SpaceX weighs flying customer on first Falcon Heavy

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SpaceX is weighing putting a customer on the first flight of its Falcon Heavy rocket late this year.

The company had considered flying that mission solely as a demonstration mission, but president Gwynne Shotwell said “a number of customers” have approached SpaceX about putting a satellite on that launch.

Regardless of the payload, Shotwell said SpaceX will demonstrate the vehicle’s capabilities for placing payloads into geostationary transfer orbit or other, unspecified requirements for national security missions. [Spaceflight Now]


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Orbital ATK is facing a lawsuit from its former partner in the ViviSat satellite servicing joint venture. U.S. Space LLC filed suit last week in a New York court, arguing that Orbital ATK improperly dissolved the joint venture last month and took over the satellite servicing effort. U.S. Space argues it met the requirements of a 2013 update to the ViviSat management agreement to sign up at least one customer and find outside financing, but that Orbital ATK either rejected the funding offers or ignored them. Orbital ATK declined to comment on the suit other than to say it believes it is without merit. [SpaceNews]

Airbus Defence and Space won an ESA contract to build an Earth sciences satellite using a novel radar system. Airbus will build the Biomass spacecraft at its U.K. facilities under a $260 million contract announced Tuesday. Biomass will feature a P-band synthetic aperture radar to study carbon storage in global forests. That radar system has not flown in space before, and because of conflicts with ground-based space and missile tracking radars operated by the U.S. Biomass will not operate over several regions, including North America. The spacecraft is scheduled for launch in 2021. [SpaceNews]

Retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) assured NASA that other senators would continue to support the Wallops Flight Facility. Mikulski, who has helped steer more than $160 million to the facility since 2009, said that the site has strong support from Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) even though she is leaving office after this year. Mikulski toured the facility and the launch pad for Orbital’s Antares rocket, now scheduled to make its first flight since a 2014 launch failure in July. [DelmarvaNow]

Roscosmos has found the booster stages from last week’s inaugural launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Four Soyuz boosters were found in a designated drop zone about 350 kilometers from Vostochny, while the core stage was found about 1,400 kilometers away. The falling stages caused no damage and no negative impact to the environment, according to Roscosmos. The stages will be returned to Vostochny for further study and eventual recycling. [Spaceflight Now]

Both the U.S. and China are interested in cooperating on a proposed European mission to study gravitational waves. ESA is looking for international partnerships for a planned space-based observatory that would study gravitational waves at different frequencies. While NASA is currently interested in having only a minor role in the mission, scientists hope that the discovery of gravitational waves earlier this year will put pressure on NASA to take a larger role. However, China has also expressed an interest in participating, which could create policy complications for any greater U.S. role in the mission. The mission is not expected to fly until the 2030s. [Nature News]

That discovery of gravitational waves has earned the team of scientists who achieved it a $3 million prize. The Breakthrough Prize Foundation awarded a special prize to the team involved with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), who announced in February the discovery of gravitational waves. The three founders of LIGO will split $1 million, while 1,012 “contributors” to LIGO will share the other $2 million — or about $1,976 per person. [Reuters]

SpaceX has reportedly taken an unconventional approach for designing spacesuits for its crewed Dragon spacecraft. Jose Fernandez, a costume designer best known for his work designing superhero costumes for movies like Batman vs. Superman, said in a recent interview that he’s worked with SpaceX to design a spacesuit. “They’re going to be wearing these to space, and I’m like, that’s kind of cool,” he said. Perhaps that choice isn’t that surprising, though, given the parallels often drawn between Elon Musk and Iron Man’s Tony Stark. [Engadget]


Virtual Launch Aborts

Even virtual reality spaceflight can experience launch problems. Earlier this year, British amusement park Alton Towers opened Galactica, a roller coaster where riders wear virtual reality headsets to give them the experience of traveling through outer space while on the ride. However, on Monday a problem with the roller coaster left riders stranded in midair, lying upside down, for half an hour. Workers were able to restart the coaster to bring the riders back down, and no one was injured. The park said the ride stopped when heavy rain obscured a sensor — not the first time a launch has been scrubbed because of a sensor issue. [The Telegraph]