The first 10 satellites in Iridium’s next-generation mobile voice and data network could head into orbit from California as soon as Dec. 16 on SpaceX’s first Falcon 9 flight since a booster exploded on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral in September, grounding the commercial launcher more than three months.
Iridium said Thursday that the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is scheduled for Dec. 16 at 12:36 p.m. PST (3:36 p.m. EST; 2036 GMT), pending regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency responsible for overseeing commercial space launches.
SpaceX has not launched a rocket since a Falcon 9 exploded during a prelaunch test at Cape Canaveral on Sept. 1, destroying the launcher and the Israeli-owned Amos 6 communications satellite on-board, and damaging the company’s primary East Coast launch facility.
Orbital ATK is developing Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services (CIRAS), a set of in-space hardware assembly technologies, under the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) “tipping point” program. This public-private partnership will focus on capabilities needed for future human and robotic exploration missions.
WASHINGTON — The transition team for President-elect Donald Trump has named a congressional staffer and former NASA official to the “landing team” overseeing transition planning for the space agency.
In a Nov. 29 statement, the office of President-elect Trump announced that Chris Shank will serve on the landing team for NASA, the first individual named to date to handle transition issues for the space agency. The selection came after the transition team selected several dozen other people to serve on landing teams for cabinet-level departments and other agencies.
Shank has extensive experience with NASA, both working in the agency itself as well as on Capitol Hill. He joins the transition team after serving as policy director for the House Science Committee and, before that, as deputy chief of staff for Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the committee. Shank also served on the committee’s staff from 2001 to 2005.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The Thermal Protection System Facility, or “TPSF”, is one of the many centers that has had to redefine itself in the post-shuttle era. Fortunately, as NASA works to repurpose Kennedy Space Center and convert it into a multi-user spaceport, the buildings’ unique capabilities are continuing to serve the agency as it focuses on sending crews to asteroids, Mars, and other potential deep space destinations.
An inflatable space habitat that could save weight and volume on future missions is showing how well it can do its job. The verdict: So far, it works, and that gives the habitat a better chance of being part of future space efforts.
Called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, the habitat is an inflatable spheroid made of fabric that starts off folded into a shape like a flattish cone with the top cut off. It was originally launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 8.
PARIS — Satellite fleet operator EchoStar Corp. on Nov. 23 said its EchoStar 23 tri-band telecommunications satellite for Brazil is expected to launch Jan. 8 or Jan. 9 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
The launch will follow the Falcon 9’s anticipated December launch, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, of 10 Iridium Communications satellites into low Earth orbit. The Iridium launch will mark SpaceX’s return to flight following the Sept. 1 explosion of a Falcon 9 as it was being fueled in advance of a static test fire.
Some time before the Iridium launch, SpaceX is expected to brief insurance underwriters on the root cause of the Sept. 1 failure, if one has been found, and on proposed corrective actions.
WASHINGTON — A new report recommends that the Federal Aviation Administration do more to assist commercial spaceports in determining their insurance requirements, but stops short of calling for regulatory changes regarding coverage for facilities not owned by the federal government.
The report, prepared by the U.S. Government Accountability Office under a provision of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act signed into law one year ago, said that operators of launch sites licensed by the FAA are often puzzled about whether and how their facilities are covered by insurance in the event of an accident.
The request for the report came out of the aftermath of the October 2014 Antares launch failure at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia, that caused $15 million in damage to the launch site. Orbital Sciences Corp. and the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, which operates MARS, disputed who was liable for damages to the pad. Ultimately, each paid $5 million, with NASA contributing an additional $5 million by increasing the value of an existing contract with the authority.
Just five months into its two-year demonstration mission on the International Space Station, the first human-rated expandable habitat in low-Earth orbit is already returning valuable information about expandable technology performance and operations in space. Developed through a public-private partnership between NASA and Bigelow Aerospace, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) launched to the station April 8, 2016, in the “trunk” of the Dragon capsule during the eighth SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission.
In late May, with careful instructions from the ground, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams conducted the manual expansion of the module through a series of seconds-long valve openings that allowed space station air to enter and expand BEAM. After BEAM was fully expanded with low pressure, air tanks inside the BEAM were opened with an automated controller to fully pressurize BEAM to match station pressure. From its packed to expanded configurations, the module nearly doubled in length and increased by 40 percent in diameter. This capability to increase a spacecraft’s useable internal volume after launch offers a potentially significant advantage for mission planners who seek to reduce cargo volume, maximize payload space and efficiently package structures inside a launch vehicle fairing.
On Tuesday, November 15, SpaceX filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch a massive constellation of 4,425 satellites to provide high-speed internet coverage around the world. The satellites will each weigh about 850 pounds (386 kilograms) and, according to a Business Insider report, they will be roughly the size of a Mini Cooper automobile.
The Waco Tribune (TX) reported an explosion at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas, on Wednesday, Nov. 16. The explosion, which occurred during a pressurization test at the company’s research and development facility, caused no injuries or damage and the local fire department did not take action after the incident.
HOUSTON — The commercial space industry hopes the administration of President-elect Donald Trump pursues regulatory reforms and continues existing efforts to support its growth.
A panel at the Spacecom conference here Nov. 16 offered a wish list of issues they hope the next administration addresses in the next two years, largely following ongoing discussion on topics such as regulatory oversight of new commercial space activities and space traffic management.
George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, said a major issue for him was shifting space traffic management work from the U.S. Air Force to a civil agency such as his. “That would focus on enhancing the safety of space operations and preserving the space environment,” he said.
The entrepreneurial space industry appeared to be booming at the end of 2015. Investment in companies hit record highs, buoyed by OneWeb’s $500 million funding round, and SpaceX raising $1 billion from Google and Fidelity. In addition, a variety of startups struck dozens of smaller deals during the year.
This year has been a different story. There haven’t been any of the huge deals like OneWeb and SpaceX. Instead, there have been several high-profile setbacks. Escape Dynamics, a startup pursuing advanced propulsion technologies, shut down at the beginning of the year because it could not attract enough investment to continue its work. In May, XCOR Aerospace suspended work on its Lynx suborbital spaceplane and laid off a large fraction of its workforce to focus on engine development.
The biggest sign of problems in the industry came in September, when Firefly Space Systems furloughed its entire staff of more than 150 people. The company said an unnamed investor backed out of plans to fund the small-launch-vehicle developer’s latest round, effectively putting the company on life support.
WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo performed its first free flight Dec. 3, a glide test that begins the next phase in testing of the commercial suborbital spaceplane.
SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Unity, and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at about 9:50 a.m. Eastern. The spaceplane separated from WhiteKnightTwo at 10:40 a.m. Eastern, gliding back to a runway landing in Mojave ten minutes later, according to updates provided by the company.
At the controls of SpaceShipTwo were David Mackay, Virgin Galactic’s chief pilot, and Mark Stucky, a former Scaled Composites pilot who flew a number of test fights of the first SpaceShipTwo before joining Virgin Galactic in 2015.
WASHINGTON – DigitalGlobe has released the first picture from its latest high resolution commercial imaging satellite, launched three weeks ago.
The photo, taken Nov. 26 according to statements from DigitalGlobe and camera provider Harris Corp., showcases WorldView-4’s imaging capabilities with a picture of the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Shibuya, Tokyo, site of the 1964 Summer Olympics and future home of the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The latest satellite provides breathing room for DigitalGlobe to provide coveted 30-centimeter imagery to commercial customers that couldn’t obtain such imagery from the company’s WorldView-3 satellite because of prioritized pre-purchased imaging for the U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
Dulles, Virginia 29 November 2016 – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced that it has begun a public-private partnership with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) to establish a Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services (CIRAS) in space. The CIRAS program will advance key technologies for in-orbit manufacturing and assembly of large space structures that will help the agency meet its goals for robotic and human exploration of the solar system.
“Orbital ATK, and our Space Logistics, LLC, subsidiary are pioneering the future of commercial space technology,” said Frank Culbertson, Orbital ATK Space Systems Group President. “Through this partnership and the first phase of the contract award, we will demonstrate our space logistics capabilities with new robotics technology. Our CIRAS team will create technologies that will advance the nation’s capability for building the framework needed for NASA’s journey to Mars, as well as shape the future of commercial space infrastructure.”
At the time of publication, there were conflicting reports on whether or when there will be a NASA transition team and, if so, how many individuals will compose such a team. On the assumption that some sort of “landing party” — however structured or short-lived — eventually is assigned to the agency, the following unsolicited advice is offered.
Since 2009, when the Obama White House succeeded in cancelling NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration, the U.S. Space Agency has lacked a defined direction concerning its crewed exploration efforts. A possible path forward for the agency has gained the support of two prominent space-advocacy organizations.
While President Obama attempted to rectify the reaction caused as a result of his budget proposal, announced on April 15, 2010, by visiting the Kennedy Space Center in person, his plan and speech was deemed rather vague. Many in political and aerospace-policy circles wanted to see the space agency be provided with a mandate as to what it should be doing in terms of sending crews beyond Earth’s gravitational influence.
WASHINGTON — A principal in a venture capital fund whose investments include SpaceX has joined President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team for the Department of Defense.
The office of President-elect Trump announced Nov. 23 that it was adding Trae Stephens to the existing transition team for the Defense Department. He joins an original group of nine people assigned to the “landing team” covering the Pentagon on Nov. 23, with a tenth person added Nov. 21.
Stephens is a principal at Founders Fund, a San Francisco-based venture capital fund co-founded in 2005 by billionaire investor Peter Thiel and several others. Thiel supported Trump’s campaign, giving a speech backing him at the Republican National Convention in July, and was named Nov. 11 to the executive committee overseeing Trump’s transition.
Port Canaveral has reached a tentative five-year lease agreement with SpaceX, which will operate a rocket refurbishing facility there.
As part of the deal, SpaceX will continue to work out of a 53,360-square-foot building at the port that formerly was used by SpaceHab.
SpaceX currently is using that facility at 620 Magellan Road, occupying the building under terms of a month-to-month temporary use permit. It also plans to build a 44,000-square-foot hangar building on the 4-acre site.
In preparation for a December return to launch operations, SpaceX has delivered one Falcon 9 rocket to its Vandenberg launch site, while another undergoes testing at the company’s McGregor test center in Texas. Pending the conclusion of the Amos-6 failure investigation, SpaceX will be primed to launch two missions in December.
WASHINGTON — NASA awarded a contract to SpaceX Nov. 22 for the Falcon 9 launch of an Earth science satellite in 2021.
The award, with a total cost to NASA of $112 million, is for the launch of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft, scheduled for April 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The contract, NASA said in a statement, includes the launch service itself as well as spacecraft processing, payload integration, and tracking, data and telemetry support.
HOUSTON — Despite concerns from some in the space industry of a glut of Earth observation satellite constellations, growing demand for imagery and other data could fuel the continued development of these and other systems.
In sessions at the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition, or Spacecom, here Nov. 15, so-called “big data” technologies, which use advanced computer algorithms to extract insights from large data sets, emerged as a key factor in driving demand for commercial satellite imagery and related data.
Carissa Christensen, managing partner of consulting company The Tauri Group, noted that investor interest in the space industry was driven in part by reduced costs enabled by advances in small satellites. Another factor, she said, was the promise of “big returns” on their investments from demand for the images and other data products many of those satellites will produce.
WASHINGTON — Mobile satellite services operator Thuraya announced Nov. 21 that it is joining an industry group that develops standards for the “Internet of Things” (IoT), a market that has the potential to generate significant demand for satellite services in the coming years.
The Dubai-based company has become the second satellite operator to join the LoRa Alliance, a nonprofit that creates IoT standards. It follows Inmarsat, which became a member in February this year, helping the organization factor in the capabilities of satellite technology when creating new standards.
IoT is a somewhat misunderstood term used to describe networks of connected sensors and devices. As a market, IoT devices have become a frequently cited new opportunity for both terrestrial and space-based telecommunications providers. Tellingly, communications company Ericsson reported in June that it now expects IoT devices to eclipse mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices in 2018. Satellite operators, many of which provide backhaul services for cellular data, are eyeing IoT as a potentially lucrative new source of revenue, though many are not yet sure how to enter this market.
HOUSTON — The chairman of the House space subcommittee said Nov. 15 that he believes Vice President-elect Mike Pence would do a good job running a reconstituted National Space Council, a key element of the Trump campaign’s proposed space policy.
In a video address given at the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition, or Spacecom, here, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) also endorsed other elements of the Trump space policy, including a greater focus on human spaceflight versus Earth science research.
Babin, whose Houston-area district includes NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said he met Pence during a campaign stop Oct. 31 in Cocoa, Florida. “I was very impressed with him, and I’m very pleased that he’s going to chair a newly-resurrected National Space Council,” he said of Pence. “This should give space the attention and focus that has been missing for far too many years.”
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