July 30, 2015

Billionaires and Their Spaced-Out Projects (Source: Economic Times)
Mankind's quest to boldly go where no one has gone before has received a boost from these mercurial wealthy men, known for investing in ideas that once might have been considered too good to be true. Click here. (7/30)

SpaceX Moving Test Equipment Back to Texas from Spaceport America (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Officials with Spaceport America on Wednesday confirmed tenant SpaceX is moving some of its equipment back to a testing facility in McGregor, Texas. But the company will maintain its lease with the spaceport for future launches after additional testing.

Christine Anderson, executive director of Spaceport America, confirmed the move Wednesday but said SpaceX remains a tenant at the facility. "After the crash, they said they were rethinking their testing," Anderson said. "They said 'we are going to do more testing at McGregor for a while.' They are keeping their lease but moving equipment. (7/29)

500 Yen for a Piece of a Real, Launched Rocket (Source: RocketNews)
Do you have any aspiring astronauts, astronomers, aeronauts, or cosmologists in the house? If so, you’ve just stumbled upon the perfect birthday gift for said person. For only 500 yen (US$4.05), you can now purchase legitimate fragments of a Japan-launched rocket being sold under the moniker uchuu gacha (“space capsules”). In fact, it’s such a good deal that we just had to buy one for ourselves! (7/30)

Preview: Andy Weir's 'The Martian' (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
It is the movie many space tech enthusiasts have been waiting for: a big-screen adaptation of Andy Weir’s book The Martian. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie, like the book, promises to be a technically-accurate, action-packed story of human ingenuity and endurance on Mars. Originally set for a November 25 release, it has been moved up to October 2. Click here. (7/30)

Russia Schedules First Proton Launch Since Crash (Source: Space Daily)
Russia on Wednesday set a date for the first Proton rocket launch since an engine failure in May saw a Mexican satellite destroyed. Authorities said a Proton-M rocket would blast off from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan on August 28 carrying a British Inmarsat-5F3 commercial communications satellite. (7/29)

Honda Replaces Fattah in Space Appropriations Role (Source: Roll Call)
The top Democrat on the House subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA is stepping down from that post after a federal indictment. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) was one of five people included in a 29-count indictment Wednesday for a racketeering conspiracy dating back to Fattah's failed 2007 campaign for mayor of Philadelphia. Fattah said he is innocent, but will step down as ranking member of the House Appropriations commerce, justice and science subcommittee. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), who has advocated for projects based at NASA's Ames Research Center, will take over as the subcommittee's ranking member. (7/29)

NewSat Must Sell Launch Contract Quickly (Source: Space News)
NewSat has until Aug. 1 to sell its Ariane launch contract to Measat. A bankruptcy court judge in Delaware set that deadline in a recent ruling, limiting NewSat's administrators to discussions with Measat. After that date, Arianespace would be free to terminate its contract. Arianespace has argued that the fate of the contract should not be determined in a U.S. court, since the contract specified France as the jurisdiction for any dispute. (7/29)

House Inaction Dashes Ex-Im Hopes Until Fall (Source: The Hill)
Any reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank will wait until the fall. The House adjourned Thursday without taking up the Senate's version of a highway transportation funding bill that included a reauthorization of the bank, used in recent years by satellite manufacturers and launch services providers. The House instead passed a three-month extension of the highway bill without the Ex-Im Bank provision. The House will reconvene on Sept. 8. (7/29)

Senate Requires NASA to Identify Nuclear Fuel Needs (Source: Space News)
A Senate bill regarding space-based nuclear power requires NASA to lay out its plans for missions that need it. The bill, introduced last week by Ohio's two senators, would require the space agency to "detail the current projected mission requirements and associated time frames" for radioisotope power systems. The senators are also interested in NASA's plans for Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator technology, which promises to be more efficient than current RTGs but which NASA canceled substantially all funding for in 2013. (7/29)

$126 Million Stolen in Russian Spaceport Construction Project Funds (Source: Moscow Times)
Russian prosecutors said $126 million has been stolen during the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said an inquiry into 250 companies working on the spaceport project in Russia's Far East found those thefts, although no specific companies or individuals were mentioned. Russian officials continue to state that the spaceport will be done by November, in time for its first launch by the end of the year. (7/28)

UK Sets Liability Cap for Satellite Operators (Source: Space News)
The British government has agreed to a new liability cap for satellite operators licensed there. Starting Oct. 1, the U.K. Outer Space Act will cap liability for satellite operators at 60 million euros ($66 million). The new cap, putting the U.K. in line with many other spacefaring nations, in intended to promote growth of the country's commercial space industry. (7/28)

NASA Says Commercial Crew Milestone Changes Don’t Affect Budget Request (Source: Space News)
While acknowledging delays in interim milestones for its two commercial crew contracts, NASA officials said July 28 they still require the full funding requested for 2016 to avoid delays in the overall program.

In a presentation to the human exploration and operations committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meeting at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, agency officials said they risk having to issue stop-work orders to Boeing and SpaceX and renegotiate their contracts if Congress provides less than the $1.243 billion NASA requested in its original 2016 budget proposal. (7/29)

Russia Formally Commits to Station Through 2024 (Source: Space News)
Russia has formally notified its International Space Station partners that it will continue in the partnership at least to 2024, ending several months of doubts that were fueled by the current poor state of Russia’s relations with the West.

The 22-nation European Space Agency confirmed that the Russia space agency, Roscosmos, had notified ESA and the other partners of its commitment to 2024, a decision that followed similar guarantees by NASA – the station’s general contractor – and the Canadian Space Agency. That leaves ESA and the Japanese space agency, JAXA, as the only two current partners yet to make a decision. ESA has yet to commit even to 2020 but expects to do so at a meeting of its member governments in late 2016. (7/29)

Stunning Photo Shows SpaceShipTwo Pilot Parachuting to Earth After Crash (Source: Space.com)
It is a picture of bravery in the face of the unthinkable. A newly released photo by Virgin Galactic that shows a test pilot managing to parachute to safety after the tragic SpaceShipTwo crash last year is a moving reminder of the risks and resilience that have helped humanity push its way out into space.

The photo shows SpaceShipTwo pilot Peter Siebold floating back to Earth via parachute on Oct. 31, just moments after the vehicle broke apart in a test-flight disaster that killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury. The accident occurred because Alsbury unlocked the space plane's re-entry system too early, leading to the crash over California's Mojave Desert, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators announced Tuesday. Click here. (7/29)

NASA's Next Megarocket Could Launch Mission to Europa (Source: Space.com)
The huge rocket NASA is developing to get astronauts to an asteroid, Mars and other distant destinations should also greatly aid robotic exploration efforts, members of Congress were told. The Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket, scheduled to fly for the first time in 2018, will blast unmanned spacecraft toward their targets at incredible speeds, dramatically reducing interplanetary travel times, said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

As an example, Grunsfeld cited NASA's planned flyby mission to Jupiter's ocean-harboring moon Europa, which the agency aims to launch in the early to mid-2020s. Using SLS instead of currently available rockets would slash the probe's journey to the Jupiter system from about eight years to less than three years, Grunsfeld said. (Mission team members are developing the Europa flyby craft to fit on a variety of different launch vehicles, including SLS.) (7/29)

Search for Alien Life Ignites Battle over Giant Telescope (Source: Scientific American)
There is a gaping hole in the latest effort to reinvigorate the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The hole opened last week when tech billionaire Yuri Milner announced the Breakthrough Listen initiative, a 10-year, $100-million shot in the arm for SETI, operated through Milner’s Breakthrough Prize Foundation. The initiative includes funding for unprecedented amounts of SETI time at three world-class observatories: the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the Automated Planet Finder telescope in California and the Parkes Observatory in Australia.

What’s missing from the partnership is the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which at 305 meters wide is the biggest and most sensitive single-dish radio telescope in the world. SETI godfather and former Arecibo director, astronomer Frank Drake, once calculated that the instrument could receive (or send) radio messages throughout much of the galaxy.

The omission at first seems inexplicable, because SETI and Arecibo are inseparably intertwined. Drake, a key player in Breakthrough Listen, famously used the telescope in 1974 to transmit his “Arecibo message” toward the globular star cluster M13. The message was meant to be an interstellar postcard from our culture, and included pictographic figures of our planet, our solar system and even the recipe for DNA. Click here. (7/29)

Roscosmos to Set Up National Manned Spaceflight Center (Source: Sputnik)
Ex-cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev is tapped to be the head of Russia’s future national center for manned flights to space. The new Center, to be comprised of the Cosmonaut Training Center, Roscosmos’ Manned Spaceflight Center, Energia Space Rocket Corporation and TsNIIMash, will be modeled after the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is NASA’s  Manned Spacecraft Center, where human spaceflight training, research, and flight control  are conducted. (7/29)

Kazakhstan to Pay Russia $20 Million for its Cosmonaut Space Flight in 2016 (Source: Tass)
Kazakhstan will spend $20 million on the space flight of its cosmonaut, the sum will be paid to Russia in 2016, deputy head of Kazakhstan’s Aerospace Committee Erkin Shaimagambetov told a news conference on Wednesday. Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov will fly on 10-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in September, replacing British singer Sarah Brightman, who backed out of the mission in May. (7/29)

Kazakhstan Gets Russian Trip to Space Station 3 Times Cheaper Than NASA (Source: Moscow Times)
Kazakhstan will pay a mere $20 million to send an astronaut to the International Space Station on a Russian rocket — less than half the sum reportedly asked of a British passenger to make the same trip and less than one-third of the price routinely paid by NASA for U.S. astronauts, news agency RIA Novosti reported Wednesday, citing a Kazakh space agency official.

Russia's space agency last month confirmed that Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov would replace British singer Sarah Brightman aboard an upcoming Soyuz rocket launch in September. Brightman backed out of the flight in May, citing personal reasons. The Russian and Kazakh space agencies have agreed on a price of $20 million for the flight — 2.5 times cheaper than Brightman's reported $52 million ticket. (7/29)

Clusters of Living Worlds Would Hint Life Came from Outer Space (Source: New Scientist)
Does life spread like an interstellar infection? If we spot it on clusters of planets, that might suggest it doesn’t stay put wherever it evolves. The theory that life crosses space to reach new worlds, called panspermia, is hard to test. Life on Earth could have been seeded by just one microbe-laden rock, but there are too many rocks to check, even if we had a foolproof test for extraterrestrial life.

“That’s not a very effective strategy of testing whether life came from outer space,” says Henry Lin of Harvard University. He says the answer lies in mapping life across the galaxy. Lin argues that if we find 25 worlds with life on one side of the sky and 25 lifeless ones on the other, it might mean the sun sits on the edge of a panspermia bubble – a strong sign that life radiated outward. “We would have smoking-gun evidence that panspermia actually happens,” he says. (7/29)

Space Research Supporting Canadian Farmers (Source: Govt. of Canada)
Member of Parliament Lawrence Toet (Elmwood-Transcona) today announced funding projects at five Canadian universities to analyze and compile measurements collected by NASA's Soil and Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite.

The SMAP mission will provide measurements of soil moisture and determine whether the ground is frozen or thawed in the Canadian boreal environment and other cold areas of the world. These measurements will help to produce global maps of soil moisture, helping scientists to better understand how changes in weather and climate affect the cycling of Earth's water and carbon.

This data could help improve weather forecasting including more accurate flood and drought predictions. With new insights into changing weather and water conditions, Canadian farmers will be able to better understand crop yields and get early warnings of soil conditions that could lead to crop-damaging pests. (7/28)

Governor Martinez Addresses Future of Virgin Galactic in New Mexico (Source: KRQE)
Federal investigators say human error caused New Mexico’s future space tourism aircraft to break apart and kill a co-pilot. Now New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez is reacting to the news that’s delayed a lot of business at the state’s more than $200-million investment. Without Virgin Galactic, the Spaceport has been losing about $500,000 a year. Though it’s unclear when the losses will stop, Governor Martinez says the state is still working closely to welcome Virgin soon.

Martinez says they’re focused on working with other partners at Spaceport America. “We want to diversify Spaceport America, I mean, we have other companies that are there, Space X, that are also testing rockets and a variety other things,” said Gov. Martinez. The governor says while there’s no timeline, the state hasn’t given up yet on Branson’s big dream. (7/28)

We Come in Peace: Taobao Sells Tickets to Earth-Like Planet (Source: Want China Times)
A Chinese online vendor has begun selling tickets for the right to migrate to the Earth-like planet recently discovered by NASA. Despite selling for a price of just 0.20 yuan (US$0.03) per ticket on Taobao, China's version of eBay, no one has yet snapped up the opportunity to move to Kepler-452b, which NASA claims has a "substantial opportunity" to host life.

One reason could be that Kepler-452b is situated 14 million light years away from Earth, meaning at current spacecraft travel speeds it would take more than 500 million years to get there. Though Chinese netizens are disappointed that they cannot migrate to another planet like in the movies, general interest in NASA is said to have spiked, with searches for the US space agency on Alibaba e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall rising by 19% over the past seven days. (7/29)

'Impossible' Propellantless Eengine Appears to Work Despite Breaking Laws of Physics (Source: The Age)
Ridiculed as impossible by the scientific community, the electromagnetic propulsion engine – which could supposedly take a craft from Earth to Pluto in just 18 months without the need for rocket fuel – has apparently been confirmed by an independent scientist as working.

German scientist Martin Tajmar​, who has a history of debunking fanciful propulsion systems, claims in a paper he has tested a copy of NASA's experimental device (known as the EMDrive) and that it does produce thrust. This is controversial because the theory that has been used to explain the device violates conventional physics and the law of conservation of momentum.

The EMDrive theoretically works by converting electric power into microwaves which bounce around inside an enclosed cavity, using the difference in radiation to move through an environment. This violates the laws of physics, which state that if something moves forward it must also push something back, as no propellant is expelled to balance the engine's momentum. (7/29)

Really, Propellantless Space Drives are Still Not a Thing (Source: WIRED)
The last time we saw the so-called EM Drive, it was causing a kerfuffle over at NASAspaceflight.com, where a member of a tiny team called Eagleworks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center had posted some information about a propellantless propulsion device. People got really excited, like you do when you think super smart physicists might have figured out a way to travel to the farthest reaches of space by bouncing microwaves around in a cavity—no propellant, no extra weight, no end in sight.

But as we explained, the NASA team’s results appeared just on the threshold of detection, weren’t peer-reviewed, and, you know, violated this pesky thing called conservation of momentum. All of those problems are still true. A new publication purports to test the drive’s magical thrust-making abilities. This time, the news is coming from a team at the Dresden University of Technology. They presented their results (thrust signatures of +/-20 microNewtons).

To be fair, these researchers constructed their version of the device so they could try to eliminate potential sources of error or interference, and they don’t say that they’ve validated the drive—just that they can’t explain where their teeny tiny thrust signatures are coming from. (7/29)

Space Kombucha in the Search for Life and its Origin (Source: ESA)
You might know it as a drink for hipsters or as an ancient brew drunk for centuries in Eurasia, but the culture that ferments sugary tea into Kombucha is going around the world. Bolted to the outside of the International Space Station are the same bacteria and yeasts that are used in making Kombucha.

Tests on Earth have shown that these multicellular biofilms are tough and will most probably survive an unprotected trip through space. But there is only one way to tell for sure and that is why the Kombucha-making organisms and other biological specimens are now circling Earth exposed to space. (7/29)

Astronaut Tony Antonelli Leaves NASA (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Another of NASA’s highly-trained and experienced space flyers has decided to leave the Space Agency. Dominic A. “Tony” Antonelli, who has been with NASA for 15 years, has concluded his time with the agency – his last day was on July 10. Antonelli joins Stephen Frick, who left NASA three days later, as well as other members of the Astronaut Corps since the close of the Space Shuttle Program.

Antonelli flew to orbit twice; the first time was on Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-119. The second time he flew on board Atlantis on mission STS-132. Both trips were to the International Space Station and both times Antonelli served as the mission’s pilot. (7/29)

UAE Space Agency Seeks Tie Up with Bahrain on Space Exploration (Source: Arabian Business)
The UAE Space Agency has held talks with Bahrain over how the two countries could work together on space exploration. On Sunday, the UAE Space Agency published a statement on its website revealing that representatives from Bahrain’s National Space Science Agency (NSSA) had visited Abu Dhabi to discuss potential areas of cooperation. The statement said: “The UAE Space Agency is looking for opportunities of co-operation with NSSA to strengthen partnership and work between the two organisations within the space sector. (7/28)

The Sadly Familiar Reason NASA Was Created (Source: Time)
NASA may be devoted to exploring the universe, but the agency owes its existence to a far more earthly concern: office politics. The National Aeronautics and Space Act, which was signed into law on July 29, 1958, was intended to “provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.” One of those other purposes was “to overcome the interservice rivalries that had confused the U.S. missile and space programs.”

Before NASA, various branches of the military were conducting research into aspects of space exploration like jet propulsion and satellites, and each wanted a key role in the exciting new field. Giving a single branch agency over all space exploration would alienate the others. Moreover, it could signal that the universe was a battleground as much as a place of inquiry. As the NASA act noted, activities in space “should be devoted to peaceful purposes.” (7/29)

Australia Needs to do More in Space Race (Source: NineNews)
The first Australian, and first woman, to lead a NASA team to search for life on Mars has criticised the country's limited involvement in space exploration. Dr Abigail Allwood says Australia is losing some of its brightest minds because there isn't enough funding or research opportunities in the field. The principal investigator of the Mars 2020 rover mission believes her homeland is capable of being more involved in the space race and needs to get off the sidelines. (7/29)

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