March 23, 2016

ULA Launches Cargo Mission to International Space Station from Florida (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Fresh supplies shipped out late Tuesday for the International Space Station, where the shelves finally are getting full after a string of failed deliveries. Launching beneath the light of a nearly full moon, the unmanned Atlas V rocket provided late-night sparkle as it headed north with its precious cargo and paralleled the East Coast on its way to orbit.

Orbital ATK's Cygnus capsule holds nearly 8,000 pounds of food, equipment and scientific research for NASA, including a commercial-quality 3-D printer anyone can rent and experimental robotic grippers modeled after the thousands of sticky hairs on geckos' feet. (3/22)

Canadian Space Budget Request Grows (Source: SpaceRef)
The new Canadian federal budget includes funding to support an extension of Canada's role on the ISS. The budget, released Tuesday, includes a commitment to spend 379 million Canadian dollars ($290 million) over the next eight years to support Canada's share of ISS operations through 2024. The budget requests 432 million Canadian dollars ($330 million) for the Canadian Space Agency in the 2016-17 fiscal year, an increase of more than 10 percent from last year's projection. The budget is the first developed by the Liberal Party government that took power after last October's elections. (3/23)

U.S. House Approves Bill Promote NASA Support for Females in STEM (Source: Space Policy Online)
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a NASA education bill Tuesday. Members approved the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act on a 380–3 vote after a brief floor debate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), directs NASA to develop plans to encourage women and girls to study math and science, and encourage current and former NASA employees, including astronauts, to participate in educational outreach activities. The bill does not include any funding for those activities. (3/23)

Telescope Group Considers Alternatives to Hawaii (Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald)
A controversial telescope originally planned for Hawaii is considering alternate sites. Members of the board of the Thirty Meter Telescope recently visited the Canary Islands, according to photos the TMT posted online. Project officials would not confirm that the Spanish islands, located off the northwest coast of Africa and home to several current observatories, were being considered for the telescope. The TMT was originally planned for Hawaii's Mauna Kea, but protests and legal issues have led the project to consider potential alternative sites as the state seeks a new land use permit for the observatory. (3/23)

Mars Methane Could Come From Comets (Source: Discovery)
Traces of methane detected in the atmosphere of Mars could be created by comets, not microbes. Scientists speculate that methane could be delivered to Mars from meteor showers linked to comets. All the detections of methane made in the planet's atmosphere to date have occurred within 16 days of the passage of a meteor shower. Traces of methane seen intermittently in the Martian atmosphere have previously been explained by geological or possibly biological activity on Mars itself. (3/23)

DoD Will Spend $2 Billion on Space Control This Year (Source: Space News)
The Pentagon will spend $2 billion on space control measures this year to counter emerging threats to its national security satellites, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. The Defense Department had not previously discussed a figure related to spending on space control, which often implies offensive space capabilities, for the current year’s budget. (3/23)

The Black-Hole Collision That Reshaped Physics (Source: Nature)
The event was catastrophic on a cosmic scale — a merger of black holes that violently shook the surrounding fabric of space and time, and sent a blast of space-time vibrations known as gravitational waves rippling across the Universe at the speed of light.

But it was the kind of calamity that physicists on Earth had been waiting for. On 14 September, when those ripples swept across the freshly upgraded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Advanced LIGO), they showed up as spikes in the readings from its two L-shaped detectors in Louisiana and Washington state. For the first time ever, scientists had recorded a gravitational-wave signal.

“There it was!” says LIGO team member Daniel Holz, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago in Illinois. “And it was so strong, and so beautiful, in both detectors.” Although the shape of the signal looked familiar from the theory, Holz says, “it's completely different when you see something in the data. It's this transcendent moment”. (3/23)

NASA Gets Down to Earth This Year With Globe-Spanning Expeditions (Source: NASA)
NASA is sending scientists around the world in 2016 – from the edge of the Greenland ice sheet to the coral reefs of the South Pacific – to delve into challenging questions about how our planet is changing and what impacts humans are having on it.

While Earth science field experiments are nothing new for NASA, the next six months will be a particularly active period with eight major new campaigns taking researchers around the world on a wide range of science investigations. The public is invited to follow this journey of exploration online through NASA’s social media channels and the new Earth Expeditions webpage, which will feature regular video, photos and blog posts from these missions and other ongoing field activities. (3/23)

Climate Change is Much Worse Than We Thought (Source: Newsweek)
The rewards of being right about climate change are bittersweet. James Hansen should know this better than most—he warned of this whole thing before Congress in 1988, when he was director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies. At the time, the world was experiencing its warmest five-month run since we started recording temperatures 130 years earlier. Hansen said, “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”

Last summer, prior to countries’ United Nations negotiations in Paris, Hansen and 16 collaborators authored a draft paper that suggested we could see at least 10 feet of sea-level rise in as few as 50 years. If that sounds alarming to you, it is—10 feet of sea-level rise is more than enough to effectively kick us out of even the most well-endowed coastal cities. Stitching together archaeological evidence of past climate change, current observations, and future-telling climate models, the authors suggested that even a small amount of global warming can rack up enormous consequences—and quickly. (3/22)

A Look at NASA Human Spaceflight Over the Years
(Source: Laura's Space on Space)
Space social media was buzzing about NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's State of NASA address on February 9, shortly after President Obama released his administration's FY2017 budget request. Curious before the release, I read up on the 2015 State of NASA speech. I was curious as to how NASA's priorities had shifted over the years through the annual speeches. However, the speeches were a fairly recent idea. In years before, NASA administrators were called into congressional hearings to answer questions about the proposed NASA budget.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe had a totally different focus than his successor Michael Griffin. Charlie Bolden's focus hasn't turned out to be all that different from Mike Griffin's. It makes me wonder what the next presidential administration and NASA administration will focus on. Click here. (3/22)

Harris Launches Innovation Hub (Source: Industry Week)
Tom Campbell is the newly minted director of innovation at space and intelligence systems manufacturer Harris Corp. (it helps that he’s a mechanical engineer himself). Last May, Campbell and Bill Gattle, president of the company’s Space and Intelligence Systems division, came up with a new way of encouraging engineers to think creatively: the Innovation Office. An in-house cross between a venture capital firm and a traditional Department of Defense model, it aims to nurture seedling ideas with time, collaboration, and funding.

The plan is that twice a year, the call will go out to employees to submit their best “on the edge” ideas for consideration for up to $50,000 in seed funding. Ideas get preference if they encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration and focus on primary areas like alternate position, navigation and timing techniques, low-cost surveillance capabilities and data analytics, and tools for collecting information about weather and climate. (3/18)

SpaceX Boost Lobbying Efforts, Hires Stu Witt (Source: Parabolic Arc)
SpaceX’s has hired former Mojave Air & Space Port CEO and General Manager Stu Witt. Elon Musk’s company hired S.O. Witt and Associates and Harbinger Strategies to conduct “meetings with officials regarding issues related to competition of satellite launches.” SpaceX now employs nine lobbying firms.

Last month Mojave Air & Space Port Board of Directors approved a consulting contract with Witt to handle issues involving federal, state and local policies. The contract will pay $200 per hour for up to 80 hours of work per month, not to exceed 960 hours annually.

Mojave Airport General Manager and CEO Karina Drees said she does not expect to employ Witt to those maximums. The figures were put in the agreement in accordance with state law, she said. The spaceport is currently engaged with the FAA in a disagreement over how close power lines and other obstacles can be placed to the facility. (3/22)

Bright Spot on Dwarf Planet May be Portal to its Interior (Source: Science)
The mysterious bright spot on the dwarf planet Ceres has been revealed in its highest resolution yet, and the bright materials in it appear to be coming from a fractured dome—a possible portal to icy materials in the subsurface. Last year, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived in orbit around Ceres, the asteroid belt’s largest object and one that is suspected to harbor ice in its interior.

Almost immediately, scientists began speculating about the bright spot in the middle of 90-kilometer-wide Occator crater, which at 80 million years old is geologically fresh. In December 2015, the Dawn team reported a haze of water vapor above the crater—a cloud that grew as temperatures rose during the day, and disappeared at night as temperatures dropped and the water vapor condensed into frost.

They also found evidence that the bright material on the surface was most likely a residue of mineral salts. Dawn has since moved to a closer orbit around Ceres and has now revealed the bright spot at 35 meters per pixel. At the center of Occator is a 9-kilometer-wide pit, and in the center of that is an uplifted dome, 2 kilometers wide and full of ringlike fractures. (3/22)

Airmen Forecast Weather for Space Missions (Source: US Air Force)
Predicting weather for space missions is tough enough. But when forecasts cover part of Florida’s lightning alley, where a rocket blasting off could spur strikes, the demands of the job can skyrocket. “Launches can trigger lightning strikes even when you don’t have lightning in the area,” said Kathy Winters, a launch weather officer with the 45th Weather Squadron, which tracks the climate around Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

An electrical field, Winters explains, may already be present in the clouds. So when a rocket blasts off, it can induce a lightning strike with its trail of exhaust -- a conductive path to the ground. If a strike happens to hit a rocket, there’s a chance it could damage the self-destruct system, the only way to destroy an errant rocket. "It’s all about safety and that’s a big reason why we do what we do on launch day,” said Tech Sgt. Matthew Mong, a range weather forecaster with the squadron. (3/22)

Department of Defense Opens Investigation Into ULA Launch Contracts (Source: Ars Technica)
In a memorandum sent Tuesday to the US Secretary of the Air Force, the Department of Defense's deputy inspector general for policy and oversight, Randolph R. Stone, announced his office had begun an investigation "regarding assertions" made by a former United Launch Alliance executive.

The executive, Brett Tobey, resigned from the Colorado-based company last week after making comments about ULA struggling to compete on launch costs with another rocket company, SpaceX. Tobey also said the government "had bent over backwards to lean the fill to our advantage," when it came to awarding launch contracts.

"At the request of the Secretary of Defense, the OIG DoD has opened an investigation regarding assertions made by United Launch Alliance’s former Vice-President of Engineering relating to competition for national security space launch and whether contracts to ULA were awarded in accordance with DoD and Federal regulations," Stone writes in the memorandum, obtained by Ars Tuesday evening. (3/22)

Rocket Lab's Rutherford Engine Qualified for Flight (Source: Rocket Lab)
Rocket Lab's Rutherford Engine has been qualified for flight after the completion of a rigorous test program. The 5,000 lbf Rutherford engine was created by Rocket Lab specifically for the company’s Electron launch vehicle. Rutherford has been tested extensively for over two years, and was qualified for flight after completing more than two hundred engine hot fires. The engine will first be flown during the Electron test program scheduled to run throughout the second half of 2016.

The qualification of the engine is a major milestone for 3D printing; Rutherford is the first oxygen/hydrocarbon engine to use additive manufacturing for all primary components of the combustor and propellant supply system. Rutherford also has a unique electric propulsion cycle, making use of high-performance brushless DC electric motors and lithium polymer batteries to drive its turbopumps.

Preparations are underway to begin manufacturing the engines at volume. “We are seeing the vehicle come together, and are looking to move to manufacturing at quantity for both our test and commercial flights,” said Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab. Electron uses nine Rutherford engines on its first stage, and a vacuum variant of the same engine on its second stage. The vehicle is capable of delivering a 150kg payload to a 500km sun-synchronous orbit, the target range for the high-growth constellation-satellite market. (3/22)

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