March 12, 2015

Boeing, SpaceX Look Beyond NASA for Space Customers (Source: Florida Today)
It will be two or three years before Boeing or SpaceX launches NASA astronauts from Florida to the International Space Station, but they're already looking to what comes after the station. NASA has only committed to operate the station through 2024, and not all its international partners have agreed to do that yet.

"Our business may be based on a NASA flight for crew, but it's all about fostering a market for commercial passengers," said Pete McGrath, director of business development for Boeing's Space Exploration Division. "There is a finite date on station, so fostering a market that can extend beyond that and get the benefits of microgravity research is important."

"Post-space station, we do need additional destinations to go to," added Barry Matsumori, SpaceX's senior vice president for sales and business development. "There's a lot of development work to do, but it's certainly a demand that exists." (3/12)

Senators, Bolden Clash over the “Core Mission” of NASA (Source: Space News)
Members of the Senate Commerce space subcommittee used a March 12 hearing on the NASA budget to debate with each other, and the head of the agency, about what the agency’s priorities should be. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the subcommittee, expressed concern that NASA was spending too much money on Earth science and not enough on exploration programs.

Bolden, asked by Cruz to define the “core mission” of NASA, defended the agency’s work by citing language in the National Aeronautics and Space Act that created the space agency. “Essentially, our core mission from the very beginning has been to investigate and explore space and the Earth environment, and to help us make this place a better place,” he said. (3/12)

University of Colorado Involved in Major Study of Magnetic Fields in Space (Source: 7News Denver)
Space weather has a tremendous impact on Earth. It can negatively impact computers, GPS, radio, electric grids, and even the cell phone where you may be reading this article. That's just a few of our daily necessities that could be impacted by any variety of magnetic changes in space.

Once in position, the testing phase will begin and will take about 6 months. In charge, the CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) will control 100 instruments of this mission; this is where students at CU Boulder will be directly involved. (3/12)

Russian Satellite Placed into Wrong Orbit Reaches Good Trajectory (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia’s telecommunications satellite Express-AM6 satellite, which was placed into a wrong orbit in late October 2014, has reached the final orbit, the satellite manufacturing company said. During the October 21, 2014 launch, the spacecraft was accidentally sent into the wrong orbit "the parameters of which have significant deviations in the altitude, inclination and eccentricity," said the Information Satellite Systems - Reshetnev Company based in Zheleznogorsk, in Eastern Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk Territory. (3/12)

Explosive Eruptions Rocked the Youthful Moon (Source: New Scientist)
The moon has buried scars from an explosive past. That's the lesson from China's Yutu or "Jade Rabbit" lunar rover, which has discovered layer upon layer of past lava flows and explosive eruptions not previously seen. "When you look at an image of this area, there are no features," says Long Xiao from China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. "But when we looked at the inside, there are many stories within it."

Jade Rabbit launched in 2013 as part of the Chang'e 3 mission, China's first lander on the moon and the first lunar lander at all in 37 years. It touched down on Mare Imbrium, one of the vast flat craters thought to have been formed long ago by a large impact and filled by a flood of lava about 3.8 billion years ago, which had not been directly sampled before. (3/12)

Sun Triggers Radio Blackout After Monster X-Class Flare (Source: Discovery)
The sun has erupted with its first X-class solar flare of 2015, a not-so-subtle reminder that it can still muster the energy required to generate the most powerful class of solar explosion. The magnetic eruption occurred Wednesday at 12:22 p.m. EDT, lighting up a huge area in the lower solar corona. Shortly after the huge eruption, that measured X2 on the scale of flare energy, reports a radio blackout was detected over large swathes of the globe, including much of the Americas. (3/12)

MMS to Study "Magnetic Reconnection" Physics (Source: Florida Today)
The Magnetosperic Multiscale mission, or MMS, features four identical spacecraft stacked on top of each other, each measuring about four feet tall and 12 feet across. The four observatories will fly in a pyramid formation, equipped with 100 instruments, to study a fundamental physics phenomenon called "magnetic reconnection."

That's a process in which magnetic fields interact, tear each other apart with explosive bursts of energy and then reform. The events are responsible for solar storms that can endanger spacecraft and power grids on Earth, and have frustrated attempts to harness nuclear fusion in laboratories. (3/11)

Philae Comet Lander May Get Wake-Up Nudge (Source: NBC)
Researchers will take a long-shot chance at waking up the snoozing Philae comet lander on Thursday, four months after the lander capped off a 4-billion-mile journey by descending to the space rock's surface. Researchers are hoping that the neighborhood Philae is in will have shifted into sufficient sunlight for it to be nudged awake by the separate Rosetta probe in orbit around the comet. (3/11)

Bruno Gives Clues on New Rocket (Source: SPACErePORT)
During an 'Ask Me Anything' session on Reddit, ULA's Tory Bruno answered some questions that revealed a few details about its next-generation launch system, known for now as the NGLS. He said ULA has considerd partial reusability for NGLS, and will invest in a new or upgraded upper stage for it. He gave a non-answer to the question of which launch pad would be used at the Cape, though he said the NGLS would operate concurrently with Atlas-5 and Delta-4 for "a couple of years" until those rockets are fully phased-out.

He said the NGLS would have the option of solid rocket boosters. He said ULA and industry partners will fund NGLS, and the government may support the effort in the interest of risk reduction. He didn't make many jabs at SpaceX but did infer that ULA workers have a better "work-life balance," something SpaceX workers have complained about. (3/11)

Everything We Know about ULA’s Next Rocket (Source: Space News)
Tory Bruno, the president and chief executive officer of United Launch Alliance, the government’s primary launch services provider, has been dribbling out details on the company’s next-generation rocket for weeks. A formal unveiling of the rocket concept that will eventually replace ULA’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4 launchers is planned for mid-April at the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It's not clear where ULA will build NGLS, but Bruno told the Decatur Daily that “Blue Origin is off right now with our team doing studies … on where that facility should be, and I can tell you that Alabama and certainly the Decatur area is within the (area) that’s being looked at right now. But I don’t know what the answer will be.” Click here. (3/11)

Air Force Leader Eyes SpaceX Launch Certification by June (Source: Reuters)
The Air Force hopes to certify privately-held SpaceX to launch some U.S. military and intelligence satellites into space using its Falcon 9 rocket by June. "I think we're still looking at ... June," said Lieutenant General Ellen Pawlikowski, the top uniformed officer in charge of Air Force acquisition.

Pawlikowski, nominated by President Barack Obama to head Air Force Materiel Command, said she was disappointed the Air Force had not been able to certify SpaceX for the launches by December, as initially hoped, but said she was "encouraged that we're close." (3/11)

Why the Warm Ocean on Enceladus Could Be Perfect for Life (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Move over, Europa. It looks as though the most life-friendly habitat ever discovered outside of Earth is Enceladus—Saturn's sixth-largest moon. Astrophysicists working with NASA's Saturn sweeping Cassini spacecraft announced that Enceladus has a warm ocean at its southern pole with ongoing hydrothermal activity—the first ever discovered outside of Earth.

This new research builds upon last year's discovery of the moon's 6-mile-deep ocean, which is also believed to contain many of the chemicals commonly associated with life. "This is yet another discovery in a series of really remarkable findings that have come one by one, to tell us that this may be the place to go look for life in the outer solar system." (3/11)

Orbital ATK Fires SLS Booster in Utah (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The salt lake flats and deserts of Utah were lit ablaze as NASA and newly-merged Orbital ATK activated one of the boosters which the space agency plans to utilize to send crews to deep space destinations – such as an asteroid and perhaps Mars. The test was carried out at Orbital ATK's Promontory, Utah, facilities and lasted for a "full duration" burn; in essence, the length of time that they would be fired during actual missions. (3/11)

Isle of Man Space Tourism Blow as Capsule Departs Island (Source: BBC)
The departure of a Russian space station from the Isle of Man signifies the "end of Manx space tourism," according to a government minister. Space exploration and tourism company Excalibur Almaz imported two capsules in 2011 and planned to use them for space holidays costing £100m.

The company was unavailable to comment on where the 11m (36ft) long space station, built in the 1980s, is going. The capsules are similar to those still on the International Space Station. Manx Economic Development Minister Laurence Skelly said: "I am saddened to see the end of the potential space tourism project - however it is not the end of the Isle of Man's space industry which is alive and well." (3/11)

Spaceport America Southern Road Plans Move Forward (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
A key step in the southern road project to Spaceport America is expected this summer, Spaceport Executive Director Christine Anderson told county commissioners in an update Tuesday. Anderson also highlighted recent spending by two spaceport tenants and said the main tenant, Virgin Galactic, is making progress on a new spaceship to replace another one destroyed in a high-profile crash last year in California.

Anderson told the five-member county commission that an environmental review by a key agency is expected to wrap up in July of this year, allowing for a county bid process to launch in August and a contract to be awarded in October. She emphasized the project is key to Doña Ana County benefitting from the spaceport economically. "I can't stress how important this road is," she said. (3/11)

Dona Ana County Officials Continue to Back Spaceport America (Source: KVIA)
Spaceport America has been under increasing scrutiny, but Dona Ana county officials said Tuesday that they're behind the project and mission. County commissioners got the chance to question the spaceport's executive director Christine Anderson on the big issues, including what it will take to get the spaceport supporting itself.

But Dona Ana county commissioners are still behind it, and calling for more investment in Spaceport America and its infrastructure. Commission chair Billy Garrett is all for a project to improve the main road to the spaceport, and eventually build an interstate interchange in Upham to make it easier for everyone to get there. "We get that kind of thing in place," Garrett said. "And it will be real clear to some of the big businesses that can use this facility that we're serious about wanting their business." (3/11)

Apollo XVIII Takes Off with Times Square Art Exhibit (Source: New York Daily News)
Houston to Times Square, we have lift off. This month, and this month only, visitors to Times Square are being treated to a unique view of the moon mission that never was.

Artist Marco Brambilla, using footage combed from the NASA archives, created a dazzling visual experience for the regular "Midnight Moment" series that takes place there every month. His video portrays the fictionalized launch of the Apollo XVIII lunar mission using real footage from actual Apollo missions. NASA scrapped man's trips to the moon after Apollo XVII. (3/11)

Dark Energy Survey Reveals Signs of Nine Dwarf Galaxies (Source: NBC)
Two groups of astronomers looking around the edges of our Milky Way galaxy were surprised to find a gaggle of previously undetected dwarf satellite galaxies — incredibly dim conglomerations of stars that may account for some of the mysterious dark matter in our cosmic neighborhood.

Nine galaxy candidates were discovered in a region of the southern celestial hemisphere near the best-known dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way: the Large and the Small Magellanic Cloud. The closest is about 95,000 light-years away. The farthest is more than a million light-years distant. (3/11)

What’s the Last Thing an Astronaut Says to His Kids Before Flying Into Space? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
They first said goodbye to their daddy in Houston, at Bush Intercontinental Airport, where there’s a direct flight to Moscow aboard Singapore Airlines. Later, about five days before launch, the family again caught up with Wilmore in Baikonur. But their access, due to the astronaut quarantine, was limited. Click here. (3/11)

Closest Exoplanet is Remarkably Earth-Sized (Source: Science)
In 2012, astronomers reported a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, an orange star that belongs to the closest star system to the sun, located a mere 4.3 light-years from Earth (artist's conception shown). But this detection, which must still be confirmed, left open a major question: Just how massive is this newfound neighbor of ours? The planet's gravity tugged its sun toward and away from us, inducing a tiny Doppler shift in the star, but deriving the planet's mass requires knowing whether we view its orbit around the star edge-on, face-on, or somewhere in between.

If the orbit is edge-on, then the small Doppler shift means the planet has as little mass as Earth; but if the orbit is nearly face-on, then the planet could be as massive as Jupiter and still pull the star toward and away from us only slightly. Now, as other astronomers report, computer simulations of the planet's history indicate that the orbit isn't face-on, which in turn means the world is only one to three times as massive as Earth. (3/11)

Air Force Eyes 2018 for New GPS Satellite Competition (Source: Reuters)
The Air Force said it hopes to kick off a competition for the next batch of U.S. Global Positioning System satellites beginning in 2018, with an eye to getting higher-power satellites with greater anti-jamming capabilities. (3/11)

U.S. Plutonium Stockpile Good for Two More Nuclear Batteries after Mars 2020 (Source: Space News)
Even if NASA and the Department of Energy cannot get plutonium-238 production in full swing by 2021 as planned, there is enough of the nuclear material in the U.S. stockpile to fuel three of the same kind of the nuclear batteries used by the Curiosity rover now exploring Mars, a DOE official told outer planets scientists Feb. 20.

One of those batteries, known as a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), is reserved for the Mars 2020 rover: the only nuclear-powered mission NASA has committed to, for now. Based heavily on the design for the 2-year-old Curiosity, Mars 2020 will use a single MMRTG, which requires about 4 kilograms of plutonium-238 to produce 110 watts of electricity.

That leaves another two MMRTGs worth of plutonium-238 for some other NASA mission, Alice Caponiti, DOE’s director of space and defense power systems, said in a Feb. 20 presentation to the NASA-chartered Outer Planets Assessment Group in Mountain View, California. (3/11)

Spaceflight Industries Raises $20 Million (Source: Space News)
Small satellite manufacturer and launch service coordinator Spaceflight Industries on March 11 said it had raised some $20.74 million in equity from three venture-capital companies and would use the money to double its staff by the end of the year. Seattle-based Spaceflight said the new funding round, which was confirmed in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), brought its total funding to $27.5 million. (3/11)

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