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Space policy roundup – Jan.20.2020

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):


** The Space Show – Fri, 01/17/2020 – Douglas Messier of Parabolic Arc talked about “NewSpace, Commercial Space and Space Policy for 2020, suborbital and orbital tourism, China, 2019 events and more”.

** The Space Show – Tue, 01/14/2020Janelle Wellons discussed “Titan and space settlement, Europa, Enceladus plus instrument engineering work on planetary missions at JPL”.

** China to launch Chang’e-5, Mars probes in 2020 – CCTV

China plans to launch Chang’e-5 lunar probe and its first Mars probe in 2020 as part of the country’s ambitious space program, according to a plan released Friday in Beijing by the Space Department of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). More on:…

** China is ushering in a phase of super space programs – CGTN

In 2018, China alone accounted for over one-third of the world’s rocket launches. Today, Chinese astronauts strive to reach the final goal of the lunar exploration program. Once trailing behind in global space programs, China has now earned its place in the space race and is tapping into this new field.

** January 14, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

** January 10, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

** January 17, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

** Robot Arms and Space Toilets | Podcasts | Naked Scientists

Shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane recounts stories of space sexism, toilets and M and Ms in the first Space Boffins podcast of 2020. We also meet the engineer developing the controls for a new robotic arm for the space station – or ‘Man Machine Interface’ – and Richard and Sue are joined by science writer Colin Stuart to look ahead to the next year in space. Warning: this podcast features some disturbing audio of a space toilet malfunction…


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Videos: “Space to Ground” ISS report – Jan.17.2020

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

** Down to Earth – Episode 6 – Ever Changing Picture

As we enter the year the space station 20th anniversary, NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson shares what stood out to her most about seeing Earth from orbit in this episode of “Down to Earth – Ever Changing Picture.” The shift in worldview is inspired by space philosopher Frank White.

** Christina Koch’s Memorable Moments: Part 2

The longest single spaceflight ever by a female astronaut or cosmonaut is now 306 days long, with more to come. On top of adding to her total spaceflight time, NASA astronaut Christina Koch looks back over her long mission and recalls some favorite moments, including her favorite meal and most memorable view from orbit.

** Train Like An Astronaut: Kelly Marie Tran and Naomi Ackie

On December 11th, 2019, Kelly Marie Tran and Naomi Ackie from the film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker spent the day at NASA’s Johnson Space Center training like astronauts and learning about NASA’s plans to explore the Moon with the new Artemis program, which includes landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024. Follow Tran and Ackie – used to traveling through galaxies far, far away – through their training with NASA astronauts Meghan McArthur and Jessica Watkins on a gravity offload system, in the Orion crew capsule, an exploration rover, and much more! Music from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker featured tracks include: Main FanFare, The Rise of Skywalker, and The Finale composed by John Williams.

** NASA Astronauts Spacewalk Outside the International Space Station on Jan. 15, 2020

On Wednesday, Jan. 15, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch will step outside of the International Space Station into the vacuum of space together. The duo will replace old nickel-hydrogen batteries with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries to continue upgrading station power systems on the Port-6 truss structure. The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 6:50 a.m. EST and last about six-and-a-half hours.

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Space transport roundup – Jan.17.2020

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

[ Update  3:35 pm:  Here is a video of the pre-test briefing at Kennedy held this afternoon at KSC:

  • Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
  • Benji Reed, director, Crew Mission Management, SpaceX
  • Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer 45th Weather Squadron

More resources:

Update 10:50 am: The SpaceX webcast  page is now configured for tomorrow’s schedule in-flight abort test and it offers the SpaceX IFA press kit (pdf). The webcast will go live about 20 minutes before lift off.

Other resources:


** SpaceX aims for two Falcon 9 launches in next three days starting with the in-flight abort (IFA) test on Saturday morning. On Monday there will be another batch of 60 Starlink satellites sent into low earth orbit.

The IFA window opens at 8:00 am EST:

The Starlink 3 launch is set for 12:20 pm EST (1720 GMT) on Monday. See also

More SpaceX items below.

** An Ariane 5 rocket sent two satellites to GEO transfer orbits on Thursday. The spacecraft were the EUTELSAT KONNECT for the telecom operator Eutelsat and GSAT-30 for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

** Construction of Blue Origin facilities at Cape Canaveral making rapid progress according to Florida Today space reporter Emre Kelly:

An image of the New Glenn launch pad construction:

** Boeing Starliner returns in good shape to KSC after orbital test mission:  Boeing expects ‘minimal refurbishment’ on reusable Starliner crew capsule – Spaceflight Now

** Boeing releases a video taken inside Starliner during the test flight: Boeing releases in-cabin video from Starliner’s orbital test flight – Spaceflight Now

Boeing caption:

Take a look inside the #Starliner on its Orbital Flight Test. Four interior cameras captured the mission, and this video covers nearly every dynamic event during the flight, including launch, separation events, on-orbit maneuvering, re-entry and landing. This is just a preview of what’s to come from the Dec. 20-22 flight as we prepare to release all our onboard mission footage.

** China successfully launched remote sensing satellite Jilin-1  on a Long March-2D rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern province of Shanxi on January 15.

** New funding moves SpinLaunch closer to first test of catapult launch system:

The responsive launch system utilizes a large mass accelerator to provide on demand launches of small satellites in virtually any weather at an order of magnitude lower cost and higher frequency than any existing or proposed launch system.

Investors include Airbus Ventures, GV, KPCB, Catapult Ventures, Lauder Partners, John Doerr and Byers Family. The funds from this investment will be used to scale the SpinLaunch team and technology and continue to build out SpinLaunch’s new corporate headquarters in Long Beach, California, and complete the flight test facility at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

“Our team at SpinLaunch greatly appreciates the continued support of this formidable syndicate of investors, who share our vision of enabling low-cost and frequent launch of imaging and communications constellations that will protect our planet and humanity.” said CEO Yaney. “Later this year, we aim to change the history of space launch with the completion of our first flight test mass accelerator at Spaceport America.”

In January 2019, SpinLaunch relocated to a new 140,000 square foot facility in Long Beach, California, and funds will be used for the buildout of this corporate headquarters and investing in equipment and machinery to be a world-class R&D manufacturing facility. In addition, the company is hiring additional talent for both its Long Beach headquarters and Spaceport test facility. First flight test is expected later this year.

Prototype SpinLaunch module. Credit: New Mexico Economic Development Department

** Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship to stay longer in orbit after departing from the ISS: NASA, FCC approve Cygnus NG-12 post-Station mission extension –

Coming two weeks before the NG-12 Cygnus is scheduled to depart the International Space Station on 31 January 2020, NASA’s Johnson Space Center officially requested, and the Federal Communications Commission approved, a post-Station mission extension for the craft. 

For this mission, Cygnus had a pre-flight approval to perform two weeks of solo flight operations after leaving the Station before destructively re-entering.  That solo flight operation has now been extended to 31 days in large part due to the planned 9 February launch of the NG-13 Cygnus from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.

** Generation Orbit tests Ursa Major Technologies propulsion system for X-60A hypersonic project: X-60A program conducts integrated vehicle propulsion system verification test – Wright-Patterson AFB

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s X-60A program recently achieved a key developmental milestone with the completion of integrated vehicle propulsion system verification ground testing.

The X-60A is an air-launched rocket designed for hypersonic flight research. It is being developed by Generation Orbit Launch Services under an AFRL Small Business Innovation Research contract. The goal of the X-60A program is to provide affordable and routine access to relevant hypersonic flight conditions for technology maturation. This test included both cold flow and hot fire testing with the Hadley liquid rocket engine developed by Ursa Major Technologies. Flight-like hardware was tested using flight-like operational procedures. The test runs covered full duration burns, engine gimbaling for thrust vector control, and system throttling.

“This test series was a critical step in reducing risk and gathering necessary system integration data in preparation for our upcoming flight tests,” said Barry Hellman, AFRL X-60A program manager. “When we go to flight later this year, we hope to demonstrate the capability of the X-60A to provide affordable access to hypersonic flight conditions, which will position AFRL to deliver an innovative test capability for the Air Force and other DoD organizations.”           

X-60A is a single-stage liquid rocket primarily designed for hypersonic flight research and is launched from a modified business jet carrier aircraft. It is capable of testing a wide range of hypersonic technologies including airbreathing propulsion, advanced materials, and hypersonic vehicle subsystems. The vehicle propulsion system utilizes liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions above Mach 5.

During the upcoming flight tests based out of Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, FL, the X-60A will fly at relevant conditions necessary for technology maturation. Data will be collected to validate the overall vehicle design functionality as well as performance predictions.

“A recent X-60A hot fire test, conducted at Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida. The X-60A, developed through an Air Force Research Laboratory Small Business Innovation Research contract, is an air-launched rocket designed for hypersonic flight research. (U.S. Air Force photo)”

** Lots of private space launch activities expected in 2020: This year may finally fulfill the promise of private human spaceflight | Ars Technica

This year could see the fulfillment of a number of long-promised achievements in human spaceflight. For the first time, private companies could launch humans into orbit in 2020, and two different companies could send paying tourists on suborbital missions. The aerospace community has been watching and waiting for these milestones for years, but 2020 is probably the year for both.

We may also see a number of new rocket debuts this year, both big and small. A record number of missions—four—are also due to launch to Mars from four different space agencies. That’s just the beginning of what promises to be an exciting year; here’s a look at what we’re most eagerly anticipating in the coming 11.5 months.

** SpaceX:

**** Falcon 9 up closeSpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shown off in unprecedented detail ahead of next US Air Force launch – Telsarati

The octaweb end of the Falcon 9 first stage that will launch the Air Forces’s GPS III SV03 satellite. Credits: USAF

**** More about SpaceX’s plans to build new mobile tower at Pad 39A for vertical installation of military satellites: SpaceX’s Falcon rockets might need a giant tower on wheels for US military launches – Teslarati

SpaceX reportedly plans to build a massive mobile gantry – effectively a tower on wheels – at one of its two Florida launch pads, a bid to meet obscure military launch criteria needed to secure highly lucrative Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch contracts from the US government.

Although this is not the first time that SpaceX and vertical integration have been thrown around in the same sentence, it is the first time that the company is reportedly close to actually finalizing its plans along those lines and constructing a real solution at one or more of its three orbital-class launch pads.

**** Starship

****** Construction of Starship SN-1 ramping up. Here is a new tweet from Elon:

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Deconstruction

At SpaceX Boca Chica, engineers have begun dismantling the test tank (“Bopper”), the UFO Steel Rings and an old bulkhead, while the Starship SN1 Nosecone gained a friend in the Windbreak. Muted due to high wind noise conditions. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – More Buildings, Test Tank Dismantled, Starship

A very busy SpaceX Boca Chica video, as more buildings are constructed, steel rings are mated and Test Tank “Bopper” is literally pulled apart. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF with additional photos from NSF Member Nomadd (@@nomadd13)

****** Boca Chica operations receive deliveries from Florida facility: SpaceX Transports Starship Hardware with Addition of New Ship –

SpaceX’s GO Discovery ship has arrived in Texas to deliver more Starship hardware to Boca Chica, a facility that continues to expand. A Jobs Fair was held today, showing SpaceX’s expansion intent. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

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Student and amateur CubeSat news roundup – Jan.16.2020

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

** ACRUX-1 CubeSat was launched by the Melbourne Space Program last summer on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket. The goal of the not-for-profit organization is “to launch the next generation of technology pioneers”. The CubeSat project was three years

… in the making. In June 2019, Melbourne-based volunteer students from various Australian universities across multi-disciplinaries designed, built from scratch and successfully launched a working CubeSat satellite called “ACRUX-1” into lower earth orbit on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket mission called Make It Rain. This was part of a ridesharing mission through Spaceflight, a launch service provider.

The next project is ACRUX-2

ACRUX-2 is the MSP’s next exciting nano-satellite mission that will be focused on the concept of responsible use of space.

Given the success of ACRUX-1, the MSP team have been given permission to think big! The plan is to build and launch a 3U Cubesat. Currently, the project is in the mission planning stage and the finer details of the mission are still to be finalised – so stay tuned for more info!

Check out the MSP news page for info on the ACRUX-1 and updates on ACRUX-2:

A video about the project: Insights into successfully designing, building and launching a CubeSat

Video of a live stream presentation by Hydrix electronics engineer, Blake Fuller, sharing his journey in helping to design and launch the ACRUX-1 CubeSat. The event was hosted by the Space Association of Australia

** AMSAT news on student and amateur CubeSat/smallsat projects: ANS-012 AMSAT News Service Special Bulletin

  • Virgin Orbit Plans Flight Test of LauncherOne Rocket in February
  • AMSAT Awards Update
  • AMSAT at Cowtown Hamfest – Ft. Worth – January 17-18
  • JARL Announces FO-29 Activation Schedule
  • CAMSAT Says CAS-6 Activation for Amateur Use has been Delayed
  • Telemetry Dashboard Available for SMOG-P and ATL PocketQubes
  • MIT Radio Society W1MX January Lecture Series on “Everything Radio”
  • AMSAT-DL Announces a New QO-100 DownConverter V3d
  • AMSAT South Africa Space Symposium 2020 First Call for Papers
  • Upcoming ARISS Contact Schedule
  • Upcoming Satellite Operations
  • Satellite Shorts From All Over

General CubeSat/SmallSat info:


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ESO: ALMA & ROSETTA find keys to the mysteries of phosphorus, a building block of life

A new report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

Astronomers Reveal Interstellar Thread of One of Life’s Building Blocks

This infographic shows the key results from a study that has revealed the interstellar thread of phosphorus, one of life’s building blocks.  Thanks to ALMA, astronomers could pinpoint where phosphorus-bearing molecules form in star-forming regions like AFGL 5142. The background of this infographic shows a part of the night sky in the constellation of Auriga, where the star-forming region AFGL 5142 is located. The ALMA image of this object is on the top left of the infographic, and one of the locations where the team found phosphorus-bearing molecules is indicated by a circle. The most common phosphorus-bearing molecule in AFGL 5142 is phosphorus monoxide, represented in orange and red in the diagram on the bottom left. Another molecule found was phosphorus nitride, represented in orange and blue.  Using data from the ROSINA instrument onboard ESA’s Rosetta, astronomers also found phosphorus monoxide on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, shown on the bottom right. This first sighting of phosphorus monoxide on a comet helps astronomers draw a connection between star-forming regions, where the molecule is created, all the way to Earth, where it played a crucial role in starting life.

Phosphorus, present in our DNA and cell membranes, is an essential element for life as we know it. But how it arrived on the early Earth is something of a mystery. Astronomers have now traced the journey of phosphorus from star-forming regions to comets using the combined powers of ALMA and the European Space Agency’s probe Rosetta. Their research shows, for the first time, where molecules containing phosphorus form, how this element is carried in comets, and how a particular molecule may have played a crucial role in starting life on our planet.

Life appeared on Earth about 4 billion years ago, but we still do not know the processes that made it possible,

says Víctor Rivilla, the lead author of a new study published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The new results from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner, and from the ROSINA instrument on board Rosetta, show that phosphorus monoxide is a key piece in the origin-of-life puzzle.

With the power of ALMA, which allowed a detailed look into the star-forming region AFGL 5142, astronomers could pinpoint where phosphorus-bearing molecules, like phosphorus monoxide, form. New stars and planetary systems arise in cloud-like regions of gas and dust in between stars, making these interstellar clouds the ideal places to start the search for life’s building blocks.

The ALMA observations showed that phosphorus-bearing molecules are created as massive stars are formed. Flows of gas from young massive stars open up cavities in interstellar clouds. Molecules containing phosphorus form on the cavity walls, through the combined action of shocks and radiation from the infant star. The astronomers have also shown that phosphorus monoxide is the most abundant phosphorus-bearing molecule in the cavity walls.

This ALMA image shows a detailed view of the star-forming region AFGL 5142. A bright, massive star in its infancy is visible at the centre of the image. The flows of gas from this star have opened up a cavity in the region, and it is in the walls of this cavity (shown in colour), that phosphorus-bearing molecules like phosphorus monoxide are formed. The different colours represent material moving at different speeds.

After searching for this molecule in star-forming regions with ALMA, the European team moved on to a Solar System object: the now-famous comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The idea was to follow the trail of these phosphorus-bearing compounds. If the cavity walls collapse to form a star, particularly a less-massive one like the Sun, phosphorus monoxide can freeze out and get trapped in the icy dust grains that remain around the new star. Even before the star is fully formed, those dust grains come together to form pebbles, rocks and ultimately comets, which become transporters of phosphorus monoxide.

ROSINA, which stands for Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis, collected data from 67P for two years as Rosetta orbited the comet. Astronomers had found hints of phosphorus in the ROSINA data before, but they did not know what molecule had carried it there. Kathrin Altwegg, the Principal Investigator for Rosina and an author in the new study, got a clue about what this molecule could be after being approached at a conference by an astronomer studying star-forming regions with ALMA:

She said that phosphorus monoxide would be a very likely candidate, so I went back to our data and there it was!

This first sighting of phosphorus monoxide on a comet helps astronomers draw a connection between star-forming regions, where the molecule is created, all the way to Earth.

The combination of the ALMA and ROSINA data has revealed a sort of chemical thread during the whole process of star formation, in which phosphorus monoxide plays the dominant role,

says Rivilla, who is a researcher at the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory of INAF, Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics.

Phosphorus is essential for life as we know it,” adds Altwegg. “As comets most probably delivered large amounts of organic compounds to the Earth, the phosphorus monoxide found in comet 67P may strengthen the link between comets and life on Earth.”

This intriguing journey could be documented because of the collaborative efforts between astronomers.

The detection of phosphorus monoxide was clearly thanks to an interdisciplinary exchange between telescopes on Earth and instruments in space,”

says Altwegg.

Leonardo Testi, ESO astronomer and ALMA European Operations Manager, concludes:

Understanding our cosmic origins, including how common the chemical conditions favourable for the emergence of life are, is a major topic of modern astrophysics. While ESO and ALMA focus on the observations of molecules in distant young planetary systems, the direct exploration of the chemical inventory within our Solar System is made possible by ESA missions, like Rosetta. The synergy between world leading ground-based and space facilities, through the collaboration between ESO and ESA, is a powerful asset for European researchers and enables transformational discoveries like the one reported in this paper.