SpaceX Dragon 2 Making Progress

Elon Musk has taken a break from digging holes in the ground to tweet a bit on SpaceX and the Dragon 2 crew vehicle the company is building for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Earlier this month, Musk tweeted that the first Dragon 2 would be shipped to Cape Canaveral in about three months. If the prediction is accurate, that would be mean sometime in August. If his previous schedule predictions are anything to go by, delivery will occur later than that. Unless, of course, SpaceX ships the spacecraft earlier than Musk is predicting.

In any event, the spacecraft will likely require a lot of prep work at the Cape before it makes an automated flight test to the International Space Station. A second flight to ISS with a crew would follow before Dragon 2 would be certified to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis.

ARCA Space Founder Taken Into Custody by Homeland Security

Dumitru Popescu

After having fraud charges dropped against him, ARCA Space Founder Dumitru Popescu has more legal woes. Here’s an update from the company’s Facebook page about his impending deportation to Romania:

It’s not over yet. Dumitru was taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security this morning, without warning.

When Dumitru was arrested in October of last year, The DHS cancelled his business visa, and provided him with a temporary visa, allowing him to stay until his case ended. Despite all charges against Dumitru being dismissed and Dumitru’s immediate efforts to restore his legal status in the US, he was taken into custody before he had a chance to do so.

The DHS agent in charge of Dumitru is also denying Dumitru the right to speak to his immigration attorney, telling Dumitru something to the effect of “You don’t have this right, because you don’t exist.” Dumitru was also told he will be held at a detention center for around 2 weeks before being deported.

Dumitru also suffers from a life-threatening medical condition that requires medication, and the last time he was taken into custody, he was denied medication for 5 days, leaving him in extremely poor condition.

We will provide more details as soon as we can.

China Launches Chang’e-4 Relay Satellite for Lunar Far Side Mission

Aitken crater (Credit: NASA)

China successfully launched the Chang’e-4 relay satellite to the Earth-moon L2 Lagrange point on Sunday. The spacecraft, which is named Queqiao, was lofted into space aboard a Long March 4C booster from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

The satellite will relay data for the Chang’e-4 lunar rover and lander, which is set for launch late this year from Xichang. The rover will explore the South Pole-Aitken Basin as part of the first mission to explore the far side of the moon. The flight will also feature a lunar orbiter.

Sunday’s launch included two microsats that will conduct astronomical observations from deep space.

Orbital ATK Launches 9th Cargo Delivery Mission to ISS for NASA

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A, Monday, May 21, 2018 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s ninth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station will deliver approximately 7,400 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. (Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

DULLES, Virginia 21 May 2018 – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, successfully launched the company’s AntaresTM rocket carrying its CygnusTM spacecraft today at 4:44 a.m. EDT from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A on Wallops Island, Virginia, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The launch marks Orbital ATK’s ninth cargo mission for NASA.

(more…)

This Week on The Space Show

This week on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston:

1. Monday, May 21, 2018; 2-3:30 PM PDT (4-5:30 PM CDT, 5-6:30 PM EDT): We welcome back RAND SIMBERG with new ideas on space settlement and the OST.

2. Tuesday, May 22, 2018: 7-8:30 PM PDT; 9-10:30 PM CDT; 10-11:30 PM EDT: We welcome back journalist ERIC Berger for space news updates and information. See https://arstechnica.com/author/ericberger/ for his articles.

3. Wednesday, May 23, 2018: Hotel Mars. See Upcoming Show Menu and the website newsletter for details. Hotel Mars is pre-recorded by John Batchelor. It is archived on The Space Show site after John posts it on his website.

4. Friday, May 25, , 2018; 9:30 AM-11 AM PDT, (12:30 -2 PM EDT; 11:30 AM-1 PM CDT): We welcome ANGELIKI KAPOGLOU to discuss the ESA Moon Village project with us.

5. Sunday, May 27, 2018: 12-1:30 PM PDT; 2-3:30 PM CDT; 3-4:30 PM EDT. No show today due to Memorial Day Holiday Weekend

NOAA Issues RFP for Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program

NOAA has issued a request for proposals for the second phase of its commercial weather data pilot program.

The program’s goal is to determine whether GPS radio occultation data from commercial satellites can be used to improve weather forecasting. Radio occultation involves the change in a radio signal as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere, allowing for the measurement of physical properties there.

The firm-fixed price contracts for the second phase will run from  Aug. 27, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019. The data collection and delivery period will run from Oct. 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.

Companies are required to provide at least two periods of at least three consecutive months of radio occultation data during the collection period. A minimum of 500 atmospheric soundings per day are required. Data must be delivered to NOAA at least once per week.

NASA issued contracts to GeoOptics and Spire for the first phase of the pilot program in September 2016. Space News reports the program did not go very smoothly, but that NOAA officials had learned a number of key lessons from it that are being included in the second phase.

GeoOptics’ contract was terminated when the company was unable to provide data because of delays in the launch of its first satellites.

While Spire did provide data, NOAA officials said later that the quality of the data fell short of expectations. “We have gone through one contract already with the radio occultation community, and we found that the data aren’t accurate enough or comprehensive enough yet to meet our observing requirements,” Stephen Volz, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services, said in January. Spire said that the data from its constellation of cubesats has improved significantly since the end of that initial round of the pilot program in April 2017.

NOAA officials have said for several months that they are working on a report analyzing the results of that first round of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot. However, NOAA spokesman John Leslie said May 7 that the report is still “nearing competition” within the agency and will be released publicly once it is completed.

Proposals for phase two are due on May 25.

NASA Releases Solicitation for LEO Commercialization Studies

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins removes samples from the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). Blood, saliva and urine samples will be stored in MELFI until they can be transported back to Earth for analysis. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has released a research announcement requesting proposals to study the future of human spaceflight commercialization in low-Earth orbit.

The research announcement solicits industry concepts detailing business plans and viability for habitable platforms, whether using the International Space Station or a separate free-flying structure, that would enable a space economy in low-Earth orbit in which NASA is one of many customers.

(more…)

Mars Needs Women — NASA Needs Everybody

Credit: American International Television

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In the 1967 film, Mars Needs Women, a team of martians invades Earth to kidnap women to help repopulate their dying species. Shot over two weeks on a minuscule budget and padded out with stock footage, the movie obtained cult status as one of those cinematic disasters that was so bad it was unintentionally hilarious.

A half century later, NASA finds itself in a not entirely dissimilar situation. Only this problem is not nearly as funny.

The space agency lacks sufficient personnel with the proper skill sets to undertake its complex missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. A number of key programs have been affected by the shortfall already.

NASA’s workforce is also aging. More than half the agency’s employees are 50 years and older, with one-fifth  currently eligible for retirement. Finding replacement workers with the right mix of skills is not always easy as NASA faces increased competition from a growing commercial space sector.

The space agency is addressing these challenges, but it’s too early to tell how successful these efforts will be, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

(more…)

Payload for 2022 SLS Launch Still Up in the Air

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has set mid-2022 for the second flight of the Space Launch System (SLS), but it’s not yet known what the massive booster will actually launch.

“Determination as to whether this launch will be SLS/Orion crewed mission (EM-2) or the SLS/Europa Clipper mission will be made based on risk and readiness of the Europa Clipper project,” according to a decision memo signed on Friday by William C. Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development. Parabolic Arc obtained a copy of the memo.

(more…)

NASA’s New Planet Hunter Snaps Initial Test Image, Swings by Moon Toward Final Orbit

This test image from one of the four cameras aboard the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) captures a swath of the southern sky along the plane of our galaxy. TESS is expected to cover more than 400 times the amount of sky shown in this image when using all four of its cameras during science operations. (Credits: NASA/MIT/TESS)

GREEBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s next planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is one step closer to searching for new worlds after successfully completing a lunar flyby on May 17. The spacecraft passed about 5,000 miles from the Moon, which provided a gravity assist that helped TESS sail toward its final working orbit.

(more…)

Launch Delays Blessing in Disguise for GRACE-FO Mission

GRACE-FO spacecraft (Credit: Airbus Defense and Space)

A German-American science mission scheduled to launch this week is running nine months behind schedule due to issues with launch vehicles. However, the delays turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the project, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

The twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites are set to launch on Tuesday at 12:47:58 p.m. PDT (3:47:58 p.m. EDT; 1947:58 GMT) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch will be webcast at www.nasa.gov and www.spacex.com.

(more…)

ULA Machinists Approve New Contract, End Strike

CENTENNIAL, Colo., May 19, 2018 (ULA PR) – Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) have accepted the company’s new four-year contract offer and will return to work after being on strike since May 7.

The new contract covers 600 bargaining unit employees from District Lodges #75 and #166, which includes Locals #44, #610 and #2786 performing work on the Atlas V, Delta II, Delta IV and Vulcan Centaur product lines at both East and West Coast ULA launch sites and Decatur, Alabama, manufacturing facility. The contract becomes effective at 12:01 a.m. on May 7.

(more…)

GAO: Launch Vehicle Problems Caused Delay in NASA Science Satellite

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

Problems with its launch vehicle and range schedule conflicts have caused a year-long in the launch of a new NASA spacecraft that will study the Earth’s ionosphere, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

The June 2017 launch date for the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite was delayed after two of the three stages of the Pegasus XL’s launch vehicle were involved in a transport accident, the GAO found. The stages were returned to Orbital ATK’s facility for inspection and testing, but no damage was found.

(more…)