This Month in Space: March

As our clocks sprung forward and March Madness swept the nation, lots of jaw-dropping space news – both heart wrenching and remarkable – has taken place this month. Here are a few of the top headlines from the month:


SpaceX Launches Hispasat Satellite on Landmark 50th Falcon 9 Flight

On March 6, SpaceX successfully launched a Spanish communications satellite, marking the 50th flight of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. The two-stage Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but unlike many other Falcon 9 launches, SpaceX did not attempt to land the first stage booster due to “unfavorable weather conditions in the recovery area off of Florida’s Atlantic Coast.”

For SpaceX launches that involve particularly heavy payloads and those that send satellites to distant orbits they attempt to land boosters at sea on the deck of a robotic drone ship. And Hispasat 30W-6 met both of those criteria. In fact, it was the largest satellite SpaceX has ever flown.

“At 6 metric tons and almost the size of a city bus, it will be the largest geostationary satellite we’ve ever flown,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter on March 5.


Nasa Honors the Legacy of Stephen Hawking

On March 14, world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died at the age of 76. Hawking was diagnosed with the degenerative nerve disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) when he was 21. ALS affects the neurons that help us move our muscles, so Hawking used a wheelchair for decades and communicated via a computerized “voice.”

Despite this incredible obstacle, Hawking went on to develop a series of groundbreaking theories that would revolutionize the world of physics. From his doctoral thesis which argued that the entire universe began as a singularity, to reshaping our understanding of black holes, Stephen Hawking’s breakthroughs played a pivotal role in NASA’s efforts to explore our solar system and beyond.

His passing prompted an outpouring of admiration from across NASA, including from its acting administrator as well as many astronauts.


Air Force awards big launch contracts to SpaceX and ULA

The U.S. Air Force awarded rocket launch competitors SpaceX and United Launch Alliance each hundreds of millions of dollars in new satellite contracts, the Department of Defense announced earlier this month.

SpaceX won a $291 million fixed-price contract to launch a military GPS III satellite by March 2020 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, with the option to launch two more. ULA won a $355 million fixed-price contract to launch two Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) satellites. The company will launch one satellite aboard an Atlas V rocket in March 2020 and the other in June 2020.

Lt Gen John F. Thompson, Air Force program executive officer for space and commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said the competitive award of these two contracts supports the military’s mission to bring “resilient and affordable space capabilities” to the nation.


‘Star Wars’ Droids Point the Way to NASA Repair Robots

In the beloved movie series, droids such as R2-D2, BB-8 and C-3PO act just like robotic Swiss Army knives, nearly always equipped with the right tools for any situation. Well, for more than 20 years, NASA has sought to develop these robot assistants for astronauts.

Although future NASA droids may not physically resemble “Star Wars,” NASA’s robots would aim to emulate their detailed spacecraft knowledge and real-time problem-solving ability. In working towards that goal, NASA is exploring what it calls “embedded intelligence,” where robotic bodies are accompanied by an artificial intelligence and knowledge database.


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