NASA, SpaceX Simulate Upcoming Crew Mission with Astronauts

On Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20, SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (front) participating in SpaceX’s flight simulator. (Credits: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Joint teams from NASA and SpaceX continue making progress on the first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station by completing a series of mission simulations from launch to landing. The mission, known as Demo-2, is a close mirror of the company’s uncrewed flight test to station in March 2019, but this time with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

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NASA Adds Shannon Walker to First Operational Crewed SpaceX Mission

Shannon Walker looking out of the international space station’s cupola at the Caribbean view beneath on November 25, 2010. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA has assigned astronaut Shannon Walker to the first operational crewed flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.

Walker will join NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover Jr., as well as Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), for a six-month expedition aboard the unique space laboratory.

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Japanese Astronaut Prepares to Fly on SpaceX Crew Dragon

Japanese astronaut Noguchi Soichi. (Credit: NASA)

JAXA has announced that astronaut Noguchi Soichi is preparing and training for a trip to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s first operational Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Soichi will be flying to the orbiting facility for the third time. He previously flew aboard the U.S. space shuttle on the STS-114 mission and on Russia’s Soyuz TMA-17 transport. Soichi has spent 177 days in space.

A Crew Dragon flight test with astronauts aboard is currently scheduled for mid- to late May. The schedule for the first operational flight has not been announced yet.

SpaceX’s Starship SN3 Arrives at Launch Site

Video Caption: SpaceX Starship SN3 has arrived at the launch site and is being integrated ahead of a test campaign that includes pressure testing, Static Fire(s) and a hop.

Video and Photos by Mary (@BocaChicaGal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

Space Biology on Station Ahead of Cargo and Crew Ship Activities

The International Space Station as it appears in 2018. Zarya is visible at the center of the complex, identifiable by its partially retracted solar arrays. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The Expedition 62 crew wrapped up the workweek with more space biology research to understand what living in space does to the human body. The International Space Station is also getting ready to send off a U.S. cargo craft and swap crews.

A 3D bioprinter inside the station’s Columbus laboratory module is being deactivated and stowed today after a week of test runs without using human cells. NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir packed up the device that seeks to demonstrate manufacturing human organs to help patients on Earth. The Bio-Fabrication Facility may even lead to future crews printing their own food and medicines on missions farther away from Earth.

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan checked out hardware for an experiment exploring how to create heart cells on the orbiting lab. The investigation may lead to advanced treatments for cardiac conditions on Earth and in space.

Morgan and Meir are also getting the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship ready for its departure on April 6. The duo gathered U.S. spacesuit components and packed them inside Dragon for engineering analysis on the ground.

During the morning, Commander Oleg Skripochka continued servicing a variety of laptop computers in the station’s Russian segment. After lunchtime, the veteran cosmonaut serviced hardware for a pair of experiments, one looking at the Earth’s upper atmosphere and the other to understand the degradation of station gear.

Back on Earth at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, three new Expedition 63 crewmembers are in final preparations for their April 9 launch to the station. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner stepped out of the Cosmonaut Hotel today for pre-launch activities celebrating spaceflight heroes such as Yuri Gagarin.

SpaceX Get Approval for 1 Million Starlink Ground Stations in USA

60 Starlink satellites begin to separate after deployment from the Falcon 9 second stage. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted SpaceX to deploy up to one million ground stations to connect users to its Starlink satellite broadband service.

Each ground station is just under 19 inches (.48 m) across.

“It looks like a UFO on a stick,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said earlier this month. “It’s very important that you don’t need a specialist to install. The goal is for … just two instructions and they can be done in either order: Point at sky, plug in.”

SpaceX has launched 362 Starlink satellites as part of a constellation that could eventually total 42,000. The FCC has given Musk’s company approval to launch nearly 12,000 spacecraft. The company has submitted paperwork to place another 30,000 into orbit.

SpaceX plans to launch additional groups of 60 satellites roughly every two weeks aboard Falcon 9 boosters. The company hopes to begin service in the United States later this year.

Musk has said Starlink satellites will be able to deliver high-speed broadband service with latency below 20 milliseconds.

Report: OneWeb to File for Bankruptcy

The Financial Times reports that OneWeb is preparing to file for bankruptcy and lay off most of its employees after failing to obtain additional financing from investors to continue building out its satellite broadband constellation.

OneWeb collapses after SoftBank funding talks fall through

The story is behind a paywall, so I don’t have a lot of details at this point. OneWeb will apparently keep a small team in place to operate the 74 satellites the company has launched into orbit while it seeks addition funding needed to emerge from bankruptcy.

Attempts to obtain additional funding from the company’s main backer, SoftBank, fell through.

The news comes less than a week after a Russian Soyuz booster launched 34 OneWeb satellites. Two previous launches in February 2019 and February 2020 had orbited 6 and 34 spacecraft, respectively.

OneWeb, which was founded by Greg Wyler, has been planning to launch 680 satellites in order to provide broadband services to any location on Earth.

The company’s main competitor is SpaceX, which has launched 362 satellites as part of its Starlink constellation. SpaceX has received approvals to launch nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites. Elon Musk’s company has also submitted an application to the Federal Communications Commission to launch an additional 30,000 spacecraft to bring the total to 42,000.

NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Gateway Logistics Services

Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit. (Credits: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, as the first U.S. commercial provider under the Gateway Logistics Services contract to deliver cargo, experiments and other supplies to the agency’s Gateway in lunar orbit. The award is a significant step forward for NASA’s Artemis program that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 and build a sustainable human lunar presence.

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NASA Statement on SpaceX Crew Dragon Parachute Test Mishap

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — To date, SpaceX has completed 24 tests of its upgraded Mark 3 parachute design they are working to certify for use on the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. The system was used during the SpaceX in-flight abort test in January.

On March 24, SpaceX lost a spacecraft-like device used to test the Crew Dragon Mark 3 parachute design. The test requires a helicopter to lift the device suspended underneath it to reach the needed test parameters. However, the pilot proactively dropped the device in an abundance of caution to protect the test crew as the test device became unstable underneath the helicopter. At the time of the release, the testing device was not armed, and a test of the parachute design was not performed.

Although losing a test device is never a desired outcome, NASA and SpaceX always will prioritize the safety of our teams over hardware. We are looking at the parachute testing plan now and all the data we already have to determine the next steps ahead of flying the upcoming Demo-2 flight test in the mid-to-late May timeframe.

Upcoming Launches to Close Out March

Astra Space 1 of 3 rocket on the launch pad in Alaska. (Credit: DARPA webcast)

Here’s quick look at the launches scheduled for the rest of March. Information from Spaceflightnow.com’s launch schedule.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled for March 30 is listed. However, unofficial reports say it has been delayed indefinitely due to travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The booster will launch the SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite for Argentine.

What the months ahead hold in terms of launch is uncertain. Europe has suspended flights out of its launch base in French Guiana. Whether other spaceports are closed remains to be seen. China appears to have weathered the worst of the virus.

I would expect crew and cargo flights to the International Space Station (ISS) to continue. The first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to ISS is scheduled for mid- to late May. It’s difficult to say whether that schedule will hold.

March 23/24

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2C
Payloads: 3 Yaogan 30-06 military surveillance satellites
Launch Time: Approximately 11:40 p.m. EDT on 23rd (0340 GMT on 24th)
Launch Site: Xichang, China

UPDATE: Launch successful.

March 24

Launch Vehicle: Astra Rocket 3.0 “1 of 3”
Payloads: TBA
Launch Window: TBA
Launch Site: Pacific Spaceport Complex, Alaska

UPDATE: Media report of an “anomaly” during a dress rehearsal on Monday.. Extend of anomaly and new schedule uncertain. Doesn’t sound like they’re launching on Tuesday. More details here: https://kmxt.org/2020/03/anomaly-at-pacific-spaceport-complex-launch-rehearsal-no-injuries-as-a-result/

March 26

Launch Vehicle: Atlas V
Payload: AEHF 6 military communications satellite
Launch Window: 2:57-4:57 p.m. EDT (1857-2057 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.ulalaunch.com

March 29

Launch Vehicle: Electron “Don’t Stop Me Now”
Payloads: Multiple CubeSats
Launch Window: 12:43-2:33 a.m. EDT (0443-0633 GMT)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: www.rocketlabusa.com/

UPDATE: Rocket Lab has suspended preparations on this launch due to the coronavirus.

March 30
(Possibly Postponed)

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite
Launch Time: 7:21 p.m. EDT (2321 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com

Crew Dragon Flight to ISS Set for May

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken practice extraction from a Crew Dragon capsule. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Media accreditation is open for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 flight test, which will send two astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This mission will be the return of human spaceflight launch capabilities to the United States and the first launch of American astronauts aboard an American rocket and spacecraft since the final space shuttle mission on July 8, 2011.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch Crew Dragon, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the spacecraft, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA and SpaceX are currently targeting no earlier than mid-to-late May for launch.

This second demonstration mission of the Crew Dragon spacecraft is another end-to-end flight test of SpaceX’s human spaceflight system, which will include launch, docking, splashdown and recovery operations. It is the final flight test of the system before SpaceX is certified to carry out operational crew flights to and from the space station for NASA.

NASA is proactively monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation as it evolves. The agency will continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the agency’s chief health and medical officer and communicate any updates that may impact mission planning or media access, as they become available.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry through a public-private partnership to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil. The goal of the program is to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station, which will allow for additional research time and will increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration. The space station remains the springboard to NASA’s next great leap in space exploration, including future missions to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

For launch coverage and more information about the mission, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches 60 Starlink Satellites in Fifth Use of First Stage

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a first stage being flown for a record fifth time launched 60 Starlink broadband Internet satellites into orbit on Wednesday morning from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Falcon 9 suffered the loss of one of its nine Merlin 1D engines at 2 minutes 22 seconds into the flight. The failure, which occurred 10 seconds before first stage shutdown, did not affect the deployment of the 60 satellites following successful shutdown of the second stage.

However, the engine failure could have been a factor in the failure to land the booster on an offshore drone ship. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that a full investigation was required prior to the next Falcon 9 launch.

The payload fairing was previously flown during the launch of Starlink satellites in May 2019.

SpaceX has now launched 362 Starlink spacecraft, which are intended to provide broadband Internet services around the globe. The Starlink constellation will eventually include nearly 12,000 satellites. SpaceX has also applied for approval to raise that total by 30,000 to 42,000 satellites.

Intelsat Selects SpaceX to Launch Intelsat 40e Satellite

MCLEAN, Va. (Intelsat PR)–Intelsat (NYSE: I) has selected SpaceX as its launch partner for Intelsat 40e (IS-40e). The launch is planned for 2022 on SpaceX’s American-built Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

“We look forward to working with SpaceX to launch Intelsat 40e in 2022,” said Intelsat Chief Services Officer Mike DeMarco. “IS-40e will join the Intelsat Epic high-throughput satellite fleet and integrated IntelsatOne ground network to provide our customers with the managed hybrid-connectivity they need in today’s ever-changing world.”

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Falcon 9 Aborts Launch at T-0

A SpaceX Falcon 9 aborted the launch of another 60 Starlink broadband satellites just as the countdown reached zero and the nine Merlin 1D first stage engines began to fire.

SpaceX tweeted:

Standing down today; standard auto-abort triggered due to out of family data during engine power check. Will announce next launch date opportunity once confirmed on the Range

From what I understand, this means at least one of the nine engines was not powering up the same as the others.

Elon Musk Criticized for Downplaying Coronavirus Risk

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk has been downplaying the risk of the Coronavirus to his employees and millions of Twitter followers while thousands of people have become sick and died, hospitals have run short of food and medical supplies, and normal life has come to a grinding halt around the globe,

The coronavirus panic is dumb,” Musk said in a tweet last week that has been criticized as minimizing the risks of what the World Health Organization has declared to be a deadly global pandemic.

BuzzFeed News reports on a company-wide email Musk sent to SpaceX employees:

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