April 21, 2019

SpaceX Crew Dragan Suffers Apparent Explosion During Engine Test at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A Crew Dragon test article suffered an anomaly, a setback that could prevent SpaceX from sending people to the International Space Station before the end of the year. A lot of orange and black smoke appeared over an area of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, specifically around SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1, where SpaceX was conducting a series of Crew Dragon engine tests. There are no reports of injuries. “The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand,” according to a SpaceX statement.

It is unclear whether this was the same Crew Dragon capsule that was used for the Demo-1 mission more than a month ago. It was planned to use that same vehicle for an in-flight abort test no earlier than this summer. However, with the anomaly, it appears the schedule could be in doubt. This could likely further delaying the Commercial Crew Program, which has already seen Boeing postpone its first Starliner flights to at least the second half of 2019. Before the incident, it was expected that, following a successful in-flight abort test, SpaceX would fly a crewed Demo-2 mission no earlier than late July. (4/20)

Independent Report Concludes 2033 Human Mars Mission is Not Feasible (Source: Space News)
An independent report concluded that NASA has no chance of sending humans to Mars by 2033, with the earliest such a mission could be flown being the late 2030s. The report, while completed prior to the March 26 speech where Vice President Pence directed NASA to return humans to the moon by 2024, does offer insights into how much a lunar return might cost and how it fits into long-term plans to send humans to Mars. NASA contracted with the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) to prepare the report, which Congress directed NASA to perform.

STPI, at NASA’s direction, used the strategy the agency had laid out in its “Exploration Campaign” report, which projects the continued use of the Space Launch System and Orion and development of the lunar Gateway in the 2020s. That would be followed by the Deep Space Transport (DST), a crewed spacecraft that would travel from cislunar space to Mars and back. NASA would also develop lunar landers are related system to support crewed missions to the lunar surface, while also working on systems for later missions to the surface of Mars.

That work, the STPI report concluded, will take too long to complete in time to support a 2033 mission. “We find that even without budget constraints, a Mars 2033 orbital mission cannot be realistically scheduled under NASA’s current and notional plans,” the report states. “Our analysis suggests that a Mars orbital mission could be carried out no earlier than the 2037 orbital window without accepting large technology development, schedule delay, cost overrun, and budget shortfall risks.” (4/18)

AianeGroup and ESA Agree on Ariane 6 Production (Source: Space News)
ArianeGroup has secured an agreement with ESA that will allow full-scale Ariane 6 production to begin. ArianeGroup had reached an impasse with ESA after the number of expected government missions fell short of what was agreed upon early on in the program. ESA's member states agreed this week to provide ArianeGroup "the guaranteed equivalent" of expected orders so that the company can start production of Ariane 6 vehicles beyond the one being built for its first test flight. The decision keeps production of the rocket on track to serve its first government customer, the European Commission, for an April 2021 launch of Galileo satellites. (4/20)

Satixfy Producing Flat-Panel Antennas for Mult-Satellite Connections (Source: Space News)
Antenna developer Satixfy says it's preparing to release its first flat-panel antenna products. The company plans to release a Ku-band terminal based on its antenna this fall optimized for connecting sensors and other Internet of Things devices, followed by an aeronautical terminal in 2020. Satixfy is one of around two dozen companies working on flat panel antennas capable of connecting with two or more satellites simultaneously, a feature widely viewed as critical for proposed large constellations of broadband satellites that would orbit too fast for typical dish antennas. Satixfy believes that, by building its own chipsets, it will have a cost advantage over competitors. (4/20)

China Plans Asteroid Sample Return (Source: Xinhua)
China has announced plans for an asteroid sample return mission. The unnamed mission, still under study, would fly to the near Earth asteroid 2016 HO3 and collect samples. The spacecraft would return to Earth, with a canister detaching from the spacecraft to bring the samples down to the surface. The main spacecraft would go on to perform a flyby of 133P/Elst-Pizarro, an object in the main asteroid belt that also exhibits characteristics of comets. The mission, launching in 2022, would take about a decade to complete. (4/20)

April 20, 2019

NASA is Working on a Camera That Could Save Humanity From Extinction (Source: Quartz)
Astronomers tend to be patient people. When it comes to stars, much of what they examine happened millions of years ago, and when it comes to space probes, even pre-launch prep can take a decade or more. But they are getting impatient about launching an infrared space telescope called NEOCam. It has a very specific mission: Spotting near-Earth objects—astronomical bodies, most commonly asteroids, whose orbits around the sun could pass close to Earth and potentially collide with our planet, some of which could damage or destroy civilization itself. (4/19)

Ground Station Startup Leaf Space Plans Capital Raise (Source: Space News)
Italian startup Leaf Space wants to triple the number of ground station locations it has by late next year, citing customer demand for providing communications services to small satellites. Founded in 2014, Milan, Italy-based Leaf Space operates a total of four ground stations in Italy, Spain, Ireland and Lithuania. The uptake of services using those stations has the company preparing to seek funding for another eight locations, including some in the United States and at least one near the equator, Giovanni Pandolfi, Leaf Space’s chief technology officer, said. (4/19)

Boeing Receives $605 Million Air Force Contract for WGS-11 Communications Satellite (Source: Space News)
Boeing received a $605 million contract for the production of the Air Force’s 11th Wideband Global Satellite Communication satellite that Congress funded more than a year ago. The WGS constellation provides broadband communications to the U.S. military and allies. The deal announced on Friday is a modification to an existing WGS Block II follow-on agreement that brings the total value of Boeing’s WGS contracts to nearly $2.5 billion. Boeing has been the prime contractor since 2001. The first satellite was launched in 2007. (4/19)

Blue Origin will expand HQ and R&D in Kent (Source: I Love Kent)
Blue Origin is “going vertical” with its new headquarters and research and development facility in Kent Washington, as they are expanding their world-class team, and will be building a new 250,000-square-foot facility that will support their new growth. This means more rocket building, more hiring of rocket scientists, and a continued connection to space for the home of the original Lunar Rovers – Kent! (4/19)

Virgin Galactic Expects Rapid Conclusion of SpaceShipTwo Test Flights After Downtime (Source: Space News)
Virgin Galactic’s chief pilot believes the company will be able to go through the remainder of its SpaceShipTwo test program fairly quickly once test flights of the suborbital spaceplane resume. In an interview during the 35th Space Symposium here April 9, Dave Mackay said the SpaceShipTwo vehicle called VSS Unity, which he piloted to the edge of space on a test flight Feb. 22, is currently undergoing work that includes outfitting the interior with the cabin the company plans to use on commercial flights that will carry space tourists. (4/19)

Methane-Filled Lakes on Titan are “Surprisingly Deep” (Source: Universe Today)
The Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons wrapped up in 2017, when the spacecraft was sent plunging into the gas giant to meet its end. But there’s still a lot of data from the mission to keep scientists busy. A team of scientists working with Cassini data have made a surprising discovery: Titan’s methane-filled lakes are much deeper, and weirder, than expected. Titan is an unusual world. It’s the only body, other than Earth, that has liquid on its surface. Scientists suspect that some of the Solar System’s other moons, like Enceladus and Europa, have liquid oceans. But those oceans are subsurface water oceans. Only Titan has lakes of liquid hydrocarbons. (4/18)

Physicists Closer to Solving Mystery of Weird Glowing Ring Around Milky Way's Black Hole (Source: Live Science)
Astronomers watched a high-speed gas cloud slam into the matter getting sucked toward Sagittarius A* — the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way — and then zip away into space. Now, careful observations have revealed just how much the gas cloud, which astronomers named G2, slowed after the collision.

That measurement tells scientists something important: the density of the hot matter surrounding Sagittarius A*, which is the nearest known supermassive black hole to Earth. SagittariusA* (SagA*) is quiescent, meaning it's not gobbling up a huge disk of matter and firing off jets. But there's still something hot and glowing surrounding it that physicists don't understand very well. The collision with G2 is offering astronomers one of their best clues yet as to what that glowing ring is made of.

"There was this drag force. The thing [G2] became slower," said Stefan Gillessen, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany. G2’s deceleration proved that there was something substantial in the immediate vicinity of the black hole for G2 to crash through, Gillessen said. Physicists detected that slowing-down using data from the GRAVITY collaboration at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. (4/18)

SpaceX Delays ISS Resupply Launch (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The launch date for a SpaceX mission to carry cargo to the International Space Station has been pushed back. A Falcon 9 rocket plans to launch a Dragon capsule carrying supplies, experiments and other materials to the space laboratory at 4:22 a.m. on April 30. The mission had previously been scheduled to send the rocket up on April 26. NASA used its Twitter account to announce the change of plans for the launch, which will take off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This will be the 17th time SpaceX has launched a cargo mission to the space station. (4/19)

Latest Lost Satellite is Now Space Junk That Could Put Other Spacecraft at Risk (Source: The Verge)
Intelsat announced that one of its communications satellites is now completely lost in orbit above Earth, rendering the vehicle an unmovable piece of space debris. Intelsat says that something damaged the satellite, causing its onboard propellant to leak out into space. Now, without the ability to maneuver and communicate, the satellite could pose a potential threat to other vehicles in the same orbit.

For Intelsat, the most obvious consequence of the loss is a financial one. Built by Boeing, the satellite, called Intelsat 29e, cost between $400 and $450 million and was supposed to operate up to 15 years in space. But now its lifetime has been cut short after just three years in orbit, preventing Intelsat from receiving any planned revenue from the spacecraft’s communications coverage over North and South America.

But the now-dead satellite is also a liability for other satellites that are on a similar trajectory. The spacecraft’s orbit is a high one above Earth known as geostationary orbit, or GEO — a path above the equator where satellites match the eastward rotation of the planet. That means they essentially “hover” over the same patch of the Earth at all times. It’s a popular spot to deposit communications and surveillance satellites because they just sit in one location of the sky for years. (4/19)

Techstars and Starburst Unveil Space Startup Accelerator (Source: Space News)
Starburst Aerospace and Techstars announced plans Feb. 12 to begin accepting applications for a new space-focused accelerator based in Los Angeles and backed by the U.S. Air Force, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, Maxar Technologies, SAIC and Israel Aerospace Industries North America.

The Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator is scheduled to review applications and announce the selection in May of ten companies to participate in the three-month program. Each participant will receive a $120,000 investment and the opportunity to work with mentors who have space technology experience as well as executive mentors to help them prepare business plans and strategies, said Matt Kozlov, managing director of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator. (2/12)

Former NASA Deputy Administrator Garver Joins Earthrise Alliance (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Lori Garver, former NASA Deputy Administrator, has teamed with leading environmental and space scientists to form Earthrise Alliance, a philanthropic initiative established to fully utilize Earth science data to combat climate change. Earthrise funds fellowships and awards grants to partner organizations that engage and activate educators, journalists, voters and decision makers. In addition, Earthrise provides partners with meaningful content, tools and applications derived from satellite data to inform the actions of these target communities.

Stressing the importance of their mission, Garver reflects that “in the 50 years since the first Earthrise photo was taken by Apollo 8 astronauts, our planet has literally changed before our eyes. Investment in space activities have driven scientific and technological advances that have transformed our understanding of Earth’s changing climate. Earthrise was created to translate this knowledge into meaningful action and to inform critical decision making that supports and sustains humanity on planet Earth.” (4/18)

A Mars Colony Could Be Humanity's First Shot at a Ground-Up, Pure Economy (Source: Inverse)
A city on Mars could provide the first-ever truly blank slate to organize a new kind of economy. While attempts to re-organize the means of production are as old as humankind itself, these experiments have always been limited to some extent by the economic systems that came before. People can only change so much so fast. Space exploration, and the establishment of new colonies, may be humanity’s first shot at creating an economy from the ground up. Its first settlers could opt for pure socialism — where all ownership was shared — just as easily as they could establish a city that enshrines property rights so much there are no other laws at all.

The dusty red surface, in other words, will provide us with what could be the first history-free moment to start anew. “To an economist, this is perhaps the most exciting thing about space settlement!” Matt Weinzierl, a professor at Harvard Business School who has written about the economics of space, tells Inverse. With Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk possibly on the verge of opening up space to society, a prospect that has venture capitalists excited, this developing area of research has started to grapple with how economics may shift as humans explore beyond Earth. Click here. (4/20)

Pepsi's Obsession With Outer Space Has Spanned Decades (Source: The Atlantic)
Think about the dreaminess of twilight, when the sun has slipped below the horizon, and the darkening sky is streaked with dusky purples and blues. There, among the emerging stars and the silvery moon, lustrous as a pearl, you see it—an ad for a soda company. This was the future envisioned by PepsiCo, specifically the corporation’s division in Russia. According to a recent story by Futurism’s Jon Christian, the branch planned to launch an “orbital billboard,” a cluster of small satellites flying in formation, like migratory birds that want to sell you something.

The ad would orbit more than 250 miles above Earth, at about the same altitude as the International Space Station. In the early morning and evening, little sails on the satellites, made of reflective Mylar, would catch the light of the sun and become visible to the ground. The artificial constellation, blinking a logo, would promote Adrenaline Rush, a PepsiCo Russia energy drink aimed at gamers.

A Russian company has already tested a prototype using a helium balloon that carried one of its reflectors into the stratosphere, a layer of Earth’s atmosphere far below the edge of space, Futurism reported. But that’s apparently as far as this effort is going to get; this week, a PepsiCo spokesperson in the United States shot down the idea, saying there had been a miscommunication between Russian and American PepsiCo employees, perhaps because of a “language issue.” (4/19)

Last-Ditch Ways to Reverst the Climate Trend (Source: Business Insider)
Geoengineering is a term that refers to technology that can alter Earth's natural cycles to cool down the planet. It's being increasingly discussed as a potential way to address climate change. Putting mirrors in space, capturing carbon dioxide, and seeding clouds with particles are all ways of manipulating weather or the atmosphere. But some scientists and politicians think geoengineering could damage the planet or lead to war. Here are 11 strategies researchers have put forth to hack the planet and combat climate change. Click here. (4/20)

Alien 'Megastructures' May Hold Key to Making Contact with Extraterrestrials (Source: NBC)
If you’re trying to come up with the best game plan for proving the existence of extraterrestrials, you’ve got plenty of options. Naturally, you want a strategy with a high chance of success, simply in the interests of time, money and a shot at the Nobel Prize. For nearly 70 years the scheme favored by most scientists has been to look for signals — radio transmissions. That’s the classic approach of SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), and frankly, it makes sense. Radio can easily traverse light-years, and the technology for detecting it is well known and highly sensitive.

But is looking for signals really the best plan? Is it possible that we’re making the wrong bet? There’s an attractive alternative: searching for physical artifacts — alien structures. We’re not talking about crop circles or other odd phenomena here on Earth. We’re talking about massive engineering works that an advanced society has constructed somewhere in space. Why search for artifacts? Because it eliminates the requirement that the aliens have chosen to get in touch — to transmit radio signals our way. (4/20)

All-Woman Engineering Team Heads to NASA Mars Competition (Source: University of Colorado)
NASA has named a University of Colorado Boulder team a finalist in a competition to design a greenhouse for use on Mars. The annual NASA BIG Idea Challenge is set for April 23-24 in Virginia; it calls on student groups at universities across the country to develop solutions to vexing space problems. The 2019 contest is seeking innovative ideas for the design and operation of a Mars greenhouse. The students are putting the finishing touches on their entry before the final competition, where their written research and physical prototypes will be evaluated by a group of NASA experts.

Five universities advanced to the championship and CU Boulder is the only one sending an all-woman team. “It wasn’t intentional. In the beginning, I reached out to people I knew who would be good for the project, and one day we looked around the room and realized we were all women.” The team is also heavily interdisciplinary, drawing students with majors from across the college, including aerospace, computer science, architectural engineering, chemical and biological engineering, and mechanical engineering. (4/18)

Kivelson Succeeds Harrison as Chair of Space Studies Board (Source: Space Policy Online)
Margaret Kivelson is the new chair of the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  She succeeds Fiona Harrison who stepped down in order to co-chair the ongoing Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics. Harrison was the first woman to chair SSB in its 61-year history. Now Kivelson is the second.

Margaret Kivelson standing next to the engineering model of the Galileo spacecraft at JPL’s museum. Credit: NASA website. Kivelson is Professor of Space Physics, Emerita at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a research professor at the University of Michigan. Her specialty is magnetospheric plasma physics of the Earth, Jupiter and Saturn. (4/19)

NASA Announces Upcoming ISS Crews, Which Won’t Fly Commercial (Source: Discover)
Ever since the space shuttle retired in 2011, NASA has been paying Russia for rides to the International Space Station. They’d hoped that dependency would finally end in 2019. But with its new lineup of flights and launch dates released this week, the space agency acknowledged they’re not quite done needing Russia’s Soyuz rockets yet.

NASA will remain dependent on Russia for the next round of space station rotations. Thanks to delays in commercial launches by SpaceX and Boeing, which NASA has paid billions to ferry crews to ISS, the space agency is now settling on longer missions for their astronauts, who will continue to hitch rides on Soyuz rockets. In fact, the new long-term crew roster and launch dates for the next year does not list any flights on commercial launches.

NASA had planned to stop buying rides to the space station aboard Russian Soyuz flights by the end of 2019 and switch to buying seats from SpaceX and Boeing instead. But both companies have suffered delays and are still in the process of testing and being certified to fly humans. NASA’s solution, to avoid abandoning the ISS in the meantime, was to purchase two additional Soyuz seats to get them through the rest of 2019 and into early 2020, and stretch out the assignments of their crew. (4/19)

Why We Love Investing in Space (Source: Via Satellite)
The worse the pain in a sector, the more we get intrigued. Space was an area that was, and still is, a very difficult industry in which to successfully start and grow a data business. The recent emergence of small satellite technology was a key variable change that we believed would unlock the industry in new and exciting ways. No longer did a large expensive satellite need to stay up in geosynchronous orbit for 20 years with outdated technology. While small satellites offered a much shorter life, a company could launch them cheaper and more frequently, as well as continually upgrade these constellations in the sky whenever needed. We are seeing these important shifts clearly play out in the industry today. Click here. (4/19)

April 18, 2019

A Small Step for China: Mars Base for Teens Opens in Desert (Source: Phys.org)
In the middle of China's Gobi desert sits a Mars base simulator, but instead of housing astronauts training to live on the Red Planet, the facility is full of teenagers on a school trip. Surrounded by barren hills in northwestern Gansu province, "Mars Base 1" opened on Wednesday with the aim of exposing teens—and soon tourists—to what life could be like on the planet.

The facility's unveiling comes as China is making progress in its efforts to catch up to the United States and become a space power, with ambitions of sending humans to the moon someday. The white-colored base has a silver dome and nine modules, including living quarters, a control room, a greenhouse and an airlock. Built at a cost of 50 million yuan ($7.47 million), the base was constructed with help from the Astronauts Center of China and the China Intercontinental Communication Center, a state television production organization. (4/17)

Explosion on Jupiter-Sized Star 10 Times More Powerful Than Ever Seen on the Sun (Source: Phys.org)
A stellar flare ten times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter. The star is the coolest and smallest to give off a rare white-light superflare, and by some definitions could be too small be considered a star. Flares are thought to be driven by a sudden release of magnetic energy generated in the star's interior. This causes charged particles to heat plasma on the stellar surface, releasing vast amounts of optical, UV and X-ray radiation.

"The activity of low mass stars decreases as you go to lower and lower masses and we expect the chromosphere (a region of the star which support flares) to get cooler or weaker. The fact that we've observed this incredibly low mass star, where the chromosphere should be almost at its weakest, but we have a white-light flare occurring shows that strong magnetic activity can still persist down to this level." (4/17)

Astronauts to Extend ISS Stay (Source: Space News)
Two NASA astronauts will get extended stays on the ISS, including one that will set a record. NASA announced Wednesday that Christina Koch, who arrived on the station a month ago, will remain there until February 2020. That stay, of about 328 days, will break the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman currently held by Peggy Whitson. Andrew Morgan, scheduled to launch to the station in July, will remain there until next spring, a stay of about 255 days. NASA said the extended stays will give researchers more data on the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. It also gives NASA more time to certify commercial crew vehicles that will transport future crews to the station. (4/18)

California Congressmen Challenge DOD Space Reorganization (Source: Space News)
Two members of Congress from California are questioning the creation of the Space Development Authority (SDA). In a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Reps. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) raised "strong objections" for taking missions away from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), based in Los Angeles, to the new agency.

The California lawmakers specifically challenge Shanahan to define the role of the SDA versus SMC, a 65-year-old organization that employs 6,000 people. Shanahan and other Pentagon officials said SDA is not meant to replace SMC, but that SDA will take on new programs while SMC manages legacy ones. (4/18)

Congress Pushes for Air Force Launch Procurement Delay (Source: Roll Call)
A growing number of lawmakers are speaking out about the Air Force's upcoming launch procurement. In a letter last week, a bipartisan group of 28 House members asked Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson not to delay that Launch Service Procurement, scheduled for release later this month. The members are all supporters of United Launch Alliance, which has advocated for keeping the program on its current schedule.

Other members, notably Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, have called for a delay, saying the procurement is premature because companies like Blue Origin are still developing their launch vehicles. (4/18)

LyteLoop Plans Laser-Comm Space-Based Satellite Data Storage Constellation (Source: Space News)
A startup is proposing a constellation of smallsats to provide secure data storage in space. LyteLoop, founded in 2015 but only now coming out of stealth mode, plans to use satellites to meet the growing demand for secure data storage without building large, energy-intensive, ground-based centers. The company's satellites would be capable of storing hundreds of petabytes of data in space, moving them from satellite to satellite using high-bandwidth laser communications. LyteLoop will seek to raise a round of funding in the near future and request proposals for the development of dozens of satellites next year. (4/18)

How Safe Are New Satellite Constellations From Space Junk? (Source: ABC.net)
According to SpaceX, there's a 1 per cent chance that at least one of its satellites will collide with a piece of debris during its 10-year stint in the sky. But that calculation, given in a report to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), only incorporates trackable debris — pieces larger than around 10cm. Satellite operators can track where those pieces are and maneuver their equipment out of the way. And while the millions of tiniest bits — less than 1cm wide — are too small to track, colliding with them is unlikely to blast a satellite to pieces, said Samantha Le May, who is modelling the behavior of orbital debris for her PhD at RMIT University.

It's the middle-sized fragments, between 1 and 10cm, that are cause for concern. They're also too small to track but, at speed, are big enough to obliterate a satellite, creating clouds of more debris. When Ms Le May and her colleagues took these chunks into account, the likelihood of a SpaceX satellite having a catastrophic collision jumped to over 12 per cent during 5 years of operation. And that was based on SpaceX's plans at the time, which was to deploy 4,425 satellites. The company has since registered a further 7,518 satellites to slot into low Earth orbit. Click here. (4/17)

Russia: Indian ASAT Debris Threatens ISS (Source: Sputnik)
Russia's defense ministry is warning that debris from India's anti-satellite test could threaten the ISS. The head of the Main Space Intelligence Centre of the Russian Defence Ministry said Thursday there were more than 100 fragments from last month's ASAT test "which may create threats in the near future" to the station. NASA previously warned that the ASAT test increased the threat to the station, at least in the near term, although there's been no evidence that the station has yet had to take measures to avoid any collisions from debris created by that test. (4/18)

Not a Total Loss: Falcon Heavy Booster Engines May Be Okay (Source: Teslarati)
The Falcon Heavy booster core that launched last week has returned to port — or part of it, at least. The center booster core from the April 11 launch landed on a droneship in the Atlantic, but later toppled over in heavy seas when crews could not board the ship to secure it. The droneship returned to port last night, and observers noted that only the lower half of the booster was lying on its side on the deck of the ship. SpaceX previously said that the mishap won't affect the schedule for the next Falcon Heavy flight, since that mission already planned to use a new center booster core. (4/17)

China Offers Rides for International Payloads on Lunar Lander & Orbiter (Source: Xinhua)
China will fly international payloads on a future sample return mission. The China National Space Administration says it will reserve 20 kilograms of payload space on its Chang'e-6 mission, split evenly between its orbiter and lander. The mission will land in the south polar region of the moon to collect samples for return to Earth, likely in the early 2020s. Universities and private enterprises in China will also be eligible to propose payloads for the mission. (4/18)

Helium Hydride Detected in NGC 7027 (Source: Science News)
Astronomers have detected what they believe to be the earliest molecule to form in the universe. Observations of a planetary nebula called NGC 7027, 3,000 light-years away, turned up evidence of helium hydride ions, which consist of one atom of hydrogen and one of helium. While those ions likely formed in the relatively recent past, they demonstrate that such molecules can exist outside of the laboratory. Scientists believe that helium hydride was the first molecule to form after the Big Bang in a period where the only elements in the universe were hydrogen and helium. (4/17)

Lockheed Martin Wants to Take NASA to the Moon (Source: Axios)
Lockheed Martin has a plan to get NASA astronauts back to the surface of the moon by 2024, the company revealed during the National Space Symposium in Colorado last week. The plan would take its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle — which the government contractor has been developing for the better part of a decade for previous space exploration plans — and direct it to the moon. The plan would require a test flight of the Orion with its European Service Module on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in June 2020, with the first crewed test flight in late 2022. Click here. (4/17)

NASA Wallops Flight Facility Gains Ground in Space, Scrambles to Save Ground on Earth (Source: Fredericksburg.com)
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore is scheduled to launch a resupply mission to the International Space Station this afternoon. The launch pad is one of two that sit at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and a spot where rising waters and stronger storms believed to be fueled by climate change are eroding the shoreline.

The first lesson in understanding what’s happening at Wallops is that not all beaches erode equally. And that’s the crux of the problem for NASA’s $1.2 billion flight facility. Built out on a barrier island to reduce risk to the local population in Accomack County, the beach helps to protect the island from scouring waves. But the thing about barrier islands is they are always moving and changing, and the area where launches take place sits at an erosion hot spot. (4/17)

Multiple Entities in Favor of Potential Michigan Spaceport (Source: Iosco News-Herald)
Inclusion in a trillion-dollar industry, support of more environmentally-friendly projects and involvement in cutting edge technology. These are just a few examples of the perceived benefits, should Oscoda Township become home to a spaceport operation. Gavin Brown – executive director of Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA) –  gave a presentation at the April 11 meeting of the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport Authority (OWAA) to  discuss the possibility of bringing a launch facility, both vertical and horizontal, to the state.

In attendance were representatives of Oscoda and AuSable townships, Phoenix Composite Solutions, the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport (OWA) and Kalitta Air, including CEO Connie Kalitta. Consensus from attendees was that such an endeavor would have a significant, positive impact on the community and surrounding areas. Oscoda has been named as one of the possible site locations for the Michigan Launch Initiative (MLI), and Brown explained that funding is being awaited which was approved by former Governor Rick Snyder. This is currently under discussion with Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

“For some reason, there’s language that did not sit well with her budget director, so that’s where it stands,” according to Brown, who noted that money was already approved and appropriated to bring forward Phase I of the proposed project. Should the plan proceed, he advised that activity at the launch site in Oscoda would involve low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. There is no intention to carry out any manned or deep-space operations, as the idea would be to specifically put low orbit satellites into the LEO constellations. (4/17)

Why Space Tourism is an Incredible Waste of Money (Source: Traveller)
Space tourism is here. It's real. It's not some outlandish vision of a distant future. Right now, if you have the money, you can pay to get in a spacecraft and fly around the moon and back. Of course, you don't have the money. That journey, with SpaceX, costs somewhere in the region of US$100 million, which is not the sort of change many people have to throw around. There's a Japanese man, Yusaku Maezawa, who does have that sort of change to throw around, and will undertake his interstellar journey sometime around 2023. For the rest of us, however, that will remain a dream.

But that isn't where space tourism begins and ends. And for those looking for the next frontier, who are so obsessed with travel that they want to take this thing as far as it can go, the space travel experience is already possible. For those who are only stupidly rich, there's the chance to spend US$20 million and fly into orbit, before visiting the International Space Station. That Russia-led program is currently on hold, though it's hoped it will be resuming soon. Other orbital space rides are in the works, like the Aurora Space Station, in orbit by 2021. That date seems highly ambitious, but still, it's an interesting concept.

Virgin Galactic was all set to launch its first commercial sub-orbital flight by 2015, but unfortunately its winged spacecraft disintegrated during a test flight over the Mojave Desert in 2014. The company hopes to fly paying customers by end of this year, for about $250,000 a pop. Blue Origin may beat them there with its New Shepard rocket. And then there are parabolic weightless flights. The question, of course, is if it's worth it – if any of this is worth it. Click here. (4/17)

Does a Year in Space Make You Older or Younger? (Source: The Conversation)
The NASA TWINS Study represents the most comprehensive view of the human body’s response to space flight ever conducted. Results will guide future studies and personalized approaches for evaluating health effects of individual astronauts for years to come. As a cancer biologist at Colorado State University I study the impact of radiation exposure on human cells. As part of the TWINS Study, I was particularly interested in evaluating how the ends of the chromosomes, called telomeres, were altered by a year in space.

One question often asked is whether Scott will return from space younger than Mark – a situation reminiscent of “Interstellar” or Einstein’s so-called “Twin Paradox.” However, because the ISS is not traveling anywhere near the speed of light relative to us, time dilation – or the slowing of time due to motion – is very minimal. So any age difference between the brothers would only be a few milliseconds. Even so, the question of spaceflight-associated aging and the accompanying risk of developing age-related diseases like dementia, cardiovascular disease and cancer – during or after a mission – is an important one, and one that we aimed to address directly with our study of telomere length.

Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes that protect them from damage and from “fraying” – much like the end of a shoestring. Telomeres are critical for maintaining chromosome and genome stability. However, telomeres naturally shorten as our cells divide, and so also as we age. The rate at which telomeres shorten over time is influenced by many factors, including oxidative stress and inflammation, nutrition, physical activity, psychological stresses and environmental exposures like air pollution, UV rays and ionizing radiation. (4/16)

NASA, Blue Origin Agreement Signals Rocketing Growth of Commercial Space (Source: NASA)
Officials from NASA and Blue Origin have signed an agreement that grants the company use of a historic test stand as the agency focuses on returning to the Moon and on to Mars, and America’s commercial space industry continues to grow. Under a Commercial Space Launch Act agreement, Blue Origin will upgrade and refurbish Test Stand 4670, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville to support testing of their BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines. The BE-4 engine was selected to power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket and Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch vehicle – both being developed to serve the expanding civil, commercial and national security space markets.

“This test stand once helped power NASA’s first launches to the Moon, which eventually led to the emergence of an entirely new economic sector – commercial space,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. “Now, it will have a role in our ongoing commitment to facilitate growth in this sector.” Constructed in 1965, Test Stand 4670 served as the backbone for Saturn V propulsion testing for the Apollo program, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Later, it was modified to support testing of the space shuttle external tank and main engine systems. The facility has been inactive since 1998. (4/17)

Antares Rocket Launches Cygnus Cargo Ship on Marathon Mission for NASA (Source; Space.com)
An Antares rocket soared into the afternoon sky over Virginia on Wednesday (April 17) carrying tons of NASA supplies — and 40 intrepid mice — to the International Space Station. The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket and its uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft launched into the cosmos from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, kicking off a two-day voyage to the space station. Liftoff occurred at 4:46 p.m. EDT (2046 GMT).

If all goes well, the spacecraft will arrive at the orbiting lab early Friday (April 19) to deliver 7,600 lbs. (3,447 kilograms) of science gear and supplies to the six-person crew of the International Space Station. The mission, called NG-11, is the eleventh cargo flight for NASA by Northrop Grumman and will be the company's longest one to date. (4/17)

Canada Funds Space Research Grants (Source: SpaceQ)
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced that it had awarded 31 grants totalling $16.2M for its Flights and Fieldwork for the Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST) program to 16 universities. According to the CSA the FAST Program “supports the development of space science and technologies and enables students and young researchers to gain hands-on experience in space-like missions. Grants are issued to Canadian post-secondary institutions (colleges and universities) following a competitive process.”

The grants awarded during this funding round will go to remote sensing investigations, CubeSat technologies including a novel Reflector Array SAR Antenna, atmospheric and other studies using balloons, propulsion innovations for rockets and more. (4/17)

China's Plans to Dominate Space (Source: National Interest)
The essential requirement for informatization is not lost on Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is making a determined effort to ensure that PLA modernization is complete by 2035 and that it results in a ‘world-class’ force capable of fighting and winning wars anywhere by 2050. Space capability and ‘space power’ are central components of PLA informatization and China is developing sophisticated thinking and capability for waging war in space.

The key document driving the modernization agenda is China’s 2015 defense white paper, which notes that: ‘Outer space has become a commanding height in international strategic competition. Countries concerned are developing their space forces and instruments, and the first signs of weaponization of outer space have appeared.’ The 2015 white paper also resulted in the formation of the PLA Strategic Support Force, which was created as part of a major reorganisation of the PLA. The PLASSF focuses on the roles of space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum in Chinese military operations, and highlights doing more in space as a priority for the PLA. (4/17)

China Charting a Course to Mars and Jupiter (Source: Asia Times)
Future Chinese spacecraft will go beyond the Moon and fly to Mars and even deeper into space to reach Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, according to official plans. In a space exploration plan spanning the next decade, Beijing has set its sights on Mars and Jupiter. However, China’s Mars program made a bad start in 2011 when the Yinghuo-1, intended to be the first Chinese spacecraft to Mars to study its surface, atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetic field, disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean after its Russian ride to space failed to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull.

Sun Zezhou, the chief architect of the Chang’e-4, which landed on the Moon’s far side, will also be responsible for the design of China’s new Mars probe. Sun revealed that the new probe, Yinghuo-2, would be similar to the Chang’e-4, but twice as heavy with a sizeable, autonomous rover, the Chitu, weighing about 200 kilograms. One of the goals of the mission is to search for evidence of both current and past life on the Martian surface, like biomolecules and biosignatures.

As for China’s audacious plans for future exploration beyond the inner solar system, including a mission to Jupiter, the country still needs new rocket and solar panel technologies for its probe to traverse 588 million kilometers to its destination. For instance, Chinese engineers still need to crack technical hurdles to develop a cutting-edge radioisotope thermoelectric generator as well as its gigantic solar array wings to power the future Jupiter probe. Xinhua reported last year that a mission to Jupiter would be launched in about 2029. (4/17)

How Will Space Law Work When We Begin to Colonize Planets? (Source: Open Access Government)
We are rapidly moving towards colonizing other planets for human life: SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other smaller businesses in the space sector are all hoping to win lucrative contracts from the likes of NASA and other national space agencies to begin the colonisation process. Space travel is steadily becoming cheaper, easier, and more accessible thanks to advancements in technology, and some experts are claiming that we may be living on the Moon by 2030. And while we haven’t even set foot on Mars, there are already plans in place to colonize our closest planetary neighbor.

But beyond the practical problems of moving people and resources into space, and the technology that would be required for the long journeys to the destination, there is the question of how colonies would be governed. How would laws work in space? Space lawyers are already in employment, with many private entities attempting to understand how legal issues in space will operate in the future. Space lawyers are experts in traditional fields of law as well as understanding the complexities of space travel. Click here. (4/17)

April 17, 2019

CubeSats Prove Their Worth for Scientific Missions (Source: Space Daily)
Only a few years ago, the astronomy and heliophysics communities were skeptical about whether CubeSats could reliably obtain scientific data. But these breadloaf-size satellites have proven their ability to return useful data. Christopher S. Moore, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the Solar and Stellar X-ray Group, contributed to the twin Miniature X-ray Solar Spectometer (MinXSS) mission using CubeSats to measure soft X-rays from the Sun. These were the first solar science-oriented CubeSat missions flown for the NASA Science Mission Directorate.

MinXSS-1 was launched in December 2015 on the Atlas-V Cygnus OA-4 Launch, Orbital ATK resupply mission to the International Space Station, where it was deployed for an approximately 12-month orbit around Earth. The second version, MinXXS-2, was launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 as part of the Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express in December 2018 and deployed for a four- to five-year orbit and operation. Science-oriented CubeSats are low-cost, short-lifespan satellites built to take specific scientific observations and measurements. MinXSS, for example, features cost-saving components such as an extendable tape measure that serves as a radio antenna. (4/17)

Extending North Korea's Satellite Ban (Source: Space Daily)
When will North Korea launch its next satellite? There hasn't been a launch since early 2016. Recently, boffins became interested in some new construction at North Korea's satellite launch complex, which suggested a launch could be ready soon. The failure of the recent US-North Korean summit in Hanoi to produce a positive result for North Korea could have also prompted a launch. And so we waited. This analyst expected that a launch could take place in time for North Korea's recent parliamentary meeting and birthday celebrations for North Korea's founding father, Kim Il-Sung. But nothing happened.

This analyst also suggested that holding back on a launch could also be an effort to appease US President Donald Trump, and boost future chances of loosening economic sanctions against the country. Such considerations remain valid, and recent statements from North Korea suggest that international politics could be the driving force in keeping North Korea's launch vehicles grounded. If North Korea plans to give more time for negotiations to take place, then it also seems reasonable to assume that they will avoid provocations.

North Korea has cited its recent moratorium on nuclear and missile tests as acts of good faith, hoping that such actions would improve its chances of scoring a deal. A breaking of this moratorium would weaken North Korea's case in any future negotiations. While satellite launches are not as bellicose as weapons tests, they could be seen as tests of missile components. So a moratorium on satellite launches seems to be bundled in this overall strategy. Thus, it seems most unlikely that North Korea will stage a satellite launch this year. Exactly when the next North Korean satellite launch will be attempted is hard to estimate. But events can change rapidly in this strategically perilous part of the world. (4/16)

Sea Launch Venture May Be Moved From US to Russia's Far East (Source: Space Daily)
The redeployment of the Sea Launch space launch venture from the US State of California to Russia's Far East may be discussed soon, a Russian space industry source said. "The possibility of relocating the Sea Launch platform to the Far East, specifically to the Sovetskaya Harbor, for launching the Soyuz-5 Light rocket is being considered," the source said.

According to the source, if the Sea Launch continues to be located in the United States, it is almost impossible to launch a new Russian rocket from it, since the intergovernmental agreement between Russia and the United States provides for the launch of the Russian-Ukrainian Zenit rocket, which was discontinued in 2014.

Even if a new intergovernmental agreement is signed in the future, the Russian side will have to disclose to the US regulatory authorities the technical documentation on the new rocket in order to receive a launch license, a condition that Russia will not accept, the source stressed. "The only way out is to relocate the Sea Launch to Russia," he concluded. Russia's S7 Group is the owner of the Sea Launch venture, which includes the Sea launch Commander vessel and the Odyssey launch platform. (4/17)

NASA Plans to Send Humans to an Icy Part of the Moon for the First Time (Source: C/Net)
NASA's ambitious plan to return astronauts to the moon within five years has a target: the lunar South Pole. The Apollo missions of the '60s and '70s all landed around the moon's equator, but the pole has something very special those sites don't: ice, ice baby. "We know the South Pole region contains ice and may be rich in other resources based on our observations from orbit, but, otherwise, it's a completely unexplored world," NASA's Steven Clarke said.

While no one has bopped around the pole, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft has been scrutinizing the area, so we have detailed maps of the region to work with. Scientists published a paper in 2018 showing the existence of surface ice at the lunar poles, especially in the south's shadowy spots inside craters. These areas get down to a frigid -414 degrees Fahrenheit (-248 Celsius), plenty chilly enough to keep water solidified as ice in cold storage. (4/17)

Fingernail-Sized Spacecraft Could Soon Scour the Solar System for Aliens (Source: Inverse)
Big rockets tend to capture a lot of space enthusiasts’ attention, from NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) to SpaceX’s Starship and Falcon Heavy. And to be sure, to get people to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, rocket engineers are going to have to think big. But it’s important not to discount the role that small — and even tiny — space craft will have in democratizing access to space and unleashing benefits for those of us who are unfortunately still stuck on Earth.

This is according to Peter Beck, the founder and CEO of Rocket Lab. Beck says Rocket Lab is cleared to launch rockets every 72 hours for the next 30 years from New Zealand, thanks to a mix of regulatory and technological innovation. Beck is a proponent of tiny spacecraft which are at the foreground of efforts to democratize access to space and its benefits. “It’s not a revolution of the big, it’s a revolution of the small,” Beck says in the video. “The key here is not the size of the rocket, the key here is frequency … Launch frequency is the absolute most important thing out of all of this.”

RocketLab plans to launch thousands in the next year to begin exploring the solar system. These craft will be launched using RocketLab’ Electron Rocket, a 17 meter rocket with a maximum payload of just 225 kilograms, less than about 500 pounds. That’s pretty tiny, especially when compared to 140,600-pound capacity on the Falcon Heavy, but Beck explained that thanks to advancements in computing power, you can now pack a lot of tech into 500 pounds. (4/17)

Air Force Leaders on Space Deterrence: ‘At Some Point, We’ve Got to Hit Back’ (Source: Defense News)
Deterrence was the watchword among U.S. Air Force leadership during last week’s Space Symposium, and officials stated in strong terms that the United States is prepared to enact a show of force to prove its ability to respond to threats in space. “There may come a point where we demonstrate some capabilities so that our adversaries understand that they will not be able to deny us the use of space without consequences,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said.

“That capability needs to be one that’s understood by your adversary. They need to know that there are certain things we can do, at least at some broad level,” she said, adding that uncertainty was also a key component to deterrence. “How confident are they that they know everything we can do?” Adversaries must understand that the U.S. military can — and will — react if its space assets are threatened during conflict, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said. (4/16)

Sky and Space Global Selling Stock to Keep Constellation Plans On Track (Source: Space News)
Smallsat constellation company Sky and Space Global says it needs to raise several million dollars in the next two months to stay on schedule. The company, which plans to deploy a constellation of more than 200 cubesats for low-data-rate services, said two companies intending to underwrite part of a previous round backed away from those plans. The company is seeking to raise $5.2 million through stock sales by May to avoid additional delays. The company already said the first launch of its cubesat constellation had been pushed back from the middle of this year to early 2020, but didn't disclose the reasons for that delay. (4/17)

Russia Developing National Space Policy (Source: TASS)
The Russian government is working on an updated national space policy to be completed by this summer. Officials said at a meeting of Russia's Security Council that they will complete an update of "basic principles of national space exploration" and a strategy for the state corporation Roscosmos by July 15. The update will build upon a 2013 space policy, with a greater emphasis on developing national capabilities versus international cooperation. (4/17)

Faulty IMU Blamed for Israeli Lunar Crash (Source: Jerusalem Post)
Efforts to correct a faulty inertial measurement unit (IMU) may have led to the crash of the Beresheet lander. The IMU malfunctioned during the lander's descent to the surface, the first time that device suffered problems since the spacecraft's launch in February. Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL, said a command to reactive the IMU caused a "chain of events" that shut down the lander's main engine. Anteby said they could not restart the main engine in time to salvage the landing attempt. Meeting have already started to plan a second lander mission, including setting objectives and a budget. (4/17)

India's Skyroot Enters Small Launcher Market (Source: Economic Times)
An Indian startup is the latest to get into the small launch vehicle market. Skyroot Aerospace, founded by three scientists formerly with the Indian space agency ISRO, plans to develop a series of vehicles named at Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of India's space program. They plan to start with a small rocket they claim can be assembled and launched in a day, with a first launch in 2021. One challenge is that Indian law currently restricts private space companies, although proposed legislation would enable companies like Skyroot. (4/17)

Rocket Lab Gets Five-Year License for New Zealand Launch Site (Source: Gisbourne Herald)
The New Zealand government has granted a five-year license for Rocket Lab's launch site. The license is the first under the country's commercial space law, enacted in 2017, allowing the company to perform Electron launches from its private launch site on Mahia Peninsula. The company also have launch licenses from the New Zealand government and from the FAA in the United States. The company is currently performing rehearsals for its next launch, now scheduled for early May. (4/17)

Bezos Versus Musk 2.0 (Source: Axios)
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk's space age rivalry may not play out as a war of the rockets, but as a war for your internet.  The two billionaire founders of Amazon and SpaceX plan to blanket low-Earth orbit with thousands of satellites that will beam broadband internet to the planet, potentially transforming how the developing world in particular accesses the web. Both Bezos' Blue Origin rocket company and Musk's SpaceX have been working in parallel for years to get their rockets flying to space, but with their internet ambitions, Musk and Bezos are now on a collision course. Click here. (4/17)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Proposes Using AR1 for Medium-Class Launch Vehicle (Source: Space News)
Aerojet Rocketdyne says it’s committed to completing development of the AR1 rocket engine and is seeking potential partners for a new medium-class launch vehicle that could use the engine. Aerojet Rocketdyne received an award from the U.S. Air Force in 2016 to support development of the AR1, one of the engines ULA considered for use on its next-generation Vulcan rocket. The original value of the Air Force’s other transaction agreement, or OTA, was $804 million, with the Air Force providing two-thirds the funding and the rest coming from Aerojet and, to a lesser extent, ULA.

Aerojet renegotiated that agreement with the Air Force in June 2018, decreasing the total value of the award to $353.8 million with the Air Force now providing five-sixths the total cost. Aerojet has said in subsequent regulatory filings that its own contributions to the award are now complete. ULA announced in September 2018 that it had selected Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine over the AR1 for Vulcan, a decision long anticipated by the space industry. Despite losing out on the Vulcan deal, Aerojet says it’s committed to completing development of the engine.

“An AR1-based booster, with an RL10 upper stage, is a very nice rocket,” said Jim Maser, senior vice president of the space business unit at the company. Maser joined Aerojet last August after a career that included leadership roles at Pratt and Whitney, Sea Launch and SpaceX. “I think it could fill the gap left by the retirement of Delta 2.” Maser said the company is looking at what demand there would be for a medium-class vehicle like the Delta 2, given that the supply of launch vehicles is moving either towards very large vehicles or much smaller ones. (4/16)

Air Force Not Moved by Blue Origin's Launch Procurement Concerns (Source: Space News)
Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, does not buy Blue Origin’s argument that the Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement program schedule favors some providers over others. The final request for proposals for the LSP will go out as early as this month, Bongiovi said.

The Air Force needs to select two providers in 2020 to split national security launches 60/40 between 2022 and 2026, so any delays in the release of the RFP would jeopardize the Air Force’s ability to get both providers ready to launch payloads by 2022. That is the deadline when Congress decided the Air Force must stop flying the United Launch Alliances Atlas 5 vehicle because it is powered by the Russian RD-180 engine.

Bongiovi said the Air Force has listened to all potential bidders’ concerns and is ready to move forward. “We just did two rounds of draft RFPs. We got 1,500 comments. We met with providers one-on-one to really understand their concerns.” (4/16)

The First Known Interstellar Meteor May Have Hit Earth in 2014 (Source: Space.com)
The first meteor to hit Earth from interstellar space — and the second known interstellar visitor overall — may have just been discovered, a new study finds. Interstellar meteors may be common, and could potentially help life travel from star to star, researchers added. Scientists analyzed the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies' catalog of meteor events detected by U.S. government sensors.

They focused on the fastest meteors, because a high speed suggests a meteor is potentially not gravitationally bound to the sun and thus may originate from outside the solar system. The researchers identified a meteor about 3 feet (0.9 meters) wide that was detected on Jan. 8, 2014, at an altitude of 11.6 miles (18.7 kilometers) over a point near Papua New Guinea's Manus Island in the South Pacific. Its high speed of about 134,200 mph (216,000 km/h) and its trajectory suggested it came from outside the solar system, the scientists said. (4/16)

PLD Drop-Tests Reusable Microsatellite Launcher (Source: Space Daily)
Spain's PLD Space, supported by ESA, has demonstrated the technologies for a reusable first stage of their orbital microlauncher, Miura 5. Miura 5 (formerly Arion 2) is aimed to provide dedicated launches for small satellites of up to 300 kg to low Earth orbit, in 2021. It weighs 14 tonnes at liftoff, and is powered by liquid oxygen-kerosene engines. The drop test was carried out at El Arenosillo Experimentation Center in Spain.

A Chinook CH-47 helicopter lifted the 15 m long 1.4 m diameter Miura 5 demonstration first stage to an altitude of 5 km then dropped it over a controlled area of the Atlantic Ocean, 6 km off the coast of Huelva in southern Spain. During the descent, electronic systems inside the demonstrator controlled a carefully timed release of three parachutes to slow it down until its splashdown at a speed of about 10 m/s. A team of divers recovered the demonstrator and hoisted it onto a tugboat. The demonstrator looks to be in good shape and is awaiting further inspection and analysis. (4/15)

First 2019 Proton-M Rocket Launch From Baikonur Slated for May (Source: Space Daily)
The first 2019 launch of the Russian-built Proton-M carrier rocket with the Blagovest telecommunications satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome will take place on 23 May. Last week, another source said that the first 2019 launch of the Proton-M carrier rocket from Baikonur had been postponed from May 17 to 24-25 May.

"The launch of the Proton-M carrier rocket with the Briz-M upper stage and the Blagovest satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome is going to take place on 23 May", the source said. A source in the aerospace industry said in March that the military planned to complete the constellation of four Blagovest satellites with this launch. The first three satellites of the group were brought to the orbit in August 2017, April 2018 and December 2018. (4/3)

Budweiser Brews Limited Lager for Apollo 11 Anniversary (Source: CollectSpace)
Budweiser has brewed a new limited edition beer in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. Discovery Reserve American Red Lager draws its recipe from a Budweiser blend that dates back to the time of the Apollo moon missions. "This Bud's for those who challenged the odds and made the impossible, possible. Budweiser Discovery Reserve is our tribute to this epic moment in history, one that will certainly continue to inspire generations of present and future explorers," said Ricardo Marques.

Discovery Reserve is brewed with medium-roast Voyager barley malt and features a "light hoppy aroma, a toasted barley malt taste with a hint of toffee and a sharp finish," says Budweiser. The lager's reddish color is meant to be reminiscent of the next frontier for humans, Mars. The Discovery Reserve bottle and packaging was inspired by both the history and future of space exploration.

The Anheuser-Busch "A" and Eagle logo has also been updated to reflect Mars with Earth in the background, evoking the design of the Apollo 11 mission patch. And each bottle of Budweiser Discovery Reserve features wings and stars based on vintage Budweiser cans. For every case of Discovery Reserve sold, Budweiser will donate $1 to the Folds of Honor Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides educational scholarships to the families of military men and women who have fallen or been disabled while on active duty in the United States armed forces. (4/16)

April 16, 2019

How Much Will the Moon Plan Cost? We Should Know in Two Weeks (Source: Ars Technica)
A little more than three weeks have passed since Vice President Mike Pence tasked NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine with returning humans to the Moon by 2024. Since then, the Oklahoman has been hotfooting around the country to build support—testifying before Congress, huddling with White House budget officials, speaking at major space conferences, and, this past weekend, visiting his alma mater, Rice University.

Bridenstine is working to build political momentum to fund the plan. This involves developing an amendment to President Trump's Budget Request for fiscal year 2020, which will seek additional funding for the accelerated Moon program. Realistically, Bridenstine said, this amendment will be ready "by the end of the month."

This is a critical document, as the White House will only really have one chance to get this request right if NASA is to have a realistic chance of making the 2024 goal. To begin funding lunar lander development, design new spacesuits, and make related plans, this new funding must arrive at the start of the fiscal year on October 1, and Bridenstine realizes this will only happen with a broad political consensus. Click here. (4/16)

Making the Case for a Space Force--and How it Will Fight (Source: Defense News)
At the Space Symposium in Colorado, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and other Pentagon leaders discussed why a Space Force is necessary. "Both China and Russia have weaponized space with the intent to hold American space capabilities at risk," he said. Click here. (4/15)

Debris: The Plastic of the Sky (Source: Via Satellite)
Much like plastic in our seas, debris in space has been steadily growing over recent years. While many of these objects have either transited out of Earth orbit or re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated, nearly 23,000 trackable objects currently remain in orbit. Given the significantly reduced atmospheric drag in higher Earth orbits, many objects will stay in space for decades, and in Geosynchronous Orbits (GEO) objects could remain in space for hundreds of years or more.

As well as focusing on removing debris from orbit, we need to work on preventing the cause of further debris. This comes down to ensuring all satellite operators adhere to certain best practices. Firstly, we need to be avoiding debris-generating collisions. The only way to do that is to have effective and accurate space traffic management solutions in place. The best way of ensuring that right now is by joining and feeding data into the Space Data Association which is able to warn of close approaches. (4/15)

Russia Developing Launch Vehicles Similar to Falcon Heavy (Source: Sputnik)
The launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy heavy-lift vehicle is a major success for the US space industry but Russia is also developing its own launch vehicles with reusable elements, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said. "Of course, we are working on it [projects on launch vehicles with reusable boosters]... And as for our [US] colleagues, we can only be happy for them, it is a great success," Borisov told reporters when asked about progress in the Russian project aimed at building the same kind of spacecraft.

On Thursday, SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy with a Saudi Arabsat-6A satellite on board and successfully landed the rocket's side boosters and central core back on Earth. It has become the first commercial launch and the second ever flight for Falcon Heavy, including the test launch that took place in February 2018. In its turn, Russian Rocket and Space Corporation Energia announced plans to develop a super-heavy-lift launch vehicle using existing components back in 2016. The project is called Yenisei, and its first flight is scheduled for 2028, with Moon landings starting in 2030. (4/15)

Bridgestone Joins International Space Exploration Mission with JAXA and Toyota (Source: Space Daily)
Bridgestone Corporation has announced that it will take part in an international space exploration mission together with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota Motor Corporation. Recently announced by JAXA and Toyota, the goals of this mission are to expand the domain of human activity and develop intellectual property on space exploration. Bridgestone's mission assignment is to research the performance needs of tires for use on manned, pressurized rovers*1 in order to help these rovers make better contact with the surface of the moon.

Bridgestone has partnered with both organizations to research this next phase of human exploration, building on a joint research partnership with JAXA in the 2000s to examine the contact patch between rovers and the lunar surface, and serve as a technical partner for the Toyota rover project. (4/12)

UAE Mulls Buying Soyuz Spacecraft to Send Astronauts to ISS (Source: Sputnik)
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is planning to buy a Soyuz spacecraft and launch services from Russia to send two domestic astronauts to orbit on one mission. The flight will be possible in two years, Sergey Krikalev, director of manned spaceflight at Russian State Space Corporation Roscosmos, said. According to Krikalev, if the UAE signs a contract with Roscosmos, an additional Soyuz spacecraft will be manufactured, as it cannot be part of the Russian manned program for delivering Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station. (4/12)

NASA Twins Study Finds Spaceflight Affects Gut Bacteria (Source: Space Daily)
Research from NASA's landmark Twins Study found that extended spaceflight affects the human gut microbiome. During his yearlong stay on the International Space Station (ISS), astronaut Scott Kelly experienced a shift in the ratio of two major categories of bacteria in his gut microbiome. The diversity of bacteria in his microbiome, however, did not change during spaceflight, which the Northwestern University-led research team found encouraging. Gut health affects digestion, metabolism and immunity; and, more recently, changes in the microbiome have been linked to changes in bones, muscles and the brain. (4/12)

New Model Accurately Predicts Harmful Space Weather (Source: Space Daily)
A new, first-of-its-kind space weather model reliably predicts space storms of high-energy particles that are harmful to many satellites and spacecraft orbiting in the Earth's outer radiation belt. A new paper details how the model can accurately give a one-day warning prior to a space storm of ultra-high-speed electrons, often referred to as "killer" electrons because of the damage they can do to spacecraft such as navigation, communications, and weather monitoring satellites. This is the first time researchers have successfully predicted those killer electrons across the whole outer belt region. (4/10)

Deloitte Study Suggests AI, Blockchain and Augmented Reality Can Be Multipliers for Space Tech (Source: Space News)
A consulting company says emerging digital technologies and innovative operating models will expand the role of space in multiple economic sectors. The report by Deloitte, released Monday, concluded that technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and augmented reality can improve space technologies in various ways. One example cited in the report is the use of intelligent interfaces, like computer vision and augmented reality, to speed data delivery, minimize training costs and enhancing mission assurance. The company argues that "space is drawing from backgrounds that are increasingly diverse and cross-functional." (4/16)

Pepsico Won't Advertise With Space Venture (Source: Space News)
A major soft drink company says that, contrary to an earlier report, it won't advertise its products in space using a Russian startup. A report Saturday quoted a spokesperson for PepsiCo's Russian subsidiary who said the company was partnering with StartRocket to advertise an energy drink using satellites designed to fly in formation, displaying logos visible in the night sky to people on the ground.

A spokesperson for PepsiCo's headquarters in the U.S., though, said Monday that after a one-time experiment testing the technology with high-altitude balloons, "we have no further plans to test or commercially use this technology at this time." Space advertising designed to be visible from the ground is not a new idea, and has attracted controversy in the past as well as prohibitions against it in U.S. federal law. (4/16)

NASA's TESS Finds Earth-Sized Exoplanet (Source: NASA)
NASA's TESS spacecraft has discovered its first Earth-sized exoplanet. Astronomers said Monday that they observed a planet about 90 percent the diameter of Earth orbiting the star HD 21749, 53 light-years away. The planet orbits very close to its star and is likely too hot to be habitable. TESS, or Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, was launched a year ago to look for planets around stars as they pass in front of, or transit, those stars, dimming the starlight. (4/16)

Skylab/Shuttle Astronaut Owen Garriott Passes (Source: CollectSpace)
Former astronaut Owen Garriott died Monday at the age of 88. Garriott was selected to the NASA astronaut corps in 1965 as part of a scientist-astronaut class, and first flew to space on the second Skylab mission in 1973, spending 59 days in space, a record at the time. Garriott flew again on the STS-9 shuttle mission in 1983 and became the first person to use an amateur radio in space, communicating with an estimated 250 ham radio operators on the ground. His son Richard flew to space in 2008 as a commercial astronaut on a Soyuz mission to the International Space Station. (4/15)

Fossilized Bacteria in Meteorite From Mars is Proof of Life, Study Claims (Source: Sputnik)
Similar claims have been made before, with NASA announcing in 1996 that it had found signs of life on Mars in another space rock, known as ALH 84001, also citing the appearance of the strands and filaments. A second Martian meteorite which shows 'signs of microbial life' has been found, Hungarian researchers say in their report on the latest study, published in Open Astronomy, reigniting 'bacterial' fossils claims made 20 years ago by NASA.

The meteorite, officially known as ALH-77005, is claimed to contain 'biosignatures', which researchers describe as textures and features left behind by organisms. Experts resorted to advanced imaging techniques that they say revealed microfilaments created by fossilised Martian microbes. The Hungarian researchers also examined minerals and other material embedded in the stone, and conducted isotope tests to check for the chemical components essential for life. The studies led them to conclude that the microscopic filaments inside could point to the presence of bacteria which survive by eating iron rust. (4/16)

Space Coast Satellite Antenna Developer Launches With Cubesat Constellation (Source: HCT)
Helical Communictions Technology (HCT), a Space Coast-based developer of deployable space-based and ground station antennas, recently achieved a milestone when their custom-built Quadrifilar Helical Antennas were launched as part of Hiber’s nano-satellite constellation. The first two antennas were launched at the end of 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India.

Hiber, based in Amsterdam, contracted for HCT's antennas for their cubesat-based internet-of-things (IoT) network, intended to cover 90% of the world which currently lacks network access. The company expects to launch more of the satellites within the next year to meet customer demand. HCT designed and manufactured the innovative antennas at their Rockledge-based facility.

For remote regions and developing countries worldwide, Hiber subscribers purchase a low-cost modem which they can integrate with existing connected technology devices, allowing them to connect to Hiber’s IoT network. The goal is to have a constellation of dozens of satellites which will enable customers to send SMS-sized messages in real time from IoT-devices, such as sensors on fishing vessels or monitoring remote devices in places like Antarctica. (4/16)

Astronomers Have Found Potential Life-Supporting Conditions on The Nearest Exoplanet (Source: Science Alert)
In August of 2016, astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced the discovery of an exoplanet in the neighboring system of Proxima Centauri. The news was greeted with considerable excitement, as this was the closest rocky planet to our Solar System that also orbited within its star's habitable zone.

Since then, multiple studies have been conducted to determine if this planet could actually support life. Unfortunately, most of the research so far has indicated that the likelihood of habitability are not good. Between Proxima Centauri's variability and the planet being tidally-locked with its star, life would have a hard time surviving there. (4/16)

Harvard Physicist: Wormhole Travel Is Possible, But It's Not Fast (Source: Futurism)
Now, Harvard physicist Daniel Jafferis has a dose of good news and bad news for fans of the sci-fi staple: wormholes exist, but they’re unlikely to serve as galactic shortcuts. “It takes longer to get through these wormholes than to go directly, so they are not very useful for space travel,” Jafferis said. He and his co-authors used quantum field theory tools to show that wormholes could exist and that wormhole travel is possible — but rather than being a shortcut, it’d be a longer path between two points.

Still, while Jafferis’ wormholes couldn’t help us zip around the universe, he does think his theory could be useful in another way. “The real import of this work is in relation to the black hole information problem and the connections between gravity and quantum mechanics,” Jafferis said, later adding, “I think it will teach us deep things about the gauge/gravity correspondence, quantum gravity, and even perhaps a new way to formulate quantum mechanics.” (4/15)

Tax Day 2019 Reaches Astronauts in Space, Too (Source: Space.com)
For U.S. citizens, there's no escaping Tax Day — not even if you've left planet Earth. Millions of Americans are expected to have filed their taxes for 2018 by midnight tonight today, and the three NASA astronauts currently living and working at the International Space Station are no exception — even if they are orbiting 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the nearest H&R Block.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague, Anne McClain and Christina Koch make up half of the six-person Expedition 59 crew. McClain launched to the space station in the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft in December, while Hague and Koch arrived on the Soyuz MS-12 in March. Because McClain left for space before the end of 2018, she couldn't have finished filing her taxes for the year beforehand and may have had some help from her husband down on Earth. Hague and Koch, on the other hand, had three months to do their taxes on Earth before they launched. (4/16)

This is Not the Time to Abandon NASA's Space Launch System (Source: The Hill)
It’s an audacious goal and a laudable one. And its achievement will require creative thinking and a departure from “business as usual.” But using this challenge as an excuse to abandon technologies that are already close to fruition will unreasonably increase risk, both to our astronauts and to the investment in our future in space.

NASA’s heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS) is the cornerstone of America’s strategy for returning to the moon. SLS has been unfairly derided because of its complexity and cost. It’s also behind schedule. Meanwhile, SpaceX has been capturing headlines with its second successful Falcon Heavy launch, this time putting a communications satellite into Earth orbit. Critics point to Falcon Heavy as the best option for reaching the moon now, but its payload capacity is about half that of the smallest SLS configuration. (4/16)

Why NASA Wants You to Point Your Smartphone at Trees (Source: The Verge)
NASA would like you to take a picture of a tree, please. The space agency’s ICESat-2 satellite estimates the height of trees from space, and NASA has created a new tool for citizen scientists that can help check those measurements from the ground. All it takes is a smartphone, the app, an optional tape measure, and a tree.

Launched in September 2018, the ICESat-2 satellite carries an instrument called ATLAS that shoots 60,000 pulses of light at the Earth’s surface every second it orbits the planet. “It’s basically a laser in space,” says Tom Neumann, the project scientist for ICESat-2 at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. By measuring the satellite’s position, the angle, and how long it takes for those laser beams to bounce back from the surface, scientists can measure the elevation of sea ice, land ice, the ocean, inland water, and trees. Knowing how tall trees are can help researchers estimate the health of the world’s forests and the amount of carbon dioxide they can soak up.

But Neumann says that a big open question is how good those measurements from space actually are. That’s where the citizen science comes in — to help verify them. Some are more challenging than others. “You can’t really ask a bunch of school kids in Pennsylvania to go to Antarctica to measure the ice sheet height for you for a calibration,” he says. But you can ask them to take their smartphones outside, which is exactly what NASA is doing with its GLOBE Observer app. (4/15)

Educating The Next Generation Of Commercial Space Leaders: Is That You? (Source: Forbes)
I’m excited to be teaching a course in Space Entrepreneurship for the new ISU Center for Space Entrepreneurship at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Vistor Complex this summer. Being out at KSC with the Florida Tech and International Space University team behind the endevour got me thinking about the growing need for the sort of students that ISU produces and what an amazing impact they have had on my favorite industry.

Commercial space startups are now far and away the fastest growing sector of the aerospace industry.  Space Angels reports that over $3 billion was invested in 2018 alone and cumulative commercial space investment is now at $18 billion.  Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Deloitte and Bank of America all project a space economy in the trillions. The array of innovative technologies and creative business plans is quite literally astronomical.  But if any principle in the investment community can be called “axiomatic”, it is that investors place their bets on the people, not on technologies or business plans. Technologies-market fit is notoriously difficult to get right and business plans are just always wrong the first time.

Only a great team can overcome these unavoidable problems and save an investment from catastrophe. In popular investment categories like smartphone apps (actually a far smaller market than the space business today), our universities pour out thousands of talented engineers and business graduates. Space is harder. There are, of course, many great aerospace schools including the one at my university, and they produce well educated engineers ready to take seats in existing companies. However, finding well rounded business leaders with a broad understanding of the space domain is entirely another matter. Click here. (4/15) 


Falcon Heavy Core Booster Lost in Rough Seas After Drone Ship Landing (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The core booster from the Falcon Heavy rocket that launched Thursday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida tipped over in rough seas after landing on an offshore drone ship, SpaceX officials said. The Falcon Heavy’s core booster touched down around 10 minutes after the Falcon Heavy blasted off from Florida’s Space Coast, and moments after the rocket’s two side boosters returned to landing onshore at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The on-target landings marked the first time SpaceX landed all three Falcon Heavy boosters on the same mission. The core stage crashed at sea near the drone ship after running out of igniter fluid on the Falcon Heavy’s inaugural flight in February 2018. But ocean swells rocking the drone ship, which SpaceX has named “Of Course I Still Love You,” caused the rocket to topple before recovery crews could secure the booster to the vessel. (4/15)

Scientists Discover Comet Fragment Inside a Meteorite From a Primordial Asteroid (Source: Newsweek)
A fragment of a cometary building block has been found inside a meteorite that broke away from an asteroid. The rare discovery provides a critical insight into the formation of the solar system over 4.5 billion years ago, and how it evolved into what we see today. When the sun first formed, it is believed to have had a cloud of gas and dust. Gravitational forces clumped much of this together to form the planets. The rest made up the moons, dwarf planets, asteroids and comets.

The difference between the latter two relates to composition—asteroids tend to be made of metal and rock while comets are made up of ice, dust and rocky material. Comets are normally found farther away from the sun, in the colder parts of the solar system. Meteorites are bits of asteroid that have broken apart from their parent body during collisions in space, which then survive the journey through the Earth’s atmosphere and smash into the planet’s surface. Because meteorites are largely unchanged since their formation, studying them allows scientists to understand what these early conditions were like when the solar system was created.

Scientists were analyzing a meteorite called LaPaz Icefield 02342, which was found in Antarctica in 2002. It is a type of primitive "carbonaceous chondrite" meteorite that formed about 3.5 million years ago, just beyond Jupiter. The team was examining the meteorite when it found a tiny section that appeared to be a comet's building block. This would mean a bit of space dust that originated from comets forming at the edges of the solar system somehow got captured and encased by an asteroid. (4/15)

Meteor Showers Dig Up Water on the Moon (Source: Science News)
Meteor showers bring moon geysers. A lunar orbiter spotted extra water around the moon when the moon passed through streams of cosmic dust that can cause meteor showers on Earth. The water was probably released from lunar soil by tiny meteorite impacts, planetary scientist Mehdi Benna of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues report April 15 in in Nature Geoscience. Those random impacts suggest water is buried all over the moon, rather than isolated in freezing dark craters — and that the moon has been wet for billions of years. (4/15)

Mars Colony: A City on Mars Could Descend Into Cabin Fever and Nationalism (Source: Inverse)
Astrosociologist Jim Pass is working on solutions for Mars colonization. His main concern, at least so far? The threat of social order breaking down and new movements forming from the remains. In his view, Mars need more input from the field of astrosociology before these missions could ever start. One of the biggest issues with these hypothetical dwellings is the heightened risk of isolation. “You can’t just throw a group of people in an isolated environment without any kind of structure,” Pass says. “Otherwise, you’re going to have chaos, a heightened amount of deviance, and dangerous behavior.”

The early inhabitants of, say, 10 people, could probably simply follow a command structure similar to NASA. But over time, a growing population would require the inhabitants to divide labor similar to villages on Earth. “In a small group, people know each other pretty well, but then as a group grows, then it becomes a situation where people start to form their own social groups and relationships, and they tend to isolate themselves into those kinds of structures.”

For this reason, Pass is worried that some concepts for future Mars settlements don’t contain enough socializing spaces. A central dome would enable greater interaction, perhaps with a park or other amenities. “In the beginning, they’re going to be highly dependent on Earth for supplies and so on,” Pass says. “So I think that’s going to be a situation where there might be some resentment over time and they still need assistance from Earth, but the more that they can become independent, that’s when things start to change.” Click here. (4/15)

Delayed Takeoff (Source: Space Review)
On Saturday, Stratolaunch’s giant aircraft, developed to serve as an air-launch system, finally took flight in California. Jeff Foust examines the long road that venture has faced to get to its first flight, and its uncertain future. Click here. (4/15)

It’s Time to Speak Out About India’s Reckless Anti-Satellite Test (Source: Space Review)
India’s anti-satellite test last month has gotten little in the way of reaction from other governments. Jessica West argues that countries need to speak up in order to preserve the space environment from other tests that could be even more destructive. Click here. (4/15)

If at First You Don’t Succeed… (Source: Space Review)
Israel hoped to become the fourth country to soft-land a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon last week, but its Beresheet lander crashed after suffering technical problems. Jeff Foust reports on the landing attempt and SpaceIL’s future plans. Click here. (4/15)

Rationale for a National “Astroelectricity” Program (Source: Space Review)
How can the United States meet growing energy demand while also reducing its greenhouse gas emissions? Mike Snead describes how “astroelectricity”, better known as space-based solar power, can achieve that as part of a long-term national program. Click here. (4/15)

Saturn's Moon Titan May Have 'Phantom Lakes' and Caves (Source: Space.com)
Picture a world where rain falls, gathers in lakes and ponds, seeps into the surrounding rock, and evaporates away, only to fall again. There's just one catch: The world is Saturn's moon, Titan, where the rain isn't water; it's liquid methane. Two new papers explore how this eerily familiar, waterless "water cycle" manifests on Titan's surface. To do so, two separate research teams turned to data from the Cassini mission, which ended its stay at the Saturn system in September 2017. The spacecraft flew past the massive moon more than 100 times, gathering crucial observations of this strange world as it did so.

Some of those observations showed scientists something truly extraordinary: their first glimpse of liquid currently on the landscape, rather than mere ghosts of such liquid features. "Titan is the only world outside the Earth where we see bodies of liquid on the surface," Rosaly Lopes, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who worked on the Cassini mission but wasn't involved in either of the new papers. "Some of us like to call Titan the Earth of the outer solar system." (4/15)