Student and amateur CubeSat news roundup – Jan.26.2020

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

** Ireland’s student built EIRSAT-1 Cubesat undergoing antenna tests: The image below shows Ireland’s first official satellite, EIRSAT-1, a 2U CubeSat, in preparation for testing in ESA’s Hertz antenna test chamber: Testing for Ireland’s first satellite – ESA ESTEC

Educational Irish Research Satellite 1, or EIRSAT-1 for short, is being built by students and staff of University College Dublin, who are participating in ESA Education’s Fly Your Satellite! programme.

At just 22 by 10 by 10 cm, the miniature EIRSAT-1 is smaller than a shoebox but is still equivalent in complexity to a standard space mission.

Normally the EIRSAT-1 student team would have joined the test campaign in person, but current Covid-19 restrictions made this impossible. Instead the team delivered their self-made Antenna Deployment Module (ADM) plus a mock-up of the satellite body, along with detailed test preparation procedures.

“Ireland’s first space mission, EIRSAT-1, seen taking place at ESA’s Hertz antenna test chamber”. Credits: ESA

See earlier item here and also this article from 2018: Ireland’s First Ever Satellite Moves One Step Closer to Launch into Space: EIRSAT-1 designed by a team of University College Dublin students – NovaUCD.

** ** Embry-Riddle student group builds CubeSat Hermes-1. The Embry-Riddle Future Space Explorers and Developers Society (RFSEDS) has several projects underway including Hermes-1, which they plan to launch in 2021:

Project Hermes is a 1U cubesat development project and is ERFSEDS first satellite effort. Our team is in the design development phase and is planning to launch the project within the next two years. Hermes is communications based satellite that will be used to communicate with the Hermes ground team.

Building their own ground station for communications, the Hermes ground team is certified with HAM Radio Technician liscenses.

** Interview with a 16 year old CubeSat experimenter: Cubesat Experiments With Julie Sage, a Gen Z Aspiring Astrophysicist – Via Satellite

Julie Sage is an aspiring astrophysicist, science communicator, and the host of SuperNova Style Science News. At just 16-years-old, she’s been doing some real science with running a variety of different experiments on cubesats, including material testing.

** AMSAT news on student and amateur CubeSat/smallsat projects: ANS-173 AMSAT News Service Special Bulletin

  • AMSAT Announces Candidates for 2020 Board of Directors Election
  • AMSAT Announces GridMaster Award
  • CAS-6 Online
  • Amicalsat – Aurora Pictures
  • Raspberry Pi FUNcube Satellite Telemetry Decoder Now Available
  • ORI Announces ARRL Foundation Grant Award
  • ORI Announces YASME Foundation Grant Award
  • 38th Annual AMSAT Space Symposium and Annual General Meeting Moving to Virtual Event
  • Upcoming Satellite Operations
  • ARISS News
  • Hamfests, Conventions, Maker Faires, and Other Events
  • Satellite Shorts From All Over

See also

  • 6th anniversary of NANOSATC-BR1 | Southgate Amateur Radio News
    Friday, 19-06-2020, completes six years since we successfully launched the NANOSATC-BR1, CubeSat 1U, which was launched on June 19, 2014, from Yasny Base, in Russia. The first Brazilian Scientific Nanosatellite remains in operation, sending telemetry to the Earth Stations of the NanosatC-BR Program, Cubesats Development and Amateur Radio Support Stations.

General CubeSat/SmallSat info:

**  [WEBINAR] Cubesats Made Easy: Streamlining Integration & Collaboration for Australian Space MissionsAustralian Centre for Space Engineering Research Engineering

In this webinar, we will be focusing on the questions that must’ve crossed every developer’s mind, i.e. “Someone else must’ve have this problem too! How did they solve it?” Sometimes, it’s about the lack of time and manpower, sometimes it’s about the problem’s complexity. With our panellists, we will explore these problems and current (and potentially future) solutions, and how collaboration may help especially in the Australian context. This webinar will cater to both newcomers, where we streamline up-to-date resources, and to the experienced, where we can share ideas on how to make things better. These include:

1. A survey on Australian small satellite developers
2. Existing standards, available resources, and what are the current shortfalls?
3. Interfacing subsystems – hardware and software issues
4. Space Communications – RF issues and how cloud solutions may help
5. Building a Cubesat developer’s community – open source approaches?

** Tracking CubeSats with a Telescope – Bruce Van Deventer

CubeSats are miniature satellites typically deployed into low earth orbit. A standard 1U CubeSat is a cube ten centimeters on a side. Here, I tracked three different CubeSats on the night of 6/17 at our dark site observatory. Tracking is performed blind, meaning there is no optical assist to help the telescope point to the target. These videos are shot using a Celestron RASA 11 telescope and the ZWO ASI 6200 mono camera, operated in 8 bit video mode, quarter frame size, 100ms exposure. That video is further cropped here to make it easier to find the satellite.

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Space transport roundup – June.24.2020

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

** SpaceX SN5 prototype Starship was moved to the launchpad from the assembly area this morning at Boca Chica Beach. Initial pressure testing is expected to start next Monday. This would be followed by at least one static firing of the engine(s). If those tests go well, then a low altitude hop would be the next step.

** SpaceX Starship test article SN7 was pressure tested to destruction on Tuesday. The tank had previously popped a leak on June 16th during its initial tests. Elon Musk indicated in Tweets then that the test reached a satisfactory 7.6 Bars of pressure before leaking rather than bursting. After repairs were made, the cryogenic pressure tests were resumed today with the intention of raising the pressure until the tank ruptured. No word yet from Elon on what pressure level was reached before the tank failed.  Here is a video of the event, which was much more dramatic than the earlier one:

Another view:

Find more about DM-2 and other SpaceX activities below

** China launched a Beidou navigation satellite on Long March 3B rocket this week. This completes the constellation for the  BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS). The launch took place from the inland Xichang space center in southwestern China. Images later surfaced showing the smoking remains of the booster near a lake. For decades China has sent such boosters into populated areas despite the fact that the rockets use very toxic propellants.

** Arianespace Vega to  launch 53 smallsats. The launch on the initial target date of June 20 was canceled due to upper level winds. No new date has been announced as of June 23rd. This will be the first launch of a Vega rocket since a launch failed for the first time on July 11, 2019after fourteen successful flights. This is also the first of the Vega’s Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) missions. The smallsats come from 21 different customers. A list of the spacecraft can be found in the Launch Toolkit (pdf).

** United Launch Alliance (ULA) carried out a wet dress rehearsal for the Atlas V launch of the Perseverance Mars mission.  The launch is currently set for July 20th. A wet dress rehearsal means the rocket was loaded with propellants and the steps in a launch were followed up to the moment when it would lift off the pad. There was no firing of the engine as happens with a SpaceX Falcon 9 pre-launch static test.

Wet Dress Rehearsal: Atlas V Mars 2020

** Skyrora launches low altitude sounding rocket: Hattrick for rocket company after first ever launch from Shetland soil | Skyrora

Edinburgh-based Skyrora successfully launched its Skylark Nano rocket from remote land, the Fethaland Peninsula at North Roe on the Scottish island on Saturday, the 13th of June.

Skyrora plans to launch from one of the three proposed spaceports in Scotland and commercially launching from Shetland in the future is a potential option for them.

Reaching an altitude of six kilometers, this marked the third time the 2 meter (6.5ft) projectile took to the skies. The launch was completed for educational purposes, collecting meteorological data, measuring wind profiles, analysing the vehicles trajectory and providing critical training in support of Skyrora’s future plans.

Skyrora invited local journalists to attend the launch and to be apart of the education and learning process. All social distancing measures were met during the launch days.

Robin Hague, Head of Launch said: “The launch signifies a vital step towards Skyrora’s ambitions to become the UK’s “go-to” satellite launch provider. We’re ecstatic and truly proud. This is a great success for Skylark Nano, and the Skyrora team in general. Launching from Shetland is very important for us because it’s a potential option for our Skyrora XL orbital commercial launch vehicle. To understand the local launch conditions learning more about the wind profiles in Shetland is critical.

“Skylark Nano’s third successive launch is testament to the engineers who have worked tirelessly to bring to life a reusable rocket that can provide valuable intelligence for the future of the UK space programme.”

It comes after Skyrora successfully completed a full static fire test on their Skylark-L launch vehicle.

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO, said: “With this successful launch from Shetland we are further closing the gap to making the UK a rocket launching nation again.

** Update on Relativity Space and the company’s large scale metal 3D printing technology: Relativity Space may be printing the future of more than just rocketry – SpaceQ

Yes, Relativity’s inexpensive launch capabilities are attracting clients. While Noone was not at liberty to discuss all of their potential clients, he did mention that Canada’s own Telesat is betting on Relativity Space to launch a portion of their LEO broadband satellite constellation. Relativity had made that announcement public in April of 2019 with Telesat’s approval.

As Noone pointed out, though, it’s much bigger than that. Nobody has ever had the resources or opportunity to learn this much about additive manufacturing. “Manufacturing as software” means that creating a single part or product is as economical as a million-part run; even creating new parts only waits on Relativity’s engineers and Stargate AI’s to sort out the optimal way to produce them. Iteration becomes as fast for hardware as it is for software. While Noone didn’t get into details, this could change manufacturing in ways that go far beyond rockets.

It’s also incredibly scalable. While only one Stargate [a very large 3D printer used to build the company’s rockets] currently exists, any new Stargate will be as capable as the first. A Stargate in their Mississippi facility has the same capabilities as the one in Los Angeles; and any future Stargates in any future factories would as well. A Stargate (with accompanying small printers) in Jakarta would be as capable as the one in Los Angeles. Terran rockets, with Aeon engines, could be built and launched almost anywhere.

** And Relativity gets a contract for future launches of Iridium replacement satellites : Iridium Selects Relativity Space as On-Demand Single Satellite Launch Partner — Relativity Space

Relativity Space today announced that Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: IRDM) has signed a launch contract to deliver satellites to orbit. The contract includes flexible timing for up to six dedicated launches to deploy Iridium’s ground spare satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The launches will take place on an as-needed basis, determined by Iridium and utilizing Relativity’s Terran 1, the world’s first 3D printed launch vehicle. Launches are planned for no earlier than 2023.

See also:

** Rocket Lab to launch NASA probe to the Moon in 2021: How Rocket Lab plans to pull off its first mission to the Moon next year – The Verge

Rocket Lab is known for launching tiny satellites into Earth orbit, but the company has big plans to venture deeper into space, with its first mission to the Moon set for next year. Thanks to a contract with NASA, Rocket Lab will send a small spacecraft called CAPSTONE into orbit around the Moon to test out how to navigate in lunar orbit and help human missions to the Moon in the future.

It’ll be the most ambitious mission yet for Rocket Lab, which just launched its workhorse Electron rocket on its 12th flight this weekend. In total, the company has put up to 53 spacecraft into space, and so far, all of the those launches have sent satellites into low Earth orbit. But the company has been eyeing ways to push the envelope. “From day one that I came to Rocket Lab, it’s been an interest to stretch the legs of Electron and keep pushing to see what we can do,” Amanda Stiles, the Moon program manager for Rocket Lab who used to be the director for Google Lunar X Prize, tells The Verge. “And I know from the very highest levels of the company, there’s always been a big interest in going to the Moon.”

This mission will rely on a key piece of hardware that Rocket Lab has been using for the last few years: its Photon spacecraft. The cylindrical vehicle sits on the top of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, propelling customers’ hardware into low Earth orbit. It can also serve as a customizable satellite that can carry various payloads and instruments into space. “For most people’s purposes, they’re looking at low Earth orbit, but it’s also flexible where we can upgrade it and use it as a platform for these more advanced missions,” says Stiles. “So, this is the first advanced version of a Photon for that purpose.”

Meanwhile, Rocket Lab wins two NRO launches: Rocket Lab wins NRO contracts for back-to-back launches –

Here is an interview with Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab: Perspectives Video Interview with Peter Beck, Chief Executive, Rocket Lab – Satellite News

The next Electron launch is targeted for July 3rd: Rocket Lab to Demonstrate Fastest Launch Turnaround to Date | Rocket Lab

The mission, ‘Pics Or It Didn’t Happen,’ is scheduled to launch from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 Pad A on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula no earlier than 3 July, 2020 UTC— just days after the successful launch of Rocket Lab’s most recent mission, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now,’ on 13 June, 2020 UTC. The back-to-back missions will represent Rocket Lab’s fastest turnaround between missions to date.

‘Pics Or It Didn’t Happen’ will deploy seven small satellites to a 500km circular low Earth orbit for a range of customers, including Spaceflight Inc.’s customer Canon Electronics, as well as Planet and In-Space Missions.

** An interview with Simon Gwozdz, CEO and Founder of Equatorial Space Systems in Singapore. Space Café Podcast Episode 005 Featuring Simon Gwozdz Is Now Available – SpaceWatch.Global

** Briefs:


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

The latest issue:
Riding a Dragon, Rockets Rising, Space Resource Policy
Vol. 15, No. 4, June 14, 2020

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** SpaceX:

**** A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of another batch of Starlink satellites along with two Blacksky earth imaging satellites is set to lift off on Thursday, June 25th at 4:39 pm EDT (2039 GMT).  A static test firing on the pad is planned for today.

**** SpaceX attracting strong customer response to rideshare opportunities on the Starlink launches:

**** Tom Mueller, former chief of SpaceX propulsion development, gave an on-line presentation and extended Q&A with the Launch Canada student/amateur rocketry group last Friday. His main emphasis was on his experiences with home built liquid-fueled rockets but he occasionally made a SpaceX related remark. See the Highlights entry in the comments there for an overview of topics discussed.

Tom gave this video conference yesterday to Canadian student rocketeers. The first hour focuses on his successes and failures in amateur rocketry and his early career, as well as future goals now that he took a back seat with SpaceX. In the second part, he answers various questions from the audience on rocketry, SpaceX, his personal life, and more.

** More rocket and spaceship projects discarded by SpaceX – Scott Manley

In its 18 year history SpaceX has developed a lot of concepts on paper which never made it to flight, or, were never made to work. Either way the company has a rich history of projects that seemed like a good idea at the time but fell out of favour due to difficulties with engineering, a dearth of time, or a lack of a customer wanting to pay the cost.

**** Starship

****** Boca Chica Beach kept rock’in for the past week. The Starship prototypes SN5 and SN6 were both fully stacked except for the nosecone sections. The SN7 test article under went repairs and then was pushed to its breaking point in a final pressure test (see video at the top of this blog item).

Multiple construction projects are also underway, including what may be a pad for SuperHeavy Booster tests.

A new launch stand was being readied for the SN5 prototype, which reached the launch site today (see item at top).

Fingers crossed that SN5 will not explode, implode, or destroyed by ground support equipment detonations and actually do a low altitude flight.

****** Elon Musk comments on offshore launch/landing platforms for Starship/Super Heavy operations:

See also Elon Musk names Hobart boat builder Incat as potential rocket pad supplier – ABC News

****** Videos of Boca Chica activities over the past week:

****** June 18: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN5 & SN6 have a get together in the high bay – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN5 and Starship SN6 were spotted together in the high bay. Meanwhile, SpaceX teams continue to prepare the launch site ahead of the resumption of full-scale Starship testing. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** June 19: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN7 Repaired & Superheavy Launch Pad Construction – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN7 is repaired and upgraded while the Superheavy Launch Pad undergoes further construction including pouring multiple new foundations. Cory’s Taco Dome makes a reappearance as well as some other unknown ring stacks. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** June 19:  SpaceX Boca Chica – Starships, Test Tanks, Big Cranes and Thrust Pucks – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

With Test Tank SN7 at the launch site, Starship SN5 and SN6 in the High Bay, a huge crane is being assembled and a new Thrust Puck was being transported during Friday. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** June 21:  SpaceX Boca Chica – Super Heavy Pad Construction & SN7 Test Prep – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX teams continued to lay the foundations for the Super Heavy orbital launch pad in Boca Chica. Meanwhile, SN7 was getting ready for another round of testing and a large crane is on-site to assemble the new high bay. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** June 22: SpaceX Boca Chica – Super Heavy Pad Work and Flare Stack Returns – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

With SN7 preparing for testing on Tuesday, and the return of the Flare Stack – work at next door’s Super Heavy launch pad involved the installation of huge columns of rebar. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

** Webcast rocket reports:

*** SpaceX Starship News, Starship/Super Heavy offshore Spaceport and Starlink Beta Testing coming soonMarcus House

**** SpaceX Starship Updates – Chinas Next-Gen Crew Capsule & Long March 5B Rocket ExplainedWhat about it!?


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The Space Show this week – June.22.2020

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

1. Monday, June 22, 2020; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT: No special program today.

2. Tuesday, June 23, 2020; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT): We welcome back Dr. Jim Logan to discuss the “successful spreading out of humanity into space – PERMANENTLY”, NOT “Exploration” per se – and the most feasible way(s) to establish the first viable toeholds in this “New World” given what we’ve learned (i.e. ‘evidence-based’ not fantasy-based) in almost 60 years of human spaceflight.

3. Wednesday, June 24, 2020: Hotel Mars TBA pre-recorded. See upcoming show menu on the home page for program details.

4. Thursday, June 25, 2020; 7-8:30 pm PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT, 10-11:30 pm EDT): David Livingston and John Batchelor will talk with NASA JPL scientist Dr. Linda Spilker about the Saturn moon Titan and more.

5. Friday, June 26, 2020; 9:30-11 am PDT (11:30 am-1 pm CDT, 12:30-2 pm EDT): We welcome back Jim Lewis from Cape Canaveral to talk about his new space and science fiction work in film. Topics will include SpaceX launches and Jim’s NCOUNTERS TV series getting picked up by Amazon.

6. Sunday, June 28, 2020; 12-1:30 pm PDT (3-4:30 pm EDT, 2-3:30 pm CDT): Welcome to OPEN LINES. All callers and space et al calls welcome. Call and let us know what you want to talk about.

Some recent shows:

** Fri. June/20/2020Andrew Chanin of ProcureAM, an exchange traded fund, talked about “space commerce, policy, defense and related investments on a global basis and more”:

**  Wed. June.17.2020Dr. Alan Stern, the principle investigator for the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond, gave an update on the mission including the recently announced  the First Interstellar Parallax Experiment and plans for investigations of objects in the Kuiper Belt:

**  Tues. June.16.2020Dr. Harold Sonny White talked aboutt his new non-profit organization, Limitless Space Institute,and their programs. He also “responded to phone calls and emails regarding advanced propulsion, space drives, physics and much more”. Following his 52 minute interview, there was an open lines session with discussions of nuclear propulsion, testing propulsion systems in the lab versus in space, etc.

** 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 – June.22.2020

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):

International space


** Space Café Special Recap: “Race in Space” A Conversation about Equality and Civil Rights – SpaceWatch.Global

In this Space Cafe Special, Michelle Hanlon, co-founder of For All Moonkind and Co-Director of the Center for Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law, discusses “Race in Space” A Conversation about Equality and Civil Rights. The panel talked about race with diverse perspectives from within and outside the US space community.  It was our pleasure to host this incredible panel which included:

Jarard Williams: a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law who shared his research in a presentation entitled “The Dark Star: Black Representation in Space.”

Yvette Butler: who is joining the law faculty at the University of Mississippi this summer. She discussed recent events, how we got here, and how to engage to both ensure a more equal future and prevent the extension of racism with humans into space.

Kevin Myrick: Co-Founder of Synergy Moon, an official Google Lunar Xprize team, shared how space can help race relations and promote equality and justice.

and Jose Ocasio-Christian from Caelus Partners.

** 77- Global Intelligence, SAR Satellites and New Insights

On this episode of Constellations, we discuss how Satellite Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites are changing the space industry and how this new technology is impacting markets across the globe. Adam Maher is the CEO of Ursa Space Systems, a start-up company that uses SAR satellite to provide insights into many industries such as energy, oil and gas. Listen as we discuss how Ursa bridges the gap between information-rich data and those companies that are breaking new ground in global intelligence with their vision to “turn data into impact”.

** Space Café WebTalk Recap: Dr. Regina Peldszus and Marc Becker on dual use for the future – SpaceWatch.Global

In this week’s Space Cafe Web Talk, Dr. Regina Peldszus and Marc Becker, of DLR Space Administration discussed the concept of ‘dual-use’: how space technologies enable both civilian and military applications. The discussion highlighted key issues at this complex intersection for both domains and addressed policy discourse on the future of applicability for space situational awareness, security, on-orbit servicing, and the possibility of space neutrality.

They provided insight to the post-Cold War space environment and how dual-use has evolved from arms control non-proliferation to an opportunity to cultivate technology for multipurpose systems. It was an encouraging perspective on exploring commonalities and synergies amongst military and non-military stakeholders. The conversation inspires much consideration about how space actors are diversifying use of the same systems and how this is altering the regulatory approach.

** Christopher Newman – Environmental Protection In Space LawCold Star Project S02E43

Dr. Christopher Newman is Professor of Space Law and Policy at Northumbria University. We’re talking about an important but not oft-seen issue in space, which is a part of many areas such as space situational awareness: environmental protection. The first thing you’re likely to notice is that phrase, like many things in space, does not quite mean what you first thought. It is farther reaching and more broadly applied. Dr. Newman and Cold Star Project host Jason Kanigan discuss:
– Why we should care about environmental protection in space
– What capabilities exist for environmental protection to be included or executed through space law
– The issues with enforcement of any agreements
– Christopher’s experience with implementing environmental protection though space law
– What the good doctor would download directly into his students’ skulls, “Matrix-style”, if he could and more.

** Webinar Replay | Sowing the Seeds for Future Space Technologies – (See also Planting the seeds of technology for the future Space Force –

SpaceNews talked with the colonel leading AFRL’s effort to keep the U.S. military “one step ahead in space” by fostering key enabling technologies.

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate in New Mexico is one of 23 space-related organizations set to transfer to the U.S. Space Force under plans unveiled last month.

As the Department of the Air Force’s “Center of Excellence” for space technology R&D, the Space Vehicles Directorate develops, demonstrates and transitions critical technologies for the entire gamut of military space missions, including communications; positioning, navigation and timing, missile warning, space situational awareness, and defensive space control.

Col. Eric Felt, the Air Force officer who leads the Space Vehicles Directorate and its team of 1,000 military, civilian, and on-site contractors, will talk with SpaceNews Staff Writer Sandra Erwin and Editor-in-Chief Brian Berger about the R&D investments the directorate is making to help the U.S. military maintain a technological advantage in the space domain.

– How can the U.S build more resilient space technology in the face of anti-satellite threats?
– What is the role of the private sector in bringing innovation into military programs?
– How does the standup of the U.S. Space Force change the thinking about R&D investments?

Also joining the conversation will be Paul Jaffe, a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory engineer and principal investigator for a space-based solar power experiment flying on the X-37B autonomous spaceplane the Space Force launched May 17.

Jaffe will discuss the experiment and what it could mean for future capabilities to harvest power from space.

** The Space Show – Fri. June/20/2020Andrew Chanin of ProcureAM, an exchange traded fund, talked about “space commerce, policy, defense and related investments on a global basis and more”:

** June 16, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

** June 19, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

** India’s space ambitions include the Moon but its program must modernize – SpaceQ – Interview with Dr. Chaitanya Giri from Gateway House, Indian Council on Global Relations.

** Virtual Summit on Geospatial and Earth Observation Industrial Policy for IndiaGeospatial World

With an intent to have consultation and engagement with larger section of leadership across commercial industry, government institutions, and civil society, Geospatial Media in partnership with World Geospatial Industry Council is organizing a virtual summit on ‘Geospatial and Earth Observation Industrial Development Strategy for India


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Space sciences roundup – June.20.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images from space-related science news items (find previous roundups here):


** The Perseverance rover is set to launch to Mars on July 20th: The Launch Is Approaching for NASA’s Next Mars Rover, Perseverance – NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is just over a month from its July 20 targeted launch date. The rover’s astrobiology mission will seek signs of past microscopic life on Mars, explore the geology of the Jezero Crater landing site, and demonstrate key technologies to help prepare for future robotic and human exploration. And the rover will do all that while collecting the first samples of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) for return to Earth by a set of future missions.

In a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 [now named Perseverance] rover on Dec. 17, 2019. Credits: NASA JPL
This video describes the efforts to keep the project on track during the coronavirus pandemic:

Getting a Mars rover built, tested and to the launch pad is a feat that requires the dedication of hundreds of team members. The team behind NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover faced one of its biggest challenges when the coronavirus pandemic struck during a crucial time before launch. The safety of the team members became top priority yet they rose to the challenge of completing the rover on time for its launch date, either by working remotely or under new “safe at work” procedures. They developed an increased appreciation for the name of the rover and in May they created the COVID-19 Perseverance Plate, which is now mounted on the side of the rover. The plate commemorates all those impacted by the pandemic and pays special tribute to front line health care workers. Perseverance is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 20, 2020. It will land on Mars on February 18, 2021.

See also  NASA confident Mars 2020 will launch on schedule –

** A Chinese orbiter/lander/rover mission to Mars is set to launch this summer: Expert explains China’s first Mars mission between July and August –

China plans to launch its first Mars exploration mission Tianwen-1 between July and August, Bao Weimin, academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences and director of the Science and Technology Commission at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, has told CCTV while sharing details about the mission.

According to the plan, the Mars probe will release a rover after a soft landing on the planet and the rover will stay on Mars for 90 Mars sols, or days, on a variety of missions, including reconnaissance and exploration of the Martian landscape.

** Check out the Planetary Society’s Mars map showing every landing attempt, including both successes and failures:

** Latest on efforts to help Insight’s thermometer  dig into the Martian surface. The Insight lander set down on the Martian surface on Nov. 26, 2018. A seismometer was set on the ground soon after and has worked well. The HP3 temperature probe was to dig several meters into the ground and measure the temperature. It has not been as successful. The probe’s digging mechanism failed to get a grip in the loose soil in the upper level of the ground and reached less than a meter down  The Insight team subsequently came up with a plan to use the lander’s robotic arm to push on the probe until it reached firmer material and could then dig on its own. The

A view of the robotic arm on NASA’s InSight Mars lander nudging the HP3 probe into the ground on June 1, 2020. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

** Leonard David also describes Curiosity’s rovings:

** Tour more sites on the marvelous Martian surface with Bob Zimmerman

Solar system

** Dr. Alan Stern, the principle investigator for the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond, gives an update on the mission including the recently announced  the First Interstellar Parallax Experiment and plans for investigations of objects in the Kuiper Belt:

[ Update: Scott Manley describes the parallax experiment:


** The relative sizes of the major solar system objects. Here is a cool animation illustrating the relative sizes of the planets, dwarf planets, satellites and asteroids.


** An update on the current phase of the solar cycle: Sunspot update: The deep minimum deepens | Behind The Black

In May there was practically no sunspot activity. As the month began, a sunspot faded away, and then, just as the month ended, a sunspot began to appear. Both sunspots had polarities that assign them to the coming solar maximum. Both (as have other new cycle sunspots over the past year) suggest that we will have a solar maximum in the coming five years, not a grand minimum with no sunspots for decades.

The lack of sunspots for the entire month, however, also suggests that the ongoing minimum will be the deepest in centuries. In fact, the number of days where the Sun’s visible hemisphere was blank both last year and this year remains the highest in two centuries. This lack of sunspots also strengthens the possibility that the next maximum will also be the weakest in two centuries.

** Xplore to study development of a commercial space craft to monitor space weather conditions for NOAA: Xplore awarded mission analysis by NOAA to study Lagrange point solar observation and space weather monitoring to protect critical infrastructure on Earth – Xplore

Xplore Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Lisa Rich said, “We are pleased to announce NOAA has awarded Xplore a study to evaluate the feasibility of a commercial Lagrange point mission with our Xcraft spacecraft. We welcome the potential future opportunity to provide commercial services that can be leveraged to better understand the Sun and provide advanced warning to protect our critical infrastructure.” She continued, “Xplore’s unique, Space as a Service business model provides a cost-effective solution enabling organizations like NOAA to purchase just the data they need via service agreements without having to buy the whole system. Our award further confirms NOAA’s commitment to leverage new commercial services to provide the environmental data needed for understanding the weather here on Earth and in space.”

The Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point is located approximately a million miles (1.6 million km) from the Earth toward the Sun and three times farther than the Moon – quite the distance when compared to the International Space Station, which is merely 254 miles away. Xplore’s multi-mission ESPA-class space vehicle, the Xcraft™ is designed for missions beyond Earth orbit that include the Moon, Mars, Venus, near-Earth asteroids and Lagrange points, the focus of Xplore’s NOAA mission study.

Xplore may develop an observatory to observe the Sun in different spectral bands. Credit: Xplore

See also Xplore wins award to study options for space weather observatory – Geekwire

** ESA’s Solar Orbiter reaches its closest approach to the Sun since the launch in February: Solar Orbiter makes first close approach to the Sun – ESA

ESA’s Sun-exploring mission Solar Orbiter has made its first close approach to the star on June 15, getting as close as 77 million kilometres to its surface, about half the distance between the Sun and Earth.

In the week following this first perihelion, the point in the orbit closest to the Sun, the mission scientists will test the spacecraft’s ten science instruments, including the six telescopes on-board, which will acquire close-up images of the Sun in unison for the first time. According to ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist Daniel Müller, the images, to be released in mid-July, will be the closest images of the Sun ever captured.

“We have never taken pictures of the Sun from a closer distance than this,” Daniel says. “There have been higher resolution close-ups, e.g. taken by the four-meter Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii earlier this year. But from Earth, with the atmosphere between the telescope and the Sun, you can only see a small part of the solar spectrum that you can see from space.”

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, makes closer approaches. The spacecraft, however, doesn’t carry telescopes capable of looking directly at the Sun.

“Our ultraviolet imaging telescopes have the same spatial resolution as those of NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO), which takes high-resolution images of the Sun from an orbit close to Earth. Because we are currently at half the distance to the Sun, our images have twice SDO’s resolution during this perihelion,” says Daniel.


** The Chinese lander Chang’e 4 and the lander Yutu-2 awoke on June 15th after another lunar night and are back at work investigating the Moon’s farside. This is the 19th lunar day since the mission landed on January 3, 2019 in the Von Karman Crater located in the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

Tracks on the Moon from the Yutu-2 rover.


** Astronomy could greatly benefit from observatories on the Moon’s far side: The Chang’e 4 mission is laying the groundwork for future astronomical observations on the lunar farside: The History and Future of Telescopes on the Moon |

After a long hiatus, the China National Space Administration in 2013 finally returned telescopes to the Moon. But this time, no astronauts were required. This first-ever remotely controlled lunar telescope was an add-on instrument that flew with the Chang’e-3 lander.

At just 6 inches in diameter, the Lunar-based Ultraviolet Telescope (LUT) is a far cry from the kinds of instruments astronomers have long dreamed about sending to the Moon. But even at that size, the wavelengths LUT observes can offer unique insights into the cosmos, all without interference from Earth.  

Chinese scientists used LUT to collect thousands of hours’ worth of data, tracking stars and even galaxies. And, perhaps more importantly, the telescope’s stable performance also served as a technology demonstration for future missions.

Last year, the Chinese space agency followed LUT by sending a small radio telescope to the Moon. In early January 2019, the so-called Low Frequency Radio Spectrometer touched down on the lunar farside with the Chang’e-4 lander.

Chinese scientists have since used the telescope to carry out studies of the universe viewed through previously unexplored radio wavelengths. However, due to the modest abilities of the instrument, their observations are limited to the relatively nearby cosmos.

** More examples of citizen scientists contributing to astronomy: Detecting Exoplanets and Asteroids: First Citizen Science Successes for Backyard Astronomy | SETI Institute

Citizen science pioneers recently made two contributions to a better knowledge of outer space. Backyard astronomers of the SETI Institute and Unistellar network conducted in April citizen science observations, and their discoveries will improve our understanding of asteroids and exoplanets. Thanks to their work, we know precisely the location of the main-belt asteroid 2000 UD52 and have confirmed an exoplanet transit of Qatar-1b.

** Asteroids and Comets

** What are rubble pile asteroids with SETI Institute scientist, Michael Busch. – SETI Institute

** A rubble pile asteroid is headed our way. Bob Zimmerman describes the loosely bound Bennu,  A gravel pile floating in space that might hit the Earth | Behind The Black

Bennu is considered a potentially dangerous asteroid. Its orbit is such at there is a very tiny chance (less than 1 in 2,700) that it will hit the Earth late in the next century. What OSIRIS-REx has shown us, however, is that though the asteroid is 1,600 feet across with a mass of about 85 million tons, if it should cross paths with the Earth a large percentage of it, possibly almost all, will break apart and burn up in the atmosphere before hitting the ground.

At the same time, we know as yet little about the asteroid’s interior. While present data suggests the asteroid is 20 to 40 percent empty space, there still could be buried beneath its gravel pile surface much larger structurally sound pieces that could barrel their way through the atmosphere and smash into the ground.

To find out, we need to learn how to safely and accurately map its interior. Only then will we know if Bennu is truly a threat, or simply a vehicle for providing some future generation on Earth a truly spectacular fireworks show.

Bob also talks about Bennu in a recent segment of the John Batchelor radio program: June 10, 2020 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

** What to do about asteroid threats. A panel discussion at the SETI Institute:

Could an asteroid strike our planet in the future? Astronomers think so since thousands of near-earth asteroids (NEAs) cross our planet’s path. However, the good news is that an asteroid impact is a preventable large-scale disaster. NASA has recently opened a Planetary Defense Coordination Office to manage its ongoing mission of so-called “Planetary Defense.” One of the programs is to find, track, and characterize at least 90 percent of the predicted number of NEAs that are at least 140 meters — bigger than a small football stadium — and characterize a subset of them, so we develop projects to deflect them if needed. How are NEAs found and tracked? What are the expected NEA close approaches?


** Confirmation of an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting nearby star Proxima Centauri: ESPRESSO confirms the presence of an Earth around the nearest star – UNIGE

Researchers from the University of Geneva, have confirmed the existence of the Proxima b extrasolar planet using measurements from the Swiss-built ESPRESSO spectrograph.

The existence of a planet the size of Earth around the closest star in the solar system, Proxima Centauri, has been confirmed by an international team of scientists including researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE). The results, which you can read all about in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, reveal that the planet in question, Proxima b, has a mass of 1.17 earth masses and is located in the habitable zone of its star, which it orbits in 11.2 days.

This breakthrough has been possible thanks to radial velocity measurements of unprecedented precision using ESPRESSO, the Swiss-manufactured spectrograph – the most accurate currently in operation – which is installed on the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Proxima b was first detected four years ago by means of an older spectrograph, HARPS – also developed by the Geneva-based team – which measured a low disturbance in the star’s speed, suggesting the presence of a companion

The planet, however, appears to offer a very challenging environment for life to arise:

Although Proxima b is about 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun, it receives comparable energy, so that its surface temperature could mean that water (if there is any) is in liquid form in places and might, therefore, harbour life.

Having said that, although Proxima b is an ideal candidate for biomarker research, there is still a long way to go before we can suggest that life has been able to develop on its surface. In fact, the Proxima star is an active red dwarf that bombards its planet with X rays, receiving about 400 times more than the Earth.

“Is there an atmosphere that protects the planet from these deadly rays?” asks Christophe Lovis, a researcher in UNIGE’s Astronomy Department and responsible for ESPRESSO’s scientific performance and data processing.

“And if this atmosphere exists, does it contain the chemical elements that promote the development of life (oxygen, for example)? How long have these favourable conditions existed? We’re going to tackle all these questions, especially with the help of future instruments like the RISTRETTO spectrometer, which we’re going to build specially to detect the light emitted by Proxima b, and HIRES, which will be installed on the future ELT 39 m giant telescope that the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is building in Chile.”

There may be a second small planet as well:

In the meantime, the precision of the measurements made by ESPRESSO could result in another surprise. The team has found evidence of a second signal in the data, without being able to establish the definitive cause behind it.

“If the signal was planetary in origin, this potential other planet accompanying Proxima b would have a mass less than one third of the mass of the Earth. It would then be the smallest planet ever measured using the radial velocity method”, adds Professor Pepe.

** CHEOPS (Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite) is a smallsat launched last December to study exoplanets. The mission is part of a EU program to fund  science missions at a lower cost that then traditional big . The

CHEOPS has reached its next milestone: Following extensive tests in Earth’s orbit, some of which the mission team was forced to carry out from home due to the coronavirus crisis, the space telescope has been declared ready for science. CHEOPS stands for “CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite”, and has the purpose of investigating known exoplanets to determine, among other things, whether they have conditions that are hospitable to life.

CHEOPS is a joint mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Switzerland, under the leadership of the University of Bern in collaboration with the University of Geneva (UNIGE). After almost three months of extensive testing, with part of it in the midst of the lockdown to contain the coronavirus, on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, ESA declared the CHEOPS space telescope ready for science. With this achievement, ESA has handed over the responsibility to operate CHEOPS to the mission consortium, which consists of scientists and engineers from approximately 30 institutions in 11 European countries.

For this testing period, the team chose

the planetary system HD 93396 which is in the Sextans constellation, some 320 light years away from Earth. This system consists of a giant exoplanet called KELT-11b, which was discovered in 2016 to orbit this star in 4.7 days. The star is almost three times the size of the sun.

The team chose this particular system because the star is so big that the planet takes a long time to pass in front of it: in fact, almost eight hours. “This gave CHEOPS the opportunity to demonstrate its ability to capture long transit events otherwise difficult to observe from the ground, as the ‘astronomical’ part of the night for ground-based astronomy usually takes less than eight hours,” explains Didier Queloz, professor at the Astronomy Department of the Faculty of Science at the University of Geneva and spokesperson of the CHEOPS Science Team. The first transit light curve of CHEOPS is shown in Figure 3, where the dip due to the planet occurs approximately nine hours after the he beginning of the observation

The transit of KELT-11b measured by CHEOPS enabled determining the size of the exoplanet. It has a diameter of 181,600 km, which CHEOPS is able to measure with an accuracy of 4’290 km. The diameter of the Earth, in comparison, is only approximately 12,700 km, while that of Jupiter – the biggest planet in our solar system – is 139,900 km. Exoplanet KELT-11b is therefore bigger than Jupiter, but its mass is five times lower, which means it has an extremely low density: “It would float on water in a big-enough swimming pool,” says David Ehrenreich, CHEOPS Mission Scientist from the University of Geneva. The limited density is attributed to the close proximity of the planet to its star. Figure 4 shows a drawing of the first transit planet system to be successfully observed by CHEOPS.

Benz explains that the measurements by CHEOPS are five times more accurate than those from Earth. “That gives us a foretaste for what we can achieve with CHEOPS over the months and years to come,” continues Benz.


=== Space Art from C. Sergent Lindsey ===

Sweatshirt imprinted with “SpaceX Delivers the Goods” by C Sergent Lindsey.