March 22, 2016

Close Call for ExoMars Spacecraft as Russian Upper Stage Malfunctions (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Last week, European and Russian partners celebrated a launch as the long-awaited ExoMars spacecraft headed off to the Red Planet to search for potential signs of life. The 4.3-ton dual spacecraft blasted off on March 14 from Baikonur in Kazakhstan on a Russian Proton rocket. After the launch reached the initial parking orbit around the Earth, the Proton's fourth stage (known as Briz-M) acted as a space tug, boosting the probe on a path to Mars with four engine firings.

What happened next was a close call that could have ended the mission catastrophically. And ExoMars still isn't out of the woods. Astronomers tracking the flight soon spotted a cloud of debris accompanying ExoMars in space. As many as six large pieces of space junk were spotted. Something (an explosion?) happened before the Briz-M had a chance to veer away from the ExoMars path to Mars.

On March 17, ground control completed the early activation of the spacecraft with only most critical systems running. This week, European engineers are scheduled to begin activating various service systems on board the probe. Four sensitive scientific instruments, which are the main reason for the flight, are not expected to be fully online until April. Only then can mission officials breath a sigh of relief and declare the spacecraft ready to explore the Red Planet. (3/22)

First Batch of Fuel Delivered for Russian Space Nuclear Engine (Source: Sputnik)
Russia's Rosatom state-run nuclear energy corporation obtained on Monday the first batch of experimental fuel for nuclear electric rocket under development in the country, the corporation said in a statement. According to Rosatom, the fuel is required for deep space exploration. Rosatom is expected to reveal an experimental prototype of a nuclear reactor for the space engine in 2018. (3/21)

Spaceport Legislation Not a Setback (Source: Brunswick News)
Opponents of the Georgia Spaceflight Act are declaring victory after the proposed legislation was sent to a committee for study, delaying a vote for at least a year. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, doesn’t agree with that assessment. “Opponents have won the battle, but they have not the war,” Spencer said. “My vision for legislative success is long-term and not deterred by any perceived myopic defeats.”

Public officials often introduce legislation to generate policy discussions, he said, describing the current effort as a “test run.” “One of my key objectives this legislative session was to educate members of the General Assembly about the commercial space industry, and I have achieved that by passing this bill out of the House and into the Senate,” he said. “The publicity has been far more positive than negative on this project and this legislation. That in itself is a win.” Spencer said he expected opposition to the bill and it will help next year when the legislation is discussed again. (3/22)

Georgia Spaceport Opponents Offer Facts to Derail Project (Source: Spaceportfacts)
Our own experience is that we were at first excited about the idea of Spaceport Camden. Wow! We could watch rocket launches just like they do at Cape Canaveral! We appreciated the enthusiasm from the political and development communities and from our friends, but we have heard this type of boosterism before and knew that we had to know more hard facts.

When we starting looking deeper into what Spaceport Camden would cost and what impacts it could have on our lives, we realized that we're not hearing the whole story. This website is an efficient and low-cost way of spreading the word about these facts. The best decisions about the Spaceport will be made when many citizens have the facts, have their questions accurately answered, and communicate with the County Commissioners. You play an important part in spreading the word. Click here. (3/21)

Georgia Spaceport Advocates Flood Senate with Support for HB 734 (Source: PR Web)
Spaceport Camden advocates came out to the Georgia Capitol in droves last week to demonstrate their support for the Georgia Spaceflight bill, HB 734. On the recent hearing, Senator Bruce Thompson, Chairman of the Georgia State Senate Science & Technology Committee said, “this is the single most attention given to a bill in my tenure in the Senate. In fact, more than 2,300 emails and letters have been sent in this past week alone.” (3/22)

Can Driving A Tesla Offset The Impact Of A SpaceX Launch? (Source: Clean Technica)
With such a massive amount of energy required to escape the pull of gravity, and fossil fuels being the primary source of fuel, space travel — or more specifically, getting out of earth’s orbit — has a large carbon footprint which sits in stark contrast to the blue-sky solutions of solar power and sustainable transport.

Don Mackenzie is calculating the carbon footprint of a space launch and the carbon emissions saved by driving a Tesla vs an average internal-combustion-engine (ICE) vehicle. "It takes about 10 Teslas to offset the emissions of one Falcon 9 launch. So, if you’re considering a trip to orbit with 4 of your friends… realize that you’ll each be releasing more GHGs than an EV can save you in 25 years’ worth of driving.” (3/21)

China Hopes its Mars Probe Start at 'Higher Level' Than India (Source: Economic Times)
China plans to launch its first Mars probe by 2020 and scientists hope that the comprehensive mission will start at a "higher level" than India - the only nation to have reached there in its first attempt. Ye Peijian, an aerospace expert, said the preparation for the launch in 2020 is underway and the probe is expected to arrive on Mars in 2021. (3/21)

UAE to Launch Mars Mission on Japanese Rocket (Source: JAXA)
The United Arab Emirates has signed a contract to launch its Mars orbiter on a Japanese rocket. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced Tuesday it won the contract to launch the Hope spacecraft on an H-2A rocket in 2020. MHI previously won a contract to launch the KhalifaSat remote sensing satellite for the UAE. The contract coincides with the signing of a cooperative agreement between JAXA and the UAE Space Agency that includes the possibility of flying UAE experiments on the Japanese Kibo lab mobule. (3/21)

Intelsat Credit Downgraded for Loan Default Fears (Source: Space News)
Intelsat's credit rating has been downgraded on the belief that the satellite operator was moving closer to a partial default on its loans. Moody's Investor Service downgraded the company Monday from Caa2-PD to Caa3-PD, after Intelsat announced it would raise the amount of senior secured debt it would issue from $1 billion to $1.25 billion. Moody's said it interprets the move as a step towards a "more comprehensive debt restructuring" that may include "limited defaults" on existing debt. (3/21)

Tiangong-1 Mission Ends, Making Way for More Capable Space Station (Source: Xinhua)
China's Tiangong-1 lab module has ended its mission, in advance of the launch of a new module. Chinese officials said Monday that the module, launched in 2011, has "terminated its data service" and that its functions have been disabled. The module hosted two crewed missions, most recently in 2013, but was left in orbit for an extended uncrewed mission. China plans to launch a new lab module, Tiangong-2, later this year as a prelude to the development of a full-fledged space station by the early 2020s. (3/21)

Blue Origin Steps Up Lobbying for Engine Debate in Washington DC (Source: Politico)
Blue Origin is hiring more lobbying firms as the debate about the replacement of the RD-180 engine continues in Congress. The company hired an Alabama law firm, Balch & Bingham, LLP, to do lobbying; that firm has hired another Alabama company, Maynard Cooper & Gale, to work on Blue Origin's behalf. Blue Origin, using private funds, is developing the BE-4 engine for ULA's Vulcan vehicle, while the Air Force funds engine development projects by other companies, including Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR1. (3/21)

Germany's OHB Sees Revenues Fall as Satellite Projects Slip (Source: Space News)
German satellite manufacturer OHB reported a shortfall in revenues in 2015 because of delays in two satellite programs. The company reported revenues of 730 million euros ($815 million) in 2015, short of its forecast of 800 million euros. Delays in the development of the Hispasat 36W-1 and EDRS-C/Hylas-3 satellites contributed to the shortfall. OHB, in cooperation with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., is also gearing up for another competition for Galileo satellites. (3/21)

Challenger Figure Passes Away (Source: NPR)
An engineer who only recently found peace with his role on the Challenger accident has passed away. Bob Ebeling, who as a Morton Thiokol engineer warned against launching Challenger in cold weather, said he felt like a "loser" for failing to stop the launch. An outpouring of responses from listeners, including from NASA and others involved in the launch, helped ease his guilt. "You helped bring my worrisome mind to ease," he said in a followup interview. Ebeling, who passed way Monday after a long illness, was 89. (3/21)

How Satellites Find Shipwrecks From Space (Source:
It's estimated that some three million shipwrecks are scattered across the oceans, with a quarter possibly resting in the North Atlantic. Now satellites can be used to help locate these lost ships, according to new research.

In a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, marine geologist Matthias Baeye at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and colleagues explain that wrecks produce Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) concentration signals which can be detected by high-resolution ocean color satellite data such as NASA's Landsat-8. (3/14)

NASA: Commercial Crew Firms Ready to Fly Next Year (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA provided an update to the media regarding NASA and SpaceX's progress toward sending crews to the International Space Station during a brief meeting across from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 41. Misty Snopkowsky, Launch Site Integration, NASA Commercial Crew ‎Program noted efforts to send crews to the ISS via private spacecraft - is poised to come to fruition.

“We’re currently operating under the Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) phase of the contract and are looking forward to conducting the first flights under Commercial Crew next year,” Snopkowsky said. At present both Boeing and SpaceX are planning to launch their CST-100 Starliner and Dragon (respectively) spacecraft as early as 2017. (3/21)

NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program Can’t Afford Another Reset From the Next President (Source: WIRED)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden likely expected a better reception when he testified before the Senate appropriators on March 10. After all, his agency had racked up some impressive achievements over the previous year. But instead of receiving congratulations from the Appropriations Committee for his agency’s recent accomplishments, Bolden got a blast of bipartisan criticism of the Obama administration’s proposed NASA budget.

Republican committee chairman Senator Richard Shelby said that “NASA has failed to propose a truthful budget that can accomplish the agency’s goals.” The committee’s ranking Democrat, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, was equally critical, saying she wanted to work with her Republican counterpart “to reorder NASA’s priorities.” Click here.

Editor's Note: Knowing that its target destinations were likely to change frequently for political reasons, NASA seems to have focused on building capabilities that can support whichever destination ends up as the consensus choice. (3/21)

Vostochny Spaceport Passes Initial Tests (Source: Tass)
The first day of comprehensive tests at Russia’s new Vostochny cosmodrome in the Amur region (Far East of Russia) the first launch form which is to be carried out in April, passed normally, Director General of the Roscosmos State Space Corporation Igor Komarov said.

"It’s a very important moment for us today. Comprehensive tests of the launch complex, a ‘dry rollout’ of the Soyuz-2.1a space rocket have begun. The first day passed normally. The staff of all enterprises worked fine", Komarov said. The so-called "dry rollout" is a set of checks and tests on the spaceport’s launch pad when the launch vehicle is not fueled. These works are carried out to check the launch methods and systems. (3/21)

Russia OKs 10-Year, $20.5 Billion Space Program (Source: Aviation Week)
Russia has approved a 10-year, 1.4 trillion ruble ($20.51 billion) budget for space programs. Under the program, which covers the period 2016-25, Russia will tackle a number of large developments in robotic and manned spaceflight. Projects will include continued participation in the International Space Station and completing the Russian segment aboard the orbiting outpost.

The spending will also boost the number of Russian telecommunications satellites and fund support for new space-science endeavors. There is also the possibility of adding 115 billion rubles to the pot after 2022, says Igor Komarov, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. But economic pressures in Russia will mean the government funds fewer programs than initially planned under a 3.4 trillion ruble spending scheme proposed last year. (3/21)

Russian Space Program to Match NASA’s Annual Budget—Over the Next Decade (Source: Ars Technica)
Amid the country's budget problems due to a slump in oil prices and western sanctions for its intervention into Ukraine, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev intends to cut funding for Russia's space program by 30 percent. The Russian space budget for the period of 2016 through 2025 will be cut from about $29 billion to about $20 billion.

By way of comparison, NASA will enjoy a $19.3 billion budget in fiscal year 2016 alone. NASA will spend about as much on Earth Science this year as the Russian program will receive for the entirety of its activities. Roscosmos will have to delay its Moon plans, a reusable rocket, and more.

Adding to the Russian program's problems will be the loss, beginning as early as 2018, of about $500 million annually from NASA's purchase of Soyuz seats for transportation to the space station. In addition, Congress is also pressuring the United Launch Alliance rocket company to end its acquisition of RD-180 engines, which are manufactured in Russia. (3/20)

Russia’s Progress Resupply Vehicle to Fly Autonomously as Sspace Lab (Source: Tass)
Russia’s Progress M-29M cargo spacecraft will undock from the International Space Station (ISS) on March 29 after which will fly autonomously for about a week as a scientific laboratory. "The spacecraft’s undocking is scheduled for March 29. It will fly autonomously until April 3-7. During that time the spacecraft will be involved in the Izgib experiment. After that the Progress spaceship will be deorbited and sunk in a non-navigational area of the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand in the so-called graveyard of spaceships.

According to the MCC website, the Izgib study aims to determine the micro-gravitational environment in orbit by measuring micro-accelerations using the onboard measurement equipment, micro-accelerometers and onboard gyroscopes of the Progress. These measurements are made in different spacecraft attitudes and positions. The experiment also looks at the influence of the thermal environment of the Progress on the microgravitational conditions measured by the systems. (3/21)

What Does the Future Hold for NASA? Depends on the Next President (Source: CSM)
Most of the remaining presidential candidates have come out in support of the US space program, but they have different ideas about what NASA's focus should be, and who should pay for it. It is going to take many times NASA’s current budget of $19.3 billion to get humans to Mars. The Obama administration has recently trimmed its request of the US Congress for NASA funding by 1.5 percent for fiscal year 2017, reducing spending on deep-space exploration by $800 million.

As the country prepares for a new president next year, one whose administration will help decide the fate of the country’s space program, what could that future look like? Here is a brief overview of where the remaining presidential candidates stand on space. Click here. (3/21)

CU-Boulder Students win $30,000, Shot at CubeSat Launch (Source: CU Boulder)
A University of Colorado Boulder student team has advanced in a competition to design and build a flight-qualified small satellite capable of operating near and beyond the moon, earning the team $30,000 from NASA and a chance to have it launch into space.

As one of the top five teams selected by NASA, the CU-Boulder team will continue developing a small CubeSat satellite about the size of a shoebox called the CU Earth Escape Explorer (CU-E3). Part of the Aerospace Engineering Science Graduate Projects Class, the satellite is being designed to fly on the unmanned Orion Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) slated to launch in 2018. (3/21)

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