December 31, 2014

China Launches New Meteorological Satellite (Source: Sputnik)
The Fengyun-II 08 satellite, launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, will be used to collect meteorological and environmental information. The data will be used for weather forecasting and climate monitoring. The satellite and the Long March 3A rocket, which delivered the satellite to near-earth orbit, were constructed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Editor's Note: According to one source, this final launch of 2014 was the 92nd for the year, worldwide. This was the most launches for a single year since 1994 when 93 space launches were conducted. (12/31)

Russia Plans Three Dozen Space Launches in 2015 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia plans to conduct around thirty launches to space from different spaceports in 2015. According to preliminary plans, Russia will conduct 12 Proton-M launches, 4 Soyuz-FG launches, 3 Soyuz-2.1a launches. Two launches are planned for each of the following: the Dnepr lrocket, Soyuz-U, Soyuz-2.1b and the Rokot rocket. One launch is planned for the Soyuz-2.1v and the Zenit rocket. The launches will be conducted from three spaceports: the Baikonur cosmodrome (23 launches) in Kazakhstan and Russia's Plesetsk (4 launches) and Dombarovsky (2 launches) spaceports. (12/31)

JAXA Planning Busy Year for Rocket Launches (Source: Japan Times)
With as many as five rocket launches scheduled, 2015 is set to be one of the busiest years ever at the Tanegashima Space Center. For the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s first shot of the year from the island base in Kagoshima Prefecture, an H-IIA rocket will lift off Jan. 29, carrying an information-gathering satellite. It will be the 27th launch for the made-in-Japan H-IIA.

Another information-gathering satellite is to be placed in orbit by March. In the second half of the year, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. plans to launch a commercial telecommunications satellite for Canadian satellite service provider Telesat. It will be Mitsubishi Heavy’s first commercial delivery of a satellite into orbit. (12/31)

Russian Company Ready to Create Lunar Base for Under $10 Billion (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Russian company Lin Industrial currently developing the ultralightweight Taimyr rocket has announced readiness to build a base on the Moon 10 years after a corresponding decision is made. According to preliminary estimates, such a base will cost around 550 billion rubles (over $9.7 billion), the company's chief designer Alexander Ilyin said.

A draft deep space exploration program moved for approval in the government offers to allocate around two trillion roubles ($35.5 billion) for the lunar exploration program in 2014-2025. Meanwhile, piloted expeditions to the Moon and deployment of first elements of lunar infrastructure are planned after 2030. He noted that the project planned the use of already existing machinery and equipment which can be produced within the next five years. (12/31)

The Billionaires’ Space Club (Source: Slate)
Call it the trickle-down theory of space exploration: Somehow, building a luxury-liner suborbital rocket ship for the amusement of the ultrarich, ultrafamous, and ultrabored will be a great victory for all of humanity. The very word exploration implies an attempt to discover something new and interesting about the universe. But even the act of catapulting the very rich, instead of professional astronauts, into space has been done before.

For the past two decades, entrepreneurs who have been trying to build their own startup spaceflight companies have been trying out novel technology. In the mid- to late 1990s, you had Pioneer Rocketplane, which was supposed to build a hybrid jet-rocket craft that could be lighter, and therefore cheaper, to fly than conventional rockets. Kistler Aerospace repurposed old Russian components and used a combination airbag-parachute system to allow parts to be reused over and over again, supposedly making it cheaper to fly than conventional rockets. Click here. (12/31)

XPrize’s Lunar Deadline Looms (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
They don’t call it a moon shot for nothing. Now in its eighth year, the Google Lunar XPrize competition has seen 15 of the original 33 teams drop out. In 2009, the prize administrators moved to extend the deadline by three years, to the end of 2015. And just a few weeks ago, the Google Lunar XPrize team informed us that the deadline would be extended by another year, to 31 December 2016.

For many prize participants and space-news enthusiasts, the change likely comes as little surprise. Aspiring explorers face some daunting hurdles between Earth and lunar glory. First, there’s the technical challenge involved in building a lunar spacecraft capable of reaching the moon and then performing a soft landing.

Then, and perhaps even more crucially, there are the financial and logistical obstacles associated with getting to space. A rocket launch can easily cost tens of millions of dollars, and it’s not easy to coordinate, particularly if you’re trying to launch on short notice or save money by piggybacking on an existing mission. (12/30)

Orion Ascent Abort System Test Planned at Space Florida Pad in 2018 (Source: America Space)
Before our astronauts will ever be allowed to step inside and soar to space aboard NASA’s new Orion deep space crew capsule, a critical test flight proving out the efficacy of the in-flight launch abort system and hardware must first be flown. The critical abort test will be conducted during a one-time-only re-flight of NASA’s first Orion capsule that just flew to space and back.

The mandatory safety demonstration flight test “is called Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2)” and is targeted for launch in 2018. Where will AA-2 launch from? “It will be launched from Space Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,” said NASA's Glenn Chin. “SLC-46 will be refurbished for this mission. That work will be done through Space Florida.” (12/31)

How Humanity Will Conquer Space Without Rockets (Source: io9)
Getting out of Earth's gravity well is hard. Conventional rockets are expensive, wasteful, and as we're frequently reminded, very dangerous. Thankfully, there are alternative ways of getting ourselves and all our stuff off this rock. Here's how we'll get from Earth to space in the future. Click here. (12/29)

NASA Uses Nature-Friendly Solution for Sea Level Rise (Source: Tampa Bay Times)
Throughout most of Florida, the typical answer to beach erosion is dredging sand from underwater and using it to rebuild the shoreline, a method called beach renourishment. Thirty-five of Florida's 67 counties have used taxpayer money to artificially enhance their beaches in this way, plumping them up like a fading star injecting collagen in her too-thin lips.

But NASA decided to do things differently. Instead of building back the shoreline, the agency used beach sand from a project at nearby Patrick Air Force Base to build, over about seven months earlier this year, a second, milelong line of dunes inland from the area where the erosion was occurring. Total cost: $2.8 million.

"Renourishment would be much more expensive," Bray said. Besides, she pointed out, the rising sea would just wipe out the built-up beach all over again, requiring NASA to spend even more of the taxpayers' money. Even better, she said, is the fact that the second dune system created habitat for several endangered and threatened species that call Cape Canaveral home. (12/29)

NASA Langley Aims for Younger Workforce (Source: Daily Press)
This isn't your grandfather's NASA. That's the gist of a growing push at the space agency as a whole, and at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton in particular, to get more peach fuzz among the grizzled veterans of its workforce. In fact, NASA Langley just took a good hard look at its civil service employees and found that more than 85 percent of them are older than 40, with an average age of 50.

The center has about 3,500 employees in all, but just more than half are civil servants directly hired and the rest employed by private companies but contracted to NASA. As older civil servants retire during the next several years and tight budgets continue to hamper hiring, the center says it wants to use this as an opportunity to transform itself by better defining where it wants to go and what skill sets it needs to get there.

NASA Langley has a hand in a wide range of research projects, from aeronautics to space exploration to Earth science. It's expanding its work in advanced composite materials for aircraft and spacecraft structures, for instance, and in deep-space exploration technologies. The center has already begun targeting younger talent, and in the past year increased the number of civil servant employees younger than 40 by 5 percent. (12/29)

Tiny 'Life Detector' Could Sense Alien Movement (Source: Space Daily)
European researchers have devised the first tiny motion detector that could help find microscopic life forms on distant planets. Until now, scientists have tried to find signs of extraterrestrial life by listening for sounds that might be emitted from an alien world, by scanning the skies with potent telescopes and by sending robotic probes and rovers to analyze the chemical fingerprint of samples from comets and planets. (12/29)

But researchers in Switzerland and Belgium were interested in a new method. Taking advantage of movement, which they call "a universal signature of life," they would aim to sense on a nanolevel the tiny motions that all life forms make. They began to explore the possibility of searching for life with a sensor attuned to those nanoscale vibrations in microscopic organisms such as bacteria and yeast.

They tested it on a variety of living things, including E coli, yeast, as well as human, plant and mice cells in the lab. In all cases, when living organisms were placed near the sensor, they "produced an increase in the amplitude of the measured fluctuations," said the study. Longo and colleagues also scooped up soil and water from the grounds near their Swiss lab and found that the sensor could detect tiny life there, too. (12/29)

Panel to Look at Ways to Bolster Ohio Aerospace Industry (Source: Dayton Daily News)
A statewide panel of engineers, executives and legislators will explore ways to boost the aerospace industry in Ohio. State Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, sponsored a House bill to set up the committee with three state senators, three state representatives and 15 others on the Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Technology Committee.

The committee will produce an annual report of findings and recommendations to state lawmakers on ways to bolster the aerospace industry in Ohio. Ohio is the leader in aircraft engine production and is the No. 1 U.S. supplier to airliner manufacturers Boeing and Airbus, according to JobsOhio.

A total of $10 billion in aerospace research and development is invested each year in the state at places such as the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson, jet engine-maker GE Aviation based near Cincinnati, and NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, state data shows. (12/29)

Mars Analog Habitat Facility Destroyed by Fire (Source: Mars Society)
The Mars Society regrets to announce the loss of the Mars Desert Research Station’s Fisher GreenHab to an accidental fire. There were no injuries to Crew 146, the four-person team currently using the MDRS facility outside Hanksville, Utah. The Habitat, which includes crew work stations and living quarters, did not sustain any damage, with the fire being limited to the GreenHab. Following MDRS emergency guidelines, crew members were able to safely put out the fire.
The Fisher GreenHab was the second GreenHab built at the Utah station. An earlier prototype structure was lost during the first MDRS field season due to heavy winds. It served as a model for the second generation GreenHab, a larger and more permanent unit built by Gary Fisher in 2003. The GreenHab functioned as an experimental closed loop water recycling system, but testing ceased when it was concluded that the system was too small to maintain the Habitat with six full-time crew members.

In 2009 the GreenHab was refitted for use as a greenhouse. Under the direction of GreenHab Coordinator Nick Orenstein, it was successfully utilized for three seasons to grow crops for the MDRS crews. A variety of important experiments were scheduled to be carried out in the GreenHab during the current 2014-15 field season. (12/30)

Mapping the Cape (Source: Space KSC)
The Air Force Space and Missile Museum (AFSMM) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is a treasure trove of early Cape history. The museum has one employee, a full-time director. Everyone else is a volunteer, or employed part-time by the museum's non-profit foundation.

A half-century ago, when it opened in the 1960s, the museum had a much larger staff of U.S. Air Force officers, and as recently as the middle of the last decade had a staff archivist. All archival work today is performed by volunteer docents. What's not on display is tucked away in various locations around the Cape. Click here. (12/30)

Air Force Awarded Six of a Planned Eight Major Space Contracts in 2014 (Source: Space News)
With the Dec. 4 announcement of a deal with ASRC Federal Space and Defense to handle the excess ballistic missile solid-rocket motors used for satellite launches and suborbital missions, the U.S. Air Force’s space acquisition arm has awarded six of the eight major contracts it had planned for 2014.

The solid-rocket motor contract, known as Launch Services Mission Assurance, has a base period of one year valued at $4 million and includes four one-year options for a total potential value of $21 million, according to the Pentagon announcement. The work, which will take place at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. Click here to see the other contracts, including the LISC contract for launch range support. (12/30)

Russia Remains World Leader in Space Launches (Source: Sputnik)
Russia carried out a total of 38 successful space launches in 2014 to keep the first place in the world, the Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, said. "As a result, Russia orbited a record number of 80 satellites, including 31 for state purposes, five commercial and 44 mini-satellites," a Roscosmos spokesman said.

In addition, Russian experts assisted through the year in European launches of four Russian-made Soyuz-STB carrier rockets from the Kourou space center in French Guyana and a launch of a Zenit-2SL space rocket under the Sea Launch program, the official said. (12/30)

Proton Upper Stage Planned for Further Testing (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian upper stage rocket DM-03 which caused the loss of three GLONASS global navigation system satellites in 2010 due to overfuelling will undergo another attempt for a launch next year. “Two upper stage rockets DM will ensure launches of spacecraft under federal programs,” aerospace corporation Energia, which develops and produces upper stage rockets, said in a statement posted on its website.

According to plans for the next year, an upper stage rocket DM is planned to be used for a launch of a Russian telecommunications satellite Express-AM7 and a new upper stage DM-03 to orbit three satellites Glonass-M. Upper stage rockets DM are used as a fourth stage in launches of rocket carriers Proton. DM-03 was earlier used only in two lift-offs. Both ended in the crash. (12/30)

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