July 28, 2015

Exoplanet Finds Keep Rolling in from Kepler Spacecraft Despite Glitch (Source: Space.com)
NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope continues to zero in on the first "alien Earth" despite being hobbled by a malfunction more than two years ago. Kepler generally needs to observe multiple transits to detect a planet, so it can take a while for the observatory to spot a potentially habitable world. (Earth, after all, would transit the sun from a hypothetical alien Kepler's perspective just once a year.) Small, rocky planets also present a signal-to-noise issue that can be mitigated by observing multiple transits.

Kepler team members have therefore long maintained that the most interesting Kepler finds should come at relatively late stages in the mission. So, while Kepler observed beyond the 3.5 years prescribed by the prime mission plan, the failure of the second reaction wheel was initially "crushing," Jenkins said. But only initially, for Kepler scientists have gotten better and better at analyzing the observatory's huge dataset and pulling out intriguing finds from the original planet hunt, team members said. (7/27)

Israeli Radiation Vest to Serve Deep-Space Astronauts (Source: Israel National News)
An Israeli company is partnering with Lockheed Martin for joint research and development (R&D) to see if its radiation shielding technology - initially designed to protect nuclear first responders from gamma radiation - can be used to defend astronauts exploring deep space.

StemRad, based in Tel Aviv with a branch in Palo Alto, California, works with militaries, nuclear energy sources and governmental agencies to create protection equipment for first responders to radiological events and disasters. The Israeli company's 360 Gamma is a vest protecting the source of bone marrow stem cells from gamma radiation exposure, thereby allowing the stem cells to stay safe and replenish cells throughout the body. (7/27)

Interactive Website Lets You Explore the Space Station (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The European Space Agency (ESA ) has created an incredible interactive website that lets you tour the International Space Station (ISS) without having to pay $35 million for the flight up to the orbiting laboratory. Located at International Space Station panoramic tour, anyone can take in a rather in-depth tour of what the station occupants work with every day. Everything from science stations to living quarters is covered in the website.

A simple interface makes traversing the station almost as effortless as if they were a weightless astronaut. As you travel around, you can zoom in on many details, including science experiments and computer screens. Thankfully, the controls stop at specific points, not letting you spin around uncontrollably. A handy heads-up display map is available to show your exact location in the ISS. Once you have a good feel for where you are, you can turn the map off. Click here. (7/27)

Space: Not Just for Rocket Scientists Anymore (Source: Popular Science)
For a long time now, space exploration has been the preserve of a tiny group of highly specialized and highly trained people, funded almost exclusively by public sector organizations. This is in large part due to the fact that space exploration has been prohibitively expensive, but it is also, according to innovators like Burt Rutan and Elon Musk, because politics and bureaucracy have stifled the innovations that would see costs come down.

That's all starting to change. With several related movements -- like open source, maker, and citizen science -- gaining momentum and converging, new possibilities are opening up. Here are a few for you to explore. Click here. (7/27)

Boeing's CST-100 Takes Shape at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program continues to advance at a steady pace. This week, two major components arrived for Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation 100 (CST-100) spacecraft at a processing facility located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The arrival of these parts marks just the latest step in the space agency’s efforts to cede the responsibility of sending crews to orbit via spacecraft produced by private firms.

The components that arrived at KSC are two domes that will form the pressure shell of the new spacecraft. This version of the vehicle is known as the Structural Test Article or STA. It is designed to test the design for effectiveness. It will also be used in a pad abort test similar to the one performed by SpaceX with their crewed Dragon vehicle.

The STA is not designed to carry astronauts. Instead it will fly with a large collection of sensors and data-gathering equipment. Getting a crew to safety in the event of an emergency is a critical requirement for the Commercial Crew Program. Work on the STA is being performed at the the former Orbital Processing Facility 3 where NASA’s shuttles were processed before heading to the VLA for mating with the boosters. Boeing has refurbished the facility to test and validate manufacturing and processing methods for the CST-100. (7/28)

Hypersonic Weapons Race Gathers Speed (Source: National Defense)
And they’re off! The race to field the first hypersonic weapon is officially on. And woe be to the losers. The United States is joined by China, Russia — and perhaps even India. For what nation wouldn’t want a weapon that closes in on its target at Mach 10, or about 7,500 mph? The hypersonic arms race is little talked about outside of military circles, but it should be. The winner would presumably have a huge strategic advantage over its rivals.

Hypersonic vehicles are generally defined as those traveling at speeds greater than Mach 5, roughly 3,840 mph. They are most often envisioned as cruise missiles, or gliders boosted by rockets. They could carry conventional weapons, nuclear warheads as well as sensors. Any of these vehicles could use their speed to avoid interception and to penetrate deep into enemy territory. If successful, experts have said it is a game-changing technology that will disrupt warfare. (7/28)

Falcon Failure Affects SES Revenue Forecast (Source: Space News)
Last month's Falcon 9 failure is affecting when SES can forecast its 2016 revenue. SES said it is waiting until when SpaceX can set a new launch date for its SES-9 satellite before it can forecast revenues for next year. SES expects the satellite, planned for a September launch prior to the failure, to launch by the end of the year, but it will take up to six month for the all-electric satellite to reach its final orbit and begin service. The company reported increased revenues in the first half of 2015 due primarily to currency-exchange effects. (7/26)

Senators Push Nuclear Power for Space Systems (Source: US Senate)
Ohio's two senators have introduced legislation to promote development of advanced nuclear power systems. Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Efficient Space Exploration Act last week, which would require NASA to deliver a report assessing the risks of delays in the development of Advanced Stirling Conversion technology that NASA had been working on as a potential replacement for radioisotope thermoelectric generators. That work has been done at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, while another Ohio company, Sunpower Inc., has also been working on that technology. (7/26)

1997, 2001, 1999: a Science Fiction Calendar from the Apollo Era (Source: Space Review)
As Apollo flew people to the Moon, the science fiction shows people watched on TV and at the movies painted a bright future for human spaceflight, but one in retrospect was wholly unrealistic. Andre Bormanis examines that disconnect between those visions of the future and what came to pass. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2796/1 to view the article. (7/27)

Cutting the Costs of a Human Return to the Moon (Source: Space Review)
Governments have largely deferred plans for human missions to the Moon, citing their cost, while private ventures offer more affordable concepts but struggle to raise funding. Jeff Foust reports on a new study that argues that a combination of the two, through public-private partnerships, could reduce the cost of human missions by as much as an order of magnitude. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2795/1 to view the article. (7/27)

The Mission of Zond 3 (Source: Space Review)
Fifty years ago, the Soviet Union launched a spacecraft that flew past the far side of the Moon and into deep space. Andrew LePage describes the mission of Zond 3 and how it fit into Soviet plans for missions to Mars and Venus. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2794/1 to view the article. (7/27)

ESA to Begin Work on Jupiter Probe (Source: The Independent)
The European Space Agency is planning to begin development of its JUICE spacecraft, which will head to Jupiter to investigate signs of life in 2022. "For three-and-a-half years, JUICE will sweep around the giant planet, exploring its turbulent atmosphere, enormous magnetosphere, and tenuous set of dark rings, as well as studying the icy moons Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto," said an ESA spokesperson. "All three of these planet-sized satellites are thought to have oceans of liquid water beneath their icy crusts and should provide key clues on the potential for such icy moons to harbor habitable environments." (7/25)

Air Force: ULA Will Need 18-22 RD-180s To Compete with SpaceX (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force contends United Launch Alliance needs as many as 22 RD-180 rocket engines to compete against SpaceX for dozens of national security launches that start going out for bid later this year, according to a U.S. senator. ULA has ordered 29 RD-180 engines from Russia for its Atlas 5 rocket. Fifteen of those engines are for Air Force launches already under contract.

The remaining 14 are what ULA has said it needs to import in order to compete for military launches until its next generation rocket, known as Vulcan and powered by a U.S.-made engine, is ready around 2020. The Air Force plans to begin soliciting bids later this year for an initial batch of nine missions, all of which Air Force officials say Atlas 5 is suited to launch. A further 28 missions will be put out for bid starting in 2018, with 25 of those suited to the Atlas 5.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee in April that ULA needs to be allowed to buy 18 RD-180 engines for missions not already under contract in order to ensure the government receives competing bids when it buys launch services over the next several years. But the Air Force now appears to be revising that estimate upward, complicating its quest for relief from a 2015 law barring the RD-180’s use for future military launches. (7/27)

Report: U.S. Air Force May Need To Guarantee Number of Launches (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force may need to guarantee SpaceX and United Launch Alliance a set number of national security launches if the service hopes to have to two financially viable families of rockets available in the future, according to a report completed in April.

The report, formally known as Broad Area Review 15 and led by retired Gen. Larry Welch, a former Air Force chief or staff, raises anew a persistent question about the U.S. national security launch market: Is there enough business for two companies?

The report was commissioned by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James in January following delays to the Air Force’s certification process for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The process, which had been expected to be completed by the end of December, dragged on until June, when Falcon 9 was cleared to carry military payloads. (7/27)

U.K. Agrees to Liability Cap for Satellite Operators (Source: Space News)
The British government has agreed to limit the liability of U.K.-licensed satellite operators in an attempt to encourage growth in Britain’s commercial space sector. Effective Oct. 1, the U.K. Outer Space Act will cap operator liability at 60 million euros ($66 million), putting the U.K. in line with other spacefaring nations. The cap will be granted only after a risk analysis is performed for each new license application and may be higher for higher-risk missions. (7/27)

Pentagon IG Finds Evidence of ITAR Violations at NASA Ames (Source: Space News)
Foreign nationals did indeed have access to restricted defense technology at NASA’s Ames Research Center in 2008 and 2009, but it is impossible to tell if they shared technical details about that technology with anyone overseas, the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General reported. The IG’s investigation is the latest development in an export-control flap at Ames dating back to 2013, when a whistleblower whose identity has never been confirmed touched off a congressional inquiry over the possible transfer of classified military technology.

The hardware at issue, which the IG said was not classified, is a Divert Attitude and Control Subassembly (DACS): a small, rocket-propelled steering system built by Raytheon Co. for the Missile Defense Agency’s now-defunct Multiple Kill Vehicle — a missile-intercept payload designed to destroy incoming warheads using several steerable, rocket-powered bullets.

The Pentagon legally transferred a spare DACS to NASA in 2007 at the request of retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon “Pete” Worden, who served as director of Ames from May 2006 to this past March. Two classified subsystems, a seeker assembly and communications hardware, were removed from the DACS before NASA took possession of the unit. (7/27)

Tough Sledding for Proposed ESA Reorganization (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency’s new chief had served notice well before assuming his post July 1 that, to streamline and save money, he wanted a broad reorganization that would slash the number of division directors. Johann-Dietrich Woerner is finding out that revamping a 22-nation bureaucracy, while not rocket science, is sometimes just as difficult.

The proposal that cleared ESA’s ruling council has the same number of formal directors – 10 – but they are organized into five “teams” that Woerner said will bring the agency closer to his goal of a “United Space in Europe through ESA.” (7/27)

GPS 3 Competitors Tout Fully Digital Navigation Payload Work (Source: Space News)
Contractors in the hunt to build the GPS satellites the U.S. Air Force will launch next decade are already touting their work on a fully digital navigation payload, an upgrade lawmakers want the Air Force to include when it finally places a follow-on order for the GPS 3 satellites now being built.

Most recently, on July 20, Boeing announced it completed a “breakthrough” toward that effort by generating digital signals from its version of a navigation payload. Boeing, which built a dozen GPS 2F satellites the Air Force expects to finish deploying early next year, is among at least three companies angling for a multibillion-dollar contract to build a second batch of GPS 3 satellites. (7/27)

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