January 6, 2016

PISCES Completes Lunar Landing Bullseye in Hawaii (Source: Pacific Space Center)
The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) completed a major milestone last month with the finalization of our lunar landing pad bullseye. Part of PISCES’ Space Act Agreement with NASA on the Vertical Take-off/Vertical Landing (VTVL) Pad project required our team to finish construction of the pad by the end of 2015.

Thanks to the hard work of our dedicated staff, we were able to lay down the 100th basalt paver by the end of the year. The VTVL pad is part of PISCES’ Additive Construction for Mobile Emplacement project and is a partnership with NASA Swamp Works, Honeybee Robotics, ARGO, Hawaii County Department of Research and Development and the state of Hawaii. (1/5)

The Truth About Asteroid Mining (Source: BBC)
As our Earth orbits lazily around the Sun, some 13,000 asteroids pass close by. Known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), these asteroids are more than just a heavenly curiosity; they are treasures. The resources contained within them mean they have the potential to provide untold riches, the future oil fields of space.

The question is, would it be worth it? Some might ask whether it’s realistic to stage such a seemingly out-of-this-world plan. Those involved in the nascent asteroid mining industry, however, argue that there are a number of misconceptions about their efforts.

“It is natural to doubt when you don’t know much about it” explains Chris Lewicki, the president and chief engineer of asteroid mining company Planetary Resources. “Most people read the headline and make assumptions. Click here. (1/5)

Arianespace Starts Year with Record Order Backlog (Source: Space Daily)
Arianespace continues to confirm its operational and commercial leadership in the launch services market. In 2016 it will be working closely with partners to accelerate the reorganization of the European launcher industry. Arianespace set a new record in 2015 for its family of launchers operating from the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in French Guiana, with 12 successful launches in 12 months.

Arianespace carried out six Ariane 5 launches, along with three by Soyuz and three by Vega - a three-fold increase for the latter over the previous year. These results clearly proved the effectiveness of the efforts made to improve launch scheduling at CSG for greater flexibility and availability. Based on this operational track record, Arianespace should boost sales to more than 1.4 billion euros in 2015, the highest total in its history.

Arianespace won contracts for 33 new launches in 2015: 8 Ariane 5 launches for 14 geostationary satellites; 21 Soyuz launches for the OneWeb constellation and another launch for four additional satellites in the O3b constellation; and 3 Vega launches. (1/6)

Maintaining Arianespace's Launch Services Leadership in 2016 (Source: Space Daily)
Arianespace is targeting another busy year of activity in 2016 - continuing its launch services excellence by performing up to 11 missions utilizing Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega, while reinforcing its international marketplace competitiveness with commercial offers that combine the company's attributes of reliability, availability and price.

Meeting with journalists for the annual New Year's press conference in Paris this morning, Chairman and CEO Stephane Israel said Arianespace has set its sights on the longer term as well, preparing for the future commercial introduction of Ariane 6 and Vega-C.

Building on its all-time best performance last year with 12 total launches (consisting of six Ariane 5 liftoffs, and three each for Soyuz and Vega), Israel said the pace of the 11 flights in 2016 will be set by as many as eight Ariane 5 missions - a new record for this heavy-lift vehicle. Completing the planned manifest are two launches of the lightweight Vega and one medium-lift Soyuz. (1/6)

Aerojet Wins U.S. Contract to Set Standard for 3-D Printed Rocket Engines (Source: Reuters)
Aerojet Rocketdyne has won a $6 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to define the standards that will be used to qualify components made using 3-D printing for use in liquid-fueled rocket engine applications. The award is part of a larger drive by the U.S. military to end its reliance on Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines. The Air Force plans to award additional, larger contracts for U.S.-developed propulsion systems later this year.

Aerojet said it would draw upon its extensive experience with 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, to draw up the standards that would be used to qualify 3-D printed rocket engine components for flight. Aerojet is developing its AR1 engine as an alternative to the RD-180 engine. New rocket engine designs like the AR1 are increasingly using 3-D printing technology because it reduces the amount of time and money required for the engines. (1/5)

NASA's Kepler Comes Roaring Back with 100 New Exoplanet Finds (Source: Space.com)
NASA's Kepler spacecraft has bounced back nicely from the malfunction that ended its original exoplanet hunt more than two years ago. Kepler has now discovered more than 100 confirmed alien planets during its second-chance K2 mission, researchers announced today.

The spacecraft finds planets by the "transit method," noting the tiny brightness dips caused when a planet crosses its host star's face from Kepler's perspective. This technique requires extremely precise pointing, an ability Kepler lost in May 2013 when the second of the observatory's four orientation-maintaining reaction wheels failed. (1/5)

JWST Follow-On, WFIRST, Enters Development Queue (Source: Space News)
NASA's next flagship space telescope after JWST will become a formal project next month. NASA officials said this week that the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will enter its formulation phase in February. Congress appropriated $90 million for WFIRST in 2016, more than six times what NASA requested, to help accelerate the mission. That extra money, though, will require NASA to make $36 million in cuts elsewhere in its astrophysics program. WFIRST, estimated to cost about $2 billion and be ready for launch in 2024, will support research in fields ranging from cosmology to extrasolar planets. (1/5)

Congress Curious About State of NASA IT (Source: Federal Computer Week)
Members of Congress are seeking information from NASA about the agency's aging information technology. A letter last month from the chairmen of the House and Senate government oversight committees requested information on legacy IT systems, outdated computer languages and operating systems, and NASA's IT workforce. Members said they were prompted by a GAO report that highlighted as "high risk" the government's overall IT acqusition strategy, but did not cite any specific concerns about NASA. The letter requested a response from NASA by the end of the month. (1/5)

Europe Hopes to Join NASA Mission to Europa (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Europe would like to be part of a NASA mission to Europa. Alvaro Gimenez, ESA’s director of science and robotic exploration, said ESA would be open to providing a probe that would fly to Europa as part of NASA's planned Europa Clipper mission. ESA estimates that probe would cost up to $550 million, although ESA has not determined a specific technical design or scientific mission for it. It's unclear if Europa Clipper could accommodate both the ESA probe and a lander that Congress has directed NASA develop along with the orbiter. (1/5)

Virgin Galactic May Have Name for New Space Ship (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Trademark filings may provide a clue to the name for Virgin Galactic's new SpaceShipTwo. The company filed trademark applications for the names "Unity" and "VSS Unity" in November. The first SpaceShipTwo, lost in a test flight accident in October 2014, was named VSS Enterprise. Virgin Galactic plans to unveil the new SpaceShipTwo, and announce its name, next month. (1/5)

Ancient Meteorite 'Older than Earth' from Beyond Orbit of Mars Found in Australia (Source: ABC)
A meteorite estimated to be 4.5 billion years old has been recovered by Perth researchers from a remote part of Lake Eyre in outback South Australia. In a race against time, the geologists dug the 1.7 kilogram meteorite out just hours before heavy rains would have wiped away any trace of it. The team from Curtin University had been trying to track the fall site since the meteorite was spotted by locals and five remote cameras in late November in the William Creek and Marree areas. (1/5)

Bruno on Launch Pad Reductions (Sources: SPACErePORT, The Space Show)
Tory Bruno partially answered one of my questions during his interview Tuesday on The Space Show... Q: SpaceX believes it will need three East Coast (including Texas) launch complexes to meet its demand for launches. With ULA's move to operate only one launch complex on each coast, what must be done at Launch Complex 41 to meet your projected demand? What is that level of demand?

Mr. Bruno's answer, paraphrased: ULA plans to reduce its launch vehicle integration time by another 50% (having already achieved this this scale of reduction in recent years). The modified LC-41 must be more flexible and able to accommodate all vehicle variants and mission requirements. ULA has a good record of "total mastery over its manifest," which means having the agility needed to maintain an on-time launch record despite changes in customer requirements and other issues. (1/5)

Bruno Expands on Vulcan Reusability Approach (Source: The Space Show)
ULA's Tory Bruno, when asked about the company's approach to Vulcan reusability, gave some rationale for their approach to recovering and reusing the rocket's first stage engines. Basically, he said ULA's approach is superior because it requires less weight for Vulcan reuse modifications; has a lower payload performance impact for those modifications; imparts less stress on engines because of the passive air-capture engine recovery approach (resulting in greater re-use potential); and a lower cost for overall reuse operations. (1/5)

We Finally Think We Know What Caused Pluto’s Weird, Bumpy Plains (Source: Gizmodo)
Ever since New Horizons zipped past Pluto in July, we’ve marveled over the dwarf planet’s complex terrain. Among the biggest puzzles Pluto presents us with is a vast, crater-free ice field informally known as Sputnik Planum. The leading hypothesis for how this surface came to be? An epically violent collision.

That’s according to New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, who gave an overview of the Pluto science to date at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society this morning. That talk included the New Horizon science team’s latest theories on the dwarf planet’s remarkably smooth, patterned ice plains. “We believe [Sputnik Planum] is a large impact basin” Stern said, later elaborating that the depressed terrain was probably punched out by an impactor on the order of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) across.

That’s freakkin’ huge. We’re talking an asteroid on the same order of magnitude as Manhattan. And it may have struck Pluto hundreds of millions to billions of years ago, long before Sputnik Planum migrated to its present position near the equator. (1/5)

Florida Spaceport Tallies Highest Launch Rate in More Than a Decade (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Cape Canaveral was the departure point for more space launches in 2015 than in any year since 2003, with 17 takeoffs by Atlas, Falcon and Delta rockets hoisting U.S. military satellites, commercial payloads and cargo for the International Space Station. ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket flew nine times last year, including eight launches from Florida, matching its launch record from 2014. ULA’s Delta 4 launcher logged two missions in 2015, both from Cape Canaveral.

The Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX launched seven times, its highest mark since the Falcon 9 debuted in 2010, counting a failed flight in June that fell short of orbit with a Dragon supply ship heading for the space station. SpaceX also recovered one of the Falcon 9 boosters at a landing pad at Cape Canaveral in a historic achievement that could lead to mastering reusable launch vehicles. All seven Falcon 9 launches last year originated from Florida.

The 17 launches from Florida’s Space Coast last year matched the number of rocket takeoffs there in 2003, and tied the mark for most rocket flights from Cape Canaveral since 2000, when there were 19 liftoffs. The U.S. total last year ended up at 20 orbital launch attempts, with 18 successes. (1/4)

France, Germany Admit to Second Thoughts about Sticking with ISS (Source: Space News)
Europe’s two biggest backers of the International Space Station are suggesting it’s possible Europe may end its space station role in 2020 despite the fact that its major partners – the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada – have all said they will continue using the orbital complex until at least 2024.

In separate statements Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, the heads of the French and German space agencies said a detailed study is under way to assess the future operating cost of the station, and whether the cost can be justified given the pressure on near-term budgets. (1/5)

Russia to Continue Launching Early Warning Defense Satellites (Source: Space Daily)
Russia's early warning system for detecting missile launches will continue expanding in 2016 with at least one new satellite. The Russian military is believed to have launched the first early warning satellite for its new United Space System sometime in late 2015. Information about launches from the Plesetsk Comodrome is classified, although the military confirmed that the launch would be its second for the early warning system.

"In 2015, specialists from the Aerospace Force's Space Forces launched 21 spacecraft, used for a variety of purposes, from the Plesetsk and Baikonur cosmodromes," the ministry stated. The ground-based early warning system increased its satellite registry by 5,000 satellites in 2015, with 15,000 Russian and foreign satellites now tracked by the system. (1/4)

A Major Correction: Jupiter is Not the Best Planet (Source: The Atlantic)
Last October, The Atlantic published, “Jupiter Is the Best Planet,” an article by Adrienne LaFrance. As editor of that article, I must take responsibility for the way it misled readers. In cases like this, we usually append a correction to the original article, but here the error is so grave that a freestanding editorial mea culpa is required. Jupiter is not, as LaFrance asserts, the best planet. That honor rightly belongs to Saturn. Click here. (1/5)

Global Aerospace, Defense Sector to Grow 3 Percent (Source: Reuters)
Revenues in the global aerospace and defense sector are expected to grow by 3 percent in 2016 after a 0.5 percent decline in 2015, according to a forecast by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. The rebound will likely be driven by strong passenger traffic, continued demand for commercial aircraft from growing economies like India and China, and an expected recovery in global military spending fueled by tensions in the Middle East, the firm said in its annual outlook for the sector. (1/4)

NASA Defends Decision to Restart RS-25 Production, Rejects Alternatives (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA has issued a lengthy explanation behind the decision to contract Aerojet Rocketdyne to restart production of the RS-25 engine, mainly centering on the claim it is less expensive – and safer – than developing a new engine. Six new RS-25s will compliment the existing stock of 16 engines, allowing the Space Launch System (SLS) to have enough engines through to her fifth flight. Click here. (1/5)

For Russia’s Space Program, 2016 May Be a Make-or-Break Year (Source: Ars Technica)
An old theater rises above the center of Baikonur, a dusty town in Kazakhstan near the cosmodrome from which Russians have launched humans into space since 1961. Long ago, Soviet soldiers mingled in its lobby and sat in its uncomfortable wooden chairs to watch propaganda films. In those early days, the Soviets often bested the United States with space milestones.

Today, after launches of Russian, American, and other astronauts to the International Space Station, the fliers’ families gather along with NASA officials in the theater to watch the Soyuz spacecraft dock to the orbiting laboratory. Afterward, they will offer celebratory toasts in the lobby against a backdrop of large, beautiful murals depicting Russia’s three great space pioneers. There’s the rocket visionary Konstantin Tsiolkovsky on the left, Yuri Gagarin in the middle, and aerospace engineer Sergei Korolev on the right. Click here. (1/5)

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