December 14, 2014

Space: It's Hard on the Eyes (Source: Orange County Register)
Imagine you’re traveling through outer space for months on end, unfettered by gravity, floating around your capsule at will. Sounds better than Disneyland, right?  But wait a minute. If you spend too much time in zero gravity, it can make you feel sick, weaken your body and diminish your physical capacities. Without Earth’s gravitational pull to provide the structure your body is accustomed to, your bodily fluids also like to float.

Water and blood leave your legs and concentrate in your upper body, which can cause a troublesome buildup of pressure above the neck. Scientists believe this migration of fluid into the head may explain the eye problems, ranging from mild to serious, that many astronauts experience – especially those who spend extended periods aboard the International Space Station. (12/12)

How Do Astronauts Play Scrabble in Space? With Lots of Velcro (Source: Guardian)
I’ve been a Scrabble player my whole life. I’ve had a perpetual Scrabble competition going on with my mum for 50 years. On the International Space Station, our psychologist encourages lots of little habits to help keep us sane. One of these is Scrabble – they recognize that games are fundamental for peace of mind.

Our Scrabble board had Velcro on the back, as did each alphabet piece. Everything on the inside of a spaceship has Velcro on it. The Scrabble board was attached to the ceiling in the same place that we ate our meals. So once you’ve heated up your bag of mash and you’re squeezing it in to your mouth, you can be working on your next word.

The beauty of a spaceship is that if you lose a piece you only have to wait until it turns up in the filter. Everything is pulled towards the airflow – even us astronauts, which is why we have to be tied down when we sleep. Some of our Scrabble games would last months, because we were so busy. Boredom isn’t an issue in space. (12/13)

Gagarin, Armstrong Honored at Memorial in Houston Texas (Source: Sputnik)
A ceremony celebrating the opening of a green pedestrian walkway dedicated to Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, took place in Houston, Texas on Friday. The green pedestrian area is lined with over 200 young oak trees, planted two years ago, and features two granite plates with commemorative plaques dedicated to the two space pioneers. The green territory is located in Houston’s East Downtown (EaDo) area. (12/13)

Iranian Woman's Quest to Become an Astronaut Stars in Documentary (Source:
Lugging a huge telescope to a half-finished observatory in the middle of nowhere to gaze at the stars in the wee hours is not considered an appropriate activity for a young woman in conservative Muslim culture. But an Iranian woman named Sepideh Hooshyar is doing just that, and a documentary released earlier this year provides a window into her five-year struggle to keep her dream of becoming an astronaut alive.

The documentary, called "Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars," debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah earlier this year and was part of the Imagine Science Film Festival's closing night here the American Museum of Natural History on Oct. 24. (12/14)

Spending Boost as UK Seeks Bigger Role in Space (Source: SEN)
The United Kingdom is looking to increase its role in space by boosting its contribution to European space activities and playing a lead in missions to Mars.  The Government’s finance chief, Chancellor George Osborne, made a big point of highlighting the new funding in his autumn statement to MPs last week. Now the details have been released by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and Science Minister Greg Clark.

The extra investment is said to total more than £200 million ($315 million). It includes £47.7 million ($75 million) to lead the ExoMars projects for the European Space Agency (ESA), including development of the Mars rover in the UK. Another £49.2 million ($77 million) will be spent giving British researchers more access to the $100 billion International Space Station program. (12/13)

NASA Seeks To Commercialize Low Earth Orbit, without Commercials (Source: Space News)
NASA wants to catalyze a commercial market for research and manufacturing in low Earth orbit that will outlast the international space station, but with at most a decade of station operations remaining, the agency — which is not allowed to advertise the outpost’s science capabilities — is still casting around for ideas on how to spark the revolution. Click here. (12/13)

DARPA Satlets To Fly on Sherpa’s Debut Mission (Source: Space News)
Futuristic space hardware developed under a DARPA effort to salvage usable parts from spent satellites is scheduled to make its first flight next year on the debut mission of a commercial secondary payload deployer developed by Spaceflight Inc., the company said.

NovaWurks, which is under a DARPA contract develop so-called satlets — self-contained satellite component pieces that perform specific functions such as propulsion or communications — has tapped Seattle-based Spaceflight to fly the initial versions aboard its Sherpa space tug during the third quarter of 2015, Spaceflight announced Dec. 9. (12/13)

Diamond Path to Space Travel (Source: The National)
The first artificial diamonds were made more than half a century ago, and since then the aim has been to create artificial diamonds as large as possible. But scientists have since achieved a breakthrough at the other end of the size spectrum. In the process, they may have opened the way to something utterly mind-boggling in scale: the Space Elevator.

This is something seemingly straight out of a science-fiction movie: a high-tech “stairway to heaven” whose final stop is geostationary orbit 36,000km above the equator. The basic idea has evolved over the decades, and is now generally envisaged to be a cable anchored to the Earth and kept aloft by a vast orbiting counterweight. Electric-powered elevator “cars” then travel up and down into space at 200km/h or so, taking a few days to reach their destination.

As for the counterweight, engineers at NASA have suggested using a small asteroid, nudged into stable Earth orbit and connected to the cable. The biggest engineering challenge turns out to be creating a cable strong enough to cope with the colossal stresses created inside it as the counterweight whips round the Earth. Now that material may finally have been created – from pure diamond. (12/13)

Behind Alaska's $25 Million Fund for Medium-Lift Launches (Source: Juneau Empire)
Alaska Aerospace has been seeking a medium-lift launchpad since satellite operators started preferring larger rockets to deliver their products to orbit. In 2012, the Alaska Legislature approved $25 million to fund a medium-lift launch pad at Kodiak. The money was intended to kick-start another $100 million or more in investment and could not be fully spent until a company signed a contract to launch a medium-lift rocket from the new launch pad.

When no company stepped up, the money stayed in the bank. “At the time, the market didn’t evolve quite the way we anticipated it to,” Campbell said. As the money stayed unused, the Alaska Legislature grew impatient. During the last legislative session, some elected officials called for the company to return the $25 million medium-lift appropriation to the state. Also, in the past two years, the Legislature cut its subsidy for Alaska Aerospace. In 2014, state contributions made up $8.5 million of the corporation’s $10.6 million operating budget.

Campbell and Lockheed-Martin each said they expect negotiations to last for several weeks before a final contract is signed. Alaska Aerospace will be under pressure to sign a deal and find a customer before the start of the Alaska Legislature. New revenue projections released last week indicate state revenue has fallen by as much as 40% below expectations, and both the Legislature and Gov. Bill Walker are expected to significantly cut the state budget — presumably including the operating subsidy for Alaska Aerospace. (12/14)

Alaska Launch Pad Repairs Could Top $29 Million (Source: Juneau Empire)
The Alaska Aerospace Corp. has its eyes on the future and a new deal with Lockheed-Martin, but it must first rebuild from a serious accident this summer. On Aug. 25, a rocket carrying an experimental military payload exploded shortly after takeoff from the state-owned Kodiak Launch Complex. Alaska Aerospace CEO Craig Campbell said the corporation’s goal is to restore the launch complex to full service by October 2015.

Campbell expects repairs to cost between $26 million and $29 million, money that will be provided by insurance. An investigation is ongoing to determine the cause of the failed launch, which covered the surrounding area with debris. According to an update provided by Alaska Aerospace, the cleanup is expected to finish by the end of the year, depending on weather conditions.

Editor's Note: So while Alaska's $20M+ launch pad repairs will be funded by insurance coverage, Virginia's $20M+ launch pad repairs will be paid by you and me, using tax dollars earmarked into the federal budget by that state's elected officials. (12/14)

Proton to Fly 400th Mission Amid Reliability Concerns (Source: SEN)
Approaching half a century in operation, Russia's workhorse Proton rocket will lift off for the 400th time on Monday from Kazakhstan, carrying the Yamal-401 communications satellite for the Russian gas and oil giant Gazprom. The satellite will be able to connect rural areas of Siberia where Gazprom operates its main gas and oil fields, including the permafrost-covered Yamal Peninsula on the Arctic shores of Russia that gave its name to the Yamal series of satellites.

For Proton, it will be the third launch after its latest failure on 16 May. However, the rocket's most recent flight in October for a Russian government operator also experienced a technical glitch, which left the Ekspress-AM6 spacecraft in a lower-than-expected orbit. Although Ekspress-AM6 is now on its way to an operational altitude relying on its own propulsion system (though several months behind schedule), Proton's future "passengers" were understandably nervous. (12/13)

Private Russian Startups Pursue New Launcher, Space Tourism Vehicle (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Even as Vladimir Putin and his merry band of bureaucrats and oligarchs are busy re-nationalizing the Russian space industry under the control of one fully-owned government company, there is some sign of independent entrepreneurial life within the nation’s space effort. Start-up companies have sprouted up to launch satellites and to pursue small satellite launch vehicles and space tourism systems.

Russian media have spotlighted two companies developing new systems. Lin Industrial, which is pursuing the development of an ultra-light rocket that is designed to send payloads weighing up to 100 kg into low Earth orbit. Sergei Burkatovsky, who co-created of the popular online game World of Tanks, has decided to invest 5-10 million rubles in Lin Industrial. That might sound like a lot, but it’s actually only $88,335 to $176,770. They need approximately $200,000 in investment to produce a prototype first-stage prototype rocket, and up to $13.5 million to get to its first flight.

Another Russian space start-up is KosmoKurs, which says it is working on a reusable spacecraft for space tourism flights that would cost low low price of only $200,000 to $250,000 per person. KosmoKurs Director General Pavel Pushkin expects test flights to begin in 2018, with the first commercial missions two years later. The flights would last 20 minutes and the vehicle would land about 20 km (12 miles) from the launch site. That would appear to indicate a suborbital ballistic trajectory. (12/12)

India to Launch Astronaut Capsule, Big Rocket (Source: SEN)
Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO, prepares to make two big leaps in space in a single shot this week, firing a brand-new rocket topped with a full-scale—though unmanned—crew module for the first time. The maiden launch of the 630-ton GSLV-Mark III launch vehicle is expected to take place on 18 December at Sriharikota. The nation's largest rocket to date will be carrying a flowerpot-shaped capsule, which one day might orbit Indian astronauts. It is dubbed Crew-module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment or CARE. (12/14)

Scientists Hope to Detect Dark Matter Signals Buried in X-Rays (Source: Sputnik)
Scientists hope they now have tangible proof of the existence of dark matter, as they have discovered what they think might be traces of the elusive material coded in X-rays which are being emitted by two bright objects in the sky. This could be tangible evidence of the existence of dark matter in the universe, said the researchers after analyzing X-ray data collected from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope.

A weird spike in emissions coming from the Andromeda galaxy and the Perseus galaxy cluster cannot be  explained by any known particle or atom. Signs of this signal have been found in our home galaxy, the Milky Way, as well. (12/14)

As Launch Competition Mounts, Politicians Enter the Fray (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
With new launch vehicles entering into the market delivering an array of payloads to orbit - competition is picking up. This has caused politicians to begin weighing in on which companies are preferred and which are not. Whereas some of the concerns raised by political leaders appear to be predominantly geopolitical in nature, others appear to be based on fiscal matters. At present, aerospace firms such as ULA, SpaceX, Arianespace and others have seen their fortunes come into question under the changing climate. Click here. (12/14)

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