NASA, Rocosmos agree to partner on future human moon mission research

Space announcements galore made at 2017 International Astronautical Congress

A full moon as seen outside WKMG studios on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017.
A full moon as seen outside WKMG studios on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. (Emilee Speck/WKMG)

This week is a big one for the space industry. For five days, the businesses and agencies that define the modern space era meet during an annual meeting known as the International Astronautical Congress. 

This year, the meeting takes place in Adelaida, Australia, where aerospace professionals from around the world gather to share information on space technologies and planetary exploration. Former NASA administrator Charles Boldin and Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye are among the speakers during the event.

Here is a rundown of announcements made during the annual meeting, which caps off Friday with another big reveal by SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. 

NASA, Roscosmos agree to research lunar space station together

Officials with NASA and the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, signed an agreement Wednesday that the two space agencies would collaborate on future human missions to the moon.

The statement that both agencies signed says they will work with other International Space Station partners to build human space exploration architecture and work together on “gateway concept studies.”

"While the deep space gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space as the next step for advancing human space exploration," said NASA's acting administrator Robert Lightfoot. "Statements such as this one signed with Roscosmos show the gateway concept as an enabler to the kind of exploration architecture that is affordable and sustainable."

The ceremonial signing happened at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia.

The technology and structural concepts designed for lunar missions will further future human missions to Mars, according to the space agency.

No budget or timeline was revealed during the announcement.

Australia joins $330 billion space economy, new agency to come

It’s no coincidence Australia is hosting the largest meeting of space business minds this year. On the first day Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced plans to create an Australian space agency allowing the country to become part of the $330 billion space economy. Acting Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Michaelia Cash said the agency's charter would be developed by the end of March.

Few details were offered about the agency, including how much the government plans to invest in the new agency.

Blue Origin announces launch contract with new Thailand satellite company

Billionaire Jeff Beso continues to line up launch contracts for his commercial space company’s rocket, the New Glenn. 

New Glenn’s latest payload contract announced during the International Astronautical Congress is with a new Thailand-based telecom company, mu Space Corp. New Glenn will carry a geostationary satellite into low-Earth orbit, which will provide broadband to Asia. The company said they are targeting a date in 2021 for launch.

Mu Space Crop. CEO James Yenbamroong said the new company selected Blue Origin because of the “company’s vision and engineering approach.”

The three-stage and two-stage New Glenn, named for the late astronaut John Glenn, will be equipped with 7 BE-4 engines and lift off with 3.85 million pounds of thrust. Blue Origin officials said the rocket will begin launching in 2020.

The contract is the third for New Glenn, Eutelsat and OneWeb also have agreements for launches.

The rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral and manufactured at the company’s new facility, slated for completion at the end of the year inside Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Park.

Blue Origin has been launching and landing it’s New Shepard rocket in west Texas.

Coming Friday: SpaceX Interplanetary Spaceship update

Last year in Mexico, Musk announced his company’s plans to colonize Mars and explore beyond the Red Planet. The blue prints were highly anticipated because it was the first look at what Musk has said has been his goal from the start: to get people to Mars.

In a Tweet Monday, Musk said he will be unveiling a new version of the Interplanetary Spaceship and Rocket design.

“Certain aspects of the new design and its applications will be unexpected,” Musk said.

Musk said in a previous tweet that “major improvements and some unexpected applications’” would be unveiled Friday.  

Check back for updates throughout the week as more announcements are expected.

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