February 22, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past (Source: Space Review)
A recent essay argued that society, particularly in the United States, wasn’t doing enough to preserve space history artifacts. Dwayne Day explains why, in fact, the US does a good job deciding what to preserve, and then keeping it safe for future generations. Click here. (2/22)
Making it Happen (Source: Space Review)
Recent milestones by Blue Origin and SpaceX have raised the prospects for reusable launch vehicles and low-cost space access. Bob Clarebrough looks to aviation history for guidance on how those companies might change the space industry. Click here. (2/22)
Giving the Tiger Teeth: Improving the Space Operations Center (Source: Space Review)
The Joint Space Operations Center is largely a space monitoring center, keeping track of satellites and debris in orbit but doing little in the way of command and control. Joseph Page argues for a revision of the role of that center to ensure space superiority in the event of a crisis. Click here. (2/22)

NASA Wants to Blast Your Art Work Into Space (Source: ABC)
Think your art work is "out-of-this world"? NASA's latest move to help drum up interest in space exploration will allow anyone to submit their artwork to be included on an unmanned mission to the asteroid Bennu. Instead of printing physical copies of the masterpieces they receive, NASA will load them all on a chip that will ride on the OSIRIR-REx spacecraft. (2/22)

Sea Level Mapped From Space with GPS Reflections (Source: NOC)
The GPS signal used for ‘sat-navs’ could help improve understanding of ocean currents, according to new research. As part of this research, sea surface height has been measured from space using GPS signals reflected off the sea surface for the first time. Information from these GPS signal reflections can be potentially used by scientists to monitor ocean currents by measuring the slopes currents cause in the ocean’s surface. (2/22)

U.S. Resupply Ship Headed for Space Station to Launch March 22 (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Signs that a launch to the International Space Station is approaching are obvious this week at Cape Canaveral, with the Atlas 5 booster rocket beginning to take shape and the commercial resupply ship heading to its propellant depot. Assembly of the Atlas started this morning at the Vertical Integration Facility at Complex 41 as United Launch Alliance workers erected the first stage aboard the mobile launch platform.

Cygnus, with over 7,000 pounds of payload for the station astronauts, is slated to launch on March 22 at 11:02 p.m. EDT (0302 GMT the 23rd) atop the Atlas 5 rocket on a three-day trek to the orbiting outpost. Launch was delayed from March 10 so NASA could remove the cargo bags already placed in Cygnus to perform precautionary mold decontamination. (2/22)

White House Science Office Seeks Sci-Fi Inspiration (Source: Space.com)
The White House Science Office is taking a page out of science fiction to help shape the future of U.S. space exploration. At the California NanoSystems Institute/UCLA in Los Angeles, California this month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) co-sponsored a look at humanity's future in space under a program called: "Homesteading in Space – Inspiring the Nation through Science Fiction."

Roughly 70 space scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, along with storytellers, artists, directors, and producers met to show their interest in science fiction and space exploration with a view toward future "homesteading" in space. Other co-sponsors were the National Academy of Sciences, Science & Entertainment Exchange, and the Museum of Science Fiction. (2/22)

U.S. Military Space Programs Evolve (Source: Aviation Week)
In the Air Force’s 2016 budget request, officials sought to focus on how to use space in the face of military threats and on developing the ability to deter and defeat potential attacks. That emphasis translated into funding for programs such as Space Fence and the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System. Since threats have continued to evolve, the Air Force is working with the intelligence community to make space systems more resilient in its fiscal 2017 request, says Winston Beauchamp, the deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for Space. Click here. (2/22)

Should Alpha Centauri be the First Target for Interstellar Probes? (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
With the completion of New Horizons’ primary mission of a flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto, should we now set our sights even much higher, ambitiously taking aim at other star systems? If so, Alpha Centauri would probably be considered as the best target for an interstellar spacecraft due to its ‘proximity’ to Earth.

This system, consisting of three stars and possible planetary companions, is the nearest to the Solar System, located ‘only’ about 4.3 light years from us. In 2012, the discovery of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B was announced, but three years later a new report debunked this theory. Then in 2015, another study proposed the existence of another alien world accompanying the “B” star.

What is interesting, the two hypothetical exoplanets would be Earth-like if they really exist. This could be another motivator to send our spacecraft there. However, before any mission concepts are prepared, a deeper look into the system could be very helpful. At present, there isn’t a telescope that could directly image a planet in this system. (2/22)

NASA Working on a Laser Propulsion System That Could Get Us to Mars in 3 Days (Source: Science Alert)
Despite how far we've come in space exploration, one thing still holding us back from interstellar travel is our slow spacecraft. While we're able to propel particles to close to the speed of light in the lab, we're struggling to even accelerate spacecraft to beyond 3 percent of that. With our current technology, it's estimated it'll take humans around five months to reach Mars.

But NASA scientist Philip Lubin is working on a system where lasers propel spacecraft with giant sails to the Red Planet in as little as three days. Much like Bill Nye's much-hyped solar sail, this 'photonic propulsion' sysem relies on the momentum of photons - particles of light - to move forward. But instead of photons from the Sun's rays, Lubin's design would be given a push by giant Earth-based lasers. (2/22)

Europe Considers Antitrust Implications of Airbus/Arianespace Deal (Source: Space News)
The European Union plans to take a closer look at the antitrust implications of Airbus Safran's purchase of a stake in Arianespace. The European Commission's Competition Directorate-General appears concerned that Airbus' satellite unit could get preferential treatment by Arianespace without specific preventative measures in place. Airbus Safran Launchers agreed to purchase the French government's 35 percent stake in Arianespace for 150 million euros, which would give it majority control of the launch services company. (2/22)

Saudi Groups Take Role in DigitalGlobe (Source: Space News)
DigitalGlobe is entering a joint venture with two Saudi Arabian organizations for a constellation of small Earth imaging satellites. The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) will build six or more smallsats capable of taking images with a resolution of 80 centimeters for launch in late 2018 or early 2019.

KACST will own half of the imagery capacity for Saudi Arabia and the surrounding region, while DigitalGlobe will have the other half, as well as all of the remaining worldwide capacity. Another Saudi firm, TAQNIA, will be responsible for marketing KACST's share of the images. DigitalGlobe says the satellites will complement its existing and planned satellites that offer sharper images. (2/22)

China Working Toward 2020 Opportunity for Mars Mission (Source: GB Times)
China is working to launch both a Mars orbiter and rover in 2020. The head of China's National Space Science Centre, Wu Ji, said it was working "urgently" on the ambitious mission, which would be China's first standalone mission to Mars. He provided few technical details about that planned mission, beyond that it will likely require a launch on China's new Long March 5 rocket. (2/22)

Dump Russian Rockets When We Are Ready (Source: Wall Street Journal)
We all agree that the U.S. must cease dependence on Russia. However, if we do so hastily, the result could leave our military in a dangerous predicament. (2/21)

SpaceShipTwo: The Unshape of Things to Come (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Virgin Galactic has switched back to the rubber/nitrous oxide hybrid engine it had abandoned in May 2014 in favor of a supposedly superior nylon/nitrous oxide hybrid. It looks as if they have improved the performance of the rubber motor so that it could actually go all the way to space (100 km/62 miles) with a full complement of six passengers. That will not be known, however, until after test flights begin.

The engine improvements include reducing the oscillations and vibrations that kept the first three powered flights to no more than 20 seconds of burn time. Virgin officials have not said how they achieved this improvement. However, sources have said that Sierra Nevada Corp. — which developed the rubber hybrid before the company was dumped after the switch to nylon — had achieved this breakthrough in December 2013 by adding helium. It is apparently an effective, if expensive, solution.

Virgin has added a pin to prevent the recurrence of the premature deployment of SpaceShipTwo’s during powered flight that destroyed the first vehicle.  The company also has added larger horizontal stabilizers to the vehicle’s twin tail booms and made a series of other unspecified changes to the spacecraft. SpaceShipTwo will be on the ground for some months as it undergoes a series of tests. Those will be followed by captive carry, glide and powered flights as was done for the original vehicle. Officials gave no timetable for the flights. (2/21)

Science Team Recommends Precursor Asteroid Mission (Source: Space News)
A report by a science team suggests NASA fly a precursor mission ahead of its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) to scout the target asteroid. The report issued last week by the Formulation Assessment and Support Team found no scientific showstoppers for ARM, noting that it was likely that the proposed target asteroid, 2008 EV5, has hundreds or thousands of boulders on its surface in the range of sizes required by the mission.

However, the report added that a precursor mission, launched before ARM or at the same time as the main robotic mission but sent ahead, could help with characterizing the asteroid and should be investigated further. NASA currently has no plans to fly such a precursor. (2/22)

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