February 25, 2014

Sun Erupts with Huge X-Class Flare, Biggest of 2014 (Source: Discovery)
Solar maximum may be starting to wane, but the sun has no intention on slipping into the stellar doldrums quietly. At 7:50 p.m. EST on Monday, a sunspot emerging from the southeastern limb of our nearest star unleashed its magnetic fury, exploding with an X5-class flare. X-class solar flares are the most powerful classification of flare. (2/25)

Scientist Says Russian Meteorite Being Stored Incorrectly (Source: RIA Novosti)
The largest surviving fragment of a meteor that entered Earth’s atmosphere in a fiery blaze over Russia last year will quickly deteriorate unless it is properly preserved, a scientist warned Tuesday. The meteorite chunk was recovered from a lake in October near the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, which it impacted last February. Local residents reported feeling intense heat from the dramatic fireball, which injured over 1,500 people, mostly due to glass shattered by its shockwave.

The fragment, weighing 540 kilograms, now sits on display at a regional museum in the city. But Victor Grokhovsky, an assistant professor at the Urals Federal University, said a museum is not a suitable holding place for a meteorite. “To prevent its deterioration, it should be placed under glass with a moisture-absorbing substance or varnished. Otherwise it will not stay long in its present form,” he said. (2/25)

Hundreds of Violations Found at Far East Space Center (Source: RIA Novosti)
Investigators in Russia said Tuesday that they have detected 800 legal violations, mainly of labor regulations, during checks on construction work at the Vostochny space center in the Far East region of Amur. Deputy Prosecutor General Yury Gulyagin said more than 1.5 million rubles ($42,200) in back pay is still owed and that disciplinary proceedings will be taken against 200 people.

Gulyagin also said permits had only been granted for four out of 12 assets under development. “There are significant flaws in the monitoring of the quality of work,” he said. Gulyagin said 70 percent of the violations detected by the prosecutor’s office involved infringements of the labor code. (2/25)

'Missions to Mars Can Be Achieved From Wallops' (Source: DelMarVaNow.com)
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is a great option for many types of missions, including missions to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond, according to a space industry official. “Missions to Mars can be achieved from Wallops,” said Mark Pieczynski, vice president of Orbital Sciences’ Launch Services Group.

Another private company announced earlier this month it wants to use Wallops’ facilities for missions that would include human spaceflight. The Virginia spaceport and NASA Wallops Flight Facility also are a good spot for launching many types of satellites into orbit — and they give an East Coast option for the first time for some missions, Pieczynski said. “Wallops is actually a better location to get to the space station than Kennedy,” said Pieczynski. (2/25)

Orbital Sciences Seeks New Cargo Missions (Source: Aviation Week)
Orbital Sciences “Orb-1” resupply mission to the International Space Station ended a solid performance with a scheduled destructive reentry into the Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 19, concluding the first roundtrip for the automated Cygnus freighter under a $1.9 billion, eight-flight NASA contract—one the Dulles, Va.-based company intends to repeat while leveraging the accomplishment into new business opportunities.

Those include competition for additional cargo missions beyond the first NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) agreement, which expires in 2016, as well as new markets for the Antares medium-lift rocket that Orbital developed for International Space Station (ISS) deliveries as part of its participation in NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. (2/24)

Kennedy Space Center: New Up-Close Tour Debuts (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
KSC's Visitor Complex has added a new "up-close" tour, which debuted Monday, the day after its VAB tour wrapped up. The new KSC Up-Close Explore Tour has a stop outside the VAB, along with breaks on the NASA Causeway and between launch pads. On the tour, guests can see the countdown clock at NASA’s Press Site, a crawler transporter that moved Apollo rockets and space shuttles to the launch pad, and the O&C building, the departure point for astronauts traveling to the launch pad. (2/25)

Ball Delivers Antennas for Orion Inaugural Flight (Source: Ball Aerospace)
Ball Aerospace has delivered four phased array antennas to Lockheed Martin and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for the inaugural test flight of the Orion spacecraft. The Ball-built antennas are the primary means of voice, data and video communications for the astronaut crew for the nation's next generation spacecraft carrying astronauts beyond low Earth orbit and on long-duration, deep-space missions. (2/24)

Khrunichev: We Have No Plans to Abandon Baikonur (Source: Tengri News)
Russia has no plans of abandoning the Kazakhstan-based Baikonur cosmodrome after Vostochny cosmodrome is launched in the Russian Far East, First Vice Director General Vladimir Nesterov of Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center [a Moscow-based producer of spacecraft] said. (2/25)

Space Florida Promotes From Within for NewSpace Position (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida has promoted Allison Odyssey to serve as Vice President of NewSpace Market Development. In this role, Odyssey is responsible for creating, directing, and managing Space Florida’s business partnerships with the NewSpace industry, while leveraging and strengthening a positive business climate for the commercial space markets to grow in Florida. Odyssey has been with Space Florida for seven years, most recently as Senior Program Director. (2/25)

Bengtson Leaves Copenhagen Suborbitals (Source: Astronomy Aggregator)
In the last couple of days there has been a bit of a storm surrounding the Danish amateur rocket group as CS founder Kristian von Bengtson announced that he is leaving Copenhagen Suborbitals following an apparent division of opinion with co-founder Peter Madsen: "We are sad to announce that Kristian von Bengtson, one of the two founders of Copenhagen Suborbitals is leaving the project," according to a news statement.

"Together with Peter Madsen, Kristian started the project in 2008 and has since then been working full time leading the capsule development team and mission planning. Kristian and Peter are both very strong personalities, and over the past 6 years, it has been more difficult to overcome their differences in opinion." (2/25)

Is NASA employing Indecision to Allow for Roadmap Flexibility? (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Concerns have again been raised about NASA’s shaky exploration roadmap, with the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) claiming the Agency has elected to go down the “indecision-is-the-key-to-flexibility” path. Although only two missions have been manifested, the panel cited concerns about launching a crew into deep space on what would be the debut of Orion’s life support system.

Uncertainty over NASA’s return to Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) exploration is nothing new. Most of the issues are casualty of politics, with NASA’s budget constantly under negotiation, without a long-term funding cycle that would be required for a concerted push towards human missions to Mars. NASA’s budget is also spread over numerous objectives, usually resulting in starved flagship programs, sometimes the cause of delays and additional costs. (2/25)

Space Tourism Enterprise Opens Office in Las Vegas (Source: Vegas Inc.)
A small office in downtown Las Vegas has been opened in support of Worldview, a venture that by 2016 would tow tourists to the upper limits of the atmosphere by helium balloon. The Las Vegas office eventually would be expanded into a sales office, but for now it also doubles as a base from which to explore possible launch sites in Nevada. (2/25)

Orbital to Debut New Minotaur Variant with California Launch (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Orbital Sciences will debut a new variant of its Minotaur small satellite launch vehicle in late 2015 with the launch of six Skybox Imaging satellites, the company announced last week. “The Minotaur-C rocket will use four solid rocket motors...all of which have been flown dozens of times and thoroughly flight-proven in various combinations on Orbital’s other small space launch vehicles, as well as on the company’s Orbital Boost Vehicle (OBV) long-range missile defense interceptor,” the company said. (2/24)

Minotaur-C Shares Taurus Elements (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The commercial version of the Minotaur rocket tapped to launch the Skybox Imaging satellites will "look a lot like" the Taurus rocket from the outside, according to a senior Orbital official. "It turns out to be the same propulsion stack as the Taurus rocket ... with lots of common other technology from Minotaur," said Barry Beneski, an Orbital spokesperson. "Also, it is the Minotaur engineering and launch team that is developing, testing and will be launching the rocket."

Engineers are still finalizing the design of the Minotaur-C launcher, an Orbital official said, "but the plan is to use as much Minotaur avionics, ordnance, software, etc. as possible while capitalizing on existing designs from Pegasus and Taurus where it makes the most sense to keep technical risk low." The Minotaur-C rocket will likely launch from Space Launch Complex 576E at Vandenberg, the same facility used by the Taurus rocket.

Editor's Note: Space Florida's Launch Complex 46 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport is designed to accommodate Taurus vehicles and would likely also support these Minotaur rockets. Although Space Florida is contractually eligible to host Minotaur launches, they have yet to be assigned one by the Air Force, possibly due to Orbital's ability to launch them a bit cheaper from Wallops Island, where they have existing personnel and operational experience. (2/24)

Russia Cuts Space Budget, Ministries and Govt. Organizations Suffer (Source: Space Digest)
The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) couldn’t agree on Federal Space Program budget cutting with ministries and governmental organizations interested in its implementation. Thus, Roskosmos offered to postpone launches of meteorological satellites that were not accepted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

At the end of 2013 Roskosmos sent to interested organizations a draft Government decree on Federal Space Program changes, foreseen to reduce space budget in 2014 by $168 million, and in 2015 by $159 million. There was offered, in particular, to postpone launches of Elektro-L, Resurs-P and Meteor-M-2 spacecraft from 2013 to 2014, launch of Meteor-M-2.1 from 2014 to 2015, and postpone sin die launch of Meteor-M-3 meteorological satellite. (2/24)

SpaceX Falcon Rocket to Test Landing Legs (Source: Discovery)
SpaceX is installing landing legs on its next Falcon 9 rocket, part of an ongoing quest to develop boosters that fly themselves back to the launch site for reuse. For the upcoming demonstration, scheduled for March 16, the Falcon 9’s first stage will splash down, as usual, in the ocean after liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. This time, however, SpaceX hopes to cushion the rocket’s destructive impact into the Atlantic Ocean by restarting the Falcon 9’s engine and extending landing legs that will be attached to the booster’s aft section.

The goal is a soft touchdown on the water. Falcon 9 “will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control” from hypersonic all the way through subsonic regimes, SpaceX founder, chief executive and design engineer Elon Musk said on Twitter. SpaceX has been chipping away at that challenge in a related series of technology development initiatives. (2/24)

Supercar Does Over 270 MPH on Shuttle Runway (Source: Car & Driver)
John Hennessey’s beef with Bugatti won’t be over until someone dies trying. We hope it doesn’t come to that, but the Texas tuner’s latest stunt—a clocked 270.49 mph on the Kennedy Space Center runway—is taking production-car speed records to unchartered territory. With the space shuttle grounded, Hennessey figured he’d use NASA’s 3.2-mile-long strip in Cape Canaveral for his 1244-hp Venom GT.

The little problem about Hennessey’s claimed world record is that it wasn’t conducted in the same manner as Bugatti’s certified Guinness run. Hennessey admitted to Jalopnik that NASA wouldn’t let him run the car in opposite directions—Guinness requires an average of two runs to account for wind changes. Click here. (2/24)

Martian "Blueberries" Really Pieces of Meteorites? (Source: National Geographic)
The famed "blueberry" rocks discovered on Mars by NASA's Opportunity rover are not geological evidence of a history of ancient water on the red planet, a group of scientists now argue. Instead, they propose that the tiny spherules are actually remnants of small meteorites that broke up in Mars's atmosphere. Click here. (2/24)

Long-lasting Milsats Give U.S. Time to Consider Next Steps (Source: Space News)
As legacy U.S. military satellites celebrate and even surpass their teenage years on orbit, a Lockheed Martin executive said the extra service time is allowing for a strategic pause, helping the Air Force to plan its future portfolio. (2/24)

Could First Crew on NASA's Space Launch System be Bound for Mars? (Source: Huntsville Times)
A congressional hearing this week will raise the dramatic prospect of a Mars fly-by for NASA's new Space Launch System being developed in Huntsville, Ala. The title of the Thursday hearing before the full House Science Committee is "Mars Flyby 2021: The First Deep Space Mission for the Orion and Space Launch System?"

Right now, NASA's plan for 2021 is to make the first crewed launch of the massive new rocket system a trip around the moon. But space journalists are linking Friday's hearing with earlier proposals by Inspiration Mars mission organizer Dennis Tito. Tito has already told a House Science Committee subcommittee that he could use SLS to send a married couple on a Mars fly-by in 2018.

Tito is now focused on a variation that would "take 88 days longer than the 501-day mission in the 2018 plan, but would feature flybys of both Mars and Venus." Tito has held discussions with NASA at Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center, where NASA engineers are designing the Space Launch System (SLS).  (2/24)

How a Mars Mission Could Ease California’s Future Droughts (Source: Re/Code)
For a glimpse at how arid stretches of the southwest might one day deal with droughts like the one gripping California, a good place to start is the Ames Research Center. On the second floor of a building known as N239, with gray pockmarked walls designed to resemble the surface of the moon, is a room full of beakers, instruments and machines. This is the Water Technology Development Lab.

There, scientist Michael Flynn and his team are working on a daunting task: Making sure astronauts don’t die of dehydration. That becomes a particularly tricky problem as NASA winds up for a three-year journey to and from Mars. Given the constraints of any spacecraft, the only way to do it is to recycle sweat and urine. Flynn believes the best way to do that is to mimic the human body’s own processes, using synthetic membranes that, like the intestines, lined with lipids and proteins that evolution engineered into ideal water filters.

What does that have to do with a California drought? Everything. More reliable and less energy-intensive water membranes could make desalination and waste-water recycling more affordable and efficient, easing pressure on groundwater and reservoirs. Just how well it works at industrial scale remains to be seen – but it’s abundantly clear that new approaches are needed, whether they come from NASA or elsewhere. (2/24)

Spying on Slackers at Vostochny Cosmodrome (Source: Moscow Times)
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has installed cameras at the construction site of Russia's new cosmodrome so that he can personally pick out "slackers" responsible for the increasing delays. "I had cameras installed at the cosmodrome last week," Rogozin said Monday during a visit to the Vostochny Cosmodrome. "I even upload the images on social media networks. Slackers who are not doing anything at work should know that I am watching them." (2/25)

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