December 30, 2014

United Launch Alliance Concludes Banner Year (Source: ULA)
United Launch Alliance, the  nation’s premier space launch provider, congratulates its employees, suppliers and customers on another successful year, reliably and affordably launching 14 satellites to orbit with 100 percent mission success. “When you think about every detail – all of the science, all of the planning, all of the resources – that goes into a single launch, it is hard to believe that we successfully did it at a rate of about once a month, sometimes twice," said ULA CEO Tory Bruno. Click here. (12/29)

ULA Took a Blow When Congress Banned RD-180, But Challenges Don't Stop There (Source: Huntsville Times)
The future of rocket builder United Launch Alliance, the dominant launch provider for the federal government, took a blow this month when Congress outlawed its favorite engine. That hurt, but experts say the company and its 800 Alabama employees face even more disruption from a changing satellite launch market. That's not to say ULA is reeling or without weapons, especially in the $68 billion Pentagon launch market.

Carissa Christensen, who watches the aerospace industry as managing partner of the Washington aerospace and international security consulting firm the Tauri Group, said in an interview this month that "there is no way ULA will get pushed out of this market." But the "disruption" ahead will make life even more challenging for ULA's leadership and its employees, Christensen said. Click here. (12/29)

2014: The Year We Realized Space is Hard (Source: Parabolic Arc)
“Launch is a really tough business,” NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said at an Antares post-crash press conference. “When we look at all these events that occur flawlessly and go well, we need to recognize how difficult and demanding this business really is.” As spectacular as the Antares explosion was, its actual impact on NASA was fairly minimal. Orbital Sciences, on the other hand, found itself scrambling meet its commitment to the space agency while speeding up an existing plan to upgrade the Antares booster. Click here. (12/29)

America Aced in Space (Source: American Spectator)
The Obama administration has proved its talent for inflicting both short and long-term wounds on America’s strength. One, relatively little noted but perhaps the most serious and long-term of all in its consequences, has been the damage done to the U.S. space program, as China’s and, despite its new economic problems, Russia’s programs press steadily on. Click here. (12/29)

Russia's Moon Exploration Program
(Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia's lunar mission hardware doesn't look very different from the U.S. Orion system, at least as depicted in this infographic from Itar-Tass. Click here. (12/29)

Soyuz-2 Launches in 2015 to Break Record of 2014 (Source: Itar-Tass)
A record number of Soyuz-2 carrier rockets were launched in 2014, but the record may very well be broken in 2015, said Leonid Shalimov, CEO of the Yekaterinburg-based NPO Avtomatiki automatic control engineering research and production association. “Fourteen launches of Soyuz-2 were carried out in 2014 - a record number in the company history. Meanwhile, a total of 19 launches were planned in the outgoing year, five have been postponed till 2015,” he said, adding that 20 rocket launching sets have already been ordered for next year. (12/30)

2014 a Big Year for Commercial Space (Source: Space Alabama)
Some of the most widely circulated space news from 2014 were the two accidents in late October.  Orbital's Antares rocket exploded shortly after launch at Wallops Island during an unmanned resupply mission to the International Space Station, and space tourism company Virgin Galactic lost a pilot during a test flight of their SpaceshipTwo. Both those disasters are extremely unfortunate and overshadow one of the biggest years for commercial space in history. Click here. (12/29)

Will We Find Extraterrestrial Life In 2015? (Source: Scientific American)
Probably not, but just possibly yes. One of the reasons that the search for life elsewhere in the universe is so exciting is that it would take only one chance discovery, one lucky break, for all the walls to come tumbling down. But where is that revolution going to come from?

Perhaps the best news in 2014 came from the Curiosity rover’s apparent detection of a spike in atmospheric methane, discussed in the previous post. It’s far too early to know, but it is possible that this is a sign of extinct or extant life on Mars. Unfortunately, verifying any such claim is challenging. Click here.

Editor's Note: Let's suppose that we discover some sort of microscopic life on Mars, belching out all that methane. Given the possibility that ancient asteroid impacts (like recent probes and rovers) transferred such life between our two planets, I fear that such a discovery would be clouded by the fact that this life may have come from the same planetary ecosystem, so wouldn't settle the debate about whether Earth is unique. (12/29)

Plan to Take Lettuce to Mars Could Put Life on Red Planet by 2018 (Source: Independent)
Lettuce could be the first life to land on Mars if a team of students succeeds in their plan to grow salad on the planet in 2018. The project has been launched by a team from the University of Southampton and is asking for votes from the public to allow it go ahead. The lettuces will be taken by a lander sent to the planet in 2018 by Mars One — the not-for-profit foundation that hopes to establish a human settlement on the planet by 2026 as part of a mission that will be funded by a reality TV show. (12/30)

Mars Rover Opportunity Suffers Worrying Bouts of 'Amnesia' (Source: Discovery)
Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has been exploring the Martian surface for over a decade — that’s an amazing ten years longer than the 3-month primary mission it began in January 2004. But with its great successes, inevitable age-related issues have surfaced and mission engineers are being challenged by an increasingly troubling bout of rover “amnesia.”

Opportunity utilizes two types of memory to record mission telemetry. The two types of memory are known as “volatile” and “non-volatile.” “The difference is non-volatile memory remembers everything even if you power off, in volatile memory everything goes away,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas. Usually, all telemetry data is stored in the flash memory, so that when the rover powers down during the Martian night or reboots, the data remains stored.

Flash memory may be great for storing data when the rover’s electronics are powered down, “but flash memory has a limitation on how many times you can read and write to it,” Callas told Discovery News. “It ‘wears out’ with use.” And, after a decade of continuous use, it’s the rover’s flash memory that mission engineers have identified as the source of lost data and unexpected reset events that are plaguing the rover’s surface mission. (12/29)

Aiding Humanity From Outer Space (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
Since this autumn, Yusuke Muraki, 33, has been helping predict floods in Bangladesh and Vietnam using satellite rainfall data and rain gauges so that residents there can conduct evacuation drills. His work is part of a joint project between the Asian Development Bank and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The use of a satellite makes it possible to forecast a potential flood five days in advance and prepare for it by building a simple embankment. Such disaster drills have been carried out twice already. According to Muraki, “We can protect lives by keeping an eye on people from space.” Click here. (12/29)

Hubble Finds Nearby Dwarf Galaxy (Source: SEN)
A team of astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found a new neighboring galaxy to our own Milky Way, a tiny and isolated dwarf galaxy almost 7 million light years away. The Milky Way and Andromeda (M31) are the most massive members of what is known as the Local Group, a cluster of more than 50 galaxies. The group itself is a part of the larger Virgo Supercluster. Click here. (12/30)

Commercial Suborbital Research Program to Qualify Scientist-Astronauts at Embry-Riddle (Source: PoSSUM)
Project PoSSUM, a non-profit suborbital research program, announces the first PoSSUM scientist-astronaut class to be held at the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., Feb. 7 - 10, 2015. This unique opportunity allows individuals to train with some of the world’s leading upper atmospheric scientists and to fly to space as part of an international research campaign dedicated to the study of global climate.

The four-day, fully immersive qualification program was designed by former NASA astronaut instructors to provide its candidates with the skills required to effectively conduct research on commercial space vehicles as part of Project PoSSUM. PoSSUM, an acronym for Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere, uses commercial suborbital spacecraft and high-altitude manned balloons to study rare “space clouds” called noctilucent clouds. (12/29)

No comments: