A spacewalk at the International Space Station (ISS) planned for Tuesday, August 24, has been postponed due a medical issue affecting one of the two participating astronauts.
The space agency announced the news on Monday, explaining that NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who arrived at the orbiting outpost in April 2021, was experiencing a “minor medical issue,” adding that it was “not a medical emergency.”
With spacewalks requiring astronauts to work in a bulky spacesuit in a challenging environment for around seven hours at a time, those taking part have to be in tip-top condition before stepping outside the confines of the space station.
The spacewalk, which Vande Hei will carry out with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, will now take place after the SpaceX CRS-23 cargo resupply launch that’s planned for August 28, and also following two scheduled spacewalks involving Russian cosmonauts that are expected to take place in early September.
Vande Hei isn’t scheduled to depart the ISS until March 2022, so there’s plenty of time for him to conduct the spacewalk. But it’s a little tighter for Hoshide, who’s set to leave in early November 2021. Still, the postponed walk could take place as early as mid- to late September.
Tuesday’s postponed spacewalk would have seen the two astronauts continue work to upgrade the station’s power system with the installation of a support bracket for new rollout arrays. Two of the new arrays have already been put in place, with another four awaiting installation.
Both Vande Hei and Hoshide spent the last week preparing for the spacewalk — or extravehicular activity to use NASA’s official terminology for such events — inclusing checking their spacesuits, setting up their tools, and reviewing procedures for the excursion.
According to a tweet (below) from the ISS Twitter account, the preparations were going according to plan as of Saturday, August 21. But some time after that, Vande Hei suffered a medical issue that prompted NASA to take action.
The Exp 65 crew goes into the weekend preparing for Tuesday's spacewalk while juggling a multitude of space research. https://t.co/K6HMCDxhjs
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) August 20, 2021
As soon as we get news of a new date for the spacewalk, we’ll be sure to update our “how to watch” page detailing everything you need to know about how to tune in to the event in real time.
In the meantime, check out these stunning images of spacewalks from over the years.
SpaceX has now shipped 100,000 Starlink terminals to customers who’ve signed up for the company’s internet-from-space service.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk dropped the news in a tweet on Monday, August 23. It means the company has added 90,000 new customers to its beta service in just six months. The company opened Starlink to its first paying customers in October 2020 and it now serves 12 countries, with more on the way.
Starlink uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to beam down broadband connectivity to customers on the ground using a Starlink dish.
SpaceX has been sending Starlink satellites into orbit since May 2019 and currently has more than 1,700 of them circling Earth.
The goal is to blanket the planet with affordable and reliable broadband connectivity, with a particular focus on communities in remote areas that have little or no access to decent internet services.
Starlink says current download speeds via its service should be around 100 Mbps, though reports online suggest they can be anywhere between 60 Mbps and 150 Mbps.
How to sign up to Starlink
First, you’ll need to find out if Starlink’s beta service is available your area. To do so, simply head to its website and fill in your details. If it’s accessible, you’ll be invited to sign up.
Customers in the U.S. will need to pay $499 for the necessary hardware, and then $99 a month for the internet service. Shipping and handling costs $50, with tax coming in at about $33. You can get the ball rolling by handing over a $99 deposit, and you’ll receive a notification when your order is ready to ship. Note the small print at the bottom of the page: “Depending on location, some orders may take six months or more to fulfill.”
SpaceX isn’t the only company working to provide internet connectivity via Earth-orbiting satellites. U.K.-based OneWeb is also building a constellation, with its most recent batch of satellites heading skyward just a few days ago. With 288 satellites in orbit and more on the way, OneWeb is planning to launch a trial broadband service in Alaska and Canada by the end of this year, with more locations coming in 2022. Amazon has also outlined plans for its Project Kuiper service that could comprise a constellation of some 3,200 satellites, though the company has yet perform any launches.
The Virgin Orbit Launcher One rocket in its hanger at Newquay Airport on August 10, 2021 in Newquay, England. Hugh R Hastings/Getty Images
Virgin Orbit, a satellite launch startup spun off from Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic, announced Monday that it’s preparing to go public through a reverse merger with the special-purpose acquisition firm (SPAC) NextGen Acquisition II that will value the combined company at $3.2 billion.
The target valuation is more than three times what Virgin Orbit was worth at the end of 2020 and twice what Virgin Galactic was valued at when it went public (also through a SPAC merger) in late 2019.
Virgin Orbit will trade on Nasdaq under the ticker “NGCA.” Shares will convert to “VORB” when the transaction is complete later this year.
Talks of the SPAC deal was first reported in June. The reverse merger is expected to raise $483 million for Virgin Orbit, including $100 million in PIPE (private investment in public equity) funding from investors such as Boeing and the private equity firm AE Industrial Partners.
Boeing also plays an important role in Virgin Orbit’s unique “air-launch” system, which carries satellites into the sky by attaching a booster underneath a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. After reaching a certain altitude, the 747 will release the booster, which will then fire up its own engine and climb up to orbit.
Virgin Orbit successfully reached orbit with this system, called LauncherOne, in a test flight in January. This approach provides more flexibility than the industry standard vertical-launch rockets, the company said.
LauncherOne is designed to send small satellites that weigh up to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) into space. Demand for launching satellites in this range is booming in recent years as a crop of commercial satellite makers enter the industry. These satellites usually don’t make a full payload on a regular-sized rocket, making launch opportunities scarce and expensive.
Full-size rocket makers, notably SpaceX, are eyeing the small satellite market as well with offerings such as satellite “rideshare” programs that allow outside clients to fly along on these companies’ regular missions.
Founded in 2017, Virgin Orbit is owned by Branson’s multinational conglomerate Virgin Group, with a minority stake from Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Mubadala. Together, they have invested about $1 billion in the company. The SPAC merger represents a 300 percent return on their investments.
Virgin Orbit is expected to incur a loss of $156 million this year, according to CNBC, but aims to grow revenue rapidly in the coming years and be profitable by 2024. The company has $300 million in active contracts, with another $2.3 billion in “identified sales opportunities currently being pursued,” CEO Dan Hart told CNBC.
Supersonic transportation has proven a difficult technology to commercialize. Unsplash
NASA has ambitious plans to return American astronauts to the moon before 2024 as part of the federal government’s Artemis Program. According a new internal audit, the agency won’t be able to deliver on that timeline because, among other reasons, the astronauts’ spacesuits won’t be ready in time.
In a report by NASA’s inspector general this month, “a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible” due to “anticipated delays in spacesuit development” as a result of funding shortage, COVID-19 impacts and technical challenges.
NASA has spent $420 million on developing next-generation spacesuits since 2007. The effort led to the creation of the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units (xEMU) project in 2016 under the leadership of the Trump administration. Despite various departments and programs pouring resources into spacesuit development, NASA is still a long way from producing the first human-grade gear for lunar travel.
The office of inspector general estimates that NASA is going to invest another $625.2 million in spacesuits alone, bringing the total cost of producing two flight-ready suits to over $1 billion. The earliest delivery date based on current progress is April 2025.
The first lunar flight-ready spacesuit was originally expected to be ready by March 2023. The timeline was pushed back to November 2024 in March this year due to reduced funding for spacesuit development for the fiscal year 2021.
Repeated delays and high estimated cost have raised concerns in Congress.
“I almost certainly think we have to schedule a hearing before the end of the year,” U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia and the chair of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, told the United Press International on Monday.
“We already spent $420 million, and we don’t know where we’re going. We need to really make sure [Congress] is providing the oversight and the accountability necessary,” Beyer said. “I was pretty disappointed in what the inspector general discovered.”
For fiscal 2021 Congress only approved 77 percent of the funding NASA requested for the Gateway Program (a moon orbital component under the Artemis Program), under which the spacesuit project falls. The funding shortfall is resulting in a three-month delay in the spacesuit development schedule, NASA’s internal report shows.
Other factors at play include intermittent manufacturing closure of NASA contractors due to the coronavirus pandemic and new requests that have complicated the spacesuit design in order to meet the need for future lunar missions.
The Artemis Program overall is facing other hurdles as well that may add to the uncertainty of NASA’s first moon landing since 1972.
Last week, the program was further delayed after Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin sued NASA in a federal court for not choosing the company’s lunar lander proposal. NASA has contracted SpaceX to build the landing vehicle, which is expected to cost $2.9 billion. Blue Origin’s competing proposal would cost nearly $6 billion.
Next week, SpaceX is scheduled to send another cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS) using its recently-upgraded Cargo Dragon uncrewed spacecraft. The exciting launch and eventual docking with the station will be livestreamed by NASA, and we’ve got the details on how you can watch along at home.
What to expect from the launch
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule soars upward after lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3, 2021, during the company’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA to the International Space Station. NASA
This will be the 23rd resupply mission run by SpaceX to the ISS, and it will take off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will use a SpaceX Cargo Dragon launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry supplies for the crew as well as scientific experiments to be performed in the station’s microgravity environment.
The experiments being carried to the station include investigations into whether chemicals from grape skins could treat osteoporosis, a new robotic arm that can be operated from the ground and that could be used on Earth in disaster situations, and several experiments into animals and plants by Girl Scouts.
After spending a day in transit, the Cargo Dragon will arrive at the ISS, where it will dock with the Harmony module automatically, overseen by astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur.
How to watch the launch
The launch will take place early in the morning hours of Saturday, August 28, and it will be streamed live on NASA TV. To watch this channel, you can either use the video embedded at the top of this page or head over to NASA’s website.
Coverage of the launch begins at 3:15 a.m. ET (12:15 a.m. PT) on August 28. The launch itself is scheduled for 3:37 a.m. ET (12:37 a.m. PT). The craft will then travel through Earth’s atmosphere and up to the International Space Station over the rest of Saturday.
The Cargo Dragon is scheduled to dock with the space station on Sunday, August 29, and the rendezvous and docking will also be streamed on the same channel. Coverage of this begins at 9:30 a.m. ET (6:30 a.m. PT) on August 29, with the docking scheduled for 11 a.m. ET (8 a.m. PT).
As part of ongoing upgrades to the International Space Station’s power system, two astronauts will take a stroll outside the station this week. On Tuesday, August 24, you can watch along from home as they perform a spacewalk to install hardware in preparation for a new solar array which will soon be installed.
What to expect from the spacewalk
The International Space Station’s solar arrays provide power for the orbiting laboratory. NASA will install a total of six new roll-out solar arrays in front of the existing arrays at 1A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4A, and 4B to augment the power. During the Aug. 24 spacewalk, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will install the modification kit on the 4A power channel, where the next new roll out solar array will be installed in 2022. NASA
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Japanese space agency JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will be performing the spacewalk. They’ll be working to prepare power channel 4A, shown in the diagram above, by installing a support bracket for the new solar array known as an International Space Station Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSA).
Two of these arrays have already been installed, and this installation will be the third of six. The array in question provides power to several parts of the station, including the U.S. Laboratory, the Harmony module, and the Columbus module.
The current solar arrays were originally designed to last for 15 years, but some have been working for more than 20 years. Although the arrays are still functional, over time their efficiency is reduced. Between that and developments in solar array technology, the new arrays will provide more power than the old arrays, even though they are smaller.
How to watch the spacewalk
The spacewalk will be shown live on NASA TV. You can watch either using the video embedded at the top of this page or by heading to the NASA website.
Coverage of the spacewalk begins at 7 a.m. ET (4 a.m. PT) on Tuesday, August 24. The spacewalk itself is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. ET (5:30 a.m. PT). It is expected to last up to seven hours.
If you’re really keen to learn more, NASA will also be holding a briefing on the day before with more information about the spacewalk. To watch the briefing, you can tune in to NASA TV on Monday, August 23 at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT).
Jeff Bezos laughs as he speaks about his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space during a press conference on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Blue Origin on Thursday scored a small win in its relentless fight for NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) contract. Although the Jeff Bezos-led company hasn’t officially got the job yet, its lawsuit against NASA in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has put the agency’s work with SpaceX on hold.
Last Friday, Blue Origin filed a complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, challenging NASA’s decision in April to select SpaceX as the sole contractor of HLS. The lawsuit came after Blue Origin lost an appeal before the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
On Thursday, the court issued the schedule for the suit, which included a “NASA Voluntary Stay of Performance” clause that would result in a roughly three-month pause in NASA’s ongoing work with SpaceX.
“NASA has voluntarily paused work with SpaceX for the human landing system (HLS) Option A contract effective Aug. 19 through Nov. 1,” NASA said in a statement on Thursday. “In exchange for this temporary stay of work, all parties agreed to an expedited litigation schedule that concludes on Nov. 1.”
In an interview with SpaceNews on Thursday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the case is handled by the Justice Department.
“This is a matter that is out of our hands,” he told the publication. “The judge could require, in essence, very laborious discovery.”
As a result, the dispute will delay NASA’s plan to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024 through the Artemis Program, under which the HLS contract falls.
“NASA officials are continuing to work with the Department of Justice to review the details of the case and look forward to a timely resolution of this matter,” the agency said in Thursday’s statement.
Blue Origin, SpaceX, and a third firm called Dynetics submitted bids for NASA’s HLS contract in March 2020. Although in the past NASA has awarded multiple contracts for a single project, such as the Commercial Crew Program, this time the agency selected only one contractor, SpaceX, citing budgeting reasons.
According to a report released by the GAO on July 30 responding to Blue Origin’s complaint, NASA had received only $850 million from Congress in fiscal year 2021 for the HLS program, with an additional $96 million from other programs that could fund HLS. Nearly $400 million of that funding was already spent on the “base period” awards NASA gave to Blue Origin, SpaceX and Dynetics in 2020. About $200 million has been reserved for internal costs for the program. That left the agency only $355 million available for new HLS awards in 2021.
NASA has already paid SpaceX $300 million as part of its $2.9 billion sole contract. Nelson said he didn’t know if it was possible to find funding for a second HLS contract to Blue Origin.
Following the successful completion of a couple of crucial test flights by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, space tourism services from both companies look set to launch some time next year.
Both rides rely on rockets to get passengers up to somewhere near the Kármán line, the boundary 62 miles above Earth that’s widely regarded as the start of space.
But there’s another company intent on offering the trip of a lifetime high above the clouds, one that takes things at an altogether more leisurely pace.
Space Perspective has built and tested Spaceship Neptune, a luxury eight-seat piloted capsule that’s lifted skyward by a giant hydrogen-filled balloon. The interior includes reclining chairs, a refreshments bar, Wi-Fi, and all-around windows
The Florida-based company this week shared a video (below) offering a glimpse of what the experience will look like.
It’s worth pointing out that despite the use of the “space” for both the company name and vehicle, Spaceship Neptune only rises 20 miles above Earth, well short of the Kármán line though around three times higher than a long-haul passenger jet. And unlike the experiences offered by both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, there will be no zero-gravity experience where you can float around the capsule for several minutes.
Space Perspective’s ride will, however, last six hours, which is way longer than, say, Blue Origin’s trip, which takes just 10 minutes from launch to landing.
Passengers aboard the balloon will enjoy a relaxing two-hour ascent, a further two hours to enjoy the gorgeous views, and then a two-hour descent back home.
At $125,000, a ticket for a ride on Spaceship Neptune is a little more affordable than a Virgin Galactic seat that means coughing up $450,000. Blue Origin is yet to announce prices.
Space Perspective started selling tickets for its experience a few months ago. The first flights are set to take place in 2024, though the company says it’s already sold out for then, with ride for 2025 now available.
Besides offering pleasure trips, the capsule will also serve as a high-altitude laboratory, allowing scientists engaged in subjects such as climate and solar physics to conduct experiments in a part of Earth’s atmosphere little researched up to now.
Space Perspective’s balloon will launch from Florida’s Space Coast Spaceport close to the Kennedy Space Center, with the company planning to add additional launch sites around the world over time.
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has successfully completed its 12th flight on Mars in what was one of its most challenging outings to date.
The flight earlier this week took place inside the South Séítah region of Jezero Crater, a location that scientists believe could contain evidence of ancient life on the red planet.
The 4-pound, 19-inch-tall helicopter began by climbing 32.8 feet (10 meters) into the air before flying a distance of about 1,476 feet (450 meters) in a trip that lasted 169 seconds — its longest to date.
A dozen for the books!🚁The #MarsHelicopter’s latest flight took us to the geological wonder that is the “South Séítah” region. It climbed 32.8 ft (10 m) for a total of 169 seconds and flew ~1,476 ft (~450 m) roundtrip to scout the area for @NASAPersevere. https://t.co/cM9xzI8rza pic.twitter.com/SDRVMpOPoo
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) August 17, 2021
During its time in the air, NASA’s first-ever Mars helicopter performed a range of maneuvers — including hovers and sidesteps — to snap two photos of a location of interest from 5 meters apart. This will allow the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the current Mars mission, to create a 3D image to help the Perseverance rover team decide if the location is worthy of closer examination.
The flight was deemed particularly risky as it was the first time for Ingenuity to fly over an uneven landscape, which the JPL team feared could have confused the helicopter’s navigation sensors.
“Ingenuity’s navigation system — which was originally intended to support a short technology demonstration — works on the assumption that it is flying across flat (or nearly flat) terrain,” the team said prior to the flight. “Deviations from this assumption can introduce errors that can lead both to temporary excursions in roll and pitch (tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern), as well as long-term errors in the helicopter’s knowledge of its position.” In the event, the team’s fears were unfounded and so it can now start planning the helicopter’s next flight.
Ingenuity became the first aircraft to achieve controlled, powered flight on another planet when it hovered a few meters above the Martian surface in April 2021. Since then, the helicopter has been taking increasingly complex flights as the team pushes the aircraft to the limit.
The initial plan was to use the helicopter as a test device to see if a more advanced airborne vehicle based on Ingenuity’s design would be able to assist other planetary missions. But Ingenuity performed so well during its early test flights that it’s already able to provide the Perseverance rover team with aerial data as it searches for areas of interest that could unlock many of the red planet’s long-held secrets.
It’s been six quick months since NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in spectacular fashion on the surface of Mars, with the trailblazing Ingenuity helicopter tucked under its belly.
Up to now, Perseverance has snapped more than 125,000 photos of its surroundings using its many built-in cameras, beaming the images back to Earth for closer inspection by scientists and space fans.
To celebrate the half-year milestone, Google has imagined what it would be like if Perseverance had its own Google Photos account, presenting the results in a fun video that it shared on Wednesday.
Set to Jerry Herman’s Put On Your Sunday Clothes — a song that should be familiar to WALL-E fans — the video incorporates some of Google Photos’ many features, organizing the numerous images into different categories, among them “shadow selfies,” “landscapes,” “rocks,” and, ahem, “additional rocks.” Yes, rocks feature heavily in the Perseverance rover mission.
Google’s video also includes a short clip of the extraordinarily clear footage captured during Perseverance’s descent to the Martian surface in February.
Google Photo’s search function appears in the video, too, which lets you look for images linked to keywords. Keen to raise a smile, the first search term entered is “martians,” which of course returns no results. “Water” also draws a blank, though hopefully that’ll change by the end of the mission. However, when “dunes” is entered, the page populates with endless images of sandy hills and similar land formations.
In the “people and pets” section, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter pops up, as does Curiosity, NASA’s other functioning Mars rover that landed on the red planet in 2012.
Perseverance is continuing to explore inside Jezero Crater, an ancient lakebed that scientists believe could contain signs of past life on Mars. As part of its explorations, the rover was recently supposed to drill a sample of rock for return to Earth on a later mission, but the vehicle’s collection tube was unable to retain the material because it was too loose. The team is now looking for a new drilling location where the rock is of a type that’s more likely to stay inside the collection tube.
In the meantime, Perseverance will keep taking lots of photos of its surroundings, sending them back to Earth for everyone to enjoy.
For tips and tricks on how to get the best out of Google Photos, check out Digital Trends’ handy guide.