FCC Approves Swarm Constellation of 150 Satellites

Swarm satellite (Credit: Swarm Technologies)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a license to Swarm Technologies to operate a non-voice communications satellite constellation composed of 150 satellites smaller than an 1U CubeSat.

“Over 20 entities filed letters in support of granting Swarm’s application. These entities plan to utilize Swarm’s network to provide a variety of communications services in support of agribusiness, transportation, and academic and scientific research,” the FCC said in its memorandum approving the application.

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Boeing Starliner Commercial Crew Delay: ~3 Years

Boeing’s first crewed Starliner finished initial production at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. and is readied for its cross-country trip. (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On March 26, Vice President Mike Pence went to Huntsville, Ala., to declare that the Trump Administration would use “any means necessary” to accelerate the return of American astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024 — four years earlier than planned.

Pence was putting Huntsville-based Marshall Space Flight Center and prime contractor Boeing on notice to get the delayed, over budget Space Launch System (SLS) being built to accomplish that goal back on track. If they didn’t, the administration would find other rockets to do the job.

In his effort to accelerate the Artemis lunar program, however, Pence unintentionally contributed to delays in NASA’s behind schedule effort to launch astronauts to a much closer location: low Earth orbit.

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SpaceX Files Applications for 30,000 More Starlink Satellites

60 Starlink satellites inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing. (Credit: Elon Musk)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has filed spectrum allocation paperwork with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for up to 30,000 additional Starlink broadband satellites.

The FCC, on SpaceX’s behalf, submitted 20 filings to the ITU for 1,500 satellites apiece in various low Earth orbits, an ITU official confirmed Oct. 15 to SpaceNews. 

SpaceX deployed its first 60 Starlink satellites in May and plans to launch hundreds — potentially over a thousand — more in the year ahead. 

The ITU, a United Nations entity, coordinates spectrum at the international level for satellite operators to prevent signal interference and spectrum hogging. National regulators submit filing on behalf of their country’s satellite operators.

The 30,000 satellites are in addition to 12,000 medium-orbit Starlink satellites already approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Elon Musk’s company is planning up to four additional Falcon 9 launches of Starlink satellites by the end of the year. Dates for those flights have not been publicly announced. Additional launches would follow in 2020.

Virtual Field Trips Take Students Inside NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

By Danielle Sempsrott
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

As NASA begins a new era of space exploration – returning to the Moon and eventually on to Mars – education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects is increasingly important to the future of our nation’s space program. 

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) plays an integral role in the agency’s deep space exploration goals as it works with commercial partners to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil on American-built rockets and spacecraft.

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Virgin Galactic to Unveil New “Milestone” Next Week

Editor’s Note: My guess is they will unveil the passenger flight suits in some sort of fashion event, probably involving some fashion models. I wonder if Karlie Kloss, who has said her dream is to fly to space, will be there.

Why do I think it’s the flight suit? Ticket holders have been coming in and other of Mojave in recent months to get fitted for the “spacesuit.” There’s not going to be a lot of things going into space with them. And NYC is a major fashion capital.

Chief Pilot David Mackay gave a talk recently here in Mojave. He said passengers will not wear pressure suits, but they will have oxygen masks in the event of an emergency.

If they are unveiling the flight suit on Wednesday, calling it a milestone is a bit of a stretch. The Crew Dragon parachute drop tests, static fire, in-flight abort flight and orbital mission discussed during the briefing at SpaceX headquarters on Thursday are actual milestones.

Unveiling a flight suit is primarily a marketing and public relations event. Really important milestones will be completing the SpaceShipTwo flight test program and actually flying some passengers next year.

USAF Selects 8 Companies to Compete for Launch Contracts

The U.S. Air Force has selected eight companies to compete for $986 worth of launch contracts under its Orbital Services Program-4 (OSP-4) program. The companies include:

  • Aevum Inc., Huntsville, Ala.;
  • Firefly Black LLC, Cedar Park, Texas;
  • Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, Chandler, Ariz.;
  • Rocket Lab USA Inc., Huntington Beach, Calif.;
  • Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif.;
  • United Launch Alliance, Centennial, Colo.;
  • VOX Space LLC., El Segundo, Calif.;
  • Xbow Launch Systems Inc., Auburn, Calif.;

“The contract seeks to capitalize on the emerging small launch providers while providing dedicated and primary launch services to the Department of Defense and other government agencies,” the U.S. Air Force said in announcing the selections.

“The program allows for the rapid acquisition of launch services to meet mission requirements for payloads greater than 400 pounds, enabling launch to any orbit within 12-24 months from task order award,” the announcement added.

The eight companies will be competitive for indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contracts under OSP-4.

ILS President Departs Proton Flies Last Scheduled Commercial Launch

MOSCOW (Khrunichev PR) — Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, the majority shareholder of ILS International Launch Services, Inc., (“ILS”) announced the departure of Kirk Pysher as ILS President. John Palme, ILS Chief Operations Officer, will serve as interim President until a successor is appointed.

Mr. Alexey Varochko, KhSC Director General, expressed his thanks to Mr. Pysher for his work on offering Proton M launch services on the global market.

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Program Delay: 3+ Years

An instrumented mannequin sits in the Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Demo-1 mission. (Credit: SpaceX)

Updated Oct. 9, 2019 at 9:08 am PDT with paragraph summarizing some of the reasons for the schedule delays.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last week or so about NASA’s delay plagued Commercial Crew Program, which is designed to restore the nation’s ability to launch astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011.

Prior to SpaceX CEO’s Elon Musk’s Sept. 28 webcast update on the Starship program, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed frustration that the company wasn’t more focused on the Crew Dragon program that hasn’t flown astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) yet.

Asked about the delay by a CNN journalist after giving an update on Starship’s progress on Sept. 28, Musk questioned whether Bridenstine was asking about delays at with commercial crew or with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). He laughed and mugged for the camera.

Musk’s rabid fans cheered it to be a sick burn against against a slow-moving space agency. The administrator diplomatically called it not helpful. He also revealed the cause of his pique.

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NASA Administrator to Visit SpaceX HQ on Thursday

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will tour SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on Thursday, Oct. 10, to see the progress the company is making to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station from American soil as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

Following the tour, SpaceX will host a media availability with Bridenstine, SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk, and NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley – the crew for the Demo-2 flight test to the space station.

The media availability will be streamed live on Bridenstine’s Twitter account:

http://www.twitter/com/jimbridenstine.

SpaceX will carry NASA astronauts to the space station on the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, and help return the ability to fly American astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil. This is an important step toward sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024, as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

In March, SpaceX completed Crew Dragon’s first demonstration mission, Demo-1, sending the uncrewed spacecraft to and from the International Space Station. NASA and SpaceX currently are preparing for an upcoming in-flight abort test of Crew Dragon’s launch escape system and the company’s second demonstration mission, Demo-2, which will send NASA astronauts to and from the station aboard Crew Dragon.

SpaceX may not be able to accommodate all who request accreditation, as space is very limited, and outlets may be asked to cap the number of representatives they request to send.

SpaceX will provide additional logistical details for credentialed media closer to the visit.

China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

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Upcoming Launches Include Mission Extension Vehicle, ICON and Starlink Satellites

Mission Extension Vehicle refuels satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Four upcoming launches in the United States, Russia and New Zealand feature payloads to refuel a communications satellite, study space weather, expand SpaceX’s Starlink network, and test out new technology.

October 9

Proton
Payloads: Eutelsat 5 West B communications satellite, Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV 1)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Launch Time: 6:17 a.m. EDT (1017 GMT )

This is the first flight of the MEV, which will refuel the Intelsat 901 communications satellite. Both satellites on this launch were built by Northrop Grumman.

October 9/10

Pegasus XL
Payload: Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite
Launch Platform: Stargazer L-1011 aircraft
Departure Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Window: 9:25-10:55 p.m. EDT on Oct. 9 (0125-0255 GMT on Oct. 10)

NASA’s ICON mission will study disturbances in the ionosphere caused by terrestrial weather and solar storms that disrupt radio transmissions and GPS navigation. ICON has suffered repeated delays due to technical problems. The original launch date was in June 2017. The launch is being conducted by Northrop Grumman.

October 14/15

Electron
Payloads: Palisade CubeSat
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Launch Window: 7:00-11:00 p.m. EDT on Oct. 14 (2300-0300 GMT on Oct. 14/15)

Rocket Lab’s “As The Crow Flies” mission is the ninth launch of the Electron rocket Astro Digital’s Palisade technology demonstration satellite is a 16U CubeSat with a next-generation communications system and an an on-board propulsion system.

NET October 17

Falcon 9
Payloads: ~ 60 Starlink 1 communications satellites
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Time: TBD

SpaceX will launch the second group of Starlink 1 broadband satellites no earlier than Oct. 17.

Intuitive Machines Selects SpaceX Falcon 9 to Launch Lunar Lander

Intuitive Machines of Houston has proposed to fly as many as five payloads to a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

HOUSTON, October 2, 2019 (Intuitive Machines PR) — Houston-based Intuitive Machines selected SpaceX to launch its lunar lander, Nova-C, to the Moon in 2021 on a Falcon 9 rocket.

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NASA, SpaceX Test Pad Emergency Egress System

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, in front, and Bob Behnken participated in the exercise to verify the crew can safely and quickly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff of SpaceX’s first crewed flight test, called Demo-2. During the escape verification, Walker and Behnken pass through the water deluge system on the 265-foot level of the crew access tower. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA and SpaceX conducted a formal verification of the company’s emergency escape, or egress, system at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida on Sept. 18, 2019. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Shannon Walker participated in the exercise to verify the crew can safely and swiftly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff of SpaceX’s first crewed flight test, called Demo-2.

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NASA Announces New Tipping Point Partnerships for Moon and Mars Technologies

Astrobotic is one of 14 companies selected for NASA’s Tipping Point solicitation. This illustration depicts CubeRover, an ultra-light, modular and scalable commercial rover.(Credit: Astrobotic/Carnegie Mellon University)

Astrobotic, Blue Origin, ExoTerra, Paragon and SpaceX among contract awardees for advanced technologies

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 14 American companies as partners whose technologies will help enable the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

The selections are based on NASA’s fourth competitive Tipping Point solicitation and have a combined total award value of about $43.2 million. This investment in the U.S. space industry, including small businesses across the country, will help bring the technologies to market and ready them for use by NASA.

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