March 31, 2015

Coming Soon: Interplanetary Broadband (Source: Air & Space)
Next year, when NASA chooses a new Discovery-class planetary mission for a scheduled launch in 2021, the agency also hopes to introduce a new and potentially revolutionary technology: laser communications. Proposers who include that capability in their mission design will get an additional $30 million to develop the technology.

Optical communications, as it’s called, will boost data transmission rates—and hence the amount of information returned by planetary spacecraft—by orders of magnitude. “We have not been bringing most of the science data back,” says Donald Cornwell, who managed a laser communication experiment that ran on NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft in 2013. “Something on the order of 90 percent of it is left there.” (3/30)

Shelby Talks NASA, Military Funding in Huntsville (Source: WHNT)
Hundreds of business and community leaders from across the Tennessee Valley gathered at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville Monday morning, for a breakfast meeting with US Senator Richard Shelby. The visit, hosted by the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, is the latest stop on Shelby’s statewide tour.

Despite sequestration, the senior senator from Alabama said he thinks the Republican majority in Congress will be able to increase military spending. Shelby, who serves on the defense appropriations subcommittee, added, “I believe Huntsville is going to be fine. You’re on the cutting edge of technology that funds so many things that are important to our military and national security.”

As far as funding for NASA and Marshall Space Flight Center, Shelby said, “I believe at the end of the day that Marshall, which plays a real important role in NASA, will be funded well, just like it was last year.” (3/30)

Bolden Says Russia May Want To Cooperate With China (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said March 30 that remarks interpreted by some as suggesting he and Igor Komarov, the new head of the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos, discussed building a joint follow-on to the International Space Station in reality probably meant Russia may support adding China and other “nontraditional” nations to future human spaceflight cooperation.

Bolden stressed that NASA is “the only federal agency with a congressional prohibition against bilateral activities with China,” and said he and Komarov did not discuss future cooperation with the only other nation that has launched humans into space. (3/30)

Russia Borderline Desperate For Chinese Money (Source: Forbes)
Russian Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseyev said Sunday that Russia will allow Chinese banks to work with Russian companies deemed “strategically important” even if the bank falls below the government’s criteria of a healthy bank. Moiseyev said that Chinese banks wanted to become lenders to Russian state owned enterprises but were closed off from the market due to their capital levels being inadequate. (3/30)

China Launches Upgraded Satellite for SatNav System (Source: Xinhua)
A Long March-3C rocket carrying a new-generation satellite for the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province on March 30. China launched a new-generation satellite into space for its indigenous global navigation and positioning network. It is the 17th satellite for the BDS. The launch marked the beginning of expanding the regional BDS to global coverage. (3/30)

Long March 3C in Secretive Launch with New Upper Stage (Source:
The Chinese opened their 2015 campaign with the launch of a Long March 3C with the first of a new generation of navigation satellites. This mission was also the first flight of the Long March-3C/YZ-1 (Chang Zheng-3C/YZ-1) version of the Long March-3C. The Long March-3C was developed to fill the gap between the Long March-3A and the Long March-3B, having a payload capacity of 3,800 kg for GTO or 9,100 kg for LEO. This is a three stage launch vehicle identical to the CZ-3B but only using two of the strap-on boosters on its first stage. (3/30)

Will Space Play in the 2016 US Election? (Source: Universe Today)
It might be only March of 2015, but the race is on to be the next president of the United States. Only 589 days to go! It’s a race that some believe will cost the nation upwards of $5 billion; that’s about 7.5 Mars missions for those of you out there counting. The campaign, though, is more than just a vehicle for terrible campaign ads and embarrassing debate gaffes; it’s also one of the few opportunities for the country to have a discussion about its  national priorities in the coming years. So, what are the chances that the exploration of space will be in that discussion? Click here. (3/30)

Why is Mercury So Dark? (Source: Science)
Mercury’s bleak, airless surface is similar to the moon’s, so scientists have long been puzzled why the planet reflects so much less light than our lunar satellite. On average, material blasted across Mercury’s surface by relatively recent impacts of comets, asteroids, and other small bodies reflects only two-thirds as much light as freshly excavated material on the moon, previous studies have shown.

One of the prime explanations for this low reflectivity—an abundance of minerals including the element iron, which strongly absorb certain wavelengths of light falling upon them—doesn’t fit in this instance, researchers say. Now, a team suggests the blame lies with another element entirely—carbon. Comets, which by some estimates are about 18% carbon by weight, are a major source of the element. But a much larger source may be a persistent pummeling by tiny carbon-rich meteorites, which stem from cometary dust among other sources. (3/30)

Northrop Grumman Expands Focus on Airborne, Space ISR Business (Source: Northrop Grumman)
Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems sector has announced the realignment of its Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting Systems division (ISRTSD) to expand focus on its growing airborne and space ISR business. The former ISRTSD is being reorganized into two separate divisions: Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance and Targeting Systems; and Space Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Systems. (3/30)

Mysterious Mini Spaceplane the Next Atlas 5 Payload (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
With its new homeport in renovated NASA space shuttle hangars off in the distance, the Air Force’s X-37 mini spaceplane will be launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on May 6 for its fourth journey into orbit. The Orbital Test Vehicle will be the primary payload aboard the next United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, the 54th Atlas 5 and ULA’s 96th mission overall. (3/30)

Why the U.S. Gave Up on the Moon (Source: Space News)
Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.

What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit). What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject? Click here. (3/30)

Two Earth-Sized Exoplanets May Exist in Closest Star System (Source: America Space)
The closest star system to our own Sun may have two Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting it, a new study has shown based on observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. If confirmed, the discovery would help to illustrate just how common exoplanets are; data from Kepler and other telescopes has also already shown that the vast majority of stars have exoplanets orbiting them, and the number of exoplanets in our galaxy alone is now thought to number in the billions. (3/30)

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