September 19, 2013

The Lynx's Leap (Source: Air & Space)
I can feel the heat from the rocket engine through my jeans, as well as the vibration of the shock wave. The sound is like a punch; because I’m wearing protective headphones, I feel it more than hear it. It lasts all of half a second, but in that instant, the air seems to split open and release a primordial force. The flame shoots three feet through the air in the XCOR Aerospace rocket shop in Mojave, California.

The pint-size engine, its nozzle just a hand’s length, kicks with the force of 40 pounds. The test stand is itself no larger than a tea cart. Mark Peck, the engineer who pressed the red button to fire the engine, sits beside it, only about a foot or two away. He dialed in the duration of the test on an old-fashioned rotary telephone dial that XCOR gadgeteers had rigged to the test stand.

Twelve of these engines, designated 3N22, will go on the spaceship that’s coming together elsewhere on the shop floor. Six of them will give the pilot pitch, yaw, and roll control at the apex of the ship’s suborbital flight, outside the atmosphere, where aerodynamic flight controls have no effect. Six more are backups, there in case something goes wrong with any of the first six. Click here. (9/19)

Cygnus Flight Running Smoothly in Day 2 (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Orbital’s Cygnus logistics spacecraft and its team have been busy and performing well. After successfully completing two orbit-raising Delta V (DV) burns, the team carried out free drift and abort demonstrations (known as Demos 2a and 2b). This marked the first of 10 demonstration milestones for Cygnus on its way to the International Space Station. The team is packaging data from the test for NASA’s review and approval. (9/19)

China and Japan Take Rivalry to the Stars (Source: GB Times)
Recent developments highlight that both China and Japan have ambitious, multi-billion dollar space programs. Are these Asian giants - already locked in a battle for regional leadership - going head-to-head in space? Both countries have designs on our celestial neighbor. In December, China's Chang'e 3 will attempt the first soft landing on the lunar surface since the 1970s. Japan's SELENE-2 mission, pencilled in for 2017, will similarly include a lander and rover.

For China, the space flight program brings pride and prestige, plays a role in technological development, displays economic prowess and serves political goals of boosting national unity and inspiring youth. In short, China's staggering space progress shows it to be a leading country, both regionally and globally. None of this is lost on Tokyo.

Once the dominant economic and technological power in Asia, Japan is now considering developing human space flight capability to match its neighbor. As well as a Sino-Japanese battle for prestige and soft power, and for contracts to provide communications infrastructure in third countries, there are harder edges. Click here. (9/19)

British Scientists Claim to Have Found Proof of Alien Life (Source: The Independent)
A team of British scientists is convinced it has found proof of alien life, after it harvested strange particles from the edge of space. The scientists sent a balloon 27km into the stratosphere, which came back carrying small biological organisms which they believe can only have originated from space.

Professor Milton Wainwright said he was "95 percent convinced" that the organisms did not originate from earth. "By all known information that science has, we know that they must be coming in from space," he said. "There is no known mechanism by which these life forms can achieve that height. As far as we can tell from known physics, they must be incoming."

The organisms are probably not alive, but, excitingly, probably do contain DNA. Similar ones harvested during an earlier experiment have contained the chemical, which is one of the fundamental building blocks of life on earth. Some of the samples were captured covered with cosmic dust, adding further credence to the idea that they have originated from space. Click here. (9/19)

Decontamination Continues at Baikonur After Proton Failure (Source: Voice of Russia)
The fourth stage of the decontamination effort was completed on Thursday evening in the area at the Baikonur cosmodrome where the wreckage of a Proton-M carrier rocket fell after an abortive launch on July 2, a Baikonur source said on Friday. "Specialists spent three days transporting and applying decontamination agents. The results will be announced after samples of the soil have been examined in ten days' time," he said. (9/19)

Problems with Proton Booster Fixed (Source: Space Daily)
The problems with the Proton-M booster of the kind that crashed shortly after lift-off from Baikonur on July 2 have been fixed, and the system can be cleared for use again. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin is to submit a report about this to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Mr Rogozin spoke about this at a session of his defence industry commission in Moscow on Friday. (9/19)

Chinese Station Ready for Destructive Re-Entry? (Source: Space Daily)
When the crew of Shenzhou 10 departed the Tiangong 1 space laboratory in June, Chinese officials declared that Tiangong was now a spacecraft on death row. China's first space laboratory had three months to live. At the end of its lifetime, it would be subjected to a firery re-entry. We are now approaching the end of the projected lifespan of Tiangong 1.

We still don't know the exact date of its execution, which will be carried out when thrusters aboard the module are fired to remove it from orbit. It is expected that Tiangong 1 will re-enter over the Pacific Ocean, where any fragments from the laboratory will fall harmlessly into the water.

It's entirely possible that China is playing a wait-and-see game with Tiangong's demise. The three month timeline was probably an estimate, and could be subject to change. This analyst has previously noted that it is in China's best interests to avoid de-orbiting Tiangong too soon. This will allow extended testing of the spacecraft, and also allow its interactions with the atmosphere to be explored further. (9/19)

Arianespace and Astrium Sign Agreement for Ariane-5 Launcher Production (Source: Arianespace)
Astrium and Arianespace signed an initial agreement on Sep. 17 to begin the production of 18 Ariane 5 ECA launchers. As part of this agreement, Arianespace has ordered from Astrium, long-lead items and the start of production activities. These items and the first production activities are valued at more than 400 million euros.  Astrium and Arianespace plan to sign the full production contract for the additional launchers before the end of 2013. (9/19)

Iran Planning Launch of Larger "Simorgh" Rocket (Source: Space Daily)
Iran plans to send its second monkey into space onboard the home-made rocket named Pishgam (Pioneer) II (also called Simorgh) within 45 days, Iran Space Agency director Hamid Fazeli said. In January, Iran sent a capsule containing a monkey onboard Pishgam (Pioneer) I into space. Fazeli said unlike the first rocket which was solid-fueled, the Pishgam II will use liquid propellant, according to Tehran Times daily.

The plan to send living creatures into space is part of the project to send human beings into space within a course of five to eight years, said the Iranian official. ISA has plans to launch the Tadbir (Prudence) research satellite as well as Sharif and Nahid satellites into space by the end of the Iranian calendar year, which ends on March 20, 2014, he added. (9/19)

NASA’s Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration (Source: WIRED)
In 1977, the Voyager 1 spacecraft left Earth on a four-year mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn. Thirty-six years later, the car-size probe is still exploring, still sending its findings home. It has now put more than 19 billion kilometers between itself and the sun. The distance this craft has covered is almost incomprehensible. It’s so far away that it takes more than 17 hours for its signals to reach Earth.

None of this would be possible without the spacecraft’s three batteries filled with plutonium-238. In fact, Most of what humanity knows about the outer planets came back to Earth on plutonium power. Cassini’s ongoing exploration of Saturn, Galileo’s trip to Jupiter, Curiosity’s exploration of the surface of Mars, and the 2015 flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft are all fueled by the stuff.

The characteristics of this metal’s radioactive decay make it a super-fuel. More importantly, there is no other viable option. Solar power is too weak, chemical batteries don’t last, nuclear fission systems are too heavy. So, we depend on plutonium-238, a fuel largely acquired as by-product of making nuclear weapons. But there’s a problem: We’ve almost run out. Click here. (9/19)

Brazilian Hackers Confuse NASA with NSA in Revenge Attack (Source: The Telegraph)
Some activists decided to protest this US practice but it seems that they picked the wrong target," according to a Braxilian blog. They hacked NASA's web page and left the message: Stop spying on us, it said. The hackers' message also called on the United States not to attack Syria.

A NASA spokesman confirmed that a Brazilian hacker group last week posted a political message on a number of NASA websites. "At no point were any of the agency's primary websites, missions or classified systems compromised," said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel. (9/18)

Florida's CCT Supports Antares Launch from Wallops Island (Source: CCT)
Command and Control Technologies completed final preparations to configure the launch pad control system for Orbital Sciences’ second Antares flight launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Under contract to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, CCT designed and implemented the pad control system for pad 0A used in the Antares maiden flight earlier this year.

This system automates critical ground support equipment that loads propellants, monitors Antares environmental conditions, and controls other functions critical to ground operations. Based on CCT’s commercial Command and Control Toolkit and T-Zero software, the system provides a highly reliable mission critical control system to automate launch operations. Orbital Sciences also adapted the Command and Control Toolkit software to build components of the Antares launch control system for the Dulles, Virginia-based Mission Control Complex. (9/19)

Branson Says Space Hotels 'Could Eventually Happen' (Source: Huffington Post)
Virgin could "eventually" be building hotels in space, according to Sir Richard Branson. The entrepreneur made his prediction as he revealed that his latest venture, Virgin Galactic, which aims to take ordinary people into space, is just "months away" from its first flight. "Stephen Hawking wants us to colonise the moon or Mars … that could eventually happen. As could a hotel in space," Branson said. (9/19)

SpaceX Beach Closure Rules Set for Proposed Spaceport Site (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Cameron County and the Texas General Land Office have signed an agreement outlining how the county will handle the temporary closure of Boca Chica Beach for possible rocket launches. Under the agreement, the GLO will make the final decision about whether to approve beach closures for rocket launches. Those launches would be conducted by SpaceX if the company builds a launch pad in rural Cameron County. (9/19)

Got $5,000? Do A Science Experiment In Space (Source: Fast Company)
Humans have been performing science experiments in space ever since space travel became possible (anyone remember Laika, the Soviet space dog?). But not just anyone could perform a space science experiment--you'd need to come up with a detailed proposal, make an official request to the International Space Station (ISS), and hope for approval. As of today, that's no longer the case. No matter how silly or unprofessional your homemade experiment is, you can now send it to space within nine months for less than $5,000.

This democratization of space experiments comes courtesy of Ardulab, an Arduino-based container for science experiments. Created by Infinity Aerospace and Atmel, ArduLab features a microcontroller that has the ability to control hundreds of different sensors at the experimenters' choosing and a simple USB cable for computer connections. (9/19)

Boeing Does Better Under Sequestration Than Other Firms (Source: Seattle Business Journal)
Boeing is performing better than other defense contractors under sequestration, according to a report by UBS Research. The report predicts military procurement for Boeing will drop by 1% in compound annual growth rate over a three-year period. (9/18)

Aldrin Walked On Moon, Wants America To Reach Mars (Source: Investor's Business Daily)
Aldrin would be the second man to step foot on the moon, the capstone of a brilliant career as a fighter pilot, astronaut and author, most recently of "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration." He remains a loud advocate for America's space exploration. Click here. (9/19)

How Much Do We Really Know About Venus? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Venus used to be described as a sister planet because it shares a similar size, mass, and composition with Earth. But the similarities end there. Venus's 900-degree-Fahrenheit temperature, sulfuric acid atmosphere, and overwhelming air pressure (93 times greater than our home planet's) have ruled out manned missions, leaving scientists with the challenge to develop technology and techniques to withstand such a harsh environment. Click here. (9/18)

Atlas-Launched Satellite Will Link Soldiers, Top Commanders (Source: Florida Today)
A $900 million U.S. military communication satellite designed to survive even a nuclear war is edging its way up to an operational orbit high above Earth after launch Wednesday from Cape Canaveral. Spacecraft thrusters in a series of four firings will push the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite from its initial drop-off point to an interim way station in low Earth orbit. (9/19)

NASA Looks for Grad-Student Fellows (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) seeks to sponsor U.S. citizen and permanent resident graduate student researchers who show significant potential to contribute to NASA's goal of creating innovative new space technologies for our Nation's science, exploration, and economic future.

NASA solicits applications from individuals pursuing or planning to pursue master's (e.g., M.S.) or doctoral (e.g., Ph.D.) degrees in relevant space technology disciplines at accredited U.S. universities. NASA Space Technology Fellows will perform innovative space technology research and will improve America's technological competitiveness by providing the Nation with a pipeline of innovative space technologies. Click here. (9/18)

NASA's Global Hawks Mark 100th NASA Flight Milestone (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA's Global Hawk unmanned aircraft project celebrated a flight milestone on Sept. 17, 2013. The two Global Hawks reached a combined 100 NASA flights while deployed to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., to study hurricane formation and intensification in the Atlantic Ocean region. (9/18)

Giant Leap for Smarter Government (Source: Florida Today)
If you love U.S. spaceflight but shudder at the cost, Wednesday’s launch of an Orbital Sciences rocket to supply to the International Space Station should make you feel good. Although a small step for America’s space program, the smooth-as-silk launch from Virginia represented part of a giant leap for NASA contracting and free enterprise. Brevard’s “home team,” SpaceX, represents the other part, having successfully launched twice from Cape Canaveral.

For $800 million — roughly the cost of one space shuttle launch in its final years — NASA paid the two companies to research, build and launch two new rocket systems capable of delivering food and gear to the orbiting station. Cargo was top priority, post-shuttle. Given a maximum price and a succinct list of capabilities NASA sought, the businesses adopted sharply different strategies. For both, ime was of the essence. They would eat the cost overruns from technical failures or delays. (9/18)

Orbital Successfully Launches the Antares From Virginia (Source: Gov. Bob McDonnell)
Governor Bob McDonnell congratulated Orbital Sciences Corporation for the launch of their Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft on its maiden voyage to the International Space Station. The launch occurred at the new Virginia Space launch facility at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, said, "This has been a long time coming, with the full support of Governor McDonnell and multiple Virginia Governors before him. Space is a key part of the transportation infrastructure. Virginia Transportation is not just roads, rails and ports - we are space too."

Dale Nash, Executive Director of VCSFA said the mission confirms full operational capability of MARS Pad-0A. Virginia plays a key role in national security and assured access to space as one of only four states in the United States that is licensed by the FAA to launch spacecraft into orbit. Virginia stands ready to continue supporting Orbital in launching Antares on cargo resupply missions to the ISS as well as any other future missions. (9/18)

United Launch Alliance Celebrates 75 Launch Milestone (Source:
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) celebrated its 75 launch milestone when their Atlas V launch vehicle successfully lofted the AEHF-3 satellite out of Cape Canaveral. The company was formed at the end of 2006 as a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The merger consolidated all production and engineering capability into their bases in Decatur, Alabama and Littleton, Colorado. (9/18)

Ecuadorian Satellite to be Launched from Russian Spaceport on Nov. 21 (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Russian launch vehicle will put the Ecuadorian satellite Krisaor on the orbit on November 21. The launch is scheduled from the spaceport Yasny in Orenburg Region, astronaut and Director of the Ecuadorian Space Agency Ronnie Nader said on Tuesday. (9/18)

Mikulski Praises Successful Antares Launch (Source: SpaceRef)
"Today is a victory for space science and jobs!" Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said. "Congratulations to the men and women of Orbital, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, and NASA Wallops on the successful launch of Antares today."

"This is a momentous milestone for Spaceport Wallops as critical tools and supplies liftoff from the Eastern Shore to astronauts on the International Space Station. Today's launch is possible because of the close partnership between federal and state agencies along with the private sector at Wallops Island working to create jobs today and jobs tomorrow." (9/18)

Iran Repeating Wasteful, Deadly Space Experiments on Animals (Source: Huffington Post)
In 1963, the French government launched a rocket from Algeria 120 miles above the Earth. Inside was a cat named FĂ©licette, who had her skull cut open and electrodes implanted to measure her brain activity. She fell back to Earth in a capsule with a parachute. Several days later, apparently, the French attempted the same thing with another cat, and after the capsule landed, the cat was found dead.

That cruel and useless mission occurred 50 years ago, and it was the first and last time in history that cats were ever launched into space. Without further feline torture, space exploration has advanced by leaps and bounds, and the world has largely moved on from archaic and fundamentally flawed experiments on animals in its quest to travel through space.

Apparently, though, Iran is gearing up to repeat the wasteful and deadly mistakes that marked the Cold War-era space race. Iran's outdated experiments with animals in space, seemingly straight from the playbook of Wile E Coyote, are a throwback to the primitive techniques of the 1960s. (9/18)

Seattle Will Help Innovate Space Tourism (Source: KPLU)
Seattle may become the hub of space tourism, says Museum of Flight CEO Douglas King. Companies have already sold rocket seats to space tourists for hundreds of thousands of dollars. That might seem like a lot of money, but King compares the novelty of space tourism to commercial airlines in the early twentieth century.

Much of the innovation that fuels space tourism will like come from Seattle and the same companies who pioneered in computers and aviation, said King. King moderated a panel on the future of commercial spaceflight at the Museum of Flight. Opportunities range from travel to exploration, to asteroid mining. In addition to Virgin Galactic and the Space Angels Network, one of the local companies participating is Planetary Resources. (9/18)

Atlas Launches Military Satellite at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Space Today)
An Atlas 5 rocket successfully launched the third in a series of military communications satellites for the US Air Force early Wednesday. The Atlas 5 531 rocket lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport and placed the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) 3 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit 51 minutes later.

The launch was postponed by more than hour because of clouds at the launch site. The Lockheed Martin-built AEHF-3 satellite, weighing more than 6,100 kilograms at launch, is designed to provide secure communications for the US military, joining two others launched in 2010 and 2012. (9/18)

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