July 16, 2015

Lost in Space (Source: Washington Examiner)
This year is a banner year for marking anniversaries of achievements in space. The first walk in space was 50 years ago in March, and 40 years ago this month, the Apollo-Soyuz mission brought two Cold War adversaries together. We can look back with pride on our achievements in space, but we should look ahead with concern for the uncertain future of America's human spaceflight program.

We should have a policy built on past activities and on a vision that doesn't change as administrations come and go. But we don't have one. Click here. (7/15)

Lawmakers Updated on Spaceport America’s Fnancial Outlook (Source: Santa Fe New Mexican)
The head of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority told a powerful legislative committee on Wednesday she’s hopeful Virgin Galactic will begin commercial flights next summer, a key to ensuring the financial viability of Spaceport America. Questions about when anchor tenant Virgin Galactic will launch have been swirling for years. The company originally had its sights set on 2010 but has suffered numerous setbacks, including a deadly accident last year that destroyed its rocket ship.

Lawmakers pressed Christine Anderson, the spaceport’s executive director, for answers during a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee in Alamogordo. “Our assumption is that they wouldn’t begin commercial flights with passengers until July 2016,” Anderson said in an interview. “That’s just an assumption. It doesn’t mean I know any more than anyone else, but it means that I had to base my budget on something.”

The taxpayer-financed Spaceport America had ramped up operations in anticipation of launches this year, but activity stalled as a result of the Virgin Galactic mishap, as well as crashes of rockets belonging to SpaceX and Armadillo Aerospace. That has left the spaceport scrambling for revenue. Spaceport America survived last year on balances from past revenue, but legislative analysts say those balances have run out. The spaceport did receive some general funds during the 2015 legislative session, but officials say another $1.2 million might be needed to avoid a shortfall during this fiscal year. (7/15)

Georgia Spaceport Recruits Former XCOR Exec to Assist (Source: Brunswick News)
Camden County has added a new member to the team tasked with establishing a commercial spaceport at a vacant industrial site 10 miles east of Interstate 95. Andrew Nelson has been hired as a consultant to help the county through the complicated regulatory process to be approved as a spaceport. Nelson has more than 25 years of aerospace experience as an engineer, aviation regulatory specialist and corporate strategist.

His role, through a professional services agreement, is to assist Camden County Administrator Steve Howard and the county commission in spaceport development activities. He will help the county with an ongoing study that will lead to a favorable environmental impact statement. Nelson’s background includes working with the commercial space sector and local governments to create and operate spaceports. In 2008 he was named chief operating officer and vice president of business development at XCOR Aerospace. He will provide personal expertise and subject matter experts to address issues and concerns. (7/16)

For Block IIF GPS, Atlas Launch is a ’10’ (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Weather was a concern the day prior to this morning’s launch with a brief shower blowing through Cape Canaveral in the early hours. The wet weather had passed by late afternoon and it was clear that Colorado-based United Launch Alliance (ULA ) would likely have no problems in getting the venerable Atlas V 401 booster off the pad and into the sky. That is exactly what happened at the very opening of a 19-minute long launch window. (7/15)

Planet Labs Buying BlackBridge and its RapidEye Constellation (Source: Space News)
Planet Labs, seeking to accelerate its growth in the Earth observation market, announced July 15 that it is acquiring BlackBridge and its RapidEye constellation of satellites. Planet Labs, headquartered in San Francisco, said it will acquire Berlin-based BlackBridge and its core assets, including the five-satellite RapidEye system of medium-resolution imaging satellites launched in 2008. (7/15)

Alan Stern’s Pluto Encore: Words and Sounds (Source: Space News)
On July 14, 2015, the New Horizons probe made the closest approach in human history to the distant Pluto system. As it turns out, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern is already thinking about an encore Pluto mission. Below, you can listen to Stern divulging some details in a quick flyby-day buttonhole interview. If you can’t listen right now, or would rather just read about it, don’t worry: We’ve included a transcript. Click here. (7/15)

Pluto is Alive—but Where is the Heat Coming From? (Source: Science)
Towering mountains of water ice rise up to 3500 meters tall on Pluto, above smooth plains covered in veneers of nitrogen and methane ice, NASA’s New Horizons team announced today. The discovery, along with the finding that parts of the dwarf planet’s surface are crater-free and therefore relatively young, points to a place that has been geologically reworked in the recent past. “It could even be active today,” said John Spencer, a New Horizons team member at Southwest Research Institute (SWRI). (7/15)

Aerojet in High-Stakes Competition to Build Russian Rocket Replacement (Source: Sacramento Business Journal)
Aerojet Rocketdyne has entered a high-stakes competition to build the replacement rocket for military satellite launches. The company is risking a considerable expense but could benefit with a lucrative and long-running contract. Early in June, the U.S. Air Force launched a fast-paced competition seeking domestic development of launch system to replace the Russian engines currently used for U.S. heavy launches. The final winner could be chosen in less than 18 months.

Aerojet has submitted its AR-1 rocket, which the company has been developing for three years. If Aerojet wins the competition, it could create a large new market for military and commercial launches of satellites and missions to the International Space Station. The move also includes risk. The Air Force will offer up to four companies admission into the competition, and companies that make it will be expected to cover one-third of the cost of development in a public-private partnership with no guarantee of winning the contract.

The Air Force isn’t saying how many companies are participating. A spokeswoman with the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo said the Air Force intends to start awarding agreements for the new rocket propulsion system from late September through Dec. 15. (7/15)

Astronauts Prepare to Take First Bite of Salad Grown in Space (Source: New Scientist)
Today’s special: salad, fresh from the space garden. On 8 July, astronauts on the International Space Station began growing their own romaine lettuce. If all goes well, by next month, they will be able to eat some. The microgravity farm system, nicknamed Veggie, produced its first round of crops about one year ago. However, none of that lettuce was eaten.

It was frozen and shipped down to Earth for analysis, where scientists could ensure that the plants’ bacteria were safe to consume. They found that the space lettuce’s microbes matched up closely with those found on a control group grown on the ground – no surprise pathogens or contaminants. “In general, I’d say these plants are cleaner than what you’d get at the grocery store,” says Gioia Massa, the NASA science team lead for the project. (7/15)

Ariane 5 Launches Star One C4, MSG 4 (Source: Space News)
Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket on July 15 successfully placed a Brazilian commercial telecommunications satellite and a European meteorological spacecraft into geostationary transfer orbit in the rocket’s 66th consecutive success and the third of a planned six launches for 2015.

With the Ariane 5’s main commercial launch competitors – SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Russia’s Proton rockets – grounded following June and May launch failures, respectively, each Ariane 5 mission has taken on a special significance for the commercial market.

Lifting off from Europe’s Guiana Space Center, which is French territory on the northeast coast of South America, the Ariane 5 placed the Star One C4 satellite, owned by Embratel Star One of Brazil; and the Meteosat MSG-4 meteorological satellite, into the planned transfer orbit. (7/15)

Pluto Has Rocky Mountain-Sized Peaks (Source: LA Times)
The scarcity of craters suggests that both Charon and Pluto have seen geological activity in the relatively recent past that erased the traces of earlier impacts, researchers said. Scientists knew this was a possibility for Pluto, but it was a real shocker for Charon. “We originally thought Charon would be an ancient terrain covered in craters,” said New Horizons team member Cathy Olkin. “So when we saw the pictures this morning it just blew our socks off.”

In addition to revealing the unexpected topography of the Texas-sized moon, the new image provides the best look yet at a mysterious dark region at the northern pole that scientists have unofficially dubbed “Mordor,” a reference to Sauron’s realm in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. 

The new image of Pluto is even more detailed, allowing viewers to pick out features that are just half a mile across. The picture reveals a small rectangle of Pluto’s surface at the edge of the recently revealed heart-shaped formation, now known as Tombaugh Regio, in honor of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh. (7/15)

Russia’s Soyuz Spacecraft May Cut Flight Time to ISS to 3 Hours (Source: Tass)
Russia’s Soyuz manned spacecraft in the future will be able to cut the time of flight to the International Space Station (ISS) to just 1.5-3 hours, a space industry source told TASS on Wednesday. There is no specified timeframe yet for the testing of this flight scheme. "In any case, before its introduction for manned spacecraft, it will be several times tested on the Progress cargo spacecraft," he said. (7/15)

Orbital ATK Will Launch from Cape in 2017 (Source: Florida Today)
A Cape Canaveral launch pad in mid-2017 will host its first mission in nearly two decades, featuring a small rocket new to the Space Coast. The Air Force has awarded Orbital ATK a $23.6 million contract to launch its fifth Operationally Responsive Space mission, featuring the solid-fueled Minotaur IV rocket.

The 78-foot-tall, four-stage rocket will launch a small satellite called SensorSat from Launch Complex 46, which was last used in January 1999 by Lockheed Martin's Athena I rocket. NASA also plans to use Launch Complex 46, operated by Space Florida, for a test of the Orion exploration capsule's abort system in 2019. (7/15)

Russian, US Scientists Share Data on Experiments During Year-Long Trip to ISS (Source: Tass)
Russian and American scientists are sharing data on the experiments carried out during the year-long space mission of Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and US astronaut Scott Kelly, Deputy Director of the Institute of Biomedical Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences Valery Bogomolov told TASS on Wednesday.

According to Bogomolov, one of the important research programs is estimating changes in the body of astronaut Scott Kelly and his twin brother Mark who stayed on Earth. "For the genetic research program it’s very important to identify the dynamics of change," he said. (7/15)

Yes, There Really are Buckyballs in Space (Source: Science)
Zapped with cosmic rays and ultraviolet light, the space between the stars is so hostile that most astronomers once thought it couldn't possibly harbor something as fragile as molecules. Nevertheless, observers have found lots of interstellar molecules, some simple and others complex. Now, as chemists report online today in Nature, buckyballs—complex molecules with 60 carbon atoms arranged into what look like the geodesic domes of R. Buckminster Fuller—do indeed exist in the space between the stars.

Two decades ago, astronomers found interstellar spectral lines at near-infrared wavelengths and said they likely arose from carbon-60 molecules that had lost one electron each. In the new work, the chemists cooled gaseous buckyballs in the laboratory to frigid interstellar temperatures and measured the spectrum of the gas, finding lines at wavelengths of 9577 and 9632 angstroms. (7/15)

NASA Funds Titan Submarine, Other Far-Out Space Exploration Ideas (Source: Space.com)
NASA has just funded seven far-out space-exploration concepts, including a submarine that would explore the hydrocarbon seas of Saturn's huge moon Titan, an origami energy reflector and rapid space transit with an electric sail. All of the proposals, including the one for the Titan submarine, have been awarded funding under Phase II of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, or NIAC. Click here. (7/15)

Mauna Kea Access Rule Pending Hawaii Governor’s Approval (Source: Pacific Business News)
An emergency rule document restricting access to Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island, site of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, awaits approval from the executive administration in Honolulu, officials said Tuesday. The Department of Land and Natural Resources voted 5-2 to approve an emergency rule restricting access to the Big Island mountain late Friday, but the rule must be finalized by the lieutenant governor, according to the Attorney General's office. (7/15)

Space Exploration Link-Up for the UAE and Belarus (Source: The National)
Space, software and nanotechnology are some of the key areas in which Belarus will cooperate with the UAE this year. Some of the country’s projects include remote-sensing satellites, start trackers, solar panels and developing the UAE’s mobile government programs. The planned projects include satellite technology that can be used for creating images from space. (7/15)

Ted Cruz Is Really Excited About Pluto. So Why Does He Want to Cripple NASA? (Source: Mother Jones)
Ted Cruz, the Texas senator and GOP presidential candidate, is really excited about NASA's flight past Pluto today. "This is a historic milestone in space exploration," he gushed to Politico. To the National Journal, he crowed that it was "NASA doing what it does best, pushing the boundaries of our imagination by traveling to the unknown."

But while Cruz is clearly eager to cheerlead for NASA on the day of this kickass achievement, he's been singing a very different tune over the past few months, as the New Horizons spacecraft has been pushing to the edge of the solar system. Cruz has good reason to be watching the fly-by closely: He's in charge of the Senate's subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, which oversees NASA.

His chairmanship has centered on a campaign to correct what he sees as an imbalance in NASA's activity: too much focus on Earth science, and not enough traveling to other planets. The Pluto mission is a perfect example of what he wants to see more of. But NASA is also one of the main purveyors of the satellite observations of Earth that are a basic necessity for many fields of Earth science. That's the part Cruz doesn't like: He wants to slash the agency's budget for Earth sciences. (7/15)

Waiting on State for Reimbursement for Texas Spaceport Infrastructure (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
The Midland Space Development Corp. met Tuesday morning to discuss a proposed amendment to what $2 million in state dollars can be spent on the Spaceport Business Park. Board member John Love told reporters that the amendment had been stopped in the governor’s office because of the legislative session and a changeover in staff within the governor’s office. He said that the amendment related to a change in purpose for the $2 million that the state had granted to MSDC.

“We submitted the budget previously for some specific items; however, those items were taken care of through the Midland Development Corp.,” Love said. “So as a direct result, we wanted to amend our request to be able to use the full $2 million, so we decided to put that money into infrastructure.” (7/15) 

Student Satellite Wins Green Light for Station Deployment (Source: Space Daily)
Following more than a year of intense effort channelled into a 10 cm box, the first of ESA's student satellites to be released from the International Space Station has been accepted for launch. A standard CubeSat measuring 10 x 10 x 10 cm, AAUSat-5 has been designed and built by 30 students from the University of Aalborg in Denmark, backed by ESA's Education Office.

It will be carried to the Station in August, where it will be despatched into space in conjunction with the mission of Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen. The 1 kg CubeSat was handed over in June to the NanoRacks company, which shoots these small satellites out from the Station into their own orbits. Delivered at the same time was a second Danish-built ESA CubeSat called GomX-3, a larger three-unit CubeSat built by commercial companies to test detection of aircraft signals from orbit. (7/15)

No comments: