June 24, 2014

World View Launches Test Balloon to Edge of Space, Breaks Record (Source: Space.com)
The Arizona-based company World View announced that is has successfully completed an unmanned test of a scaled-down version of its balloon spaceflight system, reaching altitudes of more than 20 miles (32 kilometers). In doing so, company officials say they broke the world record for highest parafoil flight. Photos and video of the test voyage, which took off from New Mexico last week, offer a stunning preview of the vista future passengers will experience for $75,000. (6/24)

Sea Launch Platform May Soon Be Mothballed (Source: RIA Novosti)
The Sea Launch platform for commercial space launches in the equatorial Pacific Ocean may soon be mothballed until at least 2016, a high-ranking space industry source told RIA Novosti Tuesday. The Sea Launch consortium uses Russian-Ukrainian Zenit-SL carrier rockets to put commercial payloads into orbit.

“The reason [for mothballing] is that the production of Zenit-SL carrier rockets is based in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, and the Sea Launch project currently has only four rockets at different stages of readiness. The Ukrainian manufacturer – Yuzhmash – would be ready to continue long-term mutually beneficial cooperation, but it is yet unclear how it would develop amid the events in Ukraine,” the source said on the condition of anonymity. (6/24)

Answers To ‘Why Explore Space? (Source: Aviation Week)
It is a commonplace that mankind is meant to explore, but like many commonplaces, the concept doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. That is particularly true off the planet. Just as humans can go for generations without moving off their patch of land, humanity is far from settled on whether it would be a good idea to become a “multiplanet species.”

Contemporary spaceflight “stakeholders” as disparate as SpaceX founder Elon Musk and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden believe that it is. “If the species is to survive indefinitely, we need to become a multiplanet species,” says Bolden. Musk compares setting up shop on Mars to the evolution of human consciousness. Click here. (6/24)

Research Center Launched to Combat Space Junk Menace (Source: Space.com)
Talk about your school of hard knocks! A newly formed international center will study satellite collisions and the countless issues regarding what to do about the menacing growth of orbital debris. The University of Maryland's Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research (CODER) has been established to delve into the technology, policy, economic, legal and sociological issues spinning around the problem of human-made space junk. (6/24)

This Space Rover Drives on the Underside of Ice (Source: Bloomberg)
NASA has completed early testing for a satellite-controlled space rover that can drive on the underside of ice. The floating two-wheeler is an early precursor to a robot that could eventually be sent to explore icy planets and moons, such as Jupiter’s Europa. “We think this truly was the first time ever that an underwater, under-ice, untethered vehicle has been operated through satellite link,” NASA astrobiologist Kevin Hand says. Click here. (6/24)

How Space Tourism is Broadening Scientific Research (Source: Epoch Times)
Virgin Galactic, the company with ambitious plans to open a commercial space flight service, will soon be delivering scientific payloads into space as part of a joint effort with NASA and researchers. Each payload will deliver important information to researchers at universities and organizations in the fields of biological monitoring, on-orbit propellant storage, next-generation air traffic control systems, et cetera.

The Virgin Group, owned by Sir Richard Branson, announced this month that they will be working with NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program to deliver 12 scientific payloads into space using Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo reusable passenger craft. The platform used by Virgin could pioneer a new field of affordable and safe scientific research for scientists and universities across the world. (6/23)

Water Supplier Weighs In on SpaceX (Source: Valley Morning Star)
Another source of potable and industrial water for SpaceX’s has bubbled to the surface. El Jardin Water Supply Corp. has come forward, showing that it also could provide SpaceX with its water needs for the development of the world’s first private and commercial vertical launch complex, proposed for Boca Chica Beach. “We are in the business of selling water, and we would be thrilled,” El Jardin’s board Director Eliceo “Cheo” Muñoz said, noting that no other water supply company is closer to the Boca Chica site than El Jardin. (6/23)

ATK to Provide Solar Arrays for Upcoming Mars Mission (Source: ATK)
ATK received a contract from Lockheed Martin to provide the UltraFlex solar arrays for NASA’s InSight Lander mission, which will place a lander on Mars in 2016 to study the red planet’s deep interior. The mission will give us a better understanding of the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system, including Earth, more than four billion years ago. (6/24)

Kazakhstan May Replac Proton Rockets with Zenit Rockets (Source: Tengri News)
Kazakhstan may have to incur expenses to modernize Zenit rockets to replace Proton currently in operation, says Talgat Mussabayev, Head of KazKosmos National Space Agency. “We want to have Proton carrier rockets replaced with Zenit. Proton carrier rockets are unique and unsurpassed facilities. However, they run on highly toxic fuel. Therefore I have been speaking in favor of their replacement”, he said. (6/24)

Time to Mine the Moon, Says European Space Agency (Source: Channel 4)
A key figure at the European Space Agency says we must look at how we exploit the moon's resources before it is too late, as missions begin to map its surface and Nasa calls for bids to mine in space. There are already companies working on how 3D printing could help build infrastructure on the moon, as well as missions which are beginning to map its surface ahead of bids to drill for its resources.

"We do not have decades to come up with answers to these important questions about exploring the moon," he said. "A fleet of international missions has already started to prospect and map the distribution of mineral resources, and water-ice... Precursor landers can be operated in a coordinated robotic village, with in-situ use of resources, done with respect. This would prepare a sustainable and smart path towards humans living off the land in international lunar bases," he said. (6/24)

Bookkeeper Jailed for Fleecing UK Space Firm (Source: Manchester Evening News)
The boss of a space exploration firm says he has been ‘through hell’ after his bookkeeper was jailed for fleecing £167,000 from his firm. Lynn Knott, 57, spent six years diverting money from Starchaser Industries Ltd in Hyde, Tameside, into her own bank accounts. She was sentenced to two years in prison at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court after pleading guilty to fraud by abuse of position when her deception was eventually uncovered.

She worked for Starchaser between October 2004 and June 2011 and was a highly-trusted employee, with access to the company’s online banking system and responsibility for making payments to suppliers. Her theft affected the company, which specialises in the development of space-related products and services, so badly that chief executive Steve Bennett was forced to make six members of staff redundant - including Knott. (6/24)

Singapore Offers Incentives to Entice Space Companies (Singapore Inc.)
France’s Eutelsat Communications, a prominent satellite communications company has announced its expansion plans in Singapore last week. This news is indicative of the various incentives offered by Singapore’s space industry to attract new players, says Singapore Incorporation.

Last week, Singapore-based startup Astroscale announced that they are developing a more effective and affordable satellite technology to eradicate the growing amount of space debris orbiting the Earth. Singapore does not only attract such avant-garde space companies, but also serves as a platform to forge collaborations on cutting-edge space initiatives. For instance, EADS Astrium, Europe’s biggest space company, has collaborated with Singaporean companies and agencies to pursue its vanguard suborbital space plane program that promises to transform the future of aviation and space travel.

Last year, Singapore Technologies (ST) Electronics (Satellite Systems), commenced on designing and developing Singapore’s first commercial remote sensing satellite for observing Earth, named TeLEOS-1. The Republic’s nascent space-satellite industry has also attracted major international players in the field of satellite remote applications like DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, and Spot Image, to set up in Singapore. (6/24)

USAF: New Engine Affordability Linked to Commercial Use (Source: Defense News)
Any hope of keeping costs on the [proposed RD-180 replacement] engine down depend on the commercial market, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski. “I want this engine to enable US launch companies to be competitive in the world, not just in national security, because then I can have more launches that will use this rocket, which means I can drive down the cost of the rocket,” Pawlikowski said. “So I believe the initial step will be to understand what the market is for this engine.”

Pawlikowski, former head of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, who is transitioning to head up service acquisition at the Pentagon, called for an in-depth study of what the market can support. “If it were me to try and develop this strategy, I’d be looking for a public-private partnership approach to the actual development and that would drive down the cost.”

If it finds the business case, would ULA invest in a new engine from its own funds? “Absolutely,” ULA's Michael Gass said. But “You have to have a market, you have to have an acquisition strategy for buying launch vehicles that makes sense.” Pawlikowski noted that there is already one RD-180 alternative out there — SpaceX's Merlin engine. While it requires nine Merlins to equal the power of one RD-180, ordering those quantities allows SpaceX to maintain a stronger production line. (6/23)

US Opposes New Draft Treating Banning Space Weapons (Source: Free Beacon)
The United States is opposing a new draft treaty submitted to the United Nations last week by China and Russia that seeks legally binding curbs on weapons in space amid concerns that both states are secretly building space arms. The draft treaty—updated from a 2008 version—cannot be verified, according to Frank A. Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance.

“The United States believes that arms control proposals and concepts should only be considered by the international community if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the security of all,” Rose said. The Chinese-Russian draft treaty “does not meet the necessary criteria,” Rose said, adding that the U.S. opposition is based on a preliminary assessment that the new draft fails to address “significant flaws” in the 2008 draft. (6/24)

Canadian Space Firm Wants Compensation After Sanctions Ground Satellite (Source: Ottawa Citizen)
A Canadian space company is seeking millions of dollars in compensation after the Conservative government scuttled the launch of a satellite because it was scheduled to be sent into orbit on a Russian rocket. In April, the government shut down the launch of the spacecraft known as the Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite or M3MSat. The spacecraft, which completed final testing last year at the Canadian Space Agency’s laboratory in Ottawa, had been set for launch June 19 from Russia.

The decision to cancel the launch was included as part of the government’s actions to punish Russia for its actions during the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Satellite manufacturer COM DEV, along with its subsidiary exactEarth, are trying to obtain compensation for the loss of business because of the scuttled launch.

Space industry officials have privately questioned the government’s actions on M3MSat, pointing out the Conservative government did not intervene to stop the launch that same day, June 19, of two smaller Canadian satellites on a Russian rocket. Those satellites and their launch were funded by the Canadian Space Agency. (6/24)

Antares Launch from Wallops Pushed Back to At Least July 10 (Source: WTKR)
The next Antares rocket launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility has been pushed back again, this time to at least July 10th, Orbital Sciences Corporation and Wallops announced on Monday. The Orb-2 mission is the second of eight cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. The launch was pushed back after an engine failure occurred in an AJ26 engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center during testing. The engine that failed was designated for use in a 2015 mission.

The Antares team will inspect the AJ26 engines installed on the Orb-2 rocket this week, and a decision to proceed toward launch will be based on the results of the inspections. All other elements of the Orb-2 mission are ready, including the Cygnus spacecraft, which is fueled and, except for late-load cargo, is packed with cargo for the ISS. (6/23)

Newcomers Gain Traction in Race for NASA's New Spacecraft Deal (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
An established aerospace giant and two newcomers are in the final stretch of a competition to build the next "taxi service" to the Space Station, and experts say the upstarts are gaining traction. Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are pushing rival designs for NASA's next manned spacecraft, which by 2017 would start taking American astronauts to the space station. It is a race with potentially billions of dollars and hundreds of Space Coast jobs at stake.

Experts say the factor least likely to influence the agency's decision is jobs, along the Space Coast or anywhere else. Cost should rule the day, they say. NASA is expected to pick one or possibly two companies by September. The agency already has spent almost $1.5 billion on the spacecraft, with 40% going to Boeing. Despite that investment, Boeing is getting pressure from the newer players. "Right now, I'd say the leader is SpaceX," said Roger Handberg, a space-policy expert at UCF.

Although Boeing may hold the edge in experience because it has worked on NASA missions for decades, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada have come up with edgier technology that could capture the imagination of the American public in this new space race, said Eddie Ellegood, director of aerospace development at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "NASA tends to be conservative, especially with something so new like this," he said. "But I somehow think they'll opt for the SpaceX vehicle and Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser. It's just a gut feeling, but it might be time for something new now." (6/23)

Mixed Bag for Commercial Crew Jobs (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
"I really can't imagine NASA sitting around figuring out how it can create the most jobs with this contract," said John Pike, of Globalsecurity.org. That may put a damper on Boeing, which has become a hometown choice in Brevard County. If it wins the contract, it plans to headquarter the program in Brevard, build its CST-100 capsule at KSC and bring 500 to 600 jobs from across the country.

Boeing would add nearly three times the number of jobs that rival Sierra Nevada, based near Reno, would bring to KSC. Sierra said it would add more than 200 jobs to its workforce of 375 employees in Florida. SpaceX would not comment on the capsule deal. "SpaceX has a longstanding commitment to the Space Coast that will only increase given the company's lease of Launch Pad 39A," SpaceX said in a statement. "That commitment is in place regardless of the decision made on the [crew] contract." (6/23)

Unmanned Probes Blaze Trail For Humans (Source: Aviation Week)
The first men and women to set foot on Mars will not be the first to peer closely at the planet—only the first to visit in person. Long before the first boot steps on it, the red dirt there will have been baked in teleoperated rover ovens, dissolved in remote-control chemical labs and probably examined with electron microscopes in Earthbound laboratories. Click here. (6/23)

'Time Capsule to Mars' Starts $25 Million Crowdfunding Campaign (Source: NBC)
A student-led project called Time Capsule to Mars kicked off a $25 million crowdfunding campaign on Monday, with the aim of sending 4-inch-wide probes to the Red Planet. For 99 cents, supporters can upload a photo, an audio or video clip or a snippet of text to be included on a quartz-crystal memory module enclosed within the spacecraft. The module would be designed to last for millions of years, preserving the messages to be decoded by future Mars colonists.

Time Capsule to Mars is planning to offer other goodies, yet to be announced, as part of its in-house fundraising effort. "We hope that this mission will be the largest crowdfunded effort in history," project founder and mission director Emily Briere, a senior at Duke University, said.

The Mars-bound spacecraft would be CubeSats, a class of nanosatellites built from standard 4-inch-wide (10-centimeter-wide) cubes. Three of the CubeSats would be launched out into space as secondary payloads on a commercial orbital mission, and make their way to Mars using an ion-electrospray propulsion system. (6/23)

Greetings From Earth! NASA Spacecraft to Carry Message for Aliens (Source: Space.com)
A NASA probe that's expected to leave the solar system after it finishes its mission at Pluto and beyond will carry a message intended for any alien life-form that comes across it in the far future. When NASA's New Horizons mission completes its study of Pluto in the summer of 2015, data from Earth will stream to the spacecraft to create a digital record that it will carry with it beyond the solar system. (6/23)

First Medical X-Ray Scanner Heads for Space Station (Source: New Scientist)
The International Space Station is about to get its first medical X-ray scanner. Astronauts will use the device to study the effects on rodents of extended periods of time spent in microgravity. Bones deteriorate quickly in space, losing about 1 to 2 percent of their mass for every month away from Earth. Muscles and organs also suffer in low gravity.

No astronaut has spent more than six months at a stretch on the ISS, so direct medical studies only cover relatively short-term effects. A good diet and strenuous exercise minimise the damage, but no one knows how the human body will fare on long-term missions to an asteroid, for example, or Mars. (6/23)

Clingy Dark Matter May Slow the Spin of Corpse Stars (Source: New Scientist)
Round and round a pulsar goes, but add dark matter and its spin starts to slow. Pulsars are dense stellar cores left over when massive stars blow up. They rotate very fast, shining light from their poles that we see as regular flashes on Earth. Their strong magnetic fields gradually slow their spin, but over the past 15 years, astronomers have noticed that many pulsars are slowing more than we would expect.

Chris Kouvaris at the University of Southern Denmark thinks a form of dark matter with a tiny electric charge may be putting on the brakes. Dark matter is a mysterious substance thought to make up about 80 percent of the matter in the universe. So far we have seen evidence for dark matter interacting with normal matter only via its gravitational pull. The leading candidate dark matter particles – weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs – should also sometimes knock into normal atoms. But efforts to detect hits from these particles have so far come to naught, and some physicists are exploring alternative ideas.

Several theories predict the existence of dark matter particles with a tiny electric charge – less than one-thousandth that of an electron. This charged dark matter would also interact weakly with regular matter. Kouvaris and Maria Ángeles Pérez-García at the University of Salamanca in Spain crunched the numbers and found that this charged dark matter may get trapped by a pulsar's magnetic field. (6/23)

Russia to Transfer Space Launch Complex to Kazakhstan (Source: Xinhua)
Russia would hand a launch complex at Kazakhstan's Baikonur space center over to the Central Asian nation next year, a Kazakh official said Monday. The transfer would be made after Russia concludes its lease of the Zenit-M launch complex in January 2015, Talgat Musabayev told the Majilis, or the lower house of parliament.

Kazakhstan and Russia have approved a list of facilities and documents that would be transferred, Musabayev said. He added that in December this year, Kazakhstan would finish the training of 49 Kazkosmos employees to ensure a proper operation of the launch complex after the withdrawal of the Russian staff. Russia has leased the Baikonur center from Kazakhstan since 1994 under an agreement that is valid until 2050. (6/23)

Russian Rocket Blasts Wildlife Tracker Into Orbit (Source: Science)
Last week, from the Yasny launch base in eastern Russia, a rocket soared into space carrying several dozen satellites, many of them dedicated to scientific endeavors. An instrument designed to track massive dust storms, for example, represents Iraq’s first spacecraft. But another of the modest-sized orbiters, dubbed cube satellites, marks an important step toward an orbiting system dedicated to tracking large-scale movements of animals small enough to hold in an adult hand.

“For this satellite, it’s a lot about solving the mysteries of migrations,” says zoologist Kasper Thorup of the University of Copenhagen, who is in charge of the wildlife tracker and attended the Russian launch. Funded by the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and the University of Copenhagen, the instrument, called DTUsat, will record data from 4.6-gram tags that researchers plan to place on animals such as the common cuckoo, a parasitic bird that lays its eggs in another species’s nest. (6/23)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Tests Engine Made Entirely With Additive Manufacturing (Source: GenCorp)
Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully completed a series of hot-fire tests on a Bantam demonstration engine built entirely with additive manufacturing. The tests were a key step in the development of a more cost-effective engine family for booster, upper-stage and in-space propulsion. (6/23)

China's Lunar Rover Limps Into Another Long Night (Source: Nature)
As it plunges into another two-week long ‘lunar night’, Jade Rabbit, China’s Moon rover, is living on borrowed time. The rover, also known as Yutu, is the first manmade craft to soft-land on the Moon since the Soviet probe Luna 24 touched down there in 1976. Although mechanical failures crippled it during its first lunar night, the craft has lasted nearly twice as long as its initial life expectancy of three months. (6/23)

Asteroid Visited by Hayabusa Considered for Exploration (Source: Japan Times)
Asteroid Itokawa, reached by an unmanned Japanese space probe in 2005, might be listed as one of the candidates for a human exploration project being considered for the mid-2020s, NASA has said. The U.S. space agency said Thursday it is looking at several asteroids with diameters ranging from less than 10 meters to several hundred meters as candidates for a manned probe and will make the final decision around 2018.

Itokawa, which travels near the orbits of Earth and Mars, was the destination of the Hayabusa, an unmanned probe that collected and brought about 1,500 specimens of space dust to Earth in 2010. NASA last year announced a plan to capture an asteroid with a diameter of 10 meters or less as a sample, using an unmanned vehicle. It later added the option of extracting a boulder about 2 to 4 meters across from a larger asteroid, such as Itokawa. (6/23)

Roscosmos Disavows Plan to Send Space Tourists to Moon (Source: Moscow Times)
Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, will not be involved in a plan to send two space tourists on a flight around the Moon and was not consulted about the project, the federal space agency said. The mission, hatched by U.S.-based space tourism firm Space Adventures and a major Russian spacecraft manufacturer, Energia Rocket and Space Corp., would see two space tourists travel to the Moon aboard a modified Russian Soyuz spacecraft by 2017. However, Roscosmos was kept out of the loop on the plan.

The organizers “could have consulted with us before making such loud announcements,” said Denis Lyskov, Roscosmos’s deputy chief in charge of piloted flights, Izvestia reported Monday. “We are not participating in the moon project, we are not planning to modernize the Soyuz,” Lyskov was quoted as saying. Despite the government owning a 38-percent stake in Energia, the company has a history of asserting its independence from the space agency, which purchases its hardware from the company for use in the government’s space agenda. (6/23)

SpaceX Versus Senator Shelby's Rocket to Nowhere (Source: Bloomberg)
Should Elon Musk and the engineers at SpaceX do more paperwork? Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, thinks so. He has inserted language into a Senate appropriations bill to force private space entrepreneurs such as Musk to navigate the kind of red tape that has transformed NASA into a directionless, sclerotic bureaucracy. Even worse, the provision guarantees to perpetuate U.S. dependence on Russian rockets to deliver Americans into space at a cost of $70 million per astronaut. Click here. (6/23)

Mitch Daniels to Promote Men on Mars (Source: Washington Post)
Mitch Daniels – Bush II’s budget director, former Indiana governor and the “moderate” Republican who was supposed to save the party from itself in 2012, but backed out – as he returns to Washington this week an expert in space exploration.

In February 2013, Daniels was appointed by the National Research Council to serve on a board reviewing NASA’s human spaceflight program. After 18 months of work, the congressionally-mandated committee will present its recommendations on Wednesday. And Daniels, as the group’s co-chair, is testifying before the Senate Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Daniels surely dealt with the NASA budget as OMB director, but beyond that we’re unaware of any background he has with space issues. (We’ve reached out to him to see. Maybe he’s a big “Star Trek” fan?) One connection: Daniels is currently president of Purdue University, which is the alma mater of first man on the moon Neil Armstrong as well as astronauts Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee. (6/23)

Organic Conundrum in Large Magellanic Cloud (Source: Astronomy Now)
A group of organic chemicals that are considered carcinogens and pollutants today on Earth, but are also thought to be the building blocks for the origins of life, may hold clues to how carbon-rich chemicals created in stars are processed and recycled in space. Scientists have studied how polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are created in an aging population of stars in the Milky Way's satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

They have found that the types of PAH found in the atmospheres of these stars are much more varied than the PAHs observed in our own galaxy. The results will be presented by Dr. Mikako Matsuura of UCL on Monday, 23 June, at the National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth. (6/23)

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