July 21, 2015

New Horizons Images Reveal a Young Pluto Surface (Source: Space Today)
Images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft during its flyby of Pluto July 14 show that parts of the surface are surprisingly young, suggesting recent geological activity there. Images released Friday of a plain dubbed Sputnik Planum show a series of irregular polygons surrounded by shallow troughs. Scientists believe the terrain must be very young, given the lack of impact craters, and could be formed by convection below the surface or contraction of the surface.

Other data from the spacecraft showed that the only concentration of carbon monoxide ice on the surface is within the heart-shaped region called Tombaugh Regio. Scientists also released the first image of Nix, one of Pluto's smaller moons, revealing it to be elongated. Project scientists said they will be releasing images on a weekly basis going forward, with the spacecraft taking up to 16 months to return all the data it collected. (7/18)

Smithsonian Turns to Kickstarter to Preserve Armstrong's Moon Suit (Source: Smithsonian)
For the Smithsonian’s first-ever Kickstarter campaign, we are proud to announce plans to conserve, digitize, and display Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit in time for this milestone anniversary. We want to preserve Armstrong’s spacesuit – and the story it tells of its incredible journey – down to the particles of lunar dust that cling to its surface. Just like the Apollo program, we will accomplish this in collaboration of thousands of people across the country and around the world. And that’s where you come in.

Isn't the Smithsonian federally funded? Good question! Federal appropriations provide the foundation of the Smithsonian's operating budget and support core functions, such as building operations and maintenance, research, and safeguarding the collections. Projects like Reboot the Suit aren’t covered by our federal appropriations, which means we can only undertake them if we can fund them some other way. In other words, we won’t be able to do this project without the participation of Kickstarter backers. (7/20)

Ex-Im Aided Arizona Aerospace Sales (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
The U.S. Export-Import Bank helped Arizona complete business deals totaling $496 million last year, writes AIA President and CEO David F. Melcher. "The aerospace industry is greatly dependent upon Ex-Im financing to allow American manufacturers of commercial, general aviation and business airplanes, helicopters, satellites, spacecraft and launch vehicles to sell our goods abroad and help maintain and expand the largest positive trade balance of any sector in the U.S. economy," he writes. (7/19)

Space Adventures Makes Space Tourism a Reality (Source: USA Today)
Space Adventures offers 10-day excursions to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz spacecraft for a starting price of $35 million. Eight people have taken the trip since 2001. "My space flight is something that will live with me forever" said space tourist Richard Garriott. "Being one of the elite few who have seen Earth from the perspective of space, I have the opportunity to inspire and motivate others to achieve their dreams." (7/19)

Selecting a Landing Site for Humans on Mars (Source: Air & Space)
NASA recently issued an invitation to scientists to start the process of planning where astronauts should someday land on Mars. The First Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars will be held in October at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. The purpose of the workshop is to identify and discuss possible locations on the Martian surface where a crew could land, live, and work.

NASA calls these places Exploration Zones (EZ)—areas with a radius of about 100 kilometers around the landing site, which would be investigated thoroughly during the first landing and subsequent missions to Mars. It’s critical that the best possible location is picked, not only for scientific investigations, but also for resources to sustain a human presence. Where should we go?

Should we choose a site that we already know well from previous exploration, such as the Curiosity rover’s Gale Crater? Or should we pick a site that gives us the best chance of finding Martian life, if it exists? As the answer to this question is not clear, shouldn’t we first send a life detection mission to Mars to at least get a better idea whether indigenous life might be present in the Exploration Zone? Or should we prioritize sites that provide shelter and resources, maybe one that’s close to a lava tube cave that might contain frozen water within? Maybe a combination of the above? All these possibilities will be discussed at the workshop. (7/17)

Flash foresight, Hard Trends, and Commercial Space Business (Source: Space Review)
SpaceX's pursuit of reusable launch vehicles has prompted other companies to also study reusability. Anthony Young sees this as evidence of a "hard trend" that makes it all the more likely that reusability will become reality. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2791/1 to view the article. (7/20)

Is "NewSpace" Obsolete? (Source: Space Review)
For about a decade, commercial space advocates have been promoting the term "NewSpace" to describe a new wave of entrepreneurial space ventures. As those ventures now reach critical market and funding mass, Jeff Foust explains that some think the term may now be outdated in some respects. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2790/1 to view the article. (7/20)

Musk Gives Details on Falcon-9 Failure (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A little more than three weeks after a SpaceX Falcon 9 v.1.1 launch vehicle, a Dragon spacecraft, and 4,000 pounds of International Space Station (ISS) cargo, crew supplies and experiments disintegrated just offshore from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, the company's CEO and Founder, Elon Musk, addressed members of the media during a roughly one hour teleconference. The discussion began at 3 p.m. EDT with the entrepreneur answering questions from the press during the second half of the call.

During the teleconference, it was disclosed that the apparent cause of the vehicle’s disintegration was the failure of a steel strut holding a helium bottle in place inside the second stage’s liquid oxygen (LOX) tank. The strut failure resulted in helium leakage into the LOX tank, causing the tank to over-pressurize and rupture, leading to the destruction of the second stage.

Musk went on to state that no problems have been discovered with the first stage and that it continued to function for several seconds after the second stage tank rupture. In addition, Musk explained that the Dragon capsule continued to communicate with SpaceX’s control center until it fell below the horizon and that it would have survived had it been carrying software enabling the deployment of its parachutes. (7/20)

New NASA-Funded Study Lays Out a plan to Return Humans to the Moon (Source: The Verge)
Humans could return to the Moon in the next decade and live there a decade after, a new study claims. The announcement was made on the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 11 crew's first steps on the lunar surface. The study, performed by NexGen Space LLC and partly funded by NASA, concludes that the space agency could land humans on the Moon in the next five to seven years, build a permanent base 10 to 12 years after that, and do it all within the existing budget for human spaceflight.

The way for NASA to do this is to adopt the same practice that it's using for resupplying the International Space Station (and will eventually use for crew transport) — public-private partnerships with companies like SpaceX, Orbital ATK, or the United Launch Alliance. NASA can cut the cost of establishing a human presence on the Moon "by a factor of 10," according to Charles Miller, NexGen president and the study's principal investigator. (7/20)

Moon Resource Could Reduce NASA's Mars Missions by $10 Billion a Year (Source: Business Insider)
Although NASA has announced that its eyes are fixed on Mars, it hasn't quite figured out how to get there just yet. Turns out, the agency is exploring the possibility of returning to the Moon as a stepping stone toward Mars, and according to a recent report, this method is cheaper than current estimates — about $10 billion cheaper. Per year.

To determine if the Moon is worth returning to, NASA called upon former NASA Senior Advisor for Commercial Space, Charles Miller, and his consultant company, NexGen Space LLC, to figure out whether such a plan would make financial sense. So the company assembled a team of former NASA executives and engineers to figure out if the mission was possible, both economically and technically.

The team discovered that, by utilizing existing partnerships with commercial service providers like SpaceX and Boeing, NASA could return humans to the Moon for "approximately 90% less than the previously estimated $100 billion," according to a NextGen press release. (7/20)

Colorado Springs Declares July 17 GPS Day (Source: AFSPC)
Colorado Springs City Council members Larry Bagley and Andy Pico presented a proclamation declaring July 17, 2015 GPS Day during a ceremony at the headquarters building of Schriever Air Force Base July 15.

"Whereas the GPS master control station is operated by the 50th Space Wing's 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, and is responsible for the command and control of the 31-satellite operational GPS constellation and whereas Colorado Springs is proud to be home to the source of the world's vital GPS signal," the proclamation read. "Now, therefore, I, Merv Bennett, President of the Colorado Springs City Council, in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the GPS system, do hereby proclaim July 17, 2015 as GPS Day in Colorado Springs." (7/20)

Six More DMSP Satellites Susceptible to Battery Ruptures (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force said July 20 it still has six Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft in orbit that are susceptible to the kind of explosive battery rupture DMSP-F13 experienced in February, producing a large cloud of orbital debris. Of those six, only one — DMSP-F14 — is still in service. But all six have the same kind of battery charger an Air Force review identified as the likely cause of the DMSP-F13 incident. (7/20)

Editorial: Commercial Crew Deserves Our Full Support (Source: Space News)
Whenever a group of people put tons of high explosives into a fragile metal tube and set that tube on fire, there are bound to be mishaps. No matter how advanced the equipment or how much funding is provided by Congress, a rocket launch is still a controlled explosion. This is what people are saying when they quip, “Space is hard.” Space is hard because until we perfect antigravity or the space elevator, we will be forced to send our people and our stuff into space on columns of smoke and fire.

However, there are choices we can take to minimize risk and maximize benefits. SpaceX and Boeing are developing two new spacecraft for America’s astronauts as part of NASA’s commercial crew program. Congress is on the verge of underfunding this unique public-private partnership by $300 million, consigning the program to more delays. Even worse, the Falcon 9 explosion on June 28, despite being the first SpaceX failure after 18 successful launches, is being used by some to argue that commercial crew is not an appropriate method for supporting government space operations. This could not be further from the truth. (7/20)

NASA's 'GoreSat' Mission Just Released Its First Image of Earth (Source: Bloomberg)
NASA's 10-year, 3-billion-mile mission to Pluto electrified the world last week when it dispatched images of a tiny planet that's dynamic in ways even experts never anticipated. So while 3 billion miles is the current bar to ignite mission-mania in the public eye, a million-mile jaunt still isn't too shabby. NASA has released the first image taken from the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a collaboration with NOAA that will study both the Sun and the Earth.

The satellite was launched in February. In early June it reached its new home, 1 million miles away. That faraway point, which astronomers refer to as L1, is a kind of gravitational balancing point between the Earth and the Sun. A satellite occupying that position remains more or less stationary relative to the two orbs. DSCOVR will send back new images every day so that people around the world can see the whole planet in living color. The project was conceived by then-Vice President Al Gore in 1998, built within two years, and set aside. (7/20)

Lasers Could Blast Tiny Spacecraft to the Stars (Source: Space.com)
Traveling to other star systems is a big dream, but achieving it may require going ultrasmall. Blasting tiny, waferlike sailing spacecraft with powerful lasers could slash interstellar flight times from thousands of years to mere decades, one researcher says.

Human excursions to the stars are cursed by math. To get there in any reasonable amount of time, spacecraft must go incredibly fast — but fast travel requires carrying more propellant. That required amount of propellant, whether rocket fuel, a source for nuclear fusion or even antimatter, would make it more and more difficult for the ship to accelerate.

Some researchers have found a loophole in this dilemma by imagining a solar, laser or microwave sail. An interstellar craft that surfed on the sun's photons or on a beam shot from Earth orbit wouldn't have to carry a propulsion source with it. But to propel a large probe, humanity would need an extraordinarily large orbiting laser, and possibly a sail the size of Texas. (7/20)

Astronauts' Skin Gets Thinner in Space (Source: Reuters)
A long-awaited human mission to the Red Planet is still a number of years away, with NASA planning their first manned voyage in the 2030s. But at more than 55 million kilometers away, astronauts face at least half a year of space travel just to get to Mars -- not to mention the return journey. Of the multitude of obstacles to overcome, the health of the astronauts during such a long period in space is of chief concern.

Scientists in Germany are using advanced imaging technology in a bid to understand one unusual phenomenon - why astronauts' skin gets thinner while in space. Led by Professor Karsten Koenig from the Department of Biophotonics and Laser Technology at Saarland University, researchers have used high-resolution skin imaging tomography to look into the skin cells of several astronauts before and after a trip into space. (7/20)

Philae Comet Lander Falls Silent (Source: BBC)
The Philae comet lander has fallen silent, according to scientists working on the European Rosetta mission. The fridge-sized spacecraft, which landed on Comet 67P in November, last made contact on 9 July. But efforts to contact it again since then have failed, scientists have said. The first craft to perform a soft landing on a comet, Philae initially bounced, landing in a position too dark for sunlight to reach its solar panels.

It woke up in June as the comet moved closer to the sun. But the latest data suggests something, perhaps gas emission from the comet's surface, may have moved it again. "The profile of how strongly the sun is falling on which panels has changed from June to July, and this does not seem to be explained by the course of the seasons on the comet alone," said Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Philae's antenna may have been obstructed, and one of its transmitters appears to have stopped working, Rosetta team members said. (7/20)

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