December 19, 2014

Canada's 'Pay-Per-View' Satellite Finds New Planet (Source: Edmonton Journal)
A suitcase-sized Canadian satellite whose funding has been eliminated by the Canadian Space Agency has co-discovered a new planet in another solar system. The MOST space telescope, just 65 centimeters wide and 25 deep, also confirmed the planet is 2.5 times bigger than Earth, and is probably mostly water or ice. The discovery comes just as the Canadian Space Agency is winding up all funding for MOST, which must now operate as a rent-a-telescope. (12/18)

NASA Emailed a Wrench to Space (Source: WIRED)
When International Space Station commander Barry Wilmore needed a wrench, NASA knew just what to do. They "emailed" him one. This is the first time an object has been designed on Earth and then transmitted to space for manufacture. Made In Space, the California company that designed the 3D printer aboard the ISS, overheard Wilmore mentioning the need for a ratcheting socket wrench and decided to create one. Previously, if an astronaut needed a specific tool it would have to be flown up on the next mission to the ISS, which could take months. (12/14)

Voyager Spacecraft Overtaken by Three 'Tsunami Waves' in Space (Source: SEN)
As Voyager 1 sails beyond the Solar System, the generation-old NASA spacecraft frequently encounters "tsunami waves" in space, showing that the environment it is traveling is less tranquil than previously believed. The spacecraft, launched from Earth in 1977, has so far experienced three of these waves since leaving the Solar System officially in 2012 (a fact only discovered a year later.)

Such a wave happens when the Sun produces a coronal mass ejection, or a massive burst of plasma (charged particles), that erupts from the star. A wave of pressure then races through the Solar System and crashes into more plasma in interstellar space, creating a shock wave. "The tsunami causes the ionized gas that is out there to resonate—'sing' or vibrate like a bell," stated Ed Stone, project scientist for the Voyager mission based at the California Institute of Technology. (12/19)

Editorial: Aerospace/Defense Must Disrupt Its R&D Funding Routine (Source: Aviation Week)
One of the biggest obstacles to innovation in the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry is the reliance on institutional customers to fund R&D projects. Indeed, the most innovative ventures today are commercially driven. Be they Skybox Imaging and Planet Labs with their Earth-observation satellites, SpaceX with its launchers or AeroVironment with its drones, they are all bringing a radically different, commercially driven approach to innovation.

It does not mean that institutional customers don’t have a role to play, but they are not in the driver’s seat. The traditional way of financing innovation in the A&D industry has been to rely on institutional customers such as the Defense Department and NASA in the U.S., and national defense and space agencies in Europe. This worked as long as the technologies used for A&D applications were unique and ahead of those used in commercial fields.

It created a kind of closed innovation ecosystem, with its own organization (e.g., prime contractors and system integrators), processes (such as technology readiness levels, concept and technology demonstration or developmental test and evaluation) and cycles (five, 10 or more years). As with any closed system though, rigidity and bureaucracy have crept in and the whole system has become largely inefficient. (12/18)

Space Photo Contest Entries: Editor’s Picks (Source: Aviation Week)
Click here to browse Aviation Week's annual pick of the best space photos. (12/17)

ESA Gets New Leadership (Source: ESA)
The Council of the European Space Agency announced the appointment of Johann-Dietrich Woerner as the next Director General of ESA, for a period of four years starting on 1 July 2015. He will succeed Jean-Jacques Dordain, whose term of office ends on 30 June 2015. (12/18)

Launch of Strela Rocket From Baikonur Delayed for Technical Reasons (Source: Itar-Tass)
A launch of a rocket carrier Strela with a dual-purpose satellite Kondor-E which was expected to be made from the Baikonur spaceport on Thursday morning was delayed for technical reasons, according to Roscosmos. "The launch has been postpoed for technical reasons to an auxiliary date which is tomorrow,” an official in the agency said Thursday. Strela carrier rocket is based on the RS-20 intercontinental ballistic missile, known as Satan. (12/18)

Russian Strela Rocket Launches Kondor-E (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Russia’s Strela rocket has made a rare appearance and launched the latest Kondor radar imaging satellite for the South African military – following its purchase from NPO Mashinostroyenia. Known as Kondor-E, this spacecraft was launched from silo 59 at Baikonur Cosmodrome’s site 175 at 04:43 UTC on Friday. (12/18)

Arianespace Soyuz ST-B Launches Four O3b Satellites (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The Arianespace Soyuz ST-B rocket has launched her mission to loft four O3b communication satellites into orbit on Thursday. The spacecraft are heading to a constellation that is already populated by eight of the birds controlled by O3b Networks. Lift off from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana occurred at 18:37 UTC. (12/18)

Indian Launch's Price Tag Was $25 Million (Source: Radio Australia)
The GSLV Mk-3 rocket, designed to carry heavier communication and other satellites into higher orbit, blasted off from Sriharikota in the southeast state of Andhra Pradesh in a test mission costing nearly $25 million. The new rocket, weighing 630 tonnes and capable of carrying a payload of 4 tonnes, is a boost for India's attempts to grab a greater slice of the $300-billion global space market. (12/18)

Updated Chart of International Orbital Launch Vehicles (Source: SPACErePORT)
My chart of existing and proposed orbital launch systems keeps growing. Click here to see a fairly comprehensive list of rockets, including their size, nationality, payload weight capacity, launch sites, and operational status. (12/19)

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Lands $16.7 Million in Tax Incentives (Source: Denver Business Journal)
Lockheed Martin Space Systems could receive $16.7 million in tax incentives from Jefferson County over the next 15 years for creating 850 jobs at its headquarters west of the metro area. The Jefferson County Commissioners next week are expected to grant county business-personal property tax rebates that would be in addition to the $15.5 million in state tax rebates already granted to Lockheed Martin Space Systems. (12/17)

What Living in Space for a Year Will Do to You (Source: Esquire)
Weightlessness changes everything, and it will change Scott Kelly. Because he won’t be sitting, and because the human body is a ruthless and efficient machine, over time his pelvis will lose its bursa sacs, which cushion his hip joints against earthly hazards like toilet seats but become obsolete in space. He will also urinate some significant percentage of his blood reserve—stored in his legs on the ground, but risen into his overstuffed core in the absence of gravity. Click here. (12/18)

Europe Prepares for Asteroid Strikes (Source: ESA)
Last month, experts from ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program and Europe’s national disaster response organizations met for a two-day exercise on what to do if an asteroid is ever found to be heading our way. In ESA’s first-ever asteroid impact exercise, they went through a countdown to an impact, practicing steps to be taken if near-Earth objects, or NEOs, of various sizes were detected.

The exercise considered the threat from an imaginary, but plausible, asteroid, initially thought to range in size from 12 m to 38 m – spanning roughly the range between the 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst and the 1908 Tunguska event – and traveling at 12.5 km/s. (12/18)

Contamination of Impacted Meteorites Can Happen Quickly (Source: Astrobiology)
A team of scientists has published the results of an investigative survey into the Sutter’s Mill meteorite that landed in California in 2012. The results reveal that the meteorite contained a number of features associated with minerals such as olivines, phyllosilicates, carbonates, and possibly pyroxenes, as well as organics.

However, a key conclusion of the paper, and one that is likely to be of keen interest to astrobiologists, is confirmation that meteorites can become contaminated by Earth-based organics very quickly. That means scientists must be extra vigilant in identifying and assessing the effects of terrestrial organic contamination of meteoritic samples. (12/18)

Satellite Captures Glowing Plants From Space (Source: Science)
About 1% of the light that strikes plants is re-emitted as a faint, fluorescent glow—a measure of photosynthetic activity. Today scientists released a map of this glow as measured by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. The NASA satellite was launched in July with the goal of mapping the net amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

But the fluorescence map, an unexpected secondary capability, provides a more direct measure of carbon fluxes: the amount mopped up by plants during photosynthesis or released during respiration. The findings will help scientists disentangle inputs and outputs in places like the Amazon rainforest, where there are both big emissions from deforestation and big sinks from photosynthesis. Click here. (12/18)

GPS Modernization Advances (Source: SpaceRef)
The eighth Boeing Global Positioning System IIF satellite has completed on-orbit checkout and joined the active 31-satellite constellation, helping the U.S. Air Force continue modernizing the network that millions of people worldwide use. The Air Force and Boeing have now put four GPS-IIF satellites into service this year, adding to the modernization effort with advanced atomic clocks, stronger anti-jamming, and a new third civil signal and longer design life. (12/18)

Space is Key to Defense Aerospace Gains in 2015, AIA Says (Source: AIA)
The AIA anticipates some growth for the defense aviation market in 2015, despite "unprecedented challenges" worldwide facing the industry, said President and CEO Marion Blakey. AIA projections show space contributing an additional $4 billion next year, after Department of Defense space spending increased 5.5% in 2014. (12/17)

Mars One CEO: ‘If There’s a Terrible Accident, We Won’t Show It Live on TV’ (Source: Newsweek)
The Mars One project will cost an estimated $6 billion, a good part of which will be raised by the proposed reality TV program which will “exclusively follow the selection and training of the world’s first one-way astronauts to Mars.” However, Bars Landorp was quick to distance himself from this term: “First of all, I don’t like the term ‘reality TV’. In principle it’s a good term but nowadays it means the Kardashians and Jersey Shore and of course those aren’t real.

“I prefer to compare the mission to the Olympic games. We select the best of the best for a near impossible task. They will do things that almost no one else can do - just like the Olympics,” he continued. Landorp conceded that there are dangers attached to the mission: “Exploration will always be dangerous and it will be our responsibility to only show things to the audience that we think are fair to the other stakeholders. If there’s a terrible accident, we won’t show it live on TV.” (12/18)

The Year in Space: From Tragedy to Triumph (Source: ABC)
2014 has been a year of picture-perfect, out-of-this-world moments and incredible firsts in space exploration. The European Space Agency landed a probe on a speeding comet and NASA celebrated a successful maiden voyage of "America's spacecraft," Orion. Among the triumphs, there was also tragedy. Here are seven moments from 2014 that defined the year in space travel, exploration and appreciation. (12/18)

XCOR Announces Further Progress on XCOR Lynx Spacecraft (Source: XCOR)
The XCOR Lynx suborbital spacecraft continues to make rapid progress towards final assembly. Immediately after bonding the cockpit to the fuselage the shop crews set up for the delicate and precise operation of bonding the carry-through spar on to the rear end of the Lynx fuselage.

“The carry-through spar is the heart of the loading structure on any winged craft – it supports the primary load of the wings and carries that load through the fuselage,” says XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. “Attaching the spar on a composite vehicle is a one-way operation, so it has to be done right the first time." After the spar was installed the entire structure was load tested to the equivalent of 6G re-entry, while in the test area the cabin was pressurized to 11 PSI, the first pressure test after being bonded to the fuselage. (12/18)

Space Tourism Needs a Reality Check (Source: Space.com)
Is suborbital-space tourism an impossible dream? It's hard to tell. Despite the recent crash of SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic is still a front-runner. Ignore all of those premature media speculations about difficulties with SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket engine. In fact, recent reports suggest part of that machinery was likely not at fault. The underlying problem sounds fixable.

Failures are a necessary part of the aerospace learning curve. If only we could benefit from these lessons without having to mourn so many casualties. Can we reach an airline-like safety plateau in the space tourism business? I'm not sure. Modern airplane prototypes undergo an extensive regimen of test flights before any civilian versions are launched onto the market. However, no one has flown a civilian spaceship often enough to figure out what might be termed its "airworthiness."

It might sound heartless, but we will probably need to tolerate more spacecraft crashes before we can really understand how to make future variants sufficiently safe for civilian passengers. This brings me to my central question: What would be "sufficiently safe"? The Virgin Galactic crash surely tells the nascent space tourism industry that it may need to think again about letting untrained, inexperienced passengers into its vehicles. Recent developments suggest that rocket vehicles are still unusually hazardous, because we simply haven't flown them often enough to know what we're up against. (12/18)

Congress Keeps NASA Education Programs Aloft (Source: Science)
NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has traditionally funded education activities directly in conjunction with every scientific payload. (There’s also an Office of Education at NASA headquarters that runs agency-wide programs such as scholarships and research opportunities for students and efforts to attract more minority students into space science.) The idea is to yoke those most knowledgeable about the science with those skilled in public dissemination.

In April 2013, however, NASA announced it wanted to sever those ties as part of the Obama administration’s proposed reorganization of all federal science education activities. The $42 million allocated for E/PO within the science directorate would have disappeared in FY-2014. Congress rejected the idea (as well as much of the White House’s overall reorganization plan) and eventually restored the NASA funding. But the money was slow to trickle out to the individual projects, and some suffered actual cuts.

This year the administration again lowballed funding for the activity, asking for only $15 million in its 2015 request for NASA. The final bill signed into law this week again restores the budget to pre-2014 levels. But even that amount is “well below” the 1% that NASA’s $5.1 billion science directorate is authorized to spend on education activities, notes a report from Senate appropriators this summer that accompanied a 2015 NASA spending bill that was folded into the final accord. (12/18)

Rockets: Ours and Theirs (Source: The Hindu)
With the successful launch of ISRO’s GSLV Mark III — Chairman Radhakrishnan can stand shoulder to shoulder with Musk. The full-fledged GSLV Mark III that can carry four tonnes of material to 36,000 km above the earth is still at least three years away. But in absolute terms, even a fully developed GSLV Mark III is decade behind others.

By the time the Mark III becomes operations-capable, the world would have moved further on. SpaceX will have the Falcon Heavy, the world’s second most powerful rocket, after Saturn V, which took Americans to the moon. NASA is developing its own mega rocket, Space Launch System, a 98-meter tall brute. Click here. (12/18)

NASA Study Proposes Airships, Cloud Cities for Venus Exploration (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
It has been accepted for decades that Mars is the next logical place for humans to explore. Mars certainly seems to offer the most Earth-like environment of any other place in the solar system, and it’s closer to Earth than just about anyplace else, except Venus. But exploration of Venus has always been an enormous challenge: Venus’s surface is hellish, with 92 atmospheres of pressure and temperatures of nearly 500 °C.

The surface of Venus isn’t going to work for humans, but what if we ignore the surface and stick to the clouds? Dale Arney and Chris Jones, from the Space Mission Analysis Branch of NASA’s Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at Langley Research Center, in Virginia, have been exploring that idea. Perhaps humans could ride through the upper atmosphere of Venus in a solar-powered airship. Arney and Jones propose that it may make sense to go to Venus before we ever send humans to Mars. Click here. (12/16)

December 18, 2014

Launch of SpaceX Supply Ship Delayed to January (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Blaming a technical glitch encountered during a preflight test, officials said Thursday the launch of SpaceX’s next Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station has been delayed to early January. Liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is now expected no earlier than Jan. 6 at 6:18 a.m. EST.

SpaceX said engineers ran into unspecified problems during a “static fire” test conducted Tuesday. During static fire tests, the SpaceX launch team loads the rocket with kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants, runs through countdown procedures, then lights the booster’s nine Merlin 1D engines for a few seconds while the Falcon 9 is held down on the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (12/18)

Stage Recovery: The Future of Space Launch is Near (Source: Just a Tinker)
Until recently, the future of space launch looked pretty much like its past. For over 50 years, humanity has blasted thousands of spacecraft and satellites into space. Every launch vehicle that carried them aloft has ended up littering the planet with the broken, twisted remains of expended rocket stages. Only a tiny fraction of the entire rocket escapes Earth’s deep gravity well to reach space as useful payload. With one notable exception, the Space Shuttle.

It seemed like a virtual impossibility to recover any part of the launch vehicle. Because of this assumption, expendable launch vehicles were deemed to be just ‘the cost of doing business’… until now. SpaceX, has finally revealed how and when they will attempt to recover the booster stage of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Click here. (12/16)

Falcon-9 Slip Closes 2014 with 16 Florida Launches, 12 Planned for 2015 (Source: SPACErePORT)
At the beginning of 2014, SpaceX had plans for up to 10 launches during the year from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The Falcon/Dragon CRS-5 slip into January will leave SpaceX with only six launches for the year. Altogether, that brings Florida's 2014 total to 16 launches: six each for Falcon-9 and Atlas-5, and four for Delta-4. One early launch manifest for 2015 currently includes 12 planned launches, including seven Falcon-9, four Atlas-5, and one Delta-4. (12/18)

Across the Ideological Universe (Source: Slate)
Rockets, satellites, and spaceships on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., are a testament to American achievements in space. But in an exhibit on the heady days of the 1960s and ’70s, one note on a timeline placard stands out. In 1969, it explains, a government task force suggested that NASA should build a permanently manned space station, and perhaps go to Mars.

This did not happen. Political support for the ideas evaporated while people worried about the Vietnam War, social upheavals, and the money already spent on the Apollo program. The country must “define new goals which make sense for the seventies,” President Richard Nixon declared. A year after the moon landing, 56 percent of the public said it hadn’t been worth the price. Click here. (12/17)

Einstein’s Thoughts on SETI (Source: Air & Space)
“There is every reason to believe that Mars and other planets are inhabited,” said Einstein in 1920. “Why should the earth be the only planet supporting human life? It is not singular in any other respect. But if intelligent creatures do exist, as we may assume they do elsewhere in the universe, I should not expect them to try to communicate with the earth by wireless [radio]. Light rays, the direction of which can be controlled much more easily, would more probably be the first method attempted.” (12/17)

NASA’s Kepler Reborn, Makes First Exoplanet Find of New Mission (Source: NASA)
NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft makes a comeback with the discovery of the first exoplanet found using its new mission -- K2. The discovery was made when astronomers and engineers devised an ingenious way to repurpose Kepler for the K2 mission and continue its search of the cosmos for other worlds. (12/17)

Could the Higgs be Part of the Matter-Antimatter Problem? (Source: Discovery)
As excitement grows for the the second 3-year run of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), physicists are frantically planning the experiments that will be carried out when the particle accelerator starts slamming particles together at record energies in 2015. One of those experiments could focus on why the universe is dominated by matter and not antimatter, one of the most enduring mysteries in modern physics.

And the focus of the study? Yes, the infamous Higgs boson may be at least partially to blame for our universe’s matter-antimatter asymmetry. When the universe began, right at the ignition of the Big Bang some 13.75 billion years ago, particles of matter and antimatter should have been generated in equal numbers. Should matter and antimatter meet, total annihilation occurs. Therefore, if equal quantities of matter and antimatter were generated, there should be no matter or antimatter left in the universe.

Instead, the universe would have remained as a soup of energy where matter (or antimatter) could not form. But as we look around us, although tiny quantities of antimatter can be found, the universe is obviously filled with matter. So the question is: Why did matter win out? Click here. (12/17)

XCOR Seeks Pioneers to be First Batch of Space Travelers (Source: Want China Times)
Despite the crash of Virgin Galactic's prototype space tourism rocket on Oct. 31, XCOR, Virgin's archrival, has continued to prepare its space travel program, mainly due to the unwavering commitment of its 30 plus Chinese clients. Zhang Yong, XCOR's Chinese agent, reports that in the wake of the accident he has not received any cancellations from the 30 customers in China who have already purchased their tickets.

"Most of them regard the chance to do this as a life-defining moment and aren't willing to pull out so easily," Zhang said, adding that he had received a message from XCOR assuring the program's safety, as its space travel technology is quite different from that of Virgin Galactic. "In the wake of the crash, XCOR will be even more stringent in its safety checks for the program," says customer Dong Jingjing. (12/17)

Who Owns the Moon? (Source: Millionaire Corner)
Some national and private interests are discussing the ownership of celestial bodies and the natural resources that can be found within. Frans von der Dunk, Professor of Space Law at the University of Nebraska, suddenly finds himself as the leading national expert on the topic of ownership of celestial bodies.

“In 1990, space law was a relatively coherent succinct body of law,’’ Von der Dunk said. “There were a few international agreements. They were just starting to build the international space station. Private participation in space was very, very limited. It was all so much more science driven.”

The currently held international treaty on space law is being challenged by both private enterprise and nationalist interests who believe celestial bodies are unclaimed property and there is a treasure trove of natural resources in those bodies that have value. Click here. (12/17)

Lunar Mission One Reaches First Kickstarter Funding Goal (Source: NY Daily News)
Lunar Mission One is one step closer to retracing Neil Armstrong's steps on the moon. The British-led effort reached its first Kickstarter goal of £600,000, which roughly translates to $945,000. The idea behind Lunar Mission One is to send a robotic probe to the moon that will drill a 100-meter hole into the moon and collect core samples. The famous physicist Stephen Hawking was one of the project backers. (12/17)

Orbital Awaits Government Approval of Rocket Engine Deal (Source: Sputnik)
Orbital Sciences Corporation is waiting for the necessary governmental approval for the delivery of Russian designed RD-181 engines, the company's press service said. According to the statement, Orbital is in the process of obtaining all necessary permits for the support of the use of RD-181 and approval of the recent contract with Russian design bureau NPO Energomash by appropriate US government agencies. (12/17)

U.S. Senate Unlikely To Go Along with Third Interceptor Site (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee would be more likely to fund an additional radar on the East Coast to guard against a missile attack from Iran rather than build a third ground-based interceptor site, two committee staff members said Dec. 15.

They said while they expect House Republicans to suggest a third ground based-interceptor site in the coming year, a more affordable option, especially within the current budget constraints, would more likely be an additional radar near the East Coast. The current U.S. territorial shield features interceptor fields in California and Alaska, and in March 2013 the Obama administration announced plans to beef up the latter site. (12/17)

India Takes First Step Toward Manned Space Mission (Source: The Hindu)
India’s first experimental flight GSLV Mark III took off successfully from Sriharikota on Thursday. Also known as LVM3/CARE, this suborbital experimental mission was intended to test the vehicle performance during the critical atmospheric phase of its flight and carried passive (non functional) cryogenic upper stage.

"Everything went off as expected. This new launch vehicle performed very well and is a great success. We had an unmanned crew module to understand re-entry characteristics. That also went off successfully and it has touched down in the Bay of Bengal," said ISRO’s chief K. Radhakrishnan. In exactly about five and half minutes after taking off, the vehicle carried its payload — the 3775 kg crew module Atmospheric Re-entry experiment (CARE) — to the intended height of 126 km. (12/17)

Twins Unlocking the Secrets of Space (Source: TIME)
When Scott Kelly calls home from the International Space Station (ISS) sometime next year, whoever answers the phone may simply hang up on him. The calls will be welcome, but the link can be lousy, with long, hissing silences breaking up the conversation. That’s what happens when you’re placing your call from at least 229 mi. above the Earth while zipping along at 17,500 m.p.h. and your signal has to get bounced from satellites to ground antennas to relay stations like an around-the-horn triple play. Click here. (12/17)

New Mexico’s Spaceport is State-of-the-Art Ghost Town (Source: GCR)
Spaceport America was intended to be the launch pad for the world’s richest people who were willing to pay large sums for a private viewing of the Earth from its upper atmosphere. But the $219m facility in the New Mexico desert, built with help from the state’s taxpayers, has become a 21st century ghost town. Click here. (12/17)
 
SpaceX Continues to Expand Facilities, Workforce (Source: Phys.org)
2014 was undoubtedly SpaceX's most lucrative year to date. In September, the company (along with Boeing) signed a contract with NASA for $6.8 billion to develop space vehicles that would bring astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017 and end the nation's reliance on Russia. And this past week, the company announced a plan to expand operations at its Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.

The facility is the key testing grounds for all SpaceX technology. And now that the company is actively collaborating with NASA to restore indigenous space-launch ability to the US, more testing will be needed. Click here. (12/17) 

SpaceX Mission Likely to Slip to January (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The next Falcon 9 v1.1 set to launch out of Florida’s Cape Canaveral scrubbed a Static Fire attempt on Tuesday. The Static Fire is required ahead of the upcoming mission to loft the CRS-5/SpX-5 Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS). Unspecified issues with the rocket are likely to slip the launch – as late as early January, although SpaceX isn’t commenting at this stage. (12/17)

Bigelow Module Go For 2015 Launch (Source: Popular Science)
In 2014, commercial spaceflight reached a major milestone when NASA selected two companies—SpaceX and Boeing—to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). This year, the agency will turn its attention to the next logical step: commercial habitats. SpaceX will launch Bigelow Aerospace’s Expandable Activity Module to the ISS in late summer or early fall.

Once connected to the Tranquility node, the habitat will inflate to 13 feet long. Then, for two years, instruments will measure how well it holds up in space. Bigelow will use that data to build a 12-person station. NASA, meanwhile, has begun developing standards for use by commercial stations. Philip McAlister, the agency’s director of commercial spaceflight, says private enterprise will help sustain robust human activity in low-Earth orbit. “American spaceflight is not just about us anymore,” he says. (12/16)

As Inspector General Frets, NASA Bides Time on TDRS Replacements (Source: Space News)
Despite another reminder from its inspector general that the agency’s space communications network is heading for a bandwidth logjam in 2016, NASA is not rushing to procure more of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) that keep Earth-orbiting spacecraft in touch with the ground, an official said.

“NASA has not started any procurement action for future TDRS,” Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Office wrote. “However, the Goddard Space Flight Center has begun architecting and investigating the feasibility of implementing the next generation data relay satellites.” (12/16)

Russia to Launch Spy Satellite for South Africa (Source: SEN)
In a midst of the year-end flurry of activity at the Russian space center in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, the most unusual and least visible launch campaign takes place at a desolate Site 2A. At the height of the Cold War, the low-profile facility housed nuclear warheads for the first Soviet ballistic missile, the R-7. Even though nukes had been gone from Baikonur for decades, Site 2A's latest role was veiled in secrecy until just a few days ago.

The former nuclear storage is now home for the pre-launch processing of the Kondor-E (Condor) Earth-watching satellite. Known primarily to the seasoned followers of the Russian space program, Kondor does not have a page on Roskosmos' web site and not until this week did its launch date appear in the official manifest. In the meantime, Kondor's anticipated liftoff had been causing a storm of controversy half a world away—in South Africa! (12/16)

NASA Awards Launch Contract to SpaceX (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA has selected SpaceX to provide launch services for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. TESS will launch aboard a Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle, with liftoff targeted for August 2017 from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. The total cost for NASA to launch TESS is approximately $87 million, which includes the launch service, spacecraft processing, payload integration, tracking, data and telemetry, and other launch support requirements.

Editor's Note: The $87 million price apparently includes $61 million for the rocket and $26 million for associated services, including spacecraft processing and integration, tracking and telemetry, other range costs and support requirements. In contrast, a similarly sized Atlas-5 mission recently cost NASA $160 million. (12/16)

Virginia Research, Environmental Efforts Benefit from Federal Spending Plan (Source: Daily Press)
The $1.1 trillion spending bill that just cleared Congress includes millions of dollars toward advanced aircraft, a cleaner Chesapeake Bay, stiffer standards for oil tank cars and repairs to the state's spaceport damaged by a rocket explosion in October. In fact, aeronautics and environmental efforts in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore are looking at tens of millions of dollars under the compromise fiscal year 2015 plan.

Local NASA facilities are big winners under the plan. U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced in a joint statement over the weekend that NASA Langley Research Center would get much of a $90 million increase in NASA's aeronautics research, while the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops would get $20 million to fully fund launch pad repairs. (12/16)

Chinese State-Owned Aerospace Giant Seeks Private Partnership (Source: Xinhua)
In a move to spur innovation, state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), the major contractor for China's space program, invited 1,300 private enterprises to a forum it co-hosted in the eastern city of Ningbo. The 2014 China (Ningbo) international forum on advanced aerospace materials and commercialization signaled a shift in the once restricted sector to a more-open working style that encourages collaborative practice with private entities. (12/17)

NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission Faces Criticism (Source: Scientific American)
The Obama administration wants to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. Of course, such a mission requires a lot of advance engineering, and as a first step, nasa plans to send astronauts to a small asteroid that would be brought into a stable orbit around the moon. To achieve that mechanical feat, a solar-powered robotic probe is being designed to capture a space rock and slowly push it into place.

A target asteroid has yet to be announced, and the robotic space tug has yet to be built, but the parties involved hope to have the rock relocated to the moon's vicinity as soon as 2021. nasa calls this concept the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and is marshaling resources across the entire agency to support it.

Michele Gates, the agency's program director for ARM, says that its advanced propulsion technology and crew activities would give nasa the capability and experience needed to someday reach Mars. The trip would demonstrate spacecraft rendezvous procedures and establish protocols for sample collection and extravehicular movements. Click here. (12/16)

Curiosity Rover Drills Into Mars Rock, Finds Water (Source: Space.com)
NASA's Curiosity rover is continuing to help scientists piece together the mystery of how Mars lost its surface water over the course of billions of years. The rover drilled into a piece of Martian rock called Cumberland and found some ancient water hidden within it. Researchers were then able to test a key ratio in the water with Curiosity's onboard instruments to gather more data about when Mars started to lose its water, NASA officials said.

In the same sample, Curiosity also detected the first organic molecules it has found. Curiosity measured the ratio of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) to "normal" hydrogen. This D-to-H ratio can help scientists see how long it takes for water molecules to escape, because the lighter hydrogen molecules fly toward the upper atmosphere more freely than deuterium does.

The D-to-H ratio in Cumberland is about half the ratio found in the Martian atmosphere's water vapor today, NASA officials said. This suggests that the planet lost much of its surface water after the Cumberland rock formed, space agency officials added in the same statement. (12/17)

Buzz Aldrin Plans to Move to Florida (Source: Malibu Times)
Aldrin has now resided in California for half his adult life, first moving to the state in the 1970s from NASA in Houston. “I went to Edwards Air Force Base to run the test pilot school, and I’ve been here ever since.” Soon, however, he said “We’re pulling up stakes in California and will be settling in Florida.” Aldrin is originally from the East Coast, and believes state taxes in Florida will be lower. (12/17)

December 17, 2014

SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
An ocean-going cargo barge modified to serve as a landing pad for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster is set to depart the Port of Jacksonville for a journey into the Atlantic Ocean ahead of Friday’s launch of a space station cargo mission from Cape Canaveral. The barge will be stationed about 200 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral — or about 165 miles southeast of Charleston, S.C. — for Friday’s Falcon 9 launch, which is set for 1:22 p.m. EST. (12/16)

Mississippi Senator Defends Fighting for Mothballed NASA Facility (Source: The Tribune)
Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi was unbowed Tuesday in the face of disclosures that he kept alive funding to complete a $349 million Mississippi rocket-testing project, only for it to be immediately mothballed because it was part of a canceled NASA program. “Congress agreed that it was not in the best interests of taxpayers, in Mississippi or elsewhere, to allow the site to sit incomplete, abandoned, and neglected, quickly falling into a state of disrepair,” Wicker said. (12/16)

Everything You Need to Know About Friday's SpaceX Dragon Launch (Source: Popular Mechanics)
On Friday, December 19, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will drop off an unmanned Dragon spacecraft in orbit and send it on its way to the International Space Station. Then, if all goes well, the rocket's first stage will turn around, fly itself back to Earth, and land on a platform floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Click here. (12/16)

SpaceX Gets Economic Incentive for Texas Site Expansion (Source: Waco Tribune)
Waco City Council pledged its share of $3.3 million of city-county incentives Tuesday that will allow SpaceX to expand its rocket testing facility. SpaceX is in line for $3 million in incentives from the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp. in exchange for adding 300 jobs and making $46.3 million in capital improvements to the McGregor facility. McLennan County would provide half the funding, and commissioners are set to vote on the package next week. (12/17)

Astrotech Pursues Stock Buyback (Source: Astrotech)
Astrotech Corporation a company that specializes in the commercialization of valuable space and defense technologies for uses in industrial process control, explosives detection, research and healthcare markets, today announced that its Board of Directors has approved a share repurchase program authorizing the company to repurchase up to $5.0 million of its common stock through December 31, 2015. (12/17)

Pittsburgh Team Gets XPrize Awards, But Contest's Future in Doubt (Source: Pittsburgh Tribune)
Google's Lunar XPrize contest awarded $750,000 Tuesday to a Pittsburgh team from Carnegie Mellon University and Astrobotic, even as the fate of the contest is unclear. The Milestone Prizes, one for imaging and one for mobility, arrive as Google announced that the $30 million contest to land a rover on the moon has been extended until the end of 2016.

However, the extension and the contest hinge on one of the teams in the competition submitting a launch schedule by Dec. 31, 2015. Astrobotic is the first team to be awarded Milestone Prizes, although there may be more awarded in January, according to Google. CEO John Thornton said he is pleased with the prizes but would not confirm that the team would have a launch schedule in hand by the deadline. Astrobotic is one of five teams in the running for Milestone Prizes. (12/16)

Orbital to Buy Billion Dollars' Worth of RD-181 Rocket Engines from Russia (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia’s Energomash has concluded a contract to deliver rocket engines to the US corporation Orbital Sciences. The engines will be used for the first stage of Antares rockets beginning 2015. Energomash will deliver 60 engines to Orbital, according to a high-ranking Roscosmos source. There is a contract to supply 20 engines, and the work has already started to deliver the first two units in June, and there are two more options, each for 20 units. (12/17)

Orbital's RD-181 Decision Comes After Coordinating with Congress (Source: Aviation Week)
Congressional concern about Russian aggression in the Crimean peninsula led to a ban in the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on using RD-180s purchased after Russia occupied the Ukrainian territory on Feb. 1. Grabe said that legislation will not affect the deal to buy RD-181s from Energomash. “We’ve coordinated with all relevant congressional committee staffs to keep them informed of our decision,” Grabe said.

“Certainly the NDAA places future restrictions on the use of the Russian engines for national security space applications. Our application is in civil space. There’s a long history of U.S.-Russian cooperation in civil space, dating back to Apollo-Soyuz in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War. Since our immediate objective is in civil space supporting the International Space Station, it’s got a slightly different twist or perspective than supporting national security space. (12/16)

Boeing Offers CST-100 For ISS Cargo Contract (Source: Space News)
As Boeing begins work on its NASA commercial crew contract, the company is proposing to use a version of the same spacecraft to transport cargo to the international space station. Company officials said they submitted a proposal earlier this month for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 competition, a follow-on to the existing CRS contracts held by Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX to ferry cargo to and from the station.

The cargo version of Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft will be based on the crewed version. Boeing will remove spacecraft components not needed for crew missions, like its launch abort system and environmental controls, to free up room in the spacecraft for cargo. The cargo version of CST-100 would, like the crewed version, launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. The cargo version will also be able to return cargo to Earth, landing in the western U.S. like the crewed version.

Editor's Note: Wow! ULA must realy be committed to bringing its costs down to compete against SpaceX (and Orbital). Based on their pricing trends for military missions, ULA wasn't expected to become a strong player in the ISS crew/cargo arena. (12/16)

ULA is Obviously Feeling the Need to Compete (Source: SPACErePORT)
Over the years, industry watchers like me have surmised that the high cost of Atlas and Delta launches may primarily be attributable to the price the Air Force has been willing to pay. This suggests that ULA priced itself out of the commercial market because the government market was so lucrative. The ongoing moves at ULA toward commercial competitiveness show that SpaceX is a real threat to ULA's government market dominance. The company now needs to offer a lower-priced service to the government, which in turn makes it more competitive for commercial missions. (12/16)

Gamma Ray Bursts May Repeatedly Wipe Out Life (Source: Science News)
Deadly invisible jets of high-energy radiation may short-circuit life throughout the universe. A study concludes that these gamma-ray bursts occur frequently enough in about 90 percent of galaxies to sterilize planets, including Earthlike worlds that would otherwise be ideal for life. Earth itself has been zapped, the study suggests, perhaps contributing to one or more of the planet’s mass extinctions.

Some scientists say the study doesn’t properly account for the resilience of life, particularly if that life is protected by an ocean or an ice shell. Nonetheless, the paper’s sobering conclusions may temper recent optimism about the prospects for extraterrestrial life, particularly regarding the discovery of Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars. (12/16)

Spacecraft Spots Probable Waves on Titan’s Seas (Source: Science)
It’s springtime on Titan, Saturn’s giant and frigid moon, and the action on its hydrocarbon seas seems to be heating up. Near the moon’s north pole, there is growing evidence for waves on three different seas, scientists reported. Researchers are also coming up with the first estimates for the volume and composition of the seas. The bodies of liquid appear to be made mostly of methane, and not mostly ethane as previously thought. And they are deep: Ligeia Mare, the second biggest sea with an area larger than Lake Superior, could contain 55 times Earth’s oil reserves. (12/16)

NASA, Rockwell Collins to Study Single-Pilot Cockpit (Source: Wall Street Journal)
A study by NASA and Rockwell Collins Inc. will explore the possibility that pilots operating alone could one day receive assistance from co-pilots on the ground during busy periods of the flight. The study is prompted in part by an anticipated shortage of pilots: Boeing has projected that 533,000 new commercial airline pilots will be needed over the next 20 years. (12/14)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Tests 3D Printed CubeSat Propulsion System (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Aerojet Rocketdyne has successfully completed a hot-fire test of its MPS-120 CubeSat High-Impulse Adaptable Modular Propulsion System. The MPS-120 is the first 3D-printed hydrazine integrated propulsion system and is designed to provide propulsion for CubeSats, enabling missions not previously available to these tiny satellites.

The project was funded out of the NASA Office of Chief Technologist’s Game Changing Opportunities in Technology Development and awarded out of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. The test was conducted in Redmond, Washington. (12/15)

Google Lunar X Prize Extends Deadline as Astrobotic Wins First Milestone Awards (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The deadline for winning the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize has been moved back again. The XPrize Foundation has announced a one-year delay in the prize to Dec. 31, 2016, contingent upon at least one team providing “documentation of a scheduled launch by December 31, 2015, for all teams to move forward in the competition.”

The foundation also announced that Astrobotic and its partner, Carnegie Melon University (CMU), had won the first two of a series of milestone awards aimed at providing funding to the teams. XPrize and Google will award up to $6 million in milestone prizes next month. “We continue to see significant progress from our Google Lunar XPRIZE teams, most recently demonstrated in the pursuit of the Milestone Prizes,” XPRIZE President Robert Weiss. (12/16)

Drones, Balloons, Satellites Hold the Key to Worldwide Internet Access (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Drones, balloons and the latest technology in geostationary satellites could pave the way for global network coverage, bringing the Internet to an additional 4 billion people. (12/14)

December 16, 2014

ULA Year in Review (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A record number of Atlas 5 launches, the return of Delta 2 and a Delta 4-Heavy at the dawn of a new space exploration era highlighted 2014 for United Launch Alliance. The company performed 14 missions this year from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California using nine Atlas rockets, four Delta 4 vehicles and one Delta 2. ULA’s customer lineup for the year included a half-dozen launches for the U.S. Air Force, three for the National Reconnaissance Office, three commercial flights, and two for NASA. (12/16)

Lockheed Martin, Boeing to Explore Deep Space Together with Russia (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian Space Corporation Energiya and Lockheed Martin plan adapting the newest US manned spaceship Orion for dockings with Russian spaceships, Vladimir Solntsev, the president of the corporation said. “The space ships should be adapted to one another and common sense prompts us we should be able to dock them,” he believes.

“It’s important to know how to lend shoulder to each other because any kind of situations may emerge. And the Orion should also have capability to dock with other ships as it performs deep-space missions,” Solntsev said. Energiya representatives discussed prospects for joint cooperation with counterparts from Lockheed Martin and Boeing last week. (12/16)

Space Club Invites Nominations for Annual Debus Award (Source: NSCFL)
The National Space Club's Florida Committee presents its premier award, the Dr. Kurt H. Debus Award, for significant contributions to the advancement, awareness, and improvement of aerospace in Florida. This award will be presented at our annual Debus Dinner on April 18, 2015. Whether as a Space Club member or friend of the aerospace program, we encourage you to submit nominations for the 2014 Debus Award. Click here. (12/15)

Astronaut Winston Scott Featured at Tech Council Anniversary Breakfast (Source: SCTC)
The Space Coast Tech Council will be having a very special event on January 15th, 2015. It is our One-Year Anniversary Breakfast. The theme is The Spirit of the Entrepreneur. Each of our speakers will share how they applied this spirit to invent, re-invent, or propel themselves into their career or business. Click here. (12/15)

Bristol SpacePlanes Launches Crowdfunding Campaign (Source: Bristol Post)
Bristolians are being invited to help launch planes into space in a new crowd-funding campaign. Bristol SpacePlanes, a local firm which hopes to one day make space travel affordable, wants to raise £10,000 to build the first model of its Ascender space plane.

Founder David Ashford believes organisations such as NASA having being going about space travel the wrong way and that it could become much cheaper by reviving some old ideas from the 1960s. “The main barrier is not the technology, but changing people’s mindset” he said. “The technology is proven it’s just a case of getting people to believe. “Support us and you will, we truly believe, be helping us to bring spaceflight to the masses within 15 years.” (12/16)

Australian Students Aim to Generate First 'Breathable' Air on Mars (Source: Xinhua)
A Mars One astronaut candidate and a team of Western Australian students aiming to generate the first breathable air on Mars have reached the finals of the international competition that will land vital experiments on the Red Planet. Josh Richards, a physicist from Perth, plans to send a system that produces oxygen from water to the Martian surface, as part of the Mars One project that aims to establish a human colony on Mars. (12/16)

Eutelsat To Order Geostationary Spacecraft from Small-Sat Specialist Surrey (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat is purchasing the inaugural geostationary-orbiting spacecraft from small-satellite builder SSTL of Britain following a technology risk-reduction program financed by SSTL, Airbus and ESA. The satellite design, called Eutelsat Quantum, employs an Airbus-built analog on-board signal processor and a phased-array antenna design, also by Airbus, fitted onto SSTL’s Geostationary Multi-mission Platform for Telecommunications, or GMP-T, satellite bus. (12/7)

The Transformation of MDA Into a Multinational Player (Source: SpaceRef)
In 2007 MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) made the assessment that the domestic space market wasn't growing and that there was no long-term commitment to space by the Conservative government. As well, access to the U.S. market, critical for growth, was being stymied by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and security issues. At the same time MDA's Information Products group was growing nicely year to year. The decision was made to sell its Information Systems and Geospatial Service operations.

In January 2008 MDA announced the sale of these assets to Alliant Techsystems (ATK). MDA was effectively getting out of the space business. The assets would be moved into a new group at ATK to be called ATK Space Systems. Nearly seven years later, MDA is still in the space business and has transformed itself into a multinational player. How did they do it? Click here. (12/15)

No More Space Race (Source: Pacific Standard)
A far cry from the fierce Cold War Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, exploration in the 21st century is likely to be a much more globally collaborative project. Click here. (12/15)

NASA Analysis: 11 Trillion Gallons to Replenish California Drought Losses (Source: NASA)
It will take about 11 trillion gallons of water (42 cubic kilometers) -- around 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoir -- to recover from California's continuing drought, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data. The finding was part of a sobering update on the state's drought made possible by space and airborne measurements and presented by NASA scientists.

Such data are giving scientists an unprecedented ability to identify key features of droughts, data that can be used to inform water management decisions. A team of scientists used data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites to develop the first-ever calculation of this kind -- the volume of water required to end an episode of drought. (12/16)

Moon Express Testing Compact Lunar Lander at Kennedy Space Center (Source: NASA)
NASA is working with U.S. industry to develop the capabilities and cutting-edge technologies that will help send astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit. To achieve this goal, space travelers will need the resources to survive during long-duration missions to an asteroid, Mars and other outer planets.

Moon Express Inc., of Moffett Field, California, is one of three companies selected for the agency's new Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) initiative to advance lander capabilities that will enable delivery of payloads to the surface of the moon.

Moon Express will base its operations at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and is using facilities and the automated landing and hazard avoidance technology, or ALHAT field at the Shuttle Landing Facility, to perform its initial lander test development. (12/15)

NASA’s $349 Million Monument to its Drift (Source: Washington Post)
In June, NASA finished work on a huge construction project here in Mississippi: a $349 million laboratory tower, designed to test a new rocket engine in a chamber that mimicked the vacuum of space. Then, NASA did something odd. As soon as the work was done, it shut the tower down. The project was officially “mothballed” — closed up and left empty — without ever being used.

The new tower — called the A-3 test stand — was useless. Just as expected. The rocket program it was designed for had been canceled in 2010. But, at first, cautious NASA bureaucrats didn’t want to stop the construction on their own authority. And then Congress — at the urging of a senator from Mississippi — swooped in and ordered the agency to finish the tower, no matter what.

The result was that NASA spent four more years building something it didn’t need. Now, the agency will spend about $700,000 a year to maintain it in disuse. The empty tower in Mississippi is evidence of a breakdown at NASA, which used to be a glorious symbol of what an American bureaucracy could achieve. (12/16)

Garver: There's No Why? in NASA Anymore (Source: Washington Post)
“The Space Station was sold as an $8 billion program. It ended up costing $100 billion. The Webb telescope was sold as a $1 billion program. It’s now up to $8 billion,” said Lori Garver, who served as the number two official at NASA from 2009 until last year. “It usually works out for them,” she said, meaning the contractors get paid, even when they raise the price.

Decision-making about NASA was twisted, she said, because of a mismatch between its huge funding and its muddled sense of purpose. “There’s no ‘why’ ” in NASA anymore, Garver said. Instead, she said, there was only a “how,” a sense that something big still needed to be done. “And the ‘how’ is all about the [construction] contracts and the members of Congress.” (12/16)

Hurricane-Forecast Satellites to Keep Close Eye on Tropics (Source: U-Michigan)
A set of eight hurricane-forecast satellites being developed at the University of Michigan is expected to give deep insights into how and where storms suddenly intensify – a little-understood process that’s becoming more crucial to figure out as the climate changes, U-M researchers say. The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2016.

U-M researchers released estimates of how significantly CYGNSS could improve wind speed and storm intensity forecasts. Because of their arrangement and number, the observatories will be able to measure the same spot on the globe much more often than the weather satellites flying today can. CYGNSS’s revisit time will average between four and six hours, and at times, it can be as fast as 12 minutes. Conventional weather satellites only cross over the same point once or twice a day. (12/15)

Russian Ruble Crashes to World's Worst-Performing Currency (Source: Moscow Times)
The ruble collapsed by 10 percent against the U.S. dollar Monday earning the Russian currency the dubious laurels of the world’s worst-performing currency this year. The Russian currency has now fallen 49.3 percent against the greenback since January, according to data from the Moscow Exchange. The drop takes it below the Ukrainian hryvna, which has weakened 47.9 percent in 2014.

Monday’s plunge was the largest single-day fall for the ruble since the financial crisis of 1998 when Russia was forced to default on its debt after exhausting its reserves in a fruitless bid to prop up the currency. In evening trading Monday the ruble was worth 64.4 against the dollar and 78.8 versus the euro. The currency earlier dropped past 100 rubles to the British pound. (12/15)

Station Experiment May Hold Key to Alzheimer's Cause (Source: NASA)
An experiment housed in a 4-inch cube destined for launch to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX CRS-5 cargo resupply mission could become a key step in the progress toward understanding Alzheimer's disease and similar conditions and ultimately figuring out a way to stop them.

Called SABOL, short for Self-Assembly in Biology and the Origin of Life: A Study into Alzheimer's, the research project seeks to decipher how proteins construct themselves into long linear fibers. In some people, these fibers choke off nerve and brain cells and may cause the onset of Alzheimer's and similar brain and nervous system diseases. The experiment will test a new theory developed by Florida Institute of Technology biochemist Shaohua Xu. (12/15)

How to Think About… The Big Bang (Source: New Scientist)
The edge of the observable universe is some 46 billion light years away. Within that volume there are anything between 100 and 200 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars. If that weren't mind-blowing enough, according to the big bang theory – our best stab at explaining how it all came to be – everything exploded into being from nowhere, about 13.8 billion years ago. An infinitesimal pinprick of unimaginable heat and density has slowly stretched and cooled into the cosmos we know today. (12/14)

Assessing the Asteroid Impact Threat (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
“Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour,” could be still an actual description of our ability to predict asteroid threats to Earth. This sentence, pulled from the Bible (Matthew 25:13), provides a reminder of a vast number of the more than 1,500 potentially hazardous objects, floating in space, that meander throughout the solar system. Click here. (12/15)

Solar Wind Probably Leaches Mars’ Lower Atmosphere (Source: Science News)
Particles blasted from the sun probably spring leaks in the lower Martian atmosphere, new research suggests. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN probe, or MAVEN, has detected high-speed particles in the solar wind penetrating deeper into the planetary atmosphere than previously thought possible, mission scientists announced. The particles could give an energetic kick to atmospheric gases, causing them to escape into space and helping to strip away the planet’s atmosphere, the researchers hypothesize. (12/15)

Most Detailed Map of Mars Yet (Source: SEN)
Detailed imaging of the surface of Mars from orbit has allowed space scientists to produce the most detailed geological map yet of part of the Red Planet. The new map was released on Friday, 12 December, by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to show the structure and nature of rocks in a martian grand canyon.  It was produced using data sent back from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which has been studying the planet since 2006. It was launched in August 2005. Click here. (12/14)

Life on Mars? Chinese Scientists Find New Evidence (Source: Xinhua)
Did Mars ever harbor life? Scientists have found new evidence for possible life on the Red Planet in a piece of Martian meteorite that landed on Earth after about 700,000 years of space travel. According to research carried out by teams of Chinese, German, Swiss, and Japanese scientists, more than 10 pieces of coal-like carbon particles, thinner than one-tenth of the width of a strand of hair, were found in a thumb-sized piece of the meteorite.

"We used advanced equipment to determine the carbon particles are organic matter, and to rule out the possibility of graphite, which is inorganic," said Lin Yangting, a lead scientist of the research team from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. "Furthermore, we found an enrichment of the light carbon isotope in the organic matter," said Lin. "It's so exciting! This could be a promising indicator of life on Mars." (12/15)

2015 Will Be Busy Year for India in Space (Source: Gulf Times)
The year 2015 is shaping to be a busy year for the Indian space agency. It will launch five foreign satellites apart from its own four navigation satellites and a communication satellite. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will also launch a heavy communication satellite, GSAT-15, with around 40 transponders - automatic receivers and transmitters for communication and broadcast of signals using the Ariane rocket of Arianespace from French Guiana. (12/15)

Russia Doubles Satellite Launches in 2014 (Source: Xinhua)
Russia has launched 37 satellites in 2014, two times as many as the year before, the federal space agency Roscosmos said. "In 2014, we've conducted 26 launches with 37 space vehicles having been put on orbit," said Oleg Ostapenko, head of Roscosmos. The majority of these satellites have been designed for defense-related purposes, he said. (12/15)

Russia Again Hints at Leaving ISS, Building Separate Station (Source: Xinhua)
Roscosmos looks forward to re-channeling funds released after its withdrawal from the ISS for the creation of its own space station, which could serve as a base for future Moon missions, according to Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko. In November, the agency refuted media leaks about its plans to build a Russia-only space lab, saying the new orbital modules currently under construction were intended to be docked with the ISS by 2017, not to comprise Russia's own orbital station. (12/15)

Milestone Proton Launch Opens Queue of Grounded Commercial Missions (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Russian communications satellite lifted off from a snow-covered launch pad in Kazakhstan on Monday, marking the 400th flight of a Proton rocket and the launcher’s first commercial mission in 10 months. International Launch Services, which arranged Yamal 401’s launch on a Proton rocket, confirmed a successful mission early Monday.

Launches of Russian communications satellites are usually managed by the Russian government as part of the country’s federal space program, but Gazprom has elected to negotiate with ILS for commercial launch services for three payloads. ILS plans a busy schedule of commercial Proton launches in 2015 to catch after delays in 2014. (12/15)

Russia Planning to Cut Financing of Space Program (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia is cutting by several billion dollars its state space program for 2016-2025, a source in the space sector said. "The total budget will make 2.4 trillion roubles ($42 billion), of which 2.15 trillion ($38 billion) will come from the budget. One of the reasons to cut the budget is the Finance Ministry’s order to reduce at least by 5% the state spending.

Thus, financing of the space program will be cut by several hundred billion roubles,” the source said. In October, a source in the space sector said the authority requested from the federal budget 2.1 trillion roubles ($37 billion), and about 250 billion roubles ($4.39 billion) would come from owned assets and revenues from space projects. Thus, against the program for 2006-2015, Roscosmos plans to attract threefold financing both from the budget and from other sources. (12/15)

Russian Space Agency Says No Plans to Cut Budget, Drop Any Projects (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian space agency Roscosmos is not planning to cut its budget or abandon any projects amid the unstable economic situation in the country, Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko said. “No budget cuts in Roscosmos are planned, and we are not going to abandon or cut any projects,” Ostapenko said. A source in Russia's space sector earlier said that financing of the state space program for 2016-2025 is going to be cut to $42 billion. (12/15)

Cleaning Up Space Junk (Source: Space Review)
Although current efforts to deal with space debris have focused on limiting the growth of new objects, some argue it's time to focus on actively removing debris objects. Jeff Foust recaps the discussion on this topic at a recent conference, including the technical, legal, and financial obstacles such efforts face. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2663/1 to view the article. (12/15)

From Michigan to the Moon (Source: Space Review)
Al Worden is one of only 24 humans in history to have flown to the Moon. Shane Hannon sat down with the former test pilot and NASA astronaut during a recent visit to Ireland to discuss his remarkable life. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2662/1 to view the article. (12/15)

Of Budgets Past and Future (Source: Space Review)
Last week Congress finally wrapped up a fiscal year 2015 spending bill, one that provides NASA with $18 billion. Jeff Foust reports that while the bill is largely good news for many key NASA programs, the agency still faces uncertainties about those programs, and its long-term fiscal future. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2661/1 to view the article. (12/15)

ESA Ministerial, Orion Debut Close 2014 with a Flourish (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency’s ministerial meeting and the maiden flight of NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule capped a topsy-turvy 2014 — a year marked by controversy and failures — on a positive note. Both successes must be qualified, however — mostly in Orion’s case given the reality that the capsule won’t fly again until 2018.

ESA’s Dec. 2 ministerial, meanwhile, though successful in resolving some difficult funding issues, raised new questions about the agency’s future role in the international space station. Click here. (12/15)

Intelligence Bill Authorizes New Satellite Projects (Source: Space News)
U.S. lawmakers passed an intelligence bill for fiscal year 2015 that authorizes new satellite projects and reiterates the nation’s need to wean itself from the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine. The bill, which authorizes funding for intelligence programs, passed the House Dec. 10 and at press time Dec. 12 was awaiting the president’s signature. The bill passed the Senate by a voice vote Dec. 9. (12/15)

BAE To Acquire Space Electronics Firm (Source: Space News)
BAE Systems announced Dec. 11 it has reached agreement to acquire Eclipse Electronic Systems, a manufacturer of space-qualified signals intelligence gear, from Easterline Corp. for $28 million. In its press release, BAE of Arlington, Virginia, said Texas-based Eclipse provides highly advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance products and services to the U.S. defense and intelligence communities. (12/15)

DalBello Leaves White House for Virgin Galactic (Source: Space News)
Richard DalBello, the assistant director of space and aeronautics at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), is leaving to take a position with Virgin Galactic. DalBello will become vice president of business development and government affairs for the commercial spaceflight company.

His roles will include managing business development, particularly for the company’s LauncherOne small-satellite launch vehicle, and being responsible for the company’s interactions with the U.S. government. DalBello joined OSTP in October 2013 after spending several years at Intelsat General Corp., most recently as its vice president of government affairs. He previously worked in a similar position at OSTP from 1993 to 1997. (12/15)

Orion Flight Test Generated 200 GB Of Engineering Data (Source: Aviation Week)
Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on NASA’s Orion crew capsule, is distributing 200 gigabytes of high-resolution data from the vehicle’s first exploration flight test (EFT-1) for engineers around the country to use as they prepare a second vehicle for an unmanned flight around the Moon in 2018.

Managers at the company and NASA say they are well pleased with the performance of the test article on the $370 million mission Dec. 5. In 4 hr., 24 min. the heavily instrumented Orion orbited Earth twice after its launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy from Cape Canaveral. It reentered the atmosphere from an apogee of 3,604.2 mi. at a velocity calculated as 84% of what it will face after its lunar swingaround. (12/15)

December 15, 2014

NASA’s Morpheus Completes Successful Final Test at KSC (Source: Florida Today)
An experimental NASA lander took flight today for the last time at Kennedy Space Center, successfully completing a quarter-mile hop testing technologies that future exploration missions might incorporate. The four-legged Morpheus lander lit its engine at 4:11 p.m. and climbed about 800 feet, then flew forward 1,300 feet while descending to a pad in a simulated moonscape north of the shuttle runway, where it touched down in a cloud of dust.

Team members reported that Morpheus' laser-guided navigation system had controlled the entire flight, a key objective not achieved during several previous attempts. The 97-second flight was the last planned before Morpheus is shipped home next month to Johnson Space Center in Houston. (12/15)

Proton Rocket Blasts Off with Yamal 401 Satellite (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
An International Launch Services Proton rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Monday with the Yamal 401 satellite, a 3.3-ton spacecraft to beam C-band and Ku-band communications services across Russia. Click here for photos and video. (12/15)

ESA and Omega: a Watch for Astronauts (Source: Space Daily)
Swiss watchmaker Omega has announced a new version of its historic space watch, tested and qualified with ESA's help and drawing on an invention of ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy. Jean-Francois flew in space three times in the 1990s and began thinking how to improve the wristwatches he wore on his missions. ESA filed a patent based on his ideas for a timepiece that helps astronauts to track their mission events.

One of the new functions allows the wearer to set a date in the past or future down to the second and have the watch calculate how much time has elapsed or is left. Other features useful for astronauts include flexible programming of multiple alarms with different ring tones. Omega, with its strong links to spaceflight since the first Moon landings in the 1960s, was interested in improving its line of Speedmaster Professional watches, and called on ESA's patent for the new Speedmaster Skywalker X-33. (12/15)

200 Million Pound Investment is Rocket Fuel for UK Space Industry (Source: Space Daily)
The UK Space Agency is making an extra investment of over 200 million pounds in Europe's space programme, providing the UK with increased leadership in a rapidly growing global sector and building on the UK space industry's 11.3 billion contribution to the UK economy. Click here. (12/15)

Sarah Brightman to Begin Training in January for Flight to ISS (Source: Space Daily)
Britain's popular soprano singer Sarah Brightman will begin training for her journey to the International Space Station in January next year. "It's been confirmed that Sarah Brightman will begin her flight training in January 2015," a spokesperson said.

If the famous singer passes the training standards, she will be part of a crew scheduled to dock with the ISS in October of next year, accompanied by Russian and Danish astronauts, Sergei Volkov and Andreas Mogensen respectively. Sara Brightman, 54, is a UNESCO Artist for Peace and the world's best-selling soprano singer. She announced her intention to go to space back in 2012. (12/15)

Athena-2S, Not Athena-3, On Tap for Medium-Lift Launches in Alaska (Source: Space Daily)
The Lockheed Martin proposal is based on making modifications to the existing small-lift launch facilities at Kodiak to provide medium-lift capability using an upgraded version of the Athena rocket family, the Athena-2S. According to Alaska Aerospace, "The RFP process was successful because it provided competition, increased industry awareness of the launch opportunities from Kodiak, and resulted in a lower cost option to bring medium lift capability to Alaska."

"When we originally met with Lockheed Martin to provide medium lift capability at Kodiak, we thought we would need a significantly larger investment," Campbell said. "I am pleased to see, through increased competition, that the price is much lower, and we will be able to complete the process with the money already appropriated by the State of Alaska."

Editor's Note: So it is the Athena-2S that will bring medium-lift to Alaska, not the Athena-3 as I've seen reported elsewhere. I can see now why the pad modifications are not as expensive as Alaska feared they would be. Athena-2S is simply an Athena-2 with solid rocket boosters attached, while Athena-3 is a much taller Athena-1 stacked atop a variant of a Space Shuttle solid rocket motor. The vehicles are offered by Lockheed Martin, but it they are made up mostly of ATK solid rocket components. Click here. (12/15)

Bezos Talks Space (Source: Business Insider)
You want to go into space. This is a proclivity that you share with fellow billionaires such as Elon Musk and Richard Branson. First of all, what is it about space that captivates you? Second, what are you doing that’s different? Third, just talk about how hard it is when you saw Richard have an accident that has set everybody back a long time. Talk about space. What’s the vision there?

Bezos: First of all, and most fundamentally, you don’t get to choose your passions. Your passions choose you. For whatever reason, when I was 5 years old, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. I was imprinted with this passion for space and for exploration. I think it’s important. I could come up with lots of rational reasons why it’s important, and I really do believe them.

My vision is, I want to see millions of people living and working in space. I think it’s important. I also just love it. I love change. I love technology. I love the engineers we have. They’re brilliant. We have about 350 people there. The initial mission is space tourism. We’re also designing an orbital vehicle. We just won a contract to provide the new engines for the new version of the Atlas 5, which is the most successful launch vehicle in history. Click here. (12/14)

With An Eye To Mars, NASA is Testing its Astronaut Twins (Source: Smithsonian)
When Scott Kelly completes his year at the International Space Station in 2016, it will be the longest stint that any American has spent in orbit. It’s a privilege, he says, to be “the first U.S. crew member that’s asked to stay in space that long. Luckily for NASA, when Scott launches into space this coming March, he will leave behind a copy of himself—his identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut. Because the Kellys have virtually the same genetic material, NASA can study how long-duration space flight affects the body and mind, using Mark as the control. Click here. (12/15)

December 14, 2014

Space: It's Hard on the Eyes (Source: Orange County Register)
Imagine you’re traveling through outer space for months on end, unfettered by gravity, floating around your capsule at will. Sounds better than Disneyland, right?  But wait a minute. If you spend too much time in zero gravity, it can make you feel sick, weaken your body and diminish your physical capacities. Without Earth’s gravitational pull to provide the structure your body is accustomed to, your bodily fluids also like to float.

Water and blood leave your legs and concentrate in your upper body, which can cause a troublesome buildup of pressure above the neck. Scientists believe this migration of fluid into the head may explain the eye problems, ranging from mild to serious, that many astronauts experience – especially those who spend extended periods aboard the International Space Station. (12/12)

How Do Astronauts Play Scrabble in Space? With Lots of Velcro (Source: Guardian)
I’ve been a Scrabble player my whole life. I’ve had a perpetual Scrabble competition going on with my mum for 50 years. On the International Space Station, our psychologist encourages lots of little habits to help keep us sane. One of these is Scrabble – they recognize that games are fundamental for peace of mind.

Our Scrabble board had Velcro on the back, as did each alphabet piece. Everything on the inside of a spaceship has Velcro on it. The Scrabble board was attached to the ceiling in the same place that we ate our meals. So once you’ve heated up your bag of mash and you’re squeezing it in to your mouth, you can be working on your next word.

The beauty of a spaceship is that if you lose a piece you only have to wait until it turns up in the filter. Everything is pulled towards the airflow – even us astronauts, which is why we have to be tied down when we sleep. Some of our Scrabble games would last months, because we were so busy. Boredom isn’t an issue in space. (12/13)

Gagarin, Armstrong Honored at Memorial in Houston Texas (Source: Sputnik)
A ceremony celebrating the opening of a green pedestrian walkway dedicated to Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, took place in Houston, Texas on Friday. The green pedestrian area is lined with over 200 young oak trees, planted two years ago, and features two granite plates with commemorative plaques dedicated to the two space pioneers. The green territory is located in Houston’s East Downtown (EaDo) area. (12/13)

Iranian Woman's Quest to Become an Astronaut Stars in Documentary (Source: Space.com)
Lugging a huge telescope to a half-finished observatory in the middle of nowhere to gaze at the stars in the wee hours is not considered an appropriate activity for a young woman in conservative Muslim culture. But an Iranian woman named Sepideh Hooshyar is doing just that, and a documentary released earlier this year provides a window into her five-year struggle to keep her dream of becoming an astronaut alive.

The documentary, called "Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars," debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah earlier this year and was part of the Imagine Science Film Festival's closing night here the American Museum of Natural History on Oct. 24. (12/14)

Spending Boost as UK Seeks Bigger Role in Space (Source: SEN)
The United Kingdom is looking to increase its role in space by boosting its contribution to European space activities and playing a lead in missions to Mars.  The Government’s finance chief, Chancellor George Osborne, made a big point of highlighting the new funding in his autumn statement to MPs last week. Now the details have been released by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and Science Minister Greg Clark.

The extra investment is said to total more than £200 million ($315 million). It includes £47.7 million ($75 million) to lead the ExoMars projects for the European Space Agency (ESA), including development of the Mars rover in the UK. Another £49.2 million ($77 million) will be spent giving British researchers more access to the $100 billion International Space Station program. (12/13)

NASA Seeks To Commercialize Low Earth Orbit, without Commercials (Source: Space News)
NASA wants to catalyze a commercial market for research and manufacturing in low Earth orbit that will outlast the international space station, but with at most a decade of station operations remaining, the agency — which is not allowed to advertise the outpost’s science capabilities — is still casting around for ideas on how to spark the revolution. Click here. (12/13)

DARPA Satlets To Fly on Sherpa’s Debut Mission (Source: Space News)
Futuristic space hardware developed under a DARPA effort to salvage usable parts from spent satellites is scheduled to make its first flight next year on the debut mission of a commercial secondary payload deployer developed by Spaceflight Inc., the company said.

NovaWurks, which is under a DARPA contract develop so-called satlets — self-contained satellite component pieces that perform specific functions such as propulsion or communications — has tapped Seattle-based Spaceflight to fly the initial versions aboard its Sherpa space tug during the third quarter of 2015, Spaceflight announced Dec. 9. (12/13)

Diamond Path to Space Travel (Source: The National)
The first artificial diamonds were made more than half a century ago, and since then the aim has been to create artificial diamonds as large as possible. But scientists have since achieved a breakthrough at the other end of the size spectrum. In the process, they may have opened the way to something utterly mind-boggling in scale: the Space Elevator.

This is something seemingly straight out of a science-fiction movie: a high-tech “stairway to heaven” whose final stop is geostationary orbit 36,000km above the equator. The basic idea has evolved over the decades, and is now generally envisaged to be a cable anchored to the Earth and kept aloft by a vast orbiting counterweight. Electric-powered elevator “cars” then travel up and down into space at 200km/h or so, taking a few days to reach their destination.

As for the counterweight, engineers at NASA have suggested using a small asteroid, nudged into stable Earth orbit and connected to the cable. The biggest engineering challenge turns out to be creating a cable strong enough to cope with the colossal stresses created inside it as the counterweight whips round the Earth. Now that material may finally have been created – from pure diamond. (12/13)

Behind Alaska's $25 Million Fund for Medium-Lift Launches (Source: Juneau Empire)
Alaska Aerospace has been seeking a medium-lift launchpad since satellite operators started preferring larger rockets to deliver their products to orbit. In 2012, the Alaska Legislature approved $25 million to fund a medium-lift launch pad at Kodiak. The money was intended to kick-start another $100 million or more in investment and could not be fully spent until a company signed a contract to launch a medium-lift rocket from the new launch pad.

When no company stepped up, the money stayed in the bank. “At the time, the market didn’t evolve quite the way we anticipated it to,” Campbell said. As the money stayed unused, the Alaska Legislature grew impatient. During the last legislative session, some elected officials called for the company to return the $25 million medium-lift appropriation to the state. Also, in the past two years, the Legislature cut its subsidy for Alaska Aerospace. In 2014, state contributions made up $8.5 million of the corporation’s $10.6 million operating budget.

Campbell and Lockheed-Martin each said they expect negotiations to last for several weeks before a final contract is signed. Alaska Aerospace will be under pressure to sign a deal and find a customer before the start of the Alaska Legislature. New revenue projections released last week indicate state revenue has fallen by as much as 40% below expectations, and both the Legislature and Gov. Bill Walker are expected to significantly cut the state budget — presumably including the operating subsidy for Alaska Aerospace. (12/14)

Alaska Launch Pad Repairs Could Top $29 Million (Source: Juneau Empire)
The Alaska Aerospace Corp. has its eyes on the future and a new deal with Lockheed-Martin, but it must first rebuild from a serious accident this summer. On Aug. 25, a rocket carrying an experimental military payload exploded shortly after takeoff from the state-owned Kodiak Launch Complex. Alaska Aerospace CEO Craig Campbell said the corporation’s goal is to restore the launch complex to full service by October 2015.

Campbell expects repairs to cost between $26 million and $29 million, money that will be provided by insurance. An investigation is ongoing to determine the cause of the failed launch, which covered the surrounding area with debris. According to an update provided by Alaska Aerospace, the cleanup is expected to finish by the end of the year, depending on weather conditions.

Editor's Note: So while Alaska's $20M+ launch pad repairs will be funded by insurance coverage, Virginia's $20M+ launch pad repairs will be paid by you and me, using tax dollars earmarked into the federal budget by that state's elected officials. (12/14)

Proton to Fly 400th Mission Amid Reliability Concerns (Source: SEN)
Approaching half a century in operation, Russia's workhorse Proton rocket will lift off for the 400th time on Monday from Kazakhstan, carrying the Yamal-401 communications satellite for the Russian gas and oil giant Gazprom. The satellite will be able to connect rural areas of Siberia where Gazprom operates its main gas and oil fields, including the permafrost-covered Yamal Peninsula on the Arctic shores of Russia that gave its name to the Yamal series of satellites.

For Proton, it will be the third launch after its latest failure on 16 May. However, the rocket's most recent flight in October for a Russian government operator also experienced a technical glitch, which left the Ekspress-AM6 spacecraft in a lower-than-expected orbit. Although Ekspress-AM6 is now on its way to an operational altitude relying on its own propulsion system (though several months behind schedule), Proton's future "passengers" were understandably nervous. (12/13)

Private Russian Startups Pursue New Launcher, Space Tourism Vehicle (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Even as Vladimir Putin and his merry band of bureaucrats and oligarchs are busy re-nationalizing the Russian space industry under the control of one fully-owned government company, there is some sign of independent entrepreneurial life within the nation’s space effort. Start-up companies have sprouted up to launch satellites and to pursue small satellite launch vehicles and space tourism systems.

Russian media have spotlighted two companies developing new systems. Lin Industrial, which is pursuing the development of an ultra-light rocket that is designed to send payloads weighing up to 100 kg into low Earth orbit. Sergei Burkatovsky, who co-created of the popular online game World of Tanks, has decided to invest 5-10 million rubles in Lin Industrial. That might sound like a lot, but it’s actually only $88,335 to $176,770. They need approximately $200,000 in investment to produce a prototype first-stage prototype rocket, and up to $13.5 million to get to its first flight.

Another Russian space start-up is KosmoKurs, which says it is working on a reusable spacecraft for space tourism flights that would cost low low price of only $200,000 to $250,000 per person. KosmoKurs Director General Pavel Pushkin expects test flights to begin in 2018, with the first commercial missions two years later. The flights would last 20 minutes and the vehicle would land about 20 km (12 miles) from the launch site. That would appear to indicate a suborbital ballistic trajectory. (12/12)

India to Launch Astronaut Capsule, Big Rocket (Source: SEN)
Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO, prepares to make two big leaps in space in a single shot this week, firing a brand-new rocket topped with a full-scale—though unmanned—crew module for the first time. The maiden launch of the 630-ton GSLV-Mark III launch vehicle is expected to take place on 18 December at Sriharikota. The nation's largest rocket to date will be carrying a flowerpot-shaped capsule, which one day might orbit Indian astronauts. It is dubbed Crew-module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment or CARE. (12/14)

Scientists Hope to Detect Dark Matter Signals Buried in X-Rays (Source: Sputnik)
Scientists hope they now have tangible proof of the existence of dark matter, as they have discovered what they think might be traces of the elusive material coded in X-rays which are being emitted by two bright objects in the sky. This could be tangible evidence of the existence of dark matter in the universe, said the researchers after analyzing X-ray data collected from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope.

A weird spike in emissions coming from the Andromeda galaxy and the Perseus galaxy cluster cannot be  explained by any known particle or atom. Signs of this signal have been found in our home galaxy, the Milky Way, as well. (12/14)

As Launch Competition Mounts, Politicians Enter the Fray (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
With new launch vehicles entering into the market delivering an array of payloads to orbit - competition is picking up. This has caused politicians to begin weighing in on which companies are preferred and which are not. Whereas some of the concerns raised by political leaders appear to be predominantly geopolitical in nature, others appear to be based on fiscal matters. At present, aerospace firms such as ULA, SpaceX, Arianespace and others have seen their fortunes come into question under the changing climate. Click here. (12/14)