April 15, 2015

Subtly Shifted Star Could Force Rethink of Dark Matter (Source: Science)
For decades, astrophysicists have thought that some sort of mysterious dark matter must provide most of the gravity that glues galaxies together. For nearly as long, scientists have tried to spot the stuff interacting with ordinary matter in some other way—say, by looking for particles of it bouncing off atomic nuclei.

Now, a team of astronomers reports a potential sign of dark matter interacting—although not with ordinary matter, but with itself. If it holds up, that interpretation would require a major rethink of astrophysics and cosmology. But more prosaic explanations are possible, others caution. Click here. (4/14)

Which is the Better Approach to Rocket Engine Reuse (Source: SPACErePORT)
SpaceX and ULA now are both planning to reuse their first-stage Falcon and Vulcan engines. SpaceX will fly their first stages for a soft landing on a waiting barge or a spaceport-based landing site. ULA will parachute its engines for a mid-air snatch with a helicopter. Each approach has unique challenges. Which will be more effective?

Both approaches add complexity to the launch preparation and approval process. Conditions required for launching are not the same for landing/retrieval, so more launch scrubs are likely (unless recovery is an option easily dismissed). At first glance, SpaceX's approach may seem more prone to failure due to hard landings, flight accuracy and barge stability. ULA's approach is based on a proven air-snatch capability, but it requires some challenging unproven engine-separation and inflatable heat-shield technologies.

Can ULA's helicopter loiter long enough and close enough during lengthy launch windows? Will SpaceX be able to fly its first stages all the way back to the spaceport? With nine engines per stage to re-use, SpaceX seems to have more to gain from the fly-back concept. ULA's Vulcan might benefit less with only two engines recovered from each mission (the company claims, however, that these engines represent 65% of the total booster cost). (4/15)

Falcon Launch Was First in LISC Era (Source: Space News)
SpaceX’s April 14 launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport marked the first launch from a U.S. Air Force range since a Raytheon-led team took over launch range support duties earlier in April. In November, the Air Force awarded the industry team dubbed Range Generation Next LLC a contract potentially worth $2 billion to support the service’s two main launch ranges.

LISC — short for Launch and Test Range System Integrated Support Contract — consolidates three contracts that previously supported Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The 10-year effort is part of a broad strategy by the Air Force to consolidate many of its ground support contracts as operating budgets shrink and the possibility of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration lingers. (4/15)

Alaska's Kodiak Spaceport is Now the "Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska" (PSCA) (Source: KTVA)
The Kodiak Launch Complex has a new moniker, one its owners say more accurately reflects the complex’s commitment to the entire Pacific region. Alaska Aerospace Corporation announced the new name for the complex Tuesday: Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA).

“The Pacific Spaceport Complex provides launch services throughout the region, as well as from our traditional home in Alaska,” wrote AAC President and CEO Craig Campbell in a statement. “We are ready and willing to serve customers to meet their polar orbit and certain equatorial orbit needs beyond the fixed location in Kodiak.”

Editor's Note: "Equatorial orbit needs beyond the fixed location in Kodiak"? Maybe they plan to offer their mobile launch range capability for use by air-launch systems or at other spaceports. (4/14)

Spaceport America Awaits Successful Falcon Landing to Host Further Tests (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Spaceport America will likely keep waiting for SpaceX to begin testing a reusable rocket in New Mexico after the company’s Falcon 9 didn’t survive its landing Tuesday on a seafaring “droneship.” The company tested technology that could eventually bring its Falcon 9 rocket back down to Earth safely onto a floating landing pad — technology it plans to refine at New Mexico’s Spaceport America once it’s able to recover the rocket.

SpaceX has constructed a $2 million vertical launch pad and support facilities at Spaceport America and plans to test its Falcon 9 there, Christine Anderson said. “They have already built a facility with us,” she said. “We’re anxious to have them.” (4/15)

Cabana: Obama's Space-Center Vision On Track (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
[Orion's test flight] was a big step for a re-energized space program. It is helping us open a new era, meeting the president's challenge to the agency five years ago this month. On April 15, 2010, he announced his vision for NASA from the historic high bay of what now is the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center.

"By 2025, we expect [a] new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space," the president said. "We'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow."

Here at the Kennedy Space Center, we are well on our way. We are continuing to help develop the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System rocket and exploration ground systems that will one day send astronauts on those trips beyond low-Earth orbit. ... Our future is now. Today, the Kennedy Space Center has become a 21st-century, multi-user spaceport regularly launching to low-Earth orbit and beyond. (4/15)

KSC's 'Swamp Works' Lab Boosts R&D at Spaceport (Source: MyFox Orlando)
In a small corner of the Kennedy Space Center where astronauts once trained for missions to the moon, a group of 20 NASA scientists and engineers work in a new lab, with old school style. "In a couple of days we made an asteroid boulder for pretty cheap" says Jack Fox the director of NASA's Swamp Works Innovation Lab at KSC.

Fox says the over arching theme of the lab is coming up with ways to detect, extract, and use resources in space. That's important technology NASA needs to develop for its stated goal of sending astronauts to Mars. Fox says many of the 30 projects his team is working on may one day give future space explorers the tools to survive on another planet. Click here. (4/15)

SpaceX Launches Dragon Cargo Mission, Comes Close to Barge Landing (Source: Space News)
After a one-day delay due to weather, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft on a mission to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, but the rocket’s first stage failed to survive a hard landing on a ship. Meanwhile, during an interview before Tuesday’s launch and failed landing attempt, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said that the first attempt to put the Falcon 9 booster down on a land-based platform could come as early as this summer. Click here for the video. (4/14)

Four-State Aerospace Alliance Meets at Embry-Riddle in Florida (Source: Aerospace Alliance)
Leaders in the aerospace industry will not want to miss the 2015 Aerospace Alliance Spring Summit featuring dynamic presentations from aviation and aerospace CEOs to the leading minds who study this critical industry sector. Get a glimpse into what is predicted for the industry in upcoming years and how the communities in which these companies reside can support growth.

The Aerospace Alliance is a four state partnership aimed at establishing the Southeast region as a world-class aerospace, space, and aviation corridor. The members include business leaders, economic development professionals and government officials from the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. Click here. (4/14)

Turbopump Flaw Blamed for Antares Launch Failure (Source: Space News)
A report on the October failure of an Antares launch vehicle is due to be delivered to the Federal Aviation Administration within days, with a problem in an engine turbopump identified as the most likely cause of the failure, an Orbital ATK executive said Tuesday.

Ronald Grabe, president of the company’s flight systems group, said that an Orbital-led investigation into the Oct. 28 failure concluded there was “excessive bearing wear” in the turbopump of one of the two AJ-26 engines in the Antares first stage. That bearing wear causes rotating and stationary parts of the turbopump to come into contact, which in turn caused the failure of the turbopump and the engine itself. (4/14)

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