March 17, 2015

SpaceX Launch Delayed (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
It appears that the launch of the TürkmenÄlem communications satellite might have to wait a week longer before being launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket. Unconfirmed reports have stated that an issue with the launch vehicle prevented the static test fire, the last milestone before the booster hoists its payload aloft. If accurate, this information means that the satellite will not launch until March 28 at the earliest. (3/17)

Star Wars: The $5B Plan to Protect Satellites (Source: Roll Call)
The Pentagon plans $5 billion in new initiatives over the next five years to protect vulnerable U.S. military satellites from enemy attack. “This is a far more serious commitment to the mission area, reflective of what we see in the threat,” Douglas L. Loverro, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for space policy, told CQ Roll Call’s John M. Donnelly. (3/16)

Senators Blast Slow Pentagon Work to Replace Russian Rocket Motor (Source: Reuters)
Two U.S. senators are asking Defense Secretary Ash Carter to jumpstart a Pentagon initiative to develop a new U.S. rocket engine that could replace the Russian-built RD-180 motor. Senators James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said they were concerned that the Defense Department and the Air Force were not complying with a law that seeks development of a U.S. alternate engine by 2019.

The senators said the Air Force was not using $220 million appropriated by Congress in the fiscal 2015 budget for work on a new U.S. engine, and had not budgeted enough funds to meet the 2019 deadline. In a letter dated March 10, Inhofe and Nelson said Congress made clear with passage of the 2015 defense policy bill that it wanted to see a competition to develop a new engine that would be available for all launch providers. (3/16)

Pentagon Spending Track is Unsustainable, Experts Say (Source: National Defense)
Experts say the Department of Defense could see several major programs lose funding in coming years, regardless of sequestration. "I just don't see how we are going to cram all of those major programs into the budget at the same time," said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments speaking during "The Pentagon Budget: Prospects for Reform" forum at the CATO Institute. (3/16)

NASA Tests Small Aircraft Wing Powered by 18 Electric Motors (Source: Time)
NASA is testing its new Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology, or LEAPTech, which is a 31-foot carbon composite airplane wing with by 18 electric motors powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries. The wing is currently being tested on top of a truck, but if the tests are successful, NASA plans to install LEAPTech wings on a modified Tecnam P2006T. (3/17)

Boeing at Work on a Deal to Provide High-Throughput Satellites to Tech Giants (Source: Reuters)
Boeing says it is close to winning orders from the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple to produce ultra-high throughput communications satellites. "The real key to being able to do these type of things is ultra-high-throughput capabilities, where we're looking at providing gigabytes, terrabytes, petabytes of capability," said Boeing's Jim Simpson. (3/17)

Colorful Life-Form Catalog Will Help Discern if We Are Alone (Source: Space Daily)
While looking for life on planets beyond our own solar system, a group of international scientists has created a colorful catalog containing reflection signatures of Earth life forms that might be found on planet surfaces throughout the cosmic hinterlands. The new database and research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, gives humans a better chance to learn if we are not alone. Click here. (3/17)

Mars One Finalist Explains Exactly How It‘s Ripping Off Supporters (Source: Medium)
When Joseph first signed up with Mars One — the media-hyped, one-way mission to colonize the red planet being floated by a Dutch non-profit — he didn’t think much of it. The former NASA researcher said he never really took the application seriously; he was just putting his hat in the ring mostly out of curiosity, and with the hope of bringing public attention to space science.

But eventually Joseph — who is actually Dr. Joseph Roche, an assistant professor at Trinity College’s School of Education in Dublin, with a Ph.D. in physics and astrophysics — found himself on the group’s shortlist of 100 candidates all willing to undertake the theoretical journey. And that’s when he started talking to me about the big problems he was seeing with Mars One.

Amid uncritical news coverage, many basic assumptions about the project remain unchallenged. Most egregiously, many media outlets continue to report that Mars One received applications from 200,000 people who would be happy to die on another planet — when the number it actually received was 2,761. As Roche also told me, that secretive selection process is hopelessly, and dangerously, flawed. Click here. (3/16)

Private Companies Asked to Join China's Moon Program (Source: China Daily)
China will open its lunar exploration program to private enterprises in an attempt to boost technological innovation and break State-owned companies' monopoly in the space field. As a starting measure, private enterprises are being encouraged to take part in the Chang'e-4 lunar probe mission, according to a statement issued by the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, which oversees space programs.

"Currently, most of our space equipment is developed and produced by State-owned institutes in accordance with missions set by the government," he said. "Opening the industry to the private sector will introduce competition and new ideas." Wang said private enterprises can start with optical instruments because they are not as complex as remote-control and power supply equipment. (3/17)

NASA Study Reveals New Threat to Rapidly Melting East Antarctic Glacier (Source: BoingBoing)
Researchers at NASA and the University of Texas at Austin, along with other research organizations, have discovered two seafloor troughs that could allow warm ocean water to reach the base of Totten Glacier, East Antarctica's largest and most rapidly thinning glacier. The discovery may explain the glacier's extreme thinning, and raises new concern about its impact on rising sea levels.

Ice flowing through Totten Glacier alone is equivalent to the entire volume of the more widely studied West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If Totten Glacier were to collapse completely, global sea levels would rise by at least 11 feet. Click here. (3/16)

Researchers May Have Solved Origin-of-Life Conundrum (Source: Science)
The origin of life on Earth is a set of paradoxes. In order for life to have gotten started, there must have been a genetic molecule—something like DNA or RNA—capable of passing along blueprints for making proteins, the workhorse molecules of life. But modern cells can’t copy DNA and RNA without the help of proteins themselves.

To make matters more vexing, none of these molecules can do their jobs without fatty lipids, which provide the membranes that cells need to hold their contents inside. And in yet another chicken-and-egg complication, protein-based enzymes (encoded by genetic molecules) are needed to synthesize lipids.

Now, researchers say they may have solved these paradoxes. Chemists report today that a pair of simple compounds, which would have been abundant on early Earth, can give rise to a network of simple reactions that produce the three major classes of biomolecules—nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids—needed for the earliest form of life to get its start. Click here. (3/16)

SpaceX Could Steal $1 Billion in Business From Boeing and Lockheed Martin (Source: Motley Fool)
Last year the Air Force awarded United Launch Alliance a contract worth $938.4 million to pay for "fiscal 2015 EELV launch capability," ensuring that ULA would be ready and able to launch a rocket should the government so desire. Then, four months later, the Air Force gave ULA another contract -- for $382.9 million this time, to pay for launch vehicle configuration on three rocket launches (one Delta IV and two Atlas Vs).

Pointing to recent launch costs that averaged $380 million per rocket at ULA, Elon Musk challenged an Air Force contract to hire ULA to conduct 36 space launches over the next five years, without giving SpaceX a chance to compete for the business. As Musk testified to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, SpaceX can do the same work for $100 million or less -- saving taxpayers $11.6 billion over three dozen launches.

Turns out, the Air Force liked this idea. Earlier this year, the Air Force confirmed that rather than give all of its big launch contracts to ULA, as has been its practice, it will open up at least some "Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle" (EELV) contracts to competitive bidding going forward. On Tuesday, the Air Force confirmed that it expects to have SpaceX "certified" to compete for these contracts by June. (3/16)

Ice Makes Unlikely Rocket Fuel for CubeSats (Source: New Scientist)
Cubesats are limited by the lack of a good propulsion system to keep them aloft longer and under control, says Angelo Cervone at Delft University. "We have reached the maximum level of what you can do with small satellites without one." So Cervone and his colleagues designed an ice-propelled rocket. The CubeSat would contain 100 grams of water ice.

Once in space the ice would sublimate and release vapor molecules. These would then bounce against a hot plate to gain speed before escaping, causing a propulsion force. A prototype may fly in a few years. (3/16)

Mercury's Odd Surface Features Mapped by NASA Spacecraft (Source:
Two new maps of Mercury taken by a NASA probe have identified never-before-seen formations on the planet's surface. The previously unidentified regions of Mercury have compositions that differ significantly from the crust around them. Known as geochemical terranes, these zones provide insight into the formation of the outer skin of the planet. (3/16)

JAXA Shows Off Orbiting Space Probe Bound for Mercury in 2016 (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
Japan's space agency unveiled its Mercury probe that will be launched in 2016 on a mission to unlock the mysteries of the planet closest to the sun. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said that its Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter will glean data on Mercury to ascertain how the solar system's smallest planet was formed.

Developed at a cost of 15.2 billion yen ($125 million), the MMO will be part of the BepiColombo space mission, a joint project between JAXA and the European Space Agency. The two probes are expected to arrive near Mercury in 2024, with their crafts connected, and then survey the planet for one to two years after being separated. (3/16)

UA's Moon Tree Struggles in Dry Climate (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
The tree doesn’t look like much in its winter state — just a light brown mess of living and dead branches with a few of those spiked seeds dangling from its limbs. The tree is inconspicuous on the University of Arizona Mall near North Cherry Avenue, with only a small plaque to denote its importance. But it has taken a journey unlike any other tree on campus. It has been to the moon. Well, kind of. The tree grew from a seed that went on NASA’S Apollo 14 mission, and it really just orbited the moon.

“What is certain is that the tree is not doing really well,” Pryor said. The American sycamore, or Platanus occidentalis, is native to the East, where rain is far more abundant. In Arizona, the sycamore is a riparian species, meaning it likes to grow near water. Pryor said the tree needs more water, mulch and preferably a nice lawn. “It’s one of those trees where it’s probably not in an optimal location, and that’s probably the biggest problem with that tree,” Pryor said. (3/16)

Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne on Schedule for 2016 First Launch (Source: Space News)
Virgin Galactic is on schedule to begin flights of its small-satellite launch vehicle by the end of 2016, hoping to tap into what the company’s chief executive believes is a lucrative and growing market. “There’s several key trends converging now in the small space sector that have the potential to reshape our industry,” he said.

Those trends include an “insatiable demand” for communications and other data services, the application of mass production techniques to small satellites, and an influx of funding into the industry. Click here. (3/16)

SpaceX Says Falcon 9 Upgrade Won’t Require New Certification (Source: Space News)
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company’s introduction this year of a more-powerful Falcon 9, designed to permit the company to recover the rocket’s first stage for future reuse, will not begin another long process of U.S. government certification. For the improved-version rocket, now expected to make its first flight this summer, the company’s goal is to add between 15 and 20 percent to the current rocket’s performance.

The current engine and fuel configuration does not carry the requisite power to carry a heavy telecommunications satellite to geostationary orbit while also reserving fuel to perform the landing on a SpaceX offshore platform. (3/16)

Orbital Insight Raises $9 Million for AI Imagery Processing (Source: Space News)
Orbital Insight, a Silicon Valley startup that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to expedite the processing of huge amounts of imagery, has secured $8.7 million in fresh financing from an investor group led by Sequoia Capital, the company announced March 16.

The cash infusion will enable Mountain View, California-based Orbital Insight to hire more engineers and scale up its operations, which to date have been limited mostly to pilot projects funded by an initial $1.5 million in Sequoia-provided seed capital, said James “Jimi” Crawford, who founded Orbital Insight in December 2013. (3/16)

Starfleet Was Closer Than You Think (Source: Space Review)
More than half a century ago, Project Orion offered the potential to open up the solar system with nuclear propulsion technologies, only to be shelved. Brent Ziarnick and Peter Garretson discuss, based on recently declassified memos, that the Air Force was closer than previously believed in deciding to fund work on Orion. Visit to view the article. (3/16)

The Core of NASA's Mission (Source: Space Review)
A hearing last week by a Senate committee about NASA's propposed budget became a discussion on what NASA's "core mission" should be. Jeff Foust reports this is not the first time, and likely not the last, the issue will be debated. Visit to view the article. (3/16)

Failure to Launch: the Technical, Ethical, and Legal Case Against Mars One (Source: Space Review)
Mars One has garnered publicity in recent weeks with the selection of 100 candidates to be members of their first one-way Mars crew in the mid-2020s. Michael Listner and Christopher Newman argue that Mars One has yet to deal with a number of major technical and other challenges that makes their venture unlikely to succeed. Visit to view the article. (3/16)

Politics Is Poisoning NASA’s Ability to Do What It Needs to Do (Source: Slate)
Well, I told you so. When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, was made head of the Senate committee in charge of NASA’s funding, I (and many others) were appalled. Cruz is a science denier, flatly claiming global warming isn’t happening. This is an issue, since many of NASA’s missions are directly focused on examining the amount, extent, and impact of that warming. And rightly so.

While Cruz may not be able to directly impact NASA’s budget, he can certainly make things difficult on the agency and pressure others to change NASA’s emphasis. He made this very clear last week when he held a meeting with NASA’s Administrator Charles Bolden as a witness. Cruz opened the session asking Bolden about NASA’s core mission, a clear shot at the idea that they should be looking outwards, not down. (3/16)

Five Solar System Sights NASA Should Visit (Source: Nature)
It’s show time for NASA’s planetary program. This autumn, the agency will winnow 28 proposals for exploring the Solar System to perhaps three or five. Eventually, there will be just one lucky winner: NASA’s newest Discovery-class mission, to launch at some point in the early 2020s.

Here, Nature looks at some wider themes that emerged among the proposals, which arrived at NASA last month in response to a call for ideas. Designed to cost $450 million or less, any of these missions would be among the agency’s cheapest attempts to explore the Solar System. Venus, the Moon, Mars' moons, asteroids, and planetary volcanoes. Check them out, then vote for where you think NASA should explore. Click here. (3/16)

Space, Britain’s New Frontier (Source: Conservative Home)
When the history of the Coalition Government comes to be written, the most surprising and under-appreciated achievement may well be the creation of a thriving space industry in the UK. With plans in place for one or more spaceports, and an enabling regulatory regime, we could see operational spaceflight from the UK by 2018. Click here. (3/15)

The Risks of Space Travel (Source: Insurance & Risk)
For a non-governmental company to take on those vulnerabilities on behalf of civilian tourists, it will take some creative travel insurance to help diffuse the risk. The Virgin Galactic crash underscores the risks, with one pilot injured and another killed when its suborbital, rocket-powered spaceship, SpaceShipTwo, malfunctioned during testing.

With the anticipation building, it was hard even for insurance companies not to get caught up in the excitement early on. Global insurance giant Allianz announced in November 2011 that it would be offering new space travel policies from the start of 2012 to coincide with the Virgin Galactic maiden voyage. It planned to “start contacting space liners, space scientists, travel agents, space travelers and consumer organizations,” in order to develop a coverage from the preparatory phase to the trip home.

At the time, the Allianz Director of Global Accounts Erick Morazin said that although prices were being finalized, trip insurance was likely to price between $700 and go up to $10,000, based on Virgin Galactic’s 2011 price point at $200,000 per ticket. He also revealed to reporters that Allianz had sketched out around 20 insurance packages that included medical and luggage, though he was worried about giving more details away. Click here. (3/16)

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