Main Engine Cut Off

Dodgy Starliner Delays

Starliner’s uncrewed test is now NET August, and Chris Gebhardt, for NASASpaceflight, has a pretty brutal piece that’s definitely worth reading on it:

All of this together begs the serious question of why the NASA release placed onus for the delay first and foremost on ULA and the Atlas V launch schedule – especially since ULA would have been told by Boeing not to stack the Atlas V for an April mission of Starliner months ago and since it is clear from this release that Starliner itself is not yet ready to fly.

India Attempted ASAT Test in February

Exclusive from Ankit Panda for The Diplomat:

According to U.S. government sources with knowledge of military intelligence assessments, the United States observed a failed Indian anti-satellite intercept test attempt in February. The solid-fueled interceptor missile used during that test “failed after about 30 seconds of flight,” one source told The Diplomat.

… According to one U.S. government source, the Indian side had notified the United States of its intent to carry out an experimental weapon test in early February, but without confirming that it would be an anti-satellite test. “They gave us a vague heads up,” the source said.

The first failed Indian test, however, provided enough information for U.S. military intelligence to conclude that New Delhi was attempting an anti-satellite test using a new kind of direct-ascent kinetic interceptor.

Dr. Marco Langbroek wrote a great post with the relevant NOTAMs and Microsat-R groundtracks, and it’s all but indisputable that the February attempt was for the same mission.

What’s most interesting here is the implication that the US government knew about India’s ASAT testing ahead of time. Additionally, there has been little-to-no response from US officials, aside from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The debris created by India’s test is certainly a big issue, and Dr. Langbroek has another fantastic post showing the distribution of debris after the similar USA 193 incident in 2008.

That incident created many traceable debris pieces that ended up with apogees well over 1,000 kilometers, so this isn’t just a low altitude threat. Fortunately, the perigee is low enough that nearly all the debris should be down over the next few weeks.

T+117: Q&A

This month we talk EM-1, Moon by 2024, the commercialization of LEO, and more.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Rui, Julian, Lars, and six anonymous—and 239 other supporters on Patreon.

New Skylab

Speaking of Blue Origin, Jeff Foust wrote an article last week about their study into using New Glenn’s upper stage as a habitat module (or similar). The connection Foust makes to NanoRacks towards the end of the article is not a coincidence.

One of the things I’m always interested to hear more about is Blue Origin’s long-term plans for in-space architecture. Not the general vision of the future—the actual hardware that makes it possible. But before we can get too far down the road of wet workshops, we’ve got to see that BE-4 firing at 100% throttle.

First Vulcan Flight Hardware

Tory Bruno tweeted a photo of the first piece of flight hardware for Vulcan, and flight hardware is always good to see.

From what I’ve heard, Vulcan is making really good progress, and is one of the odds-on favorites for selection for NSSL Phase 2.

That said, we’re still waiting for BE-4 to get to full power. The engine’s progress—while not very openly shared—has been disappointingly slow, and I’ve heard a few interesting things about what the hang ups have been so far.

Here’s hoping Blue Origin pulls it together soon, but the stances they’ve taken on NSSL Phase 2 have not exactly been promising.

T+116: On the Moon by 2024

The National Space Council met this week and Vice President Pence announced the administration’s intentions to see humans land on the moon by 2024. I break down my thoughts and observations coming out of the meeting.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Rui, Julian, Lars and six anonymous—and 235 other supporters on Patreon.

OneWeb Raises Another $1.25 Billion

Caleb Henry, for SpaceNews:

Japanese tech giant SoftBank — OneWeb’s largest investor — led the round, as did returning investors Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies, and the government of Rwanda.

The new financing bring OneWeb’s total funding to $3.4 billion, following a $500 million round in 2015, a $1.2 billion round in 2016 and undisclosed fundraising of around $450 million last year.

Seems like one of those rounds of funding that was contingent on getting the first satellites up, but good to see the money still flowing into OneWeb. And boy, will they need it:

OneWeb no longer shares cost projections for the system, which originally were between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion, but have been externally estimated at as high as $7.5 billion.

T+115: Caleb Henry

Caleb Henry of SpaceNews joins me live in studio to talk about his trip to Kourou for the first OneWeb launch, more affordable antennas, the current spectrum wars, and more from the world of satellites.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 37 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, Frank, Rui, Julian, and six anonymous—and 230 other supporters on Patreon.

Behind Today’s Contentious FCC Spectrum Auction

Fantastic article by Debra Werner, for SpaceNews, that explains the furor over today’s FCC spectrum auction:

At the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting in January, researchers and weather forecasters agreed 5G would offer many societal benefits and suggested it could be rolled in a way that would not interfere with weather sensors. The question is how much the 5G signals should be allowed to spill over into adjacent bands.

The FCC is proposing a noise threshold of -20 decibel watts.

“There is great concern that the FCC’s noise threshold will allow interference with weather and climate assets,” Johnson and Lucas said. A NOAA-NASA study recommended a noise threshold of -50 decibel watts, they added.

European regulators are proposing a noise threshold of -56 decibel watts, which is nearly 4000 times more stringent than the FCC’s proposed threshold.