November 23, 2015

Private Companies Conduct Valuable Research on the Space Station (Source: NASA)
Late in the 20th century, more than a dozen countries came together to collaborate on one of humanity's engineering marvels: the International Space Station. While the citizens of Earth have benefited from the 15 years of science conducted on the orbiting laboratory, much of the success of the more than 1,700 investigations performed so far are the result of research partnerships between private companies and space agencies around the world. Click here. (11/20)

NASA Researches Electric VTOL Aircraft for Short Commercial Commutes (Source: Air & Space)
Researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia have been looking at how autonomous, battery-powered vertical takeoff and landing aircraft could be used for commutes. NASA researchers believe that a battery-powered light airplane could be inexpensive to operate and less noisy than conventional aircraft. (11/23)

Suborbital Research Makes a Comeback (Source: Space Review)
Several years ago suborbital research using a new generation of commercial suborbital vehicles appeared to be upon us, but delays in those vehicles' development caused interest to wane. Now, both companies and advocates argue, it's time for another look, as at least one company's vehicle soon plans to start flying experiments. Visit to view the article. (11/23)

Mars and the Transport Revolution (Source: Space Review)
While the solar system is filled with resources that could solve humanity's problems, effectively accessin them remains a major hurdle. Frank Stratford examines the transportation obstacles that need to be overcome, and the role Mars plays in enabling advances in spaceflight. Visit to view the article. (11/23)

Pluto and the Gap Beyond (Source: Space Review)
Earlier this month, New Horizons scientists discussed the latest results from July's Pluto flyby at a planetary science conference. Jeff Foust reports on the surprising results presented at the meeting, which also featured concerns about the long-term future of exploration of the outer solar system. Visit to view the article. (11/23)

ILS Seeks to Improve Relations with Customers, Parent (Source: Tass)
The new head of International Launch Services says the company will improve communications to help win back business. Kirk Pysher said that improving communications with customers, and between ILS and its parent company Khrunichev, is the first step in winning confidence and trust in the Proton rockets that ILS sells to commercial customers. He added that the company's customers have said they want Proton to remain in the market in order to provide a greater range of launch options. (11/23)

Rocket Lab Shifts New Zealand Launch Site (Source: Radio NZ)
A company planning to launch satellite-carrying space rockets is moving its launch base from Kaitorete Spit in Canterbury to the Mahia Peninsula, south of Gisborne. Auckland-based Rocket Lab said its decision was partly due to the time it was taking to get the necessary resource consent from Christchurch City Council.

When the company announced the Canterbury site, it said it was also considering moving its rocket manufacturing operation to Christchurch - creating up to 200 jobs. It has now decided on a location on the Mahia Peninsula, for which it already has the necessary consents, as the site where it aims to launch rockets from 2017. (11/23)

What Did Scott Kelly Capture in Nov. 15 Image? (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Crews on board the International Space Station (ISS) or on other spacecraft take frequent images from on orbit. Members of the public sometimes see things in these images that simply isn’t there. A recent image posted by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly on Twitter has caused some to believe he captured an image of a UFO – but was that really the case?

Elements of the massive ISS (the station is roughly the size of a U.S. football field) extend and jut out from odd angles all over the orbiting laboratory. Pictures sent back to Earth frequently have these parts of the station within them. There is some striking similarities between the “UFO” and parts of the ISS itself. Click here. (11/22)

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Photographs Apollo Landing Sites (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), capable of descending as close as 31 miles (50 km) from the lunar surface, has photographed all six of the Apollo landing sites in unprecedented detail.

The sites were chosen with the goal of exploring different geological terrains on the Moon’s surface. All are located on the Moon’s near side, which faces the Earth. Apollo 11 landed on July 20, 1969, near the Sea of Tranquility, which is comprised primarily of smooth terrain. Three craters slightly north of the landing site are named Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin after the three mission astronauts. (11/23)

Orion Heat Shield Receives Upgrade (Source: AmericaSpace)
Nearly 12 months since it embarked on its long-awaited Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 mission—which accomplished the farthest distance ever attained from the Home Planet by a human-capable vehicle, since the end of the Apollo era—NASA’s Orion Program presently stands on the threshold of its next major challenge: the unpiloted Exploration Mission (EM)-1, atop the maiden voyage of the mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) booster, no sooner than November 2018.

In anticipation of this feat, which will see Orion delivered Beyond Low-Earth Orbit (BLEO) and onto a week-long voyage to circumnavigate the Moon, NASA announced last Thursday that the “Back Shell” element of the spacecraft’s critical heat shield is receiving enhancements to withstand the harsh temperature and velocity conditions expected during an atmospheric re-entry from lunar distance. Recent manufacturing work on the pressure vessel of the Orion Crew Module (CM) has also required ingenious solutions on the part of the NASA and Lockheed Martin engineering workforces. (11/23)

Shelby Seeks to Lift Ban on ULA's Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Decatur Daily)
Decatur’s United Launch Alliance could have a stake in fights over a possible Dec. 11 federal government shutdown. U.S. Sen. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, may use a federal spending bill to allow ULA to use more Russian rocket engines at its Decatur plant after ULA last week cited congressional restrictions on the engines as a barrier to bidding on a defense contract.

Shelby is evaluating how the federal spending bill designed to keep the federal government operating also could be used to ensure “the Air Force has access to the RD-180 (engine) to guarantee America’s access to space, eliminate a possible national security risk and secure approximately 800 jobs in Alabama,” Shelby communications director Torrie Matous said Friday. (11/23)

Space Mining Test at WSMR is Successful (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
A new method of mining asteroids for rocket fuel and water was successfully tested at White Sands Missile Range Nov. 13. A team from the TransAstra Company led by founder and chief technical officer Dr. Joel Sercel used the solar furnace at WSMR's Survivability Vulnerability Assessment Directorate to test a method that may be used to mine asteroids for valuable water using the power of the sun.

The solar furnace uses a large heliostat, a mirror-covered panel that follows the sun, to reflect sunlight into a reflector that focuses the sun's energy onto a single spot about 6 inches in diameter. Normally the solar furnace is used for military testing, generating the kind of heat needed to simulate that of a nuclear blast. (11/22)

Closest Earth-Size Alien Planet Found, May Be a Venus Twin (Source:
A newly discovered planet 39 light-years away is being called the closest Earth-size exoplanet ever discovered — and a potential "Venus twin" — providing the mouth-watering opportunity for a close-up look at the environment on a rocky alien world.

One of the dire frustrations of studying planets around other stars (and, really, any astronomical object) is their distance from Earth, which makes it onerous or impossible to get many basic details about them. Exoplanets are doubly frustrating because any light they emit (light that would give hints about what's happening on the surface) is often overwhelmed by the light of the parent star. (11/11)

Mars Rover Finds Rich Mineral Stew in Fractured Rock (Source: Discovery)
Chemical analysis by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity indicates that water made several repeat appearances to create the rich mineral veins at a site called “Garden City” in the lower part of Mount Sharp.

The veins form in places where fluids have move through fractured rocks, depositing minerals and leaving telltale chemical fingerprints on surrounding areas. Some of the mineral veins at Garden City protrude the equivalent of two finger widths above the now-eroded bedrock in which they formed.

Many of the veins contain rich deposits of calcium sulfate. Others are laced with magnesium sulfate or fluorine. Levels of iron vary. The three-mile-high Mount Sharp rises from the floor of a huge impact basin that once held water. The Garden City veins were created after mud in the lake had hardened into rock and cracked. (11/15)

Earth Stole Water and More from the Young Moon (Source:
Earth may have stolen away water that would otherwise have gone to the moon. New research suggests that after the impact that formed the Earth and its moon, our planet may have snatched up easily vaporized material known as volatiles, including water and other molecules. As the newly formed moon moved away, it may have spurned the remaining material available, casting it back toward Earth.

Early in the life of the solar system, a young, volatile-rich protoplanet floated near what is Earth's orbit today. A violent collision with another massive object, called Theia, is thought to have shattered that growing world, allowing the formation of the Earth and moon.

Rocks found on the moon bear a striking similarity to those on Earth, but with one difference: They are noticeably lacking in volatile material, such as water, zinc, sodium and potassium. For years, scientists proposed that the heat from the crash with Theia might have vaporized the volatiles, allowing them to completely escape the system. But Canup and her team argue that very little of that material would have been lost, because the speed necessary to leave Earth's gravity would be so high. (11/13)

Synthetic Muscle Experiment Conducted on Space Station (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A synthetic muscle experiment on board the International Space Station (ISS) that was developed with the help of Princeton Plasma Physicists Laboratory scientists is now tentatively scheduled to return to earth in March of 2016 on a new SpaceX-10 rocket. It would be returning eight months later than originally planned after an unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket headed for the ISS exploded a few minutes after liftoff in late June. (11/22)

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