefits of its affordable launches, too. Despite a few notable rocket failures, the company is still the most prolific launch provider in the US at the moment, and holds contracts with numerous customers from around the world. “They want to pursue private markets,” Jim Muncy, founder of PoliSpace, a space policy consulting agency, tells The Verge. “And they want to stimulate private markets.”

For better or for worse

Capitalism finally infiltrated spaceflight in the 2010s, and that meant competition was in full swing. Other launch providers looked at ways to also bring down costs over the last decade, with some pursuing reusability as well. New players are coming onto the scene: Blue Origin, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, and more. As launch costs have come down, space has become more accessible than ever.

Over the last decade, Moore’s law has also finally taken hold of spaceflight, with satellites and vehicles being built smaller. These cereal box-sized satellites are easier and cheaper to make than their bus-sized predecessors, and they’re much cheaper to launch, requiring less overall room on a rocket. As a result, companies focused solely on building small satellites have seen enormous success. Research organizations and universities looking to put something into orbit have an easier time of making that happen. This trend, combined with more launch vehicles, has resulted in an explosion of new vehicles and satellite constellations from commercial companies.

With all this progress does come unintended consequences. The rise of SpaceX has also seen the rise of the SpaceX fans. Unlike other CEOs, Musk’s fans revere him as an almost godlike figure, a savior for humanity who will lead us to a utopia on Mars. Criticizing him and SpaceX for any reason comes with major risk, as you will likely be perceived as tearing down progress. That’s unfortunate, because healthy skepticism is warranted these days, as SpaceX’s claims and ambitions have grown loftier than ever. The latest claim is that the company will be landing a giant new vehicle on the Moon by 2022 — but that vehicle hasn’t yet been built, and it certainly hasn’t flown. “Every pronouncement that they make, no matter how wacky it is, is reported without critique, largely,” Linda Billings, a current consultant to NASA’s astrobiology and planetary defense programs, tells The Verge.

Some of the more formidable projects these companies want to undertake could also be detrimental down the road. Notably, SpaceX, OneWeb, and other companies have all been eyeing a new spaceflight market: filling low Earth orbit with tens of thousands of satellites, in order to beam internet coverage to the surface below. In an effort to bolster the progress of the commercial space industry, the government has taken a light touch approach to regulating these more entrepreneurial companies. The Federal Communications Commission, which provides licenses for launches, has been very lax in its approvals, giving SpaceX and OneWeb the go-ahead for their massive satellite initiatives. Now, there’s not much stopping them from increasing the amount of satellites in orbit by several orders of magnitude.

SpaceX’s first batch of Starlink satellites, just before being deployed Image: SpaceX

It’s unclear what that will do to the space around Earth. Already, there’s concern that so many satellites will transform the night sky, making it difficult for astronomers to make detailed observations of the Universe when so many vehicles are whizzing overhead. But even more concerning is how all these satellites will add to an already congested region of space. Injecting thousands of satellites into orbit over the next few years may drastically increase the chances of things colliding. The end result could be that low Earth orbit becomes too crowded, and essentially unusable.

While this decade saw ambitions grow along with enormous progress within the commercial space sector, many things that had been promised didn’t pan out. Most notably, human spaceflight on commercial vehicles has yet to fully mature. Space tourism ventures Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic argued that customers could be flying this decade. That dream will have to wait until the 2020s. “Branson was saying we were going to start flying tourists in 2008,” says Billings. “And where are we now?” Meanwhile, SpaceX and Boeing have been developing new vehicles to carry humans to the International Space Station, under the new contracting model that NASA used to resupply the ISS. While the process may be less expensive than other contracting methods, the development has still been fraught with delays and setbacks — whether that be from stringent oversight, low budgets, or just plain engineering problems. The first crews were supposed to fly in 2017. Now they will likely fly for the first time in 2020. Creating new passenger spacecraft that keep people alive and safe still takes a lot of time, no matter what contracting method you use.

What’s next?

As the 2020s get underway, the commercial space industry will have a lot to prove, especially since many have their sights set much higher than low Earth orbit. Numerous private companies are aiming to send robotic landers to the Moon in the next few years, while SpaceX, Blue Origin, and more all vow to send people to the Moon someday. It’s unclear how long it will take them to get there, if they can make it at all. The first private company, an Israeli nonprofit, attempted to land on the Moon this year and didn’t stick the landing.

Ultimately, it’s uncertain if there is a solid market for more ambitious forms of space travel. Even the satellite market has softened in recent years, which may explain why SpaceX has tried to turn itself into a consumer-facing business through its satellite constellation. It needs money to stay afloat. The scary thought is: what if there’s not much more money to squeeze out of space? Experts have long been forecasting days where private space stations will dominate low Earth orbit, frequented by tourists on vacation or their honeymoons. Eventually, private companies hope to scour the Moon’s surface for water ice, which they could turn into drinking water or rocket fuel for lunar bases. It all sounds like a great future. “Commercializing the lunar stuff, honestly, is not going to happen as fast, because there isn’t a market for it anytime soon,” says Garver. “But anyone could have told you there was a market for launch outside of NASA.”

The next decade will show us if the commercial spaceflight industry can match the progress it’s seen these last 10 years. Maybe these companies will finally take us beyond Earth orbit, with people along for the ride. Or it may reveal that the market for space is staying close to home for the foreseeable future.

Space Adventures proposes an orbital cruise on the SpaceX Dragon, TheHill

Space Adventures proposes an orbital cruise on the SpaceX Dragon

Recently, Space Adventures announced that it will offer an orbital cruise on board the SpaceX Dragon, the same craft that will shortly take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Up to four adventurous and well-heeled people will be rocketed into space in an orbit that will be farther away from Earth than any human has flown since the Apollo 17 mission, two to three times higher than the ISS.

Space Adventures expects the flight to take place somewhere between late 2021 and mid-2022. After a few weeks of astronaut training in the United States, the four passengers will take off for a five-day flight of a lifetime.

The deal represents the culmination of an often-overlooked part of the decision taken during the George W. Bush administration to commercialize spaceflight between Earth and low Earth orbit. The first part was obviously to replace the expensive space shuttle with cheaper, commercial alternatives to move people and things to and from low Earth orbit.

But the other part of President Bush’s vision was to create a commercial transportation sector. Companies like SpaceX would use their spacecraft developed under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) and Commercial Crew programs to create new businesses in space. The joint venture between SpaceX and Space Adventures is the first major attempt to fulfill that vision.

The world has been waiting for the space tourism industry to take off for over 15 years, ever since SpaceShipOne won the Ansari XPrize in October 2004. The suborbital jaunts that would be offered by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have always been a little while in the future.

But Space Adventures has a track record of providing private rides to the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz. SpaceX has developed a record of accomplishing what it has set out to do, from a reusable first stage for the Falcon 9 to the Falcon Heavy. One should not bet against this joint venture coming to fruition. The only question is, do four people who can afford the flight and are brave enough to take the opportunity exist?

The other question arises, why should people be interested in rich people taking orbital jaunts around the world? Even with commercial spaceflight, middle-class people will not be able to take off work, pack the kids, and take a cruise in space like they are able to do in the Caribbean, at least not for a while.

The answer is that virtually every new product or service starts out being expensive. The wealthy, who certain politicians like to demonize to gin up votes, serve a useful purpose in trying out new things like space tourism. Eventually, the price will come down so that people of more modest means will be able to enjoy views of the Earth from space and experience the recreational opportunities of being in microgravity.

SpaceX is developing a huge spacecraft that its CEO Elon Musk Elon Reeve MuskHillicon Valley: Biden overtakes Sanders in Facebook ad spending for first time | New HHS rules would give patients access to health data | Twitter flags edited Biden video retweeted by Trump SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants the Space Force to become Star Fleet Elon Musk: Panic over the coronavirus is ‘dumb’ MORE has dubbed the Starship. The Starship will be able to take 100 metric tons of payload, with refueling, to the moon and Mars. The rocket ship is the basis of Musk’s dream of settling Mars. NASA has some interest in using the Starship to deliver cargo to the moon.

The Starship could be used as a space cruise ship, taking 100 people on orbital voyages for far less money than the first four people will pay for their trip on the Dragon. The rocket ship will have plenty of room and will have recreation facilities.

Companies such as Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space are developing private space stations, with NASA’s encouragement, to keep low Earth orbit research and development going after the ISS ends its operational life. Visitors to these commercial space stations will likely be researchers conducting experiments and developing technology. However, one can imagine people paying to stay on a private, orbiting resort for fun as well as for knowledge and profit.

The time is approaching, sooner than most people think, when space will not be a wilderness that only a handful of explorers venture into. Instead, it will be part of our world, where people regularly travel to and from as easily as we travel across the oceans to other continents. Space tourism will be a large part of making that future happen.

Mark R. Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.

Commercial Spaceflight – Commercial Crew Program

Category: Commercial Spaceflight

NASA Update on Orbital Flight Test Independent Review Team

The joint NASA and Boeing Independent Review Team formed following the anomalies during the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as a part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program has completed its initial investigation. The team was tasked with reviewing three primary anomalies experienced during the mission: two software coding errors and unanticipated loss of space-to-ground communication capability. During the investigation, the team identified several technical and organizational issues related to Boeing’s work. Separate from the independent team, NASA reviewed its role in the flight test and identified several areas where the agency can improve its level of participation and involvement into company’s processes.

While the review team, NASA and Boeing have made significant progress during the last month, more work will be required to inform the agency’s decision of whether Boeing will need to perform another uncrewed test flight of the Starliner system. NASA will determine if a repeat of the flight will be needed after Boeing has presented its detailed resolution and rework plan and NASA has independently assessed the thoroughness of that plan.

NASA also will perform an evaluation of the workplace culture of Boeing ahead of crewed test flights through an Organizational Safety Assessment (OSA). The goal of the OSA is to provide a comprehensive safety assessment through individual employee interviews with a sampling from a cross-section of personnel, including senior managers, mid-level management and supervision, and engineers and technicians at various sites.

Further, NASA will designate the anomalies experienced during the mission as a high visibility close call. As there were no injuries during the flight, this close call designation is where the potential for a significant mishap could have occurred and should be investigated to understand the risk exposure and the root cause(s) that placed equipment or individuals at risk. Since 2004, the year NASA updated this procedural requirement, NASA has designated about 24 high visibility close calls. For example, in July 2013, astronaut Luca Parmitano discovered a leak in his spacesuit that could have resulted in asphyxiation; as a result, that incident also was given the same designation.

Description of the three primary anomalies:

  • Mission Elapsed Timer (MET): Following spacecraft separation with the Atlas V launch vehicle, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is programmed to execute a few maneuvers tied to the mission timer. Because of an error in the coding, the Starliner synced its clock with the rocket before the terminal count had begun, which is when the rocket sets the correct time for a designated T-0. This led to the spacecraft thinking it was at a different point in the mission following separation, and it did not conduct the correct maneuvers.
  • Service Module Disposal Burn: Following the MET anomaly, Boeing and NASA reviewed other phases of flight where software coding could impact mission success. This review resulted in the team discovering and correcting a software issue during Starliner’s crew and service module separation sequence. The correction ensured a successful separation and disposal of the service module.
  • Space-to-Ground Communication (S/G): An Intermittent S/G forward link issue impeded the flight control team’s ability to command and control Starliner during the mission and could impede reliable voice communication with crew during a flight with astronauts.

What the Review Team Found and Recommends

The review team’s analysis identified 61 corrective and preventative actions to address the two software anomalies; those actions are organized into four categories to help manage and execute the scope of the work. Below are the four categories and examples of the resulting actions that Boeing has already begun working on:

  1. Perform code modifications: Boeing will review and correct the coding for the mission elapsed timer and service module disposal burn.
  2. Improve focused systems engineering: Boeing will strengthen its review process including better peer and control board reviews, and improve its software process training.
  3. Improve software testing: Boeing will increase the fidelity in the testing of its software during all phases of flight. This includes improved end-to-end testing with the simulations, or emulators, similar enough to the actual flight system to adequately uncover issues.
  4. Ensure product integrity: Boeing will check its software coding as hardware design changes are implemented into its system design.

Boeing already has accepted the full action list as defined by the review team and is in the process of refining its implementation schedule and incorporating this work into its plans with multiple actions already underway. As work continues, NASA and Boeing have asked the joint review team to track their progress and execution of each action.

The review team also is continuing its investigation of the intermittent space-to-ground forward link issue that impeded the flight control team’s ability to command and control the spacecraft. The team has identified the technical root cause as radiofrequency interference with the communications system. While the team has recommended specific hardware improvements already in work by the company, the full assessment and resulting recommendations will continue through March.

In addition to the technical issues described above, the review team identified organizational issues that contributed to the anomalies. In response, Boeing plans to institutionalize improvements in its engineering board authority, operational testing practices for both hardware and software, and the standardization problem review and approval processes.

NASA’s Internal Review and Forward Work

Concurrent with the independent review team, NASA performed an in-depth assessment of its role and identified multiple actions the agency will take to complement the actions planned by the Boeing Starliner team.

NASA has developed a comprehensive plan to ensure the agency has full coverage of critical Boeing software improvements. This plan also includes reassessing all hazard report verifications of software controls, re-opening hazard reports as necessary, reviewing software verification plans, and reviewing the adequacy of the test environments and audits of scripts used in testing. NASA also will co-locate personnel with the Boeing software team, increase support to the Boeing Software Change Control Board and the problem resolution process. NASA also plans to perform additional flight software audits.

In addition, NASA will improve its software independent verification and validation performance and overall NASA insight into this area. NASA also plans to address areas where additional NASA “safety nets” may be beneficial for all providers.

NASA also will take several actions to improve the overall system integration of Starliner, including revisiting all hazard causes related to system interfaces to ensure hazards are fully defined, well-controlled, and properly verified; and reviewing existing Interface Control Documents to ensure NASA understands where the definitive data sources are for subsystem interfaces.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Arrives for Demo-2 Mission

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for its first crew launch from American soil has arrived at the launch site. NASA and SpaceX are preparing for the company’s first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from historic Launch Complex 39A from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft now will undergo final testing and prelaunch processing in a SpaceX facility on nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Watch a video of the SpaceX Crew Dragon for Demo-2 as it underwent electromagnetic interference testing in the EMI chamber at the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne prior to its arrival at the launch site in Florida.

NASA Shares Initial Findings from Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test Investigation

Following the anomaly that occurred during the December Boeing Starliner Orbital Fight Test (OFT), NASA and Boeing formed a joint investigation team tasked with examining the primary issues, which occurred during that test. Those issues included three specific concerns revealed during flight:

  1. An error with the Mission Elapsed Timer (MET), which incorrectly polled time from the Atlas V booster nearly 11 hours prior to launch.
  2. A software issue within the Service Module (SM) Disposal Sequence, which incorrectly translated the SM disposal sequence into the SM Integrated Propulsion Controller (IPC).
  3. An Intermittent Space-to-Ground (S/G) forward link issue, which impeded the Flight Control team’s ability to command and control the vehicle.

The joint investigation team convened in early January and has now identified the direct causes and preliminary corrective actions for the first two anomalies. The intermittent communications issues still are under investigation. NASA reviewed these results on Friday, Jan. 31 along with multiple suggested corrective actions recommended by the team. While NASA was satisfied that the team had properly identified the technical root cause of the two anomalies, they requested the team to perform a more in-depth analysis as to why the anomalies occurred, including an analysis of whether the issues were indicative of weak internal software processes or failure in applying those processes. The team is in the process of performing this additional analysis, as well as continuing the investigation of the intermittent communications issues. NASA briefed the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel on the status of the investigation this week.

Regarding the first two anomalies, the team found the two critical software defects were not detected ahead of flight despite multiple safeguards. Ground intervention prevented loss of vehicle in both cases. Breakdowns in the design and code phase inserted the original defects. Additionally, breakdowns in the test and verification phase failed to identify the defects preflight despite their detectability. While both errors could have led to risk of spacecraft loss, the actions of the NASA-Boeing team were able to correct the issues and return the Starliner spacecraft safely to Earth.

There was no simple cause of the two software defects making it into flight. Software defects, particularly in complex spacecraft code, are not unexpected. However, there were numerous instances where the Boeing software quality processes either should have or could have uncovered the defects. Due to these breakdowns found in design, code and test of the software, they will require systemic corrective actions. The team has already identified a robust set of 11 top-priority corrective actions. More will be identified after the team completes its additional work.

The joint team made excellent progress for this stage of the investigation. However, it’s still too early for us to definitively share the root causes and full set of corrective actions needed for the Starliner system. We do expect to have those results at the end of February, as was our initial plan. We want to make sure we have a comprehensive understanding of what happened so that we can fully explain the root causes and better assess future work that will be needed. Most critically, we want to assure that these necessary steps are completely understood prior to determining the plan for future flights. Separate from the anomaly investigation, NASA also is still reviewing the data collected during the flight test to help determine that future plan. NASA expects a decision on this review to be complete in the next several weeks.

NASA and Boeing are committed to openly sharing the information related to the mission with the public. Thus, NASA will be holding a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday, Feb. 7.

In addition to these reviews, NASA is planning to perform an Organizational Safety Assessment of Boeing’s work related to the Commercial Crew Program. The comprehensive safety review will include individual employee interviews with a sampling from a cross section of personnel, including senior managers, mid-level management and supervision, and engineers and technicians at multiple sites. The review would be added to the company’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract. NASA previously completed a more limited review of the company. The goal of the Organizational Safety Assessment will be to examine the workplace culture with the commercial crew provider ahead of a mission with astronauts.

Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

SpaceX In-Flight Abort: Launch Date Update

NASA and SpaceX now are targeting 8 a.m. EST Sunday, Jan. 19, for launch of the company’s In-Flight Abort Test from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, which will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to safely escape the Falcon 9 rocket in the event of a failure during launch. The abort test has a six-hour launch window.

Teams are standing down from today’s launch attempt due to poor splashdown and recovery weather.

For tomorrow’s launch attempt, meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing predict a 60% chance of favorable weather toward the opening of the window with a 40% chance toward the end of the window. The primary concerns for launch day being the thick cloud layer and flight through precipitation rule during the launch window.

The test launch will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website. Here’s the upcoming mission coverage:

Sunday, Jan. 19

  • 7:40 a.m. – NASA TV test coverage begins for the 8 a.m. liftoff
  • 9:30 a.m. – Post-test news conference at Kennedy, with the following representatives:
    • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
    • SpaceX representative
    • Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
    • Victor Glover, astronaut, NASA Commercial Crew Program
    • Mike Hopkins, astronaut, NASA Commercial Crew Program

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Early Weather Reports Positive for SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test

With the launch of SpaceX’s in-flight abort demonstration three days away, early weather reports are promising. According to Mike McAleenan, a launch weather officer with the U.S. Air Force 45 th Space Wing, there is a 90 percent chance of favorable weather at liftoff. The primary concern is flight through precipitation, as some shallow coastal rain showers are predicted.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Saturday, Jan. 18, for the In-Flight Abort Test from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The four-hour test window starts at 8 a.m. EST. The test will demonstrate the escape capabilities of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — showing that the crew system can protect astronauts even in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch.

In-flight abort is the final, major test before astronauts fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. For this test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to intentionally trigger a launch escape prior to 1 minute, 30 seconds into flight to demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency.

Live coverage will begin on NASA Television and the agency’s website Friday, Jan. 17, with a pretest briefing. Watch live coverage at www.nasa.gov/nasalive.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Back Home in Florida After Inaugural Flight

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is back home at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, undergoing inspection after its first flight as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, known as the Orbital Flight Test.

Starliner launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

Successful Static Tests Set Stage for Key In-Flight Abort Demonstration

NASA and SpaceX are preparing to launch the final, major test before astronauts fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The test, known as in-flight abort, will demonstrate the spacecraft’s escape capabilities — showing that the crew system can protect astronauts even in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch. The uncrewed flight test is targeted for 8 a.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 18, at the start of a four-hour test window, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

SpaceX performed a full-duration static test Saturday, Jan. 11, of the Falcon 9 and completed a static fire of the Crew Dragon on Nov. 13, setting the stage for the critical flight test.

Prior to launch, SpaceX and NASA teams will practice launch day end-to-end operations with NASA astronauts, including final spacecraft inspections and side hatch closeout. Additionally, SpaceX and NASA flight controllers along with support teams will be staged as they will for future Crew Dragon missions, helping the integrated launch team gain additional experience beyond existing simulations and training events.

After liftoff, Falcon 9’s ascent will follow a trajectory that will mimic a Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station matching the physical environments the rocket and spacecraft will encounter during a normal ascent.

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NASA Update on Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test

NASA and Boeing are in the process of establishing a joint, independent investigation team to examine the primary issues associated with the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test.

The independent team will inform NASA and Boeing on the root cause of the mission elapsed timer anomaly and any other software issues and provide corrective actions needed before flying crew to the International Space Station for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The team will review the primary anomalies experienced during the Dec. 2019 flight test, any potential contributing factors and provide recommendations to ensure a robust design for future missions. Once underway, the investigation is targeted to last about two months before the team delivers its final assessment.

In parallel, NASA is evaluating the data received during the mission to determine if another uncrewed demonstration is required. This decision is not expected for several weeks as teams take the necessary time for this review. NASA’s approach will be to determine if NASA and Boeing received enough data to validate the system’s overall performance, including launch, on-orbit operations, guidance, navigation and control, docking/undocking to the space station, reentry and landing. Although data from the uncrewed test is important for certification, it may not be the only way that Boeing is able to demonstrate its system’s full capabilities.

The uncrewed flight test was proposed by Boeing as a way to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirements for certification and as a way to validate that the system can protect astronauts in space before flying crew. The uncrewed mission, including docking to the space station, became a part of the company’s contract with NASA. Although docking was planned, it may not have to be accomplished prior to the crew demonstration. Boeing would need NASA’s approval to proceed with a flight test with astronauts onboard.

Starliner currently is being transported from the landing location near the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range to the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility in Florida. Since landing, teams have safed the spacecraft for transport, downloaded data from the spacecraft’s onboard systems for analysis and completed initial inspections of the interior and exterior of Starliner. A more detailed analysis will be conducted after the spacecraft arrives at its processing facility.

Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test Launch Date Update

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Saturday, Jan. 18, for an In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, pending U.S. Air Force Eastern Range approval. The new date allows additional time for spacecraft processing.

The demonstration of Crew Dragon’s in-flight launch escape system is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is one of the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft.

NASA, Boeing Complete Successful Landing of Starliner Flight Test

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed the first land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, wrapping up the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Starliner settled gently onto its airbags at 7:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. MST) in a pre-dawn landing that helps set the stage for future crewed landings at the same site. The landing followed a deorbit burn at 7:23 a.m., separation of the spacecraft’s service module, and successful deployment of its three main parachutes and six airbags.

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Commercial Crew Basics

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has worked with several American aerospace industry companies to facilitate the development of U.S. human spaceflight systems since 2010. The goal is to have safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and foster commercial access to other potential low-Earth orbit destinations.

NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX in September 2014 to transport crew to the International Space Station from the United States. These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions, maintaining a space station crew of seven to maximize time dedicated to scientific research on the orbiting laboratory.