June 11, 2014

ISRO's Mission to Mars Pulls Off Tricky Maneuver (Source: NDTV)
In this season of soccer, the Indian Space Research Organization played a bit of football of its own -- albeit of the celestial variety -- with its Mars mission Mangalayaan. At 4.30 pm today, the space agency gently nudged India's Mars Orbiter Mission a tad closer to the red planet. It was a risky operation; if things had gone wrong, the Rs. 450 crore mission launched on November 5, 2013 from Sriharikota could have been lost.

Nearly 20 percent of the 51 missions headed for Mars, launched by various countries, have been lost en-route. ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan told NDTV, "It has been executed successfully". Earlier, he had admitted, "It is not a routine operation. Great precision is required in calculating and correctly firing the four small rocket engines on board the spacecraft in the exact direction." (6/11)

No Wind Chill on Mars (Source: Science)
Even though daytime temperatures in the tropics of Mars can be about –20°C, a summer afternoon there might feel about the same as an average winter day in southern England or Minneapolis. That’s because there’s virtually no wind chill on the Red Planet, according to a new study—the first to give an accurate sense of what it might feel like to spend a day walking about on our celestial neighbor.

“I hadn’t really thought about this before, but I’m not surprised,” says Maurice Bluestein, a biomedical engineer and wind chill expert recently retired from Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. The new findings, he says, “will be useful, as people planning to colonize Mars need to know what they’re getting themselves into.” (6/11)

Elon Musk: Provocateur, Media Darling (Source: Defense News)
“Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex, and he ought to know. Has it gotten better or worse since Eisenhower? It hasn’t gotten better,” Musk said. “Lockheed and Boeing are used to stomping on new companies. They’ve certainly tried to stomp on us. I think we have a shot of prevailing but we’re certainly a small up and comer going against giants. It’s not an easy thing.” Click here. (6/11)

Musk: You're Safe if My Spacecraft Crashes (Source: Bloomberg)
SpaceX founder Elon Musk discusses why the latest SpaceX Dragon capsule spacecraft is safe with Bloomberg chief washington correspondent Peter Cook at the Newseum in Washington. Click here. (6/11)

Sarah Brightman Plans 2015 Trip to Space Station (Source: Gulf News)
British singer Sarah Brightman is scheduled to begin training this year for a 2015 flight to the International Space Station where she hopes to become the first professional musician to sing from space, the company arranging the trip said. Brightman, a famed soprano who starred in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera, will pay about $52 million (Dh190 million) for a 10-day stay aboard the orbital outpost, Tom Shelley, president of privately owned Space Adventures, said.

“She’s absolutely 100 per cent committed,” Shelley said during a National Space Club Florida Committee meeting. “She’s putting together her mission plan now.” Brightman, who would become the eighth privately funded space tourist, is slated to fly in September 2015. Her training to fly on a Russian Soyuz capsule is scheduled to begin as early as this autumn, Shelley said. (6/11)

Why Haven’t We Encountered Aliens Yet? Maybe Climate Change (Source: The Conversation)
Various explanations for why we don’t see aliens have been proposed – perhaps interstellar travel is impossible or maybe civilizations are always self-destructive. But with every new discovery of a potentially habitable planet, the Fermi Paradox becomes increasingly mysterious. There could be hundreds of millions of potentially habitable worlds in the Milky Way alone.

So why don’t we see advanced civilisations swarming across the universe? One problem may be climate change. It is not that advanced civilisations always destroy themselves by over-heating their biospheres (although that is a possibility). Instead, because stars become brighter as they age, most planets with an initially life-friendly climate will become uninhabitably hot long before intelligent life emerges. (6/9)

Private European Space Plane Prototype Passes 1st Drop Test (Source: Space.com)
A potential European entry into the suborbital space tourism industry now has a few flights under its belt. A quarter-scale prototype of SpacePlane, a vehicle being developed by the France-based company Airbus, took to the skies last month, giving engineers their first look at how the craft performs in the air.

"Held on 1-4 May, the tests of Airbus Defence and Space's SpacePlane demonstrator validated the dynamic flight conditions encountered in the end-of-flight phase following a return from space," according to Airbus. During the tests, a helicopter lifted the 15-foot-long demonstrator vehicle off a boat, which was stationed 62 miles off the coast of Singapore. The chopper carried the unmanned SpacePlane mockup to an altitude of about 10,000 feet (3,000 m), at which point the craft was released to glide back down to Earth. (6/11)

Proton Accident Investigation Complete (Source: RIA Novosti)
The investigation into the crash of the Proton-M carrier with communications satellite Express АМ4R is complete, and all of the documents have been transferred to the Russian Government, a representative of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) told RIA Novosti. (6/11)

Russia's Space Agency Names Cause of Proton Rocket Crash (Source: Itar-Tass)
The May 16 crash of the Proton space rocket was due to a failed bearing in the steering engine’s turbo pump, the chief of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Oleg Ostapenko, told ITAR-TASS. “The final version agrees with the preliminary findings made at the first stage of the inter-departmental probe. Telemetry and analytical information indicate that apparently a bearing in the turbo pump failed. We proceed from this in our further work to identify and localize problems that may occur at the moment of the next launch.” (6/11)

Faulty Heater in ISS Russian Segment to be Replaced (Source: Itar-Tass)
"On June 10, ISS engineer Alexander Skvortsov detected, at 10.37 pm, Moscow time,  smoke in the heater's water regeneration system. The crew decided to deactivate the unit," Roscosmos said. "After the crew sent a report to the Earth, specialists at the Mission Control Center in Korolyov, Moscow region, decided to have the unit disassembled." (6/11)

Russian Space Industry Reform Moves Forward (Source: Parabolic Arc)
While Hercules has the Augean Stables to clean up, Igor Komarov’s task is only slightly less daunting: bringing order, coherence and profitability to a sprawling and bloated Russian space industry that saw its best days 30 years ago. After four years as president of Russia’s largest car maker, AvtoVAZ, Komarov was brought in last year to head up the new United Rocket and Space Corporation (ACCD), a wholly-owned government entity that will consolidate virtually the entire space industry under state control.

When the consolidation is completed in about two years, ACCD will encompass 48 organizations and 14 companies. Among the major federal state unitary enterprises to be consolidated under the new corporation are Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, NPO Lavochkin and KB Arsenal Design Bureau. ACCD will take over control of manufacturing facilities from Roscosmos, and oversee development, testing, maintenance and disposal of rocket and space technology. It will also be responsible for overseeing a unified technical policy for the Russian space industry.

ACCD will receives shares of open joint aerospace companies in August. Once that is accomplished, ACCD will be able to take all management decisions. It will take longer to incorporate federal state unitary enterprises such as Khrunichev. The process of evaluating these companies, re-incorporating them and assesses their shares should be completed by the second half of 2015. Click here. (6/11)

Ripples in the Fabric of Space-Time (Source: Cosmos)
In March this year a team of cosmologists reported on events that occurred in the first few trillionths of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. And no one laughed. On the contrary, the world was left in awe of the latest revelations about the birth of our universe and, possibly, of countless others. A key part of the discovery involved a phenomenon that has remained tantalisingly elusive since it was first predicted by Einstein in 1916 – gravitational waves.

Not only is this discovery – if it is confirmed – welcome new evidence that gravitational waves exist, it opens up a whole new window on the universe using these waves to explore it. It also brings us a step further in theoretical physics’ ultimate quest: to find a common framework for the laws of gravitation and quantum theory, melding the physics of the very large and the very small. Click here. (6/11) 

Latest Space Situational Awareness System Heading to 1 SOPS (Source: AFSPC)
 The 1st Space Operations Squadron at Schriever AFB, Colo. will assume command and control of the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) this summer. The satellites are a space-based capability that will operate in the near-geosynchronous orbit regime supporting U.S. Strategic Command space surveillance operations as a dedicated Space Surveillance Network sensor.

General William L. Shelton, Commander of Air Force Space Command, directed 1 SOPS to add command and control of GSSAP to the portfolio of Space Situational Awareness systems they control, including the Space Based Space Surveillance satellite and the Advanced Technology Risk Reduction (ATRR) satellite. (6/10)

Lockheed Martin Launches Fight Over US Satellite Standards (Source: Financial Times)
The head of Lockheed Martin’s space systems division has called for the US government to hold new competitors to the same exacting standards as existing military rocket launchers, in an apparent sideswipe at Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Rick Ambrose was speaking as the space launch sector prepares for a likely shake-up when Russia cuts off the supply of RD180 rocket motors for US military launches.

The US looks set to fund development of its own, domestic motor to replace the RD180. But SpaceX has insisted that it could handle some of the work with variants of its entirely US-built Falcon rocket and sharply cut the current high launch costs. If a new motor were developed for the Atlas V, costs of the program would have to be managed. “We would definitely need to design it to minimise any other changes to the Atlas rocket,” Mr Ambrose said. “It would have to meet the cost profile because you have to compete.” (6/10)

Wallops Flight Facility, Future "Aerospace Capital" (Source: DPR)
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe predicted the Wallops Island region will become the aerospace capital of the globe. He was speaking at a ground breaking ceremony for $8 million improvements at Wallops Research Park next the flight facility that is currently involved in resupply shipments to the International Space Station. McAuliffe will return to the Eastern Shore in July for the launch of the second commercial resupply mission to the space station. (6/10)

Students Prepare for Launch into Virginia Space Academy (Source: Roanoke Times)
As the school year draws to a close, many high school students look forward to exploring the possibilities of summer. For a select few, however, that exploration will take place alongside some of the top scientists and engineers at NASA. This summer, Auburn High School’s Morgyn Church and Radford High School’s Finn McKinley plan to be among that elite group.

The two sophomores were among 80 students throughout the commonwealth accepted this month into the Virginia Space Coast Scholars summer academy, a seven-day experience at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island on Virginia’s Atlantic shore.

Editor's Note: Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed a $500K appropriation for Florida Tech in the state's FY-2015 budget for a "Governor's School for Space Science & Technology." Like Virginia's space scholars program, this would have sponsored gifted students for advanced study opportunities focused on space. Although the $500K was vetoed, another Florida appropriation of $3 million was approved for Embry Riddle to expand its network of aerospace academies in high schools statewide. (6/11)

Washington State Approves $8M in Aerospace Training Funds (Source: Seattle Business Journal)
Washington state will provide $8 million this year for 1,000 residents to study aerospace, officials announced this week. The training funds are part of an incentive package for Boeing to keep 777X assembly in the state. The education funding will go toward 21 community and technical colleges that provide aerospace training.

Editor's Note: Florida's FY-2015 budget includes $12 million for "Quick Response Training" (QRT), a program that covers workforce training costs for companies that expand or relocate in the state. QRT has served as an incentive for several recent aerospace industry expansions throughout Florida. (6/11)

House Panel OKs $570B Defense Bill, Boosts Weapons Development (Source: Defense News)
The House Appropriations Committee passed a $570 billion defense budget for 2015, a bill which includes $491 billion in base spending and $79.4 billion for war operations. The panel endorsed the retirement of the A-10 aircraft fleet and included $63.4 billion for weapons research and development, more than the White House requested and significantly more than this year's budget. (6/10)

Musk Slams USAF Certification Process (Source: Air Force Times)
If SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had his way, the Air Force would certify his company for national security launches this minute — and he made his frustrations clear with the service’s long process of certifying his Falcon 9 rocket. Speaking to press at an event in Washington meant to showcase SpaceX’s Dragon manned capsule, Musk alternated between disbelief and naked frustration when discussing the Air Force’s certification process.

“We just think the law of the land is competition,” Musk said. “There’s no legitimate reason why there shouldn’t be competition. So that should just happen... I don’t understand what’s taking so long,” he continued. “The Falcon 9 obviously works. It’s not as though the Air Force is changing the design of the rocket. They’re really just learning about it. That’s what the certification process is. So I don’t understand why it should take so long to learn about the rocket. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Musk’s comments stood as an emotional contrast — and repudiation, in some cases — of comments SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell made last week. Shotwell’s comments were mostly focused on how her company is working through the certification process with the Air Force, striking a conciliatory note as she highlighted the heavy work the service has put into the process. (6/10)

First Crewed Dragon Flight to Orbit Will Carry NASA Astronauts (Source: Space Policy Online)
SpaceX Founder and Chief Designer Elon Musk said in an interview this evening that the version of the Dragon spacecraft designed to take humans into space initially will be tested in an automated mode, but the first time it carries people, they will be NASA astronauts.

The capsule can accommodate seven people. Though it seems cozy by most standards, the interior is more spacious than Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. When asked about the cost for a Dragon capsule, Musk replied it was about $60 million, and the total cost including launch is $140 million. SpaceX has said for many years that the price to NASA for a Dragon flight is $140 million. When asked if that is the price or the cost, Musk said it was the cost.  

He pointed out that if NASA uses all seven seats, that calculates out to $20 million a seat, much less than what Russia charges for a seat on Soyuz (in the $60-70 million range). However, NASA is not planning to use all seven seats. The ISS was designed to accommodate only seven crew members in total -- three launched by Russia and four by the US.  Presumably NASA would use any extra volume for cargo.

Dragon Designed for Lengthy Stays in Orbit, Lifeboat Duty (Source: Space Policy Online)
Musk confirmed that Dragon can remain in orbit for many months and hence could also serve as an ISS "lifeboat."  Even when the space shuttle was flying, only Russia's Soyuz spacecraft could remain on orbit for six months at a time and perform the lifeboat function, remaining attached to ISS as an escape route for the crew in case of an emergency.  
Musk actually said this evening that Dragon can remain on orbit indefinitely whether or not it is attached to the ISS.  Soyuz's lifetime is limited by how long its fuel can withstand the cold. Russia decided long ago that six months was as long as Soyuz should stay in orbit and be expected to safely return crews to Earth. He said little training is needed to fly aboard Dragon since it is entirely automated, including docking.

SpaceX's current version of Dragon, used for cargo flights, berths with ISS rather than docks. In berthing, Dragon flies close to the ISS and then the ISS crew uses Canadarm2 to grapple Dragon and maneuver it onto a docking port. The reverse is done at the end of the mission. Berthing therefore requires a crew to be aboard ISS. That is not a desirable situation for crewed flights, which may be sent to the ISS when it is unoccupied or if a crew is evacuating the ISS. (6/10)

Nonprofit Seeks To Raise Billion for Space Science Missions (Source: Space News)
A new nonprofit organization seeking to develop a Mars sample-return mission and a space telescope by the mid-2020s says it will need an “all of the above” approach to raise money for those missions, including asking scientists themselves to contribute.

New York-based BoldlyGo Institute announced plans June 3 to develop those two missions using private funding, an effort that will require a “billion-dollar-class” investment from philanthropic and other sources over the next decade, but one that would allow scientists to get around NASA’s current budgetary constraints. The first of the missions BoldlyGo intends to pursue is Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars (SCIM), a Mars flyby mission that would dive deep into the martian atmosphere. The spacecraft would collect atmospheric dust during that flyby and return it to Earth. (6/10)

Air Force Signs Trailblazing Lease for SES Satellite Capacity (Source: Space News)
The U.S. military took an important step toward weaning itself from a controversial satellite bandwidth lease involving a Chinese company by awarding SES Government Solutions a pioneering $8.2 million contract for commercial capacity covering western Africa, according to a June 6 release from the Defense Department.

The firm-fixed price contract is the first in a series of so-called pathfinders developed by the department that could lead to changes in the Pentagon’s bandwidth buying habits that have long been criticized as outdated and inefficient. (6/10)

Actor Seth Green Shows How NASA is With You in the Air and on the Road (Source: NASA)
NASA technology makes deep space travel happen, but it also improves long distance travel here on Earth. Actor, creator, producer and writer Seth Green talks about how there is more space in your life than you might think in a new video released on the agency’s website, NASA TV and YouTube channel. Click here. (6/10)

Space Station Science Ramps Up (Source: Nature)
In January, when the US proposed extending International Space Station (ISS) operations until 2024, the world was a very different place. That was before Russian military intervention in Ukraine, before US–Russian relations foundered and before Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin suggested that US astronauts use a trampoline to get themselves to orbit. Rogozin also suggested last month that Russia would stop participating in the space station program after its scheduled end date of 2020.

That statement did not set official government policy, but it cast a shadow over hopes for the four-year extension. With the clock ticking, the race is on to conduct as much science as possible in whatever time the space station has left. NASA scientists will now try to lure researchers who have not worked with near-zero-gravity conditions before.

The goal is to get them to propose anything from the usual research agenda — such as protein crystallization and human physiology experiments — to basic biomedical research and Earth-science observations that can take advantage of the high-flying platform before its mission ends. (6/10)

NASA Announces Two Undersea Missions Off Florida Coast (Source: NASA)
NASA is returning to the bottom of the ocean. Twice this summer, aquanauts participating in the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) will conduct activities on the ocean floor that will inform future International Space Station and exploration activities. These studies provide information that correlates directly to life aboard the space station, where crew members must frequently perform critical tasks that present constraining factors similar to those experienced in an undersea environment.

“It is both challenging and exciting for our astronaut crews to participate in these undersea missions in preparation for spaceflight,” says Bill Todd, NEEMO project manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It is critical that we perform science applicable to NASA’s exploration goals in a high-fidelity space operational context. The extreme environment of life undersea is as close to being in space as possible.”

The NEEMO crews will live 62 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, 5.4 nautical miles off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, in Florida International University’s undersea research habitat Aquarius Reef Base, along with two professional habitat technicians. (6/10)

Space: the Next Startup Frontier (Source: Economist)
Around 1,000 operational satellites are circling the Earth, some of them the size and weight of a large car. In the past year they have been joined by junior offspring: 100 or so small satellites, some of them made up of one or more 10cm (4-inch) cubes. They may be tiny, but each is vastly more capable than Sputnik, the first man-made satellite launched by Russia in 1957. And many more are coming.

Two trends are setting up nanosats for success. Like people working on everything from robots to 3D printers, nanosat builders are harvesting the benefits of ever better, ever cheaper components built for smartphones and other consumer electronics. Some nanosats even contain complete smartphones, making use of the clever operating systems, radios and cameras which phones now contain. The cheapest so far—a tiny chipsat—was assembled for just $25, though it has yet to be successfully launched.

Size does impose limits. Nanosats cannot peer as closely at the Earth or carry out as many experiments as big satellites. But for some jobs that does not matter. The plans that companies already have include using nanosats for monitoring crops, studying the sun and tracking ships and aircraft. Such a system might have been able to track Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in March. Click here. (6/10)

Google Bought Satellite Startup to Make Maps, Not Internet Connections (Source: Bloomberg)
The battle for the sky continues. Google has spent $500 million to buy Skybox Imaging, a company that uses small satellites to transmit high-resolution images from space. Tuesday’s announcement comes just two months after Google acquired Titan Aerospace, which beams Internet signals from high-altitude drones. In March, meanwhile, Facebook spent $20 million on Ascenta, another drone maker.

Google plans to use Skybox’s satellites to make better maps with “with up-to-date imagery,” the company said in a statement. “Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve Internet access and disaster relief—areas Google has long been interested in.” Skybox only has a single satellite in orbit right now, but plans to fly a fleet of them to cover the entire globe at all times. (6/11)

Why Central Florida Should Watch Boeing's Next Step Into Space (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
As the pace toward human space exploration quickens, Boeing's next step was in full view during a tour of its 50,000-square-foot Commercial Crew Processing Facility on the Space Coast. A full-size mock-up of the Commercial Space Transportation capsule, aka CST-100, was displayed along with several components and instruments that are part of the system and its production.

The processing facility, located across from NASA's famed Vehicle Assembly Building, is the former home of the space shuttle's main engine shop. The space will have the capacity to produce six capsules at a time and will create 550 jobs — a welcome figure in Central Florida's post-space shuttle economy. System testing is already under way with many components in hand. Tests will continue into 2015, once NASA announces additional project funding in late August. Full-on project development is projected for 2016. (6/10)

Space Tourism on its Way to KSC (Source: Florida Today)
At a discussion about space tourism today, panelist Scott Henderson noted that the audience of nearly 400 wasn't much smaller than the number of people who have flown in space. "How do we make that number bigger?" said Henderson, orbital launch site director for Blue Origin, at the National Space Club Florida Committee's monthly meeting in Cape Canaveral. "Really, that's kind of what it's all about."

XCOR Aerospace showed an artist's rendering of its two-seat Lynx space plane soaring high over the Florida peninsula, an experience it hopes to make a reality by early 2016 with launches and landings at the Shuttle Landing Facility. "That's going to be pretty exciting," said Andrew Nelson, XCOR's COO and vice president of business development. It's part of a stepping stone approach that reflects XCOR's unique position, Nelson joked, as an emerging commercial space company "not backed by a friendly neighborhood billionaire."

Nelson said the Space Coast's geography and history offer some advantages as a draw for space tourism operations. "Flying near a coastline is a lot more interesting than flying over a brown desert, let's be honest," he said. "Also, when you're flying from truly the home of manned spaceflight, you're going to feel part of that history." Blue Origin is testing a suborbital vehicle from its privately owned spaceport in West Texas, but remains tight-lipped about the timing and costs of future flights. (6/10)

SpaceX Targeting Father's Day Launch (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX is now targeting an 8 p.m. Father's Day launch of commercial satellites from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The launch had been planned Thursday evening. This latest delay resulted from an issue with one of the six Orbcomm Inc. satellites. Before the launch, SpaceX plans to test-fire a Falcon 9 rocket's nine main engines around 5 p.m. Thursday. However, the forecast that afternoon is poor, potentially delaying the test. The mission was delayed from early May by a helium leak on the rocket. (6/10)

Crew OK After Detecting Smoke on ISS (Source: Florida Today)
NASA says the International Space Station's six-person crew is safe after a detecting smoke inside the outpost this afternoon. The crew reported seeing a small amount of smoke coming from a vent in the Russian-made Zvezda Service Module around 2:40 p.m. EDT, NASA said. Mission controllers in Houston followed an emergency procedure to isolate the ventilation system on the station's Russian segment.

Expedition 40 commander Steve Swanson radioed that the smoke subsiding quickly, and NASA said the crew was not in danger. "We believe it's under control at this time," Swanson said in an audio clip NASA posted online. He described having seen "a very small amount" of smoke. A heater in a water reclamation unit on the station's Russian segment, used for dining purposes, is considered the smoke's most likely source. (6/10)

Earth and Moon are Around 60 Million Years Older Than Previously Thought (Source: EAG)
Work presented today at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Sacramento, California shows that the timing of the giant impact between Earth's ancestor and a planet-sized body occurred around 40 million years after the start of solar system formation. This means that the final stage of Earth's formation is around 60 million years older than previously thought. (6/10)

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