January 29, 2014

Former Shuttle Commander Flies Virgin Galactic's Private Spaceship for 1st Time (Source: Space.com)
Any test pilots hoping to match Rick "CJ" Sturckow's resume must now be feeling seriously discouraged. The former NASA astronaut, who has four space shuttle missions under his belt, got behind the wheel of Virgin Galactic's private SpaceShipTwo spaceliner for the first time earlier this month, guiding the vehicle through an unpowered "glide flight" in the skies above California's Mojave Air and Space Port. (1/29)

UrtheCast Cameras Successfully Installed on ISS (Source: CBC)
Scott Larson, the CEO of the Vancouver-based UrtheCast Corp., says both cameras — one that shoots photos, the other video — were successfully installed and data was being received from them. It had earlier been reported that astronauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy successfully installed one of two cameras for Earth observations, a task requiring multiple power connections outside the space station, but that the second, medium-resolution camera did not provide good data to ground controllers after Monday's hookup. (1/29)

Russian Space Agency Plans World’s Biggest Rocket (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s Roscosmos space agency is to seek government approval to build the world’s largest rocket, its head said Tuesday. “I think that in the near future, within a month, we will make our suggestions to the Military-Industrial Commission,” Oleg Ostapenko said at an annual space conference in Moscow. Ostapenko, who was appointed head of the agency in October, said the planned launcher would be able to lift 80 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

It could also be upgraded to launch as much as 160 tons, which would be the heaviest payload every lifted by a single rocket into space. The current record holder, NASA’s Saturn V rocket that was used to launch Apollo astronauts on their journey to the moon, had a maximum capability of 120 metric tons. (1/28)

Russia Plans Several Moon, Mars Missions in Near Future (Source: Xinhua)
Russia plans to launch several Moon and Mars missions in the next few years, Victor Khartov, head of the Lavochkin aerospace company, said. "In 2015, we plan the Luna-Glob mission," Khartov told a scientific gathering here, adding that new engineering solutions will be sought for future lunar missions.

According to Khartov, in 2016 Russia will launch the Luna-Resurs-1 Moon orbiter, which will be followed by Luna-Resurs-2 vehicle. The latter will land near the Moon's South Pole to drill the soil and bring it back to Earth. In 2018, Russia intends to launch a 2-ton probe carrying a 300-kg Martian rover built by the European Space Agency. Khartov also revealed Russia plans its own Boomerang mission to the Martian satellite Phobos by 2020.

After 2020, the Lavochkin company envisages construction of a Venera-D probe for explorations of Venus. The probe should survive on the extremely hot planet's surface for about 24 hours, Khartov said. (1/28)

NASA to Make Water on the Moon and Oxygen on Mars (Source: Discovery)
NASA is planning missions to demonstrate how to make water on the moon and oxygen on Mars. The initiatives are part of an evolving space exploration strategy that relies on indigenous resources, primarily to make rocket fuel for the return trip home. Studies show the most viable options for future human expeditions to Mars -- as well as Mars sample return missions -- require what is known as “in-situ resource utilization,” or IRSU, to save the enormous costs of launching everything from Earth.

The first in-space ISRU test is targeted for 2018. NASA plans to launch a mission called Resource Prospector that includes a rover with instruments to scout for telltale hydrogen, drill out samples, heat them and scan for water vapor and other volatiles on the moon. Vapor also could be re-condensed to form a drop of water.

A second ISRU experiment is due to be aboard NASA’s next Mars rover, which is slated for launch in 2020. The device, which has yet to be selected, would pull carbon dioxide from the planet’s atmosphere, filter out dust and other particles and prepare the gas for chemical processing into oxygen. (1/29)

NASA To Order More Soyuz Seats (Source: Space News)
U.S. astronauts will continue to fly to and from the international space station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft through the end of 2017, NASA announced Jan. 27. NASA plans to reserve six Soyuz seats to cover round-trip transportation and related training for three astronauts during 2017, according to a sole-source procurement notice. Also included in the pending Soyuz order, which will be NASA’s second in as many years, is emergency crew rescue services through the spring of 2018, NASA said. (1/28)

Florida Space Industry to Visit Capitol on March 12 (Source: Florida Space Day)
Representatives from Florida’s aerospace industry will visit Tallahassee on March12, 2014, to participate in Florida Space Day and share with legislators the opportunities the industry brings to Florida and the nation’s space program. Former NASA astronaut Bob Crippen, pilot of the first orbital test flight of the Shuttle program and former KSC Director, will be making scheduled appearances throughout the event. Space-related exhibits will be available on the third floor Rotunda of the Capitol. (1/28)

NASA Ramps Up Space Launch System Sound Suppression Testing (Source: NASA)
The first round of acoustic tests on a scale model of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) is underway. The tests will allow engineers to verify the design of the launch pad's sound suppression system. The testing, which began Jan. 16 at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, will focus on how low- and high-frequency sound waves affect the rocket on the launch pad. This testing will provide critical data about how the powerful noise generated by the engines and boosters may affect the rocket and crew, especially during liftoff. (1/28)

Russian ISS Segment Can Be Used as Port for Future Orbital Station (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS) that will be finally formed before 2020 can be used as a port for a future orbital station, President of Russian space and rocket corporation Energia Vitaly Lopota said. In his words, Russia’s ISS segment will be finally created and filled with research equipment by 2018-2020. Russia and the United States will sign an agreement to extend ISS operation up to 2024. The creation of a new orbital station will be raised in the future. (1/28)

Russia Working on Creation of Radar Spacecraft (Source: Interfax)
The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) is working with aerospace enterprises on the creation of radar spacecraft, which the Russian group currently does not have, Oleg Ostapenko, the head of Roscosmos, said. "Radar location is a very important and promising area. Unfortunately, we do not have such capabilities in our orbital spacecraft group. we are now actively contacting a number of enterprises to work on this issue," he said. (1/28)

Russia and U.S. to Sign Treaty Prolonging ISS Operations Until 2024 (Source: Interfax)
The United States and Russia have agreed to prolong the operations of the International Space Station (ISS) for the period up to 2024, the president and general designer of Russia's Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, Vitaly Lopota, said. "We expect to sign this treaty in the near future," he said at the Bauman Moscow State Technical University on Tuesday. (1/28)

Russia Could Go It Alone After International Space Station Closes (Source: RIA Novosti)
The Russian segment of the International Space Station could live on as a separate facility after the project’s conclusion, the head of the company that oversees the country’s participation said Tuesday. “By the mid-2020s our American colleagues will have exhausted their technical resources and Russia will have a unique opportunity to use the segment, still to be completed, as an orbiting international port,” RSC Energia’s president Vitalii Lopota said. (1/28)

Russian-Europe ExoMars Mission to Head for Mars in 2018 (Source: Interfax)
NPO Lavochkin is in charge of the landing module of the Russian-European ExoMars project, Lavochkin General Director Viktor Khartov said. "We are creating a two-tonne landing module for this mission. It will transport a 3,000-kilogram European rover to the surface of Mars," he said. The mission starts in 2018, Khartov noted. (1/28)

Russia’s NORD Device May Travel to Mars (Source: Voice of Russia)
A device created by Russian scientists is bidding for a chance to travel to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. In about five months or so, it will be clear whether NORD, the brainchild of the Moscow-based Space Research Institute, will participate in the mission. NASA launched a competition for Mars 2020 research proposals in September. By now, the application submission is already over.

“NORD has no generator. We replaced it with a gamma spectrometer designed to measure natural radiation on Mars' surface and analyze the chemical composition of Martian soil in areas explored by the rover,” Igor Mitrofanov, an IKI laboratory chief, told reporters. NORD will help Mars 2020 rover figure out how humans can best use the red planet’s resources and which parts of Mars are the most suitable habitats for humans in terms of minerals. (1/28)

US Struggles to Offload Telescopes (Source: Nature)
Astronomer D. J. Pisano got to spread some good news last month. He and his colleagues at West Virginia University in Morgantown announced a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The money will allow his team to build an antenna-like detector to speed up sky surveys at the Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the nearby 110-metre-wide radio dish that is the largest steerable radio telescope in the world. There is just one problem. Even as the NSF funding goes towards improving the telescope, the agency is trying to get rid of it.

Following an independent ‘portfolio review’ in 2012 (see Nature 488, 440; 2012), the NSF is exploring closing the GBT and nine other telescopes it operates (see ‘Closing time’). The alternative is to find partners to share the cost. West Virginia University has already shelled out $1 million to buy time on the GBT to bolster its growing astronomy faculty — a first hint of what a future for these jettisoned telescopes might look like. (1/28)

NASA Planning for Mission To Mine Water on the Moon (Source: Space News)
Following a series of reconnaissance missions that found hydrogen and then water on the Moon, NASA is laying the groundwork for a lunar rover that would scout for subsurface volatiles and extract them for processing. The heart of the proposed Resource Prospector Mission (RPM) is the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) payload, a technology development initiative that predates its official start two years ago in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division.

Notionally targeted for launch in 2018, RPM would be NASA’s first attempt to demonstrate in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) beyond Earth. The agency has spent just north of $20 million on the project to date, but expects its investment to top out around a quarter of a billion dollars. “The concept of RPM came up out of the need to fly RESOLVE and the near-term, close way to test that would be on the Moon,” said Jason Crusan, NASA’s chief technologist for space operations. (1/28)

The Hunt for Killer Asteroids (Source: Mashable)
The Chelyabinsk meteor arrived at a crucial moment in technology. Scientists are discovering new ways to identify near-Earth objects (NEOs), just like Chelyabinsk, every day. The main problem is politics regarding the funding and overall priority of NEO-tracking: whether better asteroid telescopes are worth the investment over, say, exploratory missions to Mars. The conflicts make it difficult to move forward.

One group is even choosing to bypass government funding all together. It aims to crowdsource funding for a space telescope that would hunt approaching rocks from an Earth-like orbit around the sun. Other inventors are designing technologies to deflect approaching rocks, one of which would use a spacecraft's gravitational pull to nudge an asteroid off its course.

Location plays a factor, too. The Chelyabinsk asteroid came from the direction of the sun, which blinded any telescopes that might have otherwise detected it. While specifics about asteroid tracking and prevention continue to be fuzzy, the lingering question remains: When it’s our entire civilization at risk, is it better to be safe than really, really sorry? Click here. (1/28)

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