December 19, 2014

Canada's 'Pay-Per-View' Satellite Finds New Planet (Source: Edmonton Journal)
A suitcase-sized Canadian satellite whose funding has been eliminated by the Canadian Space Agency has co-discovered a new planet in another solar system. The MOST space telescope, just 65 centimeters wide and 25 deep, also confirmed the planet is 2.5 times bigger than Earth, and is probably mostly water or ice. The discovery comes just as the Canadian Space Agency is winding up all funding for MOST, which must now operate as a rent-a-telescope. (12/18)

NASA Emailed a Wrench to Space (Source: WIRED)
When International Space Station commander Barry Wilmore needed a wrench, NASA knew just what to do. They "emailed" him one. This is the first time an object has been designed on Earth and then transmitted to space for manufacture. Made In Space, the California company that designed the 3D printer aboard the ISS, overheard Wilmore mentioning the need for a ratcheting socket wrench and decided to create one. Previously, if an astronaut needed a specific tool it would have to be flown up on the next mission to the ISS, which could take months. (12/14)

Voyager Spacecraft Overtaken by Three 'Tsunami Waves' in Space (Source: SEN)
As Voyager 1 sails beyond the Solar System, the generation-old NASA spacecraft frequently encounters "tsunami waves" in space, showing that the environment it is traveling is less tranquil than previously believed. The spacecraft, launched from Earth in 1977, has so far experienced three of these waves since leaving the Solar System officially in 2012 (a fact only discovered a year later.)

Such a wave happens when the Sun produces a coronal mass ejection, or a massive burst of plasma (charged particles), that erupts from the star. A wave of pressure then races through the Solar System and crashes into more plasma in interstellar space, creating a shock wave. "The tsunami causes the ionized gas that is out there to resonate—'sing' or vibrate like a bell," stated Ed Stone, project scientist for the Voyager mission based at the California Institute of Technology. (12/19)

Editorial: Aerospace/Defense Must Disrupt Its R&D Funding Routine (Source: Aviation Week)
One of the biggest obstacles to innovation in the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry is the reliance on institutional customers to fund R&D projects. Indeed, the most innovative ventures today are commercially driven. Be they Skybox Imaging and Planet Labs with their Earth-observation satellites, SpaceX with its launchers or AeroVironment with its drones, they are all bringing a radically different, commercially driven approach to innovation.

It does not mean that institutional customers don’t have a role to play, but they are not in the driver’s seat. The traditional way of financing innovation in the A&D industry has been to rely on institutional customers such as the Defense Department and NASA in the U.S., and national defense and space agencies in Europe. This worked as long as the technologies used for A&D applications were unique and ahead of those used in commercial fields.

It created a kind of closed innovation ecosystem, with its own organization (e.g., prime contractors and system integrators), processes (such as technology readiness levels, concept and technology demonstration or developmental test and evaluation) and cycles (five, 10 or more years). As with any closed system though, rigidity and bureaucracy have crept in and the whole system has become largely inefficient. (12/18)

Space Photo Contest Entries: Editor’s Picks (Source: Aviation Week)
Click here to browse Aviation Week's annual pick of the best space photos. (12/17)

ESA Gets New Leadership (Source: ESA)
The Council of the European Space Agency announced the appointment of Johann-Dietrich Woerner as the next Director General of ESA, for a period of four years starting on 1 July 2015. He will succeed Jean-Jacques Dordain, whose term of office ends on 30 June 2015. (12/18)

Launch of Strela Rocket From Baikonur Delayed for Technical Reasons (Source: Itar-Tass)
A launch of a rocket carrier Strela with a dual-purpose satellite Kondor-E which was expected to be made from the Baikonur spaceport on Thursday morning was delayed for technical reasons, according to Roscosmos. "The launch has been postpoed for technical reasons to an auxiliary date which is tomorrow,” an official in the agency said Thursday. Strela carrier rocket is based on the RS-20 intercontinental ballistic missile, known as Satan. (12/18)

Russian Strela Rocket Launches Kondor-E (Source:
Russia’s Strela rocket has made a rare appearance and launched the latest Kondor radar imaging satellite for the South African military – following its purchase from NPO Mashinostroyenia. Known as Kondor-E, this spacecraft was launched from silo 59 at Baikonur Cosmodrome’s site 175 at 04:43 UTC on Friday. (12/18)

Arianespace Soyuz ST-B Launches Four O3b Satellites (Source:
The Arianespace Soyuz ST-B rocket has launched her mission to loft four O3b communication satellites into orbit on Thursday. The spacecraft are heading to a constellation that is already populated by eight of the birds controlled by O3b Networks. Lift off from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana occurred at 18:37 UTC. (12/18)

Indian Launch's Price Tag Was $25 Million (Source: Radio Australia)
The GSLV Mk-3 rocket, designed to carry heavier communication and other satellites into higher orbit, blasted off from Sriharikota in the southeast state of Andhra Pradesh in a test mission costing nearly $25 million. The new rocket, weighing 630 tonnes and capable of carrying a payload of 4 tonnes, is a boost for India's attempts to grab a greater slice of the $300-billion global space market. (12/18)

Updated Chart of International Orbital Launch Vehicles (Source: SPACErePORT)
My chart of existing and proposed orbital launch systems keeps growing. Click here to see a fairly comprehensive list of rockets, including their size, nationality, payload weight capacity, launch sites, and operational status. (12/19)

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Lands $16.7 Million in Tax Incentives (Source: Denver Business Journal)
Lockheed Martin Space Systems could receive $16.7 million in tax incentives from Jefferson County over the next 15 years for creating 850 jobs at its headquarters west of the metro area. The Jefferson County Commissioners next week are expected to grant county business-personal property tax rebates that would be in addition to the $15.5 million in state tax rebates already granted to Lockheed Martin Space Systems. (12/17)

What Living in Space for a Year Will Do to You (Source: Esquire)
Weightlessness changes everything, and it will change Scott Kelly. Because he won’t be sitting, and because the human body is a ruthless and efficient machine, over time his pelvis will lose its bursa sacs, which cushion his hip joints against earthly hazards like toilet seats but become obsolete in space. He will also urinate some significant percentage of his blood reserve—stored in his legs on the ground, but risen into his overstuffed core in the absence of gravity. Click here. (12/18)

Europe Prepares for Asteroid Strikes (Source: ESA)
Last month, experts from ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program and Europe’s national disaster response organizations met for a two-day exercise on what to do if an asteroid is ever found to be heading our way. In ESA’s first-ever asteroid impact exercise, they went through a countdown to an impact, practicing steps to be taken if near-Earth objects, or NEOs, of various sizes were detected.

The exercise considered the threat from an imaginary, but plausible, asteroid, initially thought to range in size from 12 m to 38 m – spanning roughly the range between the 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst and the 1908 Tunguska event – and traveling at 12.5 km/s. (12/18)

Contamination of Impacted Meteorites Can Happen Quickly (Source: Astrobiology)
A team of scientists has published the results of an investigative survey into the Sutter’s Mill meteorite that landed in California in 2012. The results reveal that the meteorite contained a number of features associated with minerals such as olivines, phyllosilicates, carbonates, and possibly pyroxenes, as well as organics.

However, a key conclusion of the paper, and one that is likely to be of keen interest to astrobiologists, is confirmation that meteorites can become contaminated by Earth-based organics very quickly. That means scientists must be extra vigilant in identifying and assessing the effects of terrestrial organic contamination of meteoritic samples. (12/18)

Satellite Captures Glowing Plants From Space (Source: Science)
About 1% of the light that strikes plants is re-emitted as a faint, fluorescent glow—a measure of photosynthetic activity. Today scientists released a map of this glow as measured by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. The NASA satellite was launched in July with the goal of mapping the net amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

But the fluorescence map, an unexpected secondary capability, provides a more direct measure of carbon fluxes: the amount mopped up by plants during photosynthesis or released during respiration. The findings will help scientists disentangle inputs and outputs in places like the Amazon rainforest, where there are both big emissions from deforestation and big sinks from photosynthesis. Click here. (12/18)

GPS Modernization Advances (Source: SpaceRef)
The eighth Boeing Global Positioning System IIF satellite has completed on-orbit checkout and joined the active 31-satellite constellation, helping the U.S. Air Force continue modernizing the network that millions of people worldwide use. The Air Force and Boeing have now put four GPS-IIF satellites into service this year, adding to the modernization effort with advanced atomic clocks, stronger anti-jamming, and a new third civil signal and longer design life. (12/18)

Space is Key to Defense Aerospace Gains in 2015, AIA Says (Source: AIA)
The AIA anticipates some growth for the defense aviation market in 2015, despite "unprecedented challenges" worldwide facing the industry, said President and CEO Marion Blakey. AIA projections show space contributing an additional $4 billion next year, after Department of Defense space spending increased 5.5% in 2014. (12/17)

Mars One CEO: ‘If There’s a Terrible Accident, We Won’t Show It Live on TV’ (Source: Newsweek)
The Mars One project will cost an estimated $6 billion, a good part of which will be raised by the proposed reality TV program which will “exclusively follow the selection and training of the world’s first one-way astronauts to Mars.” However, Bars Landorp was quick to distance himself from this term: “First of all, I don’t like the term ‘reality TV’. In principle it’s a good term but nowadays it means the Kardashians and Jersey Shore and of course those aren’t real.

“I prefer to compare the mission to the Olympic games. We select the best of the best for a near impossible task. They will do things that almost no one else can do - just like the Olympics,” he continued. Landorp conceded that there are dangers attached to the mission: “Exploration will always be dangerous and it will be our responsibility to only show things to the audience that we think are fair to the other stakeholders. If there’s a terrible accident, we won’t show it live on TV.” (12/18)

The Year in Space: From Tragedy to Triumph (Source: ABC)
2014 has been a year of picture-perfect, out-of-this-world moments and incredible firsts in space exploration. The European Space Agency landed a probe on a speeding comet and NASA celebrated a successful maiden voyage of "America's spacecraft," Orion. Among the triumphs, there was also tragedy. Here are seven moments from 2014 that defined the year in space travel, exploration and appreciation. (12/18)

XCOR Announces Further Progress on XCOR Lynx Spacecraft (Source: XCOR)
The XCOR Lynx suborbital spacecraft continues to make rapid progress towards final assembly. Immediately after bonding the cockpit to the fuselage the shop crews set up for the delicate and precise operation of bonding the carry-through spar on to the rear end of the Lynx fuselage.

“The carry-through spar is the heart of the loading structure on any winged craft – it supports the primary load of the wings and carries that load through the fuselage,” says XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. “Attaching the spar on a composite vehicle is a one-way operation, so it has to be done right the first time." After the spar was installed the entire structure was load tested to the equivalent of 6G re-entry, while in the test area the cabin was pressurized to 11 PSI, the first pressure test after being bonded to the fuselage. (12/18)

Space Tourism Needs a Reality Check (Source:
Is suborbital-space tourism an impossible dream? It's hard to tell. Despite the recent crash of SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic is still a front-runner. Ignore all of those premature media speculations about difficulties with SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket engine. In fact, recent reports suggest part of that machinery was likely not at fault. The underlying problem sounds fixable.

Failures are a necessary part of the aerospace learning curve. If only we could benefit from these lessons without having to mourn so many casualties. Can we reach an airline-like safety plateau in the space tourism business? I'm not sure. Modern airplane prototypes undergo an extensive regimen of test flights before any civilian versions are launched onto the market. However, no one has flown a civilian spaceship often enough to figure out what might be termed its "airworthiness."

It might sound heartless, but we will probably need to tolerate more spacecraft crashes before we can really understand how to make future variants sufficiently safe for civilian passengers. This brings me to my central question: What would be "sufficiently safe"? The Virgin Galactic crash surely tells the nascent space tourism industry that it may need to think again about letting untrained, inexperienced passengers into its vehicles. Recent developments suggest that rocket vehicles are still unusually hazardous, because we simply haven't flown them often enough to know what we're up against. (12/18)

Congress Keeps NASA Education Programs Aloft (Source: Science)
NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has traditionally funded education activities directly in conjunction with every scientific payload. (There’s also an Office of Education at NASA headquarters that runs agency-wide programs such as scholarships and research opportunities for students and efforts to attract more minority students into space science.) The idea is to yoke those most knowledgeable about the science with those skilled in public dissemination.

In April 2013, however, NASA announced it wanted to sever those ties as part of the Obama administration’s proposed reorganization of all federal science education activities. The $42 million allocated for E/PO within the science directorate would have disappeared in FY-2014. Congress rejected the idea (as well as much of the White House’s overall reorganization plan) and eventually restored the NASA funding. But the money was slow to trickle out to the individual projects, and some suffered actual cuts.

This year the administration again lowballed funding for the activity, asking for only $15 million in its 2015 request for NASA. The final bill signed into law this week again restores the budget to pre-2014 levels. But even that amount is “well below” the 1% that NASA’s $5.1 billion science directorate is authorized to spend on education activities, notes a report from Senate appropriators this summer that accompanied a 2015 NASA spending bill that was folded into the final accord. (12/18)

Rockets: Ours and Theirs (Source: The Hindu)
With the successful launch of ISRO’s GSLV Mark III — Chairman Radhakrishnan can stand shoulder to shoulder with Musk. The full-fledged GSLV Mark III that can carry four tonnes of material to 36,000 km above the earth is still at least three years away. But in absolute terms, even a fully developed GSLV Mark III is decade behind others.

By the time the Mark III becomes operations-capable, the world would have moved further on. SpaceX will have the Falcon Heavy, the world’s second most powerful rocket, after Saturn V, which took Americans to the moon. NASA is developing its own mega rocket, Space Launch System, a 98-meter tall brute. Click here. (12/18)

NASA Study Proposes Airships, Cloud Cities for Venus Exploration (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
It has been accepted for decades that Mars is the next logical place for humans to explore. Mars certainly seems to offer the most Earth-like environment of any other place in the solar system, and it’s closer to Earth than just about anyplace else, except Venus. But exploration of Venus has always been an enormous challenge: Venus’s surface is hellish, with 92 atmospheres of pressure and temperatures of nearly 500 °C.

The surface of Venus isn’t going to work for humans, but what if we ignore the surface and stick to the clouds? Dale Arney and Chris Jones, from the Space Mission Analysis Branch of NASA’s Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at Langley Research Center, in Virginia, have been exploring that idea. Perhaps humans could ride through the upper atmosphere of Venus in a solar-powered airship. Arney and Jones propose that it may make sense to go to Venus before we ever send humans to Mars. Click here. (12/16)

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