by Jennifer Hurst
February 16, 2018


Falcon Heavy Test Launch

On Tuesday, Feb. 6th at 3:45 PM ET, Falcon Heavy successfully lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, with the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb)–a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel. Falcon Heavy’s first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit. — SpaceX



SpaceX Falcon Heavy LIVE: Where is the Starman right now? Where is the Tesla Roadster?

SPACEX’S Starman and the speeding Tesla Roadster are now on an interstellar path heading towards the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. But where are they now and what is their expected path? Elon Musk confirmed late Tuesday the Falcon Heavy and its lone Starman passenger have completed one final engine burn towards a “trans-Mars injection”. The powerful rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3.45pm EST (8.45pm GMT) on Tuesday before breaking out to into space.

SPACEX’S Starman and the speeding Tesla Roadster are now on an interstellar path heading towards the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. But where are they now and what is their expected path? Elon Musk confirmed late Tuesday the Falcon Heavy and its lone Starman passenger have completed one final engine burn towards a “trans-Mars injection”. The powerful rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3.45pm EST (8.45pm GMT) on Tuesday before breaking out to into space. Mr Musk revealed yesterday the final rocket burst worked better than intended and has quite significantly shifted the Roadster’s trajectory. The SpaceX founder tweeted: “Third burn successful. Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt.” Last night, he also shared the last photograph of Starman at the wheel of the roadster. He tweeted: “Last pic of Starman in Roadster enroute to Mars orbit and then the Asteroid Belt.” — Express


A Valentine ‘Rose’: Superhot Stars Glow in the Rosette Nebula’s Heart

Happy Valentine’s Day… from space! The Rosette Nebula is a rose-shaped cloud of interstellar dust and gas that lies about 5,000 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn). At the center of the flower’s cosmic petals is a cluster of stars known as NGC 2244, or Caldwell 50. This star cluster also contains several rare blue-white O-type stars, which are some of the hottest and brightest stars in the universe. These short-lived stars arose from the very clouds in which they reside after regions of that cosmic dust and gas collapsed onto itself. After a few million years, these stars explode as supernovas, unleashing all their energy and flinging more “star stuff” back into the Rosette Nebula. [Valentine’s Day in Space: Cosmic Love Photos] —

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This image of the Rosette Nebula was created using data taken through the INT Photometric H-Alpha Survey of the Northern Galactic Plane. Credit: Nick Wright/Keele University


Virgin Galactic Will Send Tourists Into Space Within MONTHS

Virgin Galactic has completed another successful glide test of its VSS Unity spaceplane, putting the company on track to send tourists into space within months.

The test, which comes more than three years since the firm’s fatal crash, saw the craft maneuver safely to the ground from an altitude of 50,000 feet (15,000m).

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has claimed VSS Unity, the second version of the company’s SpaceShipTwo, will take people on suborbital test flights by April.

So far, more than 700 affluent customers, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips, with commercial flights planned for the end of the year. — Daily Mail

Once VSS Unity and its mothership reached 50,000ft (15,000m), Unity was released for an unpowered descent back to its spaceport


NASA Studying Commercial Crew Contingency Plans

NASA is beginning to study a contingency option for maintaining access to the International Space Station should commercial crew vehicle development experience delays, one that would turn test flights of those vehicles into operational missions. Speaking at the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference here Feb. 8, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said using the planned crewed test flights as crew rotation missions was one option under consideration should neither Boeing nor SpaceX be certified for regular crew rotation missions by the fall of 2019, when NASA’s access to Russian Soyuz spacecraft ends. “Those test flights might be able to be extended a little bit, fly a little bit longer, maybe fly a little bit of crew, and they could be kind of an operational mission,” he said in response to a question after a luncheon speech at the conference. “That’s something we’re beginning to discuss with both SpaceX and with Boeing.” — Space News

Artist’s concept of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule approaching the International Space Station. Crewed test flights by the CST-100 or SpaceX’s Crew Dragon could be turned into crew rotation missions should those vehicles experience certification delays. Credit: NASA/Boeing


Pentagon Budget Funds ‘Small Launch services’ to Gain Greater Access to Space

The Air Force will not be buying rockets but acquiring launch services from the private sector. The budget forecasts $47.6 million for 2019, $11.5 million in 2020, $57.9 million in 2021, $12.1 million in 2022 and $63.4 million in 2023. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the goal is to “have a variety of launch capabilities in order to have assured access to space.” The military already is experimenting with new launch technology. Under the DoD “space test program,” the Air Force in November signed a contract to fly an experimental payload aboard Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne sometime in 2019. This vehicle uses a modified Boeing-747 aircraft as a mobile launch pad for LauncherOne to lift small rockets. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is designed for 660-pound missions to low-Earth orbit. Companies like Virgin Orbit and Stratolaunch have set up dedicated services for the national security market. The Air Force creating a budget line for small launch is a “very good thing for the industry,” said Steve Nixon, vice president of strategic development at Stratolaunch. — Space News

The Stratolaunch aircraft completes a taxi test. Credit: Stratolaunch Systems Corp


Lockheed Martin Posts Satellite Data Online to Lure Space Entrepreneurs

Under pressure from the Pentagon to bring fresh ideas to the table, military satellite manufacturers are trying to build closer connections with startups and entrepreneurs that are fueling the space economy. Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest military contractor, rolled out a new initiative this week to attract “aspiring space technologists.” It has decided to publicly release the technical specifications of its satellite platforms in a bid to attract “companies aspiring to send innovative technologies to space,” the company announced on Thursday. “This is intended to help people connect to our buses,” Lockheed Martin spokesman Mark Lewis told SpaceNews. “If developers know the specs in advance, that speeds up their development and integration time.” — Space News

KACST selected Lockheed Martin to manufacture two LM 2100 communications satellites. Credit: Lockheed Martin


Our Earthly Economy is Now Extraterrestrial 

SpaceX is now at the center of a larger technological revolution that includes reusable rockets, the miniaturization of satellites, space-based broadband and other new applications. Just as importantly, the company is leading the commercialization of space: Falcon Heavy is not only the most powerful rocket in existence, it will soon extend the economy into space. Other companies are developing their own niches. Planetary Resources, bankrolled by tech billionaire Larry Page, is building spacecraft that will mine asteroids for platinum, rare earth elements and ice that can be turned into rocket fuel. — Globe and Mail


The First Planets Beyond the Milky Way May Have Been Discovered

The “rogue” worlds are said to be located 3.8 billion light-years away. For the first time ever, scientists say they’ve discovered planets beyond our own Milky Way galaxy. Located in a galaxy some 3.8 billion light-years away, the extragalactic planets are too far away to be observed directly even with the biggest telescopes now in existence.

But astrophysicists at the University of Oklahoma say they were found using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory space telescope and with the help of gravitational microlensing. That’s a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity in which the gravitational field around celestial objects can focus light just like a lens so that distant objects can be observed at high magnification.

“We are very excited about this discovery,” Dr. Xinyu Dai, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the university and the leader of the new research, said in a written statement. “This is the first time anyone has discovered planets outside our galaxy.” — NBC

Image of the gravitational lens RX J1131-1231 galaxy with the lens galaxy at the center and four lensed background quasars. It is estimated that there are trillions of planets in the center elliptical galaxy in this image. University Of Oklahoma


US Air Force to Acquire New Jam-Resistant GPS Satellites

The Pentagon plans to spend $2 billion over the next five years on a new constellation of Global Positioning System satellites that will be hardened to withstand electronic interference from hostile nations. In a solicitation for bids posted Feb. 13, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center announced it will “conduct a full and open competition” for the production of 22 GPS 3 satellites starting in fiscal year 2019. The Air Force already has ordered 10 GPS 3 satellites from Lockheed Martin Corp. The new program that is now getting underway is to acquire an improved version of the satellite, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters on Tuesday. [The Most Dangerous Space Weapons Concepts Ever] —


SpaceX is About to Launch Two of its Space Internet Satellites — The First of Nearly 12,000

Now that the dust has settled from SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy mission, the company is getting back to its routine with another Falcon 9 launch this weekend. The rocket is slated to take off from California early Saturday morning, sending up an Earth-observation satellite called Paz for Spain. The rocket will also have two additional satellites hitchhiking along for the ride: prototype probes built by SpaceX to test out the technology needed to beam down internet from space.

Sending up these two test spacecraft — named Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b — is a big first step in SpaceX’s long-term plans to create satellite internet. The company wants to create a giant constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites that will orbit in a synchronized dance above Earth, beaming internet connectivity to antenna receivers on the planet’s surface. One set of 4,425 satellites will sit about 700 miles up, while 7,518 satellites will sit about 200 miles up and operate on a different radio frequency. Such a massive satellite fleet will be constantly in motion around the planet and will supposedly be able to provide coverage to basically any spot on Earth at all times. — The Verge

Image: SpaceX


Experimental Supersonic Plane Gets Full Funding Under Trump’s NASA Budget Proposal

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal for NASA includes full funding for an experimental supersonic airplane that could one day transport commercial-airline passengers faster than the speed of sound. Known as the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD), this X-plane is scheduled to make its first test flight as early as 2021 and “would open a new market for U.S. companies to build faster commercial airliners, creating jobs and cutting cross-country flight times in half,” the White House budget request states. The goal of supersonic aircraft like LBFD is to make commercial airplanes that can fly faster than the speed of sound without generating a loud and obnoxious sonic boom, an ear-splitting noise associated with shock waves generated by an aircraft as it breaks the sound barrier. [Images: Airplanes of Tomorrow, NASA’s Vision of Future Air Travel] —

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Illustration of NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstration aircraft as outlined during the project’s preliminary design review in 2017.
Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin


The Trump Administration Wants to Turn the International Space Station into Commercially Run Venture

The Trump administration wants to turn the International Space Station into a kind of orbiting real estate venture run not by the government, but by private industry. The White House plans to stop funding the station after 2024, ending direct federal support of the orbiting laboratory. But it does not intend to abandon the orbiting laboratory altogether and is working on a transition plan that could turn the station over to the private sector.

“The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time — it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” the document states. “NASA will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit.”

In its budget request, to be released Monday, the administration would request $150 million in fiscal year 2019, with more in additional years “to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS — potentially including elements of the ISS — are operational when they are needed.” The plan to privatize the station is likely to run into a wall of opposition, especially because the United States has spent nearly $100 billion to build and operate it. — The Washington Post


See the Earth and Moon from 40 Million Miles Away

Here’s a new perspective on your home planet, helpfully provided by a NASA asteroid-sampling probe. Earth and the moon are two bright dots floating in an immense black void in the new view, which was captured by the space agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Jan. 17 from a distance of 39.5 million miles (63.6 million kilometers). —

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Earth and the moon are mere dots in this photo captured on Jan. 17, 2018, from a distance of 39.5 million miles (63.6 million kilometers) by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid-sampling spacecraft.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin