November 18, 2015

Private Space Companies Avoid FAA Oversight Again, with Congress' Blessing (Source: The Verge)
This week, President Obama is expected to sign into law a critical bill for the commercial spaceflight sector — one that prevents the government from regulating private space travel for the next eight years. Under the legislation, the FAA is restricted from issuing standards for commercial spacecraft, as it does for the commercial airline industry, until 2023 at the earliest. (11/16)

Bill's Passage Could Spur Space Business on Space Coast (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Congress has finally approved a bill authorizing a modern commercial space industry, and advocates are hailing it as the open door that could lead to a rush of new ventures around Kennedy Space Center. On Monday night the House approved a final version of the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitive Act.

It creates a framework for so-called "new space" companies such as Blue Origin, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada to pursue space ventures independently of NASA and the U.S. military. The U.S. Senate approved the bill last week, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign it. "Commercial space is the president's most successful signature program on space," Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, the state's space agency. "He'll sign it."

The bill was put together with bipartisan effort, with Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge, Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Patty Murray of Washington, and Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas doing much of the work. Posey and Nelson said Florida's Space Coast will benefit the most from a rapidly growing private space industry. (11/17)

Q&A on Earth-Sized Exoplanet GJ1132b (Source: Sky & Telescope)
There are nearly 2,000 exoplanets on the books, and much is known about them, at least in broad strokes, such as their size, mass and distance. Yet the details that give these celestial bodies their individuality—such as weather, winds, air, and even the colors of their skies—remain scant. This is particularly true for the growing number of small, Earth-size exoplanets, from which astronomers hope to glean clues about life's potential genesis elsewhere in the universe.

Now a newfound exoplanet announced today in the journal Nature, and discovered by a member of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers scientists one of the best chances to truly know an extraterrestrial planet. Called GJ 1132b, it crosses the face of a nearby red dwarf star only 40 light-years away. Click here. (11/16)

XCOR Develops Lynx Simulator (Source: Space Daily)
XCOR Aerospace has announced that it has completed work on its Lynx simulator system, built by Protobox LLC in conjunction with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. This simulator will provide XCOR invaluable training as the test pilot team prepares for Lynx flight test. (11/18)

The "Omics" of Space Travel (Source: Space Daily)
The human body is incredibly complex. Every part of us-from our bones to our blood cells-is subject to a host of chemical reactions and molecular interactions that, without our conscious effort, keep us alive. But what happens to these processes when we leave the planet?

In Earth orbit and beyond, where gravity is counteracted by a constant state of freefall and cosmic radiation intensifies, the molecular inner-workings of the human body may change. To find out how, NASA has entered a realm of bio-research known as "-omics." Click here. (11/18)

Orion Ingenuity Improves Manufacturing While Reducing Mass (Source: Space Daily)
How do you reduce the weight of a spacecraft's underlying structure, while using the same materials as the heavier version and still hold to the same manufacturing schedule? This month, the engineers who helped answer that question are seeing their hard work pay off.

Technicians have finished welding together three cone panels that make up a section of the Orion crew module that will fly beyond the moon on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). While technicians have been joining other elements of the structure together since early September, the cone panels have presented a unique challenge for NASA and Lockheed Martin, the agency's prime contractor for Orion. Click here. (11/18)

India Plans to Launch 6-12 Satellites Per Year (Source: Times of India)
ISRO will increase the number of satellite launches to between six and 12 annually from next year as against four to five at the moment, ISRO chairman A S Kiran Kumar announced. ISRO officials told TOI that if this is implemented, it will work out to a launch each month making India truly a global space power. (11/18)

Why Atlas 5 Will Have Longer Windows for Station Flights (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Expanding a single instant in time to 30 minutes, the upcoming ULA Atlas 5 rockets with Cygnus cargo-delivery freighters bound for the International Space Station will have an unprecedented opportunity available to launch each day.

The SpaceX Falcon 9, Russian Soyuz, European Ariane 5 and Japanese H-2B rockets all have instantaneous launch windows for space station missions, giving them a split second each day to fly or else scrub. The now-retired space shuttle had 10 minutes and the Orbital ATK Antares rocket has had between five and 10 minutes.

But it will be a bit different for the Dec. 3 flight of the Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral and another cargo mission for the rocket coming up March 10. The performance of the Atlas 5 will produce a 30-minute launch window each day. “It is all about available energy to steer you to the right place,” said Dan Tani, a former astronaut. (11/18)

Where Will the 1st Astronauts on Mars Land? (Source:
Where should humanity set up its first-ever outpost on Mars? The ideal Red Planet crewed site should be of high scientific value — allowing pioneers to search for signs of Mars life and investigate other intriguing questions — and also possess enough resources to help sustain expeditionary crews, scientists and engineers said. Click here. (11/18)

Radiation Blasts Leave Most Earth-Like Planet Uninhabitable (Source: U. of Warwick)
The most Earth-like planet could have been made uninhabitable by vast quantities of radiation, new research led by the University of Warwick research has found. The atmosphere of the planet, Kepler-438b, is thought to have been stripped away as a result of radiation emitted from a superflaring Red Dwarf star, Kepler-438.

Regularly occurring every few hundred days, the superflares are approximately ten times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun and equivalent to the same energy as 100 billion megatons of TNT. "Unlike the Earth's relatively quiet sun, Kepler-438 emits strong flares every few hundred days, each one stronger than the most powerful recorded flare on the Sun." (11/17)

Stratolaunch is in Limbo (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Billionaire entrepreneur Paul Allen’s bid to shake up the space industry with low-cost satellite launches from a mammoth jet is now in limbo, and aerospace industry officials say market shifts threaten its overall viability. The ambitious venture appears to be on hold, these officials said, because the Microsoft Corp. co-founder hasn’t announced a replacement rocket supplier for the original contractor that dropped out months ago. (11/17)

Russian Rocket Engine Shortage Fires Up Blue Origin in Race to Beat Aerojet (Source: Puget Sound Business Journal)
The race to replace Russian rocket engines heated up this week, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin emerges as the front-runner ahead of Aerojet Rocket Holdings Inc., in Rancho Cordova, California. Monday's announcement by ULA that it wouldn’t bid on the next U.S. Air Force satellite launch accelerated that race.

ULA said it was dropping out partly because it’s running out of Russian-built RD-180 engines.
This puts more fire behind the push to replace the Russian engines with a U.S.-built model, and the two leaders in that competition are Blue Origin and Aerojet. (11/17)

Why Planet Labs Can Shrug Off Launch Failures (Source: Space News)
In its ongoing quest to gather daily images of every location on Earth, Planet Labs plans to launch 250 satellites in 2016, far more than the company needs to serve its customers. “We plan on launching more than we need because you can’t have a failure and say, ‘Oh [shucks]. I need to get another launch,’ because that will take two years,” said Chief Executive Will Marshall. “We have redundancy built into our planning process.”

That redundancy enabled Planet Labs to continue providing imagery to its customers in spite of losing 26 Flock 1d satellites in the October 2014 failure of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and eight Doves, also known as Flock 1f, in the June 2015 breakup of the SpaceX Falcon 9. Planet Labs has launched 101 cubesats on nine launch vehicles since the company was established in 2010. (11/17)

NASA Teams Up With Universities to Prep Robots for Space Exploration (Source: NBC)
Two university groups have been selected to help upgrade NASA robots that could one day explore deep space and perhaps even Mars.

Teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University were awarded prototypes of NASA's R5 humanoid robot for advanced research and development work. NASA originally designed the R5, a bipedal robot also known as Valkyrie, to aid in disaster relief. But the agency also envisioned that the R5 could some day be used in space missions, either performing tasks before humans arrive or working alongside the human crew. (11/17)

White House Space Official Moves to New Agency (Source: Space News)
A key White House space policy official is taking a new position. Chirag Parikh, director of space policy at the White House National Security Council, said Monday he will soon be leaving the White House to lead the Source Strategy Office at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. That office directs the use of data from various sources to meet the agency's needs. Parikh is credited with helping win support for a new space protection initiative valued at $5.5 billion over five years. (11/17)

Culberson Pushes Europa Mission (Source: Ars Technica)
A key member of Congress has reiterated his support for adding a lander to NASA's planned Europa mission. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, visited JPL earlier this month to get an update on concepts being studied there for including a lander to the mission.

The 230-kilogram lander would carry instruments to look for biosignatures in the moon's ice. "I told them to do whatever it takes," Culberson said after his meeting, adding that he was "very optimistic" the $140 million he provided in the House version of a spending bill for the mission would make it into the final bill. (11/17)

ESA Plans for Rosetta’s Grand Finale on Comet 67P (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
European Space Agency flight controllers are plotting to send the Rosetta spacecraft on a controlled descent to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko next year to join the Philae landing probe, which made a bouncy touchdown on the comet’s craggy nucleus one year ago this week.

Rosetta begins an extended mission in December, with funding and fuel available to continue the spacecraft’s study of the comet through September 2016. Rosetta is now slowly moving back toward the comet as activity dies off as its distance from the sun grows. The spacecraft reached a point 170 kilometers, or 105 miles, from the nucleus Thursday, and Rosetta will go much closer in the coming months. (11/14)

NASA, Russia Working Together Again on a Mission to Explore Venus (Source: Ars Technica)
After more than a year on ice due to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, NASA and Russia’s Space Research Institute has resumed discussions about a joint exploration mission to Venus, which could include a lander. NASA hasn’t flown a mission dedicated to Venus since its Magellan probe, from 1990 to 1994, which mapped 98 percent of the planet at a resolution of 100 meters or better.

So far NASA has only committed to talking with Russia about its Venera-D mission, which could launch in the 2020s. The space agency has agreed to perform a year-long feasibility study and several meetings during the next year. After that time NASA and Russia’s Space Research Institute, or IKI, will decide whether to continue its partnership. (11/17)

Attempt No Landing There? Yeah Right—We’re Going to Europa (Source: Ars Technica)
It is a nightmare glacier, tormented by the giant of our Solar System ever looming on its horizon. Jupiter showers its moon Europa with enough radiation to kill a human in just a few days. Europa must also contend with the massive planet’s powerful tidal forces.

The moon literally creaks as Jupiter’s bulk rends its frozen surface in deep crevasses, pushing and pulling the ice upward and downward by tens of meters every few days. And with only a very tenuous atmosphere, it is so very cold: -210 degrees Celsius. Yet as forbidding as Europa’s surface may be, just a few kilometers below lies the largest ocean in the known Universe. It dwarfs any on Earth, encircling the entire moon and plunging as far as 100 kilometers deep.

NASA is very publicly planning a mission to Europa in the 2020s, one that will soar over the intriguing moon dozens of times. Yet the reality is more thrilling. Quietly, the same engineers who masterminded the daring Curiosity landing on Mars in 2012 have been plotting how best to drop a lander onto the nightmare glacier. In early November, they presented their preliminary findings for a 230-kg lander to the one person in the world who can, and who dearly wants to, make that happen. (11/17)

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