September 18, 2015

Breathtaking Pluto Panorama Reveals Earth-Like Weather System (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Backlighting from the sun provided great lighting to capture Pluto’s atmosphere and the rugged terrain of the Norgay Montes, similar in size to the Rocky Mountains. The mountains and flat icy plains are within the informally named Sputnik Planum surface feature also known as part of Pluto’s heart.

“This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. “But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains.” Click here. (9/17)

Embraer Begins Construction On Aero Seating Facility on Space Coast (Source: Area Development)
Embraer started construction on its new $3.5 million Aero Seating Technologies building in Titusville, Florida. The company plans to create 150 jobs in the Sunshine State. This marks the start of the fourth Brevard County-based facility for the international jet manufacturer and it’s first within the city of Titusville. It is also the first major expansion project to take place within the aerospace focused Spaceport Commerce Park in northern Brevard County. (9/11)

Rejecting Aerojet’s ULA Bid, Boeing Calls for Government Investment in Vulcan (Source: Space News)
Two senior Boeing executives publicly rejected Aerojet Rocketdyne’s bid to acquire ULA, and one also said a government investment will be required for ULA to develop its planned Vulcan rocket. “The bid from Aerojet is something we didn’t really take seriously and we don’t take it seriously because we see ULA as part of our core mission,” ULA Chairman Craig Cooning said.

Cooning is president of Boeing Network and Space Systems. His ULA chairmanship is a position that rotates on a yearly basis between him and Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems. Ambrose is vice chairman and will assume the chairmanship in January. Cooning said some combination of relief from the ban on the Russian-made RD-180 engine and government investment in a replacement will be required for ULA to in remain business and move forward on the Vulcan development project.

Congress appropriated $220 million in 2015 for an American-built RD-180 replacement, with a mandate that it be ready by 2019, but Cooning said that funding is misdirected. “We believe that the investment of the government needs to go to the rocket manufacturer. An engine does not make a rocket system.” (9/16)

First Woman in Space Recalls Mission's Teething Troubles (Source: Guardian)
On 16 June 1963, within hours of Valentina Tereshkova becoming the first woman in space, she realized that the scientists and engineers who had worked for years on the project had made two mistakes, one small but enraging, one possibly terminal. Re-united with her spacecraft, Vostok 6, in an epic exhibition at the Science Museum in London, she recalled the shock of the discovery. She had food, water, and tooth paste, but no toothbrush.

“My toothbrush was nothing compared to the fact that the space craft was programmed to ascend, but not to descend. Now that was a mistake.” If ground control had not succeeded in sending and installing a new computer program, instead of returning to Earth - where she parachuted safely out of the craft from nearly seven kilometers up - the fragile craft in which she would orbit Earth 48 times over two days, 22 hours and 50 minutes, would have spun on and on into outer space for ever.

She asked that the engineer who so nearly cost her her life not be punished, and was asked in return never to reveal the truth – and never spoke of it for 30 years, she said. “Cosmonauts can keep their word like men and women - particularly women.” She said she was sad so few Russian women have followed her into space, none at all for one 19-year period. (9/17)

Cosmonauts are Stars of the Soviet Space Age Show (Source: New Scientist)
“It’s the Russian equivalent of the crown jewels.” Doug Millard is not exaggerating when he describes the vast collection of Russian space hardware that makes up the exhibition Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age. It’s the first time that such a huge array of Soviet-era space hardware and memorabilia have been exhibited in one place at the same time and, perhaps more astonishingly, not in Moscow. “It’s been four years of hard work to gather them together,” says Millard, senior curator of the exhibition at London’s Science Museum, “and, quite frankly, they’re priceless.”

This isn’t hyperbole. The exhibits from the early era of space flight in the 1950s and 1960s when the Soviet Union led the race into Earth orbit are a source of huge national pride for both the Russian government and its people. Sputnik I was the world’s first artificial satellite. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, Valentina Tereshkova the first woman. And Alexei Leonov was the first person to walk in space. The USSR was streets ahead of its closest opposition, the United States. (9/17)

Awesome SpaceX Images Show How Dragon Will Land on Mars (Source:
A gallery of gorgeous new images shows a cone-shaped space capsule shooting like a meteor through the atmosphere of Mars, and descending quickly toward the surface before its thrusters set it down gently in the middle of a rocky, uninhabited landscape. The human crew prepares to set food on the Red Planet. Click here. (9/17)

5 Teams (2 in Florida) Share First Round of NASA Cubesat Prizes (Source: Space News)
Five teams, ranging from university students to a group of engineers dispersed across the country, received $20,000 each from NASA in the first milestone of a competition to develop deep space cubesat technologies. The teams had the highest scores in the first of four “ground tournaments” that make up the initial phase of the agency’s $5 million Cube Quest Challenge. That tournament, held in early August, featured 13 teams who presented their initial spacecraft designs.

Team Miles includes several members in Tampa, Florida, but others are based in California, New York and South Carolina. Another team is led by Novel Engineering of Cocoa Beach, Florida, working with several other local companies, including Craig Technologies and Harris Corp., the latter providing a deployable mesh antenna for its cubesat, named Space Pig.

The ultimate goal of the competition is to fly cubesats into lunar orbit or deep space. A total of $3 million is offered in prizes for the “Lunar Derby” part of the competition, for both being able to enter lunar orbit and to demonstrate communications capabilities and longevity. (9/17)

Deadly Chile Quake Shakes Observatories (Source: Discovery)
Although the epicenter of the quake was some distance from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) — a vast interferometer composed of 66 12-meter (39 ft), and 7-meter (23 ft) radio antennae located in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile — the ESO’s La Silla Observatory is located less than 400 miles from Santiago and less than 200 miles north from the epicenter to the west of Illapel.

“The quakes were felt quite strongly in Santiago and at the La Silla Observatory, which were the ESO sites closest to the earthquake,” writes an ESO news release. “However, no casualties among ESO staff have been reported and no major problems have been reported from La Silla, where telescope checks are ongoing.” (9/17)

ILS Slashes Proton Launch Prices (Source: Advanced Television)
International Launch Services (ILS) has a new CEO, and his first move is to cut prices for its Proton rocket launches. Appointed just a week ago, Kirk Pysher took over from Phil Slack. Mr Pysher inherits something of a challenge in that the value of Russia’s rouble has tumbled by some 30 percent against the US dollar.

ILS, at the Euroconsult conference in Paris, suggested that they would be getting “aggressive” on pricing in order to recapture a slice of the launch market. It seems that the current level of prices charged by SpaceX is their target. If this is correct then it means the overall cost of an ILS/Proton launch has to fall to around $65 million. (9/17)

Aerojet Back to Square One With ULA Offer Snubbed (Source: Aviation Week)
Aerojet Rocketdyne is running out of options. The workhorse propulsion company has been pushing to get its AR1 rocket motor onto either the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 or in a primary position for the company’s follow-on, the developmental Vulcan. Still a key legacy supplier for ULA, Aerojet’s future is uncertain in part due to the emergence of Blue Origin, a new competitor with plenty of private funding to help speed its development work. (9/18)

Air Force Welcomes Blue Origin (Source: AFSPC)
At last week's Blue Origin event, Brig. General Steven Garland commented on the Air Force's commitment to providing assured access to space. "The time is right for Air Force Space Command and its Space Wings to use our technological advances to accommodate more commercial space activity," Garland said. "The 45th Space Wing has worked aggressively to make launch property available to commercial space launch activities."

Garland added, "...we continue to listen to our customers and focus on the things that are important to them. Whether it's providing regulatory confidence, increasing range operational efficiency or by working with our other range partners to provide scheduling assurance, these improvements and additions to the nation's space transportation infrastructure all contribute to a robust and cost effective space transportation capability for both public and private sector users, which meets the exact intent of the Commercial Space Launch Act."

"We are honored that you have chosen the Eastern Range as your launch location. That choice now cements your place in space history as part of the legacy known as Cape Canaveral Air Force Station," Garland said." (9/17)

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