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Universe Today

Japanese billionaire reveals his round-the-moon crew

Four years after announcing that he’d lead an around-the-moon mission aboard SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has named the eight people he wants to fly with him.

In 2018, Maezawa said he’d fund a mission aimed at letting creative artists on the level of the late Pablo Picasso or Michael Jackson experience a trip beyond Earth orbit. Some of the people he’s picked are making use of creative channels that didn’t exist when Picasso was in his prime.

The eight crew members — and two alternates — were chosen out of more than a million people from 249 countries and regions who registered their interest via Maezawa’s DearMoon website.

“I’m very thrilled to have these amazing people join me on my journey to the moon and excited to see what inspiring creations they come up with in space,” Maezawa said as he announced his selections.

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Universe Today

America’s first space tourist signs up for a moon trip

Twenty-one years after becoming the first paying passenger to visit the International Space Station, California financial analyst Dennis Tito and his wife, Akiko Tito, are taking on a new space adventure: a trip on SpaceX’s Starship super-rocket around the moon and back.

The Titos are the first customers to be named as crew members for what’s slated to be SpaceX’s second crewed round-the-moon mission. A time frame for that flight hasn’t been announced, but it’s due to come after the Polaris Program’s first flight of Starship in Earth orbit and the “dearMoon” lunar mission planned by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. If the Starship development program proceeds as SpaceX hopes, those first two flights could lift off by the mid-2020s.

Dennis Tito, an 82-year-old former NASA engineer who made his fortune in finance, would be in line to become the oldest human to go into orbit. He would beat the record set by senator-astronaut John Glenn when he flew on the shuttle Discovery at the age of 77. (Star Trek actor William Shatner, who rode a Blue Origin spaceship last year at the age of 90, holds the record for suborbital spacefliers.)

Tito is already in the history books by virtue of his flight to the ISS in 2001. Russia’s Roscosmos space agency had previously flown privately funded travelers to the Mir space station, but Tito was the first American to buy his own ticket for a spaceflight, and the first commercial passenger to visit the ISS.

Most private-sector spacefliers would bristle at the term “space tourist,” but Tito’s status during the 2001 flight comes closest to fitting that description. “I spent most of my time in Zvezda, the service module, where I listened to opera, shot video and stereographic photos of the Earth out of the porthole, helped prepare food and talked with the crew during meals,” he recalled at a congressional hearing.

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Universe Today

NASA and SpaceX will look into giving Hubble a big boost

NASA and SpaceX say they’ll conduct a feasibility study into a plan to reboost the 32-year-old Hubble Space Telescope to a more sustainable orbit, potentially at little or no cost to NASA.

The plan could follow the model set by last year’s Inspiration4 mission, an orbital trip that was facilitated by SpaceX and paid for by tech billionaire Jared Isaacman as a philanthropic venture. Isaacman, who is now spearheading a privately funded space program called Polaris in cooperation with SpaceX, says he’ll participate in the feasibility study.

“We could be taking advantage of everything that’s been developed within the commercial space industry to execute on a mission, should the study warrant it, with little or no potential cost to the government,” Isaacman said at a news briefing.

If the six-month feasibility study turns into an actual mission, a spacecraft could be sent up to Hubble to lift the telescope from its current altitude of 330 miles to the 370-mile orbit it was in when it was deployed in 1990. Patrick Crouse, Hubble project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said that could add another 15 to 20 years to the telescope’s life.

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Universe Today

Axiom Space aims to fly first Saudi female astronaut

Axiom Space says it’s working with the Saudi Space Commission to send two spacefliers from the Arab kingdom, including the first Saudi woman to go into orbit, to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The inclusion of a female astronaut is particularly notable for Saudi Arabia — where women were forbidden to drive motor vehicles until 2018, and where the status of women is still a controversial subject.

Houston-based Axiom Space and the Saudi Space Commission announced their partnership today at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris. In a news release, the Saudi commission said its participation in Axiom’s Ax-2 mission is part of the nation’s effort “to conduct scientific experiments and research for the betterment of humanity in priority areas such as health, sustainability and space technology.” It acknowledged that including a woman astronaut “will represent a historical first for the Kingdom.”

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GeekWire

Microsoft and SpaceX ramp up satellite cloud access

With SpaceX’s help, Microsoft is taking the next step toward merging cloud computing with available-anywhere satellite connectivity.

Today Microsoft announced the start of a private preview for Azure Orbital Cloud Access, which lets users link up with the cloud in a single hop from virtually anywhere via SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

For now, the preview is limited to Microsoft Azure’s government customers. But Jason Zander, executive vice president of Microsoft strategic missions and technologies, said “we are currently working toward general availability and commercial expansion.”

“That timeline will be determined by the evolution of our work with our private preview customers and customer feedback,” Zander told GeekWire in an emailed response to questions.

Today’s announcement, timed to coincide with the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris, comes nearly two years after Microsoft announced that it was teaming up with SpaceX on satellite cloud access.

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GeekWire

SpaceX will build new satellites to boost T-Mobile’s signal

T-Mobile subscribers will be getting a satellite upgrade to their wireless service, thanks to a newly announced partnership that takes advantage of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

But don’t expect to start streaming high-definition videos via satellite to your T-Mobile connected devices immediately: The beta version of Starlink’s broadband boost is due to roll out in select areas by the end of next year, after a series of SpaceX satellite launches.

That rollout will begin with text messaging, including SMS, MMS and messaging apps. Voice and data coverage will come later.

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk laid out the details behind the deal today during a live presentation at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in South Texas.

Sievert said the partnership calls for creating a new network, composed of Starlink satellites that can use T-Mobile’s mid-band spectrum nationwide. He said the vast majority of smartphones already on its network would be compatible with the new satellite-plus-cellular service.

“You can connect with your existing phone,” Sievert promised. He said he expected to include the Starlink-enabled service free with T-Mobile’s most popular plans. With less popular plans, a monthly fee might be charged, he said.

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GeekWire

After SpaceX trip, citizen astronaut joins Blue Origin

Seattle-area data engineer Chris Sembroski got his first taste of space last year during an orbital trip in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, but now he’s got a full-time job in the space industry — as an avionics engineer at Blue Origin.

In today’s Twitter update, Sembroski made no mention of the rivalry between SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos, who founded the Blue Origin space venture as well as Amazon.

Instead, he played up the allure of the space frontier, as reflected in newly released pictures from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST. “Space beckons us. It taunts us,” he wrote.

“Images of our universe from Hubble and JWST pull on our desires to explore and to seek out new adventures,” Sembroski said. “I am thrilled to be a part of our expansion out to the rest of the universe — AND to announce I have joined @blueorigin! Let’s go!”

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GeekWire

Microbes could blaze a trail for farmers on Mars

An experiment that’s on its way to the International Space Station focuses on a subject that’s as common as dirt, but could be the key to growing crops in space.

The NASA-funded experiment — known as Dynamics of Microbiomes in Space, or DynaMoS — is being conducted by researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. DynaMoS makes use soil and bacteria that were collected at a Washington State University field site in Prosser, Wash.

“Soil microbes are the hidden players of the life support system on planet Earth,” PNNL chief scientist Janet Jansson, the principal investigator for the DynaMoS experiment, explained during a pre-launch news briefing. The bacteria work to break down organic matter and make nutrients available for growing plants.

Space missions could extend the microbes’ reach beyond our home planet. “Soil microbes can help to make conditions on the lunar surface and Mars more favorable for plant growth,” Jansson said. “They can also be used to help grow crops on space stations and during long-term spaceflight.”

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GeekWire

Spaceflight’s latest orbital tug debuts on SpaceX launch

A new type of controllable orbital transfer vehicle built by Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. made its debut today when SpaceX sent dozens of satellites into orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX’s Transporter-5 mission, which is part of the company’s rideshare program, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 2:35 p.m. ET (11:35 a.m. PT):to send 59 small spacecraft to space. Minutes after stage separation, the Falcon 9’s reusable first-stage booster made a rare land-based touchdown at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1, not far from the launch site.

The piggyback spacecraft were to be deployed from the rocket’s upper stage into low Earth orbit, or LEO, over the course of a little more than an hour. One of those spacecraft is Spaceflight’s Sherpa-AC1, the latest in the company’s line of Sherpa orbital transfer vehicles, also known as space tugs.

Sherpa tugs are designed to go out from their launch vehicles and deliver an assortment of small satellites to different orbits. The tugs can also carry hosted payloads, which do their thing while remaining attached to the tug.

The Sherpa-AC adds capabilities for attitude control (hence the “AC”) and tracking. An onboard flight computer keeps track of the tug’s location in space, and a command and control system can keep the spacecraft pointed in the right direction. There’s also a two-way communication system, an electrical power system and a basic thermal control system.

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Universe Today

Axiom’s first astronauts end an extended space trip

Axiom Space’s first crew of private astronauts is back on Earth after a 17-day orbital trip that included a week of bonus time on the International Space Station.

The mission ended at 1:06 p.m. ET (10:06 a.m. PT) today when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria was the commander for the homeward trip, accompanied by three investors who each paid Axiom $55 million for their rides: Ohio real-estate and tech entrepreneur Larry Connor, who served as the mission pilot, plus Canada’s Mark Pathy and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe.

“Welcome back to planet Earth,” SpaceX’s mission control operator Sarah Gillis told the crew. “The Axiom-1 mission marks the beginning of a new paradigm for human spaceflight. We hope you enjoyed the extra few days in space.”

Axiom-1 began on April 8 with the Florida launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The trip was originally supposed to last about 10 days, but concerns about weather in the splashdown zone delayed the descent. Because of the way their fares were structured, Axiom’s customers didn’t have to pay extra for the extension.