February 19, 2016

Russia Plans Return to Mars, Moon Despite Money Woes (Source: Space Daily)
Visitors are rare these days to the museum of Russia's Space Research Institute in Moscow even though it holds gems like the model of the Soviet Lunokhod, the first ever space rover to land on the Moon, in 1970. While the Cold War space race fired such cutting-edge projects, Russia's planetary exploration has stalled for the past three decades -- until now.

Under an ambitious plan with the European Space Agency (ESA), scientists have new hope of again sending missions to the Moon and to Mars. "The last decade was truly difficult for us," the institute's director Lev Zeleny told AFP. Among the biggest blunders was the tragic Phobos-Grunt probe, which in 2011 failed to reach its planned course to one of the moons of Mars and crashed back to Earth over the Pacific Ocean.

"But now the program is entering a new stage for this decade." Next month, a Russian Proton rocket is scheduled to launch the first of two missions under ExoMars, a joint venture with the ESA, to snoop out possible life, past or present, to the red planet. Zeleny's hopes are high that this will return Moscow to its glory days of space exploration -- if the project actually gets off the ground. (2/19)

NASA to Simulate Growing Potatoes on Mars in Peru (Source: Space Daily)
Do Peru's potatoes have the right stuff? That's the question scientists will be asking in Lima next month, when a selection of tubers will begin undergoing tests to determine whether they're fit to grow on Mars. NASA is conducting the pioneering experiment together with Lima's International Potato Center (CIP).

They will cultivate a hundred selected varieties already subjected to rigorous evaluation in extreme, Mars-like conditions that could eventually pave the way to building a dome on the Red Planet for farming the vegetable. Of the selected candidates, 40 are native to the Andes Mountains, conditioned to grow in different ecological zones, withstand sudden climate changes and reproduce in rocky, arid terrain. The other 60 are genetically modified varieties able to survive with little water and salt. They are also immune to viruses. (2/19)

Air Force Welcomes Commercial Interest in Space Situational Awareness (Source: Space Daily)
Greater commercial cooperation and data sharing services would help ease the burden on the Air Force for monitoring and reporting on the location of thousands of objects in space that can cause collisions and interference, Intelsat General Corporation President Kay Sears told a government forum recently.

"The commercial industry has to organize itself and expand what it can do on its own," Sears said during a panel discussion at the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation conference in Washington on Feb. 2. "I also think we have to develop a set of best practices for space traffic management (STM) for all operators to adhere to." (2/19)

India Pursues Heavier Launch Vehicles (Source: Aviation Week)
The Indian space industry is aiming to correct a chronic criticism—that it lacks the heavy-launch vehicles necessary to compete on the international commercial space launch market. With the development of heavier rockets, India will be able to loft bigger satellites, boosting its potential to access the multimillion-dollar commercial launch market. India is working to build its heaviest rocket, one that can carry satellites weighing up to 10 tons into space. (2/17)

Russian Space Robot Offers Look at Rise of 'Terminator' Style Military Droids (Source: Mashable)
You're right, that robot in the photo does look like a Terminator robot. And that's probably not an accident. Russian officials have been working for years to get a new breed of military robots up and running. But in a statement last week, Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister of Russia, indicated that the country wants to move that robotics race into the arena of space.

The avatar robot, called Fyodor, can be seen at work in its first public test in a video that surfaced online in January. "We've launched work to create an avatar that will become a crew member of the Russian national orbital station," Rogozin said in a statement (translated in a report from RT) on the website of the Russian Foundation for Advanced Studies. (2/18)

India to Get a LIGO Detector that Could be Online Before 2025 (Source: Ars Technica)
The recent detection of gravitational waves did more than just confirm Einstein's theory of relativity; it provided our first direct observational evidence of the existence of black holes. That finding highlights LIGO's new job as an astronomical observatory, able to track some of the most energetic events in the Universe—and possibly discover entirely new classes of events.

But with only two detectors, it's hard to pinpoint where an event is happening. That also makes it hard to direct other instruments to the site, meaning we can't observe the event in visible light or other wavelengths. Which would be rather disappointing if the event's gravitational signal suggests it's something new. Things will get somewhat better when the European VIRGO instrument and Japan's KAGRA detector are integrated with LIGO.

Editor's Note: Can Florida host a LIGO-like detector as part of a global network? The current design for these instruments features two long straight arms -- each about four kilometers in length -- for laser instrumentation. The Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) is four kilometers long and is surrounded by protected, undeveloped land that could accommodate a second arm. The SLF has hosted various laser research projects to take advantage of its length and flatness. (2/18)

JWST: The Biggest, Boldest, Riskiest Space Telescope (Source: Science)
For months, inside the towering Building 29 here at Goddard Space Flight Center, the four scientific instruments at the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope have been sealed in what looks like a house-sized pressure cooker. A rhythmic chirp-chirp-chirp sounds as vacuum pumps keep the interior at a spacelike ten-billionth of an atmosphere while helium cools it to –250°C. Inside, the instruments, bolted to the framework that will hold them in space, are bathed in infrared light—focused and diffuse, in laserlike needles and uniform beams—to test their response.

Plenty could go wrong between now and the moment in late 2018 when the telescope begins sending back data from its vantage point 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. It faces the stresses of launch, the intricate unfurling of its mirror and sunshield after it emerges from its chrysalis-like launch fairing, and the possibility of failure in its many cutting-edge technologies.

Unlike Hubble, saved by a space shuttle mission that repaired its faulty optics, it is too far from Earth to fix. And not just the future of space-based astronomy, but also NASA’s ability to build complex science missions, depends on its success. That’s why those instruments sat in Goddard’s pressure cooker for what is known as cryo-vacuum test 3 (CV3). And it is why Webb’s other components—including the mirror and telescope structure, the “bus” that will supply power and control the telescope, and the tennis court–sized, multilayer parasol that will help keep it cool—must undergo a gauntlet of testing. (2/18)

China's Racing to Space. Is It a Military Ploy? (Source: NBC)
China plans to launch more than 20 space missions in 2016, making the year ahead the busiest ever for the nation's rapidly growing space program. After successfully launching 19 missions in 2015, the People's Republic plans a range of civilian and military missions that will test new rockets, launch a space laboratory, hone China's manned spaceflight capability and loft new satellites into orbit — all while furthering plans to bring a habitable space station online by 2022 and put Chinese astronauts on the moon in the mid-2020s.

At the same time, the Asian colossus is investing in anti-satellite technologies that would destroy or disable space-based assets in the event of conflict. Considering the fact that the U.S. relies upon satellites for a lot of its intelligence collection and communication, it's a worrisome trend. (2/19)

Four Big Cosmology Secrets Gravitational Waves Could Uncover (Source: New Scientist)
Gravitational waves will allow us to explore fundamental physics and possibly even peer back to the universe’s earliest moments. Here are four mysteries of cosmology that may finally be solved in the era of gravitational wave astronomy. Click here. (2/18)

Sean O'Keefe Appointed to Advise Next President (Source: Daily Orange)
Former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe’s next challenge will be having a spot on the National Academy of Public Administration’s (NAPA) Presidential Transition panels. As one of six panel members, O’Keefe will help advise the next U.S. president on issues involving public governance and public management. (2/17)

Progress Continues on Midland’s Newest Industry (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
As XCOR moves forward with its development of the Lynx Mark I spacecraft — which will take customers on a 30- to 40-minute ride from Midland International Air & Space Port into suborbital, black space and back again — more positions will open up in areas such as marketing and procurement.

Krysti Papadopoulos, payload engineer with XCOR Aerospace, followed the lead of senior XCOR officials in declining to give a timeline of when the Lynx will take off from Midland International or when residents could view test flights of the spacecraft. For now, she said the Lynx engine and spaceship itself remain under construction and testing in California’s Mojave Desert. Even so, much of XCOR’s engineering and research and development teams are in Midland near Midland International. (2/19)

Disney's 'Miles From Tomorrowland' Fuses Space Science and Fun (Source: Space.com)
In an episode from "Miles From Tomorrowland" — a new Disney kid's TV show about a galactic-traveling family, whose first season finale will air in March — one of the characters sees Pluto out the spaceship's window and calls it a planet.

"No, it's a dwarf planet," another character says, echoing the still hotly debated consensus from an International Astronomical Union decision in 2006. To be a planet, the character continues, Pluto must be big enough to pick up other objects in its orbit, for example. (2/18)

3 Things to Watch for From SpaceX This Spring (Source: DCInno)
At SpaceX, the stakes remain high for Elon Musk and his team as they pursue out the short-term successes necessary for the rocketry company's long-term goals. It'll be a busy spring for Musk & co. at SpaceX as they plot the next rocket launch, NASA missions and more in coming months. Here's what you need to know about what's just ahead for SpaceX: faster launch pacing, human spaceflight, new competition. Click here. (2/17)

North Korea Seeks Legitimacy for Space Program (Source: Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he wants to build international trust in his nation's space program. Kim said that space exploration was a "strategic goal" of North Korea, and suggested more launches were planned in the future. North Korea's launches are widely seen outside the country as tests of long-range missiles.

Kim spoke at an awards event honoring those who worked on the launch of a satellite earlier this month. That launch triggered a warning earlier this week from the International Telecommunication Union, which said North Korea had not provided frequency and other information about it to regulators. (2/18)

Roscosmos Pushes for Airline Service to Baikonur (Source: Sputnik)
It may soon be easier for people to get to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Roscosmos is seeking proposals for regular airline service to Krayniy Airport in Baikonur, which recently completed a modernization project. Currently only charter flights service that airport. Five airlines have reportedly shown an interest in offering those flights. (2/18)

NASA Invites India to US for Possible Collaboration on Mars Mission (Source: Gadgets)
As American space agency NASA looks forward to sending astronauts to Mars, it has invited the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for a possible international collaboration. Several space agencies of different countries are also expected to attend the meeting in Washington next month. (2/18)

Aerojet Sees Revenue Rise, Trims Losses in Fiscal Year (Source: Sacramento Business Journal)
Rocket-engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. reported increases in sales in its fourth quarter and fiscal year. Based in Rancho Cordova, the region's largest public company (NYSE: AJRD) recorded net sales of $486.5 million in its fourth quarter, up 9.7 percent from the same period the previous year. (2/17)

Google This: Israeli Scientists Eye $20M Moon Race Prize (Source: Fox News)
Israeli scientists are confident that their SpaceIL spacecraft will clinch the $20 million Google Lunar XPRIZE to land an unmanned probe on the moon by the end of next year. SpaceIL is one of the leading contenders among the 16 teams vying for the Lunar XPRIZE. The competition offers a $20 million prize to the first privately-funded team to land a rover on the moon by the end of 2017. (2/18)

Intelsat Protests DOD Solicitation (Source: Space News)
Intelsat is filing a protest of a new request for bids to provide satellite communications for the Defense Department. Intelsat filed the protest earlier this month, arguing that the Defense Information Systems Agency did not correct flaws in an earlier competition won by Inmarsat. Intelsat protested that award last year to the Government Accountability Office, which the GAO sustained, forcing the new competition.

The GAO said that, in the earlier competition, DISA gave conflicting information to Intelsat and Inmarsat in that earlier competition, requiring Intelsat to provide capacity that Inmarsat was told was not needed. (2/18)

ISS Cargo Mold Is Cleaned (and Wasn't Caused by Florida Humidity) (Source: Florida Today)
Technicians have cleaned mold-contaminated cargo bags destined for the International Space Station. Crews disinfected all the cargo bags carrying equipment to be flown to the station next month after black mold was found on two of them. The source of the contamination isn't clear, but apparently is not the fault of Florida's humid climate: the mold was found in tests performed in Houston, before the bags were shipped to Florida, although the results of the tests weren't available until after the cargo was loaded in the Cygnus spacecraft. That decontamination work has delayed the launch of the Cygnus from March 10 to March 22. (2/17)

Georgia Spaceport Liability Legislation Modified to Soften Noise Provision (Source: Tribune & Georgian)
Georgia legislators are making some modifications to a commercial space bill under consideration. The changes would remove a section that prohibits local officials from enforcing noise regulations against spaceport operators, and gives local residents and businesses a two-year period to file a "nuisance claim" after the first launch from a state spaceport. Other sections of the bill, including liability protections modeled on laws in other states, would remain in place. A hearing about the bill by the Georgia House's judiciary committee is tentatively scheduled for next week. (2/17)

NASA Prepares Suborbital Launch From Virginia Spaceport (Source: SpaceRef)
The Multiple User Suborbital Instrument Carrier (MUSIC) is set for launch Feb. 22 on a NASA Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility. The launch is scheduled between 9:30 a.m. and noon EST. The backup launch days are Feb. 23 26. (2/17)

Astronomers Find Reason for Missing Asteroids (Source: LA Times)
Astronomers have solved the case of the missing asteroids. In a paper published in the journal Nature, researchers said they believe why there is only about one-tenth as many asteroids orbiting close to the sun as models predict. They argued that thermal forces cause asteroids to break apart, either because of thermal stresses as they heat up or because they spin up due to solar radiation. (2/17)

Space Tourism on the Horizon with Plans for Spaceport in Tucson (Source: KPHO)
Space travel has been captivating people for decades, but instead of just nations shooting for the stars, private companies are now getting into a new space race. Right here in Arizona, a company called World View is getting close to creating a new way for the average person to get a new view of the world. The company is developing a capsule that is taken up to the stratosphere via balloon. You can spend more than an hour taking in the amazing views.

Worldview is still in the development phase of the capsule, but it will essentially be a relaxing lounge, where you can kick back, enjoy a drink and take in the views. Six people will be able to sit in the capsule and gently climb up to 100,000 feet and see the world in a way that was once only seen by astronauts. The capsule will be roughly the size of a private jet, and like a jet, will be equipped with a bathroom and a bar. Imagine. You get a to sit back, take in the most amazing views imaginable while sipping a cocktail! (2/10)

NASA Plant Researchers Explore Question of Deep-Space Food Crops (Source: NASA)
NASA plant physiologist Ray Wheeler, Ph.D., and fictional astronaut Mark Watney from the movie "The Martian" have something in common — they are both botanists. But that's where the similarities end. While Watney is a movie character who gets stranded on Mars, Wheeler is the lead for Advanced Life Support Research activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Program at Kennedy Space Center, working on real plant research. (2/17)

Staying Alive on Tiangong 2 (Source: Space Daily)
China's next astronauts will launch this year aboard the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft. Their target will be the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, which will probably launch at least a few weeks before them. The crew will almost certainly consist of three astronauts, with a previously flown astronaut as the commander. Exactly who these three crewmembers will be is still unclear, but the older, twice-flown astronauts can probably be ruled out.

Another important issue is also unresolved. How long will the astronauts inhabit the Tiangong 2 space laboratory?

The crew of Shenzhou 11 will be the only astronauts to visit Tiangong 2, an unusual departure from the mission of the Tiangong 1 module. Two crews were sent to Tiangong 1. Plans for just one crew expedition to the next Tiangong seem strange at face value, but there could be good reasons for it. The Tiangong program is all about staging test missions to prepare for the Chinese Space Station. (2/18)

NASA Helps Power Grids Weather Geomagnetic Storms (Source: Space Daily)
On March 9, 1989, a huge cloud of solar material exploded from the sun, twisting toward Earth. When this cloud of magnetized solar material - called a coronal mass ejection, or CME - reached our planet, it set off a chain of events in near-Earth space that ultimately knocked out power to the Canadian province Quebec for about nine hours.

Though CMEs hit Earth often, those with the potential to shut down an entire power grid are rare - and scientists want to make sure that next time, we're prepared. Because space weather can have - at its very worst - such significant consequences, scientists from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, are creating models to simulate how space weather can impact our power grid.

Scientists developing this next-generation project - called Solar Shield - have recently incorporated six test sites around the country, where they compare computer simulations of forecasted space weather impacts with the actual observations on the ground. (2/18)

How a NASA Team Turned a Smartphone into a Satellite Business (Source: Space Daily)
Satellites aren't small or cheap. The Solar Dynamics Observatory launched by NASA in 2010 weighs about 6,800 pounds and cost $850 million to build and put into orbit. Even the satellites built under NASA's Discovery Program, aimed at encouraging development of low-cost spacecraft, still have price tags beyond the reach of smaller companies or research organizations: one such satellite, the sun-particle collecting Genesis, ran up $164 million in expenses despite its modest design and mission.

But that's beginning to change as increasingly powerful technology comes in increasingly smaller packages. For example, in 2010 NASA and the Department of Defense launched the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, aptly called FASTSAT. Weighing in at just 400 pounds, FASTSAT cost just $10 million and carried out six experiments in orbit, proving that low-cost, quick-to-assemble spacecraft were possible. (2/18)

US, Spain to Jointly Monitor Outer Space Traffic (Source: Space Daily)
The United States and Spain have signed a memorandum agreeing to monitor space by sharing situational data, the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) said. "Our space systems underpin a wide range of services, providing vital national, military, civil, scientific and economic benefits to the global community," STRATCOM Commander and US Navy Admiral Cecil Haney stated in the press release.

According to the release, the agreement seeks to enhance each nation's awareness within the space domain and increase the safety of their spaceflight operations. "Space situational awareness, which requires cooperation in order to be effective, is one of many approaches used to ensure we continue benefitting from this critical domain," Haney added. (2/18)

Hubble Just Snapped Photos of the Biggest Black Hole Ever Observed (Source: Digital Trends)
A new photograph of galaxy NGC 4889 may look peaceful from such a great distance, but it’s actually home to one of the biggest black holes that astronomers have ever identified. The Hubble Space Telescope allowed scientists to capture photos of the galaxy, located in the Coma Cluster about 300 million light-years away. The supermassive black hole hidden away in NGC 4889 breaks all kinds of records, even though it is currently classified as dormant. (2/17)

KSC Director Cabana to Discuss “New Era” at Space Club Meeting (Source: NSCFL)
Kennedy Space Center Director Robert D. Cabana will be the featured speaker at the National Space Club Florida Committee’s (NSCFL) monthly luncheon on March 8. The luncheon event begins at 11:30 am and will be held at the Radisson at the Port, Cape Canaveral. (2/18)

Lipstick on a Pig (Source: Space KSC)
Alabama Senator Arthur Orr wrote: "Senator Richard Shelby recently put a stop to a [RD-180 ban] provision pushed by a powerful western Senator at the behest of one of President Obama's top donors, Elon Musk." A search of Elon Musk campaign contributions from 2007 through 2015 shows these donations to candidate Obama: $2,300 in 2007 and $2,500 in 2011.

OpenSecrets.org reports that Shelby received $172,544 from in the 2011-2016 period from ULA's parent companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ULA is based in Decatur, Alabama, within Mr. Orr's district. Boeing gave $98,044 and Lockheed Martin $74,500.

For the record, OpenSecrets.org shows no contributions by Mr. Musk to Senator McCain, either as an individual or by the SpaceX corporation. Senator Shelby has received no donations from Mr. Musk either, which may be the true motivation for Mr. Orr's baseless smear. (2/18)

NASA Selects Aerojet Rocketdyne to Develop Hall Thruster (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Aerojet Rocketdyne has won a NASA contract to develop the Hall Thruster propulsion system that could be used to power human exploration of deep space. "Under the contract, the Aerojet Rocketdyne team will complete the development of a 100-kilowatt Hall Thruster System, including a thruster that is capable of operating at up to 250 kilowatts, using Aerojet Rocketdyne’s patented multi-channel Nested Hall Thruster technology," said Aerojet Rocketdyne's Glenn Mahone. (2/17)

Scientists Wwarn of Coming Global Disaster Because of Water Inequality (Source: Fusion)
Earth’s dry regions are getting drier, and its wet regions are getting wetter. That might not seem like such a big deal, but according to Jay Famiglietti, a water scientist at NASA’s JPL, it is. As he said to USA Today, “We are revealing a global disaster in the making, yet we are seeing very little coordinated response.”

Famiglietti is the co-author of a study by researchers from NASA and UC Irvine published last week in the journal Science, researchers analyzed data collected by NASA’s GRACE Satellites from 2012 to 2014. The scientists set out to see how melting glaciers and ice sheets have impacted sea level rise. (2/17)

Amid Mixed Budget Signals, NASA Presses Ahead with Exploration Upper Stage (Source: Space News)
Despite conflicting budget language, NASA is pressing ahead with plans to use a more powerful upper stage on the second flight of the Space Launch System. Agency managers have reportedly placed a “stop work” order on efforts to human-rate the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), a stage derived from the Delta 4 that will be used on the first, uncrewed launch of SLS in 2018.

Congress, in the final 2016 omnibus spending bill, directed NASA to accelerate work on the larger Exploration Upper Stage and not spend any money to human-rate the ICPS for the second SLS mission, which will carry a crew. ASA’s 2017 budget request, however, assumes a level of funding  insufficient for actually using the Exploration Upper Stage on that second SLS launch. (2/16)

No comments: