by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Development Council
June 15, 2017


Virgin Galactic Gives Glimpse at Would-Be Corporate Space Jet: SpaceShip Two in Flight

The newest incarnation of SpaceShipTwo is deep into its second attempt to be certified as safe for passengers. When will that happen? “When we’re ready,” says Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. This is how they’ll get there. So far, executives say, the glide tests have been progressing as hoped for. A successful test of the feathered wing system a month before had given the design team confidence. The “feather,” which caused the fatal crash in 2014, is the most unique part of Unity’s design.

Flying six people on tourist jaunts to space isn’t the end goal but “phase one of a bigger strategy,” he says. If the Ansari X-Prize that birthed this design was the equivalent of Charles Lindbergh’s prize-winning transatlantic flight, then SpaceShipTwo could be the equivalent of barnstorming pilots who flew planes around the country, demonstrating their capabilities to a wide range of people in a way that wasn’t obviously productive.

The next step is actually transporting people from point to point. Virgin has the somewhat contradictory reputation of being an earth-focused space company: Suborbital flights could drastically speed up long journeys, if the economics works. Such a business would need a new vehicle, but the lessons learned from developing SpaceShipTwo would help with that. — Quartz

The Unity slung underneath its carrier ship before the flight test. (Virgin Galactic)


Vector Space Systems Leading the Way in Spaceflight From Tucson

Locally owned Vector Space Systems is working to revolutionize the spaceflight industry. Tucson based Vector Space Systems test launched its Vector-R rocket last month in the Mojave Desert, proving the engine and flight electronics are a success. Jim Cantrell, CEO of Vector Space Systems, said the company is working to change the way micro-satellites will be launched into orbit. Launching a satellite into orbit is a process that used to take months to assemble and cost millions of dollars. With satellite technology getting smaller and smaller there hasn’t been a viable option to get them airborne. Vector Space vehicles are that cost effective way to get them into orbit. “The satellite industry is responding very favorably to this by enduring years and years of launch backlog and not being able to get a launch they’re starting to see that we’re making progress,” said Cantrell. — KVOA


Astrobotic on Path to Affordable Commercial Access to the Moon

Pittsburgh-based space robotics company Astrobotic Technology, Inc., is accelerating its work on the Peregrine lander designed to deliver payloads to the Moon. The company has recently hired space veteran Kit Grabbe, who will oversee the development of the Peregrine Lunar Lander system. The car-sized Peregrine lander is 5.9 feet tall and has a diameter of 8.2 feet. The vehicle weighs approximately 605 pounds and can accommodate various types of payload for science, exploration, and even marketing purposes. While the lander is capable of carrying up to 584 pounds (265 kilograms) to the Moon, its first mission, which will pave the way for future regular flights, will take about 77 pounds to the lunar surface. Astrobotic underlines that the structure of its lander is stout, stiff, and simple, which allows for easy payload integration. The spacecraft will be equipped with an autonomous landing system, enabling a touchdown accuracy of about 328 feet. — SpaceFlight Insider

Astrobotic’s Griffin lunar lander. Photo Credit: Astrobotic

An artist’s rendering of the Peregrine lander with a CubeRover. Image Credit: Astrobotic


Asgardia’s Satellite Could Lead to Space-Based Nation

An effort to develop the first “space-based nation” will start with a cubesat. The Asgardia project will announce plans this month to launch a 2U cubesat containing a 512 gigabyte hard drive preloaded with data, according to applications filed with the FCC. Asgardia announced plans last year to create a nation in space, and some think the satellite could be an effort to establish a private data haven, free from national laws and taxation. Legal experts have treated that effort with considerable skepticism, some noting that the satellite, which will be flown to and deployed from the ISS, will be considered a U.S. satellite under international law. — Motherboard

Asgarda-1 satellite schema from FCC filing. Image: FCC


‘Rocket Man’ Peter Beck Inducted into World Entrepreneur Hall of Fame

Kiwi “Rocket man” Peter Beck has been inducted into the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Hall of Fame. But he missed out on the top honour at the prestigious annual EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards held in Monaco. Beck and his company Rocket Lab last month successfully launched an orbital-class rocket into space, the first time this has been achieved from a private site. — New Zealand Herald 


Sneaker-Obsessed French Designer has Mocked Up the Next Generation of Space Suits

If SpaceX is going to send humans to Mars, those people are going to need special clothes. The company reportedly hired Jose Fernandez, who is responsible for designing several of Hollywood’s superhero costumes (e.g. Spiderman and Batman), to design a suit for its mission to Mars, though it’s not clear what it will look like. French designer Clément Balavoine has ideas of his own. Balavoine isn’t connected to SpaceX, but says he is “fascinated by SpaceX’s vision.” The designer, who also works as an art director for brands such as United Nude, is developing a reputation for dreaming up new products. Balavoine’s flight-suit concept is designed to address the major stresses humans would face on a Mars journey. SpaceX estimates the trip would take 80 to 150 days, so Balavoine studied NASA research and numerous articles to understand how the body would react in a low-gravity environment for such a long time. — Quartz

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NASA Announces 12 New Astronauts, One From Florida

“To these courageous, newly minted heroes on this stage, our administration will be true,” Vice President Pence said after the 12 astronauts had been announced. “NASA will have the resources and support you need to continue to make history: to push the boundaries of humankind and continue America’s leadership to the boundaries and frontiers of space.” The new astronauts will start a two-year training program in August. NASA received nearly 18,000 applications for the jobs. One candidate, Frank Rubio, 41, hails from Florida. He graduated from Miami Sunset Senior High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. — Orlando Sentinel 

2017 NASA Astronaut Candidate – Frank Rubio. Photo Date: June 6, 2017. Location: Ellington Field – Hangar 276, Tarmac. (Robert Markowitz – NASA – Johnso /)


China Emphasizes Peaceful Space Exploration

China wants to improve space infrastructure and develop space sciences under the principle of creating peaceful cooperation in outer space, said an industry leader. Wu Yansheng, president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), made the remarks at the ongoing Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2017) which began Tuesday in Beijing. He said that China will continue to provide services for other countries, including international commercial launches and sending satellites into orbit. According to Wu, China plans to set up a space station around 2022, and launchspace Chang’e-5 lunar probe in late 2017 to collect samples from the Moon. China plans to send a probe to Mars around 2020 and launch the Chang’e-4 lunar probe for a soft landing on the far side of the Moon in 2018, he said. China is also working on a concept for a manned lunar landing. — Xinhua


Is it Time to Update the Outer Space Treaty?

One key US senator has said it’s time to examine revising the 50-year-old Outer Space Treaty to reflect modern space activities. Jeff Foust reports that many legal experts and company executives are not eager to go down that path. — Space Review

Sen. Ted Cruz has said on several occasions, including an on-stage interview in May, that the Outer Space Treaty may need updates to accommodate new commercial space activities. (credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar/The Atlantic)


Would You Go to Mars?

Daniel Batcheldor, professor and head of the Department of Physics and Space Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology, said going to Mars would mean huge advancements in technology that would have benefits beyond space. But would he go to Mars? Yes, he said, though he added with a chuckle, he’d prefer to go on the second trip rather than the first.

“Permanently?” asked Julio Diaz of Pensacola. “And do I get to decide who comes along (and who’s absolutely NOT allowed to come along)?” “Can I bring along my Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?” asked Tom Szaroleta of Jacksonville. With the target launch date 16 years in the future, age comes into play for some people. “No, but only because I’ll be too old when they finally go,” said Destination Brevard’s Ryan Seeloff. “But I can’t wait to cheer on those first brave explorers that do go.” — Florida Today


Hubble Telescope Sees Light Bending Around Nearby Star

The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted light bending because of the gravity of a nearby white dwarf star — the first time astronomers have seen this type of distortion around a star other than the Sun. The finding once again confirms Einstein’s general theory of relativity. — Nature


Shatner Proposes TV Series Highlighting NASA’s Rising Stars

William Shatner wants to create a TV series highlighting NASA’s rising stars. Shatner, best known for portraying Capt. James T. Kirk on Star Trek, spoke at the GEOINT 2017 conference Monday and pitched his proposed “The Young Guns of NASA” series. The series seeks to profile “young scientists who are involved in planning new things at NASA, JPL” and find out what they want to do in space. — Space News

Captain James T. Kirk himself, actor William Shatner, visited the opening ceremonies of the annual GEOINT Symposium Monday.