by Edward Ellegood and Jennifer Hurst
Florida Space Report
February 2, 2018 


SpaceX’s First Falcon Heavy Rocket Test Launch Set for Feb. 6

SpaceX will attempt the first launch of its new giant rocket, the Falcon Heavy, on Feb. 6, the company’s CEO Elon Musk said Saturday (Jan. 27).

The much-anticipated maiden flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket will lift off from the historic Launch Pad 39A — the same one used for NASA’s Apollo moon missions and space shuttle flights — at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Musk’s announcement came three days after SpaceX test-fired the Falcon Heavy’s 27 first-stage engines for the first time at the launchpad on Wednesday (Jan. 24). —


How NASA Is Prepping Its New Megarocket to Shoot for the Moon in 2019

It’s going to be a busy year for engineers who are building NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule in order to ready both vehicles for their first launch together, which is planned for 2019.

On that upcoming mission, called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), the uncrewed Orion capsule will loop around the moon and come back to Earth, if all goes according to plan.

The mission took on renewed importance after the Trump administration directed NASA in December to send humans back to the moon before heading to Mars. The SLS is designed to go to both destinations. —


SpaceX Will Mark New Era

SpaceX maiden test flight of its behemoth rocket will mark the company’s latest step toward eventually reaching Mars. The company’s Falcon Heavy, a vehicle powered by three boosters similar in size and power to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, has been delayed multiple times since it was first planned to launch in 2015. The Falcon Heavy is designed to carry heavier payloads into orbit and eventually take humans to Mars, with reusable vehicles that lower costs.

Experts say such a Falcon Heavy mission has the potential to magnify newer private companies’ place in the space industry compared to legacy counterparts. It can also expand competition in a niche – the heavy-lift rocket – that has been missing from the industry for some time, experts say. But SpaceX would not be alone. NASA has also been developing its Space Launch System. United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, which hasn’t flown since June 2016, remains an option. — Orlando Sentinel


The Phases of the Super Blue Blood Moon of 2018 Explained

No enthusiastic skywatcher ever misses a total eclipse of the moon. The spectacle of the lunar disk slipping into Earth’s shadow and turning a deep shade of red is often more striking and engaging than one might think. What’s more, when the moon is entering into and later emerging out of Earth’s shadow, secondary phenomena may be overlooked, but these additional features of the eclipse are worth looking out for.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon is completely submerged in Earth’s dark, inner shadow, called the umbra. If the moon is only partly covered by the umbra, or only enters the outer shadow (called the penumbra), it is considered a partial lunar eclipse. The total eclipse is said to “begin” when the moon is fully covered by the umbra; this phase is also called “totality.” —

Click Image to Enlarge


This NASA Spacecraft Will Get Closer to the Sun Than Anything Ever Before

Shortly after NASA was established in 1958, the nation’s top scientists compiled a list of missions they thought the brand-new space agency should pursue. The proposals were heady, considering at that point only three satellites had ever been launched. Researchers suggested an Earth-orbiting telescope that could detect the universe’s most distant stars, probes that would venture to the solar system’s other planets, an initiative to land humans on the surface of the moon. With time, each of those dreams became a reality

All except one: an effort to get a close look at the sun, the source of Earth’s light and heat, as well as solar storms that could disrupt our satellites and fry our electric grid. It took decades for the technology to protect scientific equipment from the sun’s ferocious rays to be invented. This summer, the Parker Solar Probe will launch on a journey that will send it skimming through the sun’s atmosphere at a pace of 450,000 mph — fast enough to get from Washington to New York in about a second. It will fly within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface. — Washington Post


Kilopower Project: NASA Pushes Nuclear Power for Deep-Space Missions

Many of our most ambitious space missions to space have been made possible using nuclear power. On Thursday (Jan. 18), scientists and officials from NASA and the Department of Energy gathered at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas to discuss the Kilopower project, the next generation of nuclear power plants for future space missions.

In the past, NASA has used radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) to power spacecraft like Voyagers 1 and 2, the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Packages, and the Curiosity rover. This device directly converts heat from decaying plutonium into electricity. It has no moving parts, making it ideal for applications in space. However, it is not terribly efficient. Nuclear reactors can take advantage of active nuclear fission, or atom splitting, to be far more efficient, and NASA has been researching this technology for decades. —


As SpaceX and Boeing Jockey to Land on Mars, Other Companies Eye Lunar Exploration

While Elon Musk may be on a race to get to the Red Planet first, some aerospace companies feel there’s much to be gained by going back to the moon. From colonization to space mining, lunar exploration could pay large dividends. A number of companies and governments around the world that are making concrete plans to get to the Moon within the next few years.

One company, Astrobiotic, is developing a lunar lander named Peregrine. The lander would be used as part of a sort of transportation service which could deliver up to 265 kg (584 lbs) of cargo to the surface of the moon. — Futureism


Trump’s NASA Budget: More Moon, Less Space Station

The White House’s next NASA budget is expected to propose government-industry moon initiatives and ending space-station funding by the middle of next decade, according to people familiar with the details. The 2019 spending proposal will lay out the first specifics of such lunar exploration—previously embraced by President Donald Trump—while calling for a modest $200 million program down payment, these people said.

If all goes well, it projects manned missions to the moon by the early 2020s. The Trump administration is also preparing to end support for the International Space Station program by 2025, according to a draft of the budget proposal. Any budget proposal from the Trump administration will also be subject to scrutiny and approval by Congress. But even announcing the intention to cancel ISS funding could send a signal to NASA’s international partners that the US is no longer interested in continuing the program. — WSJ

The International Space Station Image: NASA

Commercial partners, such as SpaceX, are tasked with regularly launching cargo to the ISS Image: SpaceX


White House Interested in the Falcon Heavy

As the head of the recently established National Space Council, Vice President Mike Pence is the most important person in the United States when it comes to determining space policy. In this role, Pence oversees the development of US military, civil, and commercial space efforts. Sources have indicated that Pence’s office is closely watching the private companies and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy success could have policy implications.

That appeared to be confirmed Saturday in a tweet by Nick Ayers, chief of staff for Pence. Referring directly to the upcoming Falcon Heavy launch, Ayers tweeted, “Major (positive) ramifications for US space industry if this goes according to plan.” Here, a key Pence confidant seems to be saying that the Falcon Heavy could prove a game changer by offering the United States a new launch capability at low cost to taxpayers. — Ars Technica

Vice President Mike Pence, center, listens to NASA Deputy Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings, right, and NASA Flight Director Rick Henfling.


US Exit From ISS Could Open Doors for Commercial Space

The draft budget proposal states that the end of federal government support for ISS operations would be tied to “transitioning to commercial provision of low Earth orbit (LEO) capabilities.” The document doesn’t elaborate on what those would entail, but would open the door to NASA making use, through leases or other arrangements, of proposed future space stations.

Several companies, including Axiom Space, Bigelow Aerospace and NanoRacks have proposed developing commercial stations, in some cases starting with commercial modules on the ISS. It’s not clear yet if this proposal would accommodate commercial modules as part of any transition. — Space News

A draft budget proposal calling for ending NASA funding of the ISS by 2025 creates opportunities for commercial space station developers, but also opposition from one key member of Congress. Credit: NASA


Planets Around Red Dwarf Seem Habitable

Models suggest that two of the planets discovered last year orbiting a red dwarf are particularly likely to be habitable. A new study modeled the formation and probable composition of seven planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1. Two of the planets are in a temperate range around the star, one with temperatures slightly above the freezing point of water and one colder “but also reasonable.” The actual presence of water, and habitability, of those worlds will require studies by future telescopes, like the James Webb Space Telescope. — Guardian


Boeing and Lockheed Battle to Build Mach 5 Successor to SR-71 Spy Plane

Aerospace giant Boeing has announced it’s developing technologies that could result in a new “hypersonic” spy plane capable of flying five times the speed of sound. But Boeing cautioned that any new Mach-5 spy plane could still be 10 or 20 years away. After spending decades and billions of dollars on hypersonic technologies, the aerospace sector is still struggling to make super-fast aircraft work.

The demonstrator vehicle, which would not be meant for day-to-day use, is still just an idea, Boeing spokeswoman Brianna Jackson told The Daily Beast. “Boeing is not currently developing a hypersonic airplane,” Jackson said. “However, we continue to conduct several studies around hypersonic technology. There will need to be further advances in several technology areas before an actual aircraft is feasible.”

As America’s rivals improved their defenses against stealthy aircraft, the Pentagon began mulling a return to Cold War-style fast spy planes that could simply outrun anything fired at them. In 2013 Lockheed unveiled its concept for a Mach-6 successor to the SR-71 that it called the SR-72. “The aircraft would be so fast, an adversary would have no time to react or hide,” the company claimed. — Daily Beast



Dust Storms Linked to Gas Escaping Martian Atmosphere

A new study using data gathered by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) during the Red Planet’s most recent global dust storm in 2007, suggests that such storms play a role in the escaping of gases from the planet’s atmosphere. That process transformed the warmer, wetter climate of ancient Mars into the arid, frozen conditions found on the surface of the Red Planet today.

“We found there’s an increase in water vapor in the middle atmosphere in connection with dust storms,” said Nicholas Heavens of Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, lead author of the report in Nature Astronomy. “Water vapor is carried up with the same air mass rising with the dust.” — Space Flight Insider


Long-Lost Satellite Found by Amateur Astronomer

An amateur astronomer has made contact with a long-lost NASA satellite, the agency announced Tuesday (Jan. 30).

The Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) satellite was launched in March 2000, and exceeded its initial two-year mission by operating through 2005. However, NASA controllers lost contact with the satellite in December 2005, bringing the mission to an abrupt end.

Now, engineers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have confirmed that a signal detected by the amateur astronomer (who was not named in the statement) is actually from the IMAGE satellite. The engineers used NASA’s Deep Space Network — which consists of a series of ground-based radio telescopes — to identify the signal. — LiveScience

A NASA diagram of the IMAGE satellite. IMAGE (short for Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration) launched in 2000 and went silent unexpectedly in 2005.
Credit: NASA


Tesla Deal Could Enable Musk Investment in SpaceX

Tesla could help Elon Musk fund his Mars plans. Musk, who is the CEO of the electric car company, reached a new 10-year compensation agreement with the company’s board. Musk’s compensation will be tied to the growth of the company and its valuation, with Musk receiving stock awards as the company hits a series of targets. If Musk achieves all the goals, which many outsiders believe to be unrealistic, he would receive stock valued at $55 billion. Musk suggested the money would go towards his Mars settlement plans. “I want to contribute as much as possible to humanity becoming a multi-planet species,” he said. “That obviously requires a certain amount of capital.” — New York Times

Elon Musk has high ambitions for Tesla. “I actually see the potential for Tesla to become a trillion-dollar company within a 10-year period,” he said. Credit Sasha Maslov for The New York Times


There’s a New Definition for the Term “Planet”

Few astronomy terms are more divisive than the word “planet.” Although Pluto’s demotion in 2006 has long held the spotlight in the continuing — dare I say, raging — scientific debate, there are other larger worlds at stake. Indeed, scientists have long wondered just how massive a planet can be before it’s no longer considered a planet.

In a paper recently published in The Astrophysical Journal, Kevin Schlaufman (Johns Hopkins University) has set the upper boundary of a planet between 4 and 10 times the mass of the planet Jupiter. Any more massive object is not a planet at all, but a brown dwarf — a so-called “failed star.” Although the results won’t reclassify any planets within our own solar system, they do have sweeping implications for how giant exoplanets and brown dwarfs form. — Sky & Telescope

Jupiter-like planets tend to form around heavy element-enriched stars, while low-mass stars and brown dwarfs will form around any star. The dividing line between the two appears to be around 10 Jupiter masses. This plot thus shows a new maximum mass for an object to be called a planet.
Schlaufman 2018