August 25, 2015

DARPA Picks SpaceWorks SBIR for Persistent GEO Platform (Source: SpaceWorks)
SpaceWorks Enterprises announces the recent award of a Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the development of a persistent, geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO)-based platform capable of sustainable and evolvable on-orbit operations.

SpaceWorks' system design seeks to offer a wealth of new capabilities at reduced cost compared to current systems and solutions. The six-month base effort will focus on the detailed design of the platform, evaluating the operational aspects of the system, and identifying potential payloads to support missions relevant to the Department of Defense. (8/24)

Russia to Spend Big Upgrading Rocket Engine Reliability (Source: Space Daily)
Russian state space corporation Roscosmos is allocating over 1.9 billion rubles ($29 million) to upgrading carrier rocket engines, rocket boosters and spacecraft, according to materials published on Russia's official public procurement website on Tuesday.

The contracted upgrades include replacing engine parts and materials, increasing engine reliability and reducing defects and failures during test flights. Roscosmos also plans to improve the technological quality of engine production and ensure that the process adheres to the latest requirements. The work is scheduled to complete by late November, 2018, while the contractor will be chosen on September 15. (8/25)

Kourou Busy with Upcoming Arianespace Missions (Source: Space Daily)
The diversity of Arianespace launch services available to commercial and institutional customers is underscored by the current mission preparations for flights that will orbit Earth observation platforms, telecommunications relay spacecraft and global navigation satellites from the Spaceport. Click here. (8/25)

Massive Galaxy Made Almost Entirely of Dark Matter (Source: Space Daily)
Using the world's most powerful telescopes, an international team of astronomers has discovered a massive galaxy that consists almost entirely of dark matter. Using the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini North telescope - both on Maunakea, Hawaii - the team found a galaxy whose mass is almost entirely dark matter. The findings are being published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters this week.

Even though it is relatively nearby, the galaxy, named Dragonfly 44, had been missed by astronomers for decades because it is very dim. It was discovered just last year when the Dragonfly Telephoto Array observed a region of the sky in the constellation Coma. Upon further scrutiny, the team realized the galaxy had to have more than meets the eye: it has so few stars that it quickly would be ripped apart unless something was holding it together. (8/25)

A Better Way to Learn if Alien Planets Have the Right Stuff (Source: Space Daily)
A new method for analyzing the chemical composition of stars may help scientists winnow the search for Earth 2.0. Yale University researchers Debra Fischer and John Michael Brewer, in a new study that will appear in the Astrophysical Journal, describe a computational modeling technique that gives a clearer sense of the chemistry of stars, revealing the conditions present when their planets formed. The system creates a new way to assess the habitability and biological evolution possibilities of planets outside our solar system. (8/25)

SpaceX to Lease Building at Port Canaveral, May Build Another One (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX is moving some of its operations to Port Canaveral, port Chief Executive Officer John Murray said Wednesday. The space launch company plans to lease the now-vacant former Spacehab building on the north side of the port, and is looking at constructing a second building on vacant land adjacent to that site, Murray told port commissioners.

SpaceX is expected to process and refurbish rockets, as well as potentially perform other functions, at the port, Murray said. A formal lease agreement with SpaceX could come before port commissioners for approval as early as next month. In the meantime, SpaceX plans to move into the 52,000-square-foot former Spacehab building through a temporary property-use permit between the company and the port. (8/24)

Ariane 5 Lofts Two Communications Satellites for Intelsat (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Thundering off the launch pad at Kourou in French Guiana, an Ariane 5 booster took to the skies Wednesday, Aug. 24, to deliver the Intelsat 33e and Intelsat 36 communications satellites into orbit. The mission, designated VA232 in Arianespace’s numbering system, lifted off at 5:55 p.m. EDT from the Ariane Launch Complex No. 3. (8/24)

Where No Miner Has Gone Before (Source: New Republic)
On September 8, NASA is embarking on a new mission to investigate the origins of the universe. Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, a small spacecraft, the OSIRIS-REx, will journey 509 million miles to an asteroid called Bennu. Named for an Egyptian deity linked to the sun and creation, Bennu has likely gone untouched for the past four billion years, offering us a valuable glimpse into the early days of our solar system.

The spacecraft will orbit the asteroid for approximately 19 months. Once it has mapped Bennu’s surface, the Osiris-rex will inch closer to the asteroid. Then its eleven-foot robotic arm will reach out and collect a two-ounce sample to bring back to Earth in 2023.

A seven-year journey to fetch a candy bar–sized sample of rock hasn’t sparked the kind of global excitement reserved for, say, the prospect of blasting Sir Richard Branson off the planet and into deep space. But there’s a bigger game at play here: The precious minerals and metals in asteroids may be worth billions of dollars to galactic prospectors, and NASA’s mission is paving the way for an outer-space gold rush. (8/23)

Earthlike Planet Could Be Next Door, Orbiting Proxima Centauri (Source: New York Times)
Another Earth could be circling the star right next door to us, scientists say. It's close enough we might even someday go there. Astronomers announced on Wednesday that they had detected a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest neighbor to our solar system. Intriguingly, the planet is in the star’s “Goldilocks zone,” where it may not be too hot nor too cold. That means liquid water could exist at the surface, raising the possibility for life.

Although observations in recent years, particularly by NASA’s Kepler planet-finding mission, have uncovered a bounty of Earth-size worlds throughout the galaxy, this one holds particular promise because it might someday, decades from now, be possible to reach. It’s 4.2 light-years, or 25 trillion miles, away from Earth, which is extremely close in cosmic terms. (8/24)

Virgin Galactic to Host Aerospace Diversity Summit (Source: Inverse)
Virgin Galactic will host a diversity event this fall called ‘The SUMMIT: The Power of Inclusion’ in what the company calls an effort to increase the presence of women and minorities in the space industry. The private spaceflight company is partnering with the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight for the summit, which will take place October 14.

Diversity has been repeatedly shown to have wide-ranging benefits for every industry, of course, but also especially for the space industry. STEM fields are, as we know, dominated by white dudes, so Virgin Galactic’s choice to focus on how it can be better is laudable.

There are some peculiarities, however, in some of the company’s promotional methods for the workshop, beginning with why the website chose to include a subhead called “Workshop details” in its informational section and then answer it, somewhat forebodingly, with “We will take care of all the details.” (8/23)

14 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became an Astronaut (Source: Cosmopolitan)
#13: You have to be good at basically everything. In addition to your own specialty, you have to know how to do a little of everything. Mechanical skills are important, since a lot of the work we do is assembling experiments or doing maintenance on the space station. You have to understand a wide range of technology. Public speaking is part of our job, too. Click here. (8/23)

August 24, 2016

Why the Universe Needs More Black and Latino Astronomers (Source: Smithsonian)
These four names—all recent black and Latino victims of police violence—stare out at a college classroom full of budding astronomers. Written above them on the chalkboard is the now-familiar rallying call “Black Lives Matter.” It's a Friday morning in July, and John Johnson, a black astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has written these words as part of the day’s agenda. Later this afternoon, they’ll serve as a launching point for a discussion about these specific killings and the implications of systemic racism.

It's something you might expect in an African American history class, or maybe a class on social justice. But this is a summer astronomy internship. Most astronomy internships are about parsing through tedious telescope data, battling with an arcane computer language in a basement, or making a poster to present at a conference: skills meant to help you get into grad school. The point of this class, which is made up entirely of African-American and Latino college students, is something very different.

The Banneker Institute is an ambitious new program meant to increase the number of black and Latino astronomers in the field—and to ensure that they are equipped to grapple with the social forces they will face in their careers. Undergraduates from all over the country apply to the Institute, which pays for them to live and work at Harvard for the summer. During the program, they alternate between specific research projects, general analysis techniques, and social justice activism—hence the names on the chalkboard. (8/23)

NASA’s Hopes for Mars and the Future are at Stake in the 2016 Election (Source: The Verge)
Election years are a tense time for NASA. A new president can completely alter NASA’s long-term goals by resetting the space agency’s agenda. Whoever is elected will be faced with a choice: change the focus or scope of NASA’s goals, or keep things going on the same track. And given the uncertainty that has plagued NASA for a while, it’s very possible that major changes are on the horizon.

NASA’s human spaceflight program stands at a significant crossroads. For the past five years, the space agency has been moving from the now-dead Space Shuttle program to the "Journey to Mars" — NASA’s goal of sending humans to the Red Planet by the 2030s. But this transition has lacked direction. NASA has yet to lay out a timeline of the missions it plans to do to get humans to Mars, nor has it outlined the architecture needed to keep people alive on the planet — such as habitats, landers, life support systems, and more.

This lack of detail has been criticized by Congress, which has also questioned if NASA even has enough funding for a Mars trip. And on top of that, the vehicles that NASA is building to take people to Mars will likely run over budget and miss important deadlines, according to government reports. (8/23)

Pressure Building to Pass Budget and Avoid Continuing Resolution (Source: Dayton Daily News)
Less than six weeks prior to the start of a new fiscal year, Congress will have to reach a final budget deal next month or face the prospect of a continuing resolution to avoid a partial federal government shutdown Oct. 1. But there are not enough votes in Congress to support a continuing resolution unless it includes additional dollars above the prior fiscal year’s spending levels for the military, according to U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton. (8/22)

NASA Makes a Strong Statement in IT Contract Dispute (Source: FCW)
In an unusual move, NASA has let the authority to operate for a contractor-run IT network expire. The move appears to be the agency's way of airing its longtime dissatisfaction with the way Hewlett Packard Enterprise is managing the network or perhaps a bold move in a high-stakes game of chicken. In 2010, NASA awarded HPE a 10-year contract worth as much as $2.5 billion. The four-year deal was followed by two three-year options.

Despite NASA's decision to pick up the first option, the two entities have had a rocky relationship since the contract was awarded, including a scathing 2014 inspector general report that cited significant problems and found fault with both sides. Former NASA CIO Linda Cureton told FCW that the act of letting an authority to operate (ATO) expire is not unprecedented, but it indicates that "the kind of progress the agency wants hasn't been made." (8/23)

Just How Dangerous Is It to Travel at 20% the Speed of Light? (Source: Ars Technica)
Breakthrough Starshot is one of the more exciting scientific ideas that has popped up in the past decade, with its promise to deliver hardware to the nearest star in time for many people currently alive to see it. While the idea would work on paper as an extrapolation of existing technology, there are a lot of details that need to be thoroughly checked out, because it's possible that one of them could present a show-stopper.

There's a bit of good news there: Breakthrough Starshot is apparently funding the needed research to give its concept a thorough vetting. A recent posting to the arXiv describes a careful look at the odds of a spacecraft surviving an extended journey at the speeds planned for the trip. Overall, things look good, but a bit of shielding will be needed, and there's the potential for a catastrophic collision with a speck of dust.

The work, done by a team of four astronomers, focuses on one of the most basic issues: spacecraft survival. The goal of Breakthrough Starshot is to accelerate its craft to about 20 percent the speed of light. At that speed, even individual atoms can damage the vehicle, and a collision with a bit of dust could be catastrophic. So the team set out to quantify just how risky these collisions could be. (8/23)

China Unveils Mars Probe, Rover for Ambitious 2020 Mission (Source: Xinhua)
China on Tuesday released images of a Mars probe and rover which the country plans to send to the Red Planet within five years. China plans to send a spacecraft to orbit Mars, make a landing, and deploy a rover in July or August 2020, said Zhang Rongqiao, chief architect of the Mars mission at a press conference in Beijing. "The challenges we face are unprecedented."

According to Ye Peijian, one of China's leading aerospace experts and a consultant to the program, the 2020 mission will be launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket from the Wenchang space launch center in south China's Hainan province. The lander will separate from the orbiter at the end of a journey of around seven months and touch down in a low latitude area in the northern hemisphere of Mars where the rover will explore the surface. (8/24)

Aging Iridium Network Waits for Key Satellite Replacements (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Iridium is trying to meet a commitment to replace its entire fleet and get it into commercial operation by the end of 2017. Roughly 80% of Iridium Communications Inc.’s 1990s-vintage satellites are operating without in-orbit spares, further raising the stakes for launching replacements on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket slated for the fall. Two of its remaining 66 core satellites are out of operation after nearly two decades, and a single backup satellite is available for only a small portion of the reduced constellation. (8/23)

Aliens in Orbit? Probably Not. $100K on a Kickstarter to Check? Oh, Sure. (Source: WIRED)
Yesterday, astronomer Tabetha Boyajian revealed the first data from her telescope survey of a very special star. For almost four months, she’s been using the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network to watch for the unpredictable dimmings of KIC 8462852, a star 1,480 light years away. Its strange flickering pattern could have many explanations—stars, asteroids, or comets passing between there and Earth. But the one that turned this star into a star—making Boyajian’s new survey possible—is aliens.

This new research wouldn’t exist if not for the support of 1,762 people who signed on to Boyajian’s Kickstarter campaign—to whom she emailed a sneak data-peek yesterday. And there’s an entire subreddit devoted to discussion of what people have come to call “Tabby’s Star.” “Together we’ll get to the bottom of the greatest mystery we’ve perhaps ever faced as a scientific community,” posted a user named Pringlecks, after another member shared Boyajian’s email to the forum. Click here. (8/23)

Weirdest, Funniest and Most Forced Space Acronyms (Source: Seeker)
When we hear an acronym using a common word (JUICE), playing on a name from Tolkien fantasy (SAURON) or even invoking a common name (MONICA), it makes the name stick better in our heads. It's a lot easier to remember the acronym for HiRISE than to look up what it means! Now enterprising astronomer Glen Petipas at Harvard University has gathered a list of space-related acronyms, past and present, on his website. Click here. (8/23)

Could She Be Hillary's Secretary of Space (Source: OZY)
When Andy Weir, author of The Martian, was seeking inspiration for his sequel, he found it at a tiny startup that had proven it could launch spacecraft into the cosmos using microwaves to “beam” power to them from Earth. The radical system had been devised at Escape Dynamics, the company that successfully tested the technology last year and was cofounded by 38-year-old French-American entrepreneur Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux.

The same month the company announced its startling results, NASA added “beamed rocketry” to its road map for future technology development. “We’re one giant step forward but only in the early innings of what we’ll see in terms of beamed energy propulsion,” Garriott de Cayeux says from her office. “Everything is possible,” Weir tells OZY. He consulted with Garriott de Cayeux for his new novel set on the moon. But space exploration has leapt off the pages of sci-fi fiction and is poised to become big business.

Turns out Garriott de Cayeux has a not-so-secret plan — and the ear of some powerful people. Her new mission, should Hillary Clinton choose to accept it, is to work on space policy as part of Clinton’s domestic-policy working group focused on science, along with the Europe- and Russia-policy working group. “It’s pretty enthralling,” she says, sitting near photographs of her family posed with Clinton, who recently declared she believed in science! at the Democratic National Convention. (8/23)

NASA's Williams To Set U.S. Space Record (Source: Aviation Week)
Scott Kelly is widely known as the Ironman of U.S. astronauts after his recent yearlong mission aboard the International Space Station, during which he set a NASA record for most cumulative days in space with 520 over four flights. But as of Wednesday, that career record will belong not to Kelly but Jeff Williams, an unassuming NASA veteran who doesn't mind if his six-month tour lacks the promotion and buzz of Kelly's "#YearInSpace."

The commander of the station’s six-person Expedition 48 crew marks his 521st day in space Wednesday, a total expected to reach 534 days by the time he returns to Earth on Sept. 6 to conclude his fourth spaceflight. Don’t expect the retired Army colonel — a 58-year-old grandfather who the oldest NASA astronaut to live on the orbiting laboratory complex — to boast about the achievement. (8/23)

A Satellite Exec is Taking Over Project Loon, the Google's Internet Balloon Program (Source: Recode)
There’s another executive mix in the Alphabet soup. Tom Moore, a senior VP at the broadband satellite company ViaSat, is taking the reins at Project Loon, the ambitious effort to string high-altitude balloons into a global internet network. Mike Cassidy, a serial entrepreneur who has helmed the project for the past two years, is stepping down from the position but remaining at X, the company under Google parent Alphabet that houses the project. (8/23)

Interstellar Probes Will Be Eroded on the Way to Alpha Centauri (Source: New Scientist)
When you’re travelling at one-fifth the speed of light, even a small collision can hurt. Now we know exactly how much. A team working on a project to send tiny spacecraft to the stars have calculated the damage that hitting just a speck of dust could do. Normally, a speck of dust would bounce harmlessly off a spacecraft, although slightly larger micrometeoroids are known to cause trouble for telescopes and the International Space Station.

But Breakthrough Starshot wants to send their probes traveling at a fifth of the speed of light, meaning the kinetic energy released by even a tiny ping will be massive. The probes, dubbed wafersats as they are essentially just small circuit boards, will be mostly made from graphite and quartz, so the team studied the effects of impacts on these materials. They found that interstellar dust will hit the wafersats as a collection of heavy atoms, rather than a single particle, meaning they will bombard the surface, heating it up and forming craters. (8/24)

We'll be Sending Tourists Into Orbit by 2021, Claims Boss of Manchester-Based Firm (Source: This Is Money)
A British space travel company will send a manned rocket into space within the next five years, according to its boss. Rocket man Steve Bennett, who set up and runs Manchester-based Starchaser Industries, said the company is 'pretty close' to putting tourists in space.

'Space tourism is going to be the big business of the 21st century,' he said. 'It's going to be the dotcom boom all over again.' The flight will only take an hour and will see the rocket reach around 330,000ft – ten times the average cruising altitude for an aeroplane flight. (8/23)

Lawsuit Between Virgin Galactic, Firefly Grinds On (Source: Law 360)
A California judge criticized Virgin Galactic and a former Virgin rocket scientist for creating “quite a confusing situation” in their ongoing arbitration battle over claims the scientist stole Virgin trade secrets, calling the scientist’s motion to halt arbitration “unusual” and Virgin’s response procedurally improper. Virgin alleges that former Virgin Galactic scientist Thomas Markusic stole company secrets when he left to form Firefly Space Systems. (8/23)

Texas Spaceport Group Approves $2.4 Million for Road, Utility Investment (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
The Midland Spaceport Development Corp. board on Tuesday approved about $2.4 million to fund construction at Spaceport Business Park at Midland International Air & Space Port. The funds will cover Phase I of efforts to build roadways and infrastructure at the park.

Each contract received unanimous votes for approval. In total, MSDC approved $2,425,250.25 for the projects, $242,066.89, or 9 percent, below the projected cost offered at the organization’s June meeting. Midland Development Corp. in June agreed to pay MSDC $3 million to move forward with Phase I of the project, with $2 million reimbursable to MDC and $1 million not, according to a previous Reporter-Telegram report. MSDC will repay MDC with the $2 million it will receive this year from the state's Spaceport Trust Fund. (8/23)

Georgia Spaceport Project Hinges on Liability Shield Law (Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle)
While federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits arising from accidents during commercial space launches, federal law requires judges to consider applicable state laws, two FAA officials said Tuesday.

"In states like Florida and Texas that have a law, that is the statute a federal judge is going to look at,” Dan Murray, a manager with the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, told members of a Georgia House subcommittee exploring a planned commercial spaceport in southeastern Georgia. (8/23)

Ten Years Later, IAU Pluto Vote Remains Controversial (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
In the decade that has passed since the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) controversial vote that demoted Pluto from planet status, people around the world have seen what was once little more than a tiny dot transformed into a complex world via NASA's New Horizons mission.

As Principal Investigator Alan Stern told SpaceFlight Insider, the planet definition adopted by just four percent of the IAU on August 24, 2006, remains controversial and rejected by many planetary scientists ten years later. “The controversy is about a definition that includes all planets around other stars and small planets. It is inherently biased against small planets,” Stern said. (8/24)

3-D Galaxy-Mapping Project Enters Construction Phase (Source: Space Daily)
A 3-D sky-mapping project that will measure the light of millions of galaxies has received formal - approval from the U.S. Department of Energy to move forward with construction. Installation of the project, called DESI (Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument), is set to begin next year at the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Ariz., with observations starting up in January 2019. (8/24)

Yearlong Mars Simulation Nears End in Hawaii (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Six scientists are close to wrapping up a year of near isolation in a Mars simulation on a Hawaii mountain. The scientists are housed in a dome on Mauna Loa and can go outside only in spacesuits, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. They manage limited resources while conducting research and working to avoid personal conflicts.

Communication is delayed the 20 minutes, the length it would take to relay messages from Mars. Kim Binsted, principal investigator for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, said this simulation is the second-longest of its kind after a mission that lasted 520 days in Russia. "They're doing OK as far as we can tell," Binsted said of the scientists. Previous simulations in the Mauna Loa dome have lasted four to eight months. (8/24)

August 23, 2016

NASA Mathematician Who Advanced Human Rights with a Slide Rule and Pencil (Source: Vanity Fair)
When Katherine began at NASA, she and her cohorts were known as “human computers,” and if you talk to her or read quotes from throughout her long career, you can see that precision, that humming mind, constantly at work. She is a human computer, indeed, but one with a quick wit, a quiet ambition, and a confidence in her talents that rose above her era and her surroundings. Click here. (8/23)

NASA Reestablishes Contact with Long Lost Spacecraft After Two Years of Silence (Source: The Verge)
NASA has reestablished contact with its STEREO-B spacecraft, nearly two years after losing communication with the vehicle. The space agency has been trying to get in contact with the spacecraft since October 1st, 2014, when the last signal from STEREO-B was received on Earth. Finally on Sunday, NASA was able to pick up a signal from the vehicle using the Deep Space Network, or DSN — an international network of large radio antennas used for communicating with spacecraft.

STEREO-B is one of two spacecraft that make up NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO). The goal of the program is to study the Sun and better understand its behavior. Specifically, STEREO aims to figure out the origins of coronal mass ejections — massive explosions of charged particles that sometimes shoot out from the Sun. These plasma bursts travel all the way to Earth and collide with our planet’s magnetic field, creating powerful geomagnetic storms that can damage communications satellites and mess with our planet’s power grid. (8/22)

NASA Opens Research to Public: Why That’s a Big Deal (Source: CSM)
NASA announced last Tuesday that they would be releasing hundreds of peer-reviewed, scholarly articles on NASA-funded research projects online. The articles are entirely free to access for any member of the public. The new service is a big deal for the space agency, which has been gathering scientific information on a huge variety of topics since it was established in 1958.

The move comes amid a greater push for scientists to make their research free to the public for others to learn from and to build upon. One computer programmer and research associate at the Britain's University of Bristol went as far as to call the practice of sealing scientific research behind a journal's paywall "immoral." NASA's treasure trove of scientific articles can be accessed through NASA PubSpace, where anyone can search through a library of research papers already numbering in the hundreds.

According to NASA's website, all articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and will now be required to be publicly accessible via PubSpace. There will be some exceptions for articles that concern national security and patents, but minus those exceptions, every future academic paper on research funded by NASA will be available to the public for free. NASA's new policy is because of a 2013 request from the Obama administration to increase public access to the results of all federally funded research. (8/22)

NASA Knows Astrobiology Will Be a Multigenerational Effort (Source: Inverse)
Earlier this month, the journal Astrobiology published The Astrobiology Primer 2.0, a guide to everything we know about the field and the followup to an original released a decade ago. Dr. Penelope Boston, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said the field was “a fundamentally a multi-generational enterprise” in addition to a multi-disciplinary one. The emphasis, then, is to train bright young minds early on to understand and navigate through understanding and predicting how life in other places could arise. (8/22)

Northrop Grumman to Provide Navigation System for German Satellite (Source: Northrop Grumman)
Northrop Grumman has been awarded a contract from OHB System AG to supply the space inertial reference system for Germany's SARah satellite-based radar reconnaissance system. Northrop Grumman will supply its Scalable Space Inertial Reference Unit-L for sensor pointing/stabilization and attitude control on the SARah satellite-based radar reconnaissance system. This contract marks the first international application of the new Scalable SIRU-L configuration. (8/22)

DARPA to Establish Satellite-Servicing Consortium to Discuss On-Orbit Repair Standards (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Defense Research Projects Agency plans to establish a consortium to discuss standards and practices for on-orbit satellite servicing as a corollary to Robotic Servicing of Geostationary Satellites (RSGS), an effort to develop robotic spacecraft to inspect, repair and move other satellites.

“Our fear was that we would create a robotic servicing capability through RSGS and when our industry partner went to Lloyds of London for insurance, someone would say, ‘You have no authority to conduct that mission,’” said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

Through the construction and operation of the International Space Station, the international community has established laws and regulations concerning government spacecraft conducting rendezvous and proximity operations with other government spacecraft as well as government spacecraft conducting rendezvous and proximity operations with commercial spacecraft. (8/22)

U.S. Air Force’s Next Launch Contract Up for Bid? An Experimental Satellite (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force released a draft solicitation that sets up a competition between SpaceX and ULA to launch a multipurpose experimental satellite in late 2018 that’s equipped to detect nuclear detonations for the Pentagon and carry out a laser communications demonstration for NASA. Known as Space Test Program Satellite (STPSat)-6, the spacecraft will host up to eight payloads. The satellite’s primary payload is the Space and Atmospheric Burst Reporting System (SABRS),  which is designed to complement nuclear detonation detectors aboard current GPS spacecraft. (8/22)

Russia Planning Larger Cargo Craft for ISS (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Russia is developing a new cargo spacecraft to replace the venerable Progress vehicle. The unnamed vehicle would be able to carry more cargo than the Progress, allowing Russia to reduce the number of ISS cargo flights a year from four to three. The vehicle makes use of some existing systems, but is unlikely to enter service before 2020. Its development comes as Roscosmos considers reducing the size of its crew on the ISS from three to two, perhaps as soon as next year. (8/22)

Arizona Judge Refuses to Dismiss Lawsuit Counts Against World View Incentive Deal (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
A lawsuit filed against Pima county over a multi-million-dollar deal it made with a balloon spaceflight company can proceed, a judge ruled Monday. Pima County Superior Court Judge Catherine Woods denied the county’s attempt to have three of four counts in a suit brought by the conservative Goldwater Institute dismissed. Woods said she would rule on the remaining count, which alleges that the county violated the Arizona constitution’s gift clause, later.

That clause bars state government entities from giving their “credit in the aid of … any company or corporation,” among other prohibitions. In February, the board of supervisors approved a $15 million deal in which the county would build a manufacturing center, headquarters and balloon launch pad for the for-profit firm World View, which makes helium-filled balloons for space tourism and research.

Regina Nassen, a deputy county attorney, argued that the company would pay back that sum and more over the course of a 20-year lease, according to the terms of the deal. “The county gets back at least what it spends,” she said. “It is not giving anything away.” In addition to violating the gift clause, Goldwater claims that the deal, paid for with bonds called certificates of participation (COPs), also violates county code and state law regarding county leasing and competitive bidding. (8/22)

New NASA RASC-AL Competition Seeks Mars Prototype Ice Drilling Systems (Source: FSGC)
Chances are that you’ve heard of NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) portfolio of prestigious university-level engineering design competitions. Today, NASA is pleased to unveil a new hands-on competition for 2017 – the RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge. 

In 2017, NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC) will celebrate its centennial anniversary. As a part of the centennial celebration activities at LaRC, NASA is sponsoring a Special Edition Challenge focusing on technology demonstrations for In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) capabilities on Mars, particularly extracting water from simulated Martian subsurface ice. (8/22)

Space and Booze, an Anecdotal History (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA had and continues to have a "no alcohol" policy for orbit, but some booze has made it to space. Kluger cited Apollo 8 (1968) as the earliest example. While Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first crew to travel beyond low Earth orbit and see the far side of the Moon, they were also astro-alcohol pioneers. Click here. (8/22)

Roscosmos Plans to Create New Super-Heavy Rocket by 2023 (Source: Tass)
The Roscosmos state corporation has started designing a new super-heavy-class rocket, the Izvestia daily reported. The paper said the rocket will be created in 5-7 years. "With Roscosmos rocket systems general designer Alexander Medvedev, we have been developing a super-heavy-class carrier with the use of the engine we have - RD-171; it underlies the concept of a super-heavy carrier," Energia rocket and space corporation general director Vladimir Solntsev said. (8/22)

Court Says Feds Can't Escape Lockheed California Cleanup Costs (Source: Law 360)
The D.C. Circuit on Friday ruled the federal government must share future cleanup costs for contamination at Lockheed Martin rocket plants in California, rejecting the government’s argument that it’s already indirectly paid those costs under contracts with the defense giant.

The government has questioned its liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act for a portion of the cost of cleaning up hazardous substances that contaminated groundwater around three California rocket manufacturing facilities owned by Lockheed Martin. (8/19)

How to Dock CubeSats (Source: Space Daily)
The ability to autonomously rendezvous and dock CubeSats could enable in-orbit assembly of larger structures that simply would not be possible in any other way. The challenge is that CubeSats are faced with tight mass, propellant and power constraints. The control accuracy necessary for docking would be on the order of a single centimeter. Click here. (8/21)

NASA Selects University Partners for Small Spacecraft Collaboration (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected eight university teams to collaborate on the development and demonstration of new technologies and capabilities for small spacecraft. Each of the university teams will be working with engineers and scientists from NASA on two-year projects beginning this fall. These collaborations are directed toward making small spacecraft, some of which weigh only a few kilograms, into powerful and affordable tools for science, exploration, and space operations.

This is the third round of projects selected under the Smallsat Technology Partnerships initiative, managed by the Small Spacecraft Technology Program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). Eight projects that were selected in 2015 are getting ready to begin their second year, and some of the projects selected in 2013 are preparing for space flight demonstrations. Editor's Note: Among the universities are the University of Miami and the University of Florida. Click here. (8/21)

NASA Funds Plan to Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
NASA is very good about being on the cutting edge of space exploration, but it's less good about making non-cutting edge space exploration efficient and cost effective. The agency is acutely aware of this, which is why it's been trying to get commercial carriers to handle deliveries of (now) supplies and (soon) astronauts to the ISS.

The next step is for private companies to take over space station construction for (soon) Earth orbit and (eventually) deep space. To that end, NASA has selected six partner companies to develop full-sized ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats, with the eventual goal of deploying habitats near the moon as a stepping stone to Mars. (8/22)

How Obama's White House Charted a New Course for NASA (Source: Planetary Society)
With a sharp blast followed by a dull roar, the first Ares rocket lifted off on a test flight from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was October 28, 2009. The skinny, candlestick launcher was part of NASA's Constellation program, created in the wake of the space shuttle Columbia accident to fulfill George W. Bush's goal of returning humans to the moon by 2020.

In part two of our Horizon Goal series on the past, present and future of NASA's human spaceflight program, we learned how Constellation fell behind schedule and began gobbling up an increasingly large share of the agency's budget. Meanwhile, the space shuttles were on the verge of retirement. The U.S. was about to lose domestic access to the International Space Station, which was scheduled to be abandoned in 2016. Click here. (8/22)

August 22, 2016

Make Your Plans Now for 2017's Total Solar Eclipse (Source: Travel & Leisure)
Sunday marks exactly one year before what will be the easiest total solar eclipse ever to travel to and witness. And if you've never seen one before, you don't know what you're missing. Legions of eclipse-chasers from across the country and the world will be in the United States for the Aug. 21, 2017 event. A New Moon will completely block out the Sun for a few minutes, throwing a 70-mile Moon-shadow across the states from Oregon to South Carolina. (8/21)

Through the Looking Glass (Source: Space Review)
After the Pentagon cancelled the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program in 1969, it faced the question of what to do with the hardware already built for it. Dwayne Day examines what’s known from declassified documents about that effort, including the transfer of mirrors for use in an observatory. Click here. (8/22)
 
Human-Rating the Atlas V Centaur for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (Source: Space Review)
Part of the effort by NASA to develop commercial crew transportation systems involves human-rating the Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Anthony Young discusses that effort to prepare both the rocket and the launch site for missions to fly astronauts to the space station. Click here. (8/22)
 
CubeSats: Faster and Cheaper, But Better? (Source: Space Review)
There’s growing interest in using CubeSats for a variety of scientific, commercial, and other applications. However, Jeff Foust reports that CubeSat developers are grappling with the issue of reliability of such satellites, which suffer higher failure rates than larger spacecraft. Click here. (8/22)
 
Why a Coherent Middle East Space Policy is a Necessity (Source: Space Review)
Some in the Middle East are concerned that Iran, now free of sanctions linked to nuclear weapons development, might become more aggressive in the region. Michael Listner argues that this should provide an impetus for other nations there to develop comprehensive, coherent space policies. Click here. (8/22)

Anderson: Spaceport America Generated $104 Million* (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Spaceport America CEO Christine Anderson has taken to New Mexico media to say that things are going great at the spaceport as she steps down. “Spaceport America is alive and well,” she declared in an op-ed. “It saddens me to read uninformed articles to the contrary.” I can’t recall anyone writing that the Spaceport America is actually dead, just that it has cost New Mexico taxpayers about $225 million (and counting) without returning any of the benefits the state’s leaders and Virgin Galactic promised when it was launched a decade ago.

Residents of two revenue-challenged counties continue to pay a special tax they voted to impose on themselves to support the spaceport long after the levy was supposed to end. Anderson claimed: "Within the last year, the Spaceport America brand has generated over $104 million worth of global earned media value for the project and the state of New Mexico." However they figured it, one thing is clear: "global earned media value" doesn’t pay the bills.

Spaceport America was purpose built for Richard Branson’s company to fly tourists into suborbital space. The massive hangar sitting out near the runway was built to house that business. No number of sounding rocket launches, drone flights or film shoots will get around that. If they had wanted to build a sounding rocket range, the state could probably have saved more than $200 million. Given Virgin Galactic’s frequent delays (flights were to have started in 2007), it’s not surprising Anderson didn’t mention the company. Commercial flights from Spaceport America remain a ways off. (8/15)

Russia Gains Customers for Commercial Lunar Flyby (Source: Sputnik)
Russian officials claim they have eight customers for a commercial human lunar flyby mission, at $150 million each. Vladimir Solntsev, general director of RSC Energia, said his company had eight potential candidates for such a mission willing to pay that cost, including a Japanese family. Energia, working with American space tourism company Space Adventures, has long promoted a plan to send a modified Soyuz spacecraft around the moon with one cosmonaut and two tourists on board. (8/22)

August 21, 2016

Exit Interview: Christine Anderson (Source: Space News)
Q: The number of commercial spaceports is growing, with proposals for even more. Do you talk with each other? Are there too many? A: We do talk some. We’re all so busy and we’re all very different in our business models and so forth. Eventually there will be many spaceports. Right now there’s only 10. Is 10 too many? I don’t know. That’s why each one has to look at their business model and see what is their strength.

Each one has to find its niche, but hopefully they will have some diversification. Again, you can’t count on one customer and you can’t count on one industry, even. You have to have a really good business model based on where you are, who you are, what your business offerings are to the community. I think we’ve really now found ours, both on the aerospace side and on the non-aerospace, and it’s paying off. That’s my advice to any future spaceports as well. Click here. (8/20)

Chinese Scientists Study Viability of Manned Radar Station on the Moon (Source: South China Morning Post)
China has commissioned a group of scientists to study the feasibility of building a manned radar station on the moon, but many experts on the mainland have questioned the potentially massive cost of the project and the usefulness of building such a base. The government project was launched earlier this year and received kick-start funding of 16 million yuan (HK$18.7 million) from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, according to its website. (8/21)

Orbital Access Interested in Midland TX Spaceport (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
There’s a formal relationship brewing between Midland and Scotland, and it could mean a new tenant at the city’s upstart spaceport. Glasgow Prestwick Airport and Spaceport Business Development Director Mike Stewart visited Midland last week to meet with its new partner XCOR Aerospace, and to express interest in a Midland/Prestwick relationship.

McIntyre is the owner of Orbital Access, a Prestwick-based aerospace company that is pursuing the business of launching satellites. The company’s Orbital 500 project has a rocket payload carrying a satellite beneath a McDonnell Douglas DC-10, Stewart said. The plane launches horizontally, climbs to 35,000 feet and the rocket separates while the plane is banking. The rocket heads to space, and a new satellite adds to the constellation of devices supporting the world’s technological demands.

Orbital and XCOR already have a relationship. They work together on development technology, Stewart said, and, as previously reported in the Reporter-Telegram in July, Orbital will oversee XCOR’s forthcoming Lynx launches from Prestwick. The Lynx is a two-passenger suborbital spaceplane under development. (8/21)

Another Falcon 9 Rocket Returns to Perch in Port Canaveral (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The sixth Falcon 9 rocket booster recovered by SpaceX has returned to Port Canaveral after an up-and-down flight Aug. 14 that sent a commercial Japanese broadcasting satellite toward orbit. The 15-story first stage of the Falcon 9 launcher touched down on SpaceX’s landing vessel nearly 400 miles east of Cape Canaveral less than nine minutes after blastoff.

After detaching from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, the booster flipped around and ignited three of its nine Merlin engines for a re-entry burn, then fired its center engine just before landing to slow down before reaching the football field-sized barge. Ground crews are expected to soon rotate the rocket horizontal, lower it onto a trailer, and truck it back through the gate to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for further inspections and potential use on another mission.

SpaceX is now 6-for-11 in Falcon 9 rocket landing attempts since the company began experiments with propulsive braking and landing maneuvers targeting a ship or landing pad in January 2015. The record for landings at sea is now 4-for-9. (8/21)

August 20, 2016

With Stunning New Images of Jupiter, Harris Builds on Deep Space Legacy (Source: Washington Exec)
In early July, the NASA space probe Juno entered into orbit around Jupiter – the largest planet in our solar system —  and Guinness World Records promptly named the $1.1 billion probe the fastest-ever spacecraft in history. Helping to reach that historic milestone, which began in August 2011 when Juno left Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is the Melbourne, Florida-based satellite and communications giant Harris Corporation.

Over the past year, more than 100 Harris employees have provided critical operations, maintenance and engineering services to make the Jupiter Orbit Insertion, as it’s called, a reality. That support has centered on work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the federally funded research and development center responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network — the worldwide network of antennas and communications facilities in the United States, Spain and Australia. (8/12)

Climb Inside Apollo 11 in Virtual Reality and 3D (Source: Time)
The detail captured by this painstaking work is both extraordinary and immersive. There is the sweeping array of switches, indicator, breakers and knobs that fill the wraparound instrument panel—with their names and functions readily readable.

There is the lower equipment bay beneath the seats, where the navigational sextant and computer were located. There are the astronauts’ cloth and canvas couches and the five windows through which they first glimpsed the moon and the closed tunnel in the nose of the spacecraft that once connected to the lunar lander.

And, as with so many places humans go and things they touch, there is graffiti: a calendar indicating every day the mission flew—July 16 through July 24, 1969. There are random numbers scribbled on the bulkhead, as one or the other of the astronauts, without a flight plan or scrap of paper handy, jotted down some coordinates Houston read up to them. Click here. (7/25)

'Star Wars' Cantina Bar to Open 90 Miles from Real Spaceport (Source: Inverse)
The Scum and Villainy Cantina is a pop-up restaurant/bar which will open for a short time on Hollywood Boulevard “sometime this winter.” In anticipation of great demand, Scum and Villainy will start taking reservations next week on their official website, which doesn’t sound like something the real Mos Eisley Cantina would have ever been okay with. (You can’t imagine Han Solo saying, “Creepy booth in the corner for two? Reservation is under ‘Chewbacca’”).

And while it’s a little more of a drive than Obi-Wan and Luke had, there is a real-deal spaceport 90 miles away. Historically, The Mojave Air and Space Port is America’s very first inland space port, and the home to Space Ship One, the famous private space craft designed by Burt Rutan. Before Space X, Space Ship One was one of the first successful non-government funded spaceships ever. (8/20)

Space Elevator Fans Keep Looking Up, Even When They’re Stuck on the Ground Floor (Source: GeekWire)
Once upon a time, entrepreneurs were counting down to a date in 2018 when the first space elevator would open for business. NASA was setting aside millions of dollars to promote the technologies required for building that elevator. And space elevator fans were looking forward to a breakthrough that would drive the cost of space travel down to mere hundreds of dollars.

Today, the countdown is on indefinite hold. The NASA money is gone. And the dream of building the space elevator has been eclipsed by billionaire Elon Musk’s dream of putting colonists on Mars by the mid-2020s. Nevertheless, the fans are still keeping the faith, and they’re backing up that faith with research studies. About 35 of them gathered today at Seattle’s Museum of Flight to kick off the 2016 Space Elevator Conference. Click here. (8/19)

Rocket Lab's New Zealand Launch Site Nears Completion (Source: New Zealand Herald)
Rocket Lab's space program is a step closer to liftoff with the installation of a launch platform at its Mahia Peninsula base. The 50-ton platform is the final step in preparing the site for the arrival of its Electron launch vehicle and will be used to erect the rocket from horizontal to vertical positions. The launch platform was designed in-house at Rocket Lab and transported from Auckland to Mahia, with local contractors hired to complete site works. Click here. (8/20)

How Much Will SLS and Orion Cost to Fly? Finally Some Answers (Source: Ars Technica)
One of the biggest criticisms of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft is that they will be too expensive to fly. Namely—while the large rocket and sizable capsule appear to be more-than-capable vehicles that could form the core of a deep-space exploration program—will there be any money left after producing them for NASA to actually go and explore? Until now, this has been a question the space agency has offered only vague assurances about.

But on Thursday, when Ars sat down to interview NASA’s Bill Hill inside the Michoud Assembly Facility, where the SLS core stage and Orion are assembled, the NASA manager was notably forthcoming. “We’re just way too expensive today,” Hill acknowledged. “It’s going to take some different thinking and maybe a little bit more risk taking than what we’re wanting to do today.”

“My top number for Orion, SLS, and the ground systems that support it is $2 billion or less,” Hill told Ars. “I mean that’s my real ultimate goal. We were running at about three-plus, 3.6 billion [dollars] during the latter days of space shuttle. Of course, there again, we were flying six or seven missions. I think we’re actually going to have to get to less than that.” Ars has learned that the agency’s ultimate goal for annual production and operations costs is about $1.5 billion. (8/19)

Space, Climate Change, and the Real Meaning of Theory (Source: New Yorker)
The facts of climate change are straightforward: there’s been a warming surge over the past hundred years, with a dramatic uptick in this new century. We are seeing the effects in the shrinking of the summer Arctic sea ice and the melting of the Greenland glaciers. That melt, in turn, has been partly responsible for the three-inch rise in sea levels since 1992. The Earth is warming, the ice is melting, and sea level is rising. These are observed facts. Are we humans the cause of these changes? The answer is an emphatic yes.

Many climate-research groups around the world have calculated the various contributions to climate change, including those not related to humans, like volcanic ash. It has been shown repeatedly that it is just not possible to explain the recent warming without factoring in the rise in anthropogenic greenhouse gases. If you left the increase in carbon dioxide out of your calculations, you would see a wobbly but, on average, level temperature trend from the eighteen-nineties to today.

But the record—the reality—shows a steeply rising temperature curve which closely matches the observed rise in carbon dioxide. The global community of climate scientists, endorsed by their respective National Academies of Science or equivalents, is solid in attributing the warming to fossil-fuel emissions. Humans are the cause of the accelerating warming. You can bet your life—or, more accurately, your descendants’ lives—on it. As a scientist, I would like to think that the political discussion of climate change and how to mitigate its worst effects would be sober and fact-based. Unfortunately, this is not the case. (8/17)

Hunting for Peru's Lost Civilizations — with Satellites (Source: TED)
Around the world, hundreds of thousands of lost ancient sites lie buried and hidden from view. Satellite archaeologist Sarah Parcak is determined to find them before looters do. With the 2016 TED Prize, Parcak is building an online citizen-science tool called GlobalXplorer that will train an army of volunteer explorers to find and protect the world's hidden heritage. In this talk, she offers a preview of the first place they'll look: Peru — the home of Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines and other archaeological wonders waiting to be discovered. Click here. (6/15)

Asteroid Mining CEO Says Cities In Space Are 30 Years Away (Source: Daily Caller)
Private companies could begin mining asteroids next year and building cities in space in the next 30 years, according to the CEO of a space mining company. “Its our goal in 30 years to provide all the material and equipment needed to build cities in space,” Daniel Faber, the CEO of the asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries (DSI), told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

DSI announced plans Tuesday to launch a surveying probe that will arrive at an asteroid by 2020. “Our material could be used to build very large solar concentrators and arrays, large radio dishes, fuel tanks, structural members and maybe one day a habitat,” Faber said. “Asteroids are made of basically the same stuff that planets are made of, everything we need is in there. We can even make oxygen out of mined water.” (8/13)

New ‘Front Porch’ Added to International Space Station (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Two members of the International Space Station’s Expedition 48 crew stepped outside the orbital complex to install a new “front porch.” The nearly six-hour long spacewalk had a goal to install International Docking Adapter-2 (IDA-2) to the forward end of the station. (8/20)

Rubio: U.S. Space Program Not 'Third World' as Trump Says (Source: Florida Today)
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said the nation's space program needs a clear goal and long-term funding, but disagreed with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's recent criticism of it as worthy of a Third World nation. "I wouldn’t say we have a Third World space program," Rubio said at Space Florida's offices in Exploration Park at Kennedy Space Center. "We have very talented and capable people."

He broadly backed NASA's goal to send astronauts to Mars and support for the commercial space sector, but warned that both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton could upend progress made in the five years since the space shuttle's retirement. "Our biggest concern is that a new administration could once again throw all of this into chaos and disarray," he said. (8/19)

NASA Wants to Bring Enterprise to the Space Station (Source: Bloomberg)
After 15 years as a pure research lab, the International Space Station might be ready for business. NASA is soliciting ideas from private enterprise on ways to use the orbiting laboratory for commercial purposes, taking another, tentative step in U.S. efforts to create a marketplace in space.

NASA posed the request as a way to engender “out of the box concepts” for the space station since the agency says it’s become clear that “companies don’t think they can go straight to a commercial space station without continuing to take advantage of the ISS to test the waters and see what really will sell or where there may be issues.”

NASA also requested ideas on operating models, contract structures, and other sustainable business plans for future commercial endeavors 250 miles above the planet. “It’s an opportunity to gather new ideas from people/industry for future opportunities on the space station,” NASA spokeswoman Tabatha Thompson said in an e-mail. (8/19)

NASA Tests Shuttle Engine Destined for SLS (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA put a former shuttle engine through its paces Thursday in a test tied to the development of the Space Launch System. The RS-25 engine, formerly used on the space shuttle, fired for 420 seconds during a test at the Stennis Space Center, running at between 80 and 111 percent of its rated thrust. NASA is repurposing the shuttle-era engines for use on the core stage of the SLS, which will use four RS-25 engines on each launch. (8/18)

Venus-Like Exoplanet Might Have Oxygen Atmosphere, But Not Life (Source: Space Daily)
The distant planet GJ 1132b intrigued astronomers when it was discovered last year. Located just 39 light-years from Earth, it might have an atmosphere despite being baked to a temperature of around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. But would that atmosphere be thick and soupy or thin and wispy? New research suggests the latter is much more likely. (8/19)

Florida-Based NASA Contractor Wins Legal Ruling in Subcontractor Complaint (Source: Law 360)
A Louisiana federal judge released the contractor of a NASA painting project from a suit brought by a subcontractor claiming wrongful termination from the project, finding the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. In an order dated Aug. 11 and filed in court records on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick granted a bid from the project's prime contractor, Harry Pepper & Associates Inc., of Jacksonville, to dismiss the suit brought by subcontractor PASI of LA Inc. (8/18)

Asteroid Mission Could Shed Light On Origins Of Life On Earth (Source: Aviation Week)
The first U.S.-led mission to collect a small sample of an asteroid’s surface material is poised for launch next month. The $1 billion mission, dubbed Osiris-Rex, could shed light on the origins of life on Earth. It also could provide valuable information about the possibility that an asteroid collision could wipe out life on the planet.

The solar-powered spacecraft, whose official name is the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resources Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, awaits final integration activities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and liftoff atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 from nearby Cape Canaveral AFS on Sept. 8, at 7:05 p.m. EDT. As of Sept. 8, a 34-day launch window opens. (8/19)

The Inside Story of How Billionaires are Racing to Take You to Outer Space (Source: Washington Post)
Driven by ego, outsize ambition and opportunity, they are investing hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money to open up space to the masses and push human space travel far past where governments have gone. Musk and Bezos are the most prominent of a quartet of billionaires aspiring to open the frontier of space the way the public-private partnerships of the 19th century pushed west at the dawn of the railroad age.

The two others are Paul Allen, a Microsoft founder, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. All have upended industries, including retail, automobiles and credit cards, and are now embarking on the greatest disruption of all — making space travel routine — in a business long dominated by commercial-space contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

While their efforts have reignited interest in space, they also have raised moral complexities and regulatory challenges in pursuing an endeavor that is inherently dangerous. Congress has opted to regulate the industry only loosely, granting it an extended “learning period” that would allow companies to grow and to practice space travel. Click here. (8/19)

Energia, Boeing Reach Deal on Dispute Over Sea Launch (Source: Sputnik)
Russia's Energia and Boeing reached an agreement to solve dispute over the Sea Launch project, Energia's General Director said. In 2015, a US District Court awarded Boeing a multimillion compensation from its former partners under the Sea Launch, including Energia, following a bankruptcy procedure. Energia and its Ukrainian counterpart Yuzhnoe claimed that Boeing had given unwritten assurances to its Sea Launch partners that it would not seek reimbursements.

"We have signed a preliminary agreement with Boeing to settle a dispute on 'Sea Launch,' in that context a court in the United States suspended all the activities to collect debts. Before the end of the year we are planning to sign a final agreement with Boeing, which should stipulate conditions of the [dispute's] settlement," Vladimir Solntsev said. He added that Energia and Boeing had already evolved a program of long-term cooperation, which included projects of far space exploration. (8/19)

August 19, 2016

Rubio Meets with Space Industry Leaders at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SPACErePORT)
Space Florida and the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast hosted a roundtable meeting for Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the former presidential hopeful who is now campaigning to keep his Senate seat. Rubio met with local aerospace officials from companies like Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance.

Some highlights of the discussion included comments from SpaceX that they may grow their presence in Florida due to their success in landing Falcon rockets. It apparently makes sense to keep the rockets in Florida rather than sending them to California or Texas for refurbishment, so more infrastructure and jobs could come to the Space Coast.

Also, Space Florida discussed the need for nitrogen and helium gas pipelines to serve the growing needs of ULA, SpaceX and other launchers. This commercially driven requirement, along with things like rebuilding the bridge from Titusville to KSC, is too low a budget priority for NASA or the Air Force, so again comes the notion of putting a spaceport authority (Space Florida or possibly a federal entity) in charge of running the Cape Canaveral Spaceport...with NASA and the Air Force transitioning to some form of 'tenant' status. (8/19)

Texas Congressman Launches Mission to Reboot Space Program (Source: Texas Standard)
It’s been a long time since kids sat with parents on living room couches watching live pictures from Mission Control in Houston. Even though NASA no longer looms in the American imagination as much as it once did, with a Mars expedition in the works and the rise of Space X and Blue Origin among others, a powerful case can be made that a renaissance is just around the corner.

Houston-area U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, who’s chair of the House Space subcommittee, has launched a new mission on Capitol Hill. Babin says he wants to establish a bipartisan caucus to “advocate and protect” the space program. “The work, the funding, our workforce, our capabilities – all at the NASA Johnson Space Center, which Houston is home to, and also to the space industry across Texas,” he says.

In Babin’s district, he says 14,000 employees work at Johnson Space Center. “We’ve seen some ups and downs over the last few years of our space program,” he says. “NASA’s overall budget is less than one-half of one percent of our federal budget. The nation’s investments in space drive our technology, advancements and inventions we have there… It’s hard to match the bang for the buck that we get (out of it).” (8/19)

Air Force, ULA Launch 2 Military Surveillance Satellites on Delta Rocket (Source: Space.com)
The U.S. Air Force has launched two more satellites designed to help keep some of the nation's most valuable military space assets safe and secure. The third and fourth satellites in the military's Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) lifted off atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (8/19)

More Evidence Emerges That Life's Building Blocks are Scattered Throughout Space (Source: Mashable)
A team of scientists have tracked the development of molecules known as "life's building blocks" in a nebula far from Earth, adding to an ever-growing field of research that could one day help us figure out exactly how life formed in our solar system. Scientists peered deep into the Iris Nebula — located 1,400 light-years from our planet — using powerful observatories to figure out exactly how the molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are distributed in the dusty region.

The medium-sized PAHs — which are "flat molecules consisting of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern, surrounded by hydrogen," according to NASA — actually appear to grow larger when ultraviolet light from the large star at the nebula's center hits them. Instead of being destroyed like the small PAHs, the medium PAHs combine when irradiated, growing into larger complex organic molecules, according to NASA. (8/17)

Florida Tech Researchers Explore the Possibilities of Growing Plants on the Red Planet (Source: FIT)
A little more than a year after the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute was created at Florida Institute of Technology with the mission to get humans to Mars, researchers are already looking at realistic ways we can grow food on the Red Planet.

Though difficult, it’s possible with the addition of fertilizers and leaching out the perchlorates to grow various plants in a Martian soil–eventually. Florida Tech scientists have partnered with scientists from NASA who have experience growing plants in space on the International Space Station and whom are also interested in growing plants on Mars. Florida Tech’s Drew Palmer, an assistant professor of Biological Sciences and his team are are leading the charge in developing a Martian Garden here on campus. (8/17)

Industry Remains Optimistic About Continued Growth of Cubesats (Source: Space News)
Despite concerns about reliability and access to launch vehicles, the small satellite industry expects the number of cubesats to continue to grow as they find new commercial and government applications. Bill Doncaster of SpaceWorks Engineering said his company was maintaining a forecast issued earlier this year that predicted about 200 satellites weighing between 1 and 50 kilograms would launch this year, a number that would break the record of 158 set in 2014.

SpaceWorks, in a similar forecast last year, forecast 163 such satellites would launch in 2015, but only 131 actually flew. “That was an anomaly based on available launch slots,” he said. He noted that both Antares and Falcon 9 rockets, which have launched many such spacecraft on cargo missions to the International Space Station, were recovering from launch failures. “The number of opportunities was somewhat limited.” (8/17)

How to Succeed in the Asteroid Business Without Really Mining (Source: WIRED)
To support a prototype mission, Deep Space Industries has partnered with Luxembourg. Yes, the country. Why … Luxembourg? It’s known for finance and banking, says Meagan Crawford, Deep Space Industries’ director of communications, and has “a deep background in mining and the steel industry, as well as a vibrant high-tech industry.”

After Prospector-X (hypothetically) proves its technology, Deep Space Industries plans to launch the real deal, the 50-kilogram Prospector-1. This spacecraft will—by the end of the decade, the company says—actually go to an asteroid and appraise its value, using a mid-infrared camera and a neutron spectrometer to see up to three feet below ground.

But that money is a long ways away. Which is why it’s important to realize that Prospector-1’s bones are a “solar system exploration platform,” says Crawford. That platform doesn’t have to be mine-oriented. Once Deep Space Industries has its own Prospector-1, it plans to sell other copies of the platform to other entities. Businesses, sure. But also nations. “Countries that don’t have their own space programs who are looking to break in to the space industry,” says Crawford. (8/17)

Small Satellites: Obvious Benefits But Also Concerns (Source: National Defense)
Commercial technology companies are providing key imaging and communications services via small satellite systems that may provide cost-effective options for boosting the United States’ space resiliency, and they’re developing them faster than the U.S. military can, experts said.

More satellites in operation will also mean sharing increasingly less available radiofrequency spectrum. “Most of them need to communicate using radio signals. … You’re dealing with congestion, not just between satellites, but between satellites and the Earth,” Weeden said.

If it were a question of two planes about to collide in mid-air, the Federal Aviation Administration would be authorized to regulate how each aircraft moved and operated in relation to the other. But there is currently no such global agency for space systems that has the power to order an operator to move one system away from another to avoid a collision, Weeden said. (8/17)

NASA Hopes to Hand the ISS to a Commercial Owner by Mid 2020s (Source: Tech Crunch)
NASA is giving us some more insight into its plans to get humans to Mars, under the blanket mission called ‘Journey to Mars,’ and during the press conference, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Bill Hill revealed that the current hope is to hand off control of the International Space Station to a commercial owner by sometime around the mid 2020s.

“NASA’s trying to develop economic development in low-earth orbit,” Hill said, speaking on a panel of NASA staff assembled to discuss the upcoming Mars mission. “Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-earth orbit, so that research can continue in low-earth orbit.”

The timing fits with the end of The U.S. Government’s current funding of the ISS program, which was extended by President Obama’s administration from its original deorbiting date of 2016 through 2020. Operations were prolonged through 2024 to help give NASA a platform from which to run its near-Earth preparatory missions leading up to the ultimate manned mission to Mars. (8/17)

Ixion Initiative to Study Conversion of Rocket Upper Stages into LEO Habitats (Source: Via Satellite)
NASA has selected the Ixion Initiative Team, comprised of NanoRacks, Space Systems Loral (SSL), and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to participate in the agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships 2 (“NextSTEP-2”) program. The Ixion Team is a new addition to NASA’s NextSTEP effort, and will begin by conducting a comprehensive feasibility study evaluating the conversion of rocket upper stages into habitats.

This approach offers a pathway that is more affordable and involves less risk than fabricating modules on the ground and subsequently launching them into orbit. The Ixion Team proposes demonstrating this low-cost concept via the conversion of a Centaur rocket upper stage, which will be attached to the International Space Station (ISS). The Ixion Team will leverage the habitat as a proving ground for a variety of private-sector activities. (8/17)

Former ISRO Chief: Money Given for Human Spaceflift Mission is Peanuts (Source: Business Standard)
Eminent space scientist G Madhavan Nair has said India must take steps to undertake human space flight mission without delay, stating such a venture would give a new "life and vigor" to entire research activities in ISRO. Nair termed as "very unfortunate" the government's stand on the mission. He said the government is yet to give a formal approval to the mission, even a decade after a meeting convened by ISRO which was attended by 80 senior scientists who favoured initiation of such a project. (8/17)

UK Military Orders Third High-Altitude Pseudo Satellite From Airbus (Source: Space News)
The British Defence Ministry on Aug. 17 said it had exercised an option for a third solar-powered, high-altitude surveillance and communications platform from Airbus Defence and Space, with flight trials to begin in mid-2017. The Airbus Zephyr-S aircraft, one of several designs of what are called high-altitude pseudo satellites, or HAPS, is designed to operate for up to 45 days before landing for refurbishment and to provide a range of persistent surveillance and communications services. (8/17)

Air Force Sent GSSAP Satellite to Check on Stalled MUOS-5 (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force said Aug. 18 it sent one of its high-orbiting space surveillance satellites to check on a Navy communications satellite that ran into propulsion problems about halfway to geosynchronous orbit. Following a June 24 launch, the fifth satellite in the Navy’s next-generation narrowband communications constellation, known as the Mobile User Objective System, had been expected to reach geosynchronous orbit and a test location about 35,400 kilometers above Hawaii by July 3. (8/17)

Lego Contest Winners Dream of Future Space Exploration (Source: Space.com)
Four winners have been announced in a space-themed Lego building challenge, created in collaboration with NASA. The "Mission to Space: Build Your Future" challenge asked participants to use Legos to create a scene that imagined how humans might explore other planets or space destinations one day. Four winning entrants were selected by judges from Lego and NASA, according to a video message on the Lego website.

The winning designs included a moon house, a home on Mars, a spaceship and a "laboratory expedition module." Pictures of the winning builds are on the Lego website, in a gallery that includes the other contest entries. This isn't the first time NASA and Lego have teamed up for a space-themed building contest, and Lego regularly hosts build challenges on their website. (8/17)

Star Caught Exploding After Long Hibernation (Source: Mashable)
In 2009, astronomers watched as a star suddenly and unexpectedly brightened. This brightening event, which happened in the V1213 Centauri star system, grew more and more luminous over the course of several days, putting on a show for people on the ground. But that extreme brightening didn't come from just anywhere.

A new study in the journal Nature this week tracks the evolution of the star system's brightening and eventual fading using data collected by a telescope, which just happened to be keeping an eye on its part of the sky. Astronomers think that a brightening event like the one that happened in 2009 occurs when a white dwarf star pulls matter from a companion star onto its surface, causing instability and an explosion known as a "classical nova" which makes the star glow more brightly than usual. Click here. (8/17)

Satellite Images Can Map Poverty (Source: Science)
You can fix the world's problems only if you know where they are. That’s why tracking poverty in Africa, for example, is critical for the United Nations, which launched a global poverty campaign last year. But gathering the data on the ground can be dangerous, slow, and expensive. Now, a study using satellite images and machine learning reveals an alternative: mapping poverty from space. Click here. (8/17)

August 18, 2016

Want to Live Underwater Like the Astronauts Train? (Source: FIU)
For the first time, Florida International University now offering "Introduction to Saturation Diving". This course starts off by giving you in-depth discussion on the theory of saturation diving and finishes off with practical application of your skills in an overnight stay at Aquarius, the world's only undersea saturation diving facility. Click here. (8/17)

Space Security: Protecting Our Final Frontier (Source: ASP)
Although space is not new territory, the culture of space security is shifting with the potential of a terrestrial conflict extending into space, as suggested by Secretary James. Currently, there are five United Nations treaties on outer space that date back to the 1970s and 1980s, which establish the foundation of international space law. While the principles and objectives of the treaties remain relevant in present day, advancements in technology have developed new space threats that are not addressed in existing accords. Click here. (8/16)

AIA Briefs Informal Hillary-For-America Advisors (Source: AIA)
The Aerospace Industries Association participated in a meeting today with informal Hillary For America advisors on issues of importance to our industry. As the Voice of American Aerospace and Defense, AIA’s role is to educate our elected leaders, candidates for office and the general public on the importance of our industry to our economy and national security. AIA previously briefed Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Early in the campaign season last year, AIA developed a series of position papers that we distributed to every Congressional and Presidential campaign. Those papers can be viewed here: http://www.aia-aerospace.org/blog/view_our_campaign_position_papers We continue to pursue the opportunity to brief any active campaign on our priorities. (8/17)

DOD Eases Small Biz Subcontract Reporting Requirement (Source: Law360)
The U.S. Department of Defense has issued a new deviation from federal acquisition rules, easing the requirement for defense contractors to issue small business subcontracting reports, among other tweaks to subcontract reporting requirements.

The class deviation from the Federal Acquisition Regulation and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement, issued by the DOD’s Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy unit on Monday, will allow contractors to submit their summary subcontract reports, or SSRs, annually, instead of the current biannual requirement. (8/17)

Satellite Contract Protest Doesn't Need 2nd Look, GAO Says (Source: Law360)
The onetime winner of a U.S. Navy contract for commercial satellite services was unable to convince the U.S. Government Accountability Office to reconsider its decision upholding a rival bidder's protest, with the watchdog ruling in a decision released Tuesday that the request merely expressed disagreement with its findings. Segovia Inc. had challenged the GAO's earlier decision, publicly released in February, which found that the Defense Information Systems Agency didn’t stick to the bid requirements when it chose the company. (8/17)

NASA $1M Contest Intent on Sending Robots to Mars (Source: ComputerWorld)
NASA engineers want humanoid robots to help astronauts living and working on Mars to help build habitats, grow food and make potable water. The space agency on Tuesday opened registration for teams to compete for a $1 million prize purse in what it’s calling the Space Robotics Challenge. The contest is intended to encourage development of robots that are capable of working in the harsh environment of Mars and that have enough strength, precision and autonomy to be useful to human teammates. (8/17)

NASA Rocket Loses Payload After Carrying Student Experiments From Virginia Spaceport (Source: WHSV)
NASA says it lost the payload of a suborbital rocket carrying student experiments into the atmosphere. The agency said in a statement that the rocket launched Wednesday morning from the Wallops spaceport carried instruments, including high definition cameras, about 95 miles above the earth. Data was received from most of the experiments but the instruments were lost on the return to the Atlantic Ocean, where they were supposed to be recovered. The payload containing the equipment is a 20-foot long tube that sat atop the rocket. (8/17)

Space-Based Missile Tracking a "Must" for US Military (Source: Space News)
The head of the Missile Defense Agency said Wednesday that space-based missile tracking sensors are a "must" for him. U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, speaking at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, said it's vital that the MDA develop an "operational space layer" to track missiles. MDA had a previous effort to develop such a system, called the Precision Tracking Space System, but that was cancelled in 2013. (8/17)

How To Catch The Biggest Wave In The Universe (Source: NPR)
When it comes to waves, it doesn't get much bigger than the gravitational variety. Einstein predicted that huge events — like black holes merging — create gravitational waves. Unlike most waves we experience, these are distortions in space and time. They roll across the entire universe virtually unimpeded. Because gravitational waves warp space, they literally change how long things are. LIGO is basically the world's most complicated tape measure. Click here. (8/17)

Report Cites “Urgent” Need for New National Security Space Policies (Source: Space News)
The National Academies said there is an “urgent need” for the U.S. government to write new policies that shape how the Defense Department should respond to threats to American satellites. The report, which was released Aug. 16, came in response to a request from Congress in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act to study the protection of national security satellites.

“There is an urgent need to create relevant national policies to guide the creation of responses to these threats; this includes educating the public so that it can understand and participate in potential solutions in whatever capacity makes sense,” the report said. (8/17)

Europa Mission Planning for Possible Budget Cuts in 2017 (Source: Space News)
While NASA says its support for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa is now aligned with Congress, project officials are preparing for a possible “squeeze” on mission funding in the next fiscal year. In presentations at an Aug. 11 meeting of NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) in Flagstaff, Arizona, officials involved with what’s widely known as the Europa Clipper mission said they are looking for ways to cut costs in 2017 while keeping the mission on track for a 2022 launch. (8/17)

Space May Be the Best Place to Grow Bone Formation Protein Crystals (Source: Space.com)
The scientists behind the new study designed microgravity experiments to grow crystals of a protein known as inorganic pyrophosphatase (IPPase) in space. This protein is an enzyme found in most living organisms that plays an important role in bone formation, DNA synthesis, and the making and breaking down of fats, the researchers said.

The protein crystallization system the scientists developed for the experiments uses tiny tubes to control the flow of a solution containing dissolved proteins. The geometry of the tubes forces the proteins to concentrate in part of the solution, causing it to become supersaturated, meaning there are too many proteins to stay comfortably dissolved. The proteins then emerge from the solution to form a crystal. (8/17)