June 27, 2014

NASA Prepares to Launch Climate-Measuring Satellite (Source: Arizona Republic)
An Orbital Sciences satellite built in Gilbert, Ariz., will launch next week in what NASA hopes will be an investigation into global climate change. The satellite will measure carbon dioxide levels and produce a detailed look at emissions. "It's an extraordinary step forward in our understanding of carbon dynamics in the world," said Osvaldo Sala, professor of life sciences and sustainability at Arizona State University. (6/26)

Zubrin Challenges Chang Diaz to Mars Debate (Source: Mars Society)
“This debate is critically necessary. Dr. Chang Diaz has been actively propagandizing an argument combining three claims. First, that cosmic radiation hazards dictate that current day propulsion, which enables six month transits from Earth to Mars, is too slow to enable human mission to Mars. Second, that therefore much faster forms of interplanetary propulsion are necessary before we dare undertake human Mars exploration missions. Third, that his VASIMR propulsion system would uniquely enable such quick trips. In fact, all three of these points are false." (6/26)

Heavyweight SES Leans on Europe To Meet SpaceX Launch Prices (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator SES on June 25 told investors it is flexing its muscles to assure that a European commercial electric-satellite product is developed to compete with Boeing and other U.S. providers, and to force Europe’s launch vehicle industry to cut prices to keep up with SpaceX. SES management said the company will be using its influence as the operator of a 55-satellite fleet to continue to drive down the cost of delivering a megahertz of satellite bandwidth to its customers. (6/27)

Leadership Transition Underway at Commercial Spaceflight Federation (Source: Space News)
Two top executives are leaving the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), including former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who joined the Washington-based advocacy group two years ago. Combined with the imminent departure of Stuart Witt as chairman of the group’s board of directors — the full-time manager and chief executive of the Mojave Air and Space Port will finish his term as chairman in September — the stage is now set for a wholesale turnover of CSF leadership by the end of the year.

Lopez-Alegria’s planned departure was initially confirmed by CSF Executive Director Alex Saltman, who stepped down June 26 to move to California with his family. Sirisha Bandla, CSF’s assistant director, will handle Saltman’s duties until a replacement is announced later this summer. (6/27)

Commercial Crew Partners Get Extension (Source: Space News)
NASA has quietly extended its current partnership agreements with two of the three companies developing space taxis to fly astronauts to and from the international space station, documents posted on NASA’s website show. Both Space Exploration Technologies  Corp. and Sierra Nevada Corp. now have until March 2015 to complete milestones specified in their Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) contracts, which began in August 2012. The agreements previously were slated to end on Aug. 31, 2014. (6/27)

Shotwell: Orbcomm Launch Not Likely Before July 14 (Source: Space News)
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell on June 25 said the launch of six Orbcomm commercial messaging satellites, which has been delayed on multiple occasions since early May, likely will not occur before July 14 as the U.S. Air Force performs scheduled launch-range maintenance and SpaceX works out Falcon 9 thrust vector control issues. Shotwell said SpaceX noticed a possible issue with the rocket’s first-stage thrust vector control actuator June 22. That caused a scrub of the planned Orbcomm launch. (6/27)

Russian Angara Rocket Launch Halted in Last Minutes, Reasons Unknown (Source: Radio Liberty)
The inaugural test launch of Russia's Angara rocket -- its first new design of a space vehicle since the Soviet era -- was canceled on June 27 minutes before blastoff. According to officials, the automatic abort system was triggered and the launch was halted. No reason was given for the failure. The launch, from Russia's northern space complex of Plesetsk, has been delayed until at least June 28. (6/27)

SpaceX Eyeing July 12-14 for Possible Launch of Orbcomm OG2 (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
SpaceX is looking at a possible July 14-15 launch for the six Orbcomm OG2 satellites. The cause for this delay is routine maintenance of systems at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Eastern Range. SpaceX had tried repeatedly to launch the Falcon 9 v1.1 with the communications satellites on board between June 11-24. The Hawthorne, California-based firm had scheduled no-fewer-than seven attempts during this period but was unable to do so for a variety of reasons. (6/26)

NASA Announces Education Research Grants (Source: NASA)
NASA is awarding $11.25 million to 15 colleges and universities across the US to conduct basic research and technology development in areas including climate change, nanotechnology, astrophysics, aviation and other areas relevant to the agency's missions. The awards, each valued at $750,000, are made through NASA's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). Click here. (6/26)

US Refusal to Host Russian Navigation Stations is ‘Political’ (Source: RIA Novosti)
The refusal by the US to set up transmitters for Russia's GLONASS system is more of a political than a technical move, GLONASS CEO Alexander Gurko said Thursday. “There is a lot of politics and little technology in this issue and there is no business at all. This process has not at all affected our activity,” Gurko said. As part of its development, GLONASS is building a high-precision positioning network.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said earlier this month that work on ground stations for GPS, the rival US navigation system could be suspended. Rogozin also said that in an effort to prevent further politicization, as of June 1, GPS stations in Russia have been adjusted so that they cannot be used for military purposes. The measure comes in response to Washington’s refusal to host Russia’s GLONASS stations. Rogozin said the decision remains in force until the US meets Russia’s demands to locate GLONASS stations in the US. (6/26)

NASA's Deep-Space Craft Readying for Launch (Source: CNN)
The U.S. space shuttle program retired in 2011, leaving American astronauts to hitchhike into orbit. But after three long years, NASA's successor is almost ready to make an entrance. Orion, the agency's newest manned spaceship, is being prepared for its first mission in December. In future missions, it will journey into deep space -- to Mars and beyond -- farther than humans have ever gone before.

Orion comes loaded with superlatives. It boasts the largest heat shield ever built and a computer 400 times faster than the ones on the space shuttles. It will be launched into space on the most powerful rocket NASA has ever made. No astronauts will be aboard the December flight, which will test the spacecraft's systems for future manned missions. Click here. (6/26)

Singer Sarah Brightman To Begin Training For 2015 Space Flight (Source: Radio Liberty)
British singer Sarah Brightman is scheduled to begin training in August or September for a flight to the International Space Station as a space tourist in 2015. The director of the Russian Cosmonaut Training Center, Yury Lonchakov, told reporters on June 27 that Brightman will train with an international crew at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.

Brightman, 53, is a famed soprano who starred in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera." She is reportedly paying more than $50 million for a 10-day trip aboard the orbiting outpost. She says she hopes to become the first professional musician to sing from space. (6/27)

Who’s Behind Supply of Russian Engines to US is Still a Murky Question (Source: Quartz)
The RD-180 is bought from a company called RD Amross. But it doesn’t actually make the engine; it’s a joint venture between a US firm and the US subsidiary of a Russian one, NPO Energomash. The subsidiary is registered in Delaware, a state with strict secrecy rules. NPO Energomash, which is state-owned, makes the engines and sells them to RD Amross, which in turn sells them to ULA.

Sen. John McCain wants to know if taxpayers are getting ripped off and by whom—he’s asked US defense officials to determine the price RD Amross pays and identify “all nominal and beneficial owners” of RD Amross and of NPO Energomash’s US subsidiary. The implication is that they may not be who they claim to be; McCain notes that “the Russian procurement process is rife with inefficiency and corruption that benefits insiders while boosting retail prices.”

That will put US defense officials in a bit of a quandary: They’ve awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to ULA, but apparently without digging sufficiently into the practices of RD Amross or its pricing. SpaceX says this is a violation of the government contracting laws. (6/27)

Space Debris Could Delay Indian Launch by Three Minutes (Source: India Times)
There may be a three-minute delay in the launch of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C23 from the Sriharikota spaceport on Monday, owing to the probability of some space debris getting in the way of the rocket, Indian Space Research Organization chairman K Radhakrishnan said. In 2011, ISRO delayed the launch of PSLV-C18 by a minute to avoid space debris. (6/27)

How to Design a Spacesuit for Landing on an Asteroid (Source: WIRED)
Earlier this year around 230,000 people participated in a vote to choose the outer skin of NASA's new Z-2 planetary exploration spacesuit. Yet for humanity's first manned mission into deep space NASA isn't actually planning to use this brand-new, if bulky, spacesuit.

Instead the two astronauts who land their Orion capsule on an asteroid yet to be chosen (at some point after 2020) will wear the Asteroid Redirect Crewed Mission Suit whose technology has its origins in the U2 spy plane missions and the Apollo program. This new suit will actually be a modified launch/entry suit for the Orion combined with NASA's new portable life support system (or PLSS) for space walks. (6/26)

Fine, You Reached Pluto. So What’s Next? (Source: TIME)
It will be a very big deal when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft finally arrives at Pluto next July, after a nine-year, four-billion-mile-plus journey. Sure, the tiny, icy world was demoted from “planet” to “dwarf planet” a few months after launch, but being shuffled ignominiously into a lesser category doesn’t make Pluto any less interesting. Once considered to be a weird little world orbiting alone at the edges of the Solar System, it’s now recognized as just the biggest member (more or less) of a huge swarm of frozen objects known collectively as the Kuiper Belt.

But once you’ve spent $700 million on a space probe, it’s a shame to let it go idle after zipping past its prime target. All along, therefore, New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern has been planning to visit a second Kuiper Belt object (or KBO) after the Pluto encounter. The problem: while planetary scientists are sure there are billions of KBO’s out there, they’ve only identified 1,500 or so over the past 22 years—and none of them is on New Horizons’ projected trajectory. Click here. (6/26)

Gigantic Ocean Vortices Seen From Space Could Change Climate Models (Source: WIRED)
The weather is a dance between an odd couple: the frantic atmosphere and the staid sea. The atmosphere changes quickly, as when a strong wind suddenly starts to blow or a cyclone careens ashore. The ocean seems more sedate. Its wide gyres trace the edges of continents, carrying sun-warmed water from the equator out towards the poles. Even the rough storms that terrorize sailors are more the sky’s fault than the sea’s. The waves that toss a ship are whipped up by the wind.

But it turns out that the ocean makes its own gestures; it just makes them very slowly. Enormous vortices of water, measuring 60 miles across, spin their way across the sea at a deliberate pace—3 miles per day. Oceanographers have dubbed them mesoscale eddies for their middle size, larger than a wake formed by an aircraft carrier and smaller than a gyre. ach one is like an upside down mountain of water, held together by its own rotation and extending about 3,000 feet beneath the surface.

Previously, it was thought that the steady currents like the Gulf Stream were almost entirely responsible for moving stuff through the ocean. The ocean transports trash, nutrients, radioactive waste, dissolved carbon dioxide and heat all around the world, and the latter two are especially important for understanding climate change. Qiu’s study raises the possibility that eddies also make a substantial contribution to these transports. (6/26)

Aussie Startup NewSat Signs 3-Year Lease on Russian Satellite (Source: Space News)
Australian startup satellite operator NewSat Ltd. has purchased capacity on the Russian Satellite Communications Co.’s Express-AM3 satellite, recently moved to 103 degrees east, in a three-year contract valued at $13 million, Moscow-based RSCC said. Victoria-based NewSat, which recently told investors it was cutting costs following reduced teleport sales to military and energy production customers, appears nonetheless determined to expand its business as it waits for its own capacity to reach orbit. (6/26)

Roscosmos Reinstates Rejected Female Cosmonaut Candidate (Source: CollectSpace)
As it turns out, Anna Kikina will become a cosmonaut after all. The only woman among Russia's most recent candidates, Kikina was originally excluded from joining the cosmonaut corps when the new class was announced on June 16. That decision has now been overturned, a spokesman for Russia's space agency Roscosmos told the Interfax news service. (6/26)

New Ion-Propulsion System Could Deliver Time Capsule to Mars (Source: Space.com)
A student-led mission aims to send a time capsule to Mars, using a new, more compact kind of propulsion system. The Time Capsule to Mars mission is designed to bring three tiny "cubesats" containing photos, videos and other media provided by people around the world to the Red Planet, using "ion-electrospray technology." This new kind of propulsion system could deliver the cubesats to Mars in as few as four months, the mission's organizers say. (6/26)

Recovering SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Ocean Landing Video (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
When SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket last April, most eyes were on the vehicle’s passenger, the CRS-3 Dragon spacecraft, en route to another mission to the ISS. However, for many SpaceX followers, a hugely interesting aspect of the mission was its secondary objective – to bring the first stage back from space to a soft splashdown in the ocean after stage separation. While this goal was achieved, video footage suffered from heavy interference, leading to a huge crowd sourcing effort to restore the historic imagery. Click here. (6/26)

SpaceX Seeks To Amend Lawsuit Against Air Force Based on McCain Letter (Source: Space Policy Online)
SpaceX is asking permission to amend its lawsuit against the Air Force for awarding a block-buy contract to ULA in light of statements in a letter from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to the head of DOD's acquisition office. McCain's letter on June 20 asked about the price the Air Force pays for RD-180 engines, saying he is "aware of claims that the engines have been sold by NPO Energomash to RD Amross at a much lower price than RD Amross charges ULA for them."

He asked nine detailed questions about RD-Amross including pricing data between Energomash and RD Amross, between RD Amross and ULA, and between ULA and the Air Force. In its proposed amendment to the lawsuit it filed in April, SpaceX asserts that it learned from McCain's letter that there are questions about the prices the Air Force pays for RD-180s and whether ULA met the requirement to provide certified cost and pricing information as part of its bid for the contract, which was awarded in 2013.

"Based on Senator McCain's letter, it appears that ULA failed to provide certified cost and pricing data for the RD-180 engines and/or the Air Force failed to rationally assess whether it was paying a fair and reasonable price for those engines," the SpaceX amendment states. If ULA had provided that data, the Air Force "would have been forced to confront the fact that at least one of its suppliers is fleecing the United States taxpayer." (6/26)

RockOn Sounding Rocket Launches Successfully at Virginia Spaceport (Source: SpaceRef)
The RockOn Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket containing multiple student-built experiments launched successfully on June 26 from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The payload was recovered and has been returned to Wallops. According to the preliminary information, the payload flew to an altitude of 73.3 miles and landed via parachute 43.9 miles downrange. (6/26)

Iconic Saturn 1B Rocket Near Alabama/Tennessee Border Getting a Facelift (Source: Huntsville Times)
Delania Rains had just crossed the Tennessee/Alabama border with her husband, Oscar, on Wednesday afternoon when an unexpected landmark off Interstate 65 stopped her in her tracks. The massive Saturn 1B rocket, which is a whopping 168 feet high and 22 feet in diameter and is stationed at the Alabama Welcome Center in Ardmore, welcomed the Indiana residents to Alabama for the first time.

The couple took turns taking cell-phone photos of each other with the rocket. Rains, who was traveling to Destin, Fla., was all smiles as she talked about the quirky attraction that lured more than 1 million visitors last year. When visitors look closely, it's not hard to see the rocket could use a little TLC. Bird droppings, mold and algae surround the base of the faded rocket, which is need of new paint and a good cleaning.

The USSRC is working with the Alabama Tourism Department to get the money to pressure wash and paint the rocket, which will take more than 100 gallons to prime and paint. Shortly after the rocket last was painted in 2006, a chain-link fence was added around the landmark because of problems with graffiti. Officials hope to replace the fence with benches and reader rails featuring information about the state's role in the space program. (6/26)

Space Ballooning is a Bargain at £44,000 a Ticket (Source: WIRED)
One US company wants to revolutionize the gentile pursuit of ballooning, by sending tourists into space aboard a high altitude version in 2016. World View is one step closer to achieving this, after completely its first successful test flight in Roswell, while also breaking the world record for the highest parafoil flight. The company has been in research and development since 2011, testing all the smaller components that go into the finished build. This June saw the first example of the full system being put together and tested, for the first time.

The vehicle the public goes up in is a pressurised cabin, which even features a bar and toilet (though for $75,000 (£44,000) a ticket, it's unlikely you'll be wanting to miss a second of this view). It comes equipped with internet access, with the company actively encouraging passengers to spread their photos on social media. Think of the selfies. (6/26)

We Can Send Humans Back to Space … If We Fund Elon Musk Instead of NASA (Source: Guardian)
"Elon Musk," the satellite industry insider told me over a beer, "has got to be the luckiest son of a bitch alive." Musk – the insanely dedicated, wealthy and polarizing founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX – is on a hot streak when it comes to spaceflight. He's raiding revenue streams from NASA and the US military to fund a private manned space program. His main weapon: low prices, with SpaceX offering satellite launches at about one-fifth the price of competitors at just over $60m a pop.

Sooner or later, the haters say, Musk's streak will end in a fiery accident, or a satellite horribly deployed. That kind of disaster, naturally, would undercut the current soaring confidence in SpaceX, from investors, private-space believers and even taxpayers. Another group of doubters on Capitol Hill say the industries needed to keep private space exploration viable simply don't exist, necessitating a mini-Apollo push from NASA. (6/26)

Crystal Cocoons Kept Bacteria Safe in Space (Source: New Scientist)
Asteroids have a killer reputation, taking the blame for death and destruction on massive scales. But results fresh from a space experiment show ancient impacts may have been vital for cradling the first life on Earth. Several hundred million years after Earth formed, when life was emerging, our young planet had an atmosphere, oceans and primordial continents. But it did not yet have an ozone layer to shield the surface from the sun's harshest ultraviolet rays. Because UV radiation can damage DNA, that would have made it difficult for any but the most extreme forms of life to survive.

In 2002, a team led by astrobiologist Charles Cockell discovered a unique group of cyanobacteria in Haughton crater in northern Canada. The bacteria live in tiny pores and cracks of near-translucent rock, formed during the intense heat and pressure of the asteroid or comet impact that made the crater, about 23 million years ago. Cockell's team found that the altered crystal structure of the rocks absorbed and reflected UV rays. This suggests the rock could shield the bacteria while letting enough sunlight through to allow them to photosynthesise. (6/26)

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