January 3, 2016

Russian Scientists to Develop Dark Matter Detection Model in 1-2 Years (Source: Sputnik)
Russian scientists plan to develop a dark matter detection prototype within one to two years, the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science’s senior nuclear physics research official said. The detector would search for the elusive space material with the help of condensed inert gases, including argon. He said scientists have identified argon as the gas most suitable for ensuring the detection threshold to register dark matter's nuclei recoils.

"We know that [dark matter] leaves almost no traces and our main task is to dramatically lower the detection threshold to a minimum, which is physically possible in principle. There is quite substantial progress and we hope that a prototype of this detector can be created in the next year or two," said Yuri Tikhonov, Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics deputy director in charge of research. (1/3)

Russia’s Accounts Chamber to Re-Inspect Vostochny Spaceport in 2016 (Source: Tass)
Russia’s Accounts Chamber will re-inspect construction of Vostochny spaceport in Russia’s Far East in 2016, its Chairperson Tatyana Golikova said in an interview aired by the Rossiya-24 TV news channel. "Of course, there will be (another) inspection. We should see what has changed and how the funds additionally allocated for construction of the spaceport has been used," Golikova said.

Earlier the Accounts Chamber detected that the estimated cost of construction of certain sites of the spaceport was overestimated by 20%. 2014 inspection detected that Roskosmos (Russia’s space agency) committed financial violations worth 92.9 bln rubles ($1.2 bln) at Vostochny construction while federal budget regarding the construction was executed by 85.4% of the plan, or 139.8 bln rubles ($1.9 bln). (1/3)

Branson Reveals Virgin Galactic's Plans for a Clean UK 'Spaceport' (Source: Independent)
Sir Richard Branson wants to take paying passengers into space from a “spaceport” in Britain and has promised that the rocket fuel used will be clean enough to ensure no one buying a ticket will feel guilty about damaging the planet. Sir Richard said that his ambitious goal of establishing the first passenger space operation now extends to operating from a future spaceport in Britain, which is being considered by the Government.

“Virgin Galactic very much hopes to be one of the principal operators. We are a contender to operate Virgin Galactic out of the British spaceport once it’s chosen,” he said. “I think initially it will be for people going into space and coming back to that spaceport, but, in time, the aim is to go point-to-point.”

Virgin Galactic has been criticized by environmentalists for offering what amounts to expensive joyrides for the super-rich. However, Sir Richard defended his space plans on the grounds that they could eventually lead to a new form of intercontinental travel for the masses via space, which he said could be less damaging to the environment than current long-haul flights from potential fuel savings. (1/3)

Russian Space Forces Launched 21 Spacecraft in 2015 (Source: Sputnik)
Wrapping up the last year, the Defense Ministry said that the military had fulfilled its plan of maneuvering the Russian orbit constellation, "90 percent of which is currently controlled by an earth-based automatic control complex." Russia is preparing for the maiden launch from its brand-new Vostochny Space Center in the Amur Region. It is scheduled to blast off in April 2016 and is anticipated to become a big occasion. (1/3)

As Competition Rises, Colorado's Space Companies Seek New Frontiers (Source: Denver Post)
Space exploration continued to play an astronomical role in Colorado in 2015 — but not in its old, reliable way. Sure, Boulder's Ball Aerospace developed a fancy camera for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. And nearby Southwest Research Institute translated images beamed from Pluto by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. But in 2015, Colorado's space-minded businesses faced a more unfamiliar frontier: success sans government contracts. Click here. (1/3)

Space: The Visionaries Take Over (Source: Washington Post)
Fractured and divided as we are, on one thing we can agree: 2015 was a miserable year. The only cheer was provided by Lincoln Chafee and the Pluto flyby (two separate phenomena), as well as one seminal aeronautical breakthrough. Space travel has now slipped the surly bonds of government — presidents, Congress, NASA bureaucracies. Its future will now be driven far more by a competitive marketplace with its multiplicity of independent actors, including deeply motivated, financially savvy and visionary entrepreneurs. Click here. (12/31)

Scientist: Barrier Islands Could be Unlivable in 50 Years (Source: Florida Today)
Much of this country's barrier islands will be under water in 50 years because of climate change, according to a University of Miami professor and expert on sea-level rise. Other areas also would face more flooding and greater risk from storm surges, according to Harold Wanless, chairman of the university's Department of Geological Sciences.

"Most of the barrier islands of the world will become largely inhabitable" within 50 years, he said, using the U.S. government's official projections. Wanless, whom some in the media have dubbed "Dr. Doom," believes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is underestimating the onset of "a rapid pulse of sea level rise" — perhaps as much as 30 feet by the end of century, or 4.5 times the official projection. (1/2)

American Astronomical Society Meeting in Central Florida This Week (Source: AAS)
The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Our mission is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe. The AAS will hold its 227th meeting on Jan. 4-8 in Kissimmee. Click here. (1/2)

The G Spot For Space Tourists (Source: Forbes)
Slowly but surely in 2015, the private space movement gained ground. The tourism aspect is taking longer than many of us want (I am a ticketholder on Virgin Galactic), but this is rocket science. It’s complicated and it’s dangerous. Click here. (1/1)

Hold Onto Your Astro-Butts, 2016 Will Be a Big Year for Space (Source: Motherboard)
When it comes to daring space adventures, 2015 will be a tough act to follow. As noted in our recap of the year’s biggest space stories, the past 12 months have been a riveting joyride complete with spacecraft redemption, juicy rivalries, and Plutonian glamor shots. In short, 2016 has big spaceboots to fill. Fortunately, there are a number of exciting launches, maneuvers, and institutional shakeups already in the works, and no doubt there will be many other surprises along the way. Here’s the scoop.

After a rough year filled with failed rocket launches and economic instability, the Russian space agency Roscosmos was officially dissolved by Vladimir Putin on Monday. As of January 1, Russian spaceflight will be operated by the newly-minted Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, which is expected to make significant cutbacks to the nation’s space exploration budget, especially its Moon program.

It will be interesting to see how this new corporate incarnation of Roscosmos shakes out, and what it will mean for Russian ambitions in space going forward. Given that astronauts of every nation are still dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule to ferry them to and from the ISS, there is a lot at stake both within and beyond Russia’s borders. Click here. (1/1)

2016 Manifest Preview: United Launch Alliance’s Busy Year Ahead (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Some of America’s most critical surveillance satellites, final members of other spacecraft series and a probe that will touch an asteroid are among 15 rocket flights planned by United Launch Alliance in 2016. It will be the 10th anniversary year for ULA, the launch firm that flies Atlas 5, Delta 4 and Delta 2 rockets from Cape Canaveral in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

A record-setting eleven Atlas 5 launches are slated to occur, nine from the Cape and two from Vandenberg. Four Delta 4 launches are planned, three from the Cape and one from Vandenberg. No Delta 2s will launch in 2016. The constellations of Block 2F series of Global Positioning System navigation satellites for the Air Force and the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System communications spacecraft will be completed this year by Atlas 5 rocket launches.

In addition to the Navy’s mobile communications system, launches to bolster the Defense Department’s Wideband Global SATCOM and Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite networks are scheduled, too. There’s also another commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station with the Cygnus ship planned. Click here. (1/2)

NASA Will Have a Big Year Thanks to Congress (Source: Houston Press)
Things just keep improving for NASA. First they pulled off the first launch of the Orion spacecraft in 2014 and then they followed up by discovering water on Mars and giving us unprecedented images of Pluto in 2015. Now it looks like things are going to get even better in 2016.

Why? Well, for one thing, Congress has finally given NASA's budget a hefty increase. After years of getting by on a shoestring, NASA is starting 2016 with something that hasn't been seen at the federal space agency in years: proper funding. In December Congress passed a bill giving NASA $19.3 billion for 2016, an increase from 2015 of more than $1 billion and $750 million more than President Barack Obama had even requested.

The timing couldn't be better. NASA is intent on getting astronauts back to cislunar space by the 2020s and landing them on Mars by the 2030s. While that may sound like a long way off, NASA has a ton of things to get done this year to make the ultimate goal of reaching the Red Planet a reality. Click here. (1/1)

CubeSats: Future Solar System Explorers? (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Palm-size satellites have become commonplace in near-Earth space — roughly 100 of these oversized Rubik’s cubes packed with instruments and devices have launched every year since 2013. So it should come as no surprise that CubeSat scientists are turning their ambitions beyond Earth orbit to interplanetary space. The vision of tiny, inexpensive satellites flitting around the solar system by the dozen is appealing to be sure, but is it doable?

Among the many challenges facing CubeSats today, perhaps the two biggest hurdles, as well as the biggest areas of research and development, are propulsion and communication. Paulo Lozano directs the Space Propulsion Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For the past several years his team has been developing an innovative technology that will help propel CubeSats beyond Earth orbit. (12/31)

3-D Printed Ceramics Could Build Next-Gen Spaceships (Source: Discovery)
Engineers have always liked ceramic parts -- they are strong, lightweight and handle heat better than many metals, ideal for crafting parts for airplanes or rockets. Heat-shielding tiles on the space shuttle were made from ceramics, for example. Now researchers have used a 3-D printer to make customized ceramic parts that have also overcome the Achilles’ heel of ceramic objects: their tendency to crack.

The finding could open the door to a new class of ceramic-body or ceramic-engine jets, perhaps even a hypersonic craft that can fly from New York to Tokyo in a few hours. “If you go very fast, about 10 times speed of sound within the atmosphere, then any vehicle will heat up tremendously because of air friction,” said Tobias Schaedler, senior scientist at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, Calif. “People want to build hypersonic vehicles and you need ceramics for the whole shell of the vehicle.” (12/31)

Orbital ATK Integration of Upgraded Antares Kick Into High Gear for 2016 (Source: Universe Today)
Assembly and testing of a significantly upgraded version of Orbital ATK’s commercially developed Antares rocket has kicked into high gear and is on target for rebirth – as the clock ticks down towards its ‘Return to Flight’ by approximately mid-2016 from a launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia, company managers told Universe Today during a recent up close media visit to see the actual flight hardware.

Mission integration operations are in full swing right now as technicians were actively processing Antares hardware in order to resume launches of critical cargo missions to crews living aboard the space station, during my visit to Orbital ATK’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in mid-December.

“Hardware started showing up at Wallops in the early part of June 2015. So we have been working ever since then to integrate the first set of RD-181 engines from Energomash into the Antares stage.” Technicians are simultaneously processing two sets of Antares hardware intended for the first two launches, one of which will also be used to conduct a critical engine hot fire test in March 2016. (12/31)

How the Air Force Planned to Put Men on the Moon (Source: Popular Science)
In the spring of 1958, after President Eisenhower called to create a civilian space agency, the US Air Force assumed it would lead any national spaceflight effort. As such, the service prepared a detailed, multi-stage plan called Man in Space with the goal of landing a man on the Moon by the mid 1960s. The first phase of the Man in Space program was a technical demonstration phase called Man in Space Soonest (MISS). This phase would take the first steps in space to understand the human factors involved.

The first six flights would be robotic missions designed to test the hardware and flight systems, followed by six animal flights over six months to test the live support system. Once everything was proven, a man would launch, ideally as early as October of 1960. These manned flights would round out the technical needs for the MISS phase by developing reentry and recovery techniques. Click here. (12/21)

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