August 26, 2015

NASA Eyes Uranus, Neptune for New Missions (Source: Space News)
NASA plans to start studying missions to Uranus and Neptune. Jim Green, head of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said this week that he has instructed JPL to start work on a study of mission concepts to the two "ice giant" planets in the outer solar system, visited only by the Voyager 2 mission in the 1980s. Any mission to either planet is unlikely to fly before the late 2020s, pending funding and endorsement by planetary researchers that such a mission would be a scientific priority. (8/25)

NASA Funds Plasma Rocket Technology for Superfast Space Travel (Source: Space Daily)
Superfast journeys to Mars may be one big step closer for humanity, as NASA has sponsored a private company to develop a high-tech, plasma engine. Ad Astra Rocket Company, specializing in the development of plasma rocket propulsion technology, has finished contract negotiations with NASA.

As part of the Next Space Technology Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) award, the space agency will cover half of Ad Astra's testing expenses over the next three years. Known as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, or VASIMR, the engine uses plasma technology to accelerate rockets to previously unattainable speeds. To create plasma, the proposed engines will heat pressurized gas to extremely high temperatures with radio waves. The resulting plasma is kept under control with magnetic fields. (8/26)

NASA Aircraft to Begin NOAA Hurricane Mission (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's remotely piloted Global Hawk aircraft will begin flights this week in support of a NOAA-led mission to improve hurricane track and intensity forecasts. Operating from the aircraft ground control station located at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, NOAA will work with NASA scientists on the mission called Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology, or SHOUT.

The mission builds on earlier collaborative storm research led by NASA and will move the Global Hawk closer to being put into operational use as a weather forecast observations tool. From now until the end of September, pilots and scientists will direct a series of flights out over the Atlantic Ocean basin to collect data on temperature, moisture, wind speed and direction. The real time data will go into National Weather Service forecast models at the National Hurricane Center. (8/25)

Billionaires Wanted to Fund Private Mars Colony (Source: Space.com)
Could the first Mars colony be called Buffettville, or Zuckerburgh? The Netherlands-based nonprofit Mars One aims to establish a permanent settlement on the Red Planet, beginning with the touchdown of the first four pioneers in 2027. The biggest challenges facing the project are financial rather than technical, so a big donation from a deep-pocketed person concerned about his or her legacy could make a huge difference, Mars One representatives said. (8/25)

U.S. and Russia Can't Even Agree on How to Handle Astronaut Pee (Source: Bloomberg)
Both of the failed U.S. resupply vessels carried water-processing equipment needed on the station. Their failures raised the stakes for the Aug. 19 launch of an unmanned Japanese cargo craft, the Kounotori 5, or White Stork, which successfully docked on Monday. Among the cargo losses on both U.S. launch failures were a pair of multifiltration beds for the water processor and filters for the urine-processing system, which recycles astronauts’ waste into a drinking supply.

When the space shuttle program began in 1981, its astronauts’ water relied on iodine, a common biocide for water that had long served as a staple for U.S. troops operating in areas with suspect water supplies. Those standard practices carried over to the American side of the space station, which was launched in 1998. It’s an effective but inefficient way to clean the water supply, because it has to be filtered out before crew members can drink it. Too much iodine can cause the thyroid gland to become enlarged.

The Russians, however, rely on a different go-to: silver, which in its ionic form is a powerful antimicrobial agent. Its use dates back to the Soviet Mir space station, which was launched in 1986. Unlike iodine, silver doesn’t have to be filtered out of the water. Epsom salts are added to improve its taste. NASA has decided to switch to silver-ionized water on future missions. The U.S. water recycling system produces about 3.6 gallons per day, for an average of three NASA crew on the ISS, slightly more than the Russians yield from processing just condensate and shower water into a potable supply. The reason? NASA takes Russian urine, too. (8/25)

Eyeing the Stars: Ethiopia's Space Program (Source: Space Daily)
High above the crowded streets of Addis Ababa, among fields where farmers lead oxen dragging wooden ploughs, sits Ethiopia's space program. Perched on the top of the 3,200-meter (10,500-foot) high Mount Entoto, two metal domes house telescopes, each a meter in diameter.

Operational for only a few months, the specialized equipment -- the first in eastern Africa -- has propelled Ethiopia into an elite club of African countries to have embarked on a space program. For Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous nation, the programme is aimed to give it a technological boost to aid the country's already rapid development. (8/25)

How a Nazi Rocket Could Have Put Britain Into Space (Source: BBC)
In the summer of 1945, with the war in Europe over, Allied forces rushed to unravel the secrets of Nazi V2 rockets. These terror weapons, built by slave laborers, did little to affect the outcome of the war – but they had the potential to change the world. “There was an unseemly scramble to get hold of V2 missile technology,” says John Becklake, former head of engineering at London’s Science Museum. “The Americans, the Russians, the French and us.”

The leader of Hitler’s Vengeance weapon program, Wernher von Braun, surrendered to American forces in May 1945 and was quietly spirited away to the United States. In the same month the Russians captured Von Braun’s research and test facilities at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast. The French, meanwhile, gathered some 40 German rocket scientists and engineers and the British assembled rockets for a series of test flights.

Known as Operation Backfire, the British program involved firing V2 rockets from the Netherlands to the edge of space before they splashed down in the North Sea. The experiment proved successful, with the missiles reportedly descending within three miles of their targets – more accurately than the Germans managed during the war. Click here. (8/25)

NASA Science Zeros in on Ocean Rise: How Much? How Soon? (Source: NASA)
Seas around the world have risen an average of nearly 3 inches since 1992, with some locations rising more than 9 inches due to natural variation, according to the latest satellite measurements from NASA and its partners. An intensive research effort now underway, aided by NASA observations and analysis, points to an unavoidable rise of several feet in the future.

“Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas, it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least 3 feet of sea level rise, and probably more,” said Steve Nerem of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and lead of the Sea Level Change Team. “But we don't know whether it will happen within a century or somewhat longer.” Click here. (8/26)

NASA Says No Special Treatment for SpaceX in Falcon 9 Investigation (Source: Space News)
Responding to congressional criticism that suggested NASA was giving SpaceX special treatment, Administrator Charles Bolden said NASA is conducting an independent review of the company’s June launch failure. In an Aug. 24 letter to House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Bolden said the appearance of special treatment accorded to SpaceX over Orbital ATK was a “misunderstanding” because NASA is taking a different approach to reviews of the two companies’ launch failures.

“First and foremost, I want to assure you that NASA is performing an independent analysis” of the June 28 Falcon 9 launch failure on SpaceX’s seventh cargo mission to the International Space Station under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, Bolden wrote.

Bolden noted that immediately after last October’s failure of Orbital’s Antares launch vehicle, also on a cargo mission to the ISS under a CRS contract, the agency decided to establish a formal independent review team. While NASA was formally part of Orbital’s own accident investigation board, Bolden said the independent review was intended to “inform and amplify the learning for the NASA team.” (8/26)

NASA Crashes Cessna 172 to Test Improved ELT Technology (Source: Daily Press)
In an effort to improve emergency locator transmitter technology for commercial and general aviation, NASA is performing a series of test crashes of Cessna 172 aircraft to simulate various crash scenarios. The third of three tests is expected to be performed this week and will involve dropping the airplane tail-down from 100 feet. (8/23)

5 Space Leaders Making a Difference (Source: Space News)
Making a difference can be measured in any number of ways: triumph, budget, policy, inspiration, influence or vision. Unlike some previous years, no villains are represented, but bad behavior makes its presence felt, if only indirectly. As always, our criteria are subjective, and our selections represent but a small slice of the people and activities that make up the global space enterprise. Click here. (8/25)

Edwards: No Progress on Reconciling Commercial Launch Bills (Source: Space News)
Despite individually passing legislation that would extend key provisions of commercial launch law, the House and Senate have yet to start efforts to reconcile their separate bills, a leading House Democrat said. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member of the House Science space subcommittee, said she was unaware of any effort in Congress to establish a conference committee to resolve differences between a commercial space transportation bill the House passed in May and one the Senate approved Aug. 4.

“I’m a little concerned about that. I haven’t heard anything yet about a prospective conference,” she said in response to a question about the status of the legislation. “I would be on the conference, so I would know that.”

Both the House bill, H.R. 2262, and the Senate bill, S. 1297, would extend the current restriction on the ability of the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate the safety of participants of commercial spaceflights except in the case of accidents. This grace period, frequently called the “learning period” by industry, is scheduled to expire Oct. 1. The Senate bill extends the learning period by five years, while the House bill extends it by ten. (8/25)

Private Space Stations Could Be a Reality by 2025 (Source: Space.com)
There are strong prospects that commercial space stations will become a reality within the next 10 years if entrepreneurs and NASA can properly manage the tricky transition from the government-run International Space Station to privately built and operated facilities, experts say.

"This is an exciting moment," said Alex MacDonald, program executive for NASA's Emerging Space Office. "We are going to have a legitimate opportunity to run that great experiment of privately owned facilities, if you guys are able to raise the money to do it. And that's really the exciting part."

NASA uses the International Space Station (ISS) for basic research and to reduce the human and technological risks of sending astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO). That need will not end even if the space station is retired in 2024, as currently planned, experts say. (8/25)

'Lonely Mountain' on Ceres Shines in New Photos (Source: Slate)
A "lonely mountain" stands unaccompanied on the icy gray surface of the dwarf planet Ceres, in amazing new photographs from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The mountain, with an altitude of 21,120 feet (6,437 meters), is one of many gorgeous features captured in the new images, which Dawn took on Aug. 19. Click here. (8/25)

Can Stephen Hawking End a 40-Year Debate on a Black-Hole Mystery? (Source: CSM)
“If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up,” Stephen Hawking said to an audience at a public lecture in Stockholm, Sweden on Monday. “There’s a way out.” Mr. Hawking was speaking to a group of mostly lay-people, in which he teased the idea that he may have another theory about black holes to bring to a close a 40 year-old debate known as the "black hole information paradox." Click here. (8/25)

Russia to Develop Earth Remote-Sensing Satellite System for Iran (Source: Sputnik)
Two Russian space companies and Iranian Bonyan Danesh Shargh firm signed on Tuesday an agreement on joint development of an Earth remote-sensing satellite system for Iran, Russia's Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said. The pre-—Āontractual arrangement covers the development of an earth remote-sensing system based on an upgraded version of the Kanopus-V1 (Canopus-B) observation satellite. (8/25)

2nd Space Traffic Management Conference Planned Nov. 11-13 in Daytona (Source: ERAU)
The 2nd Annual Space Traffic Management Conference will be held 11 – 13 November 2015 at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus in Florida. This year's theme is “An Evolving Landscape.” This year’s objective is to explore the next steps for collaborative, responsible, sustainable coordination of space traffic with other modalities. Click here. (8/25)

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