January 14, 2016

SNC's DreamChaser is New and Improved (Source: SPACErePORT)
Having lost out on NASA's earlier contracts for crew transport, Sierra Nevada regrouped to offer a new and improved DreamChaser for NASA's latest round of cargo transport contracts. The biggest change is "an innovative folding-wing design which allows the Dream Chaser spacecraft to fit inside existing launch vehicle fairings, making it compatible with a diverse suite of rockets and assuring access to space."

This "suite of rockets" statement might be a clue that DreamChaser can one day be launched atop Falcon-9 or Falcon-Heavy rockets, in addition to ULA's Atlas-5 and Vulcan. It might also refer to Europe's Ariane rockets, as Sierra Nevada continues to pursue opportunities and collaborations overseas. The company ultimately hopes to transport humans to/from space -- a mission the DreamChaser was originally designed for -- which would allow Europe or Japan to quickly establish their own human spaceflight programs. (1/14)

NASA Picks Winners for Next ISS Cargo Contracts (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA picked Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX to provide cargo transport services to/from the International Space Station, with launches beginning in 2019. Each company will get a minimum of six launches, with Sierra Nevada and SpaceX launching from Florida, while Orbital ATK offers launches from either Florida or Virginia.

Sierra Nevada's win brings a desirable new capability to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport with their use of the winged DreamChaser vehicle that could land at the former Shuttle Landing Facility. This Sierra Nevada win -- and possibly Orbital ATK's -- will involve new facility requirements and jobs on the Space Coast. (Sierra Nevada has announced plans for potential landings at airport/spaceports near Houston and Huntsville.)

The DreamChaser will be launched atop ULA's Atlas-5 (and ultimately Vulcan) from the LC-41 launch pad. SpaceX will launch its Dragon capsules from LC-39A and/or LC-40 atop Falcon-9 rockets (and may perform powered vertical landings at their Florida-based landing complex). Orbital ATK will launch its Cygnus cargo pods atop its Antares rockets in Virginia, and potentially atop ULA's Atlas-5 from Florida. (1/14)

Mysterious Light Fading From Star KIC 8462852 Studied Further (Source: ARXIV.org)
The century-long dimming and the day-long dips are both just extreme ends of a spectrum of timescales for unique dimming events, so by Ockham's Razor, all this is produced by one physical mechanism. This one mechanism does not appear as any isolated catastrophic event in the last century, but rather must be some ongoing process with continuous effects.

Within the context of dust-occultation models, the century-long dimming trend requires 10^4 to 10^7 times as much dust as for the one deepest Kepler dip. Within the context of the comet-family idea, the century-long dimming trend requires an estimated 648,000 giant comets (each with 200 km diameter) all orchestrated to pass in front of the star within the last century. Click here. (1/13)

Why SpaceX's 'Next Few Missions' Will Attempt to Land a Rocket at Sea (Source: Motherboard)
You wouldn’t be crazy to assume that, after last month’s successful rocket landing, SpaceX would ditch its giant drone boats and focus solely on terrestrial landing attempts. For the foreseeable future, however, the company will return to trying to land its rocket at sea.

A barge landing attempt has already been announced for Sunday’s Jason 3 NASA satellite launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, but SpaceX tells me drone boats will likely continue to be a regular part of the company’s reusable rocket recovery program, and that “the next few missions will all be drone ships.” That’s primarily because landing a rocket at sea requires less fuel than landing a rocket back at the launch pad.

Permit records for both its Jason 3 NASA satellite launch from California and its Jan. 23 SES-9 satellite launch from Florida both suggest a barge landing (though SpaceX often applies for both barge and landing pad permits to keep its options open). Some back-of-the-napkin math suggested that it might be technically feasible to boost the Jason 3 rocket back to a landing pad, but it’s not entirely clear that the landing pad at Vandenberg is in any shape to have a rocket land there. Click here. (1/13)

CASIS Annual Report Highlights 2015 Successes (Source: CASIS)
As the managers of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, The Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) works closely with NASA and ISS National Lab partners to maximize the impact of research and development on the ISS to directly benefit life on Earth. Inside this year’s report you will find many signals of progress, as well as, unique perspectives from diverse ISS National Lab users. Click here. (1/14)

NASA Safety Panel Warns of Risks From Funding and Schedule Pressures (Source: Space News)
An independent safety panel warned Wednesday of an "accretion of risk" in NASA's human spaceflight programs. The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said that a flat funding profile and schedule pressures risked "an apparent erosion of safety" in work on the Space Launch System and Orion. The panel specifically cited NASA efforts to keep the first crewed SLS/Orion mission on schedule for 2021 even after a review concluded it would likely slip to as late as 2023. The panel noted improvements in the management of NASA's commercial crew program, but argued it was likely test flights scheduled for 2017 would be delayed. (1/13)

Russia Plans Methane Engine (Source: Sputnik)
Russia plans to develop its own methane-fuel rocket engine. The ten-year plan for the state corporation Roscosmos includes funding to develop such an engine, although it has not identified a launch vehicle that will use it. In the U.S., both Blue Origin and SpaceX are developing engines that use methane fuel in place of kerosene or liquid hydrogen. Russian sources said the engine project is part of an effort that could potentially lead to development of a reusable launch vehicle. (1/13)
Georgia Legislation Would Protect Spaceport From Lawsuits (Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
A Georgia legislator has introduced a bill to support development of a spaceport in the state. The Georgia Space Flight Act, introduced by Rep. Jason Spencer, would indemnify launch providers from most lawsuits in the event of an accident, similar to laws in several other states. It would also prevent local governments from enacting noise ordinances that would prohibit launches. Local officials in Camden County, on the state's Atlantic coast, are seeking to develop a spaceport there, although no company has publicly committed to launching from that facility if built. (1/14)

Space Debris Traced to Lunar Prospector Mission (Source: Nature)
Space debris that burned up over Sri Lanka in November was likely from a NASA moon mission. Researchers said the object, designated WT1190F, was probably part of the rocket motor that sent NASA's Lunar Prospector spacecraft to the moon in 1998. Spectra of the fireball created by the object as it reentered showed traces of titanium oxide and hydrogen, which would be consistent with it being from the Lunar Prospector mission.

Editor's Note: Lunar Prospector was the first payload launched from Space Florida's Launch Complex 46 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, aboard a Lockheed Martin Athena-2 rocket. (1/14)

This Is an Ancient Meandering River... On Mars (Source: Discovery)
There are few more potent reminders that Mars used to be a wet world than seeing ancient, dried up river beds etched into the red planet’s surface. Although this particular example has been weathered by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years by Mars’ weak winds, its beautifully preserved channel is telling us a story. Click here. (1/13)

Juno Sets Record for Solar-Powered Spacecraft (Source: NASA JPL)
NASA's Jupiter-bound Juno mission has set a record for solar-powered spacecraft. Juno is now the most distant spacecraft from the sun to use solar power, operating at a distance of 793 million kilometers. Juno beat the record set by ESA's Rosetta spacecraft, which flew out as far as 792 million kilometers from the sun en route to its cometary destination. Spacecraft traveling to Juno and beyond have traditionally used nuclear power, but advances in solar cell technology, coupled with careful design of the mission, allowed Juno to use solar panels instead. Juno enters orbit around Jupiter in July. (1/13)

Obama Praises "The Martian" (Source: C-SPAN)
President Obama mentioned space, and The Martian, during a speech Wednesday. Obama, speaking in Omaha, revisited a theme from his State of the Union address where he invoked the response to Sputnik as an example of American innovation. "I think my favorite movie last year was The Martian. I like space, but there was one line that Matt Damon delivered where he said, 'I'm just going to science the heck out of this,'" Obama said, adding that Damon's character in the movie, an astronaut stranded on Mars, used a stronger word that "heck" in the film. "But that's the American spirit, right? Let's solve the problem." (1/14)

Russian Court Throws Out 'The Martian' Plagiarism Lawsuit, Writer Appeals (Source: Hollywood Reporter)
Mikhail Raskhodnikov has demanded $655,000 in damages from Fox over alleged plagiarism of a script. Russian screenwriter Mikhail Raskhodnikov is appealing a decision by a Moscow court to throw out his lawsuit against Fox over alleged plagiarism of his screenplay in Ridley Scott's The Martian.

Moscow's Khamovniki court registered an appeal from Raskhodnikov, who is demanding $655,000 (50 million rubles) in damages from Fox. A spokesman for Fox's Russian office declined to comment. Raskhodnikov claims that several years ago he sent a script he wrote to several studios and is positive that it eventually made it to Fox's headquarters, with the plotline and some details from it eventually being used in The Martian. (1/13)

British Couple Plans Space Travel with Lottery Winnings (Source: The Mirror)
A couple who won millions in a British lottery plan to spend some of their windfall on a spaceflight. David and Carol Martin won £33 million ($47.5 million) in a National Lottery drawing Saturday. David Martin said he plans to buy a Virgin Galactic ticket, currently priced at $250,000, to fulfill a long-running interest in space. "Look at Tim Peake up there. I would love to do something like that," he said, referring to the British astronaut currently on the International Space Station. "Now I have the opportunity. It’s the Final Frontier." (1/14)
Mars Monkey Protest (Source: PETA UK)
British animal rights activists held a protest Wednesday opposing a Russian mission to send monkeys to Mars — a mission that might not actually exist. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) UK staged the protest outside the Russian Embassy in London, opposing what they claimed was a Russian plan to send four macaque monkeys to Mars in 2017. Most of the protesters were bundled up for the cold weather, but one protestor, actress Samantha Bentley, was "bodypainted as a monkey and wearing a space helmet," according to a PETA statement.

"PETA is calling on the Russian Federal Space Agency to put a stop to this ill-advised suicide mission and be a true pioneer in modern-day space exploration," said the organization's science policy adviser, Dr. Julia Baines. Roscosmos, whose Mars exploration efforts in the near term are focused on cooperation with Europe on the 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, has not confirmed plans for such a mission. Moreover, no feasible launch window to Mars is available in 2017. (1/13)

Space Age Ghosts Show Abandoned Relics of NASA’s Golden Years (Source: New Scientist)
Ronald Miller first came across them in 1988, when he was a photography professor at Brevard Community College in Florida, not far from Cape Canaveral. An environmental engineer at the Cape invited him to check out some materials in an old photo lab that hadn’t been used in 10 years. While there, he saw the crumbling remains of the complex that had launched the Gemini missions, NASA’s second human spaceflight program.

“I knew immediately I had to get down there and photograph it,” he says. It took two years to get the necessary permissions. The resulting 23 years of photographs documenting the abandoned apparatus that supported early spacefaring efforts by the US will be published in the book Abandoned in Place in March. Click here. (1/14)

Wallops Launches into 2016 with Night Sky Winter Series (Source: DelMarVa Now)
Beyond the winter night sky lies planets, stars and the mysteries of space. Most of which are hard to see with the naked eye. Luckily, the Delmarva Space Sciences Foundation and NASA are teaming up to help folks see these objects a little clearer.

Jan. 15 kicks off the Astronomy and Night Sky Winter series at the Wallops Flight Facility Visitor center at Wallops Island. The event will continue until March, said Kimberly Check, who is the director of the visitor center. “This is a continuation of something of what we have been doing for about a year,” Check said. “Jan. 15 kicks off a three-part series.” The astronomy-themed night will be filled with movies, hands-on activities and outdoor fun. (1/13)

Norway’s Zero Gravity Seedlings (Source: DW)
NASA is planning a manned mission to Mars, but first they must figure out how astronauts can grow their own food on the trip and on the red planet. Now a team of Norwegian scientists are closer to solving the problem. "The ultimate goal is to provide food and hopefully oxygen and clean water to people that are colonizing Mars," says Ann-Iren Kittang Jost, head of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS). CIRiS is part of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

The CIRiS team has spent the best part of 10 years perfecting how to grow plants in space, sending up seeds to the International Space Station where they remotely control a small space greenhouse. Growing anything in zero gravity is far from as easy as tending to a potted plant at home here on Earth. The simple act of watering the Norwegian seedlings in space has proven a major challenge. Click here. (1/14)

Washington State Fines Aerospace Co. $1M After Plant Explosion (Source: Law360)
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries announced $1.3 million in fines against a Zodiac Aerospace U.S. subsidiary it says endangered the lives of 17 workers injured in an explosion on July 14.

Zodiac Cabin and Structures Support LLC could have prevented the 9 p.m. explosion at its Newport, Washington, facility had it used the required safeguards for operating an autoclave used for composite structures. (1/13)

Mock NASA Shuttle "Inspiration" Moving for River Tour (Source: CollectSpace)
A full-scale shuttle replica may soon be taking a river cruise. LVX System, a company that develops LED displays, plans to spend several million dollars to repair and renovate a shuttle replica dubbed "Inspiration" that spent more than 20 years outside the Astronaut Hall of Fame near the Kennedy Space Center.

The company wants to renovate the orbiter with a "state-of-the-art" theater and place it on a barge for a river tour of parts of the nation that never have seen a shuttle orbiter up close. Inspiration, which was in such bad condition it was nearly scrapped, will be moved this weekend to a repair site across the Indian River on Merritt Island, Florida. Click here. (1/13)

Air Force Anticipates Busy Year of Launches and Landings (Source: Florida Today)
The Space Coast this year could see as many as 30 launches by a more diverse group of rockets, launching from more pads than last year and even from a runway. And look out for incoming space vehicles, including the potential first touchdown at Kennedy Space Center by a classified military mini-shuttle and more SpaceX attempts to land Falcon rocket stages, following the company's historic first booster landing on Dec. 21.

That would easily eclipse last year's total of 18 launch operations, which was the busiest year since 2009, according to the 45th Space Wing. Planned launches include up to a dozen by United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, carrying big-budget national security payloads and a NASA mission to retrieve an asteroid sample. The powerful Delta IV Heavy is slated to lift one intelligence mission.

This fall could see a flight for NASA by Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rocket, which takes off under an aircraft and launches from the sky. It would be the first Pegasus launch here in more than 13 years. In other potential launch activity this year, the Navy could perform classified test launches from submarines of Trident II D5 ballistic missiles. At least one developer of a small rocket, Firefly Systems, has said it hopes to perform a suborbital launch from a new pad at KSC. (1/13)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Eyes Growth in 2016, Cites Record Backlog (Source: Reuters)
Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc (AJRD.N) expects to boost revenues in 2016 after reaching a record backlog of $3 billion in 2015, and buoyed by continued demand for the company's missile motors. Drake said the company was doing well despite what she described as "some "hiccups" in 2015, including a surprise decision by ULA to switch to solid rocket boosters made by Orbital ATK.

Aerojet also agreed to pay Orbital ATK $50 million to settle a dispute stemming from a rocket launch accident last year that destroyed a load of cargo bound for the International Space Station. Drake said those losses would be offset by some big wins, including a $1.16 billion contract from NASA to restart production of its RS-25 engine once used for the space shuttle program for the new Space Launch System (SLS). (1/12)

Aerojet Bends Rocket Engine Cost Curve With 3-D Printing (Source: Defense News)
In an increasingly competitive market, rocket engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne is looking to cutting-edge technology to dramatically reduce the cost of space launch.

Aerojet has been 3-D printing metal parts for rocket boosters for years, primarily through internal funding, Julie Van Kleeck, company vice president of advanced space and launch programs, told Defense News in an interview Monday. But the Pentagon’s recent effort to transition off dependency on the Russian RD-180 rocket engine for military space launch is lending new urgency to the quest for an affordable domestic alternative. (1/12)

Space Travel: Houston's Great Probem (Source: New Zealand Herald)
The Johnson Space Center isn't just a tourist attraction. Astronauts are still trained there, Mission Control is based there (visitors can see the old one and the new one, which runs the International Space Station) and it's home to much of Adam's robotics projects. It's a workplace. The American empire's grand vision of men exploring space aboard gigantic rockets might not have worked out quite how John F. Kennedy had imagined, but the dream is still alive. (1/13)

Space Ventures Get Shout-Outs in State of the Union Address (Source: Geek Wire)
President Obama turned to space exploration primarily to set the scene for other policy initiatives. As he spoke, the White House’s webcast flashed graphics that included a snapshot of the president gazing at Venus and the moon, a SpaceX rocket blasting off and an astronaut saluting the U.S. flag on the moon.

“Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and 12 years later, we were walking on the moon."

"Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer... I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control." Characterizing the fight against cancer as a “new moonshot” is likely to resonate with Seattle-based biotech ventures. (1/12)

Bridenstine Planning Broad Space Reform Bill (Source: Space News)
U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and House staffers have spent months drafting what they envision as a wide-reaching reform bill that would change how the Defense Department and NASA approach space acquisitions and operations.

The legislation, which will be known as the American Space Renaissance Act and would serve as a kind of clearinghouse of reforms, has been whispered about between lawmakers, staff members and industry officials for several months. Bridenstine said he expects congressional committees to break apart the bill, incorporating sections into authorization and spending bills for NASA and the DoD. Industry officials have been providing feedback on the draft bill for weeks.

Bridenstine said the bill could eventually include language to move space situational awareness and space traffic management responsibilities away from the Defense Department and to civil agencies. House staffers have been studying that issue for months. Click here. (1/13)

Embry-Riddle Mobile Space Habitat Enables Research in Extreme Environments (Source: America Space)
A student-run project at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), in Daytona Beach, is in the early stages of becoming an advanced space habitat simulator and mobile laboratory designed to study human behavior and new space technologies in extreme environments.

Made out of a 31-foot 1976 Airstream trailer, Mobile Extreme Environment Research Station (MEERS) will serve as a testbed that will enable students and faculty to test their experiments and study human factors in a simulated environment similar to Mars and other planets. Important engineering research focused on habitat design will take place on MEERS and evaluate the issues humans may encounter in isolation and confinement. Click here. (1/13)

Could We Colonize Ceres Like in SyFy's 'The Expanse'? (Source: Space.com)
In the new SyFy channel series "The Expanse," colonists live on a Ceres that is very different from the dwarf planet seen today — but what if NASA were to send a human mission out to Ceres as it is now, without changing the dwarf planet? Click here. (1/13)

Spaceport America Chief Believes Virgin Galactic Could Fly in 2018 (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
The head of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority says Spaceport America is moving ahead and its anchor tenant could be launching commercial space flights as soon as the 2018 fiscal year. Spaceport executive director Christine Anderson says she optimistic about the commercial space industry and the role New Mexico’s taxpayer-financed spaceport will have as the industry grows.

In an editorial, Anderson says the spaceport expects to earn about $4 million in fiscal year 2017. But that’s not enough to pay for construction, equipment and other things that were previously covered by bonds. She plans to ask the Legislature for $2.8 million, saying fiscal year 2017 will be a bridge year since Virgin Galactic’s rent will go up in 2018 from $1 million a year to about $3 million. (1/13)

Inside Audi's Wonderfully Improbable Project to Put a Rover on the Moon (Source: The Verge)
Much to the disappointment of space nerds everywhere, man has not stepped foot on the Moon in more than 40 years. Governments have sent expensive robots and satellites to our nearest celestial neighbor, but the Moon remains woefully under-explored.

That's why Google and the X Prize foundation teamed up to offer $30 million to the first private enterprise that can soft-land a robot on the surface of the Moon and have it traverse 500 meters of the lunar surface.

A number of teams are competing, but only one, the Part Time Scientists team from Germany, has the backing of automotive giant Audi — and a working prototype of the team's moon rover is debuting at Audi's booth at the Detroit Auto Show. Click here. (1/11)

Russian Scientists Develop Space Junk Motion Model (Source: Tass)
Russian scientists developed a space debris motion model that will make possible to reduce the probability of satellites’ collision with items on the near-earth model, said senior research fellow of the Russia’s Zvenigorod Observatory Nail Bakhtigaraev.

"Debris items with the size about 20 centimeters were selected for the model. We identified a pattern that can be used for prediction of their further motion after several years of observations. This is a very time-consuming work but it may be the method of solving the global problem of debris oversaturation." (1/12)

Throwing Away a $500 Million Satellite: Blame Congress & Lockheed & the Air Force (Source: Forbes)
In a rare naming and shaming of specific defense waste, House Armed Services subcommittee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) said Jan. 7 of the last military weather satellite “We could have saved the Air Force and the Congress a lot of aggravation if we put a half of a billion dollars in a parking lot and just burned it.”

The Alabama Congressman had a solid $500 million target of scorn – that’s the shame of the last wasteful satellite. But, the good Congressman was much too modest about who deserves the credit.  Congressional defense spenders, like him, and Lockheed Martin, his favorite and the prime contractor on the program, deserve the blame – the Air Force could not have blown this alone. Click here. (1/12)

SpaceX Video Lets You Relive Dramatic Falcon 9 Rocket Landing (Source: NBC)
Want to see some excited [young] rocket scientists? This video has about as many as you're likely to see in one place any time soon. You get to see the faces of the team as one their most important projects to date descends from the sky. Click here for the video. (1/12)

How to Sleep in Space (Source: Geek Wire)
How do you get your Z’s in zero-G? Sleeping in space is one of the subjects tackled in a new video series from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment that capitalizes on the buzz generated by “The Martian.” Fox’s “Life in Space” series is aimed at stirring up interest in today’s release of “The Martian” on DVD and Blu-ray. And speaking of “stirring,” one of the key issues on the International Space Station has to do with getting sufficient shut-eye without floating into your crewmate’s bunk.

NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, a veteran of two space shuttle flights, handles the question in a 46-second clip. It turns out that the accommodations are cozier than you might think. “Typically, we sleep in a fleece sleeping bag,” Feustel says. “They’re similar to what they are on Earth.” (1/12)

Orbital ATK, SpaceX Win Air Force Propulsion Contracts (Source: Space News)
The Air Force has chosen to invest up to $241 million in rocket propulsion systems Orbital ATK and SpaceX pitched as a way to end Air Force dependence the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine. The service could still make additional awards. “The Air Force is still in negotiations with the remaining offerors and subsequent awards, if any, will occur over the next few months.”

Orbital ATK won the biggest share of the money awarded Jan. 13, at least $46.9 million and perhaps as much as $180 million. Orbital ATK will develop three rocket propulsion system prototypes intended for use on an Orbital ATK next-generation launch vehicle. These include the GEM 63XL strap-on solid rocket motor, the Common Booster Segment solid rocket motor, and an extendable nozzle for Blue Origin’s BE-3U upper stage engine.

SpaceX will get at least $33.6 million, and perhaps as much as $61 million, to continue development of its methane-fueled Raptor engine. SpaceX is expected to match the Air Force’s investment in Raptor with at least $67 million, and as much as $123 million, according to the Air Force contract announcement. (1/13)

Presidential Candidates Weigh In on Space Program (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The 2016 United States Presidential primary races will see their first round of voting on February 1st when the Iowa Caucuses allow voters to make their first official choices for a nominee for both major parties – Republicans and Democrats. Ultimately, whoever’s elected President of the U.S. will go on to have a major impact on NASA, commercial space, and overall space policy in much the same way President Barack Obama and his predecessors have had. Click here. (1/13)

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