July 31, 2015

NASA Studying Flying-Wing Mars Aircraft (Source: Aviation Week)
A small unmanned aircraft that would deploy from a cubesat released by a Mars lander as it enters the planet’s atmosphere is being studied by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. The flying-wing UAV could reconnoiter for future landing sites as it descends to the Martian surface. The Prandtl-M unmanned aircraft is a new direction for research into an old configuration at NASA Armstrong. (7/27)

Solar Weather Reports Key to Safe Space Travel (Source: Space Daily)
Researchers in England are looking ahead to a world where solar and space weather forecasting is nearly as important as weather patterns and predictions on Earth's surface. Better predicting how the sun's electromagnetic behavior influences space weather will become more important, scientists say, as activities like space tourism, asteroid mining and manned space travel become more common.

In the United States, scientists at the Space Weather Prediction Center, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, do their best to forecast solar winds and storms. NASA and the International Space Station rely heavily on these reports to keep their instruments and astronauts safe from dangerous radiation. But scientists at Northumbria University suggest more predictive, less reactive solar forecasting is necessary for the future of safe space travel. (7/30)

Congress Calls SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch Certification Into Question (Source: Denver Post)
The June 28 explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station has members of Congress asking NASA and the  Air Force for assurance that SpaceX is qualified to carry military payloads to space. A bipartisan group of 14 U.S. representatives sent a letter saying they have "serious reservations" about SpaceX's internal investigation process and question whether the "engineering rigor applied will be sufficient to prevent future military launch mishaps." Click here. (7/30) http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_28562669/congress-calls-spacex-falcon-9-launch-certification-into

World's Best Whiskey to be Sent to Space (Source: Daily Beast)
Suntory, the whiskey advertised by Bill Murray in Lost In Translation and recently crowned world's best by the 2015 World Whisky Bible, is being sent into space. The Japanese brewing company announced that it would be spending its award-winning whiskey to the International Space Station for scientific research. The research will help understand the “development of mellowness in alcoholic beverage through the use of a microgravity environment.” Suntory will send five types of its whiskey for the study. (7/31)

ULA to Stay in Harlingen Texas (Source: KRGV)
For nearly three decades, people in Harlingen have been building rockets and sending satellites into space. At the corner of Loop 499, next to Valley International Airport, United Launch Alliance has quietly hand-built nearly 100 rockets. “We're launching satellites that go to Mars, Pluto and the Moon,” Tim Pillar said.

Tim Pillar is the leader of the Harlingen operation. He said the company has chosen to keep a low profile for the past 28 years. A direct competitor to ULA is coming to the Valley. “The biggest difference is we've been in the business for 50 years… SpaceX has been doing this for eight to ten years,” Pillar said. Pillar said the private sector for rocket launches is growing, creating room for new companies like SpaceX to also find a home in south Texas.

United Launch Alliance’s rockets are built in Harlingen and Alabama, and then they are sent to Florida and California for lift-off. Each rocket is topped with a signature cone called a pay-load fairing. “Every one of them is hand painted, one at a time,” Pillar said. United Launch Alliance is growing. “These products… in this factory will have astronauts launching to the International Space Station in 2017,” Pillar said. (7/30)

Lockheed Martin Tests Orion Spacecraft’s Separation System (Source: Silicon Valley Business Journal)
On Wednesday morning, Lockheed Martin engineers successfully completed testing design changes made to a part of NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Lockheed Martin tested Orion’s fairing separation system. A finished Orion spacecraft has three fairings, or panels, that protect the service module radiators and solar arrays from heat, wind and acoustics during ascent into space.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities, according to a NASA website. Orion will launch on NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. (7/30)

Branson: 'Just Keep Going' (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire behind the aspiring Virgin Galactic spaceline, recently shared his 91-year-old mother’s motto on social media: “Just keep going,” he tweeted. It’s advice the serial entrepreneur whose Virgin brand encompasses an airline, a bank, mobile phones, hot-air balloons and fitness centers – among other ventures – appears to be heeding at Virgin Galactic, the anchor tenant in absentia at New Mexico’s Spaceport America. (7/31)

NASA: Tracking CubeSats is Easy, but Many Stay in Orbit Too Long (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
U.S. military radars have little trouble tracking the flux of CubeSats filling orbital traffic lanes, diminishing worries that new commercial CubeSat constellations could generate collision hazards in space, according to a report issued by NASA. But 46 of the 231 CubeSats successfully launched from 2000 through the end of 2014 — about one in five — will remain in orbit more than a quarter-century.

Space debris experts and most big international satellite operators have agreed to re-position spacecraft in low Earth orbit at low enough altitudes to naturally re-enter the atmosphere within 25 years at the end of their lives. Most CubeSats range between the size of a Rubik’s cube and a shoebox, and all of the small satellites based on the CubeSat design have been tracked and catalogued by the U.S. military’s Joint Space Operations Center, according to a report issued July 22 by NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office.

Launches of large clusters of CubeSats in recent years, along with industry plans to deploy hundreds more, have raised concerns about the tiny satellites contributing to the orbital debris problem in low Earth orbit. U.S. Air Force officials say the military tracks approximately 23,000 objects in space, most of which are derelict rocket stages, decommissioned spacecraft, or smaller fragments. CubeSats are a small fraction of the objects orbiting Earth, but unlike older pieces of space junk, the pace of deployment of future CubeSats is expected to increase. (7/31)

NEEMO Undersea Crew Tests Space Tools and Techniques Off Florida Coast (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA astronaut Serena Aunon has been moving tools and equipment underwater during the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 20 mission, which began on July 20, 2015. NEEMO 20 is a 14-day mission by an international crew to the Aquarius Reef Base, located 62 feet (19 meters) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

NEEMO 20 is focusing on evaluating tools and techniques being tested for future spacewalks on a variety of surfaces and gravity levels ranging from asteroids to the moons of Mars and the Martian surface. The mission tests time delays in communications due to the distance of potential mission destinations. The crew also will assess hardware sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA) that allows crew members to read the next step in a procedure without taking their hands or eyes away from the task using a tablet, a smartphone and a head-mounted interface. (7/31)

Iridium Delays Launch (Source: Space News)
Iridium is delaying the launch of its first next-generation satellites because of a satellite hardware issue. The company said the first two satellites, previously scheduled for launch on a Dnepr rocket in October, will now launch in December to correct an issue with the satellites' Ka-band feeder links. The two satellites are pathfinders for an eventual 72-satellite system that will be launched primarily on Falcon 9 rockets by the end of 2017. Iridium is also working with creditors on complex insurance requirements for the satellites and launches. (7/30)

Missile Defense Satellite Constellation Proposed (Source: Space News)
The Missile Defense Agency is proposing a constellation of satellites to perform missile tracking and space surveillance. An agency official said this week that there is "a desire" for several parts of the Defense Department to cooperate on a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that would perform multiple missions. The agency also confirmed it has awarded a contract with an unnamed commercial satellite operator — thought to be Iridium — to host payloads for a system to confirm whether a missile had been successfully intercepted. (7/30)

Airbus Profit Rises (Source: Reuters)
Airbus Group surprised investors with a strong second-quarter rise in earnings, pushing its shares up as much as five percent as lucrative jetliner deliveries outshone more bad news for the A400M military transporter. Quarterly operating profit before one-off items jumped 15 percent to 1.23 billion euros, with gains of at least 20 percent in jetliner and helicopter profits masking a 159 million euro loss in defence and space. (7/31)

Money Laundering Alleged in Indian Antrix-Devas Deal (Source: The Hindu)
Based on the CBI case registered in March, it has instituted a fresh case under stringent provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The Enforcement Directorate has registered a money laundering case in connection with the Antrix-Devas spectrum deal worth Rs.1,000 crore, which is also being probed by the CBI.

The Directorate has already been scrutinizing the 2005 agreement under the Foreign Exchange Management Act since 2012. Now, based on the CBI case registered in March, it has instituted a fresh case under stringent provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

According to the CBI, Mr. Murthi and others allegedly favored Devas Multimedia by giving the rights for delivery of video, multimedia and information services via S-band, causing wrongful gain of Rs.578 crore to the “ineligible” company. The company had allegedly submitted false information about its capability to deli. (7/31)

Boeing Might Shift Work Abroad if Ex-Im Bank Isn't Renewed (Source: MarketWatch)
Boeing is considering moving some operations overseas if Congress doesn't revive the Export-Import Bank, Chairman James McNerney said. "We love making and designing airplanes in the United States, but we are now forced to think about doing it differently," he told the Economic Club of Washington. (7/29)

Some Sky High on Georgia Spaceport Plan, but Others Want it Grounded (Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
The two-lane blacktop dead-ends at a tall fence and guard shack surrounded by pine stands and coastal swamps where wild boars, armadillos and rattlesnakes roam. “Bayer CropScience” reads the sign, a clue to the site’s heritage as a manufacturing depot for insecticides, chemicals and trip flares.

A more uninviting location would be hard to find in Georgia, the beauty of the nearby marshes, Satilla River and Cumberland Island notwithstanding. The 11,000-acre site, though, isn’t an alien environment to the Camden County men reaching for the stars. (7/29)

New Horizons Data Hint at Underground Ocean (Source: Phys.org)
"We are amazed to see Pluto as dynamic and active as it is," said Richard Binzel, a New Horizons co-investigator and professor in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. The latest images of Tombaugh Region—the heart's official name in honor of Pluto's discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh—show evidence of nitrogen ice similar to Earth's glaciers, which appear to flow around elevated islands at the heart's edges.

Until now, scientists have only seen surfaces like this on active worlds such as Earth and Saturn's moon Enceladus. "No one dared imagine such a thick and localized buildup of geologically young ices, that even at 40 kelvins [-388 degrees Fahrenheit], have enough viscosity to create local landforms," he said.
Flowing ice and other previously revealed features, such as 11,000-foot water ice mountains and the heart's relatively young crater-free surface, support the idea that Pluto may have an interior ocean driving the geologic activity. (7/30)

Rocket Lab and NASA Sign Commercial Space Launch Agreement (Source: Scoop)
Rocket Lab has signed a Commercial Space Launch Act Agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The agreement enables Rocket Lab to use NASA resources - including personnel, facilities and equipment - for launch and reentry efforts.

Rocket Lab is considering using NASA’s launch complexes to complement Rocket Lab’s primary launch range in New Zealand. “Rocket Lab is pleased to have the opportunity to utilise NASA facilities for those customers that may require lower inclination orbits,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab CEO. Use of a NASA range will give Rocket Lab the ability to launch Electron to lower orbital inclinations than the company’s New Zealand range, which offers inclinations from sun-synchronous through to 45 degrees. (7/31)

New Results From Philae Lander Offer First Close-Up of a Comet (Source: Science News)
During its brief time awake on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Philae lander documented a diverse world. New analyses of lander data reveal the comet as uniform on the inside, but full of variety on the outside. Pebbles, boulders, cliffs and pits blanket the forbidding landscape. Complex organic molecules float above a surface that is as soft as sand in some places and as hard as rock in others.

Not too shabby for a lander that bounced, tumbled, bounced again, fell in a hole and landed on its side. For nearly 60 hours, Philae learned all it could about its new home before running out of power and slipping into a seven-month slumber from which it only recently awoke. (7/30)

Comet Probe Finds Key Ingredients for Life (Source: USA Today)
The comet probe Philae detected several elements essential to life during its historic, bouncing landing in November. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko contains at least 16 organic compounds, four of which had never before been detected on a comet, the first analysis of the data found. Whether the complex, carbon- and nitrogen-rich molecules were formed in the early days of the solar system or later on the comet remains a mystery.

But their existence "could have played a key role in fostering the formation" of amino acids, sugars and nucleobases — the ingredients for life, said the European Space Agency, which launched the Rosetta orbiter and its probe. (7/30)

Mystery "Graffiti" on Saturn Moon has Experts Stumped (Source: CBS)
It's as if someone took a red marker to Saturn's icy moon Tethys. In new images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, red arcs are clearly visible on the moon's surface, and are among the most unusual color features on Saturn's moons to be revealed by Cassini's cameras.

The images, obtained in April, are the first to show large northern areas of Tethys with such clarity. It also has helped that the Saturn system moved into its northern hemisphere summer over the past few years, meaning northern latitudes have become increasingly well illuminated. Click here. (7/30)

Iridium Delay Allows Glimpse of Complex SpaceX Launch Insurance Policy (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Iridium Communications on July 30 said the Russian launch of its first two Iridium Next second-generation satellites would be delayed by two months, to December, because of a recent problem with hardware assuring the satellites’ Ka-band feeder links.

Iridium said that despite the delay, it still expects commercial launch provider SpaceX to conduct the seven following Iridium Next launches, each carrying 10 satellites, by the end of 2017. Insurance officials in the past have said they want to see the first two Iridium Next satellites operational for around four months before underwriting coverage for the follow-on launches, to be sure there are no systemic issues on the satellites.

That would put the first SpaceX Falcon 9 launch in April 2016 at the earliest even if Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX keeps to its original Iridium Next schedule despite its heavily booked manifest and delays related to its June 28 failure. (7/30)

Orbital ATK Completing Final Report on Antares Failure (Source: Space News)
Orbital ATK is wrapping up the final report into last October’s Antares launch failure for delivery to the Federal Aviation Administration, but has not indicated when the report will be released to the public. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said he believed Orbital ATK “is about ready” to deliver its report on the Oct. 28 launch failure to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. (7/30)

Closest Rocky Alien Planet Discovered (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers have discovered a rocky exoplanet that lies just 21 light-years from Earth — closer than any other confirmed rocky alien world. The alien planet, called HD 219134b, is about 4.5 times more massive than Earth, making it a so-called "super Earth," a new study reports. HD 219134b lies extremely close to its host star, completing one orbit every three days, so its surface is too hot to harbor life as we know it, researchers said. (7/30)

Should Scientists Be Looking for the Last Life-Forms on Mars? (Source: Space.com)
Life may have lived and thrived in the oceans and lakes that once covered Mars — but some scientists want to focus the search for life on Mars on the organisms that held on when the water dried up: The last life-forms to survive on the Red Planet. The surface of Mars was once so abundant with liquid water that rivers, lakes, possibly an ocean, and maybe even hot springs decorated the planet's surface.

The water of ancient Mars may have even been clean enough for humans to drink. This aquatic history is written in the rocks and dirt that dominate the Martian landscape today. Water can still be found sealed in ice, primarily at the poles, and very small amounts in the atmosphere and the soil. But any significant amount of liquid water on the Red Planet is a thing of the past.

Considering Mars' wet history, and its many similarities to Earth, scientists are actively seeking signs that life once existed there. The Red Planet may never have hosted plants or animals, but microscopic life-forms may have survived, even thrived, in that watery Martian environment 3 or 4 billion years ago. (7/30)

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