February 17, 2015

Why Pluto is No Longer a Planet (Source: The Economist)
When New Horizons was launched in 2006, Pluto was the ninth and final planet from the sun; the only one never to have been visited by a robotic probe. Eight months later, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted to kick Pluto out of the planetary club. A generation of schoolchildren has thus grown up learning that solar system has only eight planets, and that Pluto is, like astronomical also-rans such as Ceres, Eris and Makemake, merely of the “dwarf planets”.

Why was Pluto demoted from the planetary club? The immediate reason was that Pluto did not meet the definition of a planet that was formally agreed, for the first time, at the 2006 IAU meeting. To qualify, the astronomers decided, an object must be in orbit around the sun (so, for instance, Earth’s moon does not count, despite being considerably bigger than Pluto).

It must be massive enough to have become spherical under the force of its own gravity (which rules out things like asteroids and comets). And finally, it must have “cleared its orbit”, either by absorbing other nearby objects into itself, or by kicking them out of the way with its gravity. That definition attempts to capture the intuition that planets should be the most notable features of solar systems after their stars. Pluto passes the first two tests, but fails the third. (2/17)

Korea Unveils Moon Rover (Source: Chosun)
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology on Monday unveiled an unmanned rover that can search for rare minerals and metals on the moon's surface. The rover will be sent to the moon on a Korean-made rocket in 2020 to conduct a mission similar to NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. (2/17)

Swiss Space Systems Opens Branch, Plans Spaceport, in Croatia (Source: Dalje)
One of the main goals of the newly-established Croatian branch of the Swiss Space Systems (S3) company in the coming years will be to build a spaceport in Croatia, a project that should position Croatia among countries promoting space exploration and commercial space flights, the company's officials said in Zagreb on Monday.

The initial activities of the Croatian branch of Swiss Space Systems will be connected with Zero-G no gravity flights, which can be expected in the first half of 2016. The next phase of activity, including satellite launches and suborbital passenger flights, require the construction of a spaceport, the presentation at the Hotel Esplanade said. (2/17)
SpaceX Leases Property for Landing Pads at Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
SpaceX plans to set up landing pads on abandoned launch sites at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base in a step toward the company’s vision for eventual recovery and reuse of rocket boosters. The company has signed leases to take over decommissioned launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Air Force officials said. (2/17)

Cabana: Cape's Multiuser Spaceport Taking Shape (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center has been hard at work repositioning itself for the future. It's clear that our NASA programs are doing well. Our Launch Services Program continues its longstanding success supporting NASA science missions and we continue to sustain cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station.

We're continually making advancements in our policies, planning and partnerships to become a commercially friendly center in the eyes of current and future commercial space partners. We've been updating our internal policies and working with other agencies, such as the Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration, to provide maximum autonomy and flexibility to commercial users. Click here. (2/17)

Progress M-26M Spacecraft Launches 3 Tons of Cargo to ISS (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, a Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off at 6 a.m. EST with the Progress M-26M spacecraft containing almost three tons of cargo bound for the International Space Station. This morning's flight marked the first of the year for the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) which utilizes the venerable Soyuz booster / Progress spacecraft duo to carry out resupply runs to the orbiting laboratory. (2/17)

USAF Looks to Improve Relationships, Transparency with "Outside World" (Source: Defense News)
The U.S. Air Force is placing intense focus on "improving our relationships, our transparency, [and] our credibility with the outside world," said William LaPlante, the service's top acquisition official, at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium in Florida recently. "We have to really put effort into trying to make ourselves more transparent," he said. (2/16)

Controversy Continues Over Iran’s Rockets And Weapons (Source: Aviation Week)
Iran’s linked development of nuclear energy and surface-to-surface missiles is motivating multiple missile-defense programs, including most of Israel’s work, exports of Patriot PAC-3 and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missiles to the Middle East, and U.S. deployment of elements of the European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense system. The progress of Iran’s projects, however, remains under debate and wrapped in secrecy. (2/17)

Lessons From Shuttle Can Help Commercial Crew (Source: Aviation Week)
Most of the companies building next-generation commercial spaceflight vehicles to carry humans to space are drawing on the rich and sometimes sensitive database generated by NASA’s 30-year history flying the space shuttle, with the expectation that it will help them save money and lives as they build reusable spacecraft for a marketplace in low Earth orbit and beyond.

All of the engineering teams developing human-spaceflight vehicles except the one at Blue Origin have discussed forensic evidence on crew survivability garnered from the Columbia accident investigation, according to one of the physician/astronauts who studied exactly what killed the orbiter’s seven crewmembers. Click here. (2/17)

Air Force Thinks Outside the Box (Source: Space Daily)
Air Force Space Command is making new waves in improvements and creativity with their cost-saving "Out of the Box Innovation" program. The purpose of the program is to collect strategically forward-thinking ideas that support critical enabling actions to allow operators and acquirers to do their jobs more efficiently, gather the appropriate subject matter experts to analyze the viability of these ideas, and to identify possible courses of action for their implementation.

The Command is looking for innovative ideas that focus on new ways of doing business, exploiting synergies between space, cyber and intel, enhancing training for the cyberspace workforce, modernizing the Space Ground System and researching how cyber capabilities can help facilitate space and satellite mission requirements. Click here. (2/17)

Long Beach Finds New Hope in Virgin Galactic (Source: Press-Telegram)
Long Beach can brag once again with Virgin Galactic’s plans to open up a plant near the airport to build LauncherOne — a rocket to send satellites into space. At the forefront of a relatively new business, Virgin Galactic’s move is a rare gift for a former blue-collar manufacturing town that has been struggling to create an economic engine for the future.

For years, the expensive venture was largely limited to the government and military. But as the use of satellites have expanded and they have become smaller and cheaper to build, Virgin Galactic and its bold owner Richard Branson is betting there is a pent up demand to get them into space. The company is a shot in the arm for Long Beach, which still waxes on about the long-ago shuttered Douglas Aircraft facility and the Naval Base. Those terrestrial industries somehow seem dated next to Virgin Galactic, which will locate in the 150,000-square-foot former Boeing facility at Douglas Park in East Long Beach. (2/17)

XCOR Teams with Indian Firm to Lure Space Travelers (Source: Economic Times)
A few Indians have booked their tickets in a passenger spacecraft that will blast them into space, 100 km beyond earth's gravity, to a spot from where one can see the curvature of our planet, shelling out about $100,000, or Rs 62 lakh.

XCOR Aerospace, the US firm that is developing the tourist rocket plane, has tied up with Mumbai based Fortpoint Automotive to woo more Indians to take its space tours, expected to take off next year. "We have sold over 300 tickets worldwide, including a few to Indians," said Peter Van Rooy, global sales manager at XCOR Space Expeditions. (2/17)

Reusability Revival (Source: Space Review)
Launch companies that once dismissed reusability as neither feasible nor economically viable are thinking twice as SpaceX makes progress towards recovering and reusing its Falcon 9 first stage. Jeff Foust reports on SpaceX's latest tests and what the head of another launch company now thinks about reusability. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2696/1 to view the article. (2/16)

The Stratosphere and Suborbit: Shirtsleeves or Pressure Suits? (Source: Space Review)
Should people flying on suborbital vehicles wear pressure suits as protection from a decompression event? Anthony Young examines the historical record to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of using pressure suits. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2695/1 to view the article. (2/16)

Discoveries or Inventions: the Case for Industrial Property in Space (Source: Space Review)
Is simply exposing an organism or substance to the space environment sufficient to patent what results? Kamil Muzyka explores what patent law says about the ability to protect intellectual property resulting from commercial activities in space. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2694/1 to view the article. (2/16)

10 Reasons Why an Asteroid Redirect Mission Is Worth Doing (Source: Space News)
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a major NASA program as nearly universally disliked as the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Some people dislike it for ad hominem reasons like the fact that the Obama administration has been pushing it, or the supposition that former Deputy Administrator Lori Garver came up with the concept, which some people narrow-mindedly feel automatically justifies opposition.

I’ve also heard a few anti-Space Launch System/Orion people refer to it as a “wasteful attempt to re-engineer the solar system to make it accessible for SLS and Orion,” or to come up with a mission for SLS and Orion that is more inspiring than endless Apollo 8 rehashes (but without imminent landing missions to follow this time around). Click here. (2/16)

Airbus, Boeing and Orbital ATK Split SES Satellite Order (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator SES, in an order highlighting an industry trend, on Feb. 16 announced contracts for three telecommunications satellites from three manufacturers. Two of the three are all-electric-propulsion spacecraft, from Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems and Airbus Defense and Space, and are intended to offer fixed and mobile, especially aeronautical, services over the Americas and the North Atlantic Ocean region. (2/16)

Russian-Ukrainian Rocket to Launch South Korean Satellite as Planned (Source: Sputnik)
The joint Russian-Ukrainian company Kosmotras will go ahead with the launches of commercial and scientific satellites and spacecraft it had planned for 2015 using the Dnepr-1 rocket, including a South Korean Kompsat remote sensing satellite in mid-March. The March 12 launch of the Dnepr-1 carrying a South Korean satellite will go ahead as planned, a source close to the space industry told Russia's RIA Novosti on Monday.

It had earlier been reported that the launch of the Dnepr-1 by Kosmotras, a Moscow-based joint Russian-Ukrainian company, had been suspended indefinitely. A Roscosmos representative had told RIA Novosti at the beginning of this month that the program had been frozen, its future potential to be determined in the near future. (2/16)

Mars Rover Nearing Marathon Achievement (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is nearing a location on Mars at which its driving distance will surpass the length of a marathon race. A drive on Feb. 8, 2015, put the rover within 220 yards of this marathon accomplishment. An Olympic marathon is 26.219 miles. Opportunity is headed for a portion of the western rim of Endeavour Crater where observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have detected multiple types of clay minerals. (2/11)

NASA Spacecraft Completes 40,000 Mars Orbits (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passed a mission milestone of 40,000 orbits on Feb. 7, 2015, in its ninth year of returning information about the atmosphere, surface and subsurface of Mars, from equatorial to polar latitudes. (2/10)

Jacksonville Spaceport Heading Toward 2016 Target Launch Date (Source: WJCT)
An airport on the Southwest side of Jacksonville is readying itself for a different kind of flight. Cecil Spaceport has completed some of its first upgrades to get ready for trips to outer space. Aviation officials say Cecil Spaceport’s target launch date is some time next year. That’s when a horizontal-launching spacecraft fitted with a rocket on its belly is first expected to take off to put small satellites in earth’s orbit.

Jacksonville Aviation Authority spokesman Michael Stewart says the spaceport is competing with others, like ones in Virginia and California, for a piece of a growing private space travel industry. “Space exploration is coming back as the economy gets stronger, and we hope that Florida, and particularly Cecil Spaceport, will be a part of that," he said. Stewart says planners originally envisioned space tourism taking off at Cecil Spaceport, and it’s still something Jacksonville would like to court. (2/16)

No Mission to Mars for Pensacola Middle School Teacher (Source: Pensacola News Journal)
Louis O'Rear, a Ransom Middle School teacher, did not make the cut for the Mars One program, a Dutch-led venture sending four people on a one-way trip to Mars in 2025. "It was a great ride, and I gave it my best shot," he said. "I went for it, and that is what is important. I have told my students that it is the possibility of realizing your dreams that makes life interesting." (2/16)

Orbital ATK’s GEOStar-3 Satellite Platform Gains Traction Among Satellite Operators (Source: Orbital ATK)
Orbital ATK received a contract to build a communications satellite for LuxGovSat, a newly created joint venture between SES and the Luxembourg government. SES-16/GovSat will be used to provide military satellite bandwidth to governments and institutions. The Luxembourg government has pre-committed to a significant amount of capacity in support of its NATO obligations.

Based on Orbital ATK’s recently introduced GEOStar-3™ satellite platform, SES-16/GovSat is a multi-mission satellite using dedicated military frequencies (X-band and military Ka-band) to provide high-powered and fully steerable spot beams for multiple government-specific missions. It is Orbital ATK’s 40th GEOStar satellite sale, the third GEOStar-3 satellite purchased, and seventh GEOStar satellite to be built for SES. (2/16)

The ISS Menu: Mayo, Espressos, Booze? Cosmonauts Reveal Their Secrets (Source: Sputnik)
It gets lonely in space if you're a foodie. However, some cosmonauts and astronauts found ways to deal with the problem by bringing their own, or turning to Earth for help. On Monday, Russian cosmonauts surprised their mission control when they requested 15 packages of mayonnaise to be sent in the upcoming shipment of food to the International Space Station (ISS) instead of lemons and tomatoes.

However, it is not very unusual, as cosmonauts and astronauts often spend months in space, restricted to only several foods day-in and day-out. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti brought an espresso with her to the International Space Station (ISS) in November 2014. American astronaut John Young, who later went to the Moon, challenged some safety protocols when he ate a corned beef sandwich that he snuck in to orbit in 1965. Click here. (2/16)

Editorial: NASA’s Groundhog Day Budget Foreshadows More Stalemate (Source: Space News)
It was fitting that the release of the White House’s federal budget request for 2016 coincided with Groundhog Day. Just as Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow Feb. 2, indicating that six more weeks of cold weather are in store, President Barack Obama’s budget blueprint for NASA foretells an indefinite continuation of the impasse that has gripped the agency for the past several years. Click here. (2/16)

Most Americans OK with Space Program, But Wouldn't Accept Free Trip to Space (Source: NJ.com)
While most Americans said they agree the nation's space program has had positive effects, they don't necessarily believe the country should spend billions to try to get an astronaut to back to a distant spot in the galaxy. And very few would want any part of a trip to space -- even if it was free. That's the consensus of a Monmouth University poll released on Monday.

About half of the 1,008 adults asked last month said they oppose the U.S. government allocating billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids. Slight more than two in five indicated they'd be in favor of such spending. A slightly lower number of those asked (51 percent) however agreed it would be a "good investment" to increase spending in the space program. (2/16)

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