China gearing up for launch of first cargo spacecraft to support future space station
The Long March 7 rocket that will launch the Tianzhou-1 spacecraft arrived last week at the Wenchang launch site for a launch planned for the latter half of April.
Tianzhou-1 will dock with the uncrewed Tiangong-2 module currently in orbit and test the ability to transfer propellant between the spacecraft and the module.
The launch will be the first for the Long March 7 since its inaugural flight last June carrying a set of experimental payloads. [gbtimes]
NASA is planning to make decisions in the coming months on development of a “gateway” outpost in cislunar space. At a conference last week, NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier said that the agency will make “some pretty crisp decisions” in the coming months on what kinds of payloads to fly on future SLS missions that could support development of the outpost. The facility is part of NASA’s long-term strategy to support human missions to Mars in the 2030s, but companies that have developed their own concepts for such an outpost, as part of NASA’s NextSTEP program, say that the outpost could also support human missions to the surface of the moon by the U.S. or other nations. [SpaceNews]
Vice President Mike Pence met with Buzz Aldrin on Friday to discuss space policy. In a tweet, Pence said he met with Aldrin at the White House “as we work to shape the space policy of our administration.” Neither Aldrin not the White House provided additional details about the meeting. In policy statements before the election, the Trump campaign said it would re-establish the National Space Council, which in the past has been led by the vice president. [Space.com]
Lockheed Martin has retired the Athena rocket. Steve Skladanek, president of Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services, said at the Satellite 2017 conference last week that the company does have one remaining Athena rocket in storage, but is not actively marketing it. The last Athena launch was in 2001, but Lockheed tried to revive the rocket several years ago to tap into the growing smallsat market. Skladanek also said that Lockheed, which markets the Atlas 5 to commercial customers, expects that vehicle to remain available for about five years after the introduction of the Vulcan rocket as the new rocket builds up its flight rate. [SpaceNews]
Planet unveiled an online tool that combines maps with imagery from its satellite constellation. Planet Explorer Beta, a free online tool, is designed to demonstrate the the ability of satellite imagery to track changes in regions over time. Planet currently operates 149 satellites, including 144 Dove cubesats and five larger RapidEye satellites, that collect 50 million square kilometers of imagery a day. [SpaceNews]
Boeing has successfully tested the parachute system for its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle. The test, carried out at Spaceport America in New Mexico, used a balloon to carry a mockup of the CST-100 crew capsule to an altitude of more than 12,000 meters. The capsule then dropped from the balloon and deployed a series of parachutes for a safe landing. Boeing plans “a few more drops” to complete qualification of the parachutes for flight. [Spaceport America]
Space Florida has approved a loan for OneWeb’s satellite manufacturing plant. The state space development agency arranged the loan for OneWeb through SunTrust Bank, and the Space Florida board approved the loan Friday. That loan, as well as state incentives, will be used to support construction of the factory outside the Kennedy Space Center gates, where OneWeb will build hundreds of its broadband communications satellites. A formal groundbreaking was planned for earlier this month but postponed because of what the company said was a scheduling conflict. [Florida Politics]
The Space Data Association (SDA) will work with Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) to upgrade commercial space situational awareness capabilities. SDA announced last week it will partner with AGI to create an updated Space Data Center Space Traffic Management service, called SDC 2.0. The updated system is intended to provide more accurate information on the orbital locations of satellites of SDA member companies in order to provide better warnings of potential collisions. [SpaceNews]
Hughes Network Systems has won a contract to provide satellite communications services for British drones. The multi-million-dollar contract covers communications for the British military’s fleet of Predator B drones. The services will initially use X-band frequencies through the U.K.’s Skynet 5 satellites, but is also designed to work with other satellites in other frequency bands. [SpaceNews]
Cheap satellite terminals, and not constellations of satellites, may be key to opening new markets for internet access. Executives at the Satellite 2017 conference last week said lowering the price of satellite terminals to less than $100 each is key to providing service in the developing world. Also sought are inexpensive flat-panel antennas that can be used on planes and other vehicles. [SpaceNews]
The movie about the life of Neil Armstrong has a release date, but you’ll need to be patient. First Man, the film about Armstrong based on the biography of the same name, is set to be released on Oct. 12, 2018. The movie will be directed by Damien Chazelle, who won the Oscar for best director last month for La La Land, and will star Ryan Gosling as Armstrong. [Space.com]