January 20, 2016

Elon Musk Forecasts a '70 Percent  Landing Success Rate' for SpaceX in 2016 (Source: Inverse)
Everyone knows that Elon Musk is a big-time dreamer, but now he’s getting specific about his dreams. And possibly limiting them. He forecasted SpaceX’s landing success odds on late Monday night via his news-making Twitter account: 70 percent this year and 90 percent in 2017.

The 2016 estimate seems conservative, but, then again, this is rocket science. Any number of minute improvements could be observable to the experts, leading to great excitement, whereas laymen will just see a really expensive rocket slowly tipping over until it disintegrates in a spectacular explosion.

Editor's Note: My question is how many missions will require barge landings, and does that number justify the expense of operating the barge fleet, given the lesser likelihood of landing successes at sea. (1/20)

Feds Target Late Subcontractor Payments In New Rule (Source: Law360)
The Pentagon, NASA and the General Services Administration have proposed new rules requiring prime contractors to fess up when they make late or short payments to subcontractors, the latest regulations aimed at enhancing small business participation in the government contracts space, the agencies said Tuesday.

Under the proposed rulemaking — which amends existing Federal Acquisition Regulation to implement the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act — companies contracting with the three agencies must report to their contracting officers when subcontractor payments are reduced beyond a previously agreed-upon terms. (1/19)

Malaysian Official Seeks Second Astronaut Opportunity (Source: Bernama)
A Malaysian official wants the country to send another person to space. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed said flying another astronaut would show the nation's interest in space and have unspecified economic benefits. Malaysia's first, and to date only, person to fly in space went to the International Space Station in 2007 on a Soyuz spacecraft, part of a deal where Malaysia bought Russia fighter jets. (1/19)

NASA Space Technology Achievements in 2015 (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) checked off a number of key accomplishments in 2015. These advancements pushed the technological envelope, not only for use near Earth, but also to support future deep-space exploration missions. “In 2015 we have made significant progress with several of our larger technology demonstration initiatives,” explains Steve Jurczyk, NASA associate administrator for STMD. Click here. (1/20)

The Comet That Battered Jupiter, and Shook Congress (Source: Scientific American)
Slightly more than 21 years have passed since Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 broke apart and slammed into Jupiter. Although the physical scars of those cataclysmic collisions have long since vanished, researchers are still gaining new insights into the solar system based on that decades-old catastrophe. The force of the collisions was powerful enough to tilt the thin planetary ring that surrounds Jupiter by two kilometers.

A Congressional House committee asked NASA to find and keep track of the number of objects in space that might cross Earth's orbit and could trigger extinction-level events if they slammed into the planet. To date, NASA believes there are more than 878 near-Earth asteroids one kilometer or more in diameter, of which they calculate 90 percent now have been discovered. (1/20)

NASA Facilities, Teams Ramp Up SLS Flight Production for 2018 Mmaiden Flight (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA is ramping up production of hardware and flight elements for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, set to make its debut flight in 2018, as various construction and processing facilities around the U.S. turn hard-earned testing into flight products for the EM-1 (Exploration Mission 1) mission that will test most of SLS’s systems as it matures toward the ability to carry humans to targets beyond Low Earth Orbit. Click here. (1/19)

Texas Groups Fund University Aerospace Efforts in Near Midland Spaceport (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Texas' Midland Development Corporation (MDC) and the Midland City Council approved an agreement wherein the MDC will fund The University of Texas Permian Basin (UTPB) for the research and development of a concentration in aeronautical engineering.

The funds provided by the MDC will be contributing to the development of a new aeronautical engineering program at UTPB for an aerospace faculty member and the development of laboratories. The funds are also targeted to develop and maintain specific Bachelor-Degree academic programs that facilitate new and existing industrial and aerospace development. (1/18)

New Player Masten Eyes Space Coast for Launches, Research (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A scrappy but successful startup in the space industry, Masten Space Systems, is making new moves toward opening an office at Cape Canaveral. Masten recently hired former NASA engineer Jason Hopkins as a business-development scout at Kennedy Space Center. "I'm basically paving the way to get us set up here and have an office here," Hopkins said.

Masten's interest gives more hope for adding another player to Florida's growing private space cluster. Elon Musk's SpaceX has been launching regularly here for years. Last September, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin announced a new manufacturing and launch operation at Cape Canaveral, among others. Known for winning multimillion-dollar contracts from the Department of Defense, Masten is a finalist to help develop a new, reusable space plane. Masten is also exploring a research relationship with Florida Space Institute at University of Central Florida. Click here.

Editor's Note: Masten had signed an agreement with Space Florida in 2010 to launch some NASA-sponsored missions from LC-36 beginning in 2011. They backed off from these plans (after some criticism of difficulties working with the Eastern Range) and their presence at LC-36 faded away. MoonExpress then moved onto LC-36 but their plans have also shifted away from the facility, allowing Blue Origin to stake their claim to the former Atlas launch pad. (1/20)

2015 Was Hottest Year in Recorded History (Source: New York Times)
Last year was the hottest in recorded history by far, breaking a record set in 2014, scientists reported. The weather patterns broke a record set only the year before, a consequence of the long-term planetary warming caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases, scientists say. (1/20)

Spaceports Taking Off in Race Out of This World (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The only people in space - all six of them - live and work on a small orbiting island known as the International Space Station, a multi-billion dollar bit of technology that is for the moment the only tangible evidence of a human spaceflight program. But you'd never know it from the proliferating "spaceports" that suggest venturing to the great beyond is about to become a routine thing. (1/20)

Astronomers say a Neptune-Sized Planet Lurks Beyond Pluto (Source: Science)
The solar system appears to have a new ninth planet. Today, two scientists announced evidence that a body nearly the size of Neptune—but as yet unseen—orbits the sun every 15,000 years. During the solar system’s infancy 4.5 billion years ago, they say, the giant planet was knocked out of the planet-forming region near the sun. Slowed down by gas, the planet settled into a distant elliptical orbit, where it still lurks today.

The claim is the strongest yet in the centuries-long search for a “Planet X” beyond Neptune. The quest has been plagued by far-fetched claims and even outright quackery. But the new evidence comes from a pair of respected planetary scientists, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, who prepared for the inevitable skepticism with detailed analyses of the orbits of other distant objects and months of computer simulations.

Batygin and Brown inferred its presence from the peculiar clustering of six previously known objects that orbit beyond Neptune. They say there’s only a 0.007% chance that the clustering could be a coincidence. Instead, they say, a planet with the mass of 10 Earths has shepherded the six objects into their strange elliptical orbits, tilted out of the plane of the solar system. Editor's Note: My question is how does such a planet perturb the inner Solar System planets during each 15,000-year perigee. (1/20)

PSLV Lofts Satellite for India’s Indigenous Navigation System (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The fifth satellite for India’s regional navigation network rode into orbit Wednesday aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, joining a growing fleet of spacecraft to provide positioning services to users across South Asia. The mission lifted off on the 33rd flight of India’s PSLV, the country’s most prolific launch vehicle. (1/20)

County Approves $14.5 Facility Incentive to Keep World View in Arizona (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
Tucson-based space exploration company World View Enterprises, plans to move to 28-acre property south of Tucson International Airport, Pima County announced. The facility would eventually employ as many as 400 people at an average salary of more than $55,000 annually, under terms of an economic incentive agreement up for Board of Supervisors approval at the Tuesday at its Jan. 19.

The agreement would have the county fund initial construction of a 120,000-square foot headquarters and light-manufacturing facility up to $14.5 million. World View would repay the county’s investment over 20 years through annual lease payments. Over the course of the agreement the company would pay $23.6 million in annual lease payments. The agreement provides World View the option to purchase the facility after ten years. (1/14)

NASA Facilities, Teams Ramp Up SLS Flight Production for 2018 Maiden Flight (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA is ramping up production of hardware and flight elements for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, set to make its debut flight in 2018, as various construction and processing facilities around the U.S. turn hard-earned testing into flight products for the EM-1 (Exploration Mission 1) mission that will test most of SLS’s systems as it matures toward the ability to carry humans to targets beyond Low Earth Orbit.

At Orbital ATK’s facilities in Utah, full-scale production of the flight set, twin five-segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) began last year and is set to increase multi-fold in 2016. Orbital ATK has – for several years – been preparing booster casing segments for their role on the EM-1 mission as well as conducting numerous test firings of the five-segment SRBs for qualification and demonstration purposes. (1/19)

Buzz Aldrin Space Institute Workshop at Florida Institute of Technology (Source: Demotix)
The "Inaugural Buzz Aldrin Space Institute Workshop" was held at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida. The 2 day workshop is designed to bring scientists together to work toward Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin's goal of establishing a human presence on Mars. Click here for some photos. (1/19)

Russia Wants to Build Atomic Engine for Exploring Deep Space (Source: Space Daily)
The Russian Federal Space Agency has presented its ten-year development plan, which includes the construction of a prototype engine powered by atomic energy, able to power a spacecraft on expeditions into the far reaches of the galaxy.

Roscosmos has presented its ten-year development plan to the Russian government, which includes the construction of a prototype engine that uses a nuclear reactor to propel it on expeditions into distant space. The project is part of the 2016-2025 Federal Space Program, which Roscosmos has recently presented to the Russian government for approval. (1/19)

Northrop Grumman's VAMP Wants a Shot at Venus (Source: NGC)
The Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) air vehicle (AV) is an aeroshell-less hypersonic entry vehicle that transitions to a semi-buoyant, maneuverable, solar powered air vehicle for flight in Venus’ atmosphere. VAMP AV will be transported to Venus by a carrier/orbiter spacecraft. Once the spacecraft is safely in Venus’ orbit, VAMP AV is deployed while still attached to spacecraft. It is then released and enters the atmosphere, floating down toward the planet almost like a falling leaf.

Once the AV is in the atmosphere and has completed the entry phase, it transitions to the flight phase of the mission. During the flight phase, the AV flies in the Venus upper and mid cloud layers and collects science data for transmission to Earth. VAMP AV will be capable of orbiting the planet for a long duration, up to a year. The vehicle’s ultra-low ballistic coefficient, atmospheric entry is performed without the aid of a heavy aeroshell, allowing it to hold about 100 pounds of instruments that will track clouds and atmosphere and send data back to Earth.

A Northrop Grumman VAMP Science Advisory Board is composed of prominent American and European planetary scientists, who have been drawn from various research and academic institutions. The board will help define specific science goals, measurement requirements, and identify possible instruments for future VAMP missions. It will also serve as a science analysis group to mine existing data about Venus that may be useful to the VAMP mission. Click here. (1/18)

Anderson Raises $500,000 for Mystery Venture Idea.com (Source: GeekWire)
The latest big idea from Seattle tech entrepreneur Eric Anderson is … Idea.com. He has raised $500,000 to support the idea, according to a regulatory filing today, but he’s not yet ready to reveal what it is. Anderson told GeekWire he has several business ideas in mind for Idea.com. “It’s a very powerful brand, and it’s worthy of a great idea and a great company,” he said.

He has already delivered enough big ideas to fill a think tank. As co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures, he helped send millionaires and billionaires on trips to the International Space Station. As co-founder and co-chairman of Redmond-based Planetary Resources, he’s setting the stage for what could be a multitrillion-dollar asteroid mining industry. He plays executive roles for Bellevue-based Planetary Power, Personal.com and Seattle-based Booster Fuels. (1/19)

Most Threats to Humans Come From Science and Technology, Warns Hawking (Source: Guardian)
The human race faces one its most dangerous centuries yet as progress in science and technology becomes an ever greater threat to our existence, Stephen Hawking warns. The chances of disaster on planet Earth will rise to a near certainty in the next one to ten thousand years, the eminent cosmologist said, but it will take more than a century to set up colonies in space where human beings could live on among the stars. Click here. (1/18)

Galactic Garbage Can: There's 400,000 Pounds of Trash on The Moon (Source: The Takeaway)
In total, the moon hosts more than 400,000 pounds of man-made material, and we earthlings consistently add to that pile. Humans crash probes into the moon—a routine method for bringing unmanned missions to a close. And these crashes often leave behind a lot of trash. But is this trash a problem, or just the cost of doing space travel? Click here. (1/14)

European Governments Boost Satcom Spending (Source: Space News)
European governments are establishing new funding sources to help Europe’s satellite telecommunications industry remain competitive as the sector adapts to global demand for fixed and mobile broadband. Part of the effort appears tailor-made for OneWeb LLC of Britain’s Channel Islands, which is designing a constellation of more than 700 satellites in low Earth orbit to provide global Internet access. (1/19)

Japanese Astronomers Detect Signs of Milky Way’s Second-Largest Black Hole (Source: Sci-News)
A team of astronomers from Japan, led by Keio University scientist Prof. Tomoharu Oka, has detected signs of an intermediate-mass black hole in the central molecular zone of our Milky Way Galaxy. Using the Nobeyama Radio Observatory 45-m radio telescope, Prof. Oka and co-authors discovered a weird gas cloud just 200 light-years away from the Galactic center.

What makes this object, named CO-0.40-0.22, unusual is its surprisingly wide velocity dispersion. According to the team, CO-0.40-0.22 has an elliptical shape and consists of two components: a compact, low density component with a very wide velocity dispersion of 100 km/s, and a dense component extending 10 light-years with a narrow velocity dispersion. (1/19)

How We Could Build a City on Mars (Source Gizmodo)
If we want to someday live on Mars, spaceships won’t be enough. We would need a Martian city—and this is how we might build one. In many ways, the problem of moving to Mars is simply a packing problem. We need a lot of gear (food, water, shelter) to keep us alive, and the only way to ensure that we have that gear, at least at first, is to bring it along with us, like turtles carting our homes on our back.

If you’re talking about life on Mars and not just a vacation or a research trip, we’ll need more than just the most basic means of supporting life. We’ll need large infrastructure, including sturdy housing that lasts. We’ll need agricultural structures and storage. We’ll need roads for transport. Click here. (1/19)

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