April 9, 2016

ULA Cuts 375 Jobs as New Commercial Space-Race Heats Up (Source: Denver Post)
As United Launch Alliance transitions to stay competitive in the new space race, the company confirmed Friday that it is cutting 375 jobs. Most of the job losses are expected to be voluntary and affected employees will get a severance package, ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said.

"As ULA continues our transformation, we have determined that a reduction in force is necessary," Rye said in a statement. "ULA's intention is to accomplish most, if not all of the reductions via voluntary separation. We anticipate up to 375 employees separating from ULA across all five locations."

ULA currently employs 3,400 people, with about 1,500 in Colorado. Rye said the job reductions are expected to be completed "later this year." The Colorado-based developer of spacecraft launchers faces pressure from new competitors led by billionaire tech entrepreneurs. (4/8)

Kepler Spacecraft in Emergency Mode (Source: NASA)
During a scheduled contact on Thursday, April 7, mission operations engineers discovered that the Kepler spacecraft was in Emergency Mode (EM). EM is the lowest operational mode and is fuel intensive. Recovering from EM is the team's priority at this time.

The mission has declared a spacecraft emergency, which provides priority access to ground-based communications at the agency's Deep Space Network. Initial indications are that Kepler entered EM approximately 36 hours ago, before mission operations began the maneuver to orient the spacecraft to point toward the center of the Milky Way for the K2 mission's microlensing observing campaign. (4/8)

The Spies Who Saved the Space Shuttle (Source: Daily Beast)
Hidden behind NASA’s public drive into space was a second, shadowy government agency. And without it, the space shuttle might never have flown. At the same time that the USA was competing with the USSR to get into the solar system, NASA and the U.S. military were battling each other for dominance of America’s efforts in space. The rivalry came to a head in April 1981, during the first orbital test flight of the very first operational space shuttle, Columbia.

The shuttle, NASA’s flagship and a symbol for American military and scientific prowess, was in trouble. Her heat shield had partially failed. No one knew if the damage would prevent Columbia from safely returning to Earth. And for a moment, it seemed only the military—more specifically, the then-secret National Reconnaissance Office could save the shuttle and her crew. In effect, rescuing its own bureaucratic enemy.

That’s the pivotal scene in an incredible new nonfiction book by Rowland White, an aviation expert and author of several profiles of pioneering aviators and their high-tech craft. Drawing on the author’s extensive interviews with veteran astronauts and NASA leaders, Into the Black explores the Cold War space race from the perspective of a small group of military test pilots—including Navy hotshot Bob Crippen. Click here. (4/9)

At This Art Exhibit, The Artists Are Also Astrophysicists (Source: Fast Company)
"Space time is accelerating between galaxies faster and faster," says Brian Nord, an astrophysicist and research associate at Fermilab, the particle physics laboratory in Illinois. Nord and his colleagues aren't just astrophysicists, though—as a new exhibit based on their scientific work proves, they're also unlikely artists.

Nord is explaining the concept of dark energy, an unknown energy form that has the opposite gravitational pull to ordinary matter. It's hypothesized to be the reason why the expansion of the universe is speeding up—a discovery made by two teams of astronomers in 1998—though scientists still haven't been able to prove it.

That's the goal of the Dark Energy Survey: an organization made up of 120 scientists from 23 institutions around the world (including Fermilab) that hopes to uncover the nature of dark energy by measuring the entire 14-billion-year history of cosmic expansion. Click here. (4/8)

My Flight With the Wannabe Space Pilots of the Mojave (Source: WIRED)
Since this is Mojave, many of them work for aerospace companies like Scaled Composites, which designed the Ansari X Prize-winning SpaceShipOne, or the Spaceship Company, which built Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, a spaceplane that will eventually take tourists, if not exactly to space, then at least really, really high. Working at these New Space firms is competitive, and employees will do whatever it takes to set themselves apart.

The new business landscape of private aerospace companies demands new aircraft, which means someone has to see if they fly. Just as their employers are privately-owned upstarts in a government-dominated industry, they are civilian upstarts trying to become something once the dominion of the military-industrial complex: test pilots. Click here. (4/8)

Congressional Food Fight Over Rockets (Source: Town Hall)
Like a messy scene from the old fraternity film “Animal House,” whereupon Delta house character Bluto starts a culinary melee in the chow hall, Congress cannot help itself. Some members continue to engage in no-holds-barred personal food fights. The most recent fight involves rocket engines. On issues of national security, Americans long for common sense and level-headed policy-making – even on topics like our ability to launch heavy space assets into high orbit.

However, some members, led by Senator John McCain, seem more intent on scoring political points, lofting nonsense at each other, helping political friends by engaging in money-wasting food fights. Within the past few weeks, experts on space launch from across the country have been clear. They said, as has been widely reported, Congress should stop considering placement of national security payloads on unproven – as yet unbuilt – American-made heavy lift rocket engines. Click here. (4/8)

U.S. Needs Up To 18 More Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Reuters)
The Pentagon will need to buy up to 18 more Russian-built RD-180 engines to power rockets carrying U.S. military satellites into space over the next six years or so, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said. Congress banned use of the Russian RD-180 rocket engines for military use after 2019, following Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014.

But U.S. lawmakers eased the ban late last year, worried that it could drive United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, out of business and leave only privately held SpaceX to lift satellites into space. Work said the United States needed to ensure there were at least "two affordable and reliable means into space." He added the RD-180 would be needed only during what he described as a transition period of new domestic rocket engine development. "We just don't see any way you can get a new engine in anything less than six years," Work said. (4/8)

Giant Free-Flying Exoplanet One of Closest 'Rogue' Worlds Yet Seen (Source: Space.com)
A huge, newly discovered alien planet that zooms through space without a parent star is one of the closest such "rogue" worlds to Earth yet seen, astronomers say. The exoplanet, known as 2MASS J1119–1137, is four to eight times more massive than Jupiter and lies about 95 light-years from Earth at the moment, a new study reports.

The newfound world is only slightly less bright than the giant rogue planet PSO J318.5−22, which was first spotted in 2013 and is located about 80 light-years from Earth's solar system, researchers said. Kendra Kellogg, a graduate student at Western University in Ontario, Canada, and her colleagues detected, confirmed and characterized 2MASS J1119–1137 using NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer satellite and the Gemini South and Baade telescopes. (4/8)

Space Hotels a Reality in 20 Years (Source: Sky News)
Scientists have launched a new inflatable room in the hope to make space travel more of a reality for citizens of earth. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is en route to the International Space Station for the first basic testing to determine how well it holds-up in outer space. Private enterprise Bigelow Aerospace is behind the experiment which, once inflated, will be attached to the station for two years.

It will be the first time astronauts can temporarily leave the station into an external inflatable habitat. Space expert Dr Morris Jones said the experiment is one-step closer 'toward that goal of making space travel for private citizens more of a reality'. "Their (Bigelow) long term plan is to build a totally private enterprise space station that could function as a hotel for wealthy space tourists or it could function as an industrial research facility,' Dr Morris said. (4/9)

Kanata Firm Helps Design Space 'Swiss Army Knife' (Source: Ottawa Sun)
Kanata company Neptec Design Group will be working with a North Ontario mining technology firm to create equipment that could be used for deep-space prospecting missions to the moon, Mars or even an asteroid. The Canadian Space Agency has awarded a $700,000 contract to Sudbury-based Deltion Innovations to develop PROMPT (or Percussive and Rotary Multi-Purpose Tool), a piece of equipment described by Deltion as a "space-age Swiss Army knife" that would serve multiple functions on a mission.

The robotic device, which would be compacted into a small, lightweight unit and installed on the end of a CSA robotic arm, will have the ability to drill about 10 cm into extraterrestrial crust and capture samples, screw bolts and make repairs autonomously. “The tool is focused on early stage space mining and early stage space construction,” said Dale Boucher, CEO of Deltion. “(PROMPT will) help to understand surface structure and composition.” (4/9)

North Korea Says Successfully Tested ICBM Engine (Source: Straits Times)
North Korea said on Saturday it had successfully tested an engine designed for an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) that would "guarantee" an eventual nuclear strike on the US mainland. It was the latest in a series of claims by Pyongyang of significant breakthroughs in both its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Outside experts have treated a number of the claims with scepticism, suggesting the North Korean leadership is attempting to talk up its achievements ahead of a showcase ruling party congress next month. Now North Korea "can tip new type inter-continental ballistic rockets with more powerful nuclear warheads and keep any cesspool of evils in the earth including the US mainland within our striking range", Kim added. (4/9)

NASA Denies Reports Of Cassini Orbit Anomaly (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA is denying reports that its Cassini spacecraft is experiencing “unexplained deviations in its orbit around Saturn,” which some attribute to the gravitational pull of a possible undiscovered planet in our Solar System. “While the proposed planet’s existence may eventually be confirmed by other means, mission navigators have observed no unexplained deviations in the spacecraft’s orbit since its arrival there in 2004,” NASA says. (4/9)

Space-Bound Veggies Will Also Sprout in White House Garden (Source: Space.com)
A new batch of green-vegetable seeds is set to launch to the International Space Station today (April 8) as part of an experiment to grow produce in space. Meanwhile, seeds from the same lot are taking root in Michelle Obama's White House kitchen garden.

The seeds are part of Veg-03, the third crop of plants to be grown in the station's Vegetable Production System (Veggie). This go-round, scientists are attempting to grow a variety of Chinese cabbage called Tokyo Bekana. The seeds are scheduled to launch toward the station today aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle. (4/8)

Official Says Russia's Piloted, Scientific Space Programs Unaffected by Sanctions (Source: Tass)
The piloted and scientific projects of Ros—Āosmos space authority are practically unaffected by Western sanctions, the authority’s deputy head Mikhail Khailov said on Friday. "In the scientific and piloted space projects the effect of the sanctions is next to zero," he said. At8 the same time, he said, in the state space program, Russia is trying not to depend on imported parts. (4/9)

Clyde Space Opening US Manufacturing Base (Source: Space Innovation Congress)
There’s masses of space activity going on north of the border and no company is more active than Clyde Space, the Glasgow company behind Scotland’s first satellite. An award-winning supplier of small and micro spacecraft systems, it announced in January that it is to open a US manufacturing base to win more contracts with the US government.

The US currently represents about 40% of Clyde’s business. The bulk of its work is on high performance power subsystems, DC-DC Converters, lithium polymer batteries and high efficiency solar panels, typically for small satellite missions. It is also active in the design and build of Attitude Control and Determination Systems and is a successful CubeSats vendor. (4/9)

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