September 26, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of stringer Jay, who trolls Twitter so I don’t have to.

Mostly shows views of the Earth.

At the link the reason given is the “problems with the delivery of foreign-made parts.” Or to put it more bluntly, the sanctions against Russia due to its unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine has blocked many sophisticated computer parts that Russia cannot make itself.

All fantasy at this point. Russia’s been promising a next generation capsule replacing Soyuz for more than a decade.

Video at the link. The test occurred on September 23, 2022. No word yet on when they plan to launch.

Astroscale to partner with UK companies to develop mission to remove two defunct orbiting satellites

Capitalism in space: The Japanese-based company Astroscale has signed an agreement with the United Kingdom’s space agency to develop a mission — in partnership with a number of UK companies — to remove two defunct orbiting satellites.

The COSMIC mission will be developed in collaboration with 10 UK-based partner companies in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland including: MDA UK, Thales Alenia Space UK, Nammo, GMV-NSL, NORSS, Goonhilly, Satellite Applications Catapult, Willis Towers Watson, and other advisory and industrial partners.

What Astroscale brings to the table is its magnetic capture system that it has already tested in orbit.

This is also the second contract Astroscale has won in Europe for its space junk removal technology. In May it signed a deal with OneWeb to de-orbit two of its satellites.

SpaceX successfully launches 52 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: Using its Falcon 9 rocket SpaceX today successfully put another 52 Starlink satellites into orbit.

The first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic, completing its fourth flight. The two fairing halves each completed their fourth and fifth flights, respectively.

Note: The Biden administration yesterday gave SpaceX the okay to activate Starlink in Iran, in order to provide that country’s citizens an option for obtaining information blocked by its government.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

43 SpaceX
38 China
12 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
6 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 60 to 38 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 60 to 58.

ULA’s Delta Heavy successfully launches spy satellite for NRO

ULA today has successfully launched a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, using its Delta Heavy rocket, its largest rocket.

With this launch, ULA retires the Delta from any further launches from Vandenberg. Future California launches will use its as yet untested Vulcan rocket.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

42 SpaceX
38 China
12 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
6 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 59 to 38 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 59 to 58. The 59 launches makes this the third most active launch year in American history, trailing only 1966 (70 launches) and 1965 (64 launches).

SpaceX has a Falcon 9 launch of 52 Starlink satellites scheduled very shortly, so these numbers will hopefully go up again before the day is out.

Two launches from U.S. set for this afternoon

Both ULA and SpaceX have planned launches this afternoon a little over an hour apart, at 2:53 pm and 4:10 pm Pacific time respectively.

The ULA launch is first, and is the last Delta rocket launch from Vandenberg Space Force base. The company is slowly phasing this rocket out as it transitions to its not-yet-launched Vulcan rocket. The payload today is a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, using ULA’s biggest rocket, the Delta Heavy.

SpaceX will follow with another Falcon 9 Starlink launch, placing another 52 Starlink satellites into orbit.

I have embedded the live streams of both launches below.
» Read more

Voyager Space signs cooperative deal with Azerbaijan

Capitalism in space: Voyager Space, the subsidiary of Nanoracks that is building its Starlab private space station, has signed a cooperative agreement with Azercosmos, Azerbaijan’s space agency.

The press release is very vague about what the deal entails.

This strategic multi-year collaboration paves the way for Azercosmos and Voyager Space to proactively develop mutually beneficial space infrastructure, technology, and manufacturing initiatives, research programs, and further opportunities for innovation. With the potential to exchange experience and knowledge, the organizations will focus on commercial and educational opportunities in-country to foster a thriving local space ecosystem.

I suspect it will eventually lead to Azerbaijan sending research payloads to Starlab, once it is in orbit and operational.

The number of recent deals made by American private space companies, either to fly foreign astronauts in space, provide payload space on planetary missions, or provide space station capabilities for foreign science research, is beginning to be difficult to count. With at least four different American private space stations under construction, with at least one more proposed, the rush to sign up customers by these companies is accelerating.

Expect the business to be very brisk once these get launched. It appears that practically every government on Earth wants to claim it has a space program, and buying space and seats from these American commercial companies is going to be the quickest and cheapest way to do it.

Astrobotic gets ESA’s first commercially purchased lunar lander payload

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic yesterday announced that the European Space Agency (ESA) has purchased payload space on the company’s Griffin lunar lander for a commercially produced camera.

This is the first commercial payload ESA has purchased for a lunar mission. The camera will fly as a secondary payload on Griffin’s first mission, which will deliver NASA’s VIPER rover to the Moon’s south pole in 2024. The camera is being built by a French startup called Lunar Logistics Services.

Confirmed: Saudi Arabia buys two seats on next Axiom commercial flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: Saudi Arabia’s official press yesterday confirmed an earlier Reuters story that it has purchased two seats on an Axiom commercial flight to ISS, using a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

The twist is that the Saudi government says one of those astronauts will be a woman, and the mission should fly in 2023. It will include Axiom’s pilot, two Saudi passengers, and a fourth passenger, all as-yet unnamed.

The mission is part of what the Saudi government calls a new astronaut training program.

How private enterprise is solving the vulnerability of satellites to military attack

Link here. The essay provides a nice overview of the U.S. military’s present conundrum on protecting all American satellites in orbit, not just military ones, and what it is beginning to do to solve it, now that the Space Force exists.

The approach is following three paths, with only the last two having any hope of success. First, the Biden administration is trying diplomacy to convince space-faring nations to ban future anti-satellite tests. This approach has really little chance of success.

The other two avenues involve innovations from private enterprise, launching many small satellites as part of a large constellation and in-orbit servicing, repair, and refueling. The first creates redundancy, making it difficult for any enemy power to easily destroy U.S. assets. The second provides capabilities for both fixing important satellites as well as attacking our enemy’s without causing space junk. Both will become common in the coming years, and thus will become very viable tools for military use.

Musk: Starship orbital attempt by November, at the latest

According to a tweet yesterday by Elon Musk, SpaceX engineers will likely have the first orbital prototypes of Starship and Superheavy ready for the orbital attempt either late in October, or by November. His full tweet:

Late next month maybe, but November seems highly likely. We will have two boosters & ships ready for orbital flight by then, with full stack production at roughly one every two months. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words are the most significant. SpaceX is not building one rocket for test, like NASA has done with SLS. It is building an assembly line of test rockets, so that it can do a fast series of test launches plus upgrades, leading to quick and reliable operations. Should any one rocket launch fail, the company will speedily move on to the next, with little or no delay.

Should SLS fail in its first test launch sometime in the next month, NASA has no back-up. The entire program will be shattered, with no easy way to recover.

Nova Scotia spaceport signs deal with British rocket startup

Capitalism in space: Maritime Launch Services, the company that is building a spaceport in Nova Scotia, has signed an agreement with the British rocket startup Skyrora, naming its Skyrora-XL rocket as one of the launch providers for that spaceport.

As part of the agreement, Maritime Launch will purchase the vehicles and vehicle support staff from Skyrora for their satellite clients. Spaceport Nova Scotia will provide Skyrora a launch pad, ground and operations support, public safety services, regulatory approvals and mission integration facilities and staff. Skyrora will supply the launch vehicle, mobile launch complex, and launch operations support team to Maritime Launch.

Unlike other new spaceports, Maritime is running Spaceport Nova Scotia a bit differently. Most new spaceports simply provide a launch site for rocket companies. Maritime instead wants to offer satellite companies a full service spaceport, including the rocket. Initially the plan was to use a Ukrainian-built rocket, Cyclone-4M, as part of the service, but the Russian invasion of the Ukraine has made its availability uncertain.

This deal gives Maritime a new option to offer satellite companies. However, the Cyclone-4M was already somewhat tested, as it was an upgrade of the Ukrainian Tsiklon-4 rocket, which has already launched. Skyrora is only a startup, and has not yet flown.

Hilton chosen to design hotel suites on Nanoracks’ Starlab private space station

Nanoracks' Starlab space station
Nanoracks’ Starlab space station

Capitalism in space: Hilton has been chosen to design the hotel suites inside the Starlab private space station that Nanoracks is building and hopes to launch sometime this decade.

Voyager and Hilton will partner in the areas of architecture and design, leveraging Hilton’s word-class creative design and innovation experts, to develop Space Hospitality crew headquarters aboard Starlab, including communal areas, hospitality suites, and sleeping arrangements for the astronauts.

The announcement was made by Voyager Space, the Nanoracks’ division that is building Starlab, and already has a $160 million development contract from NASA.

Launch startup Spinlaunch raises $71 million more in private investment capital

Spinlaunch prototype suborbital launcher
Spinlaunch’s prototype launcher

Capitalism in space: The radical launch startup company Spinlaunch announced yesterday that it has raised an additional $71 million in private investment capital, bringing the total it has raised to $150 million.

Unlike the many rocket startups, Spinlaunch proposes launching payloads using a centrifuge. The image to the right is of its prototype smaller scale launcher, which has already completed several test launches.

The company claims its full scale launcher will begin operations by 2026, but it has not yet revealed where it will be built, which means construction has not yet begun.

Such a launch system cannot be used by any satellite with delicate equipment. The g-forces during launch are too high. However, for getting bulk cargo, like water and fuel into orbit, such a system could become very profitable, if it can be made operational.

Saudi Arabia buys two seats on Dragon for Axiom commercial flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: According to an as-yet unconfirmed story today by Reuters, Saudi Arabia has purchased two seats on a SpaceX Dragon capsule as part of an Axiom commercial flight to ISS.

The sources for the story are all anonymous, and no one from Axiom or SpaceX or Saudi Arabia has confirmed it. Nonetheless, it seems entirely plausible, since Saudi Arabia has made it clear it is considering such a mission and Axiom and SpaceX are eager to sell tickets.

OneWeb announces delivery of 36 satellites to India for launch

Capitalism in space: OneWeb yesterday announced the delivery of 36 satellites to India for launch on that nation’s biggest rocket, the GSLV-Mark3.

Though no date for launch was mentioned, the press release did say this:

One additional launch will take place this year and three more are targeted for early next year to complete the constellation.

This suggests two launches before the end of the year, one by India with the second already contracted to SpaceX. As for the three launches next year, it is unclear yet who will launch them. OneWeb has contracts with SpaceX, Relativity, and NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of India’s government space program which is doing this year’s GSLV launch. While Relativity has not yet launched, either SpaceX or NSIL could handle those launches for sure next year.

NASA releases new overall objectives for exploration of solar system

NASA today released a new roadmap for its goal of exploring the Moon, Mars, and the rest of the solar system, with the goal of providing an overarching strategy for everything it hopes to accomplish.

The resulting revised 63 final objectives reflect a matured strategy for NASA and its partners to develop a blueprint for sustained human presence and exploration throughout the solar system. They cover four broad areas: science; transportation and habitation; lunar and Martian infrastructure; and operations. The agency also added a set of recurring tenets to address common themes across objectives.

You can read the full document here [pdf].

The most astonishing thing about this roadmap is its utter lack of any mention of race or gender, especially when one considers how obsessed the Biden administration and its minions in federal bureaucracy have been over such things. The goals are entirely focused on exactly what they should be focused on, exploration and research, with the goal of partnering with as many private and governmental entities as possible to get it done in the most efficient way.

Researchers develop strongest-yet 3D printed titanium

Capitalism in space: Researchers at Monash University in Australia have successfully developed a 3D printed titanium alloy that has an internal strength exceeding that of normal commercially produced titanium.

In tests, the team demonstrated that the new titanium alloy had both elongation and tensile strengths (stretching and tension, respectively) of over 1,600 MPa. For reference, most commercial titanium alloys top out at around 1,000 MPa. This is also the highest specific strength for any other 3D-printed metal alloy, the team says.

Since 3D printing is going to be the main industrial manufacturing process in space, this process and the titanium it produces is certainly going to looked at with great interest by those who wish to build things in space. Imagine having a 3D printer that can make strong titanium parts in almost any needed shape. The possibilities are endless.

First meeting of all 21 nations who have signed Artemis Accords

For the first time yesterday, the 21 nations who have signed the Artemis Accords gathered together in a single meeting during the International Astronautical Congress being held in Paris this week.

The article at the link comes from the UAE’s state-run press.

Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology and chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, attended the signatories’ meeting on behalf of the UAE. “During this meeting, heads of space agencies discussed future plans in the industry to ensure the safety of humans and deconfliction of activities on the Moon, as well as the importance of the Accords to emerging space nations,” she said.

Since the U.S. is the lead nation in these accords — with all signatories becoming participating partners in its Artemis program to settle the solar system — U.S. government policies will dominate any discussion. When the Trump administration established the Artemis Accords, a major goal was to establish property rights in space for private companies. Under Trump, the U.S. would have thus certainly exercised its power to make sure that was the goal.

With the Biden administration in charge, it appears the focus has shifted — for good intentions — to promoting international cooperation, which means the goals of our other international partners appear more dominant. Under Biden, the U.S. appears willing to allow these other countries to propose policy. Should this happen, I guarantee the opportunities for private enterprise as well as the freedom for future space generations will not be as promising.

Astrobotic to build solar power grid for use by others on Moon

Astrobotic's proposed lunar electric grid

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic yesterday announced its plan to build a solar power system on the Moon, using its rovers, thus reducing the weight and cost of other projects.

The graphic to the right illustrates how the system will work. First, vertically deployed solar panels, attached to a small rover, will unfold to produce power. These can be placed in many locations, thus providing each location a source of electricity. Second, an additional rover will be linked to the panel, providing power storage and a moveable wireless charger for transferring power to a customer’s equipment.

Astrobotic plans to begin deploying and demonstrating LunaGrid elements as early as 2026 with the goal of the first operational LunaGrid by 2028 at the lunar south pole. With LunaGrid power service available, a host of science, exploration, and commercial activity can begin sustained and continuous operation.

The biggest advantage of this proposed grid concept is its scalability. To provide more power Astrobotic need only send more panels to a location. The more the merrier. And all can be built in an assembly-line manner, thus making construction very cheap and efficient.

SpaceX fires seven engines on Superheavy prototype #7

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully did a static fire engine test of seven engines on its Superheavy prototype #7, intended to be the lower stage of the first Superheavy/Starship orbital test.

The link takes you to the full live stream. Below I have cued that live stream to just before the test occurred. Everything seems to go as planned, with no obvious anomalies.

SpaceX continues to be moving closer and closer to that first orbital flight.
» Read more

Orbital tug company signs launch agreement with German rocket startup

Capitalism in space: The orbital tug company Spaceflight today signed a launch agreement with the German rocket startup Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA).

The agreement formalizes the plan for Spaceflight to fly its Sherpa® orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) and other rideshare payloads on upcoming RFA missions from a variety of European launch sites, including from facilities in the United Kingdom, French Guiana and others. The companies are targeting mid-2024 for their first launch.

Rocket Factory is one of three German startup rocket companies pushing to complete the first German commercial launch. While Isar Aerospace had raised the most capital, it remains unclear which of these companies will win.

SpaceShipOne pilot Brian Binnie passes away

R.I.P. Brian Binnie, who piloted SpaceShipOne on its second flight that won the Ansari X-Prize back in 2004, passed away on September 15, 2022 at the age of 69.

Brian’s record flight was the second of two SpaceShipOne flights needed to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize. The prize was given for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to make a flight above 100 km (62.1 miles) twice within two weeks. Mike Melvill made the first flight for the Ansari X Prize competition five days earlier.

The success of this private spaceship proved that private enterprise could do better than government, if given the chance. It laid the groundwork for the renaissance in American rocketry we are seeing today.

His part in this history must not be forgotten.

SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites on Falcon 9

After four scrubs on four consecutive days, SpaceX tonight finally successfully put 54 Starlink satellites into orbit.

The first stage successfully completed its sixth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic. The fairings halves completed the third and fourth flights, respectively.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

42 SpaceX
37 China
11 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
5 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 58 to 37 in the national rankings, and the entire globe 58 to 56. At 58 successful launches, 2022 is now the third most active year in the entire history of the United States, with only 1965 and 1966 having more launches.

This post is late because I spend the weekend in the mountains, caving. Twas a much needed break.

SpaceX now offers more expensive high performance Starlink for residential customers

SpaceX has now made available the much more expensive Starlink high performance terminals — previously only available to business customers — for its residential customers.

The purchase price for the terminal is the same as for business customers, $2,500. The standard terminal package costs only $599. However, residential customers who buy this more expensive terminal will still pay the standard $110 month rate for the service, instead of the $500 monthly fee that business customers will pay.

SpaceX notes that the high-performance Starlink kit would be best for users who reside in harsh environments, such as those who are in hot or cold climates. Starlink’s Support Page also indicates that the high-performance dish has better download speeds in hot weather, better snow melt capability, improved water resistance, and better visibility of satellites.

I would expect that eventually, when SpaceX is faced with competition in this market, these features will end up on all its terminals. Until then, however, new customers will have to make a choice.

ABL completes dress rehearsal countdown for its first RS1 rocket launch

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company ABL successfully completed a full dress rehearsal countdown for its first RS1 rocket this past week, and is presently negotiating with the FAA the launch date for that rocket’s first test launch.

Though ABL is its own independent company, one of its biggest investors has been Lockheed Martin. In fact, in almost all ways, ABL is a Lockheed Martin division, and appears to be part of the older and bigger company’s strategy for entering the smallsat market.

September 16, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay, who trolls Twitter so I don’t have to.

Starlink being tested in Antarctica

Capitalism in space: The National Science Foundation (NSF) has begun testing a single Starlink terminal at its McMurdo station in Antarctic, with the hope that the service can improve communications at the station significantly.

Everyone at the base shares a 17 Mbps link, according to the United States Antarctic Program, which severely limits what people can do. The station actually blocks people from using high-bandwidth apps like Netflix, cloud backups, and video calls, with the exception of once-weekly Skype or FaceTime sessions at a public kiosk or mission-critical communications.

The addition of Starlink probably doesn’t mean that McMurdo residents will be able to hold a Netflix movie night or anything — the terminals can handle around 50-200 Mbps, which still isn’t a ton to go around, even during the winter when far fewer people are at the base — but it could help make transferring important scientific data off of the icy continent easier.

According to SpaceX’s plans, this new service in Antarctica means that by year’s end Starlink will be available on all seven continents.

CAPSTONE update: Situation improved but not resolved

Advanced Space, the company operating the CAPSTONE smallsat lunar orbiter that is on the way to the Moon, has issued a hopeful update on the efforts to regain full control of the spacecraft after it began tumbling out-of-control on September 8th.

The communications situation has dramatically improved, the power state of the spacecraft appears to be sufficient for continuous (duty cycled) heating of the propulsion system which dropped below its operational temperature, Over the past few days, CAPSTONE’s power – though limited by the orientation of the spacecraft in its spin relative to the Sun – appears to be sufficient for heating of the propulsion system. When the spacecraft propulsion system temps are at +5C for 12+ hours the system will be further evaluated for use in the recovery operation. Information on the cause of the anomaly has been obtained and is being evaluated, and recovery plans that mitigate risk of further anomalous behavior are being developed. We do not have a timeline for a recovery attempt.

It appears they have not yet done the detumble maneuver that the engineers think will bring the spacecraft back to nominal operations. However, the spacecraft appears to also be on its planned course towards the Moon, so all signs suggest a full recovery is likely.

Rocket Lab successfully launches commercial radar satellite

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully used its Electron rocket to place a commercial radar Earth observation satellite into orbit.

This was the company’s 30th successful launch. As of this writing, the satellite itself has not yet deployed.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

41 SpaceX
37 China
11 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
5 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 57 to 37 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 57 to 56. The 57 successful American launches so for this year ties for third place with 1964 and 1967 for launches in a year. The record number of U.S. launches in a single year was 70, in 1966. That record should almost certainly be topped this year.

SpaceX will once again attempt to launch 54 Starlink satellites later tonight, having cancelled several times this week due to weather.

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