August 27, 2016

Where the Candidates Stand on NASA and Space Exploration (Source: NBC)
If we're going to send the first humans to Mars in the early 2030s, NASA is going to need the next President of the United States to be a strong supporter of space exploration. While Congress controls the federal government's purse strings, the president plays a key role in shaping the future of NASA by proposing a budget, which is then discussed by key stakeholders for months before it's put to a vote.

The next president will be stepping into the role during a pivotal time for NASA as the space agency looks toward a Mars mission and prepares to end its dependance on Russia for rides to the International Space Station. Click here. (8/25)

Could Spacecraft Make it to Proxima Centauri? (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Dust and gas between stars would pose a threat to spacecraft en route from Earth to Proxima Centauri — and scientists are seriously considering the problem now that the prospect of interstellar travel is no longer sci-fi. At one-fifth lightspeed, even micron-size dust grains gas atoms between stars pose a real threat, one that’s listed among the initiative’s challenges. But how much of a threat?

Because of the probe’s high speed, it essentially sees any lone atom or dust mote floating in space as a relativistic projectile. Dust is the main enemy. While interstellar gas is mostly hydrogen and helium, with a few other trace elements thrown into the mix, cosmic dust particles, while tiny and rare, are composed mostly of heavier atoms. At relativistic speeds, every dust grain that gets in the way will both evaporate and melt material on the spacecraft, generating an impact crater. (8/25)

NASA’s Next-Gen Ships Run on Last-Gen Chips (Source: Bloomberg)
Earlier this summer, NASA announced that ARM Holdings’ A53 will be the microprocessor core design at the heart of the agency’s next generation of spacecraft. By the time the microprocessors are delivered in 2020, however, they’ll be so outmoded you wouldn’t want them in your phone. The A53 was introduced in 2014 and is already old by industry standards. ARM calls it “suitable for entry-level smartphones.” But most entry-level smartphones don’t have to avoid midair collisions or execute pinpoint landings. Click here. (8/25)

NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Mars 2020 Rover Mission (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected United Launch Services to provide launch services for a mission that will address high-priority science goals for the agency’s Journey to Mars. Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July 2020 aboard an Atlas V 541 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers. (8/25)

SpaceX Reuses Shuttle Transporter for Falcon Stages (Source: CollectSpace)
SpaceX's new chariot for moving its rocket stages after they return to land is uniquely suited for the job, having been used to carry reusable space vehicles for close to 30 years. The company delivered its latest launched and recovered Falcon 9 first stage from the seaport to a hangar at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport using a bright yellow, 76-wheel motorized vehicle. The specialized conveyor, which SpaceX acquired from NASA, was formerly employed to move space shuttle orbiters. (8/25)

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner Undergoes Ground Landing Tests (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Boeing and NASA engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, have begun a series of six ground landing qualification tests to simulate what Boeing’s CST-100 “Starliner” spacecraft and crew may experience during a landing in the American Southwest after returning from the International Space Station.

These tests consist of a CST-100 mockup being dropped from approximately 30 feet (roughly 9 meters) into the air over a pad filled with dirt. Six attached airbags absorb much of the landing impact and help to stabilize the spacecraft. (8/25)

NASA's Orion Capsule Undergoes Water Landing Tests (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
NASA on Thursday conducted the second to last splashdown test for its Orion spacecraft as the agency prepares to eventually send humans to Mars. A mockup of NASA's Orion spacecraft, a deep space vessel that is slated to eventually travel to Mars, hit the water in a simulated ocean splashdown test at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia on Aug. 25, 2016. An unmanned test flight is scheduled for 2018 with the first crewed flight is slated for 2023. (8/25)

SpaceX’s CRS-9 Dragon returns to Earth (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
After more than a month berthed to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX’s CRS-9 Dragon capsule was detached and released from the orbiting complex. A few hours later, the spacecraft was deorbited and recovered in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California. (8/26)

Air Force Awards $110 Million for New Satellite Waveform Demos (Source: Space News)
The Air Force has awarded contracts worth $110 million to demonstrate secure military communications using other military and commercial satellites. The demonstration contracts, awarded earlier this month to Raytheon, L-3 and ViaSat, will test the use of the protected tactical waveform with new modems, and using both commercial satellites and the Wideband Global Satcom spacecraft. The technology is expected to help the Air Force deal with the growing problem of jamming of satellite communications signals. (8/26)

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence In A Universe Teeming With Potential Life (Source: LinkedIn)
The estimates of potential earth-like planets vary among astronomers and exobiologists (those who study extraterrestrial life). NASA estimates conclude that there are probably more than 100 Billion Earth-like planets based on the assumption that our universe has 500 billion billion stars similar to our own. That figure contemplates conditions nearly identical to Earth for life to evolve on these planets.

Evidence derived from new powerful telescopes, including Kepler’s exploration of the Milky Way, and various space probes in our own solar system have shown that the water is more common place that thought and the organic building blocks of life are abundant. These estimates are generally based upon a formula of probability created by Astronomer Dr. Frank Drake in 1961.  His “Drake Equation”  sought to arrive at an estimate of the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. (8/26)

Florida Remains Launch Pad to Space Thanks to Private Firms (Source: Pilot-Tribune & Enterprise)
Despite the current U.S. space program weathering some storms, the aerospace industry is enjoying a renaissance, thanks to private firms in Florida and its recognition as the next high-tech utopia. The High-Tech Corridor, located in Central Florida, is home to a plethora of companies such as Craig Technologies, Northrup Grumman, United Launch Alliance (ULA), Blue Origin and Space Florida, among others.

In order to feed the contractors who are flooding the Sunshine State, Florida's colleges and universities are preparing a new workforce for the opportunities that a new space program will offer.

Colleges such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and Florida Institute of Technology are producing some of the world's most elite and sought-after engineers and the next generation of rocket scientists. At the University of Central Florida, students are leading the world in simulation and nanotechnology sciences, as demand for these sciences continues to grow in both the public and private sector. (8/24)

New Discoveries, Intelligent Devices, Irrepressible Dreamers Once Again Making Space Exciting (Source: Economist)
What is exciting about this new world is not what is known—which, so far, is almost nothing. It is what is unknown and the possibilities it may contain. It is the chance that there is life beneath that turbulent red sun, and that humans might be able to recognise it from 40 trillion kilometers away. In the immense distances of space that is close enough to mean that, some day, perhaps, someone might send probes to visit it and in so doing glimpse a totally different form of life. In the thrill of such possibilities sits all that is most promising about the exploration of space. Click here. (8/27)

That Time Bono Asked the U.S. State Department for Special Space Treatment (Source: Mashable)
Apparently Bono is a space fan. One of the weirdest requests Hillary Clinton’s staff fielded from a Clinton Foundation donor came from the U2 frontman. According to a newly released email sent to Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Clinton Foundation executive Doug Band, Bono was working hard to get astronauts on the International Space Station involved with the band's 2009 worldwide tour.

"Bono wants to do a linkup with the international space station on every show during the tour this year," Ben Schwerin, a former aide to Bill Clinton, wrote in an email to Abedin and Band on May 27, 2009. "I'm trying to figure out who the best contact is to talk to at NASA or the congressional committee on science and technology," Schwerin added. "Any ideas? Thks" (8/26)

Alaska's Kodiak Island Spaceport Reopens Following 2014 Launch Failure (Source:
A rededication and ribbon cutting ceremony has taken place at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) to reopen the dual use commercial spaceport after a devastating launch failure in 2014. The failure of the STARS-IV missile resulted in heavy damage to the Integration Processing Facility (IPF) and launch pads 1 and 2.

There were no injuries to any personnel during the 2014 explosion. However, extensive damage occurred to the launch center, resulting in the indefinite postponement of the upcoming inaugural Athena-IIc launch from the spaceport. A Failure Review Board determined that an external thermal protective cover designed to regulate motor temperature interfered with the launch vehicle steering assembly, resulting in termination of the launch shortly after liftoff.

The Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska, formerly known as the Kodiak Launch Complex, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation (AAC), a state-owned company established to expand the aerospace industry in the state. Over the past few months, AAC has signed a multi-year contract with the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) for multiple launches from the PSCA through 2021. (8/25)

Submarine in Space Among NASA's Coolest Ideas (Source: Voice of America)
While we may not get to that earth-like planet around Proxima Centauri anytime soon, NASA scientists are proposing all kinds of ways to explore the planets, moons, asteroids and various other rocky and icy things floating in and around our own solar system. One of the coolest involves a proposal to explore the seas on Saturn's moon, Titan.

The plan to head to Titan was laid out at NASA's annual Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program Symposium held this week. The NIAC program is intended to fund visionary ideas that go way beyond things as mundane as going back to the moon or putting a colony on Mars. In fact, some of the ideas on display seem like science fiction, but this is all real, and while the missions and concepts can boggle the mind, they show just how deep into space NASA is looking. Click here. (8/26)

Western Range Back Online After Reconfiguration (Source: VAFB)
The Western Range is back in the launch business following an operational acceptance decision held by the Operations Acceptance Board at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Aug. 18, 2016. The range downtime included the relocation of key range systems to a different building. The relocation required over 1,100 critical components of the operational range systems to be disconnected and reconfigured, many of which were decades old and had not been powered down in years – adding a layer of complexity to the move.

With the range systems relocated and reconfigured, rigorous testing was then required to validate range capability for its various launch missions. Once testing was complete, the OAB – consisting of Grant, RGNext, Space & Missile Systems Center, 30th Communication Squadron, 2nd Range Operations Squadron, 30th Range Management Squadron, and 30th Space Wing safety – made the final call on range readiness. (8/22)

Pow! Rosetta Probe Spots Comet Eruption (Source: GeekWire)
The scientists behind the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to a comet today released an amazing series of pictures showing the space mountain flashing with an outburst of dust and gas. They suspect that the Feb. 19 outburst, captured by Rosetta’s instruments from a distance of about 20 miles, may have been triggered by a landslide.

“From Rosetta’s observations, we believe the outburst originated from a steep slope on the comet’s large lobe, in the Atum region” said lead author Eberhard GrĂ¼n. The researchers say thermal stresses in the surface material probably triggered a landslide that exposed fresh water ice to direct sunlight. That ice immediately turned to gas, dragging the surrounding dust up with it to produce a bright debris cloud. (8/25)

Sea Launch Project May Get a New Class Rocket (Source: Tass)
The Sea Launch floating cosmodrome may have a new rocket to replace Zenit class carriers, head of the Russian space rocket corporation Energia Vladimir Solntsev said. "Of course, there is a topic of making a new rocket carrier for the Sea Launch project, and it will be complicated for a new investor to be working on it." Solntsev, however, did not specify, if the project would continue using the Zenit class rockets, and added the new rocket may be used also for launches from the ground launch pads.

"I believe, the deal (to sell Sea Launch) will be closed in early 2017," he added. "I think, quite soon we may have our own Elon Musk, or even double Elon Musk," he said. "I cannot name the investor or disclose the value of the contract by virtue of certain circumstances. I do hope I will be able to say more by the end of April," Energiya plans to finalize before the yearend settlement of the dispute with the U.S. Boeing and to sign a "final document." (8/26)

New Capabilities, Entrepreneurs, Making Space Exciting Again (Source: Economist)
No single technology ties together this splendid gaggle of ambitions. But there is a common technological approach that goes a long way to explaining it; that of Silicon Valley. Even if for now most of the money being spent in space remains with old government programs and incumbent telecom providers, space travel is moving from the world of government procurement and aerospace engineering giants to the world of venture-capital-funded startups and business plans that rely on ever cheaper services provided to ever more customers. Click here. (8/26)

NASA's Revived STEREO-B Could Save Us From A Trillion-Dollar Disaster (Source: Forbes)
Solar flares are spectacular sights from space, where giant streams of plasma are ejected from the Sun’s interior at incredibly high energies and speeds. They stream through the Solar System, usually traveling the Sun-Earth distance in three days or fewer. While this intense, ionized radiation would be dangerous to an astronaut in the depths of space, for the most part our planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere shields our bodies from any harm.

The magnetic field funnels the radiation away from Earth, only enabling it to strike in a region around the poles, while the atmosphere ensures that the charged particles themselves don’t make it down to the surface. But their changing magnetic fields do, and that’s enough to induce currents in electrical wires, circuits and loops. Thankfully, now that NASA’s STEREO-A and STEREO-B spacecraft are both alive simultaneously, we’ll get the earliest warnings possible if a potential catastrophe is headed our way. (8/26)

7 Ways to Make Dark Matter (Source: New Scientist)
The universe doesn’t make sense without dark matter. According to our best theories, this invisible substance acts as a source of extra gravity in the cosmos, which is needed to keep galaxies from spinning themselves apart. Astronomers see its ghostly influence in everything from the bending of the light of distant stars to ripples in the big bang’s afterglow. But what is it? It’s a tough question to answer given that we can’t see it and can hardly touch it. With little hard evidence to go on, however, there’s no shortage of theories. Click here. (8/25)

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