November 14, 2014

SpaceShipTwo Probe Focuses On Human Factors, Test Procedures (Source: Aviation Week)
Assembly work on a second SpaceShipTwo spaceplane for Virgin Galactic is accelerating at its Mojave, California, facility as accident investigators focus on human factors that may have contributed to the deadly Oct. 31., inflight breakup of the first vehicle. Flight tests of the second vehicle are set to begin around mid-2015. While Virgin says it will incorporate lessons learned from the accident, no one yet knows what they will be or how much they might affect the design, crew procedures and timing of SS2’s long-delayed entry into service.

As for the October accident, normal operating conditions state the feathering system locking lever, which on a powered flight was first used during the second rocket-propelled sortie on Sep. 5, 2013—when SS2 reached Mach 1.43 and an apogee of 69,000 ft.—“is not to be moved into the unlock position until acceleration has reached Mach 1.4,” says Hart. “I am not stating this is the cause. . . . We will be looking at training issues [and if] there was pressure to continue testing.” He notes that safety culture, design and procedures must be thoroughly vetted before a cause can be determined. (11/14)

Will the Mars One Reality TV Mission Ever Take Off? (Source: The Telegraph)
It looks as if human colonisation of Mars might have to be put on hold. New information about the Mars One mission, which launched in 2012 and claimed that it would put humans on the Red Planet by 2025 as part of a reality TV show, has exposed a series of fundamental flaws in the project.

Australian writer Elmo Keep, who spent a year researching Mars One and has since published her findings in a piece titled All Dressed Up for Mars and Nowhere to Go, concludes that: "Mars One doesn’t appear to be in any way qualified to carry off the biggest, most complex, most audacious, and most dangerous exploration mission in all of human history." Click here. (11/13)

Meet the Guys Building Their Own Space Program (Source: Red Bull)
Once the preserve of the world's superpowers, the space race has recently opened up to the people. In fact, industry observers believe that, despite the recent Virgin Galactic tragedy, the next few years and decades will see a new golden age of space exploration as private companies and individuals seek to enter the fray, whether for knowledge, financial gain – or just because they can.

And that's where the team of amateur aerospace engineers, scientists and backyard mechanics of Copenhagen Suborbitals come in. They are hoping to send the first independent and privately funded manned rocket into space. Why? For the hell of it, says board member and electonics man Mads Wilson. Click here. (11/13)

Virginia Assessing Damage, Considering Future of Commercial Spaceport (Source: WDBJ)
Virginia's Secretary of Transportation says it could take a year and up to $20 million to repair the commercial spaceport on Virginia's Eastern Shore, after a mishap damaged the launchpad last month. Aubrey Layne says he expects the flights to resume, but with additional protections for Virginia taxpayers. "We do need to have our launch partner and the federal government take responsibility with us in this particular incident," Layne said. (11/13)

It's Not Rocket Science to Choose a UK Spaceport (Source: Evening Times)
Nicola Sturgeon has said Prestwick is in a good position to be the United Kingdom's first spaceport. She stopped short, however, of endorsing the airport as the Scottish Government's preferred candidate. A total of eight sites across the UK have been shortlisted for selection. Six of these sites are in Scotland.

It is understandable therefore that the Scottish Government is maintaining a publicly neutral stance in relation to the matter. The Scottish Government rescued Prestwick last year by taking over all of the liabilities attached to the airport. This year, the airport is forecast to lose some £5 million. It is looking increasingly likely that, without some form of major intervention, Prestwick will be unable to continue operating within its current model. (11/14)

Can of Wormholes (Source: Air & Space)
Kip Thorne is credited as an executive producer on Interstellar, but his more specific role was as the film’s science adviser, one who worked closely with Christopher and Jonah Nolan throughout the writing, production, and editing of the film to ensure that its fantastic story remained rooted in actual science. His book The Science of “Interstellar,” a 324-page volume explaining his scientific rationalization for every aspect of the film’s story—each of its sections clearly labeled as “Truth,” “Educated Guess,” or “Speculation” —has just been published. Click here. (11/13)

ULA Head: Major Reorganization Coming (Source: Defense News)
The new head of ULA is promising a major transformation of his company to reduce costs for commercial and government customers. “I am going to transform this company,” Tory Bruno, ULA’s president, told an audience Thursday at the Atlantic Council, pledging that his vision will slash launch costs in half. That is a dramatic claim, and one Bruno followed up on by promising to reduce by half launch preparation time to give more agility to customers.

How will Bruno, who took over as ULA’s head in August, achieve those major savings? With a total reorganization of how the company does business, it appears. Those changes will impact commercial customers, non-military customers such as NASA, as well as “empowering” the Pentagon launch customer that has been the backbone of ULA’s business model for years. (11/14)

China’s Deceptively Weak Anti-Satellite Capabilities (Source: The Diplomat)
In 2013, the Pentagon suggested that a Chinese sub-orbital space launch—claimed to be a scientific mission—was in reality the first test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) interceptor that would reach all the way to geo-synchronous orbit. According to James Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, “Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to disrupt U.S. use of space in conflict.”

While these concerns have some validity, all U.S. military satellites are not equally vulnerable to a Chinese ASAT attack. Furthermore, the benefits from an ASAT attack are limited and would not confer decisive military advantage in every plausible conflict. The substantial range of orbital altitude—1,000 kilometers to 36,000 kilometers—across which satellites operate from poses a challenge to China’s ability to attack U.S. military satellites.

Although the 2007 Chinese ASAT test demonstrated a low-altitude intercept, there is no publicly available data on the conditions under which the test occurred. How long was the target satellite tracked? Was it transmitting telemetry data providing its orbital location information? These conditions matter. If the U.S. slightly changed the parameters of a satellite’s orbit (for example, its inclination), will China still be able to track, target and intercept the satellite? (11/13)

The Plan to Map Illegal Fishing From Space (Source: WIRED)
Illicit fishing goes on every day at an industrial scale. But large commercial fishers are about to get a new set of overseers: conservationists—and soon the general public—armed with space-based reconnaissance of the global fleet.

Crews on big fishing boats deploy an impressive arsenal of technology—from advanced sonars to GPS navigation and mapping systems—as they chase down prey and trawl the seabed. These tools are so effective that roughly a third of the world’s fisheries are now overharvested, and more than three-quarters of the stocks that remain have hit their sustainable limits. For some species, most of the catch is unreported, unregulated, or flat-out illegal.

But now environmentalists are using sophisticated technology of their own to peel away that cloak of invisibility. With satellite data from SpaceQuest and financial and engineering support from Google, two environmental activist groups have built the first global surveillance system that can track large fishing vessels anywhere in the world. (11/13)

The Hackaday Prize Awarded to Satellite Ground Station Project (Source: Spectrum)
First place in the Hackaday Prize was awarded today to “SatNOGS,” a project aiming to spin up a worldwide network of satellite ground stations—hence the project’s name, which is an abbreviation of “Satellite Network Of Ground Stations.” Its creators will receive either one paid ride into space, when such a ticket becomes available, or $196,418 (whose odd numeric value some astute readers may recognize as being a Fibonacci number).

The SatNOGS team edged out four other contenders in the final round of judging. Second place went to ChipWhisperer (a platform for security testing of embedded systems), third to PortableSDR (a compact software-defined radio), fourth to the Open Source Science Tricorder (a gadget for sensing various environmental parameters), and fifth to ramanPi (a Raman spectrometer based on the Raspberry Pi). (11/13)

Stuck in Shade, Race to Get Comet Data Before Philae Dies (Source: New Scientist)
Barely 24 hours have passed since the European Space Agency's Philae spacecraft made history as the first probe to touch down on a comet. Now ESA researchers are racing to gather the maximum amount of scientific data from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko before Philae shuts down and they lose contact for good.

Philae bounced twice before settling down in an unknown location on the comet, perhaps a kilometre away from its original landing spot. Two of its legs are on the ground, but the third is up in the air, putting Philae at an angle. It is also sitting in the shadow of a rocky wall, limiting the sunlight that can reach its solar panels to just 90 minutes every 12 hours.

Philae's batteries will run out in less than two days unless recharged, and it is unlikely the solar power it is receiving will keep it alive. "We are calculating now what this means for the near future," said lander manager Koen Geurts. Eight of the ten instruments aboard Philae have already sent back scientific data, and ESA already considers the mission a huge success. (11/13)

Could There Be Organic Matter on Mars? (Source:
The origins of organic matter found by Mars lander missions have long been debated, but a new study suggests a way to find out whether these chemicals of life came from the Red Planet or elsewhere. Several Mars lander missions have detected chloromethane, a chemical sometimes produced by living organisms, but most scientists think the findings were contamination from Earth.

Now, a team of researchers has replicated these experiments on a meteorite found on Earth, and found that it produced chloromethane from organic materials contained in the space rock. The findings suggest the chloromethane on Mars may have come from meteorite debris on the planet's surface or the Martian soil itself, rather than from Earth. (11/13)

Goddard Seeks a Host Satellite for Its Earth Venture Proposal (Source: Space News)
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is looking for a host satellite to carry a roughly 100-kilogram science instrument to a geostationary orbit in 2022, according to notice published online Nov. 10. The solicitation is contingent on Goddard winning the $150 million NASA intends to award in late 2015 or early 2016 under the U.S. space agency’s Earth Venture line of competitively selected missions. NASA will be seeking Earth Venture proposals around June with an award to follow about six months later (11/13)

DARPA’s “FedEx to GEO” Vision Takes a Small Step Forward (Source: Space News)
DARPA released specifications Nov. 10 for a standardized spacecraft deployment system it is developing to enable military payloads to hitch rides on commercial communications satellites and hop off in or near geostationary orbit. DARPA has high hopes for the Payload Orbital Delivery system, or POD, describing it as a way to “eventually provide ‘FedEx to GEO’ capabilities to make space deliveries to high-altitude orbits much easier and faster.”

DARPA sees publicly releasing the POD interface requirements as a first step toward fostering such a capability. DARPA hopes eventually to follow it with a risk-reduction flight to validate the POD technology. At present, the agency says, no technology exists to enable payloads to separate themselves from commercial satellites bound for geostationary orbit. (11/13)

Europe's 3D Printer Set for Space Station (Source: ESA)
Europe’s very first 3D printer in space is scheduled for installation aboard the ISS next year. Designed and built in Italy, it will be put to the test as part as ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti’s Futura mission, and is set to reach orbit in the first half of next year. Samantha herself will be launched on her six-month Station assignment on 23 November. (11/13)

Philae Anchors Itself to Comet (Source: Daily Beast)
After failing to attach to the surface once it successfully landed, the robot probe Philae has successfully secured itself and is now sending multiple pictures after engineers re-established radio communication. Engineers are also working to locate the probe’s exact location on the comet, as it may have bounced hundreds of yards from where it first touched down. According to the first set of pictures, the team believes the probe is possibly on a slope or on its side. Scientists hope analysis of the comet’s surface will help them understand the origins of our solar system. (11/13)

NASA Gives the Green Light to $200 Million ICON Mission (Source: Space News)
NASA approved the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON), a small heliophysics mission set to launch no later than October 2017, to proceed into development. ICON, selected as a heliophysics explorer mission last year, will spend its two-year primary mission studying the ionosphere: a region of space ranging from about 90 kilometers to 900 kilometers above Earth’s surface and filled with electrically charged particles that can disrupt radio signals from satellites.

The mission’s principal investigator is Thomas Immel of the University of California, Berkeley. Development costs for ICON, which exclude launch and operations, are capped at $200 million. The mission will be built on Orbital Sciences Corp.’s LEOStar-2 spacecraft bus, a platform designed to last at least five years and which has been the basis of numerous NASA science spacecraft. (11/13)

Russians May Visit China’s Station, Bring China to ISS (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian cosmonauts may in the future visit the Chinese orbiting module Tiangong-1, and their Chinese colleagues may visit the International Space Station (ISS), head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) Oleg Ostapenko said. “I do not exclude a variant in which we could consider sending our cosmonauts to the Chinese station and in the future see China’s taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) on our segment of the ISS,” the Federal Space agency head said. (11/13)

How I Stopped Cosmonauts From Carrying Guns (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
For decades the little-known Russian practice of packing sidearms on space stations went on. This continued into the International Space Station partnership, in the form of a “survival gun” in the emergency kit of every Soyuz crew vehicle. Treaty negotiators made sure to grandfather-in such pre-existing weapons—and the Russians were the only ones that had them.

But where the lawyers and diplomats couldn’t get the weapon banned, one pushy space engineer may have done the trick. Without any official declaration from Moscow or Houston, a few years ago the rumor began to spread: “The guns are gone.”

Maybe I deserve some of the credit. For years I was needling and teasing the Russians about the presence of the guns while they were campaigning for no other weapons in space. I expressed this in various articles I’ve had published and in interviews I’ve given. Both space programs kept mum about the issue, but I kept raising it and knocking the scab off. Click here. (11/13)

Central Florida Couple Still Wants to Fly Virgin Galactic (Source: Florida Today)
A Central Florida couple remains committed to flying to space aboard Virgin Galactic despite the company's recent fatal test flight in California. Winter Park residents Sharon and Marc Hagle told FLORIDA TODAY they were devastated by the Oct. 31 accident that destroyed SpaceShipTwo, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injuring pilot Peter Siebold.

But the Hagles said they understand that "with every great adventure, there are risks," and expressed support for the team attempting to get the first commercial spaceline into service. "We are not discouraged," Sharon Hagle said in a statement. The Hagles in 2007 were early buyers of $200,000 tickets to fly on Virgin Galactic. More than 700 people have signed up. Tickets now cost $250,000. (11/13)

Orbital Sciences Wins NASA Balloon Operations Contract (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded the NASA Balloon Operations Contract to Orbital Sciences Corp. for engineering and operations services to support the NASA Balloon Program. This contract is a cost-plus-fixed-fee core contract with a cost-plus-fixed-fee indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity portion. The basic core contract value is $64,885,402 million and the basic period of performance will begin on Feb, 1, 2015 and extend thru Sept 30, 2016.

The value of Option I is $75,917,649 million with a two-year period of performance and the value of Option II is $45,490,020 million with a 16-month period of performance. If all Options are used, the value of the contract is $186,293,071 million. Orbital will operate program facilities including the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Texas, and the permanent balloon staging facility at Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Work also will be performed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Wallops Flight Facility. (11/13)

KSC Seeks Study on Pricing for Commercial Use of VAB High Bay (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA KSC is procuring, through small-business set-aside, a study to determine an appropriate lease rate for commercial use of High Bay 2 within the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Click here. (11/13)

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