December 9, 2015

Blue Origin Is Building A Monster Rocket Engine (Source: Mnet)
Blue Origin is taking another significant step in their vision of shuttling humans to space: the development of an all-powerful rocket engine. Called the BE-4, this engine will blast off with 550,000 pounds of thrust. Not only would the BE-4 engine be five times more powerful than the BE-3 engine, but even NASA’s space shuttles produce only 418,000 pounds of thrust. The BE-4 engine will begin full-engine testing next year with the hopes of concluding qualification testing by the end of 2017. (12/9)

US Air Force's X-37B Space Plane Wings Past 200 Days in Orbit (Source:
Mum's the word: The U.S. Air Force's secretive X-37B space plane has winged its way past the 200 day mark, carrying out a classified agenda for the American military. The unmanned X-37B space plane rocketed into orbit on May 20 from Florida's Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The reusable robotic space plane mission, also dubbed OTV-4 (short for Orbital Test Vehicle-4), is the fourth spacecraft of its kind for the U.S. Air Force. (12/8)

New Clues to Ceres' Bright Spots and Origins (Source: NASA)
Ceres reveals some of its well-kept secrets in two new studies in the journal Nature, thanks to data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. They include highly anticipated insights about mysterious bright features found all over the dwarf planet's surface. In one study, scientists identify this bright material as a kind of salt. The second study suggests the detection of ammonia-rich clays, raising questions about how Ceres formed. 

Ceres has more than 130 bright areas, and most of them are associated with impact craters. Study authors, led by Andreas Nathues at Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany, write that the bright material is consistent with a type of magnesium sulfate called hexahydrite. A different type of magnesium sulfate is familiar on Earth as Epsom salt.

Nathues and colleagues, using images from Dawn's framing camera, suggest that these salt-rich areas were left behind when water-ice sublimated in the past. Impacts from asteroids would have unearthed the mixture of ice and salt, they say. "The global nature of Ceres' bright spots suggests that this world has a subsurface layer that contains briny water-ice," Nathues said. (12/9)

KSC Demonstrates Integrated Display Technology (Source: NASA)
NASA conducted a technology demonstration of KSC’s Integrated Display and Environmental Awareness System (IDEAS) with Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate on Dec. 9. The event highlighted the development of IDEAS, a unique technology that has the potential to improve mission safety and efficiency.

IDEAS is a wearable, optical computer system that allows users to view and modify information on an interactive display. It comes from a collaboration between NASA and Purple Rock Scissors, a digital creative agency in Orlando. An early career team at Kennedy manages the IDEAS project as part of the agency’s Game Changing Development Program. The NASA team has partnered with Abacus Technology, the Florida Institute of Technology and Purple Rock Scissors on the project. (12/9)

Waiting for SpaceX to Confirm December Launch Date(s) (Source: Spaceflight Insider)
It appears that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket might once again take off through Florida’s hazy skies – within just over a week. A recent tweet by ORBCOMM’s CEO, Marc Eisenberg, on Dec. 9, 2015, stated that the spacecraft were set and ready to be launched on the first flight of a Falcon 9 since one of the rockets was lost earlier this year.

Editor's Note: SpaceX has two December launches on this manifest, both from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. In addition to the ORBCOMM mission, an SES-9 satellite launch is in the queue. SpaceX is reportedly awaiting word from regulatory/safety authorities for an attempt to recover the first-stage of their next rocket at a spaceport-based landing pad, instead of their Jacksonville-based ocean barge. (12/9)

Cygnus Arrives at ISS (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Cygnus cargo spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station early this morning. The station's robotic arm grappled the Cygnus spacecraft at 6:19 a.m. Eastern time, and will berth the spacecraft to the station later this morning. The Cygnus, launched on an Atlas 5 Sunday, is carrying more than 3,500 kilograms of cargo for the station, ranging from supplies for the crew to satellites that will later be deployed from the station. (12/8)

Russia Delays Launch After Upper-Stage Failure (Source: Tass)
Russia is delaying the launch of a military satellite after another was lost in a recent launch. The Garpun military communications satellite was set to launch Thursday on a Proton rocket from Baikonur, but that launch has now been rescheduled for Sunday. A Russian space industry source said the delay will allow for additional tests of the satellite's separation system after the Kanopus-ST satellite failed to separate properly from its Soyuz upper stage after launch Dec. 5. (12/8)

Europe' Merlin Satellite to Monitor Greenhouse Gases (Source: Space News)
France and Germany are moving ahead with plans to develop a satellite to monitor greenhouse gases, the countries' space ministers said Tuesday. The Merlin satellite was first announced by the countries in 2010 but was delayed by difficulties with the principal lidar instrument. The countries now expect Merlin to be ready for launch in 2020 on a Soyuz or Vega rocket at a total cost of 250 million euros. (12/8)

Funding Bill Passage Unlikely by Deadline (Source: Roll Call)
An omnibus fiscal year 2016 spending bill "most certainly" won't be complete by Friday as originally planned, lawmakers acknowledge. Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate are debating the inclusion of dozens of policy riders to the spending bill that some Democrats have warned are "poison pills." With the current continuing resolution (CR) funding the government expiring Friday, Congress is expected to take up a second, short-term CR lasting up to a week to provide appropriators more time to finalize the bill. (12/8)

NASA and Google Advance Quantum Computing (Source: Bloomberg)
NASA and Google showed off quantum computing technology Tuesday that could be far more powerful than conventional computers. NASA Ames Research Center is working with Google and D-Wave Systems on a quantum computing lab at the center to advance the technology, which in some limited cases can operate 100 million times faster that conventional computing systems. NASA hopes to use the technology to solve "difficult optimization problems" in aeronautics and spaceflight. (12/8)

Competition Seeks Moon Art (Source: Seattle Times)
A Seattle art competition is offering a $10,000 grand prize for the best work of art that could be displayed on the moon. The "Giant Steps" competition is seeking proposals, due by mid-January, of works of art that could be installed on the moon by no more than two people, weigh no more than 60 kilograms, and take up no more than 6 cubic feet of volume on a spacecraft transporting it.

Seattle gallerist Greg Lundgren is running the competition and has brought in several people from the aerospace community to serve as judges. The winner will get $10,000, but no guarantee the work of art will be installed on the moon any time in the foreseeable future. (12/8)

"Wastebook" Calls Out NASA Spending on Research Projects (Source: Space News)
The 2015 edition of the "Wastebook," an annual compendium of spending that Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) considers wasteful. The report was critical of a NASA-funded project to simulate, using sheep, how microgravity could weaken bones. Shear lunacy.

Two other NASA projects are in the report: a $279,000 study at NASA Langley Research Center of concepts for human missions to Venus, and NASA's $3 million in support for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) project, a Mars analog base on Hawaii's Mauna Loa. This year's report had a Star Wars theme, with the subtitle "The Farce Awakens." (12/8)

New US Space Mining Law to Spark Interplanetary Gold Rush (Source: Space Daily)
Flashing some interplanetary gold bling and sipping "space water" might sound far-fetched, but both could soon be reality, thanks to a new US law that legalizes cosmic mining. In a first, President Barack Obama signed legislation at the end of November that allows commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water, from asteroids and the moon.

That could kick off an extraterrestrial gold rush, backed by a private aeronautics industry that is growing quickly and cutting the price of commercial space flight. The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 says that any materials American individuals or companies find on an asteroid or the moon is theirs to keep and do with as they please.

While the Space Act breaks with the concept that space should be shared by everyone on Earth for scientific research and exploration, it establishes the rights of investors to profit from their efforts, at least under US law. Christopher Johnson at the Secure World Foundation said the law sets the basis for the next century of activity in space. "Now it is permissible to interact with space. Exploring and using space's resources has begun," he said. (12/8)

NASA Releases New Composite Image of Titan (Source: ABC)
NASA has released a composite image of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, constructed from photos taken by the Cassini spacecraft, that shows the moon's surface instead of its hazy atmosphere. NASA's website explains the image shows terrain mostly on the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Titan, including the dark, dune-filled regions of Fensal to the north and Aztlan to the south, which together form the shape of a sideways letter H. Click here. (12/9)

Why Did NASA Take an Interest In the Sperm Whale's Echolocation Organ? (Source: Gizmodo)
The sperm whale has an internal organ that has been of much interest to scientists for decades. What’s surprising is that it’s not biologists who are interested in it. The people studying this ocean traveler are people who want to travel through space.

Just behind a sperm whale’s blow hole is a weird structure that looks a bit like two halves of a brain, or two blackened chestnuts set flat side towards each other. To early French biologists they looked like the muzzle of a monkey, which earned them the name “museau de singe.” These days, the two lobes are called “phonic lips.”

The sperm whale uses its clicking to communicate, but it also uses them to seek out prey. It has one kind of click for when it’s just scouting around for food, and another for when it’s close to a giant squid and chasing the thing down. Essentially, it’s the sperm whale’s personal version of sonar. This won’t help anyone navigate in space, where there is nothing to carry those sound waves. But on another planet, or in another ocean, the phonic lips might work really well as a biomimetic apparatus. (12/8)

Scientists Say Gap Between Science, Culture on Mauna Kea Can Be Bridged (Source: West Hawaii Today)
“We’re on the edge … between having a profound impact, sociologically, worldwide, with this really fundamental research about the universe occurring right here on the Big Island, and the whole thing just sort of collapsing under an inability as a people to recognize its value and to work that into the future of Mauna Kea,” Doug Simons said.

Financial considerations, public pressure and time constraints could all serve to shut down TMT. But even more worrisome, he said, is the fact that, should the telescope fail to reach fruition, the ongoing work using the 13 telescopes currently in operation on the mountain could be impacted.

“I can’t think of any field of science where Hawaii has dominated, or had a sort of pre-eminence worldwide, like astronomy today. And we may never have that chance again, for all I know,” Simons said. “… If we can’t get our collective act together and even protect the master lease renewal process for Hawaii astronomy, we’re talking about losing what we’ve already got and losing that pre-eminence, and losing all of the positive impact on the Hawaiian state and the people." (12/8)

Ohio Politicians Need to Have NASA Glenn's Back (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
NASA Glenn Research Center isn't burned into America's consciousness like Mission Control in Houston or Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Yet the center is key to NASA's propulsion research, nanotechnology efforts and other programs critical not just to America's space missions but also to U.S. technological pre-eminence. That includes Ohio's large aviation sector.

As the smallest of the space agency's ten major centers, and the only one not located in the South or California, NASA Glenn has always had to fight for its share of the budget. Its advocates are in battle mode once again as NASA Glenn faces an estimated $60 million in budget cuts if spending priorities put forth by influential members of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee make their way into an omnibus budget bill being worked out in Congress.

Ohio's congressional delegation, local politicians, researchers and business people need to unite and to move quickly to make the case for NASA Glenn. The $60 million that NASA Glenn stands to lose would be reappropriated to a program based at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland that would extend the life of satellites. (12/8)

US Air Force Eyes Contracts for Russian Engine Follow-On in Months (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. Air Force expects to award initial small-scale contracts in two months or sooner for work on a replacement for banned Russian rocket engines, General John Hyten, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command said on Tuesday.

The Air Force has received a wide range of proposals for a U.S. built engine to end U.S. reliance on the Russian RD-180 engine, which powers the workhorse Atlas 5 rocket, Hyten told reporters after an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute. (12/8)

The Future of Commercial Space Travel According to Jeff Greason (Source:
The future of private spaceflight looks bright to Jeff Greason, co-founder of the private spaceflight company XCOR Aerospace. But there are still some big challenges ahead before talking a spaceflight is as easy as a commercial airliner trip.

XCOR is currently working to build the Lynx space plane, which would take customers on a trip into suborbital space, where they could experience weightlessness and see the Earth from over 60 miles (96 kilometers) above the surface. Other companies including Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are also working on suborbital space-tourism vehicles. Click here. (12/8)

French Sensor for NASA Mars Lander Should be Fixed in Time for Launch (Source: Space News)
The French-built instrument for NASA’s InSight Mars lander scheduled for launch in March is expected to be repaired in time for shipment to the United States in early January after developing a leak in its vacuum container, the president of the French space agency, CNES, said Dec. 8.

Briefing reporters here at the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Jean-Yves Le Gall said the leak, which compromised the required high-precision vacuum chamber carrying InSight sensors, was caused by a defective weld that is applied to close off the tank. (12/8)

A Look at the Science and Experiments Flying Aboard Cygnus (Source: America Space)
The spacecraft as a whole, packed with over 7,300 pounds of cargo (over 7,700 pounds total with packaging), weighed in at over 16,500 pounds when it roared off the launch pad, marking the heaviest Atlas-V payload ULA has ever flown and the first commercial cargo mission for the launch services company.

A variety of supplies and equipment are onboard Cygnus, along with several children books to read to kids by astronauts from space as part of ‘NASA’s Story Time From Space’ program. Levar Burton’s first children’s book “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm” and former astronaut Mark Kelly’s books “Mousetronaut” and “Mousetronaut Goes to Mars” are among the stories Cygnus carries. Click here. (12/8)

Space and France’s War on Terror (Source: Space News)
The terrorist attacks that claimed 130 lives in Paris Nov. 13 are bound to have near-term impacts on France’s defense spending plans, but three military space programs requiring substantial investments in the coming years should remain on track.

The programs in question are the Comsat NG military satellite communications system; the three-satellite CERES electronic intelligence system; and the Multinational Space-based Imaging System (MUSIS), an effort recently joined by Germany in an arrangement that gives France access to German radar satellites. Click here. (12/8)

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