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SpaceX launching again this week, if all goes as planned.

Starlink deployment in orbit.

SpaceX is at it again. Love it or hate it, Starlink is growing again. The company is getting ready to launch the next batch of 60 satellites into orbit in just a few days. The original launch was postponed until after the successful launch of the crew dragon Demo-2 mission for NASA.

Now that the astronauts successfully docked with the International Space Station, SpaceX turns its focus back on Starlink. This launch, originally planned to launch before the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission, now looks promising for a launch this week.

The constellation consists of thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit adds up quickly. Each Falcon 9 launch gets packed full of sixty Starlink satellites. 60 satellites neatly fit in both size and mass limitations of the Falcon 9’s reusable configuration. Elon’s company delivered more than 420 satellites into orbit to date.
SpaceX now plans to loft the next batch into space Wednesday around 9:25 p.m. EDT. Visitors at the Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad should be able to witness the launch so long as the weather holds out… and the weather is looking promising.

A one-hour launch window for the Starlink mission opening at 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT). If the launch gets scrubbed, SpaceX will cycle again for another attempt. The prior attempt at launch got scrubbed because of Tropical Storm Arthur and the associated high winds. As an additional complication for SpaceX launches, the rough seas in the recovery area where SpaceX’s drone ship waits made a landing of the Falcon 9 risky.

Worries from Astronomers: Starlink changes the night sky

November 11 at 9:56 a.m. EST, 14:56 UTC, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit SpaceX.

This mission debuts a novel Starlink satellite not seen before. SpaceX, in response to concerned astronomers, includes additional features to reduce reflectivity. A new sunshade visor should help reduce the reflection of light and spoiling the night sky for astronomers.

The albedo of the spacecraft measured quite high coupled with the angle of light reflecting off the craft gave rise to visible strings of satellites streaking across the sky. The visor blocks sunlight from reaching the portions of the spacecraft, making them less visible from the ground. Additionally, SpaceX plans an adjusted flight trajectory and angle relative to the ground.

SpaceX plans Starlink service in the Northern U.S. and Canada starting in 2020. After initial market deployment in North America, Starlink rapidly expanding coverage to create truly near global coverage of the populated world by 2021.

SpaceX also focused on debris mitigation. The Starlink website claims the network is on the leading edge of on-orbit debris mitigation, meeting or exceeding all regulatory and industry standards. At the end of the satellite’s life, the onboard ion engine propulsion system slowly lowers the altitude over the course of a few months. Should the propulsion system becomes inoperable, satellites still burn up in Earth’s atmosphere within 1–5 years. (there are satellites still orbiting Earth launched in the 1960s.)

The Starlink constellation, Phase 1, first orbital shell: 72 orbits with 22 each, 1,584 satellites at 550 km altitude.

Krypton… isn’t that related to Superman?

No, Starlink’s power does not come from Superman’s homeworld. Rather it does draw energy from our sun with a single solar panel which powers the Krypton ion drive. Krypton is an inert noble gas with the symbol Kr and atomic number 36. There are other satellites and spacecraft using ion engines, but Starlink is the first-ever Krypton propelled spacecraft flown.

Starlink does have sort of a superpower. Starlink satellites have a built-in star tracker to allow the satellite to self orient. If that wasn’t cool enough, the satellites also can perform automatic collision avoidance thanks to some nifty new technology from the Department of Defense’s debris tracking system. This technology allows Starlink satellites to quickly, without the need for human intervention, avoid collisions reliably.

The US military also plans to test out Starlink for their own purposes. The United States Army signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement contract with SpaceX to test and assess Starlink’s broadband communication in military platforms. The three-year agreement with the Army will determine if the network is reliable for future military operations. The low latency of Starlink and global coverage makes Starlink an ideal option for Military communications. Even if one satellite is disabled, Starlink satellite number in the thousands once complete.

Tesla sporting NASA Worm Logo and Meatball in advance of human rocket launch.

According to a report from a CBS affiliate in Wichita Falls, Tex., Texas Governor Greg Abbott told a local television reporter he had the opportunity to talk to Elon Musk and he’s genuinely interested in Texas and genuinely frustrated with California.

Tesla stopped making cars at its Fremont plant on March 23. Elon Musk shared frequently his views that the state and local restrictions aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus were actually not in the best interest of California, the people of California, and not Tesla either.

Why is Tesla Fremont important?

Looking back in history, the GM automotive assembly plant in South Fremont used to be the town’s largest employer. In the 1980s, the plant became a joint venture automotive assembly plant of Toyota and GM, and renamed NUMMI becoming one of the most effective small car factories for GM. In early 2010, NUMMI came to an end and closed. Enter TESLA to rescue Fremont. Tesla acquired part of the plant and in June 2010 by Elon Musk earmarked it as Tesla’s primary production plant. By 2017, Tesla was the largest employer in Fremont with roughly 10,000 employees.

Ten years after Tesla swooped in and brought 10,000 jobs to Fremont, Elon Musk is not so happy.

It’s a real moon of Saturn. Credit NASA

You may have heard of the expression, May the 4th be with you. If you don’t already know, May the 4th is unofficially Star Wars Day. The date was chosen for the play on words on the classic catchphrase from the movies. “May the Force be with you” and “May the Fourth be with you”.

The pop culture fan base for Star Wars embraced the May 4th date and popularized it. Lucasfilm and later Disney could not have a better day to advertise Star Wars stuff. This is a testament to the many Star Wars fans across the world who have chosen to celebrate the holiday. Lucasfilm and parent company Disney now also wisely have embraced the date as an annual celebration of Star Wars.

So you might be a die-hard Star Wars fan, or maybe you enjoy the movie. If you don’t like Star Wars, well, not sure why you are reading. Maybe you have a loved one and you are trying to figure out what to do with them on this very important day to them. So we are going to go on the assumption that you know at least a little something about Star Wars.

Alright, to the Coruscant of the article. (Hey, it is a Star Wars article after all!)

What space stuff was influenced by Star Wars?

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative(SDI). Reagan’s SDI concept focused on a missile defense system intended to protect the United States. Attacks delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles would be shot down. Critics of the program nicknamed the program “Star Wars” and the name gained common acceptance. Although satellite-based laser and particle weapons didn’t materialize, this was a space-related program that was definitely influenced by the movies.

Click to read more:

Dynetics Human Lander system

One of the three companies NASA announced today will land the next NASA astronauts on the Moon. NASA awarded three firm-fixed-price, milestone-based contracts for the human landing system awards under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2. The total combined value for all awarded contracts is $967 million for the 10-month base period.

NASA downselected from the five companies in the running to only three.

The contenders for the Moon mission contract.

NASA released the Human Landing System (HLS) solicitation on October 25, 2019. Five companies submitted proposals by the required due date of November 5, 2019. Listed below in alphabetical order:

  • Blue Origin Federation, LLC (Blue Origin)
  • The Boeing Corporation (Boeing)
  • Dynetics, Inc. (Dynetics)
  • Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX)
  • Vivace Corp. (Vivace)

Some more details about the offers.

You likely recognize the more high profile companies like Boeing, SpaceX, and Blue Origin. Vivace and Dynetics profile in the general media tends to be less pronounced.

Vivace, founded in 2006, provides engineering services, ground support equipment, engineering development hardware, and flight har…

Love it or hate it, Starlink might be the biggest space undertaking ever once completed. The combined mass of the Starlink satellite constellation exceeds any prior space endeavor. The SpaceX network provides global satellite Internet access will weigh in more than any other prior space program. The constellation consisting of thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit adds up quickly. Each Falcon 9 launch gets packed full of sixty Starlink satellites. The satellites neatly fit in both size and mass limitations of the Falcon 9.

November 11 at 9:56 a.m. EST, 14:56 UTC, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit SpaceX

In 2018, The Federal Communications Commission granted SpaceX approval to launch up to 4,425 low-Earth-orbit satellites at several different altitudes between 1,110km to 1,325km. The following year, the FCC approved a license modification to cut the orbital altitude in half for 1,584 of those satellites. The lower altitude for the Starlink satellites reduces the latency of the Starlink. Yeah initial Starlink will be nearly the mass of the ISS.

NameKgQtyTotal Kg
Starlink2601 260
Starlink launch26060 15,600
Initial Starlink2601,584 411,840
ISS419,7251 419,725
Partial Starlink2601,614 419,725
Starlink full thrust2604,425 1,150,500
Big freak’n Starlink26012,000 3,120,000
Some Back of the napkin calculations about Starlink… give or take a little.

Electron test article during a March 2020 parachute test. Credit Rocket Lab

No, it’s not a high budget Mission Impossible action movie, but it could have been. Tom Cruise wasn’t piloting a helicopter that grabbed a rocket falling back to the Earth. Instead, a crew wearing black Rocket Lab t-shirts with the words “recovery team” written on the back took the skies in helicopters to grab a falling rocket. Since it wasn’t Tom Cruise, the video of the team grabbing a rocket midflight ranked higher on the awesome scale.

Daring capture of Booster

A few weeks ago, Rocket Lab took a major step forward to recover boosters. In a recent release to media, Rocket Lab shared videos successfully grabbing a parachute & test booster out of the sky using a helicopter. On the first try, the helicopter grabbed the first stage test article with a grappling hook.

There are intrinsic risks with helicopters. Recently SpaceX lost a test article when it became necessary to prematurely drop a Crew Dragon test article. However, Rocket Lab did better in the Electron parachute tests. The success marks another step closer for the company in recovering the boosters it uses to launch small payloads into low earth orbit.

Satellites come in all sizes and shapes. A small satellite or SmallSat is commonly considered to be a satellite that weighs less than 500 kg.

As a basic application of various satellite sizes by mass, the common distinction:

Lower LimitUpper Limit(kg)ClassificationExamples
1000Large satellitesHubble Space Telescope / Inmarsat-4A F4
5001000Medium satellitesO3b
0500Small satellitesSpaceX StarLink
Short Summary of Satellite sizes

CubeSats are smaller yet.

CubeSats need to conform to specific criteria including shape, size, and mass. At this point, most people have become aware or are at least heard of CubeSats. (Cube Satellites). CubeSats (cube satellite, cube satellite) are a type of nanosatellites defined by the CubeSat Design Specification (CSD) or otherwise commonly known by the unofficial term “CubeSat standard”. Cubesats are small, and start off at the 1U size of 10xm x 10 cm x 11.35 cm ( yes not exactly a cube, but very close) Here are some standard CubeSat dimensions:

1U CubeSat is 10 cm × 10 cm × 11.35 cm.

2U CubeSat is 10 cm × 10 cm × 22.70 cm.

6U CubeSat is 20 cm × 10 cm × 34.05 cm.

12U CubeSat is 20 cm × 20 cm × 34.05 cm.

Visual description of some common Cubsat sizes by

The CubeSat Project began as a collaborative effort of several professors at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and Stanford University’s Space Systems Development Laboratory (SSDL). Prof. Jordi PuigSuari(Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo(SSDL), and Prof. Bob Twiggs(SSDL) started the CubeSat Project in 1999 and since the inception, the CubeSat Project gained wide acceptance. The development of CubeSats has advanced into a subindustry of space satellite development and launch. Numerous government, industry and academic organizations collaborate increased capabilities. The program has expanded to be an international collaboration of over 100 universities, high schools, and private firms developing CubeSats containing scientific, private, and government payloads.

NASA Worm logo on a Falcon 9

Yes, that’s right. The classic NASA “worm” logo is back! An image of the revived NASA worm logo was released on Twitter by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine as well as press release on the website.

NASA explained that original NASA insignia is an iconic symbol widely recognized in the world. The NASA “meatball” logo as many know it by represented patriotic American colors. A red chevron wing piercing a blue sphere(Planet) with white stars, and an spacecraft orbiting. This “meatball” logo was not easy to reproduce with 1970’s technology so the Federal Design Improvement Program introduced in 1975 a new logo, the “worm.”

Some History about the logo

By the beginning of World War I, the United States lagged behind Europe in airplane technology. On March 3, 1915, Congress founded NACA as an independent government agency in response to the perception that the United States was falling behind in aeronautical technology. NACA would report directly to the President with the purpose to catch up. But technology had evolved, and once again the US was falling behind in technology. Russia launched Sputnik. The space race was being lost.

NACA logo
US NACA logo. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA)

Following the launch of Sputnik, the United States created NASA to catch up in the space race and pull ahead. In order to help spur on a wave of national enthusiasm in support of the nation’s aeronautical, a logo would be needed. The new agency set out to design a new logo and came up with various options for consideration.

Competing Sketches Center designs for the NASA seal. The winning design was submitted by James Modarelli and his Lewis team. The design actually incorrectly showed an upside-down attitude of the wing element. (NASA Headquarters Historical Reference Collection (HRC), file number 4540)

The red emblem contained on the NASA logo, has erroneously been referred to as a “slash,” “vector,” “airfoil,” “hypersonic wing design,” and even as an “alternate shape of the constellation
Andromeda.” It was based on a wooden model for an arrow-wing design.

Part of the Inspiration for the NASA logo came from a wooden Langley display model showing the radical twist and camber of a supersonic arrow-wing design. Part of the features of the design were inverted in the first seal design. (Credit NASA/NACA L-00502)

The official NASA seal was submitted with the “Meatball” .….

Read more on West East Space…

Orion and Dragon XL near the Lunar Gateway Credit: NASA

By Bill D’Zio, Originally posted on March 28, 2020

NASA may have sidelined the Lunar Gateway for a return mission to the Moon, but it is not stopping the momentum. NASA has awarded several contracts for the Lunar Gateway including the most recent one to SpaceX. This demonstrates the growing capabilities of New Space companies to capture contracts and complete missions.

This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably. The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a press release statement about the award to SpaceX.

NASA Awarded SpaceX the first Artemis Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) contract. The award for resupply services to the Gateway will require delivery of goods to a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO). Not sure what a NRHO orbit is? A NRHO is a highly elliptical orbit that takes about 7 days for each orbit. Want some more details, just click here: Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO). There are a few options for NRHO orbits, but NASA is leaning towards the L2 9:2 lunar synodic resonant southerly Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) which would be the likely location of the lunar Gateway. A simplification of the orbit is shown below.

Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) example, showing the South L2 example (simplified & not to scale) Credit

Cargo and payloads would be delivered to to the Gateway in NRHO above the moon. Deliveries would be made with the he Logistics Module (LM). The acronym LM may be slightly confusing for some people familiar with the Apollo Missions done fifty years earlier. The LM for the Apollo Missions was the “Lunar Module”. (Note LM “Lunar Module” was shortened from LEM “Lunar Excursion Module”)

Delivery criteria

Based on the 2019 NASA draft RFP document (GLS-RQMT-001) the Logistics Module (LM) will deliver a minimum 3400 kg (7496 lb) pressurized payload and cargo each mission to the Gateway under the NASA GLS contract. In addition to the the pressurized cargo, the LM will also deliver a minimum 1000 kg (2205 lb) unpressurized cargo and payloads per mission to the Gateway.

The proposed Canadian robotic arm (Canadarm3) would assist with unloading unpressurized cargo. The actual delivery of Robotic Arm was originally excluded as a potential baseline mission for cargo delivery as the mass of the the ISS Canadarm2 was 1,497Kg and 17 m long. The CSA concept for the Canadarm3 will be less than 900Kg and only 9 m because of the smaller size of the Lunar Gateway so it might also be considered for one of the first cargo delivery mission…

Read more here at

By Bill D’Zio March 25, 2020

SpaceX Dragon
SpaceX Crew Dragon on approach Credit NASA

Part 2 of the Life in Space with COVID19 we will delve into Crew demo-2 where NASA and SpaceX are planning a launch within two months. There are a lot of pre-launch milestones and activities to cover to ensure a safe flight for the Astronauts. If anything goes wrong, there are lives at stake. Now NASA and SpaceX have to contend with another potential setback, COVID19 pandemic. (Click here for part I)

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for Demo-2 arrived at the launch site on Feb. 13, 2020. Photo credit: SpaceX

In Part I of why COVID19 pandemic is bad timing for the Space industry, we covered that issues happen because the relationship between complexity, risk, schedule and cost for space missions was not balanced.

A plot of mission complexity against schedule distribution showed that all of the partial or complete failures occur in the bottom third of the distribution indicating a strong correlation. (a partial failure means that the mission was able to continue or complete some of the original objectives)

Establishment of a ‘‘no-fly zone’’ can be done defining criteria where based on the complexity of the project the sufficient time or money to develop a system was not allocated. In short, when NASA did not allocate sufficient time and or funding in order to offset the increased complexity there was a much higher likelihood of partial or complete mission failure.

In review of the failures for these past mission failures, under budget or schedule constraints, projects tended to bypass best practices such as testing. The bypassing of tests and best practices translates into higher risk since the testing could have detected and allowed NASA to correct the issue before it impacted the mission.Journey to Mars impact by COVID19

NASA and contractors are already well behind on their efforts for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Design challenges, tornados and now COVID19.

NASA has stated that work on the agency’s Artemis program continues but with limited production of hardware and software for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. SLS and Orion manufacturing and testing activities at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center are temporarily on hold as a result of the COVID19 pandemic. The first crewless Artemis mission Orion spacecraft will be shipped from the the Glenn Research Center to its Kennedy Space Center. Recently NASA completed a series of tests required to validate the spacecraft in advance of the first mission and integration on top of SLS for the Artemis I lunar mission. The Artemis II Orion spacecraft at KSC is also still progressing.

NASA plans to leverage capabilities across the agency virtually. NASA shared that it already functions in a virtual team environment to conduct engineering analysis and other work and expects minimal impact from the requirement for mandatory telework. Since much of the lunar Gateway is still in the design phase, development work on the Gateway program can be done remotely. On-site activity beyond has been temporarily suspended until further notice.

Work also is continuing on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA is more than three years behind schedule with both SpaceX and Boeing. Further delays of the CCP could result in diminished operation of the international space station. The upcoming launch of SpaceX Crew Demo 2 is a critical element to maintaining safe operations on the International Space Station and a sustained U.S. presence on the orbiting laboratory. Additionally, commercial resupply activities and future missions also will go on as scheduled in order to keep the space station crew fully supplied and safe. SpaceX and NASA are targeting no earlier than mid-to-late May for Crew Dragon’s launch with two NASA Astronauts on board.

SpaceX is moving along on its efforts for the upcoming missions despite a public order by the mayor of Los Angeles to close “non-essential businesses” in the city, where SpaceX is headquartered. Since SpaceX is conducting work to support the ISS a strong argument can be made that SpaceX is essential. Caution still needs to be taken to avoid unexpected outcomes.

The NASA_Orion spacecraft and European Service Module are in the vacuum chamber ahead of final environmental testing Credit ESA

Recalling that the failures for many past NASA missions stemmed from projects being under budget or schedule constraints, a shortage of resources that normally would work on the project may cause complications. New resources added to projects if a key individual is sick, or if an individual is sick, can compromise projects.

New resources may tend to miss or not understand best practices. Mistakes can happen if individuals are attempting to utilize software from a home computer rather than their workstation at work. Peer reviews of work that normally would occur face to face may shift to digital medium and be less effective resulting in more time, or needing to rush through some tasks.

In short, COVID19 is forcing people out of their normal routine. Any time that happens, a good look at the assumptions behind the work need to be done to avoid higher risk situations.

About The Author

Bill D'Zio

Bill D’Zio

Co-Founder at

Bill founded after returning to China in 2019 to be supportive of his wife’s career. Moving to China meant leaving the US rocket/launch industry behind, as USA and China don’t see eye to eye on cooperation in space. Bill has an engineering degree and is an experienced leader of international cross-functional teams with experience in evaluating, optimizing and awarding sub-contracts for complex systems. Bill has worked with ASME Components, Instrumentation and Controls (I&C) for use in launch vehicles, satellites, aerospace nuclear, and industrial applications.

Bill provides consulting services for engineering, supply chain, and project management.