September 2, 2016

Statement From Space Florida After Falcon-9 Explosion on LC-40 (Source: Space Florida)
"Fortunately, because of the rigorous safety procedures in our industry no one was hurt, and we commend the Air Force safety office for their fast response," Frank DiBello said in a prepared statement. "We are confident that SpaceX will identify the problem, fix it, and get back in the business of flying." (9/1)

Russia Delays Launch of US Commercial Satellite From October to November (Source: Tass)
Russia has postponed the Proton launch of an American communications satellite to November. The Proton launch of the EchoStar-21 satellite, previously scheduled for Oct. 10, is now planned for Nov. 23. Officials did not disclose the reason for the delay. Roscosmos also said that the launch of the Kanopus-V-IK remote sensing satellite on a Soyuz-2 rocket, previously scheduled for October, had been pushed back to Dec. 22. (9/1)

India Seeks to Seed Private Sector Satellite Industry with NavSat Project (Source: The Hindu)
Indian's space agency will partner with the private sector to build two navigation satellites. The director of the ISRO Satellite Center said Thursday that it will "handhold" industry to build the first of the two navigation satellites, then let an industry consortium build the second on its own. A formal request for proposals to build the satellites, which will serve as backups to existing fleet of seven currently in orbit, will be released in the near future. (9/1)

Astronaut Charged with Murder in Alabama Car Crash (Source: AP)
A former NASA astronaut has been formally charged with murder from an accident in June. James Halsell Jr. is facing two charges each of reckless murder and assault after a June 6 car crash in Alabama that killed two girls in another vehicle. Halsell flew on five shuttle missions between 1994 and 2000, and retired from NASA in 2006 to work in industry. (9/1)

Guiana Space Center: Europe's Spaceport (Source:
The Guiana Space Center is a facility used by the European Space Agency and the French government to launch satellites into space. The center is located near Kourou in French Guiana.

The French government began launching satellites there in 1964, and offered to share it with the European Space Agency when the latter was created in 1975. ESA contributes two-thirds of the spaceport's annual budget every year. The spaceport has also been used for launches for the United States, Japan, Canada, India and Brazil, among other countries. Click here. (9/2)

The Future of the International Space Station Is Up to a Weird Little Florida Nonprofit (Source: WIRED)
You’ve probably never heard of Casis. Born in 2010 from an act of Congress, it’s a nonprofit that gets $15 million of NASA’s budget every year—along with that half share of the US-controlled part of the ISS. With that investment, it’s supposed to get scientists, businesses, and educators to take full advantage of the station.

Executing that mission means providing grants to spaceworthy academic science, soliciting donations, doing PR, and selling biotech and materials science companies on the idea that they could improve their products by doing microgravity research on the ISS. But after nearly five years, Casis still hasn’t found its groove. Its fundraising is close to nil, and there’s no long queue of private companies demanding access to the station’s research facilities.

According to its metrics, Casis has given 129 scientific projects access to the ISS. It has helped provide STEM programs to nearly 180,000 participants. Its social media, web presence, and outreach efforts have reached hundreds of thousands more. Each year it has funded, supported, and sent more projects into space. Since 2011, Casis has helped launch over 7,000 pounds of stuff into low Earth orbit. Click here. (9/2)

Earth Just Narrowly Missed Getting Hit by an Asteroid (Source: Popular Mechanics)
On Saturday, astronomers discovered a new asteroid, just a few hours before it almost hit us. The asteroid is called 2016 QA2, and it missed the Earth by less than a quarter of the distance to the moon. That puts it about three times as far away from Earth as our farthest satellites. And we never saw it coming.

So how did 2016 QA2 sneak up on us like that? For this particular asteroid, the answer seems to be that it has a very peculiar orbit. It's highly elliptical, which means it can usually be found hanging out by either Mars or Venus, but rarely ends up near Earth.

But another, more worrying reason is that there aren't a lot of people looking for potentially dangerous asteroids. While Congress has tasked NASA with finding 90 percent of asteroids 450 feet or larger by 2020, the agency is nowhere close to that goal. Funding for asteroid detection is very low, and most telescopes that could detect asteroids of this size won't come online for a few more years. (9/1)

Progress Slow But Moving Forward at Spaceport America, Leaders Say (Source:
In the middle of New Mexico is a $220 million bet that the commercial space age will be profitable. Spaceport America is a vast, 27-square mile, taxpayer-funded facility that has been operating for three years and done more than two dozen launches. But it is still waiting for its biggest customers to lift off.

This is where Richard Branson wants to launch tourists to the edge of space for Virgin Galactic. He wanted this to happen in 2009 but it hasn't, and a fatal test crash in 2014 has pushed everything back. SpaceX has also moved in, but its launch pad is quiet. “Virgin has not a launch yet neither has SpaceX,” said William Gutman, vice president of aerospace ops at Spaceport America. “We’re ready for both of them but neither one of them has gotten to that point yet.”

In the last year, positive steps have been taken. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has experienced a stunning record of successes, especially in recovering boosters which Musk considers key to bringing down the cost of space. When it comes to the spaceports sprouting up and training, patience is required. The spaceport is currently operating at a deficit, but it hopes to be cash flow positive in two years. (9/1)

Is Assured Access in Peril? (Source: Breaking Defense)
“Was this a systems engineering or process problem? I would think NASA would be the most concerned given SpaceX’s predictions of launching astronauts in just two years.” But of more importance to the national security space world is a more fundamental question. How badly damaged is the launch pad with its complex equipment.

Assured access to space is the legal requirement that the United States possess two launch providers “capable of delivering into space any payload designated by the Secretary of Defense or the Director of National Intelligence as a national security payload; and a robust space launch infrastructure and industrial base.” Traditionally, the second phrase is understood to mean that launches must be able to occur from both the Cape and from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the west coast. (9/1)

Did SpaceX’s Future Just Explode? (Source: Daily Beast)
Riding high on repeated recent successes of a self-landing, reusable version of the Falcon 9, Elon Musk’s rocket start-up has expanded its launch schedule, taking on more commercial and government customers as it aims to compete with leading U.S. launch-providers including Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The Thursday accident could compel SpaceX to delay its scheduled launches, potentially undermining its expansion plans.

Musk’s company has its eyes on a much bigger government prize: a contract for heavy military launches. At present, the Pentagon buys heavy rockets from just one company: United Launch Alliance, a consortium of defense-industry giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The Boeing-Lockheed consortium’s current launch contract with the Pentagon ends in 2018, at which point SpaceX could compete for the next multi-year contract. For everyone except, perhaps, the Israelis, Thursday’s accident should be a distant memory by then. “Barring any surprises in the investigation, it’s hard to see how this one incident might have a long-term impact on their plans,” Weeden said of SpaceX. (9/1)

NASA Didn't Need To 'Spoon-Feed' Contract Bidder, GAO Says (Source: Law360)
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has struck down a company's challenge to the award of a NASA contract for powering spaceflight transportation to a rival, finding in a decision released Wednesday that the agency wasn't required to “spoon-feed” the protester fixes to its bid's shortcomings. (8/31)

From Mining to Space Travel, Lunar Exploration Companies Think Big (Source: WNYC)
People have been talking about lunar mining or even colonization as real, if distant, possibilities, and Moon Express might be taking the first step. Jason Kendall, adjunct professor of astronomy at William Paterson University, explains. Click here. (8/24)

NASA Selects 21 New Out-of-the-Box Space Tech Proposals (Source: Inverse)
NASA announced Thursday the selection of 21 new technology proposals pitched from small businesses and research groups within the United States as part of the second phase of its Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. The selected parties are now able to enter negotiations for NASA contracts that are wroth a combined total of about $15.8 million.

The different proposals discuss a huge variety of different technologies relevant to space travel and exploration — including novel propellant mechanisms. cubesat designs, energy and power storage, habitation and life support, and instruments to study new worlds. Each of the 21 proposals could do a great deal to advance spaceflight, but there’s a big difference between proposal and prototype, so we’ll have to wait and see which groups can turn their great ideas into great realities. Here are five of the most exciting selected proposals. (9/1)

Orbital Mechanics, Not Sexism, Likely Cause of Peggy Whitson Missing Spaceflight Record (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA has made a concerted push toward diversity in its astronaut corps over recent decades, filling its ranks with women and minorities. The space agency’s most recent class, selected in 2013, featured four women and four men. It would have been equally spectacular for NASA to have veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson emerge from a Russian space capsule next spring, holding the US record for most time accrued in space by a single astronaut.

But this no longer appears likely to happen. When Whitson met with the media this week in Houston, as part of the lead up to her Nov. 15 launch to the International Space Station, the veteran astronaut said her return date from space had been pushed forward to April 20, 2017, nearly a full month short of a typical six-month increment. “The original schedule was such that we thought I might break the record as well, but that’s not going to happen,” Whitson explained. (9/1)

Spacewalkers Take On Fix-Up Chores in Orbit (Source: GeekWire)
NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins ventured outside the International Space Station today for the second time in two weeks and worked their way down a long to-do list. The top task was accomplished early: Williams used a power tool to retract the folding panels of a 44-foot-long thermal radiator that was no longer needed. The assembly, known as the Trailing Thermal Control Radiator, is now tucked away as a spare. (9/1)

China Researches High Resolution Imaging from High Orbit (Source: Xinhua)
Chinese researchers are confident of making technological breakthroughs over the next four years in developing high resolution imaging that can see car-sized objects on the earth from high orbit. Researchers at the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics (CIOMP) are studying camera technologies suited for satellites 36,000 kilometers away from earth, with significant government support.

The CIOMP plan aims to achieve an optical resolution of 2.5 meters for the camera. This is the equivalent of seeing a hair clearly from 800 meters away. The technologies being researched will enable cameras to operate on satellites in high orbit, known as geostationary orbit, allowing the cameras to appear stationary in the sky and view the same point on earth continuously. (9/1)

Stars Burning Strangely Make Life in the Multiverse More Likely (Source: New Scientist)
Your existence depends on an improbable threesome. A delicate reaction within stars called the triple-alpha process, which creates carbon, is often used to support the idea of the multiverse. Now, two researchers argue that stars in other universes might have alternative ways of producing carbon, giving life as we know it a greater chance in multiple universes.

The triple-alpha process gets its name from the three helium nuclei involved, which are also known as alpha particles. When the universe formed, it mostly consisted of hydrogen and helium, the simplest elements in the periodic table. Heavier elements were forged by the first stars, which fused the lighter nuclei together.

There’s just one problem with this tidy model. Fuse two alpha particles together and you end up with a nucleus of four protons and four neutrons – namely beryllium-8, an isotope of the fourth element in the periodic table. But beryllium-8 is highly unstable and falls apart into two alpha particles within a fraction of a second. That means there isn’t much of it in our universe. (9/1)

Venture Capitalists Fly Into Space Start-Ups (Source: CNBC)
It's not just ride-hailing apps and food-delivery start-ups anymore: Venture capitalists are now also exploring space for outsize returns. Since January, investors have committed more than $200 million across 20 space-related deals, according to CB Insights. This is in addition to the $2.3 billion that they invested in 2015.

Steve Jurvetson, a partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is an investor in space start-ups including private rocket builder SpaceX. He hopes his colleagues in Silicon Valley are motivated to invest in such start-ups because they are enthusiastic about exploring the frontiers of the unknown. But he acknowledges the more likely reason that they are committing capital to space: the prospect of attractive returns. Click here. (8/31)

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