December 5, 2014

Can Humans Become a Multi-Planet Species? (PBS)
NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay travels the most remote parts of Earth to understand how life might survive on other planets. But he’s also investigating another potential life form in space: humans. Can humans become a multi-planet species, he asks. Can we sustain a permanent settlement on Mars? Click here. (12/5)

Eumetsat Seeks Financing for Two-satellite Ocean Altimetry Project (Source: Space News)
Europe’s weather-satellite organization, Eumetsat, is asking its members to finance 18 percent of a $900 million, two-satellite ocean-altimetry program that will follow on from existing missions financed by France and the U.S. and, more recently, by Eumetsat as well. The 30-nation Eumetsat is funding the new mission, called Jason CS for Continuity of Service, as an optional program, meaning nations contribute as they see fit.

Orion Spaceship Aces Debut Test Flight (Source: Discovery)
NASA's new Orion spaceship nailed its orbital debut flight, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean after a 4.5-hour journey that took it past the Van Allen radiation belts, a key test of its ability to operate in deep space. After a day's delay to iron out a problem with the Delta 4 Heavy rocket that booted Orion into orbit, the spacecraft, which flew without a crew for its first flight, flawlessly ran through an automated series of commands and maneuvers to test 13 different technologies needed to one day put astronauts on Mars.

The test flight began at 7:05 a.m. EST with liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and ended four hours, 23 minutes later with a parachute landing 630 southwest of San Diego. In between, Orion successfully fired explosive charges to discard spent components, steered in orbit and survived high levels of radiation as it passed up and back through the Van Allen belts of radiation that surround the planet.

At peak altitude, Orion was 3,604 miles from Earth -- farther than any spacecraft designed for humans has been since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972. The most challenging part of the flight was yet to come: a 20,000 mph dive back into Earth's atmosphere, nearly as fast as a spaceship returning from lunar orbit. (12/5)

Space Station Enables Interplanetary Exploration (Source:
If necessity is the mother of invention, then survival in space breeds many "children." These children are the research and technologies demonstrated aboard the International Space Station. For 16 years, the station has provided researchers a platform in microgravity where they perform experiments and test technologies to allow humans to travel farther into the solar system than ever before. From life support systems to growing plants in space, the space station continues to drive human exploration for missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Click here. (12/4)

ATK and Orbital Receive U.S. DOJ Clearance for Proposed Merger (Source: Orbital)
The U.S. Department of Justice has unconditionally cleared the proposed merger of ATK’s Aerospace and Defense Groups with Orbital Sciences Corp. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission informed ATK and Orbital that the FTC and DOJ terminated the Hart-Scott-Rodino waiting period effective Dec. 4. ATK and Orbital have entered into an agreement whereby ATK’s Aerospace and Defense Groups will merge with Orbital immediately following the spin-off of ATK’s Sporting Group business.

The companies anticipate completing the transaction in February 2015, subject to the satisfaction of remaining closing conditions, including the approval of both ATK’s and Orbital’s stockholders at special meetings scheduled for January 27, 2015. (12/4)

Virginia Spaceflight Authority: One Year for Pad Repairs (Source: StarTribune)
The Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority says repairs will likely take a year at the launch pad on Wallops Island where an unmanned commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff on Oct. 28. The space flight authority says the launch pad was spared severe damage, but repairs are necessary. On Wednesday, the authority said a detailed engineering inspection of the spaceport has been completed.

Officials say the cost and work schedule for the repairs are being refined, but should not exceed $20 million. The authority owns and operates the launch pad. Officials say initial water samples indicate there was no impact to back bays or tributaries, and soil testing showed contamination was contained in the area immediately around the crater north of the launch pad. (12/3)

House Passes Defense Authorization Bill with RD-180 Cutoff (Source: Space Policy Online)
The bill requires the SecDef to develop a new U.S. liquid rocket engine (actually a propulsion system) by 2019. The bill authorizes $220 million in FY2015, while noting that it “is not an authorization of funds for development of a new launch vehicle.” (It is important to note that authorization bills only recommend funding levels, they do not actually provide any money. Only appropriations bills give agencies money to spend. Congress has not completed action on any of the FY2015 appropriations bills yet.)

In response to a query about its reaction to the language in the bill, ULA said by email that “any effort to cut-off the RD-180 before a new reliable engine is available would result in billions of increased costs to the U.S. taxpayer and will leave the nation with a huge gap in national security capabilities.” ULA announced a partnership with Blue Origin in September to build a U.S. alternative to the RD-180. (12/4)

A Blitz of Tiny Asteroids Might Have Obliterated Earth’s Early Atmosphere (Source: Washington Post)
Our planet's early gasses may have been knocked out of whack by a bombardment of tens of thousands of small space rocks, according to a new study. The Earth's first atmosphere wasn't like the one we have today: It's actually been destroyed and recreated at least twice in the past 4 billion years. But what went down when the atmosphere got the boot?

Some have theorized that a single, massive impact might have done the trick. But now MIT researchers say that a large number of small impacts are more likely to have pushed the atmosphere out into space. According to their mathematical analysis, the force of a single impact would have to be huge to displace Earth's atmosphere.

But by working in tandem, little rocks may have had a more efficient go of it. Much smaller space debris would cause explosions when they hit Earth, releasing plumes of gas. In some cases, these rocks might cause enough disturbance to push away the atmosphere directly above their impact site. (12/4)

Wayward Boat Contributes to Orion Launch Scrub (Source: USA Today)
A wayward boat, weather and technical problems scrubbed NASA's first attempt to launch a new exploration capsule Thursday. Teams plan to try again Friday to launch a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying an unmanned Orion capsule on its first test flight from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (12/4)

Europe Recovers Wayward Galileo Satellite (Source: Reuters)
Europe has recovered one of two satellites that were put into the wrong orbit when launched in August and may still be useable for the Galileo satellite navigation system as originally planned. The mishap in August was one in a series of setbacks to the multi-billion-euro Galileo project, which has been beset by delays, financing problems and questions about whether Europe really needs a rival to the U.S. Global Positioning System, widely known as GPS.

The two satellites, the fifth and sixth of a planned 30 for Galileo, were launched aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket on Aug. 22 and ended up in an elongated orbit travelling up to 25,900 km(16,094 miles) above earth and back down to 13,713 km rather than completing a circular one. While they were still functioning, the misshapen orbit meant that they would not be able to perform their job properly as part of Galileo. (12/3)

Mars Capsule Test Heralds New Space Age With Musk Alongside NASA (Source: Bloomberg)
The U.S. is preparing to launch the first craft developed to fly humans to Mars, presaging a second space age -- this one fueled by billionaires like Elon Musk rather than a Cold War contest with the Soviet Union. While the U.S. won the race to the moon in the 1960s and then focused on orbital missions as budgets shrank, the new era aims to land astronauts on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor by the 2030s.

Entrepreneurs such as Musk and longtime contractors like Lockheed are helping shape the technology needed to find other homes for humanity in the solar system with an eye to one day commercializing their work. (12/3)

Proposed U.S. Ban on Russian Engine Spurs Effort Toward Replacement (Source: Reuters)
A proposed ban on purchases of a Russian-made rocket engine to launch U.S. military satellites will speed up the development of an American-made replacement, the head of United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co joint venture, said on Wednesday.

A compromise defense policy bill in Congress would bar the purchase of more Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines to send U.S. military satellites into space. ULA, the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture, uses the RD-180 to power its Atlas 5 rocket and holds a virtually monopoly on the U.S. military’s launch business. (12/3)

Boeing Capsule Completes Two NASA Milestones (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA has announced that Boeing has successfully completed the first milestone needed for the aerospace company’s work to fulfill their agreement on NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. This is the first major step in the final phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program that will eventually lead to Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft sending crew members and other supplies to the ISS. Click here. (12/4)

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