July 23, 2015

Russia Supports ISS Extension to At Least 2024 (Source: Tass)
The Russian government said it would support an extension of the ISS until at least 2024. Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said Thursday that he has informed the other ISS partners that the Russian government has approved an extension of station operations until 2024, joining the U.S. and Canada. Komarov said earlier this year that Russia supported an extension, but Thursday's comments appear to represent a more formal commitment to remaining a part of the ISS partnership beyond 2020. (7/23)

Proton Returns to Flight with August Commercial Mission (Source: Sputnik)
Russia is planning to resume Proton launches in August. Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said the launch would be a commercial mission, but did not specify who the customer would be. Proton launches have been suspended since the failure of a Proton launch in mid-May, destroying a Boeing-built satellite for the Mexican government. (7/23)

First SLS Launch Will Include Solar Sail Cubesats (Source: Space News)
The first Space Launch System mission will carry two cubesats equipped with solar sails. The Near Earth Asteroid Scout spacecraft will use a solar sail to perform a flyby of an asteroid, while Lunar Flashlight will go into orbit with its sail, then use it to reflect sunlight into shadowed polar craters, looking for water ice. The missions will cost about $16 million each and fly as secondary payloads on the SLS Exploration Mission 1 launch. (7/23)

How Outer Space is Becoming the Next Internet (Source: CNBC)
Planet Labs' goal is an ambitious one. The company aims to eventually have enough doves in orbit to capture an updated view of the entire Earth every day.

Complicating matters is that launches are frequently postponed and sometimes catastrophic. Eight months before the recent failed SpaceX launch—itself delayed—a vessel from Orbital Sciences went up in flames just after takeoff, destroying 26 Planet Labs doves.

Musk said the next Falcon 9 launch will be several months away and delays will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. But amid the rubble, there's tremendous optimism. Imagine the benefits of having a comprehensive and real-time view of every hidden corner of the planet, and what that means for understanding and acting upon climate change, monitoring shipping routes and deploying rescue missions. (7/23)

Want to be an Astronaut? Learn How to Speak Russian (Source: Universe Today)
A fire breaks out on the International Space Station while the orbiting complex is over Russian mission control. How, as an English-speaking astronaut, would you keep up with instructions? The answer is years of Russian training. In between time in simulators, jet airplanes and underwater, neophyte astronauts spend hours learning to read Cyrillic characters and pronounce consonant-heavy words. In fact, one of NASA’s requirements for its astronauts now is to learn the Russian language. Click here. (7/23)

New Discovery in the Hunt for Earth-Like Planets (Source: Newsweek)
We are one step closer to answering the grand question of whether or not we're alone in the universe, NASA announced in a news conference Thursday. The agency presented the discovery of the first planet roughly the size of Earth orbiting a G2-type star, which is similar to our sun. That solar system is 1,400 light-years away in a constellation called Cygnus.

"On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, is quoted as saying. "This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."

The newly discovered exoplanet is called Kepler-452b. Its diameter is 60 percent larger than that of Earth, and NASA says it's likely rocky. Its 385-day orbit around its star is just five percent longer than that of Earth, and it's located just five percent farther from its star, Kepler-452, than Earth is from the sun. At six-billion years old, Kepler-452 is 1.5 billion years older than our sun. It's also 20 percent brighter, and with a diameter larger by 10 percent. Still, it has the same temperature as our sun. (7/24)

Antarctic Offers Insights Into Life on Mars (Source: Space Daily)
The cold permafrost of Antarctica houses bacteria that thrive at temperatures below freezing, where water is icy and nutrients are few and far between. Oligotrophs, slow-growing organisms that prefer environments where nutrients are scarce, could provide clues as to how life could exist in the permafrost of Mars.

"The slow-growing lifestyle of oligotrophs is clearly beneficial in the environment as these oligotrophs often dominate the communities in which they are found," Corien Bakermans, assistant professor of microbiology at Penn State Altoona, told Astrobiology Magazine by email.

Bakermans was the principal investigator of a group of scientists who studied the lethargic bacteria from the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, a row of snow-free valleys that represents one of Earth's most extreme desert environments. "In cold, low-nutrient environments, slow growth is the law, and there are fewer fast-acting processes that disrupt that slow growth," Bakermans said. (7/22)

Watchdog Urges Pentagon To Improve SATCOM Procurement (Source: Law360)
The U.S. Department of Defense needs to step up its game when procuring commercial satellite communications services, a government watchdog said Friday, describing the Pentagon’s efforts in the increasingly important area as “fragmented and inefficient.” (7/20)

Rocket Carrying Russian, Japanese, US Crew Docks with ISS (Source: Space Daily)
Astronauts from Russia, Japan and the United States Thursday docked successfully with the International Space Station under six hours after they launched, NASA television showed. The Soyuz TMA 17M rocket -- carrying cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, US astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui of Japan -- had roared skyward from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in the barren Kazakh steppe at 2102 GMT.

After a fly-around at around 350 meters (1,150 feet), the rocket manoeuvred to rendezvous with the ISS at 10:46 EST. "We have contact," a NASA announcer said, as the craft soared high above the coast of Ecuador, 402 kilometers (250 miles) over the Pacific. One solar array -- a type of power supply that captures energy from the sun -- did not deploy on time, but this did not affect the rocket's flight as the others were still operating. (7/23)

'Space Careers' Book Shows How to Find an Out-of-This-World Job (Source: Space.com)
A new guide breaks down how to choose a career in the space industry, and how to land the job. The space industry is huge, and its ranks are filled by astronauts, of course, but also engineers, computer programmers, writers, scientists and technicians. "Space Careers" (International Space Business Council, 2015) — written by Leonard David and Scott Sacknoff, with a foreword by astronaut Buzz Aldrin — delves into the nitty-gritty of finding which of those career paths best suits the reader's interests and the steps to take to get involved. (7/23)

Moscow Could Be Prepping for Space War With Aggressive New Satellites (Source: Daily Beast)
On Christmas Day in 2013, a rocket blasted off from the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, about 500 miles north of Moscow. The 95-foot-tall, 118-ton Rokot booster—an unarmed version of a Cold War nuclear-tipped missile—lanced into low orbit, shedding spent stages as it climbed.

Seventy-five miles above the surface the earth, the Rokot’s nose cracked open and its payload spilled out. The rocket carried Rodnik communications satellites, according to Russian officials. It’s customary for Rodnik sats to deploy in threes, but in a notification to the United Nations, Moscow listed four spacecraft inside the Christmas Rokot. The discrepancy was strange...and got stranger.

Rodnik sats, like most orbital spacecraft, don’t have engines and can’t move under their own power. So it came as a shock to some observers on the ground—a group including amateur satellite-spotters with radios and telescopes; radar-equipped civilian researchers; and military officials monitoring banks of high-tech sensors—when the Rokot’s fourth satellite, designated Kosmos-2491, moved, propelling itself into a slightly different orbit. Click here. (7/23)

Survey: Private Space Stations Within 10 Years, East-West Tensions Won't Spark Space Race (Source: SFF)
Private space stations will be constructed within the next 10 years, and escalating tensions between China, Russia and the United States will not result in a new space race, according to a new survey of the space industry conducted by the Space Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to opening the space frontier to permanent human settlement through free enterprise.

Over two-thirds of survey respondents said they expect construction on private space stations to either be well under way or completed within the next decade. However, 44% of respondents indicated it would take more than 15 years for humans to reach Mars. Survey respondents were generally positive about the trends in the space industry, with 68% indicating that space startups are typically motivated by innovation rather than profit. (7/23)

Can Microwave-Powered Shuttles Make Space Travel Cheaper? (Source: Engadget)
The folks at Escape Dynamics have a new idea about how to make trips to space economical for people who aren't multi-millionaires. The company claims it has successfully tested the engine for a reusable spaceplane that, rather than being stuffed to the gills with expensive fuel, would glide into the stratosphere on a wave of microwave energy.

The proposed vehicle would avoid on-board power systems and instead would receive energy from a series of ground-based microwave emitters which pump power into a collector based in the plane's heat shield. That energy would then drive an electromagnetic motor that superheats a small quantity of on-board fuel (hydrogen or helium, for instance) that's then ejected as thrust to get into orbit.

The company claims that the engine running on helium was able to achieve a Specific Impulse of 500 seconds. By comparison, your average chemical rocket tops out at 460, and if the test vehicle had been running hydrogen, that figure could rise to 600. That could prove to be a big breakthrough for the private spaceflight industry. However, the idea is a little bit pie-in-the-sky, since the company would have to build a global network of microwave emitters to keep the craft aloft. (7/23)

Sanford Burnham Spinout Company Lands $200,000 Space Florida Award (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
micro-gRX — the first funded company established based on work emerging from Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute — has received a $200,000 award from Space Florida through its Florida-Israel Innovation Partnership Program. micro-gRx is partnering with SpacePharma to develop a “lab on a chip” research model that enables scientists to study live human cells in microgravity.

“We are extremely grateful for this funding,” said Dr. Siobhan Malany, founder and president of micro-gRx and a chemical biology team leader at Lake Nona’s Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics. “The purpose of doing this in a reduced gravity setting is to understand biological changes that could benefit human health on Earth and in space." (7/23)

Expedition 44 Crew Launches to Space Station (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A Russian Soyuz-FG rocket successfully lifted off from the launch pad 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in Kazakhstan. The launch vehicle is carrying the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft, heading to the International Space Station (ISS ) with three Expedition 44 crew members. The lift off occurred as scheduled, at 5:02 p.m. EDT. (7/22)

Upgraded Delta Configuration Makes First Flight (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The Delta 4 Medium-Plus rocket will use the RS-68A engine, an upgraded version of the RS-68 previously used on the Delta 4. The RS-68A was introduced in 2012 on the Delta 4 Heavy, but Wednesday's launch will be the first "single-stick" Delta to use the RS-68A, part of an initiative by United Launch Alliance to streamline vehicle production. (7/20)

Delta Launch Delayed One Day Due to Winds (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The launch of the seventh Wideband Global SATCOM satellite will have to wait at least a day before flight due to the potential for high winds at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 in Florida. The Delta IV Medium+ 5,4 rocket had not been fueled with the scrub was announced and both the launch vehicle and WGS 7 satellite are secured within the Mobile Service Structure at SLC-37. (7/22)

XCOR To Raise Ticket Prices for Suborbital Flights (Source: Space News)
XCOR Aerospace, a company developing a two-seat suborbital spaceplane for tourism and research applications, plans to raise its ticket prices by 50 percent next year, the company announced July 16. The company, currently based in Mojave, California, but in the process of moving to Midland, Texas, said that the price of tickets for flights on its Lynx vehicle will increase from $100,000 to $150,000 effective Jan. 1, 2016. (7/22)

Virgin Galactic Focused on Larger Satellite Launch Vehicle (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Virgin Galactic is developing a rocket more powerful than LauncherOne to fulfill a recent order for 39 launches from its global satellite Internet partner OneWeb, according to sources familiar with the program. LauncherTwo will use Virgin Galactic’s largest liquid fuel engine, NewtonThree, in its first stage, according to sources that insisted upon anonymity. A new engine, NewtonFour, will be developed for the second stage.

LauncherTwo will be too heavy for Virgin’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, which is designed to air launch SpaceShipTwo and LauncherOne. The larger rocket will be carried aloft by a modified Boeing 747 aircraft, sources said. Meanwhile, LauncherOne and its two engines, NewtonOne and NewtonTwo, have been shelved, the sources reported. Vice President for Special Projects Will Pomerantz said the company is continuing to develop LauncherOne. He did not comment on the reports about LauncherTwo. (7/22)

NASA May Have Found the Most Earth-Like Planet Yet (Source: WIRED)
NASA may have just found the closest thing to an Earth-like planet in the Universe. The US space agency is holding a press conference on 23 July, to reveal the latest discoveries of its exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope. The scope, launched in 2009, seeks out planets that reside in the habitable zone, known colloquially as the Goldilocks zone.

Planets in this location orbit their star at a safe enough distance to potentially host liquid water on their surface. The majority of the planets identified by Kepler have been giant gas planets, akin to Jupiter in our own Solar System, with only eight being less than twice Earth's size and in the Goldilocks zone. It's suspected that the NASA announcement could confirm the identification of the most Earth-like planet to date. (7/15)

Monitoring Space From the Sea (Source: AFSPC)
About 1,000 miles from the nearest continental contact, in the middle of the Indian Ocean are three telescopes peering up into space, watching and tracking objects while the rest of the world sleeps. Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia is on a coral atoll in the British Indian Ocean Territories. The remote location is home to Detachment 2, 21st Operations Group, a geographically separated unit of the 21st Space Wing.

The detachment is one of three Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance sites in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. Each of the main telescopes has a 40-inch aperture and covers a two degree field of view. What that means is that they track deep space objects orbiting from 3,000-22,000 miles away, moving at speeds of up to 17,500 mph. (7/21)

Mars Rover Curiosity Gives Advanced Sunspot Warning from Sun's Far Side (Source: Space.com)
The Curiosity rover on Mars has turned its cameras skyward and found sunspots brewing on the far side of the sun, a view that's impossible to get from Earth. Spotting sunspots before they make their way to the sun's front — the star fully rotates around once per month — is a major heads up. (7/22)

India Earned Over $100 Million Launching Foreign Satellites (Source: Sputnik)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is promoting its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), a launch system initially developed to allow India to achieve its domestic space goals. To date, 45 satellites from 19 countries have been successfully launched via PSLVs under commercial arrangements. The total income earned through launching of these foreign satellites amounts to some $103 million. (7/22)

$100m to Find Alien Life? That's a Start — But Not Nearly Enough (Source: Guardian)
The scientific question of whether we are “alone” in the universe is age-old, spanning Giordano Bruno’s ideas of the 1500s, Immanuel Kant’s writings in 1755, and, of course, science fiction. There is only one answer to this question: “No, we are not alone – and never have been.”

This week Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, backed by some of the world’s top astrophysicists, announced an investment of $100m into one of the most daring and important scientific endeavors ever undertaken: the direct observation of technologically advanced civilizations outside of our solar system.

It is possible that this new search, far greater in scope than any before, could turn up nothing. The universe is too big to survey completely, and science can never definitively say that we are alone, drifting through the inky black of space destined never to hear from anyone else. But finding nothing is not a failure: it will tell us whether evolvution from single-celled bacteria to the vastly complex, curious and sentient organisms that we are is common and how common it may be. (7/22)

Seattle is Becoming a Gateway to the Final Frontier (Source: My Northwest)
Space, the final frontier, may have only been something relegated to TV and films in the past. But what was once science fiction is quickly becoming science fact. And the Seattle area is at the forefront. Though it might seem like a recent development, Seattle's legacy in the space scene actually goes back nearly 50 years, said Alex Pietsch, the director aerospace for the State of Washington.

"The first company that was engaged in space was called Rocket Research in Redmond and it is now Aerojet Rocketdyne, and of course Boeing developing the lunar buggy that rolled across the surface of the moon," Pietsch said. But things have changed dramatically in recent years, in part fueled by tech titans such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame. Both are pouring millions, if not billions, to make commercial space travel and business a reality. Click here. (7/22)

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