Space News — June 6, 2016
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Quick Takes

VERBATIM Bezos’ Plan A for Outer Space

“I know Elon [Musk], and we’re very like-minded in many ways. We’re not conceptual twins. One of the things I want us to do is to go to Mars, but for me it’s one of the things. He’s singularly focused on that… For me, I don’t find that ‘Plan B’ idea motivating. I find nothing wrong with that. I think it’s good when the world has lots of different motivations, but I don’t want a Plan B for Earth. I want Plan B to be make sure Plan A works. I think you go to space to save Earth.”

—Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, comparing his long-term vision for space with that of Elon Musk’s vision of making humanity multiplanetary, at the Code Conference. May 31 in California.

The U.S. Postal Service has given its stamp of approval to the solar system. The Postal Service released two new sets of space-related stamps May 31. One set features images of the eight planets in the solar system, while the other includes images of Pluto and New Horizons, the NASA spacecraft that flew past Pluto last year. The Postal Service took pains to emphasize that it was not taking sides in the debate about Pluto’s planetary status with the separate stamp issue. “But with the happenstance the way it was — with New Horizons arriving at Pluto, it gave us the perfect opportunity to be able to issue Pluto with the rest of the planets,” said Postal Service art director Bill Gicker.

Significant Figures

$21.1 million

The amount Planetary Resources raised in a Series A investment round to fund development of an Earth observation satellite system called Ceres.

30 seconds

How long Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket fired its new RD-181 first stage engines during a May 31 test that should clear the way for the rocket to return to flight in early July.

24

Roughly the number of employees XCOR Aerospace laid off at the end of May as it suspends work on a reusable suborbital spaceplane in order to focus resources on its contract with United Launch Alliance for a liquid hydrogen engine.

SpaceX to unveil crewed Mars mission in September at IAC

A Mars mission architecture SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk will unveil in September will call for a series of missions starting in 2018 leading up to the first crewed mission to the planet in 2024, Musk said June 1.

In an on-stage interview at the Code Conference, Musk repeated earlier comments that he would announce his architecture for human missions to Mars in September at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

That plan would start with the uncrewed launch of a Dragon spacecraft in 2018 on a Mars landing mission dubbed Red Dragon. SpaceX announced April 27 it would fly that mission working in cooperation with NASA, who will provide technical expertise but no funding in exchange for data from the spacecraft’s Mars landing attempt.

“The basic game plan is that we’re going to send a mission to Mars with every Mars opportunity from 2018 onwards,” he said. Launch windows for Mars missions open every 26 months, with the next opening in the spring of 2018.

“We’re establishing cargo flights to Mars that people can count on,” he said. “I think if things go according to plan, we should be able to launch people probably in 2024, with arrival in 2025.”

Musk declined to give additional details about the plan, including the “very big rocket” that would launch the crewed vehicles. “In September I’ll tell you,” he said.

SPOT-ted in the Sahara

Globalstar Europe Satellite Services Ltd. says their SPOT Gen3 emergency notification and satellite messaging device was used to help rescue 22 lost or injured competitors during April’s Marathon Des Sables, a 250-kilometer footrace across Morocco’s Sahara Desert. All 1,250 competitors in what organizers bill as “The Toughest Footrace on Earth” carried a pocket-size SPOT Gen3 device on their backpacks, allowing emergency support teams to easily locate a lost or injured runner at the press of a button. The device also allowed family and friends to track runners’progress through a service provided by WAA Tracking, a value-added reseller of Globalstar mobile satellite services.

HAC and Slash

It’s not dead yet, but NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) was dealt a rather grievous blow by the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) when it voted May 24 to cut funding for the U.S. space agency’s never-fully-fleshed-out plan to relocate an asteroid closer to Earth and then send astronauts there.

“[N]either a robotic nor a crewed mission to an asteroid appreciably contribute to the overarching mission to Mars,” the HAC said. “Further, the long-term costs of launching a robotic craft to the asteroid, followed by a crewed mission, are unknown and will divert scarce resources away from developing technology and equipment necessary for missions to Mars.”

Blown out of proportion?

Bigelow Aerospace denied a report by a Las Vegas television station that it’s planning a lunar base. “Although it’s a great idea, we are not proposing to construct a lunar base at this time,” the company said in a June 2 tweet, a day after a news report claimed Bigelow proposed to NASA assembling a lunar base complex comprising the company’s B330 modules and other components. The company said its focus is on commercial stations in Earth orbit, as well as a plan announced in April to add a B330 module to the International Space Station.

A closet-sized forerunner of the B330, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, was delivered to the ISS in April and finally fully expanded May 28 after NASA struggled for a couple of days to pump air into the structure. NASA officials said friction between the folded fabric layers of the module was stronger than expected, causing the deployment to go slowly.
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