March 21, 2015

Martian Frontier Could Open Up with New Mission Concepts (Source: SEN)
A new mission concept could bring previously unaccessible Martian landing sites within reach, say its creators at the Planetary Science Institute (PSI). This could mean landings in vast canyons, on dormant volcanoes or other locations that rovers can't reach. The concept is called MARSDROP and it would tag along with a bigger, primary Martian mission. The vehicle would be tiny—adding less than 5% to the cost of a major mission—and would provide more landing opportunities for a single Mars shot, PSI added. Click here. (3/20)

Possible Fatty Acid Detected on Mars (Source: BBC)
A fatty acid might be among organic molecules discovered on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover. However, it's not possible at this stage to determine whether the compound has a biological or non-biological origin. And contamination could still be responsible for the finding. (3/20)

MAVEN Spacecraft Spots Martian Aurora, Unexplained Dust Cloud (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA's most recent Mars spacecraft, MAVEN, has logged some early surprises in its year-long primary mission, including a temporary Northern hemisphere auroral display and a light dust cloud resident in the upper atmosphere. The ultraviolet glow of the aurora was observed across the red planet's northern latitudes over five days in late December.

"What's especially surprising about the aurora we saw is how deep in the atmosphere it occurs -- much deeper than at Earth or elsewhere on Mars,'' said Arnaud Stiepen. Another MAVEN sensor, the Langmuir Probe and Waves instrument, observed the mysterious dust cloud soon after the spacecraft achieved orbit. The tenuous cloud extends from 93 to 190 miles altitude. (3/19)

India's Mars Probe Has Fuel for Extended Mission (Source: SEN)
India's first visit to the Red Planet, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), could have another six months of life left in it, according to officials from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).  The USD $71 million mission, launched on Nov. 5, 2013, had a planned six-month life span once in orbit. The probe entered the Martian atmosphere on Sep. 24, 2014 and was due to complete its mission on Mar. 24, 2015.

However, according to ISRO, and confirmed by science minister Jitender Singh in Parliament on Tuesday, MOM has 37 kgs of reserved fuel left which could allow it to operate for another six months. For ISRO scientists the news about the extended life of MOM has become a moment to celebrate because it gives them an opportunity to carry out deeper research into various aspects of the Red Planet, particularly about its atmosphere and climate. (3/19)

Mars One Delays Timetable for Red Planet Trips Amid Criticism (Source: NBC)
The Dutch-based Mars One venture says it's delaying its timetable for one-way trips to Mars by two years, but insists that its plan will still be viable. The new schedule calls for a robotic lander to be sent to the Red Planet in 2020 as a preparatory mission, with the first four-person crew landing on Mars no earlier than 2027. Both those dates are two years later than previously planned.

The schedule shift was mentioned Thursday in Mars One's response to a string of sharply critical reports about its long-shot plan to fund and launch one-way trips to Mars. It's not clear whether the response will quell questions about the project's finances and technical underpinnings — or lead to even more criticism. (3/19)

Mars One is Almost Completely Uninsurable (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Mars One has a grand plan to beat the big names in aerospace to the first manned mission to the Red Planet. But the chances of the dream ever getting off the ground appear to grow slimmer by the day. Mars One doesn't have a proven spacecraft or a clear plan to sustain its human habitation on Mars. But here's another problem that's dogging this mission. Mars One would be almost impossible to insure. Click here. (3/20)

Rosetta Is Tailing a Warming Comet (Source: New York Times)
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft caught up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last August, then dropped a lander onto the comet in November. Now Rosetta will follow the rubber-duck-shaped comet as it swings closer to the sun. Click here for amazing new images. (3/20)

New NASA Mission to Study Ocean Color, Airborne Particles and Clouds (Source: Space Daily)
NASA is beginning work on a new satellite mission that will extend critical climate measurements of Earth's oceans and atmosphere and advance studies of the impact of environmental changes on ocean health, fisheries and the carbon cycle.

Tentatively scheduled to launch in 2022, the Pre-Aerosol Clouds and ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission will study Earth's aquatic ecology and chemistry, and address the uncertainty in our understanding of how clouds and small airborne particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate. (3/20)

Air Force Eyes 2018 Launch of Gap-filler Weather Satellite (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Defense Department could lose its current source of ocean-wind data this year, well before the planned early 2020s launch of its next-generation weather satellite, and is eyeing an interim satellite to plug the gap as early as 2018, a service official said.

Dave Madden, executive director of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, which buys military space hardware, said the gap-filler mission would launch “very quickly” and feature a government-furnished ocean-wind vector sensor aboard a commercially available satellite platform, or bus. (3/19)

Metal Dust Detected in Proton Rocket Pipes (Source: Interfax)
Tanks of the second stage of the Proton-M rocket due to blast off from Baikonur on April 6 are contaminated, a source in the rocket and space industry told Interfax-AVN. "Metal dust has been detected in some pipes," he said. It will take at least two weeks to run additional checks, and "the rocket preparation for the April mission may fail to meet the schedule," the source said. (3/19)

Lawmakers Appear Divided on Relaxing Terms of RD-180 Ban (Source: Space News)
The Pentagon’s congressional overseers appear divided over the timetable for weaning the U.S. Air Force from a controversial Russian rocket engine, a matter that sources say likely will not be settled until House and Senate lawmakers meet later this year to finalize the 2016 defense authorization bill.

In response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, Congress mandated that the Air Force stop using the RD-180 and begin work on a U.S.-built replacement. But in recent weeks, the Defense Department and ULA have complained that the law is too restrictive and would hamstring the company in upcoming launch competitions against emerging rival SpaceX.

Under the most conservative reading of the law, ULA would have only five RD-180 engines available for the competitions, which are slated to begin this year and could cover nine launches over the next three years. Click here. (3/20)

‘Space Lawyers’ Help Startups Navigate the Final Legal Frontier (Source: Wall Street Journal)
When Sagi Kfir meets people and tells them he is a “space attorney,” they usually think he has a strange way of saying he is in real estate. He says that when he adds that he is chief counsel of an asteroid mining company, people start telling “Star Wars” jokes. “I’m always the most interesting lawyer at a cocktail party,” says Mr. Kfir, 42 years old. Click here. (3/19)

Venture Capitalist Steve Jurvetson Eyes Space Boom (Source: Investor's Business Daily)
Steve Jurvetson, a partner at venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is a self-confessed space nut. That's one reason DFJ was an early investor in SpaceX. DFJ began investing in SpaceX five years ago. It has invested in other commercial space startups as well, such as Planet Labs, the maker of miniature imaging satellites. Click here. (3/19)

Competition To Build OneWeb Constellation Draws 2 U.S., 3 European Companies (Source: Space News)
Two U.S. and three European companies have submitted bids to build some 900 small Internet-delivery satellites for OneWeb LLC in a competition that is forcing all of them to revamp their ways of doing business. The five companies — Airbus Defence and Space, Lockheed Martin, OHB AG, Space Systems/Loral and Thales Alenia Space — all arrive at the competition armed with arguments about how their recent history has given them the needed skills to do the work.

But OneWeb, based in Britain’s Channel Islands, would rather hear how they are going to escape their status-quo histories as major space hardware contractors and remake themselves into producers capable of producing multiple satellites per month, each with a cost of less than $500,000. (3/20)

XCOR’s Top Executives Reaffirm Commitment to Midland (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
XCOR Aerospace’s new CEO and President Jay Gibson and new Chief Technology Officer Jeff Greason reaffirmed that the Mojave, California-based private space company is still committed to making Midland its new home. Gibson and Greason talked Tuesday about their vision for the company as it moves to Midland, as well as what their plans are in their new positions. (3/20)

NASA Spends Millions to Keep Wallops Above Waves (Source: DelMarVa Now)
Millions of dollars has been spent on a resiliency plan to ensure critical infrastructure on Wallops Island remains above the waves, according to Caroline Massey, NASA Wallops Flight Facility assistant director for management operations. She updated the Accomack County Board of Supervisors on a shoreline protection program and other measures NASA Wallops Flight Facility has taken to protect buildings, launch pads and other infrastructure.

All critical buildings on the island are at 6 feet above sea level or higher, she said. Some $9 million of construction is going on right now at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, with all but one project located on the island itself. The program extended the seawall and added tons of sand to Wallops' beach. The project is designed to last 50 years and is based on data from 150 years in the location. (3/20)

SpaceX Eyes Spaceport America for Testing Recovered Boosters (Source: Parabolic Arc)
After SpaceX succeeds with a barge landing off Florida's coast, New Mexico's Spaceport America will host the recovered booster for an additional flight to find hardware limits, paving the way for the first full reuse of a stage during a future launch in 2016. Those tests will determine how many cycles can be put on a stage, while the second successfully recovered booster would provide the role of qualification testing.

Should the recovery efforts progress, the first launch of a reused booster is likely to occur in late 2016. Another major milestone in the reusability path will be a stage returning to land, with the earliest planned attempt – should all testing go to plan ahead of the mission – being the Jason-3 launch in the summer. This would result in the stage returning for a landing at SLC-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (3/20)

Reusable Rocket Systems Eyed For ULA’s Next Generation Launchers (Source: America Space)
Reusable rocket elements will likely be part of the Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) being unveiled by United Launch Alliance (ULA) at the 31st National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs April 13-16.

The NGLS will mark the first major challenge to SpaceX’s reusable Falcon rocket development and could involve the downrange recovery and reuse of engines alone, as opposed to the SpaceX design that uses 30 percent of its propellant load to flyback the entire first stage to the launch site.

The NGLS objective to completely replace the Atlas-V and Delta-IV designs in the coming years is driving the development of three new U.S. liquid rocket engines to serve all the missions envisioned “from LEO to Pluto,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and chief executive officer. (3/20)

Making a Case for Space Exploration (Source: Denver Post)
Last December, the Orion spacecraft was rocketed to orbit on top of a Delta IV launch vehicle. Just a test flight for the spacecraft, it still peaked our interest for a few days, recalling — if feebly — the glory days of Apollo and the moon landings, when we believed humanity was at the beginning of a new adventure, a new chapter in its history.

Sadly, we are far from repeating, much less surpassing, the moon landings. The space enterprise has stalled. As an enthusiast, this state of affairs is deeply frustrating. You see, I believe there are compelling reasons for human expansion into space, reasons that should appeal to us all as individuals and as a society. Three reasons stand out to me. Click here. (3/19)

MDA Kill Assessment Sensors Would Be Commercially Hosted (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is developing an experimental network of space-based sensors that would launch aboard commercial satellites and verify whether incoming missiles have been destroyed by defensive interceptors and no longer pose a threat. The MDA is requesting $22 million next year for the Spacebased Kill Assessment experiment. Initial work on the project has been funded in part using money left over from the Precision Tracking Space System, which the MDA canceled in 2013. (3/20)

India Plans to Launch Fourth Navigation Satellite on March 28 (Source: NDTV)
India is likely to put into orbit its fourth regional navigation satellite on March 28, with the country's space agency now in the process of loading the rocket with the satellite, an official said on Thursday. "The rocket launch is tentatively fixed at 5.19 pm on March 28. However, a final decision will be taken after testing the rocket and the satellite and everything is found sound." (3/20)

SpaceX Frees More Than a Hundred Photos into Public Domain (Source: Guardian)
Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company SpaceX has conceded to pressure to free its images, and released a batch of more than 100 photos under the “copyleft” Creative Commons license. Pictures taken from SpaceX’s rockets are not clearly a “government work”.

The company’s first ever deep-space flight, made in February as it tested its Falcon 9 rocket, was paid for by NASA, as the main object of the launch was more work on the ISS. But the cameras mounted on the rocket, owned and operated by a private company, weren’t part of what was paid for. “Just because they’re operating on behalf of NASA does not necessarily mean the copyright of their images are owned by NASA or the US government."

That fact led many, including Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins, to start campaigning for a change in policy from SpaceX. “A robust and well-documented space program is a major boon for motivating young people to study science,” Higgins wrote. Higgins’s goal has not yet been achieved, but SpaceX has made a big move towards it. The company now operates an official Flickr feed, where a number of photos are uploaded. (3/20)

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