May 24, 2016

Soyuz Launches Galileo Satellites From Kourou Spaceport (Source:
A Soyuz rocket lifted off early this morning carrying two Galileo navigation satellites. The Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana on schedule at 4:48 a.m. Eastern carrying the 13th and 14th Galileo spacecraft. The Fregat upper stage will deploy the satellites into their planned orbit nearly four hours after liftoff. The launch brings the number of Galileo spacecraft in orbit to 14. (5/24)

House Budget Increases Planetary Science, Cuts Earth Science (Source: Space News)
Planetary science wins, but Earth science and the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) lose in a House spending bill to be marked up today. The House Appropriations Committee released the draft report accompanying its commerce, justice and science spending bill that the committee will take up this morning. The report increases funding for planetary science by $327 million above NASA's request, including work on a Europa orbiter and lander as well as other programs, like Discovery missions. However, Earth science is cut by a similar amount, and the report provides no funds to support ARM. (5/24)

Bolden: International Collaboration Likely Despite Election Concerns (Source: Space News)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says other nations are still interested in cooperating with NASA despite uncertainty regarding the upcoming election. Bolden said current and potential partners are "concerned" about changes that could come when the next administration takes office, but added such concerns are common during transitions, and is not specific to the current presidential campaign. Bolden said he plans on making a number of trips this summer to support international cooperation, including a visit to China that may include an agreement on aeronautics, but not space, cooperation. (5/24)

SpaceX's July ISS Resupply Mission Will Attempt Falcon-9 Landing at Spaceport Pad (Source: The Verge)
A July launch of a space station cargo mission will be SpaceX's next opportunity to land a Falcon 9 on land. NASA announced Monday it is scheduling the next SpaceX Dragon cargo mission to the station for no earlier than July 16. SpaceX later confirmed that it will attempt to land the first stage back at Cape Canaveral on that mission, its first land landing attempt since the Orbcomm launch in December. Space station cargo missions have sufficient excess performance to enable land landings, unlike launches of geostationary satellites that require landings at sea. (5/24)

Solar Superflares May Have Made Earth Habitable (Source:
Powerful "superflares" early in the sun's history could have helped life form on Earth. Analysis of data from NASA's Kepler mission suggests that young stars could generate as many as 10 superflares a day, versus the one a century the sun currently produces. Those flares could have helped warm the Earth enough to support life at a time when the sun itself was only about 70 percent as bright as it is today, overcoming what is known as the "faint young sun paradox." (5/24)

Ohio Airport May Be Renamed for John Glenn (Source: Columbus Dispatch)
The Columbus, Ohio, airport could soon be renamed for John Glenn, the former astronaut and U.S. senator. The Ohio Legislature is considering adding language to a license plate bill that would rename Port Columbus International Airport the John Glenn Columbus International Airport. The proposal has the support of both the speaker of the Ohio House and the mayor of Columbus. (5/24)

Could This ‘Mars Base Camp’ Really Send Astronauts to the Red Planet in 2028? (Source: Washington Post)
Lockheed’s vision of an orbital mission is somewhat pragmatic as humans-to-Mars concepts go. A Mars landing is exceedingly difficult, because the atmosphere is too thin to be of much help with aerobraking or parachutes, but it is thick enough to cause turbulence or burn up your spacecraft if you’re not careful.

The aerospace wizards have managed to land something as massive as a small car on Mars (the Curiosity rover), but to put humans on the surface they'd need to land something the size of a two-story house. So Lockheed’s vision starts with an orbital mission, with a landing sometime down the road — maybe 2033, Lockheed's chief technologist for exploration systems Tony Antonelli said. Click here. (5/24)

Arianespace to Supply Payload Dispenser Systems for OneWeb Constellation (Source: Space Daily)
Arianespace reports that it has signed a contract with the global satellite internet company OneWeb to design, qualify and supply 21 payload dispensers for the deployment of the OneWeb constellation, along with five more on option. RUAG Space AB (Linkoping, Sweden) will be the prime contractor, in charge of development and production of these dispenser systems.

The dispenser systems will first secure the satellites during their flight to low Earth orbit and then release them into space. They are designed to accommodate up to 32 spacecraft per launch, allowing Arianespace to deliver the lion's share of the OneWeb constellation over a period of 18 months, starting in 2018. (5/24)

KBR Acquiring NASA Contractor Wyle (Source: Space News)
NASA contractor Wyle is being acquired by Houston-based KBR Inc. KBR, a construction and engineering firm well known for its oil industry work, is paying $570 million for Wyle, a Top 25 NASA contractor that currently holds the agency’s $1.5 billion space medicine contract. Wyle also provides specialized engineering, scientific and technical services to the U.S. Department of Defense and other government agencies. (5/24)

Human Missions to Mars: Questions of Who and When (Source: Space Review)
NASA has general plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but that schedule is not fast enough for some. Jeff Foust reports on a debate among Mars exploration advocates on the schedule of such missions, and the role the private sector can play. Click here. (5/23)
Comparing India’s Reusable Launch Vehicle with the Space Shuttle is Totally Out of Place (Source: Space Review)
On Monday, the Indian space agency ISRO flew its first reusable launch vehicle technology demonstrator vehicle on a brief suborbital flight. Kiran Krishnan Nair argues that while the flight is a step forwards towards an RLV, its importance has been overhyped, particularly in the Indian media. Click here. Editor's Note: Here's a photo comparison of the Indian RLV and the U.S. X-37 spaceplane. (5/23)

Creating a Mission Control for the Commercial Spaceflight Industry (Source: Space Review)
As more organizations get involved in human spaceflight, there will be a greater need for facilities to monitor and control those missions. Greg Anderson argues for the creation of a consolidated mission control organization to meet that need. Click here. (5/23)
How an ICBM-Based “Bridge to Nowhere” Can Help Start a Moon Village (Source: Space Review)
In recent months, the launch industry has debated whether to revise existing policy limiting the commercial use of retired ICBM motors. Michael Turner offers an alternative use for those missiles that could stimulate lunar development. Click here. (5/23)

Ex-NASA Man to Plant One Billion Trees a Year Using Drones (Source: Independent)
A drone start-up is going to counter industrial scale deforestation using industrial scale reforestation. BioCarbon Engineering wants to use drones for good, using the technology to seed up to one billion trees a year, all without having to set foot on the ground.

26 billion trees are currently being burned down every year while only 15 billion are replanted. If successful, the initiative could help address this shortfall in a big way. Drones should streamline reforestation considerably, with hand-planting being slow and expensive. "The only way we're going to take on these age-old problems is with techniques that weren't available to us before," CEO and former NASA-engineer Lauren Fletcher said. "By using this approach we can meet the scale of the problem out there." (4/7)

Forget the Asteroid Mission and Go to the Moon, Lawmakers Tell NASA (Source: Ars Technica)
On Tuesday, budget writers in the US House will make changes to a bill that funds federal commerce, justice, and science agencies—which includes NASA—for the coming fiscal year. But a draft of the full bill released Monday contains a blockbuster for the space agency: the House calls for a pivot away from NASA’s direct-to-Mars vision toward a pathway that includes lunar landings first.

Since a space policy speech in 2010 by President Obama, the space agency has been following a loosely defined plan to first send astronauts to visit a fragment of an asteroid near the Moon and then conduct other operations in the vicinity of the Moon before striking off for Mars some time in the 2030s.

However a number of independent reports, such as the National Research Council’s Pathways to Exploration, have questioned the viability and sustainability of a direct-to-Mars plan. That panel called for NASA and the White House to reconsider the Moon as an interim destination. Click here. (5/23)

Ancient Solar Superflare Suggests Risks for Mars Missions (Source:
When a powerful "superflare" from the sun scoured the solar system more than 1,200 years ago, it apparently had little effect on Earth's inhabitants — but today's astronauts wouldn't be so lucky, scientists said. New research suggests that an event of that magnitude would greatly endanger current plans for space travel, with astronauts standing a good chance of receiving lethal doses of radiation.

Solar eruptions occur regularly, sometimes wreaking havoc on Earth. For instance, in 1989, a powerful explosion from the sun hit the Earth's magnetic field, triggering a geomagnetic storm that blacked out the entire Canadian province of Quebec within 90 seconds, leaving 6 million residents in the dark for 9 hours. (5/23)

Scientists Work on Plans to Defend Earth from Killer Asteroids (Source: CBS)
Disaster movies from "Deep Impact" to "Asteroid" to "Armageddon" have mined drama from the mortal threat humanity could face if a massive asteroid were speeding towards Earth. At Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, scientists are taking that disaster scenario seriously and working on a plan to prevent it.

To save mankind from a doomsday collision, planetary scientist Megan Bruck Syal is working with small meteorites -- space rocks formed at the dawn of the solar system that drifted through space for billions of years before crashing into Earth. "Nobody has really looked at meteorites in this way before, under these high-pressure conditions, so we're doing something new and it's difficult in a lot of ways when you do something new," Bruck said. (5/23)

Lawmaker Orders NASA to Plan Trip to Alpha Centauri by 100th Anniversary of Moon Landing (Source: Science)
It seems that the recently announced Breakthrough Starshot project—to send a privately funded fleet of tiny spacecraft to a nearby star—may have started a star rush. Today a senior U.S. lawmaker who helps write NASA’s budget called on the agency to begin developing its own interstellar probes, with the aim of launching a mission to Alpha Centauri, our nearest star system, in 2069—the centenary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Representative John Culberson (R–TX), a self-professed space fan who chairs the House of Representatives appropriations subpanel that oversees NASA, included the call for the ambitious voyage in a committee report released today. The report accompanies a bill setting NASA’s budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins 1 October; the full House appropriations panel is set to consider the bill on Tuesday.

In the report, Culberson’s panel “encourages NASA to study and develop propulsion concepts that could enable an interstellar scientific probe with the capability of achieving a cruise velocity of 0.1c [10% of the speed of light].” The report language doesn’t mandate any additional funding, but calls on NASA to draw up a technology assessment report and conceptual road map within 1 year. (5/23)

Billionaire Technologist Accuses NASA Asteroid Mission of Bad Statistics (Source: Science)
Nathan Myhrvold—ex–Microsoft billionaire, patent accumulator, dinosaur geek, and noted molecular gastronomist—has a new obsession: asteroids. The CEO of Bellevue, Washington–based Intellectual Ventures says that scientists using a prominent NASA space telescope have made fundamental mistakes in their assessment of the size of more than 157,000 asteroids they have observed. (5/23)

The Center of Earth is Younger Than the Outer Surface (Source: Science News)
Our home planet is young at heart. According to new calculations, Earth’s center is more than two years younger than its surface. In Einstein’s general theory of relativity, massive objects warp the fabric of spacetime, creating a gravitational pull and slowing time nearby. So a clock placed at Earth’s center will tick ever-so-slightly slower than a clock at its surface.

Such time shifts are determined by the gravitational potential, a measure of the amount of work it would take to move an object from one place to another. Since climbing up from Earth’s center would be a struggle against gravity, clocks down deep would run slow relative to surface timepieces. (5/23)

Banning Russian Rocket Engines Will Increase Costs And Risks (Source: Forbes)
How confusing is the legislative process on Capitol Hill? Try this: Last week the House of Representatives cut the President’s emergency funding request for fighting the Zika virus by two-thirds to save money; this week the Senate will debate whether to waste all the money that was saved by forcing the Pentagon to use over-priced rockets when it launches satellites.

Senator McCain, who is pushing a ban on the use of Russian engines in U.S. launch vehicles, says the government should rely on American technology.  But there’s a problem with that approach.  One of the U.S. launch providers — SpaceX — can’t reach half of the orbits the military needs to get to, and the other would cost 35-40% more per launch if it can’t use rockets with Russian engines.

The added cost for launches would be over $2 billion, which is more than the White House’s entire request to combat Zika virus.  And what would we get for spending the extra money?  Nothing good.  Here are four ways banning Russian engines would make life harder for warfighters and taxpayers. (5/23)

Iridium Launches Breakthrough Alternative Global Positioning Service (Source: Iridium)
Iridium Communications announced the official launch of Satellite Time and Location (STL), an alternative or companion to traditional location-based technologies, and declared it ready for use. For the first time, end users now have access to accurate and resilient position, navigation and timing (PNT) technology that works anywhere on the planet, even indoors.

Due to the unique architecture of its 66 cross-linked, low-earth orbit satellite constellation, Iridium is the only network that has the global coverage and reliability needed to deliver this highly unique, robust and cost-effective solution to the market.

STL can protect, toughen and augment traditional GPS technology by providing a position or timing source when GPS signals are degraded or unavailable. It can also provide an alternative source of time to check the integrity of a GPS signal.  This is essential for any kind of critical infrastructure that depends on GPS as a source of PNT information. (5/23)

NASA Extends Harris’ Space Communications Network Support Contract (Source: GovConWire)
NASA has exercised two one-year options on a previously awarded contract to Harris (NYSE: HRS) for communications, telemetry and tracking support to the International Space Station and various satellites in low-Earth orbit.

The options increase the ceiling value of the company’s Space Communications Network Services contract with NASA by about $384 million, Harris said Monday. Harris booked the additional contract funds in the third quarter of its 2016 fiscal year. The company has supported the communications network of the orbiting ISS, Hubble Space Telescope and Earth Observing System satellites through the SCNS program. (5/23)

Siberian Scientists Create Station Allowing Humans to Live on Mars (Source: Sputnik)
Siberian scientists create a revolutionary BIOS-3 system that is a self-sustaining ‘micro-Earth’ which may make it possible for humans to create oxygen, water and food in hostile environments, for example on Mars. The BIOS-3, or the Biological Support System, is an experiment which was started in the early 1960s.

In 1972-1973 two men and a woman participated in the experiment, they were an agronomist, an engineer and a doctor. They spent six months at the BIOS-3 saying that the system was able to provide 100 percent of the needed oxygen, and from 50 to 80 percent of the food at different stages of the experiment.

The BIOS-3 was completely self-sufficient as it was about 315 cubic meters, divided into four spaces linked by hermetically sealed doors. There was a common space with a kitchen and a bathroom where people could have some rest, talk to their colleagues, monitor how the system operates. The other two compartments had plants: wheat, oilseeds and vegetables, providing a balanced diet for the ‘bionauts’. (5/23)

Chinese Startups and Venture Capitalists Look to Space (Source: South China Morning Post)
Space is a frontier that could soon fall to privately funded Chinese start-ups looking for commercial opportunities created by the sky-high costs of the state-run space programme, which one expert describes as “probably the most expensive in the world”. Visitors to the simple but sleek website of Beijing-based One Space Technology are greeted with the slogan “We create space express”.

With its first commercial rocket launch scheduled for 2018, the private aerospace company has vowed to become China’s version of US rocket launch firm SpaceX, with a low-cost launch vehicle that would “make a space journey as convenient as hailing a cab”.

A key investor in One Space was Legend Holdings, the mother company of Lenovo, the world’s largest personal computer maker, which owns a substantial but unspecified share of the company through its venture capital fund Legend Star. (5/23)

Kona Spaceport Certification Still Being Pursued (Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald)
For several years, a small office in the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has been pursuing a spaceport certification for Kona International Airport, which would make it one of the few hubs for proposed commercial flights into suborbit.

While the idea still isn’t ready for launch, Jim Crisafulli, state Office of Aerospace Development director, said an environmental assessment required for the Federal Aviation Administration certification remains in the works. He estimates a public meeting regarding its findings could be held this summer, perhaps by late July or early August. Crisafulli previously estimated the review would be done around the start of the year, but additional questions from the FAA extended the time-frame.

“The FAA is trying to be as thorough as possible,” he said. “We’ve now been through eight drafts of this environmental assessment.” Space tourism itself remains an idea. But Hawaii’s position as a major tourist destination makes it a good candidate for this emerging industry, assuming it takes off, Crisafulli said. (5/23)

Dark Energy Might be the Reason Time Runs Forward (Source: Futurism)
A new study may have found a link between dark energy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics—suggesting that the very expansion of the universe may impart a direction to time. Click here. (5/23)

FAA AST Budget: A Million Here, A Million There (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The House Appropriations Committee has recommended $18.826 million for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) for FY 2017, which is $1 million below the Obama Administration’s budget request. The amount is $1 million above the enacted level for FY 2016. In a separate account, FAA AST would receive $2 million for research and development efforts into commercial space transportation safety. The Obama Administration has requested $2.953 million.

“The recommended funding level will allow the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to add operational personnel to support an increased level of activity in its licensing, permitting and safety inspection functions,” the committee said in draft bill to be marked up on Tuesday. “The Committee notes that the budget request includes a 20% growth in personnel in this office above the fiscal year 2016 personnel level. The Committee believes that the office should be able to judiciously hire critical operational staff within the amounts provided,” the measure states. (5/23)

ThumbSat Opens SmallSat Factory in Tijuana Mexico (Source: Via Satellite)
Experimental satellite manufacturer ThumbSat has opened a factory in Tijuana, Mexico for the production of small satellites and their associated components. The facility is fully operational and capable of producing circuit boards for satellites, electronic subsystems such as radio transmission boards, and customer specific payloads, including the new ThumbNet dongles, which will be one of the most advanced Software Defined Radio (SDR) receivers available anywhere in the world, according to the company.

The facility includes a clean room housing all of the equipment required to manufacture and assemble ThumbNet tracking stations and ThumbSat satellites as well as perform all of the required testing to ensure the satellites are ready for launch into space. Testing capabilities of the laboratory eventually will include hot and cold thermal cycling, three axis random and sine wave vibration, vacuum, and complete electrical and operational verification. (5/23)

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