December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

ISS Astronauts Complete Coolant Loop Repair in Just Two Spacewalks
(Source: Space Policy Online)
NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins successfully completed the tasks needed to replace a coolant pump assembly on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 24.  NASA planned three spacewalks for this repair, but the duo were able to accomplish it in only two. A brief test of the new pump assembly while the crew was still outside the station showed that everything is functioning properly, though a full-up test will not take place until later. (12/24)

Commercial Spaceflight Soars In 2013 (Source: Aviation Week)
When the first International Space Station (ISS) crew lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome early on Oct. 31, 2000, a lot of us watching the Soyuz rocket climb through a thick overcast wondered if we were witnessing history, or just the start of another human spaceflight mission with a beginning and eventual end date. So far, it has been history. At least two humans at a time have been living and working off the planet since Soyuz TM-31 lifted off. Conceivably, a human presence in space could be permanent.

Today the station has 15 pressurized modules, with more on the way from Russia and Bigelow Aerospace, and four massive solar-array wings that would have dwarfed the original pressurized configuration. The surviving shuttles are in museums, but there is now so much traffic to and from the ISS that scheduling has become problematic. Russia still delivers crews with Soyuz capsules, and cargo with Progress vehicles. Europe and Japan have their respective ATV and HTV robotic cargo carriers on the manifest.

But most of the cargo deliveries next year will come via a new class of vehicles that were barely a gleam in an engineer's eye when Gidzenko, Krikalev and Shepherd climbed aboard the station. Editor's Note: And after the growing manifest of commercial cargo missions is launched in 2014, we can expect multiple commercial crew launch providers to begin operations at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (12/13)

Balloons Versus Rocket Planes: Space Tourism Race Picks Up Pace (Source: E&T)
An unexpected space race is underway between Richard Branson’s hyped Virgin Galactic and a little known Spanish company zero2infinity. Much like USA and its archival USSR, the two companies are competing to see who will get a man to the edge of space first – and, in this case, who will start making money out of it.

Virgin has been pledging to start commercial operations ‘in the next two years’ since 2009, at which point the company was already one year behind its original schedule. In the latest publicity stunt at the UK Farnborough airshow in June 2013, Branson claimed he and his family would blast off aboard Virgin’s Space Ship Two on a pioneering two-hour space journey on 25 December. The date of the maiden flight has later been revised to February 2014 and doubts have already been cast on the probability of achieving this target.

In the meantime, zero2infinity, founded in 2009 by a Spanish entrepreneur Jose Mariano Lopez Urdiales, has opted for a different strategy. Offering a longer near-space ride, more comfort and a little bit of free-fall induced weightlessness, Zero2Infinity plans to use helium-filled balloons to carry a pressurised capsule for four passengers and two pilots to the stratosphere. Click here. (12/24)

Curiosity Wheel Wear Increases (Source: Space Today)
As the NASA Mars rover Curiosity continues its exploration of Gale Crater, engineers are closely watching an unexpected increase in wear on the rover's wheels. Mission officials said that while dents and small holes in the rover's six aluminum wheels were expected, the rate of wear on the wheels appears to have accelerated in the last month. That wear is not impairing the rover's ability to traverse Martian terrain at this time, but controllers plan to take a set of images of the wheels in the near future to better catalog the wear on the wheels so that can be used for planning future drives by the rover. (12/24)

How to Map a Galaxy When You’re Right in the Middle of It (Source: Nautilus)
We have no images of our galactic home from the outside for a simple reason: We cannot travel that far. But the image we have devised isn’t wholly wrong (so long as it shows the galaxy with spiral arms, which not all versions do). We do live in a spiral galaxy, and our Sun orbits the center of that galaxy about one-third of the way out.

With blue-tinged arms curving around a bright center, prominent dark streaks, and puffy-looking clouds of gas, spiral galaxies are some of the most beautiful objects in the universe. And there are lots of them: More than 60 percent of large galaxies are spirals. If you’re one of the lucky people to have seen the streak of light that constitutes what we can see of the Milky Way, you’ve realized it looks nothing like the pictures of spiral galaxies.

So how do we know that our galaxy is a spiral? How can we place the Solar System inside this galaxy if we can’t see the whole Milky Way? As you might expect, it’s not easy. Astronomers have actively debated—with reasonable evidence to back up various assertions—whether the Milky Way has four or six arms, how many stars the galaxy has, and how its dark matter (the invisible material making up about 80 percent of the mass of the galaxy) is distributed. Click here. (12/24)

Laser Demonstration Reveals Bright Future for Space Communication (Source: NASA)
The completion of the 30-day Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration or LLCD mission has revealed that the possibility of expanding broadband capabilities in space using laser communications is as bright as expected. Hosted aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer known as LADEE, for its ride to lunar orbit, the LLCD was designed to confirm laser communication capabilities from a distance of almost a quarter-of-a-million miles.  

In addition to demonstrating record-breaking data download and upload speeds to the moon at 622 megabits per second (Mbps) and 20 Mbps, respectively, LLCD also showed that it could operate as well as any NASA radio system. "Throughout our testing we did not see anything that would prevent the operational use of this technology in the immediate future," said Don Cornwell, LLCD mission manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. (12/24)

Russia Set to Debut Soyuz-2-1v Out of Plesetsk (Source:
The Russians are set to debut their new Soyuz-2-1v rocket on Wednesday, launching the Aist satellite and two SKRL-756 calibration spheres. The secretive launch of the new Soyuz – that does not sport any of the boosters familiar to the other members of the Soyuz family – is now scheduled for 12:30 UTC on Christmas Day from launch pad 43/4 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. (12/23)

ICBM RS-24 Yars Successfully Test Fired From Plesetsk Cosmodrome (Source: Itar-Tass)
A test launch of the solid-propelled intercontinental ballistic missile RS-24 Yars has been carried out from the Plesetsk cosmodrome. “On December 24, a RVSN combat crew carried out a test launch of the silo-based solid-propelled multiple-warhead ICBM RS-24 Yars from the Plesetsk state test launch facility at 11:00 Moscow time. The training warheads with the specified precision hit targets at the Kura range (Kamchatka Krai),” the official said. (12/24)

Russia Set to Launch 3 Military Satellites (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Russian Rokot carrier rocket will lift off from the Plesetsk space center in northern Russia early on Wednesday to put three military satellites into orbit, the Defense Ministry said. The launch of the rocket, to carry Kosmos-series satellites, has been scheduled for 4:31 a.m. Moscow time (00:31 GMT), ministry spokesman Col. Dmitry Zenin said. (12/24)

Russia, Kazakhstan Sign "Roadmap" for Joint Use of Baikonur (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia and Kazakhstan have signed a "roadmap" for the joint use of the Baikonur space complex in 2014-16. Russian First Vice-Premier Igor Shuvalov and Kazakh First Deputy Prime Minister Bakhytzhan Sagintayev affixed their signatures to the documents in the presence of Presidents Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev on the sidelines of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting. (12/24)

Identical Astronauts Prepare for First Twin Study in Space (Source: Scientific American)
Famous for teasing out the effects of nature and nurture, studies comparing twins are a hallmark of research in many fields, including psychology, biology and medicine. Now NASA is preparing to run the first twin study in space, comparing how identical twin astronauts fare while one spends a year in orbit and the other remains on the ground.

Scott Kelly, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, is due to spend a full year living on the International Space Station from spring 2015 to spring 2016. Meanwhile Mark Kelly, Scott’s six-minutes-older brother and a retired astronaut, will live his normal life on the ground, undergoing periodic medical tests that will match those being performed on Scott in space. (12/24)

Air Force Selects Officers for Space Leadership Roles (Source: USAF)
More than three dozen officers have been selected for calendar year 2014 space operations director of operations, detachment commander and director of space forces positions, Air Force Personnel Center officials announced. Nominees, considered by the developmental team in November, were assessed for exceptional leadership skills and ability to set the example through unquestioned integrity and professional competence, motivate others, demonstrate concern and interest in subordinates, ability to mentor and their initiative. (12/24)

Boeing, Energia Achieve Mixed Results in SeaLaunch Counterclaims (Source: RIA Novosti)
A US federal court on Wednesday granted in part and denied in part a motion by American aerospace and defense conglomerate Boeing to dismiss counterclaims filed by Russian space giant Energia in Boeing’s $355 million lawsuit. In February, Boeing filed a complaint against Energia and Ukrainian's Yuzhnoye alleging a breach of contract in connection with the 1995 establishment of Sea Launch. Boeing is seeking $355 million plus interest and legal fees.

Energia filed an amended counterclaim asserting a breach of fiduciary duty against Boeing, a fraud and intentional deceit claim, an accounting claim, and a claim seeking the enforcement of an arbitration award against the Boeing plaintiffs. The Boeing plaintiffs moved to dismiss the amended counterclaim. Click here. (12/24)

NASA's Deep Space Network Celebrates 50 Years (Source: NASA JPL)
The Deep Space Network first existed as just a few small antennas as part of the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility. That facility, originally operated by the U.S. Army in the 1950s, morphed into the Deep Space Network on Dec. 24, 1963, and quickly became the de facto network for missions into deep space.

During its first year of operation, the network communicated with three spacecraft - Mariner 2, IMP-A and Atlas Centaur 2. Today, it communicates with 33 via three antenna complexes in Goldstone, Calif.; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia, maintaining round-the-clock coverage of the solar system. (12/24)

How Will We Cope With the Moon's Hidden Hazard? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Fine as flour, but as rough as sandpaper, lunar dust was the bane of Apollo astronauts who visited the moon. It caused problems with spacesuits. It gave them hay fever. It permeated the cabin of the lunar landers. Worse than these nuisances, there’s evidence that moon dust may in fact be toxic to humans.

So what are we going to do if NASA ever sends astronauts back to the surface of the moon? Believe it or not, even though NASA doesn’t have current plans to return astronauts to the moon — or any other planets, dwarf planets or moons in the solar system, but that’s another story — engineers at Johnson Space Center have been thinking about this problem. And their solution is as brilliant as it is simple. Put the spacesuits outside. Click here. (12/24)

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