December 18, 2014

Launch of SpaceX Supply Ship Delayed to January (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Blaming a technical glitch encountered during a preflight test, officials said Thursday the launch of SpaceX’s next Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station has been delayed to early January. Liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is now expected no earlier than Jan. 6 at 6:18 a.m. EST.

SpaceX said engineers ran into unspecified problems during a “static fire” test conducted Tuesday. During static fire tests, the SpaceX launch team loads the rocket with kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants, runs through countdown procedures, then lights the booster’s nine Merlin 1D engines for a few seconds while the Falcon 9 is held down on the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (12/18)

Stage Recovery: The Future of Space Launch is Near (Source: Just a Tinker)
Until recently, the future of space launch looked pretty much like its past. For over 50 years, humanity has blasted thousands of spacecraft and satellites into space. Every launch vehicle that carried them aloft has ended up littering the planet with the broken, twisted remains of expended rocket stages. Only a tiny fraction of the entire rocket escapes Earth’s deep gravity well to reach space as useful payload. With one notable exception, the Space Shuttle.

It seemed like a virtual impossibility to recover any part of the launch vehicle. Because of this assumption, expendable launch vehicles were deemed to be just ‘the cost of doing business’… until now. SpaceX, has finally revealed how and when they will attempt to recover the booster stage of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Click here. (12/16)

Falcon-9 Slip Closes 2014 with 16 Florida Launches, 12 Planned for 2015 (Source: SPACErePORT)
At the beginning of 2014, SpaceX had plans for up to 10 launches during the year from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The Falcon/Dragon CRS-5 slip into January will leave SpaceX with only six launches for the year. Altogether, that brings Florida's 2014 total to 16 launches: six each for Falcon-9 and Atlas-5, and four for Delta-4. One early launch manifest for 2015 currently includes 12 planned launches, including seven Falcon-9, four Atlas-5, and one Delta-4. (12/18)

Across the Ideological Universe (Source: Slate)
Rockets, satellites, and spaceships on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., are a testament to American achievements in space. But in an exhibit on the heady days of the 1960s and ’70s, one note on a timeline placard stands out. In 1969, it explains, a government task force suggested that NASA should build a permanently manned space station, and perhaps go to Mars.

This did not happen. Political support for the ideas evaporated while people worried about the Vietnam War, social upheavals, and the money already spent on the Apollo program. The country must “define new goals which make sense for the seventies,” President Richard Nixon declared. A year after the moon landing, 56 percent of the public said it hadn’t been worth the price. Click here. (12/17)

Einstein’s Thoughts on SETI (Source: Air & Space)
“There is every reason to believe that Mars and other planets are inhabited,” said Einstein in 1920. “Why should the earth be the only planet supporting human life? It is not singular in any other respect. But if intelligent creatures do exist, as we may assume they do elsewhere in the universe, I should not expect them to try to communicate with the earth by wireless [radio]. Light rays, the direction of which can be controlled much more easily, would more probably be the first method attempted.” (12/17)

NASA’s Kepler Reborn, Makes First Exoplanet Find of New Mission (Source: NASA)
NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft makes a comeback with the discovery of the first exoplanet found using its new mission -- K2. The discovery was made when astronomers and engineers devised an ingenious way to repurpose Kepler for the K2 mission and continue its search of the cosmos for other worlds. (12/17)

Could the Higgs be Part of the Matter-Antimatter Problem? (Source: Discovery)
As excitement grows for the the second 3-year run of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), physicists are frantically planning the experiments that will be carried out when the particle accelerator starts slamming particles together at record energies in 2015. One of those experiments could focus on why the universe is dominated by matter and not antimatter, one of the most enduring mysteries in modern physics.

And the focus of the study? Yes, the infamous Higgs boson may be at least partially to blame for our universe’s matter-antimatter asymmetry. When the universe began, right at the ignition of the Big Bang some 13.75 billion years ago, particles of matter and antimatter should have been generated in equal numbers. Should matter and antimatter meet, total annihilation occurs. Therefore, if equal quantities of matter and antimatter were generated, there should be no matter or antimatter left in the universe.

Instead, the universe would have remained as a soup of energy where matter (or antimatter) could not form. But as we look around us, although tiny quantities of antimatter can be found, the universe is obviously filled with matter. So the question is: Why did matter win out? Click here. (12/17)

XCOR Seeks Pioneers to be First Batch of Space Travelers (Source: Want China Times)
Despite the crash of Virgin Galactic's prototype space tourism rocket on Oct. 31, XCOR, Virgin's archrival, has continued to prepare its space travel program, mainly due to the unwavering commitment of its 30 plus Chinese clients. Zhang Yong, XCOR's Chinese agent, reports that in the wake of the accident he has not received any cancellations from the 30 customers in China who have already purchased their tickets.

"Most of them regard the chance to do this as a life-defining moment and aren't willing to pull out so easily," Zhang said, adding that he had received a message from XCOR assuring the program's safety, as its space travel technology is quite different from that of Virgin Galactic. "In the wake of the crash, XCOR will be even more stringent in its safety checks for the program," says customer Dong Jingjing. (12/17)

Who Owns the Moon? (Source: Millionaire Corner)
Some national and private interests are discussing the ownership of celestial bodies and the natural resources that can be found within. Frans von der Dunk, Professor of Space Law at the University of Nebraska, suddenly finds himself as the leading national expert on the topic of ownership of celestial bodies.

“In 1990, space law was a relatively coherent succinct body of law,’’ Von der Dunk said. “There were a few international agreements. They were just starting to build the international space station. Private participation in space was very, very limited. It was all so much more science driven.”

The currently held international treaty on space law is being challenged by both private enterprise and nationalist interests who believe celestial bodies are unclaimed property and there is a treasure trove of natural resources in those bodies that have value. Click here. (12/17)

Lunar Mission One Reaches First Kickstarter Funding Goal (Source: NY Daily News)
Lunar Mission One is one step closer to retracing Neil Armstrong's steps on the moon. The British-led effort reached its first Kickstarter goal of £600,000, which roughly translates to $945,000. The idea behind Lunar Mission One is to send a robotic probe to the moon that will drill a 100-meter hole into the moon and collect core samples. The famous physicist Stephen Hawking was one of the project backers. (12/17)

Orbital Awaits Government Approval of Rocket Engine Deal (Source: Sputnik)
Orbital Sciences Corporation is waiting for the necessary governmental approval for the delivery of Russian designed RD-181 engines, the company's press service said. According to the statement, Orbital is in the process of obtaining all necessary permits for the support of the use of RD-181 and approval of the recent contract with Russian design bureau NPO Energomash by appropriate US government agencies. (12/17)

U.S. Senate Unlikely To Go Along with Third Interceptor Site (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee would be more likely to fund an additional radar on the East Coast to guard against a missile attack from Iran rather than build a third ground-based interceptor site, two committee staff members said Dec. 15.

They said while they expect House Republicans to suggest a third ground based-interceptor site in the coming year, a more affordable option, especially within the current budget constraints, would more likely be an additional radar near the East Coast. The current U.S. territorial shield features interceptor fields in California and Alaska, and in March 2013 the Obama administration announced plans to beef up the latter site. (12/17)

India Takes First Step Toward Manned Space Mission (Source: The Hindu)
India’s first experimental flight GSLV Mark III took off successfully from Sriharikota on Thursday. Also known as LVM3/CARE, this suborbital experimental mission was intended to test the vehicle performance during the critical atmospheric phase of its flight and carried passive (non functional) cryogenic upper stage.

"Everything went off as expected. This new launch vehicle performed very well and is a great success. We had an unmanned crew module to understand re-entry characteristics. That also went off successfully and it has touched down in the Bay of Bengal," said ISRO’s chief K. Radhakrishnan. In exactly about five and half minutes after taking off, the vehicle carried its payload — the 3775 kg crew module Atmospheric Re-entry experiment (CARE) — to the intended height of 126 km. (12/17)

Twins Unlocking the Secrets of Space (Source: TIME)
When Scott Kelly calls home from the International Space Station (ISS) sometime next year, whoever answers the phone may simply hang up on him. The calls will be welcome, but the link can be lousy, with long, hissing silences breaking up the conversation. That’s what happens when you’re placing your call from at least 229 mi. above the Earth while zipping along at 17,500 m.p.h. and your signal has to get bounced from satellites to ground antennas to relay stations like an around-the-horn triple play. Click here. (12/17)

New Mexico’s Spaceport is State-of-the-Art Ghost Town (Source: GCR)
Spaceport America was intended to be the launch pad for the world’s richest people who were willing to pay large sums for a private viewing of the Earth from its upper atmosphere. But the $219m facility in the New Mexico desert, built with help from the state’s taxpayers, has become a 21st century ghost town. Click here. (12/17)
SpaceX Continues to Expand Facilities, Workforce (Source:
2014 was undoubtedly SpaceX's most lucrative year to date. In September, the company (along with Boeing) signed a contract with NASA for $6.8 billion to develop space vehicles that would bring astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017 and end the nation's reliance on Russia. And this past week, the company announced a plan to expand operations at its Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.

The facility is the key testing grounds for all SpaceX technology. And now that the company is actively collaborating with NASA to restore indigenous space-launch ability to the US, more testing will be needed. Click here. (12/17) 

SpaceX Mission Likely to Slip to January (Source:
The next Falcon 9 v1.1 set to launch out of Florida’s Cape Canaveral scrubbed a Static Fire attempt on Tuesday. The Static Fire is required ahead of the upcoming mission to loft the CRS-5/SpX-5 Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS). Unspecified issues with the rocket are likely to slip the launch – as late as early January, although SpaceX isn’t commenting at this stage. (12/17)

Bigelow Module Go For 2015 Launch (Source: Popular Science)
In 2014, commercial spaceflight reached a major milestone when NASA selected two companies—SpaceX and Boeing—to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). This year, the agency will turn its attention to the next logical step: commercial habitats. SpaceX will launch Bigelow Aerospace’s Expandable Activity Module to the ISS in late summer or early fall.

Once connected to the Tranquility node, the habitat will inflate to 13 feet long. Then, for two years, instruments will measure how well it holds up in space. Bigelow will use that data to build a 12-person station. NASA, meanwhile, has begun developing standards for use by commercial stations. Philip McAlister, the agency’s director of commercial spaceflight, says private enterprise will help sustain robust human activity in low-Earth orbit. “American spaceflight is not just about us anymore,” he says. (12/16)

As Inspector General Frets, NASA Bides Time on TDRS Replacements (Source: Space News)
Despite another reminder from its inspector general that the agency’s space communications network is heading for a bandwidth logjam in 2016, NASA is not rushing to procure more of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) that keep Earth-orbiting spacecraft in touch with the ground, an official said.

“NASA has not started any procurement action for future TDRS,” Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Office wrote. “However, the Goddard Space Flight Center has begun architecting and investigating the feasibility of implementing the next generation data relay satellites.” (12/16)

Russia to Launch Spy Satellite for South Africa (Source: SEN)
In a midst of the year-end flurry of activity at the Russian space center in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, the most unusual and least visible launch campaign takes place at a desolate Site 2A. At the height of the Cold War, the low-profile facility housed nuclear warheads for the first Soviet ballistic missile, the R-7. Even though nukes had been gone from Baikonur for decades, Site 2A's latest role was veiled in secrecy until just a few days ago.

The former nuclear storage is now home for the pre-launch processing of the Kondor-E (Condor) Earth-watching satellite. Known primarily to the seasoned followers of the Russian space program, Kondor does not have a page on Roskosmos' web site and not until this week did its launch date appear in the official manifest. In the meantime, Kondor's anticipated liftoff had been causing a storm of controversy half a world away—in South Africa! (12/16)

NASA Awards Launch Contract to SpaceX (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA has selected SpaceX to provide launch services for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. TESS will launch aboard a Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle, with liftoff targeted for August 2017 from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. The total cost for NASA to launch TESS is approximately $87 million, which includes the launch service, spacecraft processing, payload integration, tracking, data and telemetry, and other launch support requirements.

Editor's Note: The $87 million price apparently includes $61 million for the rocket and $26 million for associated services, including spacecraft processing and integration, tracking and telemetry, other range costs and support requirements. In contrast, a similarly sized Atlas-5 mission recently cost NASA $160 million. (12/16)

Virginia Research, Environmental Efforts Benefit from Federal Spending Plan (Source: Daily Press)
The $1.1 trillion spending bill that just cleared Congress includes millions of dollars toward advanced aircraft, a cleaner Chesapeake Bay, stiffer standards for oil tank cars and repairs to the state's spaceport damaged by a rocket explosion in October. In fact, aeronautics and environmental efforts in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore are looking at tens of millions of dollars under the compromise fiscal year 2015 plan.

Local NASA facilities are big winners under the plan. U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced in a joint statement over the weekend that NASA Langley Research Center would get much of a $90 million increase in NASA's aeronautics research, while the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops would get $20 million to fully fund launch pad repairs. (12/16)

Chinese State-Owned Aerospace Giant Seeks Private Partnership (Source: Xinhua)
In a move to spur innovation, state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), the major contractor for China's space program, invited 1,300 private enterprises to a forum it co-hosted in the eastern city of Ningbo. The 2014 China (Ningbo) international forum on advanced aerospace materials and commercialization signaled a shift in the once restricted sector to a more-open working style that encourages collaborative practice with private entities. (12/17)

NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission Faces Criticism (Source: Scientific American)
The Obama administration wants to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. Of course, such a mission requires a lot of advance engineering, and as a first step, nasa plans to send astronauts to a small asteroid that would be brought into a stable orbit around the moon. To achieve that mechanical feat, a solar-powered robotic probe is being designed to capture a space rock and slowly push it into place.

A target asteroid has yet to be announced, and the robotic space tug has yet to be built, but the parties involved hope to have the rock relocated to the moon's vicinity as soon as 2021. nasa calls this concept the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and is marshaling resources across the entire agency to support it.

Michele Gates, the agency's program director for ARM, says that its advanced propulsion technology and crew activities would give nasa the capability and experience needed to someday reach Mars. The trip would demonstrate spacecraft rendezvous procedures and establish protocols for sample collection and extravehicular movements. Click here. (12/16)

Curiosity Rover Drills Into Mars Rock, Finds Water (Source:
NASA's Curiosity rover is continuing to help scientists piece together the mystery of how Mars lost its surface water over the course of billions of years. The rover drilled into a piece of Martian rock called Cumberland and found some ancient water hidden within it. Researchers were then able to test a key ratio in the water with Curiosity's onboard instruments to gather more data about when Mars started to lose its water, NASA officials said.

In the same sample, Curiosity also detected the first organic molecules it has found. Curiosity measured the ratio of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) to "normal" hydrogen. This D-to-H ratio can help scientists see how long it takes for water molecules to escape, because the lighter hydrogen molecules fly toward the upper atmosphere more freely than deuterium does.

The D-to-H ratio in Cumberland is about half the ratio found in the Martian atmosphere's water vapor today, NASA officials said. This suggests that the planet lost much of its surface water after the Cumberland rock formed, space agency officials added in the same statement. (12/17)

Buzz Aldrin Plans to Move to Florida (Source: Malibu Times)
Aldrin has now resided in California for half his adult life, first moving to the state in the 1970s from NASA in Houston. “I went to Edwards Air Force Base to run the test pilot school, and I’ve been here ever since.” Soon, however, he said “We’re pulling up stakes in California and will be settling in Florida.” Aldrin is originally from the East Coast, and believes state taxes in Florida will be lower. (12/17)

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