Today’s Tidbits: April 12, 2021

Today’s Tidbits: April 12, 2021

Here are’s tidbits for April 12, 2021: Happy Cosmonautics Day!, Blue Origin getting closer to launching people, Rep. Beyer anticipates space bipartisanship, Intelsat 10-02 gets a companion, Mike Gold moves to Redwire, a 30-year strategy for space from the Atlantic Council. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline for live-tweeting of events and other up-to-the-minute news.

Happy Cosmonautics Day!

Yuri Gagarin and his backup, Gherman Titov, on the way to launch. Credit: NASA

Today is the 60th anniversary of the launch of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on the first human spaceflight. Gagarin made one orbit of the Earth on Vostok-1 and landed safely in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union (USSR).

The feat opened the era of human spaceflight and accelerated the Space Race between the USSR and the United States. Three weeks later, on May 5, the United States launched its first astronaut into space, Alan Shepard, but he made only a suborbital flight that lasted about 15 minutes. It was not until February 20, 1962 that the United States matched Gagarin by sending John Glenn into orbit.

John Young and Bob Crippen. Credit: NASA

Coincidentally, today is also the 40th anniversary of the first flight of the U.S. space shuttle. STS-1 was scheduled to launch on April 10 but was delayed for two days at the last minute because of a technical problem. John Young and Bob Crippen flew STS-1, the first time a spacecraft had people aboard on its first flight.

Three countries can launch people into space: the United States, Soviet Union/Russia, and China.  In every case, except the space shuttle, all new spacecraft designed to carry people made uncrewed test flights first.

Blue Origin Takes Another Step Towards Putting People on New Shepard

Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos, is scheduled to take another step towards launching people on suborbital trips on Wednesday.

The company is developing its reusable, suborbital New Shepard rocket, named after Alan Shepard, to take passengers on 10-minute flights up to an altitude of about 100 kilometers — one measure of the demarcation between air and space — and back to a soft landing on Texas soil.

The company’s motto is “Gradatim Ferocitur,” Latin for “step-by-step, ferociously.”  The step-by-step part certainly is true, as the date for actually putting people on New Shepard has slipped year by year. The closest it has come on its many tests so far is carrying Mannequin Skywalker, a test dummy.

A Blue Origin New Shepard capsule descending under parachutes during an uncrewed test. Credit: Blue Origin

Wednesday’s test is NS-15 (New Shepard-15).  This time, for the first time, company employees will board the capsule, strap in, and conduct a communications check with the Capsule Communicator. But they will exit the vehicle before it lifts off. After it lands, they will reenter the capsule and conduct other tests.  Mannequin Skywalker will be the only one aboard during the flight.

Blue Origin will livestream the launch beginning one hour in advance. The launch window opens at 8:00 am Central Time (9:00 am Eastern) at its launch site in West Texas. These launches often are postponed for weather or technical reasons. Follow @blueorigin on Twitter to keep up to date.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch and landing profile. Credit: Blue Origin

Rep. Beyer Anticipates Space Bipartisanship

Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), the new chair of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, told MSNBC this weekend that he anticipates space is poised to be one of the areas where bipartisanship is possible during the 117th Congress.

Beyer talked about how much common ground he sees between Democrats and Republicans in Congress these days with MSNBC’s Yasmin Vossoughian (@yasminv).

Acknowledging deep divides on many other issues, he sees space as an exception.

There are places we can work together. And it’s exciting. For example I chair the space subcommittee and I think we are going have a robust space agenda that will be bipartisan.  — Rep. Don Beyer

Second MEV Joins Another Intelsat Satellite

A second Northrop Grumman Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-2) docked with a second Intelsat satellite today to extend its service life.

View of Intelsat 10-02 from MEV-2 at a distance of 15 meters as it approaches for docking. Credit: Northrop Grumman

MEV does not refuel a satellite on orbit, but docks and, using its own fuel, takes over propulsion duties after the satellite’s fuel is depleted.

MEV-1 joined with Intelsat 901 last year.

Today, MEV-2 docked with Intelsat 10-02. It will provide station-keeping services for five years until it undocks and moves on to another satellite.

Intelsat Chief Services Officer Mike DeMarco called it a “valuable tool for Intelsat” and a “win-win for us.”

Intelsat says it operates the world’s largest and most advanced satellite fleet, but that refers to traditional communications satellites in geostationary orbit (above the Equator). Constellations of low Earth orbit satellites, like SpaceX’s Starlink for providing broadband connectivity, have more.

Northrop Grumman is not stopping with MEV. It is working with DARPA to design Mission Robotic Vehicles that can “conduct in-orbit repair, augmentation, assembly, detailed inspection and relocation of client satellites through robotics.”

Mike Gold Joins Redwire

Mike Gold. Credit: NASA

Mike Gold, most recently NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Policy and Partnerships, has joined Redwire.

A lawyer, Gold is a prominent member of the D.C. space policy community who made his mark first at Bigelow Aerospace and then at Maxar.

In 2018, then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine named Gold as chair of a newly created Regulatory and Policy Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) where he bought a new industry perspective to its deliberations.  In November 2019, Gold joined Bridenstine at NASA as Acting Associate Administrator for the Office of International and Interagency Affairs where he spearheaded development of the Artemis Accords. He was named Associate Administrator for Space Policy and Partnerships just before Bridenstine’s tenure as Administrator ended with the change in administrations.

He returned to the private sector on April 5 as Executive Vice President for Civil Space and External Affairs at Redwire, “a new leader in mission critical space solutions and high reliability components for the next generation space economy.” Al Tadros, Chief Growth Officer and Executive Vice President of Space Infrastructure at Redwire, said  Gold “has a wealth of experience in the aerospace industry and has an impressive track record of supporting game changing programs in both the private and public sector.” Tadros was Vice President of Space Infrastructure and Civil Space at Maxar (and spent 26 years at Space Systems Loral before that, which became part of Maxar) until joining Redwire last fall.

Redwire is in the midst of becoming a publicly-traded company through a SPAC merger with Genesis Park Acquisition Corp. SPACs are Special Purpose Acquisition Companies that have become quite popular for entreprenutial space companies in recent months.

A 30-Year Strategy for Space From the Atlantic Council

The Atlantic Council released a 30-year strategy for space today. Study co-chairs Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright (USMC-Ret.) and former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James joined other space policy and industry luminaries to discuss it during a webinar today.

In short, the paper concludes that “space is on the cusp of a major transition from exploration to security and commerce,” and “security in space is at risk, and the United States must act urgently.”  Over the next 30 years, through 2050, a new U.S. approach to space is needed to ensure “the space domain remains harmonious, fully accessible, organized, and regulated” so humanity can “reap the benefits of space resources in perpetuity.”

A who’s who of space policy and industry experts reacted to the report in a lively discussion during the webinar. Among perhaps the most notable comments was Scott Pace remarking that as an academic he thinks 30-year plans are great, but as a practitioner he’s “happy with four to eight years,” one or two presidential terms. Pace just returned to his position as director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University after four years in the Trump Administration as Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council.  Former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden similarly pointed out that NASA must negotiate its budget every year with Congress making it difficult to “put together a sustainable, affordable program.”

There is much, much more in the report, well worth reading, and the webinar, which also included an interview with NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and a panel with Debra Facktor (Airbus U.S. Space & Defense), Ellen Chang (H4X Labs), Gregg Maryniak (XPrize Foundation), Matthew Daniels (Georgetown University), and Jana Robinson (Prague Security Studies Institute).

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