by Jennifer Hurst
August 27, 2018

SpaceX’s New Crew Dragon Spaceship

SpaceX gives an up-close look at the Crew Dragon capsule, which will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), potentially serving a variety of other customers in the future as well.

Crew Dragon is scheduled to launch for the first time this November, on an uncrewed test flight to the ISS. If all goes well with that mission, astronauts will ride the spaceship for the first time in April 2019, on another ISS trial flight. The six operational crew-carrying flights SpaceX has contracted with NASA will start sometime after that, once the space agency has finished certifying the vehicle. —

The Crew Dragon capsule that will make the vehicle’s first crewed flight — currently scheduled for April 2019 — under construction in a clean room at SpaceX headquarters.
Credit: Mike Wall/
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A model of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Credit: Mike Wall/
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SpaceX personnel and NASA astronauts stand in front of the in-work Crew Dragon on Aug. 13, 2018. From left to right: SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell; astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who will fly the first crewed test mission of the capsule; astronauts Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover, who will fly the first operational Crew Dragon mission; former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, SpaceX’s senior advisor for human spaceflight; and SpaceX director of crew mission management Benji Reed.
Credit: Mike Wall/
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The spacesuit that Crew Dragon astronauts will wear.
Credit: Mike Wall/
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Stratolaunch Rolls Out World’s Biggest Airplane for Weekend Tests

Stratolaunch, the launch venture created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, took the world’s biggest airplane out of its hangar this weekend at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port and revved up its engines in preparation for the next step toward shooting rockets into space from midair.

The rocket-launching part is still a year or two away, but Stratolaunch is aiming to put the 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage plane through its first test flight within the next couple of months.

In order to do that, the test program calls for flying five on-the-ground runway taxi tests at increasing speeds. Two of those tests have been done already, and in a tweet on Friday, Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd hinted that the third runway race might be run this weekend. — Geek Wire

Stratolaunch’s giant airplane sits on the tarmac at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port.
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Lockheed Martin Shows Off its New Space Habitat

In their pursuit of returning astronauts to the Moon, and sending crewed missions to Mars, NASA has contracted with a number of aerospace companies to develop all the infrastructure it will need. In addition to the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft – which will fly the astronauts into space and see them safety to their destinations – they have teamed up with Lockheed Martin and other contractors to develop the Deep Space Gateway.

This orbiting lunar habitat will not only facilitate missions to and from the Moon and Mars, it will also allow human beings to live and work in space like never before. On Thursday, August 16th, Lockheed Martin provided a first glimpse of what one the of habitats aboard the Deep Space Gateway would look like. It all took place at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where attendees were given a tour of the habitat prototype. — Universe Today

rtist illustration of Habitation Module aboard the Deep Space Gateway. Credit: Lockheed Martin


Small Satellites are at the Center of a Space Industry Transformation

The space industry is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Demand for large geosynchronous communications satellites has fallen dramatically as companies prepare to launch constellations of hundreds or thousands of smaller, less expensive broadband satellites in low and medium Earth orbits. LEO constellation and small satellite buyers are not looking for satellites they can count on to last 15 years. Instead, they want inexpensive satellites they can buy in bulk.

“It’s a different mindset,” said Marina Mississian, Honeywell Aerospace Space Payloads senior director. “You need to get it up there quickly. It needs to meet the basic requirement and you need to be able to replenish the constellation.”

The new mindset focuses, on cost, capability and scale. Companies like OneWeb and SpaceX are asking suppliers for quotes on hundreds or thousands of the same spacecraft components. Suppliers, in turn, are investing in automation. — Space News


SpaceX Installs Sleek Crew Access Arm for Astronauts at Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A

Using a roughly 300-foot-tall crane, teams on Monday morning hoisted what’s known as the crew access arm to its final position and secured it near the tower’s peak, just below its 80-foot-tall lightning mast. Its sleek black-and-white design stands in stark contrast with the pad’s weathered gray beams, but is a strong visual indication of the company’s progress toward launching astronauts from U.S. soil as soon as April of next year.

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first to cross the walkway and board SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft for a crewed test flight, later followed by Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins for the capsule’s first operational mission to the International Space Station. — Florida Today

SpaceX’s crew access arm is in its retracted position at launch pad 39A after installation Monday. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe walk down the Crew Access Arm being built by SpaceX


NASA’s New Planet Hunter Begins Its Search for Alien Worlds

NASA’s newest planet-hunting telescope is officially at work.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which is designed to hunt for alien worlds around stars not too far from the sun, began gathering science data Wednesday.

“I’m thrilled that our planet hunter is ready to start combing the backyard of our solar system for new worlds,” Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics division, said in the statement. “With possibly more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the strange, fantastic worlds we’re bound to discover.” —

An artist’s depiction of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) at work (not shown to scale).
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
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NASA Approves “Load-and-Go” Fueling for SpaceX Commercial Crew Launches

NASA announced Aug. 17 that it will allow SpaceX to use a fueling approach for its commercial crew missions that attracted prior scrutiny, pending a final series of tests.

In a statement published late Aug. 17, the agency said that it was allowing SpaceX to move ahead with plans to use what’s colloquially known as “load-and-go,” where the Falcon 9 launch vehicle is filled with liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants after astronauts board the Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of the rocket.

“To make this decision, our teams conducted an extensive review of the SpaceX ground operations, launch vehicle design, escape systems and operational history,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, said in the statement. “Safety for our personnel was the driver for this analysis, and the team’s assessment was that this plan presents the least risk.” — Space News


Vice President Pence Announces First Steps Toward Space Force

The debate is over. The United States will have a Space Force as a separate branch of the military. In a joint appearance at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Vice President Mike Pence laid out the Trump administration’s plan to create a U.S. Space Force. It was only seven weeks ago that President Trump directed DoD to begin the process. The president has made it a priority to “restore America’s proud history of leadership in space,” Pence said.

The report lays out four steps that it will take to start the reorganization the military with a goal of creating a fully independent Space Force within a few years, depending on how quickly Congress moves to pass legislation. Things could get contentious on Capitol Hill as the Space Force issue has taken a more partisan tone. Although Democrats have supported the idea in the past, some may withdraw support depending on the outcome of the mid-term election in November.

Without any new legislation and using existing authorities, DoD will establish several of the component parts of the Space Force. The second phase requires Congress to combine these components into the sixth branch of the armed forces. — Space News


Vice President Pence Talks of Returning to the Moon in NASA Speech

Vice President Mike Pence takes the stage, to offer an update on the Trump administration’s plans for human spaceflight.

Pence speaks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. In addition to his role as vice president, Pence is also the chairman of President Donald Trump’s National Space Council, an advisory group for space policy issues. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will accompany the vice president on his visit to the facility. —


Discovery of Water Ice on the Moon Thrills Lunar Scientists

Scientists who study the moon are beaming about the new discovery of exposed water ice in lunar polar regions.

Using data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) spectrometer experiment, a team of researchers — led by Shuai Li iof the University of Hawaii and Brown University — found direct evidence of water ice on the lunar surface, in permanently shadowed areas in polar craters. —

This image shows the distribution of surface ice at the moon’s south pole (left) and north pole (right), as detected by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument, which flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.
Credit: NASA
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Building Bricks on the Moon From Lunar Dust

In the coming decades, many space agencies hope to conduct crewed missions to the Moon and even establish outposts there. In fact, between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), Roscosmos, and the Indian and Chinese space agencies, there are no shortages of plans to construct lunar bases and settlements. These will not only establish a human presence on the Moon, but facilitate missions to Mars and deeper into space.

For instance, the ESA is planning on building an “international lunar village” on the Moon by the 2030s. As the spiritual successor to the International Space Station(ISS), this village would also allow for scientific research in a lunar environment. Currently, European researchers are planning how to go about constructing this village, which includes conducting experiments with lunar dust simulants to create bricks.

To put it simply, the entire surface of the Moon is covered in dust (aka. regolith) that is composed of fine particles of rough silicate. This dust was formed over the course of billions of years by constant meteorite impacts which pounded the silicate mantle into fine particles. It has remained in a rough and fine state due to the fact that the lunar surface experiences no weathering or erosion (due to the lack of an atmosphere and liquid water). — Universe Today

This 1.5 tonne building block was produced as a demonstration of 3D printing techniques using lunar soil. The design is based on a hollow closed-cell structure – reminiscent of bird bones – to give a good combination of strength and weight. Credit: ESA



NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Gets Heat Shield for Daring Test Flight to the Moon

NASA’s Orion spacecraft — which will eventually carry humans to locations beyond low Earth orbit, such as the moon — just got its heat shield for a test mission that will take place in 2019 or 2020. For this mission, Orion will also have a new block structure that will protect the spacecraft as it makes a fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Technicians recently bolted the heat shield onto the Orion spacecraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, NASA officials said in a statement. This is just one of the steps to prepare the spacecraft for Exploration Mission-1, on which an uncrewed Orion will fly for three weeks in space to a location some 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) beyond the moon, before returning back to Earth. —

Engineers and technicians install the heat shield on NASA’s Orion spacecraft crew module on July 25, 2018, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA
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NASA Solar Probe Hits 1st Deep-Space Milestones On Its Way to the Sun

The deep-space journey of NASA’s epic sun-touching mission has started out well. The Parker Solar Probe, which launched early Sunday morning Aug. 12 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is notching flight milestones according to plan, NASA officials said today.

For example, the spacecraft deployed its high-gain antenna, which it uses to communicate with Earth, a day after liftoff. Also, on Aug. 13, the Parker Solar Probe powered up one of its four instrument suites — the one known as the Fields Experiment.

In addition, the probe has been using its thrusters to reduce momentum, an activity designed to stabilize its flight profile, NASA officials said.

“Parker Solar Probe is operating as designed, and we are progressing through our commissioning activities,” mission project manager Andy Driesman, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, said in a statement. —


First Man

First Man stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and recounts NASA’s mission to put the first man on the moon, as well as the astronaut’s life between 1961 and 1969. Based on James R. Hansen’s novel of the same name, the film will, “explore the sacrifices and the cost — on Armstrong and on the nation — of one of the most dangerous space missions in history.”

It is scheduled to have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2018. It is then scheduled to be released in the United States on October 12, 2018, by Universal Pictures. —