Apple hires two former Google executives involved with satellite projects
Joining Apple are John Fenwick, who led Google’s spacecraft operations, and Michael Trela, head of satellite engineering.
Fenwick was one of the co-founders of Skybox Imaging, the commercial remote sensing company acquired by Google in 2014 and later renamed Terra Bella, while Trela was one of Skybox’s first employees.
Google sold Terra Bella to Planet, another satellite imaging company, earlier this year.
Some analysts speculate that Apple is pursuing a broadband satellite constellation by backing proposals for such systems made by Boeing, although neither company has confirmed any partnership. [Bloomberg]
Operations are set to resume at the Kourou spaceport after the French government reached an agreement with protestors in French Guiana. The agreement, announced Friday, ends a month of unrest in the French overseas territory that included blockades that halted launch preparations at the spaceport. Arianespace expects to conduct an Ariane 5 launch, originally scheduled for March 21, eight working days after the resumption of normal operations at the spaceport. The company says it will be able to make up for lost time because of a lack of launches originally planned for May and most of June. [SpaceNews]
A Cygnus cargo spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station early Saturday. The station’s robotic arm grappled Cygnus at 6:05 a.m. Eastern Saturday and berthed the spacecraft to the Unity module two and a half hours later. The Cygnus, launched four days earlier, brought nearly 3,500 kilograms of cargo for the station, including supplies, equipment and experiments. [Spaceflight Now]
A Chinese cargo ship has started refueling tests in orbit after a docking Saturday with a lab module. The Tianzhou-1 spacecraft docked early Saturday with the Tiangong-2 module, two days after launch. Less than a day after the docking, spacecraft controllers started the first in a series of tests to demonstrate the cargo spacecraft’s ability to transfer fuel to the lab module. The two spacecraft will remain docked for two months for additional tests. [gbtimes]
One of the finalists for the Google Lunar X Prize doesn’t expect to be ready for launch by the prize’s deadline this year. SpaceIL had planned to launch its lunar lander on a Falcon 9 this year on a launch arranged by Spaceflight Industries. However, delays accommodating the lander with the launch’s other payloads have pushed back that mission to 2018, past the prize’s current deadline of a launch by the end of this year. SpaceIL plans to continue work on the mission in the hopes that the prize deadline, previously extended several times, will be extended again. [Quartz]
Hundreds of thousands marched in Washington and other cities around the world Saturday in support of science. The March for Science included a centerpiece rally and march on the National Mall in Washington, whose speakers included Bill Nye, former astronaut Leland Melvin and retired NASA astronomer Nancy Grace Roman. The event, while not intended to be a partisan event, included many people protesting the Trump administration’s actions and views on science issues. More than 600 other marches took place in cities worldwide, including in Los Angeles, where former astronaut Garrett Reisman, who led the march driving an electric-powered Hummer. [Washington Post / Space.com]
Space debris experts called for stronger national legislation and improved tracking to deal with space debris. At the conclusion of the Seventh European Conference on Space Debris, attendees said there needs to be better understanding of debris currently too small to be effectively tracked from the ground. NASA plans to install a sensor on the ISS later this year to characterize the amount of debris at the station’s altitude. Experts also called for laws among spacefaring nations requiring operators to remove satellites from orbit at the end of their lives. [SpaceNews]
Vector Space Systems has raised a bridge round of financing as its development of a small launch vehicle ramps up. The company said the $4.5 million round is an interim step before raising $15-20 million in a Series A round in a couple of months. The company is developing a small launch vehicle, with a suborbital test flight planned for early next month in the Mojave Desert. The company also plans to release this week a request for proposals for constructing a new factory in Tucson. [Arizona Daily Star]
Cassini has started the “Grand Finale” phase of its mission. The spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn since 2004, made its final close approach to the planet’s largest moon, Titan, on Saturday. The flyby changed the spacecraft’s orbit to bring it within the planet’s rings. This phase of the mission, known as the Grand Finale, includes 22 orbits that concludes with the spacecraft’s entry into the Saturn’s atmosphere in mid-September, ending the mission. [New York Times]
The first phase of a privately funded effort to search for signals from alien civilizations has come up empty. Breakthrough Listen, a 10-year, $100 million project announced in 2015 by billionaire Yuri Milner, purchased time on radio telescopes around the world to support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. Scientists involved in the project said last week that the analysis of the data collected to date found 11 “significant” signals, but added those are likely from our own civilization. [Space.com]
It’s not a grand illusion: Styx is sailing away this summer with a space-themed album. The Mission, due out June 16, is about the first human mission to Mars “via Khedive, a nuclear-powered spaceship, underwritten by the Global Space Exploration Program.” The album is the first for Styx in more than a decade, although the band has continued to tour, even making a visit to mission control for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shortly before its 2015 flyby of Pluto; the dwarf planet’s smallest moon is also named Styx. [Billboard / Ultimate Classic Rock / NASA]