October 15, 2015

Strange Star Has Serious Scientists Talking About an Alien Megastructure (Source: Washington Post)
KIC 8462852 is a distant star with a very unusual flickering habit. Something was making the star dim drastically every few years, and she wasn’t sure what.

Boyajian wrote up a paper on possible explanations for the star’s bizarre behavior, which was published recently in the Monthly Notes of the Royals Astronomical Society. But she also sent her data to fellow astronomer Jason Wright, a Penn State University researcher who helped developed a protocol for seeking signs of unearthly civilization, wondering what he would make of it.

To Wright, it looked like the kind of star he and his colleagues had been waiting for. If none of the ordinary reasons for the star’s flux quite seemed to fit, perhaps an extraordinary one was in order. Aliens. Or, to be more specific, something built by aliens — a “swarm of megastructures.” Click here. (10/15)

Veto of DOD Bill Would Complicate Phase-Out of Russian Engines (Source: USA Today)
Efforts to stop using Russian-made engines on rockets carrying U.S. military satellites have run into trouble because of partisan battles over Pentagon budgeting and the terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Language to continue the phase-out of the RD-180 engines by the end of the decade is part of a defense authorization bill that President Obama has threatened to veto. His reasons: The bill also contains Republican provisions that would prevent Obama from closing the prison camp in Cuba and would try to sidestep automatic “sequestration” spending cuts at the Pentagon. (10/14)

South Korea Seeks US Support in Space Program (Source: Korea Times)
President Park Geun-hye visited NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on Thursday. Her visit to the U.S. agency's first space research laboratory came 50 years after her father and former President Park Chung-hee, who was keen on advancing science and space technologies, toured NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 1965.

She vowed to step up efforts to advance cooperation with the United States in the sector. "I hope cooperation between Korea and the U.S. in lunar and space exploration will broaden and help the two countries share space resources," she said. (10/15)

China Aims to Go Deeper into Space (Source: Xinhua)
As China's exploration of the moon progresses, its space experts have begun considering going deeper into the solar system - to Mars, asteroids and Jupiter - and a manned deep-space mission. At a recent conference on deep-space exploration in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, an official urged scientists and technologists to have a pioneering spirit.

China should also strengthen international cooperation. "Exploring space is a great undertaking for the whole of humankind, and China should shoulder its responsibilities as a big country. Through international cooperation, we can learn from each other and jointly contribute," Liu said. (10/15)

Putin Delays First Launch, Raps Officials, Sets Ambitious Goals for New Spaceport (Source: Siberian Times)
It is Russia's biggest construction project, a new cosmodrome on the eastern edge of Siberia, some 5,500 kilometers from Moscow. President Vladimir Putin's visit on Wednesday confirmed the open secret that the initial launch will be next year, in April at the earliest, and not in December 2015 as originally planned.

He also insisted on his visit to the Far East of Russia that corruption allegation against officials involved in the spaceport must be pursued with vigour. But he made clear as the US announces its ambitious program of space exploration that Russia intends to use Vostochny to maximize Moscow's own plans. (10/15)

SpaceX Expects Return to Flight in December (Source: Advanced Television)
The long-delayed return to flight of SpaceX’s Falcon rockets is likely to happen in December, according to Lee Rosen, SpaceX’s VP/mission and launch operations. The SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket exploded moments after lift-off on June 28th and has been identified as being caused by a failed strut on a high-pressure Helium tank which created the catastrophic explosion.

A number of satellite owners have been patiently waiting for the past four months for the rocket to be given the all clear and for launches to re-commence. Top of the list is Luxembourg-based SES which is likely to see its SES-9 launched on a slow journey to geo-stationary orbit, and using a more powerful Falcon-9 ‘Heavy’ rocket. (10/15)

Jeb Bush: Newt Gingrich's Moon Colony Idea was 'Cool' (Source: CNN)
When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed the idea of forming colonies on the moon during his 2012 presidential bid, he got a lot of laughs. But not from Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor said Wednesday that he actually liked the idea. Recalling the skeptical responses to Gingrich's pitch, Bush said he remembered thinking, "Really? I think it's pretty cool."

Bush, speaking before an aircraft at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, New Hampshire, called for ramping up the US space program and blasted President Obama for cutting back. Bush, who admitted he's biased about the space program because he's from Florida, called for "more aspirational" goals and gave one woman a fist bump when she told him she's from the space coast in his home state.

Those bigger goals, he added, could be feasible if the government paired up with the private sector, praising entrepreneurs like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. "I mean what's wrong with having big aspirational goals? It's not in the absence of taking care of the hungry or the poor. We're a big country. We're a generous country. The benefits of this are far more than people realize," Bush said. (10/15)

Air Force Sets Up New Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate (Source: USAF SMC)
The Space and Missile Systems Center's newest directorate, the Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate, began operations on Oct. 14. Under the leadership of Dr. Claire Leon, the new directorate brings together the Launch Systems Directorate and the Rocket Systems Launch Program (which formerly fell under SMC's Advance Systems and Development Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base).

"Until today, the Air Force has procured and executed space launch capabilities through two separate organizations within SMC - RSLP and SMC/LR. This created the potential for ambiguity among our stakeholders and a disconnect in our acquisition strategy," said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves. "Today, we unify Air Force space launch capabilities under one directorate to synchronize our acquisition activities."

The new directorate's mission is to be the "guardian of assured access: launching when and where the nation needs it." LE's vision statement is to be the most respected and innovative spacelift team, delivering mission success while enabling a robust U.S. launch industry. (10/14)

At Least Two of Three NASA Microsat Launchers Plan Florida Ops (Source: SPACErePORT)
Both Rocket Lab and Firefly say they plan to launch their new rockets from Florida. And Virgin Galactic may too, since they won't be able to launch into orbit from Spaceport America (and I suspect they are one of the recent confidential recipients of a Florida relocation incentive investment).

Rocket Lab will initially launch from New Zealand but plans to eventually operate from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, probably at LC-39C. Firefly, meanwhile, has had plans to operate from a Texas spaceport but now says they will conduct suborbital test flights from Florida (again, probably at LC-39C). The NASA contract calls for one launch from each of the three companies, costing $10M for Virgin Galactic, $8M for Firefly, and $4.9M for Rocket Lab. (10/14)

Lockheed Martin Targets Up to Four Commercial Atlas 5s Per Year (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Lockheed Martin’s launch services team hopes to lure up to four commercial customers per year to fly on ULA’s Atlas 5 booster as a stream of U.S. government missions is forecast to dry up starting in 2017, according to Lockheed Martin’s rocket sales chief.

For the Atlas 5 marketing team, it represents a significant change after being mired on the sidelines of the multibillion-dollar global launch services market for a half-decade. The first fully commercial Atlas 5 launch from Cape Canaveral in nearly five years took off Oct. 2 with Mexico’s Morelos 3 communications station.

“I go after customers aggressively all the time,” said Steve Skladanek, president of Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services, in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “There are a couple of customers who have expressed a desire to launch in late 2016. We’re looking for ways to create a new opportunity toward the end of 2016, working very closely with ULA to create that capability.” (10/14)

The Rocket Man Who Wants To Beat the Billionaires (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Dave Masten stares at his computer screen, finger poised over the mouse button. He knows that opening this email, sent by DARPA, will change his life. One way or the other. This email is the fulcrum of his future. It is either an acceptance letter or a rejection letter for his company's proposal to build what DARPA calls XS-1.

XS-1 is an experimental unmanned space plane that can fly ten times in ten days, reaching a speed of Mach 10–plus and lifting payloads greater than three thousand pounds to orbit, at a cost of no more than $5 million per flight.

Being accepted as one of the three competing contractors represents the best shot that Dave Masten—perennial underdog, Silicon Valley refugee, scrappy space-industry entrepreneur—will have to build a working spacecraft. It would mean an immediate infusion of $3 million, with more coming the next year. The final contract could be worth as much as $140 million. Click here. (10/14)

Three NASA Technologies That Could Make a Mars Colony Possible (Source: CSM)
In the box office hit “The Martian,” Matt Damon plays an astronaut stranded on Mars who manages to survive and even grow plants on the barren planet. But that is nothing compared with what NASA really has in mind for Earth’s planetary neighbor. NASA has plans for Mars to be peppered with interconnected structures resembling a trailer park. Rows and columns of housing units, laboratories, garages, and storage space, all neatly organized.

A team of automated machines would assemble these structures, a squad of autonomous humanoid robots would maintain them, and a platoon of self-driving rovers would explore the area and collect resources. Engineers at the Johnson Space Center and the Jet Propulsion Lab have been developing scores of robotics technologies vital for a manned mission to Mars. Click here. (10/13)

California 8th Grader Designs Nail Clipper for NASA (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
If you think clipped fingernails strewn across your bathroom vanity are a nuisance, imagine them hovering around you at all hours waiting to get lodged in your eye or sucked into your lungs.

For astronauts that was a potential problem in need of a permanent solution. Lucky for NASA, Ryan Beam of Scotts Valley knows his way around a 3-D animation program. The 8th grader drew up plans for what he calls ClipCatch, a small, printable box that hosts the clipping process and traps the pesky nail fragments from escaping and potentially harming people and equipment on the Space Station. (10/14)

SpaceShipTwo Bounces Back to Rubber Fuel (Source: Space News)
Virgin Galactic is planning to return to a rubber-like fuel when it resumes powered test flights of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle based on the results of an ongoing series of tests of the spacecraft’s hybrid rocket motor.

Virgin Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides said the company had carried out a series of full-duration test firings of the motor recently, which used a rubber-like fuel formally known as hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB).

Virgin Galactic originally planned to use HTPB fuel for the rocket motor, which also uses liquid nitrous oxide propellant. However, in May 2014, the company announced it was switching to a polyamide fuel, similar to nylon, citing improved performance. (10/14)

Orbital ATK's Next Cygnus ISS Cargo Craft Confirmed for Dec. 3 Launch From Florida (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Orbital ATK, one of two space companies with contracts to haul supplies to and from the Space Station, will return to flight Dec. 3 from Cape Canaveral after more than a year's stand-down because its last launch blew up. On Wednesday NASA confirmed the launch date Wednesday, which had long been proposed.

The launch will use an a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying an Orbital Cygnus spacecraft full of supplies for the space station. It will be Orbital's fourth resupply launch, but the first from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch time is set for 6 p.m., with a 30 minute window. (10/14)

Study Suggests Ceres Acts as Sponge Collecting Asteroid Impact Debris (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
When asteroids crash into Ceres it acts as a super absorbent sponge instead of sending most of the debris back into space, according to a new study by Brown University. Researchers simulated collisions into Ceres using the Vertical Gun Range at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and found most of the impact material stays put in the impact crater. (10/14)

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