Category: Space

June 11, 2019 Off

Relativity is building a 3D-printing rocket manufacturing hub in Mississippi

By Jill T Frey

The future of rocket manufacturing has touched down in Mississippi.

At NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, nestled in Hancock County, Miss., right on the border of Louisiana, the Los Angeles-based 3D-printed spacecraft manufacturer, Relativity Space, is planning a massive $59 million expansion to make a permanent manufacturing hub in this bucolic corner of the southeast.

“This agreement demonstrates again NASA’s commitment to work with our industry partners to expand commercial access to low Earth orbit,” said Dr. Rick Gilbrech, director, Stennis Space Center. “This helps NASA maintain focus on the ambitious Artemis program that will land the first female and the next male on the south pole of the Moon by 2024.”

Relativity already has four of its proprietary 3D printers running in its Los Angeles headquarters and plans to build out 12 larger units in its new Mississippi digs. The company ultimately expects to get 24 … Read the rest

June 10, 2019 Off

NASA details Deep Space Atomic Clock and other tests launching on SpaceX Falcon Heavy

By Jill T Frey

SpaceX’s next mission for its Falcon Heavy high-capacity rocket is set for June 24, when it’ll take off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida with 20 satellites on board that comprise the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program-2. That’s not all it’ll carry however: There also will be cargo pertaining to four NASA missions aboard the private launch vehicle, including materials that will support the Deep Space Atomic Clock, the Green Propellant Infusion Mission and two payloads that will serve scientific missions.

NASA detailed all of these missions in a press conference today, going into more detail about what each will involve and why NASA is even pursuing this research to begin with.

Deep Space Atomic Clock

NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock mission, run from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will see a demonstration super-precise atomic clock into low Earth orbit, where it will act as a proof-of-concept for using … Read the rest

June 7, 2019 Off

NASA declares International Space Station ‘open for business,’ including private astronaut visits

By Jill T Frey

At an event on Friday, NASA laid out its plans for making the International Space Station a hub for commercial activity in low Earth orbit. The agency has long planned to make the ISS a key anchor point for helping private business operate in space.

“We’re here because the International Space Station is now open for business,” NASA lead spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz said at the conference outset. Twenty companies joined NASA officials onstage to launch this new commercial ability and discuss the opportunities and plan.

Part of the plan includes allowing private astronauts to visit and stay on the ISS, traveling on U.S. vehicles. It also includes allowing private business activities to take place on the ISS, including “in-space manufacturing,” marketing activities, healthcare research “and more,” NASA says.

NASA articulated a five-part plan that it says “doesn’t conflict” with government and public sector use of the ISS, but that stands … Read the rest

June 7, 2019 Off

NASA’s Mars Helicopter begins final testing phase before 2020 mission

By Jill T Frey

NASA’s Mars Helicopter will be a key experimental craft when it comes to shaping what humanity’s future exploring the Red Planet looks like — when it launches aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, it’ll head to Mars with the aim of testing the viability of flying heavier-than-air vehicles through another world’s atmosphere. After passing its most recent volley of tests, it’s now moving into the final stages of preparation ahead of the target July 2020 Mars launch.

The four-pound, autonomous test helicopter will be carried above the Mars 2020 rover during the flight to the planet, and will be deployed once the rover sets down in Mars’ Jezero Crater, on the target date of February 18, 2021, after its multi-month trip from Earth. The helicopter has a camera on board, as well as a solar panel to provide power. This version doesn’t have any other kinds of sensors or scientific … Read the rest

June 6, 2019 Off

Jeff Bezos wants to build the infrastructure for space startups

By Jill T Frey

At its re:Mars conference, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos took the stage today to be “interviewed” by Jenny Freshwater, Amazon’s director of forecasting. As any AWS machine learning tool could have forecasted, having an employee interview her boss didn’t lead to any challenging questions or especially illuminating answers, but Bezos did get a chance to talk about a variety of topics, ranging from business advice to his plans for Blue Origin.

We can safely ignore the business advice, given that Amazon’s principle of “disagree and commit” is about as well known as it could be, but his comments about Blue Origin, his plans for moon exploration and its relationship to startups were quite interesting.

He noted that we now know so much more about the moon than ever before, including that it does provide a number of resources that make it a good base for further space exploration. “The reason … Read the rest

June 5, 2019 Off

Astronomers fret over ‘debilitating threat’ of thousands of satellites cluttering the sky

By Jill T Frey

The promise of today’s nascent communications satellite constellations is real: connecting everyone on the globe, no exceptions. But the dark side, or rather bright side, of these satellites threatens to pollute the sky with innumerable points of moving light. Astronomers warn that this may pose a “debilitating threat” if not addressed by regulators or industry.

The International Astronomical Union, a group of more than 10,000 astronomers and researchers all over the world, issued a statement this week politely but firmly pointing out the risks of this “new and largely unregulated frontier of space utilisation.”

The problem is that we have graduated from an era where we were launching a satellite every month or so to one where dozens might be launched every week. The competing communications constellations from Starlink, OneWeb, and others will number in the tens of thousands once deployed, outnumbering by far every other satellite in the sky.… Read the rest

June 4, 2019 Off

NASA research crew embarks on mock mission to Mars moon

By Jill T Frey

Space is hard on humans — it’s just not what we’re used to, because it’s very unlike this Earth most of us generally occupy for most of our lives. That’s why researchers do plenty of experimentation to figure out what it’s like for people to live and work in space, like a new experiment underway as of May 24 in which a crew of four will be isolated in a spacecraft for 45 days living and working together — but without ever leaving the confines of our planet.

In fact, the crew, which consists of Barret Schlegelmilch, Christian Clark, Ana Mosquera and Julie Mason, won’t even leave the confines of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. But that’s the point — confined living and working space, for a simulated mission to Phobos, one of Mars’ two moons. The experiment is what NASA calls a “Human Exploration Research Analog,” which is … Read the rest

June 4, 2019 Off

NASA’s Space Launch System passes key milestone for Moon mission

By Jill T Frey

NASA is celebrating a key step towards its mission to get people back to the Moon: The first large core rocket stage that will power the new Space Launch System being built by contractor Boeing is now four-fifths assembled. Wait – did I just say four-fifths? So like this stage isn’t even complete?

No, it’s not – but when it comes to building gigantic rocket cores that will propel the Orion crewed spacecraft all the way to the Moon in time for the Artemis program’s target date of 2024, you celebrate when you take any significant step forward.

Also, remember we’re talking about four-fifths of a rocket stage that when complete, will be over 200 feet long including engines and fuel tanks, which NASA helpfully points out is approximately the length of a dozen cars parked back-to-back. It’s the biggest rocket NASA will have built since the Saturn V … Read the rest

May 24, 2019 Off

SpaceX reveals more Starlink info after launch of first 60 satellites

By Jill T Frey

Last night’s successful Starlink launch was a big one for SpaceX — its heaviest payload ever, weighed down by 60 communications satellites that will eventually be part of a single constellation providing internet to the globe. That’s the plan, anyway — and the company pulled the curtain back a bit more after launch, revealing a few more details about the birds it just put in the air.

SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk have been extremely tight-lipped about the Starlink satellites, only dropping a few hints here and there before the launch. We know, for instance, that each satellite weighs about 500 pounds, and are a flat-panel design that maximized the amount that can fit in each payload. The launch media kit also described a “Startracker” navigation system that would allow the satellites to locate themselves and orbital debris with precision.

Read the rest
May 23, 2019 Off

From launch to launch: Peter Beck on building Rocket Lab’s orbital business

By Jill T Frey

Breaking into the launch industry is no easy task, but New Zealand’s Rocket Lab has done it without missing a step. The company has just completed its third commercial launch of 2019, and is planning to increase the frequency of its launches until there’s one a week. It’s ambitious, but few things in spaceflight aren’t.

Although it has risen to prominence over the last two years at a remarkable rate, the appearance of Rocket Lab in the launch market isn’t exactly sudden. One does not engineer and test an orbital launch system in a day.

The New Zealand-based company was founded in 2006, and for years pursued smaller projects while putting together the Rutherford rocket engine, which would eventually power its Electron launch vehicle.

Far from the ambitions of the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin, which covet heavy-launch capabilities to compete with ULA to bring payloads beyond Earth orbit, … Read the rest