This month in Space: January & February 2020

China resumes launch activities

Coronavirus is damaging us in more ways I had initially imagined. China is a major supplier in multiple industries, satellite services included. The space industry is time-sensitive. You need to launch your backup satellite while your current one is active. So that you can switch to backup service as soon as the main one fails. We don’t know the full extent of financial damage due to COVID-19 yet. Kudos to the people who are back to work amidst this madness.

Docking success / onward to future

Time is money. In the service industry, each millisecond is important. But satellite hardware doesn’t really have a particular or a well-defined lifespan. As you launch it, there is no guarantee it will work. It can be dead on arrival. Or a 2 year mission can continue for 15 years. (Opportunity rover for example) Sometimes, we just run out of fuel. Geo-satellites rely on thrusters are reaction wheels to position themselves in space. Sometimes the fuels run out even the hardware are in good shape. According to international space law, you HAVE to push your dying satellite into the graveyard orbit. Otherwise, a dead satellite will occupy useful orbit for years to come. Nobody wants this. If you could just put more fuel in your satellites, that would be great. Your business would benefit. This is the concept behind MEV or mission extension vehicles. Idea is, a smaller spacecraft will dock with a larger spacecraft with necessary life support for the dying satellite. It could be fuel. It could be the battery. It could be additional thruster or antennas. 

Space being difficult, you have to prove your idea first before you can deploy business based on your idea. Northrop Grumman is doing just that. MEV is their business model. This month they have successfully docked with IntelSat, a bigger satellite. Exciting times are ahead of us. Read the details from the link below. 

Two Private Satellites Dock In Space In Historic First For Orbital Servicing

This brings me to another slightly connected topic. If we could manufacture things in orbit, then we wouldn’t even need to launch a completed satellite. We could just MAKE them in orbit. Recycle them and use robots to make ANOTHER one. This is more fiction than science. But the foundation is being laid. NASA has awarded a $142 million contract to Maxar Technologies for a demonstration of in-space construction technologies. Read more in the link below. 

NASA funds in-space manufacturing demonstration

16-day cycle space beep

No. They are not aliens. I believe aliens have better things to do than emitting an omnidirectional radio burst which is apprehendable from 500 million light-years away. 

The truth is, we really don’t know. (That’s why we do science!!!) 

I know there are pulsars throughout the universe. But clearly, this is something different. It would be interesting to the development. One more item for followup in the future.

Something In Deep Space Is Sending Signals To Earth In Steady 16-Day Cycles

Mars rover has left the building

I have to be honest, I didn’t know much about MARS 2020 missions. I kinda knew there was a mission, but I didn’t know what the mission was. Now, I know. A little bit. What I got to know fascinated me. It has some instruments that literally scream “Science, bitches!!!” It has laser spectroscopy. It can shoot freaking lasers!!! My heating up mars rock, it’s an onboard microphone with pick up the sound produced. That’s how we can do rough characterization of the rocks without even touching them. Its pure genius. 

I haven’t even mentioned the sample return mission. Getting to MARS is fucking hard. MARS 2020 mission will lay the foundation for sample return to earth! SAMPLE RETURN TO EARTH!!! It’ll fill canisters with MARS rock samples and eject them nearby. THEN, in subsequent missions, another flying rover will pick them up. If you haven’t seen the concept video yet, Mars sample return 

Launch window opens up at the end of August. 

The Mars 2020 rover has left the building! It will land on Mars 1 year from now! : spaceporn


The upcoming starship from SpaceX. We already know the testing will commence on a part by part basis. And we already know some tests will fail. In it’s latest pressure test, test object ‘SN1’ or ‘Serial No. 1’ has failed. I have a hunch this was filed under destructive test.  When you are doing failure analysis for materials, there are 2 ways. Non-destructive, where you used microscopes or other known property analysis to estimate material limits. Or, the shortcut, destructive way. You keep increasing the pressure until it explodes. 

SpaceX Starship SN-1 Fails Pressure Test and Explodes

And of course, more Starlink were launched. But that’s sort of old news. 

Blood clot on astronaut

An unnamed astronaut was diagnosed with a blood clot in her vein in space. Supply was medication was limited and the patient had to inject the available medicine into him/herself. On the 43 days of his/her mission, a supply ship delivered orally administered medicine. Upon landing, he/she needed no further treatment. 

An Astronaut Got a Blood Clot in Space. Here’s How Doctors on Earth Fixed It.

This is a real-life example of what to expect if human beings ever start doing interstellar travels. It is not only the question of how fast we can travel or what will we eat in such a long journey. We have asked much smaller questions which might not bother us in our day to day life. Say, for example, drinking water. How do WE drink water? We go to the tap or pick up the bottle of mineral water, and simply, drink. How do you drink water in SPACE? There is no tap. There is no supermarket to buy water bottles. 

So, how do you provide medical care to a team of astronauts where there is no doctor? Where there is no operating room? No pharmacy.

If you are interested in the life science realm of space, you may already know, perhaps better than me, about the different life science experiments that have been and are being conducted in space/microgravity. Chistina Koch will soon hold the record of longest space travel by a female. Record-breaking astronaut Christina Koch talks space records and more 

You might already know about the Kelly twins. Scoot and mark kelly. One brother went to space while the other stayed on earth. NASA’s Twins Study Results Published in Science Journal NASA did a lot of study on how space travel affects our lives. This case, astronaut being diagnosed with an illness in space, will no doubt be an important lesson learned in mankind space exploration history. 

Space cookies

This is similar to the topic above, ‘Blood clot on astronaut’. We really need to know how the properties of different objects change in microgravity. Fire is one of them. What do you do if a fire breaks out in space station? Because in space, shortage of Oxygen MIGHT kill you before the fire can do you any damage. 

We, as mankind, have performed experiments on growing plants in microgravity. A cooking experiment was only a matter of time. 

Nanoracks manufactured a small electric oven for ISS and they tried baking a cookie in it. Usually, it takes 20 minutes on earth to bake cookies. (That what the article said. I have no experience with baking) The first attempt in space did not go very well. After trial and error, they succeeded to bake a cookie in 2 hours. The cookies are still sealed and no one has eaten them yet. Cookies will be brought back to earth for tasting.

Yay rocket lab

One of the key challenges of making space more accessible is to have a cheaper launch. Rocket Lab is addressing some of the challenges that SpaceX cannot do. Good to see they are making good progress. Rocket Lab launches satellite for US spysat agency, guides booster back to Earth 

Rocket lab recently had success to bring its first-stage booster back to earth intact. With their 11th mission, they have a visual data set that they have been hoping for. Birds Of A Feather Launch – 01/31/2020 

We know small satellites are revolutionizing space. But they are always dependent on their larger cousins for lunch. Companies like rocket labs are tackling that problem. Providing exclusive launch for smaller satellites. 

The reusable launchers will be a key factor in the future of the satellite industry. Many space faring countries are now realizing that. 

Still no GF

This one is a bit embarrassing. 

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is going to the moon. We already know this. He bought a few tickets from SpaceX which will fly a team of artists across the moon. The mission is supposed to inspire artists. YOu know, the same way it has inspired poets and songwriters in the past. You look at the moon and you suddenly urge a companion. 

Mezawa san is recently single. And he didn’t want to fly alone. So he hosted (now cancelled) a contest. The winner of the contest would have been Maezawa san’s girlfriend. And a free ticket around the moon. The whole story is a bit embarrassing. Read it yourself.

Japanese billionaire calls off girlfriend contest for moon trip on SpaceX Starship

Space traffic:

It’s about time someone made a move to manage space traffic. Space is for everyone. Everyone can use it. Yet no one, in particular, owns it. 

As expected, space traffic is getting out of hand. For now, it is ok. Soon things might not be so manageable. 

I did a quick search in celestial. 297 objects names as Starlink. OneWeb launched 34 sats recently. Total 40 according to celsetrak. More Starlink satellites are on the way. It is no secret, I’m no fan of Starlink. I think they are too much. Anyway, I hope this committee can come up with some useful guidelines.

OneWeb launches 34 internet satellites into orbit to boost broadband megaconstellation

Commerce Department moves ahead on space traffic management work despite limited budget

Space Traffic Is Surging, And Critics Worry There Could Be A Crash 

No satellite crash: 2 pieces of space junk whiz safely by each other over Pittsburgh

If you want to keep track of space objects or have an idea of how many objects are orbiting the earth or your area now, search for Saber Astronautics.

“Saber’s app will allow amateur space gazers to spot and log the location of satellites and debris that would be shared with governments and the space community. Australian universities and businesses are expected to initially sign up to the Saber satellite-tracking app, which will also be open to schools and hobbyists.”

Batteries are likely to blow:

Plans have been OK’ed to move Spaceway-1 to that great graveyard in the sky before exploding.

A Boeing satellite orbits the Earth. In February, a similar satellite named Spaceway-1 will likely explode as soon as its batteries kick on.

A Boeing satellite orbits the Earth. In February, a similar satellite named Spaceway-1 will likely explode as soon as its batteries kick on.

(Image: © Boeing)

Spaceway -1, a broadcasting satellite had an accident. Now it batteries might blow. I don’t know what kind of battery Spaceway-1 uses. I can only guess it uses some battery in a pressurized container. Now, the explosion, if it happens, won’t be cinematic. But, IF it does, it will put multiple other expensive satellites at a great risk. This is how dangerous space debris can be. 

“Following an unexplained accident, a satellite built by Boeing and operated by DirecTV is at risk of exploding in the coming weeks. To mitigate potential damage to other satellites, the U.S. government will allow the satellite TV provider to move the doomed craft to a higher orbit ahead of schedule.”

2 Russian satellites are stalking US spysat

“We view this behavior as unusual and disturbing,” Space Force chief says.

Welcome to the future everybody. Where one spy satellite spies on another spi satellite which spies on other spies. Crazy world. I don’t think we are going to have any kind of privacy in the future.he commander of the U.S. Space Force

“Yesterday (Feb. 10), Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the Space Force chief of space operations, revealed to Time magazine that a pair of Russian satellites have come extremely close, within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the U.S. spy satellite.“

“We view this behavior as unusual and disturbing,” Raymond told Time magazine. “It has the potential to create a dangerous situation in space.” 

UAE Space Law Details Announced To Facilitate Space Sector Development

I’m already planning on a piece of an article where I plan to talk about Space Policy. Meanwhile, the excerpt below says it all.

“The UAE Space Agency announced the details of the new UAE Space Law issued by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The announcement was made on 24 February 2020 during an introductory workshop for the UAE Space Law, organised by the UAE Space Agency and held in Abu Dhabi. Previously, the law was passed by the UAE Cabinet, headed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, in late 2019.

During the workshop, the Agency revealed the details of the first law of its kind in the Arab and Islamic world, which aims to create a legislative and regulatory environment for the national space sector in line with the other laws and regulations in the UAE.

The UAE Space Law consists of nine chapters and 54 articles that regulate space activities across the country and governs the Agency’s role in this regard.”

Airbus slashing jobs

“Airbus Defence and Space plans to shed about 7% of its workforce because of  weak sales, Airbus Group said Feb. 19.”  

“Faury also said “postponed contracts on the defense side” factor into the layoffs.”

Airbus, citing weak space market, to cut more than 2,300 jobs

Boeing defends Starliner

“After Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner failed to reach the International Space Station in an uncrewed test flight in December, NASA has raised some serious questions about the company’s ability to safely launch astronauts into space.”

This news illustrates exactly why the space industry is hard. This case is simply a matter of preference. As much as I hate it, I have to side with NASA with this on. 

What happened is the team decided to run test case by case basis. That’s how usually an engineering team would approach the problem. Testing each segment of the whole problem. NASA has a bad experience regarding segmented testing. Google Ariane 5. 

The team did find 2 significant problems. However, they need to run the full test again to satisfy NASA standard. 

Goodbye Spitzer

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope is going to be put out of service after 16 of use. This is not surprising. Look at your phone. I’m pretty sure it is no longer working as it used to. Spitzer was important telescope mankind had. I’m looking forward to Spitzer’s successor. 

“How does NASA know it’s time to end a mission? For the Spitzer Space Telescope, the agency can blame it on the spacecraft’s juice.”

Spin launch

What I understand from reading the news, this is crazy shit. This tells you exactly how much money to be made in future for the company who can provide the cheapest launch opportunity. I knew about rocket labs. Spin launch is the newest one in my own knowledge domain. 

I could not dig up more info on this company. Something to do later. For the time being, we know this company has $80 million to develop their tech. 

This will be crazy.


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