Firefly planning a major rocket assembly and launch facility in Florida

On Friday, Texas-based rocket company Firefly announced that it has reached an agreement to develop manufacturing facilities and a launch site at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. The new facility will support the production of up to 24 Alpha rockets a year, with the ability to scale from there, company officials said.

These are sizable plans. Over an unspecified period of time, the company said it will invest $52 million into the facilities. Florida’s spaceport development authority, Space Florida, will also provide an additional $18.9 million in infrastructure investments.

The company will build its launch facilities at Space Launch Complex 20, where Space Florida hopes to develop a multiuser facility for small-satellite launch companies like Firefly. It will also build an expansive facility to assemble its Alpha (and eventually the larger Beta) rockets, near the large Blue Origin plant in Florida’s Exploration Park area.

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Rocket Report: Virgin seeks funds, SpaceX lunar launch, no Boca Chica wall

The Rocket Report is published weekly.

Welcome to Edition 1.37 of the Rocket Report! Lots of news this week about plans to develop smallsat launchers, from India to Australia to the United Kingdom. We also have some serious shade throwing from Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos, who doesn’t think a flight near (but not above) the Karman line will come without an asterisk.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

India smallsat launcher to fly later this year. Indian space officials have confirmed that their new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle will attempt its first flight in “July or August” of this year, The Economic Times reports. The rocket will carry two Indian defense satellites for the mission, each weighing about 120kg. The rocket has undergone a complete technical review, officials said.

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New dates show massive volcanic eruptions overlapped with dinosaurs’ death

Did these enormous layered volcanic deposits arise through many big eruptions or a few massive ones?

Modeling what happened after a massive asteroid struck the Yucatan has painted a hellscape capable of causing a mass extinction: choking dust, immense tsunamis, and enough debris leaving and reentering the atmosphere to set off global fires. But questions remain whether the impact alone drove the dinosaurs to extinction or if it merely finished the job started by a massive volcanic outburst happening in India.

The Deccan Traps cover an area of roughly a half-million square kilometers, and the eruptions that created them involved over a million cubic kilometers of rock. Immense eruptions like this have been blamed for mass extinctions in the past, as they pump lots of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and cause a rapid seesaw of cooling and warming. And the Deccan Traps are no exception: people have argued that they were already killing the dinosaurs or had stressed ecosystems in a way that set the stage for a mass extinction. But not everyone has bought in to this idea, and some have suggested that the asteroid collision actually drove changes in the Deccan Traps eruptions.

Sorting all this out requires a better sense of the timing of the eruptions vs. when the impact and extinctions occurred. In today’s issue of Science, two papers attempt to narrow down the timing. Unfortunately, their results don’t entirely agree.

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SpaceX set to launch Israeli private mission to the lunar surface

An artist's concept of the Space IL lunar spacecraft on the surface of the Moon.

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday night, and while it may not be the primary payload, a small Israeli lunar lander is by far the mission’s most intriguing payload.

The 180kg Beresheet spacecraft, privately developed by SpaceIL in Israel and funded largely through philanthropy, will spend more than six weeks raising its orbit, and becoming captured into lunar orbit, before finally making the first private attempt to land on the Moon. Until now, only the U.S, Russian, and Chinese space agencies have ever successfully landed on the Moon.

This means there is a lot of pressure on the small Israeli team leading the mission, both in their native country and among the commercial lunar community, which wants to prove that private ventures can do what only nations have done before. “What it means to me is that the responsibility is very high,” said Yoav Landsman, a senior systems engineer for the project, in an interview.

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Montana legislator introduces bills to give his state its own science

Image of a large, domed building.

It’s no secret that some of our federal legislators don’t have a firm grip on scientific evidence; it only takes watching a session of the House Science Committee, where one member suggested the climate-driven rise of the oceans might instead be caused by rocks falling into the ocean.

What’s often overlooked is that state legislators are even worse (though it’s not clear how much this is a product of there simply being more of them). Each year, they oversee a variety of attempts to introduce pseudoscience into the public schools of a number of states.

But it recently came out that a legislator in Montana was attempting to have the state officially renounce the findings of the scientific community. And, if the federal government decides to believe the scientists and do something about emissions, he wants the Treasure State to somehow sit those efforts out.

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US sues contractor for allegedly over-billing on now-defunct MOX fuel facility

Workers on scaffolding at the MOX facility.

Last week, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against a company called CB&I Areva MOX Services and its subcontractor, Wise Services, for allegedly billing the US government for supplies that were never delivered. According to the complaint, a manager at Wise offered kickbacks including football tickets, guns, a YETI cooler, and a television to receive preferential treatment on a US government project to build a nuclear fuel reforming facility.

MOX Services was contracted by the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to build the Mixed Oxides Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF), which would have repurposed weapons-grade plutonium as fuel for nuclear reactors in the United States.

After wasting more than $7.6 billion on the MFFF, the US Department of Energy (DOE) canceled work on the South Carolina facility. The department has been quietly moving plutonium out of the area since then.

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Hubble images show a Neptune moon that may have been repeatedly reborn

Image of a small, rocky body with Neptune in the background.

As the Voyager probes moved through the outer Solar System, they compiled a massive record of discovery. Among the newly found objects and phenomena were a large collection of small moons orbiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Most of these were beyond the ability of Earth-based hardware to image at the time—we actually had to be there to see them.

Since then, however, improvements in ground-based optics and the existence of the Hubble Space Telescope have enabled us to find a few small bodies that had been missed by the Voyagers, as well as other small objects elsewhere in the Solar System, such as the Kuiper Belt object recently visited by New Horizons. Now, researchers have found a way to use advances in computation to increase what we can do with imaging even further, spotting a tiny new moon at Neptune and possibly spotting another for the first time since Voyager 2 was there.

Finding moons

Given that Neptune has been visited by Voyager 2 and imaged frequently since then, any moons we haven’t already spotted are going to be pretty hard to see, presumably because they’re some combination of small and/or dim. The simplest way to see them is to increase the exposure time, allowing more opportunity for dim signals to emerge from the noise. This method won’t work if there’s a bright object nearby, which isn’t so much of a problem with the outer planets.

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Happy Death Day 2 U, Russian Doll give us time loops with a multiverse twist

(left) Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov in <em>Russian Doll</em>. (right) Jessica Rothe as Theresa "Tree" Gelbman in <em>Happy Death Day 2 U</em>.  Both women find themselves caught in a time loop where they die over and over on their birthday.

The time loop is pretty much a classic science fiction trope, thanks in large part to the enormous success of the 1993 film Groundhog Day. It’s been used so often, in fact, that it’s challenging to come up with a fresh take. But the Netflix series Russian Doll and the new film Happy Death Day 2 U manage to do just that, giving us time loops with a multiverse twist.

Wikipedia has amassed an impressive list of films featuring time loops: 49 so far, and that’s not counting TV shows, like The X-Files episode “Monday” (in turn referenced on a Buffy the Vampire episode, “Life Serial“). The earliest film dates back to 1933: Turn Back the Clock, in which a tobacconist named Joe is killed in a hit-and-run and wakes up 20 years earlier. But it’s not a true time loop tale, having more in common with It’s a Wonderful Life.

A 1987 Russian film, Zerkalo dlya geroya (Mirror for a Hero), does have a lot of the key elements in place. But the real original source material is probably Richard A. Lupoff’s 1973 short story, “12:01 PM,” adapted into an Oscar-nominated short film in 1990 and a full-length feature in 1993—the same year Groundhog Day came out. (Lupoff definitely noticed the similarities and considered suing for plagiarism, but eventually dropped the idea.) It’s pretty much been a sci-fi mainstay ever since.

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