November 4, 2015

Air Force Declares Failure on Hawaiian Super Strypi Test Launch (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The first flight of an experimental U.S. military rocket designed for low-cost, quick-reaction satellite launches ended in failure over Hawaii on Tuesday, the Air Force said, destroying 13 small spacecraft clustered on the mission for NASA researchers and university students.

It was not apparent what went wrong on the launch, but videos of the flight showed the 67-foot-tall Super Strypi rocket veering out of control and breaking apart about a minute after liftoff from the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

Billed as a demonstration flight under the management of the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space office, Tuesday’s launch took off just before sunset, and the rocket flew steady immediately after firing off a tilted rail launch tower next to Kauai’s western Pacific shoreline. (11/4)

On-Orbit Serviceable Spacecraft Make a Comeback (Source: SpaceRef)
Serviceable spacecraft like the NASA-developed Multi-Mission Modular Spacecraft (MMS) and, of course, the iconic Hubble Space Telescope that NASA conceived and developed in the 1970s with servicing in mind are once again de rigueur. (The serviceable MMS shouldn't be confused with NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, which also goes by the MMS acronym.)

Case in point: As required by Congress in a law passed in 2010 and then amended five years later, NASA is requiring that proposed flagship astrophysics missions support servicing, even if their orbits are up to a million miles away. The agency also released a Request for Information (RFI) seeking ideas for a spacecraft design that it could use for both its proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and as a vehicle for refueling a government satellite in low-Earth orbit. (11/3)

As NASA Shrugs, FAA Looks at Leadership Role in Global Moon Village (Source: Space News)
While no one at NASA may have stepped up yet, there is no shortage of proposals elsewhere for human lunar missions. Chinese officials have talked for years about having such missions as a long-term goal, although exactly how, and when, they would carry them out is uncertain. Last week, Vladimir Solntsev, the president of Russia’s RSC Energia, said a human mission was in the works for 2029.

Then there is the European concept of a “Moon Village.” Or, more accurately, the concept of an international lunar base espoused by the European Space Agency’s new director-general, Johann-Dietrich Woerner, on several occasions, both before and after becoming head of the space agency in July.

The FAA's George Nield raised one issue about the Moon Village concept. “Instead of assuming that each inhabitant of the village is the representative of a particular nation, or government space agency, let’s open it up to commercial entities,” he said. There would, he argued, be a number of roles companies could play in an international lunar base, from providing goods and services to building habitats and other infrastructure. (11/3)

SpaceX Finds Crowd for $3.5 Billion NASA Cargo Contract (Source: Business Times)
Less than a decade after its first rocket launch, Elon Musk's SpaceX finds itself in an unfamiliar position. The upstart venture is the incumbent vying to win the bulk of a US$3.5 billion UD contract renewal while facing rivals that include Boeing Co, whose spaceflight roots date to the 1950s. At stake: a seven-year agreement to haul supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

SpaceX is pushing the only made-in-the-USA entry in a four-way derby with Boeing, Orbital ATK Inc. and Sierra Nevada Corp, each of which relies to some extent on rockets with Russian engines. NASA will award the work as soon as Thursday as it juggles support for commercial missions while Congress clamors to end US dependence on the imported motors. (11/4)

Senate Holds Up Final Passage of Commercial Space Bill (Source: Space News)
A final version of a commercial space launch bill that has won praise from industry has stalled in the Senate because of concerns about some of its provisions. The bill would extend some aspects of current space transportation law, including government indemnification of third-party damages and restrictions on regulations of spaceflight participant safety, and includes new language about space resource rights.

Sources familiar with the status of the bill said that one or more senators placed a hold on the bill Oct. 29, preventing the bill from moving forward there. No senators have publicly announced that they have blocked consideration of the bill, and spokespersons from several Senate offices did not respond to requests for comment.

At issue, according to sources, are some provisions in the bill dealing with liability. That includes one section that gives federal, rather than state, courts jurisdiction over any cases that arise from a licensed commercial launch. Another section adds spaceflight participants to cross-waivers of liability already required for other customers of commercial launches. (11/3)

Budget Deal Breathes New Life into NDAA (Source: Space News)
The two-year budget agreement reached Oct. 26 by the White House and Congress could pave the way for passage a defense authorization bill for 2016, albeit one that provides less funding for selected space and missile defense programs than the version vetoed earlier in the month by U.S. President Barack Obama.

According to a document from the House and Senate Armed Services committees, which in September settled on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016, the budget deal requires Congress to trim $5 billion from military spending levels authorized in that piece of legislation, about $30 million of which would come from space and another $80 million from missile defense.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 raises the federal spending caps that had long been a bone of contention between Congress and the White House and ultimately led Obama to veto the 2016 NDAA, a policy bill that also would have granted some relief on the Russian rocket engine ban whose impact is already being felt in U.S. Air Force launch competitions. The House previously said it would attempt to override that veto, but that was before the budget agreement was reached.(11/3)

Meet the the Super Strypi Launch Vehicle (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The U.S. Air Force has released the first-ever photos of the Super Strypi launch vehicle, a souped-up version of a Cold War-era sounding rocket about to be shot into orbit on a unique demonstration flight with 13 small satellites. The military previously only showed photos of a ground mockup of the Super Strypi.

Sporting aerodynamic fins and standing 67 feet tall, the Super Strypi will fire off a rail launcher at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, as soon as Tuesday. The flight is experimental, but 13 satellites are fastened inside the nose cone for the University of Hawaii, NASA, and university and commercial CubeSat developers. Click here. (11/3)

Dramatic New Photos of Antares Launch Failure (Source: Space News)
NASA has added a bunch of not-exactly-recent photos to its Flickr stream in the past couple of weeks, including these dramatic photos of last October Antares launch failure. The Orbital ATK rocket exploded moments after lifting off on what would have been the Cygnus space tug’s third paid cargo run to the International Space Station. Click here. (11/3)

NASA Must Take More Care About Rocket Parts After Accident (Source: Reuters)
Independent NASA accident investigators said the U.S. space agency should “perform a greater level of due diligence for major system components” in rockets that deliver cargo to the International Space Station following a 2014 explosion.

The recommendation came in the investigators' report on the explosion of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket that destroyed a load of cargo for the space station. It may spur calls for more oversight of NASA's use of commercial contracts to deliver cargo - and soon crew members - to the space station. Separate accident investigations are underway to determine the cause of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket failure on June 28, 2015, which claimed another load of station cargo. (11/3)

This Incredible 4K Video of the Sun Took NASA 300 Hours to Make (Source: Motherboard)
The latest video to come out of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is the most detailed yet, and it’s completely mesmerizing. Launched in 2010, the SDO monitors the Sun 24/7 to better understand how it affects our Earth. To highlight the different temperatures of solar materials, SDO captures footage of the sun in 10 different wavelengths. These sets of wavelengths have been compiled into a video released this week. Click here. (11/3)

Independent Antares Review Could Affect Commercial Resupply Award (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA remains on track to announce its second set of contract awards for commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) on Nov. 5, a decision that could be influenced by an independent agency review of the Oct. 28, 2014, engine failure on Orbital ATK’s Antares launch vehicle. (11/3)

Why US Needs a Lunar Mission First (Source:
Both the moon, as our nearest neighbor, and Mars, next nearest after the moon, are key steppingstones to humankind becoming an interplanetary species. We need to explore, and perhaps settle, both. In order. And, to go on from there. We are at the beginning, not the end. Yes, the U.S. has landed astronauts on the moon before — between 1969 and 1972. Perhaps that is why, when NASA and U.S. President George W. Bush announced in 2005 that the Constellation program will go back to the moon and on to Mars, it fell a bit flat.

But the fact is, the vast majority of people in the world have never been there, never done that. Of Earth's 7.3 billion citizens, 5.1 billion were born after the Apollo program. The number of people who actually know how to get people safely to the moon and back is infinitesimally small, and getting smaller every day.

What we really need is a new generation of explorers who can handle the moon, before biting off the enormous costs and risks of sending people to Mars. Where is the United States now? It has a somewhat vague, asteroid-retrieval mission. Or, rather, we think we are planning to take a boulder off an asteroid robotically, to put it into Earth-lunar space. (11/3)

Russian Signs 31 Contracts for Commercial Launches (Source: Tass)
Roscosmos has signed contracts for 31 commercial launches from Russian launch pads, including the Vostochny Space Center in the Far East, Roscosmos’ director general Igor Komarov said. "Over the past year, we have signed a record-breaking number of contracts for commercial launches in the entire history of our cosmonautics. For 31 launches…We plan to make Soyuz launches in 2018 and 2019 from Vostochny," he said in an interview with the Rossiya-24 television channel. (11/3)

Red Mars? Discovery of Surface Water Spurs Chinese Interest in Lander (Source: Ars Technica)
Nearly two years ago, China became only the third country to make a soft landing on the moon when its Chang’e 3 spacecraft successfully deployed the Yutu rover. Now China appears increasingly set on doing the same thing on Mars.

China’s Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation unveiled a model of a planned probe to Mars. Several Chinese news outlets have reported that the country’s space program continues to progress toward the launch of a robotic mission to Mars in 2020, including both an orbiting spacecraft as well as a lander. (11/3)

China Launches Military Satellite (Source: GB Times)
China has successfully launched a Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, placing the military Zhongxing-2C (ChinaSat-2C) satellite into orbit. The launch went ahead at 00:25 Beijing time on Wednesday (16:25 UTC Tuesday), marking China's 13th in 2015 and 216th Long March flight overall. (11/3)

Acid Fog Likely Dissolved Rocks on Mars (Source: Discovery)
The Martian landscape is being dissolved -- in some places -- by acid fogs, according to new clues drawn from bringing together data from all of the instruments on NASA's (now defunct) Spirit rover. The fogs were likely created by the scarce water in Mars atmosphere combining with the acidic vapors from volcanoes and then clinging to the shady sides of rocks and hills.

NASA's rover Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and was only supposed to last 3 months. But more than a decade later the plucky vehicle is close to crossing the 26.2-mile mark in land traversed, despite a few senior technical moments along the way.

On Earth the closest analogy is Hawaiian vog -- acidic volcanic smog caused by gaseous releases from the Kilauea volcano. On Mars, however, the acid weathering process has been much more subtle and slow -- taking place over hundreds of millions of years in the thin, dry frigid Martian air. (11/3)

NASA Finds New Way to Track Ocean Currents from Space (Source: NASA)
A team of NASA and university scientists has developed a new way to use satellite measurements to track changes in Atlantic Ocean currents, which are a driving force in global climate. The finding opens a path to better monitoring and understanding of how ocean circulation is changing and what the changes may mean for future climate.

Landerer and his colleagues used data from the twin satellites of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission. Launched in 2002, GRACE provides a monthly record of tiny changes in Earth's gravitational field, caused by changes in the amount of mass below the satellites. The mass of Earth's land surfaces doesn't change much over the course of a month; but the mass of water on or near Earth's surface does, based on its temperature and other factors. (11/3)

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