by Jennifer Hurst
July 30, 2018

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Takes a Step Closer to Space; Branson, Bezos Race for 2019 Tourist Flights

Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo set new speed and altitude records on its third powered test flight July 26, bringing the suborbital vehicle one step closer to reaching space.

The vehicle, named VSS Unity, separated from its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft at approximately 12:45 p.m. Eastern, an hour after taking off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The spaceplane’s hybrid rocket motor ignited for a 42-second burn, sending it into the upper atmosphere before gliding back to a runway landing in Mojave.

The engine burn, the longest to date during the SpaceShipTwo test program, propelled the vehicle to new speed and altitude records. It flew at a top speed of Mach 2.47 during ascent and Mach 1.7 during reentry, and achieved a peak altitude of 52 kilometers during the flight.

“It’s higher and faster than we’ve gone before. Another good incremental step,” George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said in a phone interview after the flight. — Space News


VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo, near the apogee of its third powered flight July 26. Credit: Virgin Galactic



Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos — with both companies using radically different technology — are leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism, and both say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights. Jeff Bezos’ rocket company plans to charge passengers about $200,000 to $300,000 for its first trips into space next year, two people familiar with its plans told Reuters. — Space Daily

Bezos’ New Shepard capsule made it to its highest elevation ever by 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) on Tuesday, reaching 74 miles (119 kilometers). New Shepard is designed to launch, land and be reused. The booster flown on Tuesday has been launched twice previously. Cornell, during the launch webcast, said launching humans could begin “hopefully after a couple more tests.” — Money Control



Two Rockets Launched Within 15 Minutes of Each Other Wednesday Morning

SpaceX launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets from the California coast, while European launch provider Arianespace sent up its Ariane 5 rocket from its South American spaceport in French Guiana. The vehicles launched 15 minutes apart.

Both rockets successfully launched on time, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 completed its mission in a little over an hour. The rocket’s booster managed to land on the company’s drone ship in the Pacific, despite poor weather conditions at the site. There was some confusion at first about whether it survived, thanks to bad lighting on the boat, but SpaceX later got visual confirmation that the booster touched down successfully. Additionally, SpaceX was not able to catch its rocket’s nose cone. The company’s recovery boat, Mr. Steven, saw the structure falling from the sky but was unable to catch it. — The Verge


SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket (L) taking off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, and Arianespace’s Ariane 5 (R) taking off from French Guiana. Images: SpaceX / Arianespace


NASA Could Have People Living on the Moon in 8 Years. And That’s Just the Beginning

For the first time in five decades, the U.S.–along with private-industry and international partners–has committed itself to returning to the moon, and to doing it on a defined timeline. In December 2017, President Trump signed the first of three Space Policy Directives, putting manned lunar exploration back at the top of the NASA agenda. With that, plans that had been in development for a long time took on new urgency. And they are plans that are very different from the way Americans got to the moon the first time.

Rather than the so-called flags-and-footprints model of lunar exploration–with short-term crews in throwaway vehicles landing on the surface, working for a few days at most and heading straight home–the U.S. now hopes to establish a long-term presence on and around the moon. The centerpiece of the new system will be what NASA calls the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a mouthful of a name that hides a relatively simple idea. Gateway, as NASA sees it, will be a sort of mini space station in lunar orbit.

Like the giant, 450-ton International Space Station, this one would be built with the help of more than a dozen other nations. Unlike the existing station, which consists of 15 habitable modules and a vast array of solar panels, Gateway will be comparatively small–a 75-ton assembly, consisting of just one or two habitable modules, each roughly the size of a school bus, plus a snap-on module for power and propulsion and two others that would serve as an air lock for spacewalking astronauts and a docking port for incoming vehicles. — TIME



SpaceX Has a Successful Second Launch (w/Landing) of its Block 5 Rocket at Cape Canaveral Spaceport

At the top of its launch window, the Falcon 9 rocket took off early Sunday at 1:50am ET and lofted its large satellite payload into geostationary transfer orbit. Meanwhile, the first stage of the rocket made a safe landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. One wonders how many times we will see this core fly.

SpaceX has not said how many new Block 5 cores it will build before beginning to re-fly these first stages. However, the company does intend to only fly Block 5 first stages of the Falcon 9 rocket from this point forward. The payload was a Telstar 19V commercial telecommunications satellite. — Ars Technica


Enlarge / The Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 rocket, on the launchpad, with its Telstar 19V payload.


The Military is Building a Space Plane

As nations develop technology to disable or shoot down satellites, the U.S. military has started to look at ways to rapidly and cheaply launch smaller crafts into space. One option: a reusable space plane that could launch small satellites 10 times in 10 days, spearheaded by a Pentagon research agency and aerospace giant Boeing Co.

The vehicle’s first test flight is set for 2021, which hints at the Defense Department’s growing interest in reusable rocket technology, particularly its potential to drive down launch costs and speed up turnaround time. In recent weeks, the space plane’s rocket engine, known as the AR-22, completed 10 test fires in 240 hours without need for refurbishments or major repairs. — LA Times



Printing the Next Generation of Rocket Engines

“We realized there was this gap in the industry,” he said. “They were printing components for their systems, but we saw that a lot of the components they were printing actually could still be traditionally manufactured.”

That led him, along with another former UCSD student, Kyle Adriany, to establish ARC to build engines in a very different way using additive manufacturing. “We set out to take a conventional bi-propellant rocket engine and perfect it,” Kieatiwong said. “Essentially, we boiled it down to its core functionality of moving fluid and moving heat, and we said, ‘What do we need to do to make it the most optimized thruster we can?’”

ARC combines additive manufacturing with a tool called generative design, where computer algorithms develop thousands of different designs that meet a set of constraints and then iterate on them to find the optimal solution. That can result in designs that are not possible to produce without 3D printing and can even be beyond the imagination of conventionally trained engineers. — Space News


Seeking 72-Hour Space Environment Forecasts with Updates on the Hour

Models for providing hourly terrestrial weather forecasts anywhere in the world have become increasingly precise—our smartphones buzz or chirp with local alerts of approaching thunderstorms, heavy snow, flash floods, and big events like tornados and hurricanes. The military relies on accurate weather forecasts for planning complex operations in the air, on ground, and at sea.

But when it comes to predicting environmental conditions in specific locations within the vast volume of space, no similar forecasting exists. As space launch companies make access to space more affordable and constellations of low-Earth orbit small satellites continue to grow, military and commercial space operators need new tools to track space environmental conditions and their potential impact. DARPA’s new Space Environment Exploitation (SEE) program aims to accurately predict near-Earth space environment disturbances and perturbations (scales as small as 100 kilometers in size) in one-hour increments extending out 72 hours. — DARPA


Musk: SpaceX’s next Florida drone ship will likely join growing fleet next year

SpaceX’s next drone ship currently under construction should be ready for its Space Coast debut next year, company chief executive Elon Musk confirmed on Saturday.

The company’s third ship designed to recover Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters, named A Shortfall of Gravitas, will likely join the veteran Of Course I Still Love You ship at Port Canaveral by the summertime and add one more member to the company’s growing fleet.

“Probably ships next summer,” Musk said via Twitter in response to FLORIDA TODAY early Saturday morning.

Musk earlier this year confirmed that the autonomous spaceport drone ship, or ASDS, would call the East Coast home to help SpaceX recover boosters as the company’s flight rate increases. Having two ships in the Atlantic Ocean during Falcon Heavy launches also means two of the rocket’s three boosters can be recovered at sea while one returns to land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. — Florida Today


SpaceX’s Of Course I Still Love You drone ship, which is based on the East Coast.(Photo: SpaceX)


Trump’s Space Force Will Guard the U.S. From Above, NASA Chief Says 

NASA’s administrator is a strong defender of President Donald Trump’s proposals for space — including an armed force and a permanent presence on the moon — and says he wants Americans to realize how much their well-being depends on what happens far above Earth. “Every banking transaction requires a GPS signal for timing,” Jim Bridenstine said in an interview. “You lose the GPS signal and guess what you lose? You lose banking.”

“If you look at what space is, it’s not that much different than the ocean,” added Bridenstine, who made 333 aircraft-carrier landings as a Navy pilot. “It’s an international domain that has commerce that needs to be protected.” How to establish U.S. security in space has been debated for at least two decades. An independent commission — led by Donald Rumsfeld before he became defense secretary — reported in 2001 that “in the longer term it may be met by a military department for space.” — Bloomberg


Trump’s Space Force: Military Profiteering’s Final Frontier


Testing Refines Requirements for Deep Space Habitat Design

NASA performed tests the week of June 25 at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to help engineers refine NASA’s requirements for the design of a deep space habitat, one of several elements comprising the Gateway. The agency will begin Gateway assembly in lunar orbit beginning in 2022, with contributions from U.S. industry and international partners.

Testing during the week included activities such as remotely operating a rover and collecting lunar samples on the surface of the Moon, preparing for spacewalks and performing scientific research aboard the outpost, as well as aspects of daily life such as meals, exercise and medical evaluations. NASA and its partners will use the Gateway for deep-space operations including missions to the Moon with decreasing reliance on Earth. From lunar orbit, the agency will develop its exploration systems and gain the experience necessary to extend human presence farther into the solar system than ever before. — Space Daily


Orion Gateway Crew Training in Combined Habitat and Habitable Airlock (HAL) mockup. Photo Date: June 25, 2018. Location: Building 29 – Habitable Airlock Mockup. Photographer: Robert Markowitz


Artificial Intelligence Race Moving to Space

Using free data from the European Space Agency, a startup in Finland created a geospatial information service that is entirely enabled by artificial intelligence. AI algorithms are used to remove clouds and track changes in structures on the ground. The service, targeted at government agencies and industries like agriculture and infrastructure, costs about $4,000 a year. It is free to researchers studying the impact of natural disasters. Terramonitor’s AI-based mapping was developed with 10-meter resolution imagery and radar data from ESA’s Sentinel 2 and Sentinel 1 satellites. “Companies see the value of satellite intelligence but they don’t know how to get it, and don’t think they can afford it.” Maybe now they can. — Space News


Orbital View Of Sunglint Over The Pacific

The Sun’s glint reflects off the Pacific Ocean shadowed by a line of cumulonimbus clouds as the International Space Station orbited over the International Date Line about 253 miles above the Earth’s surface. — Space Ref


Sunglint Over The Pacific