Xplore, Nanoracks Partner to Commercialize Deep Space

SEATTLE, Jan. 29, 2020 (Xplore PR) — Xplore Inc., a commercial space company providing Space As A Service™ today announced a partnership in which Nanoracks will provide commercial deep space flight opportunities for its customers and serve as a customer interface for payload design, preparation and integration on Xplore missions to the Moon, Mars, Venus, Lagrange Points and near-Earth asteroids.

Nanoracks has dramatically expanded the commercialization of space in low-Earth orbit by launching cubesats and microsatellites from the International Space Station, and launching hundreds of microgravity experiments, for customers since 2009.


Virgin Orbit, ISI Partner to Develop Responsive Space Service

LauncherOne attached to Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

TEL AVIV, January 28, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) Virgin Orbit, the California-based small satellite launch company, has signed an agreement with ImageSat International (ISI), a global leader in space-based intelligence solutions, to develop an end-to-end responsive space service offering focused on national security customers. The joint turnkey service, announced at the 15th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference during Israel Space Week, would take advantage of the responsive and flexible capabilities of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system to rapidly deploy ISI’s high-resolution Earth observation small satellites.


SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Satellites, Catches Fairing Half

Half of a Falcon 9 fairing captured in a net with its parachute separating in the background. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX launched its fourth batch of Starlink satellites on Wednesday, raising the total placed into orbit to 242 in a flight that saw a recovery ship catch a payload fairing half for the second time.

Starlink is a constellation designed to provide satellite broadband services to any location on Earth. The company is planning to launch batches of satellites twice per month this year in order to quickly begin service in North America.

Falcon 9 launch with fourth batch of Starlink satellites. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Falcon 9’s first stage, which flew for the third time, successfully landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship.

The fairing half was caught in a net by one of the two boats int he Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX said a second boat narrowly missed catching the other half, which landed softly in the water.

ExoMars 2020 Aerodynamic Shield Flight Sample Delivered to ESA

Mars 2020 shield (Credit: Roscosmos)

CANNES (Roscosmos PR) — ExoMars-2020 aerodynamic shield flight sample delivered from NPO Lavochkin (part of Roscosmos) to Thales Alenia Space (Cannes, France).

The TASinF specialists unpacked the shield, cleaned and placed it in the clean area ISO7, performed all the necessary equipment checks. At the moment, preparatory works to install the aerodynamic shield are underway to conduct further joint tests as part of the spacecraft.

ExoMars-2020 mission is the second stage of Roscosmos largest international project together with the European Space Agency to explore Mars surface and subsurface in the area next to the landing site, geological research and searching for traces of possible life existence on the planet. The spacecraft is to open a new stage in space exploration for the world scientific community.

NPO Lavochkin acts as the general contractor and works coordinator from the Russian side, as well as designer and manufacturer of the descent module with the landing platform. The mission is scheduled for launch in the window between July 26 – August 13, 2020.

UK Space Cluster Expands at Harwell

The European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) is ESA’s facility in the United Kingdom. It is based at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. (Credit: Harwell Campus)

OXFORDSHIRE, UK (ESA PR) — More than 1100 people now work in the space industry at Harwell in Oxfordshire – up 16% over the past 12 months – according to figures released today.

Some 105 companies are based on the campus, which is Europe’s most concentrated space cluster. The growth rate is on target to deliver 5000 jobs in 200 organisations by 2030.


GAO: More Webb Space Telescope Delays Look Likely

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has taken yet another look at NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, and the results aren’t real good.

“As of October 2019, the project had used about 76 percent of its available schedule reserve and no longer plans to launch in November 2020,” the report stated. “The project is now managing to a March 2021 launch date but estimates only a 12 percent likelihood that this date will be achieved. NASA plans to reassess the launch date in the spring of 2020. “


AFRL, Blue Origin Partner on Test Site for BE-7 Lunar Lander Engine Development

The Altitude facility at Edwards Air Force Base, California, does tactical scale research on next generation rocket motor and engine components, propellant formulations, and subsystems; and high vacuum research on satellite components, subsystems, and systems. Research testing includes solid rocket motor testing at simulated altitudes up to 120,000 feet. The complex has been used for space simulation to validate thrust vector control systems, baseline a standard for solid rocket motor propellants, research extendible nozzle cones, and systems, and research space qualified ignition systems. (Credit: Blue Origin)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFRL PR) – The Air Force Research Laboratory and Blue Origin are developing a new test facility for the Blue Origin BE-7 lunar lander engine at the AFRL rocket lab here.

Capital improvements, funded by Blue Origin, will allow BE-7 testing in a simulated space-like environment. Planned work includes adding liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX) propellant capabilities, along with other facility upgrades.


Kepler Manufacturing Large Scale Satellite Constellation in Downtown Toronto

Satellite undergoing testing. (Credit: Kepler Communications)
  • The 5,000 square foot facility will allow batch-production of Kepler’s communication satellites
  • The facility design, production capability, and satellite design were developed with several Canadian partners, including the Canadian Space Agency, University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), and Sinclair Interplanetary – leveraging their decades of flight heritage
  • Benefiting the local economy with the creation of new high-tech jobs and strengthening Canada’s position as a leader in the aerospace manufacturing industry

TORONTO (Kepler PR) — Kepler Communications, Canadian satellite telecommunications pioneer, begins production in its newly commissioned satellite manufacturing facility in Toronto, Canada. It is an essential step towards delivering the company’s proposed fleet of 140 satellites for high-capacity global connectivity services with applications in maritime, agriculture, research and exploration, government, and transportation.


ISS U.S. National Laboratory 2019 Annual Report Now Available

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER (FL), January 28, 2020 ISS National Lab PR)  – The International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory has made public its 2019 Annual Report. The report is intended to educate the public on ISS National Lab highlights and accomplishments from the 2019 fiscal year (October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019) and includes an updated look at: the ISS National Lab research and development portfolio, in-orbit activities onboard the space station, new and enhanced partnerships, research success stories, and expanding engagement and outreach. The 2019 Annual Report is now available online at  www.issnationallab.org/ar2019.


Mixed Reaction to House’s NASA Authorization Bill

There have been sharply differing reaction from industry and advocacy groups to the House draft of a NASA authorization act that largely rejects the Trump Administration’s plan to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 and establish a permanent presence there. Instead, a moon landing would be used as an interim step to sending astronauts to Mars. Commercial participation in these missions would be limited.

[See House NASA Authorization Bill Focuses on Sending Astronauts to Mars; Moon Seen as Interim Step and NASA Authorization Bill Introduced in House for details.]

Below are statements by the Aerospace Industries Association, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and National Space Society.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has also weighed in here.


Bridenstine: Authorization Bill Constrains Lunar Exploration, Commercial Participation

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

In a blog post reproduced below, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine raises a number of objections to a draft authorization bill released by a House subcommittee. [See House NASA Authorization Bill Focuses on Sending Astronauts to Mars; Moon Seen as Interim Step and NASA Authorization Bill Introduced in House for details.]

by Jim Bridenstine
NASA Administrator

I would like to thank the Committee for producing a comprehensive NASA authorization bill. I am particularly encouraged that the bill is proceeding on a bipartisan basis, reflecting a consensus on a Moon to Mars approach. Maintaining a bipartisan, consensus approach is critical to constancy of purpose and supporting a long-term national commitment to the human exploration of the Moon and Mars. The bill envisions a destination of Mars while supporting missions to the Moon as the most effective strategy to achieve that critical, shared goal. NASA would appreciate the opportunity to work with the Committee in a bipartisan way, as we did with the Senate Commerce Committee, on some modifications.


House NASA Authorization Bill Focuses on Sending Astronauts to Mars; Moon Seen as Interim Step

This scene from the panoramic camera on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity looks back toward part of the west rim of Endeavour Crater that the rover drove along, heading southward, during the summer of 2014. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A draft of a House authorization bill rejects the Trump Administration’s Artemis program to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 and to establish a permanent presence there in favor of focusing on a crewed mission to Mars in the early 2030’s.

Under the measure, NASA would land astronauts on the moon in 2028 and launch crewed mission to orbit the Red Planet by 2033. The two missions would be interim steps toward landing astronauts on the martian surface in “a sustainable manner as soon as practicable,” the bill stated.

The authorization act would make the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft central to what it calls NASA’s Moon to Mars program while de-emphasizing the role of commercial systems and redirecting the Lunar Gateway to support missions to the Red Planet.


NASA Authorization Bill Introduced in House

WASHINGTON, DC (House Science Committee PR) – This afternoon, Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairwoman Kendra Horn (D-OK) along with Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX), Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced H.R.­­ 5666, the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2020.” 

H.R. 5666 reaffirms NASA’s foundational authority as a multi-mission agency and emphasizes the importance of balanced exploration, science, aeronautics, technology, and education portfolios. The Act establishes frameworks that put a premium on planning, oversight, transparency, and responsible fiscal and program management.


Twin Rovers Could Lead Search for Life Supporting Elements

TRAILER robotic system (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s Technology Development Element (TDE) has signed a contract on the development of the TRAILER robotic system with COMEX, France. TRAILER is a two-year project to test a novel architecture of robotic cooperation based on a tandem of two rovers for lunar surface exploration missions.