A collision that didn’t happen. Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis II and Russia’s Kosmos 1300 had a 5.6% chance of colliding on Sept 18th. Both satellites are defunct and lack maneuvering capability. Fortunately, they didn’t collide, since they collectively weigh more than the infamous Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 satellites which collided in Feb 2009, creating 2,200 pieces of trackable debris. 5.6% odds of collision are significant—the ESA moved their Aeolus satellite due to 1-in-1,000 odds of colliding with a Starlink satellite on Sept. 2nd. Responsible usage of space is a growing concern, and will need to be achieved through a combination of international coordination, incentives, better tracking, contingency planning for spacecraft disposal, and possibly debris cleanup. Related: the 20 member Space Safety Coalition just released “Best Practices for the Sustainability of Space Operations” (pdf), their guidelines for mitigating orbital debris.
Lots o' Lunar tidbits. Given the number of moving parts in NASA's current moon plans, we thought it'd be helpful to take a step back and round up the latest developments.
- The Artemis Program—sometimes a bit of a chameleon—covers commercial lunar activity, humans returning to the moon, and the Lunar Gateway to enable ongoing access to the moon and, eventually, Mars. (Related: a leaked potential timeline.)
- The Lunar Gateway will consist of several proposed modules launched over roughly six years. Maxar Technologies will build the 50kW electric propulsion unit, Northrop Gruman the Minimal Habitation Module, and (as covered last week) Bigelow is hoping their B330 module is selected to become the International Habitation Module.
- Meanwhile, contractors (*cough* Boeing? *cough*) are pushing for the Gateway plan to be nixed in favor of…
- The Exploration Upper Stage, a large interplanetary upper stage (launched on SLS Block 1B) in development by (wait for it) Boeing.
- NASA recently joined the five primary structural components of the 65 m tall SLS core stage, the largest rocket the agency has built since the Saturn V.
- Lockheed Martin was just awarded a long term contract, worth $4.6 billion, to produce six to twelve Orion capsules for Artemis missions. Environmental testing is currently being conducted on the first capsule.
- NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program so far includes contracts for 3 lunar landers and 24 science payloads. Given recent lander mission outcomes, NASA wouldn’t be surprised if some of them fail.
- “I wouldn't bet my oldest child's upcoming birthday present,” says NASA official, when asked if they’d be able to meet the White House’s deadline of a crewed mission to the moon by 2024.
DIY. Space and the space industry are becoming more accessible every day. Here are a handful of current space industry opportunities and related items. (We'd like to make this a frequent newsletter section, so if you hear of small lift opportunities to enter the industry, please share them.)
- NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge hackathon is happening in many cities around the world on Oct 18‑20. Oddly, not in SF, but we have the excellent, kid-friendly Science Hack Day that same weekend, hosted by GitHub. (Andrew will be there, and you should attend if you’re in the Bay Area.). If you’re in Brest, Berlin, or Belgaum, see the Science Hack Day international website for upcoming events in your city as well.
- SBIR: for US-based entrepreneurs, one funding source for very early stage, high risk technologies is the Small Business Administration’s large private-public partnership program. NASA has awarded ~500 Phase I grants of 75K-250K in recent years [NASA SBIR FAQ page]. Reading through past awardees gives an idea of the breadth of technologies that have been funded (companies we’ve covered, like Made In Space & Nanoracks, have been recent recipients). Phase II & III awards can provide follow-on funding after initial research.
- The Astropreneurs Accelerator provides assistance to European space-related startups, including access to space data and mentorship on funding and business development, as does TechStars and Starburst’s announced space-focused accelerator program in the US.
- A Space industry startup market analysis.
- Startup Space, a pitch competition for the new space industry, is being hosted *next week* at OilComm—if you’re in the Houston vicinity, it might be an interesting event.
- Space Angels Information Central bills itself as home to “[a]rticles, news, and events regarding early-stage space ventures and the entrepreneurial space age.” Space Angels is one of the more well-known new space VC funds and have invested in Planet Labs, SpaceX, SkyWatch, and others.
News in brief. NASA’s LRO was unable to spot the Vikram lander among the shadows on the lunar south pole; Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch complex at Cape Canaveral is coming along; and, NASA funded the 12U CAPSTONE cubesat which will test a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon, the odd elliptical polar orbit that the Lunar Gateway will also use.
- See a Satellite Tonight, a visualization using Google Street View of when and exactly where to look to see a satellite (which perfectly matched what we actually observed when we watched the ISS pass over Oakland Sunday night).
- Could we send a spacecraft to the interstellar comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov)? Probably, if we launched it right away. Realistically, though, we’ll have to wait for the next one, and something like the ESA’s upcoming Comet Interceptor mission in 2028, which will loiter at L2 until a suitable target is available.
- If you have a telescope and know what you’re doing, you can help the ESA’s ARIEL mission track exoplanet transits.
- Satsearch has a review of magnetorquers for spacecraft attitude control. We’ve previously linked to their articles on reaction wheels and cubesat thrusters.
- The Air Force is planning to let hackers at DEFCON attack a real satellite.
- Speaking of Space Angels, they have a podcast of interviews with key people in the space industry.
- Maybe the randomly-dimming Tabby’s Star isn’t an alien megastructure after all?
- Pretty pictures: Io eclipsing Jupiter, a compilation of Crew Dragon SuperDraco abort thruster tests, a colorful slice of Mars, and a gorgeous night sky timelapse from the perspective of the rotating stars.
This week, Musk has been tweeting photos (1, 2, 3, 4) of the Starship Mk1 orbital prototype under assembly. The first test flight is planned to reach ~20 km altitude, with a public update on Starship slated for Sept. 28.