Archive for May, 2022

White Sands Missile Range personnel supporting NASA and Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) landing and recovery of the Starliner spacecraft participated in a Mission Dress Rehearsal on May 18, 2022 at White Sands Space Harbor.
Credit: Anne Marie Chadima, White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs

All is ready for receiving the uncrewed CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, making its touchdown at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The Boeing-built spacecraft departed on May 19 from Space Launch Complex 41 in Cape Canaveral, Florida to successfully link up with the International Space Station.

The anticipated landing is on May 25 at White Sands Missile Range.

A Starliner Mission Dress Rehearsal was held on May 18 at White Sands Space Harbor, a spaceport that was formerly used as a Space Shuttle runway, a test site for rocket research, and the primary training area used by NASA for Space Shuttle pilots practicing approaches and landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft and T-38 Talon aircraft.

Credit: Anne Marie Chadima, White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs

White Sands Missile Range provides Army, Navy, Air Force, DoD, and other customers with services for experimentation, test, research, assessment, development, and training.

Weather: significant factor

Karla James works for the Materiel Test Directorate as the Air and Space Branch Test Officer at White Sands Missile Range, WSMR for short.

James noted that they will determine the capsule’s trajectory on the day of the anticipated landing, with weather playing a significant factor. The WSMR Meteorology Branch is providing weather data utilizing weather balloon releases. If the weather or any other factor causes the module to shift from the agreed-upon landing sites between WSMR and Boeing, the crew module will need to land at an alternate site or delay the spacecraft’s return.

White Sands Missile Range personnel supporting NASA and Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) landing and recovery of the Starliner spacecraft participated in a Mission Dress Rehearsal on May 18, 2022 at White Sands Space Harbor.
Credit: Anne Marie Chadima, White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs

Since there are two potential landing sites on the installation, the entire WSMR team, Boeing, NASA, and all other personnel need to be prepared for the landing and recovery to happen at either location. They also have alternate landing plans that are executable within a few hours if the flight tests or missions need to return earlier than originally planned.

Ground recovery operations

According to Vanessa Flores of White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs, for the Starliner landing, a “Counter Drone” is to video an aerial view of ground recovery, expected to show various vehicles en route to the capsule after it lands.

Also, the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range Garrison Fire Department has received training on their part in the landing and recovery process. In the future, they will also receive training on what to do when astronauts are present within the capsule.

Credit: Boeing

On capsule landing, Boeing has a requirement to ensure it is safe to approach the capsule and open the hatch. Boeing personnel in protective suits with hydrazine monitors and, depending on the wind, are to determine where to set up the staging area.

“Up-wind or down-wind plays a key part in the location,” James said.

Landing sequence

This is the second landing of the Starliner spacecraft on the Army installation. The first landing was in December 2019, with the unpiloted capsule completing the first land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.

In November of 2019, the Boeing Pad Abort Test also landed successfully at White Sands Missile Range.

Credit: Boeing

According to Boeing, on landing day, the parachute sequence begins around 30,000 feet (9 km) above the ground, when Starliner jettisons the forward heat shield that protects the parachutes during reentry. Two drogue parachutes begin slowing Starliner down, then detach. The three main parachutes are then deployed and inflated, and about 3,000 feet (0.9 km) off the ground, the airbags inflate. On touchdown, those airbags absorb the initial forces of landing.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico on December 22, 2019. The landing completed an abbreviated Orbital Flight Test for the company.
Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Credit: Prime Video

 

The first episode of a new sci-fi drama series has been beamed into space, available to anyone open to receiving satellite signals.

Prime Video, Amazon Web Services (AWS), satellite services providers SES and Intelsat “beamed” the first episode of the new sci-fi drama series Night Sky from Legendary Television into outer space, “marking the first-ever intergalactic premiere for a TV series,” stated a Prime Video press statement.

Night Sky follows Irene (Sissy Spacek) and Franklin York (J.K. Simmons), a couple who, years ago, discovered a chamber buried in their backyard which inexplicably leads to a strange, deserted planet.

Credit: Prime Video

 

Space streaming

Intelsat and SES leveraged AWS modernized cloud infrastructures to securely receive a pre-release of the first episode of Night Sky. Using ground stations and geostationary satellite fleets, a 360-degree broadcast was performed of the show’s first episode into space.

“This marks not only the farthest distance that a TV series has been intentionally distributed, but also makes Prime Video the first streamer to distribute its content directly into space,” adds the press statement.

For more information on Night sky, go to:

https://press.amazonstudios.com/us/en/original-series/night-sky/1

Credit: NOVA

Noted asteroid expert, Clark Chapman, a senior scientist (retired) from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, has assessed a recent NOVA broadcast that had Sir David Attenborough guiding viewers on a search for clues that could provide an unprecedented snapshot of what happened in the dinosaurs’ final moments on Earth.

The evening of 5/11/2022 “Nova” (WGBH) broadcast a two-hour special, narrated by David Attenborough, telling a “Just So” story about the “last day” of the Cretaceous period.  This was first published in the March 29, 2019 issue of The New Yorker.   An introduction had been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but the promised follow-on peer-reviewed articles with actual evidence have not been published yet, so far as I can tell.  (A “Scientific Reports” article published this past December tries to deduce the season of the impact (spring), but shies away from demonstrating any paleontological evidence about what happened on the “last day.”)   Despite lack of peer-reviewed focus on the “last day,” this didn’t stop the BBC and now PBS from giving a high profile to this story (e.g. front-page story in a recent Washington Post story).

Amateur paleontologists to credible professionals

The first hour of Nova doesn’t even get to the day that Chicxulub was formed.  Although there are brief segments showing an artist’s poor conception of an asteroid heading toward Earth, it doesn’t arrive until the second hour.  When asteroid astronomy is briefly mentioned, it is done badly.  The graphics have it first nearly hitting Mars, which is pure fiction.  Most of the words and all of the graphics show that Near-Earth Asteroids are bumped into Earth-approaching orbits when they collide with each other, although Jupiter’s gravity is briefly mentioned.

European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake took this image from the International Space Station of the Yucatan Peninsula – site of the Chicxulub impact crater.
Credit: Tim Peake/ESA/NASA

The first hour is devoted to paleontological work in the Hell Creek formation in North Dakota, where dinosaur fossils have been discovered for over a century.  It shows Robert DePalma and associates scraping away in the mud and finding petrified animal bones and skin.  Meanwhile, Attenborough narrates fancy graphics showing dinosaurs walking around in a rain-forest landscape.  DePalma was an amateur paleontologist, who became a belated graduate student during most of his studies.  There are about a dozen other commentators during the two-hours, ranging from another amateur paleontologist to credible professionals in several fields, most of them sticking to their areas of expertise without explicitly endorsing the “last day” story. 

For instance, Cathy Plesko of Los Alamos Natl. Lab talks about results of her numerical modeling of giant impacts.  There are limits to what can be gleaned from paleontological studies and Attenborough’s script strays far into the realm of speculation.  We are told that certain male dinosaurs were “loners”, that some probably dug in sandy soils for roots, and that another species generally laid two eggs at once (despite an earlier explanation that the number of fossilized dinosaur eggs found worldwide number little more than half-a-dozen).  Some paleontologists and archaeologists love to speculate on stories beyond what can be robustly proved by analysis of their excavations, and that was the tone of the first hour’s script.

Minimal evidence

The last half of the second hour was all about the general worldwide environmental horrors during the minutes, days, and months following the impact.  There were extravagant graphics and videos depicting scenarios that have been discussed for decades…little was new here, though there was an unusual emphasis on the far-flung effects of seismicity.

It was the first half of the second hour where the focus was on “the last day,” and purported evidence (and dramatic artistic videos) of what might have happened to individual animals that wound up dying on that day and later fossilized. 

One wishes that the evidence would be published in a scientific journal, because one cannot expect a popularized documentary to go into the necessary detail.  But it struck me as being minimal evidence and extremely unlikely to be true.  The chief evidence seems to be some tiny spherules caught in a petrified fish’s gills.  Of course, the Cretaceous–Paleogene( K/Pg) boundary layer is made up of such spherules, but they also result from meteorite falls all the time.  And spherules are produced by volcanic and industrial processes, among others.  The proponents of “the last day” hypothesis are clearly hoping to find a dinosaur that died on the day of the impact.  They find a plausible specimen, they think, but finally conclude that it probably died weeks or months earlier.  Given that dating of the K/Pg event has an uncertainty of tens of thousands of years (as one commentator on the program mentions), there’s no reason to think that the particular dinosaur didn’t die 30,000 weeks before the final day.

Credit: NASA/Don Davis

One spherule contains a tiny inclusion that is rich in iron and nickel.  It is offered as proof that the spherule contains an unmelted particle from the asteroid that struck on that day.  Earlier in the program, it is stated that a carbonaceous asteroid created Chicxulub, and carbonaceous chondrites typically contain only a few percent of siderophile material.  Regardless, while iron-rich material is consistent with many meteorite compositions, it is hardly proof of extraterrestrial origin.  A diagram is briefly shown that suggests that spherules in Hell Creek have the same compositions as known K/Pg spherules.  The context and origin of the diagram aren’t shown, but it is hardly surprising that such spherules are in Hell Creek.  One video actually shows a small animal (a contemporary mouse?) crawling out of an exposure of the K/Pg boundary layer in Hell Creek.

Public fascination

All of this may not be important, despite public fascination with “the last day.” For sure there was a last day, even though it can’t be timed within tens-of-thousands of years.  And it isn’t known what fraction of animals and plants were killed on that day worldwide (or in North Dakota), nor how many weeks or decades it took for whole species to be rendered extinct.There may have been a tsunami or otherwise turbulent waters in North Dakota that day, to account for evidence of “tumbled” fossils, but then there are many large thunderstorms every year, and many giant floods every century (like the Red River Flood in 1997), in North Dakota.  I consider the “Just So” story to be “possible” but extremely unlikely.  I have to admit that editors of Attenborough’s script seem to have ensured that nothing about the “last day” is said to be a certain fact.  Attenborough often uses words like “possible”, “likely”, “might have”, and so on.  And one commentator repeatedly cautions the viewers that science has “uncertainties.”  But the impression the viewer is left with, after the two hours of being awed by all the Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) of dinosaurs, is that the whole “last day” story has a fifty-fifty, or similar, chance of being true, whereas it seems to me to have an extremely tiny probability of being true from the evidence so far presented.

— Review by Clark Chapman

Deployment of China’s Zhurong Mars rover on May 22, 2021. Credit: CNSA

The China National Space Administration has noted that the country’s Zhurong Mars rover has been placed in dormancy-mode due to sand and dust storms.

Zhurong is predicted to resume its operation at year’s end, according to China Central Television (CCTV).

Imagery taken by Zhurong on March 16 and April 30, along with analyzing the data of electricity changes of Zhurong’s solar wings, scientists estimated that Mars is experiencing strong sandstorms.

Dusty Zhurong rover.
Credit: CNSA

To deal with the sandstorms which may weaken Zhurong’s power generating capacity and the low temperatures at night, scientists decided to switch Zhurong to dormant mode.

The CCTV explains that, as Zhurong’s landing area enters the winter season, the highest daytime temperatures drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius and the night temperatures may drop below minus 100 degrees Celsius with high probability of sandstorms. The temperature will continue to drop in mid-July.

Dust storm on the Red Planet observed by China’s Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter..
Credit: CNSA

Back to work

It is predicted that around December when the landing area comes into the spring season and the environmental conditions get better, Zhurong will get back to work.

In the meantime, the Mars probe Tianwen-1 is conducting remote sensing over Mars. The current image that it sent back shows the landform of the circumpolar latitude in the southern hemisphere of Mars.

The Mars mission team will try their best to continue monitoring the weather using the orbiter, the CCTV story explained.

Go to this video detailing the status of China’s Mars rover at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TSw3LZY_TA

Curiosity’s location as of Sol 3478. Distance driven since landing: 17.36 miles/27.94 kilometers.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3479 duties.

“Despite the incredibly rough terrain surrounding Mirador butte,” reports Natalie Moore, a mission operations specialist at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, California, the nearly 10-year-old rover successfully drove a net distance forward [of roughly 33 feet (10 meters) and roughly 7 feet (2 meters] in elevation.

Martian art

“Not only did the Sol 3476 drive succeed, but placed us perfectly in front of the most beautiful laminated outcrop, a true canvas of Martian art painted by nature herself,” Moore adds.

“Evidence of possible cross-bedding and fine-scale laminations here are so interesting there was an initial question of whether we should stay for extra contact science opportunities or keep with our plan to drive away on the first sol of this plan,” Moore notes.

Dust Removal Tool result. Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 3478, May 19, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Energized discussion

It was decided to keep the robot’s drive planned for Sol 3478, which sparked an energized discussion on which types of science Mars researchers could fit in the limited time they have before continuing forward in the afternoon.

Moore said there were questions of which activities would provide the most useful science and that they were vehemently discussed: Should we prioritize using our Dust Removal Tool (DRT) to wipe away the atmospheric dust that blocks our view of grain-size? Or would using the DRT damage the undisturbed bedrock laminations and ruin a close-up view from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).

“Although scientists were certainly interested in the grain-size of this unit, getting those measurements from MAHLI images at this heading would most likely need low-level lighting from the afternoon sun: a seemingly impossible task,” Moore pointed out, “as we’ve kept our plan to drive away in the afternoon.”

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity took 2 images in Gale Crater using its mast-mounted Right Navigation Camera (Navcam) to create this mosaic.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Try for all of it

In the end, the heat fell on the dedicated Rover Planners who decided to try for all of it.

First, the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) was scheduled to do a short morning sniff of the laminated bedrock target researchers chose and named “Las Claritas.”

Then, MAHLI was slated to do the limbo to take a 6-frame angled mosaic surrounding Las Claritas to hopefully catch cross-bedding. Then the plan called for use of the DRT on the target itself and perform a MAHLI “full-suite” for grain-size which includes images of Las Claritas from 25 cm, 5 cm, and 2 cm away.

To get a sense of what Curiosity Rover Planners try to avoid navigating terrain, check out this Navcam image of the robot’s left front wheel at a recent parking spot.
Photo taken on May 17, 2022, Sol 3476, by Left Navigation Camera at drive 930, site number 95.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Planned drive

Besides this full sol of arm activities, Mastcam was also to carry out a stereo mosaic surrounding Las Claritas and two large farther-field mosaics covering the many outcrops around the rover, in addition to a host of other Mastcam images to document the state of our DRT and other instrument activity attempts.

Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) was slated to shoot its laser for spectrometry on a bedrock target nearby named “Maturin” and a micro image mosaic on a layered outcrop roughly 16 feet (5 meters) away.

Curiosity imagery taken by Mast Camera Left and Right on Sol 3476, May 17, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

The rover’s planned drive is for roughly less than 100 feet (30 meters) generally south, putting the Mars machinery near the south-east corner of Mirador butte for more science.

“While we wait for our drive data to come down to Earth, our rover will take environmental observations of the sky to monitor dust activity and ChemCam will autonomously choose a target for a second laser spectrometry observation at our new location,” Moore reported. “From the entire team’s hard work, everyone is getting a piece of the Martian pie this time!”

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

That Soviet-era, nuclear-powered Cosmos 954 satellite that crashed into Canada on January 24, 1978 is haunting a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, Lance Rayner.

In a newly-posted story by Malak Abas in the Winnipeg Free Press, Rayner, then 24-years-old, was first on the scene with a fellow mountie at the site in Lutselk’e, a settlement on the eastern shore of Great Slave Lake.

Rayner has been diagnosed with a rare malignant parotid tumor and Stage 4 cancer. The former mountie believes guarding some of the radioactive remains of the Soviet satellite has caused his rare cancer condition.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Clean-up operations

Under the code-name “Operation Morning Light,” it was determined that radioactive satellite debris had indeed survived re-entry and reached the ground.

Subsequent clean-up operations sought to safeguard the welfare of Northern Canadians living in the affected area. A search and clean-up of radioactive debris was pulled together, involving hundreds of personnel from the Canadian military and government agencies, as well as a 120-person U.S. Nuclear Emergency Search Team.

Credit: Nevada National Security

To read the Winnipeg Free Press article – “Fateful mission – Former Mountie believes guarding Soviet satellite caused rare cancer” – go to:

https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/fateful-mission-576513942.html

Also, go to this video by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) at:

https://youtu.be/drDPFs6j3U0

Lastly, go to an informative document on Operation Morning Light from Arctic Operational Histories edited and introduced by P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Ryan Dean at:

http://operationalhistories.ca/home/operation-morning-light/

Credit: Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies (SCU)

A May 17 hearing in Congress focused on reported objects zipping through the skies that are now termed Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP) – or for the elder skywatcher reading this, Unidentified Flying Object, (UFO).

Witnesses detailed the work of a newly established Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG).

Credit: Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Credit: Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to one lawmaker, the hearing was designed to bring that organization “out of the shadows.”

For the thousands of viewers that tuned into the hearing, some gave mixed reviews about what they heard – and many remain hungry for more details.

To view the open House Intelligence Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee hearing on UAP, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSDweUbGBow

For more information on what’s up with UAP and reaction to the hearing, go to my new Space.com story – “What’s next for UFO studies after landmark congressional hearing?” – at:

https://www.space.com/future-ufo-research-after-congress-hearing

Shown at hearing, Video 1 2021 flyby movie showing a purported UAP.
Credit: Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter.
Credit: CNSA

It has been a year since China’s Tianwen-1 mission reached the Red Planet consisting of an orbiter, a lander and a rover.

On May 15, 2021 – now, one year ago – the lander touched down in a pre-selected landing area in Utopia Planitia.

A week later on May 22, 2021, the Mars rover Zhurong wheeled down from its landing platform onto the Martian surface.

Zhurong has continued moving southward from its deployment site.

China’s Zhurong rover.
Credit: CNSA

Rover revelation

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that by Aug 15, 2021, Zhurong had worked on the planet’s surface for 90 Martian days, or about 92 days on Earth, despite reaching its planned working target of 90 days.

In November 2021, Zhurong and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft performed an in-orbit relay communication test.

Illustration of the scientific payloads mounted on Zhurong rover. The group picture of the rover (left) and the lander (right) was taken by the WiFi camera (Image Credit: the ChinaNational Space Administration (CNSA)). NaTeCam: Navigation and Terrain camera. RoMAG: Mars Rover Magnetometer. MSCam: Multispectral Camera. MSC-1: MarsClimate Station (Wind field and sound probe). MSC-2: Mars Climate Station (Air
temperature and pressure probe). MarSCoDe: Mars Surface Component Detector. RoPeR(CH1): Mars Rover Penetrating Radar (channel 1). RoPeR (CH2): Mars Rover
Penetrating Radar (channel 2).
Credit: Steve Yang Liu, Et al.

In May this year, using data gathered by Zhurong on the landing site, Chinese scientists found new evidence suggesting the presence of liquid water activity and hydrated minerals on Mars.

Meanwhile, by May 5, 2022, the Tianwen-1 orbiter had been operating for 651 days circling Mars. The orbiter and rover continue to operate normally.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Future missions

China’s Tianwen-2 mission has entered a preliminary prototype development stage – designed to retrieve samples from near-Earth asteroids.

Zhang Rongqiao, Chief Designer of the Tianwen-1 Mars mission, has said that Tianwen-3’s assignment is a Mars sample return, with Tianwen-4 being a probe to investigate the Jovian system.

To view a video on the mission, go to: 

In 2023, Rocket Lab is sending the first private mission to Venus.
Credit: Rocket Lab

 

In 2023, according to a Rocket Lab posting, the entrepreneurial launch firm is sending the first private mission to Venus to help gather important data regarding what may be signs of life in the clouds of Venus.

The goal, using an Electron launch vehicle and Photon spacecraft, is to send a probe to around 30 miles’ altitude, where Venus’ atmospheric conditions are closer to those found on Earth.

It was back in September 2020, that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cardiff University announced they had observed the potential presence of phosphine. That gas typically is produced by living organisms, but it remains a controversial finding.

Image shows the night side of Venus glowing in thermal infrared, captured by Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft.
Credit: JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic

Shallow oceans?

A 2019 study from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that Venus could have had shallow oceans on the surface for two to three billion years and this would have supported temperatures of between 68 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, around 700 million years ago, a resurfacing event released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, turning Venus into a dangerous, inhospitable planet where atmospheric temperatures reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to Rocket Lab’s website, while more than 30 Venus missions have been undertaken, Rocket Lab’s launch next year will be the first private exploration of the planet.

Science instrument

The scientific payload of choice for the Venus mission — restricted to weigh a modest 1 kilogram – is an instrument called an autofluorescing nephelometer. Why so? It is small, cheap, and could be built quickly enough for the compressed mission timeline.

According to Sara Seager in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, once the probe is in Venus’ atmosphere, the instrument will shine a laser out of a window onto cloud particles, causing any complex molecules within them to light up, or fluoresce. Many organic molecules, such as the amino acid tryptophan, have fluorescent properties.


Credit: MIT/Breakthrough Initiatives

“If we see fluorescence, we know something interesting is in the cloud particles,” says Seager in a MIT press statement. “We can’t guarantee what organic molecule it is, or even be certain it’s an organic molecule. But it’s going to tell you there’s something incredibly interesting going on.”

Seager is principal investigator for the planned Venus Life Finder Missions – with Rocket Lab’s launch to kick-start the series of missions.

Things are progressing, said David Grinspoon, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, and a member of the Venus Life Finder Missions study group. “We are having regular meetings on the instrumentation, running some tests, experiments, etc.,” he told Inside Outer Space.

Disruptive exploration

That autofluorescing nephelometer will also measure the pattern of light reflected back from the droplets to determine their shape. Pure sulfuric acid droplets would be spherical. Anything else would suggest there’s more going on than meets the autofluorescing nephelometer, adds the MIT press statement.

Whatever the 2023 mission detects, the next Venus Life Finder mission in the suite of probes is already being planned for 2026. That probe would involve a larger payload, with a balloon that could spend more time in Venus’ clouds and conduct more extensive experiments.

“Results from that mission might then set the stage for the culmination of the Venus Life Finder Missions concept: return a sample of Venus’ atmosphere to Earth,” states the MIT press statement.

“We think it’s disruptive,” says Seager. “And that’s the MIT style.”

For more information, go to my earlier Space.com story – “Venus Exploration: Cloud-bound Sanctuary for Microbial Life?” – go to:

https://www.leonarddavid.com/venus-exploration-cloud-bound-sanctuary-for-microbial-life/

Credit: Sierra Space

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is issuing a license to the Huntsville-Madison Airport Authority in Alabama to operate the Huntsville International Airport (HSV) as a commercial space reentry site.

According to the FAA, the license permits the airport to offer its site for Sierra Space Dream Chaser vehicles returning to Earth from future NASA resupply missions to the International Space Station.

The Reentry Site Operator License is valid for five years.

“The FAA license evaluation process involved environmental and safety reviews. In addition, the FAA will work with the airport to develop the necessary notifications and other procedures for safely and efficiently integrating commercial space reentries into its operations,” noted the FAA today.

FAA-licensed commercial spaceports

The FAA is also issuing the Final Environmental Assessment and a Finding of No Significant Impact/Record of Decision for the Authority’s reentry site license. These same final environmental documents also cover the related, but separate Sierra Space proposal to conduct up to eight reentry operations at the airport from 2023 to 2027.

Sierra Space, or any other commercial space vehicle operator, cannot conduct reentry operations at the airport until it obtains a Vehicle Operator License from the FAA.

BTW: The Huntsville Reentry Site is the 14th FAA-licensed commercial spaceport.