September 5, 2014

Orbiting O3b Satellites Now Operational (Source: Forbes)
O3b satellites are now orbiting and working, says the company, the start of a significant effort to bring high-speed Internet service to locations where land-based systems won't work and from a closer range than most satellites. "The exciting part of our challenge now is keeping up with demand," O3b CEO Steve Collar says. "We have 28 signed customers who are eagerly anticipating service activation and all have heard the reaction from customers already in service." (9/4)

The Story Behind Dream Chaser (Source: Virginian Pilot)
One of the crafts vying to be NASA's new commercial "space taxi" has a story that reads like a spy thriller - because it is. The plot twists through Langley Research Center to Russia to Australia to the CIA, back to Langley and on to the Sierra Nevada Corp., a private company that hopes its Dream Chaser design will be the country's next manned spacecraft. Click here. (9/4)

Space Station's Cubesat Launcher has Mind of its Own (Source: Discovery)
Last night, two more of Planet Lab’s shoebox-sized Earth imaging satellites launched themselves from aboard the International Space Station, the latest in a series of technical mysteries involving a commercially owned CubeSat deployer located outside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

Station commander Steve Swanson was storing some blood samples in one of the station’s freezers Friday morning when he noticed that the doors on NanoRack’s cubesat deployer were open, said NASA mission commentator Pat Ryan. Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston determined that two CubeSats had been inadvertently released.

“No crew members or ground controllers saw the deployment. They reviewed all the camera footage and there was no views of it there either,” Ryan said. The satellites, owned by San Francisco-based Planet Labs, are part of a planned 100-member network designed to collect images of the entire Earth every 24 hours. (9/5)

UK Spaceport Plans Drawn Up (Source: Cambrian News)
Plans are being drawn up to ensure that Llanbedr airfield’s bid to become the UK’s first spaceport is successful. Developments at Llanbedr could include improved access to the site, a longer runway, a spaceport hangar and improved rail links. Directors are delighted with the local support for the proposed expansion which they say will provide a “huge” boost to the economy and create “many” jobs. Llanbedr is one of eight sites under consideration to become the UK’s first spaceport. The chosen spaceport is expected to be operational by 2018. (9/4)

NASA Needs to Adopt This Cool New Logo (Source: WIRED)
NASA has put men on the moon, but it couldn’t stick the landing when it came to designing a logo that is as cool as its missions. Its two attempts have been nicknamed the “meatball” and the “worm,” proving that failure is an option. The Russians were NASA’s chief rival during the space race, so it’s ironic that it took a young Russian named Max Lapteff to design a smart, speculative rebranding of the NASA logo. The mark pulls off a hat trick, referencing NASA’s illustrious past, nodding to its dreams of taking us to new planets, and ditching the dated features of the old logo. Click here. (9/5)

Iridium and Aireon Talk ADS-B (Source: Aviation Week)
Iridium Communications is preparing to launch the first of 72 second-generation mobile communications satellites in low Earth orbit in June, and spin-off venture Aireon is pursuing support among global air navigation service providers (ANSP) for the fee-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) service the $3 billion constellation will provide by 2018. Click here. (9/3)

Two Orbiters, One Comet Arriving At Mars Soon (Source: Aviation Week)
Scientists and spacecraft controllers in Denver, Bangalore and many points in between are preparing for a rush of activity at the planet Mars, where two new spacecraft designed to study its atmosphere will arrive later this month, followed shortly thereafter by a rare Oort Cloud comet.

If all goes as planned, the two orbiters and the comet Siding Spring should add volumes to human knowledge about where most of the red planet’s water went, and perhaps about how it got there in the beginning. Click here. (9/8)

Returning U.S. Lawmakers Will Have Little Time for Space (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Congress returns from its summer recess Sept. 8 to a full slate of space policy issues, but very little time available to deal with them. The top priority for returning lawmakers is passage of a continuing resolution, or CR, to fund the federal government after Sept. 30. While the House of Representatives has approved several 2015 appropriations bills, including the Commerce, Justice, and Science bill that funds NASA, the Senate has yet to pass any appropriations bills.

The Republican leadership of the House is likely to introduce a CR early in the week. In an Aug. 20 interview with the publication Roll Call, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he expected a CR would last until December and would be a “clean” one, without any controversial policy provisions. Debate over the Affordable Care Act derailed a CR last September, causing a two-week shutdown of most of the federal government. (9/5)

Companies Making Their Case in U.S. Launcher Debate (Source: Space News)
With billions of dollars in potential business at stake, U.S. rocket and propulsion providers are emphasizing their respective strengths as they counsel the U.S. government on a new launch vehicle strategy that industry sources say could be decided before the end of the year. The government is considering options that range from developing new engine technology all the way to building a new rocket to assure access to space for national security and other missions. Click here. (9/5)

Astronaut All-Stars Will Visit China to Talk Space Cooperation (Source:
Space travelers from around the world are headed to China this month for an international Planetary Congress, which will explore the possibilities for expanding human spaceflight cooperation among different countries. China's Manned Space Agency is a key organizer and official host of the landmark gathering in Beijing. In a first, the Chinese space agency is working on the event with the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), an international nonprofit organization of over 395 astronauts and cosmonauts from 35 nations. (9/5)

ESA Ministerial in Doubt on Future Launcher (Source: Space News)
The French and German governments remain so far apart on a future space-launch policy for Europe that officials are now privately talking about canceling a December conference of European space ministers or stripping it of concrete decisions.

The basic division remains despite the German government’s alignment with the French view that Europe needs a lower-cost rocket to maintain its viability in the commercial market — which in turn provides European governments with a viable launch industry.

Despite the consensus over the longer term, the two sides remain split on whether European Space Agency governments should spend 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) to complete work on a new upper stage for the existing Ariane 5 rocket, which could fly in 2018-2019, or abandon the upgrade to focus spending on a new Ariane 6 rocket, whose development would cost upwards of 3 billion euros over 7-8 years. (9/5)

Pentagon will Seek 2016 Funding to Keep Military on Cutting Edge (Source: National Defense)
The Pentagon will seek 2016 budget approval for projects and weapons that keep the U.S. military on the technical cutting edge, according to procurement chief Frank Kendall. However, Kendall, speaking at the ComDef industry conference in Washington, D.C., said any new spending must be accompanied by cuts, which he expects to be "painful. (9/3)

U.S. Air Force to Launch Satellite in 2017 to Monitor Low-Orbit Traffic (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A small space surveillance satellite built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be launched in 2017 by the U.S. Air Force to monitor satellite traffic in geosynchronous orbit. The move is a stopgap measure until the military can launch its own satellite in 2021, military officials say. (9/3)

Algal Growth a Blooming Problem Space Station to Help Monitor (Source: Space Daily)
The green stuff that clouds up fish tanks - it's not just an aesthetic annoyance. In fact, if you've been watching recent news of algal bloom concerns in Lake Erie, you know that the right conditions for algae can lead to contamination of local water sources, potentially impacting aquatic life and humans.

What you might not have known is that among the resources to help study this problem you will find the International Space Station's Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO). This instrument, mounted to the exterior of the orbiting laboratory, provides a way for researchers to see 90 wavelengths of light not visible to the human eye. (9/3)

China Sends Life to Moon (Source: Space Daily)
Later this year, China will launch a spacecraft to the Moon and back. A scale replica of the Shenzhou astronaut capsule will be carried atop a boxy spacecraft based on the Chang'e lunar orbiter, and launched by a Long March 3C rocket. The mission was originally expected to simply fly around the Moon on a "free-return" trajectory, but recent reports in China's state-run media claim that the spacecraft will actually enter orbit around the Moon. Then the spacecraft will fly back to Earth, and the Shenzhou replica capsule will make a soft landing in China. (9/5)

Firefly Joins Autodesk Program (Source: Firefly Space Systems)
Firefly Space Systems has joined the Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program, which will allow the company to begin designing and advancing the next-generation of cleaner burning rockets. Firefly’s rockets, which will use highly efficient liquefied natural gas (LNG), will not produce any soot like the kind currently common in kerosene and solid rocket engine combustion. Particulates in the upper atmosphere, like soot, are recognized as a major contributor to atmospheric heating. (9/4)

Space Tourism's Price Tag Rockets Upward (Source: Science News)
"Rocket Fares to be High for Space Passengers — Passengers traveling to a space station 300 miles above the earth by 1980 will have a speedy but expensive trip…. Such a vehicle could become operational by 1975, if a program were begun by 1967.… The estimated $11,700 round trip fare would apply only after the passenger system has been operating for several years, engineers said. This fare would not cover the original research and development costs, which would raise the per passenger rate to $49,500." — Science News Letter, September 19, 1964

Update: Space tourism took nearly 40 years to become reality, but the price tag of $11,700 is a bargain compared with today’s costs. After adjusting for inflation, this 1964 estimate amounts to about $90,000 in 2014. Today, the privately funded Virgin Galactic takes any healthy astroenthusiast that can fork over $250,000 into suborbit. That’s a paltry sum relative to the Virginia-based Space Adventures, which transports the astronomically wealthy to the International Space Station for a reported $50 million. (9/4)

EchoStar 105 Satellite To Replace AMC-15 (Source: EchoStar)
EchoStar Satellite Operating Corporation—a wholly owned subsidiary of EchoStar Corp., a leading global satellite services provider and developer of hybrid video delivery technologies—has chosen Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, to construct the EchoStar 105 satellite. This new satellite, providing EchoStar with 24 x 36 MHz Ku-band transponders, will be positioned at the 105 degrees West orbital position. (9/4)

Whoops! So-Called 'Asteroid' Is Actually a Comet (Source:
A previously unknown "asteroid" spotted by a NASA telescope is actually a comet, according to recent observations. NASA's NEOWISE space telescope, which started its newest near-Earth object-hunting mission in 2013, spotted what scientists thought was an asteroid two times in 2013. Researchers thought it was an asteroid because it didn't appear to have a coma (a halo of fuzziness surrounding the object) or a tail — telltale signs of a comet. But all that changed with a follow-up observation. (9/4)

Close Shave! Asteroid 2014 RC Will Zoom Within 25,000 Miles (Source: NBC)
A newly discovered asteroid will buzz Earth this weekend. At closest approach on Sunday, the 60-foot-wide (18-meter-wide) rock will pass a safe 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) over New Zealand. That's about one-tenth the distance between here and the moon. It's also just beyond the orbit of our highest communication and weather satellites.

NASA says this latest near-Earth asteroid — called 2014 RC — poses no threat to either the home planet or orbiting spacecraft. A space rock of about the same size blasted through the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk in Russia's Ural Mountains in 2013, causing considerable damage and hundreds of injuries. (9/4)

'Soccer-Ball' Robots to Patrol Space for Deadly Junk (Source: New Scientist)
The Space Station regularly changes orbit to avoid colliding with derelict satellites, rocket stages and other objects whizzing around Earth at thousands of kilometres per hour. Soon robots may fly out to assess the danger presented by the vast array of objects not already tracked by radar. Scientists at MIT have built several self-guided robots. Each is a little smaller than a soccer ball and designed to investigate potentially damaging objects from a safe distance with a 3D stereo camera. The images are relayed to the crew aboard the ISS, who can decide how to proceed. (9/4)

Wayward Galileo Satellites Could Still Aid Scientists (Source: Nature)
On 22 August, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the first two fully operational satellites of its €6.3 billion (US$8.2 billion) Galileo global navigation system — but something went wrong. After a smooth lift-off from Kourou, French Guiana, tracking data revealed that the Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket carrying the two craft had put them in the wrong orbit.

The satellites have some hydrazine fuel on board to help them maintain their orbits. But reaching the right orbit would require, by some estimates, two to four times more fuel than the satellites are carrying. Their orbit is so misshapen that its mathematical parameters are incompatible with Galileo’s standardized data format.

But the situation is more hopeful for many scientists wanting to use Galileo data in their research, says Richard Langley, a GNSS expert at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada. Researchers track such navigation probes independently with a global network of dozens of ground stations, and combine that information with the timing data transmitted by the satellites themselves. (9/4)

Russia Plans Glonass Stations in China (Source: Itar-Tass)
The chief of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has discussed plans for bilateral cooperation in space with his Chinese counterparts in Beijing. “On Thursday, the chief of Roscosmos held a meeting with the head of China’s Satellite Navigation Office Ran Chengqi. The officials discussed Russian-Chinese cooperation on navigation satellite systems GLONASS and Beidou, in particular, the placement of Russian stations in China and Chinese stations in Russia,” the Roscosmos press-service said. (9/4)

Milky Way is on the Outskirts of 'Immeasurable Heaven' Supercluster (Source: The Guardian)
In what amounts to a back-to-school gift for pupils with nerdier leanings, researchers have added a fresh line to the cosmic address of humanity. No longer will a standard home address followed by "the Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way, the universe" suffice for aficionados of the extended astronomical location system.

The extra line places the Milky Way in a vast network of neighbouring galaxies or "supercluster" that forms a spectacular web of stars and planets stretching across 520m light years of our local patch of universe. Named Laniakea, meaning "immeasurable heaven" in Hawaiian, the supercluster contains 100,000 large galaxies that together have the mass of 100 million billion suns. (9/4)

Japan Readies Probe to Chase Asteroid and Shoot it with a Cannon (Source: New Statesman)
While most of the headlines may be going to the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe right now - it being the first craft to enter into orbit around a comet - there are some other impressive space missions in the pipeline which shouldn't be forgotten. One of these was unveiled this week by the Japanese space agency, Jaxa - the asteroid-hunting Hayabusa-2 probe.

When Hayabusa-2 launches in November or December of this year it will begin a near-four year voyage to asteroid 1999 JU3, where it will then spend 18 months surveying the surface and running a series of experiments. By far the most audacious of these will be the "explosively-formed penetrator", which is a sciencey way of saying that missions planners are going to fire a 30cm copper ball from an on-board cannon at the asteroid's surface. (9/4)

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