FAA Proposed Rule Would Reduce the Growth of Debris from Commercial Space Vehicles

The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing a rule to limit the growth of new orbital debris and reduce the potential for collisions with spacecraft and satellites to promote a sustainable space environment.  

If left unchecked, the accumulation of orbital debris will increase the risk of collisions and clutter orbits used for human spaceflight and for satellites providing communications, weather and global positioning system services. 

The proposed rule would require commercial space operators to choose from among five options to dispose of the upper stages of launch vehicles. These include: 

  • conduct a controlled reentry;
  • move the upper stage to a less congested storage or graveyard orbit; 
  • send the upper stage on an Earth-escape orbit;
  • retrieve the upper stage (called active debris removal) within five years; or 
  • perform an uncontrolled atmospheric disposal.

By strictly limiting the uncontrolled reentry of upper stages, the FAA seeks to mitigate the risk to people on the ground and in flight due to its significant size and mass and the uncertainty of where it will land. 

The proposed rule also would align commercial space orbital debris mitigation practices with those accepted by the U.S. government for its space missions. 

As of July 2023, the number of orbital objects sized 10 cm or greater is estimated to be over 23,000. Recent debris projections estimate a total of one-half million objects sized between 1 and 10 cm on orbit, and over 100 million objects larger than 1 mm. 

The 90-day public comment period will begin after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register in the coming days.

Coherent Logix Develops World’s Most Advanced Space Processor

Coherent Logix has launched an advanced space processor, HyperX: Midnight. The technology is part of the company’s revolutionary HyperX architecture of C-programmable processors for Space 2.0 companies, military applications and terrestrial to satellite convergence.

Space 2.0 and Defense
Coherent Logix has been serving the Space 2.0 and Defense markets for 15 years. In these markets, high-performance computing (HPC) with low power draw and radiation hardening is the absolute key to success. With the release of HyperX: Midnight, Coherent Logix now leads the market with up to four times the computing throughput, half the power consumption and a 40 percent lower price point as compared to leading radiation-hardened FPGAs. This high-performance, low-SWaP (Size, Weight, and Power) combination is a game-changer for Space 2.0 companies and military applications, enabling far greater capabilities to be packaged in smaller satellite buss configurations, dramatically lowering launch costs and accelerating industry growth.

In keeping with Coherent Logix’ mission of “Redefining Hardware as Software,” HyperX: Midnight also brings software-defined operations, C-programmability and the latest in software simulation and debugging tools to the Space 2.0 community. Coherent Logix’ HyperX Studio design suite enables four times faster software development cycles as compared to the rigors of developing for FPGAs and offer full on-orbit re-programmability, so improvements can continue long after launch.

“With our HyperX: Midnight System-on-Chip, we are delivering definitive advantages in launch cost, time-to-market, and spacecraft functionality to our space and military customers,” said Walt Gall, CEO of Coherent Logix.

The HyperX family of System-on-Chip also includes processors for terrestrial markets that are harnessed with the same computing, efficiency, and programmability features. HyperX SoCs support market solutions across several sectors, including consumer electronics, 5G mobile infrastructure, video/broadcast infrastructure, machine vision, sensor processing and production-oriented AI. The company’s new models also decrease processing waste and meet consumer demand for green computing.

From early on, Coherent Logix has served as an architect and integral team member of the Advance Television Systems Committee’s (ATSC) standards committee, and a developer of voluntary standards for digital television broadcasting that helped to facilitate interoperability with other media.

With Coherent Logix’ technology, design engineers are no longer tethered to the traditional limitations of component design, and instead can build ‘best of breed’ ATSC 3.0 algorithms that fulfill today’s features and tomorrow’s innovations.

Connected Devices
“By 2030 there will be 29.4 billion connected devices on the planet and 16.2 billion of these will be new, and most will always be on,” said Coherent Logix CEO Walt Gall, Ph.D. “Devices make life better, but we can’t afford for them to make our planet worse.”

Design engineers at Coherent Logix are meeting the challenge of a connected future with HyperX processors that are software-defined hardware and offer up to four times the performance of competitors while consuming half the power. Like the human brain, the company’s processing elements consume power only when they are thinking, which is a tremendous advantage.

“Satellite/terrestrial convergence is a key theme in the industry,” Gall said. “With the addition of HyperX: Midnight, we enable development of software-defined solutions for security, communications, AI, and imaging that serve both Space 2.0 and terrestrial interests in one common effort. That is just one more example of how HyperX is Ready for Life at the Edge.”

BotFactory Secures $1.25 Million SBIR Phase II Contract

BotFactory announced it has been selected by AFWERX for an SBIR Phase II in the amount of $1.25 million focused on Ultra-Fast Additive Manufacturing of Electronics with Correction and Validation to address the most pressing challenges in the Department of the Air Force (DAF).

The Air Force Research Laboratory and AFWERX have partnered to streamline the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) process by accelerating the small business experience through faster proposal to award timelines, changing the pool of potential applicants by expanding opportunities to small business and eliminating bureaucratic overhead by continually implementing process improvement changes in contract execution. The DAF began offering the Open Topic SBIR/STTR program in 2018 which expanded the range of innovations the DAF funded and now on July 25th, 2023, BotFactory will start its journey to create and provide innovative capabilities that will strengthen the national defense of the United States of America.

“This SBIR Phase II award from AFWERX represents a significant milestone for BotFactory Inc. It not only validates our leadership in Additive manufacturing of Electronics but also entrusts us with a vital role in enhancing the technological capabilities of the Department of the Air Force. We are committed to delivering innovative solutions that will strengthen the national defense infrastructure and look forward to a successful collaboration,” said Carlos Ospina, CEO, BotFactory.

Impulse Space Secures $45M in Series A Funding Round

Impulse Space, Inc. – a developer of in-space transportation services for the inner solar system – announced it has secured $45 million in its Series A funding round. The round is led by RTX Ventures, the venture capital arm of RTX.

“With the support from RTX Ventures, Impulse Space continues on the path toward its mission to provide agile, economic logistics services in any orbit,” says Impulse Space Founder and CEO Tom Mueller. “It speaks volumes that a leading investment firm is confident in the future of Impulse Space and its trailblazing technology.”

With an oversubscribed funding round, Impulse Space will be continuing its progress with its work in upcoming missions, such as LEO Express-1, a GEO refueling mission and the upcoming mission to Mars. Specifically, this funding will support the development of Impulse’s largest vehicle yet, called Helios. The Helios kick stage enables direct to Geostationary Equatorial Orbit missions, thus bypassing the need for a Geostationary Transfer Orbit.

“RTX Ventures invests in companies that we believe provide breakthrough technologies that disrupt aerospace, defense and commercial aviation sectors,” says President and Managing Director Daniel Ateya at RTX Ventures. “Our investment will help Impulse Space accelerate their growth and fuel innovation within the space economy.”

The Series A funding round also included other participant investors, such as Founders Fund, Lux Capital, Airbus Ventures and Space Capital.

The International Space Station National Laboratory and Privateer Announce Data and Information Sharing Partnership for Growing Space Community

The International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory and Privateer Space, a leader in space decision intelligence and data infrastructure, announced a partnership to bring additional resources to the growing space economy. The announcement was made during a session at the annual ISS Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC) focused on companies innovating within the space landscape.

In 2022, Privateer developed Wayfinder, a free online tool that provides real-time data of satellite and debris visualization in space. The platform can be used by interested partners and agencies, as well as the general public, to keep space safe and accessible. Wayfinder can also serve as a marketplace for low-cost access to a variety of global remote sensing data to improve life on Earth.

The Privateer team has coordinated with the ISS National Lab to develop a white label version of Wayfinder that will be housed on the ISS National Lab website, providing space traffic information to those interested in leveraging the orbiting laboratory for research purposes. Through this partnership, the ISS National Lab seeks to provide additional information on the space station for incorporation into the tool, including crew and launch schedules, research investigations being done on station, and more.

“Open access to ISS tracking, telemetry, and mission knowledge is pivotal; it’s the key to global collaboration, education, and transparency in space, uniting us all in pursuit of scientific discovery,” said Privateer Chief Executive Officer Alex Fielding. “We’re thrilled to share this partnership with the ISS National Lab, which perfectly fits our mission to grow the benefits to Earth from a sustainable space environment.”

Through this partnership with Privateer, the ISS National Lab hopes to make space traffic information more readily available to the expanding space economy. “As the space community continues to grow, it is important that we do so in a manner that allows for safe and consistent flow of space traffic,” said ISS National Lab Chief Operating Officer Francisco Cordova. “This partnership will allow for the ISS National Lab community to leverage tools that will provide awareness on activity in low Earth orbit and beyond while also expanding insight into how space station research and technology development is bringing benefit to humanity.”

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7 Astronauts to Embark on Six-Month Science Expedition, Supporting an Array of R&D on the Space Station

A new six-month science expedition in low Earth orbit (LEO) begins when four astronauts launch to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7 mission. While onboard the space station, the Crew-7 astronauts, who will be part of Expeditions 69 and 70, will perform a variety of investigations sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory. This 7th rotational crewed mission from SpaceX, which is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than August 25, 2023, at 3:49 a.m. EDT.

NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli (commander) joins European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andreas Mogensen (pilot), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa (mission specialist), and Roscosmos cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov (mission specialist) onboard SpaceX’s “Endurance” spacecraft.

In the coming months, a variety of visiting vehicles will launch to the space station. These vehicles will bring critical cargo and research for the crew to perform, including ISS National Lab-sponsored investigations in the areas of life and physical sciences, in-space production applications, advanced materials, and technology development. These endeavors will bring value to humanity through space-based inquiry, further our ability to explore, and enable a robust LEO market. Below are a few of the ISS National Lab-sponsored investigations that will be supported by the Crew-7 astronauts during their mission:

  • Researchers from ISS National Lab Commercial Service Provider Rhodium Scientific and the University of Florida will continue their investigation of microbes that could help make products needed for living and working in space. This project, supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as part of its Biomanufacturing: Survival, Utility, and Reliability beyond Earth (B-SURE) program, will continue to examine how gravity affects the capabilities of bacteria and yeast related to biomanufacturing. Microgravity induces changes in microorganisms, including alterations in cellular growth, structure, and metabolic activity, which can affect the biomanufacturing process.
  • The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) will support multiple investigations in the life and physical sciences over the course of Expedition 70. An investigation from researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara will study the role that the mucus lining in the human airway plays in the transport of liquid plug therapeutics to the lungs. Results could help improve drug delivery models for patient therapies. A team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco has launched multiple tissue chip investigations funded through the National Institutes of Health. Now, the researchers will continue their tissue chip research in an NSF-funded investigation to better understand the relationship between immune aging and liver regeneration. Results could help researchers find new ways to enhance the liver healing process.
  • A biotechnology investigation from the Naval Research Laboratory will examine how microgravity and cosmic radiation may lead to new melanin variants that could be used to produce materials with applications both on Earth and in space. Potential applications of melanin-derived biomaterials include drug delivery systems, biological imaging, organic electronics, protective coatings, and energy storage devices.
  • An investigation from Encapsulate aims to validate an automated tumor-on-a-chip system to grow patients’ cancer cells outside the human body. These cells could then be used for personalized screening to see how well chemotherapeutic drugs work for an individual patient’s cancer, enabling improved decision-making to select a course of treatment. This investigation was awarded through the Technology in Space Prize, funded by Boeing and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (CASIS), manager of the ISS National Lab, through the MassChallenge startup accelerator program.
  • An investigation from ISS National Lab Commercial Service Provider Redwire Space aims to validate the in-space production techniques of the company’s Manufacturing of Semiconductors and Thin-Film Integrated Coatings (MSTIC) technology. MSTIC could provide an autonomous manufacturing capability to construct semiconductor devices. The system can perform processes like deposition, etching, and cleaning. For this investigation, Redwire will use MSTIC to perform experiments related to semiconductor manufacturing and compare results with the same processes done on Earth.

Over the coming weeks, additional information will be made available about ISS National Lab-sponsored investigations launching on future Commercial Resupply Services missions to the space station.

Stanford and UC Berkeley Collaborate on Investigation to Produce Superior Graphene Aerogel in Space

Graphene aerogel is a remarkable lightweight material that is both thermally insulating and electrically conductive. This makes it appealing for use in a wide variety of applications—from improved energy storage in batteries to better oil spill cleanup methods to next-generation space suits. A team of researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley are leveraging the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory to produce higher-quality graphene aerogel than is possible on Earth.

This week, the Crew-6 astronauts onboard the space station completed work on the team’s investigation, which was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). Results could provide new insights into the underlying physics of graphene aerogel synthesis and lead to the development of novel material products.

“Through the microgravity environment of the space station, we can unlock a completely new area of material science that we’ve never had access to,” said Jessica Frick, a research engineer at Stanford.

Frick is part of Stanford’s Extreme Environment Microsystems Laboratory, or XLab. Conceived by Debbie Senesky, an associate professor in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford, the XLab focuses on making tiny but tough electronics that can work in extreme environments—like space. For their investigation on the space station, Frick and Senesky are collaborating with a research group from UC Berkeley led by Roya Maboudian, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. The team aims to better understand the nature of graphene aerogel and how microgravity affects its properties.

The investigation, which will execute the first step of graphene aerogel synthesis in microgravity, launched on Northrop Grumman’s 19th Commercial Resupply Services mission (NG-19). Results could have implications for future in-space manufacturing as well as deep space missions.

Producing graphene aerogel is a two-step process. The first step is much like making Jell-O. The research team combined graphene oxide flakes in an aqueous solution, like you would combine gelatin powder and hot water for Jell-O. The graphene oxide solution samples were then sent to the space station. Earlier this week, crew members loaded the samples into a furnace, where the solution will be heated to form graphene hydrogel. This process takes a few hours, and once the hydrogel is formed, the astronauts will prepare the samples for return to Earth.

When the samples are back in the lab, the team will do the second step of the process, which involves removing the liquid and leaving behind only air in the form of graphene aerogel. The team will then examine the properties of the aerogel and compare what they find with terrestrially produced graphene aerogel.

The first step of the process is the most crucial, says Frick. On Earth, gravity can pull the graphene flakes down unevenly, which can create cracks in the hydrogel. This could affect the quality of aerogel produced, making it less electrically conductive or have lower absorption rates.

“What we’re expecting to see from the space-produced graphene hydrogel is a depression in the effects of sedimentation that we see here on Earth,” said Senesky. The graphene aerogel produced from the hydrogel will only be a few millimeters in size, but if the team can show that the aerogel is of higher quality than its terrestrial counterparts, production could be scaled up to create larger graphene aerogels.

According to Senesky, aerogels have many remarkable qualities, making them an ideal material for a multitude of applications. They are extremely porous, which makes them good for filtration. For example, NASA used a silica-based aerogel in the agency’s Stardust mission to capture fine dust particles from a comet. Silica aerogels have also been used as insulation on NASA’s Mars rovers and in outerwear clothing here on Earth.

Because graphene is also electrically conductive, researchers are hopeful graphene aerogel can be used for energy storage in batteries and supercapacitors. Additionally, graphene aerogel is a promising thermal insulator that could be used in heat shield technology or embedded in fabrics for aerospace applications. It could also be used as a chemical sensor or even to help absorb certain chemical constituents, which could be beneficial for applications like oil spill cleanup.

“Graphene aerogel is absorbent like a sponge,” said Maboudian. “This means it could be used to soak up materials many more times its own weight, which enables it to be used as a tool to clean up chemical spills and detect harmful chemicals in the environment.”

The NG-19 mission launched from Wallops Flight Facility on August 1 at 8:31 p.m. EDT and included more than 20 ISS National Lab-sponsored payloads.

Investigation Onboard the Space Station Seeks New Insights Into Cooling Technology for Electronics

What if microgravity holds the key to preventing the overheating of advanced electronics? That’s one idea behind an International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory-sponsored investigation that recently launched to station on Northrop Grumman’s 19th Commercial Resupply Services mission (NG-19). This week, the ISS crew is working on the experiment, which aims to improve the efficiency of heat transfer devices used in various technologies, from laptops to NASA’s Hubble Telescope.

Heat pipes rely on the complex interplay between the vapor and liquid phases within a sealed system, a dynamic that can strongly affect their performance. Building on previous research on the space station, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), with support from ISS National Lab Implementation Partner Tec-Masters, Inc., are leveraging microgravity to better understand the vapor-liquid interfaces of organic mixtures used in heat pipes, which could lead to their improved efficiency.

The investigation, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), could unlock discoveries that pave the way for innovation in several fields, including energy, manufacturing, and space exploration.Heat pipes play a vital role in cooling electronic devices, but their uses don’t end there. They are also used in satellites and even Mars rovers. 

“As electronic devices continue to shrink in size while simultaneously generating more power, and technologies for long-term space missions require the utmost reliability and minimal maintenance, efficient cooling becomes paramount to prevent overheating and ensure optimal performance,” said project leader Joel Plawsky, a professor of chemical engineering at RPI. “Conducting this experiment on the space station allows us to eliminate the influence of gravity and study vapor-liquid interfaces of organic mixtures used in heat pipes in an entirely new light.”

The findings could impact multiple disciplines and drive technological advancements across various sectors. Heat pipes use fluid to transfer heat, but an essential feature of the device is that the fluid undergoes a phase change between liquid and vapor. The motion and dynamics of the interface between the two phases can significantly affect the performance of heat pipes and similar systems. 

In microgravity, the absence of buoyancy-driven convection and the resulting reduction in surface tension due to the higher temperature at the heated end of the pipe significantly impact heat pipedynamics and thermal performance. By closely studying the liquid-to-vapor phase change and shape of the vapor-liquid interface under these conditions, Plawsky aims to investigate the underlying physics behind the function of heat pipes.

The research team will test new techniques to diagnose heat pipe malfunctions and validate new models developed in the lab back on Earth. Plawsky hopes the investigation will be a prelude to developing a future heat pipe user facility in low Earth orbit where companies could test heat pipe designs and various working fluids.

U. S., Japan Host First Space Engagement Talks

U. S., Japan Host First Space Engagement Talks

U.S. Space Force deputy chief of space operations, strategy, plans, programs and requirements, Lt. Gen. Philip A. Garrant, recently made history by leading the first-ever Space Engagement Talks with Japan, aiming to enhance combined space operations and establish a bilateral roadmap for future collaboration.

“The U.S.-Japan Space Engagement Talks represent a further expansion of our strong alliance into the space domain,” emphasized the commander of United States Space Forces Indo-Pacific, Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Mastalir, who hosted the event. “Through these talks and Space Working Groups to follow, we can build a roadmap for cooperation to ensure safety and security in space for our nations and all responsible actors.”

The USSF-JASDF Space Engagement Talks serve as a model of the U.S.-Japan Alliance’s commitment to space collaboration and reinforces the significance of partnerships in achieving shared objectives.

“It’s an exciting time to participate in the Space Engagement Talks with Japan,” said Mastalir. “This forum is an excellent mechanism to drive new collaborative efforts with allies and partners, and to ensure we preserve security, stability, and long-term sustainability of space for the INDOPACOM region.”

The U.S. Space Force’s “Partner to Win” line of effort drives the collaboration, recognizing the strategic advantage that the global network of alliances and partnerships offers. The potential benefits of such collaborations include greater situational awareness, improved operational effectiveness, and increased resiliency in the face of emerging threats. For example, countries with advanced space capabilities can provide technical assistance and training to those with developing space programs, while those with access to strategic locations and infrastructure can provide valuable support in areas like satellite tracking and communication.

“These talks are another example of how our two countries are working together to defend the space domain and support our bilateral joint forces,” Mastalir explained. “I’m grateful for our strong alliance with Japan and proud to be part of this important effort to advance our space operations cooperation.”

Virgin Galactic Completes First Private Astronaut Spaceflight ‘Galactic 02’

Virgin Galactic Completes First Private Astronaut Spaceflight ‘Galactic 02’

Virgin Galactic announced the completion of its first private astronaut flight, Galactic 02. The mission achieved multiple historic milestones, the company says, showcasing how their spaceflights are broadening access to space for a diverse, global community of astronauts.

Flying private astronauts Jon Goodwin from the United Kingdom, and Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers from Antigua and Barbuda, Galactic 02 achieved many firsts, including the first female astronauts from the Caribbean, the first mother-daughter duo to go to space, most women flown in a single space mission and the youngest person to go to space, among others.

“Virgin Galactic took another historic leap forward by flying our first private astronaut mission and demonstrating how our spaceflights will broaden access to space,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic. “Jon, Keisha and Ana each embody our fundamental belief that space is for everyone, and we are proud that today’s flight has inspired people and communities around the world. This is just the beginning, as we plan to continue flying monthly spaceflights while also developing our Delta Class production spaceships to scale our business.”

C.J. Sturckow, VSS Unity commander said, “It is a surreal and humbling experience to have flown Unity today. The wonder and excitement of spaceflight never loses its magic. I had the honor of being joined in the cockpit by Kelly Latimer, one of the first female commercial spaceship pilots. I’m proud of the work we’re doing here at Virgin Galactic to fly more people to space.”

Kelly Latimer, VSS Unity pilot added: “In my entire career, from the Air Force Academy to being a test pilot for NASA, nothing tops what I have just experienced at the controls of VSS Unity. Going to space today fulfilled an ambition I’ve had since I was a child. It is a privilege to be part of a majority-women crew making history as the most female astronauts flying to space in a single mission.”

The company proceeded with post-flight inspections and analysis in preparation for the next commercial space mission, Galactic 03, which is planned for September in a continuation of Virgin Galactic’s monthly flight cadence.