July 21, 2014

Moscow: Continue U.S. Cooperation in Space (Source: Washington Times)
Moscow wants to work with Washington to further space exploration despite a recent NASA memo noting the crisis in Ukraine has nearly severed prospects for partnership, Russian officials say. In an April 2 memo, NASA suspended “contact with Russian entities” as a result of “the ongoing violation of Ukraine sovereignty.” A follow-up statement stressed that “NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station.”

“The memo was unexpected. We did not expect what was happening politically between Russia and the United States to affect what happens in space,” Russian Federation spokesman Yevgeniy Khorishko told The Washington Times. “Politics should not overshadow this partnership when there are this many years of cooperation. We have good assets and experience to do this job together. It is natural for us to continue.” (7/21)

Time to Rethink NASA (Source: National Review)
Everyone recognizes that our space policy is rudderless, but few seem to understand the root cause. In an attempt to get the nation’s human-spaceflight program on course again, funded by NASA, the National Research Council (NRC) issued a report a few weeks ago on the future of human spaceflight. Unfortunately, it was hobbled by the flawed assumptions forced upon it by its congressional charter. Among these assumptions are that a) NASA will continue to lead the effort and b) the purpose of human spaceflight is “exploration.”

The report also shares the premise that the unaffordable Space Launch System will be the primary tool for such exploration. Of course, while the NRC sought public input, it sought no independent technical or cost input from any agency other than NASA, so it was not exposed to any alternatives.

Almost five years ago, while few paid attention, the Human Spaceflight Plans Committee produced a review noting that exploration was a means, not an end, and that human spaceflight is a waste of time and money if the purpose isn’t space settlement. The recent NRC report, on the other hand, refuses to identify settlement as a goal, because its authors are skeptical that settlement is even possible; instead, it cobbles together a hodge-podge of other rationales for human spaceflight. Click here. (7/21)

The Dog Days of Summer Launch Debates (Source: Space Review)
Two of the key issues surrounding access to space in the US this year have been reliance on the Russian-built RD-180 engine and a dispute between the Air Force and SpaceX. Jeff Foust reports that, despite a number of hearings and other events, there's no clear resolution to either issue on the horizon. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2562/1 to view the article. (7/12)

A Generational Opportunity for Europa (Source: Space Review)
While interest in a mission to Jupiter's icy, and potentially habitable, moon Europa is growing, funding for such a mission has been lacking in NASA's budget requests. Casey Dreier argues that a Europa mission could, in fact, solve several of the problems NASA is facing today. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2561/1 to view the article. (7/12)

Heavy Glass: The KH-10 DORIAN Reconnaissance System (Source: Space Review)
The main purpose of the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory was to conduct reconnaissance using a very high resolution camera system. Dwayne Day examines how that system would have worked, had MOL not been cancelled 45 years ago. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2560/1 to view the article. (7/12)

"A Little Bit of Bedlam": An Interview with Neil Armstrong (Source: Space Review)
This year is the first major Apollo 11 anniversary since the passing of Neil Armstrong in 2012. Neil McAleer recounts an interview he did with Armstrong 25 years ago to discuss the astronaut's relationship with a famous science fiction writer. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2559/1 to view the article. (7/12)

New Fort Knox: A Means to a Solar-System-Wide Economy (Source: Space Review)
While space advocates are never short of bold visions for future space development projects, funding them has long been a major challenge. Richard Godwin offers one approach to bootstrap long-term use of space resources though smaller initial steps and a key financial measure. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2558/1 to view the article. (7/12)

Lunar Rock Collisions Behind Yutu Damage (Source: Xinhua)
Ailing Chinese moon rover Yutu, or "Jade Rabbit," might have been damaged by knocking against rocks on a lunar surface that is more complicated than expected, its designer has said. Yutu, China's first moon rover, drove onto the lunar surface on Dec. 15 last year during the Chang'e-3 lunar mission, but in January it suffered a "mechanical control abnormality" which has continued to trouble it ever since. (7/21)

Planet Bieber? Suggestions (Mostly) Welcome (Source: Boston Globe)
While the prospect of finding habitable worlds far from our solar system has been a feature of science fiction for generations, the real-life task of finding and cataloging new planets hasn’t garnered much public interest. Part of the reason is that scientists are in the habit of slapping names like HD 185269 b on the planets they find. The International Astronomical Union wants to change that.

Recently the organization, which among other things names objects in space, announced a plan, called NameExoWorlds, to crowdsource names for recently discovered planets. While only organizations like planetariums and astronomy clubs can suggest names — making it unlikely that LeBron James or Justin Bieber will be lending their names to planets anytime soon — the general public can vote for the final name given to a celestial body.

The program won’t replace the planets’ scientific monikers, which remain useful to scholars. While naming new planets might seem like the least important step in space exploration, NameExoWorlds allows ordinary people to directly participate in cutting-edge science — which can only help to revive public interest in astronomy. Besides, people are much more likely to actually discuss interstellar research if they can remember the names of the planets they’re talking about. (7/20)

Civil Firms Looking to Military Space (Source: Defense News)
Some of the biggest names and deepest pockets in Silicon Valley are looking to space as their next big investment opportunity, and while the targets of their investment are primarily commercial, the Pentagon’s in-house tech think tank is also drawing these entrepreneurs into its own orbit in an ambitious new space launch project.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Virgin Galactic’s Sir Richard Branson are just two of the investors competing to duke it out to win the right to develop a reusable, relatively inexpensive “space plane” capable of carrying clusters of small satellites weighing as little as 5 to 10 pounds into space. Meanwhile, Google is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on several projects that would launch dozens of these small, inexpensive communications satellites into space. (7/21)

Buzz Aldrin's New Mission: Life on Mars (Source: Fast Company)
Buzz Aldrin, living legend, was one of the very first humans to ever walk on the moon. These days, Aldrin has fashioned himself as an elder statesman for space exploration, and has set his sights even higher: Mars. In recent years, space travel has returned to the spotlight thanks to private sector players like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, and Aldrin is pushing for an audacious (and difficult) goal: the colonization of Mars by astronauts who would never return to Earth.

Aldrin likens the idea to the Pilgrims migrating from Europe to present-day Massachusetts and argues it should be the whole world, not just the United States, working on the project. “I think that any historical migration of human beings to establish a permanent presence on another planet requires cooperation from the world together,” Aldrin said. (7/21)

Virgin Galactic Preparing for an Economic Takeoff (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
As Virgin Galactic prepares to launch the test flights it believes will be its final push to space, the company is slowly ramping up operations in southern New Mexico. “There is a reasonably clear path toward the start of operations,” Virgin Galactic Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough recently told the Journal. “We are looking at everything to move the operation from Mojave (Calif.) to New Mexico.”

The company striving to become the world’s first commercial spaceline recently announced its first two hospitality contracts with Las Cruces businesses, as well as three new job openings here. Attenborough said he expects the 12-person operation to grow to 70 people once commercial flights begin from Spaceport America. (7/21)

White Holes: Hunting the Other Side of a Black Hole (Source: New Scientist)
Black holes suck – but do they have mirror twins that blow? A far-flung space telescope is peering into galactic nuclei to spot one for the first time. Physics is full of opposites. For every action, there's a reaction; every positive charge has a negative; every magnetic north pole has a south pole. Matter's opposite number is antimatter. And for black holes, meet white holes.

Black holes are notorious objects that suck in everything around them. Famously, not even light can escape their awesome gravity. White holes, in contrast, blow out a constant stream of matter and light – so much so that nothing can enter them. So why have so few people heard of them? One reason is that white holes are exotic creatures whose existence is speculated by theorists, but none have been found.  (7/21)

NASA Considers Mars Mission With Help Of Tesla’s Elon Musk (Source: CBS)
45 years ago, America landed a man on the moon, and years from now, NASA and Tesla founder Elon Musk hope to have already landed a man on Mars, using Musk’s SpaceX rocket in a public-private partnership that turns the Apollo program model on its head in what NASA dubs the #NextGiantLeap. Musk predicts in as little as ten years, humans will land on Mars, with or without NASA. He told CNBC that a 2024 or 2026 landing is not unheard of.

But, to get there, a lot of development has to be done.  That’s where NASA comes in, with a penultimate step to a human mission. After three years of research, NASA Ames’ scientists announced that a modified crew-carrying version of the Dragon X capsule from Space X could be a way to make it to the red planet and return samples of rocks, carrying 4,000 pounds of equipment–the most in history. SpaceX dubbed this spacecraft “Red Dragon.”

The idea for a 2022 mission (or earlier if Musk is in control) would be a precursor to a planned human flight to Mars. Getting to Mars hasn’t been all that hard. It’s getting the fuel and supplies there to support humans, and then getting the humans back that’s been impossible.  It’s a matter of mass, and the need to slow that mass down to a safe landing on Mars, and then accelerate it back up and out of Mars’ gravity, back to earth, and then finally, slow it down one more time for a descent to earth. The numbers and speeds are staggering, but that’s where SpaceX comes in. Click here. (7/20)

Will SpaceX Knock Boeing and Lockheed Out of Space? (Source: Motley Fool)
Things are finally looking up for Tesla boss Elon Musk -- and for his privately held space exploration firm, SpaceX. Launching U.S. government satellites is big business -- and it costs U.S. taxpayers big bucks. In testimony before Congress earlier this year, Musk pointed out that right now, the Air Force is paying United Launch Alliance a $1 billion-a-year retainer just to stand ready to loft satellites into space for it.

That's $1 billion -- whether ULA actually launches any satellites or not. And if it does happen to launch a satellite, ULA gets another $380 million per launch. SpaceX thinks it can do the same work for as little as $100 million per launch -- a 74% discount to ULA's price. If it's right, then competitive bidding for EELV contracts, with SpaceX in the mix, could save U.S. taxpayers as much as $50 billion out of planned $70 billion in anticipated costs for the Pentagon's space launches over the next 15 years.

SpaceX thinks it can do the same work for as little as $100 million per launch -- a 74% discount to ULA's price. If it's right, then competitive bidding for EELV contracts, with SpaceX in the mix, could save U.S. taxpayers as much as $50 billion out of planned $70 billion in anticipated costs for the Pentagon's space launches over the next 15 years. (7/21)

Air Force Examines Anomalies as Musk’s SpaceX Seeks Work (Source: Bloomberg)
The Air Force is examining several anomalies that occurred during SpaceX's three civilian space flights as part of its review of Elon Musk's quest to launch military satellites. While none of the irregularities caused the missions to fail, the Air Force is reviewing corrective actions as it weighs certification of SpaceX. Musk's company wants a piece of a $67.6 billion Pentagon program for satellite launches, a market held by a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., the government's top two contractors.

"These anomalies are continuing to be discussed with SpaceX," the service said in briefing paper sent May 20 to Representative Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's strategic panel. His congressional district is near the one where United Launch Alliance assembles booster rockets. (7/21)

Apollo-Era KSC Building Named for Neil Armstrong (Source: Florida Today)
The late Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 crewmates today said it was fitting that the Kennedy Space Center building where Apollo crews trained and their spacecraft were processed be renamed in honor of the first man to walk on the moon. "He would not have sought this honor, that was not his style," said Michael Collins, who orbited the moon while Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on it 45 years ago. "But I think he would be proud to have his name so closely associated with this, the heart and the soul of the space business."

Roughly 500 invited guests filled chairs in the high bay of what is now called the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, built in 1964. Special guests also included Armstrong's wife and two sons, Aldrin and Jim Lovell, the backup commander for Apollo 11. Editor's Note: I attended with the new president of the Florida Space Development Council (FSDC), Jillianne Pierce. (7/21)

Houston, We Have a Myth: Aldrin Says He Spoke First Words on Moon (Source: KHOU)
Here in Space City, it is the stuff of legend: Houston was the first word spoken on the moon. “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” The governor has bragged about it. Advertising campaigns have been built around it. It even turned up in the lyrics of a mayor’s campaign song. Only one problem with that idea – sadly, it’s just not true.

The New York Times, beneath the headline “Men Walk on Moon,” published a transcript of the transmissions from the lunar surface beginning with Armstrong’s dramatic announcement. “It’s a technicality, but if you want the first words from the moon, they were "contact light,’” Aldrin says. Aldrin spoke those words the instant he saw an instrument panel light that illuminated as probes extending from the lunar module footpads touched the moon’s surface. His next words were telling: “OK, engine stop.” (7/21)

Former NASA Boss: Russia Has US Space Program in 'Hostage Situation' (Source: WPRO)
The historic Apollo 11 landing established the U.S. as the leader in the Space Race against the Soviet Union, a key victory at the height of the Cold War. Today, in contrast, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, NASA has to pay for space aboard Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Political tensions between the two countries threaten this arrangement.

The U.S. has taken an increasingly hard stance against Russia's activity in the Ukraine by imposing sanctions against various Russian companies and individuals. Russian officials have in turn indicated that they will not offer assistance in U.S. space endeavors. "We're in a hostage situation," former NASA administrator Michael Griffin told ABC News. "Russia can decide that no more U.S. astronauts will launch to the International Space Station and that's not a position that I want our nation to be in." (7/21)

July 20, 2014

The Secret Centennial of Space Exploration (Source: Discover)
Noisy revolutions often emerge from quiet beginnings. So it was with the revolution of the Space Age. Forty five years ago today, a Saturn V rocket roared off from Cape Kennedy and carried the first humans to the moon; Buzz Aldrin and many others are marking the anniversary with live and virtual reminiscences. Lost in these worthy celebrations of Apollo 11′s achievement, though, is the simultaneous centennial of the much less tumultuous event that helped make it all possible.

One hundred years ago this week, Robert H. Goddard received a pioneering patent for a liquid-fueled rocket–just like the one that took Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins to the moon. It was the one small step that led to one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. The patents marked a crucial turning point in the life of Goddard, as he transformed his early musings about rocketry and space exploration into concrete schemes. (7/20)

Students Say Space Exploration Important (Source: The Monitor)
Some Brownsville TX students say space exploration should be brought back for educational purposes. From 2005 to 2009, the Constellation Program sought to bring back space exploration and even had plans to send humans to Mars. However, the program was shut down by President Barack Obama in 2010. Reflecting on today’s anniversary of mankind’s first lunar landing, some local students said that space exploration is the way to go again — and it’s time to head back to the moon.

“I think as far as being involved in moon walking, we should try to bring it back again pretty much to bring awareness on how our country was developing ideas and how we persevered to come out through going into space and how exploration really affects us and how we’re so little and our universe is expanding and we only know such a small percentage of it,” 22-year-old Michael Salinas said last week. (7/19)

While NASA Fixates on Mars, Space Rivals Shoot for the Moon (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Whether Americans go or not, others will soon expand their borders and cultures to Earth’s nearest neighbor. “Every space-faring country in the world, except for the U.S., is interested in going to the moon,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology rocket scientist Jeffrey Hoffman, a five-time astronaut. “We could have led the world on a program of international lunar exploration. Everyone else was interested. We squandered that opportunity.”

In April Russia disclosed plans to construct a lunar base by 2040 to obtain water, minerals and other resources. China landed a robotic spacecraft on the moon in December. Part of the Yutu rover’s mission was to seek out natural resources and scout for eventual human landing sites. Experts say China’s military run space program also has geostrategic intentions, such as demonstrating technological superiority to the U.S. European countries are interested in the moon as well, and have said they are ready to go with China or Russia should the U.S. focus on Mars. (7/20)

Mars and Europa: Contrasts in Mission Planning (Source: Planetary Society)
The big news for future planetary exploration this month is likely to be the announcement of the instrument selection for NASA’s 2020 Mars rover that will define how it will fulfill its scientific goals. In the meantime, there have been several announcements for proposed missions to Mars and on the planning for a NASA return to Europa that highlight the contrasts in planning missions for these two high priority destinations. Click here. (7/19)

Mohammed Chairs Space Agency Meeting (Source: Emirates 24/7)
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, chaired on Saturday the inaugural meeting of the UAE Space Agency team who set plans for sending the first probe to Mars from the region and the Arab world. Sheikh Mohammed reviewed plans for this ambitious project in terms of organisational, legislative and administrative aspects. The meeting also shed light on the framework and milestones to be achieved in the coming years for sending an unmanned probe to Mars by the year 2021. (7/20)

European Mission to Space Station Postponed (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The last flight of Europe's heavy-duty Automated Transfer Vehicle heading for the International Space Station will be delayed a few days while engineers resolve a problem with the spaceship's Ariane 5 launcher, officials said. Liftoff was scheduled for July 24 from the European-run Guiana Space Center in South America. Arianespace announced the postponement Friday, but officials have not settled on a new launch date. (7/19)

Delta-4 Set to Launch Spy Satellites from Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Twin inspector spacecraft and a microsatellite testbed will share a Delta 4 rocket ride into space Wednesday evening from Cape Canaveral. The 205-foot-tall United Launch Alliance booster rocket is scheduled for liftoff at 7:03 p.m. EDT  from Complex 37. (7/20)

Girl Scouts Celebrate Apollo 11 Moon Landing in Cookie Form (Source: Space.com)
The 45th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 11 moon landing is today (July 20) and just might have space fans round the world wondering what it would be like to walk on the moon. The Girl Scouts of America, it turns out, has gone even farther. The girls' scouting organizing has recreated astroanut Neil Armstrong's iconic "one small step" on the moon using another icon: the Girl Scout cookie.

The Girl Scounts of America posted its fun (and tasty) take on Apollo 11 in a YouTube video released on Friday(July 18). The video shows what appears to be a Do-si-dos peanut butter sandwhich cookie, wrapped in a foil spacessuit, carrying a flag on the moon while its cookie-box lander is parked nearby. NASA audio of Armstrong's first words on the moon serves as a fitting backdrop. (7/20)

Space Becoming Canadian Government's Favorite Public Relations Frontier (Source: Motherboard)
Space has recently become one of the favorite pastimes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Canadian government. Earlier this week, the president of the Treasury Board of Canada and federal cabinet member Tony Clement triumphantly announced Canada’s planned partnership with NASA to 3D map the asteroid Bennu. Basically, Canadian scientists will contribute research towards the designs of a 3D laser mapping system traveling aboard NASA's unmanned OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, visiting the gargantuan asteroid to chip a sample off of it to bring back to earth. (7/19)

Florida's Space Agency Launches New Pitch for Commercial Rockets (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Space Florida is regrouping after apparently failing to lure the future commercial-launch headquarters of SpaceX. So far, SpaceX will only say that Texas is a "finalist" for its new complex. Though Florida already has the lion's share of the government space business, the question remains: How can Florida corral more commercial liftoffs, even as Georgia, Puerto Rico and other places also are targeting the space-launch business?

"Texas is motivated to go after the commercial market," said Laura Seward, a space-industry advocate. "Whatever it costs, they will do it, and unless Florida becomes more motivated, we're going to lose this market."

Space Florida says its game plan moving forward is threefold: 1) Push for construction of the Shiloh commercial launch complex; 2) Work with NASA and the Air Force to set up new launch protocols that would streamline commercial launches at the Cape; and 3) Lure near-term commercial launches to the Cape by SpaceX, which may not have the Texas site ready until 2016, and future launches by other new players such as Blue Origin. (7/19)

Why NASA Is Stagnant (Source: National Review)
While NASA was able to put men on the Moon within eight years of the Apollo program’s start, the space agency has been unable to go further in the four and a half decades since. In fact, it is no longer capable of going to the Moon and, as these lines are written, is totally adrift, with no real plan for going anywhere. If we are to remedy the space agency’s current impotence, we need to look at its history.

Over the course of its life, NASA has employed two distinct modes of operation. The first prevailed during the period from 1961 to 1973, and may therefore be called the Apollo Mode. The second, prevailing since 1974, may usefully be called the Random Mode.

In the Random Mode, technologies and hardware elements are developed in accord with the wishes of various technical communities. These projects are then justified by arguments that they might prove useful at some time in the future when grand flight projects are once again initiated. Click here. (7/20)

Space Entrepreneur Among Victims of MH17 Shoot-Down (Source: SPACErePORT)
The founder of Xoterra Space, Fatima Dyczynski, passed away in flight MH17 to Kuala Lumpur. Xoterra is a new high-tech start-up company in the space sector whose purpose is to commercialize the acquisition and implementation of Earth Observation (EO) data from space and translate it into next generation services and solutions for clients across a range of commercial sectors. We are specifically now focusing on a tracking application that can identify, locate and link intelligent space and ground based data to events. We are also developing a stock market application based on the end to end integration of this data. (7/19)

NASA: Lunar Caves Could Provide Living Spaces for Future Astronauts (Source: Engadget)
It turns out that the Moon could be habitable. Sort of. NASA writes that some of the holes in our moon's surface might actually be caves where future astronauts could guard themselves from radiation, micrometeorites and massive temperature changes when day turns to night, aiding future exploration. The aeronautics outfit says that these caves could be the result of a few different actions, including sub-surface lava draining away from an area and vibrations causing the roofs of resultant voids to collapse. (7/19)

July 19, 2014

Will Science Burst the Multiverse's Bubble? (Source: Discovery)
In its most basic sense, the multiverse is a collection of universes popping in and out of existence, bustling around in a foamy mess, embedded in a vacuum of non-zero energy. Through quantum fluctuations, universes are born while others die — each universe taking on different forms and different kinds of physics. But, if the multiverse hypothesis has any shred of reality behind it, how can scientists prove (or at least gather some observational evidence) that we exist inside one of an infinite ocean of universes?

This question is a tough one for scientists as many critics will argue that the multiverse hypothesis is nothing more than metaphysics, or a philosophical discussion. We are forever cocooned inside our universal ‘bubble’ and can therefore never experience what is going on ‘outside’ — if, indeed, there is an outside -- so what's the point in thinking about it? But in a thought-provoking news release from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Ontario, Canada, theoretical physicists are working hard to marry the multiverse with observational science collected from the furthest-most frontiers of the Cosmos.

“We’re trying to find out what the testable predictions of (the multiverse) would be, and then going out and looking for them,” said Matthew Johnson of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. If the multiverse is real, it stands to reason that, in this rampaging mess of neighboring universal “bubbles,” there should be frequent collisions, much like the jostling balls in a ball pit. (7/18)

Rebooting ISEE-3: Space for All (Source: New York Times)
When we think about space missions, what generally comes to mind are large rooms filled with rocket scientists at consoles that control expensive new spacecraft doing unintelligible things. That’s still the norm but, in fact, there doesn’t need to be an entrance exam for people who want to explore space, and we’ve proved it. Click here. (7/18)

Soyuz Rocket Launches Foton Research Capsule into Orbit (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A Russian Soyuz 2-1A rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrone at the very opening of a launch window at 4:50 p.m. EDT with the fourth Foton M spacecraft. The Foton M-4 carried aloft an array of biological and other experiments. It will now remain on orbit for several weeks before returning to Earth via parachute.

The Foton-M is used by both Russia and the European Space Agency (ESA) for microgravity research, designed to be conducted in orbit and then recovered. The Foton-M is an upgraded version of the Foton complete with upgraded telemetry systems, better thermal control and increased battery life. (7/18)

Hank Hartsfield, First Alabamian in Space, Dies at 80 (Source: Huntsville Times)
The first Alabamian to enter space has died. Henry W. (Hank) Hartsfield Jr. passed away Thursday following an illness, NASA reports. He was 80 years old. His astronaut career began in 1966 when he joined the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program. He became a NASA astronaut in 1969 as support crew for Apollo 16. He would also serve on support crews for the Skylab 2, 3 and 4 missions. (7/19)

Chelyabinsk Study Confirms Origin of Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid (Source: SEN)
A meteor that broke up over Russia in February last year helped confirm a theory on where the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago came from, according to a new study. The 17-meter-wide asteroid broke up over the city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, 2013, causing injuries in hundreds of people as glass shattered and debris flew below. The event caused a resurgence in asteroid-watching campaigns worldwide to track those interluders that could cause a threat to Earth. Click here. (7/19)

Texas Site Likely Spaceport Winner (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
The Federal Aviation Administration has given the OK for SpaceX to develop a commercial spaceport in Texas, which local officials say could deal a blow to efforts to bring a similar spaceport to southern Volusia.

“Obviously we’re disappointed, but we fully understand it’s a business decision,” said Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida. “Right now, what Texas can offer is a fundamentally more attractive business environment to compete with the Chinese and the Russians. We’re working to enable Florida to offer an equivalent capability but right now it’s not available,” Ketcham said. (7/19)

UK Spaceport Support? (Source: The Engineer)
This week’s announcement of eight shortlisted sites for a potential UK spaceport caused much excitement. But there was also some confusion over whether it was actually feasible to launch vehicles into space from the UK. And while the government was enthusiastically championing the idea, the companies actually developing spaceplanes didn’t appear to show the same level of support. So is a UK spaceport likely or even possible?

Most current space launches tend to be from sites much closer to the equator than the UK, and the latitude of a launch site has a significant effect on the amount of fuel needed to reach certain orbits. The closer you are to the equator, the faster the Earth beneath you is spinning. This means you get a bigger boost from the planet’s revolution so you need less fuel to reach the required speed when you take off.

There’s also a different story for space tourism. Unless visiting some kind of space hotel in orbit or on the Moon, most commercial space flights are likely to be sub-orbital, flying up out of the atmosphere but returning to the ground before completing a full revolution.  ‘These are only parabolic arcs so they don’t get anywhere near orbit and the location doesn’t really matter – beyond of course what the tourist gets to see out of the window,’ said MacDonald. (7/19)

Live Animals Launched on Two-Month Space Mission (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A high-flying package of live animals, plant seeds, and materials samples shot into space Friday aboard a retrievable Russian Foton satellite, launching a two-month mission focusing on microgravity research into biological and physical sciences. The more than 15,000-pound Foton M4 space capsule launched by the Soyuz rocket is due to spend up to 60 days in orbit, hosting 22 experiments supplied by Russian and German institutions probing questions in biological and materials sciences. (7/19)

Today’s Space Race: Google Lunar X Prize (Source: MSNBC)
MSNBC’s Craig Melvin dives into today’s space competition organized by the X Prize foundation and sponsored by Google. Joined by Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, the pair discusses a $30 million dollar prize awarded to the team and nation that lands a robot safely on the moon, moves 500 meters on, above, or below the Moon’s surface and sends back HDTV Mooncasts for everyone to enjoy. Click here. (7/19)

Indian Delicacies to Help Astronaut Survive in Space (Source: Times of India)
Some sumptuous Indian delicacies will help astronaut Tim Peake - the first Briton heading to the International Space Station, survive in space. The UK Space Agency on Friday revealed the winners of the Great British Space Dinner that gave people a chance to decide on what Peake will be tucking in during his six month mission to the ISS.

One of the winning entries was from the pupils of Emmanuel College in Gateshead. Calling themselves the KFSpacegirls, their 'Rocket Lolly' menu is a mouth-watering three-course meal that consists of a tomato and basil soup and a spicy mackerel Indian curry. The second winner was Chloe Cockshull's 'Nova Tiffin Capsule'. Chloe from the Nova Hreod Academy in Swindon won the competition with his Anglo-Indian meal of spicy fusion food and a rhubarb and custard dessert in a tiffin carrier. (7/19)

U.S. Military Stepping Up Space Cooperation with Japan, Australia (Source: National Defense)
The U.S. military plans to strengthen its alliance in the space realm with allies such as Japan and Australia in order to help it cover the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean, a senior Defense Department official said July 17. A DOD official said representatives of the three nations first discussed closer cooperation in 2012. The topics were improving space situational awareness, and satellite communications coverage in remote regions.

The strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific has called into question the ability of the U.S. military to link with its forces where there is little, if any, military or commercial communications satellites. The key to improving the space architecture is to use more affordable and more resilient space systems provided by the commercial sector, said Powers. The United States cannot pay for these systems on its own, and needs to collaborate with other countries, who can provide needed funds, she said at a Future Space Leaders Foundation panel discussion on Capitol Hill. (7/19)

“How Can You Talk About Space Exploration at a Time Like This?” (Source: Discover)
That is the question that a colleague of mine posed in response to the horrific events unfolding in Ukraine, Iraq, and Gaza (not to mention Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Burma, and many other places that have been pushed out of the headlines in the hierarchy of bad news). In essence she was saying: “Time for some perspective. Stories about space sails and black holes are fun, but there comes a time when you have to focus on the real problems right here on Earth.”

I agree, and I disagree completely. I’ve thought a lot about this question. I report extensively on topics in physics, space, and astronomy. The people I write about rely heavily on university and government support. They are well aware that, in most cases, their research has no immediate, hard practical benefits, yet they care passionately about their work. I do, too. The reason I feel so strongly is that I agree about the need for perspective, but I think this kind of big-picture science offers exactly the kind of perspective people need–especially in times of trouble.

It is easy to feel like human existence is all about the fight for resources. People squabble over taxes and spending; they battle openly over territory of political and religious control. Things are different in theoretical physics, astronomy, cosmology, and space exploration. Advances in these areas typically require enormous patience and a great deal of collaboration. (7/19)

Neil Armstrong's Training Led To Mankind's Giant Leap (Source: Investor's Business Daily)
In May 1968, Neil Armstrong was strapped into a lunar landing training vehicle and was about to take off on his 21st practice flight. He was focused on the LLTV, which had a turbofan engine that lifted it 450 feet above Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. At that point, the pilot could throttle down power to a level that simulated the reduced gravity and landing conditions on the moon.

Suddenly an emergency light went on in his cockpit and he lost control of the ship. He managed to eject and parachute to safety. Ultimately, investigators discovered a design flaw. While praising Armstrong's quick reactions, NASA executives wanted to shut the training program before someone died in another accident. Armstrong strongly objected: "Forget about punching buttons in a safe ground trainer. Would you have us train for real only once — when we were 200 feet above the moon's surface, or would you rather for us to learn above Earth where we have help?"

Armstrong (1930-2012) ultimately made about 60 practice landings, which paid off handsomely on arguably the greatest day in space-travel history: July 20, 1969. That's when Armstrong's landing module, the Eagle, overshot the moon's target. With Buzz Aldrin at his side shouting out altitude, Armstrong took over manual control of the vehicle from the computers and shepherded it to the Sea of Tranquility. (7/19)

Apollo Program a Flameout at 45 (Source: USA Today)
Forty-five years ago this coming Sunday, in a stunning, unimaginable historical achievement, men from earth first walked on its moon. But for over four decades now, no one has gone further than a couple hundred miles or so, a thousand times less distant, from our home planet. Why did we spend so much to go to another world, and then almost completely abandon the effort?

It was because we did it for the wrong reason. The Apollo moon program was never really about space, or opening it to America or humanity. It was a peaceful battle in an existential war. In the post-Sputnik panic, the priority was not to do it affordably or sustainably but, to do it quickly — before the end of the decade, and win the race. (7/18)

U.K. Space Stimulus Begins To Show Results (Source: Aviation Week)
In late 2012, amidst a sagging economy, the U.K. government announced a sizable increase in space spending based on the assumption that such financial backing would spur Britain’s already fast-growing space economy. The £1.2 billion ($2 billion) investment—a 25% increase over five years in Britain’s contribution to the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA)—led to the immediate establishment of a new satellite technology center at Harwell, Oxford, including ESA’s telecommunications director, Magali Vaissiere, who relocated from Paris to run the large technology campus. (7/18)

Growth Prospects Limited for Israeli Satellite Builder (Source: Space News)
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), like Canada’s MDA before its purchase of satellite builder Space Systems/Loral of California, risks having its space business growth stunted by a domestic government whose demand is too small to permit expansion, and whose industrial strategy likely would not permit an outright sale of the space division.

Meanwhile, the company is stuck with a production volume, in both communications and Earth observation satellites, that is insufficient to generate even modest space-industry-level scale economies. Cutting costs will not only help IAI on the export market, but also make it easier for the company to maintain the loyalty of the Israeli government and Israel’s domestic satellite fleet operator, Spacecom. (7/18)

Senate Bill Directs Air Force To Develop Alternative GPS Payload (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Senate’s newly drafted defense spending bill for 2015 directs the Air Force to allocate at least $20 million for work on a space-based digital navigation instrument as a possible alternative to the payload developed for the service’s new-generation GPS 3 satellites.

Those satellites are two years behind schedule due primarily to delays with the payload being developed by Exelis Geospatial Systems of Rochester, New York. Those delays have frustrated the Air Force, prompting the service and GPS 3 prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver to explore possible alternatives. (7/18)

NanoRacks Aims Sale of ISS Research Time by Year’s End (Source: Space News)
By the end of 2014, Houston-based space services company NanoRacks plans to expand its payload accommodation services with the installation of an external platform at the international space station that can be booked by researchers on a commercial basis.

The NanoRacks External Research Platform, which is about twice the size of a microwave oven, was made for NanoRacks by Astrium North America for about $10 million, Manber said. It will be launched to station aboard Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Cygnus space freighter during a cargo delivery mission slated to lift off Oct. 21, Jeff Manber said. (7/18)

Bezos Investment in Blue Origin Exceeds $500 Million (Source: Space News)
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has invested at least half a billion dollars of his own money into Blue Origin, his spaceflight venture, a company official said July 17.

“We’re very fortunate to have a founder who has a vision and the funding and resources to match it,” Brett Alexander, director of business development and strategy at Blue Origin, said during a panel session of the Future Space 2014 conference in Washington. Bezos, best known as the founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, established Blue Origin in 2000.

Blue Origin has received a small amount of funding from NASA in the form of awards in the first two phases of the agency’s commercial crew program: $3.7 million in 2010 and $22 million in 2011. “We got $25 million from the NASA commercial crew program, and that represents less than 5 percent of what our founder has put into the company,” Alexander said. (7/18)

A Reality Check for 3D Printing in Space (Source: Air & Space)
Like nanotechnology and genetic engineering, 3D printing is one of those technologies that makes the futurist’s heart beat faster. Everything will be different, or so they say, when desktop machines can churn out physical objects as easily as they print your family photos. “Additive manufacturing,” as practitioners call it, also has great potential for use in space. But the National Research Council is here to tell you: It’s not ready for prime time just yet.

“Many of the claims made in the popular press about this technology have been exaggerated,” says the NRC in its just-released report on 3D printing in space. Former Air Force Major General Robert Latiff, who chaired the study committee, said , “For in-space use, the technology may provide new capabilities, but it will serve as one more tool in the toolbox, not a magic solution to tough space operations and manufacturing problems.”

For one thing, additive manufacturing typically requires a good deal of human involvement, even if it’s just moving parts from one machine to the next. That’s not an option when astronaut crew time is allocated down to the minute. And 3D printers that use metal require lots of power, another scarce commodity in space. Still, the NRC panel wholeheartedly believes NASA and the Air Force should keep developing this capability, and should use the International Space Station as a laboratory. (7/18)

When Orbital Sciences Corp. Warns, Orbital Sciences Stock Burns (Source: Motley Fool)
Yesterday was not a fun day to own Orbital Sciences stock. That's actually strange, when you think about it. After all, reporting on its fiscal Q2 results Thursday, Orbital Sciences was able to boast of a $0.05 "earnings beat" over analyst estimates. Its merger plans with new partner ATK -- a combination roundly praised on Wall Street -- appears to be on track for completion by year-end as well. So... what was it, exactly, that investors didn't like about yesterday's news?

Let us count the ways. In Q2 2014, Orbital Sciences reported: Revenues of $318 million, down 4.5% against Q2 2013, and 11% below consensus estimates. Higher input costs, and rising expenses for selling, general, and administrative costs (probably inflated by the costs attendant on getting the merger done). Less investment in research and development. And lower operating profit margins of 4.8% on these revenues (down more than 300 basis points versus last year's Q2 profit margin). (7/18)

The Quest to Brew Beer With Space Yeast (Source: WIRED)
A small team of people gathered in the Nevada desert earlier this week to take another step toward answering one of mankind’s most pressing questions: What does beer taste like in space? At least that’s one of the most pressing questions that comes up when a bunch of brewers get together with a bunch of amateur rocket builders.

To find an answer, Ninkasi Brewing Company of Eugene, Oregon teamed up with the Civilian Space eXploration Team and Team Hybriddyne to launch some live yeast to space, bring it back to Earth, and then brew beer with it. The rocket they launched On July 14 performed beautifully, shooting up from the Black Rock Desert, crossing the boundary into space at around 62 miles, and then parachuting back to Earth. (7/18)

Britain Plots Course for Domestic Small-satellite Launcher (Source: Space News)
The British government on July 15 unveiled a broad strategy document designed to create the necessary regulatory regime to permit suborbital spaceplane flights by 2018, with a longer-term goal of establishing a small-satellite launch capability on British territory.

The review accepts market assessments showing that space tourism, meaning taking passengers to the edge of the atmosphere for several minutes of low-gravity conditions, could become a sizable business in the next decade. The report concludes that Britain, as part of its broader goal of growing its commercial space industry, should not stand on the sidelines as the market develops.

The most likely near-term spaceplane scenario is for Britain to allow flights of U.S.-developed vehicles at British spaceports. But ITAR rules make it difficult for these planes to operate outside the U.S. and sharply limit the amount of safety-related technical data that can be shared with foreign regulators. Officials from the U.S. State and Commerce departments acknowledged the issue and said they could only suggest that Britain start a bilateral dialogue with a view to winning ITAR exceptions for Britain. This has been done in the past for other technologies. (7/18)

Vintage NASA Probe, Once Abandoned in Space, Still Has Fuel (Source: Space.com)
After refusing to fire its engines last week for a course correction, a vintage NASA spacecraft did produce a bit of thrust Wednesday (July 16), proving it still has at least some fuel left after 36 years in space.

The International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3), which launched in 1978, is close to Earth right now, but on a trajectory that will send it further out into the solar system. A private group, called the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, is sending commands to the aged NASA probe with the goal of moving it to a stable location nearby our planet to do citizen science. (7/18)

July 18, 2014

Learn More About Satellites Attributed with Seeing the MH17 Shootdown (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Space-Based Infrared System (Sbirs) and its predecessor Defense Support Program satellites are getting a lot of attention because of the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, allegedly shot down over Eastern Ukraine July 17. Aviation Week has tracked the progress of these specialized satellites over their development and deployment.

Read here to learn about what they can do -- including a "see-through-cloud" capability that allows these powerful infrared sensors to detect missile launches, even through cloud cover. Sbirs and DSP are considered the U.S.'s first line of defense against ballsitc missile attack -- but these sensors can be "tuned" to look for other threats, including surface-to-air missiles, especially because the alleged shootdown happened in excess of 30,000 ft. (7/17)

Malaysia Flight MH17 and Spaceflight: A Widening Crisis? (Source: Space Safety)
The loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 – just weeks after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 – is another tragedy for civil aviation and a potentially serious geopolitical trigger. At the time of writing, roughly half a day after the loss of the aircraft, it seems beyond reasonable doubt that the 777 airliner was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Exactly how and why this happened is still a matter of investigation and dispute.

At some point, the potential impact on spaceflight needs to be considered. Tensions between Russia and the USA have been strained for several months, following the Russian annexation of Crimea. There was a flurry of bellicose and sometimes obnoxious rhetoric from lawmakers on both sides. Sanctions against Russian space companies were proposed. The most immediate issue was the use of imported Russian engines on American rockets. (7/18)

Contemporary Art is Not Lost in Space (Source: Japan Times)
While space art is a relatively small field — in which works that have actually been created in space is an even smaller subset — it can only become more commonplace as costs fall and the private sector promises to open up space travel to non-specialists, albeit very wealthy ones. As such, “Space x Art” is a portent of things to come, especially as it eschews the figurative depiction of astronomical bodies that forms the core of space art as defined in the U.S. Instead, the exhibition looks to art that uses the conditions and phenomena of outer space as part of the creative process. Click here. (7/18)

Alternative to Russia’s Rocket Engine: Easier Said Than Done (Source: Washington Business Journal)
The fact is, the Russian RD-180 engine has performed extremely well. So not just any engine will do. Moreover, the manufacture process of the RD-180 is one that cannot be easily replicated. In addition, the most effective way to design a launch capability is to design all components in coordination to optimize capabilities needed to meet mission requirements. That translates to changes to other parts of the launch vehicle, which in turn means more time and money.

“In other words, replacing the RD-180 could require the development of a new launch vehicle and potentially new launch infrastructure,” said Cristina Chaplain, the Government Accountability Office’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, during a hearing Wednesday before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. (7/18)

Alabama Factory Turns Rocket Science Into Rockets (Source: Made in Alabama)
Inside the United Launch Alliance Alabama factory, rocket science powers to life as workers assemble the giant Atlas and Delta launch vehicles that thrust critical satellites aloft and blast probes into deep space. The sprawling, one-of-a-kind plant tucked away on an industrial road in this Morgan County city plays an important role in today’s high-tech world: The ULA rockets made here help create the constellation of satellites overhead that shape life in the 21st Century. Click here. (7/17)

India Plans Another Mars Mission in 2017-20 (Source: Times of India)
India is planning a "follow-on" mission to the Red Planet between 2017 and 2020 having a lot of scientific content, chairman of Isro K Radhakrishnan announced here on Thursday. Radhakrishnan said that the final decision will depend upon the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) orbit insertion on September 24, 2014. (7/18)

Rosetta Sees Surprising Shape to Spinning Comet (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Closing in to begin a thorough investigation in August, a camera on Europe's Rosetta comet-chasing probe has revealed its target has a few surprises in store for scientists. Scientists say the comet is a contact binary, which consists of two bodies stuck together. They have compared the comet's shape to a duck, with one part larger than the other. (7/18)

Dauria Aerospace To Build Two Lightweight Satellites for Indo-U.S. Venture (Source: Space News)
Satellite services provider Aniara SpaceCom LLC of India and the U.S. on July 15 said it has contracted with Russian/German satellite builder Dauria Aerospace to launch two all-electric Ku-band telecommunications satellites together on an Indian Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle, or GSLV, rocket in late 2017.

The contract, valued at $210 million and signed at the Farnborough Air Show here in the presence of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, is based on a direct loan from Russia’s export-credit agency, the Export Insurance Agency of Russia (ExIAR), following what Aniara said are bandwidth-lease contracts from Indian and Southeast Asian customers. (7/18)

How Movies Get Space Wrong (by Chris Hadfield) (Source: Cracked)
Chris Hadfield, whom you may recognize from all of the videos he uploaded to YouTube about his life aboard the International Space Station, wanted to be an astronaut ever since he watched the moon landing on television at the age of 9. So, he became one. It wasn't easy -- it took decades of hard work, sacrifice, immeasurable support from his family, and a bit of luck. Chris recently talked about a few of the things he learned during two space shuttle missions and five months aboard the International Space Station. Click here. (7/18)

Former NASA Astronaut Dies From Complications Following Surgery (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Spaceflight Insider is receiving reports that retired astronaut Hank Hartsfield has passed away from complications following a recent back surgery. Hartsfield commanded STS-41D. (7/17)

Congressman: Protect Ex-Im, Protect U.S. Jobs  (Source: The Hill)
Failure to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank will mean U.S. jobs and competitiveness are at risk, writes Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La. Small businesses need Ex-Im's help to access foreign markets, he argues. "They are important elements in the global supply and value chains and are competing against firms from countries like China, France, Germany, Brazil and South Korea that provide significantly higher export assistance," writes Boustany. (7/16)

UrtheCast & NanoRacks To Install Earth Observation Cameras on ISS (Source: UrtheCast)
UrtheCast, under an agreement with NanoRacks, plans to dramatically expand its Earth Observation data stream by operating state-of-the-art sensors on the NASA segment of the International Space Station (ISS). The Company intends to develop and supply the EO sensors, electronics and all related hardware. NanoRacks, working with the U.S. National Lab manager CASIS, will facilitate the launch, installation and onboard integration of the cameras and hardware in accordance with its Space Act Agreement with NASA. (7/16)

General Scolded Over SpaceX Comments (Source: Florida Today)
When SpaceX sued the Air Force this spring, claiming the Pentagon was illegally blocking competition for its military satellite launch business, the head of the Air Force Space Command scolded the California-based aerospace company. "Generally, the person you're going to do business with, you don't sue them," Air Force Gen. William Shelton was quoted as saying at a Colorado space symposium in May.

On Wednesday, GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona reprimanded Shelton for those comments during a hearing examining access to space from U.S soil. "If some company or corporation thinks they are not being fairly treated, you don't think that they should be able to sue? I mean that's not our system of government, Gen. Shelton," McCain told the general. "It shows a real bias against the ability of any company in America to do what they think is best." (7/16)

Air Force Taking Bids to Launch Spy Satellites for 1st Time in Decade (Source: LA Times)
For the first time in a decade, the Air Force has opened up a rocket competition to launch the U.S. government's most sophisticated national security satellites. The Air Force released a request for proposal on Tuesday to companies that want to compete for a national security mission set to blast off in 2016. (7/16)

Senators Vow to Reassert America's Rocket Power (Source: The Hill)
Lawmakers and top military officials on Wednesday expressed fears that friction with Russia could someday leave the United States without the power to launch rockets into space. Reliance on a single Russian engine to launch many critical military satellites could come back to haunt the U.S., officials said, if tensions between the two nations continue to rise.

“If you consider space a national security priority, then you absolutely have to consider assured access to space a national security priority,” Gen. William Shelton, commander of the Air Force’s space command, testified in a joint Senate committee hearing on Wednesday. “Given that we have a vulnerability here, it’s time to close that hole,” he said.

Both chambers of Congress have turned attention to the issue. The House’s defense spending bill called for $220 million to begin building an RD-180 replacement in the U.S. The Senate Armed Services Committee has recommended $100 million for the purpose. The full costs of replacing the engine could be much higher than Congress is willing to commit to right now. (7/16)

Largest Laser Gives Diamond a Record-Setting Squeeze (Source: New Scientist)
Diamond has been subjected to the wrath of the world's largest laser, which compressed the stone to greater pressures than it has ever experienced on Earth. The results hint at the mysterious conditions deep inside giant planets. The dense atmospheres of gas giants Jupiter and Saturn contain carbon. Chemical modelling suggests pressure deep inside the planets would crush it into a rain of diamond chips and perhaps create large chunks of diamond.

But until now, no one had been able to replicate such pressures on Earth and test the notion. "If you compress it too fast, it gets very hot and melts, and you'd just have liquid carbon," he says. To avoid this, the team used a technique called ramp compression, which NIF engineers originally designed to implode fuel capsules for research into nuclear fusion power.

The team fixed a diamond inside a hole cut in a small gold cylinder, and then precisely timed laser pulses to strike the cylinder's interior walls. This caused the gold to emit an avalanche of X-rays that bombarded the stone, triggering powerful compression waves inside it. (7/16)

Alabama Firm Building Test Stands for Largest NASA Rocket (Source: Made In Alabama)
NASA’s next-generation rocket will one day make an epic journey to Mars, but first it will have to pass trials at giant test stands now under construction in Alabama. Birmingham-based Brasfield & Gorrie has been awarded a $45.3 million contract to build two test stands that will ensure the Space Launch System (SLS) can withstand launch stresses when the space agency is ready to launch an unmanned flight in 2017. (7/16)

Alabama Researchers Probe Futuristic Propulsion System (Source: Made in Alabama)
At Redstone Arsenal, the cradle of the nation’s rocket program, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Boeing Co., NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Arsenal are working together to probe a futuristic propulsion system that could send explorers to Mars and beyond at the university’s Charger-1 Pulsed Power Generator.

Boeing, which has a major presence in Huntsville, hired engineer Erin Gish to work full-time on the project as part of a team that includes researchers from UAH and Marshall Space Flight Center, led by UAH associate professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Dr. Jason Cassibry. “Erin is researching propellant feed systems and helping to develop some of the pulsed power technologies we will use in future experiments,” Dr. Cassibry said.

The scientists are repurposing machinery originally built for nuclear weapons research into a test facility for a spacecraft propulsion system based on nuclear fusion. The facility will produce an extremely brief pulse of plasma created by an equally brief nuclear fusion reaction. An engine producing these pulses could propel a spacecraft over inter­planetary distances at great speeds. (7/16)

Is Space Junk Catastrophic for Earth? (Source: CNN)
It is easy to calculate the path of the re-entering spacecraft because it is along the track of the orbit. But how quickly it descends depends on details that are much harder to predict. It makes a big difference how the structure burns and how it falls apart. Bigger pieces continue to hurtle downward while smaller pieces burn completely high up in the atmosphere. That's why predictions of where space debris will land are notoriously uncertain.

The good news is that only one-quarter of the surface of the Earth is land, and most of that is uninhabited. So damage to people and property is rare. Most falling space debris lands harmlessly and with no witnesses. The likelihood of serious damage is very low. But a big hunk of metal -- or a large asteroid -- falling in the wrong place could be catastrophic. It's definitely a good idea to keep the Skylab-sized space junk controllable and to catalog asteroids that will pass near the Earth. But in the end, whether we go the way of the dinosaurs might just be down to luck. (7/16)

After Apollo: Do We Need to Go Back to the Moon? (Source: CNN)
So why haven't we been back to the moon? NASA points out that the moon has not been ignored.
"In the 45 years since the Apollo program, NASA has continued scientific study of the moon through robotic explorers," said a NASA spokesman. "Contemporary missions like NASA's GRAIL, LADEE, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have helped us explore the upper atmosphere, surface, and interior of our nearest neighbor in the solar system. Click here. (7/16)

Virgin Galactic Sets Sights on 2016 for LauncherOne (Source: Via Satellite)
Though more prominently known for its suborbital spaceflight business, Virgin Galactic has also been working on a dedicated small satellite launch system known as LauncherOne. Speaking to Via Satellite, George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said the company hopes to have liftoff using its air-launch system within the next two years.

“We try not to set specific deadlines with our programs, but our hope remains that the first launches of LauncherOne could happen as early as 2016,” said Whitesides. “Ultimately, the flight rate will be dictated by commercial demand; the system and our business as a whole has been established to be extremely flexible.” (7/16)

Space Tourism Needs an ‘Orbital Megabus’ to Truly Lift Off (Source: The Conversation)
There are numerous questions surrounding this nascent form of tourism. Many focus on the technology in place to deliver it, the legislation that is necessary to safeguard it and, most recently, the pragmatic questions of where spaceports should be placed. But, often overlooked is the issue of exactly what the industry will look like and who it will target, which isn’t as clear cut as you might assume. The plan is to start space-plane operations by 2018, so who can we expect to be taking part in this new frontier of the travel industry?

In its purest form, it puts forward a mass-market future that emphasises the sight-seeing potential of trips into space. Although Virgin Galactic may aspire to this goal, they have for now focused on trips for the very wealthy, not the expansion of the market.

A true space tourism model would be comparable to the civil aviation that exists today: a significant number of passengers on one flight and eventually the possibility of a Megabus-equivalent for space travel. In this sense it is a future of commercialisation, albeit one subtly different to existing forms of transit. Click here. (7/16)

These High-Tech Sneakers are Astronaut-Approved (Source: Quartz)
There are many ways to celebrate man’s first walk on the moon, which took place almost exactly 45 years ago on July 20, 1969. General Electric is marking the occasion with some very special high-top sneakers. Although they look more like something Michael Jackson would have moonwalked in than footwear suitable for space travel, the sneakers are actually pretty high-tech. According to GE, the shoes are partially made of the same carbon fiber that’s used for jet engine components, and their “hydrophobic coating” is similar to the material that keeps wind turbine blades ice-free. GE and the sneaker company Android Homme will only make 100 pairs. (7/16)

Seth Green Explains How He Got Involved With Space Travel (Source: Hollywood Reporter)
XPRIZE Foundation chairman and CEO Dr. Peter Diamandis and Emmy-nominated actor Seth Green took to the stage Monday night to talk commercial space exploration and incentivized innovations as part of the Hammer museum’s ongoing Hammer Conversations series. Uniting over their passion for all things space-related, Green and Diamandis focused on space travel as part of nonprofit XPRIZE’s greater mission to solve global problems through prize-winning high-profile public competitions. Click here. (7/16)

NASA Sets Aside $25 Million for Instruments to 'Search for Life Beyond Earth' (Source: Independent)
The ice-covered moon of Europa is often considered to be one of our best chances for finding alien life in the Solar System - and it seems that NASA agrees. The US space agency is setting aside $25 million to create the scientific instruments needed for a mission to the satellite.

NASA says that these tools could “address fundamental questions about the icy moon and the search for life beyond Earth,” and will be selecting 20 proposals from scientists in April 2015 to work out how to best study Europa. It’s believed that underneath the icy exterior of Europa there is a single, mammoth ocean containing double the water found on the surface of the Earth. It's thought that this mass is kept liquid by the gravitational pull of Jupiter – a force that’s thought to create tidal swells 1,000 times stronger than our own Moon. (7/16)

Airbus Defense and Space Strengthens Strategic Global Xpress Partnership (Source: Airbus)
Airbus Defense and Space has expanded its strategic agreement with Inmarsat on Global Xpress high-speed broadband with a new agreement extending reselling of the ultra-fast broadband service to the US government market. The tier-one reseller agreement will enable Airbus Defense and Space to offer Inmarsat’s broadband satellite service to its channel partners and direct customer base. (7/16)

July 17, 2014

China and Europe in Talks on Space Exploration Program (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Senior Chinese and European space officials have been discussing potentially wide-ranging cooperation on manned exploration programs, a prospect that threatens to further complicate the future of the international space station. Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the European Space Agency, said in an interview that the two sides have talked about the issue of extensive in-orbit cooperation in some detail, without coming to any resolution. (7/17)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Green Spacecraft Propulsion System Passes Test (Source: Sacramento Business Journal)
Aerojet Rocketdyne completed a successful test of its new green propellant for spacecraft. The company has been working with NASA and other technology companies to develop an alternative to hydrazine thrusters. Hydrazine is an effective fuel, but exposure to hydrazine is extremely toxic to people, and in some forms hydrazine is dangerously unstable. Hydrazine is used in many industrial applications, such as making polymer foams, and it is one of the two compounds that mix to fire an automotive airbag. (7/17)

NASA Awards $65M KSC HQ Contract to Hensel Phelps (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
NASA has awarded a $64.8 million, two-year contract to Orlando-based Hensel Phelps Construction Co. to build a new 450,000-square-foot, energy-efficient headquarters facility at Kennedy Space Center. The project also will involve demolishing about 900,000 square feet of buildings and infrastructure in the KSC Industrial Area. NASA expects to save $400 million during the next 40 years due to cutting its square footage in half, as well as lower operation and maintenance costs. (7/17)

How Satellites Give Clues About Malaysia Jet Attack in Ukraine (Source: NBC)
A family of satellites known as the U.S. Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, was probably key to determining that a surface-to-air missile took down the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 jet over Ukraine on Thursday. The satellites fly in geosynchronous orbit, 22,300 miles above the planet, and use infrared sensors to detect heat sources on the ground, such as rocket or missile plumes. Five are operational at all times, and they're supplemented by infrared sensors on other satellites that are part of the Defense Support Program, or DSP. (7/17)

Orbital Sciences Books First GeoStar-3 Orders, Nears Antares Engine Decision (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. has booked the first two orders for its higher-power telecommunications satellite product, the GeoStar-3, and it has made a second bid to use its new Antares rocket for a commercial mission. CEO David W. Thompson said a decision has just about been made on a long-term supplier for the Antares first-stage propulsion system, and that a formal announcement was imminent.

Antares is currently powered by the AJ-26 engine built by NK Engines of Russia and refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California. The current supply of these engines is running out and Dulles, Virgina-based Orbital is faced with making a fresh order to restart production, or choosing an alternative supplier. Among other options, Orbital is weighing an engine to be built by ATK’s Aerospace and Defense Groups, with which Orbital is merging. The transaction is expected to close late this year. (7/17)

SES Jumps on Electric-Propulsion Bandwagon (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator SES on July 17 said it had selected Airbus Defence and Space to build a large Ku-/Ka-band broadcast satellite for East Asia that will use electric propulsion both for in-orbit station-keeping and initial orbit-raising. The satellite, SES-12, will carry a backup chemical propellant system but nonetheless puts Luxembourg-based SES firmly on the still-small list of companies that are using electric propulsion to shave hundreds of kilograms of launch weight from large-capacity satellites. (7/17)

U.S. Government Officials Tout Benefit of Space Technology Export Reforms (Source: Space News)
U.S. Commerce and State department officials on July 15 sought to persuade Europeans that the U.S. government is taking concrete steps to make it easier for space commerce to crisscross the Atlantic without large legal teams to oversee compliance with technology-transfer rules. Officials said the U.S. National Space Transportation Policy of 2013 and modifications of space technology-export rules that take effect in November both favor international trade in space goods and services.

Ken Handelman, deputy assistant secretary for defense trade controls at the State Department said reform of the U.S. Munitions List, which for nearly 15 years has included virtually all space hardware and technology, is “a major milestone” for the industry. “Nov. 10 is going to be a big deal,” he said.

Many space-related goods and services that were on the State-administered Munitions List are being moved to the more trade-friendly Commerce Control List, which is regulated by the Commerce Department, on that date. Space-related goods are just one of 21 categories on the U.S. Munitions List, but they proved to be among the most difficult to modify, Handelman said. Not everything will change. For example, the State Department will continue to have responsibility for licensing space launch services. (7/17)

White House Seeking $40 Million To Explore Engine Options (Source: Space News)
The White House is asking Congress for $40 million next year to examine options for a new U.S.-built rocket engine, according to a U.S. lawmaker. The proposed amendment to the 2015 defense budget request, originally submitted in February, was disclosed by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) July 16 during a hearing on U.S. space launch capabilities. U.S. government witnesses agreed during the hearing that developing a new U.S. rocket engine is a priority, but were unable to map out a clear path forward. (7/17)

Rocket Science for Lean Times: Boeing's New Game (Source: CNBC)
The last decade has seen a renewed interest in space, thanks to private sector billionaires with deep pockets and a long time horizon: Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Paul Allen, Robert Bigelow, Jeff Bezos. They've changed the way the space business is conducted, and NASA has adapted to survive. So have older partners like Boeing.

"What we will do in the future has been less certain," said John Elbon, Boeing's VP and general manager for space exploration. "There's been a lot of morphing, a lot of new competition, a lot of change in programs, and so that's changed the way we approach things."

One of new approaches is the way NASA is only partially funding three competitors for a space taxi to take astronauts to the International Space Station. One of the bidders is Boeing, and if it loses the contract to a relative start-up like SpaceX or Sierra Nevada, it will further signal that a past relationship with NASA doesn't guarantee a future one. (7/17)

Canadian Technology Takes Aim at Asteroid (Source: CSA)
Treasury Board President Tony Clement announced a significant contribution to Canadian space innovation. In partnership with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) and NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is advancing Canada's leadership in the niche technologies of Light Detection and Ranging systems (Lidar) through Canada's first international mission to return a sample from an asteroid to Earth. (7/17)

To Make A Spacecraft That Folds And Unfolds, Try Origami (Source: NPR)
Scientists and engineers at NASA are using origami techniques to help solve a fundamental dilemma facing spacecraft designers: How do you take a big object, pack it into a small container for rocket launch, and then unpack it again once it arrives in space — making sure nothing breaks in the process. Brian Trease, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says one way is to use something called the Miura fold, named for its inventor, Japanese astrophysicist Koryo Miura. Click here. (7/17)

CASIS Teams With Texas Emerging Technology Fund to Support ISS Research (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF), and the Governor’s Office of Aerospace and Aviation today announced a collaboration in support of entrepreneurial ventures in Texas seeking to use the International Space Station (ISS) for development of innovative commercial projects capable of improving life on Earth. (7/17)

CASIS Teams With Boston Red Sox Foundation (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The Boston Red Sox Foundation announced a collaborative partnership with CASIS, the manager of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. As part of an initial Partnership with the Red Sox Foundation, CASIS will add its support of the ongoing World Series Ring Raffle by adding a once-in-a-lifetime, VIP trip to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

The winner and three guests will receive a private tour of ISS Mission Control and the Astronaut Training Facility, as well as four passes to Space Center Houston and an authentic CASIS Mission Patch that has orbited the Earth. Airfare and hotel accommodations are also included. (7/17)

Is the Universe a Bubble? (Source: Perimeter Institute)
Never mind the big bang; in the beginning was the vacuum. The vacuum simmered with energy (variously called dark energy, vacuum energy, the inflation field, or the Higgs field). Like water in a pot, this high energy began to evaporate – bubbles formed.

Each bubble contained another vacuum, whose energy was lower, but still not nothing. This energy drove the bubbles to expand. Inevitably, some bubbles bumped into each other. It’s possible some produced secondary bubbles. Maybe the bubbles were rare and far apart; maybe they were packed close as foam. Click here. (7/17)

Boeing Signs $2.8 Billion Contract to Build Rocket at Michoud (Source: WWLT)
Boeing just signed a 10-year contract with NASA to build the 200-feet tall rocket core. "What is it like to sign a $2.8 billion contract? It is making history, so signing a $2.8 billion contract is a momentous occasion," said Virginia Barnes. Three hundred people are building the rocket using high-tech equipment.

"I'm very thrilled to be here, this is a dream for me," said Space Launch System Manufacturing Engineer James Randolph. "At the end of the day, we're probably going to have 450 people working down here," said NASA's John Honeycut. NASA Deputy Program Manager John Honeycut showed the 170-feet tall welding machine used to assemble the huge rocket. (7/17)

Sanctions on Russian Launchers Confers Advantage to Others (Source: Space Daily)
Even though Russia's rocket industry is forced to operate under Western sanctions, thought these punitive measures can eventually do the industry more good than harm, Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, Interfax-AVN reports on Saturday.

"Russia's space rocket industry and other innovative sectors are working under sanctions today," Rogozin stated at the Khrunichev space center that is currently developing the newest Angara rocket. "This is something new that has stormed our life, creating conditions which are not quite civil in their essence. It is an instance of unfair competition. I am convinced, however, that we will win in the long run," Rogozin said. (7/16)

U.S. Needs to Weigh Rocket Engine Options, General Says (Source: Bloomberg)
The U.S. needs to consider ending its reliance on the Russian-built rocket engines used to launch Pentagon satellites, a top Air Force official said. While the Russian engine “has served us well, current uncertainty highlights the need to consider other options for assured access to space,” General William Shelton, commander of the Air Force Space Command, said in remarks prepared for a Senate hearing today.

Shelton warned that developing a replacement would be a multiyear effort requiring “significant congressional support to maintain adequate funding.” The Obama administration has said a substitute might cost as much as $4.5 billion and take eight years to complete. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee, said the U.S. must take action. “We simply cannot rely on the vicissitudes of a foreign supplier in a foreign nation for our national security,” he said at the start of the hearing. (7/16)

UAE Plans Unmanned Mission to Mars by 2021 (Source: Reuters)
The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday it planned to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021, in the Arab world’s first mission to another planet. A UAE Space Agency will be set up to supervise the mission and develop a space technology industry in the country, a government statement said. It did not give details such as the cost of the probe or how it would be designed and built. (7/16)

China's Fast Trac to Circumlunar Mission (Source: Space Daily)
China seems to be planning a circumlunar flight for the near future, which will involve sending an astronaut around the far side of the Moon without landing. An upcoming test flight involving a scaled-down replica of a Shenzhou astronaut descent module adds weight to this theory. China would gain a lot of kudos by launching an astronaut to the Moon and back. This feat has not been performed by the USA in more than 40 years, and has never been achieved by the Russians. (7/16)

Two Big Dark Matter Experiments Gain U.S. Support (Source: Science)
For a change, U.S. particle physicists are savoring some good news about government funding. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on Friday that they will try to fund two major experiments to detect particles of the mysterious dark matter whose gravity binds the galaxies instead of just one. The decision allays fears that the funding agencies could afford only one experiment to continue the search for so-called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. Click here. (7/16)

Shoot for the Stars: Step Inside Boeing's CST-100 Space Taxi (Source: NBC)
Tony Castilleja is working on the Boeing CST-100, which stands for Crew Space Transportation vehicle. Its purpose is to ferry crew and cargo into low Earth orbit. A prototype stands inside a facility in Houston, not far from Johnson Space Center. NASA has already paid the company $460 million to get this far, but Boeing won't know for another month if it will go any farther. Click here. (7/16)

Two Satellites for India to be Made in Russia (Source: Itar-Tass)
Two space satellites for India will be manufactured in Russia - the agreement on the design and production of the spacecraft was signed in the UK on Wednesday at the Farnborough International Airshow. The customer is India’s telecommunications company Aniara Communications Pvt. Ltd. and the contractor - Dauria research and production enterprise, Russian unit of the Dauria Aerospace private space company. (7/16)

Russian Communication Satellite Yamal-201 Lost (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Russian communication satellite Yamal-201 could not be repaired after a malfunction in June and is deemed lost. “The satellite will not work anymore,” Gazprom Space Systems (GKS), which owns the satellite, told ITAR-TASS. “The traffic that was serviced by Yamal-201 has been referred to other GKS satellites.” Launched in 2003, Yamal-201 made by the Space Rocket Corporation Energia is the oldest among the GKS space assets and was supposed to operate until 2015. It malfunctioned on June 5, 2014. (7/16)

Asteroid Vesta to Reshape Theories of Planet Formation (Source: EPFL)
EPFL researchers have a better understanding of the asteroid Vesta and its internal structure, thanks to numerical simulations and data from the space mission Dawn. Their findings question contemporary models of rocky planet formation, including that of Earth. With its 500 km diameter, the asteroid Vesta is one of the largest known planet embryos. It came into existence at the same time as the Solar System.

Conclusion: the asteroid's crust is almost three times thicker than expected. The study does not only have implications for the structure of this celestial object, located between Mars and Jupiter. Their results also challenge a fundamental component in planet formation models, namely the composition of the original cloud of matter that aggregated together, heated, melted and then crystallized to form planets. (7/16)

Comet Probe Discovers its Target is Double (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The European Space Agency spacecraft Rosetta is rapidly closing on its target – the snappily named comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – at the start of what promises to be the space highlight of the year. But three weeks before it is scheduled to enter orbit around 67P/C-G it has already made a startling discovery: the nucleus of this comet consists of not one object but two. (7/16)

Astronomers Find Seven Dwarf Galaxies with New Telescope (Source: Space Daily)
Meet the seven new dwarf galaxies. Yale University astronomers, using a new type of telescope made by stitching together telephoto lenses, recently discovered seven celestial surprises while probing a nearby spiral galaxy. The previously unseen galaxies may yield important insights into dark matter and galaxy evolution, while possibly signaling the discovery of a new class of objects in space.

For now, scientists know they have found a septuplet of new galaxies that were previously overlooked because of their diffuse nature: The ghostly galaxies emerged from the night sky as the team obtained the first observations from the "homemade" telescope. (7/16)

Curiosity Finds Iron Meteorite on Mars (Source: Space Daily)
This rock encountered by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is an iron meteorite called "Lebanon," similar in shape and luster to iron meteorites found on Mars by the previous generation of rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Lebanon is about 2 yards or 2 meters wide (left to right, from this angle). The smaller piece in the foreground is called "Lebanon B."

This view combines a series of high-resolution circular images taken by the Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) of Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument with color and context from rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam). The component images were taken during the 640th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (May 25, 2014). (7/16)

July 16, 2014

UK to Enter the Space Tourism Race (Source: Mashable)
The British government wants to build a dedicated base for space travel, and it plans to launch in 2018. Six of the eight suggested locations for the UK spaceport are in Scotland. "Scotland has a proud association with space exploration," Danny Alexander said. "We celebrated Neil Armstrong's Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the moon, and only last week an amazing Scottish company was responsible for building the UK Space Agency's first satellite."

UK Business Secretary Vince Cable said the space sector was thriving; according to government data, it is the fastest growing sector in the entire UK. "This week we will announce the next steps for this country's space race, outlining how we will take one giant leap towards establishing the first British spaceport by 2018 - making the UK the place for space," Cable said. (7/14)

Indiana Governor Promotes Indiana's Aerospace Sector (Source Journal Gazette)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is promoting his state's aerospace industry at the Farnborough Air Show, where he spoke about the sector at an Aerospace Industries Association-sponsored panel and met with executives from companies such as Raytheon, which operates facilities in the state. "We had dozens of good conversations, some with companies that already have a strong presence in Indiana and others looking for a place to grow," said Pence. (7/16)

At Farnborough, Alabama Universities Play Role in Aerospace Talks (Source: Made in Alabama)
Team Alabama’s secret weapon at the Farnborough International Airshow is the state’s education community, which has played a strong supporting role in efforts to recruit new aerospace investment and jobs at the industry’s global trade event. Representatives from the University of Alabama, UAH, and Auburn University participated in rounds of company meetings, as did Dr. Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, which is deeply involved in workforce development programs. (7/16)

Space Station Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (Source: Moscow Times)
Over the past several months, we have witnessed an almost major collapse in bilateral relations between Russia and the U.S., seemingly throwing to the wind more than 20 years of modest but quantifiable rapprochement between these powerful and once bitter enemies.

The Nobel Committee, which will award the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize in October, should look closely at the contribution each candidate makes toward the easing of tensions between Russia and the West when choosing this year's winner. One candidate in particular has contributed more toward these ends than any other nominee: the International Space Station partnership. (7/16)

One Small Step, 45 Years Later (Source: Space.com)
NASA is poised to mark the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the first time humans touched the surface of the moon. The space agency is celebrating the milestone with events that begin Friday and which include conversations with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the renaming of a Kennedy Space Center building for Neil Armstrong and even a panel discussion at Comic-Con International in San Diego. (7/15)

The Strange History of NASA's First Lunar Simulators (Source: Motherboard)
How do you prepare to land on the surface of the moon when no one has ever been to the moon before? You use a flight simulator, of course. But it's 1961, and computer flight simulators don't exist yet, so you do what engineers at NASA did and build the ultimate dark ride: an analog flight simulator called Project LOLA, or Lunar Orbit and Landing Approach, at the Langley Space Center. Click here. (7/16)

New Venus NASA Missions Could Lift Planet's Hellish Veil (Source: Forbes)
If Mars is mysterious, Venus is truly scary. Long called Earth’s twin, it’s only four months away via unmanned probe and lies more than 70 percent of Earth’s distance from the Sun. But with surface pressures and temperatures high enough to melt lead and crush steel, why is Venus so hauntingly different from Earth? And when did it go bad?

“Venus and Earth are virtually identical twins; they’re almost the same size,” said Robert Herrick, a planetary geophysicist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “But  Venus is completely uninhabitable; we really don’t understand how that dichotomy came about.”

One of a handful of potential Venus mission proposals — each vying for a slot in NASA’s Discovery-class mission program — could help clear up Venus’ remaining mysteries. A proposed VASE (Venus Atmosphere and Surface Explorer) mission might skim the clouds and on a final landing even get data from the surface, says Mark Bullock, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, and a VASE definition team member. (7/15)

Life on Europa? NASA Wiil Put $25 Million Toward Quest (Source: NBC)
NASA says it's setting aside $25 million for designing scientific instruments to address questions about the habitability of Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter. Europa is thought to have a hidden ocean that could sustain life. The agency's announcement of opportunity calls for scientists to propose experiments for a Europa probe that could be launched in the 2020s. Next year, about 20 proposals will be chosen to receive shares of the $25 million for further study. (7/16)

UK-FAA Axis Looks to Nail Space Tourism Regulation (Source: Flight Global)
The UK is laying the groundwork for a commercial space transportation industry by opening a consultation on a site for a possible spaceport and looking across the Atlantic for guidance on how to regulate the nascent business of ferrying passengers to space. An agreement signed at Farnborough on Tuesday between the US FAA, the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the UK Space Agency will see the parties share ideas about how to ensure operations are safe without keeping companies Earth-bound with excessive regulation. (7/16)

Scotland Spaceport Funding Jeopardized by Independence (Source: The Times)
Space has become the final frontier in the battle for Scottish independence, following a UK government announcement that six of the eight leading contenders for the country’s first “spaceport” are north of the border. Campbeltown, Prestwick and Stornoway join Leuchars, Lossiemouth and Kinloss as potential venues for the launchpad, which could be commissioned within four years. Click here. (7/16)

UK to Enter the Space Tourism Race (Source: Mashable)
The British government wants to build a dedicated base for space travel, and it plans to launch in 2018. Six of the eight suggested locations for the UK spaceport are in Scotland. "Scotland has a proud association with space exploration," Danny Alexander said. "We celebrated Neil Armstrong's Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the moon, and only last week an amazing Scottish company was responsible for building the UK Space Agency's first satellite."

UK Business Secretary Vince Cable said the space sector was thriving; according to government data, it is the fastest growing sector in the entire UK. "This week we will announce the next steps for this country's space race, outlining how we will take one giant leap towards establishing the first British spaceport by 2018 - making the UK the place for space," Cable said. (7/14)

National Space Society Calls For Less Dependence On Russian Space Tech (Source: SpaceRef)
The National Space Society (NSS) strongly recommends that Congress fully support the Commercial Crew program in order to restore independent access to the International Space Station (ISS), prepare to operate the ISS without Russian support, again make low-cost access to space a primary goal of U.S. space policy, and avoid replacing the RD-180 engine manufactured in Russia with a single new engine funded via cost-plus development.

NSS recommends that Congress should maintain competition among Commercial Crew providers while avoiding the imposition of additional contractual obstacles to this program. The U.S. must be self-sufficient in rocket engines for critical functions, both civilian and military. If Congress and the Administration decide a new rocket engine program is justified to replace the RD-180 (currently used in the Atlas V), it must result in multiple prototype liquid fueled hydrocarbon rocket engine development winners to promote competition and innovation and stimulate the entire U.S. aerospace industrial base. (7/15)

SpaceX Land Buys Grow in South Texas (Source: Valley Morning Star)
On the eve of the FAA’s decision to support SpaceX’s proposal to launch rockets from Cameron County, Elon Musk’s space exploration firm wrapped up the purchase of an additional 50 acres of land, public records show. The purchase from private landowners was officially filed in the public record July 8, one day before the FAA issued its Record of Decision to support the issuance of launch licenses that would allow Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical rockets from the proposed private spaceport at Boca Chica Beach. (7/15)

Senate Could Hand SpaceX A Monopoly In Military Satellite Launches (Source: Forbes)
Up until last week, only one provider of launch services was certified by the Air Force to loft military satellites into orbit. ULA has enjoyed a de facto monopoly since its founding in 2006.  Elon Musk says this arrangement invites abuse, and is trying to overturn a 2012 sole-source award of 36 rocket cores to ULA. However, if the Senate Armed Services Committee has its way, that monopoly could soon belong to SpaceX.

SpaceX disclosed last week that it has cleared a key hurdle in the certification process, and meanwhile the Senate panel has drafted language that would effectively bar ULA from the military launch market. The language is in Section 1623 of the Senate's 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, and almost nobody seems to grasp its significance. What it says is that DOD may not enter into a new contract or renew an existing contract under the EELV program with any person “if that person purchases supplies critical for space launch activities covered by the contract from a Russian entity.”

The provision was approved by the full committee to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea, and it most certainly would do that. However, if actually signed into law, it would claim other casualties too. It would clearly ban further use of the Atlas launch vehicle. In addition, though, ULA would also be precluded from offering its Delta rockets, because its contract for 36 launches relies partly on Russian launch technology. (7/16)

Senate Subcommittee Takes Stand For SpaceX (Source: Breaking Defense)
subcommittee chairman Richard Durbin was unequivocal in his support for SpaceX, the upstart start-up with ambitions to challenge aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing for contracts to launch Air Force and spy agency satellites. Cost per launch has skyrocketed in recent years, and Durbin blamed that on the lack of competition, since Boeing and Lockheed have formed a single United Launch Alliance. SpaceX insists they can offer an alternative, so “let’s give them the chance,” Durbin said.

So the bill adds $125 million to speed up certification of any qualified vendor, e.g. SpaceX, a key step where the Air Force has been lagging. It also ramps up competition for an alternative rocket engine — “I hope that it’s an American alternative,” Durbin told reporters — to replace the Russian-made RD-180 on which the Boeing-Lockheed rocket currently relies, which recent events have made geopolitically more than a little awkward. (7/15)

GAO: Acquisition Best Practices Can Benefit Future Launch Efforts (Source: GAO)
The EELV program is the primary provider of launch vehicles for U.S. military and intelligence satellites. The DOD expects to spend about $9.5 billion over the next five years acquiring launch hardware and services through the program, during which time it will also be working to certify new launch providers. This investment represents a significant amount of what the entire U.S. government expects to spend on launch activities for the same period. 

In 2008, GAO reported that when the Department of Defense (DOD) moved the EELV program from the research and development phase to the sustainment phase in the previous year, DOD eliminated various reporting requirements that would have provided useful oversight to program officials and the Congress. In 2011, GAO reported that the block buy acquisition approach may be based on incomplete information and although DOD was still gathering data as it finalized the new acquisition strategy, some critical knowledge gaps remained. Click here. (7/16)

DOD Official Defends EELV Block Buy, Endorses Launch Competition (Source: Space Politcs)
While the Senate gears up for a joint hearing Wednesday on space access, some members of the House Armed Services Committee used a July 10 hearing on Defense Department acquisitions issues to grill a top Pentagon official on the topic of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV).

“We don’t seem to be as encouraging of competition in this area as I would think we should be,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member of the full committee, referring to the EELV program and the “block buy” contract the Air Force awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA). “It seems to be an incumbent bias there that is robbing us, in some instances, of innovation from new companies and new technologies.”

Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, told Smith that he supported competition, and arranged the block buy to set aside a number of launches, originally 14, that would be competed. “Since then, because of a combination of budget changes, and increased lifetime of some of our satellites, some of those launches have slipped,” he acknowledged. “We still plan to compete them, we’re just going to compete them later than we originally intended.” (7/15)

Colorado Reps Push NASA for Transparency on SpaceX (Source: Transterrestrial Musings)
 Colorado Congressmen Coy Gardner and Mike Coffman sent a letter to the NASA Administrator expressing strong concerns over anomalies that have occurred on taxpayer-funded space launch vehicles, and the lack of public disclosure or transparency of these anomalies. The letter expresses concern over an epidemic of anomalies that have occurred during SpaceX launches or launch attempts, and communicates frustrations with NASA’s refusal to provide insight into those mishaps.

"We request that NASA publicly release all anomalies and mishap information, un-redacted, so that Congress can gain a better understanding of what has occurred and ensure full transparency. Because the development of the vehicles and capsule in question were funded by NASA dollars, we request that you provide Congress with the information you have on the various aspects of risk and reliability from these programs, including contractual, management, technical, manufacturing, cost, schedule and safety," wrote Coffman and Gardner.

According to recent news reports, SpaceX launch attempts have resulted in wide ranging problems, including multiple helium leaks, loss of capsule control, multiple thruster issues, avionics issues, capsule contamination issues, and three consecutive seawater intrusions on ISS Cargo Resupply (CRS) missions. SpaceX contracted or planned 24 Falcon 9 flights for its NASA, DOD and commercial customers through 2013 and flew seven. They list approximately 30 flights for this year and next, yet have only flown three times. (7/15)

SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Celebrate Successful Space Launches (Source: CBS)
Two private space launches in two days -- one by Orbital Sciences and one by SpaceX -- have sent an unmanned cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station and boosted multiple communications satellites into orbit. Click here. (7/14)

Orbital's Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Berths with Space Station (Source: SpaceRef)
Orbital Sciences Corporation (ORB), one of the world’s leading space technology companies, today announced that its Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft successfully completed its rendezvous and approach maneuvers with the International Space Station (ISS) and was grappled and berthed with the Station by the Expedition 40 astronaut crew earlier this morning.

After Cygnus was launched into orbit by Orbital’s Antares rocket on Sunday, July 13, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia, it completed a series of thruster firings and other maneuvers bringing the spacecraft in close proximity to the ISS. Final approach to the Station began at about 3:00 a.m. (EDT) this morning, culminating with the Station’s robotic arm grappling the spacecraft at 6:36 a.m. (7/16)

ESA's Spaceplane Set for Flight (Source: ESA)
All eyes are on ESA’s spaceplane to showcase reentry technologies after its unconventional launch on a Vega rocket this November. Instead of heading north into a polar orbit – as on previous flights – Vega will head eastwards to release the spaceplane into a suborbital path reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Engineers are forging ahead with the final tests on ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, IXV, to check that it can withstand the demanding conditions from liftoff to separation from Vega. (7/16)

Astronaut: Public Doesn't Believe NASA Exists (Source: UT San Diego)
Chris Cassidy, a former Navy SEAL who went on to become a shuttle astronaut and a flight engineer on the International Space Station, says that the end of the shuttle program has led many people to assume that NASA is no longer in business.

“I go to a lot of communities around the country and a lot of people think that NASA doesn’t even exist anymore because the space shuttle was retired a couple of years ago," Cassidy said. "We have to beat the drum loud and clear and say, no, we’re doing good things, we’re doing science, we’re on the space station, and we’ve got this plan to get ourselves out of low earth orbit.” (7/15)

NASA Langley Shows Off Space-Age Technology (Source: Daily Press)
Eight-year-old Ava Paul of Charlottesville was trying to land a spaceship safely on a planet, presumably this one. She studied the iPad on the tabletop, tapping it here and there, as the animated spacecraft dropped out of orbit and deployed an inflatable heat shield shaped like a giant mushroom cap that plowed its way through the atmosphere. A real version of the heat shield was inflated beside the table, towering over her. (7/16)

MDA Announces Strategic Acquisition in the United States (Source: MDA)
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) announced that MDA Information Systems LLC has signed a definitive agreement to acquire a business that includes radar and other information sensors used for national security purposes. This business will significantly strengthen MDA’s ability to pursue future surveillance and intelligence programs in the U.S.
 
“One of our long-term strategic objectives is to expand our presence in the U.S. surveillance market, and in particular, to increase our radar information and systems related business, said Daniel Friedmann, MDA’s CEO. “We believe that the unique radar information processing capability we are adding through this acquisition, together with SSL’s large space program capability, provide us with a strong platform to pursue this objective.”
 
The acquired business has approximately 170 employees and generates annual revenues of approximately US$40 million. This business will become part of MDA Information Systems LLC, located in Gaithersburg, MD. The terms and value of the agreement have not been disclosed. (7/14)

Japan Plans to Land Probe on Moon (Source: Japan News)
To investigate the possibility of finding resources on the moon, the government intends to start a full-fledged project to land an unmanned probe on the surface, sources said. Aiming to launch the probe in fiscal 2019, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to include the relevant expenses in the budget request for fiscal 2015, according to the sources.

Within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, there are opinions that landing a probe on the moon would inspire the Japanese public and keep the nation from falling behind China. JAXA faces several technical development challenges: The probe has to be able to land on the exact place as planned; an exploration rover has to be designed so it can smoothly run on the bumpy lunar surface; a battery will be needed that can store as much power as possible. (7/15)

Russian GLONASS to Boost Yield Capacity by 50% (Source: RIA Novosti)
Deployment of GLONASS satellite navigation systems to the BRICS states is very promising, the technologies allow to boost yield capacity up to 50 percent, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the plenary session of the BRICS summit Tuesday. BRICS countries include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. (7/16)

US Refusal to Host GLONASS Base a Form of Competition with Russia (Source: RIA Novosti)
The refusal by the United States to place base stations for Russia’s GLONASS satellite navigation system on its territory is a form of competition, explained by Washington's fear of losing market monopoly enjoyed by its own GPS system, said Ilya Rogachev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department of new challenges and threats. (7/16)

With No Laundry in Space, NASA Trying to Make Clothes That Don't Get Smelly (Source: Smithsonian)
There is no washer or dryer on board the Space Station; no cosmic laundromat waiting to take astronauts' quarters each Saturday morning. So when astronauts are done wearing their clothes, they throw them out. They pack their soiled undies into an old spaceship and shoot it into the Earth's atmosphere where it burns up into dust. Astronauts aboard the ISS have hefty closets to match this rockstar way of living: a crew of six goes through 900 pounds of clothing each year.

Before the dirty laundry can be ejected into space, it has a tendency to pile up. According to NASA, all of these dirty garments can cause storage and weight problems, and lint from cotton fibres can clog filters. Then, there's the smell. A new NASA study is looking to reduce the amount of clothing waste by extending the amount of time astronauts' garments can be worn. As part of the study, ISS crew members are being provided with exercise clothing that's been treated with an antimicrobial compound, or made with antimicrobial yarn. (7/14)