First crew launch in US since 2011 could happen by May, 34 more OneWeb sats, and astros share their top isolation tips

In space, no one can hear you scream 'Who used the last sheet of toilet roll!'

Roundup In a week that marked the 55th anniversary of the first space walk and the first corned beef sandwich in orbit, rocket fans had plenty to keep them occupied.

First of all, SpaceX and NASA named the date for Commercial Crew – kind of. "Mid to late May" could be when the US will finally see its astronauts launched from American soil once again, following the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011.

It is quite the gap.

The astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, will be shoehorned into the Crew Dragon as part of Demo-2, to be launched from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX's last Falcon 9 mission suffered an engine anomaly during ascent, although the primary mission (inflicting another batch of Starlink satellites on Earth orbit) was successful.

The Crew Dragon itself has already demonstrated it can reach and dock with the ISS and push itself away from an exploding Falcon 9 booster. It has also proven itself more than capable of self-disassembly following another anomaly during ground testing. Thankfully the latter issue was investigated and dealt with.

Arianespace lofts another 34 OneWeb satellites

Although its French Guiana spaceport is closed, Arianespace continued its launch activities with a Soyuz fired from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, bringing the total number of OneWeb satellites in orbit to 74.

That's quite a bit less than Elon Musk's fleet of Starlink spacecraft, but the OneWeb satellites operate in a different orbit and fewer are needed for the coverage required. The initial constellation will consist of approximately 650 satellites and provide global Internet coverage (for those with access to suitable terminals) by 2021.

The Soyuz 2-1b launcher, numbered ST28, left the launchpad at 1706 UTC on 21 March, with the mass at lift off coming in at 5,015kg. The flight lasted approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes before the payload separated at an altitude of 450km. The operational orbit of the Florida-built spacecraft is 1,200km.

The success came amid mutterings regarding the OneWeb's finances following a Bloomberg piece that suggested the company has been struggling with cashflow as competition from the likes of Starlink looms. The Register asked OneWeb for comment, but have as yet received no response.

Isolating with ESA and NASA

While missions were disrupted as space agencies around the world responded to the COVID-19 outbreak, NASA and ESA astronauts shared tips on dealing with living in a confined space for a long period of time.

Our favourites included NASA 'naut Annie McClain, who shared an epic Twitter thread (helpfully available on the NASA site) with survival tips, but top marks must go to ESA's astro-in-training, Matthias Maurer, who simply said: "I plan my Corona time like a space flight. 3 weeks to the moon and back: max 2 rolls of toilet paper."

With luck, those currently cramming their homes with the suddenly precious rolls of tissue might consider joining Maurer in his Astro Challenge.

From rocket fuel to hand sanitiser

Finally, Brit would-be orbital rocket botherer Skyrora is getting in on the hand sanitiser action. A first batch of the gear is undergoing testing before production ramps up.

The Edinburgh-based outfit follows in the footsteps of Scotland's BrewDog, which has turned its beer prowess to the making of sanitiser and handing it out for free. The self-proclaimed "Captain of BrewDog", James Watt, tweeted that a batch was on the way to the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

A Skyrora spokesperson told us: "This pandemic has created a very strenuous and life-threatening situation for many people in this country and across the world. At Skyrora we are working hard and thinking of ways to support others in the fight against Covid-19. As a first result, our team have recently produced the first batch of hand sanitisers according to WHO standards and guidelines. Once tested and scaled up, we are aiming to produce over 10,000 bottles per week and are currently in discussions with the government to see where our support is best suited." ®

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