July 31, 2014

Europe's Last Cargo Freighter Blasts Off From Kourou (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The last of Europe's automated cargo freighters blasted off from a South American spaceport Tuesday, soaring into orbit in pursuit of the International Space Station with 7.3 tons of fuel, food and supplies. Part refueling tanker and part cargo hauler, Europe's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket on Tuesday from the Guiana Space Center. (7/29)

Russia Close to Sending Sustainable Mission to Mars (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia has come closer than other countries to launching sustainable long-term manned space missions, an expert said on Wednesday. “We expect positive results from experiments. Then we will be able to say whether or not we know how to provide for the vital life sustenance of cosmonauts during a long mission,” said Vladimir Uiba, head of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency.

He said man would fly to Mars and beyond in the future, but “without experiments like those we are doing on Foton [satellite] no one can say how to provide sufficient supply of oxygen, food and so on for such a long flight”. Uiba said no one in the world had such information, “neither the United States no China”. “We have come closer to the answer as our Fotons allow us to model life-support systems for people,” he said. (7/31)

Apollo Engineer Restores Moon Rover Trainer (Source: NBC)
That's one giant moon buggy for a retired Apollo veteran: Rutledge Alexander "Putty" Mills worked as chief of vehicles for Manned Lunar Expedition Studies in the Apollo program during the 1960s and 70s, and now he's restoring a lunar rover test vehicle at his home in Santa Ynez, California.

NASA paid $41 million for four moon rovers, three of which made it to the moon. Designed for lunar gravity, they'd be crushed if driven on Earth. Still, astronauts had to practice, so Mills made two training versions of the rovers for less than $2,000 each, using off-the-shelf parts. Using copies of the rover’s drawings, Mills hand-built his models to precisely the same dimensions, though they weighed twice as much as the flight-ready versions. (7/31)

Mercury's Magnetic Field Tells Scientists How its Interior is Different From Earth's (Source: UCLA)
Earth and Mercury are both rocky planets with iron cores, but Mercury's interior differs from Earth's in a way that explains why the planet has such a bizarre magnetic field, UCLA planetary physicists and colleagues report. Measurements from NASA's Messenger spacecraft have revealed that Mercury's magnetic field is approximately three times stronger at its northern hemisphere than its southern one. (7/30)

Jupiter’s Huge, Crazy Magnetic Field (Source: WIRED)
Jupiter’s magnetic field, whose intricate complexities make it extremely difficult to accurately mode, may look like the gas giant is vomiting up some enormous space worms. The visualization is actually capturing details of the gas giant’s magnetism with greater precision than ever before. Click here. (7/30)

When NASA Space Crews Play Make Believe (Source: New Scientist)
Even astronauts sometimes pretend they are in space. Over the past week, two simulated trips came to a close. One took place on a Hawaiian volcano, while another dove deep to an underwater habitat off Florida's coast. In both cases, the crew was tasked with a vital mission: to learn more about themselves. But there's more to it than that. Mock flights allow us to explore what an extended trip to Mars or beyond might look like. The duration of the flight and the crushing isolation will challenge astronauts in many ways.

Studies of missions on the International Space Station suggest that depression and anxiety are most likely to hit during the "third quarter" of a six-month mission, but it is unclear what this phenomenon might mean for longer trips. A trip to Mars would take about 18 months. In addition, living in such a small space with other crew members could cause and aggravate conflicts. (7/31)

Our Galaxy is Way Smaller Than Previous Estimates (Source: Space Daily)
The Milky Way is smaller than astronomers previously thought, according to new research. For the first time, scientists have been able to precisely measure the mass of the galaxy that contains our solar system.

Researchers have found that the Milky Way is approximately half the weight of a neighbouring galaxy - known as Andromeda - which has a similar structure to our own. The Milky Way and Andromeda are the two largest in a region of galaxies which astronomers call the Local Group. (7/31)

“America's First Space Taxi" (Source: Citizens in Space)
Boeing released this video to promote its CST-100 capsule, which the company is offering to support NASA's commercial crew program. Boeing plans to assemble and process the capsule (pre- and post-mission) at one of the former Space Shuttle processing facilities at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Click here. (7/31)

Exelis Wins Range Contract Extension (Source: DOD)
Exelis has been awarded a $21,536,294 cost-plus-award-fee contract modification to provide the Launch and Test Range System support functions to the Eastern Range and Western Range: range sustainment; external user support, projects and engineering services (Missile Defense Agency, Navy, NASA, etc.; systems engineering; and interim supply support spares for the sustainment period). The total cumulative face value of the contract is $1,772,689,908.

This modification extends the basic contract by a maximum period of performance of three months. Work will be performed at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and the work for this effort will be completed by Oct. 31, 2014. Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, other procurement, and research and development funds in the amount of $18,203,081 are being obligated at time of award. (7/31)

IndieGalactic Likely to Become an Annual Event (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The first IndieGalactic Space Jam, held at the Orlando Science Center over the weekend, drew more than 100 game developers and engineers from NASA, SpaceX and Titusville-based Rocket Crafters. Designed to connect the space industry with Orlando’s video game tech community, IndieGalactic accomplished that goal with flying colors. Kunal Patel, founder of the new event, said he’s already talking to space industry executives about coming again next year. (7/31)

NASA Selects 7 Instruments for Mars 2020 Rover (Source: Space News)
NASA has budgeted about $130 million for a seven-instrument science payload announced July 31 for the sample-caching Mars rover the agency plans to launch in 2020. The price tag does not include the cost of three of the selected instruments that will be provided, in full or in part, by France, Norway and Spain.

The Mars 2020 rover — which NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld said will cost about $1.9 billion to build and launch — will have three fewer science instruments than the Curiosity rover on which it is based. The science payload on Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since its Aug. 6, 2012, landing, cost NASA just over $180 million. (7/31)

Test Flight is Giant Leap for Jacksonville Spaceport (Source: Jacksonville Times-Union)
The spaceport’s first tenant, Atlanta-based Generation Orbit Launch Services Inc., ran a test flight Wednesday in preparation for its first commercial launch near the end of 2016. For the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, the test was the result of many years of small steps that helped land the spaceport at its west Jacksonville airfield, a former Navy base with one of the longest runways on the East Coast.

JAA officials, hoping to tap into largely untested space tourism and cargo industries, worked for years to designate Cecil as a spaceport, which is now one of eight around the nation. Generation Orbit specializes in launching “micro” and “nano” satellites — small enough to hold in your hand — from a rocket attached to an airplane that takes off and lands on runways like passenger jets, a method called “horizontal launching.”

Nothing was sent into space Wednesday. A Learjet outfitted with a rocket held equipment that will help Generation Orbit collect data to prepare for its first commercial flights. NASA has bought the company’s first flight to launch three research satellites, a contract worth $2.1 million. (7/30)

First Space-Tweeting Astronaut Leaves NASA (Source: Federal Times)
stronaut Mike Massimino has left NASA for a position at Columbia University. Massimino, or @Astro_Mike to his more than 1.2 million Twitter followers, was the first astronaut to tweet from space. On May 19, 2009, while on a space-shuttle mission, he tweeted, “From orbit: We see 16 sunrises and sunsets in 24 hrs, each one spectacular as the sun lights up the atmosphere in a spectrum of colors.” (7/31)

Air Force Courts 14 Companies to Provide Military Satellite Space (Source: National Defense)
Fourteen private companies will compete for U.S. Air Force contracts to allow military payloads to be installed on commercial satellites. The move will allow the military to more quickly deploy its modules without having to build satellites. "The commercial partner only charges for the integration of the payload with the spacecraft and the marginal use of power, launch services and other resources," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. (7/30)

Air Force Unveils 30-year Strategic Plan (Source: Defense News)
The Air Force has unveiled its 30-year plan in a 22-page document entitled "America's Air Force: A Call to the Future." Included in the strategy is a move to establish closer ties with industry and Congress, as well as more flexibility for airmen and acquisitions. "This call to the future is a road map to help guide our long-term planning efforts, and help us make smart money and policy choices," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. (7/30)

Future of NASA Human Spaceflight Dominates NAC Meeting (Source: Space Policy Online)
The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) met this afternoon (July 30) for the first part of a two-day meeting.  The members have not yet finalized any findings or recommendations, but it is clear there is a broad range of issues on their minds.  A clear consensus on what, if any, actionable recommendations to make to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden had not emerged by the end of the day.  That’s tomorrow’s task.

The following is a quick roundup of what happened today.  We’ll have more on this meeting and on a separate meeting today of NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) in coming days.  A common topic in the two groups was NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which generated controversy in both venues.

This list highlights only the issues at NAC, which is meeting at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.  Several of the NAC committees met earlier in the week and the discussion tomorrow will include findings and recommendations from those interactions as well as the debate today among the full NAC, which consists of the committee chairs, six at-large members, and chairman Steve Squyres.  NASA Administrator Bolden was at the meeting for most of the afternoon. (7/30)

NASA Validates 'Impossible' Space Drive (Source: WIRED)
NASA is a major player in space science, so when a team from the agency this week presents evidence that "impossible" microwave thrusters seem to work, something strange is definitely going on. Either the results are completely wrong, or NASA has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion. British scientist Roger Shawyer has been trying to interest people in his EmDrive for some years through his company SPR, claiming it converts electric power into thrust, without the need for any propellant by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container.

According to good scientific practice, an independent third party needed to replicate Shawyer's results. This happened last year when a Chinese team built its own EmDrive and confirmed that it produced 720 mN (about 72 grams) of thrust, enough for a practical satellite thruster. Such a thruster could be powered by solar electricity. The Chinese work attracted little attention; it seems that nobody in the West believed in it.

However, a US scientist, Guido Fetta, has built his own propellant-less microwave thruster, and managed to persuade NASA to test it out. The test results were presented on July 30 at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Astonishingly enough, they are positive. The NASA team gave its paper the title "Anomalous Thrust Production from an RF [radio frequency] Test Device Measured on a Low-Thrust Torsion Pendulum". Click here. (7/31)

ULA Prepares Second Launch Within One Week ... For Third Time in 2014 (Source: AmericaSpace)
With eight successful launches under its belt so far in 2014, ULA is set to attempt a ninth on Friday, 1 August, with the flight of an Atlas V booster from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Liftoff of the vehicle, which is flying in its “401” configuration—numerically designated to describe a 13-foot-diameter (4-meter) payload fairing, no strap-on rockets, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage—is scheduled to occur at 11:23 p.m. EDT, at the opening of an 18-minute “window.”

The Atlas will transport the seventh Global Positioning System (GPS) Block IIF satellite into a medium orbit, some 11,047 nautical miles (20,460 km) above Earth. Coming just four days after Monday’s successful launch of the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC)-4 mission, a successful flight on Friday will mark the third occasion that ULA has accomplished two missions within the span of a single week in 2014. (7/31)

ATK Reports First Quarter FY15 Operating Results (Source: ATK)
ATK reported operating results for the first quarter of its Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15), which ended on June 29, 2014. ATK reported first quarter sales of $1.3 billion, up 18 percent from the prior-year quarter, due to higher sales in the Sporting Group (including acquisitions) and the Aerospace Group, partially offset by a decrease in the Defense Group. (7/31)

See Alien Worlds, Spaceship in New 'Interstellar' Movie Trailer (Source: Space.com)
A new trailer for the movie "Interstellar" hit the Internet today, revealing more about the film's largely unknown plot. Earth appears to be in bad shape in the new movie from "Inception" director Christopher Nolan. "We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt," Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) says in voiceover at the beginning of the new "Interstellar" trailer. Click here. (7/31)

NASA Urged to Accelerate 3D Printing on Space Station (Source: Space.com)
NASA must move quickly to research 3D printing aboard the International Space Station, which likely has just six to 10 years of operational life left, a new report urges.

While praising NASA's efforts and focus on in-space manufacturing — a 3D printeris scheduled to launch to the station next month, for example — the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) report stressed that the agency should organize its various centers to identify priority projects for use on the station. (7/30)

How the Moon Got Its Shape (Source: Science)
From here on Earth, the moon looks like a perfect orb. But new data gathered by spacecraft zipping around our celestial companion reveal that it’s actually squished and slightly elongated, with the thickest portions of its crust on the areas nearest and farthest from Earth. The reason for this less-than-perfect shape? For 200 million years after the moon formed, its crust was weak and the underlying rocks were molten, which made it easy for tides caused by the gravitational pull of Earth to distort it. (7/31)

NASA Selects Instruments to Track Climate Impact on Vegetation (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected proposals for two new instruments that will observe changes in global vegetation from the International Space Station. The sensors will give scientists new ways to see how forests and ecosystems are affected by changes in climate or land use change.

A laser-based system from the University of Maryland, College Park, will observe the structure of forest canopy. This instrument will be completed in 2019 and will not cost more than $94 million. A high-resolution multiple wavelength imaging spectrometer from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, will study the effectiveness of water use by vegetation. This instrument will be completed in 2018 and not cost more than $30 million. (7/30)

Weirdly Wonky Binary Star System Discovered (Source: Discovery)
There’s some weird things floating around in our galaxy, but this has to be one of the weirdest. A double star system with misaligned protoplanetary disks around 450 light-years from Earth has been discovered, potentially explaining why some exoplanet orbits can be wildly eccentric. Using data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, astronomers have gotten a detailed look into the binary star system HK Tauri.

The majority of stars form with a stellar buddy in tow, creating binary star systems, so that’s not the weird thing. On viewing the protoplanetary disks surrounding each star of the HK Tauri system, astronomers found, counter-intuitively, that their disks are out of alignment by 60 degrees. That’s the weird thing. Normally, when you have two stars evolved from the same proto-stellar nebula, any planet forming material that settles gravitationally into a protoplanetary disk around each star should fall into alignment. HK Tauri completely bucks this expectation. (7/31)

Inventions at NASA Glenn Named Among R&D 100 Awards (Source: SpaceRef)
Teams of researchers and scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland were recently named as contributing to two of the top 100 technologically significant new products in 2013. The R&D 100 Awards have long been a benchmark of excellence for industry sectors as diverse as telecommunications, high-energy physics, manufacturing and biotechnology. The awards can be vital for gauging government agency's efforts at commercializing emerging technologies. (7/31)

Air Force Courts 14 Companies to Provide Military Satellite Space (Source: National Defense)
Fourteen private companies will compete for U.S. Air Force contracts to allow military payloads to be installed on commercial satellites. The move will allow the military to more quickly deploy its modules without having to build satellites. "The commercial partner only charges for the integration of the payload with the spacecraft and the marginal use of power, launch services and other resources," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. (7/30)

Spaceflight Inc. To Offer Satellite Operations Service (Source: Space News)
Spaceflight Inc., which arranges and supports launches of microsatellites aboard various rockets, is getting into the small-satellite operations business, the company announced July 30. The Seattle-based firm, founded in 2010 by entrepreneur Jason Andrews, is setting up a new division called Spaceflight Networks, a provider of communications and data services for operators of small satellites.

Spaceflight appears to be targeting any number of startups seeking to leverage increasingly capable small-satellite constellations for a variety of commercial applications. Spaceflight Networks aims to create a global network of ground stations to provide fast and frequent satellite uplink and downlink services at what the company said are below market rates. “We have sighted each of our stations to minimize communications latency thereby maximizing constellation throughput,” Blake said. (7/30)

Launch Site Rises Up From the New Mexico Desert (Source: Air & Space)
In 2009, the state of New Mexico held the official ground-breaking ceremony for the world's first commercial space launch site, Spaceport America. Located about 20 miles from the city of Truth or Consequences, the spaceport is largely complete. Virgin Galactic will set up its headquarters there, eventually launching customers into suborbital flights aboard SpaceShipTwo. Other commercial space companies may follow. Click here. (7/30)

No Mars For Muslims? Mars One Asks Imams To Rescind Fatwa (Source: Popular Science)
Martian colonization is a risky proposition. So risky, in fact, that a group of Islamic leaders in the United Arab Emirates issued a religious ruling saying Muslims should not go to the Red Planet. The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE) ruling compares a Mars mission to suicide, and says that those who attempt it can expect the same consequences in the afterlife.

In fact, GAIAE went so far as to claim that those seeking to escape God's judgment on Mars would be unable to do so, saying: "This is an absolutely baseless and unacceptable belief because not even an atom falls outside the purview of Allah, the Creator of everything." Private Mars colonization organization Mars One still thinks the journey is worth it. Today, they issued a response to GAIAE, citing the Quran and the specific example of Ibn Battuta, a 14th century explorer.

"And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors: verily in that are Signs for those who know" (Quran 30: 22). The Muslim world has a rich tradition of exploration. The verse from the Quran above encourages Muslims to go out and see the signs of God’s creation in the ‘heavens and the earth’. The most influential example of this was the Moroccan Muslim traveler, Ibn Battuta, who from 1325 to 1355 traveled 73,000 miles, visiting the equivalent of 44 modern countries. (7/30)

Uwingu Welcomes IAU in Exoplanet Naming By Public (Source: Uwingu)
Uwingu, a company helping people personally connect with space exploration and astronomy in new ways, applauds the International Astronomical Union (IAU)’s recent move to open the naming of exoplanets (i.e., planets around other stars) as Uwingu did last year. “It’s been 18 months since Uwingu has been letting people nominate names for exoplanets. We’re glad the IAU is finally coming aboard too,” said Uwingu astronomer Dr. Henry Throop.

But Uwingu believes the IAU’s exoplanet naming process doesn’t goes far enough. “Thiir year-long process will name about 1% of the confirmed exoplanets,” continued Throop, “but there are thousands more exoplanets that remain nameless.” (7/30)

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