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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#165 - Helen Sharman - 2019 in review

Updated: Dec 27, 2019

This week we are joined by the legend that is Helen Sharman, the British chemist who became the first British cosmonaut and the first woman to visit the Mir space station in May 1991. She was our first and last Guest of 2019, so here we review everything that happened.

THE Queen honours Britain’s first astronaut Helen Sharman in 2018 at a Windsor Castle investiture. She was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) for her services to science and technology education outreach

Review‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌year.‌ ‌

I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.

Johannes Kepler - December 27th - The birthday of Johannes Kepler in 1571

Space News

Starliner hiccup and further delays to US return to human spaceflight.

So Friday just before we did the last podcast and during our interview with Helen Sharman an Atlas V rocket had performed perfectly to place the CST-100 Starliner into Orbit, But, Starliner itself was unable to use its own thrusters to get into the correct orbit and start chasing down the ISS.

For some reason the Starliner had grabbed the wrong time, out by 11 hours, it had somehow miss-heard the mothership booster rocket when asking for the time.

The Starliner thought it was in a different part of the mission where the constraints on it position are much more stringent, especially in regards to the orientation to earth, so it was aggressively using its thrusters to maintain an overly precise alignment with the ground. This meant it was not only using loads of fuel, but also getting out of orbital position, and it took some time to find the Starliner to re-establish contact, diagnose and correct the error, by which point the poor starliner had been working so hard the fuel had been depleted, and she didn’t have enough to get all the way to the ISS and Dock safely.

After this initial hiccup the spacecraft pretty much performed perfectly, with a good orbit insertion and a bullseye landing in Whitesands on Sunday morning.

Could Nasa let this one slide and go for crewed next time round?

Nasa’s original contract includes that the test flight needs to demonstrate; "Automated rendezvous and proximity operations, and docking with the ISS”

Basically Boeing will have to pay fully for a second attempt unless NASA can be persuaded they had seen enough. Pretty much straight away Boeing fires CEO Dennis Muilenburg, over the 737 Max crisis and this embarrassment.

In the meantime SpaceX complete the 10th parachute test of their capsule Dragon 2, so maybe SpaceX will win the race afterall and maybe it will happen this springg.

Well looks like we have the results in

As of recording we have 99 orbital launches, possibly over 103 by year-end

  • 33 Chinese, maybe be 35 by year-end - 2 failed

  • Today - The troubled Long March 5 - similar in capacity to Delta and Falcon Heavy - Important to china for it’s moon ambitions, it’s third flight after the second was a failure, probably had russian help fixing issues.,

  • 27 US with 0 fails!! But Includes 6 NZ Electron launches

  • 23 Russian - maybe 25 year end, 3 actually European - 0 fails

  • Probably 2 more flights including the last Rockot and one of the last Protons.

  • 6 Europe - 9 including Soyuz - 1 fail

  • 6 India - no fails

  • 2 Japan - 0 fails

  • 2 Iran - all failures

  • XICHANG busiest spaceport with 13 launches

  • Soyuz-2 busiest rocket - 15 (compare that to the early 80’s when Soyuz was doing about 60 launches a year!!!!)

Talking of Soyuz a guest who has actually flown on a Soyuz-U2 rocket another variation of the R7 family of rockets! Back in 1991, Joined by Helen Sharman for a review of the year, our 1st guest and last guest of the year

So we previewed the year but after an AMAZING START!!!

  • New Horizons whizzed past Ultima Thule!! And we saw a snowman, that turned out to be more of a gingerbread man and then renamed Arakoth.

  • Osiris-Rex entered orbit around Bennu!

  • And Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon, and even managed to grow the first ever plant

This is what we predicted last year

“So Whats happening in 2019!!! The year tha bladerunner was set!!!


Commercial Moonlanding?

Commercial Providers of Astronaut Flights?

Commercial Space Tourism?

More and more commercial companies all around the world entering the orbital launch game?

Commercial space Internet?

Commercial artificial Meteors?”

23 things we looked forward to and only 10 happened!

Human Spaceflight / Commercial Crew

18th Jan. Crew Dragon Demo 1: Planned test of Dragon 2 as part of Commercial Crew Development program.

  • The result - launched March 2, 2019. The spacecraft tested the approach and automated docking procedures with the ISS, remained docked until March 8, 2019, then conducted the full re-entry, splashdown and recovery steps to qualify for a crewed mission Life-support systems were monitored all along with the test flight.

  • The same capsule was planned to be re-used in June for an in-flight abort test before it exploded on April 20, 2019, stalling everything.

Boeing Orbital Flight Test of CST-100 Starliner as part of Commercial Crew Development program. 30-day robotic mission.

  • Happened but failed this week.

Falcon 9 Dragon 2 - In-flight abort test at Max Q, performed by the capsule from the first demonstration mission

  • Nope probably January 2020, using the capsule for the crew test a month later.

Orion In-flight abort test under the highest aerodynamic loads. A specific booster repurposed from a LGM-118 Peacekeeper missile is being developed for this mission

  • Yes - July 2nd

Blue Origin plans to send its own employees on board of New Shepard for the first crewed suborbital flight in the first half of 2019

  • 3 x New Shepard flights but still no word on an actual crewed flight.

Boeing Crewed Flight Test of CST-100 Starliner as part of Commercial Crew Development program (nominally 14 days). May also become the first operational mission with a longer duration, as part of ISS Crew Transportation Services program

  • NOPE - First half of 2020

First operational mission of Dragon 2 as part of the ISS Crew Transportation Services program.

  • Nope spring 2020


28 February 2019 Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft will be carrying Aleksey Ovchinin, Nick Hague on the second attempt at getting to the ISS with Christina Koch.

  • Actually flew on 14th March and was totally successful.

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will return to the International Space Station,

  • Parmitano launched onboard the Soyuz MS-13 mission, to serve as Flight Engineer on Expedition 60 and Commander on Expedition 61 on 20 July 2019 and arrived at the International Space Station on the same day.

  • He became the first DJ in space on 13 August 2019, when he played a set of electronic music from the ISS for a music festival audience in Ibiza

  • On 15 November he ventured outside the ISS for the first time since his ill-fated spacewalk in 2013, on the first of at least four spacewalks to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

Moon Missions

India is planning to launch 32 space missions in 2019, -

  • They managed 6

  • Delayed from January, now probably march, Chandrayaan-2 to land on the moon with lander and rover.

  • India launched the delayed Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter/lander/rover in July; the orbiter reached lunar orbit by September, but the Vikram lander crashed into the lunar surface. using the classic Litho Braking

13th Feb - Falcon Block 5 with BERESHEET the first private company to land on the moon!!! SpaceIL team was formed as a nonprofit organization wishing to promote scientific and technological education in Israel

  • Launched on 22nd Feb, but after successfully navigating space and getting into orbit by 4th April, crashed on the moon on the 11th April again using the classic Litho Braking

China to launch Chang'e 5, Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket, the first sample-return mission to the Moon since Luna 24 in 1976

  • Probably late 2020

Electron Launching Moon Express

  • July 2020 -- unlikely.

Small Launchers

First orbital flight of the LOX/propylene Vector-R rocket

  • paused operation in August 2019 due to an uncertain financing situation

Maiden Orbital Flight of Launcher One

  • Nope, probably January 2020

Lunar Pathfinder Mission - Goonhilly, Surrey Satellites and ESA - PSL

  • First mission 2023

Maiden launch of the Firefly Alpha LOX/RP-1 commercial smallsat launcher

  • Nope planned for march 2020

Maiden flight of Vega-C with intersting LARES 2 sat testing relativity

  • Failure of Vega on July 11th put his one back

  • March 2020


Musk said SpaceX is moving "hopper" test flights of the Starship vehicle forward, into the second quarter of 2019. Musk said he would reveal more technical details about the new vehicle after tests

  • Delivered big time - prototype "Starhopper" flying 150m in the air in a suborbital test flight on 27 August

  • Huge prototype unveiled and more being built.

  • Revealed that it would be made of Stainless steal.

First launch of OneWeb satellites from Baikonur followed by 9 more from the same site every 20-25 days, then 6 from Vostochny

  • Launched 27th feb from Kourou!!

  • satellites broadcasting at the right frequencies for 90 days, meeting the “use-it-or-lose-it” spectrum conditions set by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union

  • In the meantime Starlink launched in MAY x 60 and another 60 in November on the fourth flight of a falcon 9 booster!!!

Science Missions.

CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) is a planned European space telescope for the study of the formation of extrasolar planets. The launch window for CHEOPS is October to November 2019

  • Well actually launched in December.

Hayabusa2 Departure from asteroid Ryugu

  • Yes, Hayabusa is on its way back as of late November with a nice big payload to arrive in Woomera after a 5 billion Km journey.

Things we didn’t see coming


Skyrora brings it home to Scotland The Black Arrow projectile had lain at its crash landing site in the South Australian outback for 48 years.
  • Astronomer announce they have spotted a second repeater FRB and 13 new FRBs

  • The actual Black Arrow returns to the UK - courtesy of Sykora.

  • SpaceX actually made people redundant because of slow down

  • Meteorite hits the Super Wolf Blood Moon during the eclipse!!.

  • Musk’s starship gets blown over

  • Replaced; Eric Boe on the Starliner test flight by veteran NASA and ISS astronaut Edward “Mike” Fincke.

  • Opportunity Rover is officially dead!!!

  • India Opened a Human Space Flight Centre.


  • Scottish Astronaut - Dave Mackay flew the Richard Branson’s Virgin VSS Unity crossing NASA’s official boundary for space on February 22

  • Prometheus gets green light

  • French government say Arian 6 is too cautious

  • Mars One: folded

  • New moon discovered around Neptune - Hipppocamp 21

  • RemoveDEBRIS: success for harpoon experiment, 3rd successful experiment

  • 300,000 new galaxies discovered by LOFAR

  • Hayabusa 2 spacecraft touched down on the asteroid Ryugu

  • Juno 18th perijove of Jupiter


  • Mars InSight Lander's 'Mole' Pauses Digging

  • first all-woman spacewalk doesn’t happen due to spacesuits

  • SABRE get’s the green light from ESA

  • NASA consider using another booster to launch Orion!!

  • Osiris-Rex orbits Bennu closer than any other spacecraft getting great science.

  • India Shoots down a satellite

  • Mike Pence says let’s go back to the moon by 2024!!

  • 300th launch of the Long March rocket family.

  • The maiden flight of OS-M1 rocket


  • Methane On Mars detected by Curiosity

  • Parker Solar Probe Second perihelion

  • 6 April Juno 19th perijove

  • Hayabusa 2 shoots Ryugu, and films the dust

  • We Got an Image of a Black Hole!!! Well actually the event horizon, “The black hole is not the event horizon, it’s something inside. It could be something just inside the event horizon, an exotic object hovering just beneath the surface, or it could be a singularity at the centre … or a ring,” “It doesn’t yet give us an explanation of what’s going on inside.”

  • We lost Owen Garriott

  • Beresheet Crashes out

  • Falcon Heavy completes a commercial mission and all 3 boosters land.

  • The crew dragon breathes the fire of its own destruction.

  • And Mars Quake discovered by Insight.


  • An improved LIGO is seeing more cataclysms weekly!

  • The cost mounts up for moon soon, now called Artemis

  • Bezos announces Project Kuiper - a constellation of internet

  • Bezos announces Blue Moon at a rare presentation.

  • Starlink is pissing off astronomers

  • 29 May Juno 20th perijove


  • There is something huge under a crater on the moon.

  • Elon Musk deletes his Twitter account.

  • Another Falcon Heavy: lost the centre core due to the insane energy it had to shed but wins over the military.

  • Lightsail 2 launched

  • China’s first sea launch in the Yellow Sea off Shandong - Long March 11H.


  • Astronomers start really homing in on FRBs

  • Nasa announces Dragonfly a Drone to go to Titan.

  • Podcast included on 15 Star Companies of the UK Space Sector.

  • 21 July Juno 21st perijove

  • Apollo 11 celebrations

  • Hayabusa lands on Ryugu

  • Vega has the first failure

  • William Gerstenmaier and Bill Hill demoted at the same time by Bridenstine

  • Galileo GPS system is down!

  • Tiangong-2 de-orbits

  • Chinese startup ispace became the first private company in the country to place a payload into orbit with a Hyperbola-1 rocket

  • Crew dragon goes to iss

  • An asteroid 2019 OK buzzes earth at only 65,000 km


  • ILC Dover announce new Space Suits

  • Soyuz only crew member a Killer robot Fedor visits Spacestation,

  • "We're thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2,"

  • Tim Peake takes a sabbatical.

  • The trouble with Franklins chutes

  • Tardigrades revealed to be on the moon!!

  • Musk catches a fairing and flies a massive water-tower looking starship on a raptor engine

  • Space Command

  • JWST and Franklin are fully constructed

  • The maiden flight of China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) Jielong 1( Smart Dragon 1)


  • ESA had to move Aeolus to avoid a Starlink.

  • Borisov confirmed second interstalla interloper.

  • Water vapour in the atmosphere of the habitable-zone eight-Earth-mass planet K2-18

  • Bigelow unveils his B330 MArs Transporter inflatable space station

  • Largest Neutron Star Discovered 2.17 more massive than the sun

  • Rwanda's first satellite

  • Last flight of Soyuz-FG and last launch from Baikonur Site 1 ("Gagarin's Start"); to be replaced by Soyuz-2.1a launching from Site 31 for crewed missions starting with Soyuz MS-16 in April 2020.

  • Parker Solar Probe Third perihelion

  • 12 September Juno 22nd perijove

  • Vikram Crashes out


  • First all-female spacewalk

  • Maybe a black hole is at the edge of the solar system

  • Nobel Prize for Exoplanets Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz and groundbreaking discoveries Phillip James Edwin Peebles

  • British miniature 1.5 kg rover by SpaceBit announced

  • NASA unveiled the prototypes for new spacesuits

  • Farewell Alexei Leonov

  • Elon tweets via Starlink

  • Sabre validated precooler at airflow temperature conditions representing Mach 5

  • MEV-1 will rendezvous with Intelsat 901 and extend its operational life by five years through in-orbit station-keeping

  • Hayabusa2 Deployment of ROVER-2 (MINERVA-II-2) Rover failed before deployment, it was deployed in orbit around the asteroid to perform gravitational measurements before it impacted on 8 October.


  • X37b returns after 780 days in space

  • Solar Orbiter is tested

  • Transit of Mercury

  • Sudan's first satellite,

  • SpaceX booster was flown for the 4th time.

  • Arrokoth named

  • The static fire of Crew Dragon passed

  • Methane on Mars now with the added mystery of not being spotted except by Curiosity

  • And Oxygen on Mars, significant seasonal and year‐to‐year variability correlating with Methane.

  • Titan fully mapped.

  • Chinese rockets keep falling on villagers

  • ESA has the largest-ever budget approved!

  • SpaceX blows it’s top and moves its activities.


Cheops launched - first small class cosmic vision

  • first Ethiopian satellite?

  • The final flight of Rokot?

  • 26 December Parker Solar Probe Second gravity assist at Venus


Space facts

100 years of Astronomy - July 28 1919 – The International Astronomical Union is founded in Paris, France., it acts as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations and names to celestial bodies (stars, planets, asteroids, etc.) and any surface features on them, 82 countries

It’s been longer than 50 years since we first ventured onto another celestial body with Apollo 11.

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