March 25, 2017

Mars Spacesuits: Designing a Blue-Collar Suit for the Red Planet (Source: Space.com)
The first explorers on Mars will need a new kind of spacesuit, and a university-based team has taken a novel approach to design the equipment. Researchers have set up a "collaboratory" at the University of California, Berkeley, to come up with a spacesuit that will allow expeditionary crews to work effectively on Mars.

"The kind of suit that we're talking about is a blue-collar suit. You've got to be able to be out and about on Mars 7 to 8 hours a day, seven days a week," said project leader Lawrence Kuznetz, a UC Berkeley professor and former NASA engineer with a long history of investigating Mars spacesuit concepts. Click here. (3/23)

McCarthy: Bill Will Bbenefit Mojave Air and Space Port (Source: Daily Independent)
Congressman Kevin McCarthy released the following statement on President Trump signing the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017: "...With President Trump's signature, American space exploration is poised for continued breakthroughs. As a nation, we have always looked to the stars for the inspiration that has fueled our pioneering spirit, leading to technological advances. Our past success only encourages our future endeavors and this legislation provides the resources and stability necessary to bolster core missions and expand commercial space support.

"Our community is at the forefront of space exploration and aeronautics innovation from the Mojave Air and Space Port to NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. Together, with the support from the President of the United States, we will enter the next frontier of space exploration with the readiness and vigor to inspire the world." (3/24)

Vietnam Set to Self-Produce Satellites by 2022 (Source: Xinhua)
Vietnam targets to self-develop Lotusat-2 by 2022 when its technical facilities for satellite research, assembly, integration and testing are ready to operate, according to the Vietnam National Satellite Center (VNSC). Pham Anh Tuan, director of VNSC, was quoted by local Nhan Dan (People) newspaper as saying on Friday that after developing one-kilogram PicoDragon, the first Vietnamese self-produced mini satellite which was sent into the orbit in 2013, his center will continue a project of satellite manufacturing to make NanoDragon (weighing 4-6 kg), MicroDragon (50 kg) and Lotusat (600 kg). (3/24)

Planet or Dwarf Planet: All Worlds are Worth Investigating (Source: The Conversation)
Pluto’s status as a “dwarf planet” is once again stirring debate. This comes as some planetary scientists are trying to have Pluto reclassified as a planet – a wish that’s not likely to come true. Pluto has been known as a dwarf planet for more than a decade. Back in August 2006 astronomers voted to shake up the Solar System, and the number of planets dropped from nine to eight. Pluto was the one cast aside.

The distinction of planet and dwarf planet brings a consistency to how objects are named across the universe. On the grand scale, there are galaxies and there are dwarf galaxies. Within our Milky Way Galaxy, the Sun is a yellow dwarf star that in billions of years will evolve to become a red giant before ending its life as a white dwarf. These distinctions among galaxies and stars helps astronomers interpret and understand them, tracing their evolution.

Planets and dwarf planets are distinct because of their size and their location in the solar system. It provides a way to examine how planets and dwarf planets may have originated and evolved differently. At present, the IAU has officially recognised five dwarf planets. They are Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea, which orbit the Sun beyond Neptune, and Ceres, which is the only object in the asteroid belt massive enough to be spherical. (3/19)

India Prepping for Two More GSLV Launches (Source: India TV)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is getting ready for two GSLV launches in next couple of months. ISRO is planning these launches after setting a world record by launching 104 satellites at one go in February this year. ISRO is also working on the first developmental flight of GSLV MKIII that will carry about 3.2 tonne payload. (3/24)

Trump and the Elimination of NASA Earth Science (Source: Paste)
Last week, the Trump administration released a preliminary budget that outlines its vision for NASA. That vision includes an emphasis on space exploration and a de-emphasis on earth sciences. The organization’s budget decreases by 0.8 percent, with a 7 percent decrease to earth science initiatives.

Overall, the new NASA budget reflects Trump’s vision to “Make America Great Again.” He’s prioritizing space travel, moving forward with projects like the Europa Clipper flyby mission, Mars 2020 rover, Space Launch System rocket, and the Orion spacecraft, at the expense of earth sciences—highlighting the president’s skepticism about the science behind climate change. The roughly $100 million cut to earth science will terminate four missions to examine the planet: PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR, and CLARREO Pathfinder. Click here. (3/24)

US Air Force Installs Remote-Controlled Telescope in Australia to Monitor Space Junk (Source: ABC.au)
There are more than 20,000 man-made objects orbiting Earth. To keep a close eye on them, members of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) have installed a telescope at Gingin, 80 kilometers north of Perth. The half-meter telescope at the Gravity Discovery Center Observatory is part of a network of 12 telescopes the USAFA has around the world. The Falcon Network, when complete, will give it complete oversight of all the objects larger than 10 centimeters in Earth's orbit. (3/4)

Stennis Test Puts US Closer to ‘Journey to Mars’ (Source: SunHerald)
America’s Journey to Mars made two big leaps this week. The RS-25 engine controller, which will be used on the first flight of the new Space Launch System was tested at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. And in Washington, the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 was signed that sets a goal of landing astronauts on Mars by 2033.

NASA called the March 23 test at Stennis a “critical milestone.” Engine Controller Unit-2 — the brain that has the electronics to operate the engine and communicate with the SLS vehicle — was installed on RS-25 development engine No. 0528. It was test fired for 500 seconds on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis. This controller will be installed on one of four flight engines that will power the first flight of SLS and the Orion spacecraft. (3/24)

How Did a NASA Scientist Get in Turkish Prison? (Source: Daily Beast)
Serkan Golge said the Turkish government was accusing him of being a CIA agent, and that the only evidence they had against him was a single dollar bill they found in his family’s home. Serkan’s indictment charges him with being a member of the FETO terror organization. This charge has been imposed against many of those arrested in Turkey since July 15. Since a coup attempt, more than 45,000 have been arrested for alleged links to FETO, the acronym for a political organization now considered an illegal terrorist group inside Turkey.

Turkey claims that possession of a dollar bill is proof of membership in FETO, a sort of membership card given to loyal followers. The American government has said little about this, but the latest State Department travel warning cautions ominously: “Delays or denial of consular access to U.S. citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, have become more common.”

Golge was one of these dual citizens. His wife says he got his green card through the Diversity Immigrant Visa program (also known as the green card lottery) and completed his graduate studies in North Carolina and Virginia. A former coworker (who wishes to remain anonymous) met Golge eight years ago at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (TJNAF) in Newport News, Virginia, where they sat a few cubicles apart. The coworker describes him as a brilliant scientist who designed a new class of device at the facility. (3/25)

A Space Odyssey: Making Art Up There (Source: New York Times)
If you’re an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, you spend much of your time running science experiments. Among the jobs for Thomas Pesquet, a Frenchman currently there on a six-month stint: using virtual reality to gauge the effects of zero gravity on his hand-eye coordination, trying out a suit designed to keep weightlessness from stretching out his spine, analyzing the microbes in his water and directing a robot in the Netherlands from about 240 miles up.

In his spare time, he posts photos on Twitter and Instagram of what’s passing beneath him: Mount Etna erupting, the artificial islands of Dubai, the Australian Outback, the entire country of Denmark. Last month, however, there was a more unusual item on Mr. Pesquet’s agenda.

Working with the earthbound artist Eduardo Kac, he created an artwork in space. It was a simple piece: nothing more than could be done with two sheets of paper and a pair of scissors. “Since the goal was to be born in space, it had to be created with materials that were already in the space station,” Mr. Kac (pronounced katz) explained in a telephone interview from his home in suburban Oak Park, Ill. Transporting art materials by rocket ship was not in the plan. Click here. (3/23)

March 24, 2017

Boom Gets a $33 Million Funding Boost for Supersonic Jet (Source: Denver Post)
So many investors wanted in on the supersonic jet in development in Centennial that Boom Technology decided to accept more funding than it set out to attract. It raised $33 million, the company plans to announce Wednesday. “We now have all the money we need to go and build an airplane,” Boom CEO and co-founder Blake Scholl said.

The plane, of course, is no ordinary aircraft. It intends to travel faster than last century’s Concorde, but will be smaller, lighter and cheaper. Boom says the future plane will travel faster than the speed of sound and fly from New York to London in 3 hours and 15 minutes — for $5,000 round trip. The lure of faster, affordable travel enticed investors, but their attraction to Boom is a supersonic jet that is feasible and marketable.

Investors in this Series A $33 million round lined up to partake. The latest round, which brings Boom’s total funding to $41 million, includes investment from 8VC, Caffeinated Capital, Palm Drive Ventures, RRE Ventures and technology accelerator Y Combinator. Y Combinator president Sam Altman and Greg McAdoo, formerly with Silicon Valley’s Sequoia Capital venture firm, will join Boom’s board. (3/22)

Here's How Florida Will Fill Hundreds of Aerospace Jobs (Source: Brevard Business News)
While some companies may face trouble finding the right kind of technology and manufacturing talent in Central Florida, one Brevard County group is hoping to lessen the pressure by building on one of its programs. Part of the solution comes from Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast program called Certified Production Technician that is mainly for manufacturing positions.

The Space Coast EDC told Orlando Business Journal that the pilot program started two years ago, but it officially launched late last year. The program is in partnership with Eastern Florida State College in Cocoa, which offers the courses for the certification. Discounts for the 10-week course's tuition are offered from Space Coast EDC. Since September, 71 students have participated in the program. The next class is scheduled to begin April 17. (3/21)

Weakness in FAA's Insurance Calculation May Expose the Government to Excess Risk (Source: SpaceRef)
The FAA has revised its method for calculating launch insurance requirements to address some known weaknesses. The amount of insurance required is based on FAA's calculation of the maximum loss that can be reasonably expected. FAA contractors found the following:

FAA's estimates of the number of casualties (serious injuries and deaths) that could result from a launch accident have likely been too high, and have been based on an unrealistic scenario; FAA's estimates of losses due to property damage may be too high in some cases, and too low in others; and FAA's estimate of the average cost of a casualty—referred to as the cost- of-casualty amount—is based on outdated information and is likely too low. The amount has been fixed at $3 million since 1988. Click here. (3/23)

NASA Selects CubeSat, SmallSat Mission Concept Studies (Source: Space Daily)
NASA has selected ten studies under the Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat Studies (PSDS3) program, to develop mission concepts using small satellites to investigate Venus, Earth's moon, asteroids, Mars and the outer planets. Click here. (3/23)

Russian ISS Module Delayed For a Decade and Still Not Ready to Fly (Source: Popular Mechanics)
After years of delays, the Russian component of the International Space Station—which Roscosmos originally planned to deploy in 2007—finally looked like it was ready for launch. However another problem with the Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module (MLM) now threatens to derail a project that's already been plagued with them. The same severe contamination that's kept the MLM on the ground since 2013 has returned, Russian experts involved in the project said.

Dubbed Nauka (Russian for "science"), the MLM was designed to be a centerpiece of the Russian part of the ISS as well as the core of the post-ISS Russian station. Now that an ambitious future is once again under threat. The MLM was originally intended as a backup to the Russian Zarya module.

Fighting off political and logistical concerns surrounding the project—as well suggestions that they ground the MLM entirely until it can serve as the first module of Russia's own space station—the tedious cleanup and repair effort entered its final phase this year, and the module finally appeared on track for launch at the end of this year or, at the very latest, the first half of 2018. Then things went from bad to worse. Click here. (3/22)

Magical Thinking Won't Get You to Mars. (Washington Please Note) (Source: Time)
The 2033 target is nice, precise and buzzy, but for practical purposes it's meaningless. Start with the things we need to build — in some cases invent — before we get to Mars. After the SLS and Orion are complete, we still need: a habitat module for the outward-bound and return trips, radiation shielding, a landing module, a habitat for the surface, a pressurized rover, a greenhouse facility and a way to manufacture fuel, power and water onsite—infrastructure, in other words, that we can barely build on Earth. Click here. (3/23)

Ariane 5 Launch Halted Indefinitely as Kourou Labor Unrest Continues (Source: Space News)
An Ariane 5 launch already twice delayed by French Guiana labor unrest was put on indefinite hold Thursday as protests shut down roads, schools and municipal buildings in the South American territory that hosts Europe’s main spaceport.

Arianespace was slated to launch a pair of satellites for Brazil and South Korea on Tuesday evening from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, but protests, road blockades and a strike by the space center’s transportation and logistics contractor Endel combined to prevent the Ariane 5 from rolling out to the launch zone.

Anticipating a swift resolution, Arianespace initially postponed the launch to Wednesday and then postponed it again to Thursday. Local newspaper France-Guyane reported Thursday morning that protesters expanded their roadblocks overnight, prompting the closure of area schools and government buildings. (3/23)

SSL Sues Rival Orbital ATK Over Theft of Trade Secrets (Source: Reuters)
Space Systems/Loral is suing rival Orbital ATK over an alleged theft of proprietary data and business plans for an in-space satellite servicing technology. The lawsuit is the second in six weeks involving the companies and their efforts to start a new industry servicing and repairing satellites in orbit.

At least four confidential SSL documents were viewed and distributed by an Orbital ATK employee working at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where the data is stored as part of an ongoing SSL partnership with the U.S. space agency, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. (3/23)

Lockheed Martin Bringing VR-Equipped Mars Bus to Orlando (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Central Florida students and science enthusiasts will have several opportunities to virtually visit Mars during the next few weeks. Lockheed Martin, which employs more than 7,000 in the region, will bring its Mars Experience Bus to multiple Orlando locations in late March and early April.

The Mars Experience Bus is a standard school bus painted with landscapes of the Red Planet and cartoon astronauts. But when you step inside, all of the windows are equipped with virtual reality displays that recreate the Mars surface. As a driver starts to move, students can see the outside world. As they travel, however, all goes dark and the screens become virtual reality-based displays that simulate the landscape of Mars. (3/23)

China and Russia Test the U.S. in Space (Source: Aviation Week)
China and Russia are engaging in hybrid warfare in space, says a member of former President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council. “They are conducting probing, provocative actions just below the threshold of any meaningful U.S. or allied response,” charges Roger Robinson, who heads RWR Advisory Group, a security and business consultancy. (3/24)

Gravitational Waves Boot Gigantic Black Hole from Galaxy's Core (Source: Space.com)
A supermassive black hole heftier than 1 billion suns has been ejected from the core of its galaxy by gravitational waves, a new study suggests. The monster black hole has already zoomed 35,000 light-years away from its galaxy's center, farther than Earth and its sun are from the core of our own Milky Way. And the behemoth is currently traveling outward at 4.7 million mph (7.6 million km/h) — fast enough for the black hole to escape its galaxy completely in 20 million years, researchers said. (3/23)

March 23, 2017

Bill Praises NASA Education Programs Trump Seeks to Eliminate (Source: SPACErePORT)
President Trump's proposed budget would eliminate NASA's education office and the STEM education and research programs it manages. Yet Trump happily signed the NASA authorization bill that praises "the Administration's" NASA education programs.

The bill says "the Administration is uniquely positioned to educate and inspire students" in STEM; and "the Administration's" Education Office has "been effective in delivering educational content because of the strong engagement of Administration scientists and engineers in the Administration's education and outreach activities."

Furthermore, while NASA's national network of state-based Space Grant Consortia is threatened under the Trump budget plan, the newly signed bill says "the Administration's education and outreach programs, including the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and the Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, reflect the Administration’s successful commitment to growing and diversifying the national science and engineering workforce". (3/22)

NASA Report Recommends Cutting Kennedy Research Program (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A new report on NASA’s facilities recommends cutting a research program at Kennedy Space Center. It also recommends continued investment in other areas at KSC, including some activities at the Space Life Sciences Center run by Space Florida. The report, by the space agency’s inspector general, is aimed at eliminating overlap in NASA locations and, at the same time, updating aging facilities.

There’s only a one sentence reference to cutting the program at KSC, which is known as in-situ research utilization or ISRU. The report makes a clear recommendation that NASA’s Glenn Research Center, in Ohio, should take the lead on ISRU research: “Glenn will have a primary role in In-Situ Resource Utilization work, while Kennedy will divest of that activity.” Ray Lugo of the Orlando-based Florida Space Institute, said KSC’s ISRU program has been a big part of the local NASA Swampworks program. ISRU research has also occurred at the institute, which is part of UCF, and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

Tuesday’s report recommends that NASA move faster on cuts and streamlining that have been recommended throughout recent years. The report notes that “more than 70 percent of facilities are at least 50 years old… Moreover, as of September 2016, the Agency had approximately $2.4 billion in annual deferred maintenance costs.” (3/22)

SpaceX, Virgin Vets Bring New Launches to Space Coast (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The leaders of a Arizona-based company that hopes to launch rockets from the Space Coast have some firepower on their resumes: SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Moon Express. They are just a few of the companies that the space company Vector’s executive leaders have worked for in the past. Now, the company will show off one of its rockets in a new display at Kennedy Space Center at a press event on Saturday.

The event will include remarks from KSC Visitor Complex chief Therrin Protze, Space Florida's Frank DiBello and Jim Cantrell, Vector’s CEO. Cantrell served as SpaceX’s first vice president for business development. “There are a number of entrants into the small satellite launch provider market,” Space Florida’s Dale Ketcham said. “But Vector’s management team has as good a pedigree as any." The Space Coast launch site will be the third for Vector, joining one in Alaska and one on a barge in the Pacific Ocean off of California.

Editor's Note: Vector has been actively supporting Georgia's spaceport effort and told SPACErePORT recently that the company is considering both Florida and Georgia as a base of operations for East Coast launches. (3/22)

Musk on New NASA Legislation: “This Bill Changes Almost Nothing” (Source: Ars Technica)
"This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars," Musk tweeted. "Perhaps there will be some future bill that makes a difference for Mars, but this is not it," he added.

Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an "authorization" bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program. (3/22)

North Korean Missile Explodes Within Seconds of Launch (Source: Newsweek)
A North Korean missile failed to launch this morning, according to the U.S. and South Korean defense officials. The U.S. military said it detected a missile that exploded “within seconds” of lift-off. South Korean defense officials are conducting analysis into what type of missile was launched. North Korean missile tests have increased in frequency this year. Earlier this month, a missile landed 300 miles off the coast of Japan, fueling international concern about the unpredictable state. (3/22)

Trump on Space: "That Sounds Exciting. But First We Want to Fix Our Highways" (Source: Ars Technica)
One of the biggest criticisms of NASA in recent decades is that the agency has become a "jobs program," namely that Congress is more interested in preserving civil servant and contractor jobs in representatives' home states and districts than in advancing the nation's exploration goals. This seemed particularly clear with the Space Launch System rocket, which was designed by Congress, in part, to keep major aerospace contractors working on rocket building after the space shuttle program ended.

During the signing ceremony, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) seemed to affirm this. "This means a great deal to the nation's space program, and it means a great deal to the state of Texas," Cruz said. At that point, Rubio joked that the bill meant Florida would continue to do more work on space than Texas.

Part of the role of a president, when it comes to US spaceflight policy, is to stand above parochial Congressional politics in order to safeguard the nation's overall interests in space. But Trump gave little indication that he's interested in doing this—or that he's at all interested in space. After Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said the bill would allow Trump to become the "father of the interplanetary highway system" because of the large rocket NASA is building, the president didn't seem impressed about the potential of sending humans to Mars or robotic probes to Europa. (3/21)

Trump's Defense Budget Raises Hopes for California Aerospace Firms (Source: KPCC)
President Donald Trump’s $1.1 trillion proposed budget blueprint released last week includes a $54 billion increase in defense spending. If some of that money ends up being spent building bombers or drones in California, it would be a big boost for the state’s once-thriving aerospace industry, which has seen employment cut in half since the end of the Cold War.

Still, local aerospace executives aren't allowing themselves to get too excited yet because of how vague the budget is and the fact it still needs congressional approval. "I hate to speculate on what might be," said David Blanco, president of Performance Ascent and co-chair of the SoCal Aerospace Council, a trade group. "We really don't know what's going to happen with the proposed budget."

To further complicate matters, Blanco points out that since 2013, military spending has been capped because of sequestration limits agreed to by President Obama and congressional Republicans. Lifting the cap requires 60 votes in the Senate, meaning eight Democrats would have to break ranks, which is seen as unlikely. (3/22)

What’s the Point of Going to Space if You Don’t Make Booze? (Source: WIRED)
Liquor comes from ingredients that astronauts have already grown in space. Fermenting and distilling the stuff in the cramped, zero-gravity, one-bad-chemical-reaction-and-oh-dear-god-you’ve-blown-a-hole-in-the-hull conditions on board a spacecraft would be tricky, sure. But if we can put a person on the Moon, well…. Click here. (3/22)

Wheel Damage Could Mean Beginning of End for Mars Rover (Source: Science)
Unfortunately for NASA’s Curiosity rover, you can’t call a mechanic on Mars. A NASA image taken 19 March shows that one of the zig-zag treads, or grousers, on Curiosity’s left middle wheel has broken. Two such tread fractures have occurred in the past 8 weeks, the space agency reports. Because the treads carry the rover’s weight, damage to them is more significant than the other holes and tears that have been punched into the thin aluminum wheels as the rover crossed terrain peppered with sharp rocks.

Though the broken treads spell the beginning of the end for the rover, the end is not yet nigh. Ground tests on identical wheels suggest that when three grousers on a single wheel have broken, that wheel has reached 60% of its useful life. The rover is aging in other ways, too. Problems with its drill means Curiosity may not get to perform key experiments with its main chemistry instrument. (3/22)

Congress Mulls Options for Space Station Beyond 2024 (Source: Space.com)
The United States' ability to send astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s depends in part on cutting back or ending government funding for the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024, the head of a congressional subcommittee that oversees NASA said Wednesday.

"We ought to be aware that remaining on the ISS [after 2024] will come at a cost," U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Space, said. "Tax dollars spent on the ISS will not be spent on destinations beyond low Earth orbit, including the moon and Mars," Babin said. "What opportunities will we miss if we maintain the status quo?" (3/22)

Brazil Ramps Up Domestic Space Satellite, Rocket Programs (Source: Reuters)
Brazil is developing technology to send domestically-made satellites into space with its own rockets by the end of the decade, aerospace executives and officials said ahead of the launch of the nation's first defense and communications satellite by Arianespace. The launch marks a renewed effort to expand Brazil's long-standing aeronautics industry into space, with Embraer SA, the world's third-largest commercial planemaker, seeking to consolidate a local supply chain.

A "micro-satellite" which Embraer-subsidiary Visiona would be able launch within two or three years, could serve key missions in Brazil, from tracking hydroelectric reservoirs and deforestation to monitoring its remote 17,000-km border. Researchers at Brazilian air and space institute IAE are also developing proprietary rocket technology that could deliver micro-satellites into low orbit by 2019. "The demand is there," Bonini said. "It's just a matter of the government setting priorities."

Prioritizing Brazil's space program has gotten tougher in recent years as the country struggled with what is now its worst recession on record and the government embarked on an austerity program that has hit defense and research spending. While Visiona awaits definition of Brazil's next satellite, Bonini said he is seeking more stable revenue sources, such as contracts for processing images from arrays of micro-satellites. Visiona booked about 8 million reais in sales from that service alone last year, he said. (3/22)

Will Anyone Win the Google Lunar X-PRIZE? (Source: Air & Space)
Back then, it looked a lot more like a race. Announced in September 2007, the Google Lunar XPRIZE is a competition sponsored by the web giant to spur private investment in lunar exploration. The challenge is this: Teams must land a spacecraft on the moon, dispatch a rover at least 500 meters (about a third of a mile) across the surface, then transmit high-def video and images from the rover’s camera back to Earth.

The first team to launch in 2017 (originally it was 2014) and land on the moon gets $20 million; the second gets $5 million. Another $5 million in bonuses is available to teams for other achievements, like if their spacecraft make it through the lunar night—that is, if they endure the weeks of sustained cold (minus 173 degrees Celsius) while the moon is in shadow on battery power and then “reawaken” once solar power is again available. Click here. (3/22)

Rocket Lab Now a $1 Billion Business (Source: Gisborne Herald)
The Series D funding round increased Rocket Lab’s total level of investment to US$148 million. The company is now valued at more than US$1 billion. Sir Ste​phen Tindall, a Rocket Lab investor since 2013, said he saw Mr Beck as an inspired innovator pioneering a new path for industry in New Zealand. To meet demand, the American-New Zealand company is expanding its engineering and business units in both the United States and New Zealand. (3/22)

Mysterious Equipment Spotted on SpaceX Drone Ship at Port Canaveral (Source: Florida Today)
Stephen Marr had his suspicions when he photographed a mysterious piece of equipment atop SpaceX's drone ship at Port Canaveral on Monday. "I knew there was something different there," Marr, 34, said. Reddit users quickly propelled Marr's clear, high-resolution photo to the top of the website's SpaceX community and so began discussion that the object was likely a highly anticipated robot that would interact with Falcon 9 first stages.

"Optimus Prime," as some have nicknamed it, could one day secure first stages after they land on SpaceX's autonomous spaceport drone ships. Like previous upgrades, it could cut down on costs, number of required personnel and turnaround time between launches. It could also improve safety. The device is “in the testing phase” and is a “future capability” that SpaceX plans to introduce as soon as it passes the test regimen. (3/22)

March 22, 2017

A New Definition Would Add 102 Planets to Our Solar System — Including Pluto (Source: Washington Post)
In a giant exhibit hall crowded with his colleagues, he's attempting to reignite the debate about Pluto's status with an audacious new definition for planet — one that includes not just Pluto, but several of its neighbors, objects in the asteroid belt, and a number of moons. By his count, 102 new planets could be added to our solar system under the new criteria.

“It's a scientifically useful bit of nomenclature and, I think, given the psychological power behind the word planet, it’s also more consumable by the general public,” Runyon said. “A classification has to be useful, or else it’s just lipstick on a pig,” countered planetary scientist Carolyn Porco. Runyon's definition “is not useful at all.” The debate rages on. Click here. (3/20)

Market Innovation Driving CubeSats into the Mainstream (Source: Via Satellite)
Some of the world’s most exciting space developments are occurring in a small form factor: CubeSats. Backed by strong commercial funding and more launch availability, CubeSats are no longer just the domain of academic learning experiments; they are becoming core to government and commercial missions. The era of CubeSat 2.0 has arrived. Click here. (3/21)

Vector to Announce Cape Canaveral Launch Plans (Source: Florida Today)
An Arizona startup developing a rocket for launches of small satellites this weekend will announce plans to launch missions to orbit from Cape Canaveral, Space Florida said. Vector Space Systems on Saturday will erect a test version of its Vector-R "micro-launcher" at Launch Complex 46, a vehicle that will then go on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. CEO Jim Cantrell also “will announce the intention of the company to use the launch facilities in the future,” according to Space Florida.

The two-stage Vector-R stands 42 feet tall and is designed to deliver microsatellites weighing up to about 135 pounds to orbit. The rocket is expected to debut in 2018, flying up to six times. The company eventually envisions launching 100 or more times a year. The two-stage Vector-R — the "R" is short for Rapid — stands 42 feet tall and measures 42 inches around, and is designed to deliver micro-satellites weighing up to about 135 pounds to orbit.

Several companies are developing small rockets to meet what they project will be a burgeoning demand for launches of small satellites. Rocket Lab's Electron rocket is expected to start launching this year from New Zealand. Cape Canaveral-based Moon Express hopes to fly on an Electron late this year. Virgin Galactic also is developing a small satellite launcher and counts OneWeb Satellites among its customers. Another startup in the same launch market, Texas-based Firefly Space Systems, shut down last year. Editor's Note: And don't forget Rocket Crafters. (3/21)

Russia’s Space Program Is Struggling Mightily (Source: Slate)
The Russian space program doesn’t get a lot of great press these days. The big news is not Russia but the rise of a new generation of players—from countries such as China and India making ambitious advances to billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos aiming for the moon and Mars. And even when the Russian space program makes the headlines, it’s often been for less-than-stellar news.

It’s not just the headlines. Many space policy analysts, too, are counting out the country that gave us Sputnik, at least in terms of breaking new ground. As the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, John Logsdon, noted, “Their budget is not adequate to maintain a world-class space effort across the board.”

Despite being the only game in town as far as regular human access to space, Roscosmos has been plagued by serious problems that don’t bode well for the future. To get a sense of the challenges it faces these days, it’s worth revisiting how the country’s position in space declined so dramatically from its Soviet glory days. (3/21)

Calls Grow for the Creation of a Kuwaiti Space Agency (Source: SpaceWatch)
The case for the creation of a Kuwaiti space agency is growing with prominent Kuwaiti scientists advocating that the Gulf kingdom consider the merits of establishing a formal entity to deal with space issues. Quoted in the Kuwait Times, scientist Dr. Hala Al-Jassar, an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department at Kuwait University, said that Kuwait has all of the necessary requirements and resources – to include human capital – needed to create a Kuwaiti national space agency.

“We have the budget, the talents, the expertize, and outstanding graduates from the best universities,” she told the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA). Dr. Jassar said that clear leadership is required from the Kuwaiti government to establish a space agency, though she also points out that even without a national entity for space policy and programs, Kuwaiti universities are already doing a lot in space.  (3/21)

Space Tourism Companies Will Write Their Own Safety Rules Because the US Government Can’t (Source: Quartz)
Within a year, says Blue Origin, it will begin flying humans to the edge of space. That would grant the company, founded by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, a symbolic victory over competitors like SpaceX, Boeing and Virgin Galactic, who are also pursuing plans to fly paying passengers beyond earth’s atmosphere.

The inaugural flights of these new ventures will be a leap into the unknown for the passengers, not least because they won’t benefit from the tight regulation we’ve come to expect in everything from air transport to private automobiles. The first spaceflight participants will be guinea pigs in an experiment that asks: Just what does it mean to be safe in space when the government isn’t in charge?

Technically, the FAA does have jurisdiction over any space launches by US citizens and companies. But when it comes to human spaceflight, the law is designed to give companies as wide a latitude as possible to develop their technology. The Commercial Space Act allows the government to make safety rules for paying space passengers only if it is acting to prohibit a design or practice that has already “resulted in a serious or fatal injury” or “posed a high risk of causing a serious or fatal injury” in a previous flight. (3/21)

Pence Confirms Plans to Reestablish the National Space Council (Source: Space News)
Vice President Mike Pence said March 21 that he expects the Trump administration to reestablish the National Space Council, a move that has the backing of a key member of Congress. Pence mentioned the National Space Council at the end of a signing ceremony at the White House for the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, an event attended by members of Congress, NASA astronauts and NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

“In very short order, the president will be taking action to re-launch the National Space Council,” Pence said. “He’s asked me to chair that, as vice presidents have in the past, and we’re going to be bringing together the best and the brightest in NASA and also in the private sector.” Trump nodded as Pence spoke and said, “Right.” (3/21)

Alabama [and Florida] Lawmakers Join NASA Bill Ceremony (Source: Montgomer Advertiser)
Surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including two from Alabama, President Donald Trump signed a $19.5 billion bill Tuesday to fund NASA programs and reaffirm what he called a "national commitment" to "human space exploration." Trump also hailed the nation's "heroic" and "amazing" astronauts, including those "who have lost their lives" over the decades.

"America's space program has been a blessing to our people and to the entire world," Trump said. The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 authorizes funding for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Last week, the Trump team proposed a budget that would reduce NASA to $19.1 billion for the year after that.

The Oval Office crowd also included two former Republican primary rivals of Trump, senators from states heavily invested in NASA: Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. They and other members of Congress praised the plan. Also included in the ceremony was Florida Rep. Bill Posey, and Sen. Bill Nelson, who traveled into space in 1986 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. (3/21)

Breakthrough Starshot's Interstellar Sail Works Best As a Ball (Source: Space.com)
The Breakthrough Starshot initiative, announced last year, has one very ambitious goal: to use high-powered lasers to launch a tiny, lightweight space probe toward our solar system's nearest star, Alpha Centauri, which is located roughly 4 light-years away. Until now, illustrations depicting this concept show the probe tethered behind a parachute-shaped sail launched into interstellar space by a single, but powerful, laser beam.

But new research indicates that this design is too unstable. If the parachute tilts even a little bit, it could fly off the beam — and way off course — dragging the probe along with it, the scientists say. The optimal design? A tiny ball nestled among four laser beams. Breakthrough Starshot team member Zachary Manchester. (3/21)

Russia, China Could Cooperate on Developing Reusable Rockets (Source: Sputnik)
China has not yet decided on the basic design of its returning rocket. What is known is that the scheme used in SpaceX is not being taken into consideration, as it will be a different technology. One reason for that is that China sees the US design as flawed in its excessive consumption of fuel and payload.

“As far as we can judge, we are talking about a resumption of the Baikal program, which was being developed in the 1990s,” Kashin said. According to the expert, Baikal was supposed to be a part of a launch vehicle equipped with aircraft wings. After the completion of the launch and separation from the rocket Baikal was supposed to fly as an ordinary aircraft and make a landing at an airfield.

“In Russia, there is some experience in the development of returning systems due to the legacy of the Soviet program on the reusable space shuttle, Buran, which was capable of automatic flight and an automatic landing,” Kashin said. The expert further said that the development of such systems could probably become another area of Russian-Chinese cooperation as the cosmos is turning into one of the many spheres of military confrontation right before our eyes. (3/21)

The Moon Could Have its Own Mobile Data Network as Soon as Next Year (Source: WIRED)
A European group of scientists has announced plans to be the first commercial company to land on the Moon, with a launch expected next year. Part Time Scientists, or PTScientists, hopes to send a pair of small rovers to the final landing site of the US Apollo program. The rovers will hitch a ride on Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The Berlin-based company announced it has also partnered with Vodafone to work on the first mobile data station on the Moon, which will provide a way for lunar rovers to communicate with Earth. “This is a crucial first step for sustainable exploration of the solar system,” said Robert Boehme, CEO of PTScientists. “In order for humanity to leave the cradle of Earth, we need to develop infrastructures beyond our home planet. With 'Mission to the Moon' we will establish and test the first elements of a dedicated communications network on the Moon.”

A lunar lander, called Alina, will double up as a communications base station, helping manned missions to the Moon. The station will use LTE technology, which is already used in a billion mobile devices on Earth. LTE uses less energy than traditional radio communications. This means, the company hopes, large amounts of data can be transferred from rovers to Earth, via ALINA, without draining their batteries. (3/21)

Managers Say Orion Can Be Ready For Crew In 2019 (Source: Aerospace Daily)
Lockheed Martin engineering managers in charge of developing the Orion crew capsule for NASA say the vehicle planned for an unmanned three-week mission in lunar orbit next year could be ready for an eight-day lunar flyaround with two astronauts on board before the end of 2019. (3/21)

March 21, 2017

Kourou Spaceport Labor Strike Delays Ariane 5 Launch (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
An Ariane 5 launch scheduled for today has been delayed at least a day because of a labor strike. Arianespace said Monday that a "social movement" at the Kourou, French Guiana, launch site prevented the company from moving the rocket to the launch pad Monday as previously planned. The launch, of the SGDC and Koreasat 7 communications satellites, has been rescheduled for Wednesday, assuming the rocket can be moved to the pad today. (3/20)

U.S. Denies Visa for Chinese Space Official (Source: Space News)
The U.S. government reportedly denied a visa for a Chinese official to speak at a planetary science conference. Guobin Yu, vice director of the Lunar and Space Exploration Engineering Center of China, was scheduled to speak at a symposium near Houston Sunday to provide updates on the country's planned missions to the moon and Mars. However, conference organizers said at the last minute the U.S. embassy in Beijing denied Yu a visa for unknown reasons. Other Chinese scientists were approved to attend the conference. (3/20)

Air Force: SpaceX Likely Raised Price to Meet Requirements (Source: Space Intel Report)
The Air Force appeared to buttress SpaceX’s claim that it charges more for U.S. government launches than for commercial missions not just because it can, but because government customers demand more than commercial customers for each launch. The company's win of a 2019 GPS launch against rival ULA allows a rare apples-to-apples comparison.

In an identical GPS-3 competition a year earlier, SpaceX was the sole bidder and won the contract with an offer of $82.7 million...substantially lower than SpaceX’s commercial price of $70 million or less. Leon declined to speculate on what elements go into SpaceX’s price calculation. But she said the difference between last year’s and this year’s could be explained by SpaceX’s realization of how much work goes into an Air Force mission.

“The proposal for their [earlier] bid was their first time bidding on an EELV contract,” said Dr. Claire Leon, launch enterprise director at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. Leon’s statements lent credence to SpaceX statements that a price difference of 20% or more is justified given the additional Air Force requirements that are not typical of a commercial mission. European, especially French, government officials have long accused SpaceX of lowballing its bids for commercial missions, and offsetting these marginally profitable missions with U.S. government work. (3/20)

Rocket Lab Raises $75 Million to Scale Up Launch Vehicle Production (Source: Space News)
Rocket Lab, a U.S.-New Zealand company developing a small launch vehicle, has raised an additional $75 million that will help the company scale up production of the rocket. The new funding round is led by venture capital firm Data Collective, with contributions from another VC firm, Promus Ventures, and an undisclosed investor. Several prior investors, including Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and K1W1, also participated in the round.

Rocket Lab said the Series D round brings the total raised by the company to $148 million, and values the company at more than $1 billion. Rocket Lab announced a Series B round of unspecified size in 2015, and Peter Beck, the company’s chief executive, said the company did an unannounced Series C round in the interim involving only existing investors.

The company has moved into a new headquarters facility in Huntington Beach, California. The 150,000-square foot building will be used to manufacture engines for the Electron rocket as well as electronics systems. The vehicles themselves will continue to be assembled at a factory in New Zealand, although Beck said it’s possible in the future that some rockets will be built in California as well, particularly for launches from U.S. sites. (3/21)

SpaceX Signs Lease for Booster Refurbishing at Former SpaceHab Facility (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX has signed a five-year lease for a warehouse and office facility at Port Canaveral, where it plans to process, refurbish and store rocket boosters for future reuse. The commercial space company has occupied the 53,360-square-foot former SpaceHab building on the north side of the port since August, under a month-to-month lease, and has been renovating the facility, located at 620 Magellan Road.

Now, with the signed lease agreement, "they can forge ahead" with their plans, Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said. The company also plans to build an adjacent 44,000-square-foot hangar on the 4-acre parcel. (3/21)

Stephen Hawking is Going to Outer Space (Source: Futurism)
Stephen Hawking, the world’s most renowned physicist and cosmologist, stated today that he is, in fact, heading to space—and it’s happening all thanks to the Virgin group (and a bit of modern technology). In a statement back in 2015, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, said that, one day, he hoped to be able to carry Hawking to the stars. In the statement, Branson noted that this offer came as a result of the great respect and admiration that he has for Hawking.

When discussing the anticipated event, Hawking told Good Morning Britain that he never dreamed he’d have such an opportunity, and that he “said yes immediately.” Hawking continued by noting that he looks forward to the voyage with great anticipation, comparing flying into space to the same joy that his three children have brought him. During the discussion, he stated, “my three children have brought me great joy – and I can tell you what will make me happy, to travel in space.” (3/20)

The Cislunar Gateway with No Gate, Revisited (Source: Space Review)
If NASA and other space agencies press ahead with plans for a cislunar gateway outpost, how would it be most effectively developed? John Strickland proposes a design that emphasizes cargo and propellant storage that can support, and be supported by, a lunar base. Click here. (3/20)
 
A Farewell to ARM? (Source: Space Review)
In the White House budget proposal released last week, the Trump Administration mentioned in passing that NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission would be cancelled. Jeff Foust reports on what’s known about those plans, and the limbo that statement puts ARM into. Click here. (3/20)
 
Taking Salvage in Outer Space from Fiction to Fact (Source: Space Review)
The concept of salvaging spacecraft in outer space has long been a part of science fiction, but faces legal challenges if attempted in real life. Michael Listner discusses how salvage could be applied to satellites or other space assets. Click here. (3/20)

Air Force Reveals Plan for Up To 48 Launches Per Year From Cape Canaveral (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Major General David D. Thompson of the U.S. Air Force discussed the 45th Space Wing’s plan to ramp up to 48 launches per year – a feat made possible in large part due to the introduction by SpaceX of the new Autonomous Flight Termination System and the increasing and booming commercial launch market. With four flights under its belt, the 45th Space Wing is now preparing for the remaining 31 launches on this year’s manifest – the next two of which are scheduled within three days of each other on 24 and 27 March.

In the past ten years, the CCAFS and Kennedy Space Center combined have seen anywhere from between 7 to 18 launches per year, with the lowest of those numbers coming in 2008 and the highest in 2016. However, this year alone, the CCAFS and the 45th Space Wing of the Air Force plan to nearly double its 2016 number, with 35 total launches manifested, 28 of them being commercial missions.

Monteith stated that this new AFTS combined with two operational SpaceX pads at Kennedy and the CCAFS will allow the company to launch two Falcon 9 rockets – one from 39A and one from SLC-40 – within 16 to 18 hours of each other. “When pad 40 is up and operating, [it will] give us the capability of launching a Falcon from both pad 39A and pad 40 on the same day,” stated Monteith. (3/20)

Broadband for All (Source: Aerospace America)
If Iridium’s constellation of 66 low-Earth-orbit communications satellites sounds like a lot, try these numbers: OneWeb, a startup based in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., plans to launch up to 700 satellites into low-Earth orbit and begin space-based broadband service as early as 2019. Boeing aims to launch 1,300 satellites within six years, and it says it will expand that constellation to 2,900. SpaceX of California told regulators it wants to launch a network of up to 4,425 satellites. Click here. (3/20)

March 20, 2017

Space — the Final Frontier for Investors (Source: Financial Times)
How much would you pay to have shooting stars fly across the sky on your wedding day? A fledgling “space entertainment” company is planning to offer meteors on demand from 2018 — just one example of “new space” enterprises that are attracting investor interest.

The growth of this industry has not escaped the attention of fund managers — but the nature of most new space companies is that they are small, early-stage and risky. They are usually backed by venture capital funds, and remain out of reach for all but the wealthiest private investors. However, for those willing to be creative, there are other ways to join the space race.
Click here. (3/17)

Australia Deserves a Space Agency (Source: Change.org)
Australia has never had a Space Agency to represent its interests on the sector. We win only 1% of the annual US$330 Billion space business. In 1967 we used a Redstone rocket to launch a home-built satellite into orbit. We were one first countries to be involved in the space sector. Since then, the government's mantra has been that Australia is "too small a player" and will never be in the business of launching rockets to space.

Today, New Zealand is in the business of launching rockets to space and has an active space agency. Australia is the only one of the economically developed countries that does not have a space agency. Our university aerospace graduates have to go overseas to find work and space development is set to do this too. Australia is falling behind the rest of the world in supporting its space industry and the  benefits of new technology and products. (3/20)

European Scientists Plan First Private Moon Landing in 2018 (Source: The Telegraph)
The first private Moon landing could be made by a group of European scientists next year. A group of rocket engineers called PTScientists (Part-time Scientists), has built a landing module and two rovers, which are expected to launch in 2018 on board Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The landing module will be programmed to touch down in the Taurus-Littrow valley, around two miles from the site of the final Apollo 17 mission.

It will deploy two rovers with the aim of tracking down Nasa’s moon buggy which was left behind by Gene Cernan, the last man on the Moon. The team is keen to find out how well the buggy has survived on the lunar surface for more than four decades and, if successful, it will mark 46 years since humans drove on another world. (3/19)

China Selects 80 Proposals for Future Space Science Missions (Source: GB Times)
China's National Space Science Centre (NSSC) has selected 80 proposals for future innovative space science missions after assessing a broad array of submissions from across the country. The proposals cover a range of areas, including space-based astronomy, astrophysics, solar physics, planetary science, microgravity science, life sciences and others.

The selected mission proposals come from 39 organizations, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and its various institutes and research centers, universities and a handful from industry. The 80 were selected after evaluation by 30 academicians, which was followed by review by a panel of 15 experts headed by Ouyang Ziyuan. (3/20)

Part of San Fernando Valley’s Storied Space Race History Vanishes (Source: LA Daily News)
Heavy machinery has just about leveled the old Rocketdyne office and rocket engine manufacturing complex. A big F-1 rocket engine, like those that powered Apollo missions to the moon, once greeted visitors at the complex. It was moved to the De Soto Avenue facility several years ago before the 40-plus acre site was prepared for new development.

For decades, some of the world’s brightest rocket scientists, engineers and factory workers turned out complex machines at the site that would power spacecraft into orbit around Earth, to the moon and to other planets. They played vital roles in helping the United States win the space race. (3/20)

Spaceport, New Mexico (Source: Dorado)
A wildly ambitious hub for commercial space travel has risen in the desert of southern New Mexico. Despite much progress and impressive competition, the final frontier still waits. Spaceport America, the only facility in the world built exclusively for commercial space travel, sits ready to make astronauts out of paying customers. Not surprisingly, building spaceships involves secrets, which makes the Jornada a good place to do business.

“The commercial aspect of the Spaceport is a very sensitive, very proprietary market,” says Dan Hicks, who took over as CEO of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority last fall. “One advantage we have that makes us incredibly lucrative to the industry is our remote location. You don’t have a lot of encroachment from cities or demographics where it would be difficult to keep public eyes off what you’re doing.”

Still, the public is watching. The state of New Mexico has so far spent about $220 million on the facility since its groundbreaking in 2007. At that time, the optimistic prediction for commercial space travel was that private companies — most notably Virgin Galactic, which signed a 20-year lease as an anchor tenant at the Spaceport — would be ferrying people to zero gravity by 2015 or so. That hasn’t happened. (3/14)

The Highest Jump (Source: Air & Space)
Alan Eustace, a 60-year-old retired Google executive, holds the current record for the highest skydive—-a milestone he achieved in 2014 by ascending via balloon to 135,899 feet and returning safely with little more than a spacesuit and a parachute. This is a story of his low-key approach to the achievement, and his vision for skydiving from space.

Eustace imagines something akin to the small, disposable reentry vehicles that NASA and the European Space Agency have proposed as a means to get experiment payloads down from orbit. These inflatable structures—which have gotten as far as preliminary testing—would become hard as rock once filled with gas, and can be coated in ablative material that dissipates heat as it burns off. The idea, says Eustace, is that “you just essentially pump up your reentry vehicle,” climb on, and fire a small retrorocket to point yourself home. Click here. (3/16)

SpaceX Studying Landing Sites for Mars Missions (Source: Space News)
SpaceX has been working with NASA to identify potential landing sites on Mars for both its Red Dragon spacecraft and future human missions. The company, working with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and elsewhere, had identified several potential landing sites, including one that looks particularly promising. Site selection is based on several criteria. One is access to large quantities of ice near the surface that could, ultimately, support human settlements.

Another is to be close to the Equator and at a low elevation for solar power and better thermal conditions. “It’s probably hard to find that along with ice,” he acknowledged, so the focus has been on four locations at latitudes no more than about 40 degrees from the Equator. Paul Wooster said the study identified four regions in the northern hemisphere of Mars that met those basic criteria. (3/20)

Most Successful American Rocket Launches—For One of the Last Times (Source: Ars Technica)
After Saturday night's successful delivery of an Air Force communications satellite to orbit, the medium variant of the Delta IV rocket has now launched 26 times. All of the Delta IV medium launches, which primarily have served the US armed forces, have ended in mission success. Other US-based rockets have launched more, but no modern rocket with all-American components, from the engines and solid-rocket motors to the upper stage, can boast of such a record of success as the Delta IV Medium.

And yet now the rocket's parent company, United Launch Alliance, desperately wants to retire the booster. Why? The answer is cost; it's about twice as expensive as competitors. “Great rocket,” ULA's Tory Bruno said in 2015 of the Delta IV. “But it’s more expensive than the equivalent Atlas rocket." The only problem with the Atlas V, which has launched about twice as many times as the Delta V, is that it uses Russian RD-180 engines rather than American-made ones. (3/20)

Air Force Won’t Stop ULA Divestment Of Delta IV Heavy (Sources: Ars Technica, Defense Daily)
US Representatives Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) told the Air Force that the Delta IV should continue to fly, and asked for a report on how it could make the Delta IV "a more cost-effective and modern launch system" for the US government. In response, Air Force officials say they won’t stop ULA from divesting its Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The political subtext here seems pretty clear—some congressmen don't seem to like (or trust) new space companies such as SpaceX or Blue Origin. Parochially, they also seem to like the fact that ULA does a lot of business in Alabama with its Delta IV rocket.

In any case, the medium variant of the Delta IV rocket will continue to fly a few more times. There are currently three more flights of the vehicle planned, with the final launch possibly occurring in late 2018 with another Air Force communications satellite, Wideband Global SATCOM, similar to the one that launched Saturday night. (3/20)

More Russian Intrigue with Death of Vladimir Evdokimov? (Source: Moscow Times)
Vladimir Evdokimov, former director at the state-owned Roscosmos space corporation, may have been the victim of a contract killing. He was accused of taking part in a $3 million fraud scheme. Evdokimov was arrested in December on charges of embezzlement. He is by no means the only space industry official to have been locked up for fraud, and in fact, over the past several years, the Russian space program as a whole has been hit by scandal after scandal: Rockets have been doomed by shoddy work and efforts to build a new launch site in the Far East have been plagued by corruption.

The difference now is that before Evdokimov, no one caught up in the industry’s rampant corruption problem has died. Initial reports suggested that authorities were investigating the case as a possible suicide. But then Russia’s investigative committee opened a murder investigation on March 18. By March 20, the working theory among investigators was that Evdokimov was murdered for cooperating.

There has been speculation in the Russian press that he was familiar with other fraud schemes. According to the Kommersant newspaper, he was expected to cooperate with an investigation into fraud in the aerospace industry. “One of the basic working theories is that he was murdered by someone who feared he would act as a witness against them on a number of different instances [of fraud],” a source close to the investigation told the Interfax news agency. (3/20)

USAF 'Plug Fest' Seeks GPS Application Add-Ons (Source: Space News)
The Air Force is looking for ideas to improve the GPS system. The open-source project, called a "Plug Fest," is designed to build applications that can easily be plugged into an open GPS architecture to improve the system or enhance its resiliency, according to Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the military deputy for the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. That is part of a broader effort to accelerate and "normalize" space acquisition. (3/20)

SpaceX Prepares for First Re-Used Falcon Launch This Month (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The satellite that will be flying on SpaceX's next mission is being prepared for launch. The SES-10 satellite was fueled late last week and was scheduled to be encapsulated inside its payload fairing over the weekend. The satellite is scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center as soon as March 27, although no official launch date has been announced. The launch will be the first mission to use a previously flown Falcon 9 first stage, in this case one first launched on a Dragon cargo mission to the ISS last April. (3/20)

Indian Start-Up Devas Launches U.S. Division (Source: Financial Express)
In spite of being embroiled in a multi-billion dollar dispute with the government over cancelation of a 2005 deal with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to launch satellites to deliver digital video broadcasting services for mobile phones, India's Devas has ventured into the US to start a similar company. Devas bought an unused satellite in 2001 and through Omnispace LLC is proposing to use the S-band satellite spectrum to provide 3G telecom and data services on mobile divices.

Omnispace has received several rounds of funding. In an application to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for signal testing, the firm has claimed ownership of the F2 satellite, which lay unused after it was launched in 2001 by a private satellite firm ICO Global Communications. (3/19)

Sierra Nevada to Resume Dream Chaser Flight Tests (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
An atmospheric test model of Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser space plane is being readied for tow and landing tests at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California this spring. The partially-assembled test craft arrived at the California test site, located on Edwards Air Force Base, on Jan. 25. Technicians are adding the ship’s V-shaped tail fins and other equipment before kicking off ground and flight tests in the coming months, according to Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada’s space systems division. (3/6)

A Japanese Start-Up's Plan to Make Millions Collecting Junk in Space (Source: CNBC)
The $335.3 billion space industry will face increased risks from debris orbiting at speeds of up to 42,000 mph. Aiming to maintain order and connectivity, Japan's Astroscale switched from its grand plans for interstellar garbage collection to developing technology for sending "dead" satellites to fiery graves.

The start-up brought in some $7.7 million Series A funding before it secured almost $30 million in Series B investment in March 2016. While yet to launch, the venture has already connected a major Japanese company to the space industry and also holds a contract to put a sports drink on the moon. But there is much more to done; the first mission is to monitor untrackable specks of junk.

"Instead of focusing on existing debris, we've decided to focus on future debris, which comes from the dying satellites," said Astroscale CEO Nobu Okada. "For constellation players with satellite networks, they have to keep their orbit clean. Once their orbit is contaminated, they cannot do business." Demand for this targeted space service promises to grow exponentially as more companies launch satellite networks. (3/17)

We Once Had a Vision — Though it was a Conflicted One — and Now We Don't (Source: Star Tribune)
Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and other giants of classic science fiction are spinning in their graves. The moon? Are you kidding me? NASA once planned to land a human on Mars by 1986. Bradbury had us there in ’99. I felt the same spike of sadness and nostalgia I experienced when Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died in 2012.

“The Martian Chronicles,” a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury, was first published in 1950, seven years before the Sputnik launch. In one tale, the fourth human expedition to Mars, set in June 2001, safely lands. Click here. (3/18)

March 19, 2017

Integrated Space Plan Shows the Paths Forward (Source: ISA)
Integrated Space Analytics is expanding the venerable Integrated Space Plan (ISP), a detailed roadmap/forecast showing the technology and programmatic prerequisites for various space exploration scenarios. The group is sponsoring a new kickstarter initiative to allow you to back the project's 100 year forecast update. Click here. (3/19)

Japan Launches Radar Remote Sensing Satellite (Source: Kyodo)
Japan launched a radar imaging satellite Thursday night. The H-2A rocket lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center at 9:20 p.m. Eastern and placed the Information Gathering Satellite Radar 5 into orbit. The radar imaging satellite is intended to replace a similar satellite that is reaching the end of its life, although the Japanese government has plans to increase the constellation's number of radar and optical reconnaissance satellites. The launch was scheduled for earlier in the week but postponed by poor weather. (3/18)

Racing Commentators Call A $424 Million Military Satellite Launch And It's Incredible (Source: Jalopnik)
Florida’s big endurance races are known for plenty of fireworks on and off-track, but they’re usually not from military satellites. Today, the United Launch Alliance is sending the $424 million Delta IV WGS-9 satellite into orbit from nearby Cape Canaveral, Florida, visible from the classic endurance race.

Fortunately, the launch happened while the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship’s 12 Hours of Sebring was under its fifth full-course yellow flag of the day from the No. 27 Dream Racing Lamborghini Hurac├ín GT3 stopping on course. The television crews had ample time to cut away from the recovery effort and the cars circulating on track to feature the solid rocket boosters falling off above. Click here. (3/19)

Bill Would Have Cloaked Spaceport in Secrecy (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The failing spaceport got a local state senator to introduce Senate Bill 429, the Spaceport Confidential Records Act, which would cloak Spaceport America in secrecy, supposedly to attract customers. New Mexico law already protects companies’ trade secrets. This bill would protect the spaceport’s own “secrets” from its owners — you and me. The second excuse for it is to protect “cyberinfrastructure information” from potential terrorists.

(Would some terrorist bomb the spaceport just to kill a few rabbits?) If this bill has any legitimate objective, it’s unfortunate that someone drafted it using a meat-cleaver, rather than exercising actual thought. Knowing how essential governmental transparency is to our democracy, I worry about bills like this; and knowing that many citizens feel the spaceport is an irredeemable failure, I wonder about management’s motives. (3/18)

No Suspects Yet in Roscosmos top Manager’s Death in Jail Cell (Source: Tass)
Law enforcement agencies have not yet named any possible suspects in the death of Vladimir Yevdokimov, a senior official in charge of quality and reliability control of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, in a cell of a Moscow pre-trial center, a source with law enforcement agencies told TASS. "No suspects have been named as of yet. His cellmates and officials of the detention facility are being questioned. Personal cases of the people who shared the cell with Yevdokimov are being studied as well," he said.

The main line of inquiry into Yevdokimov’s suspicious death is a murder, but a suicide cannot be ruled out either, he said. Yevdokimov’s body with three knife wounds - two in the heart and one in the neck - was found in his jail cell. Yevdokimov was arrested last December on charges of embezzlement of 200 million rubles (approximately $3.495 mln) from the MIG Russian Aircraft Corporation. Later, Moscow’s Basmanny Court extended the arrest of Yevdokimov and his alleged accomplice until April 30. The officials denied any wrongdoing. (3/19)

Russian Aerospace Forces to Launch Over 20 Spacecraft Into Space (Source: Space Daily)
Russia's Aerospace Forces in 2017 are planning to launch 15 carrier rockets into space, during which over 20 spacecraft will be placed into orbit," the forces' commander, Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, said. Additionally, three radar stations of missile warning system will start operating, he added. "In order to increase the orbital grouping of spacecraft, 15 space launches of carrier rockets have been planned in order to place more than 20 spacecraft into orbit," Col. Gen. Bondarev said. (3/17)

Dragon Capsule Departs ISS to Return Cargo/Experiments to Earth (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NASA and SpaceX have released Dragon from the ISS with more than 5,400 pounds of cargo for the return trip to Earth. The items include euthanized mice specimens, stem cell samples, and three disused experiment packages tagged for disposal inside the spacecraft's trunk, which will burn up on re-entry. More than 5,400 pounds of cargo, vehicle hardware and experiment samples are packed inside the Dragon capsule's pressurized cabin and the ship's disposable trunk. (3/19)

Trump’s Biggest Budget Cuts to NASA: Ranked (Source: The Verge)
Packed within NASA’s small budget decrease are some pretty sizable cuts. A few major upcoming missions are canceled, and NASA’s entire education program, which is responsible for outreach and grants, is eliminated. The budget request also proposes wasting technologies already in space.

Some of these cuts could have a positive impact on NASA, while others could deprive students and the science community of the space agency’s expertise. Here are the biggest cuts to NASA ranked from “This is good actually” to “What the hell are you doing?” Click here. (3/17)

China Studying Reusable Rockets Similar to SpaceX (Source: Space News)
China is studying recovering the first stage of future rockets. A concept being developed would use parachutes to slow down first stages after separation, then deploy an airbag to cushion the stage’s landing on dry land. Chinese researchers said they looked into making a powered landing of the first stage, as SpaceX does with the Falcon 9, but concluded it was “extremely difficult” and inefficient. A final decision on whether to incorporate reusability in future rockets is expected by 2020. (3/17)

ULA Launches WGS Military Satellite at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Space News)
United Launch Alliance on Saturday successfully launched a Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) 9 satellite. The Delta-4 launch had been delayed from earlier in the month because of a booster problem. WGS-9 was funded by five international partners, who gain access to the overall WGS constellation. (3/19)

Students Set Record at Spaceport America with Amateur Rocket Launch (Source: USC)
A student group set a new rocketry record earlier this month. A rocket built by the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico March 4, reaching a peak altitude of 43.9 kilometers. The Fathom 2 rocket is believed to set the record for the highest altitude achieved by a rocket designed and manufactured entirely by students. The group’s ultimate goal is to launch a rocket past the Karman Line of 100 kilometers, the widely-observed boundary of space. (3/18)

"Islands" on Titan Explained (Source: Space.com)
So-called “magic islands” seen on Titan maybe be nitrogen bubbles. Radar images of the surface of Titan taken by the Cassini spacecraft have detected features that look like islands in its hydrocarbon seas. Those islands appear to change shape over time. Lab experiments suggest that the islands could be giant nitrogen bubbles created as methane-rich and ethane-rich liquids mix. (3/18)

Indian Beer on the Moon? (Source: Quartz)
India’s parliament discussed a heady question this week: is the country planning to brew beer on the moon? Sisir Adhikari, a member of the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, asked the question of the Department of Space, also seeking details of the research plan if such brewing plans were in development. Jitendra Singh, the minister of state in the prime minister’s office, responded Wednesday that India’s space agency has no such plans, although Team Indus, the Indian venture planning a private lunar lander mission, was considering flying such an experiment from a student group. (3/18)

Commercial Remote Sensing Companies Seek Streamlined Regulations (Source: Space News)
A regulatory system crafted a quarter-century ago is failing to keep up with an evolving commercial remote sensing industry, which companies say is slowing down their efforts to develop new satellite systems and capabilities. At a remote sensing policy event organized by the Satellite Industry Association, panelists argued for changes regarding what is regulated and how to better handle an increasing number of companies proposing novel satellite systems and large constellations of spacecraft.

Regulations for the industry, enabled by a 1992 law, have not kept pace with recent changes in the industry that focus less on resolution improvements and more on increasing the frequency of imagery and other data collected by such spacecraft.

“What that has transitioned this industry into is a digital information services industry,” he said, “something that is essentially an entirely different industry that is regulated now as compared to the industry that was created by the framework for regulating this industry back in the 1990s.” (3/17)

Turkey’s Parliament Deliberates on Space Agency Law (Source: Space News)
The Turkish parliament is deliberating on a draft bill to create a space agency  to boost the country’s space industry and facilitate Ankara’s expansion within the global space industry. The draft was recently debated by the parliament’s Committee on Industry, Trade, Energy, Natural Resources, Information and Technology. (3/17)

Extinction or Survival: The Ethics of Colonizing Other Planets (Source: The Conversation)
The notion of a mass exodus and transplanting a planet is, on the surface, an attractive concept. But we rarely, if ever, critically ask why we ought to do such a thing in the first place. Have we truly earned the right to colonise other planets, especially after the way we’ve behaved on this one? Many films and books have turned their attention to these ethical questions. Click here. (3/13)

Apollo Astronaut's US Flag Secretly Carried on the Moon Heads to Auction (Source: CollectSpace)
When Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott became the seventh person to walk on the moon in 1971, he wore a spacesuit adorned with American flags on both his left shoulder and atop his life support backpack. But as an upcoming auction has now surprisingly revealed, those were not the only two U.S. flags he had on him. Unbeknownst to even Scott until after he returned to Earth, hidden behind the stars and stripes decorating his Portable Life Support System's Oxygen Purge System (OPS) was a pouch holding smaller U.S. flags in a secret stash. (3/17)

ULA Layoffs Could Impact Decatur (Source: Decatur Daily)
Planned layoffs for United Launch Alliance could affect the company's Decatur plant, an official said this week. "As with last year's reduction, they are across the company," spokeswoman Jessica Rye said in a statement. "We are not specifically addressing the number of employees to protect competitively sensitive information." Last year, ULA laid off about 55 workers in Decatur as the company looked to lower launch costs by cutting about 10 percent of its workforce nationally. (3/17)

Arizona's World View Tourism Flight Plans Fluid (Source: Sonora News)
By late 2018 Tucson-based World View Enterprises plans to fulfill the dreams of many by sending people into space.
World View Enterprises, a private company, is the only near-space exploration company in Arizona. For $75,000 customers will be taken to an altitude of roughly 100,000 feet, and stay up there for hours before gently coming back down.

Andrew Antonio, director of marketing and communications for World View Enterprises, made it clear that the timeline to get people into space is fluid. “It’s hard to commit to a specific date for obvious reasons – safety is our No. 1 priority and we’re doing something that’s never been done before, which requires a lot of great research and development and learning along the way,” Antonio said. Initial plans from World View had the company sending customers up by 2017. “We won’t rush the necessary process just to hit a specific date,” Antonio said. (3/17)

Aliens May Be Using Giant Radio Beams To Travel The Cosmos (Source: Huffington Post)
Two Harvard University scientists are suggesting that mysterious fast radio bursts, detected in faraway galaxies, may be evidence of aliens traveling through the cosmos. FRBs are extremely bright flashes of radio waves that last for only a thousandth of a second and are detected by earthbound telescopes. Since the first one was observed 10 years ago, 17 have actually been reported, although scientists think there are thousands of them a day.

At first, Abraham “Avi” Loeb said, he took a conservative approach to explaining them. “It looked like the simplest explanation would be flares from stars in the Milky Way galaxy,” said Loeb, a theoretical astrophysicist and chair of Harvard’s astronomy department. But then “one of the FRBs was localized to reside in a small galaxy at a distance of about a billion light-years away,” Loeb told The Huffington Post. (One light-year is about 6 trillion miles.) (3/17)

Legislators Ask for Spaceport Study (Source: Golden Isles News)
Four state representatives have filed a resolution asking for a careful study to the determine the impacts of a proposed spaceport in Camden County. State Rep. Jason Spencer, sponsor of a bill to protect the space industry from lawsuits by injured employees, said the resolution, if passed, will send “conflicting messages” to the space industry. The resolution calls for careful study and consideration a commercial spaceport in Camden County would have on Georgia ports, commercial fishing and shrimping, tourism and recreation and property rights. (3/18)

Trump Low-Orbit Space Budget Clips High Expectations (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
When President Trump unveiled the outline of his first federal budget proposal this past week, many analysts described it as a mixed bag for America’s space program. We’d call it a missed opportunity. There’s bad news and good news for space. While Trump proposed cutting $200 million, or about 1 percent, from NASA’s $19.3 billion budget this year, the space agency would fare much better than other non-defense agencies; the EPA, for example, is the target of a proposed 31 percent cut.

The president called for canceling NASA’s mission to send astronauts to an asteroid, but preserving funding to develop the agency’s next rocket and crew vehicle. He advocated a deep cut in NASA’s Earth science programs, but maintained support for a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. However, the president’s plan falls short of revitalizing and redirecting the manned space program after years of sluggishness and drift under President Obama. It fails to meet the high expectations Trump created last month in his first speech to Congress, when he declared, “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.” (3/16)

Working for Arianespace in Kourou: The Perfect Job? (Source: DW)
Life is very relaxed here. For people who like to be outside, people who like the sun, the rain, and the beach, it is very peaceful. The rhythm of life is quite slow, so we're not as stressed as you'd be in Paris or in Toulouse, where I went to study. So it's quite nice. But work is completely different. Because I work in customer support, I am on call. I have to work Monday to Saturday, and I can be called in at 8pm … so that's very different. But fortunately we have this [indicates the sunny environment]. Otherwise it would be very difficult if both professional and private life were stressful. Click here. (3/17)

Scheduling, Costs Still a Challenge for Japan's H-IIA Rockets (Source: Nikkei)
Japan successfully fired the H-IIA rocket for the 27th consecutive time from the Tanegashima Space Center on Friday, but a long wait time between launches and high costs still stand in the way of full-fledged commercialization. "Short intervals between launches help build confidence," said Naoki Okumura, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. The last H-IIA launch was on Jan. 24.

The agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries cut the interval by a day from their past record to just 52 days by using a small crane for the previously manual cleanup process, as well as other operational changes. Mitsubishi Heavy and JAXA were committed to slashing the gap this time around. After 27 consecutive successes, H-IIA's success rate has now reached about 97%.

At the current pace of just four launches a year, most H-IIAs end up being used by public Japanese institutions. The rocket fired on Friday, like others, was loaded with a government satellite. Only four so far have served foreign private-sector clients, the first of which carried a Canadian satellite two years ago. France-based Arianespace, on the other hand, can put 10 or more satellites into orbit each year. (3/17)

March 17, 2017

Mental Health in Outer Space (Source: Scientific American)
NASA says there have been no behavioral emergencies on U.S. space flights—yet. But in 2007, a woman named Lisa Nowak drove 900 miles to the Orlando airport, bringing a knife, a mallet, rubber tubing, and a BB gun. At the airport, she wore a black wig and followed Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman in the parking lot. After Shipman declined to give her a ride, Nowak began crying and then tried to pepper spray Shipman, according to police reports.

Nowak was subsequently arrested and charged with attempted murder. Police said she had planned to harm Shipman over an apparent love triangle. The case drew international headlines and, over the next two years, media outlets followed whether Nowak would pursue an insanity defense in court. Nowak was an astronaut, as was her love interest in the triangle.

This bizarre incident called attention to NASA's medical practices and the role of mental health in space flight. Just months earlier, Nowak had flown on the shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station, where she controlled robotic instruments during spacewalks. Now, she awaited criminal trial, reportedly diagnosed with a brief psychotic disorder and major depression, among other conditions. Click here. (3/14)

Space Sex is Serious Business (Source: Five Thirty Eight)
Mark Lee and Jan Davis met during training for a space shuttle mission and kept their relationship quiet long enough to ensure that it would be difficult to replace them on the mission, as NASA normally would have done under its then-unwritten rule that banned married astronauts from flying together. And so, in September 1992, Lee and Davis became the first (and, after the unwritten rule became a written one, possibly last) married couple in space.

NASA says no humans have had sex in space. There’s nothing other than speculation to suggest otherwise. (Well, speculation and a vague sense that we would want to try it, given half a chance.) But you aren’t a total junior-high pervert for wondering. Sex — or, rather, reproduction — has piqued the curiosity of scientists, too. When they went to space together, Lee and Davis even spent some time artificially inseminating frog eggs for the greater good. (3/14)

Dark Matter is Missing From Young Galaxies (Source: Ars Technica)
One of the earliest indications of the existence of dark matter came from an examination of the rotation of nearby galaxies. The study showed that stars orbit the galaxy at speeds that indicate there's more mass there than the visible matter would indicate. Now, researchers have taken this analysis back in time, to a period when the Universe was only a couple billion years old, and the ancestors of today's large galaxies were forming stars at a rapid clip.

Oddly, the researchers find no need for dark matter to explain the rotation of these early galaxies. While there are a number of plausible explanations for dark matter's absence at this early stage of galaxy formation, it does suggest our models of the early Universe could use some refining.

The measurements at issue here are what are called the "galaxy rotation curves." These curves track the speed at which stars rotate as a function of their distance from the center of the galaxy. If regular matter were all that was present, it would be easy to predict what we'd see. Close to the galaxy's center, stars would only feel a portion of the total galactic mass, so they would orbit at a relatively sedate speed. Any faster, and their orbits would shift outward. (3/15)

Florida Student Scientists Select Menu for Astronauts (Source: Space Daily)
Several thousand middle and high school students from Miami-Dade County in Florida are supporting plant researchers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The KSC scientists have partnered with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami to create STEM-based challenges for teachers and students in the area. There are two challenges-Growing Beyond Earth and Green Cuisine: The Flavor of Space Travel.

Over this past school year, the students participated in Growing Beyond Earth by growing crops in mini botany labs provided to each of the participating schools by Fairchild. Each lab mimics NASA's Veggie plant growth system currently aboard the space station, and the students had to follow research protocols set forth by NASA and Fairchild while testing factors that could influence plant growth, flavor and nutrition-all so they can help NASA pick the next crops to grow for the astronauts aboard the station.

"The Veggie team at KSC is excited to be working with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and middle and high schools groups to help us identify future varieties and best growing practices for use on the International Space Station," said Dr. Gioia Massa, Veggie project scientist. "We plan to use the data from the student research to help us determine what to grow and how to grow it in Veggie experiments in the future." (3/15)

FSU Scientist Finds Inorganic "Fossils" May Complicate Search for Life (Source: Space Daily)
An international team of researchers discovered that inorganic chemicals can self-organize into complex structures that mimic primitive life on Earth. Florida State University scientist Oliver Steinbock and a colleague in Spain found that fossil-like objects grew in natural spring water abundant in the early stages of the planet. But they were inorganic materials that resulted from simple chemical reactions.

This complicates the identification of Earth's earliest microfossils and redefines the search for life on other planets and moons. "Inorganic microstructures can potentially be indistinguishable from ancient traces of life both in morphology and chemical composition," Garcia-Ruiz said. Scientists had seen hints of this in past lab work, but now through Steinbock and Garcia-Ruiz's research, it is clear that this also happened in nature. (3/15)

Georgia Spaceflight Liability Bill Advances in State's Senate (Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution)
The state Senate backed a bill Thursday clearing the way for commercial space flight launches in Georgia, starting a crucial countdown toward final passage. The Georgia Space Flight Act essentially sets legal rules over liability involving private property and any would-be astronauts, a first for the state. It says that those participants would have to assume the risks for injuries or accidents and sign “informed consent” waivers, except in cases of gross negligence by the company sponsoring the flight. The bill passed on a 44-6 vote. Because of changes made in a Senate committee, it now goes back to the House for review. (3/16)

NASA Budget Would Cut Earth Science and Education (Source: Washington Post)
The total cut to the Earth-science budget is $102 million, or 5 percent of the program’s annual budget, and it almost exclusively targets missions aimed at understanding climate change — the ocean monitoring program PACE; the Orbiting Carbon ­Observatory-3; the Deep Space Climate Observatory; and the CLARREO Pathfinder, which measures heat in Earth’s atmosphere.

Also on the chopping block: the entire NASA Education office, which runs camps and enrichment programs, provides internships and scholarships for young scientists, and oversees efforts to support women and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.

Editor's Note: I believe this would mean eliminating NASA's nationwide network of Space Grant Consortia. The Florida Space Grant Consortium, headquarted at UCF in Orlando, sponsors internships and co-ops, and has long partnered with the state of Florida to fund space research projects that are consistent with the state's space diversification priorities. (3/16)

Trump Budget Would Fund SLS/Orion (Source: Washington Post)
Overall, Trump would shrink funding for NASA slightly, to $19.1 billion from about $19.3 billion, according to a blueprint of the president’s budget requests for 2018. The largest portion of funds would go to the agency’s human exploration division, with $3.7 billion for the Orion crew vehicle and Space Launch System (SLS) jumbo rocket, spacecraft that NASA says will one day get humans to Mars. The outlined budget also instructs NASA to “investigate approaches for reducing the costs of exploration missions to enable a more expansive exploration program.”

Editor's Note: This may be a sign that Alabama's forces remain potent in the Trump administration. The Huntsville-led SLS rocket program has been a controversial program, with detractors arguing that existing and proposed commercial launch systems will be able to meet many of NASA's ultimate SLS requirements without the multi-billion dollar cost. (3/16)

Booming Space Launch Business Requires Rethinking of Ranges (Source: Space.com)
Most launch ranges aren't equipped to handle reusable rockets, space experts said, despite the technology being widely viewed as a key to reducing launch costs. "The traditional range systems simply do not have sufficient capability to accommodate the emergence of multiple reusable flying elements," said Jim Ball of Spaceport Strategies.

Ball pointed to Cape Canaveral, where private launch companies are working to expand their operations. "Launch activity just at that spaceport could climb to 100 to 200 launches annually," he said. "We clearly have a system that cannot support that." The issue isn't relegated to the U.S. alone. "We see an expanding worldwide infrastructure devoted to space transportation," Ball said. "We are not alone in this enterprise, nor should we expect to be."

What's going to be required is for private companies and governments to realize that space launches are going to start becoming routine occurrences, and plan accordingly. Space transit needs to start seeing the same regulations and infrastructure support as other travel, Ball said. (3/16)

Trump Flips Science the Bird with New Budget (Source: Ars Technica)
First and foremost, President Trump's proposed budget is focused on the military, which will see a $54 billion increase in spending, offset by cuts or wholesale elimination of programs elsewhere. Science is clearly not a priority, as it is repeatedly targeted for cuts in every agency that funds it.

But those cuts aren't evenly distributed. NASA's budget sees a relatively minor reduction, with Earth sciences research funded by the agency will be cut to expand funding elsewhere. The National Science Foundation, a major source of grants for fundamental research, isn't even mentioned, so there's no sense of how it will fare. And the harshest cuts appear to be directed at biomedical research, which will see a dramatic 20% drop in funding for the National Institutes of Health.

Science in the Department of Energy would also face severe cuts, with a budget that "demonstrates the administration's commitment to reasserting the proper role of what has become a sprawling federal government." While the Department's overall budget would be down by 5.6 percent (down to $28 billion), shifting funds within the DOE would result in a de-emphasis on energy and physics in order to provide more money for nuclear weapons programs. (3/16)

OneWeb Breaks Ground at Cape Canaveral Spaceport for Satellite Facility (Source OneWeb)
During a ceremony with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, OneWeb Satellites CEO Brian Holz and Airbus President Mike Cosentino, it was announced that the factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is set to begin its full series, autonomous assembly line production, integration and satellite testing later this year. OneWeb Satellites is a joint venture between OneWeb, a satellite-based internet provider, and Airbus, the world’s second largest space company, with its first order to include the production of 900 communications satellites for OneWeb’s low Earth orbit constellation. (3/6)