New Chairman Takes Charge as India Space Agency Struggles to Launch Satellites and Begin Human Spaceflight

New ISRO Chairman Shri. S. Somanath (left) takes over from K. Sivan. (Credit: ISRO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A new chairman has taken over the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) at a crucial time as the space agency continues to struggles with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the challenge of becoming only the fourth nation capable of launching astronauts into orbit.

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2021 in Review: Highlights from NASA in Silicon Valley

Ingenuity Mars helicopter flies on the Red Planet. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Join us as we look back at the highlights of 2021 at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

1) NASA’s water-hunting Moon rover, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, made great strides this year. The VIPER team successfully completed practice runs of the full-scale assembly of the Artemis program’s lunar rover in VIPER’s new clean room. Two rounds of egress testing let rover drivers practice exiting the lander and rolling onto the rocky surface of the Moon. NASA also announced the landing site selected for the robotic rover, which will be delivered to the Nobile region of the Moon’s South Pole in late 2023 as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. NASA also chose eight new VIPER science team members and their proposals to expand and complement VIPER’s already existing science team and planned investigations. This year’s progress contributed to VIPER’s completion of its Critical Design Review, turning the mission’s focus toward construction of the rover beginning in late 2022.

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Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Virgin Galactic Alleging Securities Fraud

Michael Colglazier (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A class action lawsuit was filed in New York on Dec. 7 alleging securities fraud by Virgin Galactic, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in October 2019 after merging with Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH).

Named in the lawsuit are Virgin Galactic Holdings, CEO Michael Colglazier, former CEO George Whitesides, former current chief financial officer Doug Ahrens, and former chief financial officer Jon Compagna.

The lawsuit was filed amid years-long delays in the start of commercial human suborbital flights that have caused a sharp decline in the value of the stock. Virgin Galactic began trading on the New York Stock Exchange at an opening price of $12.34 on Oct. 28, 2019. The stock is now trading at $14.46 having previously soared to a high of $62.80.

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India Delays Gaganyaan Crew Flight as Mission Specific Training Begins

Indian Coast Guard recovering ISRO’s Crew module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) at 114 nautical miles South West of Indira point. [Credit: Indian Coast Guard (GODL-India)]

India is delaying its planned launch of its Gaganyaan crew vehicle due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. India Today reports:

India’s maiden space mission, Gaganyaan, will be launched in 2023, Science & Technology Minister Dr Jitendra Singh said on Thursday. In reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, the minister said that India’s maiden human space mission will soar to the skies in 2023, making the country the fourth nation in the world to launch a human spaceflight mission after the US, Russia and China.

Meanwhile, the test vehicle flight for the validation of Crew Escape System performance and the first uncrewed mission of Gaganyaan are scheduled at the beginning of the second half of 2022.

“This will be followed by the second uncrewed mission at the end of 2022 carrying “Vyommitra” a spacefaring human-robot developed by ISRO and finally the first crewed Gaganyaan mission in 2023,” he said.

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Emission Reductions From Pandemic Had Unexpected Effects on Atmosphere

Worldwide restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic caused huge reductions in travel and other economic activities, resulting in lower emissions. Seen here, almost-empty highways in Colombia during the pandemic. (Credits: International Monetary Fund)

Earth’s atmosphere reacted in surprising ways to the lowering of emissions during the pandemic, showing how closely climate warming and air pollution are linked.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting limitations on travel and other economic sectors by countries around the globe drastically decreased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions within just a few weeks. That sudden change gave scientists an unprecedented view of results that would take regulations years to achieve.

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Vladimir Putin to Roscosmos: Do More with Less

Russian President Vladimir Putin tours Vostochny Cosmodrome in September 2019. (Crredit: Roscosmos)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Russian President Vladimir Putin has Roscosmos taken to task for failing to compete a series of goals even as his government prepares to cut the budget of the Roscosmos state corporation that runs the nation’s space program by more than $500 million.

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This Week in Elon: Musk Mocks Biden Amid Cooler Political Climate, Federal Investigation of Tesla

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It seems that Elon Musk is a bit peeved that President Joe Biden didn’t congratulate SpaceX on completing the privately-funded Inspiration4 crewed mission last week and helping to raise $210 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“He’s still sleeping,” Musk wrote in response to a question from a Twitter follower about Biden’s silence. It was a clear reference to ex-President Donald Trump’s description of him as “sleepy Joe” during the campaign.

The remark set off the usual battle on social media. Musk’s legion of defenders called the omission unforgivable. Musk’s critics noted his willingness to amply praise authoritarian China where Musk’s Tesla Motors has a manufacturing plant even as he called U.S. officials “fascists” for their efforts to contain the deadly COVID-19 virus.

For his part, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who funded and commanded the Inspiration4 flight, says Biden’s silence is no big deal.

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COVID-19 Related Propellant Supply Issues Delay Landsat 9 Launch, Impact SpaceX Missions

Landsat 9 Operational Land Imager 2 (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA says that a surge in COVID-19 cases has caused supply issues that have delayed the planned launch of the Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite from Vandenberg Space Force Base by one week to no earlier than Sept. 23.

“Current pandemic demands for medical liquid oxygen [LOX] have impacted the delivery of the needed liquid nitrogen supply to Vandenberg by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and its supplier Airgas,” the space agency said in a blog post. “Airgas converts the liquid nitrogen to gaseous nitrogen needed for launch vehicle testing and countdown sequences. DLA and Airgas now have implemented efforts to increase the supply of liquid nitrogen to Vandenberg.”

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Launch 2020: India’s Flight Rate Declined Due to COVID-19, but Nation Moved Forward with Commercialization

PSLV-C50 lifts off with the CMS-01 satellite. (Credit: ISRO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s growing space program managed only two domestic launches last year as it was forced to delay the Gaganyaan human spaceflight program and several other high profile projects.

However, India was able to move forward last year on a sweeping commercialization of its state-controlled space industry designed to make the country internationally competitive.

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Masten Mission to Lunar South Shifted 11 Months to Late 2023

Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander will deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022. (Credits: Masten Space Systems)

MOJAVE, Calif., June 23, 2021 (Masten Space Systems PR) – Masten Space Systems is proud to be one of NASA’s providers for lunar delivery services to the Moon as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. Masten Mission 1 includes delivery of science and technology instruments near the Haworth Crater at the lunar south pole, a site expected to offer insight into the presence of important volatiles on the Moon. In addition to commercial payloads, Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander will deliver and operate eight NASA-sponsored payloads to assess the composition of the lunar surface, evaluate radiation, and detect volatiles, such as water, methane, and carbon dioxide, under the agency’s Artemis program.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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Senior NASA Employee Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Related Loan Fraud

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (DOJ PR) – A Senior Executive Service (SES) employee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) pleaded guilty today to submitting fraudulent applications for over $350,000 in COVID-19 economic relief loans and benefits.

“Despite holding a senior executive position at NASA, the defendant applied for over $350,000 in fraudulent loans and benefits,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “In doing so, he essentially treated COVID-19 relief programs as a personal piggy bank, using funds intended to provide pandemic relief for small businesses and the unemployed to pay down his credit card debt, pay off loans for a residential pool and minivan, and pay a dog-breeder, among other personal expenses. EDVA will continue to hold accountable individuals who exploit a national economic crisis in order to unlawfully enrich themselves at the expense of those in genuine need due to the pandemic.”

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COVID-19 Impact on Smallsat Market Mitigated by Funding Availability, Government Support

PARIS, WASHINGTON DC, MONTREAL, YOKOHAMA (Euroconsult PR) — The latest update of “Prospects for the Small Satellite Market” was released this week by Euroconsult, forecasting further growth in the global supply and demand of government, commercial and academic satellites weighing up to 500 kg.

The market intelligence report, now in its 7th edition, builds upon Euroconsult’s previous iteration that accurately predicted more than 1,000 satellites would be launched during 2020, a record year despite COVID-19. The new release further reinforces the sentiment that the 2020s will be the decade of small satellites, anticipating the launch of close to 14,000 smallsats before 2030.

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COVID-19 Delays to Cost NASA $3 Billion

High-resolution illustration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope against a starry background. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will cost NASA an estimated $3 billion due to program delays, according to a report from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The report focused on the pandemic’s impact on 30 major programs and project with life-cycle costs of at least $250 million.

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