December 31, 2015

Postal Service Previews 2016 Stamps, Including Space-Focused Designs (Source: USPS)
The Postal Service is providing a preview of its 2016 stamp program that is sure to attract the interest of fans of Sarah Vaughan, Star Trek, NASA's New Horizons mission, planetary views, Shirley Temple, flowers, soda fountain fans and the holidays — just to name a small handful. Click here. (12/30)

Canadian Space Agency Looks Toward Mars, Deep Space Missions (Source: Global News)
The Canadian Space Agency is taking some initial small steps toward an eventual contribution to humanity’s giant leap back into deep space. The CSA posted a call for tender this week on the government of Canada’s main procurement website, asking for the private sector’s help in drafting mission contribution studies for “Beyond LEO Exploration.”

Beyond LEO, in this case, means beyond “low Earth orbit,” the zone that the International Space Station (ISS) currently inhabits just above our planet. No human being has left this zone and ventured out into deeper space since 1972. The procurement website states that the CSA is looking for help dreaming up an “advanced crew medical system” that would function beyond low Earth orbit, a beyond-LEO navigation system, and deep-space exploration robotics. (12/30)

Billionaire Space Club (Source: Geekwire)
When Jeff Bezos welcomed SpaceX to the rocket landing “club” last week, it set off a round of twittering over whether Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and fellow billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX were really in the same league. What kind of club was Bezos talking about? Click here. (12/30)

RD-180 Purchase From Cocoa Beach's RD AMROSS Adds to ULA’s Atlas 5 Inventory (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Freed from a legal restriction officials said limited its ability to compete for future U.S. military satellite launches, United Launch Alliance has ordered 20 new RD-180 engines from Russia that will keep the Atlas 5 rocket flying into the early 2020s.

The new purchase of 20 RD-180 engines will serve ULA’s existing and potential civil and commercial launch customers while the company supports development of a new U.S.-built engine to replace the Russian powerplant, which is used on the first stage of the company’s workhorse Atlas 5 rocket, ULA said in a Dec. 23 statement.

ULA placed the order with RD AMROSS, a Florida-based company that imports the RD-180 engines manufactured by NPO Energomash, a Moscow firm that makes engines for most Russian launch vehicles. The agreement for 20 more RD-180 engines comes after ULA’s purchase of 29 engines before Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014. (12/30)

Regulators Weigh Satellite Tracking for Delivery Drones (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Federal regulators are looking for ways to ensure that drones operating beyond sight—such as delivery drones—stay away from manned aircraft, which many experts expect ultimately will harness existing satellite technology. The preliminary plans call for relying on what is known as automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast technology, or ADS-B, a system that manned aircraft use to determine their location via satellites. (12/30)

Europe Is Reaching for a Moon Base by the 2030s (Source:
There is growing interest in Europe to prioritize the moon as humanity's next deep-space destination. The moon, supporters say, can serve as a springboard to push the human exploration of the solar system, with Mars as the horizon goal. So Europe is ratcheting up what it sees as the strategic significance of the moon by pushing forward on lunar-exploration missions that would involve both humans and robots.

Calling the effort a "comeback to the moon," European space planners envision a series of human missions to the lunar vicinity starting in the early 2020s. Those missions, according to the plan, will include coordination between astronauts and robotic systems on the lunar surface. Robots would land first, paving the way for human explorers to set foot on the moon later. (12/30)

Brian May Protests Against Space Monkeys Project (Source: New-Magazine)
Queen rocker Brian May is urging fans to sign a petition calling on Russian scientists to abandon plans to send monkeys into space. The veteran musician is a longtime animal rights activist, and he has backed a drive by members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) which aims to block a proposal by the Russian Federal Space Agency to send four macaques on a mission to Mars in 2017.

A message posted alongside the petition on, reads, "The four macaque monkeys that Russia plans to send to Mars in 2017 face years of tests in laboratories - likely followed by a terrifying death in space... There's no reason to repeat the dark days of early space exploration, in which dogs and primates died in horrific ways, all alone in a tiny spacecraft hurtling through space... Please sign our petition." (12/30)

NASA and the U.S. Air Force Test a New Ground-Based GPS (Source: Scientific American)
Anyone who has struggled to pinpoint his or her location in a mall, airport or urban canyon amid skyscrapers has experienced a GPS gap firsthand. In fact, the global positioning network is filled with them: buildings, jammers and the landscape itself can block a signal's path between GPS satellites and receivers in a smartphone or other digital device.

Technologies such as Apple's iBeacon have attempted to fill in holes with linked sensors that track indoor location using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but a new ground-based system by Australian company Locata is the first to produce a signal that merges seamlessly with the GPS network. And it is incredibly accurate. Locata's system resolves this issue by layering in an independent network of transceivers that communicate over ground.

A test last year in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Naval Observatory, the division responsible for maintaining the GPS master clock, found that Locata's web of signals synced up within 200 trillionths of a second, more than 50 times faster than GPS. And unlike GPS, the signals are strong enough to pass through walls. (12/30)

Congress Wants NASA to Build a Deep Space Habitat (Source: TIME)
NASA received $55 million from Congress to develop living quarters for future missions into deep space. The 2016 government appropriations bill supports the space agency’s efforts to develop a habitation augmentation module, Space News reports. NASA intends to develop a more comfortable living facility for astronauts who will embark on long journeys into deep space, specifically Mars, where officials hope to go in the 2030s.

“NASA shall develop a prototype deep space habitation module within the advanced exploration systems program no later than 2018,” a report accompanying the spending bill says. The space agency has not provided exact details for the habitation module, but it has awarded contracts to several outside companies under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP program. (12/30)

Buildup of First Boeing Starliner Crew Vehicle Ramps Up at Florida Spaceport (Source: Universe Today)
Buildup of the first of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew spaceships is ramping up at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) – the new spacecraft manufacturing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. In less than two years time Boeing Starliners will start launching NASA astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) atop Atlas V rockets from Florida.

This maiden test version of ‘Starliner’ is known as the structural test article and plays a critical role serving as the pathfinder vehicle to validate the manufacturing and processing methods for the production of all the operational spacecraft that will follow in the future – and eventually carry crews of four astronauts aloft to the space station in 2017.

The structural test article, also known as the STA, is currently being built inside the C3PF using the same techniques and processes planned for the operational spacecraft that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said Danom Buck, manager of Boeing’s Manufacturing and Engineering team at KSC. (12/30)

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