With their astronomical cost, each tiny part of any aerospace mission has to be carefully considered. It sounds obvious that you should care about the people using, or riding in, a product, but they can get sidelined. I love working on improving those relationships and advocating for the human side of aerospace - I want to #MakeSpaceForEveryone!
My adventures have taken me from space plants to mission control and recently into manufacturing. These insights, along with scrolling #SpaceTwitter, have converged here. 😊
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~11% of opens) was a blog post reverse engineering the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
Planning & Strategy.
- We’re going to Venus! DAVINCI+ will bring back the first high-resolution images from the inferno-like world; VERITAS will create 3D reconstructions of planet topology, map infrared emissions, and carry the Deep Space Atomic Clock.
- The 2021 Department of Defense budget includes a 2% uptick from 2020 and a line item for 85 F-35 Lightning II aircraft - the world’s most expensive weapon system. The F-35’s mission capable rate, or percentage of total time when the aircraft can fly and perform at least one mission, is 69 percent - well below the 80 percent benchmark set by the military.
- Aerospace companies are making edgier moves. From Rocket Lab’s CEO eating his hat to all of Elon’s typical twitter antics, new aerospace startups are going against the grain. Hermeus, the hypersonic plane start-up, capitalized on the closing of Aerion, a supersonic plane company, by replying to breaking story tweets with a link to pre-order their planes. Cosma Schema's website hosts a tongue-in-cheek New Space logo generator.
Making & Manufacturing.
- Multiple lunar rovers are being developed, including an autonomous moon rover by Lockheed Martin and GM, a CSA and NASA partner project, and a Japanese transforming robot ball rover. Japan’s rover, which is only 80 mm in diameter, will collect detailed data on lunar autonomous driving and cruising technology. It's like a mini space Roomba that will go ahead of a future crewed rover!
- I’m beyond excited for the wide range of space-based businesses developing today, from Redwire (fka Made in Space), to space tourism companies like Axiom, to robotic construction tools like Maxar Technologies and more novel stuff like the zero-g espresso machine for the International Space Station crew. It shows that space is for EVERYONE, whether you need to know all of the science or just want to see things float.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- Space junk is at it again, but should we really be surprised when there are 23,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth? This time, debris made headlines by slamming into the space station and leaving a visible 5 mm hole in the beloved Canadarm2 (thankfully performance has not been affected). NASA moved the ISS three times in 2020 to avoid potentially dangerous debris.
- China is sending astronauts to their new modular space station, Tiangong, which weighs in at 1/6th the mass of the International Space Station. The station is still under construction and will require ten more launches to be completed, but its core module, Tianhe, is habitable in the meantime. China isn’t allowed on the ISS, due to an act banning NASA’s collaboration with the country altogether.
- NASA’s Space Launch System for the Artemis mission is getting a thermal protection system repair to the core stage after a successful test, meaning we’re that much closer to landing the first female and first person of color on the moon - woohoo! The newest projected SLS launch date is no earlier than September 2023.
- SpaceX is building an ocean spaceport out of two converted oil rigs that they have named Phobos and Deimos; they also just completed their 100th successful Falcon 9 flight in a row. There’s nothing like sitting in an eerily silent crowd of people all geeking out about an upcoming countdown - it’s absolutely unreal. If you haven’t been able to see a launch and land in person, I can’t recommend it enough (at least watch the live streams).
Distribution & Logistics.
- New factories are a hot topic in aerospace. York Space announced a “mega facility” for spacecraft production in Denver, Firefly Aerospace announced a 40,000 square foot factory for rockets and lunar landers in Cedar Park, and Hermeus announced a 110,000 square foot factory for hypersonic jets in Atlanta.
- The James Webb Space Telescope launch date is expected to slip again. While launch delays have become a norm for the galaxy-hunting gold coated telescope, the excitement for future findings hasn’t changed. Think about the impact that Hubble has made!
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- Rolls Royce just unveiled the largest engine testing facility in the world, which can also capture x-ray images of active engines for analysis to assist with reducing emissions.
- Virgin Galactic completed the first of three test flights before commercial operations are set to begin in New Mexico. News recently broke regarding their newest commercial passenger as well: Researcher and science communicator Kellie Gerardi will fly about the SpaceShip as a payload specialist. Her growing fanbase on TikTok will follow her along on the journey, hopefully inspiring a new wave of future commercial astronauts.
- Concise communication helps astronauts have the best arguments, and we could all take a page from their book.
- You can buy an NFT of the controversial 1947 "alien autopsy” for the low price of only $1,000,000.
- Pack accordingly! American Airlines and Southwest have banned alcohol on flights following some unruly passenger behavior. Switching to non-alcoholic spirits might cut down on drunken behavior but, surprisingly, not the overall cost.
p.s. - We care about inclusivity. Here’s what we’re doing about it.