January 28, 2015

Orbital's Shareholders Approve ATK Merger (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Orbital Sciences Corporation's stockholders have approved a merger with the Aerospace and Defense Groups of Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK ), based out of Utah. The newly-formed Orbital-ATK will officially begin operations on Feb. 10 - the day after the merger is officially closed. (1/27)

Deadline Approaching for Ellington Field Spaceport Comments (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The Houston Airport System has worked with the FAA to complete a Draft Environmental Assessment evaluating the proposal's potential impacts. The plan would allow the airport system to operate a number of commercial spaceflight activities out of Ellington, including sub-orbital commercial flights, zero-gravity scientific and medical research, astronaut training and development, space tourism and more. The deadline for feedback is Jan. 31.

Editor's Note: SpaceX's Gwynne Shotwell, during comments in Houston about their commercial crew flights for NASA, said she looks forward to one day landing the company's Dragon capsules at Ellington Field. (1/28)

SpaceX Unveils Falcon Heavy Launch and Flyback Video (Source: Discovery)
SpaceX on Tuesday released a new animated video clip of its Falcon Heavy rocket launching from Florida. The booster, which is comprised of three Falcon 9 first-stage boosters, is shown blasting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, what will be SpaceX’s second Florida launch pad.

Currently, Falcon rockets fly from a leased launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located just south of the NASA center. SpaceX has a second lease with NASA for one of the space shuttle’s mothballed launch pads. The company plans its first flight from the historic Launch Pad 39A this year. The mission will be the first test flight of the heavy-lift Falcon rocket. Click here. (1/27)

Kepler Finds Oldest Known Planetary System (Source: KUSA)
The Kepler space telescope has discovered what is considered the oldest planetary system in the galaxy. At 11 billion years old, "Kepler-444" is being dubbed one of the biggest discoveries in the history of space science. To say the discovery is exciting would be an understatement. Here in Colorado, astronomers and scientists are thrilled. The Space Science Institute in Boulder played a big role in helping discover the system. (1/26)

Lockheed Martin Tops 4th Quarter Forecasts (Source: AP)
Lockheed Martin reported fourth-quarter earnings of $904 million. The aerospace and defense company posted revenue of $12.53 billion in the period, also topping Street forecasts. Analysts expected $11.87 billion. For the year, the company reported profit of $3.61 billion. Revenue was reported as $45.6 billion. (1/27)

Five New Space Missions Observe Earth (Source: Voice of America)
NASA is preparing a Thursday, January 29, launch of the first U.S. satellite to observe Earth’s water cycle. The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) will help scientists better predict extreme weather, climate change, flood and droughts. The new instrument will join four others in what has been the U.S. space agency’s busiest 12-month period in more than a decade. Click here. (1/27)

This Planet’s Rings Make Saturn Look Puny (Source: Washington Post)
When J1407 was discovered in 2012, it seemed like a  fairly run-of-the-mill star. But the researchers who spotted it saw signs of a strange eclipse -- a period when the star had dimmed and re-brightened. These sudden, drastic brightness changes went on for two months.

According to analysis published in Astrophysical Journal, a ringed planet like Saturn is in the star's system. But unlike Saturn, this ringed planet is a real bruiser. Its rings are massive and opaque enough to occasionally block out the star's light. (1/26)

How Richard Branson Has Been Funding Virgin Galactic (Source: Parabolic Arc)
For anyone wondering how the Virgin Group has been funding Virgin Galactic over the past decade, the Financial Times had an excellent overview back in early November just after SpaceShipTwo crashed. It seems that Virgin Galactic had sucked in up to $600 million in investment by that point, with nearly two-thirds of it from Abu Dhabi. The Virgin Group also has been funding the rest using profits from other parts of Sir Richard Branson’s empire. Click here. (1/26)

£348k Fund Explores Link Between Space Travel and STEM Uptake (Source: WIRED)
In recent months the UK has seen a spate of space-inspired projects with the dual aim of unraveling the mysteries of the universe and encouraging the public, and especially kids, to get more interested in STEM subjects.

Now, a team of science education researchers at the University of York have received £348,000 in funding from the UK Space Agency and Economic and Social Research Council to investigate if human spaceflight actually inspires school kids to take up STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

The study, kickstarting this January, aims to gather views from students and teachers from a selection of 30 primary and 30 secondary schools, as well as from space scientists. The goal is to glean a broad view of existing space science resources, and think of possible ways of revamping them in the future. (1/26)

NASA Langley Research Robot Ready to Roll (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
The seven-ton, two-story robotic arm unveiled by NASA Langley on Monday looks like it belongs on a Transformer. But ISAAC - which stands for Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites - has nothing to do with sci-fi or alien machines. The $3 million system - one of just three of its kind in the world, and the only one dedicated to research - turns 3-D computer drawings into precisely made, lightweight, super-strong components suited for spacecraft. (1/27)

Why the Time Seems Right for a Space-Based Internet Service (Source: MIT Tech Review)
Providing Internet access from orbiting satellites—a concept that seemed to have died with the excesses of the dot-com boom—has returned thanks to SpaceX founder (and dot-com billionaire) Elon Musk. And while such a service would be expensive and risky to deploy, recent technological trends mean it’s no longer so out-of-this-world. Click here. (1/27)

Lunar Xprize Competitors Get $5.25 Million for Milestones (Source: Engadget)
The Lunar Xprize challenge isn't just meant to reward the first team that lands a private rover on the Moon -- it's there to give some encouragement along the way, too. Accordingly, Google and Xprize have just handed out a total of $5.25 million to five competitors for hitting milestones in imaging, mobility and landing technology. Astrobotic Technology is the big winner, having scooped up $1.75 million across all three areas. Not that the others are exactly hurting. Hakuto, Moon Express, Part-Time Scientists and Team Indus all snagged between $500,000 to $1.25 million each. (1/27)

ULA's Tory Bruno Takes to Twitter (Source: Defense News)
When Tory Bruno took over as CEO of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) in August, analysts predicted a change in how the launch company did business. But maybe not at this level. Last week, Bruno began using his personal Twitter account to reply to questions from journalists. While other industry leaders maintain Twitter accounts, they are generally used to push press releases or quick soundbites; it is pretty rare to see one that is willing to engage with reporters in an open forum — and with critics as well. Click here. (1/26)

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