Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to Resume Operations

Hubble Space Telescope (Credit: NASA)

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.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

www.nasa.gov/hubble

Astranis, Pacific Dataport Sign Exclusive Agreement to Bridge Alaska’s Digital Divide

Astranis microsatellite size comparison. (Credit: Astranis)

ANCHORAGE, AlaskaJan. 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…)

New Movie Shows Ultima Thule from an Approaching New Horizons


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.

Image credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory

SpaceX Decides to Build Starship in Texas; R&D to Stay in California

Starship hopper under construction at Boca Chica. (Credit: SpaceX)

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.

Relativity Wins Direct Contract for Launch Site at Cape Canaveral from the U.S. Air Force

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.

(more…)

Iridium Certus Goes Live; World’s First Truly Global Broadband Service

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.

(more…)

PolyU Provides Multi-Disciplinary Support to the Nation’s Historic Landing on the Far Side of the Moon

China’s Yutu 2 rover drives off the Chang’e-4 lander. (Credit: CNSA)

HONG KONG (PolyU PR) — The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) proudly supported the nation’s current lunar exploration, Chang’e-4 lunar probe, which successfully performed the historic landing on the far side of the Moon on 3 January 2019. Adopted by Chang’e-4 mission was PolyU’s advanced technologies, namely the design and development of an advanced Camera Pointing System, and an innovative lunar topographic mapping and geomorphological analysis technique in landing site characterisation for the space craft.

(more…)

Boeing Invests in Isotropic Systems Ltd. to Expand Satellite Communications Capabilities

LONDON, Jan. 15, 2019 (Boeing PR) — Boeing [NYSE: BA] today announced its investment in Isotropic Systems Ltd., a London-based startup pioneering next-generation solutions to better connect people and enterprises around the globe.

By taking advantage of optical beam steering, Isotropic’s innovative user terminals can simultaneously connect with several different satellites without increasing cost or complexity. This capability will help enable low-cost, mass-market broadband connectivity for consumers and help companies meet growing demand for satellite data, mobility and broadband services even in the most remote places.

(more…)

SpaceX Layoffs Come as Market for Launching Big Satellites Slows

Falcon 9 lifts off with Iridium Next 41-50 satellites. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

The Los Angeles Times points out that SpaceX is laying off 10 percent of its workforce just as the market for launching large communications satellites has slowed.

In announcing layoffs last week, SpaceX pointed to its bid for riskier markets — providing broadband internet via thousands of small satellites and building a spaceship for Mars transportation.

What went unsaid was that the company’s money-generating business of launching satellites may also face a squeeze, with new competitors on the horizon and fewer launches planned for huge commercial satellites that operate in a fixed position relative to the ground.

SpaceX cited the need to become a “leaner company” when it said Friday it would lay off 10% of its more than 6,000 employees. The cuts appear to be concentrated at its flagship Hawthorne facility, where 577 employees will be let go, according to a state Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice dated Friday. The cuts ranged from composites and propulsion technicians and manufacturing engineers to baristas, cooks and dishwashers. SpaceX declined to say whether its facilities in Texas, Florida, Virginia, Washington and Washington, D.C., were also affected.

Orders have slowed for school bus-sized commercial geostationary satellites. Once as numerous as 20 to 25 per year, worldwide orders across the industry dropped to 17 in 2015 and 2016, according to a 2017 report from the Satellite Industry Assn. trade group. More recent industry order data aren’t publicly available, but experts say the trend toward smaller satellites for Earth imaging and communications has continued.

ULA Reschedules Delta IV Heavy Launch for Jan. 19

United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman)

Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Jan. 15, 2019 (ULA PR) – The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy carrying the NROL-71 mission has been scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 19 from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 11:05 a.m. PST.

CGWIC Signs Agreement to Launch Satellogic Earth Observation Constellation of 90 Satellites

BEIJING (CGWIC PR) — China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) today announced a Multiple Launch Services Agreement (MLA) with Satellogic, the world’s first vertically integrated geospatial analytics company. CGWIC will launch 90 of Satellogic’s spacecraft from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The first launch – scheduled for later this year – will deliver a dedicated payload of 13 of Satellogic’s spacecraft to Low Earth Orbit on a Long March 6 (LM-6) rocket.

Satellogic’s team of world-class data scientists is already leveraging its current fleet of spacecraft to deliver planetary scale insights and solutions for a variety of industries, including agriculture, forestry, oil and gas, and finance and insurance. The 90 spacecraft that Satellogic announced under this agreement will form an Earth Observation Satellite Constellation that will remap the planet at one meter of resolution every week and dramatically reduce the cost of high-frequency geospatial analytics.

(more…)

Iran Rocket Fails to Orbit Satellite

Iranian media are reporting that an attempted launch of an imaging satellite failed on Tuesday.

The third stage of the Simorgh satellite launch vehicle (SLV) failed to gain sufficient velocity to place the Payam satellite into orbit, a government official said. The satellite was to have returned imagery with a resolution of 45 meters from a 500 km high orbit.

Cotton Seedlings Grow on Moon Aboard China’s Chang’e-4 Lander

CORRECTION: Apparently these photos are from the control experiment back on Earth. The seeds and other materials on the moon have since died having been exposed to the frigid temperatures of the lunar night.