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Missile defense space sensor made by Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace clears design review

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Aerospace

MIT professor: Interest in space careers at an all-time high

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Dan Hastings: ‘I can’t tell you how many students think that flying a helicopter on Mars is just a cool thing to do’

BOSTON — MIT’s Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics graduate admissions program this past year saw a record number of applicants, “most of whom want to work in the space business,” said Daniel Hastings, professor and head of the department.

NASA’s exploration achievements and SpaceX’s high-profile space missions are driving enthusiasm at colleges and universities, Hastings said Sept. 28 at the Space Sector Market Conference in Cambridge, Mass.

“I can’t tell you how many students think that flying a helicopter on Mars is just a cool thing to do. They want to do things like that, it’s really attractive to a lot of students,” said Hastings.

“Really exciting things are happening” in space science and technology, he said. 

Hastings said it’s important for students aiming for space careers to acquire technical skills “but they also need to start thinking entrepreneurially” about the business of space. 

The Aeronautics & Astronautics department just started a program with the MIT Sloan School of Management where students can earn a “certificate in innovation,” said Hastings.

“We’ll run a $10K competition and give money to those who come up with the best ideas for a space business,” he said “These are the things we’re actually doing to encourage their entrepreneurial juices, plus giving them the technical stuff as well.”

Hastings recently hosted the chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond for the signing of a partnership between MIT and the Space Force to identify opportunities in research and education.

The agreement with MIT is one of several the Space Force has signed with academic institutions under the University Partnership Program. The Space Force is looking to establish scholarship, internship and mentorship opportunities for students and ROTC cadets. 


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Source: https://spacenews.com/mit-professor-interest-in-space-careers-at-an-all-time-high/

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Government shutdown could delay NASA’s Lucy asteroid mission

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WASHINGTON — A NASA asteroid mission that has remained on schedule for a mid-October launch despite disruptions caused by the pandemic is now facing a new challenge: the threat of a federal government shutdown.

The Lucy spacecraft is currently scheduled to launch in the predawn hours of Oct. 16 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The $981 million mission, part of NASA’s Discovery program, must launch during a window that is open only through Nov. 7 to fly a complex trajectory to visit several Trojan asteroids leading and trailing Jupiter in that planet’s orbit around the sun.

Preparations for the launch remain on schedule, project officials said during a Sept. 28 briefing. The spacecraft will soon be encapsulated within its payload fairing and transported to the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41, where it will be installed atop its Atlas 5 rocket.

“Things are moving really quickly,” Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said at the briefing.

However, actions — or, more accurately, a lack of action — 1,200 kilometers from the launch site could bring those activities to a sudden halt. The new fiscal year will begin Oct. 1 and Congress has yet to pass a temporary spending bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, to fund the government until it passes full-year appropriations bills. Some Republican members oppose an increase in the debt limit, required to avoid a government default, that would also be included in the CR.

If Congress does not pass a CR by Oct. 1, the federal government would shut down for the first time since a five-week shutdown in December 2018 and January 2019. Nonessential government activities would stop and federal employees furloughed.

NASA’s contingency plan for a shutdown, last updated June 9, states that operations of the International Space Station and other spacecraft would continue in the event of a shutdown. “However, if a satellite mission has not yet been launched, unfunded work will generally be suspended on that project,” the document states.

Any halt to launch preparations could jeopardize its ability to launch during its three-week window, particularly if it faces other technical or weather delays. “We’re keeping a really close eye on what’s going on, and hoping that we can get a continuing resolution to continue operating,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said when asked about the potential impact of a shutdown.

Glaze initially didn’t say if Lucy has received an exception to the shutdown rules, allowing it to continue launch preparations. Among the categories of excepted activities in NASA’s shutdown plan are “space launch hardware processing activities, which are necessary to prevent harm to life or property.”

Asked later about the status of an exception, Glaze said the project is seeking one. “The request process is underway. It’s not completed yet,” she said. “We’re working on that and keeping a really, really close eye on what’s going on with Congress and the budget.”

Lucy must launch in that narrow window because of its complex trajectory. After its launch, it will perform flybys of the Earth in October 2022 and December 2024 before flying past an asteroid in the main belt in April 2025. It will then go past several objects in one cluster of Trojan asteroids between August 2027 and November 2028. After another Earth flyby in December 2030, it will fly by two objects in the other Trojan cluster in March 2033.

The unique trajectory can’t be easily repeated if Lucy misses its launch window. “Finding a trajectory that actually will allow us to visit all these types of objects has been a real chore,” said Hal Levison, principal investigator for the mission at the Southwest Research Institute. “This is an amazing trajectory that will not be possible again in the near future.”

Scientists like Levison hope that Lucy’s flybys of those Trojan asteroids will help them better understand the early history of the solar system. Some of those objects may be what he calls “fossils of planetary formation”; the mission is named Lucy after the fossilized skeleton of a human ancestor discovered nearly a half-century ago.

Until the threat of a government shutdown, the biggest challenge for the mission’s schedule had been the pandemic. “It was built over a 14-month period during a global pandemic, which believe me, was really difficult,” said Rich Lipe, spacecraft program manager at Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the spacecraft.

He said the company took measures such as splitting workers into “A-B teams” that didn’t physically interact with each other. “In case someone got sick, we wouldn’t take down the entire team,” he explained. “It took incredible team cooperation and flexibility, and I can’t thank the Lucy team enough.”

Those measures kept Lucy on schedule while also staying within budget. “They’ve done an incredible job of managing the project,” Glaze said of mission management. “They’re able to deliver on schedule and well within cost, even with the COVID pandemic going on.”


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Source: https://spacenews.com/government-shutdown-could-delay-nasas-lucy-asteroid-mission/

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Panel: Orbital debris problem is a lot like trying to fix climate change

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NASA’s Bhavya Lal: ‘Whatever we do, it cannot be just a government effort, it has to be government and industry together’

BOSTON — A study just completed by NASA looked at what new roles the space agency — and the U.S. government more broadly — should play in mitigating the growth of orbital debris and promoting space sustainability.

“And it is absolutely a complicated issue,” Bhavya Lal, senior advisor for budget and finance at NASA, said Sept. 28.

Speaking on a panel at the Space Sector Market Conference in Cambridge, Mass., Lal compared the debris challenge to the debate over how to address climate change. 

“There’s international dimensions, regulatory dimensions, commercial dimensions,” she said. 

Some of the takeaways from the study have been heard before. “We need to generate less debris, which means not doing ASAT [anti-satellite] tests in space, not have satellites that have no propulsion,” Lal said. “The other piece is we need to really understand where things are so we can maneuver around them.”

‘There are lessons we can learn from other domains,” Lal said. “The climate challenge is almost identical.” And it’s clear that the government alone cannot ensure a sustainable space environment, she added.

When it comes to climate change, “We want to put out fewer greenhouse gases, we want to remove the greenhouse gases … there’s discussions about carbon tax and trade schemes, a host of solutions that are being examined.”

A similar reasoning may apply to space, Lal said. “Whatever we do, it cannot be just a government effort, it has to be government and industry together. It has to be an international effort, It doesn’t matter what the United States does if two thirds of the debris is being generated by other countries. And I’m hoping in the coming months and years NASA will would be taking a bigger role in this area.”

Concerns are rising about congested orbits amid a huge expansion in the number of satellites being launched into orbit to provide services such as communications, navigation and Earth observation.

Sita Sonty, partner and associate director at the Boston Consulting Group, said at the conference that the issue of orbital debris is gaining the attention of industry investors and that many believe the private sector has to help finance solutions to the problem. 

“I think there is some questions on what do we remove first? Do we remove the very large bodies? Do we remove something else? And those are discussions to have in the community,” she said.

Investors are ready to fund businesses that could perform debris removal as a service, for example, “but they need to know that there is a strategic framework for governance … That governance structure has to be honored and it has to have an actual regulatory system.” 

If the industry sees a “drive towards the establishment of an international framework,” said Sonty, “then the investors will see some stability and some predictability in this segment of the market so they’ll be willing to place a bet there.”


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Source: https://spacenews.com/panel-orbital-debris-problem-is-a-lot-like-trying-to-fix-climate-change/

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Starfish Space raises $7 million for constellation-managing space tugs

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TAMPA, Fla. — Starfish Space has raised $7 million to develop space tugs that aim to extend the lives of satellites, move them to different orbits and remove debris.

Early-stage investors NFX and MaC Venture Capital led the funding round, with participation from PSL Ventures, Boost VC, Liquid2 Ventures and Hypothesis.

Venture capital firm Boost VC had led an earlier investment round for Starfish Space.

The Kent, Washington-based startup said Sept. 28 it will use proceeds to accelerate the development of its all-electric Otter spacecraft, targeting an initial launch in 2023 or 2024.

Otter aims to be cheaper and smaller than the servicing spacecraft that Northrop Grumman and Astroscale currently have in orbit, co-founder and former Blue Origin engineer Trevor Bennett previously told SpaceNews.

As well as being designed to service spacecraft in multiple orbits, Starfish Space said Otter could later be integrated into autonomous robotics infrastructure, supporting manufacturing, assembling, mining and other upcoming capabilities in space.

The venture is currently flight testing its Cephalopod rendezvous, proximity operations and docking (RPOD) software on thrusters that are part of startup Orbit Fab’s spacecraft refueling demo mission in low Earth orbit.

Orbit Fab recently unveiled plans for an in-orbit refueling mission in late 2022 or early 2023 in geostationary orbit. 

“As space becomes more and more commercialized, we see huge opportunities to solve Earth’s problems in space,” said Adrian Fenty, MaC Venture Capital’s managing general partner.

“Additionally, as space becomes more crowded and more regulated, we see a massive need for companies like Starfish to provide satellite services and deorbiting.”


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Source: https://spacenews.com/starfish-space-raises-7-million-for-constellation-managing-space-tugs/

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