November 27, 2014

NASA's Van Allen Probes Spot an Impenetrable Barrier in Space (Source: NASA)
Two donuts of seething radiation that surround Earth, called the Van Allen radiation belts, have been found to contain a nearly impenetrable barrier that prevents the fastest, most energetic electrons from reaching Earth. The Van Allen belts are a collection of charged particles, gathered in place by Earth’s magnetic field. They can wax and wane in response to incoming energy from the sun, sometimes swelling up enough to expose satellites in low-Earth orbit to damaging radiation.

The discovery of the drain that acts as a barrier within the belts was made using NASA's Van Allen Probes, launched in August 2012 to study the region. “This barrier for the ultra-fast electrons is a remarkable feature of the belts," said Dan Baker, a space scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder and first author of the paper. "We're able to study it for the first time, because we never had such accurate measurements of these high-energy electrons before." (11/26)

EU and Russia: Lost in Space? (Source: Inside GNSS)
Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis has turned much of public opinion in the West against that country, in particular souring the relationship between the European Union (EU) and Russia. And, while the ceasefire signed in September technically is still in force, the EU-Russia rift is far from smoothed over.

Among the possible casualties of this distemper is the cooperation in space that the two sides have laboriously built up since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the (first) Cold War. And, as Europe looks once more west for increased GNSS opportunities, Russia is looking east to China.

The flawed launch of the first two full operational capability (FOC) Galileo satellites in August, which put the spacecraft into incorrect orbits, did nothing to improve the situation. In announcing its conclusions in October, an independent board of inquiry formed to analyze the causes of the anomaly — which occurred during the orbital injection of the satellites by a Russian Soyuz rocket — pointed the finger at a curious “design ambiguity” in the launcher’s Fregat module. (11/26)

Spaceflight Surprise! DNA Survives Short Trip on Outside of Rocket (Source:
The substance that holds the code for life may be able to survive a short ride in space, a new study suggests. Samples of DNA squirted onto the exterior of a TEXUS-49 sounding rocket remained functional following a 13-minute low-orbit flight to space, the study's scientists report.

"We were totally surprised…We never expected to recover so many intact and functional active DNA," said Cora Thiel, a molecular biologist at the University of Zurich and a lead author on the study, in a statement. "Our findings made us a little bit worried about the probability of contaminating space crafts, landers and landing sites with DNA from Earth." Click here. (11/26)

Money for NASA Priorities at Risk in Next Congress (Source: USA Today)
Key elements of NASA's space program faced tough scrutiny from Republicans even before the Nov. 4 elections gave the GOP control of the Senate and expanded its majority in the House. When the next Congress convenes in January, the Obama administration can expect more questions — and criticisms -- targeting some of the agency's top priorities: an asteroid mission, commercial crew, and Earth science.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to adhere to the across-the-board sequestration spending cuts included in the 2011 Budget Control Act, Scott Pace said. And conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, in line to chair the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee that oversees the space program, is an outspoken supporter of smaller government and a top critic of the Obama administration.

The subcommittee's current chairman, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, will lose that post when Republicans take control of the Senate. An ally of NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. and a strong supporter of a robust space program, Nelson still will be in a position to influence space policy as the full committee's senior Democrat. (11/26)

Owner’s Manual to Human Spaceflight (Source: Lockheed Martin)
To be human is to explore. “Humans completely introduce a new element to the space exploration equation,” stated Cynthia Hudy, the Human-Systems Integration Lead on Orion. One day, astronauts will explore the Martian planet, unlocking mysteries of our solar system and universe. That journey started with Exploration Flight Test-1. We’re pushing our systems to the limit and developing a human-rated Orion spacecraft. Click here. (11/26)

SNC, Stratolaunch Expand on Proposed Dream Chaser Flights (Source:
As Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) continues forward with efforts to develop numerous mission scenarios for its Dream Chaser space plane, a study – in collaboration with Stratolaunch Systems – expands on the scaled-down version of Dream Chaser launched into orbit via the air-launch vehicle for a variety of mission including ISS emergency crew rescues and micro-gravity research missions. Click here. (11/26)

DreamChaser Plan for Stratolaunch Favors Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SPACErePORT)
Stratolaunch Systems has been coy about where it intends to operate its huge aircraft-based launch system, although it has certainly been considering Florida and features the Shuttle Landing Facility in many of its artist renderings. But the company's planned partnership with Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) makes Florida a much more likely location.

Aside from the obvious benefits of having a super-long and very wide runway for the massive aircraft, the Cape Canaveral Spaceport provides proximity to SNC's most desired customer, NASA, for flights to/from the International Space Station. (11/26)

Tests of Universal Launch Facility for Angara-A5 Completed at Plesetsk (Source: Itar-Tass)
Complex testing of the universal launch facility for the heavy lift carrier rocket Angara-A5 has been completed and the rocket has been removed from the launch site of the Plesetsk spaceport. “The rocket has now been removed from the launch pad of the universal launch facility and taken to the operations and checkout building of the technical complex of the cosmodrome where experts started technological operations to prepare Angara-A5 for flight tests,”Alexey Zolotukhin said. (11/26)

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