January 16, 2015

NASA Ready to Launch Rockets Through Alaska's Northern Lights (Source: Popular Science)
The lights of the aurora borealis are often described as “dancing,” since they fluctuate in shape and brightness. Inside, the charged particles that generate the aurora dance too, and scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how that movement is structured.

"Is the light dancing around in a pattern that’s different from the electrical currents?” asks Charles Swenson, a space weather researcher at Utah State University. "The visible aurora is very dynamic, and beautiful—you can see changes that happen in fractions of seconds, and in a few minutes it can explode across the sky or disappear. We think the underlying voltages and currents, the 'invisible aurora,' are equally dynamic, but we do not know."

Swenson is the lead scientist on the Auroral Spatial Structures Probe (ASSP)—one of five suborbital rockets that are being launched into an active aurora over the next few weeks. The researchers behind ASSP hope the project will help them gain a clearer understanding of how solar radiation, weather, and the Earth’s magnetosphere mix together to influence climate and global communications. (1/16)

Musk Wants to Build and Launch Satellites to Fund Mars Colony (Source: Popular Science)
A colony on Mars. It’s the fantasy of pretty much all space entrepreneurs these days. Bas Lansdorp famously dreams of establishing a permanent human settlement on the red planet by 2025, and NASA is working hard on the Orion capsule and Space Launch System, both of which are meant to take astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

Now Elon Musk is throwing his hat in the ring, telling Bloomberg News that he also intends to establish a Mars base someday. And he’s going to pay for it by launching satellites. The goal is to set up a Seattle office in the near future, strictly for developing and launching satellites. And in true SpaceX fashion, Musk says they’ll run cheap. (1/15)

SpaceX Photos Show Unsuccessful Hard Landing on Barge (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
SpaceX shared photos of the Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt with fans on Twitter. The company tried to video the attempt, but conditions were too dark and foggy to discern anything from the footage — with the exception of four images. Elon Musk released the following photos on Twitter, saying “Turns out we recovered some impact video footage from the drone ship. It’s kinda begging to be released.” Click here. (1/16)

New Horizons Lined Up for Final Approach to Pluto (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Pluto is in the sights of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which started collecting around-the-clock science data Thursday as it speeds toward the first close encounter with the distant world in July. The mission’s encounter phase formally started Thursday with the activation of the probe’s dust and plasma instruments to collect information on the environment at the outer frontier of the solar system. (1/15)

Air Force Chief Scolds Elon Musk Over Rocket Comments (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The head of the U.S. Air Force on Thursday chided Elon Musk over his allegations that the Defense Department was dragging its feet in certifying his rockets for military use. The SpaceX founder’s uneasy relationship with the Pentagon has already led him to sue the department in federal court in an effort to unlock a $11 billion deal with its main rocket providers, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. (1/16)

ViaSat Taps SpaceX for Satellite Launch (Source: UT San Diego)
ViaSat has hired Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch its new high capacity ViaSat-2 Internet satellite in the late summer of 2016. SpaceX, a privately held builder of rockets that supply the International Space Station under a contract with NASA, will use its biggest rocket, the Falcon Heavy, to put ViaSat-2 into orbit.

The Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest launch vehicle — the Falcon 9 — at one-third the cost, according to ViaSat. The launch will take place from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with a launch window running from August through October next year, said Bruce Rowe, a ViaSat spokesman. (1/15)

Spaceflight Could Be as Normal as Air Travel Within 100 Years (Source: Herald Scotland)
Tom Williams, who became the first ever Brit to hold the top tier position of Chief Operating Officer at Airbus earlier this month, said turning commercial spaceflight into a reality would require pioneers who were "off-the-wall and visionary." He added that if air travel had been pioneered under the same restrictions facing the aviation industry today it might never have happened. (1/16)

Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Hosts Apollo 13 Anniversary Celebration (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Experience the breathtaking story of Apollo 13 as you’ve never before – join Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and their fellow astronauts as the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation honors and celebrates the 45th anniversary of one of the U.S. space program’s most famous missions. The evening, to be held April 11, 2015 at Kennedy Space Center, FL, will be one you won’t forget.

Ticketholders will be treated to an intimate dining experience at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s award-winning Apollo/Saturn V Center (ASVC). The night will begin with a champagne reception, followed by a professional photo opportunity in the ASVC’s Firing Room Theater. Tickets, available for $1,000 each, are limited to 100 and sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Proceeds benefit the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. (1/16)

Russia, US Sign $1 Billion Contract on RD-181 Rocket Engines (Source: Sputnik)
Russian rocket producer Energiya has signed a $1 billion contract with US Orbital Sciences Corporation for the delivery of 60 RD-181 engines. "Energia President Vladimir Solntsev and Orbital Sciences Corporation General Director David Thompson signed a direct contract worth around $1 billion on the delivery to the United States of engines produced by Energomash [a subsidiary of Energia]," the statement says.

The contract also includes a provision on a range of services including flight training, installation of the engine on the rocket and engine tests. The contract, that took Energia three years to prepare, envisages cooperation to last 15 to 25 years, according to Solntsev. The first two engines, which are used on carrier rockets to deliver cargoes to the International Space Station, will be delivered in June 2015. (1/16)

ILS Plans 5 Proton-M Commercial Launches in 2015 (Source: Itar-Tass)
The International Launch Services’ (ILS) order portfolio for commercial launches of foreign spacecraft by Russia’s Proton carrier rocket has been completed for two years ahead, Russian United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) sources said. ILS said that five commercial launches are planned for 2015. The first of them is scheduled for the first quarter of the year. Previous reports said it would be the Inmarsat-5 F2 satellite to be orbited. (1/16)

NASA Hopes to Replace Cargo Lost on Antares Failure This Year (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NASA officials say the International Space Station’s logistics chain was designed to absorb a launch failure like the mishap that destroyed an Orbital Sciences Corp. cargo craft in October, but pressure is on SpaceX to deliver supplies on time this year.

“It’s just critical,” said Mike Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager. “We can’t operate without the logistics partners. With the Orbital standdown, we basically lost about 2.3 metric tons of cargo that we had planned for, so now we’re adjusting for that.”

Without regular cargo deliveries, officials may have to reduce the size of the space station’s crew from six to three. In a worst case scenario, the space station could be temporarily abandoned. All the items destroyed in the Oct. 28 failure of Orbital’s Antares cargo rocket can be replaced, officials said, and none of the equipment was critical in the sense that the space station needed the supplies immediately. (1/15)

Lost Beagle-2 Probe Found 'Intact' on Mars (Source: BBC)
The missing Mars robot Beagle2 has been found on the surface of the Red Planet, apparently intact. High-resolution images taken from orbit have identified its landing location, and it looks to be in one piece. The UK-led probe tried to make a soft touchdown on the dusty world on Christmas Day, 2003, using parachutes and airbags - but no radio contact was ever made with the probe. Many scientists assumed it had been destroyed in a high-velocity impact. (1/16)

Virgin, Qualcomm Invest in OneWeb Satellite Internet Venture (Source: Space News)
WorldVu Satellites Ltd., which has a license to operate a global network of low-orbiting Ku-band satellites to provide Internet access to fixed and mobile terminals, on Jan. 15 said it has secured chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group as investors.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who had been in discussions with WorldVu founder Greg Wyler, is absent from the investor list, at least for now, Wyler said. But with Musk set to announce Jan. 16 that he is building a satellite production facility in Seattle, Musk may be in a position to win at least part of the business of WorldVu, now called OneWeb Ltd. (1/15)

Sniffles Delay Singer Sarah Brightman's Space Training (Source: NBC)
"Bood' zdorova, Sarah Brightman!" The Russian words for "get well" just might be one of the phrases that the world-famous soprano hears the most as she prepares for spaceflight training at Russia's Star City complex. Brightman arrived in Moscow this week to prepare for her 10-day, $52 million trip to the International Space Station in October.

However, Thursday's scheduled start of training had to be delayed until next week because she caught a cold, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. For now, Brightman's trainers will have to keep themselves in the mood by listening to her rendition of "I Will Be With You." (1/15)

Russian Cargo Spacecraft to Supply ISS With Black Caviar (Source: Sputnik)
The Russian unmanned cargo spacecraft, Progress M-26M will deliver black caviar to the International Space Station (ISS) crew, in addition to the cosmonauts' daily food rations, the chief of the ISS nutrition service said. "In the list of orders – black, sturgeon’s roe [caviar]. Besides freeze-dried products, we will deliver apples, lemons, oranges, tomatoes, condensed milk as usual. One of the cosmonauts asked for tea without sugar, which will also be delivered," Agureyev said. (1/15)

US Foods for ISS Stalled at Russian Customs to Get Clearance Soon (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia has confirmed that a cargo of US-manufactured foods for the International Space Station (ISS), stalled at the Russian Customs, is not critically important and the delayed clearance will by no means affect the normal operation of the ISS. A NASA official in Russia said, for his part, that the US foods had been ordered by Russian cosmonauts, and not their US or European counterparts.

“It is true that the cargo of US foods, to be sent to the ISS, has not been through the Customs yet,” the spokesperson for the space rocket corporation Energia, Irina Romanova, told TASS. “But this will create no problems for the crew. Firstly, the food reserve available on the ISS is large enough. Secondly, we are certain that the issue will be settled in the routine mode in the near future.” (1/15)

Soyuz Glitches Shake European Commission’s Confidence in Vehicle (Source: Space News)
A telemetry failure during the otherwise successful Dec. 18 launch of a Europeanized Soyuz rocket — the second consecutive malfunction of the rocket’s upper stage during launch — raises questions about whether European governments will trust the vehicle to launch Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing constellation, European government and industry officials said. (1/15)

Rocky Planets Around Cool Stars May Have Earthlike Climates (Source: Science News)
There may be more Earthlike environments in the universe than previously thought. Warm, rocky planets that orbit close to their stars might not end up with one side in perpetual daylight as suspected, allowing such planets to sustain an environment hospitable to life.

For the first time, researchers have shown that the gentle tug of a star’s gravity on a relatively thin atmosphere can keep a planet spinning even when other forces threaten to slow it down. While planetary scientists have long suspected that this process keeps Venus slowly turning, the mechanism could also work on a planet without Venus’ massive atmosphere, Jérémy Leconte says. (1/15)

Bitterman Abruptly Leaves ULA after Three Years as Head of Government Affairs (Source: Space News)
Veteran space lobbyist Mark Bitterman abruptly left United Launch Alliance Jan. 14 after just more than three years as vice president of government affairs for the Denver-based launch company.

“Today was my last day at ULA,” Bitterman wrote in a short email to colleagues titled “Moving on,” a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews. “It has been a pleasure working with you over the past several years. I look forward to reconnecting in the not-too-distant future.” (1/15)

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