December 30, 2015

Russia Reduces Reliance on Foreign Satellite Data (Source: Space Daily)
Russia has significantly reduced its dependency on foreign remote sensing satellites, Russia's space agency Roscosmos said Tuesday. "A significant reduction has been noted in the use of foreign Earth remote sensing satellites, which is linked to the provision of similar data by Russian space devices," the agency said in a statement. (12/30)

Russia Remains World Leader for Space Launches (Source: Sputnik)
Russia retained first place in the world in terms of number of successful space launches in 2015, with 29 completed, Russia's space agency Roscosmos said Tuesday. A total of 86 carrier rockets launches for space purposes were conducted in 2015.

"In 2015, Russia carried out 29 carrier rocket launches, 18 - from Baikonur, three - from the Guiana Space Center, one - from Dombarovsky GMD and seven launches from the Russian Defense Ministry's Plesetsk Cosmodrome," Roscosmos said in an annual final statement.

The United States came second with 19 launches, while third place went to China on 18 launches. Editor's Note: The U.S. total launch number was 21, though two of those, a Falcon-9 from Florida and a Super Strypi from Hawaii, were unsuccessful. Florida's Cape Canaveral Spaceport hosted 18 launches in 2015. (12/30)

Video Shows 58 Years of 'Space Junk' Orbiting Earth (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A new interactive animation shows we are not alone, because Earth is surrounded by junk. “Space junk” or orbital debris is any manmade item orbiting Earth and no longer in use, according to NASA. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network tracks anything larger than 10 centimeters. There are currently more than 500,000 pieces of debris being tracked, 20,000 pieces range from the size of a softball up to the size of a bus and moving at speeds up to 17,500 mph. Click here. (12/29)

Sea Launch Could Resume Operations (Source: Tass)
The head of Sea Launch says the commercial launch venture could resume operations in 2016. Sergei Gugkayev said there's been renewed customer interest since the successful launch earlier this month of a Zenit rocket that was widely reported to be the final mission for that vehicle. He said Sea Launch plans to actively compete for new launch orders in the first quarter of 2016.

Sea Launch last carried out a launch in May 2014, and there have been numerous rumors that the venture, owned primarily by RSC Energia, could be sold or moved from its current home port in California. (12/30)

South Korea Plans Lunar Missions (Source: Yonhap)
South Korea plans to ramp up work on missions to the moon in 2016. The country's science ministry said Wednesday that it plans to spend nearly $170 million from 2016 through 2018 to perform research and develop a lunar orbiter. The second phase of that effort features the launch of a lunar lander mission by 2020. South Korea plans to seek deals with other national space agencies, including NASA, to provide payloads for those missions. (12/30)

Russia Not Canceling Moon Plans (Source: Sputnik)
Russia's deputy prime minister said the country is not backing away from plans for human missions to the moon. Dmitry Rogozin said Russia was not dropping plans for such missions, and that reports of the program's demise were "greatly exaggerated." Russian media reported earlier in the week that the revised 10-year plan for the nation's space program suspended work on vehicles and other technologies needed for human lunar missions, pushing them back until perhaps the late 2020s. Rogozin added that Russia has also started work on an "ultra-heavy rocket" but offered no additional details. (12/30)

JWST Assembly Coming Together (Source: NASA)
Assembly of the mirror for the James Webb Space Telescope is halfway complete. Nine of the 18 mirror segments for the telescope are now in place on the telescope's structure in work being done at the Goddard Space Flight Center. All 18 segments should be in place by early 2016. JWST is on schedule to launch in late 2018. (12/29)

SpaceX Should Soar Without Taxpayer Subsidies (Source: Orange County Register)
Despite its technological accomplishments, we wish SpaceX had avoided subsidies from taxpayers. According to the Los Angeles Times, SpaceX “cut a deal for about $20 million in economic development subsidies from Texas to construct a launch facility there.” We recently also have criticized the tax subsidies going to Mr. Musk’s Tesla electric cars. (12/30)

Oldest Hawaii Telescope to be Renovated (Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald)
Following a year of a setbacks, from protests to lawsuits, the astronomy community in Hawaii might have something to look forward to in 2016 as the oldest observatory on Mauna Kea gets a major makeover. Guenther Hasinger, director of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, said UH plans to begin a $6 million renovation of its 2.2-meter telescope that will allow the nearly 46-year-old facility to operate largely on its own.

He said the result will be a “modern robotic telescope” able to open and close its dome automatically, depending on weather conditions, and make pre-programmed scans of the night sky, hopefully by the end of 2016. With the help of adaptive optics, which adjusts for the distortion in the atmosphere, Hasinger said it could rival the Hubble Space Telescope, which has a slightly larger 2.4-meter aperture. (12/30)

Construction Stall Costs TMT $2 Million (Source: West Hawaii Today)
The TMT International Observatory may have racked up a tab of nearly $2 million as its construction equipment sat idle on Mauna Kea for much of the year. Scott Ishikawa, a spokesman for the Thirty Meter Telescope, confirmed the nonprofit organization spent about $220,000 a month while the work was delayed as protesters blocked workers from reaching the construction site. (12/29)

Bezos Dreams of 'Millions of People Living and Working in Space’ (Source: Tech Insider)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is known for his dream of colonizing Mars, but he isn't the only tech tycoon with big plans for humanity. Jeff Bezos — Amazon's founder and CEO of the rocket company Blue Origin — has ambitions for the human race that are nearly as lofty as Musk's.

"Our ultimate vision is millions of people living and working in space," Bezos said during an press conference in September, right after he announced that Blue Origin would build a new rocket factory in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Blue Origin's coming space tourism business is the starting point of Bezos' grander vision. (12/29)

Russia Focuses on Reducing Launch Costs (Source: Tass)
Russia’s Roscosmos State Corporation is looking for ways to minimize spending on spacecraft launches, and solutions are within reach, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. "We are getting closer to new solutions," Rogozin who is responsible for the space industry in the Russian government said. "If we are asked what the main task in civil space is, we would say that it is not the Moon or Mars, the main task is cheap space. Our competitors are on our heels." (12/30)

Fenix Rocket to Become First Stage of Russian Super-Heavy-Lift Rocket (Source: Interfax)
Russia will develop a new super-heavy-lift launch vehicle similar to the Energia rocket for exploring deep space, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. "The new federal space program includes the development of a new space rocket, Fenix, to become the first stage for a super-heavy-lift launch vehicle," he said.

"This is not 37 tonnes of Angara or 25 tonnes of Proton, but even 100 or, maybe, even 150 tonnes," he said. "Angara is sort of a 'jeep' to launch seven tonnes in its light modification and up to 37 tonnes in the heavy-lift one, yet we need a 'truck' for large-scale expeditions, and the super-heavy-lift rocket will be our 'truck'; we are starting it in approximately the same way the Soviet Union started its project in the past," he said. (12/30)

Washington's 'Star Wars' (Source: Politico)
A Washington brawl has broken out over the future of the U.S. military's ability to reach orbit, with the powerhouse combo of Boeing and Lockheed Martin jostling with the scrappy — yet well-funded — upstart of entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX for multibillion-dollar contracts for launching satellites.

The competition is upending the norms of the defense contractor heavyweights, who are not used to dealing with relatively fresh rivals, and has released a flood of lobbying cash. SpaceX has spent more than $1.3 million on lobbying this year and while the Boeing-Lockheed joint effort, called United Launch Alliance, spent more than $900,000 — both on pace to easily set new records for the companies once the final quarter of 2015 is reported. Click here. (12/28)

Jeff Bezos Dreams of 'Millions of People Living and Working in Space’ (Source: Business Insider)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is known for his dream of colonizing Mars, but he isn't the only tech tycoon with big plans for humanity. Jeff Bezos — Amazon's founder and CEO of the rocket company Blue Origin — has ambitions for the human race that are nearly as lofty as Musk's. Click here. (12/28)

Test Astronaut Hopefuls Flood Japan’s Space Agency in Search of Big Payday (Source: Japan Times)
A recruitment drive by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to find eight male volunteers willing to play the part of astronaut in a two-week stress test for nearly double the monthly salary of a new university graduate has drawn more interest than expected. JAXA has received more than 2,000 replies, forcing it to put a halt to the application process Monday — two weeks ahead of schedule, according to NHK. (12/29)

Speculation Mounts Over Elon Musk’s Plan for SpaceX’s Mars Colonial Transporter (Source: GeekWire)
In the wake of SpaceX’s successful rocket landing, some of the company’s most ardent fans are guessing at the shape of the biggest thing to come: the Mars Colonial Transporter. The MCT is a crucial piece in SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s grand plan to send tens of thousands of colonists to the Red Planet, potentially starting in the next decade or two.

Such a venture would mark a giant leap toward establishing a second cosmic home for humanity. Musk believes that’s a must if we’re to guard against extinction due to pandemics, asteroid strikes or other planet-wide catastrophes.

Early this year, Musk promised to unveil his architecture for Mars colonization by the end of 2015 – but in a recent GQ interview, he said the big reveal was more likely to come in early 2016. “Before we announce it, I want to make sure that we’re not gonna make really big changes to it,” he said. Click here. (12/28)

NASA’s Social Media Team Wins the Internet (Source: WIRED)
Welcome to the future, where every space robot has its own Twitter account. Likewise, you’d be hard pressed to find an astronaut without an Instagram, a discovery without a hashtag, or a NASA mission without a multi-platform-spanning social media strategy. For example, look at how the agency’s media nerds carpet bombed Twitter during the New Horizons fly by, and debuted the now-famous Pluto heart picture on Instagram.

In all, NASA has over 500 social media accounts. Now, some people might scoff at the agency’s unabashed #branding. But truth is, public outreach has been in the agency’s mandate since its founding in 1958. And if this means more people get stoked on space—and therefore vote to give space research more funding—then we’re all for NASA’s relentless self-promoting. (12/29)

NASA's Space Station Plants Are Dying, But Space Gardening Is Coming (Source: Inverse)
Astronaut Scott Kelly is tasked with plenty during his yearlong mission aboard the International Space Station. He’s got to conduct spacewalks, repair problems on the ISS, disprove conspiracy theories, make a cameo at Yanni’s bizarre Egyptian pyramid concert — on and on. These duties, he has deftly accomplished. But one thing Kelly is not so great at is growing vegetables in space.

This sad tangle of wilted "zinnia" greens are part of NASA’s Veg-01 experiment, designed to train astronauts to grow food in space and become less reliant on resources from Earth — an expensive (and chancy) process. The crops are grown in a small “veggie facility” that provides the seedlings proper amounts of light, water, and nutrients.

Turns out, the zinnias are dying not because of any real negligence on the astronauts’ part or because of problems with the veggie facility. As reported by Popular Science, they’re simply reaching the end of their natural 60-day lifespans. NASA wants to successfully grow zinnias in space as preparation for bringing aboard other flowering plants later on — most notably tomato plants. (12/29)

1600 'Potentially Hazardous' Asteroids Could Strike Earth — How NASA Plans to Protect Us (Source: Tech Insider)
About 30,000 objects are floating near Earth that could strike it someday — 1,600 of which NASA has labeled "potentially hazardous." An impact by one could mean anything from broken windows to global extinction, which is why scientists are working hard to find and, if necessary, deflect or destroy these rogue space rocks. Click here. (12/29)

Making Space Safer (Source: Space News)
Our current capability to predict space weather is primitive, giving us only about 30 minutes of warning (at best) about what will impact Earth during severe solar events. We can do better. On Oct. 29, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) unveiled an action plan for the United States to address space weather. Click here. (12/29)

Signs of Anti-Competitive Collusion Found in Construction of Russia's New Spaceport (Source: Tass)
Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) has initiated a case against three organizations suspected of anti-competitive collusion in the construction of the Vostochny spaceport, the ministry said. "Such arrangements always lead to an increase in the cost of construction and, therefore, contradict the interests of the state," Deputy Head of the FAS Alexander Kanev said.

The regulator suspects that the federal state unitary enterprise Dalspetsstroy, the Federal Centre for pricing in construction and LLC Gosnormativ colluded when choosing a contractor to calculate individual indices of the project’s cost change. The cost of the contract amounted to more than 300 million rubles ($4.5 mln), the regulator said. (12/29)

29 Launches for Russia in 2015, Less Than 2014 (Source: Tass)
Russia has carried out 29 launches of carrier rockets this year - three less than in 2014, and complied with all international obligations on satellite and spacecraft launches. In 2014, Russia was the world leader in space rocket launches, accounting for 35% of the world’s space launches.

"In 2015, Russia carried out 29 launches of carrier rockets: 18 launches form the Baikonur cosmodrome, three — from the Guiana Space Center, one launch — from the Dombarovsky launching area (Yasny base in the Orenburg region) and seven launches from the Russian Defense Ministry’s Plesetsk cosmodrome," the report says. (12/29)

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