December 23, 2015

Size Matters: Bitter Bezos Takes Swipe at Musk Over SpaceX Rocket Landing (Source: Guardian)
Amazon’s founder and owner of space privateer firm Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, decided that Elon Musk’s big moment – vertically landing the 48m SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after delivering satellites into orbit – was too good a moment to pass up the opportunity for some backhanded compliments on Twitter. After an ecstatic Musk took to Twitter to boast about going “there and back again”, Bezos threw shade.

"Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon's suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!" tweeted Bezos. The “club” refers to Blue Origin’s successful landing of its New Shepard rocket a month earlier, which saw Bezos call out Musk saying that a “controlled landing not easy, but done right, can look easy” starting the public Twitter spat between the two.

Musk, having attempted to land the Falcon 9 several times at the beginning of the year, which ended in “rapid unscheduled disassembly” and other euphemisms for explosions, responded in kind with “clarifications” over the scale of Bezos’s achievement. Click here for a graphic comparison of the two accomplishments. (12/22)

Earth-Smashing Space Rocks Undercounted (Source: Discovery)
Planet Earth could be at higher risk of a space rock impact than widely thought, according to astronomers who suggested Tuesday keeping a closer eye on distant giant comets. Most studies of potential Earth-smashers focus on objects in the asteroid belt roughly between Mars, Earth's outside neighbour, and Jupiter on its other flank, said the researchers.

But they noted that the discovery in the last two decades of hundreds of giant comets dubbed centaurs, albeit with much larger orbits, requires expanding the list of potential hazards. These balls of ice and dust, typically 50-100 kilometres (31-62 miles) wide, have unstable, elliptical orbits that start way beyond Neptune, the most distant planet from the Sun. (12/22)

ORS Office Gets Boost in Omnibus Spending Bill (Source: Space News)
The massive U.S. federal spending bill passed by Congress Dec. 18 includes $18.5 million for an Air Force office tasked earlier this year with building a small weather satellite to help bridge the gap between the legacy and next-generation systems.

The provision, included in the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, bolsters the Operationally Responsive Space office, which is used to develop space capabilities to plug gaps or address emerging military needs. The White House requested just for $6.5 million for fiscal year 2016. (12/22)

Raytheon Wins $2.3 billion Sole Source Award for SM-3 Variant (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency awarded Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Arizona a $2.3 billion sole-source contract modification to build as many as 52 Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 1B interceptors, according to a Dec. 18 announcement from the Pentagon.

In October 2013, the MDA announced its intent to award Raytheon a sole-source contract worth as much as $3 billion for SM-3 Block 1B production. The announcement came shortly after a test that MDA officials described as the Block 1B’s fifth consecutive success. (12/22)

NASA Cancels Launch of Next Mars Probe Due to Instrument Leak (Source: Reuters)
A U.S. science satellite slated to launch to Mars in March has been grounded due to a leak in a key research instrument, NASA said on Tuesday, creating uncertainty about the future of a widely anticipated effort to study the interior of the planet.

The spacecraft, known as InSight, was designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets, including Earth. The cancellation raises questions about the future of the research effort, as it will be another 26 months before Earth and Mars are favorably aligned for a launch.

Over the next couple of months, NASA will assess options for repairing the faulty instrument, a sensitive seismometer that was provided by the French space agency, CNES. Budgetary limits may factor into a pending decision on whether NASA will proceed with the program. (12/22)

China Receives Message From Dark Matter Probe (Source: Xinhua)
Ground stations in China have received data sent by "Wukong" -- the country's first dark matter probe satellite, scientists announced Monday. A station in Kashgar in northwest China's Xinjiang successfully tracked and received data from the Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) Satellite at 8:45 a.m. on Sunday.

It took about seven minutes to receive and record the information, and the data was transferred to the National Space Science Center, according to a Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) statement. The communication marks the establishment of a transmission link between the satellite and ground-based stations. (12/21)

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