October 9, 2015

SMAP Radar Failure Leaves Big Hole in Mission (Source: Space News)
NASA and the scientific community are trying to stay upbeat and positive following the failure of one of the two main instruments on the agency’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite, saying the mission will soldier on and conduct meaningful science with its remaining sensor.

That’s well and good, but there’s no whitewashing the reality that a billion-dollar mission now will not meet its basic science objectives. For reasons NASA has yet to determine, or at least fully disclose, SMAP’s active radar sensor suffered a component failure and ceased operating in July, just two months after the high-priority Earth science mission, which launched in January, completed on-orbit testing. (10/8)

ISPCS Focuses on New Mexico Role in Aerospace (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Spaceflight welcomed some 300 guests Wednesday morning to hear from roughly 40 speakers at the 11th rendition of the annual gathering of aerospace industry leaders in Las Cruces.

This year's event, which draws from American and international aerospace leaders in an effort to grow space tourism, scientific research and support the nation's attempt to foster public and private partnerships to restart the United States' efforts to launch not only experiments and tourists but also U.S. astronauts to orbital and suborbital space and to the International Space Station from American spaceports. (10/7)

Florida Tech Honors Sunita Williams (Source: Florida Tech)
The Jerome P. Keuper Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes an alumnus whose career accomplishments honor the university’s legacy of excellence. This year’s recipient is Sunita L. Williams ’95 M.S.  who will be presented with the award at the Homecoming Awards Gala on Nov. 7.

Williams, who earned a master’s degree in engineering management, again makes history by being named one of the first astronauts in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This group of four astronauts will fly the next generation of space vehicles. It is the successor to the 30-year-long space shuttle program. The ambitious plan is to land the first humans on Mars by 2030 on privately built spacecraft. (10/8)

NASA Launches Suborbital Rocket from Wallops with Technology Experiments (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA successfully launched a NASA Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket testing a modified Black Brant motor, launch vehicle and spacecraft systems and sub-payload ejection technologies the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 7:07 p.m. today.

The payload flew to an altitude of 160 miles and impacted in the Atlantic Ocean. There are no plans to recover the payload. The primary purpose of the flight was to test the performance of the second-stage Black Brant motor. Preliminary indications are that the motor performed as planned. Preliminary data analysis of the technology experiments on the payload is in progress. (10/8)

Pluto Images Reveal Blue Skies, Water Ice (Source: NASA)
The first color images of Pluto’s atmospheric hazes, returned by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft last week, reveal that the hazes are blue. The haze particles themselves are likely gray or red, but the way they scatter blue light has gotten the attention of the New Horizons science team. In a second significant finding, New Horizons has detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on Pluto. The discovery was made from data collected by the Ralph spectral composition mapper on New Horizons. (10/8)

Making a Sexier Spacesuit (Source: Slate)
The days of getting dressed up to fly are gone. But the days of getting dressed up for space travel—well, they’re on their way. When you think of an astronaut spacewalking, you probably envision the iconic, white spacesuit of Apollo fame. These multimillion-dollar Extravehicular Mobility Units, in NASA parlance, have undergone a number of subtle improvements since the ’60s, but the general Michelin Man aesthetic has endured.

This is largely because those designing the suit adhere to the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which happens to be especially useful advice when you are manufacturing one of the most complex life-support systems in existence. Click here. (10/8)

What Happens When Your Brain Can’t Tell Which Way is Up? (Source: NASA)
In space, there is no “up” or “down.” That can mess with the human brain and affect the way people move and think in space. An investigation on the International Space Station seeks to understand how the brain changes in space and ways to deal with those changes.

Previous research and first-hand reports suggest that humans have a harder time controlling physical movement and completing mental tasks in microgravity. Astronauts have experienced problems with balance and perceptual illusions – feeling as if, for example, they are switching back and forth between right-side-up and upside down. Click here. (10/8)

Here's Where NASA Might Go For Its Next Space Mission (Source: Huffington Post)
Is Venus ready for its close-up? NASA has announced five projects under consideration for its next space mission, and the second planet from the sun plays a role in two of them.

One of the proposals involves dropping a spacecraft, dubbed DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging), through Venus' atmosphere to study its composition. Another proposal would send a craft to map the surface of the planet in detail, to see how similar Venus’ surface is to Earth's and whether Venus was ever capable of habitation. (10/8)

Secure World Foundation To Be Founding Partner of Space Resources Working Group (SWF)
Secure World Foundation (SWF) will play a leading role in a working group seeking to develop policy "building blocks" for the development and use of space resources. SWF will join with the University of Leiden's Institute of Air and Space Law to support an international effort to clarify rights and obligations in the emerging space-mining industry.

"Space mining is inspiring both intense interest and intense debate," said SWF Executive Director, Michael Simpson. "Our goal is to identify common ground so that governments can know how to respond and investors and entrepreneurs can know what to expect." (10/8)

Purchase of Building at Ellington a Key Step in Houston Spaceport Plans (Source: Houston Airport System)
An important step in the functional launch of the Houston Spaceport was taken on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, when Houston City Council members approved the $6.9 million purchase of an aerospace engineering building and land adjacent to Ellington Airport (EFD).

Using airport funds for the purchase, the 53,000 square foot building will house a shared use manufacturing and general office facility, and already has prospective tenants. The Houston Airport System (HAS) has received a letter of intent to lease from both Intuitive Machines and UK-based Catapult Satellite Applications, and expects to receive others in the near future. (10/8)

Ben Carson Living in Fantasy Land (Source: Salon)
When asked to describe what a Ben Carson administration would look like, Carson ticked off a list of major policy goals he envisions, most of them relating to national security objectives. Carson said that as president, he would “quite substantially” improve our military capabilities, conquer outer space (“he who controls space controls the Earth”), “beef up our cyber capabilities,” and secure vulnerabilities in the electrical grid.

All these things cost money. Lots and lots of money. Earlier in the interview, Carson had endorsed a balanced budget amendment and said the secret to achieving a balanced budget was simple: across-the-board spending cuts for every department within the government (though apparently not for defense). (10/8)

Boeing Gets Contract for Optical Space Tracking (Source: Space News)
The Air Force has awarded Boeing a $13.7 million sole-source contract to help design and engineer next-generation electro-optical observing systems and to conduct experiments at two of the service’s space tracking sites. Boeing’s Laser and Electro-optical Systems Division in New Mexico, has managed the operations and maintenance at the two sites — the Maui Space Surveillance Complex in Hawaii and the Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico — since 2006. (10/8)

Commercial Space Supporter McCarthy Drops House Speaker Bid (Source: Space News)
Less than two weeks after being anointed front-runner to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as speaker of the House of Representatives, House Majority Leader and commercial space industry supporter Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has taken himself out of the running.

McCarthy’s California district includes the Mojave Air and Space Port, which is home base to a number of commercial space transportation development efforts. He sponsored the industry-friendly Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015. “McCarthy is the strongest supporter of commercial space in the Congress,” James Muncy, principal of space policy consultancy PoliSpace, said when McCarthy emerged as the leading candidate to replace Boehner.

Editor's Note: Florida Rep. Daniel Webster is among those being considered to replace Boehner. Webster is from Central Florida and has a history of support for space issues dating back to his days as a state legislator. (10/8)

Hadfield Releasing Album From Out of This World (Source: CBS)
It's not like Hadfield was unknown before his music video went viral. He was the first Canadian to walk in space, and he's on the back of the Canadian five dollar bill. But his new-found fame is broadening his capacity to inspire. "I think social media allows access where you can look through the eyes of the explorer," says Hadfield. "To get insight into what it's like to be right on the edge of the human existence, I think that is kind of what people are celebrating.

On Friday, October 9th, Chris Hadfield will release an album of 12 songs written and recorded in space. Hollywood may keep churning out space adventures, and real life news from Mars will always make headlines, but it's a 53-year-old retired Canadian astronaut who's leaving a new generation positively star-struck. (10/8)

Secrets, Sci-Fi & Uncertainty: Bezos and the Future of Private Spaceflight (Source: Space.com)
Even if Blue Origin doesn't invite the public or the media to watch its test launches in Florida, the liftoffs will be clearly visible to residents of the Space Coast. It is highly likely that, at some point, Blue Origin will have to deal with the same media blitz that surrounded SpaceX and Orbital when their rockets failed.

The press event at LC-36 might be a sign that Blue Origin is preparing for this inevitable step into the spotlight. The grand showcase concluded with Bezos dramatically unveiling an image of Very Big Brother. (Details about the partially reusable rocket won't be released until next year.) Click here. (10/7)

SpaceX-Google Matchup Sets Up Satellite Internet Scramble (Source: Space News)
SpaceX’s Jan. 20 confirmation that Google and mutual-fund giant Fidelity Investments had invested a combined $1 billion in SpaceX set the stage for what could be a multi-year competition for capital and engineering resources among consortia aiming to build satellite networks for global Internet connectivity.

Google wasn’t talking, but industry officials immediately assumed its SpaceX ownership stake was not based on Google’s newfound attraction for launch vehicles, but rather on SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s decision to build an Internet backbone in low Earth orbit. (10/8)

NASA is Opening Up Hundreds of Patents to Inventors, for Free (Source: Washington Post)
From the memory foam in your mattress to the advanced alloys in your tennis racquet, NASA is behind some of the biggest technological advances of our time. Now, the space agency is giving other inventors the chance to build on those by letting them use its patents — for free.

NASA's Technology Transfer Program says it's opening up its patent portfolio and waiving the costs associated with using the patents for at least the first three years of a company's product development. Once a startup has brought the product to market, NASA will start collecting a "standard net royalty fee," but otherwise inventors will be able to use the patents however they like. (10/8)

NASA Wants Astronauts to Use Mars's Natural Resources to Survive (Source: Motherboard)
Humans have thoroughly wrecked Earth's environment, now it's time to move on to using the natural resources of another planet. Fresh off the discovery of flowing, liquid water on Mars, NASA said Wednesday it wants ideas for how to best exploit the natural resources of the Red Planet for human survival.

“In situ resource utilization is key to our exploration of the universe,” Robert Mueller, senior technologist at NASA's Swamp Works, which is a laboratory working on the specifics of deep space travel, said in a statement. “We must find ways to make what we need once we are at our destination."

Mueller said Martian soil could be fashioned into building blocks to create shelters, landing pads, and perhaps roads. NASA plans on giving away modest $10,000 and $2,500 prizes to people who can come up with potentially viable ideas for Mars resource use. The idea of mining Mars for resources—both for the use of humans there and perhaps for use on Earth—is nothing new. Click here. (10/8)

Scientists Get Taste for Spaceflight at Embry-Riddle (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Sheathed in a one-size-fits-all jumpsuit, Dr. Shawna Pandya looked relieved as the pressurized air coarsed through the orange fabric. It was the first time Pandya donned a spacesuit, and aside from the difficulty flexing her arms and legs, “It’s actually quite comfy.”

A small cadre of people followed her into a cramped, low-lit room where she will got her first taste of suborbital flight. Pandya, 31, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, was one of about two dozen candidates at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University this week, testing the limits of their bodies in a simulated flight to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere. Click here. (10/7)

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