February 21, 2017

Spaceflight is Next Frontier for UK Under New Powers (Source: AOL)
Space ports could be set up and satellites launched from regions across the UK under new powers to be unveiled this week. The Spaceflight Bill will also allow scientists to fly to the edge of space and conduct experiments in zero gravity, which could help develop vaccines and antibiotics, the Department for Transport (DfT) said. Science minister Jo Johnson said the bill would "cement the UK's position as a world leader in this emerging market".

The first commercial flight from a UK space port could lift off by 2020 under the powers, the DfT said. "With this week's Spaceflight Bill launch, we will cement the UK's position as a world leader in this emerging market, giving us an opportunity to build on existing strengths in research and innovation." The Bill will be unveiled in parliament this week. (2/20)

GKN Aerospace. UK's GKN Aerospace Investing $50 Million in Northwest Florida (Source: WJHG)
The St. Joe Company and the Bay Economic Development Alliance announced Tuesday that one of the world's largest independent first-tier suppliers to the international aviation industry will locate a new manufacturing facility in Bay County, Florida. GKN Aerospace plans to make a capital investment of approximately $50 million and create 170 new jobs for highly skilled employees. (2/14)

China Needs to Cut Commercial Space Costs to Compete with India (Source: Global Times)
Over the past few days, some people have keenly followed the debate on whether China has lagged behind India in its space race. India's successful launch of a record-breaking 104 satellites into orbit could serve as a wake-up call for China's commercial space industry and there are a number of lessons for the country to learn.

Of the 104 satellites, 96 belong to the US, which makes India a fierce competitor in the global market for commercial rocket launch services. The South Asian nation's achievements are largely driven by its low price advantage, a weak point for China's commercial space sector.

Although China is developing rapidly into a major player in the space industry, the country's commercial space sector is still in its infancy. Many of the world's satellites are made in or use parts from the US. However, satellites and components made in the US are prohibited from being exported to China, making it very difficult for China to get contracts for commercial satellite launches with other countries. (2/20)

Asian Space Race Intensifies as India Sets Satellite Launch Record (Source: Independent)
India successfully launched 104 satellites in a single mission on Wednesday, setting what its space agency claims is a new world record for launching the most satellites at one go. Of the 104 satellites sent up this week, 101 are foreign satellites to serve international customers as the South Asian nation seeks a bigger share of the $300bn (€281bn) global space industry.

India wants to become a player in the multibillion-dollar space launch market, and has successfully placed light satellites into orbit in recent years. It hopes to eventually send astronauts into space. In September 2014, India successfully guided a spacecraft into orbit around Mars. Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency had been able to previously do that. Unlike India, China has sent astronauts into space - the first in 2003.

On Tuesday, China said it plans to launch its first cargo spacecraft in April, taking a step toward its goal of establishing a permanently manned space station. Plans for the maiden voyage of the cargo spacecraft were reported on the front page of 'the People's Daily', the official Communist Party newspaper. (2/17)

SpaceX Could Pass a Number of Significant Milestones in 2017 (Source: Ars Technica)
SpaceX launched from the most hallowed ground of the US space enterprise on Sunday—the place where nearly all of the Moon launches occurred, and about 80 percent of all the space shuttle missions, including the vehicle's final flight in 2011. Just as SpaceX brought the pad back to life with its launch this weekend, so too could Launch Complex 39A rejuvenate the innovative rocket company based in California. Click here. (2/19)

NASA Selects New Technologies for Flight Tests for Future Space Exploration (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected five space technologies to test on low-gravity-simulating aircraft, high-altitude balloons or suborbital rockets. The opportunity to fly on these vehicles helps advance technologies closer to practical use by taking them from a laboratory environment to the real world.

The selections were made for NASA’s Flight Opportunities program which organizes chances to fly and selects experiments for NASA support twice each year. The program selects promising space technologies to test through relatively low-cost ways that simulate spaceflight or just reach the edge of “space” on commercial suborbital launch vehicles, reduced gravity aircraft and high-altitude balloon flights. (2/17)

NASA to Host Major Press Conference on 'Discovery Beyond our Solar System' (Source: Independent)
NASA is to host a major press conference on Feb. 22 about a "discovery beyond our solar system". The event will see the revelation of major information about exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars other than our sun, according to a release. It made no further mention of the details of what would be revealed. (2/20)

For These Private Space Companies, the Future is Now, and the Final Frontier is In Reach (Source: CNBC)
Not to be outdone by SpaceX are two companies that lack Musk's star power but have become active players in a new space race that many observers speculate will become the next major source of wealth creation. Moon Express and Planetary Resources are two start-ups in the white-hot global space sector that the FAA estimates is a combined $324 billion, and what some argue could become the first trillion-dollar industry.

Industry players believe space exploration is due for a quantum leap, with commercial test launches abounding this year. "This is the first post-global enterprise," said Chris Lewicki, president and CEO of Planetary Resources, an asteroid mining company. While asteroid mining tends to conjure images of video games from the 1980s, Planetary Resources has its sights zeroed in on a future likely to be pioneered, if not dominated, by private companies. (2/18)

A New Push for Missile Defense in Space Under Trump? (Source: Defense News)
Ahead of the release of the new administration’s first budget request, U.S. defense officials are pushing to renew the effort to get missile-tracking sensors into space. President Trump made a campaign statement touting the need to pursue space-based missile defense in an October 2016 memo. In the memo, he said he wanted a ballistic missile defense system with “a heavy emphasis on space-based early warning and missile tracking technologies.”

Each of the last five administrations have had a space-based sensor layer as a critical component of its missile defense architecture on paper. But it’s never gone beyond that; usually dampened by bigger priorities and shrinking budgets, according to Tom Karako, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (2/19)

February 20, 2017

Trump’s Plans to Privatize ‘Low Earth Orbit’ and Send NASA Into Deep Space (Source: Yahoo News)
In perhaps the most poetic passage from his inaugural address, President Trump said, “We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space.” So, how does Trump intend to do that?

Former Congressman Robert Walker, R-PA, who was tapped to draft Trump’s space policy during the campaign, spoke to Yahoo News about the administration’s plan to place “low Earth orbit” missions predominantly in the hands of the private sector, with exceptions for military and intelligence satellites. The government would not compete with commercial interests in this region of space; instead, NASA would concentrate on deep-space exploration with the long-term goal of having humans explore the entire solar system by the 22nd century.

“As we look toward going back to the moon, going to Mars or further, we’ll want to have space resources that would be assembled in orbit so we could make them large enough and capable enough to do real deep-space activities,” Walker said. Walker believes space policy must acknowledge that the space community is far bigger than NASA or the military and that private investors should take the opportunity to participate in achieving national goals. (2/18)

Earth Science on the Space Station Continues to Grow (Source: NASA JPL)
The number of instruments on the International Space Station dedicated to observing Earth to increase our understanding of our home planet continues to grow. Two new instruments are being carried to the ISS on the SpaceX Dragon capsule, including the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III instrument to monitor the condition of the ozone layer, and the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) to record the time, energy output and location of lightning events around the world, day and night. (2/16)

CU Boulder Students Show NASA Their Vision of Future Space Transport (Source: Daily Camera)
Four University of Colorado juniors are back from NASA's Langley Research Center, where they competed Wednesday as finalists in that agency's BIG Idea Challenge. The competition tasked students with advancing concepts for in-space assembly of spacecraft, particularly tugs, powered by solar propulsion.

NASA's challenge to competing students was that their design enable the transfer of payloads from low-Earth orbit to an orbit around the moon, or to a lunar distant retrograde orbit. CU's group, whose project was dubbed "Odysseus," was one of five selected as finalists who made their pitch for an in-orbit assembly design of a spacecraft that can deliver cargo from low-Earth to lunar and Martian orbits. (2/19)

February 19, 2017

USF Scientist Advises on How to Protect Europa From Earthlings (Source: Science)
In less than a decade, NASA will send a spacecraft to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Once there, a lander will navigate the world’s icy surface for about 20 days and attempt to probe its hypothesized vast subsurface ocean. But whether or not Europa contains life, how can we avoid contaminating it with our own? That was the focus of a session here yesterday at the annual meeting of AAAS, which publishes Science.

Part of the problem, said session speaker Norine Noonan, a biologist at the University of South Florida in Tampa who previous served as chair of NASA’s Planetary Protection Advisory Committee, is that humans are “autonomous microbial growth distribution systems.” Our bodies “spew fountains of bacteria,” she told attendees, and these microbes hitch rides on sensitive space equipment despite efforts to sterilize it. “If you take a 2-billion dollar rover to Mars to study the organic microbes you brought with you, it’s not cost effective.” Click here. (2/18)

India's Energy Needs May be Met by the Moon (Source: DNA)
The Sun has always been a source of energy for the world. But an untapped source of power may soon be able to meet all of India’s energy requirements. And that’s the Moon. Sivathanu Pillai, a distinguished professor at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) stated that our country can meet its energy demands through Helium-3 mined from the Moon. By 2030, this process target will be met," Pillai said. (2/18)

Expert Panel Supports Study to Accelerate First Crewed SLS Mission (Source: Space News)
A panel of former NASA astronauts and officials offered tentative support for an agency study to examine putting a crew on the first flight of the Space Launch System. The witnesses, which included two former astronauts, a former chief scientist and a former center director, were asked during a hearing on NASA by the House Science Committee. (2/18)

SpaceX Launches From NASA's Historic Moon Pad, Lands Nearby (Source: AP)
NASA's historic moonshot pad is back in business. A SpaceX Falcon rocket blasted off Sunday morning from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A. It was visible for just seconds before ducking into clouds on its way to the International Space Station, with a load of supplies.

Astronauts flew to the moon from this very spot nearly a half-century ago. The pad was last used for NASA's final shuttle mission nearly six years ago. This is SpaceX's first launch from Florida since a rocket explosion last summer. As an extra special treat, SpaceX landed the booster rocket back at Cape Canaveral following liftoff, for only the third time. (2/19)

KSC Showcases its Future as Multi-User Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA has made major strides in its seven-year effort to transform Kennedy Space Center (KSC) into a multi-user spaceport. Efforts to date include modifying Launch Complex 39B and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to support the Space Launch System (SLS), institutional and infrastructure changes to support commercial customers, and changes to one of the Shuttle Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) to support the Boeing CST-100 Starliner.

Director of KSC since 2008, former astronaut Bob Cabana has been the driving force behind the center’s efforts to transition from a government operation supporting only the Space Shuttle to a public-private facility capable of supporting NASA and multiple commercial customers. These changes have included leasing launch facilities like LC-39A to SpaceX for 20 years. “We didn’t need it. 39B can support three launches a year […] otherwise it would have sat there and rusted.”

In cooperation with Space Florida and the U.S. Air Force, KSC has leased properties and facilities to SpaceX, Boeing, and Blue Origin to support new rocket manufacturing, launch, and landing facilities. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) also has a say in what happens at the center, as they are responsible for performing controlled burns to prevent forest fires on the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. (2/18)

Shotwell Enlightens on SpaceX Pad Improvements (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
“There’s some work to do on the pad … We have the crew arm to put in and we’ve got some other upgrades as well,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said. While SpaceX’s current manifest does not require adding to LC-39A’s Fixed Service Structure, Shotwell said that the company would need to add some height to the 305-foot (93-meter) structure if it wants to add vertical integration capabilities for national security payloads.

“We’re good where we are with crew [launches],” Shotwell said, referring to the current structure. She said SpaceX plans to add a crew access arm for Crew Dragon before the end of the year. SpaceX is also working to make all its launch pads operational. Space Launch Complex 40 is expected to be back online this summer while the company’s work on its new spaceport in Brownsville, Texas, is doing “dirt work.” (2/18)

Why NASA is Sending a Superbug to the Space Station (Source: CNN)
An antibiotic-resistant superbug will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Sunday from the same Kennedy Space Center launch complex where the first manned mission to the moon lifted off and then the bug will be studied by astronauts on the International Space Station. Before you start to worry, this isn't a sign of an impending apocalypse.
Working in conjunction with NASA, lead researcher Dr. Anita Goel hopes that by sending MRSA bacteria to a zero-gravity environment, we can better understand how superbugs mutate to become resistant to available antibiotics. Goel is also interested to see the changes in the gene expression patterns of this bacteria. (2/18)

NASA's Next Frontier Is Washington (Source: The Atlantic)
NASA’s Apollo-era budget accounted for 4.5 percent of the federal budget, while today’s budget is less than half a percent. Plus, there’s no Cold War driving national pride to make those tax dollars seem worth it. Lawmakers that handle space policy are aware of this reality. “It is very difficult to explore a universe of infinite wonder with a finite budget,” Brian Babin, the Republican congressman from Texas who chairs the Space Subcommittee, said Thursday.

But that doesn’t stop lawmakers from interrogating NASA folks about when they’re going to get the big stuff done. Many members at the hearing wondered when, exactly, Americans would be flying to Mars. Two congressmen from Colorado held up bumper stickers with photos of the Red Planet and the year 2033 in big letters. One asked whether NASA could shave off a year and make it 2032. (2/17)

Due to Concerns About Engine, Juno to Remain in Elongated Jupiter Orbit (Source: Ars Technica)
When NASA sent a series of commands to the Juno spacecraft’s main engine last October, the spacecraft did not respond properly: two helium check valves that play an important role in its firing opened sluggishly. Those commands had been sent in preparation for a burn of the spacecraft’s Leros 1b engine, which would have brought Juno—a $1.1 billion mission to glean insights about Jupiter—into a significantly shorter orbital period around the gas giant.

Due to concerns about the engine, NASA held off on a “period reduction maneuver” that would shorten Juno’s orbital period from 53.4 to 14 days. When the next chance to do so came in December, again NASA held off. Now the space agency has made it official—Juno will remain in a longer, looping orbit around Jupiter for the extent of its lifetime observing the gas giant. (2/17)

NASA Moving Fast on New Moon Shot, 'Urgent' to Increase Budget (Source: Huntsville Times)
Whatever decision NASA makes regarding a new moon shot, it has to make fast, Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot Jr. said. "I'm giving them a short fuse," Lightfoot told a large crowd of the National Space Club's Huntsville chapter. He referred to the team he has asked to study whether NASA can fly astronauts on the first launch of its new Space Launch System. It had planned to fly them on the second launch.

"It's just a study," Lightfoot cautioned. "I understand the challenge." But Lightfoot said, "It's an urgent thing to get the dollars up if we're going to do this." Driving that urgency is the next federal budget, and NASA will need a bigger piece to get ready to launch a crew in 2019 or 2020. (2/17)

New NASA Teams Will Make Human Mars Missions Light and Efficient (Source: New Scientist)
For a crewed mission into deep space, every piece of technology and equipment has to be better: lighter, stronger, multi-purpose. NASA just funded two new teams of researchers to form Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) working toward that goal. The new institutes will develop materials to allow astronauts to travel lightly to Mars, and biological and microbial technology to make them self-sufficient when they get there.

Each institute consists of researchers that span a variety of disciplines and institutions, all working together in one relatively narrow area of technology. The two new teams are called the Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP) and the Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES).

US-COMP will focus on creating new materials for vehicles, habitats, and whatever other structures astronauts will need on Mars. “The materials that are currently available have the necessary strength requirements, but are too heavy for extended missions and would require excessive fuel consumption,” says US-COMP team leader Gregory Odegard at Michigan Technological University. Click here. (2/17)

BLM Signs Decision Record on the Spaceport America's Southern Road Improvement (Source: KRWG)
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Las Cruces District announced today that it signed the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and Decision Record for the proposed Southern Road Improvement Project (Project), a 23.6-mile section of county roads in Doña Ana and Sierra Counties. (2/17)

Cruz, Nelson Champion American Leadership and Exploration in Space (Source: Senate CST)
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. 442, The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which was introduced by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), along with Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Gary Peters (D-MI), John Thune (R-SD), Tom Udall (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), and John Cornyn (R-TX). The legislation provides stability for NASA to sustain and build upon existing national space investments designed to advance space exploration and science with an overall authorization level of $19.508 billion for fiscal year 2017.  (2/17)

Do You Have The Right Personality For Long-Term Space Travel? (Source: Seeker)
The longest consecutive amount of time anyone has spent in space was roughly 438 days. That's a long time to be up there, and a mission to Mars and back could take even longer, leaving astronauts alone, in confined spaces, deep in the reaches of the cosmos.

But prolonged isolation is, to put it simply, not always great for humans. According to the book Space Psychology and Psychiatry, long duration space travelers have reported depression, abnormal weakness and loss of energy. Another major problem in long term space travel is something termed the "third quarter phenomenon". Click here. (2/18)

SpaceX Pushes Back Red Dragon Mission to Mars by 2 Years (Source: Parabolic Arc)
SpaceX will delay its 2018 Red Dragon mission to Mars at least two years to better focus its resources on two programs that a running significantly behind schedule. “We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program,” Shotwell said at a pre-launch press conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “So we’re looking more for the 2020 timeframe for that.”

The mission will land a modified Dragon spacecraft on the martian surface. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he planned to launch Dragons to the surface every two years beginning in 2018, culminating in a crewed mission in 2024. (2/17)

When's the Next SpaceX Launch? An Updated Calendar (Source: Inverse)
Since launches can be delayed for all sorts of reasons — from accidents to inclement weather, the calendar changes regularly. This is what we know: SpaceX is essentially planning a launch every few weeks for the next few months. You can watch live webcasts of SpaceX launches — and the droneship landings — at spacex.com/webcast. Because a number of scheduled flights had to be delayed because of the explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket in September, the upcoming SpaceX calendar is chock-full of rocket launches. Click here. (2/18) https://www.inverse.com/article/27731-spacex-next-launch-calendar

Delays Expected in SpaceX, Boeing Astronaut Capsules (Source: LA Business Journal)
SpaceX and Boeing Co. should expect to experience delays in certifying their astronaut transport capsules for use by NASA astronauts, says a U.S. government watchdog agency. The Government Accountability Office released Thursday a report saying that the two companies, which are each building spacecraft that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station, will likely have to put off final certification until 2019. (2/18)

Republicans Aim to Prioritize NASA Space Exploration Efforts Over Environmental Research (Source: IJR)
Republican lawmakers have begun working to fund space exploration projects over environmental research within NASA. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on the future of NASA on Thursday morning. Republicans, many of whom doubt the validity of concerns surrounding climate change, took issue with Obama-era increases in NASA earth science funding.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, emerged as a leader in the fight to re-prioritize space exploration. The Senate could pass Cruz's NASA reauthorization legislation once again as early as Friday. Republicans in both houses of Congress are in agreement with Cruz's priorities for NASA.

A spokesman for Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, told IJR about his goals for NASA in the new Congress: “The shift back towards NASA should be focused on space exploration. We have one agency that studies space. We have something like sixteen others that focus on climate issues.” (2/17)

February 18, 2017

GAO Drops NOAA's GOES Weather Satellites from High-Risk List, but Adds DOD's (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its biennial assessment of high-risk government programs yesterday.  The report addresses programs in all parts of the government, including civil and national security space programs.  NOAA's weather satellites have been on the high-risk list for several years, but GAO praised NOAA's progress with its GOES series of geostationary weather satellites and concluded they no longer warrant inclusion. NOAA's polar orbiting satellites remain on the list.  GAO also added DOD's weather satellite program to the high-risk list because DOD lacks a comprehensive plan for providing required capabilities. (2/16)

Trump Mum on Ex-Im Bank During Speech at Boeing Plant (Source: Space News)
President Donald Trump made no mention of the U.S. Export-Import Bank during a speech Feb. 17 some had expected to include a call for restoring the bank’s full lending authority. Ex-Im has lacked a full board of directors since Congress reauthorized the bank in December 2015 (after letting its charter lapse for the first time in its 82-year history), limiting the executive-branch institution from providing loans greater than $10 million. Boeing, the largest exporter in the country, has relied on the federal institution to help finance large aerospace projects, namely aircraft and satellites. (2/17)

SLS Rocket Flight Hardware Begins Arriving at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Boeing)
Workers at United Launch Alliance will soon ship to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport the Boeing and ULA built second stage propulsion element that will fly on NASA’s Space Launch System’s first flight in 2018. Called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), it is a modified Delta IV second stage, designed by Boeing to propel Orion beyond Earth’s orbit on the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion.

This test flight of SLS will lift the Orion capsule beyond Earth. The ICPS will provide the Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) burn to send Orion and the service module on its way to the moon. Concurrently, Boeing is working on the second stage for the next SLS mission, EM-2, which will carry crew and cargo farther into deep space with a more powerful Exploration Upper Stage. (2/17)

Possible NASA Administrator Bridenstine Wants To Fight North Korea (Source: NASA Watch)
"President Trump should order the Secretary of Defense to position American assets and shoot down Kim Jong Un's next missile launch. Intercepting a North Korean missile would signal to Pyongyang that America has the capability and the willingness to defend our allies and the homeland. In the parlance of military strategy, the missile defense option enhances deterrence-by-denial."

Bridenstine has a military background and it is natural that he'd have concerns about issues such as this - and speak out about them. When I have heard him speak about space he does well when it comes to military, communications, and commercial space. But when it comes to NASA science - nothing but crickets. If Bridenstine is the nominee to become NASA administrator he clearly needs a Deputy and a strong AA and Center Director contingent to make up for his clear lack of science management experience.

The fact that this "exclusive" op ed by Bridenstine appears on Breitbart News, the controversial former employer of Trump's avatar Steve Bannon should not be lost on people. This sort of op ed placement does not happen by accident these days. There is clearly an idealogical mind meld going on here - as well as the beginnings of a possible Alternate NASA PR machine - one independent of NASA PAO - in the making. (2/17)

Singapore Wants to Shoot for the Stars (Source: Straits Times)
Singapore too has space ambitions. Even though commercial travel through space may still be some light years away, the Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA) believes the Republic can reach for the stars in other ways. The development of space technology - such as in satellites, satellite communications and image data analytics - is one area with potential, said Ms Lynette Tan, director of the SSTA, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary next week. Nanyang Technological University last month launched its seventh satellite into orbit from the International Space Station. (2/17)

NASA Not Muzzled (Yet) on Climate Change (Source: Washington Post)
NASA is still talking about climate change, four weeks into the Trump administration. Despite concerns that the new administration would muzzle the agency's Earth science outreach, NASA continues to provide information through social media on climate change issues, even when those statements contradict views previously expressed by Trump himself. A NASA spokesman said it's "business at usual" for its Earth science programs. That's in contrast to the EPA, which has been in a "media blackout" since Trump's inauguration four weeks ago. (2/17)

First SLS Launch Could be Dedicated to Gene Cernan (Source: Space News)
If lawmakers get their way, the first launch of NASA's Space Launch System could be named after the late astronaut Gene Cernan. A "sense of Congress" resolution introduced in the House this week asks NASA to name the first SLS launch, Exploration Mission 1, the "Cernan-1" after the astronaut. Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17 and the last Apollo astronaut to walk on the moon, passed away last month. (2/16)

NASA Picks Two University Space Research Institutes for Funding (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected two proposals for the development of university-led space technology research programs. The two Space Technology Research Institutes will each receive $15 million over five years to advance technologies that can support NASA's exploration programs. One, the Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES), will study how biological processes can be harnessed to manufacture materials needed for long-duration missions. The Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP) will work on a high-strength aerospace structural material based on carbon nanotubes. (2/16)

Scientists Are About to Switch on a Telescope That Could Photograph a Black Hole's Event Horizon (Source: Science Alert)
Called the Event Horizon Telescope, the new device is made up of a network of radio receivers located across the planet, including at the South Pole, in the US, Chile, and the French alps. The network will be switched on between 5 and 14 April, and the results will put Einstein's theory of general relativity through its paces like never before.

The Event Horizon Telescope works using a technique known as very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI), which means the network of receivers will focus in on radio waves emitted by a particular object in space at one time. Because there are so many of these antennae all tuned in on a single spot, the resolution of the telescope should be 50 microarcseconds. To put that into perspective, it's the equivalent of being able to see a grapefruit on the surface of the Moon. (2/17)

Moon is Star of Congressional Hearing on NASA's Future (Source: USA Today)
The Oklahoma lawmaker considered the front-runner to be NASA’s next administrator wants the U.S. to re-establish its dominance on and around the moon. “We all want to get to Mars in 2033 (but the moon) is critically important to the geo-political position of the United States of America,” GOP Rep. Jim Bridenstine said Thursday. “Mars is the horizon goal. It’s critical. We need to get there (but) the moon I believe is necessary.”

Bridenstine’s comments, made during a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on NASA’s future, adds more fuel to the speculation that the Trump administration favors a return to the moon that President Obama largely abandoned due to cost concerns. (2/16)

Florida’s Space Coast Is Filling the ‘Crater’ Left by NASA (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The pad’s rebirth illustrates the economic rebound of Florida’s Space Coast as it transitions to a more-diverse aerospace economy, with a significant commercial sector, from one powered by government investment dating back to the administration of John F. Kennedy. In the past six years, the area’s economic development agency has announced projects bringing in $1.4 billion in capital investment and generating an estimated 7,900 jobs.

That includes 1,800 new jobs announced by Northrop Grumman, which landed a Pentagon contract in 2015 to build long-range bombers. “The Space Coast is kind of on fire right now,” said Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb Ltd., which aims to use hundreds of satellites to provide internet access in rural and emerging markets. In a joint venture with a division of Airbus SE, OneWeb plans to break ground soon on a high-tech manufacturing facility at Exploration Park at KSC. The facility, expected to employ 250 people, is designed to crank out three satellites a day when it opens next year.

Commercial space companies like SpaceX, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, and Blue Origin, started by Amazon.com Inc. Chairman Jeff Bezos, are setting up facilities. Smaller startups such as Moon Express Inc., which plans to send a tiny spacecraft to the lunar surface later this year, also are making investments. And a host of others are expanding operations and hiring engineers and technicians, including Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer SA, which employs 650 people in the area. Click here. (2/17)

February 17, 2017

Luxembourg Wants Europe to Fund Asteroid Mission (Source: Space News)
The government of Luxembourg will seek to restore funding for a European asteroid mission. Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s deputy prime minister and minister of the economy, said at a press conference this week for the upcoming "Asteroid Day" event that he will lobby German and other officials about the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), which ESA did not fund at its December ministerial meeting.

The industry team working on AIM has been refining the mission concept to address concerns about reliability and schedule raised by ESA members. AIM would travel to the near Earth asteroid Didymos and study the asteroid and its moon, and also observe the impact of a separate NASA spacecraft with the moon as a demonstration of planetary defense technologies. (2/16)

Rocket Lab Plans Test Launches Soon (Source: New Zealand Herald)
Rocket Lab's first Electron launch vehicle has arrived at its New Zealand launch site in preparation for a test launch. The rocket will undergo tests at the launch site, on Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand's North Island, prior to a test flight "in the coming months." Rocket Lab, a U.S.-headquartered company with its operations primarily in New Zealand, has been developing the Electron for several years to provide dedicated launches for small satellites. (2/16)

Poland Aims for Satellite Manufacturing (Source: Space News)
Poland plans to get into the satellite manufacturing business. Polish company SatRevolution S.A. has announced plans to establish a satellite manufacturing plant in the country to build smallsats. SatRevolution plans to establish the factory near the city of Wroclaw, and is in talks with investors to raise the estimated $50 million needed to complete the facility. (2/15)

Scientists Say Mars Valley Was Flooded with Water Not Long Ago (Source: Space Daily)
Researchers have discovered the signature of periodic groundwater flooding in a Martian valley -- further evidence that water flowed on Mars in the not-so-distant past. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin suggest the patch of land on the Red Planet would be an ideal spot to search for signs of life. (2/15)

Curiosity Drill Problem Impacts Science (Source: Seeker)
A continuing problem with a drill on the Curiosity Mars rover is keeping scientists from looking for evidence of organic compounds on the planet. The rover's drill has been out of action since December as engineers diagnose a problem with the tool. The problem came as scientists were preparing to use a "wet chemistry" instrument on the rover for the first time that would given them a new opportunity to look for organic materials. Scientists remain hopeful engineers will either fix the drill problem or find an alternative method to use the drill to allow those tests to be carried out. (2/15)

There Are Organic Molecules on the Dwarf Planet Ceres (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Scientists have just found organic molecules on the Ceres, the dwarf planet hidden in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The find is particularly exciting because this is the very first, unambiguous detection of organic molecules on an asteroid.

This new discovery was just announced by team of planetary scientists led by Maria Cristina De Sanctis, an astrophysicist at the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome. The scientists used data from NASA's Dawn space probe, which was launched in 2007 and is currently in orbit around Ceres. The discovery was announced today in the journal Science. (2/16)

Congress Told, Again, That NASA's Exploration Plans Aren't Sustainable (Source: Ars Technica)
Congress loves to set grand goals for NASA. During a full committee hearing Thursday, one member of the House Science Committee said the agency should send humans to Mars in 2033. Another member upped the ante and said 2032. And another member later said he hoped to hear that NASA could even do it during the 2020s.

It was almost as if none of these US representatives had been listening to the expert panel called to testify on NASA's past, present, and future exploration plans. While the panel, including two former Apollo astronauts, generally agreed that NASA was on the right track with its Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, the majority felt like the agency simply didn't have enough resources to complete a compelling exploration plan.

That is, NASA might have some of the right tools to launch and fly to destinations in deep space, but it doesn't have the resources to actually land on the Moon, to build a base there, or to fly humans to the surface of Mars for a brief visit. One of the panel members, Tom Young, a past director of Goddard Spaceflight Center, said the space agency's budget is "clearly inadequate for a credible human exploration program." He said hard choices would have to be made within NASA's existing budget to actually get things done. (2/16)

Aerospace and Defense Sets Another Export Record in 2016, Kansas Total Slips (Source: Wichita Business Journal)
The aerospace and defense industry as a whole in the U.S. set a record for exports in 2016, though Kansas’ contribution to that total slipped from previous years. According to a new report from the Aerospace Industries Association, the industry shipped $146 billion of exports last year to mark the fifth consecutive record year on that metric.

The continued improvement has led to a 52 percent increase in aerospace and defense exports in the past five years. But the latest record comes with less help from Kansas — where the industry’s foundation rests in the large aerospace cluster in Wichita — as exports from the Sunflower State declined in value year over year. According to additional AIA data provided to the WBJ, Kansas’ 2016 total of $2.07 billion was down from $2.28 billion in 2015. (2/15)

Scientists Measure African Crop Yields From Space (Source: Space Daily)
Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new method for accurately measuring crop yields using satellite images. Scientists hope their new strategy will help researchers track agricultural productivity in developing countries where farming data is limited.

"Improving agricultural productivity is going to be one of the main ways to reduce hunger and improve livelihoods in poor parts of the world," Marshall Burke, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Stanford, said in a news release. "But to improve agricultural productivity, we first have to measure it, and unfortunately this isn't done on most farms around the world." (2/13)

'Shark Tank' for Space Startups (Source: NewSpaceBPC)
The Center for Space Commerce & Finance (CSCF), in collaboration with BoomStartup and the Heinlein Prize Trust, will sponsor a “shark tank” style startup business competition, as the first in a series of regional events leading up to the 2017 NewSpace Business Plan Competition. Salt Lake City’s Business Model Canvas Competition will be a unique program, held in conjunction with local accelerator, BoomStartup.

The competition  will be held on March 8th, at Impact Hub Salt Lake, a high-tech incubator in downtown Salt Lake City. Each business will have 15 minutes to present their business model canvas and answer questions before a panel of judges. The winner of the Salt Lake City regional event will receive a $2,500 cash prize. (2/16)

3D-Printed 'Laugh' Is 1st Major Artwork to Be Made in Space (Space.com)
Art just made a giant leap into the final frontier. On Friday (Feb. 10), a 3D printer aboard the International Space Station (ISS) created a sculpture that represents human laughter, as part of a project called #Laugh. Astronauts have sketched and photographed the vistas from the orbiting lab's windows, and artwork by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and others has flown to space in the past. But the new 3D-printed piece is the first sculpture to be produced off Earth, #Laugh representatives said. (2/16)

ViaSat is Thinking Small — But on the Ground, Not in Space (Source: Space News)
ViaSat is working to reduce the size of satellite gateways to as small as closets in order to maximize the throughput of its planned ViaSat-3 broadband system. ViaSat-3 will use large satellites in geostationary orbit, an approach the company preferred over a constellation of smaller satellites in medium or low Earth orbit. (2/15)

Canadian Startup Plans Cubesat Constellation (Source: Space News)
A Canadian startup wants to launch 75 to 140 cubesats to provide connectivity for other satellites and Internet of Things devices. Kepler Communications has two satellites on order from Clyde Space with a launch planned for late 2017 or early 2018. The startup, which raised $5.5 million so far, was one of 11 to file with the FCC about plans that might use the same spectrum OneWeb desires. (2/15)

Lasers Could Give Space Research its Broadband Moment (Source: Space Daily)
Thought your Internet speeds were slow? Try being a space scientist for a day. The vast distances involved will throttle data rates to a trickle. You're lucky if a spacecraft can send more than a few megabits per second (Mbps) - a pittance even by dial-up standards. But we might be on the cusp of a change.

Just as going from dial-up to broadband revolutionized the Internet and made high-resolution photos and streaming video a given, NASA may be ready to undergo a similar "broadband" moment in coming years. The key to that data revolution will be lasers. For almost 60 years, the standard way to "talk" to spacecraft has been with radio waves, which are ideal for long distances. But optical communications, in which data is beamed over laser light, can increase that rate by as much as 10 to 100 times. (2/15)

Russia's First Private Space Tourism Craft Flight Test Set for 2020 (Source: Space Daily)
First flight tests of Russia's reusable suborbital space tourism craft are slated for 2020, the head of the company that is spearheading the effort told Sputnik. Pavel Pushkin, director of CosmoCourse company, said the spacecraft's production is funded by a private investor. It is expected to be launched from a Russian cosmodrome and conduct space tours at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles). (2/15)

Georgia Space Flight Act Passes in the House, Closer to Bringing Jobs to Camden County (Source: WTLV)
The Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill 162-5 that would define procedures for space flight in Georgia, as well as bring jobs to the state. HB1, the Georgia Space Flight Act, is sponsored by Georgia Representative Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine). It would limit a "willing participant's" ability to sue for damages relating to space flight activities, as well as require the participant to give informed consent. Proponents of the bill also say it will bring jobs to the state.

"Today's passage of HB1 sends a clear message to the commercial space industry that Georgia is serious about bringing much needed high-tech jobs to our state," said Rep. Spencer. "Georgia and Camden County are becoming well positioned as an attractive hub for the (space) industry's future business activities and operations, bringing significant economic and inspirational benefits to the citizens of Georgia." (2/16)

February 16, 2017

Markey Named Ranking Member of Senate Space Subcommittee (Source: Space News)
Democratic members of the Senate Commerce Committee have named Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) as the ranking member of the subcommittee with oversight of space issues. Markey will be one of six Democrats on the space, science and competitiveness subcommittee, which deals with NASA and related civil space issues. The subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who led the subcommittee in the previous Congress as well.

Neither of Florida's senators will serve on the subcommittee, But the full committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), will also likely play a major role in space-related issues the subcommittee addresses, given his long-running interest in the subject. While the subcommittee deals with science issues broadly, space policy is a major aspect of its activities. The subcommittee held only four hearings in the previous Congress, but two were about NASA. (2/15)

Finally, Someone Has a Realistic Timeline for Mars Colonization—the UAE (Source:  Ars Technica)
NASA says it intends to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but the space agency does not have a realistic budget to do so. SpaceX's Elon Musk says he will send the first human colonists to Mars in the 2020s, but his company also lacks the funding to implement its bold plans without a major government partner.

We can now add the United Arab Emirates to the list of those entities who want to see Mars colonized. However, even if it too lacks the space exploration budget or technology to do so at this time, the federation of seven Arab emirates appears to have a much more reasonable timeline for sending humans to the red planet—the year 2117, a century from now. (2/15)

Air Force Raises Concerns about Harris Corp. Testing of GPS Parts (Source: Bloomberg)
Another problem with the GPS 3 program has led the Air Force to raise new questions about Lockheed Martin's oversight of the effort. The most recent delay involves capacitors that had not been property tested by a subcontractor, Harris Corp. Testing of those capacitors was completed in December, but the issue delayed the delivery of the first GPS 3 satellite until later this month. The testing problem "raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris program management," Air Force Maj. Gen Roger Teague said in a December message to congressional staff about the issue. (2/13)

DARPA Confirms SS Loral Pick for Satellite Servicing Project (Source: Space News)
DARPA is moving forward with a controversial satellite servicing program, announcing Thursday it will partner with Space Systems Loral. Under the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, SSL will provide a satellite bus for a DARPA-developed servicing payload, which, after launch, will carry out a series of demonstrations to show its ability to inspect and repair satellites. SSL plans to use that system commercially, servicing government and commercial satellites, once the demonstrations are completed. Orbital ATK filed suit earlier this week to block the deal, arguing that it violated national space policy by giving SSL an unfair advantage over other commercial satellite servicing programs. (2/10)

OneWeb to Use New Mexico-Based SolAero's Solar Panels (Source: Space News)
A deal with OneWeb had led a solar panel manufacturer to expand its plant. SolAero is spending $10 million to modernize its Albuquerque, New Mexico, facility to produce solar panels for OneWeb's constellation of 900 satellites. The updated facility will be able to produce both the panel structures as well as the solar cells and circuits. SolAero expects to be producing the first flight article solar panels for OneWeb there in 45 days. (2/13)

European Space Agency to Help NASA Take Humans Beyond Moon (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The European Space Agency says it will contribute key components for a future NASA mission to take humans around the moon within the next few years. Astronauts haven't gone beyond a low orbit around Earth since 1972, when NASA ended its Apollo program. The European Space Agency and aerospace company Airbus have already delivered a propulsion and supply module for an unmanned flight of NASA's new Orion spacecraft next year.

The agency said Wednesday that it and Airbus have now agreed with NASA to build a module for a second, manned mission that will fly around the moon as early as 2021. Orion is eventually intended to expand human exploration to deep-space destinations such as Mars or asteroids. (2/15)

ESA Could Build Space Based Gravitational Wave Observatory (Source: Space News)
Scientists are optimistic that ESA will proceed with development of a space-based gravitational wave observatory. A European consortium submitted a proposal to ESA last month for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), featuring three spacecraft linked by lasers to detect gravitational waves. ESA is expected to select LISA for flight likely in the early 2030s. Scientists said they're optimistic about LISA's prospects because of the discovery of gravitational waves last year, as well as the technical performance of the LISA Pathfinder mission last year, which exceeded expectations. NASA will contribute about 20 percent of the mission's cost through instruments and other technologies. (2/13)

Scientists Puzzled That Mars Climate Allowed Liquid Surface Water (Source: Space.com)
Planetary scientists are still puzzled how Mars could be warm enough early in its history to support liquid water on its surface. Despite significant geological evidence that water once flowed on the surface, a new study raises questions about how the planet's atmosphere could be warm enough to allow water to remain liquid. That study suggests Mars had far less carbon dioxide in its early atmosphere than required to sufficiently warm the planet. One possibility is that other greenhouse gasses warmed the planet, although such gases would be short-lived in the atmosphere. (2/10)

ISRO Sets Historic World Record, Launches 104 Satellites In One Go (Source: NDTV)
The Indian Space Research Organization created history on Wednesday when it launched 104 satellites on the PSLV-C37 rocket from the Sriharikota spaceport. This is the highest number of satellites ever launched in a single mission. With this feat, India broke the previous record when Russia sent 37 satellites in 2014. ISRO, interestingly, launched 67 more satellites today than Russia did in their single mission. ISRO had earlier successfully attempted to launch 23 satellites in a single rocket in June, 2015. (2/15)

NASA Astronauts' Water Survival School Held in Washington (not Pensacola) (Source: USAF)
Four NASA astronauts trained with U.S. Air Force Survival School instructors in water survival and recovery Feb. 10, at Fairchild AFB in Washington. The astronauts underwent the training in preparation for test flights of the new commercially made American rockets, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Dragon. “It’s a different space program now,” said Sunita Williams, a NASA astronaut. “We’re flying in capsules instead of shuttles, and they can land anywhere. You never know when an emergency situation may happen, so we’re grateful to get this training.”

The astronauts were put through the paces of bailing out from a simulated crash landing in water. They learned to deploy and secure a life raft, rescue endangered crewmembers, avoid hostile forces and experience being hoisted into a rescue vehicle. The astronauts opted to join in with more than 20 water survival course students, despite being given the option to train alone. The survival school originally had a separate detachment at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where it conducted water survival training in open ocean waters. The training was brought to Fairchild Air Force Base in August 2015 in an effort to save time and money by consolidating training at one location. (2/15)

Winston Churchill’s Essay on Alien Life Found (Source: Nature)
Winston Churchill is best known as a wartime leader, one of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century, a clear-eyed historian and an eloquent orator. He was also passionate about science and technology. It was a great surprise last year, while I was on a visit to the US National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, when the director Timothy Riley thrust a typewritten essay by Churchill into my hands. In the 11-page article, 'Are We Alone in the Universe?', he muses presciently about the search for extraterrestrial life.

He penned the first draft, perhaps for London's News of the World Sunday newspaper, in 1939 — when Europe was on the brink of war. He revised it lightly in the late 1950s while staying in the south of France at the villa of his publisher, Emery Reves. For example, he changed the title from 'Are We Alone in Space?' to 'Are We Alone in the Universe?' (2/15)

Boeing’s Fortunes Brighten as Trump Warms to Value of Ex-Im Bank (Source: Bloomberg)
After a rocky start, Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg appears to have gained the ear of President Donald Trump. The U.S. planemaker was one of Trump’s first post-election corporate targets, and a tweet about soaring Air Force One costs briefly tanked the company’s shares in December. But the Twitter tirade also gave Muilenburg an opening to press the case of the largest U.S. exporter -- and the 1.5 million jobs at its jet-equipment suppliers -- in meetings with Trump.

The CEO’s entreaties seem to have worked. Trump has emerged as a booster for Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jets and voiced support to lawmakers for a key Boeing initiative: re-opening the U.S. Export-Import Bank for major deals. Trump will fly to Boeing’s South Carolina factory to attend an event Friday showcasing the newest 787 Dreamliner, where he’s expected to make an announcement about the federal export credit agency. (2/15)

Looking for Planet 9 and Other Far-Out Objects? Finally, NASA Has an App For That (Source: GeekWire)
Citizen scientists can join an online hunt for icy worlds, brown dwarfs and other yet-to-be-discovered objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, using a technique that’s not all that different from the method that led to Pluto’s discovery 87 years ago. "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” could even lead to the discovery of a super-Earth that may (or may not) be hidden on the solar system’s far frontier.

The icy world known as Planet Nine or Planet X is only theoretical for now, but its existence would explain some of the puzzles surrounding the weird orbits of some far-out objects. The “Backyard Worlds” website offers up millions of mini-movies that incorporate infrared imagery from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The movies show the same patch of sky at different times, going back and forth like a flipbook. (2/15)

NASA, Heeding Trump, May Add Astronauts to a Test Flight Moon Mission (Source: Washington Post)
President Trump has indicated that he wants to make a splash in space. During his transition, he spoke with historian Douglas Brinkley about John F. Kennedy's famous 1961 vow to go to the moon before the decade was out. Now Trump and his aides may do something very similar: demand that NASA send astronauts to orbit the moon before the end of Trump's first term — a move that one Trump adviser said would be a clear signal to the Chinese that the U.S. intends to retain dominance in space.

NASA already has a plan to launch its new, jumbo Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with an Orion capsule on top in late 2018, a mission known as EM-1. No one would be aboard. The capsule would orbit the moon and return to Earth, splashing down in the ocean. This is intended as the first test flight of SLS and part of the integration of the new rocket and new capsule. Significantly, the SLS and Orion are both still under construction. (2/15)

NASA Looks Into Sending Astronauts on a Trip Beyond the Moon as Early as 2019 (Source: GeekWire)
NASA and its commercial partners say they’re studying the possibility of sending astronauts beyond the moon years earlier than planned, by putting a crew on the first flight of the space agency’s heavy-lift Space Launch System. The NASA study, sparked in part by a desire for the Trump administration to do something dramatic in space during its first term, would consider whether such a flight could occur in 2019 or 2020.

The current plan calls for an uncrewed test flight of the SLS and NASA’s Orion capsule in late 2018, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1. That mission would followed by a crewed test flight called EM-2 in the 2021-2023 time frame. NASA said acting administrator Robert Lightfoot asked Bill Gerstenmaier, the agency’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, to assess whether the first crew could ride on EM-1 instead of EM-2. (2/15)

The U.S. Needs a Space Force (To Win the Wars of the Future) (Source: National Interest)
As Paul Shinkman recently wrote for US News & World Report, those using space the most will have the most to lose. That lesson is not lost on the Russians and Chinese, so if the rest of us are using space, we’ll want to defend what we put there. Who should do that for us is another question—of whether the US needs a dedicated military force to defend its interests in space, and its use of space from here.

The question is not new. In the spring of 1999 then-Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire argued for a separate Space Force or Space Corps. The Congress then demanded that the Clinton Administration investigate the possible need for a separate service. In January 2001, the Commission to Assess United States' National Security Space Management and Organization returned a negative recommendation, finding that the costs of reorganization outweighed the benefits.

US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein recently said that he wants to make his service the Defense Department’s “lead agency” for space activities. The USAF already controls most of the procurement; Goldfein wants all of it, and the training as well. The benefit, he says, is that the military as a whole will then have a “clear decision-maker” for all space matters. Click here. (2/14)

Planet Launches Satellite Constellation to Image the Whole Planet Daily (Source: Planet)
Today Planet successfully launched 88 Dove satellites to orbit—the largest satellite constellation ever to reach orbit. This is not just a launch (or a world record, for that matter!); for our team this is a major milestone. With these satellites in orbit, Planet will reach its Mission 1: the ability to image all of Earth’s landmass every day.

Tonight is the culmination of a huge effort over the past 5 years. In 2011 we set ourselves the audacious mission of imaging the entire Earth land area every day. We were convinced that armed with such data, humanity would be able to have a significant positive impact on many of the world’s greatest challenges. We calculated that it would take between 100-150 satellites to achieve this, and we started building them. After today’s launch, Planet operates 144 satellites in orbit. We have reached our milestone. (2/14)

Spaceport America Partners with Virtual Field Trip Provider (Source: KRQE)
Kids in New Mexico will soon get to visit Spaceport America and many other places without leaving their classroom. Spaceport America has partnered with Field Trip Zoom, a web based provider or live and interactive virtual field trips to help bring the Spaceport to kids. While many students are able to visit the spaceport on actual field trips, it’s an expense many districts can’t afford. This is a unique solution. Field Trip Zoom offers more field trips to more than 165 places around the country. (2/14)

Orion Crew Module Plumbing to Undergo Proof Pressure Testing (Source: NASA)
The Orion crew module was moved from a work station to the proof pressure cell in the high bay of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 26 to prepare for testing. Engineers and technicians with NASA and Orion manufacturer Lockheed Martin, will prepare the crew module for a series of proof pressure and leak tests to confirm the welded joints of the propulsion and Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) tubing are solid and capable of withstanding launch, re-entry and landing.

The Orion propulsion system includes the propellant and thrusters which support deorbit and re-entry of the spacecraft while the ECLSS provides cooling for interior and exterior components on the crew module throughout the mission. Technicians will attach ground support equipment to the propulsion and ECLSS tubing, and use helium to pressurize the tubing to its proof pressure and to higher pressures at which the weld joints will be checked for leakage. (2/13)

UK Spaceport Backers in Bid for Funds (Source: Newquay Voice)
The group behind a bid to create a spaceport in Newquay plan to bid for a “large chunk” of the £10 million the Government is offering to push forward commercial spaceflight activity in the UK. The Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) aims to establish horizontal spaceplane launches deploying satellites from Cornwall Airport Newquay, as well as provide low-cost access to space.

The Government is inviting applications for grants to make the UK the first place in Europe where commercial space operators can launch small satellites into orbit, or offer spaceplane flights for science and tourism from 2020. The growing space and aerospace sector is a key priority for the Cornwall  LEP as Newquay airport boasts one of the UK’s longest runways and uncongested airspace, while Goonhilly Earth Station offers mission control, tracking and communication facilities. (2/15)

Arianespace Launches Two Telecom Satellites on Ariane 5 Rocket (Source: Space News)
European launch provider Arianespace completed the first of seven planned launches of its heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket this year, delivering two telecommunications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket lifted off from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana with the Sky Brasil-1/Intelsat 32e and Telkom-3S telecommunications satellites. (2/15)

Space Poop Problem-Solvers Take Home Cash Prizes From NASA (Source: NPR)
On Wednesday morning, NASA rewarded five members of the public — two doctors, a dentist, an engineer and a product designer — for their creative ideas for how to poop in a spacesuit. Yes, it sounds a little bit funny. But unmet toilet needs could have life or death consequences for an astronaut in an emergency situation.

That's why thousands of people spent tens of thousands of hours on the "Space Poop Challenge," brainstorming, modeling, prototyping and number-crunching to come up with a crowd-sourced solution to the problem of human waste in a spacesuit. The winning solution came from Thatcher Cardon, an Air Force officer, family practice physician and flight surgeon. He says his design was inspired by minimally invasive surgical techniques — and a strong desire not to store the poop.

"I never thought that keeping the waste in the suit would be any good," he said. "So I thought, 'How can we get in and out of the suit easily?' " He designed a small airlock at the crotch of the suit, with a variety of items — including inflatable bedpans and diapers — that could be passed through the small opening and then expanded. His design even allows an astronaut to change underwear while inside the spacesuit, through the same small opening. (2/15)

Florida Space Day Planned for March 8 in Tallahassee (Source: FSD)
Promoting the economic impact of the space industry, Florida’s aerospace leaders will visit Tallahassee on March 8, 2017, for Florida Space Day, sharing with legislators the opportunities the industry brings to Florida and the nation. "Even with active competition from spaceports in other states, Florida continues to be at the forefront of Space Exploration,” said Pedro Medelius, ASRC Federal Space and Defense Chief Technologist and chair of Florida Space Day 2017.

“With 32 launches already in the manifest for 2017, space operations and facility upgrades are progressing at a rapid pace at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The frequency of commercial launch operations in suborbital and low-Earth orbit, as well as national program initiatives involving Orion and the Space Launch System for deep space human exploration, is expected to continue to expand in the upcoming years.” (2/15)

SpaceX Delays Next Iridium Launch Two Months (Source: Space News)
Iridium Communications says SpaceX has pushed back the launch of its second batch of next-generation satellites from mid-April to mid-June, a move that shifts the expected completion date for Iridium Next to the middle of 2018. In a Feb. 15 statement, Iridium said the two-monthly launch delay is “due to a backlog in SpaceX’s launch manifest as a result of last year’s September 1st anomaly.”

Iridium’s satellites are launching 10 at a time on Falcon 9 rockets lifting off from  from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California — part of what Iridium Chief Executive Matthew Desch described last June as a “separate queue” from SpaceX missions launching from the more frequently used Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida.

SpaceX launched only eight of the 18 missions it had targeted for 2016, shifting 10 missions onto an already-crowded 2017 manifest. The combination of SpaceX’s tightly packed manifest and limited launch range availability has put pressure on Iridium Next despite its preferred status at Vandenberg. (2/15)

Russia, Ecuador Drafting Agreement on Peaceful Use of Outer Space (Source: Sputnik)
Russia and Ecuador are preparing a bilateral agreement on cooperation in peaceful use of outer space, scheduled to be finalized soon,  Russia’s Ambassador to Ecuador Andrei Veklenko said. 

“During the last, forth meeting of intergovernmental [Russian-Ecuadorian] commission in Quito, the sides discussed such concrete things as remote sensing of the land from space, use of GLONASS [Russian satellite navigation system] here [in Ecuador]. But in order for that to work, a legal base is required. Currently, the bilateral agreement on peaceful use of outer space is being actively reviewed,” the ambassador said. (2/15)

Apollo Astronaut and Climate Change Denier to Testify to Congress (Source: Inverse)
NASA plays a crucial role in observing and tracking the global effects of climate change — employing a myriad of satellites to study atmospheric changes, melting ice, and ocean patterns. The first congressional committee hearing on NASA’s future will be held on Thursday this week, and it’s set to feature Harrison Schmitt — a former astronaut who walked on the moon as part of the Apollo 17 mission, a former U.S. senator from New Mexico, and a long-time denier of climate change.

Although Thursday’s hearing may focus more on space exploration, President Trump is poised to eliminate NASA’s climate change research efforts and defund NASA’s earth science division. If Schmitt is asked to give his thoughts on what the future of NASA’s Earth science research ought to be, he will likely use his influence and status to voice a negative assessment. Having Schmitt speak at the hearing could be an optical move to show people affiliated with NASA that don’t see the need for Earth science research programs.

Schmitt’s credentials as a NASA astronaut are impressive, but he has significantly less experience in energy and climate science. He’s advocated mining Helium-3 on the moon and using it to fuel fusion reactors — a costly source of energy. Schmitt has not only repeatedly denied climate change, he’s disparaged leaders of the environmental movement as well. In an interview with right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Schmitt said, “I think the whole trend really began with the fall of the Soviet Union. Because the great champion of the opponents of liberty, namely communism, had to find some other place to go and they basically went into the environmental movement.”  (2/15)

Butler Named New President of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Source: ERAU)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Board of Trustees has named Dr. P. Barry Butler, Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Iowa, as the sixth president of the world’s leading institution of higher education focusing on aviation, aerospace and research. Based in Daytona Beach, Embry-Riddle features two residential campuses and an extensive international network of educational centers and online services. The university is one of Florida's resources for expanding and diversifying the state's aerospace industry and producing the industry's skilled workforce. (2/15)

Georgia Senate Passes Bill Offering Liability Protections Spaceport Users (Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle)
Legislation offering the liability protections sought by proponents of a planned commercial spaceport in southeastern Georgia cleared the state Senate Wednesday. Senate Bill 46, which passed 49-2 and now moves to the Georgia House of Representatives, would set a stricter legal standard for a plaintiff injured while riding a spacecraft to collect damages in a lawsuit.

Editor's Note: It seems Vector Space Systems is among those considering the Georgia spaceport as their launch site. Vector and others have also considered LC-39C (within the fenceline of LC-39B) at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. With NASA's huge SLS rocket requiring very limited use of LC-39B, it was envisioned that the bare-bones LC-39C could accommodate such small launchers between SLS missions. Perhaps the rumored use of LC-39B for Orbital ATK's proposed medium-lift rocket (based on the SLS solid rocket booster) is causing a bottleneck. (2/15)

February 15, 2017

Trump Promises "Very Strong" Response to North Korea, But No Action Taken (Source: Newsweek)
The U.N. Security Council denounced North Korea's weekend missile launch, urging members to "redouble efforts" to enforce sanctions against the reclusive state, but gave no indications of any action it might take. Pyongyang's test of the intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sunday was its first direct challenge to the international community since U.S. President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20.

At a news conference on Monday, Trump said: "Obviously North Korea is a big, big problem and we will deal with that very strongly." Trump did not speak of any planned response but Washington's U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement: "It is time to hold North Korea accountable – not with our words, but with our actions." (2/14)

Trump Has Few New Options in Wake of North Korea Missile Test (Source: Reuters)
South Korean officials say they will act swiftly if financial markets show volatility following North Korea's missile launch Sunday, since this is the first missile test since US President Donald Trump took office. Analysts, however, say Trump has few new options, despite saying during his campaign that he'd take a tougher stance with North Korea. (2/13)

Japan's Failed Microsatellite Launch Caused by Electrical Issue (Source: Kyodo)
The failed launch of a Japanese small rocket last month was likely caused by an electrical problem. An investigation into the failed mid-January launch of the SS-520-4 rocket, a converted sounding rocket, found that electrical wiring was damaged by the heat and vibration of the launch, creating a short circuit that cut power to a data communications system. Controllers aborted firing the rocket's second stage after losing telemetry. Japanese officials have indicated they will attempt another launch of the rocket, intended for very small satellites, as soon as later this year. (2/14)

Trump Brings Hope for a Quorum to Ex-Im (Source: Aviation Week)
A meeting with the CEO of Boeing helped sway President Donald Trump to support the Export-Import Bank, according to reports. The bank says it is looking "forward to continuing our work with the administration to bring Ex-Im back to full functionality to support US jobs." (2/10)

NASA Waits for Guidance Under Trump Administration (Source: Space News)
So far there has been little movement on White House initiatives at NASA, including increasing competition between legacy NASA programs and private-sector space companies. "At this point, there has been no new guidance on any of our current work, despite what you might have heard being speculated," according to an internal memo by NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot. (2/13)

NASA Bets Big on Private Sector to Put Humans on Mars (Source: CNBC)
NASA will continue tapping the private sector to fund space exploration efforts under President Trump, marking a continuation in policy that first began under President Barack Obama. "Public-private partnerships are the future of space exploration," Dava Newman, a former NASA deputy administrator who resigned before Trump took office, told CNBC on Tuesday. "I call it the new NASA."

In total, 22 companies—all American—have won contracts with the agency across a diverse range of sectors, from in-space manufacturing to engine development. One specific goal of NASA's public-private partnerships is putting humans on Mars by the 2030s, a journey that's already underway. (2/13)

Aerospace Industry Sets $146B Export Record in 2016 (Source: Defense News)
The U.S. aerospace and defense industry set a new record for international sales in 2016, delivering $146 billion in exports, the Aerospace Industries Association announced. Exports for the sector have been on an upward swing for a while, increasing by 52 percent over the past five years. Compared to 2015, companies were able to sell an additional $3 billion in products to international customers in 2016, AIA data shows.

Unsurprisingly, civil aerospace sales made up the majority of the $146 billion total, with defense products comprising about 15 percent of sales, AIA stated. The U.S. military aerospace sector shipped about $16 billion worth of products to foreign militaries in 2016 — a 5 percent increase from 2015. Non-aerospace military companies fared even better, increasing exports almost 9 percent from $5.6 billion to $6.1 billion. (2/13)

February 14, 2017

Northrop, BAE, Raytheon, Others Net $3B Missile Contract (Source: Law360)
Northrop Grumman Technical Services Inc., BAE Systems Technology Solutions and Services, Raytheon Co. and five other companies will share a $3.04 billion U.S. Army contract for the research and development of missile defense technology, the U.S. Department of Defense announced on Thursday. According to a statement from the Pentagon, the $3,038,000,000 contract involves the design, development, demonstration and integration, or D3I, for the so-called Domain 1 of the Army's space, high-altitude and missile defense program. (2/13)

Raytheon Ducks ‘Incomprehensible’ $1B Satellite FCA Suit (Source: Law360)
A California federal judge on Friday threw out a would-be whistleblower’s False Claims Act suit accusing Raytheon of defrauding the government over the course of a $1 billion weather satellite contract, calling the most recent complaint “incomprehensible” and not up to snuff under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Escobar decision. (2/14)

Air Force Raises Concerns about Harris Corp. Testing of GPS Parts (Source: Bloomberg)
Another problem with the GPS 3 program has led the Air Force to raise new questions about Lockheed Martin's oversight of the effort. The most recent delay involves capacitors that had not been property tested by a subcontractor, Harris Corp. Testing of those capacitors was completed in December, but the issue delayed the delivery of the first GPS 3 satellite until later this month. The testing problem "raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris program management," Air Force Maj. Gen Roger Teague said in a December message to congressional staff about the issue. (2/13)

DARPA Confirms SS Loral Pick for Satellite Servicing Project (Source: Space News)
DARPA is moving forward with a controversial satellite servicing program, announcing Thursday it will partner with Space Systems Loral. Under the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, SSL will provide a satellite bus for a DARPA-developed servicing payload, which, after launch, will carry out a series of demonstrations to show its ability to inspect and repair satellites. SSL plans to use that system commercially, servicing government and commercial satellites, once the demonstrations are completed. Orbital ATK filed suit earlier this week to block the deal, arguing that it violated national space policy by giving SSL an unfair advantage over other commercial satellite servicing programs. (2/10)

OneWeb to Use New Mexico-Based SolAero's Solar Panels (Source: Space News)
A deal with OneWeb had led a solar panel manufacturer to expand its plant. SolAero is spending $10 million to modernize its Albuquerque, New Mexico, facility to produce solar panels for OneWeb's constellation of 900 satellites. The updated facility will be able to produce both the panel structures as well as the solar cells and circuits. SolAero expects to be producing the first flight article solar panels for OneWeb there in 45 days. (2/13)

ESA Could Build Space Based Gravitational Wave Observatory (Source: Space News)
Scientists are optimistic that ESA will proceed with development of a space-based gravitational wave observatory. A European consortium submitted a proposal to ESA last month for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), featuring three spacecraft linked by lasers to detect gravitational waves. ESA is expected to select LISA for flight likely in the early 2030s. Scientists said they're optimistic about LISA's prospects because of the discovery of gravitational waves last year, as well as the technical performance of the LISA Pathfinder mission last year, which exceeded expectations. NASA will contribute about 20 percent of the mission's cost through instruments and other technologies. (2/13)

Scientists Puzzled That Mars Climate Allowed Liquid Surface Water (Source: Space.com)
Planetary scientists are still puzzled how Mars could be warm enough early in its history to support liquid water on its surface. Despite significant geological evidence that water once flowed on the surface, a new study raises questions about how the planet's atmosphere could be warm enough to allow water to remain liquid. That study suggests Mars had far less carbon dioxide in its early atmosphere than required to sufficiently warm the planet. One possibility is that other greenhouse gasses warmed the planet, although such gases would be short-lived in the atmosphere. (2/10)

Recalculating Risk (Source: Space Review)
NASA has grappled with the risks associated with human spaceflight for decades. Jeff Foust reports on how one top NASA official wants to reexamine how NASA calculates and communicates risk for crewed spacecraft. Click here. (2/13)
 
Launch Failures: Dew Discoveries (Source: Space Review)
For a while, it appeared that engineers had found all the ways a launch vehicle could fail. But, as Wayne Eleazer explains, new vehicles have created new failure modes, and even new categories of launch failures. Click here. (2/13)
 
Presidential Space Leadership Depends on the Enabling Context (Source: Space Review)
Space advocates continue to look back at President Kennedy as a model of presidential leadership in space policy. In the first of a two-part essay, Matt Chessen discusses what factors made Kennedy effective, and how they translated—or didn’t translate—to later administrations. Click here. (2/13)
 
Build a Moon Mall and Make the Moon Pay For It (Source: Space Review)
President Trump’s preferred method of communication seems to be Twitter. Sam Dinkin provides ten tweet-sized recommendations on how to make space great again. Click here. (2/13)

NASA Picks Its Three Favorite Landing Spots for 2020 Mars Rover (Source: GeekWire)
NASA has whittled down its choices for its next Mars landing site to three spots, including the hills where the space agency’s Spirit rover roamed a decade ago. The Columbia Hills are among the three finalists because the silica deposits discovered there during Spirit’s mission suggest the site might have been part of an ancient hot springs.

That’s the sort of place that geologists say might hold evidence of past life, which is high on the scientific agenda for the rover that’s due to be launched in 2020. The others include Jezero Crater: Based on orbital imagery, scientists suspect that water filled up and drained away this crater on at least two occasions. More than 3.5 billion years ago, river channels spilled over the cratrer wall and created a lake. The wet conditions back then might have supported microbial life.

NE Syrtis Major: This layered terrain shows signs of being warmed by volcanic activity in ancient times. Underground heat sources might have given rise to hot springs and melting ice on the surface. If the conditions were right, microbes might have flourished in liquid water that came in contact with the region’s minerals. (2/13)

Scientists Make Huge Dataset of Nearby Stars Available to Public (Source: MIT)
The search for planets beyond our solar system is about to gain some new recruits. Today, a team that includes MIT and is led by the Carnegie Institution for Science has released the largest collection of observations made with a technique called radial velocity, to be used for hunting exoplanets.

The huge dataset, taken over two decades by the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, is now available to the public, along with an open-source software package to process the data and an online tutorial. By making the data public and user-friendly, the scientists hope to draw fresh eyes to the observations, which encompass almost 61,000 measurements of more than 1,600 nearby stars. (2/13)

Diehard Coders Just Rescued NASA’s Earth Science Data (Source: WIRED)
Like similar groups across the country—in more than 20 cities—they believe that the Trump administration might want to disappear this data down a memory hole. So these hackers, scientists, and students are collecting it to save outside government servers.

But now they’re going even further. Groups like DataRefuge and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, which organized the Berkeley hackathon to collect data from NASA’s earth sciences programs and the Department of Energy, are doing more than archiving. Diehard coders are building robust systems to monitor ongoing changes to government websites. And they’re keeping track of what’s already been removed—because yes, the pruning has already begun. (2/13)

North Korea's Missile Threats to US May Not Be Empty for Long (Source: Space.com)
North Korea has always talked the talk, and now it seems to be walking the walk as never before. The nuclear-armed rogue nation appears to be making progress on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which could conceivably allow the Hermit Kingdom to make good on its oft-repeated threat to turn major American cities into "seas of fire," experts say.

"They've probably reached the point where they're going to need to start testing the missiles themselves — the whole system," said Joel Wit, senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute (USKI) at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. "Most people think that could come sometime this year." (2/13)

Space Aggressors Jam AF, Allies' Systems (Source: USAF)
The 26th Space Aggressor Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base is always gearing up for the next exercise in replicating enemy action against space-based and space-enabled systems. Teams of adversary subject matter experts regularly employ jamming techniques to train Air Force, joint and coalition personnel how to recognize, mitigate, counter and defeat threats.

“Our mission is to train others,” said Senior Master Sgt. Benjamin Millspaugh, the 26th SAS superintendent. “Currently, Schriever is the only place in the Department of Defense that provides this type of instruction and training that we use to help get our military partners up to speed.” (2/13)

Teams Practice for Cape Canaveral’s First Launch of Minotaur 4 Rocket (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Three inert Peacekeeper missile stages have been stacked at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 46 pad, demonstrating the techniques that will be used to assemble a Minotaur 4 rocket to launch an experimental space surveillance satellite this summer. Decommissioned Peacekeeper missiles form the basis for Minotaur 4 rockets, operated by Orbital ATK, and will deliver the majority of power to launch a small spacecraft, called SensorSat, into Earth orbit.

Launch is tentatively planned for July 15 at roughly 1 a.m. EDT (0500 GMT). Known as the Operationally Responsive Space-5 mission, or ORS-5, it will be the first Minotaur launch from Cape Canaveral. Officials say the Cape was chosen as the launch site because it is best suited to fly the special five-stage Minotaur 4 into the desired equatorial orbit. (2/13)

Officials Mull Proposal for Manned Mission to Refurbish Hubble Telescope (Source: Wall Street Journal)
An industry initiative could meet Trump's goals for a swift, dramatic space effort. President Donald Trump’s advisers are considering an industry proposal to send a manned spacecraft to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope within the next few years, according to people familiar with the matter. The discussions are still preliminary, no specific plans have been drafted and senior White House aides or administration advisers currently overseeing NASA could veto the idea. (2/13)

Climate Scientists Are Worried Their Link To Weather Satellites May Be Choked Off (Source: BuzzFeed)
Earth scientists say a private telecommunications company’s plan would hurt their access to NOAA’s weather data. But the company says its proposal will do the exact opposite and “democratize weather information.” When cyclones barrel along the Pacific or tornadoes rage across the Midwest, satellites eye the tempests and send real-time weather data earthward.

But the weather science community is worried they won’t always get those crucial views and other data, because of a proposed auction of one scientific band of the radio spectrum that’s under consideration by the FCC. Just a bit of radio interference can throw off the calculations used to make accurate weather predictions that are “extremely sensitive” to even small temperature differences, said Jordan Gerth. “Even 2 or 3 degrees can be the difference between a rapidly growing thunderstorm and one that’s not going to pose a threat,” Gerth said. (2/13)

Why it’s Time for Australia to Launch its Own Space Agency (Source: The Conversation)
Any nation that hopes to have a space program needs to be able to keep an eye on its orbiting assets at all times. This means that Australia has become a key link in the global chain of ground-based tracking stations. NASA has a deep space tracking facility at Tidbinbilla in the ACT, managed by the CSIRO, and the European Space Agency (ESA) has one in New Norcia, Western Australia.

The New Norcia station plays a further role as it picks up and tracks the ESA launches from French Guiana as they curve across the Indian Ocean on their way to Earth orbit or beyond. This means that Australia plays a critical role in many other countries’ space programs. Right now, about 40 space missions – including deep space planetary explorers, Mars rovers, solar observatories and astronomical space observatories – are routinely downlinking their data through radio dishes on Australian soil.

If Australia is to capitalize on its strengths in space tracking as well as space science, and is to get on board with the burgeoning commercial space industry, it’s time that we considered forming a space agency of our own. A space agency serves several roles. First and foremost is the creation of coherence across a complex sector. In particular, the agency would need to coordinate and drive the development of homegrown space technologies. (2/13)

UK Could Be Shut Out of Super-Accurate EU GPS System it Helped to Build (Source: Independent)
Brexit could leave the UK out of new EU-wide global positioning system (GPS) that went live in December after more than 15 years in development, with much of the cutting-edge work having been carried out by British companies.

The Galileo system, developed in partnership between the European Union and the European Space Agency (a 22-country, non-EU organisation that the UK will not be leaving), has been years in the making, and was built to end the dependence of European countries on GPS technology provided by either the US, Russia or China, who could shut down access to their systems should they so decide. (2/13)

Phoenix Entrepreneur Raising $100,000 for First Near-Space Mission Launch (Source: Phoenix Business Journal)
A Phoenix-based near space commercial flight startup is trying to raise $100,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to help it fund a manned near-space launch later this year. Phoenix-based SpaceUnbound is working with two other companies to launch the Helios Mission, where three pilots will capture the 2017 total solar eclipse in virtual reality on Aug. 21. (2/12)

Branson Still Doesn’t Really Understand Why SpaceShipTwo Crashed (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson was interviewed for the Jan. 30 edition of NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast. Beginning at 25:44, there’s a brief discussion of the October 2014 crash that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed co-pilot Mike Alsbury.

Branson recalls that for the first 12 hours after the accident he wasn’t sure if the SpaceShipTwo program would continue. “But, once we realized it was a pilot error and not a technical error, I was able to tell all the engineers it was nothing to do with them. And that the basic craft was sound.” Alas, most of this explanation is wrong.

Yes, Alsbury did make a mistake by unlocking the spacecraft’s feather system early, causing the vehicle’s twin tail booms to deploy during powered ascent. Aerodynamic forces then ripped the ship apart. However, the accident was in large part about poor engineering and safety standards. (2/13)

More Alien Worlds? New Data Haul Identifies 100+ Possible Exoplanets (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers have spotted more than 100 new potential alien planets, including one in the fourth-closest star system to the sun, a new study reports. This haul of newfound possible exoplanets, which have yet to be confirmed as bona fide alien worlds, comes from a new analysis of 20 years' worth of data gathered by the HIRES (High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer) instrument at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. (2/13)