November 25, 2015

Japan Hopes for More Commercial Launch Business (Source: Space News)
The successful launch of a communications satellite could unlock future commercial launch orders for Japan's H-2A rocket. The H-2A successfully launched Telesat's Telstar 12 Vantage satellite Tuesday on the first commercial mission for the launch vehicle. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the prime contractor for the H-2A, hopes to sell up to three commercial launches a year of the vehicle while seeking to reduce the vehicle's costs. (11/24)

NASA Considers Uses for Cislunar Habitat (Source: Space News)
As NASA works on plans to fly humans on long-duration missions between the Earth and moon in the 2020s, the agency is also starting to think about what astronauts would do on those flights. While NASA officials have talked for months about the possibility of developing cislunar habitats as an intermediate step in its plans for eventual human missions to the moon, the concept received an official endorsement in NASA’s “Journey to Mars” report published in October. (11/24)

NASA Finalizes Change To Accounting Rules For Contractors (Source: Law360)
NASA is finalizing a temporary rule aimed at simplifying the accounting procedures it requires of contractors, according to a notice that will be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. The rule will make final a temporary change adopted in August, which increases the monetary threshold that determines whether NASA property in the contractor’s possession needs to be formally reported to the agency. The capitalization threshold, which previously was $100,000, will move permanently to $500,000. (11/24)

Could DSCOVR help in the hunt for exoplanets? (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Could a space weather satellite be helpful in in the ongoing hunt for exoplanets? It now turns out it just might. According to a team of scientists led by Stephen Kane from the San Francisco State University, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), launched in February of this year to study space weather, could make a significant contribution to the search for distant alien worlds.

DSCOVR, operated by NOAA, was designed to monitor the solar wind and forecast space weather around Earth. It is equipped with two NASA instruments that are used to observe the Earth in detail: the National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR) and the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC). EPIC provides high-resolution spectral images of the Earth, whereas NISTAR is designed to measure the reflected and emitted energy from the entire sunlit face of our planet.

According to Kane and his colleagues, data obtained by these instruments provide a unique opportunity to help in the search for extrasolar worlds by monitoring the Earth as if it were an exoplanet. They findings were detailed in a paper published on the arXiv pre-print server. (11/24)

Obama is About to Give Private Space Companies a Big Break (Source: Fortune)
A bill currently awaiting President Obama’s signature would exempt private spaceflight companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic from most U.S. government oversight for the next eight years.

The legislation would extend a so-called “learning period” for the industry until at least 2023, keeping agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration from regulating commercial space companies as closely as the rest of the aerospace industry. The bill also covers ownership and extraction of resources in space (think: asteroid mining) and extends U.S. commitment to the International Space Station into the next decade. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law this week. (11/24)

Will Reusable Rockets Bring Us Closer to Consumer Space Travel? (Source: Marketplace)
The New Shepard can now be reused, a goal for many aerospace firms. “What is a big deal is to be able to reuse any part of the actual rocket, and to be able to reuse, particularly, the engines, because that’s what costs a lot of money,” said Marco Caceres, who's with the aerospace consultancy Teal Group.

Lowering costs could make space tourism more viable, according to travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt with Atmosphere Research Group.  That said, Harteveldt said space travel has a long way to go before it will become cheap or commonplace. “Don't expect to see $69 trips into space any time soon,” he said. Click here. (11/24)

Commercial Space Travel: a Decade of Broken Promises (Source: Tech World)
Commercial space travel does seem to be on the horizon – but the past decade seems to be mainly one of over-hype and under-delivery. Here are just a few of the times companies have promised – and failed – to deliver commercial space travel. Click here. (11/24)

NASA's New Spaceship Looks Sleeker Than a Sports Car (Source: Business Insider)
Elon Musk's rocket company, SpaceX, just got NASA's green light to start ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2017. SpaceX already has a contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the ISS, but now it has finally convinced the space agency that its Dragon spaceship can safely transport humans. Take a look inside the sleek new space capsule that future astronauts will travel in. Click here. (11/20)

Musk Lauds Bezos' Suborbital Accomplishment (Source: Huffington Post)
Blue Origin is a rival to Elon Musk's SpaceX, another private company invested in the development of advanced rockets and spacecraft. Blue Origin's "historic" controlled landing edges out SpaceX in the race to create a successful reusable rocket, according to The Verge.

Musk offered a lukewarm congratulation to Bezos on Twitter this morning, calling the New Shepard a "booster" instead of a "rocket." Musk also noted the importance of distinguishing between "space" and "orbit" in another tweet, an apparent knock at Bezos' description of the New Shepard's landing.

Blue Origin will spend the next few years in testing before sending humans into space, Bezos said. Although he didn't offer an estimate for ticket prices aboard future commercial space flights, Bezos told CBS that he "can't wait to go." (11/24)

Blue Origin Beats SpaceX in Landing Reusable Rocket (Source: Popular Science)
In an historic first, the private company founded by Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos has become the first to land a reuseable rocket that's traveled to and from space. On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launched 330,000 feet into the air. An unmanned crew capsule separated from the rocket on its way up, completing its own successful landing. Then the rocket grazed the lower reaches of space before returning to Earth and slowly touching down in a blaze of glory.

Blue Origin competitor SpaceX has been attempting similar landings with its Falcon 9 rocket (on floating landing pads in the Atlantic Ocean), but it hasn’t quite managed to stick its landing yet. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter early this morning to congratulate Blue Origin for succeeding in its vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) test, but would like to point out that the rockets aren’t quite going high enough, or fast enough, to compete with his own company. (11/24)

Why You Shouldn't Compare Blue Origin's Rocket Landing to SpaceX (Source: The Verge)
For the past year, SpaceX has been trying to gently land its Falcon 9 rocket after launching it into space. The goal is for a large portion of the Falcon 9 to touchdown on a floating barge at sea post-launch, but the two times SpaceX has tried it after a return from space, the rocket was unable to stick the landing. A recovery of the rocket would be a major step toward making a fully reusable rocket — something that’s never been done before.

Is it fair to compare Blue Origin with SpaceX and the types of landings they're trying to achieve for their vehicles? Not exactly. The New Shepard isn't meant to go as far up as the Falcon 9, however, which is echoed in the rocket's shape. The vehicle is only designed to take people to sub-orbital space for about four minutes.

To be fair, the part of the Falcon 9 that SpaceX is trying to recover doesn't actually reach orbit, either. The company is only looking to land the first stage of the vehicle — the long rocket body that houses the main engines and most of the fuel. This section breaks apart from the rest of the rocket in sub-orbital space before falling back to Earth. Yet it reaches an ultimate height of 124 miles, twice the height of the 62-mile height at which New Shepard starts falling. (11/24)

Boeing Seeks 'Alter Ego' Presumption In Sea Launch Trial (Source: Law360)
Boeing asked a California federal judge Sunday to sanction a Russian state-controlled space company's subsidiaries with a presumption that they are legally indistinct from their parent, as the aerospace giant seeks to recoup $111 million it says they owe over a failed Sea Launch satellite-launching joint venture. (11/24)

Why NASA Couldn't Just Use Hubble Telescope to See Pluto (Source: CBC)
As NASA continues to release highly detailed, unprecedented images of the dwarf planet Pluto captured by the New Horizons probe, it raises the question: Why couldn't it have just used the powerful Hubble telescope to capture the same scenes, instead of sending a spacecraft across the solar system on a $700-million (US) mission? Why is Hubble able to get extremely detailed images of galaxies and nebulae millions of light years away, but when it comes to taking pictures of Pluto, it shows up as a blurry ball?

The answer is straightforward but perhaps not intuitive. Pluto may be close, but it is very small. Galaxies millions of light years away appear larger (as seen from Earth), and that is why the Hubble is able to photograph them in more detail, and why NASA had to send a spacecraft to get good photos of Pluto. (11/16)

NASA Announces Partnership With Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne (Source: Virgin Galactic)
Last week, NASA announced that it had selected Virgin Galactic as a partner in its Collaborative Opportunities program. As part of this new partnership, NASA will provide Virgin Galactic with technical expertise and access to test facilities to aid the development of our LauncherOne small satellite launch service. Specifically, NASA’s Ames Research Center experts will provide analysis, simulation, and expertise related to LauncherOne’s concept of operations, aerodynamics system, thermal protection systems, and materials.

This announcement represents our third competitively-bid partnership with NASA; previously, NASA announced it has purchased flights on board both SpaceShipTwo and LauncherOne, with which it will fly dozens of experiments and small satellites built by universities, start-ups, and government labs. While we are proud to be a privately-funded and commercially-operated business, we are also thrilled to be working with an organization as iconic and successful as NASA. (11/23)

Air Force Official Sees Issues with Space Launch Priorities (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. could struggle to promote competition in its space launch program while also maintaining two independent ways to launch satellites and ending U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines, a top U.S. Air Force official said. "You're going to have to choose two of those three. I don't think you can get all three in the next four or five years," William LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told reporters.

His comments came after ULA said it would not bid to launch the next global positioning system (GPS) satellite, effectively ceding the competition to privately held SpaceX. ULA, the monopoly provider of such launches since its creation in 2006, said it was unable to submit a bid in compliance with the competition's rules because of how the contest was structured, and because it lacked Russian-built RD-180 engines for its Atlas 5 rocket.

LaPlante and other Air Force officials have urged Congress to allow ULA to use additional Russian engines for military launches until a new U.S.-built engine is available. The ban still affects 9 of 29 engines that ULA had ordered from Russia, but not paid for, before Russia annexed Crimea. ULA has said that five engines approved for ULA's use by Congress last year were assigned to other missions and were not available for use in a bid for the new GPS launch. (11/24)

November 24, 2015

McCain Phses to Keep RD-180 Ban (Source: Space News)
Sen. John McCain wants appropriators to keep an RD-180 engine ban in place. McCain said in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran that appropriators should not circumvent limits on the number of RD-180 engines established in defense authorization bills.

Sen. Richard Shelby said last week that he would seek to allow the Air Force to acquire as many RD-180 engines as needed until a replacement is available. "Recent attempts by the incumbent contractor to manufacture a crisis by prematurely diminishing its stockpile of engines," McCain said in a letter, referring to United Launch Alliance, "should be viewed with skepticism and scrutinized heavily." (11/23)

Blue Origin Launches and Lands (Source: Space News)
Blue Origin successfully flew its New Shepard vehicle on a suborbital test flight Monday. The uncrewed vehicle flew to a peak altitude of 100.5 kilometers and top speed of Mach 3.72 from the company's West Texas test site. Its crew capsule parachuted to a landing while its propulsion module made a powered vertical landing. A hydraulics problem on an April test flight prevented the module from landing safely.  (11/24)

Japan Launches Commercial Satellite (Source:
An H-2A rocket successfully launched a communications satellite for Telesat Tuesday. The upgraded H-2A lifted off at 1:50 a.m. Eastern time after a short delay due to a boat in restricted waters. The Telstar 12 Vantage satellite separated from the upper stage at 6:17 a.m. Eastern. The launch was a rare commercial mission for the H-2A. (11/23)

Aerojet Gets Boost with NASA, Boeing Contracts (Source: Sacramento Business Journal)
Aerojet Rocketdyne announced two contracts Monday valued at nearly $1.4 billion. The company signed a $1.16 billion contract with NASA to restart production of the RS-25 engines that will be used on future launches of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. The company also announced a $200 million contract with Boeing to provide the propulsion system for the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle. Both awards were expected, as Aerojet Rocketdyne has been building RS-25 engines since the shuttle program and has been working with Boeing on the CST-100 since 2010. (11/23)

Planet Labs Boosts Staff (Source: Planet Labs)
Planet Labs has hired three new executives, including one experienced in stock offerings and acquisitions. Among the new hires is David Oppenheimer, who will be chief financial officer. He is described as a "serial CFO" who has worked with several startups in initial public offerings of stock as well as mergers and acquisitions.  Also joining the company are Andy Wild as chief revenue officer and Karthik Govindhasamy as senior vice president for spacecraft engineering. (11/23)
Will NASA Ever Send Astronauts To Pluto? (Source: Forbes)
With its nitrogen-dominated atmosphere and water-rich icy surface, Pluto seems much more hospitable than even the most sanguine planetary scientists would have wagered a decade ago. But could it ever play host to an Antarctic-styled research station? That is, as a base to routinely house researcher/astronauts out to give humans a foothold in the outer reaches of our solar system?

“The biggest obstacle is going to be how far you are from the Sun,” Will Grundy, head of New Horizons’ surface composition team and a planetary scientist at Lowell Observatory, told me. In really rough numbers, says Grundy, we get a thousand watts per square meter from the Sun and it’s only one watt per sq. meter at Pluto, so you have to make up the extra 999 watts to keep the temperature comfortable. (11/24)

XCOR Founders Leave Company (Source: Space News)
Three co-founders of XCOR Aerospace have left the company. XCOR said Monday that Jeff Greason and Dan DeLong, the chief technology officer and chief engineer of the company, respectively, were "stepping back" from the company; a third co-founder, Aleta Jackson, is also leaving. Greason will remain on the company's board. XCOR is developing the Lynx suborbital spaceplane, the prototype for which is being assembled for test flights. The company has not released a schedule of when those flights will begin. (11/23)

Major Management Shakeup Leaves XCOR’s Future in Question (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
XCOR announced the departure of two of the founders of the organization in an apparent management reshuffle on Nov. 23. “We owe both men a lot of gratitude for all the time, energy and groundbreaking ideas they have been contributing to our company and the industry and of course we look forward to possibly working together in the future,” said XCOR’s CEO Jay Gibson.

Missing from the press release were status details on the company’s other two founders, Aleta Jackson and Doug Jones. Shortly after the release went public, Jackson announced she was no longer with the company. Doug Jones, the fourth founder appears to still be at XCOR. Speculation about the departures can be found on blogs and forums all over the internet. As of the posting of this article, no one at XCOR has returned SpaceFlight Insider’s inquiries about the situation.

Editor's Note: This follows the departure of other key staff when the company began its transition from Mojave to Midland, Texas. This may not be a sign of programmatic trouble, but Midland should be concerned as it has built an entire spaceport program around XCOR. Texas and Midland have put millions of dollars behind XCOR and companies like Orbital Outfitters with the expectation that a vibrant commercial spaceflight industry would take root. (11/24)

Launch Schedule Changes Affect ISS Crew Rotation (Source: Sputnik)
Changes in launch schedules are affecting crew rotations for the ISS. Three current ISS crewmembers will return to Earth Dec. 11, 11 days earlier than planned to accommodate the delayed launch of a Russian Progress cargo mission, now planned for Dec. 21. Their replacements, now scheduled to launch Dec. 15, said they will stay on the station for seven months instead of the previously scheduled six. (11/23)

Garver: NASA Must Shed "Socialist" Approach to Space Exploration (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA's former deputy administrator says the agency should not try to compete with the private sector. At a recent panel, Lori Garver said some at NASA approached her after SpaceX announced its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, asking her to talk SpaceX out of it since it might compete with NASA's plans. "NASA was a very symbol of capitalist ideals when we went to the Moon and beat the Russians," she said. "Now what we’re working with is more of a socialist plan for space exploration." (11/23)

Mars Will be a Ringed Planet (Source:
Mars will one day become a ringed planet. A new study confirmed earlier analysis that one of the moons of Mars, Phobos, will break up because of the planet's gravitational pull in about 20 to 40 million years. That breakup will create a ring of debris orbiting the planet that will gradually reenter over the next 100 million years, according to the new study. (11/23)

Space-Faring Tardigrade (Water Bear) Has the Most Foreign DNA of Any Animal (Source: Meta)
The tardigrade, also known as the water bear, is renowned for many reasons. The nearly indestructible micro-organism is known to have the capacity to survive extreme temperatures (-272C to 151C), and is the only animal able to survive in the vacuum of space.

The humble water bear can add another item to its exhaustive list of superlatives. Sequencing of the genome has revealed that a massive portion of the tiny organism’s genome is of foreign origin. Indeed, nearly 17.5% of the water bear’s genome is comprised of foreign DNA, translating to a genetic complement of approximately 6,000 genes. These genes are primarily of bacterial origin, though genes from fungi and plants have also been identified. (11/23)

NASA Restarts RS-25 Engine Production for SLS (Source: Space Daily)
NASA selected Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, to restart production of the RS-25 engine for the agency's Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in the world, and deliver a certified engine. SLS will use four RS-25 engines to carry the agency's Orion spacecraft and launch explorers on deep space missions, including to an asteroid placed in lunar orbit and ultimately to Mars. (11/24)

Space Travel Transcends Current Politics (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
Russia and the United States play leading roles in international cooperation for the ISS — but the two countries recently clashed over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula in southern Ukraine last year, and over reactions to the situation in Syria.

I had thought that space development cooperation was seriously set back because of the negative impact from their souring relations, which could be called a new type of Cold War, but a Japanese expert in space development said reality surpassed expectations. “Space development has not been affected by political conflicts, and the United States and Russia have not changed their cooperative attitudes,” the expert said. (11/23)

UAE National Space Program Lifts Off (Source: The National)
High school and university students from across the UAE now have the chance to directly shape the future of space exploration. Two competitions giving students the opportunity to watch their experiments blast off on a rocket to the International Space Station were announced on Tuesday at the launch of The National Space Program in Abu Dhabi.

In the initial stages of the programme, The National, Abu Dhabi Media’s English-language newspaper, has partnered with the UAE Space Agency and Boeing in launching the contests during UAE innovation Week. Competitions include Genes in Space, a contest that challenges high school students to create a DNA analysis experiment, and the Satellite Launch project which will see a university team build a data-driven satellite – winners of both projects will see their creations launched into space. (11/24)

Bacteria Build Bendy Plastic that Astronauts Could Use for Tools (Source: New Scientist)
Sheets of plastic made by E. coli can fold into whatever shape you desire. Astronauts on long missions might one day rely on such bacterial origami to make tools on the go. On a spacecraft, every inch of storage space is precious, says astrobiologist Lynn Rothschild of NASA’s Ames Research Center. There’s a strict limit to how much you can fit in a launch vehicle. (11/24)

Earth Might Have Hairy Dark Matter (Source: NASA JPL)
A new study proposes the existence of long filaments of dark matter, or "hairs." Neither dark matter nor dark energy has ever been directly detected, although many experiments are trying to unlock the mysteries of dark matter, whether from deep underground or in space.

According to calculations done in the 1990s and simulations performed in the last decade, dark matter forms "fine-grained streams" of particles that move at the same velocity and orbit galaxies such as ours. "When gravity interacts with the cold dark matter gas during galaxy formation, all particles within a stream continue traveling at the same velocity," Prézeau said.

But what happens when one of these streams approaches a planet such as Earth? Prézeau used computer simulations to find out. His analysis finds that when a dark matter stream goes through a planet, the stream particles focus into an ultra-dense filament, or "hair," of dark matter. In fact, there should be many such hairs sprouting from Earth. (11/24)

Firefly Aims To Build the ‘Model T of Rockets’ (Source: Space News)
At least 25 companies have announced plans to build rockets to meet the growing demand for small-satellite launches, but Firefly Space Systems does not plan to blend into that pack.

“The driving theme of our company is to distinguish ourselves as soon as possible from the crowd that talks about doing this and to join an elite group of people that can actually field technology to get things to space,” said Thomas Markusic, Firefly chief executive.

Markusic, a propulsion engineer who worked at NASA, the U.S. Air Force, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin before founding Firefly, plans to build a family of simple expendable rockets offering dedicated rides for satellites weighing less than 1,000 kilograms. (11/24)

November 23, 2015

Private Companies Conduct Valuable Research on the Space Station (Source: NASA)
Late in the 20th century, more than a dozen countries came together to collaborate on one of humanity's engineering marvels: the International Space Station. While the citizens of Earth have benefited from the 15 years of science conducted on the orbiting laboratory, much of the success of the more than 1,700 investigations performed so far are the result of research partnerships between private companies and space agencies around the world. Click here. (11/20)

NASA Researches Electric VTOL Aircraft for Short Commercial Commutes (Source: Air & Space)
Researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia have been looking at how autonomous, battery-powered vertical takeoff and landing aircraft could be used for commutes. NASA researchers believe that a battery-powered light airplane could be inexpensive to operate and less noisy than conventional aircraft. (11/23)

Suborbital Research Makes a Comeback (Source: Space Review)
Several years ago suborbital research using a new generation of commercial suborbital vehicles appeared to be upon us, but delays in those vehicles' development caused interest to wane. Now, both companies and advocates argue, it's time for another look, as at least one company's vehicle soon plans to start flying experiments. Visit to view the article. (11/23)

Mars and the Transport Revolution (Source: Space Review)
While the solar system is filled with resources that could solve humanity's problems, effectively accessin them remains a major hurdle. Frank Stratford examines the transportation obstacles that need to be overcome, and the role Mars plays in enabling advances in spaceflight. Visit to view the article. (11/23)

Pluto and the Gap Beyond (Source: Space Review)
Earlier this month, New Horizons scientists discussed the latest results from July's Pluto flyby at a planetary science conference. Jeff Foust reports on the surprising results presented at the meeting, which also featured concerns about the long-term future of exploration of the outer solar system. Visit to view the article. (11/23)

ILS Seeks to Improve Relations with Customers, Parent (Source: Tass)
The new head of International Launch Services says the company will improve communications to help win back business. Kirk Pysher said that improving communications with customers, and between ILS and its parent company Khrunichev, is the first step in winning confidence and trust in the Proton rockets that ILS sells to commercial customers. He added that the company's customers have said they want Proton to remain in the market in order to provide a greater range of launch options. (11/23)

Rocket Lab Shifts New Zealand Launch Site (Source: Radio NZ)
A company planning to launch satellite-carrying space rockets is moving its launch base from Kaitorete Spit in Canterbury to the Mahia Peninsula, south of Gisborne. Auckland-based Rocket Lab said its decision was partly due to the time it was taking to get the necessary resource consent from Christchurch City Council.

When the company announced the Canterbury site, it said it was also considering moving its rocket manufacturing operation to Christchurch - creating up to 200 jobs. It has now decided on a location on the Mahia Peninsula, for which it already has the necessary consents, as the site where it aims to launch rockets from 2017. (11/23)

What Did Scott Kelly Capture in Nov. 15 Image? (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Crews on board the International Space Station (ISS) or on other spacecraft take frequent images from on orbit. Members of the public sometimes see things in these images that simply isn’t there. A recent image posted by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly on Twitter has caused some to believe he captured an image of a UFO – but was that really the case?

Elements of the massive ISS (the station is roughly the size of a U.S. football field) extend and jut out from odd angles all over the orbiting laboratory. Pictures sent back to Earth frequently have these parts of the station within them. There is some striking similarities between the “UFO” and parts of the ISS itself. Click here. (11/22)

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Photographs Apollo Landing Sites (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), capable of descending as close as 31 miles (50 km) from the lunar surface, has photographed all six of the Apollo landing sites in unprecedented detail.

The sites were chosen with the goal of exploring different geological terrains on the Moon’s surface. All are located on the Moon’s near side, which faces the Earth. Apollo 11 landed on July 20, 1969, near the Sea of Tranquility, which is comprised primarily of smooth terrain. Three craters slightly north of the landing site are named Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin after the three mission astronauts. (11/23)

Orion Heat Shield Receives Upgrade (Source: AmericaSpace)
Nearly 12 months since it embarked on its long-awaited Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 mission—which accomplished the farthest distance ever attained from the Home Planet by a human-capable vehicle, since the end of the Apollo era—NASA’s Orion Program presently stands on the threshold of its next major challenge: the unpiloted Exploration Mission (EM)-1, atop the maiden voyage of the mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) booster, no sooner than November 2018.

In anticipation of this feat, which will see Orion delivered Beyond Low-Earth Orbit (BLEO) and onto a week-long voyage to circumnavigate the Moon, NASA announced last Thursday that the “Back Shell” element of the spacecraft’s critical heat shield is receiving enhancements to withstand the harsh temperature and velocity conditions expected during an atmospheric re-entry from lunar distance. Recent manufacturing work on the pressure vessel of the Orion Crew Module (CM) has also required ingenious solutions on the part of the NASA and Lockheed Martin engineering workforces. (11/23)

Shelby Seeks to Lift Ban on ULA's Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Decatur Daily)
Decatur’s United Launch Alliance could have a stake in fights over a possible Dec. 11 federal government shutdown. U.S. Sen. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, may use a federal spending bill to allow ULA to use more Russian rocket engines at its Decatur plant after ULA last week cited congressional restrictions on the engines as a barrier to bidding on a defense contract.

Shelby is evaluating how the federal spending bill designed to keep the federal government operating also could be used to ensure “the Air Force has access to the RD-180 (engine) to guarantee America’s access to space, eliminate a possible national security risk and secure approximately 800 jobs in Alabama,” Shelby communications director Torrie Matous said Friday. (11/23)

Space Mining Test at WSMR is Successful (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
A new method of mining asteroids for rocket fuel and water was successfully tested at White Sands Missile Range Nov. 13. A team from the TransAstra Company led by founder and chief technical officer Dr. Joel Sercel used the solar furnace at WSMR's Survivability Vulnerability Assessment Directorate to test a method that may be used to mine asteroids for valuable water using the power of the sun.

The solar furnace uses a large heliostat, a mirror-covered panel that follows the sun, to reflect sunlight into a reflector that focuses the sun's energy onto a single spot about 6 inches in diameter. Normally the solar furnace is used for military testing, generating the kind of heat needed to simulate that of a nuclear blast. (11/22)

Closest Earth-Size Alien Planet Found, May Be a Venus Twin (Source:
A newly discovered planet 39 light-years away is being called the closest Earth-size exoplanet ever discovered — and a potential "Venus twin" — providing the mouth-watering opportunity for a close-up look at the environment on a rocky alien world.

One of the dire frustrations of studying planets around other stars (and, really, any astronomical object) is their distance from Earth, which makes it onerous or impossible to get many basic details about them. Exoplanets are doubly frustrating because any light they emit (light that would give hints about what's happening on the surface) is often overwhelmed by the light of the parent star. (11/11)

Mars Rover Finds Rich Mineral Stew in Fractured Rock (Source: Discovery)
Chemical analysis by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity indicates that water made several repeat appearances to create the rich mineral veins at a site called “Garden City” in the lower part of Mount Sharp.

The veins form in places where fluids have move through fractured rocks, depositing minerals and leaving telltale chemical fingerprints on surrounding areas. Some of the mineral veins at Garden City protrude the equivalent of two finger widths above the now-eroded bedrock in which they formed.

Many of the veins contain rich deposits of calcium sulfate. Others are laced with magnesium sulfate or fluorine. Levels of iron vary. The three-mile-high Mount Sharp rises from the floor of a huge impact basin that once held water. The Garden City veins were created after mud in the lake had hardened into rock and cracked. (11/15)

Earth Stole Water and More from the Young Moon (Source:
Earth may have stolen away water that would otherwise have gone to the moon. New research suggests that after the impact that formed the Earth and its moon, our planet may have snatched up easily vaporized material known as volatiles, including water and other molecules. As the newly formed moon moved away, it may have spurned the remaining material available, casting it back toward Earth.

Early in the life of the solar system, a young, volatile-rich protoplanet floated near what is Earth's orbit today. A violent collision with another massive object, called Theia, is thought to have shattered that growing world, allowing the formation of the Earth and moon.

Rocks found on the moon bear a striking similarity to those on Earth, but with one difference: They are noticeably lacking in volatile material, such as water, zinc, sodium and potassium. For years, scientists proposed that the heat from the crash with Theia might have vaporized the volatiles, allowing them to completely escape the system. But Canup and her team argue that very little of that material would have been lost, because the speed necessary to leave Earth's gravity would be so high. (11/13)

Synthetic Muscle Experiment Conducted on Space Station (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A synthetic muscle experiment on board the International Space Station (ISS) that was developed with the help of Princeton Plasma Physicists Laboratory scientists is now tentatively scheduled to return to earth in March of 2016 on a new SpaceX-10 rocket. It would be returning eight months later than originally planned after an unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket headed for the ISS exploded a few minutes after liftoff in late June. (11/22)

November 22, 2015

Zero Gravity Solutions Closes $3 million First Tranche of Equity Private Placement (Source: ZGSI)
Zero Gravity Solutions, an agricultural biotechnology company commercializing its technology derived from and designed for Space with significant applications on Earth, has closed an initial tranche of $3 million of the Company’s Units in an exempt private placement transaction with several accredited investors.

Each Unit in the Private Placement consists of one share of common stock and a warrant to purchase one share of common stock and the Company may sell up to a total of $7 million under the terms of the Private Placement within the next 30 days. (11/20)

It's Who You Know (Source: SpaceKSC)
Auditors found the hires of three administrative assistants supporting Cabana and two other high-ranking officials on the fourth floor of KSC headquarters suggested a deliberate effort to get around federal laws requiring competition and priority consideration for certain military veterans.

“I'm not an expert in all the OPM rules on HR hiring,” he said. “I trust my HR director. When I tell them to do something or ask them to do something, I expect them to do it within the rules, by the book. And I assume it's being done that way.”

The new evidence obtained by Florida Today shows that Cabana himself told the H.R. director to flout the rules. According to today's article: As a result, the final interview lists for both Cabana’s and Petro’s jobs, which had been open to all qualified U.S. citizens, included just three names: Cabana’s “primes.” (11/22)

Contact Lost With Israeli Communication Satellite Amos 5 (Source: Haaretz)
Contact with the Israeli communications satellite Amos 5 was lost on Saturday and customers are no longer receiving service, satellite operator Spacecom announced. The Russian-built satellite accounts for one third of Spacecom's revenue. Spacecom is owned by the Eurocom Group. Contact with the satellite was lost early Saturday morning. Spacecom said it had been unable to reestablish contact with the satellite and had not yet isolated the cause of the problem.  (11/21)

Georgia Spaceport Subcommittee Learns Role (Source: The Brunswick News)
The public won’t get answers from a subcommittee appointed to look at potential environmental issues of a proposed spaceport in Camden County. In fact, committee members have been instructed not to answer questions. But they plan to ask a lot of questions that will ultimately be sent to the FAA. The answers to those questions will likely determine the fate of the proposed spaceport.

The environmental subcommittee held its first meeting Friday in the Camden County Commission chambers in Woodbine. Clay Montague, the subcommittee chair, told members their mission is to understand and communicate the environmental concerns and questions surrounding a spaceport. Topics such as air quality, climate, biological resources, transportation, noise, water and visual effects and more will be covered. (11/21)

Former NASA Officer Arrested for Showing Up at Federal Reserve Bank with Loaded Pistol, Fake Badge (Source: New York Daily News)
A disgraced NASA officer was busted at the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan when he showed up for a job interview Thursday armed with a loaded pistol and a fake badge. Cops are trying to determine if Cory Curley, 29, was also responsible for a bomb threat that was called into the Fed minutes earlier, sources said.

When he arrived for his interview, Curley told federal police officers that he was armed and was an active officer with the NASA, sources said. He also showed police a NASA badge. But he had no official NASA police ID card — so federal police at the bank on Liberty St. detained him and alerted the NYPD.

NASA officials told authorities in New York that Curley had been fired on Oct. 8 and the badge he was carrying had a number different from the one previously assigned to him, sources said. A NYPD source said Corley was fired while still in training, for arguing with a supervisor. (11/20)

Construction of China's Mega Radio Telescope Enters Final Stage (Source: Xinhua)
Chinese scientists on Saturday tested the installation of the "retina" of the world's largest ever radio telescope to be completed in September next year. Technicians lifted a 30-tonne feed cabin of the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope - or FAST - above a half-finished dish-like reflector measuring 500 meters in diameter and 1.6 kilometers in perimeter. (11/21)

Satellite Sensor Unexpectedly Detects Waves in Upper Atmosphere (Source: Physics World)
Atmospheric gravity waves drive winds, temperature and chemical composition in the middle and upper atmosphere, but not enough is known about those that occur at higher altitudes. Now though, an international team of researchers has unexpectedly discovered that the new "Day/Night Band" (DNB) sensor, on-board a US environmental satellite, can detect disturbances in the upper atmosphere's nightglow caused by the waves. (11/20)

China Launches Communications Satellite for Laos (Source: Xinhua)
A Long March rocket successfully launched a communications satellite developed for Laos. The Long March 3B lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Friday and placed the LaoSat-1 satellite into orbit. The 3,800-kilogram satellite was built by the China Academy of Space Technology for the government of Laos. The spacecraft will operate at 128.5 degrees east in GEO, providing communications services in C- and Ku-bands. (11/21)

The Asteroid Hunter (Source: Popular Mechanics)
It's highly unlikely that a gigantic space rock will crash through our atmosphere and destroy civilization as we know it. But it's not impossible either. Which is why a small but growing community of scientists and astronomers are scrambling to spot and destroy dangerous asteroids long before they hit us. Click here. (11/11)

November 21, 2015

RocketStar Takes First Steps Toward Holy Grail of Space Travel: Reusability (Source: RocketStar)
RocketStar, LLC announced today that it is prepared to launch its sounding rocket, "The Choppah", from Kennedy Space Center. The Choppah will be propelled by RocketStar's proprietary 3D-printed aerospike rocket engine, which had a successful Burn Test in the summer. The formal Burn Test, which was executed on behalf of RocketStar by Micro Aerospace Solutions at Kennedy Space Center, was an unqualified success and has paved the way for launch of The Choppah. Click here. (11/19)

UCF Scientists Win NASA Rides for Space Dust Research (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Tiny particles of space dust: How do they stick together? How might astronauts not stir them up? Two University of Central Florida scientists are asking, and they’ve gotten NASA’s attention.

UCF physics Professor Joshua Colwell and UCF physics post-doctoral associate Julie Brissel have won two of nine new NASA grants awarded this week to send eight experiments up on sub-orbital flights.

In their separate experiments, Brissel and Colwell will be researching what happens to dust particles in micro-gravity. Brissel will be looking for clues to the past. Colwell will be looking to develop advice for NASA missions in the future. (11/20)

Space Exploration? US Can't Make It Without Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Sputnik)
Congress has approved a defense authorization bill that would allow ULA to buy a maximum of four more Russian engines beyond its current allotment. ULA chief Tory Bruno has said that could mean the company will run out of the engines by 2019, up to three years before a rocket powered by domestic engines now being developed by aerospace company Blue Origin is ready to compete.

The result, he said, could be the same monopolistic environment the Pentagon wants to eliminate, with SpaceX instead of ULA handling all the launches. According to US the Air Force, America needs up to 18 additional RD-180 engines through 2022 “to prevent interruptions in the satellite launch schedule,” Defense News reported. (11/21)

Are Musk, Bezos and Branson the Wright Brothers of Today? Some in Congress Think So. (Source: Washington Post)
The breakthroughs were right around the corner, they promised. Soon people would be taking regular trips to the cosmos, and the era of commercial spaceflight would finally become reality. And so in 2004, the young space companies lobbied for an extended “learning period’ that would allow them to develop their rockets and space vehicles without all of the burdensome federal regulations that would hamper innovation and prevent the industry from taking off.

They got their wish for a regulatory break, but the advances were slower to come by. Now, more than a decade later, the industry says that this time it is really on the verge of that long-awaited breakthrough. And once again, Congress granted the industry an eight-year grace period that supporters say will prevent the FAA from stunting the growth of an industry that has been largely driven by a class of billionaires with huge ambitions.

Industry officials and their backers in Congress hailed the passage of the Space Act this week as an important step that will pave the way for businesses to soon take tourists to space and make the cosmos more accessible and affordable. (11/20)

Professor, Wife Convicted of Fraud in $700,000 NASA Contract (Source: ABC)
A university professor and his wife were convicted Friday of defrauding NASA by letting graduate students and researchers do all the work on a $700,000 project. Lehigh University engineering professor Yujie Ding and his wife, Yuliya Zotova, told NASA that their startup company would develop a cutting-edge sensor used to track climate change.

Zotova, 41, who has a doctorate in physics, was supposed to run the project and oversee the work of graduate students and research fellows in her husband's laboratory at Lehigh. The students never saw her there, prosecutors said. Prosecutors called their company, ArkLight, merely "a front" to seek federal grants and said Ding, 53, hid his role in the company from Lehigh.

Zotova testified that her social anxieties prevented her from going to the lab but that she worked on the project at home. Her lawyer argued that the research found at the couple's home in Saucon Township showed the depth of her involvement. The jury deliberated for two days before convicting the couple of six of 10 fraud counts. They each face up to 20 years in prison at their sentencing, scheduled for March 2. (11/20)

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station (Source: NASA)
NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.

This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Boeing received its first crew mission order in May. Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for missions in late 2017, provided the contractors meet readiness conditions. (11/20)

NASA: Cabana Played Role in Illegal Hires at KSC (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana and other senior leaders were more involved than previously disclosed in illegal spaceport hires that may still be subject to federal investigation, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Auditors found the hires of three administrative assistants supporting Cabana and two other high-ranking officials at KSC headquarters suggested a deliberate effort to get around federal laws requiring competition and priority consideration for certain military veterans. NASA records show Cabana identified and lobbied for three people who became known internally as the “primes,” or prime candidates, to fill openings as his executive assistant and Deputy Director Janet Petro’s secretary in mid-2012.

One of the hires was the daughter of KSC’s procurement director, who reports to Cabana, and one was the spouse of another KSC manager. Two had worked for KSC contractors, the third for then-U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, whose district included KSC. Records show each was picked over military veterans or non-veterans who were either more qualified or entitled to first consideration for the jobs, which had salaries starting from about $47,000. (11/20)

November 20, 2015

JWST Taking Shape at Goddard (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the next-generation space telescope often touted as Hubble's successor, is taking shape inside the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Recently, Goddard’s engineers successfully completed two deployments for the telescope’s side portions of the backplane structure that fold up, called “wings”. They will also start installing all of the JWST’s primary flight mirrors onto the structure. (11/19)

Mars Helicopter Considered for Upcoming Mission (Source: Space News)
NASA's next Mars rover could also feature a helicopter. Charles Elachi, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a speech Thursday that his lab is studying adding the small helicopter to serve as a scout, helping the rover chart a path. JPL has been working on the Mars helicopter concept for some time, and plans to test a full-scale version of it in a Mars atmosphere chamber next March. No decision, though, has been made on including it on the mission. (11/19)

NASA Partnerships Advance ‘Tipping Point’ Space Capabilities (Source: NASA)
Through the "Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies” solicitation, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate selected nine companies to mature technologies beyond their “tipping point” with the goal of enabling private industry to develop and qualify them for market, stimulating the commercial space industry while delivering technologies and capabilities needed for future NASA missions and commercial applications.

NASA also secured partnerships with 13 U.S. companies through the Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity (ACO) solicitation, "Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Emerging Space Technology System Capabilities.” Through these partnerships, NASA provides technical expertise and test facilities to aid industry partners in maturing key space technologies.

Editor's Note: None of the 22 total projects are from Florida. Click here. (11/19)

Embry-Riddle Partners with Florida High School on Aerospace Center (Source: Ocala Star-Banner)
Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, Florida, will open its Aerospace Career Academy in January, thanks to a partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The school will offer pilot ground school and principles of aeronautical science courses this winter, with the entire curriculum to be launched in fall 2016.  (11/17)

Satellite Sensors Would Deliver Global Fire Coverage (Source: Space Daily)
Wildfires can wreak havoc on human health, property and communities, so it's imperative to detect them as early as possible. That's why NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, is developing a network of space-based sensors called FireSat in collaboration with Quadra Pi R2E, San Francisco.

FireSat would be a constellation of more than 200 thermal infrared imaging sensors on satellites designed to quickly locate wildfires around the globe. Once operational, FireSat would represent the most complete monitoring coverage of wildfires ever from space. (11/20)

Citizens in Space and Starbase Operations Complete Flight-Test Campaign (Source: CIS)
Over the past several months, Citizens in Space and Starbase Operations have developed and tested a technique to simulate the landing profile of the XCOR Lynx spacecraft using an L-39C Albatros jet trainer. During the test flights, pilots configured aircraft controls to achieve approach angles and sink rates similar to those of a Lynx spacecraft. The test approaches were conducted at an abandoned military air field in Nevada. (11/19)

Energia CEO Counters Boeing’s $111M Sea Launch Claims (Source: Law360)
The CEO of Energia Logistics U.S. defended the satellite launching venture from claims it was created solely as a ploy by its Russian state-controlled parent to avoid paying Boeing $111 million for work getting the satellite company's predecessor off the ground, saying Energia is seeking customers and has dozens of employees. (11/18)

ULA to Give Small Research Sats Free Rides to Space (Source: Denver Business Journal)
Regular free rides to space. That's what Colorado's ULA will offer researchers with small satellites known as 'cubesats' starting in 2017. ULA and University of Colorado officials on Thursday announced the program, which the rocket company says could radically broaden scientific research in space.

"We are going to more than double the capacity for cubesats, and it's going to transform their opportunity," said Tory Bruno. He unveiled the cubesat initiative at Colorado’s state Capitol with Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and CU-Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano on hand. Starting in early 2017, ULA's Atlas V rockets will have a standardized payload container that can deploy as many as 24 cubesats on each launch.

But it still usually costs $100 million or more to launch a U.S. rocket into orbit, which makes the tiny satellites a secondary payload to the main satellite being delivered. That can cause logistical problems, limit the orbital placement for cubesats and, still, the cost of launch strains the budgets of many research institutions. (11/19)

On Small Satellites, NGA Putting its Money Where its Mouth Is (Source: Space News)
The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency plans to spend tens of millions of dollars studying ways to use data from emerging startups that are deploying constellations of small imaging satellites. NGA Director Robert Cardillo said the intelligence agency would request funding for the program as part of its fiscal year 2017 budget request, now being finalized. (11/19)

Key Lawmaker Aims to Delay Phaseout of Russian Rocket Engine (Source: USA Today)
A key lawmaker wants to slow the Pentagon’s phaseout of Russian-made rocket engines used to launch military satellites into space. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican and a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, plans to add language to a massive federal spending bill that would allow United Launch Alliance (ULA) to keep buying RD-180 engines from Moscow until a domestic alternative is available, Shelby's office confirmed Thursday. (11/19)

Paris Attacks Pressure French Defense Budget as New Space Programs Ramp Up (Source: Space News)
French President Francois Hollande’s affirmation that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance would be top priorities after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris comes at a time when France’s already-stressed defense budget is committed to major capital spending on three space programs.

The 2016 budget now midway through French parliamentary review is likely to face substantial revision in the coming weeks as the government assesses the financial cost of the measures Hollande outlined in a Nov. 16 address to a rare joint session of the French parliament. (11/19)

November 19, 2015

Space Florida Hoping NASA Becomes Presidential Issue (Source: BayNews9)
There's a new effort to get the presidential candidates to focus on space. Space Florida is working with three other battleground states to make sure America's space program is a part of the campaign for president. Important issues like national security, the economy and immigration have dominated the race for the White House.

So far none of the candidates from either party has said much about what they would change at NASA if they became president. Current Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump was asked back in August about sending humans to Mars. "Honestly, I think it's wonderful,” said Trump, “I want to rebuild our infrastructure first, OK?"

But space experts say cutting funding to NASA, to better aid roads or schools, would impact Florida's space industry and thousands of workers in Brevard County. "That would be a significant challenge for us here," said Space Florida’s Dale Ketcham. The state’s Space Florida organization is now working with Ohio, Colorado and Virginia, hoping to provide a unified message about the importance of funding America’s space program. (11/19)

NASA Wants Space to Get Super Commercial (Source: Houston Press)
The first Space Commerce Conference and Exposition (known as Spacecom for short) kicked off on Tuesday morning with more than 1,500 people. Charles Bolden talked a lot about how NASA has come to rely on commercial space companies without ever acknowledging why or what that reliance has cost them or any of the other problems that the federal space agency has grappled with in recent years.

And he made it clear that this trend will likely continue. NASA is all about Mars these days, and the federal space agency isn't interested in missions that might take it away from it's main goal to land on the red planet by the 2030s. Click here. (11/18)

Bolden: Government Climate Scientists Won’t be Intimidated (Source: Ars Technica)
As NOAA has endured a series of Congressional attacks this fall for its climate change research, the agency’s administrator, Kathryn Sullivan, has largely remained silent. But the former astronaut’s wingmate for two spaceflights, Charles Bolden, has not been so reticent. The NASA administrator this week continued to blister Congress for its tack on climate change science.

After delivering a keynote speech on the commercialization of space at the SpaceCom conference in Houston Tuesday, Bolden talked about his own agency’s Earth science research. He also addressed the efforts by Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, to obtain the e-mails of NOAA climate scientists, in which Smith expects to find political influence and perhaps fraud.

“I don’t think scientists will be intimidated by the subpoenas and everything else,” Bolden said. “That may be its intent, but I don’t think it will work. It's peoples’ life’s work, and they’re not just going to walk away because somebody threatens them with a subpoena to appear before the Congress of the United States. They’ll probably welcome it, to be quite honest.” (11/18)

Glow at Milky Way's Center Could Be Dark Matter or Hidden Pulsars (Source: Scientific American)
The heart of our galaxy is oddly bright. Since 2009 astronomers have suggested that too much gamma-ray light is shining from the Milky Way’s core—more than all the known sources of light can account for. From the beginning scientists have suspected that they were seeing the long-sought signal of dark matter, the invisible form of mass thought to pervade the universe.

But two recent studies offer more support for an alternate explanation: The gamma rays come from a group of spinning stars called pulsars that are just slightly too dim to see with current telescopes. Part of the confusion stems from uncertainties about the gamma-ray signal, which shows up in data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. Many different groups have analyzed Fermi’s publicly available data and claimed to see an unexplained excess of light. (11/18)

Boeing and NASA Progress Through Critical CST-100 Milestones (Source:
Boeing is making impressive strides on a series of tests and technical verifications for their CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. With Boeing and NASA now working through a Test and Verification Control Board meeting this month and Atlas V launch pad infrastructure build progressing on schedule, Boeing remains on track to launch their commercial crew spacecraft on its maiden voyage in spring 2017. (11/18)

Planet Formation Caught in the Act (Source: Science)
Astronomers have captured the best observations yet of planets as they’re forming. Although many potential “protoplanets” have been spotted in young star systems, one of the new orbs—in a system that lies a little more than 450 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Taurus—shines strongly at a particular wavelength that betrays the presence of glowing hydrogen.

At that planet’s distance from its sunlike host star (about 2.2 billion kilometers, or about three times the distance of Jupiter from our sun), hydrogen would likely only be heated that strongly when accreting onto a growing planet, the researchers report online today in Nature. The other purported planet orbits the star at a distance of about 2.8 billion kilometers. (11/18)

Drop the Proteins – Alien Life Might be Radically Different (Source: New Scientist)
We take for granted much of what we see in the world around us. We don’t often think about the fact that we have 10 digits on our hands, for example, unless jolted by observing a different life form – The Simpsons perhaps, with their eight digits.

For us, our finger number reflects choices made millions of years ago. This number could have been determined simply by accident. Once determined, it may have been difficult to change, therefore persisting in all primates.

Darwinism allows a second explanation: fitness. Primates with 10 digits may have been more likely to survive and have children than primates with eight. Vestigiality is a third explanation. Here, a physiological feature – the human appendix is one example – may have contributed to fitness in the past, but not any longer. Click here. (11/18)

Russia and Iran to Cooperate in Space Research (Source: Tass)
Iran and Russia have reached agreement on expanding cooperation in space research, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told TASS on Wednesday upon the end of talks with the Iranian Vice President in charge of science and technologies, Sorena Sattari. "Russia and Iran have fair prospects for cooperation in the studies of outer space," he said. "For instance, some of their programs envision cooperation in the field of remote sounding of the Earth's crust," he said. (11/18)

State Supreme Court Suspends Hawaii Telescope Permit (Source: NBC)
The Hawaii Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily suspended a permit that allows a giant telescope to be built on a mountain many Native Hawaiians consider sacred. The court granted telescope opponents' request for an emergency stay of the effectiveness of the permit until Dec. 2, or until another court order. (1/18)

Property Rights May Lead to a Scramble to Exploit the Moon’s Resources (Source: Washinton Post)
The new space bill is a huge win for private space exploration companies, especially for companies with upcoming plans to tap into the economic potential of the moon. That’s because the legislation, in its definition of “space resources,” is sufficiently broad to include resources found on the lunar surface. In short, the moon could now be in play for some of America’s most innovative space exploration companies. Click here. (11/18)

Space Tourism: KSC Visitor Complex to Add Cosmic Quest Game (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A multi-park, interactive game will be added to the lineup of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex next year.  Cosmic Quest, which will reach into existing attractions at the complex, is designed to educate youngsters about NASA explorations using science, technology, engineering and math-inspired space adventures. It is scheduled to open in February. (11/18)

Hera Joins Remote Sensing Constellation Fray (Source: Space News)
Another company is announcing plans to develop a constellation of remote sensing smallsats. Hera Systems says it plans to deploy an initial constellation of nine satellites by late 2016, which could be expanded to as many as 48 depending on market demand. The cubesat-class spacecraft will be able to take images in several spectral bands at up to 1 meter resolution, and also take video.

The company recently raised several million dollars, and is planning to raise $50 million more early next year. Hera Systems joins several other companies with plans to launch Earth imaging smallsat constellations over the next several years. (11/18)

ILS Executive Jouns ULA (Source: ULA)
A fomer International Launch Services executive has taken a similar job at United Launch Alliance. Tom Tshudy has joined ULA as vice president and general counsel, ULA announced Wednesday. Tshudy had been general counsel of ILS since 1998 and a senior vice president since 2012, but ILS announced early this month that he had left the company. Tshudy succeeds Kevin MacCary, who announced his retirement from ULA earlier this year.  (11/18)

JPL Developing "Chemical Laptop" to Aid Search for Life (Source: Mashable)
A "chemical laptop" could help future NASA missions detect evidence of life on another world. The device, being developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, would be able to detect amino acids and fatty acids that are signatures of life, and perform additional analyses to confirm that the chemicals have a biological origin. The device uses liquid samples, which makes it particularly well-suited for use on icy worlds like Jupiter's moon Europa thought to be hospitable to life. (11/18)

Space-Grown Flowers Will be New Year Blooms on International Space Station (Source: Space Daily)
Flowers could be blooming on the International Space Station after the New Year. This morning, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren activated the Veggie plant growth system and its rooting "pillows" containing Zinnia seeds on the space station.

It is the first time that a flowering crop experiment will be grown on the orbiting laboratory. Growing Zinnias in orbit will help provide precursory information about other flowering plants that could be grown in space. Lindgren will turn on the red, blue and green LED lights, activate the water and nutrient system to Veggie, and monitor the plant growth. The Zinnias will grow for 60 days, which is twice as long as the first and second crop of Outredgeous red romaine lettuce that grew on the space station. (11/19)

Spaceport America to Host March Drone Summit (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, has announced the launch of the first Spaceport America Drone Summit to be held at Spaceport America in Southern New Mexico from March 12-14, 2016. More than 1,000 attendees are expected for the three-day conference and small drone racing event designed to help drone pilots measure their skills in a quantitative way. (11/18)

ALMA Links with Other Observatories to Create Earth-Sized Virtual Telescope (Source: Space Daily)
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) continues to expand its power and capabilities by linking with other millimetre-wavelength telescopes in Europe and North America in a series of very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) observations.

In VLBI, data from two or more telescopes are combined to form a single, virtual telescope that spans the geographic distance between them. The most recent of these experiments with ALMA and other telescopes formed an Earth-sized telescope with extraordinarily fine resolution. (11/19)

NASA Selects New Technologies for Parabolic Flights and Suborbital Launches (Source: NASA)
NASA's Flight Opportunities Program has selected eight space technology payloads for reduced gravity flights on board specialized aircraft and commercial suborbital reusable launch vehicles (sRLVs). These flights provide a valuable platform to mature cutting-edge technologies, validating feasibility and reducing technical risks and costs before infusion into future space missions.

Five of the newly selected proposals requested parabolic flights, which involve a flight maneuver that uses a dramatic half-minute drop of the aircraft though the sky to simulate weightlessness. Two proposed projects will fly on sRLVs for testing during longer periods of weightlessness. An additional payload will fly on both platforms.

Editor's Note: Two of the research projects are sponsored by the University of Central Florida. One will fly on a parabolic flight and the other will be launched on a suborbital reusable vehicle. Click here. (11/18)

Bezos and Seattle’s Museum of Flight Unveil Apollo Moon Engine Artifacts (Source: Geek Wire)
Rocket engine parts from the Apollo moonshots have arrived at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, and Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos – who funded the effort to recover them from the bottom of the Atlantic – is on the welcoming committee.

Bezos and Doug King, the museum’s president and CEO, were among the luminaries on hand for today’s official delivery of preserved remains from the Saturn V rockets that sent Apollo 12 and Apollo 16 to the moon. Bezos Expeditions raised the mangled 40-year-old parts to the surface in 2013. NASA gave the OK for their display in Bezos’ hometown museum. (11/19)

Commercial Space Sector Needs Flexibility From DOD (Source: Defense News)
Accelerating the Defense Department's acquisition process and cutting red tape are key steps to getting more interest from commercial space companies. "We're a service based company," said Intelsat General's Kay Sears. "We can build great economics into [the Pentagon's] business as well, but you have to be willing to accept our model. Let's get an acquisition approach that allows you to take advantage of all this new technology that commercial is investing in." (11/18)

NASA-Furnished Propulsion Slows Orion ESM Work At Airbus (Source: Aviation Week)
Work on a European service module (ESM) that will fly on NASA’s Orion crew capsule has slowed, due in part to the integration of a NASA-furnished propulsion system that flew on the space shuttle. The ESM development, underway at Airbus Defense and Space in Bremen, Germany, is facing challenges on several fronts, including finding background documentation at NASA necessary to qualify the customer-supplied propulsion systems, which date to the shuttle era. (11/18)

SpaceCom Explores an Industry Role in Outer Space (Source: Houston Chronicle)
A few miles from the Rice University campus where President John F. Kennedy pledged to land a man on the moon a half-century ago, more than 1,500 space enthusiasts from around the world have gathered this week to discuss the commercialization of outer space. (11/18)

Work Continues on Stratolaunch Plane, but Rocket Plans are Still Under Wraps (Source: Geek Wire)
The world’s largest airplane is taking shape for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace venture, but it’s not yet clear what kind of rocket would be launched from the Stratolaunch super-jumbo jet.

The uncertainties reflect transitions taking place at Vulcan Aerospace as well as in the launch industry. Last month, the venture’s president, Chuck Beames, said he was still in the midst of defining where Stratolaunch fit in the context of Vulcan’s wider “NextSpace” vision. Meanwhile, there’s been a switch in the CEO spot for the Stratolaunch Systems subsidiary, from Gary Wentz to Jean Floyd.

The past few months also have been marked by rapid shifts in the satellite launch industry – particularly for small to medium-size satellites, which are supposed to be in the sweet spot for Stratolaunch’s air-launch system. The Wall Street Journal quotes unnamed aerospace industry officials as saying those shifts could threaten the project’s overall viability. (11/18)

NASA Awards Grants to Broaden STEM Education for Underserved Students (Source: NASA)
NASA's Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) has selected four minority serving institutions for cooperative agreement awards totaling approximately $2 million to help strengthen science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula at the schools.

Four universities were selected to receive MUREP Other Opportunities grants, which provide up to a total of $500,000 to each school, who have three years to create and implement their program. The solicitation challenged schools to propose innovative ways to create and implement STEM activities, with a goal of increasing the number of historically underserved students studying STEM fields relevant to NASA’s diverse exploration mission. Editor's Note: None are in Florida. (11/18)

November 18, 2015

Private Space Companies Avoid FAA Oversight Again, with Congress' Blessing (Source: The Verge)
This week, President Obama is expected to sign into law a critical bill for the commercial spaceflight sector — one that prevents the government from regulating private space travel for the next eight years. Under the legislation, the FAA is restricted from issuing standards for commercial spacecraft, as it does for the commercial airline industry, until 2023 at the earliest. (11/16)

Bill's Passage Could Spur Space Business on Space Coast (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Congress has finally approved a bill authorizing a modern commercial space industry, and advocates are hailing it as the open door that could lead to a rush of new ventures around Kennedy Space Center. On Monday night the House approved a final version of the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitive Act.

It creates a framework for so-called "new space" companies such as Blue Origin, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada to pursue space ventures independently of NASA and the U.S. military. The U.S. Senate approved the bill last week, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign it. "Commercial space is the president's most successful signature program on space," Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, the state's space agency. "He'll sign it."

The bill was put together with bipartisan effort, with Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge, Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Patty Murray of Washington, and Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas doing much of the work. Posey and Nelson said Florida's Space Coast will benefit the most from a rapidly growing private space industry. (11/17)

Q&A on Earth-Sized Exoplanet GJ1132b (Source: Sky & Telescope)
There are nearly 2,000 exoplanets on the books, and much is known about them, at least in broad strokes, such as their size, mass and distance. Yet the details that give these celestial bodies their individuality—such as weather, winds, air, and even the colors of their skies—remain scant. This is particularly true for the growing number of small, Earth-size exoplanets, from which astronomers hope to glean clues about life's potential genesis elsewhere in the universe.

Now a newfound exoplanet announced today in the journal Nature, and discovered by a member of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers scientists one of the best chances to truly know an extraterrestrial planet. Called GJ 1132b, it crosses the face of a nearby red dwarf star only 40 light-years away. Click here. (11/16)

XCOR Develops Lynx Simulator (Source: Space Daily)
XCOR Aerospace has announced that it has completed work on its Lynx simulator system, built by Protobox LLC in conjunction with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. This simulator will provide XCOR invaluable training as the test pilot team prepares for Lynx flight test. (11/18)

The "Omics" of Space Travel (Source: Space Daily)
The human body is incredibly complex. Every part of us-from our bones to our blood cells-is subject to a host of chemical reactions and molecular interactions that, without our conscious effort, keep us alive. But what happens to these processes when we leave the planet?

In Earth orbit and beyond, where gravity is counteracted by a constant state of freefall and cosmic radiation intensifies, the molecular inner-workings of the human body may change. To find out how, NASA has entered a realm of bio-research known as "-omics." Click here. (11/18)

Orion Ingenuity Improves Manufacturing While Reducing Mass (Source: Space Daily)
How do you reduce the weight of a spacecraft's underlying structure, while using the same materials as the heavier version and still hold to the same manufacturing schedule? This month, the engineers who helped answer that question are seeing their hard work pay off.

Technicians have finished welding together three cone panels that make up a section of the Orion crew module that will fly beyond the moon on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). While technicians have been joining other elements of the structure together since early September, the cone panels have presented a unique challenge for NASA and Lockheed Martin, the agency's prime contractor for Orion. Click here. (11/18)

India Plans to Launch 6-12 Satellites Per Year (Source: Times of India)
ISRO will increase the number of satellite launches to between six and 12 annually from next year as against four to five at the moment, ISRO chairman A S Kiran Kumar announced. ISRO officials told TOI that if this is implemented, it will work out to a launch each month making India truly a global space power. (11/18)

Why Atlas 5 Will Have Longer Windows for Station Flights (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Expanding a single instant in time to 30 minutes, the upcoming ULA Atlas 5 rockets with Cygnus cargo-delivery freighters bound for the International Space Station will have an unprecedented opportunity available to launch each day.

The SpaceX Falcon 9, Russian Soyuz, European Ariane 5 and Japanese H-2B rockets all have instantaneous launch windows for space station missions, giving them a split second each day to fly or else scrub. The now-retired space shuttle had 10 minutes and the Orbital ATK Antares rocket has had between five and 10 minutes.

But it will be a bit different for the Dec. 3 flight of the Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral and another cargo mission for the rocket coming up March 10. The performance of the Atlas 5 will produce a 30-minute launch window each day. “It is all about available energy to steer you to the right place,” said Dan Tani, a former astronaut. (11/18)

Where Will the 1st Astronauts on Mars Land? (Source:
Where should humanity set up its first-ever outpost on Mars? The ideal Red Planet crewed site should be of high scientific value — allowing pioneers to search for signs of Mars life and investigate other intriguing questions — and also possess enough resources to help sustain expeditionary crews, scientists and engineers said. Click here. (11/18)

Radiation Blasts Leave Most Earth-Like Planet Uninhabitable (Source: U. of Warwick)
The most Earth-like planet could have been made uninhabitable by vast quantities of radiation, new research led by the University of Warwick research has found. The atmosphere of the planet, Kepler-438b, is thought to have been stripped away as a result of radiation emitted from a superflaring Red Dwarf star, Kepler-438.

Regularly occurring every few hundred days, the superflares are approximately ten times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun and equivalent to the same energy as 100 billion megatons of TNT. "Unlike the Earth's relatively quiet sun, Kepler-438 emits strong flares every few hundred days, each one stronger than the most powerful recorded flare on the Sun." (11/17)

Stratolaunch is in Limbo (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Billionaire entrepreneur Paul Allen’s bid to shake up the space industry with low-cost satellite launches from a mammoth jet is now in limbo, and aerospace industry officials say market shifts threaten its overall viability. The ambitious venture appears to be on hold, these officials said, because the Microsoft Corp. co-founder hasn’t announced a replacement rocket supplier for the original contractor that dropped out months ago. (11/17)

Russian Rocket Engine Shortage Fires Up Blue Origin in Race to Beat Aerojet (Source: Puget Sound Business Journal)
The race to replace Russian rocket engines heated up this week, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin emerges as the front-runner ahead of Aerojet Rocket Holdings Inc., in Rancho Cordova, California. Monday's announcement by ULA that it wouldn’t bid on the next U.S. Air Force satellite launch accelerated that race.

ULA said it was dropping out partly because it’s running out of Russian-built RD-180 engines.
This puts more fire behind the push to replace the Russian engines with a U.S.-built model, and the two leaders in that competition are Blue Origin and Aerojet. (11/17)

Why Planet Labs Can Shrug Off Launch Failures (Source: Space News)
In its ongoing quest to gather daily images of every location on Earth, Planet Labs plans to launch 250 satellites in 2016, far more than the company needs to serve its customers. “We plan on launching more than we need because you can’t have a failure and say, ‘Oh [shucks]. I need to get another launch,’ because that will take two years,” said Chief Executive Will Marshall. “We have redundancy built into our planning process.”

That redundancy enabled Planet Labs to continue providing imagery to its customers in spite of losing 26 Flock 1d satellites in the October 2014 failure of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and eight Doves, also known as Flock 1f, in the June 2015 breakup of the SpaceX Falcon 9. Planet Labs has launched 101 cubesats on nine launch vehicles since the company was established in 2010. (11/17)

NASA Teams Up With Universities to Prep Robots for Space Exploration (Source: NBC)
Two university groups have been selected to help upgrade NASA robots that could one day explore deep space and perhaps even Mars.

Teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University were awarded prototypes of NASA's R5 humanoid robot for advanced research and development work. NASA originally designed the R5, a bipedal robot also known as Valkyrie, to aid in disaster relief. But the agency also envisioned that the R5 could some day be used in space missions, either performing tasks before humans arrive or working alongside the human crew. (11/17)

White House Space Official Moves to New Agency (Source: Space News)
A key White House space policy official is taking a new position. Chirag Parikh, director of space policy at the White House National Security Council, said Monday he will soon be leaving the White House to lead the Source Strategy Office at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. That office directs the use of data from various sources to meet the agency's needs. Parikh is credited with helping win support for a new space protection initiative valued at $5.5 billion over five years. (11/17)

Culberson Pushes Europa Mission (Source: Ars Technica)
A key member of Congress has reiterated his support for adding a lander to NASA's planned Europa mission. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, visited JPL earlier this month to get an update on concepts being studied there for including a lander to the mission.

The 230-kilogram lander would carry instruments to look for biosignatures in the moon's ice. "I told them to do whatever it takes," Culberson said after his meeting, adding that he was "very optimistic" the $140 million he provided in the House version of a spending bill for the mission would make it into the final bill. (11/17)

ESA Plans for Rosetta’s Grand Finale on Comet 67P (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
European Space Agency flight controllers are plotting to send the Rosetta spacecraft on a controlled descent to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko next year to join the Philae landing probe, which made a bouncy touchdown on the comet’s craggy nucleus one year ago this week.

Rosetta begins an extended mission in December, with funding and fuel available to continue the spacecraft’s study of the comet through September 2016. Rosetta is now slowly moving back toward the comet as activity dies off as its distance from the sun grows. The spacecraft reached a point 170 kilometers, or 105 miles, from the nucleus Thursday, and Rosetta will go much closer in the coming months. (11/14)

NASA, Russia Working Together Again on a Mission to Explore Venus (Source: Ars Technica)
After more than a year on ice due to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, NASA and Russia’s Space Research Institute has resumed discussions about a joint exploration mission to Venus, which could include a lander. NASA hasn’t flown a mission dedicated to Venus since its Magellan probe, from 1990 to 1994, which mapped 98 percent of the planet at a resolution of 100 meters or better.

So far NASA has only committed to talking with Russia about its Venera-D mission, which could launch in the 2020s. The space agency has agreed to perform a year-long feasibility study and several meetings during the next year. After that time NASA and Russia’s Space Research Institute, or IKI, will decide whether to continue its partnership. (11/17)

Attempt No Landing There? Yeah Right—We’re Going to Europa (Source: Ars Technica)
It is a nightmare glacier, tormented by the giant of our Solar System ever looming on its horizon. Jupiter showers its moon Europa with enough radiation to kill a human in just a few days. Europa must also contend with the massive planet’s powerful tidal forces.

The moon literally creaks as Jupiter’s bulk rends its frozen surface in deep crevasses, pushing and pulling the ice upward and downward by tens of meters every few days. And with only a very tenuous atmosphere, it is so very cold: -210 degrees Celsius. Yet as forbidding as Europa’s surface may be, just a few kilometers below lies the largest ocean in the known Universe. It dwarfs any on Earth, encircling the entire moon and plunging as far as 100 kilometers deep.

NASA is very publicly planning a mission to Europa in the 2020s, one that will soar over the intriguing moon dozens of times. Yet the reality is more thrilling. Quietly, the same engineers who masterminded the daring Curiosity landing on Mars in 2012 have been plotting how best to drop a lander onto the nightmare glacier. In early November, they presented their preliminary findings for a 230-kg lander to the one person in the world who can, and who dearly wants to, make that happen. (11/17)