Despite undercutting every other large launcher by a sizable factor, and reaching a point where the company turns a large profit on every commercial launch, SpaceX appears to be feeling the heat from small launchers like Rocket Lab (and a dozen others just entering the market) whose boosters can carry small satellites to low earth orbit. Which is most of the traffic to space. SpaceX needs more customers with large satellites, or with at least medium satellites heading for geosynchronous orbit, so that it’s growing fleet of Falcon 9 block-5s can strut their fiery stuff.
Even though 2018 brought a record 21 launches from the company that’s redefined space flight, it doesn’t appear to be enough to meet what’s needed to finish the Mars fleet. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. It just means that the biggest space race at the moment might be happening on the ledger sheets at SpaceX.
Space News: SpaceX completes the new Iridium satellite constellation.
SpaceX launched the final 10 Iridium Next satellites into orbit Jan. 11, completing its first mission of the year and the last in a multi-launch contract for its largest non-government customer, Iridium Communications.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took off at 10:31 a.m. Eastern from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Almost an hour later, Iridium’s new 860-kilogram satellites separated from the rocket one-by-one for 15 minutes. Iridium confirmed telemetry from all 10 satellites at 11:53 a.m. Eastern.
Those who predicted SpaceX would get this one off on schedule (which did not include me) proved to be correct. Completing this contract was fantastic work, but completing this contract may also be part of what’s creating a cash squeeze for the stainless steel spacecraft company.
BBC News: Russia’s Spektr-R space telescope has stopped responding.
Russia's only space radio telescope is no longer responding to commands from Earth, officials say.
Astro Space Centre chief Nikolai Kardashev said some of the Spektr-R satellite's communication systems had stopped working.
But it was still transmitting scientific data, RIA Novosti news agency reports.
Still transmitting is good. It shows that Spektr is still operational, which holds out hope that it will wake up and start talking again. But just transmitting, not receiving would seem to be a serious limit on any future data.
ScienceNews: Less than a year after launch, TESS is already finding bizarre worlds.
My personal friend, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is doing amazing work. And finding amazing things.
Unlike Kepler, which stared unblinkingly at a single patch of sky for years, TESS scans a new segment of sky every month. Over two years, TESS will cover the entire 360 degrees of sky visible from Earth’s orbit.
In the first four segments, TESS has already spotted eight confirmed planets and more than 320 unconfirmed candidates, said Xu Chelsea Huang of MIT. And several of them are downright strange.
Take the third-found planet, HD 21749b. Only 52 light-years away, it has the lowest temperature known for a planet orbiting a bright, nearby star, astronomers reported at the meeting and in a paper posted at arXiv.org on January 1.
That planet turns out to be a “Sub-Neptune” in a 36 day orbit around a dwarf star. The difference between what scientists thought we would see in terms of planetary systems, and the incredible variety we’re finding, really shows the peril of making predictions based on a single example. Let’s hope we’re just as wrong about life.
CNN: Score a final planet for Kepler.
Sure. TESS is racking up the planets now, but before there was TESS, there was Kepler. And credit that amazing probe with one more planet.
Although NASA's Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel and ended its mission in 2018, citizen scientists have used its data to discover an exoplanet 226 light-years away in the Taurus constellation.
The exoplanet, known as K2-288Bb, is about twice the size of Earth and orbits within the habitable zone of its star, meaning liquid water may exist on its surface. It's difficult to tell whether the planet is rocky like Earth or a gas giant like Neptune.
New York Times: Mysterious radio signals from deep space
For the last several years, astronomers have been teased and baffled by mysterious bursts of radio waves from the distant universe: pops of low-frequency radiation, emitting more energy than the sun does in a day, that occur randomly and disappear immediately. Nobody knows when these “fast radio bursts,” or F.R.B.s, will occur, or where exactly in the cosmos they are occurring.
More than 60 of these surprise broadcasts have been recorded so far. About the only thing astronomers agree on is that these signals probably are not extraterrestrials saying hello.
So it was big news a year ago when scientists found a repeating radio burster and tracked it to a dwarf galaxy 3 billion light-years from Earth. Subsequent observations suggested that the burst was generated by extremely powerful magnetic fields, most likely ruling out lasers from alien spaceships.
It’s not aliens. Or, if it is aliens, the energy represented by these “signals” is so high, we should be very, very glad they’re way over there.
Washington Post: 2019 is a promising year for space.
Though the prospect of the return of human spaceflight from U.S. soil has at times seemed like a mirage, NASA’s astronauts could this year return to space from the Florida Space Coast for the first time since the space shuttle was retired more than seven years ago. If successful, it would punctuate a year that government and industry officials believe could mark a turning point in the U.S. space program, which could see all sorts of new milestones as NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing.
Boeing is also working to develop a spacecraft it hopes would ferry NASA’s astronauts to the International Space Station by the end of 2019, meaning there would be not one but two American spacecraft capable of flying astronauts to orbit. After successfully scratching what many consider the edge of space last month, Virgin Galactic is planning to make space tourism a reality in 2019. Blue Origin also hopes to fly its first test mission to space this year. And small rocket companies hope to start launching to orbit on a more regular basis.
As it happens, I was supposed to be headed to Florida on Tuesday to conduct interviews, make a pad visit, and settle in for the first launch of Crew Dragon. But … shutdown. Still, hopefully things will be back on track soon.
And speaking of this, I’m holding off on the launch calendar this week. Thanks.