January 5, 2015

SpaceX on Falcon-9 Landing Attempt (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX will attempt the precision landing of a Falcon 9 first stage for the first time, on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. While SpaceX has already demonstrated two successful soft water landings, executing a precision landing on an unanchored ocean platform is significantly more challenging. The odds of success are not great—perhaps 50% at best. However this test represents the first in a series of similar tests that will ultimately deliver a fully reusable Falcon 9 first stage. (12/16)

GAO Denies Sierra Nevada Commercial Crew Protest (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO ) denied a protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corp. on Jan. 5, after the firm’s Dream Chaser spacecraft was not selected to move forward under the Commercial Crew transportation Capability phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The protest was filed after the Sept. 16, 2014 announcement that NASA had selected Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to provide transportation services for astronauts to the International Space Station.

In their protest, SNC stated that the evaluation NASA conducted went outside what the space agency had said would be conducted. Deviating from the criteria that SNC had expected Dream Chaser to encounter. The company also suggested that competitors were not provided with notification as to what the central objectives would be in terms of the determining factors in the evaluation and selection process.

NASA issued the following response to the GAO’s decision. “The GAO has notified NASA that it has denied Sierra Nevada Corporation’s protest of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract awards. NASA is pleased the GAO’s decision allows the agency to move forward and continue working with Boeing and SpaceX on the Launch America initiative that will enable safe and reliable crew transportation to and from the International Space Station." (1/5)

NASA’s Visit to the Mystery World Begins (Source: Time)
A remarkable spacecraft approaches the solar system's ninth planet (and yes, it's a planet). It’s not exactly top secret, but it is too little known: this month, a small, robot spacecraft—built, launched and guided by a team of over 2,500 Americans—will begin the exploration of far-away Pluto and its five known moons. Lasting from January through July, this epic journey is very much the Everest of planetary exploration.

I’ve had the privilege of leading this NASA project, known as New Horizons, since its inception 14 years ago in 2001. Admittedly, that makes me something of a cheerleader for the mission—but it’s going to be an icon of 21st century human achievement that well deserves cheering.

The last time a spacecraft reached a new planet was during NASA’s exploration of Neptune by Voyager 2 back in 1989. When that happened, the Berlin Wall was still standing, Richard Marx and Milli Vanilli were topping the charts, and the Internet was almost unknown. Click here. (1/5)

In With the New, and the Old (Source: Space Review)
The new year is a time for new beginnings for many, but in the space industry there is a lot of leftover issues from 2014 to deal with first. Jeff Foust reports on some of the topics, from a contract protest to accident investigations to a test of reusability, on tap for early 2015. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2672/1 to view the article. (1/5)

A Tale of Two Martins (Source: Space Review)
Did a little-known space vehicle concept from the early 1960s inspire a science fiction author? John Charles examines the similarities between that vehicle concept and a vehicle from the film "Marooned". Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2671/1 to view the article. (1/5)

The X-37B Program: an American Exercise in the Art of War? (Source: Space Review)
While the Air Force has been tightlipped about the missions of its X-37 robotic spaceplane, there's been no shortage of speculation about its purpose. Michael Listner discusses if the Air Force is deliberately encouraging that speculation as par tof a broader strategy. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2670/1 to view the article. (1/5)

Encouraging Private Investment in Space: Must the Current Space Law Regime Change? (Source: Space Review)
Many space commercialization advocates have argued for a change in space law in order to provide property rights for entities wishing to use the Moon or asteroids. Jonathan Babcock, in the first of a two-part essay, explores whether such wholesale changes are needed to provide such protections. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2669/1 to view the article. (1/5)

NASA Launching Spacecraft with 19 Foot Lasso (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive, SMAP, will measure moisture in the Earth's soil, which will help farmers combat the effects of drought. Set to launch on Jan. 29 in California, SMAP will orbit the Earth every three days or less to measure moisture in the top two inches of soil with the highest accuracy and resolution, NASA said in a press release.

The spacecraft is equipped with radar to transmit and receive microwaves it sends toward Earth, a radiometer to measure microwaves caused by water in soil and a 19.7 foot rotating mesh antenna, the largest ever deployed in space. The almost 20 foot antenna will spin at about 14 revolutions per minute, one per four seconds. (1/5)

Super-Earths Have Long-Lasting Oceans (Source: Space Daily)
For life as we know it to develop on other planets, those planets would need liquid water, or oceans. Geologic evidence suggests that Earth's oceans have existed for nearly the entire history of our world. But would that be true of other planets, particularly super-Earths? New research suggests the answer is yes and that oceans on super-Earths, once established, can last for billions of years.

Even though water covers 70 percent of Earth's surface, it makes up a very small fraction of the planet's overall bulk. Earth is mostly rock and iron; only about a tenth of a percent is water. However, Earth's water isn't just on the surface. Studies have shown that Earth's mantle holds several oceans' worth of water that was dragged underground by plate tectonics and subduction of the ocean seafloor. Earth's oceans would disappear due to this process, if it weren't for water returning to the surface via volcanism

Earth maintains its oceans through this planet-wide recycling. Laura Schaefer found that planets two to four times the mass of Earth are even better at establishing and maintaining oceans than our Earth. The oceans of super-Earths would persist for at least 10 billion years (unless boiled away by an evolving red giant star). (1/5)

Busy Year Ahead for Space Coast with Numerous Projects (Source: Washington Times)
Florida’s Space Coast is anticipating a busy 2015. Numerous rocket launches and other projects are scheduled throughout the year. SpaceX plans to kick off the year on Tuesday with an early morning cargo launch to the International Space Station. Last spring, the company won a 20-year lease of a mothballed NASA launch pad. The company plans to finish outfitting the pad by midyear so that it can support launches of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

Also planned for 2015, the renovation of two former shuttle hangars at Kennedy Space Center to house a secrete Air force space plane program relocating from California. The Air force is expected to conduct a fourth launch of its unmanned X-37V Orbital Test Vehicle this from Cape Canaveral this year. As many as 24 rocket launches are scheduled this year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Air Force said. Sixteen rockets were launched from the station in 2014.

Also planned for 2015, United Launch Alliance will start building a crew access tower near a launch pad, where Atlas V rockets will launch Boeing’s CST-100 capsule. Space Florida recently announced plans for an unnamed commercial space company to take up residence at one of two state-run pads. Combined state and company investment at the site is expected to total $34 million over five years and add 100 jobs. After nearly 18 months of negotiation, NASA and Space Florida are nearing a deal for the state to take over control of Kennedy Space Center’s three-mile shuttle runway. (1/4)

2014 Was a Good Year for Space. 2015 Will Be Even Better. (Source: Space Foundation)
2014 was a very good year for space. Not great. Not perfect. Not without a stumble here and there. But, overall, a very good year -- one that we can build upon. I know this because at the end of each calendar year, right before the holiday break, the Space Foundation works through the process of short-listing worthy candidates for the awards that we present at the annual Space Symposium.

Sometimes the exercise is difficult, and we find ourselves beating the bushes for ideas. At other times, the pickings are so slim, that we aren't able to present an award in one category or another. But, then, there are years like 2014, where there are multiple potential award winners all across the global space enterprise -- for space achievement, public outreach, space exploration and STEM education. Click here. (1/3)

Simonyi On What To Pack For Space Travel (Source: Forbes)
Looking for a vacation that costs up to $50 million, has no showers and is likely to make you sick? It’s no luxury resort, but traveling to outer space can be the ultimate adventure for thrill-seekers with lots of disposable income. It’s as exclusive as it gets — fewer than 550 people have ever been, only eight of them paying tourists. But the journey will get more accessible in the next few years, as a handful of companies compete to launch the first commercial space flights.

Until now, the only way to buy a trip to the stars has been through Space Adventures, a Virginia-based company that has facilitated trips to the International Space Station on Russian Soyuz rockets since 2001. Clients have included billionaire Cirque du Soleil cofounder Guy Laliberte, British-American game designer Richard Garriott and South-African software millionaire Mark Shuttleworth. Click here. (1/4)

India Plans Winged Reusable Rocket Demo (Source: Live Mint)
India is working on developing the technology for a winged rocket that can be used repeatedly, a senior official said. ISRO will carry out the technology demonstration of the reusable launch vehicle in March. “The structure that makes a rocket has to be such that it should have 98% propellant and 2% structure. Only then reusability is possible. Today’s technology does not allow you to go to that level as 5% to 10% will be the mass of the structure and around 90% will be the propellant,” said S. Somanath.

“But then, new ideas are coming up, SpaceX is working on a reusable launch vehicle, but nobody is sure if in the next 10 years, reusable vehicles will be a reality,” Somanth added. ISRO is trying to develop a Winged Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) which will act as a flying tester to assess hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air-breathing propulsion.

ISRO is currently integrating the flight model. In the technology demonstrator, Isro will test if the 12-tonne vehicle can reach five times the speed of sound, whether it can re-enter the atmosphere and land on the sea using its computer system. (1/5)

The Year Ahead in Space: What’s Next? (Source: Newsweek)
In 2014, the world looked on eagerly as a probe landed on a comet for the first time, as a test flight brought humans one step closer to Mars, and as astronauts tweeted home striking images from space, giving those left behind on Earth the sense that they were along for the ride. And the coming year has plenty more in store.

“2015 is going to be a very exciting year particularly for the public and space exploration,” says Bruce Betts, director of science and technology for The Planetary Society. Here are some of the highlights—by no means a comprehensive list—to look forward to in 2015. Click here. (1/5)

Don't Forget Space is Dangerous (Source: CNN)
The march into space appears to be gathering speed. The not-for-profit Mars One says it plans to establish a human settlement on Mars by 2025, a goal that has attracted more than 200,000 applicants for the one-way trip (a number that has so far been winnowed down to 705 candidates). And before Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip2 crashed in October, nearly a thousand would-be space tourists spent as much as a quarter of a million dollars for the promise of a few minutes of suborbital weightlessness. But, future astronauts, think very carefully: Space is a very dangerous and unpredictable place. Click here. (1/5)

Chinese Spacecraft to Return to Moon's Orbit (Source: Xinhua)
The service module of China's unmanned lunar orbiter is scheduled to return to the moon's orbit in mid-January for more tests to prepare for the country's next lunar probe mission, Chang'e-5. On Sunday, the service module left the Earth-Moon second Lagrange Point (L2) after circling the point while performing additional tests, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) said Monday. (1/5)

In an Eerie Scene, Chinese Villagers Visit Rocket Crash Site (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The expended first stage of a Long March rocket tumbled into a forested region of southwestern China a few minutes after successfully blasting off Dec. 31 with a Chinese weather satellite, and photographers were there to capture the booster’s fall back to Earth. The images released on the website of the state-owned China News Service show the rocket’s descent and crumpled debris along a rural roadside near Fuquan, a small city in southwestern China’s Guizhou province. Click here. (1/5)

Reborn Space Weather Satellite Prepared for Launch (Source: SEN)
With a new name, a new mission and—after almost a decade in storage—a launch date, the Earth-monitoring satellite once known as Triana will soon be put to work providing early warnings of potentially dangerous solar storms. From its vantage point 1.5 million km (930,000 miles) from Earth, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR as the spacecraft is now known, will keep constant watch on the Sun and the daylight side of Earth.

At that distance, DSCOVR can provide about an hour’s advance notice of solar particle tsunamis and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt power grids, black out radio communications and disrupt signals from GPS and other satellites. (1/5)

KSC Delves Into Wearable Tech (Source: Florida Today)
On his "smart" watch, David Miranda checks e-mail and appointments, dictates text messages and performs Google searches, among other tasks. The accessory makes the Kennedy Space Center engineer an early adopter of "wearable technology" that one leading consumer electronics company predicts will emerge as a hot workplace trend this year .

But in "wearables" like the LG watch or Google Glass eye wear, Miranda and a group of colleagues see the potential for something more visionary: helping KSC workers do their jobs more safely and efficiently, and maybe someday also astronaut explorers. Miranda leads an eight-person team of young engineers who this month are beginning a two-year project to develop a prototype headset that works something like a Google Glass for space operations. (1/5)

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