September 21, 2015

NASA Road Map Toward Possible Nuclear Rocket Flight Demo (Source: Aviation Week)
With the capability of generating high thrust and 100% more specific impulse than the best chemical rockets, the time and cost-saving potential of nuclear thermal rockets (NTR) for deep-space missions is once again gaining interest at NASA. Although never flown, the NTR concept is relatively simple. The rocket engine is based around a nuclear fission reactor, which heats the liquid hydrogen (LH2) propellant instead of igniting combustible fuel. (9/21)

Boeing, Lockheed Could Move Work Abroad for Foreign Financing (Source: Space News)
Boeing and Lockheed Martin are looking at ways to get around the Export-Import Bank's lapse in authorization. Company officials said they are examining options to source work on commercial satellites outside the U.S., making them eligible for financing from other nations' export credit agencies even if the bulk of the work is done at U.S. plants. Boeing has had one satellite order suspended since the Ex-Im Bank's authorization lapsed at the beginning of July, and has been told by another potential customer not to bid should Ex-Im financing remain unavailable. (9/21)

Mercury [the Planet] Won't Kill Us (Source: Science)
Relax: the planet Mercury probably won't kill us during the lifetime of the solar system. Simulations of the orbit of Mercury over the next five billion years, run on a supercomputer, found no cases where the innermost planet's orbit becomes elliptical enough to allow it to collide with the Earth. In about one percent of the simulations, Mercury does develop an elliptical orbit, including several cases where it collides with Venus. (9/21)

Road Improvements Under Way for SpaceX at Texas Launch Site (Source: KRGV)
Cameron County is investing thousands into roadwork out at Boca Chica Village. The county said it’s in anticipation of heavy traffic to come this fall, when construction is expected to begin for the SpaceX launch site. Homeowners said the roadwork is long needed. Less than ten families live along these streets. (9/21)

NASA Working on Space Shotgun to Blast Asteroids (Source:
A Brooklyn-based company is working with NASA to create the first ever space shotgun. The gun, developed by Honeybee Robotics, will be used to test the strength of asteroids and other space rocks, in order to determine if a mass is sturdy enough for sampling. The company, based in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, calls the process “key” to sending humans to Mars. Click here for a video. (9/21)

China to Rehearse New Carrier Rocket for Lunar Mission (Source: Xinhua)
A Long March-5 carrier rocket on Sunday was shipped from North China's Tianjin port for a rehearsal of a scheduled Chang'e-5 lunar mission around 2017. It will be the first drill carried out in a launch site that involves both the carrier rocket and a probe, said the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. It did not locate the launch site.

The Long March-5 carrier rocket was designed by China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. It is scheduled to make its first trial flight in 2016. With a payload capacity of 14 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit, the largest carrying capacity in China, the rocket will greatly increase China's ability to enter space. (9/20)

Let’s Not Move to Mars (Source: New York Times)
Sometimes, technology is a triumph of wild-eyed enthusiasm over the unpleasant facts of the real world. Today we are witnessing a similar outburst over the literally outlandish notion that in the relatively near future, some of us are going to be living, working, thriving and dying on Mars. Unfortunately, this Mars mania reflects an excessively optimistic view of what it actually takes to travel to and live on Mars. Click here. (9/21)

China Conducts Debut Launch of Long March 6 (Source:
China initiated a new era in its space exploration with the debut of a new family of launch vehicle. The first Long March-6 (Chang Zheng-6) rocket was successfully launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, with a multi-payload cargo of 20 small satellites. Launch took place at 23:01:14.331 UTC on Saturday. Editor's Note: This new vehicle is roughly equivalent in lift capacity to Europe's Vega or the U.S. Athena. (9/19)

Lockheed Develops Digital Processor for Satellites that can Defeat Jamming Threats (Source: Space News)
Lockheed Martin is delivering a satellite that can provide on-orbit flexibility that allows for defeating jamming threats and reconfiguring payloads. The company's new digital processor will debut in 2018 with operator Arabsat. (9/17)

DOD Secretary Warns Against 'Embarrassing' Budget Cuts (Source: Law360)
The Defense Department will be forced into more “irresponsible” and wasteful spending cuts that would harm the department’s readiness and position on the world stage if Congress passes proposed temporary funding measures, or worse passes no spending bills at all, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday. (9/18)

North Korea Plans Series of Space Launches (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
North Korea announced on Monday, Sept. 14, that it plans to conduct a series of launches to deliver its home-grown satellites to orbit. According to the country’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the first long-range rocket launch will take place on Oct. 10, marking the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party.

“The world will clearly see a series of satellites of (North) Korea soaring into the sky at the times and locations determined by the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea,” the KCNA reported.

North Korea claims that it has the right to conduct space research by test-firing what it called rockets, which Western analysts view as a cover for missile tests. The country is banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions from conducting tests that use ballistic missile technology. (9/17)

The Fact and Fiction of Martian Dust Storms (Source: NASA)
For years, science fiction writers from Edgar Rice Burroughs to C. S. Lewis have imagined what it would be like for humans to walk on Mars. As mankind comes closer to taking its first steps on the Red Planet, authors’ depictions of the experience have become more realistic.

Andy Weir’s “The Martian” begins with a massive dust storm that strands fictional astronaut Mark Watney on Mars. In the scene, powerful wind rips an antenna out of a piece of equipment and destroys parts of the astronauts’ camp. Mars is infamous for intense dust storms, which sometimes kick up enough dust to be seen by telescopes on Earth.

“Once every three Mars years (about 5 ½ Earth years), on average, normal storms grow into planet-encircling dust storms, and we usually call those ‘global dust storms’ to distinguish them,” Smith said. It is unlikely that even these dust storms could strand an astronaut on Mars, however. Even the wind in the largest dust storms likely could not tip or rip apart major mechanical equipment. The winds in the strongest Martian storms top out at about 60 miles per hour, less than half the speed of some hurricane-force winds on Earth. (9/18)

Launch of European Mars Mission Delayed Two Months (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Officials expect to delay next year’s launch of a European Mars orbiter and lander about two months — from January to March — to remove faulty pressure transducers from the landing craft’s braking system, the European Space Agency announced Friday.

The launch includes an orbiter built to study the Martian atmosphere and search for trace gases such as methane, which could be a signature for ongoing biological or geological activity on Mars. A 600-kilogram (1,322-pound) stationary lander will accompany the Trace Gas Orbiter to Mars, aiming to complete Europe’s first successful touchdown on the red planet. (9/20)

ULA to Stay Put at Texas Site, For Now (Source: Valley Morning Star)
ULA’s future has been in the spotlight all month long, be it through news reports, rumors, speculation or orchestration. But through all this month’s turmoil, the picture is coming into focus.
It now seems it has been established ULA isn’t being sold and thus, isn’t leaving Harlingen — for now anyway.

That came as good news to the city, which has hosted the aerospace firm at the Harlingen Aerotropolis since 2006. “ULA is a critical part of our community,” Interim City Manager Dan Serna said Friday. “The jobs it brings, the industry, is critically needed in the community.” While speculation had been running rampant this month about the aerospace firm’s future, ULA has been employing more people for its Harlingen manufacturing facility.

ULA recently hired 17 more sheet-metal workers in Harlingen. This is consistent with the firm’s indication of doing “more in-house than before,” Mayor Chris Boswell assessed Friday. ULA and the city entered into an incentive and lease agreement this year, which will keep the company in the community for at least five more years. (9/20)

Texas Site Hopes for Blue Origin Engine Manufacturing, for ULA's Vulcan (Source: Valley Morning Star)
Asked about the possibility of the new Blue Origin BE-4 engine being manufactured in Harlingen, ULA's Jessica Rye said, “I would refer you to Blue Origin for a response.” Blue Origin’s Griffin Communications Group said its only announcement at this point was the engine-production partnership with ULA.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll have an opportunity to compete for some of that production,” Mayor Chris Boswell said. The incentive agreement between the city of Harlingen, ULA, Harlingen Economic Development Corp. and Valley International Airport could be worth more than $2.25 million in grants for the aerospace firm over five years. If a rocket engine manufacturing facility is located here, ULA could receive $1 million. (9/20)

Edward Snowden on Communicating with Aliens (Source: Tech Insider)
Whistle-blower Edward Snowden has some strong opinions on communications — even when those communications are coming from aliens. The former intelligence-agency contractor turned fugitive was an unexpected guest on famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk podcast

First, Snowden said, let's assume that most advanced societies eventually realize that they need to encrypt their communication in order to protect it. This could also be the reason why we've never heard from other civilizations — their messages may have just been melding into the background static of the universe. (9/20)

Crew Tower Rising at Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 41 (Source: Florida Today)
A new gateway to the International Space Station is rising at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Last week at Launch Complex 41, United Launch Alliance began stacking the first tiers of the tower that astronauts will ascend to board Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsules as they count down to launches on Atlas V rockets, possibly in 2017.

The 201-foot tower will give the pad and the Cape's skyline a new look between now and the last of three more Atlas V launches planned this year. “The entire landscape is changing,” said Howard Biegler, ULA's human launch services lead, who is overseeing the project. The tower’s construction supports NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which last year awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts from the Space Coast to the ISS. (9/19)

CZ-6 Launcher Takes to the Sky (Source: Sino Defense)
15 years after its concept was first conceived and 6 years after its development began, China’s CZ-6 (Chang Zheng-6, or Long March-6) orbital launcher finally made its maiden flight on 20 September 2015, marking the first major milestone in the development of China’s new-generation Chang Zheng launcher rockets.

The first all-new Chinese orbital launcher introduced in nearly two decades, the CZ-6 has been positioned as a small-load orbital launcher for small- and micro-satellites of under 1,000 kg mass, filling a launch capacity gap in the existing Chang Zheng launch vehicle family. This put the CZ-6 in the same class as the European Space Agency Vega and the Russian Angara-1. (9/20)

Georgia County Spaceport Committee Being Formed (Source: Albany Herald)
Allen Burns, executive director of the Coastal Regional Commission, has been appointed chairman of a committee that will determine the impact of a spaceport in Camden County. Camden County Administrator Steve Howard said Burns, who is the committee's first appointee, is a "natural fit" to serve as chairman because of his background. "He has lots of experience to help in this initiative," Howard said.

"We need broad-based support and broad-based input," said Howard. "This is not a Camden County project. This is a Georgia project." Howard said he is still working on the structure and parameters of the committee, but he plans to have a cross-section of stakeholders represented, including groups that have expressed concern about the proposed project. Subcommittees to deal with concerns by environmental groups and residents living in the region will be formed to deal with specific issues, Howard said. (9/19)

Space: The Orbital Industry (Source: Market Mogul)
On May 21, the controversial SPACE Act of 2015 was passed by the House of Representatives, the first commercial space bill since 2004. Objectors to the bill say that the omission of any passenger safety regulations (i.e. paying customers fly at their own risk), is too lax for the rapidly expanding space exploration industry.

It will be interesting to observe the implications of this for Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace, the leading innovators in space tourism. Other players in the industry are also affected, and they must be celebrating; namely Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries. Why? Because these are the two current competitors in the potential asteroid mining industry, and the SPACE Act recognises the rights to declare mined asteroid resources as property.

The Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) estimated that to identify an appropriate asteroid, and return one of 500 tons to a low earth orbit, it would cost in the region of $2.6bn. The low Earth orbit would allow the company to mine resources safely and efficiently. However this cost ignores initial capital outlay for manufacturing the technology to process and return the resources. Therefore in reality, overall initial cost will be far higher. (9/20)

What Astronaut Scott Kelly Learned From 6 Months in Space (Source: CNN)
It's been six months since astronaut Scott Kelly set up camp in the International Space Station. He's halfway through his one-year stint, which will be the longest time any U.S. astronaut has been in space. To mark the midpoint of his mission, Kelly did a Q&A on Twitter on Saturday afternoon, inviting social media users to ask him whatever they wanted to learn about his time on the International Space Station. Here's what they learned. (9/19)

2 Recovering After Auto Accident at SpaceX Facility (Source: Valley Morning Star)
Two people involved in an accident at SpaceX’s facility at McGregor in east Texas are expected to make a full recovery, a spokesman for the aerospace firm said. “We can confirm that there was a motor vehicle accident … at our facility in McGregor,” spokesman John Taylor said.

Two men had been taken to a hospital in Waco Friday after a forklift struck a pickup outside a building at SpaceX. A spokesman for SpaceX confirmed the accident and said one of the men was released after treatment, but the other remained in the hospital late Friday. (9/19)

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