Inside Space - March 13th, 2020

Inside Space (Mar 13th, 2020)

Starlink launch on Saturday / Starship to use new steel / Coronavirus concerns / Apollo 13 website

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Happy Friday space enthusiasts!

In the coming weeks, Inside Space will be moving to a Freemium model. That means that it will be free on Fridays but only paying subscribers will receive the newsletter five times a week. If you enjoy reading Inside Space as much as I enjoy writing it, please support my work by subscribing here for just $10 a month. 

I hope you enjoy today's round-up!

– Eduardo

1. SpaceX plans to launch 60 more Starlink satellites on Saturday, increasing the size of the constellation to 362 sats. The launch will take place from the Kennedy Space Center at 9:36 am EDT. The Air Force forecasts a 90 percent chance of favorable launch weather. SpaceX plans to conduct two Starlink monthly launches this year to continue expanding the constellation. Last October, COO Gwynne Shotwell said that SpaceX will start providing broadband service to parts of the United States later this year. However, some analysts say that the company has not been transparent regarding its business plans. "We do know there is interest from the U.S. military, and we believe most of their revenue will come from there rather than commercial customers," said Shagun Sachdeva, a satellite analyst with Northern Sky Research. SpaceX has been awarded a contract to provide high-speed connectivity to U.S. military aircraft. – UPI

2. SpaceX plans to build future iterations of the Starship with a different type of steel, Elon Musk said this week. Up until now, Starship prototypes have been built with a metallic blend known as 301, which was developed decades ago. "We should be able to do better in the 2020s than they did in, like, the '50s, you know?" Musk said at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, D.C. "So, I think we'll start switching away from 301 maybe in the next month or two." Last year, Musk, who is also SpaceX chief engineer, said that he decided to build the Starship using steel instead of carbon because the carbon fiber was "taking too long." Another concern for the company was cost, since steel is much cheaper than the carbon fiber that is often used to build rockets. – SPACE

3. Researchers have come up with a new theory to explain why Saturn never swallowed up its massive moon, Titan. In a study published this week in Astronomy and Astrophysics, scientists argue that during its early evolution, Saturn swallowed up large moons that orbited close to its surface. Using a detailed computer simulation, they found that a large disk between Saturn and Titan could explain why the moon was not gobbled up. According to this simulation, the gas inside this disk may have created a safety zone that prevented "farther-flung moons such as Titan from moving inward and becoming snacks for the young planet," writes Nadia Drake. – NEW YORK TIMES

4. The 36th Space Symposium, which was due to take place March 30 - April 2 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been postponed due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers have not announced a new date for the meeting. The conference attracts hundreds of people every year but European participants would not have been able to attend due to the travel restrictions imposed by the Trump administration this week. The Northeast Astronomy Forum, which every April brings thousands of people to the Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, has been switched to a virtual-only meeting to prevent the spread of COVD-19.– SPACE NEWS

5. SpaceX is seeking U.S. government subsidies for Starlink. SpaceX has reached out to the Federal Communications Commission to argue that it should be entitled to compete for $16 billion in subsidies that the U.S. government has earmarked to provide broadband connectivity to remote areas. However, established broadband companies argue that Starlink should not be allowed to enter the fray because its technology is unproven. – WALL STREET JOURNAL

6. Investors threw $5.7 billion into space startups in 2019, a 63 percent increase versus the previous year, a new report says. Although a total of 135 space startups received investments last year, Bryce Space and Technology estimates that nearly 70 percent of the $5.7 billion went to four companies: SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and OneWeb. The remaining 30 percent went to smaller startups, including U.S.-based Relativity Space and China’s Qianxun Spatial Intelligence, which received $140 million in investments, each. The number of U.S. firms receiving investments rose to 56 in 2019, from 53 a year earlier; while 79 non-U.S. space startups received investments in 2019, up from 47 the previous year. – PARABOLIC ARC

7. A new website recreates the Apollo 13 mission using video footage, audio recordings and transcripts. "Apollo 13 in Real Time" features 7,200 hours of audio from NASA’s mission control, much of which was digitized for the first time, more than 600 photographs and scores of documents, said creator Ben Feist, a contractor at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. After one of the spacecraft's oxygen tanks exploded, the Apollo 13 crew failed to land on the moon but returned to Earth safely, thanks in part to the ingenuity of mission control. Feist put out a similar website to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission last year. – THE VERGE

8. In an opinion piece for Scientific American, McKenna Becker argues that women are better suited for a trip to Mars than men. Women typically weigh less than men and their metabolism requires fewer calories, and that is important given that it costs about $10,000 per pound to propel something into space, writes Becker, a researcher at the University of California San Francisco. She says that NASA research shows that women are better than men at dealing with "negative moods." A Mars crew will have to live together for around three years, which is likely to generate friction among astronauts. Women might "have the communication style needed to ease potential clashes that arise from close quarters and time delays," writes Becker. Additionally, she says that mice studies suggest that men may be more sensitive to cosmic radiation than women. – SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

9. NASA has selected two experiments that will fly aboard the future Gateway lunar orbital station. The experiments – one from NASA and another one from its European counterpart, ESA – will study the radiation environment and space weather conditions, NASA said in a statement. The Gateway is a centerpiece of the Artemis program – together with the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule. It will orbit the moon and serve as a base for crewed missions to the lunar surface and even Mars. NASA did not say when the experiments would be deployed but it plans to launch the first module of the Gateway – the so-called "power and propulsion element" – by the end of 2022. – SPACE NEWS

10. Video of the Day: SpaceX has posted a mesmerizing video showing the separation of the two stages of a Falcon 9 rocket during last week's ISS cargo launch. "Tracking footage from last week’s launch — Falcon 9’s two stages separate; second stage propels Dragon to the @space_station as the first stage reorients and performs a boostback burn before landing back on Earth."

If you would like to share your videos and pictures with other space enthusiasts, please send them to!

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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