October 18, 2014

Work Completed on New Chinese Spaceport (Source: China Daily)
Construction of the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in Hainan province, China’s fourth and most advanced space launch center, has been completed and it will soon become operational. The center is designed to handle next-generation rockets and space station modules. Building work began in 2009.

Situated on the northeast coast of Hainan, about 60 km from Haikou, the provincial capital, the center is the country’s first coastal satellite launch base. The location, about 19 degrees north of the equator, is suitable for launching geosynchronous satellites, heavy satellites, large space station components and lunar and interplanetary missions.

The new center will enhance the nation’s deep-space exploration capability, as it is an ideal site for the launch of the Long March 5 rocket, China’s most powerful, which is being developed. The Long March 5 can be transported to the center by sea, while the other launch centers are in inland areas, requiring transportation by rail. Qi Faren, former chief designer of the Shenzhou spaceships, has said the Long March 5 will be launched from the new center in 2015. (10/18)

A Step Toward Asteroid Mining: Planetary Resources to Launch Test Satellite (Source: Puget Sound Business Journal)
Planetary Resources is set to launch its first satellite Oct. 24, a significant step in the Redmond company's ambitious goal of mining precious metals and water from asteroids. The first satellite Akryd 3 satellite won't do any of that, however. It won't carry mining equipment or even a camera. At just 14 inches long and 4 inches wide, its purpose is to test the company's software systems, computer, and its rocket motor.

The launch date was announced by Chris Voorhees, Planetary's vice president of space development, at a Seattle conference last week on defense, space and security. It is several months behind the July launch date mentioned last year by Planetary Resources President Chris Lewicki. (10/16)

ULA Plans New Rocket, Restructuring to Cut Launch Costs in Half (Source: Denver Business Journal)
United Launch Alliance is starting to develop a whole new rocket system and will be restructuring its processes and workforce to slash launch costs in half amid smaller military budgets and competition from SpaceX. The result will be a smaller ULA in the near term, but one able to grow again and win new kinds of business in the long run, said CEO Tory Bruno.

Bruno, the former president of Lockheed Martin's strategic missiles and missile defense programs, said ULA will have preliminary design ideas by year's end for a new line of rockets blending the best features of ULA's Atlas V and Delta IV rocket families. The new launch system, its booster stage powered by new engines made by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin company, is meant to start flying in 2019 and cap a remaking of ULA as a more efficient organization.

What affect the restructuring will have on ULA's work force isn't yet clear, Bruno said, but he expects ULA will be smaller. How much smaller remains to be seen. The company employs 3,700 people nationwide. About 1,700 of them around Denver primarily in engineering and ULA's administrative functions. Manufacturing, assembly and launch take place in ULA facilities in Harlingen, Texas; Decatur, Alabama and launch complexes in Florida and California. (10/16)

Dark Matter May Streaming from Sun’s Core? (Source: Guardian)
An unusual signal picked up by a European space observatory could be the first direct detection of dark matter particles, astronomers say. The findings are tentative and could take several years to check, but if confirmed they would represent a dramatic advance in scientists’ understanding of the universe.

Researchers at Leicester University spotted the curious signal in 15 years of measurements taken by the European Space Agency’s orbiting XMM-Newton observatory. They noticed that the intensity of x-rays recorded by the spacecraft rose by about 10% whenever it observed the boundary of Earth’s magnetic field that faces towards the sun. (10/16)

NASA, SpaceX Share Data On Supersonic Retropropulsion (Source: Aviation Week)
An innovative partnership with SpaceX is giving NASA an early look at what it would take to land multi-ton habitats and supply caches on Mars for human explorers, while providing SpaceX with sophisticated infrared (IR) imagery to help develop a reusable launch vehicle.

After multiple attempts, airborne NASA and U.S. Navy IR tracking cameras have captured a SpaceX Falcon 9 in flight as its first stage falls back toward Earth shortly after second-stage ignition and then reignites to lower the stage toward a propulsive “zero-velocity, zero-altitude” touchdown on the sea surface. Engineers are now correlating the IR data with vehicle telemetry to learn exactly what the vehicle was doing in terms of engine-firing and maneuvering when it generated the signatures collected by the aircraft. (10/17)

NASA Begins Sixth Year of Airborne Antarctic Ice Change Study (Source: NASA)
NASA is carrying out its sixth consecutive year of Operation IceBridge research flights over Antarctica to study changes in the continent’s ice sheet, glaciers and sea ice. This year’s airborne campaign, which began its first flight Thursday morning, will revisit a section of the Antarctic ice sheet that recently was found to be in irreversible decline.

For the next several weeks, researchers will fly aboard NASA’s DC-8 research aircraft out of Punta Arenas, Chile. This year also marks the return to western Antarctica following 2013’s campaign based at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. “We are curious to see how much these glaciers have changed in two years,” said Eric Rignot, IceBridge science team co-lead. (10/16)

Will Humans Start Colonizing Mars in Ten Years? (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
Colonizing Mars has long represented one of the more ambitious dreams for space travel proponents ranging from NASA scientists to Silicon Valley entrepreneur and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. The latter also envisions sending humans to Mars sometimes in the next several decades, and has mused about how to build a Mars colony population of 1 million people in an Aeon interview.

Mars One — a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands — shares some of the Musk’s goals and indeed, the Mars One vision relies on Musk’s SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. But Mars One’s concept of seeding Mars with human colonies by launching one-way missions recently received some close scrutiny from a team of MIT researchers.

The MIT team’s critique identified potential challenges and estimated that settling the first batch of Mars colonists would require about 15 launches of the Falcon Heavy rocket being developed by Musk’s firm SpaceX at a cost of $4.5 billion. MIT also suggested that Mars One may want to dial back its aggressive schedule of sending four-person crews every 26 months starting in 2024. (10/15)

The Big Future: Can We Colonize Mars? (Source: The Verge)
Mars has been seeing a lot of action lately, between NASA's string of rovers and new projects from Elon Musk and Mars One. But what would it take to set up a permanent settlement there? Could humans survive in such a harsh and alien setting? We take a look at the nuts and bolts of a Martian settlement, from food shipments to radiation management. There are a lot of problems, but we've got good ideas about how to solve them. Click here. (10/17)

Hadfield: 'Forget Mars, We Should Live on the Moon' (Source: Daily Mail)
NASA has made no secret of its desire to land humans on Mars in the 2030s. But according to former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, we should be looking to go back to the moon before making the giant leap to the red planet. He says we don't yet have the technology or capabilities to safely make the trip to the Mars and should instead aim to live on the moon for 'generations' before.

"The next logical destination? It’s obviously the moon as its just three days away," Hadfield says. "If there’s a mistake we can turn around and come back. There’s sort of a public appetite for going to Mars right now in a big hurry, but there’s no tech to make it safe enough and affordable." (10/17)

Orbital Sciences Beats Expectations, but Merger May Be Delayed (Source: New York Times)
Orbital Sciences Inc. on Thursday reported a 36% increase in third-quarter profit, beating expectations, and raised its full-year guidance, though it said its planned merger with Alliant Techsystems Inc. may not close until January. The rocket and satellite specialist plans to merge with Alliant to form a new powerhouse in launchers, space services and defense products such as military ammunition, with annual sales of around $4.5 billion. (10/16)

Once in a Million Years: Comet Will Buzz Mars (and its Seven Robots) Sunday (Source: CS Monitor)
The heavens are hosting an event this weekend that occurs once in a million years or so. A comet as hefty as a small mountain will pass mind-bogglingly close to Mars on Sunday, approaching within 87,000 miles at a speed of 126,000 mph.

NASA's five robotic explorers at Mars — three orbiters and two rovers — are being repurposed to witness a comet named Siding Spring make its first known visit to the inner solar system. So are a European and an Indian spacecraft circling the red planet. The orbiting craft will attempt to observe the incoming iceball, then hide behind Mars for protection from potentially dangerous dusty debris in the comet tail. (10/16)

Argentina Successfully Launches Its First Telecom Satellite (Source: RIA Novosti)
Argentina has successfully launched its first domestically designed and developed geostationary communications satellite Thursday. ARSAT-1 is the first stage of a program by Argentina’s government to orbit a fleet of satellites able to transmit and relay signals to all of Latin America. A second satellite is planned to be launched in 2015. (10/17)

Did Jesus Save the Klingons? (Source: Scientific American)
The discovery of life beyond Earth would be a triumph for science but might wreak havoc on certain religions. Some faiths, such as evangelical Christianity, have long held that we are God’s favorite children and would not easily accommodate the notion that we would have to share the attention; others, such as Roman Catholicism, struggle with thorny questions such as whether aliens have original sin.

Now that researchers have discovered more than 1,500 exoplanets beyond the solar system, the day when scientists detect signs of life on one of them may be near at hand. Given this new urgency, Vanderbilt University astronomer David Weintraub decided to find out what the world’s religions had to say on the question of aliens. In his new book, Weintraub investigates the implications of life beyond Earth on more than two dozen faiths. Click here. (10/17)

Hubble Finds Fresh Targets for NASA's New Horizons Mission to Pluto (Source: SEN)
The Hubble Space Telescope has successfully discovered three remote, icy objects in the outer Solar System that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft could potentially visit after it shoots past Pluto in July next year. (10/17)

Meet Scotland's DIY Rocketeers (Source: Motherboard)
There aren’t many places you can conveniently launch a homemade rocket. But a blustery Scottish moor, reachable only by winding roads that twist around reservoirs, wind turbines, and plenty of sheep, is one of them. Every year for a week in August, a group of amateur rocketeers convene at the Fairlie Moor Rocket Site, not far from Glasgow, to blast their DIY shuttles and spaceships into the skies. This is International Rocket Week. Click here. (10/16)

New Spacecraft Cleaning Method Gets Rid of Pesky “Hitchhikers” (Source: Air & Space)
Ralf Moeller from the German Aerospace Center gave a presentation about a novel sterilization method that could be used to kill bacteria stowing away on spacecraft sent to other planets. These “hitchhikers” are a critical concern for planetary protection—which seeks to avoid contaminating other worlds with terrestrial life as well as preventing possible alien organisms from reaching Earth on returning spacecraft.

The sterilization methods most commonly used today are based on ultraviolet irradiation and chemical sterilizing agents. No method is 100 percent effective, and large numbers of hitchhikers survive space travel. Current sterilization methods selectively kill certain microorganisms by exposing them to the kinds of environmental stresses that microbes would experience on Mars. In other words, organisms that wouldn’t survive on Mars anyway are killed before they leave Earth. And life that might survive on Mars would most likely also survive the sterilization measures.

Moeller’s proposal—using low-temperature plasma—is a promising alternative because it occurs at a low temperature, does not involve toxic chemicals, and can be done within a minute or less. Research has shown that plasma sterilization is very effective at killing even the spores of the soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Many microbes, in detrimental environmental conditions, go dormant and form these hardy spores, which can become viable again when conditions improve. Not only does plasma sterilization neutralize active microorganisms, it also stops this revitalization of spores to a very large degree. (10/16)

Need for Commercial Space Travel Pilots Driving Changes to Aviation Education (Source: Skift)
Before commercial space travel can get big, it will need to get more pilots in aircraft cockpits, and university’s are responding to the need by creating programs to get students pointed in the right direction. Dr. Richard Heist of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University says the school put a heavy focus on preparing students for commercial space travel in the past three years. He says the school readies students for future aircraft making it possible to travel between New York and Singapore in just three hours, for example.

“One reason for this is in the last four to five years NASA pulled back from controlling all space operations and now other companies like XCOR and SpaceX are moving into supplying the industry,” said Heist. “But commercial customers are what will make it work, and eventually we’ll be carrying people where they want to be faster using these new engines.” Click here. (10/17)

Boeing Finishes Commercial Crew Space Act Agreement for CST-100/Atlas V (Source: NASA)
Boeing has successfully completed the final milestone of its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) Space Act Agreement with NASA. The work and testing completed under the agreement resulted in significant maturation of Boeing’s crew transportation system, including the CST-100 spacecraft and Atlas V rocket.

NASA in July approved the Critical Design Review Board milestone for Boeing’s crew transportation system, confirming the detailed designs and plans for test and evaluation form a satisfactory basis to proceed with full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and testing.

It is the culmination of four years of development work by Boeing beginning when the company partnered with NASA during the first round of agreements to develop commercial crew transportation systems. To get to this point, extensive spacecraft subsystem, systems, and integrated vehicle design work has been performed, along with extensive component and wind tunnel testing. (10/17)

ESA Agrees To Manage Copernicus Satellite Program (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency on Oct. 16 formally approved a convention with the European Commission that will give ESA the management authority over Europe’s Copernicus series of environment-monitoring satellites. Under the agreement, which is formally called as a delegation agreement and is expected to be approved by the commission within two weeks, the 20-nation ESA will receive 3.148 billion euros ($4.1 billion) from the commission between 2014 and 2020 to run the Copernicus space segment. (10/17)

Top Managers Fired at Silicon Valley Satellite Maker (Source: Space News)
Canopus Systems LLC, a small-satellite startup in Silicon Valley, underwent a shake-up in early October when Chief Executive Tomas Svitek was fired and Chief Operating Officer Megan Nunes resigned. Established in early 2013 to develop and manufacture inexpensive small satellites, Canopus of Mountain View, California, is affiliated with Dauria Aerospace, which has its headquarters in Munich and offices in Mountain View and in Skolkovo, the high-technology hub near Moscow. (10/17)

ABS Files $214 Million Insurance Claim for Bad Satellite Beam (Source: Space News)
The failure of a key Russia-directed satellite beam aboard the ABS-2 satellite launched in February will result in an insurance claim of up to $214 million, an unusually large sum for a single beam that reflects its importance for the satellite’s owners, industry officials said.

ABS-2, built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, California, suffered an unexplained anomaly on its Russian beam this past summer. At the time, Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) said it was only a partial failure of the beam, and that the rest of the satellite was operating normally.  (10/17)

Alaska Offers Incentives for Medium-class Launch Providers (Source: Space News)
The operator of an underutilized Alaska launch site is offering more than $20 million to launch companies in a bid to attract a larger class of launch vehicles, even as it continues to assess damages from a failed missile test there in August. The Alaska Aerospace Corp. issued a request for proposals (RFP) Oct. 2 for companies interested in conducting commercial launches of “medium class payloads” from the state’s Kodiak Launch Complex.

Such launches are defined in the RFP as those capable of placing payloads heavier than 1,500 kilograms into a 1,000-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit. Companies responding to the RFP have to demonstrate their technical capabilities as well as their ability to conduct at least three launches from Kodiak by 2020.

Alaska Aerospace will award the winning company a $21 million fixed-price contract to develop those launch services. The launch provider, though, will be responsible for providing any additional funding needed to develop the launch site infrastructure to support those launches. The $21 million comes from a $25 million appropriation by the Alaska State Legislature in 2012 to develop a medium-lift capability at Kodiak. (10/17)

Orbital Says It Has Selected Future Antares Engine, But Offers No Specifics (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. on Oct. 16 teased investors about the future of its Antares rocket program, saying the company had selected an Antares main-engine manufacturer for launches starting in 2017 but would not say who it is. Many industry officials expect Orbital to use a solid-fueled motor built by ATK, with which Orbital is merging in a deal scheduled to clear regulatory approval late this year or early next year.

Orbital also had been considering two Russian suppliers, including the current main-engine provider, but a Russian choice given the current state of relations between Russia and the United States would carry risks, industry officials said. (10/17)

SecAF Gains 'Inside Look' Into Eastern Range Launch Mission (Source: USAF)
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, and her husband, Mr. Frank Beatty, visited the 45th Space Wing's Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Oct. 15, 2014. The Secretary's visit included a wing mission brief, unit mission briefs, tours of Air Force Eastern Range launch assets as well as a windshield tour of NASA's Kennedy Space Center. (10/17)

Igniting Excitement at Spaceport America (Source: Las Cruces Bulletin)
Stuart Witt, chief executive officer of the Mojave Air and Space Port, challenged attendees at the International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Space (ISPCS) Community Partners luncheon Tuesday, Oct. 14, to build a vibrant business hub at Spaceport America – and to bring the community along. “Tell your story to a thirsty world,” Witt said. “People are looking to be part of something bigger than themselves.” (10/17)

Space Plane Lands at Vandenberg (Source Santa Barbara Independent)
Descending from space after 674 days in orbit, the Air Force's autonomous, reusable space plane — the X-37B — touched down at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:24 a.m. Friday morning. The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission, which is overseen by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, “performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies,” Vandenberg officials said. The Air Force is preparing to launch the fourth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2015. (10/17)

Rogozin Drives Builders to Finish Cosmodrome Before Winter Comes (Source: Moscow Times)
With winter on Russia's doorstep, Deputy Prime Ministry Dmitry Rogozin is hounding workers at the Vostochny Cosmodrome construction site in the Far East to complete the spaceport's facilities before the cold sets in. "Vostochny Cosmodrome workers are trying to complete all concrete construction before the cold arrives, and provide warmth to the facilities for the installation of the technical equipment, which has already been delivered to the space industry in Amur oblast," Rogozin said.

Rogozin added that he will be making the trip to the new cosmodrome every month to inspect the site's construction progress. Rogozin has been increasingly active in the Vostochny Cosmodrome project, which is estimated to be two to three months behind schedule. Eager to make a promised first launch in 2015, President Vladimir Putin last month pledged 50 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) to expedite the facility's completion. (10/17)

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