September 23, 2016

Senate Panel Authorizes $19.5B for NASA Mission to Mars (Source: WCFL)
A U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday unanimously approved a one-year spending plan to continue funding NASA's efforts to send astronauts to Mars. The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016, as the bill is titled, explicitly lists the "Journey to Mars" as a long-term priority for NASA. It enumerates funding for research into propulsion technologies that would make the journey shorter, as well as projects related to the overall goal. The bill authorizes $19.5 billion for NASA in 2017.

Senator Bill Nelson introduced the bill in Congress along with five other senators, including Republicans Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The bill also funds continued development of an American-made rocket to once again send American astronauts to and from the International Space Station without having to rely on Russia. (9/21)

Hubble Helps Find Light-Bending World With Two Suns (Source: Colorado Space News)
A distant planet orbiting two stars, found by its warping of spacetime, has been confirmed using observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The planet’s mass caused what is known as a microlensing event, where light is bent by an object’s gravitational field. The event was observed in 2007, making this the first circumbinary planet to be confirmed following detection of a microlensing event.

The majority of exoplanets detected so far orbit single stars. Only a few circumbinary planets — planets orbiting two stars — have been discovered to date. Most of these circumbinaries have been detected by NASA’s Kepler mission, which uses the transit method for detection.

This newly discovered planet, however, is very unusual. “The exoplanet was observed as a microlensing event in 2007. A detailed analysis revealed a third lensing body in addition to the star and planet that were quite obvious from the data,” says David Bennett from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA, lead author of the study. Click here. (9/21)

Why Are Pulsar Planets Rare? (Source: Cornell University)
Pulsar timing observations have revealed planets around only a few pulsars. We suggest that the rarity of these planets is due mainly to two effects. First, we show that the most likely formation mechanism requires the destruction of a companion star. Only pulsars with a suitable companion (with an extreme mass ratio) are able to form planets.

Second, while a dead zone (a region of low turbulence) in the disk is generally thought to be essential for planet formation, it is most probably rare in disks around pulsars because of the irradiation from the pulsar. The irradiation strongly heats the inner parts of the disk pushing the inner boundary of the dead zone out. We suggest that the rarity of pulsar planets can be explained by the low probability for these two requirements - a very low-mass companion and a dead zone - to be satisfied. (9/21)

Another Call to Sell Spaceport America (Source: KRWG)
When you’re in a hole, stop digging. It’s about as wise an aphorism as you’re likely to hear, but when it comes to “Spaceport America” it never seems to apply. A construction contract could be signed as soon as February for a new access road. Approval has already been granted for $14 million worth of severance-tax bonds to pay for the 24-mile route. The southern road is essential for the spaceport, because it “is not only a center for innovation, it’s a destination too. We need access, and easy access.”

If Lopez has any evidence that the hundreds of millions of dollars New Mexico’s taxpayers have “invested” in the spaceport have produced any innovation, the Foundation would love to see it. Other than a smattering of launches by UP Aerospace’s sounding rockets, next to nothing has happened at the facility. No payloads have been sent into orbit. Not a single tourist has made a suborbital jaunt.

Rather than double down on the boondoggle-in-the-desert, the state should embrace the proposal floated by Sen. George Munoz (D-Gallup) in 2015: Require the spaceport authority and the general services department, “in consultation with the New Mexico finance authority … [to] develop and put into place … a marketing plan that will advertise and promote the sale of Spaceport America to potential national and international buyers.” (9/21)

Spaceport America Names Daniel Hicks as New Chief Executive Officer (Source: Spaceport America)
Spaceport America, the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport located in southern New Mexico in the USA, today announced that the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors has selected Daniel Hicks as the new Chief Executive Officer. The announcement follows a search by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board's Search Committee to identify a new CEO, following the retirement of Christine Anderson, who previously held the position since 2011.

Mr. Hicks began his 34-year career with the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in 1982 as a Test Conductor within the Materiel Test Directorate. At present, Mr. Hicks is responsible for the direct oversight of the command planning functions for the range where he has just completed "WSMR 2046," a 30 year strategic plan, and maintains oversight for all external relationships; congressional and state legislatures; federal, state, and local agencies; and other community and business stakeholders. (9/22)

Meet TeamIndus, India’s Moonwalkers (Source: Live Mint)
From the outside, there’s hardly anything about Bengaluru-based Axiom Research Labs Pvt. Ltd to indicate that this is India’s only private company to have set its eyes on landing a spacecraft on the moon before the end of next year. Click here. (9/22)

NASA's Figuring Out How to Get 'Orion' Out of the Ocean (Source: Inverse)
Everyone makes a big fuss about how to launch rockets up into space, but it’s important to remember that we also need to know how to recover them once they come back down to Earth. That’s why NASA is rehearsing how to best get its Orion spacecraft out of the ocean post-splashdown.

Orion — the space agency’s first new human spacecraft in a decade — might one day take mankind to Mars. It’s one of NASA’s biggest projects alongside the massive Space Launch System that will rocket it into space. Orion’s first flight on the SLS, Exploration Mission-1, won’t boast human passengers, but the testing process is extremely thorough. Hence, water.

Orion was placed in NASA’s massive testing pool — the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory — at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. A group of U.S. Navy divers, Air Force pararescuemen, and Coast Guard rescue swimmers came out to the floating craft to practice recovering the capsule, connecting cable lines that, in the real word, would tie to a Navy ship. (9/22)

NASA Investigating Microbes Aboard ISS (Source: Popular Science)
There may soon be a field guide to the microbes of the International Space Station. NASA announced on September 21 that it is seeking research proposals to investigate tiny creatures ferried from Earth on the bodies of the more than 200 astronauts who have visited the space station. The scientists will pore over samples collected over a decade to examine how the microbes have adapted and evolved aboard the ISS.

This will allow NASA to “better understand how to control the microbial environment in future human exploration spacecraft,” David Tomko, space biology program scientist at the agency, said in a statement. (9/22)

Beames Leaves Stratolaunch (Source: GeekWire)
Chuck Beames is leaving Paul Allen's Vulcan Aerospace, developer of the Stratolaunch air-launch system. In an internal email, Allen said that Beames, who had been president of Vulcan Aerospace since 2014, "decided that now is the right time" to leave the company. Jean Floyd, the CEO of Vulcan-owned Stratolaunch Systems and a longtime Orbital ATK employee, will take over as interim executive director of Vulcan Aerospace. V

Vulcan's major project is Stratolaunch, featuring a giant aircraft that will carry an as-yet unannounced launch vehicle for launching satellites. Editor's Note: Stratolaunch seems to have gone through multiple rocket design concepts and partners and has been criticized for the limited market it would serve. The huge carrier aircraft might only be able to support orbital launches of Delta-2 class payloads. And while its selling point is freedom from ground-based spaceport limitations, the Stratolaunch system would suffer from its own unique set of operational limitations. (9/22)

U.S. and Chinese Diplomats Will Discuss Space (Source: Space News)
American and Chinese diplomats will meet later this year to discuss orbital debris and other military space issues. Frank Rose, the assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, said at the AMOS conference Thursday that orbital debris would be among the topics of an upcoming meeting, following a "very frank discussion" between officials in May. While China's 2007 ASAT test, which created thousands of pieces of debris, remains a contentious issue between the countries, Rose said there has been recent progress in discussions to limit the growth of debris and avoid collisions. (9/22)

'Dangerous' Repair Needed for Soyuz Before Next Crew Launch (Source: Russian Space Web)
Russian technicians will attempt "dangerous" repairs to a Soyuz spacecraft whose launch may be delayed until November. Engineers have traced a short circuit discovered during launch preparations to an improperly bent wire behind the seats in the spacecraft's descent module. The repair is straightforward, but could violate safety procedures since the spacecraft has already been loaded with pressurized gases and toxic fuels that can't easily be removed. Those repairs may delay the launch of the spacecraft, carrying a new three-person crew for the International Space Station, until the beginning of November. (9/22)

Intelsat Thruster Problem Will Slightly Decrease Satellite's Lifetime (Source: Space News)
A thruster problem on a new Intelsat spacecraft will only slightly decrease its operational life. The IS-33e spacecraft, launched last month, suffered a thruster problem as it traveled to geostationary orbit. That problem will delay its entry into service by several weeks, and will shorten its lifetime by about 18 months. Intelsat may be eligible to file an insurance claim for 10 percent loss of service, valued at about $40 million. (9/22)

Vandenberg Wildefire Delays WorldView Launch to October (Source: Pacific Coast Business Times)
The launch of DigitalGlobe's WorldView-4 spacecraft is now delayed until early October because of a wildfire at the launch site. DigitalGlobe and United Launch Alliance said late Thursday they are now examining early October dates for the Atlas 5 launch of the spacecraft. A fire on land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California that broke out over the weekend had delayed the launch until no earlier than Sept. 26. Both the spacecraft and launch vehicle are in good condition, and firefighters are gaining the upper hand in their efforts to contain the fire. (9/22)

Expect More Collission Warnings with Space Tracking Upgrades (Source: Space News)
The Air Force may rethink how it issues collision warnings to satellite operators when a new space tracking system comes online. The Space Track radar system will be able to track objects as small as five centimeters across, and perhaps as small as one centimeter across. That will allow it to see smaller, and thus more, objects than existing systems. Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said that could result in a much larger number of warnings of potential collisions that could overwhelm satellite operators. He said that improvements in tracking accuracy could allow them to decrease the close approach distance threshold that triggers a warning to counter that trend. (9/22)

SES Explores Balloons as Satellite Alternative (Source: Space News)
SES is getting into the balloon business. The satellite operator's SES Government unit is commercializing a low-altitude aerostat that, flying at altitudes of just a few hundred meters, could provide images and broadband communications in a nearby area. The new product is a sign that satellite operators, facing flat or declining prices for conventional satellite services, are looking to broaden their product portfolios. (9/22)

US Astronaut May Vote From Space (Source: AP)
An astronaut on the ISS may have to vote from space if her return trip is delayed. Kate Rubins was scheduled to return to Earth in late October, in time to vote in the Nov. 8 general election. The delay in the launch of a Soyuz spacecraft may now keep her in orbit until after the election. Rubins said she prepared to vote by absentee ballot prior to her launch just in case her return was delayed. (9/22)

Kickstarter Effort Would Reissue Voyager's "Golden Record" on Vinyl (Source: New York Times)
A classic space album is being reissued on vinyl. A Kickstarter campaign that started this week seeks to reissue the "Golden Record" included on the Voyager spacecraft as a message from Earth to any aliens that might come across the spacecraft in interstellar space. The album is a mix of various kinds of music, sounds and greetings. A set of three vinyl LPs will cost $98 plus shipping, but there's also a $25 digital music version for those who long ago got rid of their turntables. (9/22)

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