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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced earlier this week that he will be flying to space aboard his space company Blue Origin’s New Shephard vehicle on July 20, accompanied by his brother Mark Bezos. This was supposed to make senior Bezos the first ‘space billionaire’ to actually go into space. But it now seems that another ‘space billionaire’ is eyeing the ‘first’ in this modern space race. A report citing sources says that Virgin Galactic is planning to send Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, on a suborbital flight aboard his space company Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo rocket plane in the first week of July (the 4th of July weekend). How is that for a celebration?

But Virgin Group, as reported by Parabolic Arc, has said that the flight was still subject to obtaining an operator’s licence from the authorities at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Branson’s flight, if everything goes as per the plan, will take off at least two weeks before that off Bezos.

A company spokesman reportedly said in a statement on Tuesday that the company was still in the process of analysing data from their successful May 22 flight, adding that they expect to complete the final test flights this summer through to early fall.

“At this time, we have not determined the date of our next flight. An objective from the last flight was to collect data to be used for the final two verification reports that are required as part of the current FAA commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s licence,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying in the report.

The report says Virgin Galactic is said to have announced the plan for Branson’s flight as a response to Blue Origin’s scheduled July 20 flight, but that they had been planning it even before the announcement from Bezos’s company came on June 7.

As for Bezos and Blue Origin, the aerospace company he founded in 2000, the launch calendar has been marked. The New Shephard vehicle scheduled to carry the Bezos brothers — and the winner of an online auction for a spare seat — has flown at least 15 times in the past, but with nobody aboard it.

Bezos also shared an Instagram post telling his followers why he decided to fly to space. In the post, he wrote, “Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space. On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

The third person to accompany Jeff and Mark Bezos still has to go through a bidding war. A blog post on Blue Origin’s website says the bidding for the space seat will conclude with a live online auction on June 12. Those interested in bidding in the live auction have to register by June 10. The blog added that so far “nearly 6,000 participants from 143 countries” had bid.

New Shepard will launch on July 20, reach Karman Line at 100-km mean sea-level, and then descend back to Earth, all in a matter of 11 minutes. The Karman Line is the recognised boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.


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NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Enters Lunar Orbit a Week After Artemis I Launch

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NASA's Orion Spacecraft Enters Lunar Orbit a Week After Artemis I Launch

NASA’s Orion spacecraft was placed in lunar orbit Friday, officials said, as the much-delayed Moon mission proceeded successfully.

A little over a week after the spacecraft blasted off from Florida bound for the Moon, flight controllers “successfully performed a burn to insert Orion into a distant retrograde orbit,” the US space agency said on its website.

The spacecraft is to take astronauts to the Moon in the coming years — the first to set foot on its surface since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

This first test flight, without a crew on board, aims to ensure that the vehicle is safe.

“The orbit is distant in that Orion will fly about 40,000 miles above the Moon,” NASA said.

While in lunar orbit, flight controllers will monitor key systems and perform checkouts while in the environment of deep space, the agency said.

It will take Orion about a week to complete half an orbit around the Moon. It will then exit the orbit for the return journey home, according to NASA.

On Saturday, the ship is expected to go up to 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, a record for a habitable capsule. The current record is held by the Apollo 13 spacecraft at 248,655 miles (400,171 km) from Earth.

It will then begin the journey back to Earth, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean scheduled for December 11, after just over 25 days of flight.

The success of this mission will determine the future of the Artemis 2 mission, which will take astronauts around the Moon without landing, then Artemis 3, which will finally mark the return of humans to the lunar surface.

Those missions are scheduled to take place in 2024 and 2025, respectively.


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ISRO’s RH200 Sounding Rocket Registers 200th Consecutive Successful Launch

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ISRO's RH200 Sounding Rocket Registers 200th Consecutive Successful Launch

ISRO on Wednesday announced that RH200, the versatile sounding rocket of the Indian space agency, has registered its 200th consecutive successful launch from the shores of Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has termed it a “historic moment”. It was witnessed by former President Ram Nath Kovind and ISRO chairman S Somanath, among others.

The successful flight of RH200 took off from the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS).

“Indian sounding rockets are used as privileged tools for the scientific community for carrying out experiments on meteorology, astronomy and similar branches of space physics,” an ISRO statement said.

Campaigns such as Equatorial ElectroJet (EEJ), Leonid Meteor Shower (LMS), Indian Middle Atmosphere Programme (IMAP), Monsoon Experiment (MONEX), Middle Atmosphere Dynamics (MIDAS), and Sooryagrahan-2010 have been conducted using the sounding rocket platform for scientific exploration of the Earth’s atmosphere, it said.

The Rohini Sounding Rocket (RSR) series have been the forerunners for ISRO’s heavier and more complex launch vehicles, with a continued usage even today for atmospheric and meteorological studies, the national space agency headquartered here said.

“The 200th consecutive successful flight stands testimony to the commitment of Indian rocket scientists towards unmatched reliability demonstrated over the years,” it said.

Meanwhile, ISRO is all set to launch PSLV-C54/ EOS-06 mission with Oceansat-3 and eight nano satellites, including one from Bhutan, from the Sriharikota spaceport on November 26. The launch is scheduled at 11.56am on Saturday, the national space agency said on Sunday.

Last week, ISRO announced that the payload capability of India’s heaviest LVM3 rocket has been enhanced by up to 450kg with a successful engine test. According to the Indian Space Research Organisation, the CE20 cryogenic engine indigenously developed for Launch Vehicle Mark 3 (LVM3) was subjected to a successful hot test at an uprated thrust level of 21.8 tonnes for the first time on November 9, according to the country’s national space agency.


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PSLV to Launch Pixxel’s Hyperspectral Imaging Satellite Anand on November 26

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PSLV to Launch Pixxel's Hyperspectral Imaging Satellite Anand on November 26

Spacetech startup Pixxel is set to launch its third hyperspectral satellite – Anand – onboard ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Sriharikota spaceport on Saturday.

Anand is a hyperspectral microsatellite weighing less than 15 kg but having more than 150 wavelengths that will enable it to capture images of the earth in greater detail than today’s non-hyperspectral satellites that have not more than 10 wavelengths.

The imagery from the satellite can be used to detect pest infestation, map forest fires, identify soil stress and oil slicks amongst other things, a statement from Pixxel said on Monday.

“After more than 18 months of delay, many many retests, and more than two years of sweat and hard work by the team, we are finally launching this week,” Awais Ahmed, Founder and CEO of Pixxel said on Twitter.

Founded by Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal, Pixxel became the first Indian company ever to launch a commercial satellite – Shakuntala – in April using Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket.

Pixxel’s hyperspectral satellites are unique in their ability to provide hundreds of bands of information with global coverage at a very high frequency, making them ideal for disaster relief, agricultural monitoring, energy monitoring and urban planning applications, the company said.

The satellites are equipped to beam down up to 50 times more information with unprecedented detail, compared with other conventional satellites in orbit.

Pixxel has already inked partnerships with Rio Tinto and Data Farming which will use hyperspectral datasets to identify mineral resources and monitoring active and determining crop issues respectively.

The imagery from this will provide the team targeted inputs to improve the form factor and imaging capabilities of the next batch of commercial-grade satellites.

With this launch, Pixxel moves closer to achieving its vision of building a health monitor for the planet through a constellation of cutting-edge hyperspectral small satellites in space.

Pixxel is backed by Lightspeed, Radical Ventures, Relativity’s Jordan Noone, Seraphim Capital, Ryan Johnson and Accenture among others.


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