January 5, 2016

Air Force Hails SpaceX Return to Flight (Source: Space News)
SpaceX’s historic first-stage landing at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida following a successful launch Dec. 21 won accolades throughout the space community, and the U.S. Defense Department was no exception. Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, congratulated SpaceX on the successful mission of the Falcon 9 Upgrade.

“Advancements and developments such as those demonstrated by the Falcon 9 Upgrade provide the opportunity to assure our nation’s access to space with improved resiliency,” Greaves said. The Air Force has long been working closely with Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX given the likelihood that the company will be launching U.S. military satellites starting in the next couple of years.

Editor's Note: The Air Force and NASA spent tens of millions in tax dollars to study "fly-back boosters" over the past two decades. Their booster designs featured wings allowing them to fly back under rocket or jet power to land horizontally. SpaceX (and Blue Origin) came to the game with a totally different approach and spent their own money to prove the game-changing concept. There's definitely a lesson to be learned here. The Air Force/NASA efforts were supported by the major defense contractors and none of them seem to have given serious consideration to the innovative approach that SpaceX and Blue Origin have successfully implemented. (1/5)

What Will Happen to SpaceX's Barges? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Now that SpaceX has demonstrated a capability for autonomous return-to-spaceport landings of its Falcon-9 boosters, what will become of the company's fleet of offshore landing barges. Multiple high-tech barges were being developed to serve the company's needs at Florida, California and Texas spaceports.

Although the return-to-spaceport capability was approved by the FAA and USAF Eastern Range at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, that doesn't mean the same approvals would be forthcoming at the other spaceports. This will depend on some rigorous 'expected casualty' calculations associated with the more-vertical trajectory required for the return-to-spaceport maneuvering.

Also, this more-vertical trajectory may not be suitable for some payload deliveries, in which case the barges might be required to accommodate landings further downrange. If SpaceX could abandon the barges altogether, it would surely save a lot of money now spent on barge fleet operations and maintenance. (1/5)

Can ULA's Vulcan Reuse Plan Compete with SpaceX? (Source: SPACErePORT)
ULA's plan for launch vehicle reusability features a detachable first-stage engine module that would parachute toward earth before being air-captured by a helicopter. This approach was used successfully by the Air Force in the 1960s with their recovery of spy satellite film cannisters, but it will require ULA to secure access to one or more capable helicopters.

The the added costs to ULA for helicopter operations and maintenance seemed like a bargain when compaired to SpaceX's costs for a fleet of high-tech ocean landing barges. The ULA approach also seemed smarter at the time because they wouldn't have to contend with high seas and other maritime variables. But with SpaceX's recent spaceport fly-back success, ULA's approach is looking less elegant and more costly. (1/5)

State-Owned Alaska Aerospace Corp. Seeks Privatization (Source: The Tribune)
The president and CEO of the Alaska Aerospace Corp. said Monday that the board of the state-owned corporation has recommended it pursue becoming a private company. Craig Campbell said the recommendation has been delivered to Gov. Bill Walker, who has not yet said how he would like to proceed. State law would have to be changed to allow for the shift, Campbell said.

"Our intention and what we're working on right now is to develop the corporation so we would not ever go back to the state for any operations funding [for the Kodiak spaceport]," said Campbell. Campbell said he considers it an expectation that once the corporation becomes profitable the state be repaid for investments it made in the corporation. Over the last six years or so, the state has put about $30 million toward operations and sustainment funding, he said. It has put in additional funds for infrastructure, he said.

The corporation has moved toward diversifying. It has, for example, a contract with a company for distribution of Alaska geospatial imaging data from orbiting satellites. The corporation announced Monday that it's opening an office in Huntsville, Alabama, a hub for aerospace companies. (1/5)

What Came Before the Big Bang?
(Source: Washington Post)
Most physicists, he begins, agree on the big-bang theory, which says that 14 billion years ago the entire observable universe was “roughly a million billion billion times smaller than a single atom” and has been expanding ever since, to its current size of something like 100 million galaxies.

Thereafter, theories diverge: There’s the “Two-Headed Time” school, which sees the BB as sort of a pothole in the long road of time, with the future pointing away from that moment in two opposing directions. In this theory, time moved in a way we would consider backward for billions of years — with the universe contracting all the while — until it shrank to subatomic size. Then the big bang occurred and time began to progress, and the universe expanded, in the way we see now. Click here. (1/4)

(Mostly) Thumbs Down on ExoNames (Source: ManyWorlds)
The name 51 Pegasi B, the first planet identified outside of our solar system, has been eclipsed.  Now it is Dimidium. The (at least) five planet system orbiting the star formerly known as 55 Cancri now circles the star Copernicus.  And those planets 55 Cancri B, C, D, E, and F are Galileo, Brahe, Lippershey, Janssen and Harriot.

These are some of the 31 newly-named exoplanets and 14 newly-named stars, the result of an international naming competition organized by the International Astronomical Union and made public and formal last month. More than half a million people voted in the naming sweepstakes, and that no doubt brought a lot of attention and interest into the world of exoplanet research.  '

Organizers of the effort have explained their effort this way:  “Given the publicity and emotional investment associated with these discoveries, worldwide recognition is important and the IAU offers its unique experience for the benefit of a successful public naming process.” But a so far anecdotal survey of exoplanet scientists suggests that it will be a long time — if ever — before they use those IAU selected names. (1/4)

China's New Space Capsule Looks Like Ours - Here's Why (Source: Popular Science)
China recently unveiled drawings of the capsule it plans to use to carry humans and cargo into space in the 2020s, and the design looks strikingly familiar. With a flat top, sloping sides, and a wide bottom, all of the crew capsules in development today look like candy gumdrops. Where does this shape come from?

You might recognize it from the vehicle that brought the Apollo astronauts home. With few exceptions, human spaceflight hasn't changed much since those days. The Soyuz capsule uses a similar shape today, and SpaceX, Boeing, and NASA are all designing brand new spacecraft with almost the exact same design.

All of these vehicles are similar because of three competing variables that spacecraft designers have to contend with: weight, space, and heat. "Weight is the number one problem," says Pasquale Sforza, an aerospace engineer at the University of Florida and author of the recent book, Manned Spacecraft Design Principles. "Everything has to be really strictly fashioned for the weight." Click here. (1/4)

Aging Stars' Rotation Stop Slowing Down, Scientists Discover (Source: U.Birmingham)
At a critical point in the life of a star like the Sun its rotation stops 'slowing down', according to research by University of Birmingham scientists. This discovery challenges existing theories and has implications for our understanding of how the Sun and other stars influence their local environments, including planets, as they age.

The rotation of the Sun is slowing as its magnetic field interacts with a wind of particles flowing away from its surface. Other Sun-like stars show similar behavior. Aastrophysicists at Birmingham have discovered that, at a certain age, stars stop slowing down and no longer obey the gyrochronology relations. 'The Sun is 4.5 billion years old and we know it is approaching this critical epoch and so we think it will stop slowing down in the next few hundreds of millions of years.' (1/4)

New NASA Research Could Save Commercial Airlines Billions (Source: Space Daily)
The nation's airlines could realize more than $250 billion dollars in savings in the near future thanks to green-related technologies developed and refined by NASA during the past six years. These new technologies, developed under the purview of NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project, could cut airline fuel use in half, pollution by 75 percent and noise to nearly one-eighth of today's levels.

Created in 2009 and completed in 2015, ERA's mission was to explore and document the feasibility, benefits and technical risk of inventive vehicle concepts and enabling technologies that would reduce aviation's impact on the environment. Project researchers focused on eight major integrated technology demonstrations falling into three categories - airframe technology, propulsion technology and vehicle systems integration.

By the time ERA officially concluded its six-year run, NASA had invested more than $400 million, with another $250 million in-kind resources invested by industry partners who were involved in ERA from the start. (1/5)

Air Force Games Space Warfare (Source: Space.com)
The Air Force held the ninth in a series of space-related war games last month. The Schriever Wargame, held at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, involved about 200 people from various U.S. military and civil agencies as well as four other countries. The week-long war game involved a scenario in 2025 where an unnamed competitor nation took actions ranging from jamming and cyberspace attacks to the use of anti-satellite weapons. (1/4)

Virgin Galactic Plans New SpaceShip Rollout in February, with Hawking (Source: GeekWire)
Virgin Galactic plans to roll out its second SpaceShipTwo next month. The company sent out notices yesterday announcing plans for a Feb. 19 event at the company's facilities in Mojave, California. The vehicle is a replacement for the original SpaceShipTwo, lost in a 2014 accident that killed the vehicle's co-pilot. Richard Branson said separately that Stephen Hawking would formally name the new SpaceShipTwo at the unveiling. (1/4)

France Plans Inquiry on Mars Instrument Problem (Source: Space News)
The head of the French space agency CNES said his agency will get to the root of instrument problems that forced NASA to delay its next Mars mission. CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall said Monday the agency has established an outside board of inquiry to investigate leaks in the vacuum sphere of a seismic experiment CNES was providing for the InSight lander. Multiple leaks in the sphere led NASA to decide last month to postpone the launch, which had been scheduled for March. Le Gall said NASA has instructed CNES to plan for a 2018 launch of the lander, although NASA has not made a decision about when, or even if, InSight will fly. (1/4)

India Considers Building Heavier-Lift Rocket (Source: Business Standard)
India is weighing development of a launch vehicle that could would be far more powerful than its existing rockets. The unnamed vehicle would be able to launch up to 10 tons to geostationary transfer orbits, several times the capacity of the country's current GSLV rocket, according to an official with the Indian space agency ISRO. The new vehicle would use a new main engine powered by kerosene and liquid oxygen, coupled with the cryogenic upper stage already being developed for the GSLV. The official did not give a schedule for developing this new vehicle. (1/4)

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