July 13, 2016

Kepler Finds Five New Planets Orbiting Distant Star (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A team of astronomers, led by Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), has recently detected five new exoplanets circling a bright star designated HIP 41378, which lies some 380 light-years away. The newly found alien worlds are larger than our planet, with sizes ranging from about 2.5 times the size of Earth to the size of Jupiter. The findings were presented in a paper published June 27 on the arXiv pre-print server. (7/12)

Ariane Rocket Debris Washes Up (Source: ZIZ)
It was an out of this world experience for police officers in Nevis on Sunday when they discovered debris of a space shuttle washed up at White Bay. The fragments have been identified as pieces of a Russian rocket that fell to earth some time ago. ZIZ has learnt that the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority said the debris is part of a rocket associated with the launch of Sentinel Satellite 1b from the European Space Agency Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

According to the ESA website the satellite was launched on April 25 2016 and its goal is to deliver information for numerous services, from monitoring ice in polar seas to tracking land subsidence, and for responding to disasters such as floods. The debris that washed up in Nevis was reportedly part of the rocket that propelled the satellite into orbit. (7/4)

Air Force Plan for Commercial Satellites Hits Legal Snags (Source: Space News)
Legal questions have slowed a U.S. Air Force project to develop new ways to buy commercial satellite bandwidth. Under the Pathfinder 2 program, the Air Force proposed buying a transponder on one commercial satellite, and then use that to access capacity on the satellite operator's entire fleet. However, questions raised within the Pentagon about its legal ability to barter that transponder for access to other satellites have stopped the Air Force from issuing a request for proposals, making it unlikely it will be able to award a contract before the next fiscal year begins. (7/12)

Air Force GPS Ground System Making Progress After Problems (Source: Breaking Defense)
A troubled next-generation GPS ground control program is finally getting some good news. The Air Force said that the most recent review of the OCX program found that prime contractor Raytheon "has made progress" in implementing changes to the program. The news comes days after the Air Force said that OCX had suffered a Nunn-McCurdy breach after its costs rose by 25 percent above its baseline. (7/12)

Curiosity Back to Normal After Glitch on Mars (Source: NASA)
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has resumed normal operations a week after going into safe mode. JPL said Monday that the rover, which landed on Mars nearly four years ago, returned to normal operations after a software problem July 2 put the spacecraft into safe mode. The most likely cause of the safe mode, according to project officials, is a "software mismatch" in how the rover's computers transfer image data. (7/11)

China Plans Satellite to Study Earth's Water Cycle (Source: Xinhua)
China is planning a new satellite to study the Earth's water cycle. Chinese officials said Monday the Water Cycle Observation Mission, scheduled for launch in 2020, will provide "unprecedented, accurate observations" of water and ice conditions. Officials added they hope to work with American and European scientists on a "worldwide water cycle observation network" that will combine observations from the Chinese spacecraft with data from their own satellites. (7/12)

A Decade of Plant Biology in Space (Source: Space Daily)
On this day 10 years ago, Space Shuttle Discovery was launched to the International Space Station carrying ESA's European Modular Cultivation System - a miniature greenhouse to probe how plants grow in weightlessness. From looking at how plants know where to grow roots to how light can influence growth, and how the tips of plant roots bend as they grow, it is a flagship research facility on the orbiting complex.

Installed by ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter in 2006, it nurtures plants from seedlings to maturity, and allows both astronauts and research teams on the ground to intervene and change the conditions. Every aspect of the growing environment can be regulated - temperature, atmosphere, water and light - and two centrifuges simulate gravity up to twice Earth's level to compare how plants respond to different degrees of gravity. (7/11)

Moon Express to Test Lander at Historic Cape Complexes (Source: Florida Today)
When Launch Complex 17 was last active nearly five years ago, the final Delta II rocket to fly from Cape Canaveral sent a pair of NASA spacecraft on their way to the moon. The moon remains the goal for a private company that has now taken over the historic launch site, and a neighboring one, to support development of commercial lunar landers that could fly as soon as next year.

Moon Express has reached what it says is a long-term agreement with the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing to use complexes 17 and 18 to assemble and test its washing machine-sized lander, which is a contender to win the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE. The landers will perform short, low-altitude hops during tests at the former Cape launch complexes, but flights to the moon could launch from as far away as New Zealand initially, depending on which rocket the company uses.

The agreement finally settles Moon Express in a new home at the Cape, a short hop down the coast from where it had originally planned to set up shop. Early last year the company announced a deal to use Launch Complex 36, but agreed to relocate after Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin committed to launching orbital rockets there by the end of the decade. (7/12)

Laura Forczyk Talks About the Future of Space (Source: Florida Today)
Laura Forczyk, space analysis and consulting, talks about the future of space and reusable rockets. Click here. (7/12)

Planet Purchases Three Launches From Rocket Lab (Source: Space News)
Rocket Lab, the U.S.-New Zealand company developing the Electron small launch vehicle, has won a contract for three launches from remote sensing satellite company Planet. The contract covers three dedicated launches of Dove satellites built by San Francisco-based Planet (formerly Planet Labs) on Electron vehicles. The companies did not announce terms of the deal, although Rocket Lab quotes a list price of $4.9 million per Electron launch on its website.

In addition to Planet, Rocket Lab has a contract for three launches, with options for two more, with Moon Express, a company developing commercial lunar landers. Rocket Lab won a Venture Class Launch Services contract from NASA last year. Spire has also signed a contract for launching some of its satellites on Electron launches, although those will be manifested as secondary payloads.

For Planet, the contract represents its first dedicated launch deal. Its satellites have previously been launched as secondary payloads, primarily from the ISS. An Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle launched 12 Dove satellites as secondary payloads in June. (7/12)

China's Space Station May Be Falling to Earth, Uncontrolled (Source: Independent)
China’s first space station might be in freefall in space and on its way to crashing back down to Earth. The Tiangong-1 satellite was launched in 2011, and should have come back down to Earth in the ocean in a controlled crash. But watchers have said that it now appears to have gone into freewill, with China losing control of it, and so it could crash down onto the Earth any time.

The huge size of the satellite mean that parts of it could still make their way through the searing heat of entry back into the atmosphere, and so cause problems when they arrive back on Earth. China had hoped to use the satellite as the beginning of a station or space lab to rival the International Space Station. It finished its work in 2013. (7/12)

Lockheed Martin Selects Brevard County for Space Business Expansion (Source: SpaceRef)
Lockheed Martin plans to expand capabilities at its Astrotech Space Operations site in Titusville, Florida with the assistance of the North Brevard Economic Development Zone and the State of Florida. Future investments would help Lockheed Martin grow Astrotech Space Operations' capabilities and could add as many as 300 jobs to the site over the next four years.

The company evaluated a number of locations across the country that could handle additional work and selected Brevard County because it offers the best blend of talent and business opportunity for this project. Astrotech Space Operations offers payload processing services—like encapsulating and fueling a satellite for launch—for a range of customers. Under the planned expansion, its scope of work could potentially include production of aerospace components and subsystems. Lockheed Martin is evaluating options that are contingent on the completion of additional business case analyses, which are slated to occur in 2016 and 2017.

The North Brevard County Economic Development Zone, Economic Development Commission (EDC) of Florida's Space Coast, Enterprise Florida and the City of Titusville all supported this planned expansion for the benefit of the local economy. "The EDC worked closely with Enterprise Florida, the North Brevard Economic Development Zone and the City of Titusville to ensure a strategic business approach was demonstrated that resulted in the selection of Titusville," said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the EDC of Florida's Space Coast. (7/12)

NASA and Lego Team Up to Get You Excited About Space Exploration (Source: Geek.com)
During the summer months, learning is often the furthest thing from kids’ minds. NASA knows how to get them back on track, though: by teaming up with Lego. NASA and Lego have just taken the wraps off a new website called, fittingly enough, Mission to Space. The goal is to give kids an entertaining and engaging way to learn about space exploration during their downtime before the fall semester starts.

It’s packed with videos featuring real astronauts and facts about our planet and solar system. Oh, and Lego, too. Did you know, for example, that by 2019 there may very well be more minifigs “living” on Earth than human beings? Or that if you put all the Lego bricks produced in 2015 side-by-side they’d circle the earth 28 times?

Crazy, right? There’s actual space-related stuff, too, like the fact that the ISS is the third brightest object in the sky and that it circles the Earth every 90 minutes. That’s a lot of distance to cover in such a short amount of time, but it might not register to younger kids. (7/12)

Aerojet Staffs Up in Mississippi (Source: Sacramento Business Journal)
Aerojet Rocketdyne, whose main operations are in Rancho Cordova, is expanding its rocket-motor facility in Mississippi to develop a new U.S.-made replacement for Russian-built heavy lift rocket engines. The company is committing resources at its campus at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in hopes that the U.S. Air Force will accept the AR1 rocket motor that Aerojet is building to replace the RD-180. (7/12)

Space and the Right to Self Defense (Source: Defence Web)
From SpaceX and Blue Origin race for reusable rockets, to China’s recent launch of an “orbital debris cleaner” satellite, space is definitely a trendy topic these days. The prism that caught the attention of Rebeccah L. Heinrichs, a Study Director at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, is the potential of the space dimension for the US ballistic missile defense system (BMDS).

Her report released last month, titled Space and the Right to Self Defence, aims at finding options to cope with two threats to which the US are exposed, according to the author. First the risk of seeing its BMDS becoming obsolete due to investment in missile technologies from “rogue” states (North Korea, Iran) and “near peer competitors” (Russia, China). Click here. (7/12)

Pokémon Go is No-Go for Space Station, but Astronauts Can Fight Aliens with HoloLens (Source: GeekWire)
Astronauts have zapped virtual aliens on the International Space Station, using Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed-reality headset. So how about Pokémon Go, the latest craze in mixed-reality smartphone gaming? No-go, says NASA.

“It is not possible for astronauts to play,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot told GeekWire, in just one of many emails he’s been sending out today in response to press queries. “There is a small number of smartphones available on ISS which the crew use for science activities (like SPHERES), but not for personal use.”

The smartphones and tablets that are in use on the station don’t have internet connectivity, Huot explained. The astronauts have access only to the apps designed for the payloads they’re intended for, and can’t add apps as is typically done by smartphone users on Earth. If they need to use the internet – for example, to post snapshots on Twitter – they connect via laptops that are locked down in terms of cybersecurity. (7/11)

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