The largest piece of structural test hardware for America’s new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System, was loaded into Test Stand 4693 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama Jan. 14, 2019. The liquid hydrogen tank is part of the rocket’s core stage that is more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, and stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines. The liquid hydrogen tank test article is structurally identical to the flight version of the tank that will comprise two-thirds of the core stage and hold 537,000 gallons of supercooled liquid hydrogen at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit. Dozens of hydraulic cylinders in the 215-foot-tall test stand will push and pull the tank, subjecting it to the same stresses and loads it will endure during liftoff and flight.
PARIS (ESA PR) — Europeans are undeniably interested in space activities, and the idea of pooling resources between European countries is considered important unanimously by European citizens: just two of the fascinating findings from a recent survey of public perceptions of issues related to space.
Carried out on behalf of ESA by Harris Interactive in December 2018, the survey questioned over 5000 people aged 18 or older and representative of the public in Europe’s five most populous countries, Germany, UK, France, Spain and Italy.
The survey found that, almost unanimously, Europeans identified three main uses for space: better understanding the Universe, observing our own planet, for example the effects of climate change, and they recognised the ability to make life on Earth easier, for example in transportation or communications.
Alan Boyle reports that Stratolaunch is laying off about 50 employees and has dumped plans for development of a series of new air-launched boosters (seen in picture above). The decision comes three months after the death of Paul Allen, who is funding a project being led by Northrop Grumman’s Scaled Composites.
The company said it would continue work on the world’s largest airplane, which is designed to serve as a flying launch pad for rockets. Last week, Stratolaunch put its 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage plane through a high-speed taxi test that many saw as a precursor for its first test flight at Mojave Air and Space Port.
“Stratolaunch is ending the development of their family of launch vehicles and rocket engine. We are streamlining operations, focusing on the aircraft and our ability to support a demonstration launch of the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL air-launch vehicle,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We are immensely proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to first flight in 2019.”
Employees were told today that more than 50 people were being laid off as a result of the streamlining strategy, according to two sources who aren’t employed by Stratolaunch but are familiar with the operation. The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told GeekWire that about 20 employees were staying on to work on the plane and prepare for the flight test.
The Pegasus XL is a small satellite booster capable of carrying 443 kg (977 lb) to orbit. The rocket often carries government payloads and flies infrequently; it has flown only five times in the last 11 years.Pegasus XL is currently launched by a modfied L-1011 aircraft that is parked just down the taxiway from where the Stratolaunch plane is housed at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
The Pegasus XL’s low production rate has driven up the cost of the booster. NASA is paying approximately $56.3 million for the launch of its Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission, which is scheduled for later this year. The price “includes the firm-fixed launch service costs, spacecraft processing, payload integration, tracking, data and telemetry and other launch support requirements,” the agency said in a press release.
It is not clear whether Stratolaunch will be contracting with any other companies to produce additional boosters for the aircraft. It previously pursued projects with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems). Neither of those efforts came to fruition.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — A new investigation heading to the International Space Station will provide space-flown samples to scientists from academia, industry and government agencies, who have agreed to share their data and results in an online database that is open to the public. Rodent Research-8 (RR-8) examines the physiology of aging and the effect of age on disease progression using groups of young and old mice flown in space and kept on Earth.
The Expedition 58 crew focused again today on studying head and eye pressure changes astronauts experience while living in space. The crew then went on to more science hardware and life support maintenance aboard the International Space Station.
Flight Engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques worked throughout Thursday morning researching the upward flow of fluids that occurs inside astronauts’ bodies. The duo conducted eye scans with a variety of devices to measure eye pressure changes caused by these fluid shifts in microgravity.
Commander Oleg Kononenko ensured the upkeep of life support gear and other station systems in the Russian segment of the orbital lab. The veteran cosmonaut of three previous Expeditions ended the day exploring how station crew members from around the world interact and learn to live together in space.
TOKYO (JAXA PR) — National Research and Development Agency Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration-1* aboard the fourth Epsilon Launch Vehicle (Epsilon-4) from the JAXA Uchinoura Space Center. The launch proceeded on time at 9:50:20 a.m., (Japan Standard Time, JST) January 18, 2019.
The launch and flight of Epsilon-4 occurred nominally. All seven satellites separated from the launch vehicle successfully; the Rapid Innovative Payload Demonstration Satellite 1 (RAPIS-1) was jettisoned from the launch vehicle approximately 51 minutes 55 seconds into launch. Thereafter, other onboard satellites – MicroDragon, RISESAT, ALE-1, OrigamiSat-1, Aoba VELOX-IV and NEXUS – were respectively separated from Epsilon-4.
JAXA appreciates all for the support shown in behalf of the Epsilon-4 launch.
*Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstoration-1 is a suit of seven small satellite missions to demonstrate innovative new technological approaches; – Rapid Innovative payload demonstration Satellite 1 (RAPIS-1), which JAXA developed with the assistance of startups – Small satellites: MicroDragon, RISESAT and ALE-1 – CubeSats: OrigamiSat-1, Aoba VELOX-IV, NEXUS
The Moon is a fundamental part of Earth’s past and future – an off-world location that may hold valuable resources to support space activity and scientific treasures that may tell us more about our own planet. Americans first walked on its surface almost 50 years ago, but the next wave of lunar exploration will be fundamentally different.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has moved closer to conducting science operations again with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, which suspended operations on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Today, Jan. 15, the instrument was brought back to its operations mode.
Shortly after noon EST on Jan. 8, software installed on the Wide Field Camera 3 detected that some voltage levels within the instrument were out of the predefined range. The instrument autonomously suspended its operations as a safety precaution. Upon further investigation, the voltage levels appeared to be within normal range, yet the engineering data within the telemetry circuits for those voltage levels were not accurate. In addition, all other telemetry within those circuits also contained erroneous values indicating that this was a telemetry issue and not a power supply issue.
After resetting the telemetry circuits and associated boards, additional engineering data were collected and the instrument was brought back to operations. All values were normal. Additional calibration and tests will be run over the next 48 to 72 hours to ensure that the instrument is operating properly. Further investigation using both the new and the previously collected engineering data will be conducted to determine why those data values were originally incorrect.
Assuming that all tests work as planned, it is expected that the Wide Field Camera 3 will start to collect science images again by the end of the week.
The Wide Field Camera 3 was installed during the last servicing mission to Hubble back in 2009. Over 2,000 peer-reviewed published papers have been produced from its data. Hubble itself is in its 29th year of operations, well surpassing its original 15-year lifetime.
Hubble operations, like other satellite operations, are excepted activities as defined in the NASA furlough/shutdown plan. The current partial government shutdown does not affect its flight operations.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Jan. 16, 2019 (Astranis PR) — Astranis Space Technologies Corp., building the next generation of telecommunications satellites to bring the world online, and Pacific Dataport Inc. (PDI), a company created for Alaskans by Alaskans to bridge the state’s digital divide, today announced a signed agreement and commercial partnership to construct and launch the first-ever commercial Astranis satellite to dramatically increase bandwidth in Alaska and lower the price of internet access statewide. (more…)
LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — This movie shows the propeller-like rotation of Ultima Thule in the seven hours between 20:00 UT (3 p.m. ET) on Dec. 31, 2018, and 05:01 UT (12:01 a.m.) on Jan. 1, 2019, as seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons as the spacecraft sped toward its close encounter with the Kuiper Belt object at 05:33 UT (12:33 a.m. ET) on Jan. 1.
During this deep-space photo shoot – part of the farthest planetary flyby in history – New Horizons’ range to Ultima Thule decreased from 310,000 miles (500,000 kilometers, farther than the distance from the Earth to the Moon) to just 17,100 miles (28,000 kilometers), during which the images became steadily larger and more detailed. The team processed two different image sequences; the bottom sequence shows the images at their original relative sizes, while the top corrects for the changing distance, so that Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) appears at constant size but becomes more detailed as the approach progresses.
All the images have been sharpened using scientific techniques that enhance detail. The original image scale is 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) per pixel in the first frame, and 0.08 miles (0.14 kilometers) per pixel in the last frame. The rotation period of Ultima Thule is about 16 hours, so the movie covers a little under half a rotation. Among other things, the New Horizons science team will use these images to help determine the three-dimensional shape of Ultima Thule, in order to better understand its nature and origin.
The raw images included in the movie are available on the New Horizons LORRI website. New Horizons downlinked the two highest-resolution images in this movie immediately after the Jan. 1 flyby, but the more distant images were sent home on Jan. 12-14, after a week when New Horizons was too close to the Sun (from Earth’s point of view) for reliable communications. New Horizons will continue to transmit images – including its closest views of Ultima Thule – and data for the next many months.
SpaceX has decided it would be easier to build its giant Starship spacecraft in Texas rather than at the Port of Los Angeles in California as originally planned, Alan Boyle reports.
SpaceX says it’ll build and test the prototypes for its next-generation Starship space cruiser and Super Heavy booster in South Texas, despite a deal it struck to build a rocket factory at the Port of Los Angeles.
At least by some accounts, the turnabout is a setback to Los Angeles’ efforts to build a high-tech “Silicon Harbor” at the port, with SpaceX’s planned 18-acre site on Terminal Island as the centerpiece. The Los Angeles City Council approved a 20-year lease agreement with billionaire CEO Elon Musk’s company in May.
“We are building the Starship prototypes locally at our launch site in Texas, as their size makes them very difficult to transport,” Musk explained today in a tweet.
However, Musk also said development work for Starship and its methane-fueled Raptor engines would continue to be done at SpaceX’s Hawthorne headquarters. He said any confusion about SpaceX’s plans was due to “our miscommunication.”
SpaceX is building a launch site at Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville. It is assembling a subscale Starship hopper to conduct atmospheric tests later this year.
The autonomous rocket factory becomes the first venture-backed company to be granted an agreement for historic Launch Complex 16 from the U.S. Air Force
Los Angeles, CA — January 17, 2019 — Relativity, the world’s first autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader, today announced that it has been granted a Statement of Capability for its own rocket launch facilities at Launch Complex 16 (LC-16) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by The 45th Space Wing of the United States Air Force. The Statement of Capability signifies the U.S. Air Force’s formal acceptance of Relativity for launch operations in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This is the first and only direct agreement the U.S. Air Force has completed with a venture-backed orbital launch company at LC-16, and includes on-site vehicle integration and payload processing, with the opportunity to extend to an exclusive 20-year term. Relativity joins SpaceX, ULA, and Blue Origin as only the 4th company with a major operational orbital launch site at Cape Canaveral.
Deployed teams, assets, autonomous vehicles, and ships can now activate this state-of-the-art connectivity platform
MCLEAN, Va., Jan. 16, 2019 (Iridium PR) —Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: IRDM) announced today the commercial launch of its Iridium Certus broadband service, the first new capability activated from the company’s $3 billion Iridium® NEXT satellite replacement program. Iridium Certus is a unique platform designed for the development of specialty applications and is the world’s only truly global broadband service, offering on-the-move internet and high-quality voice access. The service enables mobile office functionality for deployed teams and two-way remote communication for assets, autonomous vehicles, trains, aircraft and ships at sea.
This also includes safety-of-life services, where Iridium Certus is uniquely suited for the critical communications needs of teams operating beyond the reach of cellular coverage, including first responders and search and rescue organizations. This announcement marks the end of an extensive global testing phase, including beta trials with live customers; the initial service is targeted at maritime and terrestrial applications, with Iridium Certus aviation solutions expected later in 2019, once certified.