August 29, 2015

Tropical Storm Forces Minimum 48 Hour Delay for ULA Atlas Launch (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The flight of a United Launch Alliance (ULA ) Atlas V 551 rocket and its payload of the fourth satellite of the Mobile User Objective System – has been delayed due to what is currently Tropical Storm Erica. At present, the mission is not expected to take to the skies any earlier than Sept. 2.

The announcement, made late in the day on Friday, Aug. 28, came just hours after a teleconference held with the key organizations involved with the planned flight. During the hour-long exchange mission managers noted that they were closely following the conditions down in the Caribbean. (8/28)

NASA Seeks Proposals To Harness Deep Space Solar Energy (Source: Law360)
A NASA program asked for proposals Wednesday for a contract worth up to $3.65 million to develop technology that could harness solar energy from more remote corners of the solar system, saying missions in the near future will require such technology. (8/28)

RSC Energia Holds Contest to Name Soyuz Spacecraft Successor (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Energia announces creativity competition for the best name of the new-generation crew transportation spacecraft, which is planned to be used for missions to the Moon. The competition time frame: August 30 through November 2, 2015. Its results will be announced on January 15, 2016. (8/28)

EU Provides $77 Million for SABRE Engine R&D (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The European Commission has found that a £50 million (around €71 million) grant that the UK authorities intend to provide for designing a SABRE space launcher engine is in line with EU state aid rules. SABRE is a research and development (R&D) project carried out by UK company Reaction Engines Limited (REL). The project aims to develop an engine that would power a reusable airframe to launch satellites into low Earth orbit, significantly reducing the costs of such space missions.

The Commission found that the measure fosters aerospace R&D in Europe while limiting distortions of competition in the Single Market. The new engine would enable a vehicle to reach orbital velocity and altitude from the Earth’s surface without jettisoning any hardware. The objective is to render the technology less risky by significantly improving each of SABRE’s numerous components and subsystems.(8/27)

New NASA Launch Command Center Planned at Wallops Island Spaceport (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded a contract to Harkins Contracting Inc. of Salisbury, Maryland, for the construction of a new Mission Launch Command Center (MLCC) at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. The new 14,174 square-foot facility will serve as the hub for interfacing with and controlling rockets, their payloads and associated launch pad support systems during flight operations at Wallops.

Recent operations underscoring the need for the new command center include commercial cargo resupply flights to the International Space Station, Department of Defense missions, and NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), the first lunar mission to launch from Wallops. This award is a firm-fixed price contract with a value of $5.6 million. (8/28)

13 Great Canadian Space Ideas (Source: MacLean's)
Some of the most exciting new space technologies are coming out from right here in Canada. Here’s a look at some of the best ideas that our country has contributed to better understanding and harnessing space. Click here. (8/28)

NASA Selects New Horizons’ Next Destination After Pluto (Source: The Verge)
After flying by Pluto on July 14th, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has a new destination. The mission team has selected another object in the Kuiper Belt — the region of icy bodies that orbits the edge of the Solar System — for the probe to explore next.

The spacecraft's new potential target is called 2014 MU69; it's a much smaller object than Pluto and orbits the Sun nearly 1 billion miles beyond the dwarf planet. 2014 MU69 is an ideal candidate for further exploration, because it will cost less fuel to reach than other Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs), said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.

Using less fuel to get to the object means more will be available to power the probe’s data-gathering instruments. The images and information gathered by New Horizons will give scientists a much better understanding of the worlds at the fringes of our Solar System. (8/28)

Asteroids Loom as the New Klondike for Seattle Region’s Space Industry (Source: Geek Wire)
Seattle could profit from the rush for resources in outer space much as it did during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s: by selling goods and services to the fortune-seekers. At least that’s the vision laid out by entrepreneurs who are laying the groundwork in Seattle — and in space — for what they hope will be a multitrillion-dollar asteroid mining industry. (8/28)

Congress, Don’t Make Us Hitch Rides With Russia. Love, NASA (Source: WIRED)
Grounding human spaceflights was always supposed to be temporary as we made the necessary transition to a new generation of spacecraft, operated by American commercial carriers. Likewise, paying for seats on Russian spacecraft to send our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) was always intended to be a stopgap.

Had Congress adequately funded President Obama’s Commercial Crew proposal, we could have been making final preparations this year to once again launch American astronauts to space from American soil aboard American spacecraft. Instead we are faced with uncertainty—and we will continue to be so long as Congress resists fully investing in Commercial Crew. (8/28)

NASA Mars Isolation Experiment Starting in Hawaii (Source: The Telegraph)
Six people are about to shut themselves inside a dome in Hawaii for a year, in the longest US isolation experiment yet aimed at helping NASA prepare for a pioneering journey to Mars. The crew includes a French astrobiologist, a German physicist and four Americans - a pilot, an architect, a doctor/journalist and a soil scientist. They are based on a barren, northern slope of Mauna Loa, living inside a dome that is 36 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall. (8/28)

Ice Sheet Bigger Than Texas, California Found on Mars (Source: CBS)
Ali Bramson knew she was onto something when she spotted a "crazy looking crater" on the face of Mars. Trying to explain the crater's strange shape, Bramson, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, and her colleagues zeroed in on the fact it was terraced, rather than bowl-shaped like most craters of this size. Terraces can form when there are layers of different materials in the planet's subsurface, such as dirt, ice or rock.

In this area of Mars (Arcadia Planitia), there are a lot of terraced craters," he said. "The craters may have formed at different times, but they all have terraces, which indicates something weird is going on in the subsurface."

In this case, there was ice - and lots of it. Beneath the surface, they discovered an enormous slab of water ice, measuring 130 feet thick and covering an area equivalent to that of California and Texas combined. The ice was the result, the authors wrote, of snowfall "which can most easily explain the thickness and widespread nature of the excess ice observed." (8/28)

NASA Tech Aims for Precise Landings on Mars (Source:
Getting a robotic spacecraft to nail a pinpoint landing is still just a dream for engineers, but a new technology could make it easier to reach distant destinations with better precision. The new Mars landing technology, which is being co-developed by scientists at JPL and the University of Texas, compares pictures of the ground below to images already stored in the spacecraft's computer, to figure out how close to get to the landing site. (8/28)

Terminator-Style ‘Skin’ Quickly Repairs Itself After a Gunshot (Source: New Scientist)
It’s only a speeding bullet. The novel material in the video above can handle being pierced by a gunshot and instantly repairs the damage. Developed by Timothy Scott from the University of Michigan and his team, the self-healing “skin” contains a reactive liquid sandwiched between two polymer sheets. When punctured, a chemical called tributylborane in the liquid reacts with oxygen to make it harden, sealing the hole within seconds.

Other self-healing plastics exist, but they take much longer to repair themselves. The ability to instantly plug holes could be especially useful to protect structures in space, where flying objects can puncture spacecraft or orbiting habitats. The plastic could be incorporated into their walls, creating a seal if the atmosphere inside a vessel starts to leak out, putting astronauts at risk.

Other fabrics take a different approach: stopping projectiles altogether. A futuristic tissue combining human skin cells with spider silk can cushion a gunshot when fired at half speed. Pure graphene, which is made up of layers of carbon one-atom thick, is being investigated for use in bulletproof armour because it can handle blows better than steel. (8/28)

How to Find 'Strange Life' on Alien Planets (Source:
Detecting signs of life very different from that of Earth in the atmospheres of alien planets may be difficult, but it is possible, researchers say. A team of scientists examined models of "super-Earths" — exoplanets slightly larger than Earth — to determine how easily signs of life could be spotted. They determined that such biosignatures could be identified more easily on planets orbiting stars producing relatively low amounts of radiation — but even then only if everything worked out just right. (8/28)

Science and Religion Fight Over Hawaii's Highest Point (Source: CNN)
Rising more than 6 miles from the seabed floor, Mauna Kea is the tallest summit in the world. To native Hawaiians, the dormant volcano is the most sacred land in the entire Pacific. It is the point where the sky and earth meet. They believe it is the site of the genesis of their people, and it is the burial ground for their most revered ancestors. Considered a temple and a house of worship, native Hawaiians believed the gods created Mauna Kea for them to ascend to the heavens.

To scientists, the mountaintop is the best location in the world to observe the stars and study the origins of our universe. "The summit of Mauna Kea may, in fact, be the darkest site anywhere in the world ... which of course means you can see deeper into space," said Doug Simons, executive director at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. (8/28)

Huntsville City Leaders Want Country's First Commercial Spaceport (Source: WAFF)
The Rocket City is readying itself for another space boom. Huntsville leaders are working with private space companies to test whether a commercial space craft can land at Huntsville International Airport. It could mean more jobs, major money, and North Alabama leading the way yet again into the cosmos.

Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969 and the rest is history. Fast forward nearly 50 years and the next chapter of American space travel is evolving into the commercial sector and with it new history could be written right here at Huntsville International Airport. Huntsville leaders want to know if a commercial space craft, specifically Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser, can land on the runway next to airplanes and make us the first in the country with that capability.

"Being able to land that craft that just comes out of low earth orbit and being able to land it right here in Huntsville gives us unlimited potential,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. Huntsville leaders are currently paying for a two-prong study looking at logistics and performance. (8/28)

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