Friday, May 25, 2018

President Trump signs off on directive to deregulate commercial space ventures

President Donald Trump has signed his administration’s second space policy directive, focusing on streamlining licensing procedures and turning the Commerce Department into a “one-stop shop” for commercial space companies.

Space Policy Directive 2 follows up on an initial directive that refocuses America’s space exploration vision on the moon, Scott Pace, executive secretary of the White House’s National Space Council, told reporters in advance of today’s signing.

Pace noted that NASA will be working with commercial partners to establish an outpost in lunar orbit and extend operations to the moon’s surface. “The Trump administration’s actions on space mean investments in high-tech, middle-class and blue-collar jobs that fuel our economy and secure our future,” he said.

The directive sets out a multipronged process for regulatory reform:

  • Within 30 days, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is to present a plan for creating a one-stop shop for administering and regulating commercial space activities.
  • The Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration are tasked with rewriting regulations for launch and re-entry operations, for implementation by early next year. The aim is to set up a single license that would cover all such operations.
  • The Commerce Department will reform regulations relating to commercial remote sensing. (This addresses regulatory snags like the one that SpaceX encountered in March when it was required to shut down the cameras on its Falcon 9 rocket shortly after reaching orbit.)
  • Commerce and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will draw up a report on improving global competitiveness through changes in radio frequency spectrum policies. (Spectrum will be an important issue as ventures such as SpaceX and OneWeb put constellations of satellites into low Earth orbit to provide global broadband access.)
  • The National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, is tasked with initiating a 180-day review of export licensing regulations for commercial spaceflight activity and developing recommendations for regulatory changes.

Speaking on background, senior administration officials said the regulatory changes may require putting more resources into the Transportation Department and Commerce Department to keep up with what could be an upswing in commercial space activity.

They also said the White House will be working with Congress on legislation that would help facilitate the “one-stop shop” approach to space regulations.

Planetary scientist Alan Stern, board chair of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said the new policy directive was “a tremendous accomplishment.”

“We’ve been innovating here at home and competing around the world under the burden of regulations written decades ago, in some cases rooted in the Cold War,” Stern said in a statement from the industry group. “Now we can foresee a more streamlined legal and administrative regime that will allow us to continue to help transform how Americans access and use space.”

The federation’s president, Eric Stallmer, said “the space frontier became a little more ‘open’ to the American people today.”

The commercial space industry could start pushing the regulatory frontiers within the next year.

Two companies founded by billionaires, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, are preparing to send passengers on suborbital rides to the edge of space and back. Other ventures such as Moon Express are due to start sending landers to the lunar surface as early as 2019.

NASA is expected to give a boost to such commercial moonshots in July when it issues a formal solicitation for lunar payload services. NASA’s first commercially flown lunar payloads will include scientific instruments that were developed for the now-canceled Resource Prospector mission.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Space mining could become a real thing — and it could be worth trillions

  • Minerals that lie in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter hold mineral wealth equivalent to about $100 billion for every individual on Earth.
  • Quickly evolving technology is making landing on asteroids an increasing likelihood.
  • A lack of legal clarity about ownership of space resources makes things difficult, according to experts.

The race to space traditionally has advanced with exploration and even tourism in mind, but space-mining is looking like an increasingly legitimate idea, opening the possibility of a new civilization — and profits — on another planet.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk's SpaceX and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin aim to make space tourism a reality, and ultimately to let humans live on other planets. Now, technology has made landing on an asteroid appear increasingly possible.

Take SpaceX, for example.

The launch of the Falcon Heavy space shuttle and the successful return of two of its three boosters may make it possible to carrying heavier payloads into space and could lower the costs of launches.

Noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, among others, have claimed that the world's first trillionaire will make his or her fortune in space minerals. According to NASA, the minerals that lie in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter hold wealth equivalent to a staggering $100 billion for every person on Earth.

There's a lack of legal clarity over the ownership of space resources, however, and laws presiding over space are largely ambiguous in general, according to Ian Christensen, the director of private sector programs at the Secure World Foundation, a space-related think tank.

"There are some gaps in the law, and some things need to be clarified to provide more certainty on current laws," Christensen told CNBC, adding there is no single authority responsible for the allocation of resources in space.

The most comprehensive law today is the United Nations-sponsored Outer Space Treaty of 1967, but confusion between countries remains.

"When it comes to the use of space resources, the area is fairly vague and it can be interpreted in either direction," Rebecca Keller, a senior science and technology analyst at political risk consultants Stratfor told CNBC. "Governments and even experts in the field are still debating over the appropriate uses of these resources, and it remains a difficult question to answer."

Noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, among others, have claimed that the world's first trillionaire will make his or her fortune in space minerals. According to NASA, the minerals that lie in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter hold wealth equivalent to a staggering $100 billion for every person on Earth.

There's a lack of legal clarity over the ownership of space resources, however, and laws presiding over space are largely ambiguous in general, according to Ian Christensen, the director of private sector programs at the Secure World Foundation, a space-related think tank.

"There are some gaps in the law, and some things need to be clarified to provide more certainty on current laws," Christensen told CNBC, adding there is no single authority responsible for the allocation of resources in space.

The most comprehensive law today is the United Nations-sponsored Outer Space Treaty of 1967, but confusion between countries remains.

"When it comes to the use of space resources, the area is fairly vague and it can be interpreted in either direction," Rebecca Keller, a senior science and technology analyst at political risk consultants Stratfor told CNBC. "Governments and even experts in the field are still debating over the appropriate uses of these resources, and it remains a difficult question to answer."

Current limitations to space exploration and travel capabilities mean that space mining would develop as a relationship between the private sector and the government, said Christensen, who added that he would not rule out the privatization of space activities once the industry matures.

Regardless of how it unfolds, it's likely that anything mined in the early stages will be used in space — not moved to Earth.

"The first step for space mining still lies in space — by using the resources mined to build in space until more technology is established," Keller said. "Until then, activities will likely remain in space."

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

NASA cancels lunar rover, shifts focus to commercial moon landers

As NASA turns up support for future commercial lunar landers, the space agency last week canceled a mission that would have placed a rover on the moon to survey resources, such as water and helium, that could be used by future human explorers.

Officials at the space agency’s headquarters in Washington on April 23 directed managers of the Resource Prospector mission end development of the lunar rover by the end of May.

NASA said in a statement Friday that “selected instruments” that were to fly to the moon on the Resource Prospector mission will continue their development for delivery to the lunar surface on commercial landers.

Resource Prospector would have carried instruments to search for subsurface hydrogen on the moon, an indicator of water or water-bearing minerals, and a drill to extract samples from a depth of 3 feet (1 meter). Sensors aboard the rover would have analyzed the underground material heated in an on-board oven in search of water and other potential resources, including helium, methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfate, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.

The planned rover would have prospected the moon’s polar regions for resources that future missions, such as a lunar base or commercial mining ventures, could refine into oxygen, drinking water and rocket propellant.

Jim Bridenstine, who took office as NASA administrator the same day as Resource Prospector’s cancellation, tweeted that the agency is committed to lunar exploration.

“Resource Prospector instruments will go forward in an expanded lunar surface campaign,” Bridenstine tweeted. “More landers. More science. More exploration. More prospectors. More commercial partners.”

NASA canceled the Resource Prospector mission as the Trump administration redirects the space agency to return humans to the lunar surface. Some scientists saw the Resource Prospector mission as a forerunner to crewed lunar missions, but NASA plans to partner with commercial companies and international space agencies for robotic precursors.

In a brief statement, NASA said a draft request for proposals released to industry Friday will help officials formulate a lunar exploration strategy.

“Consistent with this strategy, NASA is planning a series of progressive robotic missions to the lunar surface,” the agency said in a statement. “In addition, NASA has released a request for information on approaches to evolve progressively larger landers leading to an eventual human lander capability. As part of this expanded campaign, selected instruments from Resource Prospector will be landed and flown on the moon.”

NASA said a policy statement signed by President Trump, known as Space Policy Directive 1, which kept the space agency’s human exploration goals aimed at deep space — as during the Obama administration — but with new language directing NASA to return astronauts to the lunar surface.

“This exploration campaign reinforces Space Policy Directive 1, which calls for an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system, including returning humans to the moon for long-term exploration,” NASA said in a statement.

The Resource Prospector mission was planned for launch as soon as 2022, but the project never advanced beyond the early design and development stages. Engineers built a ground prototype for the rover to test remote operations concepts.

The updated robotic lunar exploration strategy would have NASA-owned instruments fly to the moon on privately-operated landers.

The draft request for proposals for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, program released Friday is the first step in the solicitation for rides to the moon.

“NASA requires transport services to the lunar surface for instruments and technology demonstration payloads,” agency officials wrote in the solicitation document released to U.S. industry Friday. “This DRFP (draft request for proposals) is the latest step in a long-running effort by NASA to support the development of commercial lunar capabilities considering the moon as a destination for future human spaceflight.”

Representatives from companies interested in bidding for a NASA lunar payload services contract will offer feedback to the space agency before the release of a final request for proposals.

Several U.S. companies are in various stages of designing, developing and testing robotic lunar landers, including Astrobotic, Blue Origin and Moon Express.

The current and former chairmen of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, a community of scientists who specialize in lunar research, wrote Bridenstine on Thursday to ask for the Resource Prospector mission’s reinstatement.

Resource Prospector’s cancellation was “viewed with both incredulity and dismay by our community,” wrote Samuel Lawrence and Clive Neal, the chair and emeritus chair of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group.

“We hope to get some insight into the decision that caused the cancellation of Resource Prospector and to get it reinstated as an exploration mission,” Neal told Spaceflight Now. “Prospecting to see if lunar resources are actually reserves is critical for enabling a thriving space economy and for making human space exploration to Mars sustainable.”

“Additionally, the deposits have unique scientific significance since they record the delivery of volatiles to the inner solar system, including the Earth,” Lawrence and Neal wrote to Bridenstine.

Resuming the mission’s development for a launch in 2022 would “demonstrate to Congress that NASA can react quickly to the new space policy,” they wrote.

“It positions the USA to be an international leader in lunar development,” they wrote. “There are six international robotic landed missions to the moon’s polar regions planned between now and 2025 as other nations stake their claim to the resources we know are available on the moon from orbital mission data since the Apollo program was terminated.”

Results from Resource Prospector “could be used to provide data for mining companies interested in producing life support consumables and rocket fuel, which would continue to stimulate the growing lunar commercial sector,” the letter concluded.

A NASA official said in March that the space agency was sorting out where Resource Prospector fit into the new lunar exploration planning.

“You want to find out where it fits into the new strategy,” said John Guidi, deputy director of NASA’s advanced exploration systems division, during a March 19 briefing at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference near Houston. “Where it fits in, you have a funding line, and that funding line has to compete with whatever else is there.

“It’s still good science,” Guidi said in March. “We still want to see it move forward. We’re just waiting to see where it falls out, organizationally speaking.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate, said the agency plans to fly payloads to the moon as soon as 2019 or 2020 aboard commercial spacecraft. The early payloads will likely be small and lightweight because of the limited capacity of the initial commercial landers.

“Note, lunar entrepeneurs and researchers alike: it has never been easier to send amazing payloads to the moon, and unlock the secrets of our celestial companion, and prepare for human exploration soon thereafter!” Zurbuchen tweeted Monday.


Jeff Bezos dreams of a world with a trillion people living in space

Dreaming big isn't something Jeff Bezos has a problem with.

And true to form, the multi-billionaire's vision for the world that his great-grandchildren's great-grandchildren will live in is pretty wild to imagine.

The Amazon and Blue Origin boss says a trillion people will live in space, there will be "a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts" and we'll develop other planets, leaving Earth a beautiful place to be.

Bezos painted this future vision in an interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner, published by Business Insider on Saturday.

Bezos' vision of a civilization that lives both in space and on Earth has been evolving for almost his whole life.

"First of all, of course, I'm interested in space, because I'm passionate about it. I've been studying it and thinking about it since I was a 5-year-old boy," says Bezos. "But that is not why I'm pursuing this work."

Bezos — who is currently worth $130 billion, according to Forbes — says if humanity does not become multiplanetary, eventually it will stagnate.

"I'm pursuing this work, because I believe if we don't, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing. I don't want my great-grandchildren's great-grandchildren to live in a civilization of stasis. We all enjoy a dynamic civilization of growth and change," says Bezos.

Billionaire tech entrepreneur and SpaceX boss Elon Musk is also inspired by a future of getting to space. "Fundamentally, the future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we are a space faring civilization and multi planetary species than if we are not," Musk has said.

To illustrate how civilization will stagnate if it remains Earth-locked, Bezos uses the problem of energy consumption.

"For a century or more, it's been compounding at a few percent a year, our energy usage as a civilization," says Bezos. "Now if you take baseline energy usage globally across the whole world and compound it at just a few percent a year for just a few hundred years, you have to cover the entire surface of the Earth in solar cells.

"That's the real energy crisis. And it's happening soon. And by soon, I mean within just a few hundred years. We don't actually have that much time. So what can you do?

"Well, you can have a life of stasis, where you cap how much energy we get to use," says Bezos. But to the billionaire entrepreneur and tech executive, that is not an acceptable fate: "[S]tasis would be very bad, I think."

Alternatively, says Bezos, humanity can expand into space, allowing for exponential growth.

"Now take the scenario, where you move out into the solar system. The solar system can easily support a trillion humans," says Bezos. "And if we had a trillion humans, we would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited, for all practical purposes, resources and solar power unlimited for all practical purposes. That's the world that I want my great-grandchildren's great-grandchildren to live in."

As humanity expands into space, the Earth will remain the crown jewel, says Bezos.

"By the way, I believe that in that timeframe we will move all heavy industry off of Earth and Earth will be zoned residential and light industry. It will basically be a very beautiful planet," says Bezos. "We have sent robotic probes to every planet in this solar system now and believe me this is the best one."

Bezos is taking the first step in his master plan to colonize space with his company Blue Origin.

"I believe and I get increasing conviction with every passing year, that Blue Origin, the space company, is the most important work that I'm doing. And so there is a whole plan for Blue Origin," says Bezos.

On Sunday, Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard rocket for the first time in 2018 from its facility near Van Horn, Texas. The company hopes to send humans to space as early as this year, but CEO Bob Smith says that will only happen when the company is completely sure the travel will be safe.

The fundamental first step in building a future where civilization lives between Earth and space is to be able to use rockets more than once, says Bezos.

"The key is reusability," says Bezos. "This civilization I'm talking about of getting comfortable living and working in space and having millions of people and then billions of people and then finally a trillion people in space — you can't do that with space vehicles that you use once and then throw away. It's a ridiculous, costly way to get into space."


SpaceX building BFR at Port of Los Angeles

The location where SpaceX intends to build its newest and biggest rocket, code-named Big Falcon Rocket or BFR, has been revealed. On April 19, 2018, the Los Angeles board of harbor commissioners unanimously approved the Hawthorne, California-based company’s use of the Port of Los Angeles for building the super-heavy-lift vehicle.

“Officially announcing that @SpaceX will start production development of the Big Falcon Rocket in the @PortofLA!” tweeted Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles. “This vehicle holds the promise of taking humanity deeper into the cosmos than ever before.”

Due to the size of the vehicle, which is 30 feet (nine meters) wide, it will need to be transported to launch and test facilities by barge. In the case of transporting BFR stages to launch sites in Texas and Florida, they would likely need to travel through the Panama Canal to reach their destinations rather than over land via truck, as is the case with Falcon 9 stages.

The port is already home to SpaceX’s Pacific recovery operations. Both the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” and the fairing recover ship “Mr. Steven” operate from the port as well as all the support vessels SpaceX uses for that coast, including vehicles used to recover Dragon cargo capsules after their International Space Station resupply missions are completed.

The company is expanding its Port of Los Angeles footprint, taking over a 19-acre site at the former Southwest Marine Shipyard.

The Port of Los Angeles sits 20 miles (32 kilometers) from downtown and occupies over 43 miles (69 kilometers) of waterfront. The port itself sits on 7,500 acres of land and processes over $272 billion of cargo every year. The land that SpaceX has chosen to use has sat empty for a number of years.

The BFR is expected to be a two-stage, fully-reusable launch system. SpaceX’s Elon Musk said during a presentation at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in September 2017 that the vehicle would be 348 feet (106 meters) tall and 30 feet (nine meters) wide. This was a scaled-down version of an earlier design that was unveiled the year before.

The first stage, the “booster,” would itself be 190 feet (58 meters) tall and be powered by 31 liquid methane/liquid oxygen-consuming Raptor engines that the company is currently developing. It’s overall liftoff thrust, Musk said, would be 11.8 million pounds (52,700 kilonewtons).

Simply called, the “spaceship,” the 157-foot (48-meter) long second stage would go all the way to orbit via seven Raptor engines. It’s total thrust would be 2.9 million pounds (12,700 kilonewtons). The spaceship, as its name implies, would double as a multi-purpose spacecraft. Both it and the booster are expected to be constructed using a carbon fiber material.

Musk said the spaceship, sometimes simply referred to as BFS or Big Falcon Spaceship, could be used for sending cargo and people to the Moon and Mars—with the help of on-orbit refueling—or send multiple large satellites into orbit. In total, the BFR system is expected to be able to deliver up to 330,000 pounds (150,000 kilograms) into a low-Earth orbit in a fully-reusable configuration.

Additionally, Musk said the BFR could be used for point-to-point transportation on Earth, claiming the vehicle could travel to anywhere on under 90 minutes via sub-orbital flights.

Recently on twitter, Musk showed off the first tooling equipment of the new BFR while touting his new Model 3 sedan from his other company Tesla. That along with recent testing of a carbon fiber cryogenic tank and ongoing Raptor engine testing, Musk said he believes the first test flights of the BFS could begin as soon as 2019, albeit via short hopes similar to SpaceX’s Grasshopper program when the company was first testing hardware and software that would ultimately be used to recover Falcon 9 first stages.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Goldman predicts the world’s first trillionaire will mine asteroids

There are lots of ways to make money here on planet Earth, but the world’s first trillionaire is going to make their fortune in space. That’s the prediction of Goldman Sachs, which sees space mining as the next frontier in fortune building. According to the investment and banking company, technology is approaching a point where mining asteroids is nearing feasibility and the first company that makes the leap will be rewarded with riches beyond its wildest dreams.

Mining for valuable materials here on Earth has plenty of legal hurdles attached to it, but lawmakers are already clearing the way for asteroid mining in the anticipation of it becoming a viable business. The EU already has a legal framework in place that will allow companies to claim materials from asteroids as their own, collecting whatever revenue they can once they haul it back to Earth.

“While the psychological barrier to mining asteroids is high, the actual financial and technological barriers are far lower,” a Goldman Sachs report explains. “Prospecting probes can likely be built for tens of millions of dollars each and Caltech has suggested an asteroid-grabbing spacecraft could cost $2.6 billion.”

As you’d imagine, the prospect of asteroid mining is being pursued by a number of private companies who hope to cash in. As RT notes, a pair of companies — Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources — are pushing forward with their plan to mine asteroids and are working with the government of Luxembourg to make it a reality. The country has helped to fund research into the technologies that would be needed to accomplish the goal of mining an asteroid and received equity in the companies in return.

Luxembourg’s deputy prime minister, Etienne Schneider, is bullish on the prospect of private companies making it big in space mining. “Our goal is to put into place an overall framework for the exploration and commercial use of resources from ‘celestial bodies’ such as asteroids, or from the moon,” he said.

There’s obviously lots of interest from many parties, but no actual asteroid mining mission has yet been planned. The construction of a space mining vessel is no small feat and there are still many technological hurdles to overcome before the world’s first asteroid-exploiting trillionaire is crowned.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

NASA's TESS Satellite Launches to Seek Out New Alien Worlds

The agency's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched today (April 18) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, rising off the pad atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:51 p.m. EDT (2251 GMT) and deploying into Earth orbit 49 minutes later.

TESS will hunt for alien worlds around stars in the sun's neighborhood — planets that other missions can then study in detail. And the spacecraft will be incredibly prolific, if all goes according to plan.

"TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study," TESS principal investigator George Ricker, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said during a pre-launch briefing Sunday (April 15).

"It's going to more than double the number that have been seen and detected by Kepler," Ricker added, referring to NASA's Kepler space telescope, which has spotted 2,650 confirmed exoplanets to date —about 70 percent of all the worlds known beyond our solar system.

And the Falcon 9's first stage came back to Earth less than 9 minutes after liftoff today, touching down softly on a robotic SpaceX "drone ship" stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX has now pulled off two dozen such landings during Falcon 9 launches — part of the company's push to develop fully and rapidly reusable rockets and spacecraft, a breakthrough that SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said will revolutionize spaceflight.

SpaceX has re-flown 11 of these first stages to date, but the tally didn't increase today: This Falcon 9 was brand-new.

Today's launch was originally scheduled for Monday evening (April 16), but it was delayed by two days to give SpaceX time to investigate a potential issue with the rocket's guidance, navigation and control systems.

Looking for nearby worlds

Like Kepler, TESS will find alien planets using the "transit method," noting the tiny brightness dips these worlds cause when they cross their host stars' faces. But there are some big differences between the missions.

During its prime mission from 2009 through 2013, Kepler stared continuously at a single patch of sky, monitoring about 150,000 stars simultaneously. (Kepler is now embarked on a different mission, called K2, during which it studies a variety of cosmic objects and phenomena, exoplanets among them. But the iconic telescope's days are numbered; it's almost out of fuel.) Most of these stars are far from the sun — from several hundred light-years to 1,000 light-years or more.

But TESS will conduct a broad sky survey during its two-year prime mission, covering about 85 percent of the sky. The satellite will focus on the nearest and brightest stars, using its four cameras to look for worlds that may be close enough to be studied in depth by other instruments.

Indeed, TESS will rely on a variety of other telescopes on the ground and in space to help determine which of its "candidates" are bona fide planets, and to characterize the newly discovered worlds. One such partner will be NASA's $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2020. James Webb should be able to probe the atmospheres of at least a few TESS planets for oxygen, methane and other possible signs of life, NASA officials have said.

"TESS is the first step toward finding habitable planets," mission project scientist Stephen Rinehart, who's based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said during Sunday's briefing.

The mission will be a big step toward exploring such worlds up-close as well, team members said. In 50 to 100 years, humanity will probably be capable of launching tiny robotic spacecraft to explore a number of nearby exoplanets, perhaps using technology like that being developed by the $100 million Breakthrough Starshot project, MIT's Ricker said.

"We are putting together a catalog of the very best targets for those probes," he said. "That's one thing that I think will be a lasting legacy of TESS."

A unique orbit

TESS also differs from Kepler in its orbit. Whereas Kepler loops around the sun, TESS will zoom around our planet, on a highly elliptical, 13.7-day orbit that no spacecraft has ever occupied before.

This orbit will take TESS as close to Earth as 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers) and as far away as 232,000 miles (373,000 km). The satellite will be able to beam its onboard data down to Earth quickly and efficiently during the close approaches.

The orbit is also incredibly stable and features relatively low radiation exposure and low thermal variation, said Robert Lockwood, TESS spacecraft program manager at Orbital ATK, the Virginia-based company that built the satellite for NASA.

"It really is a Goldilocks orbit," Lockwood told

But TESS won't get there for a while. After a number of engine firings and one dramatic maneuver — a close flyby of the moon on May 17 — TESS will arrive in its final orbit in mid-June, if all goes according to plan. The science campaign will start shortly thereafter.

The TESS mission is capped at $200 million, not including launch costs