Coronavirus and Space. You all probably know way more than you want to about COVID-19, so we won’t rehash here. While large players in the space industry will likely be okay, smaller players have a lot to worry about. Here’s a quick summary of some of the ongoing and expanding effects of COVID-19 on the space industry.
- SLS testing has been halted due to the Michoud Assembly Facility and the Stennis Space Center (along with Ames) moving to “Stage 4” of NASA’s response framework (pdf). Meanwhile, all other centers are on mandatory telework.
- An April 9th launch to the ISS with three crew members is on schedule, relying on existing quarantine procedures to protect the astronauts. (Buzz Aldrin has some stories about what to do during a quarantine.) NASA and SpaceX are still targeting May for a Crew Dragon test flight as well, but we’re not holding our breath.
- The ANDESITE 6U student CubeSat from Boston University, a decade in the making, was quickly integrated before school closure. (ANDESITE is pretty cool: a core ejects eight small free-floating nodes that relay magnetometer data back over an ad hoc wireless network in order to study space weather.) Meanwhile, Rocket Lab is still planning to launch ANDESITE and three NRO satellites next month, despite New Zealand having closed its borders. (And also congrats to Rocket Lab, who just received NASA certification and acquired Sinclair Interplanetary.)
- Mars 2020 and Perseverance are being given the highest priority in order to meet their July launch window.
- Virgin Orbit is reassessing schedules, Blue Origin in hard-hit Seattle is mostly working online, Arianespace suspended launches from French Guiana and Russia recalled and quarantined its personnel, ESA mission control is working from home, and some spaceports are closed worldwide.
- Musk claims SpaceX and Tesla are working on ventilators, even though they “probably won’t be needed.”
- The smallsat sector is already struggling as fundraising opportunities dry up. Expect to see many startups shuttering in the coming months. See, for example, Leo Aerospace, as well as others that are not yet public.
- Current NASA astronaut Anne McClain has a good thread on practices used by ISS astronauts to stay sane while inhabiting confined spaces for long periods of time.
The Rotating Detonation Engine. A type of rocket engine using explosive waves of propellant confined between concentric cylinders, called the Rotating Detonation Engine, is lighter and more fuel-efficient than traditional engine designs but is currently too unpredictable for use. Engineers at UW recently published a paper with high-speed photography of a test engine, as well as methods for increased stability. Here’s a video of the pulses circling the experimental engine.
| An experimental Rotating Detonation Engine at the University of Washington.|
Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden has passed away. NASA has a video in remembrance. Worden orbited the Moon alone for 3 days while his teammates were on the surface. He was the first human to perform a deep space spacewalk. Back on Earth, he worked at Ames and made several appearances on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. He wrote of his mission, “Now I know why I'm here. Not for a closer look at the Moon, but to look back at our home, the Earth.”
| News in brief. “DarkSat” is 55% dimmer (pdf) than other Starlink satellites (images), but astronomers want to see more improvement—SpaceX is apparently considering a deployable sunshade, kind of like a patio umbrella, to test on a future launch; findings from Hayabusa2 smashing its copper impactor into Ryugu have been released (paper); Bigelow Aerospace laid off all of its employees as least in part due to the developing pandemic; NASA selected four finalists for their next small astrophysics mission—two may get selected for launch by 2025; some good news from Mars: stepping on the mole seems to be helping; OneWeb launched 34 more satellites for their upcoming Internet service constellation—however, the future of OneWeb is quite uncertain, with bankruptcy likely.|
A short article about the 1,029 known good caves candidates on Mars, and how people could one day inhabit them. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captures a sinkhole that exposes one such cave system from above.