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GeekWire

Kymeta and OneWeb move ahead with satellite terminals

Kymeta Corp., the antenna venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has signed onto a joint development agreement with OneWeb to develop a flat-panel user terminal for OneWeb’s global satellite internet network.

The plan calls for modifying Kymeta’s u8 antenna system for fixed-terminal applications on land, with an eye toward supporting additional applications including mobile service in land-based and maritime settings.

Today’s announcement comes just weeks after Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta and OneWeb reported a successful test of Kymeta’s u8 technology, which takes advantage of an exotic category of electronics known as metamaterials. The technology makes it possible to “steer” an antenna electronically rather than physically moving it.

OneWeb is one of several ventures that is creating satellite constellations in low Earth orbit, or LEO, to broaden access to broadband internet service. SpaceX’s Starlink service is furthest along, but OneWeb is planning to begin limited service in the Arctic within the next few months. The plan calls for Kymeta’s terminals to enter the market as an option by the third quarter of 2022.

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Universe Today

Mother and daughter win suborbital space trips

A wellness coach from Antigua and her daughter are getting tickets for a suborbital space trip, thanks to the latest in a line of out-of-this-world sweepstakes going back 20 years. And although not a single spaceflight sweepstakes winner has flown yet, there’s still significant value to such contests, financially and otherwise.

“Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,” Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, said today in a news release.

Branson himself broke the good news to Keisha Schahaff at her home on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Schahaff had entered a contest arranged in collaboration with the Omaze online sweepstakes platform and a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity this summer. She ended up winning the random drawing. Her grand prize? Two tickets for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, plus terrestrial travel expenses.

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GeekWire

NASA begins mission to try pushing away an asteroid

A space probe the size of a school bus is on its way to smash into an asteroid the size of Egypt’s Great Pyramid, directed by thruster systems built by Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond, Wash.

This is no “Armageddon,” and there’s no need for Bruce Willis to ride to the rescue. But the experiment is expected to help scientists figure out how to divert a dangerous asteroid heading for Earth should the need arise. That’s one giant leap for planetary defense — and for Aerojet Rocketdyne, whose made-in-Redmond thrusters have been used on dozens of space missions.

“We’ve been to every planet in the solar system,” said Joseph Cassady, Aerojet’s executive director for space. “But this is the first time we’ve ever done something that’s really truly planned as a defense against threats to life on Earth. The test we’re going to do here is really the first step in getting ourselves ready as a species to react and respond if we ever are threatened in that way.”

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, or DART, got off to a showy start with tonight’s launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Liftoff occurred at 10:21 p.m. PT, at the end of a smooth countdown.

Minutes after launch, the rocket’s second stage separated from the first-stage booster and proceeded to orbit, while the booster flew itself back to an at-sea landing on a drone ship stationed in the Pacific. Within an hour after launch, the second stage deployed the DART spacecraft and sent it on its way.

Tonight’s launch marked the first leg of a 10-month journey to a double-asteroid system that’ll be nearly 7 million miles away from Earth at the time of the encounter. The larger asteroid, called Didymos, is about half a mile wide — but that’s not DART’s target. Instead, Aerojet’s thrusters will guide the spacecraft to hit the smaller asteroid, known as Dimorphos.

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GeekWire

Blue Origin aims to send astronaut’s daughter to space

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is planning to fly six suborbital space travelers next month, which would mark a first for the company’s New Shepard spaceship. And that’s far from the only first.

If the NS-19 mission proceeds as planned on Dec. 9, the people on board will include the first parent-and-child team in space, the first professional U.S. journalist in space, and the first daughter of an astronaut to go into space herself.

To cap it all off, the astronaut’s daughter is Laura Shepard Churchley — whose father, Alan Shepard, was the first American in space in 1961, providing the inspiration for New Shepard’s name.

“It’s kind of fun for me to say an original Shepard will fly on the New Shepard,” Churchley, 74, said in a video clip released by Blue Origin. “I’m really excited to be going on a Blue Origin flight. I’m very proud of my father’s legacy.”

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GeekWire

Astra soars after first successful orbital launch

Astra Space, the California-based launch company that went public this year with an assist from Seattle-area telecom pioneer Craig McCaw, had a high-flying day on Wall Street today after recording its first successful orbital launch from Alaska.

The company’s share price rose by as much as 42% on the Nasdaq stock exchange before settling at $11.17 for a 17% gain at the end of the trading day.

The successful test launch for the U.S. Space Force on the night of Nov. 19 was the key driver for Astra’s financial rise. Rocket 3.3 LV0007 carried a test payload into orbit from the Pacific Spaceport on Alaska’s Kodiak Island — nearly a year after a previous test mission just missed reaching orbit, and three months after a follow-up launch attempt literally went sideways.

Because this mission was meant purely as a test, the payload didn’t separate from the rocket’s upper stage. Instead, it monitored conditions on the vehicle in flight for the Space Force under a contract from the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit. Going forward, the Space Force is likely to be one of Astra’s prime customers.

“Reaching orbit is a historic milestone for Astra,” Chris Kemp, the company’s co-founder, chairman and CEO, said today in a news release. “We can now focus on delivering for our customers and scaling up rocket production.”

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GeekWire

Rocket Lab launches two satellites for BlackSky

BlackSky’s Earth-watching constellation has grown by two satellites, thanks to Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle and Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.’s logistical help.

Rocket Lab’s previous BlackSky launch ended in failure back in May, but the launch team traced the problem to a computer glitch that was corrected. This week’s mission, nicknamed “Love at First Insight,” went much more smoothly. It was the 22nd Rocket Lab launch, and the fifth since the start of the year.

The two-stage rocket rose from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 2:38 p.m. local time Nov. 18 (5:48 p.m. PT Nov. 17), successfully deploying BlackSky’s eighth and ninth satellite about an hour later.

“Perfect flight by the team,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted.

“Another great launch in the books,” Spaceflight Inc., which handled mission management and integration services for BlackSky’s satellites, said in a tweet.

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GeekWire

Famed designer enlisted for space training complex

The French designer who created the look for Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America and Axiom Space’s orbital habitat has taken on yet another space-centric project: the space training complex planned by a Seattle-based venture called Orbite.

Orbite says Philippe Starck will design its Astronaut Training and Spaceflight Gateway Complex, which is expected to consist of multiple buildings and go into operation at a U.S. location in late 2023 or 2024.

For now, that’s about all that can be said about the project. Further details, including the site selected for the complex and the specifics of Starck’s vision for the facility, will be announced in the months ahead.

“We will have to wait a little more during the winter,” Orbite co-founder Nicolas Gaume said. “We thought it was great to announce that such an amazing designer, who shares so much of our vision for astronaut orientation, preparation and training, could be disclosed.”

The 72-year-old Starck has designed projects ranging from hotels and yachts (including a yacht for the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs) to bathroom accessories. But he’s best-known for his space-related projects, including the Virgin Galactic logo that incorporates a close-up of billionaire founder Richard Branson’s iris.

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Cosmic Space

Russian anti-satellite test creates space station hazard

A Russian anti-satellite test sparked an orbital-debris emergency aboard the International Space Station today, followed by sharp protests from NASA’s administrator and other U.S. officials.

The incident, which involved the deliberate destruction of an obsolete Russian spy satellite known as Cosmos 1408, is likely to spur renewed debate over military rules of engagement in space and the nature of Russian (and Chinese) anti-satellite maneuvers.

The U.S. Space Command said Russia struck the one-ton satellite with a direct-ascent, anti-satellite missile, breaking it into more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and what’s thought to be hundreds of thousands of smaller bits.

“The debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers,” U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, commander of the Space Command, said in a news release. “Space activities underpin our way of life, and this kind of behavior is simply irresponsible.”

The trajectories for the debris cloud and the International Space Station come close to each other every 90 minutes, and that required the space station’s seven crew members to take cover today.

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GeekWire

Jeff Bezos plays up the Earth-space connection

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has been getting a lot of press lately, but the Amazon founder and chairman says he’s spending more money nowadays on Earth’s environmental welfare through his Bezos Earth Fund.

Four and a half years ago, Bezos told reporters that he was selling about a billion dollars’ worth of his Amazon stock on a yearly basis to put toward Blue Origin.

But at least for the time being, he says that’s trumped by his $10 billion, 10-year commitment to the Bezos Earth Fund, which distributes grants to projects around the globe. During this month’s U.N. climate summit in Scotland, the fund announced a $2 billion round of grants supporting land restoration and food production.

Bezos cited the funding during last week’s Ignatius Forum at the Washington National Cathedral in D.C. as evidence that he wasn’t just a starry-eyed billionaire with no concern about Earth’s welfare.

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Fiction Science Club

Space opera features a starship with a mind of its own

The starship is alive, and sometimes you can almost hear it purr.

Science-fiction writer Cat Rambo‘s new novel, “You Sexy Thing,” isn’t the first tale to give a personality to its characters’ interstellar conveyance. There’s the Heart of Gold from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which had a sunny disposition as it used its Infinite Improbability Drive. There are the Vorlon starships of “Babylon 5,” which grieved when their pilots died. And there are the starships in Iain M. Banks’ Culture series that give themselves whimsical names.

But how many sentient spacecraft are inspired in part by a cat?

Rambo, who goes by they/them pronouns, had their pet cat Raven in mind while creating the character of the bioship that literally sets the plot of “You Sexy Thing” in motion.

“It’s a cross between Raven and a cousin of mine who is the not the swiftest person in the world, but is very good-hearted,” Rambo told me and my co-host for the Fiction Science podcast, science-fiction writer Dominica Phetteplace. During our chat, we delved into Rambo’s plan for a grand space opera that could eventually span 10 novels.