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.


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Videos: “Space to Ground” ISS report – June.19.2020

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

** Down to Earth – The Fragile Earth – NASA Johnson

In celebration of the upcoming #SpaceStation20th anniversary, European Space Agency Astronaut Luca Parmitano, who has flown two missions, shares his new awareness of how we are changing and influencing our planet in this this episode of “Down to Earth – The Fragile Earth.”

** Expedition 63 Inflight CBS News, Fox Business, CNN Business – June 16,2020 – NASA

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 63 Flight Engineers Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley of NASA discussed the progress of their mission on the orbital outpost during a series of in-flight interviews June 16 with CBS News, CNN Business News and Fox Business News. Behnken and Hurley launched on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft May 30 and arrived at the station on May 31, marking the first launch of U.S. astronauts on an American spacecraft from American soil to the station since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

** A Recipe for Cooling Atoms to Almost Absolute Zero – NASA JPL

NASA’s Cold Atom Lab aboard the International Space Station cools atoms down to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, or the temperature at which atoms should stop moving entirely. Nowhere in the universe are there atoms that reach this temperature naturally. But how do scientists accomplish this feat? It’s a three-step process that starts with scientists hitting the atoms with precisely-tuned lasers to slow them down.

The colder atoms are, the slower they move, and the easier they are to study. Ultracold atoms can also form a fifth state of matter, called a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). Learning about the fundamental properties of atoms has laid the foundation for technologies that most of us use every day, such as computers. As the first ultracold atom facility in Earth orbit, Cold Atom Lab is opening up new avenues for investigation. You can learn more about Cold Atom Lab here:

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Student and amateur CubeSat news roundup – June.17.2020

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

** NASA expands Cube Quest Challenge competition:  NASA Invites Competitors to Shoot for the Moon and Beyond | NASA

NASA is inviting additional teams to compete in the Cube Quest Challenge. You can still participate in the in-space phase of the challenge and be eligible to win part of a $4.5 million prize purse.

The Cube Quest Challenge, NASA’s first in-space competition, incentivizes teams to design, build and deliver small satellites capable of advanced operations near and beyond the Moon. To compete, new teams meeting the eligibility criteria must obtain a ride to deep space for their CubeSats – either through commercial launch opportunities or programs like NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative.

“We welcome new teams to join us in this challenge in pursuit of advancing space exploration,” said Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “When we established the Cube Quest Challenge in 2015, commercial flight opportunities weren’t as available. Now that technology has advanced and commercial partners are flying payloads, it is a great time to make potential participants aware of the opportunity.”

Fifteen university and private developer teams have already competed for prizes to showcase creative CubeSat technologies through ground-based tournaments, or phase one, of the Cube Quest Challenge, which was completed in 2017.

Three winners received spots as secondary payloads on Artemis I, the first integrated test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. These teams have been working on their CubeSats, readying them for launch. Once deployed from the rocket, the teams will begin phase two, the in-space competition.

In-Space Competition

All Cube Quest Challenge competitors, both new and current, will compete in one of two arenas. The Lunar Derby is where CubeSats are to maintain a verifiable lunar orbit. There’s also the Deep Space Derby, in which CubeSats reach approximately 1.8 million miles from Earth.

Once in orbit, the CubeSats must complete various tasks outlined in the competition rules document to be eligible for prize money. To ensure data integrity, each satellite must transmit NASA-provided communications data to be eligible for prize money.

The Next Frontier

“The Cube Quest Challenge opens the lunar and deep space environment, thanks to the mastery of several technologies,” said Elizabeth Hyde, a mechanical engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and technical advisor for the challenge. “The three technology areas we see as important for jumping from low-Earth orbit to deep space are communications, propulsion and radiation tolerance for CubeSats.”

Initiatives such as the Cube Quest Challenge aim to make deep space exploration more accessible and open up commercial space opportunities beyond low-Earth orbit.

“The next frontier is small satellites. Development efforts are aimed at pushing the boundaries of CubeSat exploration beyond low-Earth orbit,” Hyde said.

The competition is a part Centennial Challenges, based at the NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Centennial Challenges is a part of the Prizes and Challenges program within NASA’s  Space Technology Mission Directorate. The challenge is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

To register to compete in the challenge, visit:

For more information of NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge, visit:

For more information about NASA’s Prizes and Challenges, visit:

**  Code In Space! initiative challenges students to create software to upload and run on a CubeSat in orbit. The 1U CubeSat is named QMR-KWT.  Both the satellite and the initiative are sponsored by  the Kuwaiti company Orbital Space and developed in partnership with EnduroSat of Bulgaria. The educational program “is open to all students from all schools and universities around the world“.

The code will be uploaded to the nanosatellite from a ground station operating in UHF frequency range. The code will be executed by EnduroSat’s Onboard Computer Type I (high-performance and low-power computing platform). Code executions test results will be received by a ground station operating in UHF frequency range.

Participation can be as an

individual, or team based and should include a mentor (teacher/ university faculty member or scientist affiliated with a school or academic/ research institution)

Software apps will be selected on the basis of how well they provide

a solution for current challenge or limitation in the satellite industry or new concept that could be of value to satellite technology.

The CubeSat will get to orbit in February 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9. After deployment from the F9 upper stage, it will get to its target orbit with the help of a Momentus Vigoride transfer vehicle:

** Rocket Lab Electron rocket successfully launched the ANDESITE cubesat built by the BUSAT (Boston University SATellite) group: Rocket Lab launches Boston University’s magnetosphere experiment – As described here back in March, ANDESITE will

… release eight small satellite sensors in space to form a first-of-its-kind free-flying mesh network capable of delivering uniquely comprehensive data mapping of magnetic fields and space weather to our smart phones here on campus.”

Illustration of the ANDESITE 6U cubesat with picosat deployments. Credits: BUSAT

**  Cal Poly, birthplace of the CubeSat, gets USAF grant for smallsat program: Cal Poly Partnership with Air Force Research Laboratory Will Direct $2.5 Million to Aerospace Engineering Department

Funding Aims to Boost Mini-Satellite Program for Space Exploration

SAN LUIS OBISPO – Cal Poly’s partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory will direct roughly $2.5 million to enhance the university’s Aerospace Engineering Department and boost its mini-satellite program, which was the catalyst for a substantial expansion of space research two decades ago.

The Education Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Air Force provides a total of $5 million to be split evenly between Cal Poly and California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. Funding for the partnership was secured by three U.S. representatives from California — Salud Carbajal, Norma J. Torres and Grace Napolitano — through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 (H.R. 1158).

The EPA’s agreements between a defense laboratory and an educational institution allow the labs to provide laboratory equipment and personnel to the schools, plus career and academic advice to students while involving faculty and students in research.

The EPA will help the Air Force Research Lab pioneer transformative aerospace technologies and accelerate its long-term strategic objectives in key areas, such as energy security, energy optimization, reusability, maneuverability and multi-mission mobility.

In particular, the funds for Cal Poly will support a thermal vacuum chamber with upgraded facilities to support it. A thermal vacuum chamber can be used for testing spacecraft or spacecraft parts under a simulated space environment.

Cal Poly became a major contributor to space research roughly 20 years ago, when former Aerospace Engineering faculty member Jordi Puig-Suari co-created the CubeSat standard with Bob Twiggs of Stanford University. CubeSats are mini-satellites that are affordable and easy to make, allowing governments, schools and private companies worldwide to more easily and affordably explore space and conduct research. 

The new vacuum chamber will allow researchers to test and develop propulsion for CubeSats, allowing for greater control of the satellites for space exploration. Currently, most CubeSats cannot be controlled in space, and propulsion and maneuverability are often viewed as the next major step in CubeSat technology.

** AMSAT news on student and amateur CubeSat/smallsat projects: ANS-166 AMSAT News Service Special Bulletin

  • 38th Annual AMSAT Space Symposium and Annual General Meeting Moving to Virtual Event
  • 15 Canadian CubeSats to launch from 2021 [See also The RAC Report]
  • AMSAT Member Portal Huge Success!
  • BY70-2 with FM-to-Codec2 Transponder Scheduled for July Launch
  • Two Satellites Receive Frequency Coordination from the IARU
  • IARU Submits Paper on Increasing Noise from Digital Devices
  • New Satellite Distance Records Claimed
  • ISS Runs 6558 Astro Pi Youth Programs in 2019/20
  • Upcoming Satellite Operations
  • Hamfests, Conventions, Maker Faires and Other Events
  • ARISS News
  • Satellite Shorts from All Over

General CubeSat/SmallSat info:

** SSMS inaugural flight on Vega – ESA

Multiple small satellites will be launched at once on the Vega VV16 mission from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. This flight will demonstrate the modular SSMS dispenser resting on its upper stage intended to bring routine affordable launch opportunities for light satellites from 0.2 kg CubeSats up to 400 kg minisatellites. Until now the smallest classes of satellites – all the way down to tiny CubeSats, built from 10 cm modular boxes – have typically ‘piggybacked’ to orbit. They have to make use of any spare capacity as a single large satellite is launched, meaning their overall launch opportunities are limited. The new Vega Small Spacecraft Mission Service switches this into a ‘rideshare’ model, with multiple small satellites being flown together, splitting the launch cost…

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Space transport roundup – June.16.2020

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

** SpaceX launches Starlink and Planet SkyNet satellites. Early Saturday morning, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral for the second time in June with a batch of satellites for the Starlink broadband Internet constellation. Rather than the usual 60 satellites, however, this flight carried 58 Starlinks, leaving out two to provide room for three SkyNet earth observation satellites from Planet Labs and their deployment mechanism. Not long after the upper stage reached orbit, the three SkySats could be seen drifting away during the live webcast. The subsequent deployment of the Starlinks took place during a communications gap. The Starlinks will use  their onboard propulsion systems to reach their final operating orbits.

A view of the Starlink and SkySat satellites before being enclosed in the nosecone fairings:

Three Planet SkySats at the top of the stack of Starlink satellite for the Starlink mission. Credits: SpaceX

A view of the launch from outside of the Cape: SpaceX-Starlink 8 Launch-Landing Burn 06-13-2020USLaunchReport:

The booster returned to Port Canveral this morning:

The nosecone fairings on this launch had flown previously. They were recovered intact from the ocean and could conceivably fly on third launch: SpaceX’s next rocket fairing reuse milestone within reach after latest recovery – Telsarati.

[ Update: Elon Musk comments on the fairings:


Find more about  other SpaceX activities below.

** Rocket Lab sent five smallsats to orbit on the 12th Electron launch from New Zealand just past midnight on Saturday morning US Eastern time. The payload included three test smallsats for NRO, the auroral plasma science ANDESITE 6U CubeSat built by students at Boston University , and the M2 Pathfinder communications test satellite from University of New South Wales campus at Canberra in Australia.

** Rocket Lab sets July 3rd for next Electron launch, three weeks after the mission described aboveRocket 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.

The primary payload aboard this mission, Canon Electronics Inc.’s CE-SAT-IB, was procured by satellite rideshare and mission management provider Spaceflight Inc. The mission objective for the CE-SAT-IB satellite is to demonstrate Canon Electronics Inc.’s Earth-imaging technology with high-resolution and wide-angle cameras, as well as test the microsatellite for mass production.

The next five spacecrafts manifested for this mission are the latest generation of SuperDove satellites manufactured by Planet, operator of the world’s largest constellation of Earth-observation satellites. Planet’s satellites are capable of imaging the Earth’s entire landmass on a near-daily basis. This unprecedented dataset helps researchers, students, businesses and governments discover patterns, detect early signals of change, and make timely, informed decisions. These five SuperDoves, Flock 4v, are equipped with new sensors to enable higher image quality with sharper, more vibrant colors and accurate surface reflectance values for advanced algorithms and time-series analysis.

The final spacecraft aboard Electron for this mission has been supplied by British small mission prime, In-Space Missions. The Faraday-1 6U CubeSat is a hosted payload mission providing a low-cost route to orbit for start-ups, institutions, and large corporate R&D groups.  In addition, it provides a first flight demonstration of In-Space’s own software-defined payload that will enable uploadable payload capabilities on future missions.  Faraday-1 is the first flight of the Faraday service with four future satellites already under contract.

See also Spaceflight Inc. Coordinates Rideshare Launch of Canon Electronics’ Second Earth Observation Satellite – Spaceflight.

** China sends an ocean observation satellite into orbit on a Long March 2C rocket:  China successfully launches new ocean observation satellite – Xinhua

China successfully sent an ocean observation satellite into orbit from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China’s Shanxi Province on Thursday.

A Long March-2C rocket, carrying the satellite HY-1D, lifted off at 2:31 a.m. (Beijing Time), according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The new satellite will form China’s first satellite constellation for marine civil service together with HY-1C, which was launched in September 2018, and double the current ocean observation data, according to CNSA and the Ministry of Natural Resources.

See also Long March 2C lofts Haiyang-1D –

** Interstellar Technologies of Japan tried to reach suborbital space (100km) last Saturday with a MOMO sounding rocket. The MOMO-5 rocket lifted off and for 30 seconds or so the flight appeared to go well but then there was then a flash and spark-like debris was seen in the plume. The nozzle came apart. Nevertheless, the vehicle  continued upward for another 40 seconds and then began to tumble. The engine was shut off remotely and the vehicle fell into the sea about 4 miles offshore from the launch pad.

The rocket reached an altitude of about 11.5 kilometers. Surprisingly low considering how long the engine fired before the fault occurred. Other than the nozzle failure, all the other systems performed well. According to posts on the company’s Twitter account, another vehicle is already under construction.

More info at:

As its name suggests, Momo-F5 is the fifth sounding rocket built by Interstellar Technologies, which aims to build affordable rockets to “make space more accessible,” according to a statement. It stands 32 feet (10 meters) tall and weighs about 1 metric ton. The company has launched one successful mission, the Momo-F3 rocket flight of May 2019, out of its five to date.

Interstellar Technologies used the Campfire crowdfunding site to raise $391,000 (42 million yen) for the Momo-F5 launch, well above the mission’s goal of nearly $84,000 (9 million yen). The mission was named for the book “Poupelle of Chimney Town” by Akihiro Nishino.

** Astra will try again this July to launch a rocket to orbit from the Alaskan launch facility on Kodiak Island. San Francisco startup Astra is going for its first orbital rocket launch in July – CNBC.

** Briefs:


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

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** SpaceX:

**** The Director General of Roscosmos not thrilled with SpaceX success in launching crew to the ISS and taking commercial satellites to GEO:

Responses to Rogozin plus comments on the Raptor engine:

  • Elon Musk: “Quite a piece! I should credit Soviet/Russian engine work in the 80’s as being a factor in deciding to switch from H2 to CH4. They demonstrated excellent performance on test stands, with Isp up to 380 secs.
    • Elon Musk “Combined with SpaceX deep subcooling of propellants to near liquefaction temp of N2, use of common dome (CH4 & O2 liquid at similar temps) & higher T/W of engines enables de facto higher delta-V than an H2/O2 stage”.
    • Just a Tinker: “Folks don’t realize the mass penalty using hydrogen as rocket fuel. The Space Shuttle’s External Tank carried about four time the volume of liquid hydrogen than its liquid oxygen. Hydrogen is light but takes room that equates to larger tanks. Liquid methane takes much less room.
    • Elon Musk: “Also, insulation of a deep cryogen ( which I’d call anything that liquifies nitrogen aka 78% of air) is heavy & prone to heat leaks. H2 is hell.
  • Everyday Astronaut: “I know you’d never add unecessary complexity in the manufacturing line, but I’m still surprised you never made a closed cycle Merlin Vacuum to get closer to that 380 mark. Especially with SpaceX’s experience with ox rich preburners now with Raptor Rocket“.
  • Elon Musk: “We could never reach 380 Isp with RP/kerosene. CH4 has higher Isp potential on paper, but even better in practice. With CH4, you can reach >99% of max theoretical combustion efficiency, but RP is ~97% on a good day & requires desooting of turbines between flights.”
  • Elon Musk: “Important technical note: due to higher O/F of CH4 vs RP1 (oxygen is dense) & significant density increase of subcooled CH4 (plus no common dome insulation needed), plus cryo strength bump of CH4, tank mass of CH4/O2 stage is almost same as RP1/O2.
  • Everyday Astronaut: “So now that Raptor’s been pushed through its paces and more and more in actual production, how’s it looking? Manage any full duration tests yet? Re-firing / re-using looking better than Merlin yet?
  • Nick Wijngaards: “I’m curious to see new test footage or specs improvements of the raptor engine. SN1 vs SN20 Rocket
  • Elon Musk: “Hundreds of improvements in manufacturability primarily (this is by far the hardest problem), mass down, thrust up, Isp up. Current improvement list continues past SN50. As the saying goes, it’s 1% inspiration & 99% perspiration …
    • James Tyrrell: “We’re on SN5/6/7 and there are plans continuing past SN50!! well.. holy shit.
    • Elon Musk: “Actually, we’re on SN30 for Raptor.
  • Everyday Astronaut: “Some day can we get a video compilation, “How not to run a full flow staged combustion engine” like the booster landing montage. Face with tears of joy I’ll bet there’s some speculat failures when pushing Raptor, that would be an amazing video
  • Elon Musk: “Sure. That’s long montage.

**** Amazing Camera Views From Inside SpaceX Rocket FairingsScott Manley

On Tuesday a great video was posted from the fairing of a SpaceX rocket carrying a payload of Starlink Satellites. It was one of the best looks at the interior of the fairings which are practically independent spacecraft able to control their entry & descent to steer their way to a rendezvous with the recovery vessels.

**** Major upgrades planned for the McGregor test facility: SpaceX pursues local funding for $10 million upgrade to McGregor plant –

The rocket company launched by billionaire Elon Musk will spend $10 million on infrastructure improvements at its rocket-testing facility in McGregor. The upgrades will include “noise suppressors,” which should prove welcome to those within earshot of SpaceX’s rumbling, window-rattling rehearsals.

Waco City Council and McLennan County Commissioners Court will vote Tuesday on sending SpaceX $2 million from the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp. fund, with each entity allocating $1 million.

**A cool view of the separation of the booster from the upper stage and of the booster using its thrusters to reorient itself for its return for landing:

**** Starship

****** Labeled SN7 by observers, a shortened version of a Starship tank was moved to the launch area at Boca Chica Beach last week. (A similar shortened tank named SN2 was pressure tested back in March to check wielding techniques.) On Monday the tank was pressured tested until it failed. A rupture was much less dramatic than previous failures in which parts and metal were hurled about.

Elon said the test results were positive:

****** The full scale Starship prototype SN5 is expected to roll out to the pad area in a few days. It will mount on a new stand that’s nearly complete. The previous stand was destroyed by a fiery explosion when methane fuel ignited after leaking from a failed disconnect mechanism at the base of the SN4 vehicle. A ram mechanism has been installed in the stand for pushing on the bottom of the tank. This presumably simulates the stresses on the tanks during a launch to orbit. Arocket’s tank must deal not only with the internal pressure of the propellant but also the increase in the propellant’s effective “weight” as the rocket accelerates.

The original plan was for SN4 to do a low altitude hop powered by its single Raptor engine. SN5 would then do higher altitude flights using 3 Raptors. The presumption of observers is that SN5 will still get 3 Raptors despite SN4’s destruction before it had a chance to fly.

Assembly of prototype Starships SN6 is also nearly complete. See videos below for views of the construction of the Starship prototypes.

****** Elon Musk has indicated that launches of the huge Starship/Super Heavy booster combo will most likely require an offshore facility due to safety issues and loudness. It appears the preparations for development of such a facility are underway:

****** June 11: SpaceX Boca Chica – 304L Starship Sections Appear as Roll Lift Rides In – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Lots of pre-rollout preps ongoing at SpaceX Boca Chica for SN5 and SN7 test tank as more Starship Sections – made from the new 304L Steel rings – appear at the production facility. Video and Pictures from the awesome Mary (@bocachicagal).

June 12: Starship SN7 Tank Rollout – SPadre – YouTube

June 14: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN6 Stacking as SN5 heads outside. – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

With SN7 Test Tank at the launch site, Two “Grown Up” Starships – SN5 (now outside of the High Bay) and SN6 – (into final stacking) are preparing for the test campaigns. Video and Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) – Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

June 16: SpaceX Boca Chica – SN7 test tank reaches 7.6 bar during pressure test. – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

The SN7 test tank reached 7.6 bar during pressure testing to failure, per SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. With some improvements, Musk expects the next test tank to be able to achieve even higher pressures. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by (@thejackbeyer)

** Webcast rocket reports:

**** SpaceX Starship is now the top priority, Crew Dragon updates, Starlink launch with Planet rideshareMarcus House

** SpaceX Starship Updates – Super Heavy Preparations – What about it!?

Today we will take a first look at SpaceX’s preparations for the largest booster Rocket ever built. Super Heavy. We will recap everything, that’s happened since the last Episode, look at the latest Starship Prototype progress, look into what Elon Musk had to say and last but not least, take a look at possibly the first efforts of getting infrastructure in place to support Super Heavy.


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

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

The Space Show this week – June.15.2020

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

1. Monday, June 15, 2020; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT: No special programming.

2. SPECIAL TIME: Tuesday, June 16, 2020, 5 pm PDT (7 pm CDT,  8 pm EDT) : We welcome back for the first segment, Dr. Harold Sonny White regarding advanced propulsion and physics. The balance of this program will fold over to Open Lines on any topic. Dr. White is with us for a limited amount of time so if you have a question or want to talk to him, be prompt in calling.

3. Wednesday, June 17, 2020: Hotel Mars TBA pre-recorded. See upcoming show menu on the home page for program details.

4. Thursday, June 18, 2020; 7-8:30 pm PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT, 10-11:30 pm EDT):

5. Friday, June 19, 2020; 9:30-11 am PDT (11:30 am-1 pm CDT, 12:30-2 pm EDT): We welcome back Andrew Chanin of ProcureAM for commercial updates.

6. Sunday, June 21, 2020; 12-1:30 pm PDT (3-4:30 pm EDT, 2-3:30 pm CDT): No show today due to Fathers Day in the U.S.

Some recent shows:

** Sun. June.14.2020 –  Adam Hibberd discussed “orbital trajectories, intercept, rendezvous missions with fast traveling interstellar visitors”.

** Fri. June12.2020Robert Jacobson discussed his new book, “Space Is Open For Business”:

** Thurs. June.11.2020 – Dr. Namrata Goswami on space policy, China space policy and plans, the virus and China, space law, why the Moon, commercial space,  Artemis Accords and much much more.

** Weds. June.10.2020 – Hotel MarsJohn Batchelor and Dr. David Livingston spoke with William “Bruce” Banerdt, PI of the NASA InSight Mission “about the Mole instrument or heat probe that needs to drill down to about 16 feet through the Martian surface to take the “Martian temperature.” Our guest described the drilling problems, challenges and methods used to get the drilling back on track. We talked about drilling on Mars, Martian soil surprises, the actual temperature probe and much more.

** Tues. June 9, 2020Dr. Eligar Sadeh discussed the Astropolitics Institute, The Journal of Astropolitics, and various space policy related topics.

** Hotel Mars – Wed. June 3, 2020John Batchelor and David Livingston spoke with Eric Berger spoke about “Boeing problems and culture, CST 100 Starliner, Phantom Express cancellation and more”.

** 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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