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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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Space transport roundup – Apr.4.2020

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

** Starship prototype SN3 collapses near end of pressure testing of propellant tanks. Rather than an explosive rupture as in previous tank failures, the center tank just crumpled and collapsed. Apparently, the weight of the liquid nitrogen in the upper tank overcame the structural integrity of the middle tank. This could have happened if the middle tank was de-pressurized prematurely. This is the sort of mistake Elon Musk was referring to in a Tweeter posting after the failure in which he said, “this may have been a test configuration mistake.”

See also:

Find more SpaceX items below

** Japan’s Oita airport becomes alternative site for Virgin Orbit LauncherOne missions: Oita Partners with Virgin Orbit to Establish First Horizontal Spaceport in Asia | Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit, the California-based small satellite launch company, has announced a new partnership with Oita Prefecture to bring horizontal launch to Japan. With the support of regional partners ANA Holdings Inc. and the Space Port Japan Association, Virgin Orbit has identified Oita Airport as its preferred pilot launch site — yet another addition to the company’s growing global network of horizontal launch sites — in pursuit of a mission to space from Japan as early as 2022.

Virgin Orbit and Oita Prefecture have agreed to commence a joint technical study to facilitate development of the future spaceport.

Oita Prefecture is widely recognized in Japan as not only a top-ranked tourist destination, but also as a hub for numerous high-tech ecosystems, including the steel, petrochemical, semiconductor, and automobile industries. The Oita Prefectural Government now has ambitions to extend that leadership into the space domain.

** Booster returned to earth via parachute during the latest Chinese Long March 3B launch. This is to limit potential damage to

** Sierra Nevada reports on progress with the VORTEX propulsion system: SNC Leverages VORTEX® Engine Technology for DARPA’s OpFires Program

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, reached a major milestone in the advancement of hypersonic propulsion with its patented VORTEX engine, advancing to the next phase of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Operational Fires (OpFires) program.

Through OpFires, SNC is extending its hybrid VORTEX engine capabilities to advanced, deep throttling, restartable propulsion systems. The system utilizes benign solid fuel with a liquid oxidizer, both of which are storable on Earth and in space. Recent testing shows positive results in being able to package significant energy into a small volume that will have the ability for deep throttling and smooth restart capabilities on command. “The VORTEX flows integrated into the hybrid significantly improves performance of the hybrid engine” said Dr. Marty Chiaverini, director of Propulsion Systems at SNC.

“This program opens up a new market for SNC for preplanned or on-demand propulsion control capabilities that are applicable to both military and beyond Earth orbit propulsion capabilities,” said Tom Crabb, vice president of SNC’s Propulsion & Environmental Systems business unit. “Deep throttling and restart capabilities expand the tools for smart and unpredictable trajectories for various vehicles and systems.”

The first two phases of DARPA’s OpFires program focus on the propulsion technologies required to deliver diverse payloads to a variety of ranges. Since Phase 1 contract award, SNC has made critical discoveries in advanced rocket motor technology for the OpFires upper stage, completing more than 30 motor trials from subscale through full size. SNC hopes to demonstrate these engines in flight and offer the engines to new, promising vehicle systems.

In addition to the deep throttling, restartable, storable system for DARPA, SNC is expanding its propulsion capabilities and products with near-term flight for its Dream Chaser® spaceplane Reaction Control System, maturation of upper stage engines and development of other liquid storable engines for spacecraft, lunar, and other exploration and protection applications. SNC is also co-investing with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for development of the engine for USAF needs. For more information, visit

** Plans to fly Blue Origin‘s New Shepard this month sparks dissension within the company ranks due to corona virus concerns:

The company management responds that they are taking proper precautions and not planning any layoffs: Bezos’ Blue Origin says it is hiring, denies report of possible layoffs – CNBC

** Firefly to apply launcher technology to lunar lander: In parallel with rocket development, Firefly launches lunar lander initiative – Spaceflight Now

A souped-up version of the Israeli Beresheet moon lander built in Texas could be ready to carry NASA science and technology payloads to the lunar surface before the end of 2022, according to officials from Firefly Aerospace.

Firefly’s Genesis lander is one of several major projects being developed by the company headquartered just north of Austin, Texas.

The company is also developing the Alpha small satellite launcher, and a bigger rocket named Beta is on the drawing board.

Officials hope to learn this month whether NASA will sign Firefly to deliver experiments to the moon.

Genesis Lunar Lander proposed by Firefly and partners for missions to the Moon’s south pole in 2022. Credits: Firefly

See also:

** Briefs:


Check out the
The Lurio Report
for news and analysis of key developments in NewSpace

The latest issue:
Starship Factory, Axiom’s Modules, Starliner Revelations
Vol. 15, No. 2, March 28, 2020

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** SpaceX:

** Cargo Dragon for CRS-20 mission to depart from ISS and return to Earth on April 6th: NASA TV to Air U.S. Cargo Ship Departure from Space Station | NASA

Filled with more than 4,000 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo, a SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft is set to leave the International Space Station Monday, April 6. NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast its departure live beginning at 9:30 a.m. EDT.

Robotic flight controllers at mission control in Houston will issue commands at 9:52 a.m. to release Dragon using the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Expedition 62 Flight Engineer Drew Morgan of NASA will back up the ground controllers and monitor Dragon’s systems as it departs the orbital laboratory.

Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the station, then execute a deorbit burn as it heads for a parachute-assisted splashdown around 3:40 p.m. in the Pacific Ocean, southwest of Long Beach, California. The splashdown will not air on NASA TV.

Dragon launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket March 6 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and arrived at the space station three days later.

** NASA’s “retro, modern” worm logo festoons the side of the Falcon 9 booster for the crew demo mission set to go to the ISS in May: The Worm is Back! | NASA

The worm is back. And just in time to mark the return of human spaceflight on American rockets from American soil.

The retro, modern design of the agency’s logo will help capture the excitement of a new, modern era of human spaceflight on the side of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle that will ferry astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the Demo-2 flight, now scheduled for mid- to late May.

NASA’s “worm” logo on the side of the booster for the first Crew Dragon flight with astronauts.

** Tests continue in preparation for first crewed flight of Dragon 2 to the ISS: NASA Flickr

On Monday, March 30, 2020 at a SpaceX processing facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, SpaceX successfully completed a fully integrated test of critical crew flight hardware ahead of Crew Dragon’s second demonstration mission to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program; the first flight test with astronauts onboard the spacecraft. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley participated in the test, which included flight suit leak checks, spacecraft sound verification, display panel and cargo bin inspections, seat hardware rotations, and more. Photo credit: SpaceX


See also:

** Watch astronauts rehearse arrival at the pad and entering Crew Dragon. This is part of the preparation for the first crewed Dragon 2 mission to the ISS:

**** Starship

****** New design for the Starship  legs:

****** The Starship takes advantage of the connection to Tesla: SpaceX Starship outfitted with Tesla battery packs and motors – Teslarati

Following in the footsteps of the late Mk1 vehicle, SpaceX’s latest Starship prototype has been outfitted with several Tesla battery packs and motors over the last few weeks.

CEO Elon Musk has confirmed in the past that SpaceX intends to try to use Tesla batteries to power Starship rockets and Tesla motors to drive the ships’ large aerodynamic control surfaces. By all appearances, a Tesla Model S motor’s appearance on the exterior of a Starship prototype recently moved to the launch pad is a first for SpaceX. However, in 2019, SpaceX at one point planned to use and even installed battery packs on Starship Mk1 components before the ship was prematurely destroyed during testing. The nosecone those battery packs were installed in still sits in the middle of SpaceX’s growing Boca Chica rocket factory.

For Starship SN3, the purpose of its ~200 kWh of battery power is rather self-explanatory. The purpose of the Tesla Model S motor recently installed on its side is much less clear.

****** Videos from the NASASpaceflight YouTube channel show activities leading up to the SN3 test failure plus some scenes of the cleanup:

****** March 31: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 Test Readiness/SN4 Preps

******  April 2: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 comes to life as SN4 waits in the wings

****** April 3: SpaceX’s Starship SN3 prototype fails cryogenic proof test

****** April 3:  SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 remains dismantled

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Videos: “Space to Ground” ISS report – Apr.3.2020

Here is the latest episode in NASA’s Space to Ground weekly report on activities related to the International Space Station:

** Expedition 63 Space Station Crew Prepares for Launch in Kazakhstan

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the International Space Station’s Expedition 63 crew Soyuz Commander Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineers Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos and Chris Cassidy of NASA and their backups, Sergei Ryzhikov and Andrei Babkin of Roscosmos and Steve Bowen of NASA, participated in a variety of activities March 24-March 27 as they prepared for the upcoming mission. Ivanishin, Vagner and Cassidy are set to launch April 9 from Baikonur in the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft for a six-month mission on the International Space Station. The footage includes the crew’s Soyuz fit check in the Cosmodrome’s Integration Facility, the ceremonial Cosmonaut Hotel flag-raising ceremony, laying of flowers at the site at the cosmonaut Hotel where Yuri Gagarin’s tree is planted and other training milestones.

** Anne McClain’s Tips for Living in Close Quarters

It’s okay to not be okay. But it’s what you choose to do about that that’s important.” One of our NASA Astronauts, Anne McClain, shares some tips she learned living in the isolated environment of the International Space Station:

** Jessica Meir Speaks with Physiologist Magazine

Expedition 62 – Aboard the International Space Station NASA Astronaut and Flight Engineer Jessica Meir participates in an in-flight event with Physiologist Magazine.

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