July 29, 2016

Orion is Over Budget and May Need Seven More Years Before Flying Crews (Source: Ars Technica)
At the request of Congress, the nonpartisan US Government Accountability Office reviews the finances and management of federal programs, and this week it released a study critical of NASA’s crew capsule, Orion. Most worryingly, the 56-page report (PDF) regularly draws parallels between the Orion program and another large overbudget NASA project, the James Webb Space Telescope.

Although Orion has not yet experienced such dramatic increases in costs, the spacecraft is now into its second decade of development. NASA estimates that it will spend a total of $16 billion (£12 billion) to ready Orion for its first crewed flight in April 2023. However, the GAO review, signed by Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management Cristina T. Chaplain, did not find these numbers to be reliable.

Some of the major Orion concerns cited by the GAO study are well-known, such as delays by NASA’s partner, the European Space Agency, in building the service module that will help power Orion in space. Less widely known, however, are significant cost overruns with Orion’s primary contractor, Lockheed Martin. The GAO’s analysis of contractor data found that the Orion program faces potential cost overruns of up to $707 million by 2020. (7/28)

NROL-61 Marks Sixth Flight of 421 Configuration of ULA Atlas V (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully sent the sixth of the 421 configuration of the company’s Atlas V launch vehicle into the morning skies. The payload for Thursday’s flight was a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). As was a classified mission for the NRO, the upper stage burned for an unknown amount of time to send the satellite into an undisclosed orbit. (7/28)

Genovation's GXE Breaks All-Electric Land Speed Record – Reaches 205.6 mph (Source: Genovation)
Genovation today announced that it has made history by breaking the land speed record for a street legal all-electric vehicle with the Genovation Extreme Electric car (GXE). The GXE reached the record breaking speed of 205.6 mph during supervised tests with Johnny Bohmer Racing at Space Florida’s Shuttle Landing Facility at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The record was certified by the International Mile Racing Association (IMRA). The previous record, which also was held by Genovation, stood at 186.8 mph. (7/28)

Space Radiation May Cause Heart Disease (Source: Air & Space)
Of all the risks facing astronauts on a trip to Mars, radiation generally tops the worry list. It’s long been known that venturing outside Earth’s protective magnetic field—to the moon or Mars—exposes astronauts to a steady bombardment from heavy cosmic rays that can damage DNA and increase long-term cancer risk. And that’s not even considering the acute risk of radiation sickness if space travelers were caught in a strong solar storm without some kind of shielding.

In the past, the effects of radiation on astronauts’ cardiovascular health hasn’t gotten as much attention as the risk from cancer. That’s why a study published today in Scientific Reports by Michael Delp of Florida State University and his colleagues is troubling: Apollo astronauts—the only humans ever to venture into deep space—have died from cardiovascular disease at a rate four to five times higher than other astronauts. This is the first time anyone has looked at mortality of the Apollo astronauts as a separate group. (7/28)

Dream Chaser Spacecraft to Begin Phase Two Flight Testing (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser full-scale, flight test vehicle is ready for transportation to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) in California where Phase Two flight tests will be conducted in coordination with Edwards Air Force Base (AFB). Dream Chaser program upgrades and initial hardware testing were completed at the Louisville, Colorado spacecraft assembly facility, and within the next several weeks the same Dream Chaser vehicle that conducted Phase One flight testing will arrive at NASA’s AFRC.

Upon arrival, SNC will begin a series of pre-flight ground evaluations to verify and validate the vehicle’s system and subsystem designs. After successful completion of all ground testing, Dream Chaser will begin its Phase Two free-flight testing. These activities are being conducted through a Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). (7/28)

NASA Awards Protective Services Contract at Kennedy Space Center (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has selected Chenega Infinity to provide protective services at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This firm-fixed-price contract, resulting from a small business set-aside competition, will begin Oct. 1. The contract has a possible total performance period of five years and a maximum potential value of $146.3 million.

Chenega Infinity, LLC will provide physical security operations, personnel security, secure access procedures, 911 dispatch, firefighting, fire prevention and protection engineering, aircraft rescue, advance life support ambulance services, emergency management and protective services training. (7/28)

Comet Lander Philae Says Goodbye as Communications Are Cut (Source: Engadget)
Farewell Philae, it was a short but wild ride. In February, mission controllers said goodbye to the comet lander, but kept comms open with mother ship Rosetta on the slight chance it might wake up. "It's cold & dark on #67P ... but I won't give up just yet," Philae tweeted hopefully. However, controllers elected to cut Rosetta's "ESS" lander radio at 5AM ET today to preserve its precious remaining power.

At nearly 520 million km (323 million miles) from the Sun, the probe is losing power at the rate of 4 watts a day and needs to keep working for another two months. On September 30th it'll crash into the surface of the comet, but take numerous final photos and measurements on the way down. (7/28)

India to Appeal Against Hague Tribunal’s Verdict on Antrix-Devas Deal (Source: Hindustan Times)
India will appeal against the verdict of the Hague tribunal in Antrix-Devas deal case, in which the international court had declared the annulling of the contract as “unfair” and “inequitable” and asked it to pay a huge amount as compensation. “We will appeal against the verdict at Hague (tribunal),” said AS Kirankumar, secretary, Department of Space. He, however, declined to comment any further on the issue.

India lost the arbitration case in a Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) tribunal based in the Hague over its space marketing PSU Antrix Corp, annulling a contract with Bengaluru-based private multimedia firm Devas. The tribunal ruled that the Indian government had acted “unfairly” and “inequitably” in cancelling the contract involving use of two satellites and spectrum. (7/28)

Say Hello to Earth's Space Weather-Fighting Robot (Source: Inverse)
Today was the first day on the job for a 1,200-pound satellite dubbed the Deep Space Climate Observatory’s — DSCOVR for short — that took over as the primary space tech that helps protect our planet from hostile space weather. NOAA’s space weather forecasts shifted to being exclusively supported by DSCOVR data instead of using data primarily from the 19-year-old Advanced Composition Explorer.

Why is this such a big deal? Space weather means a lot for the world’s electrical grids, mostly. For the uninitiated, the term refers to the movement and behavior of solar winds; coronal mass ejections from the sun; varying conditions in the magnetosphere and ionosphere; and other strange cosmic bits hurtling through the vacuum of space. It’s basically how high-energy events interface with the electrical and magnetic parts of Earth’s atmosphere. (7/28)

One of NASA's Biggest Concerns Comes to Light in Cleveland (Source: Inverse)
One of the biggest concerns for NASA is that it won’t be able to send U.S. astronauts into space after 2018. On Thursday, the NASA Advisory Council held a public meeting to deliver a series of reports about the status of the agency, and offered an update on Human Exploration and Operations. Basically, time is running out for the space agency to find another way to get American astronauts to space.

America needs to let the Russians know if it’s hitching a ride aboard the Soyuz spacecraft before the year is out, or else we may see a temporary — or worst case scenario, permanent — end of a U.S. presence aboard the International Space Station. The solution? Presently, it’s to work with commercial spaceflight companies like SpaceX and Boeing after 2018, while NASA continues development of the Space Launch System, which should have its first launch in November 2018. (7/28)

Western U.S. Saw An Amazing Light Show Last Night, Courtesy Of China (Source: NPR)
Maybe it was a meteor? Or space junk? People on the West Coast weren't sure what the bright object was that streaked across the sky Wednesday night, but they knew it was spectacular. Now comes word that the object — which separated into bright fragments — was a stage of China's large new rocket. Americans who spotted the flaring object Wednesday night could be forgiven for not knowing that.

The light show appeared in skies over the western U.S. around 9:30 p.m. PT, sparking a flood of reports to meteor-monitoring groups, a flurry of tweets and a number of striking videos. While first-person accounts on Meteorite News differed, some details were constant: The string of objects moved from west to east, with alternating colors and a bright trail.

The object was the second stage of China's Chang Zheng 7 rocket that was launched on June 25, according to astronomer Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who cites confirmation from the Space-Track organization and the Joint Space Operations Center. This was the first CZ-7 launched, McDowell says, adding that it's rare for objects of more than 5 tons to re-enter Earth's atmosphere. (7/28)

Apollo Astronauts Dying of Heart Disease at 4-5X the Rate of Counterparts (Source: Ars Technica)
Deep-space travel takes a toll on the body—and it’s apparently something you can’t moon-walk off. Apollo astronauts who have ventured out of the protective magnetosphere of mother Earth appear to be dying of cardiovascular disease at a far higher rate than their counterparts—both those that have stayed grounded and those that only flew in the shielding embrace of low-Earth orbit.

Though the data is slim—based on only 77 astronauts total—researchers speculate that potent ionizing radiation in deep space may be to blame. That hypothesis was backed up in follow-up mouse studies that provided evidence that similar radiation exposure led to long-lasting damage to the rodents’ blood vessels. The study, while not definitive, may add an extra note of caution to the potential hazards of future attempts to fly to Mars and elsewhere in the cosmos. (7/28)

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