SpaceX still doing site prep for Boca Chica launch pad
Trucks are dumping dirt on the site at Boca Chica Beach, east of Brownsville, to stabilize the ground there before construction of the launch site itself can begin.
While SpaceX suggested in a September 2014 groundbreaking ceremony that the launch site could be ready as soon as 2016, the company is now planning a first launch from there in 2018. [Brownsville Herald]
OneWeb will announce tomorrow that it is building a satellite manufacturing facility near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. That factory, located in a business park just outside the gates of the space center, will be used to produce an initial run of 900 satellites that OneWeb will deploy in low Earth orbit to provide broadband communications. The company hasn’t confirmed those plans, but has been closely linked for months to a Space Florida project for a satellite plant there. [Reuters]
An experimental expandable module is now attached to the International Space Station. Astronauts used the station’s robotic arm to pick up the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) from the trunk of the Dragon cargo spacecraft and attach it to the station’s Tranquility module early Saturday. BEAM won’t be expanded to its full size until late May. BEAM is designed to demonstrate expandable module technologies that NASA is interested in using for future exploration missions, and Bigelow Aerospace for future commercial space stations. [CBS]
Swiss company Ruag Space will make payload fairings for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket. The companies announced the deal during last week’s Space Symposium, expanding an existing partnership announced last year. Those payload fairings will be built at ULA’s Decatur, Alabama, factory, and could be used for the Atlas launch vehicle as well. [SpaceNews]
Great Britain’s export credit agency is positioning itself as an alternative to those in the U.S. and France for financing satellite deals. UK Export Finance sets itself apart from the U.S. Export-Import Bank and France’s Coface by requiring as little as 20 percent of the deal have UK content. UK Export Finance has done little in the way of satellite deals, but could become more active in the future as part of a broader government policy to support the country’s space industry. [SpaceNews]
The Week Ahead
- College Park, Md.: Sen. Barbara Mikulski speaks at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon.
- Washington: The House Science Committee’s space subcommittee holds a hearing titled “Commercial Space Launch Industry: Small Satellite Opportunities and Challenges” at 10 a.m. Eastern.
- Washington: Rep. John Culberson speaks at a Space Transportation Association luncheon on Capitol Hill.
- Washington: The Senate Appropriations Committee’s commerce, justice and science (CJS) subcommittee marks up its fiscal year 2017 spending bill at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.
- Warsaw: The Satellites for Society User Forum discusses the role space-based services can improve public services, particularly in Poland.
- London: The Military Space Situational Awareness conference provides updates from military and industry officials on space tracking efforts.
- Washington: The House Armed Force Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee marks up its section of the 2017 defense authorization act at 12 noon Eastern.
- Washington: The full Senate Appropriations Committee marks up the CJS spending bill, and related bills, at 10:30 a.m. Eastern.
- Washington: NASA and CASIS host an industry day to discuss commercial opportunities for performing research on the ISS.
- Kourou, French Guiana: Scheduled launch of a Soyuz rocket carrying the Sentinel 1B Earth observations satellite at 5:02 p.m. Eastern.
- Global: NASA holds its fifth annual International Space Apps Challenge, where teams around the world develop applications that make use of NASA data sets. The “main stage” event for the challenge will be in Pasadena, California.
NASA’s Kepler spacecraft remains on the road to full recovery after going into an “emergency mode” earlier this month. Controllers are in the process of turning on spacecraft instruments and other subsystems and have reported no problems so far during that process. The mission’s manager writes that he believes “we will soon be on the home stretch” of returning the spacecraft to normal operations. The cause of the anomaly that triggered the emergency mode remains under investigation. [NASA]
The head of Air Force Space Command is worried about a “bubble” in the launch industry. Gen. John Hyten said recently that a growing number of commercial launch ventures made him worry whether there was enough business to sustain them all, noting a similar bubble in the late 1990s that burst when commercial satellite constellations went bankrupt. He added, though, he was encouraged by the development of new launch systems. “What we need to do is just encourage this industry to continue to blossom,” he said. [Financial Times (subscription)]
Japan is planning to add emergency communications to a fleet of navigation satellites. The Michibiki series of satellites, designed primarily to augment the GPS constellation, will also support text-based emergency communications between smartphones and first responders in the event of an earthquake, tsunami or other natural disaster. The system is designed to be a backup should terrestrial cellular networks be disrupted, although it’s not clear what kinds of phones will be able to use the satellite network. [Nikkei Asian Review]
An Indian launch late next month will carry a record number of satellites. The primary payload of the PSLV-C33 mission will be an Indian remote sensing satellite called Cartosat-2C, but the rocket will also carry 21 secondary payloads, primarily small satellites from foreign customers. Those satellites range between 1 and 130 kilograms in mass, while Cartosat-2C weighs in at 700 kilograms. [The Hindu]
A former Google executive is joining the advisory board of a space-focused venture fund. Michael Jones is the co-founder of Keyhole Corporation, acquired by Google in 2004 for a mapping system that became Google Earth. Jones will now advise Seraphim Space, a $110 million fund being established by London-based Seraphim Capital. The fund plans to invest in British companies, or European ones that do business in Britain, working on hardware and software for space applications. [Fortune]