September 17, 2015

NASA's Wild New Plan for Mars Would Test SpaceX in Ways Never Done Before (Source: Business Insider)
A team of scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in California have come up with a wild notion to do what has never been done before: transport rocks currently on Mars to Earth. NASA has been seriously considering a sample-return mission like this for a while, ranking it as the highest-priority big-budget mission for the future in the U.S. National Research Center's 2013 decadal survey.

The return mission that NASA envisioned in 2013 would cost $6 billion, but the team at NASA's Ames Research Center thinks they might have found a cheaper way. Enter the "Red Dragon" mission, which would see NASA team up with SpaceX, once again, for an epic mission of engineering firsts, including the first time anyone will have launched a vehicle off the surface of Mars.

The project would launch a modified version of SpaceX's current Dragon spacecraft to the Red Planet by as early as 2022, hence the project name "Red Dragon." "Red Dragon" would follow NASA's Mars 2020 mission, scheduled to launch a rover similar to Curiosity to Mars in 2020 — if the project is fully funded. The Dragon spacecraft would then retrieve the samples taken by the Mars 2020 rover, store them in a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), which would then launch the samples back to Earth. (9/17)

How Space Exploration Replaced Religion in the USSR (Source: Guardian)
For most of the 20th century, the thirst for space exploration replaced religion in the Soviet Union, with the cult of science disseminated through propaganda, not sermons. Yuri Gagarin, the first human in outer space, was the God-like figurehead, a man of the people and a martyr who died too young in mysterious circumstances.

The titanium Gagarin monument in Moscow, created by sculptor Pavel Bondarenko, features a 42m-tall column topped with a figure of the cosmonaut rocketing to the sky in a pose similar to Rio De Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer.

Between the 1950s up until the 70s, space themes were woven into everyday life, into endless festivals and celebrations of interstellar exploration. Children’s playgrounds were designed like rockets, the walls of schools and kindergartens decorated with paper spacecraft and stars. Houses were built to look like spacecraft, lunar stations and flying saucers – to this day, experts refer to the 1960s-80s as the “cosmic period” in Soviet architecture. (9/17)

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age (Source: Creative Review)
A new exhibition opening at London’s Science Museum on Friday includes the largest collection of Soviet spacecraft and artefacts ever exhibited outside of Russia. We spoke to curators Doug Millard and Natalia Sidlina about the show, which also presents a fascinating look at space propaganda and cosmic art. Click here. (9/17)

Space Architecture: From Outer Space to the Ocean Floor (Source: University of Houston)
No longer the stuff of science fiction, the details of how people work and live in space and other extreme environments have become a growing part of the economy.

Education and training for the people who design and build those work and living zones is changing, too. The University of Houston’s Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) – the only program of its kind in the world – has restructured its interdisciplinary master’s degree curriculum and is working on real-world projects that point to the future of the industry. (9/15)

How to Prevent Space War (Source: Motherboard)
When most of us think of space warfare, we picture the Star Wars variety—epic battles between spaceships, lightspeed chases, and planet-blasting death rays. But in reality, the state of modern orbital warfare looks less like a space opera, and more like a slow-burn political thriller.

Astronauts representing several different countries may break bread on the International Space Station, yet geopolitical tensions between their respective nations simmer under the surface. In contrast to the pyrotechnic nuclear threats faced in the 1960s, modern space militarization is defined by subterfuge, distrust, and an ever-complexifying cast of global players. Click here. (9/16)

Here’s the Real Way to Get Internet to the Next 4 Billion People (Source: WIRED)
Around 3.2 billion people have access to the Internet. That’s amazing, but it’s fewer than half of the 7 billion or so people on earth. And while Internet access was once a luxury, it is quickly becoming essential as the world’s commerce, educational resources, and entertainment move online.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of schemes to bring Internet to underserved countries, ranging from low-orbit satellites to high-altitude balloons to drones. Some analysts have criticized these projects, arguing they won’t deliver Internet access at prices people in the developing world can afford. Click here. (9/16)

Blue Origin Win Offers Florida Lessons on Job Creation (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
For Florida, a state that still leans heavily on tourism and other lower-paying industries, additional aerospace jobs are especially welcome. Blue Origin doesn't yet have the government and private launch contracts of other private rocketeers such as SpaceX and ULA, but it has Bezos' fortune — estimated by Forbes' magazine at $46 billion — to keep it in orbit in the meantime.

Florida beat out 10 other states that also were hoping to land Blue Origin. The victory was sweet a year after SpaceX chose Texas over the Space Coast as the site of its new commercial space port. Florida reportedly sealed the deal with $26 million in state and local tax incentives.

But it's notable that Bezos said he chose to launch his rockets on the Space Coast because of its launch facilities and its skilled work force. Such reasoning is a better argument for additional investment in modernizing and upgrading the space-related infrastructure at Cape Canaveral operated by another economic-development agency, Space Florida. It also makes a good case for more state funding to train and develop the current generation of aerospace workers, and educate the next generation. (9/17)

Moscow Prepares Ground for Vostochny Delay (Source: Russian Space Web)
On September 15, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin returned to Vostochny with another inspection. Once again, TV footage and images released during the trip showed steady progress at all major facilities, particularly at the residential area of the site, with four new apartment blocks in the final stages of construction. According to the local daily, Amurskaya Pravda, the launch personnel at the new site had reached 200 people out of 800 strong force expected by the end of the year.

Still, the mega-project was slightly behind the arbitrary deadlines imposed by Moscow. The Interfax news agency quoted the head of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, Igor Komarov, as saying that the technical facilities of the center had still lacked permanent power supply, water and heating. Komarov admitted that the overall work still lagged behind schedule. (9/17)

Boeing Rejects Aerojet Rocketdyne Bid for ULA (Source: Reuters)
Boeing said it had rejected an unsolicited bid from Aerojet Rocketdyne for United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 rocket launch venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. "The unsolicited proposal for ULA is not something we seriously entertained," Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said.

Boeing said it remained committed "to ULA and its business, and to continued leadership in all aspects of space, as evidenced by the agreement announced last week with Blue Origin," a company owned by founder Jeff Bezos that is designing the engine for a new rocket being designed by ULA.

Lockheed declined comment, saying it did not discuss transactions with other companies. A source familiar with the matter said there was no disagreement between Lockheed and Boeing, and both companies agreed to reject the bid. (9/16)

NASA KSC Supports Swarmathon for Robotics (Source: NASA)
Are you from a Minority Serving University or College? Enter the NASA Swarmathon! Teams will receive $6,000 in robots, a $1,000 stipend for their faculty member, and the ability to compete against teams from across the nation for a $5,000 top prize! The Swarmathon will challenge students to develop search algorithms for robotic swarms, and these algorithms will be tested in a competition at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in April, 2016. Click here for info on a Sep. 22 informative webinar. (9/16)

Smith Condemns Administration’s Space Exploration Delays (Source: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology)
Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) today released the following statement in response to an announcement that NASA will be forced to delay the development of the Orion crew vehicle. Last year the administration also delayed the development of the Space Launch System. Both of these systems are being developed for deep space human exploration.

NASA announced today that its schedule for the first crewed mission of SLS and Orion will slip to 2023; this represents a two year slip from previous plans for the first mission by 2021. The agency announced similar delays last fall. Smith has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for failure to request adequate funding for Orion and the Space Launch System; the administration’s FY16 budget request proposed cuts of more than $440 million for the programs. (9/16)

First Crewed Orion Mission May Slip to 2023 (Source: Space News)
The first flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft with people on board could be delayed by more than a year to early 2023, agency officials said Sep. 16. NASA announced that the Orion program had achieved a milestone known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), completing a technical and programmatic review of the spacecraft designed to carry astronauts beyond Earth orbit. That review was similar to one completed by Orion’s launch vehicle, the Space Launch System, in August 2014.

The KDP-C review found that there is a 70-percent chance Orion will be ready for its first crewed mission, Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2), no later than April 2023. The review also set a cost baseline for Orion from October 2015 through EM-2 of $6.77 billion. That figure excludes the funding spent on Orion to date, including several billion dollars during the Constellation program prior to its 2010 cancellation.

The April 2023 date is a delay of more than 18 months from the earlier target date of August 2021. NASA is keeping that 2021 date as an “aggressive” internal goal for that mission, even while acknowledging the chance of being ready to fly then is low. (9/16)

Europlanet 2020 Launches New Era of Planetary Collaboration in Europe (Source: Space Daily)
A 9.95 million euro project to integrate and support planetary science activities across Europe has been launched. The Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI) is funded under the European Commission's Horizon 2020 program and will run for four years until August 2019.

The project is led by the Open University, UK, and has 34 beneficiary institutions from 19 European countries. Europlanet 2020 RI will address key scientific and technological challenges facing modern planetary science by providing open access to state-of-the-art research data, models and facilities across the European Research Area. (9/16)

Congressional Funding Delays Could Stall Engine Work (Source: Breaking Defense)
A temporary spending bill expected to start the new fiscal year may stall work on a replacement for the RD-180 engine. Air Force Gen. John Hyten said that starting the 2016 fiscal year next month on a continuing resolution, as expected, means that efforts like funding an RD-180 replacement "just gets put on hold," along with a number of classified space programs. "It's just bad. I wish I could come up with a better word than bad but I can't," he said. (9/16)

India to Enter Space-Based Astronomy Club (Source: PTI)
India's first astronomy satellite is scheduled to launch late this month.  India's space agency ISRO said Wednesday that the launch of its Astrosat spacecraft on a PSLV rocket is planned for Sept. 28. Astrosat, under development by ISRO for many years, will perform observations in ultraviolet, x-ray, and optical wavelengths. The launch will also carry several small satellites as secondary payloads. (9/16)

Proton Launch Eases Bandwidth Crunch (Source: Space News)
The Proton launch of a Russian satellite earlier this week will help relieve a bandwidth crunch. The Express-AM8 satellite, with a payload of C-, Ku-, and L-band transponders, will provide additional capacity over Russia and elsewhere. That satellite, and others recently launched, are helping to make up for capacity lost in recent Proton launch failures. (9/16)

Russian Company Plans 144 Satellite Constellation (Source: Tass)
A Russian company developing a communications satellite constellation plans to use Dnepr rockets. Yaliny plans to launch at least an initial set of test satellites on Dnepr rockets, with a formal announcement expected as soon as Thursday. Yaliny plans to deploy a constellation of 144 satellites in low Earth orbit by 2020 to provide global phone service, but it is unclear how much funding the company has raised or how much spectrum it has available for its planned service. (9/16)

Solar Probe Discovers 3000 Comets (Source:
A spacecraft launched to study the sun has now discovered 3,000 comets. The 20-year-old Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft, a joint project of ESA and NASA, is primarily used to monitor solar activity, but researchers also use SOHO's images to look for "sungrazer" comets that pass very close to the sun. The vast majority of the SOHO comet discoveries are made by "citizen scientists" who sift through the database of SOHO images on their own. (9/16)

Falcon-9 Landings to Challenge Gamers Too (Source: MIT Daily Dot)
You, too, can try your luck landing a Falcon 9 first stage. The "SpaceX Falcon 9 Lander" game requires players to land a rocket stage on a ship in the ocean, using the main engine to slow down and thrusters to move left and right. The game may, in fact, be harder than the real thing: you have to land the stage on a moving ship, while the ship holds position during real landing attempts. (9/16)

Declassified Presidential Briefs Include Space Race Tidbits (Source: SPACErePORT)
Sorry to see that my birth did not warrant inclusion in the President's Daily Brief on that day, but the USSR's launch of a space vehicle from Tyuratam did. "We cannot yet say whether it has been put into orbit or what type of vehicle is involved." Click here to browse the collection of newly declassified CIA briefings from 1961-1969. (9/17)

Policing the (Cosmic) Neighborhood (Source: Space News)
Asteroids sized between a small house (like the Chelyabinsk asteroid) and an apartment building (100 meters), which could have dire consequences, will continue to bombard Earth — the smaller and less-devastating ones sooner and more frequently and the larger ones, probably not for several generations.

We might see the danger of asteroid impact, fatalistically, as a matter of chance, like predicting the weather a decade hence. However, this is not so. We should be able to identify and track essentially all of the bodies that will strike Earth catastrophically by observing the night sky with large telescopes — some on the ground, others orbiting in space. (9/17)

Russia, Brazil Sign Contract for Glonass Ground Station (Source: Sputnik)
Moscow and Brasilia have signed a contract on the placement and operation of a measuring ground station for the Russian Glonass satellite navigation network in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. The document was signed by General Director of Russia’s Scientific and Production Corporation Precision Instrument Systems Yuri Roy and rector of the Federal University of Santa Maria Paulo Burmann. Russia currently operates two ground stations in Brazil and a third facility is planned for the fourth quarter of 2015. (9/16)

Cafeteria Worker at NASA Glenn Diagnosed with Legionnaire's Disease (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
A worker at a NASA Glenn Research Center cafeteria has been diagnosed with Legionnaire's disease. The Sprout Cafe closed Tuesday for inspection by a Glenn crew and an outside expert. It should stay closed for the rest of this week. Cafe co-owner Michael Smith said no other workers at Glenn appear to have relevant symptoms. Smith said the worker went home early Monday, feeling ill, and was diagnosed with Legionnaires. (9/16)

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