Illinois firm gets NIAC grant to study Alpha Centauri space probe

Proxima Centauri
(ESA/NASA/Hubble)

On 7 April 2020, NASA announced the 2020 awardees for its NIAC grants, which support preliminary work in space mission development. One winner is Hbar Technologies of West Chicago, Illinois. The firm’s experts, formerly of Fermilab, will refine a concept, entirely possible with near-future developments in antiproton manufacturing, to use perhaps a dozen grams of antimatter to propel robotic probes to our nearest stellar neighbours, Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri. The specific project of the $125,000 Phase I NIAC grant will focus on how to slow down a part of the probe fleet to allow Proxima Centauri b to be studied in detail. Results are expected within nine months.

Starship user guide drops in suborbital week

Payload bay dimensions, from Starship User Guide 1.0 (SpaceX)

COVID-19 Science
27 Mar 2020 New York tests survivor antibody treatment
30 Mar 2020 IEEE releases COVID related science journal papers at no charge
30 Mar 2020 Early work on new COVID jabs in Alberta, MB does cytology
30 Mar 2020 U Minnesota / Mayo Clinic antibody test can verify COVID recovery
1 Apr 2020 More on Edmonton’s Entos Pharmaceuticals COVID vaccine work

Regional News
27 Mar 2020 Space junk story featured by WiSGC
28 Mar 2020 Billings makers fight COVID
29 Mar 2020 Manitoba scientists add their equipment to COVID response
30 Mar 2020 Alberta regulators cautious on licencing student nurses as health aides
30 Mar 2020 Nunavut enforces strict preflight quarantines in Winnipeg
31 Mar 2020 34 year old dead of COVID in Northern Alberta
31 Mar 2020 Ralph Goodale appointed to lead Canada effort on PS752
31 Mar 2020 During COVID 150000 MN homes still can’t get broadband
31 Mar 2020 Haochi Zheng at Earth System Science and Policy featured by U North Dakota
1 Apr 2020 Montana, Alberta feel Idaho earthquake

Further News
26 Mar 2020 MDA gets 190 M$ CAD for ISS support work
27 Mar 2020 SpaceX Starship SN3 stacked up for tests (video)
27 Mar 2020 NASA wants Orion exploration motor
27 Mar 2020 Don’t fear China on Moon
27 Mar 2020 OneWeb is bankrupt after SoftBank pulls the plug
30 Mar 2020 Lunar Gateway will happen after Artemis
30 Mar 2020 Testing NASA’s Mars Helicopter
30 Mar 2020 China’s new craft can dock at ISS, politics may prevent that
30 Mar 2020 ISRO shuts down to make COVID equipment
30 Mar 2020 Orion readied at KSC
30 Mar 2020 Virgin Orbit builds ventilators
30 Mar 2020 Solar array source of Venezuelan commsat failure
30 Mar 2020 Strategists concerned about ASAT proliferation
30 Mar 2020 Sochi Noguchi, Shannon Walker to fly on Crew Dragon USCV-1
30 Mar 2020 Starship user guide: supports 100 t of cargo in 680 m3
30 Mar 2020 SunRISE constellation selected for award, will study Sun
31 Mar 2020 NASA provides stay-at-home space content
31 Mar 2020 Orbit Fab company will study satellite refuelling
31 Mar 2020 Air Force moves further 1840 people in 5 states to Space Force
1 Apr 2020 JWST mirror deployment test
1 Apr 2020 Space data fights locusts in Africa
1 Apr 2020 NASA COVID fund will approve grants 10 days after proposal
1 Apr 2020 Firefly details Beresheet-based lunar lander
2 Apr 2020 Perseverance rover steams ahead
2 Apr 2020 UKSA calls for Mars Sample teams by end of this month
2 Apr 2020 12000 apply to NASA Astronaut Corps
2 Apr 2020 US space agency brings back NΛSΛ worm logo for crewed flights

Hopeful end to week of mixed news

Orbital News
21 Mar 2020 1706 UT – Baikonur Soyuz OneWeb x34
24 Mar 2020 0343 UT – Xichang CZ-2C Yaogan-30 x3
24 Mar 2020 ~ Venezuelan commsat’s less than perfect end of life
26 Mar 2020 2018 UT – Canaveral Atlas V AEHF-6


Biomedical research of COVID-19
23 Mar 2020 – Chloroquine risks too great for 85% of cases
26 Mar 2020 – VIDO-Intervac tests COVID jab on animals

Regional News
18 Mar 2020 – Al Worden, Apollo 15 astronaut, Michigander, dead at 88
20 Mar 2020 – WiSGC guide to meeting grant requirements in adversity
22 Mar 2020 – Aviation scholarship offered by Connell Aviation Group
23 Mar 2020 – WiSGC links to STEM education resources
23 Mar 2020 – Canadian space stuff for times at home
23 Mar 2020 – Minnesota Science Museum closes due to COVID
24 Mar 2020 – DiaSorin Molecular (Stillwater MN) makes COVID testkits
24 Mar 2020 – U North Dakota Aerospace grounded, online only
24 Mar 2020 – Massive layoffs at Calgary-based WestJet
24 Mar 2020 – Kenora firms making hand sanitizer
25 Mar 2020 ~ Minnesota drone competition for schools
25 Mar 2020 – Winnipeg firms building ventilators, PPE

Further News
19 Mar 2020 – Cyberattacks, the second epidemic of COVID
19 Mar 2020 – ANDESITE cubesat team sprints to deliver payload
19 Mar 2020 – SLS and Orion work halted
20 Mar 2020 – JWST work halted
20 Mar 2020 – Map of Bennu now available
20 Mar 2020 – NASA prioritizes Artemis landing over Lunar Gateway
20 Mar 2020 – Sinclair Interplanetary to stay in Toronto after buyout
21 Mar 2020 – Virgin Orbit gets California quarantine exemption
23 Mar 2020 – FCC approves SpaceX Starlink modems
23 Mar 2020 – Bigelow Aerospace lays off everyone
23 Mar 2020 – Astra Rocket 3 damaged on pad during prelaunch tests
23 Mar 2020 – OneWeb announces layoffs, almost bankrupt
24 Mar 2020 – OSIRIS-REX will add self-driving tech to get rock sample
24 Mar 2020 – Discussion of possibility of life on Mercury
24 Mar 2020 – NASA to scrutinize F9 engine flub for DM-2 safety
24 Mar 2020 – Helicopter abort in key test may delay Crew Dragon DM-2
25 Mar 2020 – Starliner to blame for comm problem, not TDRS
25 Mar 2020 – SpaceX, Argentina delay SAOCOM 1B launch
25 Mar 2020 – Rocket Lab changes plan, cancels 30 Mar 2020 launch
25 Mar 2020 – NASA may help with tech for COVID
25 Mar 2020 – SpaceX takes welder hiring spree public
26 Mar 2020 – ESA #SpaceConnectsUs event cheers up webstreamers

Nebulous plans
20 Mar 2020 – Ceres-1 rocket due in June, launches 4 M$ each
23 Mar 2020 – Aerojet recommends hydrazine, EOR for Artemis
24 Mar 2020 – Firefly Alpha due Summer 2020
25 Mar 2020 – China readies HX-1 Mars lander for July launch
26 Mar 2020 – H3 still may fly this year, Kounotori 9 will be last HTV

Late News
13 Feb 2020 – Mary Ann Tuchscherer (Fox Valley TC) featured by WiSGC
24 Feb 2020 – D’Amoure Washburn (Milwaukee SOE) featured by WiSGC
02 Mar 2020 – Megan Kocher (U Wisconsin-Milwaukee) featured by WiSGC
09 Mar 2020 – Rene Chavez (U Wisconsin-Milwaukee) featured by WiSGC

AEHF-6 launched on Atlas 5

Atlas 5 launch from Cape Canaveral at 2018 UT on 26 March 2020, with the AEHF-6 satellite. (ULA)

At 2018 UT on 26 March 2020, Atlas 5 departed Cape Canaveral, carrying AEHF-6, the final addition to the AEHF satcom project, augmenting previous military communications satellites supporting the United States and allies.

The launch was halted at T minus 46 seconds prior to a planned 1857 UT launch. After resolving a ground hydraulic issue, the launch time was reset to 2018 UT.

AEHF-6 is similar to the other five AEHF satellites, based on the A2100M satellite bus built by Lockheed Martin. The satellite will operate in the Clarke Belt for about 14 years.

The launch also included an Air Force Research Laboratory sponsored 12U cubesat. TDO 2 was built by Georgia Tech and will flight test optical technologies; it was released from Centaur into a 26.7 deg x 198 km x 35460 km low-perigee GTO.

After a coast phase and final burn, ULA confirmed separation of the primary payload shortly before 0159 UT 27 Mar 2020.

ESA livestreams special event to lift spirits

Astronaut Alexander Gerst participates in the German segment of #SpaceConnectsUs, a 5-language livestream held by ESA, 26 March 2020. ESA held the entirely remote event amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (ESA)

ESA WebTV streamed #SpaceConnectsUs, a space-themed livestream event 26 March 2020. The event featured segments in five languages, Dutch, German, Italian, French, and English. The goal is to bring people together, despite the isolation resulting from pandemic COVID-19.

ESA Astronaut Samantha Christoforetti co-hosts the Italian segment of #SpaceConnectsUs (ESA)

In many languages, the event was a cozy 40-minute chat between a few featured speakers; a brief technical glitch during the French session notwithstanding, the conversations were both diverting and inspiring. Apart from the inspiration of working in and around space, each of the astronauts shared their unique expertise on staying active and productive despite isolation and cramped living quarters. Scientists and moderators provided additional commentary.

The English-language segment, on the other hand, was a free-wheeling 90-minute affair with not just space experts, but also singers and actors, each with a unique perspective on the shared challenge humanity is meeting together, with the help of science, technology, and the artists inspired by them.

Spring ISS launches to proceed on schedule

Even as recent developments have caused NASA and ESA to shutter a number of activities for developmental rockets and space probes, work that supports the crewed International Space Station remains essential, and those operations remain a continued priority.

Next up is the April 9 Soyuz mission to the ISS, which will carry three crew up and down from the ISS. Then in May, apart from the celebrated launch of the new Crew Dragon capsule, Japan hopes to send up the Kounotori 9 cargo module on 21 May 2020 at 1130 UT, with a launch window open as late as 30 June 2020.

The launches are marking a period of renewal in crewed spaceflight. While the landmark flight of Crew Dragon has been hotly anticipated, Kounotori 9 is also a significant moment, the planned last flight of the original HII Transfer Vehicle (HTV), as JAXA moves to an updated HTV-X capsule and H3 rocket, both larger and capable of supporting both the ISS and the proposed Lunar Gateway space station.

The recent SpaceX CRS-20 was likewise the last flight of the original Dragon cargo capsule, as future missions will use the updated Cargo Dragon design, which is roughly similar to the new Crew Dragon, just with much less seating, life support, and thruster capacity.

Earthquake disrupts Salt Lake City airport

On 18 March 2020 at 13:09:31 UT, an earthquake damaged Salt Lake City International Airport, and threw air traffic in the Mountain States into further disarray. The 5.7 magnitude wobbler and its aftershocks made the Delta Airlines hub temporarily unusable, though the airport resumed limited operations after several hours.

Most airports in South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming that rely on the Salt Lake City hub still have a flight to another Delta hub. Casper and Cody don’t, but are also served by United out of Denver. Butte’s only scheduled passenger flights are to Salt Lake City.

Coronavirus cases force ATC changes at Chicago-Midway

Setting aside the sudden shocks to travel patterns as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, air travel now has a new constraint – the safety officers aviation relies on are now actually catching the virus.

CBS Chicago reported that the airport tower at Chicago-Midway was closed at 2000 UT 17 March 2020, with essential functions being transferred to Chicago TRACON. Flights will be able to continue.

Midway is the largest of three Midwest hubs used by Southwest Airlines. The airline has been cutting flights as demand has sagged in recent days.

Perseverance new name of Mars 2020 rover

Perrseverance rover completes mobility tests at JPL in Pasadena, California, 17 December 2019 (NASA/JPL-CalTech)

On 5 March 2020, NASA officials announced the name Perseverance for the space mission which had been provisionally named “Mars 2020”. The winning entry was from Alexander Mather of Burke, Virginia.

Over 28,000 submissions from students were condensed into nine finalists, which included Anthony Yoon of Norman, Oklahoma, whose submission was Fortitude.

The rover is expected to launch in Q2 of 2020 and arrive on Mars in Q1 of 2021. It will explore crater Jezero on the edge of the Isidis Planitia on Mars. The rover is derived from the same robotics platform used for Curiosity, and among other tasks, will set aside collected samples of soil and rock in sealed containers designed to be recovered and returned to Earth by a later Mars mission.