Thanks to Trump, We’ve Got a Better Idea of the Capabilities of US Surveillance Satellites

The US President has done it again.

Just when you think things can’t get any more—”unusual”— in the White House, the President has Tweeted an American spy satellite image as part of a juvenile jab at Iranian leadership. After some sleuthing, astronomers were able to figure out which satellite it came from: a (formerly) top-secret satellite called USA 224, an optical reconnaissance satellite.

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NASA Tests Water Powered Spacecraft in Orbit

Picture two tissue box-sized spacecraft orbiting Earth.

Then picture them communicating, and using a water-powered thruster to approach each other. If you can do that, then you’re up to speed on one of the activities of NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP.) It’s all part of NASA’s effort to develop small spacecraft to serve their space exploration, science, space operations, and aeronautics endeavors.

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Move Over SpaceX. Amazon Wants To Launch Thousands of Internet Satellites Too

NASA has released new composite images of the Earth at night, the first ones since 2012. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Back in April 2019 Amazon signaled its intention to get into the internet satellite business. Following in the footsteps of SpaceX and their Starlink satellite system, Amazon intends to launch thousands of internet satellites in the coming years. Now that they’ve filed their application with the FCC, we have more details of their plan.

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Virgin Orbit Tests its Satellite-Delivery Rocket for the First Time

Since 2015, Virgin Orbit has been developing a launch system that will send satellites into space using a rocket launched from a modified 747. This is part of Sir Richard Branson’s plan to crack the burgeoning market of cost-effective satellite deployment. This market is especially lucrative considering how many satellites are expected to be launched into orbit in the coming years.

This week, the Virgin Orbit team achieved a major milestone by flying the LauncherOne rocket into the air and releasing it over the Mojave desert for the first time. This drop-test not only validated the design of the modified 747 (named Cosmic Girl) that serves as its flying launchpad, it also demonstrated the effectiveness of the launch system – which can rely on regular airstrips instead of launch pads to send satellites into space.

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Can We Use Special Sails To Bring Old Satellites Back Down To Earth?

The growing problem of space debris in LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) is garnering more and more attention. With thousands of satellites in orbit, and thousands more on the way, our appetite for satellites seems boundless. But every satellite has a shelf-life. What do we do with them when they’ve outlived their usefulness and devolve into simple, troublesome space debris?

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LightSail 2 Mission is Going Strong and Sending Mission Info Home!

On June 25th, 2019, The Planetary Society‘s cubesat spacecraft known as LightSail 2 lifted off from the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket. This was the second solar sail launched the Society, the first (LightSail 1) having been sent into space in 2015. Like its predecessor, the purpose of this spacecraft is to demonstrate the technology that would allow for solar sails operating within Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Since reaching orbit, the LightSail 2 has been indicated that it is in good working order, as indicated by the Mission Control Dashboard recently introduced by The Planetary Society. In addition to establishing two-way communications with mission controllers and passing a battery of checkouts, the spacecraft also took its first pictures of Earth (and some selfies for good measure).

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SpaceX has Lost Contact With 3 of its Starlink Satellites

Back in May 23rd, 2019, SpaceX launched the first batch of its Starlink constellation, a fleet of satellites that will fulfill Elon Musk’s promise to provide broadband satellite-internet access to the entire planet. The deployment of these sixty satellites was the first in a series of six planned launches that would see around 720 satellites orbiting at an operational altitude of 550 km (340 mi).

Over the course of the past month, SpaceX announced that all sixty of the satellites were responsive, but recently indicated that contact had been lost with three of them. According to a statement issued by a company spokesperson on June 28th, these three satellites pose no danger as they will deorbit “passively” and burn up in the atmosphere.

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Satellites Equipped With a Tether Would be Able to De-Orbit Themselves at the end of Their Life

There’s no denying it, we are facing an orbital debris problem! As of January 2019, the ESA’s Space Debris Office estimates that there are at least 34,000 pieces of large debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – a combination of dead satellites, spent rocket stages, and other assorted bits of space junk. And with thousands of satellites scheduled to be launched in the next decade, that problem is only going to get worse.

This is a situation that cries out for solutions, especially when you consider the plans to commercialize LEO and start sending crewed missions to deep space in the coming years. A team of scientists from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) has come up with a simple but elegant idea: equip future satellites with a tether system so they can de-orbit themselves at the end of their lives.

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