May 20, 2016

SpaceX Prepping for Thursday Launch at Cape Canaveral Spaceport, Ship Landing (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX may fire up a Falcon 9 rocket's engines on Monday in a test preparing for a planned 5:40 p.m. Thursday blastoff from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The launch of a Thai communications satellite — and an attempted rocket landing to follow — should look much like SpaceX's May 6 launch of a Japanese communications satellite, but with the action unfolding in daylight instead of darkness.

The roughly 7,000-pound Thaicom 8 satellite built by Orbital ATK will beam TV channels and Internet service to Thailand, India and parts of Africa from a position 22,300 miles above the equator. After separating from the rocket's upper stage, the Falcon 9 booster will dive toward an unpiloted SpaceX "drone ship" floating offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, hoping to make it three consecutive missions with successful booster landings at sea. (5/21)

NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission arrives at KSC (Source: Florida Today)
NASA's first mission seeking to collect an asteroid sample for return to Earth has arrived at Kennedy Space Center to prepare for a September launch. An Air Force C-17 aircraft carrying the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft took off from Buckley Air Force Base near Denver and touched down on KSC's three-mile Shuttle Landing Facility around 7 p.m. Friday.

The $800 million mission is targeting a Sep. 8 liftoff atop an Atlas V rocket. It must launch by Oct. 12 or else be delayed for a year. Short for "Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer," OSIRIS-REx is expected in August 2018 to reach the asteroid Bennu, a space rock measuring about 1,900 feet in diameter that poses a potential threat to Earth late in the next century. The spacecraft in 2019 will use a robotic arm to try to pluck a two-ounce sample from Bennu's surface for return to Earth by 2023. (5/20)

44th Space Congress to Convene in Cape Canaveral (Source: Florida Today)
From Buzz Aldrin to teams launching the next astronauts from the Space Coast, a “who’s who” of the local space industry will convene in Cape Canaveral this week for the 44th Space Congress. The sold-out, three-day conference starting Tuesday will discuss how soon astronauts will launch again from U.S. soil, new rockets and spacecraft under development, Mars exploration plans and how the Cape is transforming into more than a federal spaceport.

As many as 400 attendees are expected each day at the conference whose theme is, “The Journey: Further Exploration for Universal Opportunities.” NASA, Space Florida and the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast helped the Canaveral Council of Technical Societies put together the Space Congress, which dates to the Apollo era. The event petered out in the last decade as the shuttle program counted down to retirement in 2011, but made a comeback last year. (5/21)

UK Facility Would Train Space Explorers (Source: Gazette)
Tourists wanting to explore space could be trained at a  £40 million facility in Colchester. Blue Abyss wants to build Europe's first space environment simulation facility at Essex University. A pool at the center, measuring 50 meters long and 50 meters deep, would be used to help train the general public who want to travel into space. (5/20)

NASA Learned Nothing, Forgot Nothing (Source: Huffington Post)
Per the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and the U.S. National Space Policy (also issued in 2010), NASA is currently developing the capability to send humans to Mars. Aside from the normal budgetary wrangling that accompanies any such large endeavor, the decision to use human beings instead of robots raises many ethical and policy questions. The refusal to rely on robots endangers lives, vastly increases the costs of the mission, and delays further exploration of Mars.

Bolden argues that the first humans to go to Mars would be serving the greater good of humanity: “If this species is to survive indefinitely, we need to become a multi-planet species. So one reason we need to go to Mars is so we can learn a little about living on another planet.

It would be much safer and less costly if we relied on unmanned flights. I am repeating all this to show that NASA learned nothing and forgot nothing. It still believes that the only way it can capture the imagination of American tax payers is if it sends astronauts to Mars. And it keeps pushing for this policy despite all the lessons of the human visits to the moon and the huge risks and costs of a visit to Mars. (5/20)

Young to Advise on Bringing Navy UAV to Virginia Spaceport, Instead of Jacksonville (Source: Eastern Shore Post)
The rocket scientist who recently told Accomack supervisors they are too negative to attract commerce to Wallops Research Park (WRP) just took a position with Wallops Island Regional Alliance (WIRA). The non-profit group of business folks is focused on enhancing and protecting federal and defense assets on the Eastern Shore. Thomas (Tom) Young will serve as a WIRA strategic adviser.

The 77-year-old Wachapreague native and resident of Onancock was appointed by former Gov. Bob McDonnell to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority in 2013. He is a former director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and former president and chief operating officer of Martin Marietta.

Young “will assist with strategic guidance on matters such as the United States Navy’s unmanned reconnaissance aircraft ‘Triton,’ … the Navy’s latest unmanned system program of record with a projected life cycle continuing over the next two decades and bringing the possibility of hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment and sustainment opportunities to our Delmarva region.” Wallops and Mayport, Florida, are competing for the drone program. (5/20)

NASA Won't Get Us to Mars (Source: US News)
Human beings will never get to Mars, or anywhere in our solar system, as long as we continue to let Congress decide NASA's mission through the appropriations process. Or, to be more exact, we won't get there with NASA's help.

The reason is pretty straightforward. Washington, D.C., is a town full of corporate lobbyists in very expensive office suites within walking distance of K Street and a cab ride to Capitol Hill. And what they want (and consistently get) is NASA funding for near-term contracts that provide jobs, not manned missions to Mars that take long-term vision.

In short, corporate lobbyists win the spending fights – because there is no one showing up on Capitol Hill fighting for truly visionary things like missions to Mars with astronauts on board. It's not like there is an "astronauts' lobby." Basically, Congress is telling NASA to continue to fund aerospace industry interests in the short term at the expense of a visionary manned mission to Mars that captures the public's attention in a way that nothing else can. (5/20)

Bolden: SLS is 'Protected' Against Next President (Source: Huntsville Times)
The Space Launch System (SLS) being developed by NASA in Alabama is "a protected program" the next president won't be able to cancel, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. said Friday in Huntsville.

"It's a protected program because the Congress - you know in our system of government, the president proposes and the Congress disposes," Bolden said. He noted that Congress "roundly opposed" terminating the Constellation program, SLS's predecessor, when President Obama ended its funding in 2010.

Constellation, like SLS, was also being developed by Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and several thousand aerospace workers lost their jobs when the president canceled it. Bolden defended that decision Friday. (5/20)

Alien Megastructure? Kickstarter Campaign Launched to Study 'Tabby's Star' (Source:
The mystery of whether a darkening star is home to an alien megastructure might be solved with the aid of crowdfunding, researchers said. Last fall, a star named KIC 8462852 made news when volunteers from the Planet Hunters citizen-science program uncovered something odd about the object's light. This discovery was made using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope.

KIC 8462852 is an otherwise-ordinary F-type star, slightly larger and hotter than Earth's sun. It sits about 1,480 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Cygnus. However, astronomer Tabetha "Tabby" Boyajian of Yale University in Connecticut and her colleagues found dozens of strange instances of the star dimming by up to 22 percent.

To keep working on the mystery of Tabby's Star, Boyajian and her colleagues are now turning to crowdfunding. They said they hope a Kickstarter campaign will help raise at least $100,000 by June 17 to secure observing time on a global network of ground-based telescopes. That way, researchers can see when the star's brightness dips again, the investigators said. (5/20)

ViaSat Claims Better Capacity than Gogo for Aircraft Internet (Source: Space News)
ViaSat believes it's better able to meet demand for broadband Internet access on airplanes than competitor Gogo. Speaking at an investor conference this week, ViaSat Chief Executive Mark Dankberg said that current and future satellites can provide at least 100 megabits per second of bandwidth to individual aircraft, even in congested regions over major cities. Gogo, he argued, has far less capacity for its 2Ku satellite modem. ViaSat's consumer business is "treading water," though, until the launch of ViaSat-2, planned for early 2017, provides additional capacity. (5/19)

Airbus Starts Work on Orion Service Module (Source: Airbus)
Airbus Defence and Space has formally started assembly of the first Orion service module. The company, along with ESA and NASA officials, marked the milestone in an event Thursday in Bremen, Germany. The European Service Module will fly on the first SLS/Orion mission, scheduled for launch in late 2018. ESA is providing the service module for Orion under an agreement with NASA, although the agencies have not yet finalized plans for production of additional service modules beyond the 2018 mission. (5/19)

Beidou Going Global with 30 NavSats Launched Over Next 5 Years (Source: Xinhua)
China plans to launch 30 Beidou navigation satellites over the next five years. Ran Chengqi, director of the China Satellite Navigation Office, said at a conference this week those satellites will allow Beidou, which currently provides regional coverage, to expand globally. China is also working with other nations to ensure compatibility with their satellite navigation systems. (5/20)

Air-Launch Startup Planning to Use UK Spaceport (Source: The Herald)
A Scottish air launch company is setting up operations at an airport that is a finalist to be the UK's spaceport. Orbital Access Ltd. plans to work on air launch systems for small satellites from offices at Prestwick Airport in Scotland. That airport is one of several sites the British government is considering designating as a spaceport, although a final decision is still pending. (5/19)

Will America Set Military Back by Abandoning Russian RD-180 Rocket Engines (Source: Sputnik)
The RD-180 proved both powerful and reliable, but the guiding force in purchasing the RD-180 was to keep Russian rocket scientists employed, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. US officials worried the brightest Russian astrophysicists would be tempted to join rogue states like North Korea, seeking advanced missile technology.

For nearly two decades, the policy of purchasing Russian rockets remained relatively uncontroversial, with relations between the two powers relaxed and even friendly. That changed in 2014 with the dispute over the lawful secession of Crimea from Ukraine, the result of a referendum in which 96% of voters voted in favor or reunification with Russia, following the US-supported ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The US Air Force estimates that using Delta IV rocket boosters to bridge the gap, until a new rocket can replace the Atlas V, will unnecessarily cost more than $1.5 billion, money that the military needs to use toward maintenance and upgrades. Further, if the less reliable Delta IV rocket causes a failed satellite launch, the US military faces a $1 billion loss and a several-year setback. (5/20)

China to Build Ground Station for Civilian Purposes in Argentina (Source: CRI)
China's Foreign Minister is moving to quell fears about China's intentions for a new space station that it is helping build in the South American country. Wang Yi says the space facility being built in Argentina's Patagonia region has no military applications. "The deep space station is a key project for cooperation between the two countries in the field of space (exploration) for civilian purposes. I confirm to you that this is a project for civilian purposes, undoubtedly." (5/19)

Bigelow Building Space Destinations (Source: Fortune)
Robert Bigelow has spent just under $290 million on his venture, and is the sole benefactor of Bigelow Aerospace, which does not yet make a profit. But he does expect a return on his money—and soon. “Everything depends on the taxi side of the business,” he says. If that works, he thinks space could become a $100 billion industry in the next five years.

With all the innovations in space travel, Bigelow believes at least one rocket-powered transportation company will be operational by 2018. Then, he says, “We will offer destinations to go to.” Adding he’s “looking at deploying two habitats in the year 2020.”

If all goes according to Bigelow’s plan, customers will be flown to a habitat and have access to about a third of its 330 cubic meters (the equivalent of a full ISS module) for about $60 million a year. Eventually, Bigelow would like to take the earnings from habitat lease arrangements and reinvest them, in partnership with NASA and other companies, in a program for lunar operations. His hope is that setting up real estate on the Moon will hasten deep space exploration. (5/19)

NASA Chief Announces a 2028 Expiration Date for the ISS: "It is Inevitable" (Source: Inverse)
When asked if the ISS would have to retire, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden replied, “It is inevitable — it’s a human-made structure with a lifetime.” It’s year of expiration? 2028. Bolden hinted that what could very well replace the ISS is an expandable habitat, like the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). At the end of March, NASA sent BEAM to the ISS for a two-year demonstrative period to see whether or not the module could replace some of the functions of the ISS. (5/20)

NanoRacks Milestone: Over 100 CubeSats Deployed From the ISS (Source: NanoRacks)
On May 18, 2016 the 111th customer CubeSat was deployed from the Company’s NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD) via the JAXA KIBO airlock on the International Space Station (ISS). The NanoRacks commercial ISS program has proven critical for emerging companies, universities and organizations worldwide, either as a technology demonstration opportunity or for educational purposes. (5/20)

How Many People Does it Take to Put an Astronaut in Space? (Source: Guardian)
Astronauts are the pop stars of science and technology. And behind every astronaut is a team of dedicated professionals making sure everything runs smoothly. From workers training the astronaut before a mission, to those monitoring their medical health – there are hundreds of professionals involved in getting one person safely into (and back from) space. Click here. (5/20)

DARPA Seeks Space Robots to Maintain Satellites (Source: Military Aerospace)
U.S. military researchers are asking industry to develop a space robot to be based in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) to repair, maintain, and upgrade satellites operating in this high-altitude and difficult-to-reach orbit. DARPA issued a solicitation Wednesday for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, seeking to create a dexterous robotic capability able to provide persistent robotic servicing capabilities in GEO. (5/19)

Space Coast Group Joins Space Advocacy Effort (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast (EDC) has joined leading space industry associations such as the Space Foundation, Space Florida and the Satellite Industry Association in the drive to educate congressional leaders on the critical role of the U.S. space program. Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space, a white paper developed by 14 leading U.S. Space organizations, was recently endorsed by the EDC Board of Directors for use as a primary communication tool regarding the challenges and requirements for U.S. space leadership.

On May 11, participants in the EDC annual Washington, D.C. community leaders trip had the opportunity to speak directly with congressional leaders and discuss the role of the U.S. space program. “Our constituency presented a unified message directly to our elected officials demonstrating the importance we have placed on gaining their support.” stated Lynda Weatherman. (5/20)

RD-180 Dispute Could Affect Supply Missions to ISS (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Civil space programs could be threatened by the debate over using Russian-made rocket engines for US military launches. The RD-180 is needed for United Launch Alliance to continue supplying the International Space Station, with Boeing's StarLiner capsule flying atop the Atlas-5. (5/19)

Here’s Why Many in Aerospace Remain Skeptical of the Journey to Mars (Source: Ars Technica)
During a Q&A period, NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman took a question from Jeff Greason, a rocket scientist who founded XCOR and is now a consultant with Agile Aero, about the viability of the Mars plan. The question was not in any way malicious. Greason is well steeped in both the technical and political challenges facing NASA as the agency seeks to extend the human presence in the solar system.

In 2009, after President Obama came into office, Greason served on the blue-ribbon Augustine committee that reviewed NASA’s activities. At the end of its deliberations, the committee urged the president and Congress to give NASA a clear human spaceflight goal and funding to achieve that goal. Since 2009, Greason has watched with dismay as DC has put NASA on a “Journey to Mars.” To be clear, this is an ambitious goal worthy of a great nation. The problem is that Washington has not provided the funding to carry out those goals.

Newman gave a meandering non-answer, pointing to an October 2015 NASA document laying out the "plan" for Mars and a proposed architecture. Greason said the documents do not make it clear what the overall goal of the Journey to Mars is: Flags and footprints? A base? Human settlement? “If you don't know why we're doing it, it's hard to know whether it is worth doing,” he said. Click here. (5/19)

JAXA Outlines Plans for H3 Launch Vehicle (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The H3 Launch Vehicle is a liquid propellant launch vehicle currently under development. The aim of this development is to respond to launch demands from global customers. Based on our operation experience and the reliability of launch vehicles, we will further improve the payload launch capability and reduce the launch price to triumph among international competition in the commercial launch market.

We are developing the H3 with the goal of a maiden launch in Japan Fiscal Year 2020 as a mainstay launch vehicle. Our aim of the H3 is to have a launch vehicle that launches a payload “quicker” and “easier” with “high reliability” while securing flexibility to answer the voices of customers. (5/19)

ULA Plans Delta and Atlas Missions From Florida in June (Source: Florida Today)
ULA is preparing to launch two of its most powerful rockets from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport next month. A heavy-lift version of the company's Delta IV rocket is fully assembled for a planned June 4 blastoff from Launch Complex 37 with a classified intelligence mission.

The National Reconnaissance Office payload will fly atop rocket featuring three core boosters that will generate about 2.1 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. The launch — the seventh by a Delta IV Heavy — is scheduled between 1:30 p.m. and 6:35 p.m. A more precise window will be released closer to the launch date.

ULA also has confirmed a June 24 date for the next launch of its Atlas V rocket, which will fly from Launch Complex 41 in its most powerful configuration. Five solid rocket boosters will combine with the rocket's Russian RD-180 main engine to produce about 2.5 million pounds of thrust, lifting a heavy Navy communications satellite on its way to an orbit more 22,300 miles over the equator. (5/19)

There Were Mega-Tsunamis on Mars (Source: Popular Mechanics)
The ocean waves were almost as tall as Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza, and they barreled across the red planet. Today, a team of scientists has announced the first discovery of extraterrestrial tsunamis. A team of astronomers and geologists has uncovered evidence of massive tsunamis on Mars billions of years ago.

Two separate megatsunamis tore across the red planet around 3.4 billion years ago, a time when Mars was a mere 1.1 billion years old and nearby Earth was just cradling its first microbial lifeforms. The two tsunamis created 150-foot-high shore-break waves on average, and some absolutely monster waves up to 400 feet tall. (5/19)

House Tells NASA to Stop Messing Around, Start Planning Two Europa Missions (Source: Ars Technica)
Despite the wishes of the planetary science community to further investigate Europa, NASA has been wary of mounting such a mission because of the high cost—well above $1 billion. Additionally, planetary science hasn't been a priority in President Obama's NASA budgets, and the space agency has preferred to focus most of its robotic solar system exploration on Mars. The red planet is easier to reach, and NASA says it wants to explore Mars further to enable future human missions.

Congress has been more interested in planetary science, however. And in particular, the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA's budget, John Culberson (R-Texas), has fancied Europa. Even when NASA wasn't asking for Europa funds, the congressman was funneling money to the scientists at JPL.

Between the 2013 and 2016 fiscal years, NASA requested just $45 million in Europa funding, but Congress appropriated $395 million. For fiscal year 2017, NASA requested $49.6 million in Europa funding, but a House appropriations bill released this week by Culberson's committee proposes $260 million for mission planning and development. (5/19)

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