February 23, 2018

UCF-Led Consortium to Manage Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico (Source: UCF)
The largest fully operational radio telescope on the planet – the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico – will soon be under new management. A consortium led by the University of Central Florida will start formal transition activities to take on the management of the National Science Foundation’s Observatory. NSF is negotiating the operations and management award with UCF. (2/21)

Australia’s Future in Space (Source: ASPI)
Australia is about to get much more serious about its future role on the high frontier of space. Following last year’s announcement of the formation of an Australian space agency, there’s gathering momentum across government and industry to think more seriously about having an Australian sovereign space capability that’s more than just ground stations and regulatory frameworks.

Developing a sovereign space capability for Australia is the focus of a new ASPI Strategy report, Australia’s future in space, released today. It explores the case for exploiting innovative ‘Space 2.0’ technologies such as small satellites and ‘CubeSats’, as well as responsive space launch capabilities, to reduce Australia’s dependency on others and enable it to play a greater role in space alongside key allies. (2/22)

Space Startup Wants to Catapult Payloads Into Space (Sources: Tech Crunch, Popular Mechanics)
SpinLaunch was founded in secrecy in 2014 by Jonathan Yancey, who sold a solar-powered drone startup to Google. SpinLaunch now hopes of find big investors for its plan to use a centrifuge that would spin at high speed inside a vacuum. The momentum from the centrifuge would then be transferred into a catapult that would send the payload hurtling toward space at around 3,000 MPH. This could provide either all or some of the power needed to launch a payload into space.

All this would be in service of replacing traditional rocket boosters, which are some of the most expensive parts of rocketry. Even reusable boosters like those powering the SpaceX Falcon 9 require fuel and continual maintenance. Yancey says that a SpinLaunch could reduce the price of a space launch to under $500,000.

During the last three years, the core technology has been developed, prototyped, tested and most of the tech risk retired,” Yaney proclaims. “The remaining challenges are in the construction and associated areas that all very large hardware development and construction projects face.” Touching the heavens isn’t cheap, so SpinLaunch is talking to big institutional VC firms that could afford to fund successive rounds. (2/22)

Hawaii Offers Incentive Investment for SpinLaunch (Sources: TechCrunch, Hawaii Tribune Herald)
Last month, a bill was proposed in the Hawaii state senate to issue $25 million in bonds to assist SpinLaunch with “constructing a portion of its electrical small satellite launch system.” Hawaii hopes to gain construction contracts and jobs, and meet government goals for expanding space accessibility, by helping SpinLaunch.

“It’s like a big water tank with an arm on the end,” Wakai said. “The arm is like the rocket. It spins up to 5,000 miles per hour and launches out of a chute into space.” While SpinLaunch hasn’t put anything into orbit, and the concept has yet to be proven, Wakai said he thinks it is “very doable.”

The legislation, which has a companion bill in the House, describes the technology as an “electrically powered, kinetic launch system.” It says it would reduce the cost for accessing space and use “abundant, infinite, renewable energy resources — solar energy and regenerative braking — to provide electrical loading.” On the economic side, the bill says the facility would generate millions of dollars in construction and create long-term technical jobs. (2/18)

Commerce Secretary Becomes Point Man For Promoting Commercial Space Projects (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Responding to industry complaints that federal rules increasingly hamper private ventures in space, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has emerged as the deregulation czar of the heavens. A senior White House policy group on Wednesday agreed to tap his agency to be the prime catalyst for loosening federal controls over activities ranging from rocket launches to satellite licensing to asteroid mining. (2/21)

Space Station Robotic Tech is Finding New Markets (Source: NASA)
Robotic technology originally developed for the International Space Station is finding a new home in the operating room. Drive is an automated robotic arm that tracks the movement of a surgeon’s tools and helps to expedite brain and spinal surgeries. Click here. (2/22)

Florida Space Tourism: New Star-Wars Hotel at Disney World (Source: WESH)
Disney on Thursday shared a sneak peek of the new Star-Wars themed hotel planned for Walt Disney World. The immerse experience offered at this hotel will stand out among all of our resorts around the globe. As you can see, families visiting this resort will board a starship alive with characters and stories that unfold all around them during their voyage through the galaxy – and every window has a view of space, Disney officials said in a blog post. (2/22)

Made In Space Takes New Guinness World Record for Longest 3D Printed Part (Source: 3Dprint.com)
In 2016, a new Guinness World Record was set for the largest object to be 3D printed in one piece. The ABS/carbon fiber composite tool was 3D printed in 30 hours, and measured 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide, and 1.5 feet tall. It was about as long as an average sport utility vehicle. The part was inarguably an impressive accomplishment – but that long length cannot compare to what Made In Space just 3D printed.

Made In Space is known for some pretty impressive accomplishments already. The company was responsible for the first 3D printer to be launched into space, and has since created a full Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) on the International Space station. Plenty of “firsts” have been set by the AMF as 3D printed tools, medical supplies, art and more have been 3D printed in space, the first of their kind. Now Made In Space has claimed the Guinness World Record for longest non-assembled 3D printed object, and it’s a lot longer than an SUV – it’s 37.7 meters, or 123 feet, 8.5 inches long. (2/22)

The Small-Rocket Revolution (Source: Bloomberg)
When SpaceX's 230-foot Falcon Heavy blasted off on Feb. 6, it became a global sensation. But a much quieter launch three days earlier may turn out to be more important. That's when a 31-foot rocket known as the SS-520-5 took off from Japan's Uchinoura Space Center. It's the smallest rocket ever to place an object into Earth orbit -- and it could be a harbinger of big changes to come.

For decades, getting anything into space has been risky, expensive and time-consuming. Even SpaceX commonly faces delays and accidents, and its reusable rockets can take months to press back into service. In the past few years, though, dozens of other companies have been trying to develop diminutive rockets that could reduce the cost and risk of satellite launches. If they succeed, they just might transform the space business. Click here. (2/21)

Vector Planning First Orbital Launch This Summer at Alaska Spaceport (Source: Space News)
Vector, one of a growing number of companies developing small launch vehicles, plans to carry out its first orbital launch this summer from Alaska. The Arizona-based company announced its launch plans in a Feb. 14 press release announcing that a customer had placed a reservation of five launches of the company’s Vector-R small launch vehicle. The statement said only the company’s first orbital launch was planned for July. The launch location and any customers for that mission were still to be determined.

Jim Cantrell, co-founder and chief executive of Vector, later disclosed that the inaugural Vector-R orbital launch would take place from “Kodiak,” a reference to the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska, formerly known as the Kodiak Launch Complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island. (2/22)

Women Go Into Science Careers More Often in Countries Without Gender Equality (Source: Ars Technica)
A large number of social factors have discouraged women from pursuing careers in science and technology. But in a number of countries, an increasingly egalitarian view of gender differences has been associated with rising math and science scores for girls. However, that change hasn't been followed by increased participation in science and tech careers; in fact, the frequency of women pursuing degrees in these areas is often higher in societies that are far from egalitarian.

Two researchers, Gijsbert Stoet of the UK and David Geary in the US, decided to explore this paradoxical trend. Their analysis suggests that the situation may be the product of a complex mixture of relative talents, general confidence, and social factors. The results drive home that, if we want to attract and retain some of the best talent in the sciences, it's going to take more than simply ensuring they have equal access to advanced degrees. (2/19)

Cecil Spaceport Plans First Commercial Launch (Source: Jax Daily Record)
The Cecil Spaceport has been a space center in name only since it was authorized in 2010, but that could change a year from now. The Westside facility is gearing up for a possible first commercial space launch in December, although it will more likely happen next year, said Todd Lindner, director of Cecil Spaceport.

“In all likelihood, the launch will come in the spring of ’19” Lindner said Tuesday at a JAX Chamber forum on technology and automation in the transportation industry. The spaceport has been working with  Generation Orbit, based in Atlanta. Cecil Spaceport is one of six U.S. facilities authorized to launch vehicles into space horizontally. Linder said the first payloads would likely be small satellites.

Although he didn’t say if it is possible at Cecil, Linder also said space tourism is drawing closer to reality, with paying customers reaching an altitude of 320,000 to 330,000 feet and achieving weightlessness for about 20 minutes. He said the projected cost of those trips has dropped from about $250,000 to $120,000-$130,000. (2/21)

Humans Can Reach Mars But Unknown Radiation May be Lethal, Russian Scientist Warns (Source: Tass)
The current level of science and engineering as it is, humans can reach Mars in principle, but no means exist at the moment of protecting them from radiation there, the chief of the space plasma physics section at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute, Anatoly Petrukovich, told TASS.

"As far as the technical possibility of flying to Mars is concerned, it does exist. For instance, we may launch Proton rockets [with space vehicle components] several times, then assemble them in orbit the way the railway engine and cars are coupled on the ground and then push the spacecraft towards Mars somehow. The odds are it will reach its destination and may even deliver some crew there. The question is what the chances of getting back will be, bearing in mind the level of radiation," Petrukovich said. (2/22)

Florida Students’ Satellite Launch Nearing Launch (Source: Palm Beach Post)
NASA will launch a tiny satellite designed by Palm Beach Gardens middle school students to study whether bacteria can survive in melting ice while in orbit. WeissSat-1 satellite likely will launch from Florida or California by the end of the year, Weiss School science teacher Kevin Simmons said. The satellite is primarily for education, but the students’ findings could have implications for whether life can survive anywhere other than earth.

The private school is exclusively for gifted students in Pre-K through eighth grade. NASA chose 34 of the educational satellites, known as CubeSats, to send into space out of more than 100 proposals. Weiss School students had the only proposal from a middle school to make the cut, Simmons said. Universities submitted 31 of the successful proposals, he said. (2/21)

SpaceX Just Launched the First Set of its Internet-Beaming Starlink Satellites (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX's communications ambitions officially took flight Thursday when a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a test set of its internet-beaming satellites vaulted off a California launch pad and into the dark morning sky. The two mini-fridge-sized prototype spacecraft, named Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b in federal filings, weren't the primary payloads for the liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base – that honor belonged to PAZ, an Earth observation satellite, for Spain-based Hisdesat.

"These are meant to gather data in advance of deploying and operating a satellite constellation that will provide internet service," said Tom Praderio, a SpaceX firmware engineer, during the company's live webcast of the launch. "However, even if these satellites work as planned, we still have considerable technical work ahead of us to design and deploy a low-Earth orbit satellite constellation."

The Starlink constellation of 12,000 satellites would "provide people in low-to-moderate population densities around the world with affordable, high-speed internet access" was a rare confirmation by the company hoping to take a slice of the communications industry. SpaceX has typically referred to its Federal Communications Commission filings as statements and sources of information on Starlink. (2/22)

Plan to Modernize Air and Space Systems Takes Air Force Out of its Comfort Zone (Source: Space News)
In the budget request that was submitted to Congress last week, the U.S. Air Force made investment decisions that just a few years ago would have been jaw-dropping. A $7 billion surveillance aircraft program is being jettisoned in favor of an information network that connects sensors from across the battlefield and in outer space. And billion-dollar satellites known to be engineering marvels are being replaced by simpler, less costly platforms.

These are tradeoffs that the Pentagon typically would avoid because they require stepping into unfamiliar territory. But the changes are necessary for the military to ensure air and space supremacy in the future, Air Force leaders said. The budget proposal would take money from hardware and shift it to software. And it would disrupt traditional satellite procurements in favor of faster, more commercial-like approaches to building space systems. (2/21)

February 22, 2018

Space Council Backs Expanded Role for Dept. of Commerce, Launch Licensing Improvements (Source: Space News)
The National Space Council approved several recommendations for commercial space regulatory reform Wednesday. The Council, meeting at the Kennedy Space Center, backed four recommendations intended to streamline licensing and regulation of commercial space activities. The recommendations include combining the Office of Space Commerce and a separate office that oversees commercial remote sensing, and moving that office from NOAA to the office of the Secretary of Commerce. The recommendations also called for launch-licensing improvements, spectrum protection and export-control reforms. (2/22)

Space Council Focuses on China Threats, Opportunities (Source: Space News)
The Council addressed both the threats and opportunities presented by China's growing space capabilities. Officials testifying at the meeting warned of growing Chinese counterspace capabilities and a space program with "few demarcations" between civil and military activities. One executive, though, said the U.S. was missing an opportunity to work with the growing Chinese commercial space industry, and said the U.S. should work on a "stern but fair" agreement with China that would allow for cooperation while providing technology transfer protections. (2/22)

SpaceX's Starlink Constellation (4,400 Satellites) Evolving (Source: Wall Street Journal)
SpaceX now suggests that development of that constellation may take longer than previously planned. A company spokesman said that "we still have considerable technical work ahead of us to design and deploy" a constellation of 4,400 satellites, known as Starlink, and continues to work on technical designs and cost estimates for the system. The company previously indicated it could begin initial service with about 800 satellites in orbit in 2020, but has not disclosed a new schedule for the deployment of the constellation and development of ground terminals. (2/22)

Army's Kestrel Eye to Enter Demonstration Mode Soon (Source: Space News)
An experimental U.S. Army imaging satellite launched last year is operational, but how it will be used remains to be determined. Kestrel Eye, built by Adcole Maryland Aerospace for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC), was deployed from the International Space Station in October, and the company says the satellite should soon start providing images. "Operational demonstrations" of the satellite are planned for late spring, according to SMDC, after which the Army will "continue to look for opportunities" to use the satellite in exercises or other applications. (2/22)

Aerojet Reports Quarterly Loss (Source: Aerojet Rocketdyne)
Aerojet Rocketdyne reported a net loss in its latest quarter. In a filing Wednesday, the company said it had a net loss of $52 million in its fiscal fourth quarter compared to net income of $18.1 million in the same quarter in 2016. Aerojet said an adjustment caused by the tax bill enacted last December caused the loss, and without that it would have reported net income of $12.6 million for the quarter. For the full year, the company said it had a net loss of $9 million on net sales of $1.88 billion. (2/22)

Expect Ground Station Ventures to Consolidate (Source: Space News)
Companies operating ground stations to serve small satellites expect consolidation in the years to come. About half a dozen startups have emerged in recent years to support the growing number of smallsat ventures by building networks of ground stations, leasing capacity on existing stations or developing data-relay satellites. Companies that currently dominate the market for satellite ground stations are skeptical there is enough demand to support all these new entrants, and expect some kind of consolidation in the next few years. (2/22)

ESA's Mars Orbiter Circularizes Orbit, Prepares for Science (Source: ESA)
A European Mars orbiter is nearing the start of science operations after completing an aerobraking campaign. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter arrived at Mars in October 2016, and since last March has been performing a series of dives through the upper atmosphere to shift from an elliptical orbit that took the spacecraft as far as 98,000 kilometers from the planet into a circular 400-kilometer orbit. A final series of maneuvers will place the spacecraft into its desired orbit by April, allowing the spacecraft to then begin observations of the planet's atmosphere, looking for evidence of methane and other trace gases. (2/22)

SLS Engine Taken to Record Thrust in Stennis Test (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
A static-fire test of a shuttle-era engine took it to record thrust levels. The test of the RS-25 engine Wednesday at NASA's Stennis Space Center throttled the engine up to 113 percent of its rated power, the first test of an RS-25 at that level. The engine will be used at up to 109 percent of its rated power on initial launches of the Space Launch System. New versions of the RS-25, to be built for later SLS launches, will go to 111 percent. (2/22)

UK Invest in Deep Space Antenna at Goonhilly (Source: Goonhilly Earth Station)
The British government will invest in an antenna at a satellite ground station to use it for deep space communications. The Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership will provide $11.7 million to upgrade a 32-meter antenna at the Goonhilly Earth Station. That work, done in partnership with ESA, will allow the antenna to be used for deep-space communications for ESA, NASA or private missions beyond Earth orbit. (2/22)

ThinSat Concept Slices Cubesats Into Inch-Thin Microsats (Source: Space News)
Some smallsat advocates think a new concept for very small satellites could help encourage student-run missions. The ThinSat concept uses the cubesat form factor, but sliced into thin pieces less than 20 millimeters thick. Each ThinSat is a single layer with enough surface area for sensors, solar panels and other electronics. Such satellites, proponents argue, could be easily built by students for educational missions. (2/22)

Amateur Astronomer Finds Supernova (Source: Nature)
Astronomers have gotten their best look yet at the early stages of a supernova, thanks to a lucky amateur. Victor Buso, an amateur astronomer in Argentina, observed a galaxy one night by chance as he was testing a new camera. Those observations captured a rapid brightening within the galaxy. Professional astronomers, alerted to the discovery, turned larger telescopes on the supernova, collecting data on its early phases that can help refine models of their development. (2/22)

Russia Jails Four for Embezzling Millions from Cosmodrome Project (Source: Space Daily)
Russia on Wednesday jailed three men and a woman for up to 8 years for embezzling state funding worth millions of dollars while working as contractors on the construction of the country's showpiece Vostochny cosmodrome. The four, who controlled or worked for construction companies, were together found guilty of embezzling 1.3 billion rubles ($23 million) from the national prestige project, in the latest blow to Russia's troubled space industry. Editor's Note: I guess this embezzlement wasn't state sanctioned. (2/21)

NASA Wants Ideas from University Teams for Future Human Space Missions (Source: Space Daily)
Teams at U.S. colleges and universities have an opportunity to potentially help NASA with innovative design ideas to meet the challenges of space exploration. The 2019 eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge supports NASA's efforts to develop technologies and capabilities that will enable future human missions throughout our solar system.

In collaboration with the National Space Grant Foundation, NASA will offer competitively selected awards of $15,000 to $50,000 for the development of studies, functional products, and solutions to enhance the human exploration of space. Entries are due April 27, 2018. Click here. (2/22)

Space Coast's HCT Receives Space Antenna Patent (Source: HCT)
Helical Communications Technologies (HCT), a Rockledge-based research, design and manufacturer of deployable space-based and ground station antennas, recently received notification that the patent for their Deployable Quadrifilar Helical Antenna design was approved and awarded by the United States Patent Office. The design, developed over the past four years, is a unique omni-directional antenna for “cube-sat” space satellites that captures a much larger footprint of geography and topography on the earth and can be scaled depending on the customer’s requirements to have a wide range of circularly polarized antenna patterns.

The US Air Force’s Wright Patterson AF base was their first customer with HCT delivering a custom made antenna modeled and ready for space flight and HCT is currently in discussions with government agencies in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and France along with private commercial aerospace companies both domestically and internationally for their less expensive and scalable antenna technology. (2/18)

Lockheed Martin Finds its Innovative Edge in Florida (Source: Enterprise Florida)
Lockheed Martin has a strong Florida presence with more than 14,000 employees throughout the state. In today’s business world, you have to stay relevant. You also have to stay one step ahead. That requires you to continually evolve...in a place that will evolve with you. In Florida, we offer boundless opportunities to grow, innovate, discover and explore. So whatever you can imagine, you can create.

Fueled by a world-class infrastructure, young, educated and diverse workforce, global gateways, a state of the art high-speed technology backbone, and one of the most business-friendly environments in the country, anything is possible here. It’s why so many companies are realizing their future in Florida. And why yours can too. Click here. (2/14) 

Cocoa Beach Plans 50th Anniversary Celebration for Moon Landing (Source: City of Cocoa Beach)
The City of Cocoa Beach will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Man On the Moon! The City of Cocoa Beach is partnering with the county's Tourism Development Council to begin the commemoration and ceremonies beginning in July 2018. (2/21)

Qtum Launches ‘First Ever’ Blockchain Node Into Space (Source: CoinTelegraph)
Qtum, a Blockchain project focused on Decentralized Applications (DApps), announced on Twitter Friday, Feb. 2, that the “first ever space-based Blockchain node,” made by Qtum, has been launched on a Chinese satellite. Qtum’s DApps are unique from those based on Ethereum because the platform uses the Unspent Transaction Output (UTXO) Blockchain model, enabling more lightweight smart contract interactions with mobile and IoT programs. Qtum is also partners with Spacechain, a space exploration initiative aimed at building an open source satellite network. Storing data in outer space would eliminate potential problems with government regulation. (2/3)

Window Wars in Space: Quest for the 'Big View' High Above Earth (Source: Space.com)
Passenger flight on rocket-for-hire flings to suborbital space is near at hand. One big draw that adds to the bragging rights for space travelers is the view from high above. Rubbernecking tourists will have face time with space, snagging perspective and images to make a travelogue of their voyages. One major ticket-for-sale vendor set to give rocket riders a suborbital space cruise is Seattle-based Blue Origin, which is headed by billionaire Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

"Our New Shepard capsule features the largest windows in spaceflight history," Blue Origin representatives wrote on the company's website. "These windows make up a third of the capsule, immersing you in the vastness of space and life-changing views of our blue planet." Click here. (2/16)

NASA Photos Reveal Speeding Antarctic Ice Melt (Source: Newsweek)
NASA recently published a study uncovering just how fast Antarctica’s ice sheets are flowing into the ocean. Scientists used a new technique compiling hundreds of thousands of high-precision satellite imagery to illuminate the speed of glaciers—which act like massive solid rivers—sliding into the sea. Understanding this speed helps scientists pinpoint how much sea levels will rise due to melting glaciers.  

"We're entering a new age," Alex Gardner, lead author and cryospheric scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "When I began working on this project three years ago, there was a single map of ice sheet flow that was made using data collected over 10 years, and it was revolutionary when it was published back in 2011.” (2/21)

Here's How Much US Astronauts Can Earn Working for NASA (Source: Business Insider)
To apply to be a NASA astronaut, you must first pass a stringent list of requirements, including being a US citizen, having an accredited college degree in science, engineering, or mathematics, and three years of professional experience or 1,000 hours piloting a jet aircraft under your belt. Then you have to go through a grueling selection process that is about 74 times harder than getting into Harvard University: NASA selects a new astronaut class once every couple of years, and picked only 12 of 18,300 applicants in 2017.

So how much does NASA compensate its astronauts for their experience, extensive training, and willingness to risk their lives to explore space? The annual salary is "based on the Federal Government's General Schedule pay scale for grades GS-12 through GS-13." In 2018, according to OPM pay scales, a new astronaut with a GS-12 grade and Step 1 experience and performance would earn $63,600 per year. After several years of excellent performance, the same astronaut might be eligible to make the GS-12's Step 10 pay: $82,680 per year.

Meanwhile, more-qualified astronauts with a GS-13 pay grade could initially earn $75,628 per year (Step 1) and, after several years, up to $98,317 per year (Step 3). But astronauts aren't locked into GS-12 and GS-13 for their careers; they can earn the top tier of the pay scale — GS-15 Step 10 — and upward of $120,000 per year, depending on their position, responsibilities, and performance within the astronaut corps. (2/19)

Pence: Government, Commercial Space Industry Must Collaborate (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Vice President Mike Pence said streamlined regulations would help the space industry as it transitions into a period where government agencies will collaborate with commercial space companies. As it stands now, launch companies must certify rockets before they launch from individual launch pads in Florida, California or any other state.

“The government has figured out how to acknowledge drivers licenses across state lines so there is no reason we can’t do the same for rockets,” he said. Pence was leading the second meeting of the National Space Council since President Donald Trump reignited the advisory body. The meeting at Kennedy Space Center came with tight security, as buses carrying visitors were swept by police dogs and people arriving for the event were led through metal detectors.

“As an administration, we want to advance a regulatory environment that leaves industries and businesses as free as possible to innovate and to create the technology of the future,” said Neomi Rao, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. “Government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers through regulation.” (2/21)

Patriarchal Race to Colonize Mars is Just Another Example of Male Entitlement (Source: NBC)
What does a midlife crisis look like in the 21st century? Frittering away your life savings on a red sports car is so last century. Instead, today’s man who is grappling with the limitations of his mortality spends $90 million on a rocket to launch a $100,000 electric car, helmed by a robot by the name of “Starman,” into space.

And Musk isn’t the only billionaire looking to enter the space race. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has his private aerospace company, Blue Origin, while Virgin’s Richard Branson, a prominent adventurer, created Virgin Galactic back in 2004. These men, particularly Musk, are not only heavily invested in who can get their rocket into space first, but in colonizing Mars. The desire to colonize — to have unquestioned, unchallenged and automatic access to something, to any type of body, and to use it at will — is a patriarchal one.

Indeed, there is no ethical consideration among these billionaires about whether this should be done; rather, the conversation is when it will be done. Because, in the eyes of these intrepid explorers, this is the only way to save humanity. It is the same instinctual and cultural force that teaches men that everything — and everyone — in their line of vision is theirs for the taking. (2/21)

On the Verge of a Space Renaissance (Source: Space News)
We are entering a renaissance era in human spaceflight. Just as the European masters brought forth a magical period of learning, discovery, invention, fine arts and music 500 years ago, with the advances in the science and technologies proliferating today, we expect a rejuvenation in human space activity in this dawn of the 21st century.

Visions like those offered in the American Space Renaissance Act and the European Space Agency’s Moon Village suggest that a new paradigm is emerging for space activity in general, and human space activity in particular. A space renaissance of sorts is happening right now, especially in human space endeavor, and it appears to have many nations and many sectors, both governmental and private, eager to participate in projects. (2/21)

Goodbye ISS. Hello Private Space Stations? (Source: Planetary Society)
Have you heard? The ISS might go away in 2025. Yep, that ISS—our big, honking space laboratory in the sky, one of the most successful international partnership stories of all time. Continually staffed since 2000. Off the Earth, for the Earth. One of the most expensive public projects ever, second possibly only to America’s Interstate Highway System.

Unofficially, 2025 has been the station’s retirement year since 2014, when NASA and its international partners agreed to keep it flying through 2024. But there’s always been an assumption that end date could stretch to 2028, a point cited as when degrading hardware might start making life aboard the station a little dicey.

The earlier the ISS goes away, the earlier NASA can shed up to $4 billion in annual operating costs, and apply that toward deep space exploration. But the agency has to be careful: We’re still conducting long-duration human health research there (see: Scott Kelly’s year-long flight) and testing technologies needed for deep space. Plus, America's commercial space industry could suffer severely should the ISS suddenly disappear. The going assumption is that we’ll need some kind of replacement station; likely, a commercial one. (2/20)

Aussie Rocket Brothers Ink NASA Deal as Local Space Agency Wait Continues (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)
An ambitious plan to fly low-cost rockets into space carrying nano-satellites has been given a boost as the brothers behind it reveal their start-up has signed an agreement with NASA. Gold Coast based Gilmour Space Technologies — backed to the tune of $5 million by Australian venture capital firm Blackbird Ventures and US-based 500 Startups, among other private investors — said on Tuesday that it has entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA to work on various research, technology development and educational initiatives.

While not a financial deal, all companies that want to work with NASA are required to first enter into such an agreement. Under the agreement, Gilmour will pay NASA to work with the agency on rover testing at the Kennedy Space Center. The agreement could also see the space company explore other activities in areas including space transportation, propulsion, sustainability and life support systems. (2/20)

Scientists Are Knitting – Yes, Knitting – A Satellite Out Of Gold (Source: IFL Science)
Putting objects in space is expensive, and the heavier they are, the more it costs. Satellites for Earth Observation and Surveillance need large dishes to maximize the radio waves they can collect. A team at Nottingham Trent University are trying to resolve the resulting conundrum by knitting themselves an ultralight satellite.

“Few people associate knitting with high-end space technology,” said project lead Professor Tilak Dias in a statement. “However due to the advancements in knitting technology we can now knit an antenna which is extremely lightweight, cost-effective and robust enough to withstand solar radiation.”

As any knitter can tell you, having the right material matters. In the case of the dishes Dias is designing, that material is gold-plated wire less than 50 micrometers (0.002 inches) thick, thinner than most human hairs. The gold-plating offers protection against the radiation of space. Although gold is not light, as the most malleable of all the elements, the plating can be so thin it adds very little to the telescope's weight. (2/18)

NASA Spends $1 Billion for a Launch Tower That Leans, May Only Be Used Once (Source: Ars Technica)
There is one component of the revamped facilities at KSC that NASA may be reluctant to show Vice President Pence, who in effect oversees all national spaceflight activities as the head of the space council. This is the "mobile launcher" structure, which supports the testing and servicing of the massive SLS rocket, as well as moving it to the launch pad and providing a platform from which it will launch.

The expensive tower is "leaning" and "bending." For now, NASA says, the lean is not sufficient enough to require corrective action, but it is developing contingency plans in case the lean angle becomes steeper. These defects raise concerns about the longevity of the launch tower and increase the likelihood that NASA will seek additional funding to build a second one. In fact, it is entirely possible that the launch tower may serve only for the maiden flight of the SLS rocket in 2020 and then be cast aside. This would represent a significant waste of resources by the space agency.

In 2011, after Congress directed NASA to build a new large rocket, the SLS, the agency began studying its options to launch the booster. These trade studies found that modifying the existing mobile launcher would cost $54 million, modifying the Space Shuttle Mobile Launcher Platforms would cost $93 million, and constructing a new mobile launch platform would cost $122 million. Ultimately, the agency opted for the lowest-cost option—modifying the Ares mobile launcher—but unfortunately those preliminary cost estimates turned out to be wildly optimistic. (2/20)

Ensuring Fresh Air for All (Source: Space Daily)
A start-up company from an ESA business incubator is offering affordable air-quality monitors for homes, schools and businesses using technology it developed for the International Space Station. "We realized that the problem astronauts face with limited of exchange of air inside the International Space Station is also the case for many people inside buildings that have little or no ventilation," explains Ciro Formisano from Airgloss, hosted at ESA's Business Incubation Center in Italy.

"So we adapted the sensor system we had designed for the Station to work on Earth in a variety of settings, with web-based controllers to give timely warnings wherever you are." The products were designed and developed by Ciro and his team, and tested on the ISS in collaboration with University of Rome Tor Vergata to check the air quality aboard the orbiting complex.to check the air quality aboard the orbiting complex. There, it was tested by ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori during his third flight to the station in 2011. (2/20)

News About Tabby's Star, the Most Mysterious Star of 2017 (Source: Space Daily)
"Since the discovery of Tabby's star, using data which extend over five years' observations, finally we are in a position to present new, convincing ideas about the nature of this strange object", says Hans Deeg. According to Rio Alonso, "we know that the material which is interposed between us and the star is not opaque, as would be expected if it were a planet, or an alien mega structure".

However not all the answers are known. At the present time the teams which are observing on the GTC, as well as those around the world, are waiting for Tabby's star to wake up again, and show stronger dimming, from 10% to 20% as found in the observations from Kepler over 5 years ago. Although the present data support the hypothesis that the star is within a large dust cloud, which produces the attenuation, observing future deep fluctuations it is hope that the puzzle presented by this star will finally be solved. (2/20)

New Space Council Advisory Group Includes Former Florida Legislator (Source: NSC)
Vice President Mike Pence, Chairman of the National Space Council, today announced the candidates selected to serve on the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group. Pending official appointment by the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the selected members of the Users Advisory Group will serve to fulfill President Trump’s mandate to “foster close coordination, cooperation, and technology and information exchange” across our nation’s space enterprise. Among the members is Steve Crisafulli, former Space Coast state legislator and speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Click here. (2/20)

Slazer: NASA's Bold Plans Need Bold Lawmakers to Step Up With Funding (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Haven’t we seen this movie before? There’s wide bipartisan support for investment in American leadership in space. The White House and Congress alike are highlighting the importance of space programs, underpinned by significant events like this week’s National Space Council meeting at the Kennedy Space Center. But our government consistently fails to provide the budgets required to realize these bold visions. Unfortunately, the Fiscal Year 2019 NASA budget request doesn’t break us out of that loop.

The president’s $19.9 billion request for NASA’s FY19 budget includes a tiny increase; far too little to move the needle. In real terms, the request falls short of keeping up with the rate of inflation. Over the years, flat budgets have had a substantial negative cumulative impact on NASA’s buying power. For instance, NASA’s budget in 1992 was nearly $22 billion after adjusting for inflation. If American leadership in the space enterprise is important to our nation, shouldn’t NASA receive at least a 5 percent increase — to $20.6 billion? Click here. (2/21)

Orbital Insight Expands with New Japan Office (Source: Via Satellite)
Orbital Insight announced it has opened a new sales office in Tokyo, Japan. The office will meet the growing demand for Orbital Insight’s products and services throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the company stated. According to Orbital Insight, Tokyo is a strategic choice for the company because of its role in global innovation. Asia-Pacific customers have started using geospatial analytics to serve a variety of business, environmental and humanitarian scenarios, including flood detection, commodities monitoring for oil, steel and coal, deforestation, and large-scale infrastructure projects. (2/20)

Can the Canadian Government Keep up With the Growing SmallSat Community? (Source: SpaceQ)
The Canadian SmallSat Symposium held in Toronto, February 13-15, attracted national and international individuals, ranging from small start-ups, law firms, private commercial space corporates, to the government, all involved in the Canadian small satellite and space sector.

An overarching gap was evident across the sessions: the rapid growth and expansion of companies in space and small satellite development, many outside of Canada, versus the lack or slow progress of government funding and licence approvals within Canada. In the Space Exploration session, representatives from AstroKeys Inc., Gedex Systems Inc., and Canadensys Aerospace Corporation spoke on their future plans for having Canada in space; some with more concrete and realistic goals than others. (2/20)

White House Emphasizes Industry Over Science in Space Council Appointments (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A roster of representatives from the commercial space industry, astronauts, retired military officers and politicians will advise the National Space Council as the top-level government panel seeks to reshape U.S. space policy, regulations and exploration strategies.

The Users Advisory Group will offer testimony and input to the council’s deliberations, and the 29 selectees come from industry, government and multiple spaceflight advocacy organizations. But leaders from commercial telecom and Earth observation companies who use much of the civilian U.S. rocket and satellite capacity, along with scientists currently active in space research, are largely absent from the group. (2/21)

Future Mars Plans Evolve from NASA, SpaceX (Source: Leonard David)
A virtual meeting of The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) was held today, detailing a number of exploration issues, including a projected effort to robotically return samples from the Red Planet. MEPAG meetings involve the planetary exploration community, particularly those scientists, engineers, project and program personnel, theoreticians and experimentalists, instrument scientists, and modelers who are interested in Mars exploration.

MEPAG’s overall mission is to determine if Mars ever supported life; understand the processes and history of climate on Mars; understand the origin and evolution of Mars as a geological system; and to prepare for human exploration. The MEPAG briefing provided an overview of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover situation, characterized as doing very well. Key pieces of hardware for the mega-rover vehicle have been completed, now undergoing testing. Click here. (2/20) 

How SpaceX and NASA’s Rockets Compare (Source: The Hill)
Unfortunately, a few recent headlines and ill-informed opinion editorials have suggested that the success of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy test launch spells trouble for NASA — that somehow the agency’s own rocket, the powerful Space Launch System (SLS), is unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. Without taking anything away from Falcon Heavy’s impressive performance, it is important to keep in mind the major key differences from SLS.

According to SpaceX, Falcon Heavy is not currently slated to carry human beings into space. That means it will not require many of the safety features that must be built into the SLS. In addition, the Orion crew vehicle that will ride atop SLS has a Launch Abort System that will be heavily tested to further reduce risks to crew while on the launch pad and during the potentially dangerous early stages of ascent.
Falcon Heavy may be perfectly acceptable for launching fairly large billion-dollar satellites or groups of smaller satellites, but it simply does not require the kind of rigorous engineering needed when human lives are at stake. Second, there is a significant difference in power between Falcon Heavy and SLS. Simply put, the Falcon Heavy can lift around 64 metric tons and the evolved SLS can lift 130 metric tons to low Earth orbit. (2/21)

Defense Contracting: A $9.2B Power Surge to San Diego Economy (Source: San Diego Times Union)
The military’s presence in San Diego County isn’t just sailors, Marines, ships and planes. It’s a $9.2 billion contracting network of 5,600 businesses and 62,000 workers that serve the bases and develop weapons and systems for the nation’s defense establishment. That’s the premise for a first-ever report, issued Wednesday from the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., to outline the extent of defense contracting and its challenges in the face of an aging population and competition for high-tech talent.

Historically, San Diego companies and institutions have received defense research and development grants but the knowledge gained has become the basis of many companies to do nondefense work as well. “In absence of the defense cluster, it is doubtful San Diego would be the global innovation hub it is today,” the report said. Click here. (2/16)

February 21, 2018

After Flawed Ariane Launch, YahSat Moving Toward Correct Orbit (Source: YahSat)
YahSat's Al Yah 3 satellite will reach its orbital slot in June after completing additional maneuvers to correct its trajectory following an off-track Ariane 5 launch Jan. 25. The satellite, YahSat's third, continues to function "in good health," the company said Feb. 20. Orbital ATK, who built the Ka-band satellite, helped complete the orbit raising. Abu Dhabi, UAE-based YahSat has not said when Al Yah 3 will start commercial service. (2/21)

Trump Again Seeks to End Funding for Earthquake Early Warning System (Source: KTLA)
Mexico City got a substantial warning before the shaking from a distant earthquake arrived Friday — some 30 to 60 seconds broadcast over loudspeakers from an earthquake early warning system. It was another success for Mexico City’s earthquake warning system — one which California, Oregon and Washington state still lack, and one that is an ongoing target for elimination by President Trump.

The Trump administration’s budget proposal released last week again zeroed out funding for the earthquake early warning program administered by the U.S. Geological Survey. The president’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 requested about $13 million less for the federal government’s earthquake hazards program, including $10.2 million for the earthquake early warning program. The administration also proposed reducing staff for the USGS’s earthquake hazards program from 240 to 222, including 15 positions that staff the earthquake early warning program. (2/20)

And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder: The (Quiet) Collapse of Circumlunar Tourism (Source: Space Review)
Last decade there was discussion of space tourism not just on suborbital spaceflights or trips to the International Space Station, but also around the Moon. Dwayne Day discusses what happened with one company’s efforts for such a mission, as revealed by an ongoing federal court case. Click here. (2/20)
Will WFIRST Last? (Source: Space Review)
NASA’s 2019 budget proposal, released last week, included a number of expected changes, but also one surprise: cancelling WFIRST, the next major astronomy mission after the James Webb Space Telescope. Jeff Foust reports on the evolution of WFIRST over the last several years and why the planned cancellation surprised so many. Click here. (2/20) 
Maritime Tradition Can Inform Policy and Law for Commercial Active Debris Removal (Source: Space Review)
Despite the pressing need to deal with orbital debris in advance of the deployment of new satellite megaconstellations, legal obstacles may dwarf any technical challenges. Al Anzaldua and Michelle Hanlon discuss how an approach from maritime salvage could be applied to orbital debris cleanup. Click here. (2/20)
Falcon Heavy Will Change spaceflight Less Than You Think (Source: Space Review)
The successful first launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy earlier this month got many people excited about the ability of the vehicle to revolutionize spaceflight. A.J. Mackenzie argues that the rocket’s impact will not be as great as many enthusiasts believe. Click here. (2/20)

NASA Foresees Human Lunar Landing in Late 2020s (Source: Space News)
NASA's lunar plans foresee humans returning to the lunar surface in the late 2020s. In a speech Tuesday, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said that the agency's lunar exploration plans would allow landings by NASA astronauts, as well as those from international partners, in the latter part of the 2020s. The 2019 budget proposal, which funds development of a Lunar Orbiting Platform - Gateway and initial robotic landers, is based on the 45-day plan that NASA developed after the first meeting of the National Space Council in October. Lightfoot said he also anticipated "a great discussion" with Congress on the future of the ISS based on plans in the proposal, opposed by some key members of Congress, to end NASA funding of the station in the mid-2020s. (2/20)

Bigelow Space Operations Unit to Sell and Operate Space Station Resources (Source: Space News)
Bigelow Aerospace has established a new company to handle sales and operations of its planned commercial space stations. The first task for the new Bigelow Space Operations company will be to perform a market study of demand for commercial stations from government and corporate customers. Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow said that while his company will have its first two B330 modules ready for launch by the end of 2021, it may not proceed with launch plans if there is not sufficient demand for those facilities. He warned of competition both by China's space station under development as well as NASA's exploration plans, which could keep current ISS partners from becoming customers of commercial stations. (2/20)

T-Mobile Seeks Auction of C-Band Spectrum (Source: Fierce Wireless)
T-Mobile is not fond of a proposal by satellite operators regarding access to C-band spectrum. In a filing with the FCC, the wireless operator proposed that the commission conduct an auction for the majority of spectrum between 3.7 and 4.2 gigahertz while giving terrestrial rights for some portion to satellite operators currently in that band. That's a different approach than one developed by Intelsat and Intel, and supported by Eutelsat and SES, where satellite operators would be compensated by terrestrial operators for vacating that band. (2/20)

Laser-Ranged Satellite Measurement Now Accurately Reflects Earth's Tidal Perturbations (Source: Space Daily)
Tides on Earth have a far-reaching influence, including disturbing satellites' measurements by affecting their motion. This disturbance can be studied using a model for the gravitational potential of the Earth, taking into account the fact that Earth's shape is not spherical.

The LAser RElativity Satellite (LARES), is the best ever relevant test article to move in the Earth's gravitational field. In a new study published in EPJ Plus, LARES proves its efficiency for high-precision probing of General Relativity and fundamental physics.

Laser-ranged satellites bring increased accuracy in the study and testing of what is referred to in physics as frame dragging. In this study, the authors collect the observations of Earth's tidal perturbations acting on LARES and compare them with two similar laser-ranged satellites: LAGEOS and LAGEOS 2. The team analysed 3.5 years of LARES laser-ranging data, together with that of the two LAGEOS satellites. (2/21)

February 20, 2018

Regulatory Reform a Topic of KSC-Based National Space Council Meeting (Source: Space News)
When members of the National Space Council meet this week, they are expected to discuss, among other issues, regulatory reforms intended to promote growth of the commercial spaceflight industry.

The Council will hold its next formal meeting Feb. 21 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a meeting formally announced by NASA and the White House less than 48 hours in advance, although plans for the meeting had been circulating in industry for weeks. The meeting will be the second formal gathering of the Council since it was reconstituted by an executive order in June 2017, after an Oct. 5 meeting near Washington.

A formal agenda for the meeting has not been disclosed, although a NASA statement said the meeting will have a theme of “Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond: Winning the Next Frontier.” The meeting, according to the statement, “will include testimonials from leaders in the civil, commercial, and national security sectors about the importance of the United States’ space enterprise.” (2/19)

Chandrayaan-2 Mission Cheaper Than Hollywood Film Interstellar (Source: Times of India)
India's upcoming Rs 800-crore Chandrayaan-2 mission will be cheaper than Hollywood's 2014 sci-fi movie 'Interstellar' that cost Rs 1,062 crore ($165 million). In fact, ISRO's earlier Mars mission (Rs 470 crore) launched in 2013 was also cheaper than another Hollywood space movie 'Gravity' (whose budget was Rs 644 crore or $100 million) made in the same year. So, what makes Indian Space Research Organization's space and interplanetary missions cost-effective?

ISRO chairman Dr K Sivan explained the frugal nature of their space and interplanetary missions. He said, "Simplifying the system, miniaturizing the complex big system, strict quality control and maximizing output from a product make our space missions frugal and cost-effective. We keep strict vigil on each and every stage of development of a spacecraft or a rocket and, therefore, we are able to avoid wastage of products, which helps us minimize the mission cost." (2/20)

China and Europe Love SpaceX’s New Falcon Heavy Rocket. Does NASA? (Source: Quartz)
When SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket debuted this month, China’s aerospace community was mostly envious, noting that their equivalent rocket, the Long March 9, would not be ready for another decade. One story in state media observed that “to put it more bluntly, this time the Americans showed us Chinese with pure power why they are still the strongest country in the world.”

The head of Europe’s space program watched the US company launch its enormous, largely reusable new rocket, and was also inspired. “Totally new ideas are needed and Europe must now prove it still possesses that traditional strength to surpass itself and break out beyond existing borders,” wrote Jan Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency, on his official blog. He expressed dismay that rockets now being built by Europe’s space company, Arianespace, won’t be reusable, which puts them at a deep cost disadvantage to SpaceX. He called for a re-thinking of Europe’s rocket program.

A few days later, Wörner wrote an apologetic sequel to his post, emphasizing that Arianespace’s current rocket plan was correct and would be completed as intended. He was merely exercising his prerogative as head of the continent’s space agency for “turning our minds to systems still far off in the future,” he said. Reading between the lines, the abrupt about-face can be attributed to the stakeholders of contractors and government policymakers, who weren’t pleased with Wörner’s public fretting. This speaks to space exploration’s tendency to become industrial policy, more about jobs than science, which is a key reason why 1970s space visions of lunar bases and enormous space stations aren’t a reality. Click here. (2/20)

Planetary Resources Suffers Funding Shortfall (Source: GeekWire)
Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources is reportedly laying off staff after suffering a funding shortfall. The company confirmed that it missing a fundraising milestone recently, and is now looking to "near-term revenue streams" using the Arkyd-6 demonstration satellite it recently launched. The company did not disclose layoffs, but other sources suggest there have been "notable job reductions" at the company. (2/20)

Could the X3 Ion Thruster Propel Us to Mars? (Source: Spaceflight Insider)
The X3, a new ion thruster that could one day propel humans beyond Earth, was successfully tested a few months ago and is one design that could be selected by NASA as a component of propulsion system for future Mars missions. The X3 is a type of ion thruster in which the propellant (most commonly xenon) is accelerated by electric and magnetic fields – in what is known as the “Hall-effect.” Such thrusters are considered to be safer and more fuel efficient than engines used in traditional chemical rockets.

However, they currently offer relatively low thrust and acceleration. Engineers are currently working to make them more powerful. At nearly 31.5 inches (80 centimeters) in diameter and weighing around 507 lbs. (230 kilograms), X3 is a three-channel nested thruster designed to operate at power levels of up to 200 kW. The thruster is being jointly developed by the University of Michigan (U-M), NASA and the U.S. Air Force. The project is funded through NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnership (NextSTEP). Click here. (2/20)

Trump’s Science Advisor, Age 31, Has a Political Science Degree (Source: Scientific American)
A job that's been held by some of the nation's top scientists is now occupied by a 31-year-old politics major from Princeton University. And it's unlikely to change soon, observers say, leaving President Trump without a science adviser as the administration wrestles with a severe outbreak of the flu, lead-poisoned drinking water and record-breaking disasters that many scientists say are sharpened by rising temperatures.

More than a year into his term, Trump hasn't identified a potential nominee for the key position held by prominent scientists in Republican and Democratic administrations alike. And it stands to get harder. There's a razor-thin margin for Senate approval, and Trump's critics and supporters could complicate the confirmation of anyone who rejects mainstream climate science.

That means the job falls to Michael Kratsios, the deputy assistant in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. At least for now. Kratsios graduated from Princeton in 2008 with a political science degree and a focus on Hellenic studies. He previously served as chief of staff to Peter Thiel, the controversial Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump ally. (2/14)

British Strategy and Outer Space: A Missing Link? (Source: Sage)
Britain sees itself as a significant power which upholds global norms and deploys expeditionary military force around the world. But no matter what role Britain wants for itself, it cannot do so without spacepower and considering its freedom of action in the common of outer space. This reality of international relations in the 21st century is a missing link in British strategic thought. Click here. (2/19)

Leaning Tower: KSC's Mobile Launch Platform Has "Deflections" (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The mobile launch platform that will be used by NASA's Space Launch System is leaning slightly. The agency confirmed that there are "deflections" in the tower of the platform, originally built for the Constellation-era Ares 1 and being modified for the SLS. NASA said the deflections are minor and do not require repairs to correct. The mobile launcher will need further modifications after the first SLS launch to accommodate the larger Block 1B version of the rocket, unless NASA decides to build a new mobile launcher instead. (2/20)

Physicists Created a New Form of Light (Source: Motherboard)
Arguably the most egregious violation of physical laws in Star Wars is the iconic lightsabers wielded by Jedis. These weapons should be impossible because light particles—called photons—don’t interact with one another in the same way that normal matter does. This is why you and your friends can’t re-enact some epic ‘saber battles with a couple of flashlights. I mean you could, but you’ll just look like a bunch of dinguses.

Research published today in Science gives ‘a new hope’ (I’m so sorry) for those holding out for lightsabers. A team of physicists has created a new form of light that permits up to three photons to bind together. The technology isn’t quite ready to defeat the Dark Side, but it could be a major boon to photon-based quantum computers.

The two lead researchers on the project, MIT physicist Vladan Vuletic and Harvard physicist Mikhail Lukin, head up the joint MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms and have spent the last few years trying to make photons interact with each other. Their first major success was in 2013, when the researchers managed to get two photons to bind together to create a new form of light—but they wanted to know if this was the limit to photon interactions. (2/15)

Vector On Track for Summer Launch (Source: Space News)
Small launch vehicle developer Vector says it is on track for a first launch this summer. The company announced last week that the first orbital launch of the Vector-R would take place in July. Company CEO Jim Cantrell said in a speech at a Canadian conference that the launch could slip slightly beyond that, depending on progress the company makes on the vehicle and FAA licensing. (2/20)

Falcon Heavy Booster Lands at KSC Visitor Complex for Space Council Display (Source: Florida Today)
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has a special, but short-term, guest: a Falcon Heavy booster. One of the side boosters from the inaugural launch of the rocket earlier this month was put on display at the visitor's center this weekend, but will only be there through Tuesday. The complex's Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit will host a reception tonight for Vice President Pence and National Space Council meeting attendees, and that exhibit will be closed today to prepare for that event. (2/20)

Croatia On Track to Join ESA (Source: ESA)
Croatia signed an agreement Monday that could lead to it becoming a member nation of ESA. The cooperation agreement between ESA and Croatia will create a framework for closer ties between the space agency and the country. Such agreements in the past have been initial steps towards countries becoming full-fledged members of ESA. Croatia was the last member of the European Union not to either be a part of ESA or have a cooperation agreement with the agency. (2/20)

Medical Incident at Hawaiian Mars Base (Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser)
A Mars simulation in Hawaii is on hold after a "medical incident." One of the four members of the crew that started an eight-month stay in a simulated habitat on the slopes of Mauna Loa last week was taken to a hospital Monday because of an undisclosed condition. That person was released from the hospital after a few hours of observation. The mission, the latest in the series run by the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program, will remain on hold until an investigation can be completed. (2/20)

Israeli Mars Base Completes 4 Day Sim (Source: Israeli21c)
A brief Mars simulation wrapped up over the weekend in the Israeli desert. Six scientists spent four days in a habitat in the Negev Desert in a collaboration between the Israel Space Agency and the Austrian Space Forum. The team performed a variety of experiments and also tested space suits provided by an Israeli fashion designer. The simulation was the first in a series planned for the outpost. (2/20)

ISS as a Catalyst for New Space Industries (Source: Via Satellite)
Just as the early railroads transformed the American West and spurred an economic boom across our then young nation, commercial activity in space is blossoming. Expansion of these activities, especially in-space manufacturing, will expand human activity outward and lead to new American economic booms. While the promise of commercial activities in space may be as vast as the promise of the American West, actions must be taken now in order to stay on the path of converting this promise to economic value.

Much of our current progress in space-based operations such as manufacturing can be credited to the multibillion dollar investment in the creation of International Space Station (ISS) and the designation of the U.S. segment of ISS as a National Lab for conducting space-based research for economic development in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Using the ISS, companies have leveraged the unique properties of microgravity to achieve research and technology breakthroughs that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

Many smaller sized companies have been able to enter the market and rapidly create value, compete and offer technologies and capabilities because barriers to research and development were lowered thanks to the National Lab and ISS. Yet we’ve just scratched the surface. Without the National Lab and the ISS as a testbed platform, research into space utilization and in space manufacturing would be significantly reduced. (2/16)

February 19, 2018

Falcon Heavy May Have Drastically Increased the Number of Asteroids We Can Mine (Source: Gizmodo)
Asteroid mining is about more than just heading up into space and bringing back a rock full of platinum—you actually need to land something on just the right asteroid. Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket launched by Elon Musk-led SpaceX two weeks ago, may have changed the game, says one astronomer. “Instead of a few hundred we may have thousands of ore bearing asteroids available,” Martin Elvis from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told an audience at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Austin, Texas. (2/18)

When Will We Finally Find a Truly Earth-Like Exoplanet? (Source: Gizmodo)
Determining if an exoplanet is truly habitable requires actually figuring out what’s on the planet. Currently, telescopes like the space-based Kepler (currently operating the K2 mission) can detect planets by the way they periodically dim the light coming from the star they orbit. Others, like the ground-based Very Large Telescope, have tools that can directly image exoplanets. Scientists are working on new telescopes that might be able to actually tell if these planets have life on them. They’re a while away, but astronomers can dream.

NASA has proposed several new flagship missions, after the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, that might be able to look for these biosignatures. These include LUVOIR (the Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor) and HabEx (the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission0).

“They would be able to find small exoplanets in the habitable zones of sunlike stars and probe them to see if they have Earth-like conditions,” said Roberge at the press conference. “With a LUVOIR launch in the late 2030s, we may possibly be able to find a true Earth 2.0.” In the mean time, scientists must find more Earth-like exoplanets and figure out what biosignatures might look like. (2/16)

Rocket Lab's Second Silver Ball Will Remain on Earth (Source: Stuff)
Rocket Lab won't put a second "humanity star" into orbit, saying its hands will be full from now on launching commercial payloads into space. Spokeswoman Morgan Bailey said Rocket Lab expected to set the date for its first fully-commercial launch in about a fortnight and hoped to be launching a rocket a month by the end of the year. The United States company – founded by Peter Beck who grew up in Invercargill – delighted rocket fans in January when it conducted New Zealand's first successful space launch from the Māhia Peninsula, putting three shoe-boxed satellites into orbit for customers.

But the gloss was taken off for some when the company subsequently revealed the payload in its Electron rocket had also secretly included a meter-wide, silver carbon-fiber ball, with the hope it would draw people's eyes to the heavens. Beck did not rule out the humanity star project having a life longer than nine months when asked by Newshub in January, saying "we'll see how effective the message is".

It manufactured another identical object which it describes as a "full scale replica". But the company has decided that will remain grounded. It denied negative feedback was a factor in that decision, saying the bulk of the responses it had received to its humanity star were positive. "Ultimately, it is down to the fact we need the payload space for commercial customers." (2/16)

Telesat Considers Broadband Constellation (Source: Space News)
A Telesat executive said the company will make a decision on plans to manufacture its broadband satellite constellation in a couple of months. Speaking at a conference last week, Erwin Hudson said the company has been spending the last several months reviewing proposals from satellite manufacturers who bid on building Telesat's planned 117-satellite system. He said he expected the company to announce its selection in a couple of months. Telesat has been funding the project internally to date, but Hudson said he expected Telesat to discuss partnerships to help support its development in the second half of this year. (2/19)

Falcon 9 Gets NASA Certification for Medium-Risk Payloads (Source: Space News)
The Falcon 9, meanwhile, has won NASA certification to carry some science missions. NASA awarded the certification for "Category 2" medium-risk payloads last month, according to budget documents released last week. That certification was needed for SpaceX to launch NASA's TESS astronomy mission. The launch of TESS, which was scheduled for March 20, has slipped to no earlier than April 16 to give SpaceX "additional time for hardware readiness and to meet NASA launch service mission requirements," according to NASA. (2/19)

February 18, 2018

Discovery of Alien Life Might Not Bring the Response You'd Expect (Source: NBC)
“War of the Worlds. “Independence Day.” “Pacific Rim.” Hollywood is no stranger to tales of space aliens, and most seem to culminate in an epic fight to save the human race. But let’s say we discover space aliens not on Main Street but on some distant planet. Will we panic — or heave a global ho-hum? A new study suggests the latter response is the more likely one.

For the research, a team led by Dr. Michael Varnum, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, analyzed the language used in and the tone of news reports describing three potential discoveries of extraterrestrial life. Click here. (2/18)

Forget Countries, Take an Affordable Space Holiday Soon (Source: Khaleej Times)
A trip to space could eventually be as affordable as a regular holiday on Earth, former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, the first person to send a tweet from Space, has said. Massimino is in Dubai to visit the UAE's largest science fair exhibition - the National, Science, Technology and Innovation Festival (NSTI) - taking place at the Festival Arena until February 19.

Massimino, 55, is a former NASA astronaut who was part of the STS-109 Columbia and STS-125 Atlantis shuttle missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. He achieved several spacewalk hours and orbits around the Earth during these missions. He has even played a recurring cameo role in the popular TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

"I think in order to do what we really want to do in space is - first - to have these private companies be successful. All the governments that are participating in space are necessary, but I don't see how you're going to get there without private enterprises being successful," Massimino said. "With what SpaceX has been able to do, and other companies like Blue Origin, they'll surely be able to fly people to space with paying customers and tourists." (2/18)

Oxygen Ions May Be an Easy-to-Track Sign of Life on Exoplanets (Source: Ars Technica)
Most (about seventy percent) of the stars in our Galaxy are M dwarf stars, and many of them have associated planets. The search for signs of life has largely focused on these planets, primarily because there are so many of them. However, the environments do not seem to be especially welcoming. Because M dwarf stars are dim, the hospitable zones around them are very close to the star. As a result, the planets get stuck in a gravitational lock: their orbital period and their rotational period are the same. This means that (just like our moon) these planets always have the same hemisphere facing their sun.

Like Earth, Venus and Mars are small rocky planets; they have permanent atmospheres like Earth, and their atmospheres are exposed to the same solar radiation as Earth’s. Data from the Pioneer Venus Orbiter and the Viking descent probe on Mars show that they have very similar ionospheres to each other—which don’t contain a lot of atomic O+ ions. Know what else Venus and Mars are missing? Photosynthesis.

Dalba’s contention is that photosynthesis on a planet’s surface, which generates a surfeit of molecular oxygen, is the only thing that can account for these atomic O+ ions in a planet’s ionosphere. The mere existence of life throws a planet’s atmosphere out of chemical balance. O+ would be a neat biomarker because there isn’t a numerical cutoff required—just the dominance of O+ among the ionic species in the upper atmosphere would indicate “thriving global biological activity” on the planet below. (2/18)

Making Space Travel Funny for a Change (Source: MetroWest Daily News)
Outer space is a frightening place. For one, there’s no air. Two, it’s dark. And three, it is really, really big. The size of the universe big. All good reasons to take space exploration seriously. Add to that the tagline from the original Alien movie: “In space, no one can hear you scream,” and it’s understandable that space is no joking matter.

So thank goodness for Elon Musk. He lightened the mood some by sending his own Tesla Roadster into orbit around the sun. Why did he do it? I hope for no other reason than it is kind of funny. Just knowing that right now in the dark, airless void of space there is a red roadster being “driven” by Starman, a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit, should put a smile on your face. (2/18)

Asteroid Miners Might Need a Few Good Applied Astronomers to Show Them the Way (Source: GeekWire)
Mining asteroids for water and other resources could someday become a trillion-dollar business, but not without astronomers to point the way. At least that’s the view of Martin Elvis, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who’s been taking a close look at the science behind asteroid mining.

If the industry ever takes off the way ventures such as Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources and California-based Deep Space Industries hope, “that opens up new employment opportunities for astronomers,” Elvis said today in Austin at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In space, the water in asteroids can be more precious than gold — largely because it costs thousands of dollars per pound to launch supplies from Earth. That water could be used to produce oxygen and drinking water for astronauts, plus the propellants for refueling rockets. Other materials may come in handy for use as in-space building materials. But not all asteroids are created equal: Most space rocks will be worthless, Elvis said. (2/17)

NASA's Lunar Outpost Is Planned to be Ready for Crewed Mission by 2023 (Source: Interesting Engineering)
NASA is considering sending humans to the Moon again. To achieve that, the space agency will also put an outpost in orbit around the Moon. This will also advance capabilities of human space exploration farther from Earth, such as plans to send astronauts to Mars. The space station will be called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway and it will be located in orbit around the Moon. It is designed to be ready for human habitation by 2023.

Similar to the International Space Station, or ISS, it will be assembled in space over time. The first module will be a power and propulsion system, planned for launch in 2022. The space station is planned to use high-power solar electric propulsion to preserve the position of the platform in a lunar orbit. It will also be capable of shifting the orbit closer to or away from the Moon, depending on science and exploration objectives. (2/16)

February 17, 2018

Stealthy Space Startup Testing its Rocket in Alameda, California (Source: KGO)
People around the Alameda Naval Air Station told us it was the sound of SKY7 overhead that made them look around and notice a strange sight. "I heard helicopters, and when I look behind me, I see a giant truck with a huge missile on it," said Madeleine Tonzi. A member of the team who spoke to us outside the former Navy building told us the startup is an aerospace research and development firm that employs about a hundred people in Alameda. Other than that, the company's not ready to say much more.

Though the company isn't saying much to the press, it's talking a lot with local officials. A lease application filed with the City of Alameda gives some clues about what's in the works: a rocket called Astra that the company claims is the world's smallest. The Astra rocket, which is made to carry only 100 kg, is aimed at launching the new generation of small satellites, the document says. (2/17)

How Does Space Change the Human Body? (Source: Astronomy)
Scott and Mark Kelly are identical twin brothers. Though that alone does not make them unique, what does is the fact that they are also both astronauts. In order to take advantage of the Kellys’ unique situation, NASA scientists decided to conduct a detailed study on the twins, aimed at unraveling how nature versus nurture plays out in space. Click here. (2/16)

Branson Hopes to Upstage Elon Musk in Space (Source: Parabolic Arc)
You might think that just getting something into space this year would be accomplishment enough for Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic way back in 1999. On the other hand, a game of one-upmanship with Musk is great publicity whatever the outcome.

It’s been more than a month since the seventh glide test of SpaceShipTwo Unity on Jan. 11. I’m expecting the first powered flight of this second vehicle fairly soon. Given what happened the last time, it’s going to be a very stressful thing to watch. Meanwhile, Virgin Orbit is moving along toward a flight test of LauncherOne around the third quarter of the year. The company recently tweeted about two launch campaign rehearsals it conducted in Mojave. (2/17)

Industry Groups Vie to Sponsor Reception During Space Council Meeting in Florida (Source: Washington Post)
Ahead of the second meeting of the White House’s National Space Council in Florida next week, a consortium of upstart entrepreneurial companies known as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which includes SpaceX, decided to host a reception for members of the council, who just happen to be some of the most powerful players in Washington. Headed by Vice President Pence, the policymaking council is made up of the secretaries of State, Commerce, Treasury, Transportation and Defense and other top government officials.

But when the groups representing some of the more traditional space contractors, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, caught wind of the party, they complained to the White House, which agreed that they, too, should host the reception. The ultimate party crash? More like “we wanted to make sure the entirety of the industry was represented to the council and not just a subset,” said one industry official. (2/17)

Falcon-9 Vandenberg Launch Delayed Until Wednesday (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has been delayed until Wednesday, Feb. 21. The launch had been previously scheduled for Feb. 16 and Feb. 18. The primary payload is the Paz satellite for Hisdesat of Spain. The spacecraft will provide radar imaging as well as ship tracking and weather data. The flight will use a previously-flown first stage.

Elon Musk’s company will also launch two of its own satellites, Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, that will demonstration technologies needed to provide global broadband services. The company plans to orbit 12,000 in two separate constellations for its Starlink broadband service. (2/17)

How the Private Space Industry Could Take Over Lower Earth Orbit — and Make Money (Source: The Verge)
The Trump administration wants to end direct NASA funding for the International Space Station by 2025 — but that doesn’t necessarily mean the US will stop sending people into orbit around Earth by then. Instead, NASA hopes to transition the domain of lower Earth orbit, where the space station resides, to the commercial space industry over the next seven years. But what would it take for private space companies to take over this area of space — and what exactly would they do up there? Click here. (2/16)

Bigelow to Launch New Spaceflight Company (Source: Business Insider)
Robert Bigelow, who made billions forming the hotel chain Budget Suites of America, is gearing up to launch a new spaceflight company called Bigelow Space Operations. Bigelow, age 72, already owns Bigelow Aerospace, which he founded in 1999. That company built an inflatable room, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), for NASA to attach to the International Space Station. BEAM launched into orbit and was fully deployed in 2016. Bigelow Aerospace has also reportedly helped conduct research on UFO sightings for a secretive Pentagon program.

The hotel mogul now plans "to announce the creation of a new company: Bigelow Space Operations" on Tuesday, according to an email sent to Business Insider. Bigelow Aerospace representatives did not immediately respond to further questions about the announcement. However, according to a recent tweet from Bigelow Aerospace, the new venture may have more to do with finding new uses for the spacecraft that company has already been developing. (2/17)

CASIS Announces Leadership Change (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) has announced that President and Executive Director Gregory H. Johnson plans to leave the nonprofit organization effective March 10, 2018, after serving in that position for nearly five years.

Johnson was named to the position in August 2013 with a mission to lead a diverse team of professionals in the unprecedented challenge to establish a national laboratory in space, the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, and to foster the growth of a community of users and facilities on the lab for Earth benefit.

A national search for a new executive director will begin immediately. Upon Johnson’s departure, CASIS Chairman of the Board of Directors Lt. General (Ret) James A. Abrahamson will resign from the board and will serve as the interim president and executive director until a permanent replacement is appointed. The chairmanship of the board will be assumed by the Vice-Chairman and Chair-Elect Phillip Schein, M.D. (2/16)

Fake Research Paper Based on Star Trek: Voyager's Worst Episode Published by a Scientific Journal (Source: io9)
“Threshold” is one of the most infamous Star Trek episodes ever. You know what’ we’re talking about—the one with Warp 10 and the weird evolved amphibians. Well, it was also the recent subject of a fake scientific research paper submitted in a test to expose the ever-growing problem of “predatory” scientific journals.

An anonymous biologist looking to expose how easy it was to get fake news into supposedly peer-reviewed scientific journals—inspired by a recent attempt that got a paper about Star Wars’ midi-chlorians published in three different journals—recently submitted a paper titled “Rapid Genetic and Developmental Morphological Change Following Extreme Celerity.” The author was listed as “Doctor Lewis Zimmerman,” which is actually the name of the holoengineer that programmed Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram.

The paper was essentially a recap of the events of “Threshold,” the godawful season two episode in which Voyager’s helmsman Tom Paris attempts to break the theoretical “Warp 10” speed barrier, something never done in Trek’s universe. Turns out, it’s for good reason, because apparently when you do reach the “extreme celerity” of Warp 10, you turn into a weird amphibian-person, capture your captain, evolve them into a weird amphibian-person, and then fully evolve into actual space salamanders and mate with each other. (2/16)

Under New Ownership, Sea Launch to Resume in 2019, With Zenit Rockets, From U.S. (Source: Tass)
A Zenit rocket may be manufactured for the first launch under the restarted Sea Launch project in 2019, co-owner of S7 Group Natalia Filyova said. S7 signed a contract with Sea Launch Group in 2016 on the project’s acquisition. Ukraine’s Yuzhmash, the producer of Zenit launchers, earlier reported it would deliver the first two rockets for the Sea Launch project in 2018. She added that the carrier rocket was being produced by Ukraine with Russia’s assistance while the rocket’s final assembly would take place in the United States.

S7 will not give up Ukrainian-made Zenit rocket rockets for Sea Launch until Russia’s Energiya Rocket and Space produces a new launch vehicle for the project. The company plans to sign a memorandum with Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation for the manufacture of 85 Soyuz-5 rockets (50 plus an option for 35) for launches from the floating sea platform. The Ukrainian side was contracted to deliver 12 Zenit rockets by 2022. (2/16)

Spaceport America Gets Support in New Mexico Legislature (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
It was a good legislative session for Spaceport America, the launch site that might one day propel tourists into space. The agency won new confidentiality protections for its aerospace customers in the last hours of the 30-day session, though lawmakers made significant changes to the bill to narrow what can be kept secret. The Spaceport itself is also in line for some extra money in next year’s budget.

It’s a turnaround from past years, when some lawmakers slammed the $220 million Spaceport as a poor investment for taxpayers or floated the idea of selling it. Legislators on Thursday credited the Spaceport’s new executive director, Dan Hicks, for giving them the confidence to make the agency a priority this year. Hicks, a longtime executive at the nearby White Sands Missile Range, took over the Spaceport in late 2016.

“It’s an asset that’s been underutilized,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat and chairwoman of the House appropriations committee. “It’s a better investment now.” The budget proposal sent to Gov. Susana Martinez includes about $10 million to build a new hangar at the Spaceport in addition to an increased operating budget to pay for engineers and other staff. (2/16)

Spacewalkers Repairing ISS Robotic Arm Again (Source: AP)
Astronauts have started a spacewalk outside the International Space Station to complete repairs of its robotic arm. Mark Vande Hei and Norishige Kanai started the planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk at 7:00 a.m. Eastern. The two will wrap up work to replace a latching end effector, or "hand," on the Canadarm2 robotic arm carried out during a spacewalk last month. The spacewalk was previously planned for Thursday but delayed a day by the rescheduled Progress cargo spacecraft docking, which took place Thursday. (2/16)

Air Force Plans Small Launcher Procurement (Source: Space News)
The Air Force's budget proposal includes a program to purchase small launch services. The "small launch" program expects to spend nearly $200 million over five years to acquire launch services from companies like Stratolaunch and Virgin Orbit. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the goal is to "have a variety of launch capabilities in order to have assured access to space." (2/16)

Robonaut is Broken on ISS. Will Return to Earth (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
NASA plans to bring Robonaut 2, its malfunctioning robot on the ISS, back to Earth for repairs. The humanoid robot has not been working normally on the station since work in 2014 to add legs to the unit. Engineers believe the robot is suffering from electrical problems that are degrading some of its electronics. NASA plans to ship Robonaut back to Earth on an upcoming cargo mission, where it will be either repaired or replaced with another unit.(2/15)

Trump's Privatized ISS 'Not Impossible,' But Would Require 'Renegotiation' (Source: Space Daily)
The White House reportedly plans to request $150 million "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities, which will ensure that commercial successors to the station are operational when they are needed." The ISS costs up to $4 billion a year and the US government has already spent nearly $100 billion over more than a decade to keep it up and running.

A proper reaction to Trump's statement should be based on a precise understanding of the word "privatization." The ISS has been built based on a number of international treaties and one cannot simply dodge these agreements, let alone attempt to privatize the whole station. If a private contractor is to take over the US-owned parts of the ISS, this would be a "fundamental change" that "would at least require renegotiation of the space station agreement," says von der Dunk. (2/16)

Kepler Data Reveals 95 New Exoplanets (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers analyzing data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft have identified 95 new exoplanets. Scientists used data from Kepler's extended mission, known as K2, to find planets ranging in size from smaller than the Earth to larger than Jupiter. The discoveries bring the total number of exoplanets found by Kepler to nearly 2,440, about two thirds of all exoplanets discovered to date. (2/16)

Boeing CEO: Elon Musk and SpaceX are 'Adding Energy to the Space Market' (Source: CNBC)
Boeing is undeterred by all the buzz around SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk, which launched its Falcon Heavy rocket into history last week. "They're adding energy to the space market and we like the attention that that's generating," said Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg. "I think it's good for the country."

"We are building the first rocket to Mars, and, as I told you, it's about 36 stories tall," Muilenburg said. "It's first test flight is in 2019... I firmly believe that the first person that gets to Mars is going to get there on a Boeing rocket." Development for both Falcon Heavy and SLS began about seven years ago. But, while Falcon Heavy roared to life on Feb. 7 at Kennedy Space Center, the first flight for SLS slipped to 2020. (2/16)

Air Force and Aerojet Rocketdyne Renegotiating AR1 Agreement (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force and Aerojet Rocketdyne are working to revise an agreement to support development of the company’s AR1 rocket engine, as questions continue about the engine’s long-term future. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) confirmed that Aerojet Rocketdyne is seeking to revise the Rocket Propulsion System (RPS) award the company received in 2016 to reduce the fraction of development costs the company has to pay.

That award, known as an other transaction authority (OTA), currently requires Aerojet Rocketdyne to cover one third of the costs of work on the AR1 engine. In the company’s latest quarterly filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Nov. 2, it said it had spent $86.1 million on AR1 research and development, out of total costs incurred to date of $236.6 million.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne has approached the Air Force about reducing the industry cost share on the AR1 RPS OTA from 1/3 to 1/6,” SMC said in its response. “The Air Force has gained the necessary approvals to do so, if a mutually beneficial arrangement can be reached with Aerojet Rocketdyne. (2/16)

140 Successful Tests for Vinci, the [Government Funded] Engine for Ariane 6 (Source: Space Daily)
The re-ignitable Vinci, engine, which will power the upper stage of the Ariane 6 launcher, has now successfully completed its last two subsystems qualification campaigns (M6 and M7) with 140 engine tests conducted. The tests in campaigns M6 and M7, vital for qualification of the engine subsystems, were carried out on the PF52 bench at the ArianeGroup site in Vernon, France, and on the German Aerospace Center DLR's P4.1 bench in Lampoldshausen, Germany.

The Vinci engine was developed by ArianeGroup for Ariane 6 and provides the future European launcher with extreme versatility. Its main feature is its multiple ignition capability: Vinci will be able to re-ignite in flight as many times as necessary, in order to place several payloads in orbit at different locations, according to the specific needs of the mission. This engine will enable Ariane 6 to carry out all types of missions, regardless of duration and target orbit, particularly the deployment of satellite constellations, for which demand will continue to grow. (2/16)

Amateur Astronauts Flock to Starfighters Aerospace as Space Travel Becomes Reality (Source: Observer)
As NASA and its commercial partners are preparing to soon support the first crewed missions to take flight from Florida since 2011, private companies like the Starfighters are anticipating that a new wave of public interest in spaceflight will follow. Originally an aerobatic airshow team with over 500 performances under their belt, the Starfighters are lobbying to become the first certified astronaut training fleet endorsed by NASA to prepare both private pilot and non-pilot citizens for the rigors of space travel. Click here. (2/15) 

A Disruptor-in-Chief is Driving Japan's Space Dream (Source: Nikkei)
Takafumi Horie, the maverick internet entrepreneur, is hoping to transform Japan's space industry. Interstellar Technologies, which Horie founded in 2013 but has its origins in 2006 in one of his previous enterprises, plans to launch a rocket this spring, aiming to be the first Japanese company to privately reach space. The 45-year-old disruptor-in-chief envisages a future in which Japan is a space-industry powerhouse, competing with the U.S. in a race that will be driven by private companies rather than governments. It will be a daunting task. Click here. (2/16)

Five Years after the Chelyabinsk Meteor: NASA Leads Efforts in Planetary Defense (Source: NASA)
NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program has been growing in response to increased awareness of asteroid impact risks. The program focuses on finding asteroids 460 feet (140 meters) and larger that represent the most severe impact risks to Earth. The goal of the program is to find at least 90 percent of these asteroids early enough to allow deflection or other preparations for impact mitigation. By January 2018, discovery of near-Earth objects of all sizes had surpassed the 17,500 mark – an 84 percent increase since January 2013.

“Thanks to upgraded telescopes coming online in recent years, the rate of asteroid discovery has increased considerably,” said Kelly Fast, manager of NASA’s NEO Observations Program. “Over 8,000 of these larger asteroids are now being tracked. However, there are over twice that number still out there to be found.”

In January 2016, NASA established a Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), tasked with ensuring the early detection of potentially hazardous objects – asteroids and comets whose orbits can bring them within about 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) of Earth, and of a size large enough to reach Earth’s surface.  PDCO is responsible for tracking and characterizing any potentially hazardous objects, issuing warnings about potential impacts, and providing timely and accurate communications about any actual impact threat while leading the coordination of U.S. Government planning for a response. (2/15)