Space transport roundup – Apr.9.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):

** Russian Soyuz launches 3 new ISS crew members to orbit. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts later docked their spacecraft to the ISS after a 4 orbit, six-hour flight.

More about the launch and the crew:

** Chinese Long March 3B fails to put Indonesian communications satellite into orbit: Long March 3B fails during Indonesian satellite launch –

A new communications satellite attempted to make its way into for Indonesia via a China Great Wall Industry Corporation launch on Thursday using a Long March-3B/G2 (Chang Zheng-3B/G2) rocket. The launch took place at 11:45 UTC from the LC2 pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, but reportedly failed during third stage flight. The satellite is understood to have already reentered and has thus been destroyed.

The satellite, based on the Chinese DFH-4 platform, was to be used by PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN) in cooperation with telecommunication service provider PT Indosat Ooredoo and PT Pintar Nusantara Sejahtera (PNS), to provide broadband internet access and high-quality broadcasting services.

Reports from China noting an issue with the Long March’s third stage has resulted in the mission being classed as a failure.

Here is a view of the launch on Weibo.

And a clip showing the probable reentry of the upper stage and payload:

See also

** Rocket Lab demonstrates mid-air booster capture and recovery operation with a helicopter: Rocket Lab Successfully Completes Electron Mid-Air Recovery Test   | Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, a space systems company and the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, has successfully completed a mid-air recovery test – a maneuver that involves snagging an Electron test stage from the sky with a helicopter. The successful test is a major step forward in Rocket Lab’s plans to reuse the first stage of its Electron launch vehicle for multiple missions. The test took place in early March, before ‘Safer at Home’ orders were issued and before New Zealand entered Alert Level 4 in response to the COVID-19 situation.

The test was conducted by dropping an Electron first stage test article from a helicopter over open ocean in New Zealand. A parachute was then deployed from the stage, before a second helicopter closed in on the descending stage and captured it mid-air at around 5,000 ft, using a specially designed grappling hook to snag the parachute’s drogue line. After capturing the stage on the first attempt, the helicopter safely carried the suspended stage back to land.

The successful test is the latest in a series of milestones for Rocket Lab as the company works towards a reusable first stage. On the company’s two most recent missions, launched in December 2019 and January 2020, Rocket Lab successfully completed guided the re-entries of Electron’s first stage. Both stages on those missions carried new hardware and systems to enable recovery testing, including guidance and navigation hardware, S-band telemetry and onboard flight computer systems, to gather data during the stage’s atmospheric re-entry. One stage was also equipped with a reaction control system that oriented the first stage 180-degrees for its descent, keeping it dynamically stable for the re-entry. The stage slowed from more than 7,000 km per hour to less than 900 km by the time it reached sea-level, maintaining the correct angle of attack for the full descent.

The next phase of recovery testing will see Rocket Lab attempt to recover a full Electron first stage after launch from the ocean downrange of Launch Complex 1 and have it shipped back to Rocket Lab’s Production Complex for refurbishment. The stage will not be captured mid-air by helicopter for this test, but will be equipped with a parachute to slow its descent before a soft landing in the ocean where it will be collected by a ship. This mission is currently planned for late-2020.

See also Rocket Lab tests Electron stage recovery –

** NASA selects Masten Space Systems for commercial lunar lander mission: NASA Awards Contract to Deliver Science, Tech to Moon | NASA

NASA has selected Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, to deliver and operate eight payloads – with nine science and technology instruments – to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022, to help lay the foundation for human expeditions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024.

The payloads, which include instruments to assess the composition of the lunar surface, test precision landing technologies, and evaluate the radiation on the Moon, are being delivered under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

An illustration of the Masten XL-1 on the lunar surface. NASA contracted Masten to deliver science and technology payloads to the lunar South Pole in 2022. Credits: Masten Space Systems

As the country and the world face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA is leveraging virtual presence and communications tools to safely make progress on these important lunar exploration activities, and to award this lunar surface delivery as it was scheduled prior to the pandemic.

“Under our Artemis program, we are going to the Moon with all of America,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Commercial industry is critical to making our vision for lunar exploration a reality. The science and technology we are sending to the lunar surface ahead of our crewed missions will help us understand the lunar environment better than we ever have before. These CLPS deliveries are on the cutting edge of our work to do great science and support human exploration of the Moon. I’m happy to welcome another of our innovative companies to the group that is ready to start taking our payloads to the Moon as soon as possible.”

The $75.9 million award includes end-to-end services for delivery of the instruments, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon’s surface, and operation for at least 12 days. Masten Space Systems will land these payloads on the Moon with its XL-1 lander.

A small rover is included in the payloads. See the NASA announcement for a full list of the payloads.

See also:

** Boeing announces Starliner uncrewed test flight do-over. There were just too many problems, including near loss of the vehicle, in the first uncrewed test flight last December to go directly to a crewed flight. So Boeing will try another uncrewed test flight to the ISS this fall.

** Astra Space hunkers down during economic pause caused by the Wuhan Virus pandemic: Rocket startup Astra trims staff to survive pandemic until next year – CNBC

Rocket builder Astra, a San Francisco-area startup, recently reduced its staff through a mix of furloughs and layoffs in order to survive delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a person familiar with the situation told CNBC.

Astra cut its overall headcount to about 120 employees from about 150 last month, the person said. The majority of the dismissed workers were furloughed for three months, with only a handful laid off permanently.

Given Astra’s financial position – it has customer contracts for a few dozen launches and had raised about $100 million from investors including ACME Capital, Airbus Ventures, Canaan Partners and Marc Benioff – the person said that the company’s leadership expects it has enough cash to last until the first quarter of next year.

** Northrop Grumman aiming for first liftoff of an OmegA rocket in spring of 2021. The all-throwaway vehicle uses solid-fueled first and second stage boosters. The goal is to win a contract with the USAF for a share of military payload launches. Northrop Grumman making good progress toward OmegA’s first launch –

** An overview of PLD Space of Spain and the use of Nord Lock washers on their rocket:

Full video created by our supplier Nord Lock. They have explained in Social Networks: “From a garage to outer space, secured by Nord-Lock. This is the story about PLD Space, a Spanish aerospace business that was created by two students in 2011. Maintaining the preload in the rocket engine in the upper atmosphere is a top priority, and when locking wire didn’t meet PLD Space’s requirements they came across Nord-Lock wedge-locking washers”.

** Copenhagen Suborbitals will attempt to recovering rocket boosters by parachute:

** Briefs:

** SpaceX:

** Cargo Dragon returned for safe landing in Pacific on Tuesday after spending a month berthed to the ISS. This was the final flight of the Dragon 1 design. All subsequent cargo missions will use a variant of Dragon 2 (also called, confusingly, the Crew Dragon).

** SpaceX sets April 16th for next launch of Starlink satellites. This will be the 5th Starlink launch in 2020. The company is aiming for more than 20 Starlink launches this year: SpaceX plans another Starlink launch next week – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX is preparing to launch another batch of satellites for the Starlink Internet network from Florida’s Space Coast as soon as April 16, a sign that launch operations at Cape Canaveral could continue at a reduced pace amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

The launch next week is also set to occur weeks after a major competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink network filed for bankruptcy.

The mission is set for launch at around 5:31 p.m. EDT (2131 GMT) next Thursday, April 16, from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

No word from SpaceX yet regarding the cause of an early shutdown of a Merlin engine on the first stage booster during the last Starlink launch. That booster was on its fifth launch, the first Falcon 1st stage to reach that many reuses. The satellites successfully reached orbit but the booster failed to land on the ocean platform.

The total number of Starlink satellites to reach orbit so far is 362 Starlink satellites. About five have de-orbited and the first 60 on the “Starlink 0” appear to be treated as test vehicles and may not participate in an operational Internet service.

** NASA and SpaceX test zip line emergency escape system from Pad 39A launch towerNASA, SpaceX Team Up for Emergency Egress Exercise – Commercial Crew Program/NASA

** More scenes from the recent launch day practice: Video: Astronauts participate in Crew Dragon launch day dress rehearsal – Spaceflight Now

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, assigned to fly SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on its first piloted mission into orbit, participated in a dress rehearsal of their suit-up procedures and a trip to launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 17, 2020.

NASA and SpaceX officials organized the practice run before the launch of a Crew Dragon capsule on a high-altitude escape test to demonstrate the performance ship’s launch abort engines.

In this video, the astronauts are seen suiting up inside the Operations and Checkout Building at KSC, riding inside a Tesla automobile to pad 39A, then taking an elevator to the 265-foot-level. Hurley and Behnken walked down the crew access arm to the white room, where they would board the Crew Dragon during a real countdown.

Video credit: NASA/Michelle Stone and Chris Chamberland

** Time lapse view of the booster return and landing for the launch of Bulgaria-1 in 2017:

** SpaceX continues to operate most all of its projects despite work restrictions during the corona pandemic: How SpaceX is prospering in the year of the coronavirus pandemic | TheHill

SpaceX’s Elon Musk must count himself lucky that commercial space is considered an “essential industry” while the coronavirus pandemic ravages the world. The designation has allowed SpaceX to not only survive but to prosper as the company continues its efforts to open the space frontier, both in partnership with NASA and alone.

**** Starship

****** The collapse of the prototype Starship SN3 was due to an incorrect sequence of commands, according to Elon Musk. The lower tank was depressurized while the upper tank was still full of liquid nitrogen, leading to a collapse of the structure.

See also:

****** The Raptors for a Starship prototype strike a pose:

****** Boca Chica facilities as seen from a virtual sky: Boca Chica Starship Launch Pad [LN2 corrected] (virtual flyover, april 2nd 2020) – Alex Rex on YouTube

This short video shows a virtual flight over the Starship Launch Pad area in Boca Chica, TX on April 2nd, 2020. It is kept as simple as possible with major focus on BUILDINGS, JIGS and STARSHIP-Parts. For future updates, please support my work via This is the LN2 corrected Version! → Also check the 3D-Model Viewer: For other design projects, please visit my webpage: Or check out my instagram account:

****** April 5: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 disassembly continues as SN4 takes shape – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX teams continued to dismantle the Starship SN3 prototype after a collapse during a cryogenic proof test. Meanwhile, the construction of the SN4 prototype continues at speed. Video and Photos by Mary (@BocaChicaGal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** April 7: SpaceX Boca Chica – Salvaging Starship SN3’s Thrust Section – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceXers have been salvaging Starship SN3’s Thrust Section in amid a buzz of activity in Boca Chica. Video and Photos via Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** April 8: SpaceX Boca Chica – Laying the groundwork for Starship SN4 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

A relatively quiet day in Boca Chica, per Starship Assembly in the open, but SpaceXers have been busy at work preparing the launch site and associated buildings. Video and Photos via Mary (@BocaChicaGal).

** Webcasts:

**** SpaceX Starship News, SN4 to reuse thrust section, Starship Users Guide surprises and Tesla UpdatesMarcus House

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Student and amateur CubeSat news roundup – Apr.8.2020

A sampling of recent articles, press releases, etc. related to student and amateur CubeSat / SmallSat projects and programs (find previous smallsat roundups here):

** Cubesat program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, wins grants from NASA lunar exploration technology program: NASA Small Satellite Program Selects Cal Poly to Help Develop New Technology for Lunar Exploration Missions – Cal Poly News

Cal Poly will participate in a pair of two-year projects, both in collaboration with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The grants are valued at $200,000. The first, under the SmallSat Propulsion for Lunar Missions area, will team Cal Poly with UC Irvine for a project titled “Variable Specific Impulse Electrospray Thrusters for SmallSat Propulsion.”

The project will build on existing propulsion technology that uses electrostatic charges to propel liquid droplets to generate thrust. It will further develop and test a more-versatile system capable of operating in either a high-thrust mode when needed, or more efficient low-thrust mode to conserve fuel and save weight. This technology will add mission flexibility to electrospray propulsion systems while keeping within the size suited constraints of small spacecraft.

“Cal Poly will be providing a design for a CubeSat to test the thrusters, including an electrical subsystem that is capable of powering the thrusters,” Bellardo said. “UCI will be focusing more on the thruster side. Cal Poly will be focused on the spacecraft side.”

The second proposal, under NASA’s Advanced Electrical Power Subsystem and Thermal Management Technology area, pairs Cal Poly with Cal State Los Angeles for a project titled “An Additively Manufactured Deployable Radiator with Oscillating Heat Pipes to Enable High Power Lunar CubeSats.”

Compact CubeSats do not efficiently dissipate heat, yet lunar missions will demand even more electrical power, which produces heat as a byproduct that could damage core components of a small satellite. The equipment needed for longer duration missions far from Earth orbit includes more powerful radio transmitters while simultaneously dealing with the harsh cislunar thermal environment. The grant will fund the development of a deployable radiator with flexible oscillating heat pipes to provide more efficient heat transfer than traditional thermal straps.

“The more power a spacecraft needs, the more heat gets generated — both during power generation and consumption,” Bellardo said. “Radiators are part of the solution to keeping the spacecraft cooler. The technology is applicable to other small spacecraft as well.”

More about the Cal Poly projects and about lunar technology projects at other universities selected by NASA: NASA Selects Universities for Collaborative Development | NASA.

** AMSAT news on student and amateur CubeSat/smallsat projects: ANS-096 AMSAT News Service Special Bulletin

  • Ham Radio Book Featured in “Story Time From Space” on ISS
  • NO-104 / PSAT2 Status
  • VUCC Standings for April 2020
  • AMSAT Awards During Stay-at-Home Orders
  • Radio Amateurs of Canada Offers New Online Amateur Radio Course
  • AMSAT South Africa Reports Good Progress with AfriCUBE
  • ARISS News
  • Hamfests, Conventions, Maker Faires, and Other Events
  • Upcoming Satellite Operations
  • Satellite Shorts from All Over

General CubeSat/SmallSat info:

** Exploring CubeSats!MIT Full STEAM Ahead

** SunRISE – NASA’s new mission to study giant space weather stormsYour Space Journey

NASA has just selected a new mission to study how the Sun generates and releases giant space weather storms into space. The new mission is called SunRISE, which stands for Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment. This mission will ultimately help protect astronauts traveling to the Moon and Mars by providing better information on how the Sun’s radiation affects the space environment they must travel through. The principal investigator of SunRISE, Dr. Justin Kasper, joins us to discuss this incredible mission. Justin is also a professor of Space Science & Engineering for the University of Michigan, where he designs sensors for spacecraft that explore extreme environments in space from the surface of the Sun to the outer edges of the solar system. SunRISE is an array of six CubeSats operating as one very large radio telescope. NASA has awarded $62.6 million to design, build and launch SunRISE by no earlier than July 1, 2023.

** 2019 IAF Global Technical Symposium – Small Satellite MissionsIAF Young Professionals

The Small Satellite Missions Global Technical Session (GTS) is collaboration between the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Small Satellite Missions Symposium and the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Workforce Development/Young Professionals Programme Committee. This session is unique in that it allows for sharing of information on a global scale with presenters and audience both at the IAC venue and online at their home/work/university locations.

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MIT Media Lab’s Sojourner 2020 art mission to the ISS

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon for the CRS-20 mission to the International Space Station returned today for a safe landing in the Pacific. Five payloads from MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative were among the payloads delivered in March to the Station and returned on the Dragon:  Five MIT payloads deployed on the International Space Station – MIT News.

The payloads were integrated into the Nanoracks BlackBox, a locker-sized platform with mechanical mounting points and electrical connections for power, data, and communication capabilities. Payloads are fully integrated into BlackBox on the ground; when they reach ISS, the astronauts aboard integrate them into ISS experiment racks, then simply leave them alone — the boxes are completely self-contained and remotely commanded via Nanoracks from the ground. This system allows for larger and more complex research payloads on the ISS, as the astronauts aren’t required to come near any potentially hazardous materials and don’t need any special expertise to run the experiments.

“Five MIT Space Exploration Initiative payloads are enclosed within the Nanoracks BlackBox platform, further encased in a sample ISS experiment rack containment box, shown here in preflight testing for launch to the International Space Station in March.” Credits: Ariel Ekblaw, MIT News

Four of the payloads involved technology and scientific projects. The fifth, called Sojourner 2020, contains a group of

artworks, the first-ever international “open call” art payload to the ISS, selected by SEI’s arts curator Xin Liu. Sojourner 2020 features a three-layer telescoping structure. Each layer of the structure rotates independently; the top layer remains still in weightlessness, while the middle and bottom layers spin at different speeds to produce centripetal accelerations that mimic lunar gravity and Martian gravity, respectively. Nine artists contributed works in a variety of different media, including carved stone sculpture, liquid pigment experiments, and sculptures made of transgender hormone replacement meds. Sojourner 2020 highlights the ways in which the arts can contribute to new means of encountering space; by including projects from indigenous peoples and gender minorities, the project additionally emphasizes key values of human dignity, equality, and democratizing access. 

The artists had responded to the Media Lab’s open call issued in 2019 for artworks in low Earth orbit.

Sojourner 2020 (a 1.5U size unit, 100mm x 100mm x 152.4mm ) will be launched into low Earth orbit for about 30 days. It features a three-layer telescoping structure which creates three different “gravities”: zero gravity, lunar gravity, and Martian gravity. Each layer of the structure rotates independently. The top layer remains still in weightlessness, while the middle and bottom layers spin at different speeds to produce centripetal accelerations that mimic lunar gravity and Martian gravity, respectively. Each layer carries 6 pockets that can hold projects.

“Sojourner 2020 features a three-layer telescoping structure. Each layer of the structure spin at different speeds to produce centripetal accelerations that generate artificial gravities. Designed and built by Xin Liu.” Credits: Wenjun Liang & MIT Media Lab

Each pocket is a container with 10mm in diameter and 12mm in depth. Though the space is limited, the artist groups proposed and accomplished artworks in a variety of different mediums, including carved stone sculpture by Erin Genia, liquid pigment experiments by Andrea Ling and Levi Cai, sculptures made of transgender hormone replacement meds by Adriana Knouf, among the others.

With space transport costs dropping, more an more artists can use space for acts of self-expression:

Sojourner 2020 highlights the ways in which the arts can contribute to new means of encountering space. While access to space is becoming more possible due to commercial launch providers, those sending projects often remain scientific or engineering researchers. Sojourner 2020 broadens this to include an unprecedented collection of international artists, thereby both democratizing access to space as well as opening space exploration to transdisciplinary perspectives. By including projects from indigenous peoples and gender minorities, the project additionally enacts key values of human dignity and equality.

See also this artistic Media Labs project that included a parabolic flight : Mollastica – From Deep Sea to Deep Space — MIT Media Lab

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The Space Show this week – April.6.2020

The guests and topics of discussion on The Space Show this week:

1. Monday, April 6, 2020; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT: No special programming.

2. Tuesday, April 7, 2020; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT):  We welcome back Dr. Charles Limoli for his latest space radiation and cognitive issues.

3. Wednesday, April 8, 2020; 3:30 pm PDT (5:30 pm CDT,  6:30 pm EDT): Hotel Mars: John Batchelor and Dr. David Livingston will talk to William Harwood of CBS news about NASA and the virus plus keeping the ISS safe from the virus.

4. Thursday, April 9, 2020; 7-8:30 pm PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT, 10-11:30 pm EDT): No special programming.

5. Friday, April 10, 2020; 9:30-11 am PDT (11:30 am-1 pm CDT, 12:30-2 pm EDT): We welcome back Mike Snead, PE to discuss aerospace design, engineering, and testing issues.

6. Sunday, April 12, 2020; 12-1:30 pm PDT (3-4:30 pm EDT, 2-3:30 pm CDT): We welcome back OPEN LINES. All space, steam, science, STEM and virus calls welcome. First time callers wanted. Speak to other callers.

Some recent shows:

** Sun, 04/05/2020Dennis Wingo discussed his recent essay, Finding our Purpose in Space, and other topics.

**  Fri, 04/03/2020Dr. David Kipping discussed “his research [on] using Earth as a giant telescope from a far distance from Earth”.

** Hotel Mars – Wed, 04/01/2020John Batchelor and Dr. David Livingston spoke with Chris Carberry of the Explore Mars about the organizations” events and programming during the COVID-19 outbreak”.

**  Tue, 03/31/2020Rod Pyle talked about “trends, post virus space industry and many other topics based on callers and listener emails”/

** Hotel Mars – Thu, 03/26/2020John Batchelor and David Livingston discussed the impact of Covid-19 on the space industry.

** See also:
* The Space Show Archives
* The Space Show Newsletter
* The Space Show Shop

The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.

The Space Show - David Livingston
The Space Show – David Livingston

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Space policy roundup – April.5.2020

A sampling of links to recent space policy, politics, and government (US and international) related space news and resource items that I found of interest (find previous space policy roundups here):


** Space Café WebTalk Recap: “33 minutes with Moriba Jah” – SpaceWatch.Global

The inaugural Space Café WebTalk happened on 31 March 2020, featuring Professor Moriba Jah, associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin, in conversation with Torsten Kriening, co-publisher of SpaceWatch.Global and COO of ThorGroup GmbH.

Professor Jah opened the event with an interesting, thorough discource on the topic of space situational awareness, covering points recently discussed in his SWGL op-ed, Orbital Space – The Next Resource For Humanity To Exhaustively Exploit And Litter!, published last month.

** Hotel Mars/The Space Show – Wed, 04/01/2020John Batchelor and Dr. David Livingston spoke with Chris Carberry of the Explore Mars about the organizations” events and programming during the COVID-19 outbreak”.

** The Space Show – Tue, 03/31/2020Rod Pyle talked about “trends, post virus space industry and many other topics based on callers and listener emails”/

** Hotel Mars/The Space Show – Thu, 03/26/2020John Batchelor and David Livingston discussed the impact of Covid-19 on the space industry.

** March 31, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

** March 27, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

** April 2, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black


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