October 4, 2015

Russian Space Fan Wants Funding to 'Prove' U.S. Moon Landing (Source: Moscow Times)
A Russian space enthusiast is asking for 800,000 rubles ($12,100) to fund the building of a spacecraft to prove that the Apollo moon landing really happened and settle the question for conspiracy theorists once and for all.

"What do you think, have people been to the moon or not? Many of you have probably had endless discussions on the topic," a description of the project on the Boomstarter.ru crowdfunding platform said.
"But whatever the arguments, in the end we have to admit that almost all evidence of people flying to the moon has been provided by U.S. space agency NASA and these facts cannot be double-checked," it said. (10/2)

Vegas Odds on Mars are Totally Nuts (Source: C/Net
he oddsmakers in Las Vegas should stick to sports and leave space to the nerds. In the October 2015 issue of Popular Mechanics, the magazine got sports handicapper Raphael Esparza of Doc's Sports Service to come up with some odds on who will be the first to put a human on Mars. To my eyes, the resulting odds are...odd.

The way Esparza figures it, SpaceX and Elon Musk have the best shot at getting to the Red Planet first because "they have the desire and the funds" -- he gives Musk 5-to-1 odds of winning the race to Mars. What makes this a wacky set of odds is that he puts Russia getting there first at 60-to-1, NASA at 80-to-1, China at 100-to-1 and the European Space Agency at 300-to-1.

But not only does Esparza believe that SpaceX -- with its revenues largely derived from NASA -- is over 10 times more likely to get to Mars first than any of the major, publicly funded space programs, he also thinks Mars One has a much better shot at winning the race. (10/3)

This is How We'll Explore Mars (Source: Popular Mechanics)
In 2016, the first suite of ESA's ExoMars probes will head toward Mars. The Trace Gas Orbiter will map wells of methane across the planet, searching for its origin (whether biological or geological.) The ​Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module will, just as it sounds, test new landing technology. It will also spend four days in the middle of intense dust storms characterizing Martian winds before shutting down.

In 2018, the second leg will launch.  This will be a big deal for Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, which will have to prove that it can make a successful Mars launch vehicle and lander after a number of false starts and outright catastrophes for Russian Mars probes. The lander will serve two functions: as a longterm meteorological station, and as the protective shell for the ExoMars rover, which will drill into the Martian soil in hunt of signs of life. It will mostly hunt in equatorial regions. (10/2)

How Will We Get Off Mars? (Source: National Geographic)
And that’s not an option. If The Martian holds one lesson for real-life space exploration, it's that the public won't stand for spending billions of dollars only to leave astronauts stranded on another world. The most crucial part of any NASA plan for visiting the red planet, arguably, is getting off it.

The spacecraft that NASA would build to get the job done, the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), represents a formidable engineering challenge. When fully loaded with fuel, it’s too heavy to launch from Earth and land safely on Mars.

Instead, the vehicle would need to be pre-assembled and sent to the red planet—years before the astronauts arrive—where it would make its own propellant by squeezing it out of the thin Martian atmosphere. The cramped vehicle needs to sustain the astronauts for days as they maneuver to rendezvous with the orbiting vessel that will finally take them home. (10/2)

Russia's New Rocket Won't Fit in Its New Cosmodrome (Source: Moscow Times)
Work at  Russia's new $ 3 billion spaceport in  the Far East has ground to  a halt after a  critical piece of  infrastructure was discovered to  have been built to  the wrong dimensions, and  would not fit the  latest version of  the country's Soyuz rocket, a  news report said.

The  Vostochny Cosmodrome, under construction in  the Amur region, north of  China, is intended to  become Russia's primary spaceport, replacing the  Soviet-built Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The  cutting-edge facility was meant be ready for launches of  Soyuz-2 rockets in December, but an unidentified space agency official said the rocket would not fit inside the  assembly building where its parts are stacked and  tested before launch. (10/3)

ULA Still In Trouble Despite $882 Million Air Force Contract (Source: Fortune)
While SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket remains sidelined following a launch failure in June, ULA has won an $882 million contract to send military and intelligence satellites into orbit for the Department of Defense in fiscal 2016. However, Congress released a new version of a proposed $612 billion 2016 defense budget that could restrict ULA’s access to the rocket engines it needs to power its Atlas V rockets.

Meanwhile, there’s even more for ULA to worry about in the text of the proposed budget. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016 would end what has been an annual payment from the U.S. Air Force to ULA in exchange for various launch services—a payment that some have criticized as a subsidy—after 2016.

In other words, ULA will receive nearly $900 million from the Pentagon in 2016 for the same launch services it has provided exclusively to the Air Force for years—services ranging from the rockets and launches themselves to mission integration and facilities upkeep. However, through its proposed NDAA Congress has placed ULA on notice that beyond fiscal 2016 such contracts won’t be such a sure thing—and neither is ULA’s future as the dominant player in government launch services. (10/3)

Not Just $882 Million, ULA Got Another $233 Million Last Week (Source: SPACErePORT)
United Launch Services, a ULA subsidiary, received a $232,939,333 firm-fixed-price contract modification for launch vehicle production services (LVPS) under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Phase I contract. This modification executes a requirement for fiscal 2015 LVPS in support of the launch vehicle configuration of one Air Force Atlas V 411 and one Delta IV M+(5,2). This modification adds two pre-priced contract line items for the Atlas V 411 and Delta IV M+(5,2) LV configurations and does not constitute an exercised option. (10/3)

Investment, Pricing Helped Orbital Beat Aerojet for Rocket Boosters (Source: Reuters)
Orbital ATK Inc beat out Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc to become the future sole supplier of solid rocket boosters for United Launch Alliance by offering better long-term pricing agreements, substantial cost reductions and more investment, ULA said Friday.

Tory Bruno, chief executive officer of the 50-50 venture owned by Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, said the deal with Orbital, announced last week, was one of many strategic agreements the company was forging with big suppliers to drive down costs and prepare for more competition. (10/3)

Professors Looking to Create Edible Algae for Space Travel (Source: Tulsa World)
Parameswar Hari at the University of Tulsa’s Department of Physics and Engineering Physics, said the eight- to 10-month Mars flight time in each direction means the crew will need a large amount of food, and weight can become a cost issue. “It’s an estimated $10,000 per pound of material for a trip to Mars,” he said.

That’s why a group of professors and students from TU have embarked on their own three-year mission to develop a system to help astronauts grow their own food with algae. TU’s project is sponsored by a $750,000 grant from NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research and, when finished, will be sent up in space on an unmanned satellite to see how well it works. (10/3)

Spaceport America Holds Open House (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Many got their first look at Spaceport America Saturday when the facility hosted its first open house. The event was free, but was limited to the first 100 cars to register. As the visitors stepped out of shuttles, many headed immediately to the enormous hangar where an actual-size replica of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo was prominently displayed.

Others wandered around to view the front of the Spaceport as small planes touched down on the runway approaching the building. About 30 planes flew in from around the state, flown by invited members of the Las Cruces chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and the New Mexico Pilots Association. (10/3)

XCOR Expansion in Texas Offsets Some Oil Industry Economic Losses (Source: OA Online)
As sub-$50 oil prices curbed machine shops’ work in the oilfield during the past year, M & M saw a primary chunk of its business plummet by about 40 percent, said Jeremy Kirkpatrick, vice president at M & M Sales and Equipment and the son of the owner, Jewell Kirkpatrick.

Then, about a month ago, they received an order from XCOR Aerospace, the commercial space flight company building its new headquarters at Midland International Air and Space Port. XCOR is developing the suborbital aircraft Lynx that executives at the company say could begin ferrying tourists to the upper atmosphere, gawking at the curvature of the Earth below, possibly in 2017.

But first, XCOR needed to stock a machine shop that today officials say contains about $300,000 worth of equipment, and that effort required the sort of fittings that M & M supplies. The order from the company was a “big boost,” Kirkpatrick said, but, “not huge.” (10/4)

Exhibition on "Father of Chinese Rocketry" Opens in U.S. (Source: Xinhua)
An exhibition, themed on the life of China's late space scientist Qian Xuesen, who is considered "Father of Chinese Rocketry," was staged in California Institute of Technology (Caltech) on Friday. Qian, who died in 2009 at the age of 98, was born in China and has studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Caltech in the United States. (10/3)

NASA Basks in PR Triumphs Even as Funding Shrivels (Source: Guardian)
As space exploration goes, it looked like a good week for NASA. The revelation that scientists had discovered water on Mars – or more accurately uncovered evidence of certain chemicals in rocks that suggested recent liquid flows – piqued interest in the Red Planet ahead of this weekend’s launch of the sci-fi blockbuster The Martian.

If the announcement itself was cool enough, the messenger turned out to be pretty funky, too. Lujendra Ojha, a postgraduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology who made the discovery, is a Nepalese-born former heavy metal guitarist who is helping to change the public perception of a space agency geek. Click here. (10/4)

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