April 18, 2014

SpaceX Launches 3rd Station Delivery Mission for NASA (Source: NASA)
After a series of delays, including one prompted by a glitch that forced the company to replace a faulty helium valve on the core stage of its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX. launched its third contracted cargo delivery mission to the international space station April 18. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, laden with more than 2 metric tons of cargo, is due to rendezvous with station April 20.

The mission is the third of 12 SpaceX owes NASA under a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract signed in 2008. While Dragon is berthed with station, where it was slated to stay for about a month, astronauts will perform a spacewalk to replace an external computer — a so-called External-2 Multiplexer/Demultiplexer — that failed April 11. The spacewalk is scheduled for April 23. The failed computer controls, among other things, the positioning of the space station’s massive solar arrays. Those functions were passed to a backup computer after the April 11 failure. (4/18)

Boeing-Built Fighter Jets Could Launch US Military Satellites Into Space (Source: Space.com)
And you thought space launches couldn't get any cooler: The next generation of small satellites may blast into orbit from the belly of a fighter jet. DARPA gave Boeing a $30.6 million contract last month to develop a 24-foot (7.3-meter) launch vehicle that would attach to the bottom of an F-15E Strike Eagle.

The concept calls for the jet to drop this vehicle when it reaches an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), at which point the craft's rocket engines would kick on, carrying onboard satellites into orbit. This launch system could slash the cost of launching small satellites — those weighing up to 100 pounds (45 kilograms) — by 66 percent if all goes well, Boeing officials said. (4/18)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concept Program Seeks Phase II Proposals (Source: NASA)
NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program is seeking proposals for technologies that could be used on future exploration missions. The new proposals will build on the most promising ideas developed in the program's first phase. The NIAC program funds cutting-edge concepts that have the potential to transform future missions, enable new capabilities, or significantly alter current approaches to launching, building, and operating aerospace systems.

NIAC's Phase II studies provide an opportunity to develop the most promising Phase I concepts. These are aerospace architecture, mission, or system concepts with transformative potential. They must continue to push into new frontiers, while remaining technically and programmatically credible. NIAC's current portfolio of diverse efforts advances aerospace technology in many areas, including construction, human systems, transportation, imaging, and robotic exploration. (4/18)

Last-Ditch Efforts to Salvage China's Stricken Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover (Source: South China Morning Post)
Engineers are desperately trying to revive China's crippled lunar rover Jade Rabbit as fears grow that its mission could be over. It broke down six weeks into its three-month mission in late January because of "mechanical control abnormalities". And it has been parked up on the moon's surface for more than two months after travelling just 20 meters. Engineers now say a blockage in the power circuitry is to blame and are looking to bypass it. (4/18)

UAE's Role in the New Space Race (Source: Arabian Business)
In November last year, the skies around the Yasny launch base in the Russian province of Orenburg lit up as a Dnepr-1 rocket lifted off. Included on that rocket’s payload was DubaiSat-2, an advanced electro-optical Earth observation satellite. Ever since the launch, the satellite has been quietly tested, and at some point last week, it became fully operational.

The event was covered briefly in the local press, but in truth, the steady flow of satellite launches has become commonplace. Yet only five years ago the UAE was merely a blip on the global space radar. While quietly building up the industry with launches of Etisalat-backed satellite phone company, Thuraya, in 1997 and Yahsat by Abu Dhabi investment vehicle Mubadala 10 years later, the country’s endeavours have been on a slow, though steady, trajectory. (4/18)

A Galaxy Full of Earths? (Source: CNN)
The amazing discoveries from NASA's Kepler planet-hunting space telescope keep rolling in. The latest, announced this week by astronomers, is the discovery of a planet just 10% larger than the Earth orbiting in the so-called "habitable zone" of the star Kepler-186. In our solar system, Earth is the only planet in the habitable zone -- the distance from the sun where liquid water can exist on the surface without boiling away (like on Venus), or turning to ice (like on Mars).

Even if it doesn't turn out to be Earth-like, the number of actual Earth-like extrasolar planets out there appears to be staggering. During its four-year mission, Kepler observed just a tiny, random, average piece of the sky, one you would cover with your fist held at arm's length. More than 1,000 planets have been discovered so far from just the nearby stars in that tiny patch of the sky. (4/18)

Musk's Reusable Rocket Launches And Lands Itself In Texas (Source: Business Insider)
Elon Musk's private space company, SpaceX, has been experimenting with reusable rockets since last year. Because the cost of fuel is much less compared to the cost of building a rocket from scratch every time, Musk and his team are trying to master reusable rockets so they can get closer to their goal of making commercial space travel more affordable.

The company just posted an amazing video on YouTube of its Falcon 9 Reusable rocket lifting off, rising 250 meters, hovering, and landing on the ground right next to the launch pad. Even cooler, the video was shot by a drone. Click here. (4/18) 

Russian Tug: Supporting Submarines or Observing SpaceX Launch? (Source: Aviationist)
The Russian tug “Nikolay Chiker” is an ocean tug that has often deployed alongside Russian Navy’s high value assets. According to Information Dissemination, the ship accompanied Russia’s spy ship Viktor Leonov to Cuba last month, before moving off Florida, where it was parked on Mar. 15, ahead of the launch of Dragon spacecraft (Space Shuttle Orbiter replacement) on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket scheduled of Mar. 16 from the SLC-40 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Editor's Note: So what would happen if a Russian vessel like this one purposefully loitered in the launch danger zone to violate launch safety constraints? (4/17)

Turn Your SatNav Ideas into Business (Source: ESA)
Propose a great satnav idea and win a prize with ESA support to create your own business. Previous winners are now running companies with systems for athlete tracking and indoor navigation, and many are supported by ESA’s Business Incubation Centers. Launched this week at the European Navigation Conference in Rotterdam, the annual European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC) recognises products, services and innovations designed to improve our daily lives with the help of satellite navigation. (4/17)

Orbital Evaluating Three Bids for Antares Engine (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. said it is evaluating three bids — two Russian, one U.S. — to produce main-stage engines for Orbital’s Antares rocket. The engines being offered include the Russian-built, U.S.-modified engine currently used for Antares. Orbital Chief Executive David W. Thompson said his company has a sufficient supply of the current Russian-built engines for three more years of Antares operations. Orbital has three Antares first-stage structures, built by a Ukrainian manufacturer, at an Orbital facility, with two more to be shipped soon. (4/18)

Orbital: Amazonas Glitch is Permanent (Source: Space News)
Satellite and rocket builder Orbital Sciences Corp. on April 17 said the electrical failure on the Orbital-built Amazonas 4A satellite launched in March appears likely to result in a permanent reduction in the satellite’s capacity but that there is no risk of similar failures on other satellites in orbit or in production. (4/18)

Urgent Spacewalk Must Dance Between Dragon and Progress Spacecraft (Source: Universe Today)
It’s a good thing that next week’s urgent spacewalk is pegged as a short one, because the coming days will be hectic for the Expedition 39 crew. Finding a spot for even a 2.5-hour excursion on the International Space Station was extremely challenging, NASA officials said, because crew time also is needed for two cargo spacecraft: the SpaceX Dragon launch scheduled for today and subsequent Progress undocking/redocking on station. (4/18)

Russia to Test Launch New Angara Rocket June 25 (Source: RIA Novosti)
The date of the maiden launch of Russia’s new Angara rocket has been set for June 25, an official with the Russian Space Agency told RIA Novosti Friday. “The launch is set for June 25, with the 26th as a backup date,” the official said.
He added the rocket would be fired without an orbital payload from the Plesetsk space center, located about 800 kilometers north of Moscow. The Angara family of rockets, in development since 1995, is planned to be built in light, semi-heavy and heavy versions to lift a variety of payloads between 2 and 40 metric tons into low earth orbit. (4/18)

Russia to Keep Working With Astronauts From US, Europe, Japan (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian cosmonauts will continue to work with their colleagues from the US, Europe and Japan, despite a number of recent NASA statements about curtailing space cooperation, the head of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center said. "I have been flying with these guys, with the Americans and the Europeans, my friends have been flying as well," Yuri Lonchakov, a former cosmonaut, said.

Lonchakov was appointed head of the cosmonaut training center earlier this month. He said he had accepted the offer by Roscosmos to focus on creating a new organization for the strategic development of Russian manned spaceflight, which would be established on the basis of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building, Roscosmos' leading spacecraft scientific center. (4/18)

Despite Sanctions, Russia is Getting a $457.9M Check from NASA (Source: Washington Post)
Despite ongoing sanctions, Russia is about to get a big infusion of cash from the U.S. government. NASA recently renewed a contract that allows Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. The U.S. is, essentially, cutting Russia a $457.9 million check for its services -- six seats on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, training and launch prep, landing and crew rescue and limited cargo delivery to and from the International Space Station. This contract also adds additional support at the Russian launch site. (4/18)

Russia, China Eye Cooperation of GLONASS and BeiDou Navigation Systems (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia and China see prospects of cooperation related with satellite navigation systems GLONASS and BeiDou in regional support and development of chipsets, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. Rogozin was taking part in a meeting of co-chairs of Russian-Chinese committee for preparation of regular meetings between the countries’ prime ministers. (4/18)

Despite Crisis, Yuzhnoye Officials Say It’s Business as Usual (Source: Space News)
Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Office is continuing to produce engines and other rocket components for customers in the United States, Brazil, Russia, Europe and elsewhere with no interruptions stemming from the crisis in Ukraine’s relations with Moscow, Yuzhnoye officials said April 10.

Addressing the Space Access conference here, the officials said Yuzhnoye, based in Dniepropetrovsk — in the eastern part of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin recently referred to as Novorossiya, or New Russia — has become accustomed to maintaining its operations regardless of political turmoil. “We have been able to survive all this, including the years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, because we operate with almost complete independence from the government. This is essential,” said Yuzhnoye’s Oleg Ventskovsky. (4/18)

German Study Finds Pros, Cons to Different Commercial Models for Station Resupply (Source: Space News)
It is a story of two companies with similar contracts from NASA to carry 20,000 kilograms of payload to the international space station. Both develop new rockets and capsules to do the work. Both are behind schedule but otherwise are delivering the goods. NASA is content and seems ready to buy more services from both. But the similarities between SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. end there.

A comparative analysis performed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is in the thick of the debate in Europe about how to adapt the Ariane rocket system to the changing commercial launch market while meeting the launch requirements of European governments. At the center of the discussion is whether the current Ariane 5 rocket production landscape of more than 100 contractors spread around Europe should be abandoned in favor of a much smaller supply chain located in a handful of nations.

In examining NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) work by SpaceX and Orbital, DLR wanted to determine whether the companies’ very different make-or-buy strategies have yielded a winner. Not yet, said DLR’s Alexander Weiss. “For commercial cargo supply under the NASA contract, both companies are competitive,” Weiss said. “There is no clear evidence that one approach is better.” (4/18)

Muratsuchi: Support California’s Aerospace Industry (Source: Daily Breeze)
As your Assembly member representing the South Bay, and as chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Aerospace, I introduced legislation to support and grow one of the most exciting new industries in California, commercial space flight. Private companies like Space X are building rocket ships and creating thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs right here in Southern California. We want these companies to invest and grow in our state.

That is why I am fighting for Assembly Bill 777, a bill that provides a property tax exemption for the commercial space flight industry. The California Chamber of Commerce has dubbed my bill a job creator. The California Legislature made a significant step forward last week when the Senate came together with a strong bipartisan vote for AB 777. The bill will come back to the Assembly for one more vote before it hopefully moves on to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature. (4/18)

Ancient Plants 'Frozen in Time' by Space Impacts (Source: BBC)
Ancient plant material has been preserved in the glass formed by asteroids hitting the Earth, scientists report. The "frozen in aspic" appearance of what are apparently fragments of grass is spectacular enough. But a team writing in Geology journal says that delicate organic chemicals have also been conserved inside. Incredibly, the searing heat generated by the impacts was responsible for the remarkable preservation. (4/18)

US Firm is Taking Space Tourism to Luxurious New Heights (Source: South China Morning Post)
The prize is the panoramic curvature of the earth against the starry scenery of space, but passengers on the HK$550,000-per-ticket World View Experience trip to the edge of space won't have to keep the privileged view to themselves. In-flight internet access is guaranteed for all "citizen space explorers" who make the gas balloon-powered trip, which from 2016 will take paying passengers on suborbital flights. Click here. (4/18)

Purdue Students Pitch Moon Colony Plan to NASA (Source: Lafayette Journal Carrier)
A Purdue University senior design class has a plan to colonize the moon. The catch? It would cost an estimated $550 billion — well above NASA’s annual $18 million budget. A 40-member team of aeronautics and astronautics students outlined its plan Thursday to a crowded room, including a few NASA administrators listening in via speakerphone from Houston.

Project Artemis is spelled out in a hefty 1,100-page final report. It’s the senior project for the AAE 450 capstone class and is designed to offer a possible steppingstone to eventual colonization of Mars. Mars colonization faces several challenges that NASA hasn’t yet addressed, said professor James Longuski, who has led the class since 2001. No one expects NASA to adopt the proposal in its entirety, considering the price tag. But there’s nothing stopping NASA from taking ideas or portions of the project. (4/17)

Marshall Prepares for Dynamic Year with Space Launch System (Source: WAAY)
The Marshall Space Flight Center says, over the next several years, it could break new ground, when it comes to all kinds of discoveries. As NASA and the Marshall Space Flight Center enter next year's budget year, they're poised to tackle more than ever before. The Marshall Space Flight Center, the area's third largest employer, has 6,000 employees, and has a two and half billion dollar impact on Madison County.

And they're growing, with more contracts with outside companies for the Space Launch System. "we attract the best from around the country to work on NASA missions, and people, from wherever they are, want to come to Huntsville, Alabama because they know we're embarking on some earth changing things from what we're doing on the rocket that will be the most powerful ever, getting us further into the oceans of space than we've ever been,” says Patrick Scheuermann, the Director at the Marshall Space Flight Center. (4/17)

Cyclone-4 Development Not Affected by Ukraine Turmoil (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The current events in Ukraine have not impacted the Cyclone-4 Project development. Currently, the Launch Vehicle development is progressing as scheduled, and it will be ready for delivery to Alcantara in the second half of 2015. A significant portion of the Launch Site civil construction activities has been completed as well. Most of Ground Support Equipment has been contracted, and some has already been received in Alcantara.

According to Azovmash, one of ACS’s main contractors responsible for development, manufacturing and delivery of many key systems required for the Cyclone-4 Launch Site operation, the major part of the Cyclone-4 systems under Azovmash’s responsibility has already been manufactured, and the other part is at the final stage of fabrication. All activities are on schedule. Click here. (4/17)

Solar Power Satellites: A Visual Introduction (Source: WIRED)
Of all the spaceflight concepts NASA has seriously studied, the most enormous was the Solar Power Satellite (SPS) fleet of the 1970s. Czech-born physicist/engineer Peter Glaser outlined the concept in a brief article in the esteemed journal Science in November 1968, and was awarded a patent for his invention on Christmas Day 1973. In October 1976, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NASA began a three-phase, four-year joint study of the SPS concept. Total cost of the study was $19.6 million, of which DOE paid 60%. Click here. (4/18)

NASA's Moon-Orbiting Robot Crashes Down as Planned (Source: ABC News)
NASA's robotic moon explorer, LADEE, is no more. Flight controllers confirmed Friday that the orbiting spacecraft crashed into the back side of the moon as planned, just three days after surviving a full lunar eclipse, something it was never designed to do. Researchers believe LADEE likely vaporized when it hit because of its extreme orbiting speed of 3,600 mph, possibly smacking into a mountain or side of a crater. No debris would have been left behind. (4/18)

Editorial: SpaceX Could Soar in South Texas (Source: The Monitor)
On a spit of beach, 25 miles from downtown Brownsville sits a parcel of coastal land that SpaceX might one day develop into the nation’s first commercial space launch facility. At least that’s the hope.

Because the prospects of what this could mean for this region are mind boggling. Of course, given the undeveloped, unadulterated coastal landscape that presently exists there now and how vastly such a launch site could transform the region — economically and geographically — it’s understandable that this possibility is almost too much to comprehend.

But it’s worth imagining. It’s worth dreaming. It’s worth believing this into reality. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic. But that’s because for the past 11 years, I lived in McGregor, near Waco, which is home to SpaceX’s rocket-engine testing facility. I saw firsthand the economic and intellectual benefits and worldwide recognition that this private company brought to that Central Texas community. Click here. (4/18)

How the U.S. Is Vulnerable to Terrorism in Space (Source: National Journal)
Space terrorism is a growing threat to U.S. national security, according to a new report. And an attack on a U.S. satellite—or damage to one from another country's debris—could have astronomical effects on national security, says the report from the Council on Foreign Relations. The U.S. is more reliant on space than any other nation to carry out critical national security functions, such as precision attacks on suspected terrorists and image analysis of nuclear-weapons programs, according to the report.

But countries like China, North Korea, and Iran are developing their military space capabilities, increasing the risk of a dangerous situation for the U.S, says the report. For example, if one of these hostile countries acquires advanced space capabilities, they could feasibly attack a U.S. satellite to gain an upper hand in negotiations, hold off potential hostile acts, or as an act of defense, says Micah Zenko, the Douglas Dillon fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the CFR and the report's author. But, according to Zenko's report, terrorists take a back seat to another space threat: accidents. Click here. (4/17)

Intel Community Willing to Allow Higher Resolution Commercial Imagery (Source: Space Politics)
For the last few years, commercial satellite remote sensing company DigitalGlobe (and, before its merger with DigitalGlobe, GeoEye) has been lobbying the government to allow it to sell sharper satellite imagery that it’s currently allowed. DigitalGlobe is currently restricted to selling imagery with resolution no sharper than 0.5 meters per pixel, but has been pushing to change that limit to 0.25 meters.

The company argued that companies in other nations, not subject to US regulations, are providing imagery that is starting to approach DigitalGlobe’s sharpness, and thus the company needs the ability to sell sharper images to compete. This week, government officials have the strongest indication to date that they’re willing to change the resolution limits. Speaking in Florida, James Clapper said that the intelligence community had reached “consensus” on supporting DigitalGlobe’s call for revised resolution regulations. (4/17)

A Space Prepper’s Guide to the End of the Earth (Source: Space Safety)
If Planet Earth was doomed and you escaped to space….could you survive? With this handy guide at the ready, you might just have a chance. Click here. (4/16)

Small Satellites and Space Junk (Source: Space Safety)
Small satellites seem to have so many advantages, but are there any downsides? Admittedly, there are so many missions and projects that cannot be scaled down to these small proportions. Big birds will always fill our skies. The only potential problem that one could suggest for the small satellite revolution is the potential for more space junk. But will this really be a serious problem?

Let’s consider the orbits. Most CubeSats fly at fairly low altitudes. They will not stay in orbit for decades. Furthermore, their trajectories can be controlled from launch, and they can be tracked fairly easily with radar. We know where they are, and where they are going.

Most small satellites contain no propellants or explosive components. They will remain intact until they reenter. Fragmentation due to impacts with other objects is unlikely due to their small size. In contrast to some other spacecraft, small satellites are normally deployed with a minimum of jetsam. They are often popped out of launch tubes with no other items released in the process. There will be fewer springs, bolts or rings to clutter nearby space. Click here. (4/16)

Test Running a Landing on Mars (Source: Space Safety)
In 2012, NASA made a big splash when it premiered a new landing system – Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL)  to be precise – that successfully put Curiosity on Mars. It was a complicated, staged system, much more involved than the prior approach of crashing spacecraft with cushioning airbags. But that complexity allowed NASA to land a more massive rover than had ever been previously attempted. Click here. (4/17)

NASA Administrator and Senior Leaders to Outline NASA's "Path to Mars" (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will outline NASA's human exploration path to Mars during a keynote address at the Humans to Mars Summit 2014 at 9 a.m. EDT on Apr. 22. The conference, sponsored by Explore Mars, will be held April 22-24. Other senior NASA officials speaking at the event include NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Technology Michael Gazarik and NASA Ames Center Director S. Pete Worden. (4/17)

Florida DOT Officials Visit Spaceport (Source: SPACErePORT)
Officials from the Florida Department of Transportation will visit the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on Apr. 21-22 for meetings with Space Florida and NASA Kennedy Space Center. FDOT manages a multi-million dollar annual fund for spaceport infrastructure. The group will visit Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on Apr. 23 to discuss the university's aviation and space transportation programs. (4/17)

Unexpected Teleconnections in Noctilucent Clouds (Source: Space Daily)
Earth's poles are separated by four oceans, six continents and more than 12,000 nautical miles. Turns out, that's not so far apart. New data from NASA's AIM spacecraft have revealed "teleconnections" in Earth's atmosphere that stretch all the way from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again, linking weather and climate more closely than simple geography would suggest. (4/17)

NASA Gears Up for Next Set of SLS Engine Tests at Stennis (Source: Space Daily)
The RS-25 engine that will power NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), off the launch pad and on journeys to an asteroid and Mars is getting ready for the test stand. And it is packing a big punch. Engineers at NASA's Stennis Space Center are now focusing their attention on preparing the RS-25 engine after completing testing of the J-2X engine April 10. (4/17)

'Tilt-a-Worlds' Could Harbor Life (Source: Space Daily)
A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, sometimes it helps. That's because such "tilt-a-worlds," as astronomers sometimes call them - turned from their orbital plane by the influence of companion planets - are less likely than fixed-spin planets to freeze over, as heat from their host star is more evenly distributed. (4/17)

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