January 20, 2015

ULA Launches Atlas with Military Satellite (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
United Launch Alliance (ULA ) successfully launched the third Mobile User Objective System (MUOS-3) satellite to orbit atop the most powerful version of the company's Atlas V booster on Jan. 20. The flight lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport after several delays due to range issues and upper winds. The launch of MUOS-3, marked the first flight of the year that ULA has carried out under the 2015 launch manifest, which if the company can complete its full docket - should see more than one launch per month. (1/20)

Musk Plans Hyperloop Test Track in Texas (Source: Space Daily)
Elon Musk has announced that he will be building a test track for his Hyperloop, a new step toward completing his much anticipated project. Hyperloop was proposed by Musk as an alternative to traditional high-speed trains. It would make use of pipes which vaguely resemble the pneumatic tubes used for transporting people and goods in the animated series Futurama, although users would be transported in pods.

Musk tweeted that a Hyperloop test track would allow companies and student teams to test out their pods, and that the test track would "most likely" be located in Texas. (1/20)

Tests of Dragon Crew Escape System Not Happening Until ‘Later This Year’ (Source: Space News)
Tests of the crew escape system for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, once scheduled for November 2014 and, more recently, January, now will take place “later this year,” a company spokesman said. NASA is partially funding these tests under the milestone-based Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) Space Act Agreement it awarded SpaceX in 2012.

The first test is a pad abort test at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. A Dragon would be mounted to a mock-up Falcon 9 rocket and attempt to boost itself away from the pad using its hydrazine-fueled SuperDraco thrusters. SpaceX would attempt to repeat the feat at altitude in the next test, slated to take place at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, using a live Falcon 9. (1/20)

Despite Compelling Logic, Cost Sharing Remains Elusive for European Milspace (Source: Space News)
European governments appear to have missed a big opportunity for costs savings with the French Defense Ministry’s decision to move ahead with plans to procure a pair of dedicated military communications satellites from a pair of domestic manufacturers.

The Comsat NG, program, which France will now develop on its own, is but the latest example of Europe’s persistent inability to collaborate on expensive military space procurements, despite the oft-stated desire to do so. (1/20)

Planet Labs Raises $95 Million Financing (Source: SpaceRef)
Planet Labs today announced a first closing of the majority of its $70 million Series C round led by Data Collective, with participation from new investors, as well as support from existing investors. Zachary Bogue, Data Collective’s co-Managing Partner, will join the board of Planet Labs. Planet Labs also closed a debt facility of $25 million from Western Technology Investment, bringing total financing this round to $95 million.

This financing comes in the wake of Planet Labs’ successful launch of 73 satellites into space, customers actively using the data, and the recent hiring of Tom Barton as its Chief Operating Officer. Mr. Barton was formerly CEO of Rackable Systems (now SGI) and boasts over 25 years of experience managing and advising hardware and software companies. (1/20)

NASA Spacecraft Gets Closer Look at Pluto and Ceres (Source: New York Times)
In March, a NASA spacecraft will arrive to begin the first close-up examination of a dwarf planet. It is not Pluto. It is instead Ceres, 600 miles wide, the largest of the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. Click here. (1/19)

Russia-UAE Have Bright Future in Space Cooperation (Source: Space Daily)
The energy sphere, including peaceful uses of nuclear energy and space technologies are among the most promising areas for cooperation between Russia and United Arab Emirates, Consul General of Russia in Dubai and Northern Emirates told RIA Novosti Friday.

"Light [textile] and heavy industry, telecommunications, oil and gas sector and petrochemicals, alternative energy, transport, construction and space technologies are all among prospective areas for cooperation [between Russia and UAE]," Gocha Buachidze said, adding that Russia is currently one of UAE's main partners in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. (1/20)

Epic Cosmic Radio Burst Finally Seen in Real Time (Source: New Scientist)
A gigantic but fleeting burst of radio waves has been caught in the act for the first time, helping to narrow down the vast array of things that might cause them. Figuring out what these fast radio bursts – sometimes called blitzars – are or where they come from could help answer some of the biggest cosmological questions.

Blitzars last about a millisecond but give off as much energy as the sun does in a million years, all seemingly in a tight band of radio-frequency waves. Their source is a mystery, but whatever causes them must be huge, cataclysmic and up to 5.5 billion light years away, says Emily Petroff of Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia.

A top contender is the collapse of an oversized neutron star that should have given way to a black hole long ago, but was spinning so fast that relativity made it seem lighter. But other possibilities include a flare from a magnetar, a type of neutron star with an extremely strong magnetic field. (1/19)

Lamborn, Schiff Re-Establish Space Power Caucus in House (Source: Space News)
U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) are relaunching the House’s space power caucus, a bipartisan group hoping to teach members about the importance of space in national security. “Our national security is at risk in space, for a variety of reasons, and it is vital that Members of Congress understand the importance of space for our nation’s safety, security and prosperity,” Lamborn said.

“The United States must maintain our asymmetric advantage in space and that won’t happen without Congressional support and oversight.” The space power caucus did not exist in the previous Congress, but was active for several years in the 2000s and hosted public events. (1/19)

Exelis Receives Over $32M in Sensor Contract Work (Source: Space News)
The Air Force has awarded Exelis Information Systems modifications worth more than $32 million combined to four separate contracts to support space surveillance and missile defense capabilities in 2015. Exelis operates and maintains several ground-based sensors, both optical and radar, that are used by U.S. Strategic Command and Air Force Space Command for missile warning, missile defense and space control. (1/19)

Dealing with Space Junk: The Rocky Road Ahead (Source: Space.com)
Earth is encircled by an orbiting junkyard. Following 50 years of space exploration and utilization, more than 22,000 pieces of space junk at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) wide are now being tracked in Earth’s orbit. And hundreds of thousands to millions of bits of space flotsam are too small to be spotted with current tracking capabilities. Many of these tiny, fast-moving pieces are capable of crippling or taking out a spacecraft. Click here. (1/16)

New Telescope in Chile Now Searching for Alien Planets (Source: Space.com)
A new alien-planet–hunting telescope has just come online in Chile, and it could help scientists peer into the atmospheres of relatively small planets circling nearby stars. The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS for short) — located at the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Paranal Observatory — is designed to seek out planets two to eight times the diameter of Earth as they pass in front of their stars. (1/19)

Mystery Outburst from Across Universe is Caught in a Flash (Source: SEN)
A brief and mysterious type of radio signal that has been puzzling astronomers for seven years has been caught live for the first time. The short, sharp flash, dubbed a fast radio burst (FRB), was observed by the Parkes radio telescope in Australia, famous for its starring role in comedy movie The Dish.

This telescope, operated by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in New South Wales, has been the prime discoverer of these outbursts, having detected the first five, with one other observed by the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico.

But they were all found in previously recorded data that was being re-examined, and astronomers admit they really have no clear idea yet what causes them. The first, discovered by chance in 2007 as scientists were checking for something else, lasted just a few milliseconds. As more were found, the only thing that astronomers seemed sure of was that they were from outside our Galaxy. Click here. (1/19)

Russia to Send Venus Exploration Mission in 2025 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia’s Venera-D exploration rover that was initially planned to be sent to Venus in 2016 will be launched in 2025, according to a report prepared by the rover’s designer. “Russia’s federal space program for 2006-2015 that was drafted back in 2006 provided for a Venus mission project (Venera-D) — a long-lived orbiter and lander to explore Venus’ atmosphere and surface. Initially, it was planned to realize the project in 2016, but now the year 2025 is a probable date,” the document says. (1/19)

$1 Billion Engine Deal Cements Russia's Place in U.S. Space Industry (Source: Moscow Times)
Russian rocket maker Energia has signed a $1 billion deal with U.S. space firm Orbital Sciences to deliver 60 RD-181 Russian rocket engines to the U.S., Energia said. The deal comes two months after an Antares rocket using a Russian engine exploded above a NASA launch pad in Virginia, fueling calls for the U.S. to free itself of its reliance on Russian equipment.

But far from abandoning Russian gear, Orbital Science — which is contracted to deliver supplies to the International Space Station for NASA — will simply switch the Soviet models it had been using for the newer Russian engine. Vladimir Solntsev said the deal had been in the works for three years and will enable the company to develop and modernize production lines. (1/19)

Making Texas' New Space Race Sustainable (Source: Texas Tribune)
Disruption is all around us. The world is changing, as it always does, with the emergence of new technology. The information technology revolution, for example, enabled a radical change in private transportation with apps like Uber and Lyft when creative entrepreneurs questioned the status quo. Similarly, Tesla Motors is challenging the accepted way of doing things in automotive technology and marketing. Of course, the status quo usually fights back, but if it can’t justify itself in a free market, that’s our opportunity to change and grow for the better.

Over the past decade, Texas has benefited from disruption in the commercial space industry, with companies basing their operations here due to the state’s wide-open skies and spaces, skilled workforce, and friendly economic and regulatory environment. This also drives growth in support industries, providing services and supplies and other economic benefits. The aerospace industry alone accounts for almost 10 percent of the state’s annual gross domestic product, with more than 1,600 companies employing more than 150,000 Texans.

I’m convinced that 2015 will be the year of Texas and space. SpaceX is building a private orbital launch facility on Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville while expanding operations in McGregor. XCOR Aerospace will test and fly commercial suborbital spaceplanes from Midland’s airport. Blue Origin is flying prototype vehicles from a launch pad in West Texas. Bigelow Aerospace, which has considered Texas in the past, is building habitat modules scheduled to fly on SpaceX boosters. Click here. (1/19)

Google Nears $1 Billion Investment in SpaceX (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Google is close to investing roughly $1 billion in SpaceX to support its nascent efforts to deliver Internet access via satellites, according to a person familiar with the matter. The investment would value SpaceX at more than $10 billion according to this person. It isn’t clear what exact stake Google could end up with in the fast-growing space company.

If Google completes the deal, it would be the Internet company’s latest effort to use futuristic technology to spread Internet access to remote regions of the world, alongside high-altitude balloons and solar-powered drones. By extending Web access, Google increases the number of people who can use its services.

Google has been considering satellite-based Internet service for more than a year. In late 2013, it hired satellite-industry veteran Greg Wyler, who at one point last year had more than 10 people working for him. Mr. Wyler left Google last summer and is now developing his own satellite-Internet venture. (1/19)

Fundamental Physics Contstants Underlie Life-Enabling Universe (Source: Space Daily)
For nearly half a century, theoretical physicists have made a series of discoveries that certain constants in fundamental physics seem extraordinarily fine-tuned to allow for the emergence of a life-enabling universe.
Constants that crisscross the Standard Model of Particle Physics guided the formation of hydrogen nuclei during the Big Bang, along with the carbon and oxygen atoms initially fused at the center of massive first-generation stars that exploded as supernovae; these processes in turn set the stage for solar systems and planets capable of supporting carbon-based life dependent on water and oxygen.

The theory that an Anthropic Principle guided the physics and evolution of the universe was initially proposed by Brandon Carter while he was a post-doctoral researcher in astrophysics at the University of Cambridge; this theory was later debated by Cambridge scholar Stephen Hawking and a widening web of physicists around the world. (1/19)

NASA Undecided on Asteroid Mission as Near-Earth Asteroid Approaches for Flyby (Source: America Space)
On Jan. 26 asteroid 2004 BL86 will safely whizz past the Earth, at about three times the distance of Earth to the Moon. By the time the asteroid, which is one-third of a mile (0.5 km) in size, makes its closest approach it will be an estimated 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth. BL86 poses no threat to Earth whatsoever, but a close flyby does provide NASA scientists with a unique opportunity to learn more about the ancient rock. Click here. (1/19)

Two Planets the Size of Earth Hiding at the Edge of our Solar System (Source: Space Daily)
Scientists from Britain and Spain believe there could be at least two planets the size of Earth hiding at the edge of the Solar System. They've observed small, icy objects that orbit the Sun beyond Neptune and Pluto with orbits consistent with objects being influenced by the gravitational pull of planets.

"The exact number is uncertain, given that the data that we have is limited, but our calculations suggest that there are at least two planets, and probably more, within the confines of our solar system," said Carlos de la Fuente Marcos, an astrophysicist at Complutense University of Madrid. (1/18)

ESA to Launch Six Navigation Satellites in 2015 (Source: Space Daily)
Six satellites from Europe's own global navigation satellite system Galileo are to be put into orbit in 2015, European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said. "The launch of six [navigation] satellites is scheduled for 2015. The Commission will determine the terms of the launches at the end of January," Dordain said at a press briefing. (1/19)

Brightman Starts Training for Space Song (Source: NBC)
After a delay due to family illness, British singer Sarah Brightman began months of preparation on Monday at Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center for a 10-day, $52 million trip to the International Space Station. The training center's press service said Brightman plans to "sing onboard the station to the accompaniment of an orchestra on Earth" during her space trip. Brightman's backup, Japanese entrepreneur Satoshi Takamatsu, is in Russia for training as well. (1/19)

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