by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Development Council
August 29, 2016


SpaceX Launches Japanese Satellite, Lands Rocket on Drone Ship

SpaceX has done it again. The private spaceflight company landed its Falcon 9 rocket for the sixth time in the last eight months early Sunday morning, pulling off the feat during the successful launch of the JCSAT-16 commercial communications satellite. The two-stage Falcon 9 lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport at 1:26 a.m. EDT, carrying JCSAT-16 toward a distant geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). Less than 9 minutes later, the rocket’s first stage came back for a pinpoint landing on the deck of a robotic ship called Of Course I Still Love You, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles off the Florida coast. —


SpaceX Has Shipped its Mars Engine to Texas for Tests

SpaceX appears to have taken a significant step forward with the development of a key component of its Mars mission architecture. According to multiple reports, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company has shipped a Raptor engine to its test site in MacGregor, Texas. The Raptor is SpaceX’s next generation of rocket engine. It may be as much as three times more powerful than the Merlin engines that power its Falcon 9 rocket and will also be used in the Falcon Heavy rocket that may fly in late 2016 or early 2017. The Raptor will power SpaceX’s next generation of rocket after the Falcon Heavy, the so-called Mars Colonial Transporter. Although official details regarding the Raptor engine remain scarce, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has suggested the engine will have a thrust of about 500,000 pounds, roughly the same power as a space shuttle’s main engines. Whereas the shuttle was powered by three main engines and two booster rockets, however, it is believed the large rocket SpaceX uses to colonize Mars would likely be powered by a cluster of nine Raptor engines. — Ars Technica


Blue Origin’s Sweet Spot: An Untapped Suborbital Market for Private Spaceflight

With multiple flights of its New Shepard vehicle under its belt, Blue Origin is appraising the research market for scientific and technological experiments that can be lofted to suborbital space. Blue Origin is run by billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, who has adopted the motto “Gradatim Ferociter” — Latin for “step by step, ferociously” — for the Washington-based company. And those words are proving to be apt: Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard rocket system has flown to suborbital space five times to date, with the first liftoff coming in April 2015 and the latest occurring this past June. A central objective of the company is creating a commercial suborbital space tourism vehicle for paying customers. But Blue Origin also plans to make money by taking science experiments into the final frontier. —

Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard rocket and capsule launch from West Texas during the duo’s fourth successful test flight on June 19, 2016.
Credit: Blue Origin


Could the Moon be America’s Next Economic Frontier?

Moon Express was started with a tweaked concept from President John F. Kennedy, Jr., said founder Naveen Jain. “To rephrase JFK, we chose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s good business,” said Jain, the former CEO of dot-com InfoSpace, told CBS MoneyWatch. He said he was initially drawn to space exploration not because he had an interest in it, but because he’s “a fan of everything that can become disruptive.” And Moon Express has plans to disrupt some major businesses on Earth. Last week, the company became the first private business to receive FAA approval to land on the moon. While the 2017 launch date is still a ways off — and the company’s lunar lander still needs to be built — Jain has no shortage of business plans for the moon, which he notes has been estimated to hold “16 quadrillion dollars’ worth of resources.” One of the first projects will be lunar burials, with Moon Express working with space memorial company Celestis to provide the service. The idea is similar to families who want to commemorate their loved ones by sprinkling their ashes over a favorite body of water or golf course. Instead, customers will pay about $12,500 to send a capsule of their loved one’s ashes to the lunar surface via Moon Express’ lander. — CBS

Artist’s rendering of a Moon Express “micro-lander” on the moon. MOON EXPRESS


Moon Express: How Close Are Humans to Living in Space?

The space entrepreneurs of Moon Express aim to send the MX-1 – a craft the size of a washing machine dubbed a “hot rod of space” – to the natural satellite by late 2017. Moon Express is set to unveil the rover in September. In a mission statement that emphasizes the moon’s unclear, and potentially corporate, future, Moon Express said their plans for the near future involve mining resources to send back to Earth and burying people’s ashes – including those of co-founder Dr Bob Richards’s father – on its surface. “We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity,” Dr Richards announced in an appropriately lofty statement in response to the US government’s verdict. The glowing orb is a universal source of wonder and inspiration, and so the private sector’s first contact with the moon will likely be met with apprehension. — Independent


Asteroid Mining Mission Ushers in ‘New Era of Unlimited Economic Expansion’

A private space mining company has announced plans to send an asteroid prospector into space by 2020, making it the first commercial mining mission beyond Earth’s orbit. Californian startup Deep Space Industries (DSI) aims to eventually harvest and supply resources for the burgeoning space economy. “Deep Space Industries has worked diligently to get to this point, and now we can say with confidence that we have the right technology, the right team and the right plan to execute this historic mission,” said Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of DSI. “Prospector-1 is not only the first commercial interplanetary mission, it is also an important milestone in our quest to open the frontier. By learning to ‘live off the land’ in space, Deep Space Industries is ushering in a new era of unlimited economic expansion,” he continued. — Newsweek


Sen. Ted Cruz’s New Mission: Space Exploration

It was a two-stage mission for Senator Ted Cruz. First he met with more than a dozen industry leaders to talk about public/private partnerships and told the group space exploration is important to him and he hopes to see NASA expand its heavenly reach. That reach includes adding certainty to a space program that suffers when there is uncertainty and lengthening the lifespan of the International Space Station to 2028. “An additional four years that would give a broader platform to continue important research that important leadership will provide,” he said at the round table discussion “In my view, space exploration is a critical priority. ” The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership hosted the morning gathering at its headquarters across the street from Johnson Space Center. But after his round table with business leaders he met with Johnson Space Center Director and astronaut Ellen Ochoa. They talked short and long term plans for human space flight. When asked about Cruz’s interest in prolonging the ISS lifespan, Ochoa didn’t directly agree with his idea. “What we want to see,” Ochoa said, “is that we get as much utilization out of the ISS as possible both in terms of the research and development you can do on board and also as using it as a test bed for exploration.” — KTRK


Astronomers’ Latest Analysis Turns ‘Alien Megastructure’ Star into a Triple Mystery

It’s been almost a year since astronomers first speculated that a strangely dimming star called KIC 8462852 might harbor an alien megastructure, and newly reported observations are making the case even stranger. Yale astronomer Tabetha Boyajian first brought the case to light, based on observations that were collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and analyzed by the Planet Hunters project. The somewhat sunlike star lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. Kepler’s data revealed an erratic pattern in the intensity of KIC 8462852’s starlight, including periods when the light dimmed as much as 20 percent. Penn State astronomer Jason Wright noted that the dimming could theoretically be caused by shifts in an alien megastructure surrounding the star – something like a giant energy-generating Dyson sphere. Thus was an Internet phenomenon born. At first, astronomers said it was more likely that a swarm of comets was passing in front of the star, partially blocking its light. But then Louisiana State University’s Bradley Schaefer looked back at historical records and claimed that the star had apparently faced by about 20 percent between the 1890s and the 1980s. Schaefer’s claim has been contested, but now yet another research team is reporting that the star’s light faded by about 0.34 percent per year during the first 1,000 days’ worth of Kepler observations, then dipped by more than 2 percent over the course of the 200 days that followed. — GeekWire

This illustration shows a star behind a shattered comet. Astronomers say it’s possible that such a phenomenon could explain some aspects of the dimming pattern for a mysterious star called KIC 8462852, but not all aspects. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech)


The Inside Story of How Billionaires are Racing to Take You to Outer Space

Driven by ego, outsize ambition and opportunity, they are investing hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money to open up space to the masses and push human space travel far past where governments have gone. Musk and Bezos are the most prominent of a quartet of billionaires aspiring to open the frontier of space the way the public-private partnerships of the 19th century pushed west at the dawn of the railroad age. The two others are Paul Allen, a Microsoft founder, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. All have upended industries, including retail, automobiles and credit cards, and are now embarking on the greatest disruption of all — making space travel routine — in a business long dominated by commercial-space contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. While their efforts have reignited interest in space, they also have raised moral complexities and regulatory challenges in pursuing an endeavor that is inherently dangerous. Congress has opted to regulate the industry only loosely, granting it an extended “learning period” that would allow companies to grow and to practice space travel. — Washington Post


Space Elevator Fans Keep Looking Up, Even When They’re Stuck on the Ground Floor

Once upon a time, entrepreneurs were counting down to a date in 2018 when the first space elevator would open for business. NASA was setting aside millions of dollars to promote the technologies required for building that elevator. And space elevator fans were looking forward to a breakthrough that would drive the cost of space travel down to mere hundreds of dollars. Today, the countdown is on indefinite hold. The NASA money is gone. And the dream of building the space elevator has been eclipsed by billionaire Elon Musk’s dream of putting colonists on Mars by the mid-2020s. Nevertheless, the fans are still keeping the faith, and they’re backing up that faith with research studies. About 35 of them gathered today at Seattle’s Museum of Flight to kick off the 2016 Space Elevator Conference. — GeekWire

An artist’s conception shows a space elevator rising up from Earth’s surface. (Credit: Pat Rawlings / NASA file)


The Coming Satellite Revolution

When Mark Zuckerberg announced he wants to fill the sky with thousands of low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites to improve internet connectivity, many traditional space players remembered when Bill Gates and others invested in Teledesic, Iridium and other ventures in the 1990s only to see them fail. Two and a half decades later, terrestrial communications capabilities have dramatically improved, while geosynchronous orbit (GEO) capabilities have improved but still remain a generation behind, and LEO capabilities have remained a niche alternative. The vision of the tech giants is clear—deliver ubiquitous, low-latency, high-speed broadband and drive down the cost for data while expanding bandwidth and thus the market. In a recent paper, Farooq Khan of Samsung detailed how LEO constellations could rival the speeds of ground-based systems and in certain regions become a linchpin in the coming 5G wireless infrastructure. — Aviation Week


How to Succeed in the Asteroid Business Without Really Mining

To support a prototype mission, Deep Space Industries has partnered with Luxembourg. Yes, the country. Why … Luxembourg? It’s known for finance and banking, says Meagan Crawford, Deep Space Industries’ director of communications, and has “a deep background in mining and the steel industry, as well as a vibrant high-tech industry.” After Prospector-X (hypothetically) proves its technology, Deep Space Industries plans to launch the real deal, the 50-kilogram Prospector-1. This spacecraft will—by the end of the decade, the company says—actually go to an asteroid and appraise its value, using a mid-infrared camera and a neutron spectrometer to see up to three feet below ground. But that money is a long ways away. Which is why it’s important to realize that Prospector-1’s bones are a “solar system exploration platform,” says Crawford. That platform doesn’t have to be mine-oriented. Once Deep Space Industries has its own Prospector-1, it plans to sell other copies of the platform to other entities. Businesses, sure. But also nations. “Countries that don’t have their own space programs who are looking to break in to the space industry,” says Crawford. — WIRED


Space May Be the Best Place to Grow Bone Formation Protein Crystals

The scientists behind the new study designed microgravity experiments to grow crystals of a protein known as inorganic pyrophosphatase (IPPase) in space. This protein is an enzyme found in most living organisms that plays an important role in bone formation, DNA synthesis, and the making and breaking down of fats, the researchers said. The protein crystallization system the scientists developed for the experiments uses tiny tubes to control the flow of a solution containing dissolved proteins. The geometry of the tubes forces the proteins to concentrate in part of the solution, causing it to become supersaturated, meaning there are too many proteins to stay comfortably dissolved. The proteins then emerge from the solution to form a crystal. —

An example of protein crystals grown in microgravity, the above image shows a crystal of Bovine Insulin grown in space (left) and grown on Earth (right). These crystals are from a microgravity experiment led by Larry DeLucas. A new study shows that protein crystals of inorganic pyrophosphatase (IPPase) are bigger and better when grown in space, compared with Earth.
Credit: NASA


Neighbouring Star Proxima Centauri Has Earth-Sized Planet

The nearest habitable world beyond our Solar System might be right on our doorstep – astronomically speaking. Scientists say their investigations of the closest star, Proxima Centauri, show it to have an Earth-sized planet orbiting about it. What is more, this rocky globe is moving in a zone that would make liquid water on its surface a possibility. Proxima is 40 trillion km away and would take a spacecraft using current technology thousands of years to reach. — BBC

Artwork: The planet’s mass would suggest it is a rocky world like Earth