April 8, 2016

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Dragon, Lands First Stage (Source: Space News)
SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station April 8 and landed the rocket’s first stage on a ship in the ocean after four previous unsuccessful attempts. The SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted off on schedule at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport after a trouble-free countdown. The rocket’s second stage released the Dragon into low Earth orbit ten and a half minute after liftoff.

The rocket’s first stage, after separating from the second, performed a series of three burns to attempt a landing on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean downrange from the launch site. Video of the launch showed the stage landing on the ship eight and a half minutes after liftoff, to raucous cheers from SpaceX employees watching the launch at the company’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters. Click here to see the launch/landing video. (4/8)

Moon Express Proposes Alternate Approach for Lunar Mission Regulatory Approvals (Source: Space News)
Concerned that regulatory uncertainty could block its plans to launch a lunar lander mission next year, Moon Express has proposed an alternative approach for carrying out a required payload review that could keep its plans on schedule while a more permanent legislative solution is developed. The company has submitted to the FAA a request for a payload review of its planned lunar lander, offering additional information that it hopes will bridge a regulatory gap.

At issue is a provision in Article 6 of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that requires countries to provide “authorization and continuing supervision” of activities in space by companies and organizations under their jurisdiction. That is usually performed in the U.S. through a licensing process for launches as well as communications and Earth imaging. However, no federal government agency has authority to oversee operations of commercial spacecraft beyond Earth orbit.

That has raised concerns about how the U.S. would meet its Article 6 obligations for authorization and supervision for such missions. Bob Richards of Moon Express believes that uncertainty could prevent the company from getting a launch license for its lunar landers. Part of the FAA’s launch licensing process is a payload review, which includes an interagency review of the payload to identify any national security or treaty obligation issues. Click here. (4/8)

President Obama Congratulates SpaceX (Source: White House)
President Obama on Friday tweeted a note of congratulations to the SpaceX team that launched and landed a Falcon-9 rocket as part of a cargo mission to the International Space Station. "Congrats SpaceX on landing a rocket at sea. It's because of innovators like you & NASA that America continues to lead in space exploration." (4/8)

NASA Just Opened Up Access To 2.95 Million Images Of Earth (Source: Huffington Post)
For the past 16 years, a Japanese-built instrument aboard a NASA research satellite has been quietly gathering data about Earth’s changing surface. Those changes include everything from volcanic eruptions and massive wildfires to the worst North Korean drought in a century. NASA made the data publicly available on Friday for free — including more than 2.95 million images. (The data was previously accessible for a small fee through Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.) Click here. (4/6)

It Turns Out This Planet Has Three Suns in its Sky (Source: Washington Post)
Scientists have found a rare three-star system 685 light years away. Instead of the more typical single star, or even a pair, it boasts a trio of suns that coexist in a complex dance. And the system is rare even among the triple-threat crowd: It hosts a stable planet, which is something scientists have seen only three times before.
Researchers used to think the KELT-4 system, home to a "hot Jupiter" planet called KELT-4Ab, was a binary system — which is much more common. But according to recent research published in the Astronomical Journal, one of those original stars is instead a binary pair. (4/7)

DARPA's XS-1 Program to Ease Access to Space Enters Phase 2 (Source: Space Daily)
In an era of declining budgets and adversaries' evolving capabilities, quick, affordable and routine access to space is increasingly critical for both national and economic security. Current satellite launch systems, however, require scheduling years in advance for an extremely limited inventory of available slots.

Moreover, launches often cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, due in large part to the massive amounts of dedicated infrastructure and large number of personnel required. DARPA created its Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program to help overcome these challenges and create a new paradigm for more routine, responsive and affordable space operations, reducing the time to get capabilities to space.

In an important step toward these goals, DARPA has announced Phase 2 of the XS-1 program, which seeks to design and fabricate an experimental unmanned spaceplane using state-of-the-art technologies and streamlined processes, and fly the vehicle ten times in ten days. The reusable XS-1 would demonstrate the potential for low-cost and "aircraft-like" high-ops-tempo space flight, enabling a host of critical national security options while helping to launch a new and potentially fruitful commercial sector. (4/8)

Maryland Panel Moves Bill To Give Northrop Grumman a $38M Tax Credit (Source: Law 360)
A Maryland state Senate committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would give a $37.5 million tax break over five years to large aerospace, electronics and defense contractors, particularly Northrop Grumman Corp. Senate Bill 1112, which passed out of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on a bipartisan 9-3 vote Wednesday, would give an annual $7.5 million tax credit to contractors in the state that spend at least $25 million per year and employ at least 10,000 workers. (4/7)

Satellite Operator Encourages Reusable Rockets, Satellite Servicing (Source: Space News)
SES is willing to support some key new space technologies, including satellite servicing and reusable launch vehicles. The satellite operator is in talks with two companies, believed to be Orbital ATK and MDA, to have them extend the lives of some of its satellites once those companies' satellite servicing ventures are operational. SES has also indicated it would be willing to be an early customer for a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch using a reused first stage. In addition, SES supports proposals to incorporate reusability into the Ariane 6 at some future point. (4/7)

Ariane 6 Pre-Launch Processing Will Be Horizontal, Not Vertical (Source: Space News)
The Ariane 6 launch vehicle will be processed horizontally, not vertically like its predecessors. Airbus Safran Launchers and the European Space Agency decided to shift the way the vehicles are prepared and moved to the pad as a cost-saving move, particularly for the buildings and related infrastructure needed to process rockets for launch. That shift to horizontal processing won't extend to the payloads, however, which will be prepared vertically as before and then installed on the vehicle only after it's moved to the vertical position on the pad. (4/7)

ULA Offering Free Rides for Cubesats, Taking Applications Now (Source: Denver Post)
United Launch Alliance is now accepting applications for free launches of university-built cubesats. U.S. colleges and universities can submit applications through June 1, with ULA making selections of winning satellites later this summer. Six winning satellites will fly on two Atlas 5 missions, with the first scheduled for mid-2017. (4/7)

NASA Extends Dawn Assignment at Ceres (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NASA's Dawn spacecraft will operate longer than planned in orbit around Ceres. Mission managers say the spacecraft has more propellant available that previously planned, allowing them to extend operations of the spacecraft by several months, into early 2017. Dawn arrived at Ceres, the dwarf planet that is the largest body in the asteroid belt, early last year, and is currently in a low orbit around it. (4/7)

A Russian Space Renaissance (Source: Science)
Russian's space science program is heading for a "renaissance" despite budget woes. A series of lunar missions, starting with the Luna 25 lander planned for 2018, remains on schedule despite cuts to other parts of the Russian space program, including proposals for human lunar missions that are now postponed to beyond the mid-2020s. Luna 25 is the first in a series of five lunar missions planned through 2025 that includes a spacecraft that will return samples from the moon's south pole. (4/7)

Comets May Generate Life's Building Blocks (Source: Discovery News)
A lab experiment suggests comets could have provided the building blocks for life. In the experiment, scientists took the chemicals commonly found on comets, including water and ammonia, and exposed it to ultraviolet radiation similar to what comets receive form the sun. That created organic compounds that, contained ribose and related sugar molecules, from which RNA and DNA are created. "It seems like a wonderful gift from nature, that this process can produce ribose," said one scientist. "We might not be here without it." (4/7)

The $100 Million Hunt for Alien Life (Source: Rolling Stone)
Meanwhile, in a restricted swath of Appalachia where cell service and Wi-Fi are prohibited to minimize radio interference, a team of astrophysicists and programmers from UC-Berkeley inaugurated a new interstellar exploration at the Robert C. Byrd telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia. Titled Breakthrough Listen, this 10-year, $100 million project will comprise "the most sensitive, comprehensive and advanced search for advanced intelligent life on other worlds ever performed."

Breakthrough Listen is funded by soft-spoken Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner (named after Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space). Like many SETI fanatics, Milner read Sagan's Intelligent Life in the Universe as a boy. After pursuing a Ph.D. in physics, Milner later made a fortune investing in companies such as Facebook. (4/7)

Editorial: Inaction on Climate Dims Space Future (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Scientists warn that warming global temperatures will continue to raise sea levels and intensify storms. Both impacts could imperil billions of dollars worth of launchpads and other space-related infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center and other NASA facilities on low-lying coastal property — a risk the space agency has been eyeing since 2007, according to a report this week in The New York Times.

In contrast to NASA, Florida Gov. Rick Scott still seems to be closing his eyes to climate change. Last year several former state Department of Environmental Protection employees said they had been told not to even use the term. While Scott disputed those claims, he has failed to do anything to suggest he takes climate change seriously.

Scott might not be interested in science, but he's clearly interested in jobs, and space already is a significant source of high-wage employment for Florida. The state is home to at least 11,600 aerospace companies with 132,000 workers contributing more than $17 billion a year to the economy, according to Space Florida, a public-private economic-development agency. Click here. (4/7)

Mars TV Pilot Wraps New Mexico Filming (Source: KFTV)
The pilot for a Mars-set TV series has finished filming on location in and around Albuquerque in New Mexico. Made for the CW television network in the US, the as-yet-untitled production tells the story of a group of explorers who travel to Mars to join an established colony, only to find everyone has disappeared. Space-based science fiction is popular once again following the success of films like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and, of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The rebooted Star Trek franchise has also been a hit and Star Trek Beyond is due out in July this year, while the brand is also returning to television. New Mexico offers desert locations suitable as a stand-in for Mars and the state also offers a generous 30% TV filming incentive.

The state also recently hosted sci-fi movie The Space Between Us, about a boy who has grown up on Mars but then travels to Earth to track down the true love he meets online. Location filming took place partly at Spaceport America, which is a base for Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic. (4/8)

Tiny Cubesat Tracks Worldwide Air Traffic (Source: ESA)
Since its launch six months ago, a satellite small enough to fit in an airline passenger’s carry-on bag has been tracking aircraft in flight across the entire globe. Built for ESA by GomSpace in Denmark, the GomX-3 CubeSat was ejected from the International Space Station on 5 October 2015, along with a Danish student satellite.

GomX-3’s distinctive helical antenna has detected millions of signals from aircraft, building a detailed map of global aviation traffic. These signals are regularly broadcast from aircraft, giving flight information such as speed, position and altitude. All aircraft entering European airspace are envisaged to provide such automatic surveillance in the coming years. (4/7)

Germany Holds First Summit for Space Entrepreneurs (Source: CCTV)
There's never been a gathering quite like this in Europe. But there's now a boom in space entrepreneurs - many, it seems, following Boshuizen's path. The "Sea Serpant", for example - a low-cost, re-usable, water-launching rocket. It's taking place in Germany - and brings together bright young minds, with organizations like the European Space Agency and the World Food Program - to look at how new ideas can solve big problems. (4/8)

SpaceX to Provide Space Station With Long-Term Spaceflight Survival Research (Source: Florida Politics)
The SpaceX Dragon capsule will be filled with almost 7,000 pounds of supplies and equipment, including components for astronauts to test a new expandable space habitat that could be a key to giving astronauts a place to live during years-long space missions.

Bigelow's BEAM will be only one of several science and technology supplies developing around the theme of keeping humans alive and well in space for a long time. One study will look at cellular changes in microgravity that could affect astronauts’ immune systems in long spaceflights. One looks at muscle atrophy and bone loss on long spaceflights. (4/7)

Dragon, Cygnus to Meet at ISS for First Time (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule and Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo ship are poised to be berthed together at the International Space Station for the first time. "For those of us that have worked through this transition from shuttle into this commercial cargo service, it's really a neat thing for us to be able to see both of these vehicles up there at the same time," said NASA's Kenny Todd. "Certainly a milestone moment for the program." (4/6)

The Russian Billionaire Hunting for Aliens (Source: Daily Beast)
If we’re not alone in the universe and there’s intelligent life out there on another planet, we need to boldly go looking for it. But for anyone who’s seen Independence Day or any number of disaster-filled alien invasion flicks, and for the scientists theorizing about these existential crises, it may not be in our best interest to be the first to say hello—or second to be noticed.

SETI, the official collection of search arrays, has been in the headlines for the last year ever since Russian Internet billionaire Yuri Milner dropped a cool $100 million in funding for the previously underfunded initiative, and has been a force in recruiting the best minds and spurring public interest, as only eccentric billionaires can in such an abstract field of study. (4/7)

MSFC Propose Aerojet Rocketdyne Supply EUS Engines (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) has issued a “Justification for Other Than Full and Open Competition (JOFOC)” solicitation in support of sole sourcing RL10 engines for the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) from Aerojet Rocketdyne. The document calls for an initial order of 10 engines to cover the first two flights of the Space Launch System (SLS) with the powerful upper stage.

The initial plan was to switch to this new upper stage after the crewed EM-2 mission. However, as previously reported by this site, NASA wishes to advance this plan. The debut of SLS will be known as the “Block 1”, sporting a Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS), renamed the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS) for SLS. The original plan called for two DCSS orders (EM-1 and EM-2) before NASA placed a stop work order on the second unit. (4/7)

Newt Gingrich Announces Support for Spaceport Camden (Source: Georgia House)
State Representative Jason Spencer announced that former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently offered his support for the creation of Spaceport Camden, a launch site and spaceport in Camden County, Georgia. Gingrich wrote: “While in Congress, it was my distinct pleasure to work with the nascent commercial space industry on favorable legal structures and regulatory practices to promote the growth of this incredibly important industry."

“I have always believe that Georgia should actively pursue today’s $300+ billion commercial space industry, including by promoting a coastal-area site for launching satellites and humans on commercial missions. I congratulate you on the leadership you have shown by taking this initial step to establish Spaceport Camden.”

Editor's Note: Looks like Jim Muncy (a former Gingrich staffer) has done his work. Muncy and former XCOR executive Andrew Nelson are under contract to support the Georgia spaceport effort. (4/7)

For Catholic Astronauts, Flying to Space Doesn’t Mean Giving Up the Faith (Source: CNS)
On the International Space Station there’s a place, while filled with robotic equipment, where astronauts like to hang out. Called the Cupola, the small module has seven large bay windows that give crew members a panoramic view of Earth. On his first — and thus far only — mission into space in September 2013, astronaut Mike Hopkins, was eager to find the Cupola. What he saw he found amazing.

It was in the Cupola that Hopkins found himself praying and at times taking Communion. Under a special arrangement with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and with the help of Father James H. Kuczynski, pastor of Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood, Texas, Hopkins’ parish, the rookie astronaut carried a pyx with six consecrated hosts broken into four pieces. It was enough so that he could take Communion once a week for the 24 weeks he was aboard the ISS. (4/7)

Terra Bella Evaluating Launches for Eight SkySats by 2017 (Source: Via Satellite)
Earth observation company Terra Bella, previously known as Skybox Imaging, wants to have 21 satellites in orbit by the end of next year. The Google company has two satellites in orbit today: SkySat A, which launched on a Dnepr in 2013, and SkySat B, which orbited on a Soyuz in 2014. The next 19 mark the start of the SkySat C series, of which 11 are assigned to respective launch providers. In order to meet its goal of fielding a fleet of 21 by 2017, Terra Bella is studying launch options for the last eight. (4/7)

Why on Earth Is China Shooting Crude Oil Into Space? (Source: Gizmodo)
On April 6, China’s SJ-10 satellite will launch into orbit from the Jiuquan spaceport. The event would be unremarkable if not for the satellite’s rather unusual payload: six titanium cylinders of crude oil, compressed to 500 times standard atmospheric pressure. The Soret Coefficient in Crude Oil Experiment, which consists of six tiny samples of highly compressed black gold, will study how the complex mess of molecules found in petroleum redistribute under intense pressures and uneven temperatures.

And that information is of great interest to Chinese and European oil companies, who hope it’ll lead us to more elusive fossil fuel reserves here on Earth. “Deep underground, crushing pressure and rising temperature as one goes down is thought to lead to a diffusion effect—petroleum compounds moving due to temperature, basically defying gravity,” said Olivier Minster, a scientist with the European Space Agency, which is a partner on the project. (4/7)

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