October 6, 2015

Facebook to Beam Free Internet Service to Africa with Satellites (Source: The Hill)
Facebook and satellite company Eutelsat will start beaming Internet service to parts of Africa under a new deal announced Monday. Both companies will “deploy Internet services designed to relieve pent-up demand for connectivity from the many users in Africa beyond range of fixed and mobile terrestrial networks,” according to a Eutelsat statement. The firm said only that the service would reach “large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The two companies will share satellite capacity, with Eutelsat focusing on premium and professional customers. Facebook’s efforts will be aimed at bringing people online who otherwise could not get access — the mission of its Internet.org arm. Internet.org efforts have been met with mixed reactions. Its primary product so far is a package called Free Basics, phone apps that users in the developing world can access without paying their providers for data. (10/5)

Recent Russian Rendezvous and Proximity Operations in Space (Source: Space Review)
In the last few years, Russia has carried out a number of missions to test rendezvous and proximity operations, both in low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit. Brian Weeden describes what is known about these efforts, and the policy implications of such tests given similar missions by American spacecraft in the past. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2839/1 to view the article. (10/5)

Orbiting First: a Reasonable Strategy for a Sustainable Mars Program (Source: Space Review)
Last week, The Planetary Society released a report that came out of a workshop earlier this year on more affordable strategies for human Mars exploration. Casey Dreier and Jason Callahan discuss how an architecture that sends humans first to orbit Mars can fit into current NASA budgets for human spaceflight. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2838/1 to view the article. (10/5)

"The Martian" and Real Martians (Source: Space Review)
The film adaptation of the bestselling novel "The Martian" opened to rave reviews and a big box office take this weekend, days after NASA also announced evidence of liquid water on the surface of present-day Mars. Jeff Foust examines what effect -- if any -- these events could have on NASA's plans for actual human missions to the Red Planet. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2837/1 to view the article. (10/5)

India's Space Program Looks Outwards (Source: Space Review)
India launched last week its first dedicated astronomy spacecraft, called ASTROSAT. Ajey Lele says the launch is another sign that India's space agency is moving beyond its traditional role of socioeconomic development into science and exploration. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2836/1 to view the article. (10/5)

Putting the Pieces Back Together Again (Source: Space Review)
A major gallery in the National Air and Space Museum looks more like a workshop right now, as part of renovations of that gallery. Dwayne Day explores how the gallery, and the museum, are changing. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2835/1 to view the article. (10/5)

Senators Seek NASA Commitment for Tracking of Lake Erie Algal Blooms (Source: Cleceland Plain Dealer)
Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman are seeking a long-term commitment from NASA in anticipation of a continued need for high-tech tracking of toxic algal blooms on Lake Erie. Brown and Portman, joined by Michigan's senators, penned a two-page letter to Charles Bolden in a preemptive attempt for a commitment from NASA to continue to perform aerial monitoring of toxic algal blooms in the lake, as well as to seek funding for algae monitoring through the 2017 budget year. (10/5)

The Ansari X Prize’s Awkward Family Reunion (Source: Parabolic Arc)
By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way. And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize.

A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period. It was a tremendous achievement — one that was to herald a new era led by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic that would open up space to the masses. Or at least that part of humanity that could shell out 200 grand to float around for five minutes. And it was all only three years away. Regular, routine and safe travel to space would begin in 2007.

But, something funny happened on the way to the future: nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Things had happened. Engines were tested, SpaceShipTwo was built and flown, deposits taken, promises made and broken, schedules set and revised. Three Scaled Composites engineers had died tragically. And there had been hype. Lots and lots of hype. (10/5)

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be: SpaceShipOne & the Triumph of Hype (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Of everyone who spoke on that triumphant sunny day, it was Burt Rutan who was the most boastful and dismissive of NASA and the rest of the space industry. “I was thinking a little bit about that other space agency, the big guys, I think they’re looking at each other now and saying, ‘We’re screwed.’,” he told a cheering crowd on the tarmac at Mojave.

“Because I’ll tell ya something….I have a helluva lot bigger goal, and you know what that goal is? I absolutely have to develop a manned space tourism system that’s at least a hundred times safer than anything that’s ever flown man to space and probably a lot more. I have to do that.” So, how’d that work out for you, Burt?

Not real well. By 2007, the year commercial service was supposed to have begun, Rutan and his team were still three years away from SpaceShipTwo’s first flight. The only significant event to that point was the loss of three Scaled engineers in a test stand explosion. Seven years later, SpaceShipTwo was destroyed on only its fourth powered flight test when the ship’s feather device — which Rutan had billed as the vehicle’s best safety feature — deployed prematurely during powered ascent due to pilot error. (10/5)

NASA Astronauts Can Already Farm On Mars (Source: Tech Crunch)
In the movie, Matt Damon’s character realizes he doesn’t have enough food to survive the next possible human visitation four years in the future and is forced to recognize he might starve to death. Luckily, he’s a botanist and soon figures out a way to grow potatoes using Martian soil and his own feces.

Space farming, though a fictionalized scenario in the movie, is actually happening already, according to Bruce Bugbee. The director of the plants, soils and climate department at Utah State University has been working alongside NASA for the last decade to grow plants in space. “What we have focused on is just growing a few salad crops. Growing some lettuce, growing some radishes and they help to recycle the water,” Bugbee told TechCrunch. (10/5)

Musk Has the Perfect Argument for Raising NASA's Budget (Source: Tech Insider)
Billionaire Elon Musk has a really compelling reason to ramp up NASA's budget: We need to become a multi-planet species to ensure the survival of the human race, and we need NASA's help to do it. There's a story Musk likes to tell about the time he went surfing on the NASA website looking for a timeline for when NASA would be going to Mars.

He didn't find a date, so now he's planning on doing it himself using his rocket company SpaceX, and hope that it inspires people enough that the government will bump up NASA's budget. Then we'll have a decent shot at setting up a permanent Mars colony and making humans a multi-planet species. Click here. (10/5)

There Could be Life on Mars. Of Course We Should Try to Find It. (Source: Washington Post)
Believe it or not, despite being well below zero degrees Celsius, it actually boils. When you lower air pressure, you lower the boiling point of water. Once the brine is exposed to Mars’s extremely thin atmosphere (about 1/200th the pressure of Earth at sea level), it boils away, leaving only a salty residue and streaked soil behind. Now the water is back in the atmosphere, and the cycle begins anew.

And now we know Mars has liquid water, a requirement for Earth life and for anything that evolved from Earth life. There may be microscopic organisms on Mars that have lived there for millions, maybe billions of years. They could be descendants of Earth’s first little one-celled astronauts that made the harrowing journey to the Red Planet. An alien invasion that happened a long time ago in a galaxy… well… in this galaxy right here.

So what do we do about it? Well, that’s where the arguing begins. We’re going to have two camps of scientists at each others’ throats on the issue. There’s a briny water patch just 50km from the Curiosity lander. That’s within range; she could go there and take a look. So why not do it? (10/5)

Japan Looking at Electric Propulsion for Satellites (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, is studying the feasibility of using electric propulsion for artificial satellites, beginning in fiscal 2021, in order to save on fuel and improve satellite performance. If its budget request is approved, the agency will start development work in fiscal 2016.

Electric propulsion is a focus of attention. These include ion engines, a technology used for Hayabusa, the spacecraft that successfully brought back to Earth particles from asteroid Itokawa in June 2010 after a seven-year voyage. Electric thrusters are weaker than chemical engines in terms of propulsion but boast higher efficiency and consume only about one-fifth of the fuel needed by chemical engines. (10/5)

UF: Peeking Into Our Galaxy’s Stellar Nursery (Source: UF News)
Astronomers have long turned their telescopes, be they on satellites in space or observatories on Earth, to the wide swaths of interstellar medium to get a look at the formation and birth of stars. However, the images produced over the last 50 years look more like weather maps showing storm systems instead of glittering bursts of light that the untrained observer might expect of a “star map.” That is, until now.

Led by University of Florida astronomer Peter Barnes and Erik Muller at the National Astronomy Observatory of Japan, a team of international researchers has just released the most comprehensive images anyone has ever seen of the Milky Way’s cold interstellar gas clouds where new stars and solar systems are being born. (10/5)

Air Force Extends Harris’ Satellite Control Network Contract  (Source: Space News)
Harris Information Technology Services will continue providing operations, maintenance and logistics support to the  Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) under a contract modification worth $37.9 million. The contract covers the nearly nine-month period from Sept. 29, 2015, through June 16, 2016, and is the 10th option under the contract. (10/5)

ISS Partners Release Major Update to Docking Standard (Source: NASA)
The International Space Station Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) has approved a major update to the station docking system standard. First released in 2010, the docking standard established a common station-to-spacecraft equipment interface to enable spacecraft of multiple types to dock to the space station.

The update more than doubles the content in the guidelines, which enable in-orbit crew rescue by a range of spacecraft types and international collaborative exploration with future spacecraft -- from crewed to autonomous vehicles, and low-Earth orbit to deep-space missions. (10/5)

SpaceX Proposing Cost-Effective Reusable Rockets (Source: Washington Times)
As India launches its first observatory in space and Europe places a probe on a comet, SpaceX is hoping to help the U.S. lead the space race with reusable rockets and the kind of raw power not seen since the glory days of the Saturn V.

Earlier this year California-based enterprise SpaceX launched the Dragon, a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket carrying unmanned cargo to the International Space Station. The company has hoped to land the rocket on a floating barge in the ocean but has yet to succeed.

On the company’s website, SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained that if the U.S. could “reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred. A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. This is really a fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.” (10/5)

ULA Touts Mid-Air Recovery as More Cost-Effective than SpaceX’s Reusability Plan (Source: Space News)
United Launch Alliance says reuse of its future Vulcan rocket’s first-stage engines — featuring an inflatable hypersonic decelerator to protect the engines on atmospheric reentry, then a parafoil to glide them into position for a mid-air pickup by helicopter — is far more cost-effective than SpaceX’s planned recovery and reuse of the Falcon rocket’s entire first stage.

In a YouTube video demonstrating the technique, which ULA says could begin in 2024, the company says SpaceX’s plans would require many more launches to reach economic break-even given the amount of fuel needed to return the first stage to Earth and land it. Click here. (10/5)

BridgeSat Plans Optical Network for SmallSats, UAVs (Source: Via Satellite)
BridgeSat, a startup satellite operator focusing on optical connectivity, is planning a network of SmallSats and ground stations designed to aid other small satellites in beaming data down from Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The company is part of the portfolio of Allied Minds, a U.S. science and technology development and commercialization company, and has partnerships with The Aerospace Corp. and Draper Laboratory to make its proposed satellite system a reality.

Formed in March 2015, BridgeSat is commercializing optical communications technology from The Aerospace Corp. The proposed network would focus on relaying data from Earth Observation (EO) and other remote sensing spacecraft that often produce high quantities of content. John Serafini, co-general manager of BridgeSat, told Via Satellite the company has a two-stage plan for creating the network. Click here. (10/5)

SAIC Drops Protest of Wyle’s $1.5 Billion NASA Space Medicine Contract (Source: Space News)
A two-year scrap over NASA’s main space-medicine contract appears to be over now that SAIC has dropped its protest of NASA’s decision to award the nearly $1.5 billion Human Health and Performance contract to Wyle.

Wyle’s Houston-based Science, Technology and Engineering group won the contract — technically for the second time — in August. SAIC of McLean, Virginia, immediately lodged a protest with the Government Accountability Office, but withdrew it Sept. 1. (10/5)

Russian Foundation Supports Cubesat/Microsatellite Involvement (Source: SK)
Alexey Belyakov, Director of Space and Telecommunications cluster at Skolkovo Foundation, announced establishment of Orbital Launch Center, affiliated to Skolkovo entity to provide SmallSat launch services. Working in partnership with Roscosmos, Orbital Launch Center plans its first launch for 2016. Click here. (10/5)

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