by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Report
September 20, 2017


SpaceX Launches X-37B

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane into orbit on Sept. 7, 2017. The robotic spacecraft will conduct its fifth secret mission for the military while in orbit. This mission, titled OTV-5, is the first X-37B mission to use a SpaceX rocket.

The Air Force is known to possess two X-37Bs, both of which were built by Boeing. The uncrewed vehicles look like NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiters, but are much smaller; each X-37B is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a payload bay the size of a pickup truck bed. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans.

Like the space shuttle, the X-37B launches vertically and comes to back to Earth horizontally, in a runway landing.

Together, the two X-37Bs have completed four space missions, each of which has set a new duration standard for the program. OTV-1 lifted off in April 2010 and logged 224 days in orbit; OTV-2 launched in March 2011 and spent 468 days in space. OTV-3 circled Earth for nearly 675 days, from December 2012 to October 2014, and OTV-4 spent 718 days in space, launching on May 20, 2015, and landing on May 7, 2017. —

This stock image of the X-37B shows how it would look inside a payload fairing.


USAF: Building a Space Commons

In the near future, space will become a “domain for common human endeavor,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Tuesday. Led by a dramatic “decline in the cost of launch” and the “miniaturization of technology” seen in systems like cube satellites, space is opening up so that “more players can do more things from space,” Wilson told the audience at a Politico event in Washington, D.C. While she sees opportunity for peaceful collaboration in space, “it will be more congested, it will be potentially more contested,” Wilson warned. “I think space will become more like the oceans” with governmental and non-governmental entities increasingly interacting in a common domain. Like the oceans, Wilson said space is likely to remain “ungoverned” but with “common practices and agreements on appropriate behavior” between “countries and allies who protect the security” of the space domain for all users. — Air Force Magazine 


Blue Origin Enlarges New Glenn’s Payload Fairing, Preparing to Debut Upgraded New Shepard

Blue Origin will likely launch the third iteration of its New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle by year’s end, paving the way for a human-rated version and ironing out the reusability plan for the orbital New Glenn rocket. The company also revealed a large, 7-meter payload fairing for New Glenn, meant for launching more voluminous payloads than the original design. Clay Mowry, Blue Origin’s vice president of sales, marketing and customer experience, said Sept. 12 that the third New Shepard incorporates lessons learned from the previous model that launched and landed five times before retiring last October. “We have a new upgraded version of New Shepard that has actually been shipped to the launch site, and we’ll be flying again before the end of this year,” Mowry said. Mowry said Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin’s founder, has invested $2.5 billion in New Glenn, and that the rocket has no funding from the U.S. government. Blue Origin has been working on New Shepard for over a decade. The first vehicle launched in April 2015, reaching the edge of space but failing to land. — Space News


Blue Origin Makes its Pitch to Congress for Delivering Cargo to the Moon

Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, joined other companies today in laying out plans for commercial missions to the Moon during a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill. “It’s time for America to return to the Moon, this time to stay,” Brett Alexander, Blue Origin’s director of business development and strategy, told members of the House Subcommittee on Space. That declaration echoed Bezos’ oft-used phrase, virtually word for word. Blue Origin has already been testing a suborbital space vehicle called New Shepard, with an eye toward taking on passengers as early as next year. It’s also developing a more powerful orbital-class rocket called New Glenn, which could be used as part of a lunar mission architecture known as Blue Moon. Today Alexander said the Blue Moon lunar lander would be optimized to fly on NASA’s Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket that’s due for its first test flight in 2019. When paired with the SLS, Blue Moon could deliver more than 5 tons of cargo to the lunar surface. Smaller payloads could be delivered using New Glenn or other rockets. — Geek Wire


A Look at NASA’s Plans to Explore the Moon

As part of the Agency’s overall strategy to conduct deep space exploration, NASA is also supporting the development of commercial lunar exploration. In 2014, NASA introduced an initiative called Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST). The purpose of the initiative is to encourage the development of U.S. private-sector robotic lunar landers capable of successfully delivering payloads to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial launch capabilities. — Parabolic Arc



Buying Rides To The Moon For Science

“The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) is seeking information on the availability of small payloads that could be delivered to the Moon as early as the 2017-2020 timeframe using U.S. commercial lunar cargo transportation service providers. Multiple U.S. companies are developing robotic lunar landing capabilities and have expressed plans to provide commercial cargo delivery services to the Moon in the near future. — NASA Watch


Asteroid Mining is Our Best Hope for Colonizing Mars

For the first time since the 1960s, space exploration is truly exciting again. This is thanks in large part to the advent of New Space, the name given to the new generation of commercial space companies that are determined to open up the final frontier to all. At the forefront of the new space race is SpaceX, which in less than a decade has managed to turn the rocket industry on its head by pioneering reusable rockets and dramatically cutting the largest barrier to entry when it comes to space: the astronomical costs.

SpaceX isn’t content with schlepping research supplies to the ISS and satellites to low earth orbit, however. Its CEO has also made it abundantly clear that he sees his company as the stepping stone to turning humans into a multi-planetary species. At last year’s International Astronautical Congress, Musk outlined his plans for getting humans to Mars. This plan involves a whole new generation of spaceships designed for transporting Martian colonists en masse, as well as the successful development of the Falcon Heavy, which will be the largest rocket ever made. — CNET

Deep Space Industries’ DragonFly series concept. Deep Space Industries


Cassini Spacecraft Just Crashed Into Saturn

NASA scientists just received their last message from the Cassini spacecraft, which plunged into Saturn early Friday morning. Those final bits of data signal the end of one of the most successful planetary science missions in history. Cassini was the first human probe to orbit Saturn.

Built and operated at JPL, it launched in 1997 and inserted into orbit in 2004. The spacecraft revealed the structure of Saturn’s rings and, by delivering the Huygens probe to the moon Titan, executed the first landing of a spacecraft in the outer solar system. It also exposed two moons — Titan, a land of methane lakes, and Enceladus, which has jets of water streaming from its southern pole — as prime targets in the search for life beyond Earth.

After 13 years in orbit, Cassini leaves researchers with still more mysteries to ponder: They don’t know the length of the Saturn day or understand the quirks of its magnetic field. And it will fall to a future mission to discover whether one of Saturn’s potentially habitable moons could truly be home to alien life. — Washington Post

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made its final approach to Saturn on Sept. 15 before it plunged into the planet’s atmosphere. (Reuters)



The Spaceport Industry is Booming in Every Corner of the US, from Alaska to Virginia

10 spaceports are quietly driving the commercial space industry, and the FAA says “another half-dozen locations are knocking on the door.” The FAA is working to resolve the enduring conflict between aircraft and spacecraft, as the number of rocket launches increases exponentially. Spaceports are economic drivers. One CEO says “the money really is in the vehicle operators.” — CNBC


World’s Largest Telescope Prepares For Completion

If you want to learn more about the Universe than you ever have before, there’s only so much you can do. You can improve your optics and your seeing, making your mirrors smoother and defect-free than ever before. You can improve your conditions, through adaptive optics or optimizing your observatory’s location. You can work on your camera/CCD/grism technology, to make the most of every single photon your telescope is capable of collecting.

But even if you do all that, there’s one improvement that will take you beyond anything you’ve ever accomplished before: size. The larger your primary mirror, the deeper, faster, and higher-resolution you’ll be able to image anything you look at in the Universe.

Currently, there are a number of 10-meter (33-foot) diameter optical telescopes in the world, with the Giant Magellan Telescope, at 25 meters (82 feet), poised to break that record in just a few years. But an even more ambitious project, the 39 meter (128 foot) diameter Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), began construction in 2014. By time the mid-2020s come around, it will blow everything else away. — Forbes

This diagram shows the novel 5-mirror optical system of ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). Before reaching the science instruments the light is first reflected from the telescope’s giant concave 39-metre segmented primary mirror (M1), it then bounces off two further 4-metre-class mirrors, one convex (M2) and one concave (M3). The final two mirrors (M4 and M5) form a built-in adaptive optics system to allow extremely sharp images to be formed at the final focal plane.


Material That Throws Heat into Space Could Soon Reinvent Air-Conditioning

SkyCool’s panels are essentially high-tech mirrors, designed to cool buildings far more efficiently than traditional air-conditioning systems by exploiting an odd quirk of optics that allows a narrow band of radiation to escape into space. A sliver of emissions in the mid-infrared range (with wavelengths between eight and 13 micrometers, for those keeping score) slips through the atmosphere, escaping through what has been described as a “window into space.”

Materials emitting radiation in that range literally cast it into the cold expanses of space, or at least the cool upper atmosphere, allowing the surfaces themselves to dip below the temperature of the surrounding air. This natural phenomenon is what causes frost to form on surfaces under the open night sky, like car windows and blades of grass, even when temperatures don’t reach freezing. — MIT Technology Review

SkyCool’s passive radiative cooling panels are being evaluated in a field trial in Davis, California.


Israelis’ Chance to Work at NASA

Young Israeli researchers can now apply for an internship at the Ames Research Center in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. Those selected will receive scholarships to participate in the development of scientific products and research in space, gain experience in space research and contribute their own knowledge. The program to send Israeli researchers to NASA is part of a broad agreement signed about a year ago with the Israel Space Agency, which is part of the Science and Technology Ministry. It is designed for students with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in space-related sciences who want to join as guest researchers at Ames. — Jerusalem Post


Pitch-Black Planet Orbits Alien Star More than 1,000 Light-Years Away

A planet orbiting a star 1,400 light-years from Earth is darker than asphalt. New data from the Hubble Space Telescope shows that WASP-12b, which has a radius twice as large as Jupiter’s, is an incredibly hot planet with a very low albedo—meaning that it’s incredibly dark. WASP-12b is known as a “hot Jupiter” because it’s about the size of our solar system’s largest planet, yet orbits very close to its star. That close distance is also probably responsible for the alien world’s pitch-black color. — Mashable

Artist’s illustration of the planet and star. IMAGE: NASA, ESA, & G. BACON (STSCI)


Britain’s Biggest Rocket Fueled by Burned Tires Blasts Off in Pursuit of Space Tourism Dream

It was launched from a flatbed truck, its sole occupant a teddy bear from the local primary school. But the successful, if brief, launch yesterday of Britain’s largest rocket paves the way for the UK to take a giant leap in the space race with the development of a three-seater capsule fueled by recycled tires. Entrepreneur Steve Bennett, who founded his own company in a bid to send people into space, believes he is now just two years away from realizing his dream.

The next step is the development of the Nova II, a rocket powered by fuel uniquely made partly from recycled tires, and which he hopes will be capable of lifting a capsule that can carry human beings. It was all dependent on the success of the Skybolt 2, fired into the atmosphere from the back of a converted truck in Northumberland before breaking up and descending back to Earth by parachute some 30 seconds later. — Telegraph

The Skybolt 2 Research Rocket is successfully launched from Otterburn in Northumberland CREDIT: GETTY


SpaceX Releases Explosive Mega-Collection of Greatest Rocket Failures

Elon Musk has been sitting on a trove of spectacular fail videos from the SpaceX archives, and on August 31st he promised to release a blooper reel with “some epic explosion footage.” This morning, he made good on that promise. Now you can watch many millions of dollars go kaboom in just over two minutes. — Gizmodo