Inside Space - March 10th, 2020

Inside Space (Mar 10th, 2020)

No plans for Starlink IPO / SpaceX raises $500 million / Martian caves / Theia study

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Dear space enthusiasts, over the next few weeks, we'll be going Freemium!

That means that Inside Space will be free on Fridays but only paid subscribers will receive the Monday through Thursday editions.

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1. Elon Musk said that SpaceX has no immediate plans to spin out the Starlink internet constellation. Last month, the company's COO Gwynne Shotwell said that Starlink was "an element of the business that we are likely to spin out and go public," but she did not give a timeline for the move. On Monday Musk said that SpaceX has "zero" plans to spin out Starlink, adding that the company's focus is "to make [Starlink] work." Before Starlink turns a revenue, SpaceX will need to launch hundreds, if not thousands, of satellites. Last year, Shotwell said that to start offering global service, SpaceX would need to launch around 1,400 satellites, but the company's goal is to launch approximately 12,000 sats. SpaceX also needs to design and engineer the terminals that will allow users to receive the signals sent by the satellites. – CNN

2. SpaceX is raising $500 million in funds, twice as much as planned. The latest funding round takes the company's valuation to $36 billion, up from $33.3 billion in May last year. Last month, citing people familiar with the plans, CNBC reported that the company's goal was to raise $250 million. It's unclear why the company decided to raise twice as much and SpaceX did not reply to request for comment. SpaceX is investing heavily in its three flagship projects: the Starship next-generation space vehicle, the Starlink internet constellation and the Crew Dragon capsule that is set to start transporting astronauts to the International Space Station this year. In 2019, SpaceX raised $1.33 billion across three funding rounds. – CNBC

3. Despite concerns by astronomers across the globe, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the Starlink constellation will not affect ground observations. Scientists argue that the sats reflect a lot of sunlight toward Earth, creating glares that can disrupt the observations made using ground-based telescopes. "I am confident that we will not cause any effect whatsoever in astronomical discoveries," Musk said. "Zero. That’s my prediction. We’ll take corrective action if it’s above zero," he added. In January, SpaceX launched an experimental Starlink sat to test an anti-reflective coating and it is considering adding sunshades to the satellites. "We’re launching a sunshade, changing the color of the satellite… aesthetically this should not be an impact," Musk explained. Last week the European Southern Observatory published a study saying that its telescopes will be "moderately affected" by the Starlink constellation. – FORBES

4. Astronomer Caleb Scharf argues that humans could take advantage of underground caves to build habitats on Mars. Researchers have long speculated that humans would need to build colonies on the surface of Mars, but Scharf says that naturally occurring shelters could offer settlers some protection from cosmic rays, ultraviolet light and meteorites. Instruments on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey have gathered evidence of "pits, caves, and lava tube structures" on the red planet. Although the data is inconclusive because it lacks resolution, Scharf says that in a volcanic plateau called Tharsis, there are 1,029 good cave candidates, including 27 tube structures that span a total length of some 1,250 kilometers. – SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

5. Major space industry and scientific conferences are being impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, which was due to start on March 16 in The Woodlands, Texas, has been canceled. The spring meetings of the International Astronautical Federation in Paris and a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s science committee have also been canceled. Although the Satellite 2020 conference is going ahead in Washington, D.C., this week, some companies including SES and OneWeb won't be sending delegates over concerns around the COVID-19 virus. For now, the Space Foundation plans to go ahead with the Space Symposium, which is scheduled to take place March 30 through April 2 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. – SPACEFLIGHT NOW

6. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is teaming up with Northrop Grumman to develop a satellite that will offer life-extending services to commercial satellites. The agency's Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) will be based on Northon Grumman Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1), which successfully docked with an Intelsat satellite last month. The MEV-1 is designed to provide "propulsion and attitude control" capabilities that can effectively extend the lives of orbiting satellites. To build the RSGS, DARPA will provide funding to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, which will build a robotic payload that will be mounted atop a satellite bus produced by Northon Grumman. The RSGS is slated to launch in 2023. – NEW ATLAS

7. According to a new study, the remains of the large-sized object that created the moon are hidden in the lunar mantle. For years, the prevailing theory to explain the formation of the moon is that a large protoplanetary body named Theia crashed into Earth around 4.5 billion years ago, generating debris that coalesced to form the moon. In a new study published in Nature Geoscience, scientists argue that although the composition of the lunar crust is similar to Earth's, vestiges of Theia can be found deep inside the lunar mantle. The authors say that the lunar surface contains debris resulting from the impact, while deep inside the moon, a chunk of Theia remains relatively intact. – SCIENCE ALERT

8. Arizona-based World View plans to deploy a fleet of Stratollites over North and Central America this summer. These balloons are designed to float at an altitude of between 50,000 and 75,000 feet, hovering over the same spot for several weeks. World View says that the Stratollites will be fitted with high-resolution cameras and that they will provide imagery to customers starting in the first half of 2021. According to World View, Stratollites can also be fitted with communications and remote sensing equipment, offering the services of satellites, but at a lower cost. – SPACEWATCH GLOBAL

9. Using small telescopes, observers will be able to see a large asteroid that will fly by Earth in late April. Asteroid 1998 OR2, which is about 2.5 miles (4.1 km) across will be at a distance of 4 million miles (6 million km) from Earth on April 29 – the closest it will get to our planet. "Observers with at least 6-inch or 8-inch telescopes (the number indicates the size of the primary mirror) will see the asteroid (very slowly) moving in front of the stars!" writes Eddie Irizarry. If you don't have a telescope, the Virtual Telescope Project will live stream the flyby starting on April 28. – EARTHSKY

10. Image of the Day: Artist Mike Petter's new piece recreates Jupiter’s Great Red Spot using data gathered by NASA's Juno spacecraft. "The piece makes use of fractals, which are recursive mathematical creations; increasingly complex patterns that are similar to each other, yet never exactly the same," NASA said in a statement

Written and curated by Eduardo Garcia in New York. Eduardo is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School M.A. Science program and writes regularly for the New York Times Climate Fwd: newsletter. In one of his previous lives, Eduardo worked as a Reuters correspondent in Latin America for nearly a decade. 


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