April 14, 2015

Scientists Hold Breath for Comet Lander to Wake (Source: Phys.org)
Europe's comet lander Philae has remained obstinately silent since a new bid was launched to communicate with it, mission chiefs said Tuesday, but chances for contact were improving daily. Philae's orbiting mothership Rosetta reopened communications lines on Sunday to listen for any call from the little robot, project manager Stephan Ulamec said in Vienna. "At the moment the orbiter is in listening mode again," he said. "We are waiting to get a signal, but yesterday and today so far we did not hear anything." (4/15)

U.S. Military Ready to Use More Private Sector Companies in Space (Source: Defense News)
The U.S. military appears ready to engage more services from private-sector space players, officials say. "There is certainly a commercial role in the overall resilience, in the overall strategy going forward as we continue to protect our assets," said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. (4/13)

Terminal Velocity Plans May Drop Test of Space-Return Payload Capsule (Source: SpaceRef)
Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC (TVA) was recently selected by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program (FOP) for demonstration of a small payload return capsule and associated technologies via a high-altitude drop test. Flight test of the prototype capsule will demonstrate mission-enabling communications technologies and verify integrated performance, including functionality of its parachute recovery system. A payload provided by Dr. Abba Zubair of the Mayo Clinic in collaboration with the Center for Applied Space Technology (CAST-ARMM) and Morehead State University will serve as a pathfinder for the test.

The flight test involves release of the capsule from a high-altitude balloon at an altitude of approximately 100,000 feet. Aerodynamic descent of the capsule from this “edge of space” altitude will emulate a large portion of the trajectory of an orbital entry. The high- altitude balloon is operated by FOP-approved flight provider Near Space Corporation (NSC). The balloon launch will take place from NSC facilities in Tillamook, Oregon. The flight test is scheduled for May 2015 as weather allows. (4/15)

Girl Uses 11 Cars to Send Message to Astronaut Dad (Source: Boston.com)
Stephanie, a 13-year-old girl from Houston just wanted to tell her dad she loved him—but there was a catch. Her dad works in outer space as an astronaut. “He has to stay there for long periods of time so he’s gone a lot,” she said in a car commercial.

That’s where Hyundai came in. The car company decided to help the astronaut’s daughter (and advertise the 2015 Hyundai Genesis) by creating a message large enough to be seen from the International Space Station, where Stephanie’s father conducts experiments. Using stunt drivers, Hyundai wrote a 59,808,480.26 square-foot message in the Delmar Dry Lake in Nevada saying “Steph <3’s You.” It broke the Guinness World Record for “largest tire track image.” (4/14)

Rocket Lab's Battery-Powered 3D Printed Engine (Source: Mashable)
The private sector space industry took another step toward revolutionizing the way satellites are constructed and launched on Tuesday, when the U.S. and New Zealand-based company Rocket Lab unveiled a novel rocket engine that will power its Electron Rocket system. The company bills the Rutherford Engine as the first battery-powered rocket engine.

The engine is created through 3D printing and using electric turbo-pumps, according to Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck. Rocket Lab is positioning itself as providing the launch vehicle of choice for companies like Google's SkyBox, PlanetIQ and others who are looking to send large constellations of small, relatively low-cost satellites into space in the next decade.

The Rutherford engine has just under a megawatt of battery power on board, Beck told Mashable in an interview. He says the traditional manufacturing method for a rocket engine takes more than one month to complete, whereas his company, which was founded in 2008, is constructed in just three days using advanced 3D printing techniques. (4/15)

Companies Collaborate on Advanced, Fast In-flight Internet Connectivity System (Source: SpaceRef)
Honeywell, Inmarsat and Kymeta, a company that develops innovative flat-panel antennas for satellite communications, are working together to design, create and test a new, higher-speed Ka-Band wireless antenna for business and commercial aircraft customers around the globe.

The new antenna will have unique and advanced capabilities that will bring faster connectivity and a higher quality broadband service to the aircraft. The smaller and more compact design will allow the antenna to be installed on a wider variety of aircraft, including smaller business aviation aircraft. The flat-panel design is lighter and will reduce weight and drag on the aircraft, in turn reducing fuel and maintenance costs. (4/14)

Cost of Launching Proton Rocket Down $25 Million Over a Year (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia-US project of commercial Proton launches remains profitable. The costs of launching the Proton-M rocket have gone down to $70 million from $95 million over the past twelve months, the chief of the Russian space agency Roscosmos Igor Komarov said. "Whereas one year ago one Proton cost an average $95 million to launch, now the program for reforming the Khrunichev center has reduced the cost to $69-70 million," Komarov said. (4/14)

Russia 'Busts Satellite Spy Ring': Space Commander (Source: AFP)
Russia has uncovered a group of spy satellites, the head of its space command said, warning of "enemy" satellites that could masquerade as space junk. "Very recently, specialists of the department of space intelligence center uncovered a newly created group of space satellites... made for radio-technical reconnaissance of equipment on Russian territory," said the commander of Russian Space Command, Oleg Maidanovich. (4/12)

Virginia Suborbital Launch Rescheduled for April 18 (Source: Space Daily)
The RockSat-X payload being carried into space on a NASA Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket is scheduled for launch between 6:30 and 10 a.m., April 18. The backup days are April 19 - 21. The launch was previously scheduled in March but was postponed because of unacceptable weather for launch and/or payload recovery.

The rocket is carrying experiments developed by undergraduate students from the Universities of Colorado, Northwest Nazarene, Puerto Rico; Nebraska and Virginia Tech. The Visitor Center will open at 5:30 a.m. on launch day for viewing the mission and Ustream coverage on the Wallops site begins at 5:30 a.m. (4/14)

Ariane 5 Launch Delayed for Cable Swap (Source: Space News)
The scheduled April 15 launch of an Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket carrying telecommunications satellites for the French and Italian militaries and commercial operator Telenor has been postponed for about 10 days following a defective cryogenic cable connecting the rocket and the launch pad, launch provider Arianespace said. Arianespace said it would announce a new launch date in the coming days. (4/14)

Airbus Could Build Large Satellites in India (Source: Space News)
Airbus Defence and Space on April 11 said it stands ready to build large telecommunications satellites in India as part of a reinforced presence there being encouraged by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi visited Airbus’ Toulouse, France, production facility April 11 as part of a Franco-Indian summit. He also visited the Toulouse Space Center, which is the largest installation of the French space agency, CNES.

Airbus said after the visit that the company is confident “links with Indian industry in this space sector will grow in the coming years through the cooperation on design and manufacturing of larger telecommunications satellites in India.” (4/13)

Interview: ULA's Tory Bruno (Source: Defense News)
For the last decade, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) has had a monopoly on military space launch under the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle contract. Now the company finds itself at a crossroads, caught between a government cutoff of the Russian-made RD-180 engine used in ULA's Atlas V vehicle and a burst of competition from SpaceX, which expects to be certified to carry military launch missions by June.

To help the company evolve, ULA President Tory Bruno has launched a series of initiatives to lower costs and develop a new vehicle. In a March interview, he laid out how he plans to keep his company competitive for the next 20 years of military space launch. Click here. (4/13)

The Illustrated Guide to SpaceX's Reusable Rocket Launch (Source: Popular Mechanics)
On the video it looks like a rocket launch played on rewind: A slender, fourteen-story aluminum-lithium-alloy tube, engines spouting fire, comes to Earth instead of roaring into space. Then, calamity. The footage from January shows the rocket veering at a too-sharp 45-degree angle, then exploding. That was the fiery end to the initial attempt by SpaceX to land the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket for reuse on an unmanned ship floating in the Atlantic off Florida's coast.

The day was technically not a failure. The second stage of the Falcon 9 delivered its payload to the International Space Station on behalf of NASA. But everyone was far more interested in what happened afterward, with the "autonomous spaceport drone ship" landing, because of what it could mean for the space industry. Click here. (4/14)

Paul Allen Wants Path to Space to Start on World’s Biggest Plane (Source: Bloomberg)
Billionaire Paul Allen sees cheap and convenient spaceflight unlocking a wave of innovation like the personal computing breakthroughs he fostered as a co-founder of Microsoft Corp. The game-changer, he says, is a twin-hulled jet taking shape in California’s Mojave Desert with a 385-foot (117-meter) wingspan that will be the world’s largest aircraft, dwarfing a football field.

Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems is designing the hulking carrier to bypass congested launchpads, climb to 30,000 feet and then drop a rocket whose engines would propel it to low Earth orbit. The price tag, less than $20 million, would be a fraction of what United Launch Alliance and Elon Musk’s Space Technology Exploration Corp. charge for larger rockets.

Vulcan Aerospace is a new unit of Allen’s Vulcan Inc. that will oversee the development of Stratolaunch and usher in what Beames describes in a blogpost as “NextSpace.” Stratolaunch is also studying manned vehicles that would eventually foster space tourism. It hired Sierra Nevada Corp. to do an initial design work-up of a smaller-scaled version of its shuttle-like Dream Chaser transport “to make sure we were on the right trajectory,” Beames said. (4/14)

Virgin Galactic Lands in Long Beach, Unveils Plan to Launch Small Satellites (Source: Entrepreneur)
Virgin Galactic is famous for its out of this world plans to ferry anyone who can afford a ticket into space, but Richard Branson’s commercial spaceflight company is also setting its sights on rocketing something else into orbit -- small satellites.

While the strategic move isn’t nearly as glamorous as shooting stars like Katy Perry and Brangelina into space, it signals a promising entrance into an unfolding “quiet revolution” of transporting compact satellites beyond Earth’s atmosphere, one that the company aims to compete in, mainly from its new industrial plant in Long Beach, Calif.

Last month, the U.S.-based offshoot of Branson’s Virgin Group opened a new manufacturing facility adjacent to the bustling port city’s airport. The step boosts Virgin Galactic's ambitions of gaining a competitive foothold in the burgeoning private small satellite launch industry. Located in a huge hangar, the 150,000-square-foot plant is where local aerospace workers will design and assemble its LauncherOne vehicle. (4/13)

First Launch of Super-Heavy Angara Carrier Rocket to Take Place in 2021 (Source: Sputnik)
The first launch of the Angara super-heavy carrier rocket will take place in 2021, Igor Komarov, the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, said Monday. "The first launch is planned for 2021, while in 2024 we hope for a spacecraft with cosmonauts to dock at the orbital station," Komarov told Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier on Monday, Putin said Russian space experts should study the possibility of launching super-heavy rockets from the Vostochny space center, under construction in Russia's Far East, the launch facilities of which will be needed for the Angara rocket carriers. (4/13)

Mystery of Bright Spots on Ceres Grows (Source: Nature)
Not all of the puzzling bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres are alike. The closest-yet images of the gleams, taken from 45,000 kilometers away, show that at least two of the spots look different from one another when seen in infrared wavelengths. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope spied many of the bright spots years ago, but the observations from NASA's Dawn spacecraft — which began looping around Ceres on 6 March — are the first taken at close range. The images were released on 13 April in Vienna.

Scientists say that the bright spots might be related to ice exposed at the bottom of impact craters or some type of active geological features. The areas glimmer tantalizingly in a new full-colour map of Ceres that was obtained in February, but not released until the conference. The map uses false colours to tease out subtle differences on the otherwise dark surface of Ceres. (4/13)

Dark Matter Mapped at Cosmic Scale (Source: Nature)
Cosmologists have produced an enormous map of the distribution of dark matter in our Universe, tracing the invisible substance by monitoring its gravitational effects on light. The picture, which maps clumps and voids of dark matter in a patch of sky covering around two million galaxies and showing features hundreds of millions of light years across, was presented by Chihway Chang. (4/13)

United Launch Alliance Boldly Names Its Next Rocket: Vulcan! (Source: NBC)
Falcon vs. Vulcan? United Launch Alliance turned to a "Star Trek" favorite, Vulcan, to name its next-generation rocket, which is due for its maiden launch in 2019 with a new breed of U.S.-made engine. The Vulcan is being positioned as the main U.S. rival for SpaceX's Falcon line of rockets.

ULA went with the top choice from an online poll to name what was previously known as the Next Generation Launch System. "As the company currently responsible for more than 70 percent of the nation's space launches, it is only fitting that America got to name the country's rocket of the future," Tory Bruno, ULA's president and CEO, said.

Bruno also unveiled an plan to recover the Vulcan's first-stage booster engines by using a helicopter to capture the heat-shielded, parachute-equipped stage in midair as it descends. The initiative is called Sensible, Modular, Autonomous Return Technology, or SMART. (4/13)

ULA Plans 2019 Debut for Vulcan Rocket (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Vulcan, slated for its maiden launch in 2019, will be powered by either a pair of exotic Blue Origin BE-4 liquefied natural gas main engines for 1.1 million pounds of thrust or two conventional Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-1 kerosene powerplants for a million pounds of thrust. A final decision of which engine to pursue will come next year.

ULA envisions a Vulcan flight rate capable of 10 to 20 flights per year, offering the cost for the entry-level rocket at $100 million. An Atlas 5 today costs $164 million. “Our basic Atlas 401-equivalent in Next Generation Launch System, which will sort of be comparable to a Falcon but with more capability, will be about $100 million per launch service,” Tory Bruno said.

“When we plan our factory and talk about numbers like this, we always assume we are at a minimum of 10 flights per year. That’s where the knee in the curve breaks for economical order quantities coming through our rocket factory.” (4/13)

Vulcan Aerospace Takes Next Step in Space (Source: Vulcan Aerospace)
“What’s next?” Paul Allen asks me this question frequently, pushing me – and the entire Vulcan Inc. team – to think creatively and push the boundaries of possibility. Not just to improve what exists, but to think about what should exist. Today, we’re announcing an innovative new approach to the commercial space industry—Vulcan Aerospace.

His commitment to space continues with Stratolaunch, his commercial space project dedicated to facilitating a shift from the current orbital launch model to a flexible, less expensive model. In 2011, Mr. Allen founded Stratolaunch Systems to challenge the current model of orbital launches and to explore a more flexible and less expensive option. Under the oversight of Vulcan Aerospace, Stratolaunch continues to march toward demonstrating an air launch system capable of transporting payloads to low Earth orbit using a larger carrier aircraft acting as a mobile launch range.

Stratolaunch’s mobile launch range will optimize launch operations and improve flexibility and availability. This new architecture will expand mission and operational flexibility by decoupling launch service from its dependence on traditional ground launch ranges. Our mobile launch range’s non-traditional approach to space access will inspire other ways of utilizing space as a platform for development, collaboration and expansion. The Stratolaunch aircraft is about 80% fabricated and 40% assembled, and is on track for first flight in 2016. (4/13)

NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds Water Below Surface of Mars (Source: Guardian)
Mars has liquid water just below its surface, according to new measurements by NASA’s Curiosity rover. Until now, scientists had thought that conditions on the red planet were too cold and arid for liquid water to exist, although there were known to be deposits of ice.

Prof Andrew Coates, head of planetary science at the Mullard Space, said: “The evidence so far is that any water would be in the form of permafrost. It’s the first time we’ve had evidence of liquid water there now.” The latest findings suggest that Martian soil is damp with liquid brine, due to the presence of a salt that significantly lowers the freezing point of water. When mixed with calcium perchlorate liquid water can exist down to around -70C, and the salt also soaks up water vapour from the atmosphere. (4/13)

Preparing for the Longest, Loneliest Voyage Ever (Source: New Yorker)
A century after an ambitious early Antarctic science expedition, a NASA research consultant named Jack Stuster began examining the records of the trip to glean lessons for another kind of expedition: a three-year journey to Mars and back. “Future space expeditions will resemble sea voyages much more than test flights, which have served as the models for all previous space missions,” Stuster wrote.

“Bold Endeavors,” which was published in 1996 and quickly became a classic in the space program. A California anthropologist, Stuster had helped design U.S. space stations by studying crew productivity in cases of prolonged isolation and confinement: Antarctic research stations, submarines, the Skylab station. Click here. (4/13)

How 3-D Printing Is Going Out of This World (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Dutch television producers chose 100 contestants in February to vie for a one-way trip to Mars. If all goes as advertised, winners might be landing there sometime in 2027. They’ll quickly need permanent shelter. The nearest Home Depot will be 140 million miles away. The only readily available construction material on Mars is sand.

That might be all they need if a plan by Niki Werkheiser and her engineering team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center works out. They are experimenting with a 3-D printer that would make bricks suitable for airtight buildings and radiation-proof shelters using the grit that blows across Mars’s red surface. Click here. (4/12)

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