August 22, 2015

Virgin Galactic Focuses on Satellites, Future Astronauts Have to Wait (Source: Telegraph)
'That’s funny, I’ve never been asked that before,” quips Virgin Galactic boss George Whitesides. The question: when will Virgin Galactic fly its space tourists into space? The answer, remarkably, is the company has no idea. “It’ll be ready when it’s ready,” says Whitesides. “I’m hesitant to give specifics on a range of time.”

Before the crash in November last year, there were around 750 “future astronauts” signed up to Virgin Galactic’s space program, paying $250,000 (£160,000) a pop for a seat on a spacecraft – SpaceShipTwo – that can reach the edge of space at an altitude of 62 miles before returning to earth. Numbers have already fallen to 700. These steadfast customers, believed to include high-profile ticket holders Ashton Kutcher, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and Stephen Hawking, represent $175m in revenue.

LauncherOne, a two-stage rocket that is fired at an altitude of 50,000 feet from White Knight Two – the same cargo plane that will be used to shuttle space tourists into near-space. For less than $10m, you can launch a single satellite or combination of satellites with varying payloads into orbit. Click here. (8/21)

China's Ling March 5 Rocket Stretches its Legs (Source: Popular Science)
On August 17th, China successfully test-fired the second stage of the Long March 5 space launch rocket. This was the last of pre- systems integration testing and thus a key milestone to ensure the LM-5's timely maiden flight in 2016.

The second stage of the LM-5 is vital for Chinese high orbit satellites and extraterrestial missions, such as lunar exploration. While the basic LM-5 doesn't have a second stage, the LM-5B will be able to use its second stage to place up to 14 tons into geosynchronous orbit (including military payloads like electronics and intelligence satellites), or to deliver a payload to the moon, like the Chang'e 5 lunar rover.
The LM-5's heavy low orbit and geosynchronous payload will firmly place China among the world's leading space powers in terms of technology, as well as serving as a stepping stone to even more powerful rockets, like the 130-ton payload Long March 9. (8/21)

A Brief History of Pop Stars in Space (Source: The Cut)
Who isn't obsessed with space? No one has paid more homage to the great beyond than pop music makers — perhaps because they are, after all, stars. (Sorry.) One Direction is far from the first group to explore interplanetary travel. Even before MTV started awarding music videos with its kicky little Moon Man statue,  space missions featured heavily in the format. Click here. (8/21)

On Mission to Mars, Stress Management is Key (Source: Boston Globe)
NASA has spent decades tracking the stress of its astronauts, as part of an effort to maximize productivity in space. Crew members who are bored, lonely, or fighting with their fellow travelers won’t be as effective.

There’s a lot more physical stress in zero gravity than on Earth, said Lauren B. Leveton, lead scientist for behavioral health and performance at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The human body evolved to cope with gravity and doesn’t work as well without it. Space travel disrupts sleep, sinuses, and digestion. Movement feels different. Dinner floats.

And that doesn’t even begin to address the emotional burden of blasting off from Earth in an apartment-sized tin can, leaving behind nearly everyone and everything you’ve ever known. NASA is particularly concerned about astronaut stress as it begins plans to send a spacecraft to Mars in 2030, Leveton said. Click here. (8/21)

Boeing Loses Contract Over Ex-Im Bank Freeze (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Boeing is scrambling to renegotiate an about $85 million satellite contract that became the first big casualty of the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s loss of its operating charter due to congressional opposition. Asia Broadcast Satellite last month terminated its order for a Boeing 702SP satellite, although the two say they are continuing to discuss the project. (8/22)

The Search for ‘Dark Matter’ and ‘Dark Energy’ Just Got Interesting (Source: The Conversation)
Only about 5% of the universe consists of ordinary matter such as protons and electrons, with the rest being filled with mysterious substances known as dark matter and dark energy. So far, scientists have failed to detect these elusive materials, despite spending decades searching for them. But now, two new studies may be able to turn things around as they have narrowed down the search significantly.

Dark matter was first proposed more than 70 years ago to explain why the force of gravity in galaxy clusters is so much stronger than expected. If the clusters contained only the stars and gas we observe, their gravity should be much weaker, leading scientists to assume there is some sort of matter hidden there that we can’t see. Such dark matter would provide additional mass to these large structures, increasing their gravitational pull. The main contender for the substance is a type of hypothetical particle known as a “weakly interacting massive particle” (WIMP).

To probe the nature of dark matter, physicists look for evidence of its interactions beyond gravity. If the WIMP hypothesis is correct, dark matter particles could be detected through their scattering off atomic nuclei or electrons on Earth. In such “direct” detection experiments, a WIMP collision would cause these charged particles to recoil, producing light that we can observe. (8/21)

Russia Eyes Reviving its Reusable Space Shuttle Program (Source: Space Daily)
After a 25-year pause since the death of Russia's winged space shuttle program, known as Buran (Snowstorm) designed to serve as the Soviet counterpart to the US Space Shuttle, Russia is set to develop a new Reusable Space Rocket System, or MRKS in Russian.

The idea is to reduce the cost of launching satellites and other equipment into space. The system, which is being developed under the Federal Space Program, is set to cost not less than 12.5 billion rubles ($185 mln). The program is set to get financing from 2021 and last until 2025. In 2019, a mission requirement package is slated to be worked on. The program envisions a partially reusable launch vehicle equipped with a winged booster stage.

After lifting the second, expendable stage of the MRKS vehicle into the stratosphere, the reusable booster would separate and glide back to Earth to be prepared for its next mission. The launches will be operated from the Vostochny space launch center in the Russian Far East. The Rocket System is being developed by Khrunichev Space Center in close cooperation with other Russian aerospace heavyweightssuch as NPO Molniya, TsAGI, and others. (8/21)

Why 'The Martian' is NASA's Best Marketing Event in Years (Source: MNN)
If you want a vision of how NASA see its future playing out in 15 to 20 years, hit your local movie theater on Oct. 2 and purchase a ticket to see "The Martian." The Mars survival thriller by director Ridley Scott, based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, is science-fiction on the absolute cusp of reality. It's also the kind of entertainment billboard that NASA hopes not only inspires the next generation of astronauts and engineers, but also spurs interest - and most importantly - funding for future missions.

To celebrate the launch of the first full trailer for "The Martian," NASA yesterday hosted a screening of the film's first 50 minutes, as well as a Q&A; with Scott, Weir, the film's star Matt Damon, astronaut Drew Feustel and NASA Director of Planetary Sciences Jim Green. The space agency also gave journalists a tour of its Jet Propulsion Lab, as well as the technologies in development to make a human mission to Mars a reality. Click here. (8/21)

More Hawaiians Arrested at Telescope Site (Source: AP)
Police arrested eight people Thursday protesting the construction of a solar telescope in Hawaii. The protesters were attempting to stop a convoy of trucks heading to the summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui, where the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope is under construction. Protestors said they're inspired by a similar effort on Mauna Kea that has halted construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. (8/21)

Despite Rocket Explosion, Orbital ATK's Profits are Soaring (Source: LA Times)
Ten months after a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station exploded seconds after liftoff, profits are soaring for the NASA contractor that built it. NASA is continuing to pay the Virginia aerospace firm millions of dollars for work on future cargo shipments under a contract that executives say has recently become more profitable.

The Oct. 8 explosion cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost cargo, damage to the launch pad and required payments to the firm for the failed mission. It also left NASA scrambling to get needed supplies to astronauts. By last September, just before the explosion, Orbital had already received $1.3 billion of what was then a $1.9-billion contract with NASA — even though it had completed just two of eight required missions. NASA has now extended the contract, buying additional cargo trips and increasing the price to as much as $3.1 billion. (8/21)

Lawmakers Question Rigor of Industry-Led Launch Failure Investigations (Source: LA Times)
Federal law allows commercial space companies to do their own investigations into accidents unless there are fatalities or significant damage to property beyond the launch site. The Senate voted this month to extend that law, which allows America's space industry to operate with little government oversight. The House earlier passed a bill allowing a similar extension. Final details of the bill must now be hammered out by representatives of both houses in a conference committee.

NASA recently received at least three letters from members of Congress questioning whether the companies should investigate their own accidents when millions of dollars in taxpayer money is at stake. In one of those letters, 14 representatives, including Rep. J. Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican, wrote that they had "serious reservations" about the corporate-led probes. They questioned "whether the investigation and engineering rigor applied will be sufficient" to prevent future accidents. (8/21)

Pegasus Barge Completes Refits for SLS Transportation Role (Source:
NASA’s veteran Pegasus barge – used to transport Space Shuttle External Tanks from Louisiana to Florida – has completed refit operations in Louisiana for its critical role in transporting the massive core stage of the new SLS rocket from its production facility in Louisiana to various NASA locations throughout the southern United States. (8/21)

NASA Wants to Turn Human Waste into Plastic and Vitamins (Source: Quartz)
When tomorrow’s astronauts feel the call of nature, they may be engaging in an act of creation. NASA recently awarded roughly $200,000 to researchers at Clemson University to figure out how to turn human waste into usable products, including vitamins and plastics. Mark Blenner is genetically engineering yeast to produce things that astronauts might need aboard a spaceship, using urine and breathed-out carbon dioxide as the building blocks to create useful onboard items. Click here. (8/21)

'Wormhole' Created in Lab Makes Invisible Magnetic Field (Source:
Ripped from the pages of a sci-fi novel, physicists have crafted a wormhole that tunnels a magnetic field through space. "This device can transmit the magnetic field from one point in space to another point, through a path that is magnetically invisible," said study co-author Jordi Prat-Camps. "From a magnetic point of view, this device acts like a wormhole, as if the magnetic field was transferred through an extra special dimension." (8/21)

The Extraterrestrial Commodities Market (Source: Air & Space)
Any scheme which is based on going into space to retrieve platinum-group metals and bring them back to Earth would be an economic flop. But—and here’s the big conditional—if we develop an industrial capability in space such that we’re processing large amounts of metals to make solar-powered satellites, for example, then as a byproduct, we would have very substantial quantities of platinum-group metals, which are extremely valuable. So if you have a market for the iron and the nickel in space, that would liberate the precious metals to be brought back to Earth. So the scheme is not based on the idea of retrieving platinum-group metals—that is simply gravy. Click here. (8/21)

The Future of Construction in Space (Source: Air & Space)
Steve Stich, director of exploration, integration and science at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, says inflatable habitats may someday be integrated with metal pressure vessels, but the agency needs to learn a lot more about how inflatables hold up against the hazards of space: radiation exposure, thermal cycling, debris impact. Click here. (8/21)

Preventing Armageddon: The Economic Hurdles Of Asteroid Defense (Source: NPR)
Some scientists say we should be doing more to protect the Earth from asteroids. The technical issues are relatively easy, but the economics of asteroid defense are much harder. Click here. (8/21)

Early Solar System Could Have Hosted a Fifth Giant Planet (Source: America Space)
In terms of its planetary population, our Solar System is one of the most crowded ones, as evidenced by the discoveries of thousands of exoplanetary systems during the last couple of decades. Yet, according to a series of theoretical studies conducted through the years, our planetary family was even more populous early on in its history. A new such study suggests that no less than five gas giant planets roamed the Solar System during the first hundred million years after it was formed, only to be expelled into interstellar space, thus helping to give rise to the planetary arrangement we know today. (8/21)

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