June 17, 2015

Avio Launches New Identity in Space (Source: Flight Global)
Rocket propulsion specialist Avio launched events at the Paris air show with an early-morning unveiling of a fresh corporate identity to mark its new era as an independent business. When GE Aviation bought the aircraft engines part of Turin-based Avio Aero for $4.3 billion in August 2013, the American jets giant wasn't interested in the space business. So, Avio space remained with venture capital owner Cinven, with a 14% minority stake still held by Italian aerospace group Finmeccanica.

As a small company – 700 employees and 2014 turnover of €220 million – Avio has “a challenging future”, says Lasagni. Avio makes the solid rocket boosters for Europe's Ariane 5 heavy launcher, and is also prime contractor for the lighter Vega launcher, evolutions of whose main stages will double as the solid boosters for the modular Ariane 6, which will replace Ariane 5 from 2020. So now, he says, Avio stands for “Advanced Vision Into Orbit”. (6/17)

Pentagon Seeks Repeal of Russian Rocket Ban (Source: Washington Times)
The Pentagon has officially said it would face “significant challenges” to ensuring military and intelligence access to space if Congress doesn’t loosen restrictions on the use of Russian rocket engines, but top lawmakers aren’t buying that and are accusing the military of slow-walking.

The ongoing dispute between the Pentagon and Congress reached a new phase last month when Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sent a three-paragraph letter to senior Congressional lawmakers. (6/17)

Canada Seeks to Grow Space Capabilities (Source: SpaceRef)
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has released an announcement of opportunity (AO) for the Space Technology Development Program for Industrial Capability Building Contribution. According to the AO the "the aim of increasing the commercial potential of Canadian space companies to secure its fair share of the New Space Economy. " Technology themes eligible are Robotics, Optics, Satellite Communications, and Space-based Radar. Mission concept studies are not eligible.

The AO is open only to for-profit companies established and operating in Canada, though not-for-profits and universities can be subcontractors. A total of $10 million is available with funding ranging from $200,000 to $2 million per project. The deadline to apply is August 7, 2015 and the project can run no more than 36 months. (6/9)

China's Hypersonic Craft Worries Pentagon (Source: Space Daily)
China's new hypersonic weaponry may have the potential to neutralize US strategic missile defenses due to its unparalleled capability of maneuvering to avoid tracking by radars and interceptors, military expert Franz-Stefan Gady emphasized. Beijing has recently conducted a fourth test of its hypersonic glider vehicle (HGV), called WU-14 by the Pentagon.

It is purportedly aimed at overcoming US missile defense; the distinguishing feature of this test is that the WU-14 has performed so-called "extreme maneuvers," US expert in civil-military relations and cyber diplomacy Franz-Stefan Gady elaborated. The WU-14, which is capable of delivering either conventional or nuclear warheads, was launched into space by an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) booster, and then returned to Earth's atmosphere, gliding at up to Mach 10 speed (around 7,680 miles per hour).

During the gliding phase the WU-14 HGV is conducting "extreme maneuvers" in order to evade interception and at the same time extending the range of the missile. Unlike conventional "reentry vehicles" which go down through the atmosphere "on a predictable ballistic trajectory," a hypersonic glider is virtually impossible to intercept by conventional missile defense systems, the expert explained. (6/16)

Spaceflight Industries Spinoff Promises ‘Hourly’ Earth Images (Source: Aviation Week)
A new spinoff from a longtime space-commercialization venture says it will launch the first two Pathfinder smallsats later this year, in what it plans as a 60-satellite constellation able to deliver 1-meter imagery of much of the planet within a couple of hours of receiving an order over the Internet. BlackSky Global, a unit of Spaceflight Industries, which started out in 1999 as Andrews Space Inc., has booked a piggyback ride on a commercial SpaceX orbital mission to position its first two satellites. (6/17)

NASA's Dawn Probe Focuses on a Different Mystery Spot on Ceres (Source: NBC)
Now here's a spot of a different color: The latest picture released by the science team for NASA's Dawn mission shows a bright patch on the dwarf planet Ceres that's distinct from the eerie "alien headlights" seen in other imagery.

The best-known collection of bright spots on Ceres is known as "Spot 5," and the best guess is that those spots are made of ice deposits — although scientists haven't completely ruled out the possibility that they're made of salt or some other light-colored material. Click here. (6/17)

Secret Glue-Filled Satellite: Sticky Answer to Space Debris Threat? (Source: CNN)
Scientists have puzzled for years over how to clean up space debris. Now Singapore-based Astroscale says it has found the answer: glue. And not just any glue, but a secret recipe substance which works even in space, where, it says, many traditional adhesives do not. The company plans to send the fixative into space on board a two-part satellite, the prototype of which is scheduled for launch in 2017.

Astroscale's ADRAS-1 mission is designed to "tidy up" space, clearing away medium to large pieces of junk using a two-part satellite, made up of a carrier -- nicknamed "Mother" -- and a catcher, named "Boy," tucked inside.

"The 'Boy' is kept inside the 'Mother' until the right moment," explains Yasu Yamazaki, Astroscale's marketing manager. "The mothership decides where it needs to be, it seeks out the debris and goes around and around it, and decides when to deploy the 'Boy.' "The 'Boy' sticks to the debris, and uses its solid fuel thruster to slow down its velocity, forcing it to fall down into the atmosphere, where it burns up." (6/17)

Senators Favor Earth Science, Exploration; Cut Space Tech, Commercial Crew (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Senate Appropriations Committee publicly released its report today on the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that it marked up last week. Some of the winners and losers were clear already, but the report illustrates less obvious changes resulting, in part, from the committee shifting programs from one account to another.

One example is NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). NASA's request was $725 million.  The Senate committee cut that to $600 million, but it also shifted the Restore-L satellite servicing project from the Space Operations account into Space Technology and specified $150 million for that program alone. So in addition to cutting the total for space technology activities, a substantial amount is earmarked for a specific project that was not part of that request. Click here. (6/17)

A First: Exoplanet Smaller than Earth Gets its Size and Mass Measured (Source: PSU)
A team of astronomers has measured the mass and size of the smallest exoplanet yet, a Mars-sized planet orbiting a red dwarf star about 200 light years from our solar system. The team, which includes astronomers at Penn State University, NASA Ames Research Center, the SETI Institute, and the University of Chicago, describes the achievement in a paper that will be published in the journal Nature on 18 June 2015.

The planet, named Kepler-138 b, is the first exoplanet smaller than the Earth to have both its mass and its size measured. It is one of three planets that orbit the star Kepler-138 and that pass in front of it on every orbit as viewed from Earth — a maneuver that astronomers call a transit. “Each time a planet transits the star, it blocks a small fraction of the star’s light, allowing us to measure the size of the planet,” said Dr. Daniel Jontof-Hutter, a research associate in astronomy at Penn State who led the study. (6/17)

Scientists Find Methane in Mars Meteorites (Source: Yale News)
An international team of researchers has discovered traces of methane in Martian meteorites, a possible clue in the search for life on the Red Planet. The researchers examined samples from six meteorites of volcanic rock that originated on Mars. The meteorites contain gases in the same proportion and with the same isotopic composition as the Martian atmosphere.

All six samples also contained methane, which was measured by crushing the rocks and running the emerging gas through a mass spectrometer. The team also examined two non-Martian meteorites, which contained lesser amounts of methane. The discovery hints at the possibility that methane could be used as a food source by rudimentary forms of life beneath the Martian surface. On Earth, microbes do this in a range of environments. (6/16)

Communicating with Hypersonic Vehicles in Flight (Source: AIP)
Near the end of the movie Apollo 13, which depicts the harrowing journey of the three astronauts aboard the aborted 1970 lunar mission, the tension mounts in textbook fashion. As the spacecraft hurdles into Earth's atmosphere it is encircled by hot ionized air that cuts off communications with NASA Mission Control in Houston. Each second that the flight controllers' calls for contact remain unanswered is torturously stretched.

This was not just creative license taken by a Hollywood production team. Apollo 13's communication blackout was more than a minute longer than expected, which added to the suspense, but even routine communications blackouts can create moments of anxiety, as there is no way to know or control the location and state of the spacecraft from the ground. "When a re-entry vehicle is unable to be connected, the only thing you can do is pray for it," said Xiaotian Gao, a physicist at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China.

Communication blackouts with hypersonic vehicles occur because as the craft zips along at five or more times the speed of sound, an envelope of hot ionized air, called a plasma sheath, surrounds it. This plasma sheath will reflect electromagnetic signals under most conditions, cutting off connection with anything outside of the vehicle. However, under certain special conditions, a plasma sheath can actually enhance the radiation from a communication antenna. (6/16)

General: STRATCOM Must Be Warfighters, Not FAA In Space (Source: Breaking Defense)
The US military spends too much time acting as the FAA of space and not enough watching for potential threats, the deputy chief of Strategic Command said today. That has to change as outer space becomes increasingly contested and increasingly intertwined with cyberspace, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski told a Peter Huessy breakfast here.

“How do we envision the Joint Space Operations Center in the future if we’re going to be in an environment where we [must] assume space is under threat?” Kowalski asked. “Today if we have a problem with a communications satellite, we immediately turn to the engineers and [ask], ‘hey, what’s broken on the satellite?’ We need to be in a mindset that we have to first rule out that that satellite was under some kind of attack.”

“That’s really not what we’re at,” Kowalski continued. “We spend a lot of time doing catalog and tracking and collision avoidance kind of things,” he said. “If you think about who does that in the airspace, it’s probably not military, it’s a civilian agency,” such as the Federal Aviation Administration. “We need to revisit how we’ve allocated military personnel to what may not be really a military mission.” There isn’t a space equivalent of ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, but maybe there should be, Kowalski said. (6/16)

Strategic Command Envisions Civil Space Traffic Management (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Defense Department, the White House and Congress should consider giving civilians, rather than military personnel, responsibility for preventing collisions in space, a top officer with U.S. Strategic Command said. Currently, military personnel at the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force base in California are responsible for space traffic management, providing services including orbital object tracking and collision avoidance warnings.

The notion of making space traffic management a civilian responsibility is driven in part by the long-term budget outlook. “As we face budget cuts, as we face personnel cuts … doing air traffic control in space may not be the best use of” military space operators, Kowalski said. “If the answer is ‘we want you to keep doing this for the decade or more,’ then we’ll keep doing it but there may be other things we can’t do.” (6/16)

'Floating Cloud' Could Replace Mirrors on Future Space Telescopes (Source: Space.com)
Using clouds of glitter to reflect light could be a way of reducing the weight of future space telescopes, scientists say. The technology, called Orbiting Rainbows, would cause particles to behave like a floating mirror, which would be much less heavy than the solid mirror typically placed in a telescope.

Since the "mirror" would weigh less, it would require less fuel to send telescopes that are equipped with the technology into orbit, thus reducing the cost. "It's a floating cloud that acts as a mirror," said principal investigator Marco Quadrelli, who is with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "There is no backing structure, no steel around it, no hinges; just a cloud." (6/16)

Senate Bill Partially Funds Next-Gen JPSS Satellites (Source: Space News)
Just over a week after the House stiffed the program entirely, Senate appropriators proposed providing less than half the funding requested in 2016 for the next generation of U.S. polar-orbiting weather satellites.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on June 11 approved a $5.4 billion budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including $135 million for the final three satellites in the weather agency’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) line: JPSS-3, JPSS-4, and a small polar-orbiter to back up the larger spacecraft. (6/16)

UAE Space Exploration Deal with Moscow Finalized (Source: Arab News)
The Council of Ministers, chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, decided on Monday to sign an agreement with Russia for cooperation in space exploration for peaceful purposes. The Cabinet authorized the president of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology to hold talks with the Russian side to sign a draft memorandum of joint intent between KACST and the Russian Space Agency. (6/16)

UAE Seeks Indian Expertise for Its Mars Exploration (Source: New Indian Express)
The United Arab Emirates has approached the Indian Space Research Organisation to launch its Mars mission in 2020, the government said on Monday. The discussion in this regard is on. This comes as the ISRO basks in the glory of the country’s successful Mars Orbiter Mission at a budget of Rs 450 crore. (6/16)

U.S. and France Agree to Share Commercial Space Transportation R&D Activities (Source: FAA)
FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta and French National Space Agency (CNES) President Jean-Yves Le Gall have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) to cooperate on research and development related to the safety of private sector orbital space launches and re-entry activities. The research-related, non-binding arrangement between France and the U.S. is the first of its kind covering research into commercial orbital space operations.

The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation is in charge of regulating and overseeing the safety of the U.S. commercial space transportation industry.  Today’s arrangement is strictly related to current activities that both the French and United States governments are involved with relating to orbital launches and spacecraft re-entries. (6/16)

Mikulski Aims to Fund Maryland Jobs at Virginia Spaceport (Source: WMDT)
Senator Barbara Mikulski announced this past week she plans to invest another $7 million dollars of the federal budget to the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility's twenty first Century launch complex. Although the facility is in Virginia, Mikulski said the NASA facility provides more than 1,500 jobs to Marylanders.

"In Maryland, science is jobs. Scientific innovation creates jobs and economic growth through innovative products and new businesses" Mikulski said. "At Space Port Wallops, we see a close partnership between federal and state agencies along with the private sector working together to create jobs today and jobs tomorrow." (6/16)

September Test for India's Cheap, Reusable Space Shuttle (Source: Deccan Herald)
India is all set for the maiden flight of its indigenously-developed space shuttle that could slash the cost of putting a satellite in space by a drastic 90 percent. The technological demonstration flight of the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) is scheduled for September at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, Indian Space Research Organization Chairman A S Kiran Kumar told reporters here.

In its maiden flight, the vehicle is expected to travel to an altitude of 100 km at five times the speed of sound—nearly 6,000 km per hour—and release the payload, he said, adding that the rocket would then be made to land in the sea. (6/16)

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