Tag Archives: spaceflight

A young lunar impact crater

Lunar crater

Cool image time! The science team from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) today released a new image, taken on November 3, 2018, of a relatively young small crater not easily seen from Earth.

The unnamed crater, just 1.8 kilometers across, is too small to see from Earth with unaided eyes. It is in the Moon’s wild west, just past Oceanus Procellarum and close to the line dividing the nearside from the farside, so it would be hard to glimpse in any case. If you stood on the crater rim, you would see the Earth forever slowly bobbing up, down, and sideways close to the eastern horizon.

The image above is a cropped and reduced-in-resolution section of the released image. If you click on it you can see this section at full resolution.

What I find fascinating about this crater are the black streaks that appear to only run down the outside slopes of the eastern rim, but nowhere else. At first glance it looks like prevailing winds, blowing from the west, caused this, but of course that’s wrong because the Moon has no atmosphere. The website explains:
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NASA opens safety review of Boeing and SpaceX

Turf war! Prompted by Elon Musk’s single hit of marijuana during a podcast interview, NASA has begun a detailed safety review of both SpaceX and Boeing.

[William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration,] said the review would focus not on the technical details of developing rockets and spacecraft but rather the companies’ safety culture — encompassing the number of hours employees work, drug policies, leadership and management styles, whether employees’ safety concerns are taken seriously, and more.

“Is the culture reflective of an environment that builds quality spacecraft,” Gerstenmaier said. The review would be led by NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, which has conducted similar probes inside NASA. Gerstenmaier said the process would be “pretty invasive,” involving hundreds of interviews with employees at every level of the companies and at multiple work locations.

This is a power-play, pure and simple. NASA might claim it cares about safety, but its track record suggests instead that its real motive is to prove to SpaceX that it is in charge, not SpaceX. It rankles NASA’s bureaucracy that they cannot call the shots at SpaceX, and have found themselves embarrassed by its success, compared to the agency’s continuing failures with SLS. Moreover, considering the space shuttle’s unsafe history, NASA’s safety track record and the workplace culture that produced that history is nothing to brag about.

These “invasive” interviews are guaranteed to find workplace issues that NASA will then use as a hammer to take further control SpaceX’s operations, making it less innovative, more expensive, and more bureaucratic. And I see no one in the Trump administration, including Trump, very interested in reining NASA in on these matters.

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Arianespace’s Vega rocket launches Moroccan satellite

Capitalism in space: Arianespace’s yesterday evening successfully launched Morocco’s second Earth observation satellite using its Vega rocket.

This article gives some interesting background to Morroco’s space effort.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
9 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

There have now been 94 launches in 2018, the most in any single year since 1992.

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The soft landslides of Mars

A soft avalanche on Mars

Context image of landslide

The light gravity of Mars, combined with different materials, a lot of dust, and a geological history different from Earth, produces events that — though reminiscent of similar geological events on Earth — are definitely not the same.

The image above, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and was one of the many uncaptioned images released in the November archive. If you click on the image you can see the full resolution version. It shows the tongue of a landslide inside a crater located in the planet’s southern highlands.

You can immediately see why I call it a soft landslide. The craters on its top are barely visible, as if they hit a soft surface that absorbed most of the impact. The grooves spreading southward in the slide suggest that this solid material flowed almost like mud. And the soft, smooth surface head of the slide suggests an almost liquid-like flow. As far as I can tell, this landslide had few large boulders. It was made up instead of small particles of about the same size.

To the right is an image showing the wider context of the above image, taken by Mars Odyssey and cropped and annotated by me to post here. The white box shows the entire area photographed by the full resolution image of the landslide, with the tongue of the landslide at the bottom of the box. If you look at the floor of this crater, you can see what looks like the ghost of a past smaller impact, seemingly buried in either a field of lava or soft dusty regolith. The smoothness of the crater floor also suggests a material softness, allowing it to settle into a pondlike featureless flat plain.
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NASA to hire private lunar probes for future missions

Capitalism in space: Rather than build its own future lunar landers and rovers, NASA is now planning to hire these services from private companies, with missions flying as soon as 2021.

Under a program called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), NASA would buy space aboard a couple of launches a year, starting in 2021. The effort is similar to an agency program that paid private space companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). “This a new way of doing business,” says Sarah Noble, a planetary scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., who is leading the science side of NASA’s lunar plans.

Scientists are lining up for a ride. “It really feels like the future of lunar exploration,” says Erica Jawin, a planetary scientist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. She and other attendees at the annual meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group in Columbia, Maryland, last week were eager to show NASA why their small experiments would be worthy hitchhikers on the landers.

Several companies, including Astrobotic, Moon Express, and iSpace, are vying to establish a commercial moon market. Buying rides to the moon from launch providers like Rocket Lab, each firm hopes to become the go-to carrier for other companies seeking to prospect the moon for rocket fuel ingredients, or to gather rocks to sell for study. But a contract with NASA is the real prize. Moon Express, for example, has designed the MX-1, a lander roughly the size and shape of Star Wars’s R2-D2. But, “We won’t pull the trigger until we know we have a CLPS award,” says Moon Express CEO Robert Richards in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The companies selected for CLPS must deliver at least 10 kilograms of payload by the end of 2021, NASA says. It is scrambling to find instruments that are ready to fly. “What do you have sitting on shelf now that you can throw onto the mission immediately?” Noble says. “We’re looking for flight spares, engineering models, student-built projects. It’s a little bit of a weird call for us.” The agency is planning to pay up to $36 million to adapt eight to 12 existing scientific instruments to the initial small landers; by the middle of next decade it aims to build a pipeline of instruments for bigger landers that might also carry rovers.

These are going to small missions with limited lifespans and limited abilities. They will however be cheap, fast, and many. In the end I am certain NASA (and the taxpayer) will get far more bang for the buck.

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SpaceX now seeking a $250 million loan, not $500 million

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has reduced the private loan it is seeking from $500 to $750 million down to $250 million.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was initially canvassing investors for a $500 million deal for SpaceX. During marketing of the loan, Musk changed advisers and chose Bank of America to officially launch the deal to investors at $750 million.

The switch surprised bankers and investors, as Goldman is widely viewed as the Wall Street firm closest to Musk. It helped take Tesla Inc. public in 2010, led its $1.8 billion bond sale last year and advised Musk on his short-lived attempt to take the electric carmaker private for $420 a share Goldman balked when SpaceX, a first-time issuer, wanted wide latitude to raise additional debt in the future, people with knowledge of the matter said earlier this month.

The loan isn’t the only way Musk has been trying to raise cash with SpaceX, which was founded in 2002 and last valued at about $28 billion. He also recently inquired with at least one bank about a personal loan tied to his stake in the rocket company, a person with knowledge of the matter said earlier this month.

It seems to me that Musk is acting here in a manner that will allow him to maintain as much independence as possible, a very wise approach.

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Soyuz launch failed pinned to “unintentional error”

The Russian investigation into the October 11 Soyuz launch abort has said that the failure of the valve to open was likely caused by an “unintentional error.”

The abortive launch of a Soyuz-FG carrier rocket in early October might have been caused by an unintentional error made during the rocket’s assembly at the Baikonur space center, head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin said on Monday.

“There are two cranes there [in the assembly shop]. Probably they did something wrong. Most likely it was an unintentional error but we are looking at all possibilities,” he said, adding that neither of the shop’s workers has been suspended from work as of now, since it is up to law enforcement agencies to identify those responsible.

I remain very confident Roscosmos will figure out what went wrong and address the specific issue that caused it. I also remain very confident Roscosmos will do little to change the culture that is causing these repeated unforced errors and technical failures throughout their entire space industry. There is no competition right now within Russia’s space industry. Everything functions at the will of government policy and power politics, a very bad system for discouraging poor workmanship.

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Musk renames BFR

He must be reading BtB! Elon Musk today revealed new names for the two stages of his Big Falcon Rocket rocket, Super Heavy for the reusable first stage and Starship for the reusable orbiting second stage.

These are much more inspiring and saleable names. They also do not preclude SpaceX from giving each individual Super Heavy and Starship their own names as well, since these names apply to the class of rocket, not the ships themselves.

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China successfully completes another launch

China successfully launched five satellites yesterday using its Long March 2D rocket.

The main payload is apparently a military surveillance satellite.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China has widened its lead on the U.S. to 33 to 31. There have also been 93 successful launches this year, which ties 2014 for the most in the 21st century. My count of the number of future launches so far announced suggests that there will be about 110 launches total in 2018, the highest number 1990, the year before the fall of the Soviet Union.

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Parker reports in

Scientists have received confirmation from the Parker Solar Probe that it successfully survived its first close fly-by of the Sun and that all its instruments were able to gather data.

All Parker Solar Probe systems are operating well and as designed. The solid state recorder on the spacecraft indicated that, as planned, the four instrument suites had recorded a significant amount of data, which is scheduled to be downloaded to Earth via the Deep Space Network over several weeks starting Dec. 7. In addition to helping scientists begin to explore fundamental questions about the physics of our star, the data from this initial perihelion — collected closer to the Sun than any before — will help instrument teams calibrate Parker Solar Probe’s instruments and plan future observations.

Parker will repeat this many times over the next seven years. And while it will provide us a ton of new knowledge about the Sun, it will also be proving out technology that future solar system travelers will use to get closer such hostile environments.

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NASA picks Mars 2020 landing site: Jezero Crater

Jezero Crater

NASA has picked Jezero Crater has the landing site for its as yet unnamed 2020 Mars rover.

Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Western Isidis presents some of the oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer. Mission scientists believe the 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer) crater, once home to an ancient river delta, could have collected and preserved ancient organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life from the water and sediments that flowed into the crater billions of years ago.

Jezero Crater’s ancient lake-delta system offers many promising sampling targets of at least five different kinds of rock, including clays and carbonates that have high potential to preserve signatures of past life. In addition, the material carried into the delta from a large watershed may contain a wide variety of minerals from inside and outside the crater.

The geologic diversity that makes Jezero so appealing to Mars 2020 scientists also makes it a challenge for the team’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) engineers. Along with the massive nearby river delta and small crater impacts, the site contains numerous boulders and rocks to the east, cliffs to the west, and depressions filled with aeolian bedforms (wind-derived ripples in sand that could trap a rover) in several locations.

The red dot on the map of Mars below shows this location. The blue dot is Gale Crater where Curiosity landed. The purple dot is the landing site for the European ExoMars rover. The yellow dot is where Opportunity has been roving, and the black dot is Spirit’s location.
» Read more

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Hidebound government slowing smallsat industry

The smallsat industry has found itself slowed by the federal government’s reluctance to adopt the new technologies that allow tiny satellites to do the same things that once required big satellites.

Small satellites have been hailed as a game changer in the space industry, but the government’s slower than anticipated adoption of smallsat technology has been a disappointment for many companies. “When the smallsat movement started, the thinking was, ’We don’t need the government,’” said Bhavya Lal, a researcher at the IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute, a federally funded think tank. “But over the last five years, almost all the smallsat companies we talked to are eager for government contracts” to make up for lackluster commercial demand, she said. “It’s something they didn’t anticipate.”

IDA last year published a wide-ranging study of the small satellite industry. There is a “growing realization that there aren’t as many business customers as originally hoped,” Lal said. “Maybe that will change as broadband mega constellations come on line.” Companies like SpaceX and OneWeb are projected to build huge constellations of small satellites but projects have taken longer to materialize than predicted.

Advocates of small satellites say government agencies have little economic incentive to experiment with unfamiliar technology. They can afford to buy large satellites and have yet to be convinced that lower cost smallsats can provide comparable services. [emphasis mine]

I think the conclusion highlighted in the quote above is faulty, based on past data and not likely future events. They are looking at the customers that exist before the new smallsat rockets come on line. Once cheap access for smallsats is assured, from multiple launchers, I expect the number of business customers will rise quickly.

Nonetheless, there is no harm in lobbying our government for more business, as long as this new industry doesn’t become dependent on it. If that happens, expect costs to rise and innovation to slow.

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Sunset/sunrise on Mars

The sun on Mars's horizon

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced to post here, was taken by Curiosity during a photo campaign this week to monitor Mars’s atmosphere. It looks out to the horizon at the Sun. I think the view is eastward, at Mount Sharp, as the Sun rises, but I am not sure. It might be looking west across the crater rim at sunset.

If you click on the image you can see it at full resolution. The haziness in the atmosphere might be left over from this summer’s global dust storm, but probably not, as I have read numerous reports in connection with Opportunity saying the storm is completely over and the atmosphere has now cleared. More likely it is from the windy conditions that are simply present these days at Gale Crater.

Regardless, it is quite cool because it illustrates how far we have come since the first planetary missions half a century ago. We can now routinely watch a sunset on Mars.

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SpaceX delays today’s Falcon 9 launch using booster for 3rd time

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has delayed today’s Falcon 9 launch that would have been the first time a first stage had launched for the third time.

“Standing down from Monday’s launch attempt of Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express to conduct additional pre-flight inspections. Once complete, we will confirm a new launch date,” SpaceX representatives said via Twitter on Saturday (Nov. 17).

They did not offer further details, so it’s unclear what issue prompted the call for further inspection.

The delay is expected to be about a week. I suspect that they decided, after their standard prelaunch static fire last week, to review the data more carefully. The Block 5 first stage has already flown twice this year, in May and August. A launch in November means they are averaging a relaunch every three months, a pace that is far faster than NASA ever achieved in reusing its space shuttle.

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SpaceIL gets $5 million for its lunar lander/rover

Capitalism in space: SpaceIL, the Israeli non-profit building a lunar lander/rover that had been a finalist in the Google Lunar X-Price, announced today that it has received a $5 million donation from a Canadian billionaire.

SpaceIL announced Monday that [Sylvan] Adams would be joining their groundbreaking project and donating $5 million to the effort. The nonprofit organization’s spacecraft is due to be launched in early 2019 and reach the moon two months later, making Israel only the fourth country to soft-land on the lunar surface.

“This contribution to strengthening the Israeli space program, and encouraging education for excellence and innovation among the younger generation in Israel, is the best gift I could have asked for,” said Adams, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, as he announced his contribution at the Israel Aerospaces Industries (IAI) MBT Space Division in Yehud, where the spacecraft is being assembled.

SpaceIL has said it’s mission is focused on education and inspiring Israel’s youth. If so, it seems to me that it is missing the boat. There is money to be made marketing their ability to build inexpensive planetary spacecraft.

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Virgin Orbit completes first capture-carry flight of LauncherOne

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit yesterday completed the first capture-carry flight of LaunchOne, flying the rocket attached to the bottom of Cosmic Girl, its 747 launch vehicle.

The flight lasted 80 minutes in total, during which Virgin Orbit’s flight crew assessed the take-off, landing, and low-speed handling and performance of the integrated system.

“The vehicles flew like a dream today,” said Virgin Orbit Chief Pilot Kelly Latimer (Lt. Col, US Air Force, Ret.). “Everyone on the flight crew and all of our colleagues on the ground were extremely happy with the data we saw from the instruments on-board the aircraft, in the pylon, and on the rocket itself. From my perspective in the cockpit, the vehicles handled incredibly well, and perfectly matched what we’ve trained for in the simulators.”

They are aiming to begin commercial flights next year, and appear on schedule. If so, they will jump ahead into the number two spot in the smallsat rocket race, behind Rocket Lab but ahead of Vector.

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China launches two GPS-type satellites

China yesterday used its Long March 3B rocket to successfully launch two more GPS-type satellites for its planned Beidou constellation of 35 satellites.

They have launched about half the constellation this year, and plan to complete it next year.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

32 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China has widened its lead over the U.S. to 32 to 30 in the national rankings. China also seems on schedule to meet or at least come very close to its predicted 40 launches this year, a number that doubles its previous high.

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3D printed screws from fake moon dust

Researchers in Europe have successfully printed screws and gears using simulated moon dust.

These printed materials weren’t carbon-based plastic or metal, according to a statement from the ESA, but rather a sort of lunar ceramic. “Ground and sieved down to particle size, the regolith grains are mixed with a light-reacting binding agent, laid down layer-by-layer, then hardened by exposing them to light,” according to the statement. “The resulting printed part is then sintered in an oven to bake it solid.”

In other words, all these little gadgets had production histories closer to the dinner plate in your cupboard than the screws holding that cupboard together.

This is still an experimental project, so there’s a lot more testing to be done — including whether these parts are strong enough to stand up to the stresses of real-world use.

They might find these parts aren’t hard enough for their use as screws and gears, but finding a way to produce these parts in space rather than having them shipped from Earth will be essential for making any future space colony viable.

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Luxembourg accepts full loss from Planetary Resources investment

Capitalism in space: Luxembourg this week admitted that its 12 million euro investment in Planetary Resources is a complete loss.

They had sold off their ten percent investment when a blockchain company purchased Planetary Resources on November 1. This article merely confirms the full loss from the companies sale.

When Planetary Resources was first revealed, the mainstream press went nuts touting its claims that it was an asteroid mining company, mostly because of the supposed involvement of several rich Google investors. I however had reservations, mainly because the company was selling itself as an asteroid mining company when there was no chance it was going to do any mining, for at least a decade.

Simply put, I do not like it when companies or governments make false and unrealistic claims. It raises a red flag in the back of my mind, which in turn makes me suspect that the company or government is almost certainly not going to achieve what it claims. Over the past decades I have learned to take that red flag seriously, and this is another case where it served me well.

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SpaceX will not use Falcon 9 for BFR tests

In a series of tweets, Elon Musk revealed yesterday that SpaceX has decided it will no longer use its Falcon 9 to test Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) designs and has instead redesigned the BFR’s upper stage, dubbed the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS), and will do those tests with that.

I suspect that the company got pushback from NASA and the Air Force about making any big changes to the Falcon 9 upper stage, and decided it was better to leave well enough alone. They have more flexibility making these changes and tests with BFS.

However, the main conclusion that I draw from writing up this post is that SpaceX has got to come up with better names for BFR and BFS. What they have now is boring and unwieldy. I am sure that Musk can think of two more exciting and easier to use names for the new rocket’s reusable first and second stages. And he should do it, now!

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OSIRIS-REx unfolds its robot arm

In preparation for its December 3 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu OSIRIS-REx successfully unfolded its robot arm for the first time since launch this week.

The website has a nice short video showing how the arm will grab its samples. Very innovative, and not what you would expect. The technique had to be clever because Bennu is so small and has such a tiny gravity.

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NASA suggests retirement of SLS when BFR and New Glenn fly

Capitalism in space: During an interview at a November 1st conference, a NASA official mentioned that if SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) and Blue Origin’s New Glenn begin flying successfully the agency will seriously consider retiring SLS.

“I think our view is that if those commercial capabilities come online, we will eventually retire the government system, and just move to a buying launch capacity on those [rockets],” Stephen Jurczyk, NASA’s associate administrator, told Business Insider at The Economist Space Summit on November 1.

However, NASA may soon find itself in a strange position, since the two private launch systems may beat SLS back to the moon – and one might be the first to send people to Mars.

I have been saying that this should happen since almost the first day this website was started in 2011. To quote from a September 14, 2011 post:

To be really blunt, this new rocket, like all its predecessors, will never fly either. It costs too much, will take too long to build, and will certainly be canceled by a future administration before it is finished. It is therefore a complete waste of money, and any Congress that approves it will demonstrate how utterly insincere they are about controlling spending.

It appears that I was wrong with this prediction on one count. SLS might actually fly a few times, but only to allow its supporters in Congress and NASA to justify that support. When the private rockets come on line in the early 2020s, cheaper, faster, and better designed (with re-usability), NASA and Congress will then finally say that these rockets are better and that SLS will die, and they will also both make believe they were saying that from the very beginning.

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Antares rocket launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched its Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This was only the second launch this year by the division of Northrop Grumman that used to be Orbital ATK. They have been trying to launch a research satellite using their Pegasus rocket, but have had engineering issues that keep delaying it.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race remain unchanged:

31 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 31 to 30. The U.S. total now exceeds last year, and is the most this century. We have now had 91 launches this year, the most since 2014. I expect that number to go up significantly, with a real chance it will pass 100 launches for the first time since 1990, just prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.

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Soyuz rocket successfully launches Progress freighter

A Russian Soyuz rocket today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS.

While Russia has already successfully launched three Soyuz rockets since the manned Soyuz launch abort on October 11, this was the first to use the same exact variation of the Soyuz rocket. It is expected they will now approve the manned December 3rd manned launch to ISS.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

31 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 31 to 29.

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The fractured floor of Komarov Crater

Fractured floor of Komarov Crater

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) oblique image on the right, reduced significantly from the original to post here, shows the deeply fractured floor of Komarov Crater on the Moon’s far side. As noted at the image link,

The spectacular fractures that cut across the floor of Komarov crater [about 85 kilometers or 50 miles diameter] were formed when magma rose from the mantle, uplifting and fracturing the crater in the process. In this case the magma did not erupt to the surface, thus the fractures remain visible.

The Komarov fractures are quite large, the major left-to-right fracture that cuts across the center of the scene is over 500 meters deep [1,600 feet] and 2500 meters wide [1.5 miles]. When did they form? The large number of craters superimposed on the floor and fractures testifies to their ancient ages. Likely they are of the same vintage (>2.6 billion years) as the Mare Moscoviense lava plains just to the north

An overview of Komarov Crater as well as other LRO images of it can be found here.

The question that comes to my mind is the relative rarity of craters with such large fractures on their floors. I have noted this for Mars as well. It is expected that there is melt on the floor of all large impact craters. Why do a few produce such pronounced fractures, while most do not? This website posits one explanation, but its complexity leaves me unsatisfied. It also doesn’t explain why it happens only rarely.

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Movie of Juno’s October 29, 2018 Jupiter fly-by

Cool movie time! Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt has created a time lapse movie using the images taken by Juno during its sixteenth close fly-by of Jupiter on October 29, 2018.

The movie is embedded below the fold. Quite spectacular. The colors are enhanced to bring out the details, and begins looking down at Jupiter’s north hemisphere at night.
» Read more

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Advisory panel to Space Council pans Gateway

The advisory panel to the Space Council gave NASA’s Gateway lunar orbiting platform low marks in a meeting in Washington yesterday.

NASA’s plan for returning to the Moon met with opposition today at a meeting of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group (UAG). Not only members of the UAG, but former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, who was there as a guest speaker on other topics, offered his personal view that NASA is moving too slowly and the lunar orbiting Gateway is unnecessary.

Makes sense to me, especially based on the description of Gateway put forth by NASA at the meeting:

In the first part of the 2020s, NASA plans to launch series of very small and later mid-sized robotic landers and rovers, while at the same time building a small space station, currently called the Gateway, in lunar orbit. The Gateway is much smaller than the International Space Station (ISS) and would not be permanently occupied. Crews would be aboard only three months a year and eventually the Gateway would be a transit point for humans travelling between Earth and the lunar surface or Mars.

The presentation also said under this plan that Americans would not land on the Moon until 2028.

It is all fantasy. I guarantee if the government goes with Gateway it will not land on the Moon before 2035, and that is optimistic. Tied as it is to very expensive SLS and the government way of building anything, Gateway will likely see at least five years of delays, at a minimum. Remember also that the first manned launch of SLS is not expected now before 2024, and will likely have a launch cadence of less than one launch per year. How NASA expects to complete Gateway and then land on the Moon only four years later, using this rocket, seems very unrealistic to me.

This does not mean Americans won’t get to the Moon sooner however. I fully expect private enterprise to do it in less than a decade, and for far cheaper. Eventually the dunderheads in government will realize this, but we must give them time to realize it. Their brains work slowly.

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FCC approves four proposed satellite constellations, including SpaceX’s of 7,500+

Capitalism in space: The FCC has approved licenses to launch four different proposed smallsat satellite constellations, totaling almost 8,000 satellites.

Of that total, more than 7,500 would belong to SpaceX’s proposed Starlink constellation.

The new regulatory approvals set the stage for two companies, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, and Telesat of Ottawa, Canada, to expand constellations already approved last year with more satellites in the rarely used V-band spectrum. Canadian startup Kepler Communications and LeoSat, a company licensed from the Netherlands, also received approvals, Kepler for 140 Ku-band satellites and LeoSat for 78 Ka-band satellites.

Of the four, SpaceX is by far the largest with 7,518 satellites constituting what it calls a “very low Earth orbit,” or VLEO constellation that would operate slightly below 350-kilometers. At that altitude, SpaceX says atmospheric drag would pull spent satellites down in one month, assuaging concerns about the magnitude of debris that that many satellites could create in higher orbits.

While SpaceX likely plans to launch its satellites on its own rockets, the other companies will likely depend on the new smallsat rocket companies — Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, Vector — that are about to all come on line.

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Escape velocity on Phobos changes a lot depending on location

A new computer analysis of the shape of the gravitational field of the Martian moon Phobos suggests that the escape velocity varies significantly, depending on where you are on the moon’s surface.

Phobos is an odd duck among our solar system’s moons. It’s tiny (a fraction of a percent the size of our own moon) and is shaped like a potato; that weird shape draws gravity to different places, depending on where you are.

All these features make Phobos a challenge to travel on, researchers report in Advances in Space Research. In some places, moving any faster than 5 kilometers per hour would be enough to free you from the moon’s meager gravitational pull, sending you off into space where you’d likely be captured by Mars’s gravity and end up orbiting the Red Planet. The fastest you could travel anywhere on Phobos would be about 36 kilometers per hour, or a little faster than a golf cart, the team finds.

Obviously, this must be recognized for any mission trying to land and explore the moon.

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Rocket Lab raises an additional $140 million

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has raised an additional $140 million in investment capital following its successful first operational launch last week.

The company announced Nov. 15 that it closed a Series E funding round, led by existing investor Future Fund, an Australian sovereign wealth fund. Several other existing investors also joined the round, including Greenspring Associates, Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, DCVC (Data Collective), Promus Ventures and K1W1. One new investor, Accident Compensation Corporation of New Zealand, joined the round.

The Series E round comes after the company raised $75 million in a Series D round in March 2017. The company has now raised more than $288 million to date. Rocket Lab did not disclose the valuation of the latest round, but said it exceeded the “$1-billion-plus” valuation from its Series D round.

In the race to grab the smallsat market, Rocket Lab is far ahead of its nearest competitors, Virgin Orbit and Vector. If I had to rank them at this moment, I would say that Virgin Orbit is second with Vector third.

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