October 29, 2015

Methane-Powered Engine Key to Next Generation Landers (Source: Space Daily)
NASA tested components for an engine that could be used for Mars landers powered with methane, a fuel that has never before propelled a NASA spacecraft. A spectacular blue flame erupted as a rocket engine thruster roared to life in a series of tests recently at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The blue flame, not typical of most engine tests, was the signature of the thruster's fuel - methane.

Methane is a promising fuel for the journey to Mars. Methane - more stable than liquid hydrogen, today's most common rocket fuel - can also be stored at more manageable temperatures. Methane may be recovered or created from local resources, using in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).

With a storage temperature similar to that of liquid oxygen - the oxidizer for methane-powered engines - methane's storage tanks will require less insulation, leading to more affordable tanks. Methane is also denser than liquid hydrogen, which allows for smaller tanks. (10/29)

Virtual Reality System to Fly in Space Brings Non-Astronauts Aboard ISS (Source: Space Daily)
For the first time ever, a virtual reality recording system will be flown in space. The project, announced by Deep Space Industries (DSI), will use a spherical video capture system to create a virtual reality float-through tour of the International Space Station's science lab.

Feeding into the exciting growth of VR systems created by Oculus Rift, Sony, and Samsung, this project, initiated by DSI, is a cooperative effort with Thrillbox, and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), managers of the ISS U.S.

National Laboratory. This innovative partnership will allow, for the first time, anyone with a VR headset to have a fully immersive astronaut experience aboard the International Space Station. Additionally, CASIS will use the spherical video to familiarize potential researchers with the scientific facilities on the ISS National Lab. (10/29)

A New Budget Deal and a Best Case NASA Budget for 2016 (Source: Planetary Society)
On Wednesday, the House passed a budget deal that provides small increases to federal spending and raises the nation's debt limit through 2017. The Senate appears likely to pass this measure next week. Robert Greenstein at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has an excellent rundown of what's in the deal.

This is potentially very good news for NASA. With an agreement on top-level spending, Congress can focus on filling in the details for funding NASA next year via the normal appropriations process. This will help to avoid the spectre of a full year continuing resolution—a continuation of last year's budget which would have had serious impacts on many NASA missions, particularly planetary exploration.

Importantly, it also undoes much of the sequestration cuts and increases overall spending for the non-defense side of the federal government by $25 billion. (10/28)

Astrophysicists Find Jupiter Likely Bumped Giant Planet from Solar System (Source: Phys.Org)
Astrophysicists at the University of Toronto have found that a close encounter with Jupiter about four billion years ago may have resulted in another planet's ejection from the Solar System altogether. Planet ejections occur as a result of a close planetary encounter in which one of the objects accelerates so much that it breaks free from the massive gravitational pull of the Sun.

However, earlier studies which proposed that giant planets could possibly eject one another did not consider the effect such violent encounters would have on minor bodies, such as the known moons of the giant planets, and their orbits.

So Cloutier and his colleagues turned their attention to moons and orbits, developing computer simulations based on the modern-day trajectories of Callisto and lapetus, the regular moons orbiting around Jupiter and Saturn respectively. They then measured the likelihood of each one producing its current orbit in the event that its host planet was responsible for ejecting the hypothetical planet, an incident which would have caused significant disturbance to each moon's original orbit. (10/29)

Bolden's Plan to Save Earth by Leaving for Mars (Source: Inverse)
Bolden began his speech by emphasizing the shift in perspective that has fueled NASA’s latest string of big discoveries and larger plans for space exploration. He referenced the Greek fable of the astrologer Thales, who fell into a well while gazing at the stars. Bolden thinks the old approach to space exploration was a lot like this, where scientists would seem to get lost while investigating outer space and forget about what was happening around them on Earth. Click here. (10/28)

ULA Delivers SLS Upper Stage Test Article to Boeing (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
On Oct. 26, 2015, United Launch Alliance symbolically handed over the first test version of the Space Launch System (SLS) upper stage to Boeing, the primary contractor for the SLS first (core) stage and avionics. The hand-over marked a critical step toward the massive rocket's first flight. (10/28)

Orbital ATK Bounces Back with New Satellite Order (Source: Via Satellite)
Orbital ATK joined the list of U.S. satellite manufacturers losing business over absence of the Export Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank), which Congress decided not to reauthorize at the end of June this year. Thompson said the inability to leverage the ECA caused a previous order, the Azerspace 2/Intelsat 38 joint satellite, to go to another manufacturer. That contract went to California-based Space Systems Loral (SSL), of which MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of Canada is the owner.

Thompson did not say who the new satellite order is for, but confirmed it will be based on the company’s GEOstar 2 platform. The win is Orbital ATK’s second for the year, following an award in February for SES 16/GovSat, the first satellite of the newly formed LuxGovSat joint venture between SES and the Luxembourg government. SES 16/GovSat is based on the GEOstar 3 platform. (10/27)

Lunar Rover Lost... and Found: NASA Moon Buggy Saved by Scrap Dealer (Source: CollectSpace)
A prototype lunar rover that was sold to a scrapyard and reported by NASA to be lost has now been found and may be heading to auction. Just one day after the online magazine Motherboard broke the story about the thought-to-be-scrapped moon rover on Oct. 27, the 50-year-old NASA artifact popped up in the classifieds section of an Alabama newspaper.

"Special Auction," declared the black-and-white ad placed in The Arab Tribune. "Original prototype for the first moon buggy!" The coincidental timing of the ad aside, it was the first public indication that the rover, a predecessor to the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) driven by the Apollo astronauts on the moon, still existed. According to the NASA paperwork obtained by Motherboard, the space agency had given up on recovering the early LRV for "historical and educational purposes" after it had learned it had been sold for scrap. (10/28)

ULA Shuffles Leadership (Source: Denver Business Journal)
ULA CEO Tory Bruno revealed the Colorado rocket-launch company’s new roster of executives, many hired since summer to guide a leaner ULA that’s developing a new line of rockets. Bruno became CEO nearly 15 months ago, promising to remake the rocket giant into a smaller company that’s better able to adapt to an era of tighter defense spending and competition from SpaceX and others.

ULA found few new leaders elsewhere in aerospace and other industries to oversee human spaceflight efforts, internal human resources, finance, and information technology. (10/27)

Lunar Conspiracy: the People Who Stole the Moon – in Pictures (Source: Guardian)
After the Apollo missions, Richard Nixon donated 270 moon rocks to the world. Now, only 180 are accounted for – the rest are missing. There’s a market in fakes, plus an undercover operation called Lunar Eclipse to track down the forgers. Photographer Annabel Elgar has trooped all over the world to track down the remaining rocks for her series Cheating the Moon. But which are real and which are fakes? Click here. (10/28)

Study Reveals Origin of Organic Matter in Apollo Lunar Samples (Source: Space Daily)
A team of NASA-funded scientists has solved an enduring mystery from the Apollo missions to the moon - the origin of organic matter found in lunar samples returned to Earth. Samples of the lunar soil brought back by the Apollo astronauts contain low levels of organic matter in the form of amino acids. Certain amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, essential molecules used by life to build structures like hair and skin and to regulate chemical reactions.

One of the key new capabilities of the Goddard Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory was instrumentation with high enough sensitivity to determine the isotopic composition of an amino acid molecule, according to Elsila. This capability enabled the team to say terrestrial contamination was the primary source of the lunar amino acids. (10/29)

All-Female Russian Crew Starts Moon Mission Test (Source: Space Daily)
Six Russian women on Wednesday clambered into a mock spaceship to begin a unique experiment testing how an all-female crew would interact on a trip to the Moon and back. For eight days, the female volunteers will live inside a wood-panelled suite of rooms at Moscow's Institute of Biomedical Problems, renowned for its wacky research into the psychological and physical effects of space travel.

The institute in 2010 locked six male international volunteers in an isolation experiment lasting 520 days, to simulate a flight to Mars and back. "Such a crew is taking part for the first time in a simulation experiment. It's interesting for us to see what is special about the way a female crew communicates," said Sergei Ponomaryov, the experiment's supervisor.

"It will be particularly interesting in terms of psychology," said the institute's director Igor Ushakov. "I'd like to wish you a lack of conflicts, even though they say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together," he added. (10/28)

Europe-Russia Lunar Mission Will Make Them Friends Again (Source: Space Daily)
Despite the current freeze in relations between Russia and the West, the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, plan to launch a probe to the Moon's southern pole to look for water and the raw materials necessary for making fuel and oxygen. The mission, Luna 27, which is set for launch in 2020, is the first step towards the establishment of a permanent base on the Moon. (10/21)

Orbital ATK Ramps Up Testing Ahead of 2016 Antares Return to Flight (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at Pad-0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, has become a scene of increased activity with Orbital ATK engineers hard at work preparing their medium-class Antares booster with a much-anticipated return-to-flight.

Orbital ATK must successfully complete several major milestones. First up is a pad hot-fire test. This should serve to validate if the NPO Energomash RD-181 rocket engines can effectively be used with pad-0A in its current configuration. Along with an updated rocket (now designated Antares 2) and a refurbished launch pad, the Cygnus cargo module is also getting some upgrades. (10/28)

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