March 25, 2016

ULA Reviewing Early Shutdown of RD-180 in ISS Cargo Mission (Source: Florida Today)
The main engine of United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket shut down six seconds earlier than planned Tuesday night, but the glitch did not prevent the rocket from delivering an International Space Station resupply mission to its intended orbit, the company confirmed. ULA said the premature shutdown resulted from the kerosene-fueled RD-180 engine burning with a higher than normal ratio of liquid oxygen, for reasons now under review.

To make up for the booster's early cutoff, the rocket's Centaur upper stage RL10C engine, provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, performed an extended burn before dropping off Orbital ATK's unmanned Cygnus cargo ship in an orbit about 150 miles above the planet. (3/25)

ULA Delays Next Atlas Launch to Study RD-180 Anomaly (Source: SpaceRef)
The Atlas V carrying the MUOS-5 mission for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force has been delayed to no earlier than May 12 to further review the data anomaly experienced during the OA-6 mission. The delay will allow additional time to review the data and to confirm readiness for the MUOS-5 mission. The MUOS-5 spacecraft is secure at the payload processing facility. (3/25)

NASA’s New Top Astrobiologist Is Spelunking for Alien Life on Earth (Source: WIRED)
Penny Boston is the new director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute. Her job, when it begins on May 31, will be advising the agency in its search for life on other worlds. And believe it, there are plenty of candidates beyond Earth. Mars gets the hottest press, but Saturn’s moons Enceledus and Titan are both prime candidates, as is Jupiter’s Europa. Even cave life on the Moon is not out of the question.

Boston has a few more months to enjoy kicking around the caves in her current post as Director of Cave and Karst Science at New Mexico Tech. She took time out of her spelunking to chat about her new gig, the globetrotting job of a cave scientist, and what life might look like on other worlds. Click here. (3/25)

Bigelow Module Loaded for SpaceX Launch to ISS (Source: Popular Science)
Putting balloons in outer space may not seem like the best idea on the surface, but it's exactly what's about to happen. On April 8, SpaceX is scheduled to launch its uncrewed Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station, and among the various supplies in tow will be an inflatable space habitat called the BEAM designed by Bigelow Aerospace.

Once up in orbit, the BEAM habitat will be attached to the space station and inflated with oxygen and expand from its 8-feet wide packed form into a new room with 565 cubic feet of volume. The idea is to be able to send structures like this up that take up less space during the flight, but which can expand to a useful size when in orbit, saving costs. (3/24)

Korea Needs Big Players for Space Expedition (Source: Korea Herald)
A race to conquer space has been heating up with more billionaires and entrepreneurs around the world betting big on commercial space businesses such as space travel and cargo delivery to space stations. Korea, as a late-starter, succeeded in launching a rocket in 2013. However, the country has been struggling to make its way into the top echelon of the world’s space sector due to its lack of talents, experience and investment.

Many critics also point to the near absence of Korean conglomerates in the domestic aerospace scene as a major setback for the nation. “Since space businesses do not generate short-term revenues, most Korean conglomerates are reluctant to jump into the sector,” said an official from the aerospace sector.

“Other nations, including the U.S. and Russia, on the other hand, have been running space programs for decades and have a large pool of seasoned engineers and talents, which is why the Korean aerospace industry is far behind in the race for outer space,” he said. Samsung Group, the largest conglomerate here, previously ran aerospace business arm Samsung Techwin, now renamed Hanhwa Techwin after it was acquired by Hanhwa Group in 2014. Techwin was established in 1977 to develop flight engines. (3/25)

Economic Crisis Hobbles Russian Space Program (Source: Moscow Times)
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tried to put a positive spin on it, but the numbers were hard to ignore. Just two years ago, in the emotional high that followed Crimea’s annexation, Russia’s 10-year space program was promised a full 3.4 trillion rubles (then around $70 billion). By the time Medvedev got around to approving the program, the budget had been reduced to mere 1.4 trillion rubles ($20.5 billion).

It was the latest reminder that Russia’s finest days in space are long gone. The nation that launched Sputnik and Yury Gagarin now, most likely, faces a future of uncertainty. Its former rival, the U.S. space agency NASA, is now its main partner. And against NASA’s budget of $19.3 billion in 2016 alone, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos may fall so far behind over the next decade that avenues of future cooperation become hard to find. (3/24)

Moon Village Envisioned by European Space Agency (Source: CNN)
The head of the multinational agency, Johann-Dietrich Woerner, said the village would "serve science, business, tourism and even mining purposes." In a video interview posted on the agency's website, Woerner said a permanent lunar base is the next logical step in space exploration.

He said the village could replace the International Space Station in the future. The ISS has been continuously occupied since 2000. It was originally set to be decommissioned by 2020, but its operation has been extended through 2024. The agency said it could take 20 years before the technology is ready to make the Moon village happen. (3/24)

Will our Next President Commit to American Leadership in Space? (Source: Tampa Bay Times)
In the presidential primary campaign, Florida voters heard a lot of locker-room insults and discussions of petty controversies. Unfortunately, Floridians heard relatively little about the issues that really matter to our state. Now, as the apparent nominees emerge from pack, we deserve more of an explanation of where the presidential candidates stand on NASA and their commitment to adequately funding the next generation of space exploration. Click here. (3/25)

Nigeria Plans Sending Astronaut to Space in 2030 (Source: News Nigeria)
Nigeria is dreaming big on space exploration as it announced that it will send its first astronaut in 2030. The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu said this in Abuja  when the management team of the Defence Space Agency, led by the Director-General, Air Vice Marshal Victor Udoh, visited him. The minister said the Federal Government was putting all the structures on ground to ensure that Nigerian astronauts land in space on or before 2030. (3/25)

China Likely To Beat NASA Back To The Moon (Source: Forbes)
Chinese taikonauts will likely beat NASA astronauts back to the lunar surface in as little as five to ten years, longtime lunar scientist and geologist Paul Spudis now tells me. If so, that will happen primarily by default, as the lunar surface continues to drop off NASA’s crewed destination radar.

Of course, that doesn’t preclude Russia, the European Space Agency (ESA), or numerous commercial space ventures — who have all expressed a desire to return astronauts to the lunar surface — from getting there sooner. But for now, Spudis thinks the Chinese are most likely to next make it happen. (3/25)

Never Walk in Space Without a  Spacesuit, Cosmonauts Warn (Source: Sputnik)
When answering users’ questions posted on the US Embassy’s Facebook page, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and US astronaut Scott Kelly strongly advised to always wear a spacesuit during a spacewalk. “Well, we wouldn’t advise you to go out in space without a pressure suit, but this is exactly what would happen… Nitrogen dissolved in your system would come out causing your blood to boil.” (3/25)

Research on Near-Earth Space to Start with First Launch From Vostochny (Source: Space Daily)
Aist 2D will become the first satellite to reach orbit from the Vostochny Space Launch Center, jump starting a series of research projects on near-Earth space and the way it impacts materials used in spacecraft, the press service of the Samara State Aerospace University said in a statement released on Tuesday, March 15.

"Scientists from the Samara State Aerospace University will launch an integrated research project on near-Earth space and the way it impacts materials used in spacecraft," the statement reads. The project will be carried out using an Aist 2D satellite developed by the Samara State Aerospace University in cooperation with TsSKB-Progress. It is expected to take part in the first launch from the Vostochny Space Launch Center. (3/25)

Space: The Increasingly Crowded Frontier (Source: Stratfor)
New powers will take to space as costs go down and both the military and economic importance of space grows. Iran, Japan, South Korea, North Korea and India will continue to advance their programs. Turkey, Brazil, Argentina and others will eventually initiate their own space programs.

As countries become increasingly reliant on space systems, they will pursue their own launch capabilities, no longer wishing to rely on traditional space powers for access. Commercial motivations will outpace military applications, meaning space missions will be less dependent on military expenditures to be economically viable. Click here. (3/25)

ULA Confirms Engine Issue on Latest Atlas Launch (Source: Space News)
The upper stage of the Atlas 5 that launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft March 22 fired for more than a minute longer than planned, apparently to compensate for the premature shut down of the rocket’s first stage engine. ULA confirmed that the Centaur upper stage burned for longer than scheduled, although the company did not provide a reason for the extended engine firing.

In addition to the extended burn of the Centaur, launch telemetry indicates that the RD-180 engine in the first stage of the Atlas 5 shut down prematurely. That telemetry shows booster engine cutoff taking place about 4 minutes and 10 seconds into the mission, five seconds before the scheduled cutoff time. ULA has not confirmed or otherwise commented on the apparent early shutdown of the first stage. (3/24)

Most Maligned Rocket in the World is Also One of the Most Reliable (Source: Washington Post)
It is a much-maligned rocket, derided for its high cost and criticized for its foreign-made engine. It is caught up in a congressional fight that gets uglier by the week and has now touched off a high-profile Pentagon investigation. And yet when the Atlas V is fully fueled and on the launch pad, it is all business and routinely reliable, delivering its fiery thrust liftoff after liftoff.

John McCain (R-AZ) has also taken aim at the company, attempting to limit the use of the Russian-made engine that powers the Atlas V. He believes that the United States should not have to rely on the Russians to launch national security payloads, such as communications and intelligence satellites, at a time when there is heightened tension between the two countries. (3/23)

ULA Completes Design Review for Vulcan Rocket (Source: ULA)
ULA successfully completed the Preliminary Design Review for the Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle with dual Blue Origin BE-4 engines. The PDR, a major milestone in development of the Vulcan launch vehicle, confirms that the design meets the requirements for the diverse set of missions it will support. The ULA team will build upon this milestone to refine and test key elements of the design while executing a busy manifest of 14 launches in 2016. 

The Vulcan Centaur rocket design leverages the proven success of the Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles while introducing new technologies and innovative features which will ensure a reliable and affordable space launch service along with engines developed and manufactured in the United States. The Vulcan Centaur provides a path to replacement of the current fleet of Delta IV and Atlas V vehicles and will service a diverse range of markets including commercial, civil and national security space customers. (3/24)

Here's How We Could Actually Colonize the Moon — And What Its Price Tag Would Be (Source: Mic)
An international team of scientists has laid out an extensive plan detailing how we could set up a permanent moon colony in the next five to seven years — for just $10 billion. "It is time to go back to this moon, this time to stay, and funding is no longer the main hurdle," the team concludes in the report, published this month.

The team behind the report includes NASA scientists — despite the fact that NASA has made it clear that it's not interested in returning to the moon. For NASA, it's "Mars or bust." Previously, it seemed that NASA couldn't afford to split its resources between the moon and Mars. The low cost of this new plan could change that.

The price tag is thanks to money-saving technology like advanced 3-D printing that can turn moon minerals into building materials, solar-powered equipment that will reduce energy use and SpaceX's reusable rockets that will reduce the cost of launching supplies. A lunar base made of inflatable space habitats, greenhouses and robotic tech could support 10 people for yearlong stays, the report says. (3/23)

The Politics of Space Exploration (Source: Huffington Post)
Human kind is poised on the launch pad of the most exciting, transformational age of space exploration since the orbiting of Sputnik started it all, back in 1957. Despite the forces that are unleashing a race to the stars unlike any we have seen, the subject of space exploration and utilization has been conspicuously absent from the U.S. presidential campaigns.

Why is this? Space Exploration, particularly human spaceflight, has heretofore been inextricably intertwined with politics. Political/ideological competition between the United States and the Soviet Union fueled the race to put a human into space, in order to score Cold War victories by demonstrating technological superiority.

Other spacefaring nations will go to the Moon, with or without us. There aren’t just two space nations playing anymore, there are dozens. If we don’t lead that effort, another nation or nations will. This is important, as it partially reflects our overall position in the world. Losing that position would be a blow to our international prestige. (3/23)

Should You Root for Blue Origin or SpaceX? Depends Whether You Like Big Bangs (Source: Inverse)
If you’ve been paying attention to space news in the last year, then you already know there is a new space race upon us. It’s not the U.S. versus another country or Batman versus Superman — it’s bigger than that. We’re talking about a heavyweight bout pitting Amazon’s Jeff Bezos against Tesla’s and SolarCity’s Elon Musk. This is Blue Origin against SpaceX and one’s allegiance should be carefully chosen.

What’s most interesting about the race is that it’s more about market share than space tourism. The jobs these companies will eventually compete for involve human space travel, sure, but they also involve the launch and repair of unmanned spacecraft, potential asteroid mining operations, and the material support of state-sponsored science. Click here. (3/22)

Bacteria Found to Thrive Better in Space Than on Earth (Source: The Conversation)
Some species of bacteria have made themselves right at home in space, with one species, Bacillus safensis, found to thrive more in the microgravity of the International Space Station than here on Earth. The study was a product of Project MECCURI, a citizen science project where members of the public and microbiologists collected environmental microbial samples and sent them to the ISS to see how they’d grow.

The findings not only raise discussion about the impact of microbe communities in human constructed environments in space, but also the how life could possibly be transported between planets during space travel. The remarkable resilience of bacteria in space has been demonstrated before, when microbes survived after being placed on the exterior of the space station.

Project MECCURI focused on how bacteria sampled would survive inside the space station itself. “The warm, humid, oxygen-rich environment of the ISS is a far cry from the vacuum of space,” said Dr David Coil, University of California, Davis, microbiologist and lead author on the study. (3/24)

Feast Your Eyes on This Sexy Spaceport — It Could Be the Future of Space Tourism (Source: Mic)
Construction on Spaceport America started in 2009, but setbacks in the commercial spaceflight industry and problems with the construction have left it only partially operational and largely empty. Virgin Galactic, the port's main tenant, plans to offer rides to the edge of space where rich paying customers will get to experience a few minutes of weightlessness.

The company originally planned to start offering those rides by 2010, but major setbacks like the fatal test flight crash in 2014 has delayed its plan. New Mexico is getting tired of waiting. In 2015, some government officials proposed selling Spaceport America.

For now, the proposal is stalled, and the spaceport is at least partially operational. It regularly launches a few government and research satellites. Even SpaceX and Google have projects hosted there. It's hoping to attract Amazon's billionaire founder Jeff Bezos and his spaceflight company, Blue Origin. (3/23)

Finding the Next Big Space Startup (Source: Bloomberg)
Francois Chopard, Starburst Accelerator founder, discusses cultivating aerospace talent with Bloomberg's Emily Chang on "Bloomberg West." Click here. (3/23)

A Counterprotest of a Westboro Baptist Church NASA Protest (Source: Motherboard)
On Monday, some people over at the notoriously hateful and absurd Westboro Baptist Church decided to protest at NASA headquarters in Washington DC, apparently because NASA’s planetary defense program interferes with God’s plan to allow Earth to be destroyed by an asteroid.

This is something we would ignore entirely were it not for the fact that two women—Margaret Hart, an astronomer who currently does STEM outreach at Johns Hopkins University and her friend, Amy Callner, a teachers union researcher—dressed up in the outfits you see above and staged a delightful counter protest on their way to a science conference. Click here. (3/23)

NASA Has a Spiffy New Exercise Machine for Space (Source: Inverse)
Human spaceflight isn’t just a matter of making sure you have enough food, water, and oxygen to keep you going for as long as the mission lasts. You also need to stay fit. The zero-gravity or microgravity environment can wreak havoc on the body over time, so astronauts spending weeks or months aboard the International Space Station and other vehicles are required to spend several hours a day exercising. Which begs the question: What the hell does exercise in space look like?

NASA has just posted a pair of videos on YouTube that provides some illustration. The space agency reveals that the March 22 Cygnus resupply mission for the ISS carried the brand new Miniature Exercise Device (MED-2) up to the ISS. MED-2 is a new apparatus that uses small robotic actuators to apply and modify motion and resistance required for different kinds of workouts. Click here. (3/23)

Stressed in Space (Source: Space Daily)
Living in space is a wonderful experience but it can take its toll on an astronaut's body - half of astronauts return with weaker immune systems from the International Space Station. ESA astronaut and medical doctor Andre Kuipers remembers his six-month mission: "Back on Earth, I felt a hundred years old for a few months."

Many ESA experiments are looking into why this happens and the most recent - Immuno - reveals some striking changes in astronaut immune systems. Stress is a response of the body as it adapts to hostile environments. This broad definition includes stress from speaking in front of an audience, stress from a wound or stress from living in weightlessness in a fragile spacecraft far from home.

The "feelings" are produced by the central nervous system working closely with our immune system. Stress in the central nervous system invariably influences the immune system and vice versa - people with stressful jobs seem more likely to get sick. (3/24)

Space Station’s New 3-D Printer will Churn Out Sculptures Inspired by the Internet (Source: GeekWire)
The first objects to be created in orbit using the upgraded 3-D printer that’s on its way to the International Space Station are likely to be strictly utilitarian, but there’s fun stuff to come. The Additive Manufacturing Facility, a 3-D printer designed for use in zero-G, was launched on Tuesday.

This is actually the second 3-D printer to go into outer space. The first one was an experiment, built by a commercial venture called Made In Space. This time around, Made In Space partnered with Lowe’s Innovation Labs to produce a more capable 3-D printer.  The main idea is to provide a way to fabricate plastic tools and spare parts by following computerized instructions that are sent up from the ground.

The first products to come out of the microwave oven-sized printer are supposed to be tools that bear the Lowe’s brand. But Made In Space has struck deals with other commercial ventures to produce more fanciful items once the printing operation gets into full swing. One of those ventures is, a British specialist search engine company. (3/23)

Spaceflight Services Waits Out SpaceX Delays, Expands Rideshare Business (Source: Space News)
Spaceflight Services started by arranging rideshare launches for a few cubesats at a time before moving to dozens at a time, with 87 to launch this spring on a SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying Spaceflight’s Sherpa tug. The company then broadened its portfolio, offering the same service for satellites weighing up to several hundred kilograms. To accommodate them, it purchased its own Falcon 9 to launch, scheduled for late 2017. That launch will carry around 20 satellites.

Next up for Seattle, Washington-based Spaceflight is geostationary orbit. That’s where most telecommunications satellites go, and that’s where the money is. But in an interview during the recent Satellite 2016 conference, Spaceflight Chief Executive Jason Andrews and Spaceflight Services President Curt Blake said the geostationary-orbit market looks ready for a more diverse customer set, including satellite servicing missions. (3/24)

Synthetic Life Dies Without Mysterious Genes (Source: Discovery)
Five years after creating the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell, biotech researcher and entrepreneur J. Craig Venter and colleagues have figured out the little guy can live a full and reproductive life with just 473 of its genes, a miniature biological code smaller than any known replicating cell found in nature.

But what most interests the researchers is not so much the actual number of genes this cell needs for life, but that about one-third of them relate to unknown, but critical biological functions.

“If we take out any of those genes, the cell dies,” Venter told DNews. “We expected some of those because we see them in every life form, but I expected 5 to 10 percent at most. The fact that we don’t know this much biology is very humbling.” (3/24)

Soyuz Launcher Puts Russian Military Spy Satellite in Orbit (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Russian military spacecraft with a high-resolution digital mapping camera is in orbit Thursday after a successful ascent aboard a Soyuz rocket. The Soyuz-2.1a rocket lifted off at 0942 GMT (5:42 a.m. EDT; 12:42 p.m. local time) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. (3/24)

This Is The ‘Most Eccentric’ Planet Yet Known (Source: Huffington Post)
Astronomers now know more about the universe’s “most eccentric” planet than ever before. The exoplanet, named HD 20782b, is located about 117 light-years away and was first discovered in 2006 — but a new study suggests that it’s more extraordinary than previously thought.

The planet not only looks somewhat similar to a comet in appearance, but it also orbits its host star like one too, said Dr. Stephen Kane, an astronomer at San Francisco State University. “Most planets, including those in our own solar system, have orbits around their star that are shaped like a circle,” Kane said. But HD 20782b’s lengthy 597-day orbit takes it from extreme, inhabitable freezing conditions to scorching heat as it gets close enough to kiss its star.

“This planet is about the size of Jupiter but has an orbit like an ellipse, very similar to what we see for comets. That means that the planet spends most of its time far away from the star, but once per orbit it swings around the star very closely and almost touches the surface,” Kane said. (3/24)

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