Collaboration Between China And European Space Agency To Build Moon Outpost Is Now Brewing

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A potential space collaboration between China and the European Space Agency is looking bright. A senior official of the Chinese space agency has confirmed the bilateral talks.

According to Tian Yulong, China space agency’s secretary general, the talks were focused on the lunar base.

The talks were also confirmed by Pal Hvistendahl, a spokesman for the ESA. Besides the human outpost on the moon, other joint ventures are also in the pipeline, according to the spokesman.

China has already announced that it is planning to reach the darker side of the moon by 2018 and there will be a Mars mission by 2020.

“The Chinese have a very ambitious moon program already in place,” Hvistendahl said and added that the space race of the ’60s is off now.

To explore space for peaceful purposes, international cooperation is essential, the spokesman added.

ESA’s Moon Village A Launch Pad To Mars Mission

Meanwhile, ESA director general Johann-Dietrich Woerner mentioned the proposed “Moon Village” and said it would be an international launching pad for future missions to Mars and serve as a tool to develop space tourism and lunar mining.

The cooperation with ESA on the moon village will be beneficial for China in accomplishing the space goals.

ESA Cooperation As Fillip to Chinese Programs

China has been trying to make rapid strides in space programs the past few years. The first unmanned cargo spacecraft of China was recently launched to the Tiangong-2 unmanned space station to prepare the station for advanced programs and trials of docking and detaching from the station.

China sent its first man into space in 2003. But that was more than 40 years after a Russian cosmonaut hit the orbit.

That is why there is a perception that China has been a laggard in space programs compared with big powers like the United States or Russia. Also, China cannot have space collaboration with the United States as space cooperation with China has been excluded by the latter under a law passed in 2011. China was also kept out of the International Space Station over security concerns.

NASA Plan For Space Station That Orbits Moon

Meanwhile, NASA is also going ahead with its plans to construct a space station at the lunar orbit and has roped in international partners. The science station will fill the vacuum caused by the retirement of the International Space Station in the 2020s.

The size will be a fraction of the ISS. Yet the new station with its location at the cis-lunar orbit will be giving a foothold for all human missions to asteroids, the moon, and Mars. The egg-shaped orbit will be away by 1,500 km to 70,000 km (930 miles to 44,000 miles) from the moon.

The design of the station has been under progress and the first mission may be launched in 2023. The plan is to position a robotic spacecraft called Power and Propulsion Bus or PPB in the orbit around the moon.

That will be followed by the addition of a pair of modules weighing less than 10 tons each to be bolted to the PPB. The new structure can house four astronauts for 90 days. The space facility will also get a Russian-built airlock module in the mid-2020s to enable the crew to walk outside the space home.

Both modules will be backed with four docking ports with mutual connections so that they can receive visiting spacecraft.

The advantage of choosing cis-lunar space is that it is not very congested compared with Earth orbit and designers can afford thinner walls around the space station.

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ViaSat-2 satellite now scheduled to launch on June 1, 2017


An artist's impression of the ViaSat-2 satellite. Image: Boeing.

An artist’s impression of the ViaSat-2 satellite. Image: Boeing.

ViaSat has confirmed the scheduled launch date for the ViaSat-2 satellite is June 1, 2017.

The ViaSat-2 satellite will launch aboard an Arianespace Ariane 5 ECA launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Centre, Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The satellite will be sent into geostationary transfer orbit by the launch vehicle and will provide broadband services from an orbital slot located at 69.9° west longitude.

The ViaSat-2 satellite system is expected to significantly improve speeds, reduce costs and expand the footprint of broadband services across North America, Central America, the Caribbean, a portion of northern South America, as well as the primary aeronautical and maritime routes across the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe.

The Ka-band geostationary satellite was designed to offer high-capacity connectivity and wide coverage, with the flexibility to move capacity to where demand requires it.

The company says the satellite is expected to double the bandwidth of ViaSat-1, with more than 300 Gigabits per second (Gbps) of total network capacity, as well as providing seven times the broadband coverage over its predecessor.

ViaSat-2 is expected to enter service in early calendar year 2018.

At the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Don Buchman, Vice President and General Manager, Commercial Mobility at ViaSat, said its Gen 2 equipment, which will enable compatibility between the ViaSat-1, -2 and -3 satellites, will be available to install in May.

“What we’re bringing to the in-flight internet market is so drastically different than anything else. We’re delivering a vertically-integrated system – from the satellite to the terminal and the access points on the aircraft – that is optimised to keep pace with the most powerful communications satellites in the world – ViaSat-2 and ViaSat-3,” said Buchman.

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ViaSat-2 satellite now scheduled to launch on June 1, 2017 was last modified: April 27th, 2017 by Steve Nichols

Space executives ask for updated regulations, more aid

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A Falcon 9 rocket briefly fired its nine Merlin main engines at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 ahead of a planned launch. Emre Kelly

WASHINGTON – Out-of-date regulations, a looming backlog of license applications and a lack of viable destinations in Low Earth Orbit threaten to hamper the nation’s burgeoning commercial space industry.

That’s what several commercial space executives on Wednesday told a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee panel overseeing the space program.

What they want is a government assist when it comes to helping companies develop technologies, handle the growing volume of launches, and extend liability and intellectual property protections. What they also want is for government to streamline and simplify regulations they say are already proving cumbersome.

For example, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force, two agencies in charge of licensing commercial space activities, need to update regulations that recognize the industry’s growing use of reusable rockets, Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, told committee members.

The company, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will begin flying test pilots next year on suborbital rides of its New Shepard reusable booster and capsule.

While pursuing an FAA launch license of its New Glenn spacecraft recently at a federal range, Blue Origin officials found they had to comply with an “entirely different but equally rigorous” set of regulations for both the FAA and the Air Force for the same vehicle.

“This is duplicative and onerous and will increase costs, delays and uncertainty,” Meyerson told senators.

Robert Bigelow, whose Bigelow Aerospace builds inflatable space habitats, said he’s worried there aren’t enough destinations in the Low Earth Orbit aside from the International Space Station. He wants to help develop a “lunar depot” that would orbit the moon and enable access to the lunar surface.

The industry needs places to test transportation systems, try out operating networks and conduct experiments. And it needs customers willing to pay for such services, he told senators.

“NASA is too focused on just transportation systems to the ISS,” Bigelow said. “Whether the (space station) continues or not, additional destinations besides the ISS are vital to sustain a viable space crew and cargo enterprise with new markets that eventually will replace the (orbiting lab).

Others who testified also said the FAA office that reviews and issues commercial launch licenses needs a boost in staffing given the impending increase of applications aerospace firms are expected to file in the coming years.

And they want the government to permanently extend indemnification protections to insure companies if a mishap causes catastrophic third-party losses. The current protections expire in 2025. And they want to ensure any intellectual property developed by U.S. companies while they’re in space belongs to the company.

It wasn’t just a gripe session.

They praised NASA’s use of Space Act agreements that give commercial space firms more flexibility than traditional government contracts.

And the aerospace executives were appreciative of the gains made under the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act Congress passed in 2015 that has helped accelerate the number of commercial launches in recent months, and paved the way for dozens more to come.

That law extended the life of the space station to 2024, provided U.S. citizens who collect materials from asteroids the right to keep those samples, and gave companies more time to meet certain safety standards so they can develop technology and work through issues without potentially costly and burdensome rules.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the panel, told them the steps forward must be pragmatic.

“We all know challenges exist but the key to success here is balance,” said Nelson, whose home state has seen a commercial activity spike at Cape Canaveral. “Balance between public and private space endeavors, between competition and cooperation, (and) between risk and public safety.”

Contact Ledyard King at lking@gannett.com; Twitter: @ledgeking

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Blue Origin and other space companies urge Congress to boost FAA's funding

Blue Origin New Shepard liftoffBlue Origin’s New Shepard prototype spaceship blasts off in January 2016. (Blue Origin Photo)

When senators asked executives from Blue Origin and other commercial space ventures what they could do to help them at a Senate hearing today, they received an unusual reply: Give more money to the regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration.

“”It may be rare for companies to be pushing for more funding for their regulators, but we really think this is a case where it could be a good investment for the country,” Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides said during a Senate space subcommittee hearing.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, also known as AST, is responsible for regulating and encouraging development of private-sector launch companies such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX.

AST’s budget for the current fiscal year is just a little less than $20 million, or just a little more than 0.1 percent of the FAA’s total budget of $15.9 billion.

As more commercial operators are entering the space business, AST is having to ramp up its regulatory machinery to handle the upswing. And the commercial operators say they’re feeling the bottleneck.

Rob Meyerson, the president of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture, urged Congress to increase AST’s budget “to allow the office to operate as a responsive and effective agency.”

He also said AST should tighten its focus on the launch industry, rather that expanding its mandate.

“We believe AST’s resources are insufficient to meet its existing operations, and do not believe AST should take on new authorities now, such as on-orbit authority, space situational awareness or space traffic management,” Meyerson said. “We want to work with AST on the impending licensing traffic jam before they start taking on orbital traffic jams.”

Meyerson also complained about “conflicting expectations” on the regulatory process from the U.S. Air Force and the FAA as Blue Origin prepares to license its New Glenn orbital rocket. He said the two sets of requirements for reusable rockets were “completely different.”

“This is duplicative and onerous, and will increase costs, delays and uncertainty,” Meyerson said.

Meyerson said AST should become the single point of regulatory contact for commercial launches, regardless of the location or type of launch.

Robert Bigelow, the billionaire founder of Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, touted his company’s progress in building expandable space modules. The hotel magnate said he’s put more than $350 million into his space venture, and he aims to produce two flight-ready, 330-cubic-meter modules by 2020..

Revisiting the Outer Space Treaty

Bigelow focused his testimony on the potential for reviewing and revising the Outer Space Treaty, a 50-year-old pact that rules out assertions of sovereignty on celestial bodies beyond Earth. The treaty has become a point of debate now that commercial ventures – including Planetary Resources in Redmond, Wash. – have begun looking into space resource extraction.

In Bigelow’s view, the treaty doesn’t rule out setting up bases on the moon or other planets, even if they have a military purpose. “One base could be the size of Texas, because there is nothing in that treaty that says it couldn’t be,” he said.

Bigelow voiced concern that China could lay claim to lunar territory – a scenario he’s been talking about for years. “I don’t think it’s a joke,” he told the senators. “It’s not something to be cavalier about.”

Updating the treaty would provide an opportunity to add provisions that are more specific about establishing bases beyond Earth, and setting up non-interference zones around those bases. That would give a boost to commercial activity on the moon and other places in space, Bigelow said.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was sympathetic to the idea of revisiting the treaty. “It’s important that Congress evaluate how that treaty, enacted 50 years ago, will impact new and innovative activity within space as well as potential settlement throughout the galaxy,” he said.

No trade war with Mars

Andrew Rush, CEO of Made In Space, praised NASA’s role in supporting his company’s work on 3-D printers in space and an in-space method for manufacturing optical fiber more economically.

Rush said one way that Congress could help space entrepreneurs would be to draw up a plan for making the transition from the International Space Station, to dedicated commercial modules, to free-flying commercial space platforms.

He also said Congress should ensure that goods manufactured in space and brought down to Earth aren’t hit with import taxes or customs duties. That comment sparked a bit of political repartee involving Cruz and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

“I certainly hope we would not trigger reciprocal tariffs on Mars,” Cruz quipped.

“Or a border adjustment tax,” Nelson added.

Space Tourism: Russia, US Ready to Give You a Lift to Moon Orbit, ISS

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — In August, Solntsev said Energia was preparing a Moon expedition on board an upgraded Soyuz spacecraft, with eight space tourists interested in a trip. Renowned Canadian filmmaker James Cameron and a Japanese family were said to be among the first to express interest in the lunar orbit trip.

In April, Energia’s head said at least four were likely space tourists and were ready to pay for the trip. Energia has also been considering the resumption of the ISS tourist program. In February, Solntsev said a contract for nine tours could be signed before 2021.

“Crafting ISS commercial flight contracts is hard work which depends on many factors. We are discussing contract details with potential clients. The same applies to the Moon orbit trip… We have worked out various options with our partners for sending tourists to the ISS and to the Moon, but the decision is not made just by us, but jointly with the other space powers, as there are issues beyond technical and financial ones, such as legal concerns and so on,” Solntsev said.

Energia has been cooperating with the US-based Space Adventures space tourism company to secure potential clients wishing to fly around the moon. Space Adventures reportedly priced the Moon trip at $150 million, with the launch itself likely to take place by 2020.

The company has so far sent seven tourists to the ISS since 2001, with the tickets ranging between $25 and $35 million. Energia has also been in contact with other partners in the United States, according to Solntsev.

Amazon's Founder Wants to Deliver Supplies to the Moon

In Brief
  • Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, wants to use Blue Origins’ lunar lander “Blue Moon” to bring equipment to astronauts on the Moon.
  • As the competition between Blue Origin and SpaceX to get to the Moon continues, who knows what this effort will lead to.

Amazon on the Moon

In recent, “are you serious?” news, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, wants to create an ‘Amazon-like’ service to deliver equipment and supplies to the Moon. Bezos wants to combine his other company, aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight organization Blue Origin, with the delivery principles of Amazon to deliver a one-of-a-kind service.

*3* Amazon Founder Wants to Deliver to the Moon

Following the private sector rush to the Moon sparked by Elon Musk of SpaceX, Bezos thinks that their lunar lander “Blue Moon” will be able to start delivering supplies to the Moon by the mid 2020’s. Blue Moon is expected to carry up to 453.5 kg (10,000 lbs) of cargo per trip. Because of this capacity, the lander would be capable of carrying rovers and scientific equipment. And so, while this endeavor seems strange and a little bit silly, it could, in theory, be an inventive way to help further research.

Big Plans

Bezos has expressed his passion for not only increasing travel to the Moon but also the possibility of a permanent lunar settlement. In his own words, in an email to the Washington Post:

“It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay. A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this…
Our liquid hydrogen expertise and experience with precision vertical landing offer the fastest path to a lunar lander mission. I’m excited about this and am ready to invest my own money alongside NASA to make it happen.”

It is impossible to say whether or not this plan will be successful but…who knows, astronauts could soon have rovers delivered to them with the click of a button. I wonder if they’ll get prime.

4 Things You Must Know About the Future of Space Travel

Think space travel is just for skilled astronauts and fictional characters from your favorite “Star Wars” films? Think again. You don’t have to be a professional scientist to fly into suborbital space, but you will have to pay a steep price.

[See: The 10 Top Places for Stargazing.]

With a variety of pioneering companies competing to launch humans into space, lunar exploration is taking off. Take SpaceX, the brainchild of Elon Musk, which plans to transport two passengers aboard its SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to cross over the moon and back in 2018. Or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company, which aspires to launch six lucky tourists into space via a capsule, and that’s testing its New Shepard rocket ahead of plans for commercial suborbital journeys in 2018. For those more inclined to board a spaceship, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic aims to send tourists — including world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking — aboard the SpaceShipTwo (a six-passenger aircraft) into space this year.

If you’re not interested in gliding into deep or suborbital space — or you lack the funds to support a $250,000 journey aboard the Virgin Galactic — you can enjoy epic space events from Earth this year, including watching the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, stargazing in prized national parks or even checking out the northern lights.

Thanks to groundbreaking technological advancements, space tourism is no longer a pipe dream. Here are leading astro-tourism trends to watch in 2017 and beyond.

The 21st-Century Space Race Is Heating Up

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard are carving the path for space tourism by utilizing “reusable space vehicles,” explains Bill Gutman, vice president of aerospace operations at Spaceport America, a commercial space complex that aims to unlock the future of space exploration. While refurbishing rockets can be costly, reusing rockets, shuttle space engines and space vehicle parts can significantly reduce costs for space entrepreneurs and ultimately space tourists. “These vehicles have the potential to open the space experience to vastly more people than has been possible heretofore,” he says. Plus, reusable technology could trim the launch costs, advance technology breakthroughs for future exploration and enable a greater volume of launches, making space travel more accessible to tourists, he adds. “It is anticipated that Virgin Galactic will take more people to space in the first few years of operations than have experienced space from the beginning of the Space Age until present,” Gutman explains.

Orbital space travel will also be available to tourists in the near future, he adds. Gutman points to Bigelow Aerospace, which is working to build sophisticated space equipment like the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module for the International Space Station. “Bigelow Aerospace is well along with developing space habitat modules that will enable longer space tourism stays perhaps akin the ‘Orbital Hilton’ as seen in the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,'” he says.

Boeing, in partnership with NASA, also has developed technology that will enable astronauts to experience low-orbit earth journeys aboard the Crew Space Transportation-100 Starliner. While other companies are offering suborbital journeys, the Starliner aims to carry up to seven people per trip to low-earth orbit. Though Starliner’s technology is specifically designed for astronauts to advance space exploration, a future commercial airline is already being tested at Kennedy Space Center and is slated to launch in 2019, explains Kelly Kaplan, communications lead at Boeing Space Exploration.

Private commercial space tour company Space Adventures has partnered with Boeing to market seats on the Starliner, but it had not yet released information on what the experience will entail. “Our clients have traveled over 36 million miles and have spent a total of approximately three months in space. We also have plans to fly two clients around the far side of the moon on a modified Russian Soyuz spacecraft,” says Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures.

[See: 10 Best Trips for Adventure Junkies.]

Commercial Space Stations May Become a Reality in the Near Future

Getting materials and supplies transported from Earth to commercial space stations or settlements will have a high initial cost, but in the future, “it is likely that technologies will be developed to recycle materials, to grow food in space and to utilize lunar materials to build and to provide oxygen and water,” Gutman says, enabling costs to go down. To accomplish this, commercial space lines will be vital, he adds. But first, operators must “demonstrate to the FAA that risk to the uninvolved public does not exceed a threshold level,” he explains. In the future, the FAA may license space adventures, he says, noting that the process “will be complex because international law and treaties must be considered.”

Boeing and NASA are also teaming up to help astronauts expand research with a deep space gateway and transport system that will create an environment, similar to the International Space Station, complete with a docking system and technology to shield astronauts from the harsh conditions, enabling an ideal jumping-off point for journeys from the moon to Mars, Kaplan adds.

In the Near-Term, Space Travel Will Cost You

Launching into suborbital space is possible, but it won’t be cheap. While you can purchase tickets to board the Virgin Galactic, prices and ticket reservations for Blue Origin’s New Shepard have not yet been revealed. “As with all new enterprises, we would certainly expect that as more providers enter the market, the price for a space tourism experience will trend lower. The ultimate price point will be determined by supply and demand and by the success of providers in bringing cost-lowering technologies to the market,” Gutman adds.

If you’re interested in visiting the International Space Station with an outfitter like Space Adventures, you can book tickets now. Pricing is contingent on the mission, timing and vehicle, Shelley explains. The cost for a flight to the ISS is roughly $50 million; flights orbiting the moon are priced at $150 million per person, he explains.

You Can Embrace Your Inner Astronaut on Earth

If you don’t have the funds to support a moon mission, you can still enjoy otherworldly experiences on terra firma. “Space Adventures is able to arrange on-the-ground space-related experiences, such as tours to watch rocket launches from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, or the ability for clients to experience elements of the same training required for our private astronaut clients in Star City, Russia,” Shelley explains. Space Adventures also offers zero-gravity flights for roughly $5,000, Shelley adds.

[See: Where to See 2017’s Total Solar Eclipse.]

Meanwhile, Spaceport America offers programs such as interactive exhibits, a g-force simulator and launch videos for enthusiasts.

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