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Billionaire pulls out of reality telly show that was supposed to find him a date to take aboard Musk's space loveboat

Also: Eco rocket fuel from Skyrora, more Starlink from SpaceX, ESA's Solar Orbiter gets ready for launch

Roundup There's some bad news for Moon lovers but good news for Sun fanciers in this week's roundup of all the news that's fit to run about outer space.

Sorry wannabe Lunar Lovers, that whole Moon dating thing is (thankfully) off

Citing "mixed feelings" about the whole thing, billionaire astro-wannabe Yusaku Maezawa has withdrawn from the slightly icky competition to find a lucky lady to share a trip on Elon Musk's moonshot. The decision means that AbemaTV's "Full Moon Lovers" has, alas, been cancelled, much to the disappointment of the tens of thousands of hopeful applicants.

The plan was to have had Maezawa, 44, select a partner to spend some special time with him around the back of the Moon but, blaming "personal reasons", he has backed away from participation. It's understood he is still planning to go into space, seeing as he's bought a ride on one of Musk's SpaceX rockets that's due to launch in 2023.

AbemaTV itself swiftly axed the project – after all, with no billionaire taking part, there can be no Buck and Becky Rogers.

SpaceX flings another 60 Starlink sats into orbit

Elon Musk's mission to enrage astronomers bring Internet to the unconnected world continued last week with the launch of another batch of 60 Starlink satellites. The launch, which takes the number of spacecraft placed into orbit in support of the programme to 242, finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at 1406 UTC on 31 January after multiple weather-related delays.

It was the third flight of this particular booster, which had first seen service launching the Crew Dragon demonstration mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in March 2019, and again for the RADARSAT Constellation Mission in June 2019.

The first stage landed once again, this time on the Of Course I Still Love You drone-ship, and the recovery ships GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief both had a crack at catching a fairing half in their oversized nets. GO Ms. Tree caught one half of the enclosure, but the other needed to be fished out of the sea.

The fifth batch of 60 Starlink satellites is due to launch in mid-February.

Starship to take a bigger hop from March?

Having exploded a good few tanks, and sent Starhopper to the lofty heights of 150 metres over Texas, SpaceX looks set to go a tad further if a FCC application spotted by a Twitter user is anything to go by.

The application for a Special Temporary Authority from America's comms watchdog, the FCC, has been filed to check out communications during a hop of up to 20km in altitude from the company's Boca Chica facility in southern Texas.

While the opening date of the application, 16 March, may seem close, the requested period of operation extends for six months. After all, Elon Musk and his staffers probably aren't completely done with destructive testing just yet.

NASA to allow researchers to accompany their suborbital payloads

While orbital (and beyond) spaceflight may garner all the glamour, suborbital spaceflight has been long been used as a way of checking out technologies ahead of more ambitious applications. Balloons, sub-orbital rockets and aircraft flying vomit-inducing parabolas have all played their part.

Sub-orbital payloads have also flown on the likes of Blue Origin and as it, and Virgin Galactic, prepare to start flying paying passengers this year – perhaps – the US space agency is tweaking its "Tech Flights" solicitation to permit researchers to accompany their experiments.

There are some hoops for wannabe Space Flight Participants to jump through in the draft solicitation (PDF). The vehicle itself must not have had an accident in its last 14 flights, and NASA won't be taking responsibility for safety – that's up to the participant or their employer. In order to qualify for those sweet, sweet NASA dollars, the experiment also has to further either "NASA lunar exploration goals" or "commercial activity beyond Earth orbit."

Which seems fair enough.

NASA is looking for comments on the draft solicitation through 14 February, and eager spaceflight participants could potentially be flying as soon as the end of this year.

Solar Orbiter gets ready to launch while the Parker Probe phones home

ESA's Solar Orbiter mission is finally set to launch at 0403 UTC on Monday 10 February courtesy of an Atlas V 411 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The mission has a two-hour launch window, should it make it that far. It has suffered a two-day delay thanks to a schedule conflict and iffy weather.

The purpose of the mission is to take a close-up look at the Sun, carrying telescopes to one quarter of the Earth's distance to the Sun in order to peer at the thing and perform a study of the inner heliosphere. It will also be the first satellite to take close-up views of the Sun's polar regions.

The spacecraft will join NASA's Parker Solar Probe, which completed its fourth close encounter with the Sun last week, reaching speeds of 393,044 kilometres per hour at a distance of 18.6 million kilometres. During the encounter, the spacecraft's thermal protection system recorded temperatures of 612 degrees C, while the guts hidden behind the shield stayed at a more comfortable 30 degrees.

When the probe performs its closest perihelia at some point in 2024/ 2025 the TPS will see temperatures of around 1,370˚C.

A Scottish engine test for Skyrora

Edinburgh-based Skyrora was cock-a-hoop last week after a set of successful firings of the 3.5kN engine destined to power the upper stage of the company's 22 metre tall XL rocket in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The first tests of the week saw 30 second firings conducted at the Fife facility, but more interestingly Friday's test involved the company's Ecosene fuel used rather than the usual kerosene RP-1. Ecosene is made from certain types of waste plastic, with 1000kg of the garbage used to make 600kg of the fuel.

The company has plans to launch from the UK, but has yet to announce a location for its vertical Skyrora XL launches. The XL will be able shunt a payload of 315kg into a 500km altitude orbit to 140kg at 1000km (PDF) when it finally becomes operational. The company plans to first launch its Skylark Micro and SkyHigh suborbital rockets as it works towards the big day.

We spoke to Skyrora last year, and the company told us then that the first XL launch from UK soil could take place in 2022. In a refreshing change from the majority of the space industry, the company confirmed that the target year has not changed. ®

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