April 8, 2015

NASA Selects Proposals for Ultra-Lightweight Materials for Mars and Beyond (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected three proposals to develop and manufacture ultra-lightweight (ULW) materials for future aerospace vehicles and structures. The proposals will mature advanced technologies that will enable NASA to reduce the mass of spacecraft by 40 percent for deep space exploration. Click here. (4/7)

Blue Origin Plans To Start Suborbital Flight Test This Year (Source: Aviation Week)
Blue Origin has completed acceptance flight tests of its cryogenic BE-3 deep-throttle engine, and plans to begin autonomous flight tests with the reusable New Shepard suborbital human spacecraft it will power later this year. Rob Meyerson, president of the secretive company bankrolled by Amazon.com found Jeff Bezos, said “we’re probably a few years away from selling tickets” on New Shepard, but the completion of acceptance testing was a big hurdle to clear.

The 110,000-lb.-thrust engine can be throttled down to 20,000 lb. thrust for a vertical landing, Meyerson said. New Shepard testing at the company’s facility in West Texas will begin in autonomous mode, with Blue Origin crew eventually occupying the vehicle’s three seats for the initial push to 100 km – the traditional altitude where space is said to begin. Ultimately paying passengers will fly from the Blue Origin site in Van Horn, Texas, either for tourism or research. (4/7)

Ball Protests JPSS Award to Orbital ATK (Source: Space News)
Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. is challenging NASA’s surprise award of a contract to build the next three U.S. civilian weather satellites to rival Orbital ATK, a Ball official said. Colorado-based Ball is building the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellite, scheduled for launch in 2017, and built a similar satellite now in operation. As such it was considered the odds-on favorite to win the follow-on contract. (4/7)

Space Launch System to Boost Science with Secondary Payloads (Source: Space Daily)
When NASA's new Space Launch System (SLS) launches on its first flight, it will be doing some serious multi-tasking. Not only will Exploration Mission-1 test the performance of SLS and its integration with the Orion spacecraft - the agency plans to use its massive lift capability to carry nearly a dozen nano-satellites to conduct science experiments beyond low Earth orbit.

NASA's newest rocket will launch Orion on an uncrewed test flight to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon. Tucked inside the stage adapter - the ring connecting Orion to the top propulsion stage of the SLS - will be 11 self-contained small satellites, each about the size of a large shoebox. (4/8)

Seven Surprising Things We Spend More on Than Space Exploration (Source: Vox)
Read enough about space exploration and you detect a common theme: the universe contains all sorts of wonders, but we don't have enough money to properly explore them. We've discovered liquid oceans on several different moons in our solar system, but cuts to NASA's planetary science budge mean we won't be sending probes to them for at least a decade.

Congress has directed NASA to develop the biggest rocket ever, but it's unclear whether there will be money to actually use it once it's finished. It doesn't have to be this way. The price tags for NASA and its various programs might sound big, but put into context they're fairly modest. Here, inspired by the excellent blog Things That Cost More Than Space, are some of the things we routinely spend much more public money on. Click here. (3/24)

The Race to Commercial Space Travel (Source: AFM)
The prospects of commercial space travel were greatly publicised by Virgin Galactic as it prepared to take members of the public (albeit only the very wealthy) on its first commercial sub-orbital flight. We saw images of the spacecraft, heard what the journey might entail, but also bore witness to the fatal crash of SpaceShipTwo. Click here. (4/7)

What to Do With the Final Delta 2 Rocket? (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
With the payload matching game showing no prospects, the final Delta 2 rocket could be headed to the Smithsonian or another museum instead of space. The United Launch Alliance vehicle has flown 153 times since 1989, accumulating 151 successes and currently rides a string of 98 consecutive flawless missions.

Only three vehicles remain in inventory, with NASA the customer for two of them to launch the JPSS 1 weather satellite in 2016 and the ICESat 2 environmental spacecraft in 2017, both from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That leaves one rocket up for grabs, but no one appears to have a payload in the class range of the Delta 2 from the sole remaining launch site to polar orbit interested in purchasing the ride.

Editor's Note: I'm sure the KSC Visitor Complex would be thrilled to add this rocket to their "rocket garden." They could build a promotional campaign around it, using money appropriated by the state to boost space-related tourism. (4/8)

Mars Has Belts of Glaciers of Frozen Water (Source: Phys.org)
Mars has distinct polar ice caps, but Mars also has belts of glaciers at its central latitudes in both the southern and northern hemispheres. A thick layer of dust covers the glaciers, so they appear as surface of the ground, but radar measurements show that underneath the dust there are glaciers composed of frozen water.

New studies have now calculated the size of the glaciers and thus the amount of water in the glaciers. It is the equivalent of all of Mars being covered by more than one meter of ice. The results are published in the scientific journal, Geophysical Research Letters. Several satellites orbit Mars and on satellite images, researchers have been able to observe the shape of glaciers just below the surface.

For a long time scientists did not know if the ice was made of frozen water (H2O) or of carbon dioxide (CO2) or whether it was mud. Using radar measurements from the NASA satellite, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers have been able to determine that is water ice. But how thick was the ice and do they resemble glaciers on Earth? (4/7)
Orbital ATK Signs $90 Million Contract for Orion Launch Abort Motor (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Orbital ATK has signed a $90 million contract with Lockheed Martin to provide the Attitude Control Motor (ACM) for Orion’s Launch Abort System (LAS). The LAS enables the astronaut crew to safely escape in the event of an emergency during launch, as the capsule is jettisoned away from the launch vehicle. The ACM provides the steering controls to the LAS, using a solid propellant gas generator with eight proportional valves equally spaced around its 3-foot diameter. (4/7)

Volusia, Brevard Compete for Space-Related Manufacturer (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
A proposal to develop an aerospace manufacturing plant on the south side of this tiny fishing community has put many of the town’s 1,800 residents on edge, with debate and mystery swirling around the proposal that economic development officials are trying to convince them to support. The project faces challenges from the state and environmental groups, and late last week, Volusia County officials heard the developer looking at an Oak Hill site might be favoring a site on federal property at Cape Canaveral instead.

“I’ve heard it’s dead,” said County Chair Jason Davis on Saturday. “I heard they’re going to Brevard, but I haven’t got any facts.” A source familiar with the project said Saturday, however, that both Oak Hill and a site in Brevard County are now being considered. County Councilwoman Deb Denys also said Saturday that economic development officials are still working with a consultant and still moving forward with getting the Oak Hill site approved.

Davis said county officials are all “on board.” “I want something to go on down there in Oak Hill,” he said. “It’s a nice community, but it needs a shot in the arm.” Supporters would agree. Local officials who have met with Sharples or the consultant say the facility would make parts for rocket boosters to support commercial spaceflight operations at or near Kennedy Space Center. The company is reportedly looking for several potential development sites in several Southeastern states. (4/6)

Signs of Alien Life Will Be Found by 2025, NASA's Chief Scientist Predicts (Source: Space.com)
Humanity is on the verge of discovering alien life, high-ranking NASA scientists say. "I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years," NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan said Tuesday (April 7) during a panel discussion that focused on the space agency's efforts to search for habitable worlds and alien life. (4/7)

Internships Available at Florida's Space Life Sciences Lab (Source: FSGC)
The NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium (FSGC) and Space Florida (SF) are partnering in a STEM Internship Program at the Space Life Sciences Laboratory (SLSL), Exploration Park at KSC, during summer 2015.  FSGC will act as the Lead in this program and will have final decision on the selection of potential STEM mentors and interns.  The 2015 program will comprise 2 SLSL internships of 10 weeks duration.

The 2015 internship program will commence on June 1, and conclude on August 7, 2015. This will be a paid internship of $5,000 for the 10-week program. The goal of the Internship program will be to train and recruit Florida science/engineering students (US citizens only) into the aerospace & aviation workforce as future employees, while encouraging further study and academic achievement. Click here. (4/7)

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