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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#238 - Space News Week

This Week Chris joins Matt to chat about Virgin, SpaceX, Nasa Budget, Mars Rovers, Parachutes, Indian demographics. Red Moons and tardigrade bullets

"This planet is not Terra Firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated, and there is no resupply and we are mistreating it"

Scott Carpenter

One of the first Americans to orbit the Earth, the second to John Glenn and the fourth American to be in space. He served as an aquanaut during which he had a bike crash that meant he was grounded and never got to go to space. SEALAB II coincided with Cooper's Gemini 5 mission, and he and Carpenter held the first conversation between a craft in outer space and one on the ocean floor. "Godspeed, John Glenn," was said by Carpenter and appears on loads of music tracks.

23rd May 1962 – Project Mercury: American astronaut Scott Carpenter orbits the Earth three times in the Aurora 7 space capsule. His first orbit of the Earth lasted 3 times in the span of four hours and 54 minutes before he was found on an orange life craft 290 nautical miles from his supposed landing site.

1543 – Nicolaus Copernicus died!!!, Polish mathematician and astronomer (b. 1473)

Space News

Falcon 9 - another truckload of starlinks. (8th launch and landing of this booster)

Booster B1058 service so far

  • first launched on 30 May 2020 carried NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. first crewed orbital spaceflight launched from the United States since the final Space Shuttle mission, and the first crewed flight test of Dragon 2. It was the first crewed orbital spaceflight by a private company. The booster was the first Falcon 9 booster to feature NASA's "worm logo", last used in 1992

  • 20 July 2020 51 days ANASIS-II

  • 6 October 2020 78 days Starlink × 60 (v1.0 L12)

  • 6 December 2020 60 days Dragon C208 (CRS-21)

  • 24 January 2021 49 days Transporter-1

  • 11 March 2021 46 days Starlink × 60

  • 7 April 2021 27 days Starlink × 60

  • 15 May 2021 38 days Starlink × 52 (v1.0 L26)

Altas V - The primary payload, a $1 billion SBIRS GEO-5 satellite

Virgin - A Scot flies to space!!

David Mackay and Frederick Sturckow flew to space on spaceship 2 VSSUnity

  • (Virgin Space Ship Unity, Registration: N202VG), previously referred to as VSS Voyager,

  • It is the second SpaceShipTwo to be built and will be used as part of the Virgin Galactic fleet.

  • The manufacture of Unity began in 2012

  • VSS Enterprise the first SpaceShipTwo made its first powered flight in April 2013.

  • Enterprise was destroyed during a powered test flight on 31 October 2014

  • The VSS Unity was rolled out on 19 February 2016 and completed ground-based system integration testing in September 2016, prior to its first flight on 8 September 2016

  • It first reached an altitude of more than 50 mi (80 km) on 13 December 2018.

  • The name Unity was chosen by Stephen Hawking. Hawking's eye is also used as the model for the eye logo on the side of Unity

  • First spaceflight from New Mexico (2nd attempt) the purpose-built commercial hub “Spaceport America”

  • Unity was carried to 13km by WhiteKnightTwo aircraft “Eve”, before being released to ignite its rocket motor. (some concerns over this aircraft before flight)

  • Powered itself to a height of 89km (55 miles), and then glided back down to Earth

  • Sir Dickey B has some 600 paying customers - including movie and music stars - waiting to take the same ride.

  • The licensing process is the responsibility of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who will paw over performance data from Saturday's sortie high above the New Mexico desert. for example, has an EMI issue that aborted a previous flight attempt in December been corrected.

  • The next flight should see four Virgin Galactic employees join and identities yet to be revealed even internally.

  • The flight after that would see Dickey B himself go as a statement of readiness

  • The first commercial mission has been purchased by the Italian Air Force, which is going to put several payload specialists aboard Unity to supervise a number of microgravity experiments.

  • "I'll have a whole day of training tomorrow. And, oh my god, I'm looking forward to it. It's ridiculously exciting. Our chief astronaut Dave Mackay just turned to me and said, 'Richard, you're gonna love it',"

  • Obviously in a race with Blue Origin.

NASA Budget

  • President Biden is requesting a 6.3% increase for NASA in 2022

  • The $24.7 billion request is $1.5 billion more than 2021, includes increases for the Artemis program, space technology research and development, earth science research, and STEM education

    • Artemis (human exploration): $6.9 billion, an increase of $325 million

    • Robotic Exploration:

    • Space Technology: $1.4 billion, an increase of $325 million

    • Aeronautics: $915 million, an increase of $86 million “enable highly efficient, next-generation airliners.”

    • Climate Science: $2.3 billion, an increase of $250 million

    • STEM Education: an increase of $20 million

    • Research on ISS: $3 billion

  • Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk made no mention of the 2024 deadline (no way am I eating Eric’s book) set by the Trump Administration but Artemis now will land not only the first woman on the Moon but “the first person of color.”

  • Jim Bridenstine lauded the Biden budget request and again called on the Senate to quickly confirm former Senator Bill Nelson to be his successor.

Remember this is a request

Congress must deal with the 2022 budget amid a rapidly growing budget deficit,

  • Way too early to bank on NASA getting the requested amounts

  • Biden’s enthusiasm for NASA is probably not just rhetoric.

Sierra Nevada Corporation to spin off space division as Sierra Space as they consider this a growth business with the Dreamchaser etc.


  • Skyroot says it has raised $11 million. to develop its Vikram I rocket, a solid-propellant-based vehicle designed to deliver a few hundred kilograms to low Earth orbit. Company co-founder Naga Bharath Daka added that the company plans to raise an additional $40 million to fuel "aggressive growth" over the next few years.

  • Agnikul also raised $11 million. claims to be the first company in the world to design a rocket engine that can be printed in a single piece. Its liquid-fueled satellite-launch vehicle, named Agnibaan (or sometimes Agniban), is capable of launching up to 100 kg of payload to low Earth orbit. Agnibaan may make a test flight in 2022.

  • Mostly the ISRO has been helping out in the ongoing Indian Covid Crisis. Supplying Oxygen etc.

  • In May 2020, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a policy shift allowing private space companies to access ISRO facilities and services, before all IP belonged to ISRO.

  • ISRO no longer a customer Skyroot and Agnikul are looking from all places to create capacity by investing in IP, they don’t just have contracts with the space agency.”

  • India has a couple of problems,

    • hard to get internal and even harder external investments from corporate companies

    • Hard to get skilled labour.

  • More than half India's population is under 25 - 600 Million of them!!!! That is a talent pool waiting to happen!!!


Obviously, the big news is becoming the second (or third?, or fourth:)) nation to soft-land on the moon

On 22 May 2021 (02:40 UTC), the Zhurong rover descended from its lander to the Martian surface to start its first drive onto the soil of Mars. The first images received on Earth show the landing platform empty and its two descent ramps.

The rover is designed to explore the surface for 90 sols; its height is about 1.85 m (6.1 ft) and it has a mass of about 240 kg (530 lb). After the planned rover deployment, the orbiter would serve as a telecommunications relay for the rover while continuing to conduct its own orbital observations of Mars

  • Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR), to image about 100 m (330 ft) below the Martian surface

  • Mars Surface Magnetic Field Detector (MSMFD)

  • Mars Meteorological Measurement Instrument (MMMI)

  • Mars Surface Compound Detector (MSCD), combines laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy

  • Multi-Spectrum Camera (MSC)

  • Navigation and Topography Camera (NTC)

The six-wheeled rover is solar-powered and has a planned operational lifetime of 90 Sols. The rover and landing platform weighs 240 kg and is 1.85 m tall.

The rover's mission planned tasks are to:

  • Study the topography and geology of the local area

  • Examine the soil, and any ice content

  • Survey the elements, minerals and rocks

  • Atmospheric sampling

New Zealand!!

The Electron has failed again.

20th Electron launch, which failed to reach orbit after lifting off on Saturday, May 15.

an anomaly "almost three minutes" into the launch of two BlackSky Global satellites after the rocket's first and second stages had separated.

However, they did recover the booster after it safely parachuted down in the ocean


Potential (short) delay to JWST because of an Arianne 5 Fairing issue.

Aspiring astronauts now have until 18 June 2021 to submit an application for ESA’s astronaut selection. The three-week extension comes as ESA welcomes Lithuania as a new Associate Member state

A series of ground-based high-speed extraction tests confirm the readiness of a new and upgraded parachute and bag system for a high-altitude drop test in early June, part of critical preparations to keep the ExoMars 2022 mission on track for its next launch window.

  • The tests, conducted with NASA/JPL’s dynamic extraction test rig in California, USA, focused on demonstrating the readiness of new equipment developed by Airborne Systems, as well as verifying changes to the parachute and bag provided by Arescosmo

  • The ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars mission, with the Rosalind Franklin rover and Kazachok surface platform contained in a descent module, requires two main parachutes – each with its own pilot chute for extraction – to help slow it down as it plunges through the martian atmosphere. The 15 m-wide first stage main parachute will open while the descent module is still travelling at supersonic speeds, and the 35 m-wide second stage main parachute is deployed once at subsonic speeds.

  • The latest round of extraction tests focused on the first main parachute provided by both companies.

    • Arescosmo addressed open issues from previous unsuccessful tests: a new bag design and a revised approach to folding to avoid line-twisting upon extraction.

    • The Airborne Systems parachute and bag also completed several rounds of development tests to validate the extraction process.

  • The Airborne Systems first main parachute will now move forward for testing in its first high-altitude drop test scheduled at the start of June from Kiruna, Sweden. Two high-altitude balloons and dummy descent modules are available in the June window, which will see the descent vehicle dropped under the parachute from a stratospheric balloon at an altitude of about 29 km

  • For Arescosmos, the first main parachute will act as a backup, and instead, the focus for them will turn to the second main parachute. Upgrades made to this parachute and bag were already implemented and tested in dynamic extraction tests in December 2020, which included using stronger parachute lines and reinforced material around the parachute apex. For the upcoming high-altitude test, a slightly smaller sized pilot chute (3.7 m compared with 4.5 m previously) will also be implemented, aimed at reducing the energy – and therefore the friction – generated upon extraction of the second main parachute from its bag. This cannot be tested on the ground-based rig in advance, which is only focused on the main parachute extraction from its bag.

  • Further ground-based dynamic extraction test slots are anticipated during August to prepare for another pair of high-altitude drop tests foreseen for October/November this year, from Oregon, USA. Further high-altitude test opportunities are also considered during the first half of 2022. Subsequent test configurations will largely depend on the outcome of the upcoming tests in Kiruna, although it is expected to repeat successful tests at least once more.

  • High-altitude drop tests require complex logistics and strict weather conditions, making them difficult to schedule, while the ground tests can be repeated on a quick turnaround, buying significantly more time in the test campaign and reducing risk by allowing more tests to be conducted on a short time frame.

  • “Our strategy of having two highly qualified teams working on the parachutes, together with the availability of the ground-test rig, is already paying off and we are ready and looking forward to the next high-altitude drop tests,” says Thierry. “Landing safely on Mars is a notoriously difficult task. Investing our efforts in this test strategy is an essential part of ensuring a successful mission when we arrive at Mars in 2023.”

  • All parachute system qualification activities are managed and conducted by a joint team involving the ESA project (supported by Directorate of Technology, Engineering and Quality expertise), Thales Alenia Space Italy (prime contractor, in Turin), Thales Alenia Space France (PAS lead, in Cannes), Vorticity (parachute design and test analysis, in Oxford) and Arescosmo (parachute and bags manufacturing, in Aprilia). NASA/JPL-Caltech has provided engineering consultancy, access to the dynamic extraction test facility, and on-site support. The extraction tests are supported through an engineering support contract with Airborne Systems, which also provided NASA’s Mars 2020 parachutes, and by Free Flight Enterprises for the provision of parachute folding and packing facilities. Airborne Systems is also providing parachute design and manufacturing services since 2021.

An enormous iceberg has calved from the western side of the Ronne Ice Shelf, lying in the Weddell Sea, in Antarctica. The iceberg, dubbed A-76, measures around 4320 sq km in size – currently making it the largest berg in the world.

Spotted by the British Antarctica survey and confirmed in recent images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, the iceberg is around 170 km in length and 25 km wide and is slightly larger than the Spanish island of Majorca.

Fun Story of the week

The lunar eclipse will only really be seen in the US and eastern Americas and parts of east Asia unfortunately, but UK stargazers can still see a fantastic blood orange moon.

The blood moon is said to be at its most visible in the UK at 12:15 am. Time and Date will be live-streaming the extraordinary lunar event on Youtube on 26th May, so you don't even need to be by a window.

Researchers have subjected tardigrades, microscopic creatures affectionately known as water bears, to impacts as fast as a flying bullet. And the animals survive them,

  • The test places new limits on their ability to survive impacts in space and seed life on other planets.

  • The research was inspired by a 2019 Israeli mission called Beresheet, which attempted to land on the Moon. The probe infamously included tardigrades on board that mission managers had not disclosed to the public, and the lander crashed with its passengers in tow, raising concerns about contamination.

  • “I was very curious,” says Alejandra Traspas, a PhD student at the Queen Mary University of London who led the study. “I wanted to know if they were alive.”

  • Traspas and her supervisor, Mark Burchell, a planetary scientist at the University of Kent,

  • Feeding 20 tardigrades moss and mineral water, they put them into hibernation, a so-called “tun” state in which their metabolism decreases to 0.1% of their normal activity, by freezing them for 48 hours.

  • They then placed two to four at a time in a hollow nylon bullet and fired them at increasing speeds using a two-stage light gas gun, a tool in physics experiments that can achieve muzzle velocities far higher than any conventional gun. When shooting the bullets into a sand target several meters away, the researchers found the creatures could survive impacts up to about 900 meters per second (or about 3000 kilometres per hour), and momentary shock pressures up to a limit of 1.14 gigapascals (GPa), they report this month in Astrobiology. “Above [those speeds], they just mush,” Traspas says.

  • The results suggest the tardigrades on Beresheet were unlikely to survive. Although the lander is thought to have crashed at a few hundred meters per second, the shock pressure its metal frame generated hitting the surface would have been “well above” 1.14 GPa, Traspas says. “We can confirm they didn’t survive.”

  • The research also places new limits on a theory known as panspermia,

  • Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist at the University of Edinburgh. “What this paper is showing is that complex multicellular animals cannot be easily transferred, In other words, Earth is a biogeographical island with respect to animals. They’re trapped, like a flightless bird on an island”

  • Traspas, however, says it shows panspermia “is hard,” but not impossible. Meteorite impacts on Earth typically arrive at speeds of more than 11 kilometres per second. On Mars, they collide at least at 8 kilometres per second. These speeds are well above the threshold for tardigrades to survive. However, some parts of a meteorite impacting Earth or Mars would experience lower shock pressures that a tardigrade could live through, Traspas says.

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