October 10, 2016

NASA Searches for Big Idea for In-Space Assembly of Spacecraft (Source: Parabolic Arc)
In the 2017 Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, NASA is engaging university-level students in its quest to reduce the cost of deep space exploration. NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD), managed by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) are seeking novel and robust concepts for in-space assembly of spacecraft — particularly tugs, propelled by solar electric propulsion (SEP), that transfer payloads from low earth orbit (LEO) to a lunar distant retrograde orbit (LDRO).

Why is this important? Think: ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.’ Combined with advances in robotic technology, SEP tugs (i.e., transportation systems) enable NASA to move toward the use of more modular space systems that can be assembled into functional space craft hundreds of thousands of miles from Earth. The modular design also allows for upgrades, replacement of components, and reconfigurations for new mission application. (10/9)

Colonizing Mars Could Put Astronauts at 'Risk of Chronic Dementia' (Source: WIRED)
Astronauts travelling to Mars and beyond could be at risk from chronic dementia according to research from the University of California. By exposing rats to charged particle irradiation and monitoring changes in their brain cells, the researchers found evidence of damage as much as six months after the initial exposure. This has been dubbed "space brain."

In particular, Charles Limoli and colleagues found that exposure to highly energetic charged particles - much like those found in the cosmic rays that astronauts will be exposed to during extended spaceflights - causes significant long-term brain damage that results in cognitive impairments and dementia. (10/10)

Space Artifacts, Historic Facilities Damaged by Hurricane (Source: CollectSpace)
Hurricane Matthew blew the top off of a historic rocket, tore part of the roof off a house used by the astronauts and toppled a space shuttle-era gantry arm on exhibit at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The space agency shared photos from an aerial survey of the center, showing areas that sustained damage from the powerful storm. Hurricane Matthew delivered sustained winds of 90 mph and gusts that exceeded 105 mph.

"It was determined that the center received some isolated roof damage, damaged support buildings, a few downed power lines and limited water intrusion," Kennedy Space Center officials wrote in a statement on Saturday. "Teams of inspectors are going from building to building assessing damage." A photograph taken over the KSC Visitor Complex showed only one noticeable sign of the storm's effects. The top of the Thor-Delta, one of seven historic boosters standing in the park's popular Rocket Garden, is missing.

NOAA's satellite imagery showed a replica Mercury-Redstone rocket was still standing at Launch Complex 5 (LC-5). The 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, which controls the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, reported damage to some of its older buildings. A Navaho missile display located at the station's entrance gate was also toppled. (10/10)

Correlation Between Galaxy Rotation and Visible Matter Puzzles Astronomers (Source: Physics World)
A new study of the rotational velocities of stars in galaxies has revealed a strong correlation between the motion of the stars and the amount of visible mass in the galaxies. This result comes as a surprise because it is not predicted by conventional models of dark matter.

Stars on the outskirts of rotating galaxies orbit just as fast as those nearer the center. This appears to be in violation of Newton's laws, which predict that these outer stars would be flung away from their galaxies. The extra gravitational glue provided by dark matter is the conventional explanation for why these galaxies stay together. Today, our most cherished models of galaxy formation and cosmology rely entirely on the presence of dark matter, even though the substance has never been detected directly. (10/7)

Forget About Flag-Waving From Mars, Colonies on the Moon are the Future (Source: South China Morning Post)
Tesla boss Elon Musk who is leading us the wrong way this time with his SpaceX project. Mars is all wrong. Just for starters, how is any Mars colony to deal with temperature variations of 160 degrees Celsius, persistent dust typhoons of up to 150km/h and an atmosphere so thin as to put the colonists in constant grave danger from solar flares and cosmic rays?

How do you build any reasonably sized living structure with sufficient air pressure for humans to doff pressurised space suits and yet not have this air pressure flip these structures high into the thin Martian atmosphere? How do you forestall the inevitable air leaks from the temperature variations and dust storms?

The better option by far was proposed to the US Congress 40 years ago by Princeton professor Gerard O’Neill. It has unfortunately languished since then because it requires long and hard work before any spectacular flag-waving results. O’Neill proposed a moon colony that would source minerals for building massive metal structures in space, which would spin to impart gravity to their inhabitants and could be safely located on the moon’s orbit around earth at what are called the L4 and L5 Lagrangian points. (10/9)

The Potential for New Zealand Launch Tourism (Source: New Zealand Herald)
Rockets into space will attract visitors, but how many and how dramatic the rockets will be are yet to be seen. A Wanaka weather balloon attracted 1000 people at its launch despite being postponed three times which bodes well for Wairoa rocket tourism, says a report commissioned by Hawke's Bay Regional Council (HBRC). The report investigated the tourism potential of the Rocket Lab space business that plans to launch satellites from the tip of Mahia Peninsula.

Rocket tourism is an established activity worldwide but the isolation of the Mahia site and the smaller size of its rockets brought into question whether rocket tourism will be a game-changer. New infrastructure such as toilets and accommodation would be needed - overseas rocket tourism locations have a visitors center - but local tourism stakeholders were taking a "wait and see" approach before investing. (10/4)

Harris Opens Innovation Center in Florida (Source: GovConWire)
Harris Corp. has unveiled a new 23,000-square-foot Global Innovation Center in Florida that features interactive technology demonstration stations and workspaces that aim to drive collaboration between customers, employees and partners. The company said Wednesday the innovation hub is part of its $150 million investment in central Florida. (10/7)

Space Station to Trial Aussie-Designed Thrusters That Could Power Journey to Mars (Source: ABC)
An Australian-designed rocket propulsion system is heading to the International Space Station (ISS) for a year-long experiment that ultimately could revolutionise space travel. The technology could be used to power a return trip to Mars without refueling, and use recycled space junk for the fuel. (9/28)

MDA Further Erases Maple leaf, Adds Stars and Stripes (Source: Space News)
Satellite and space-services provider MDA on Oct. 3 moved to further burnish its new identity as an American company fully eligible to win U.S. government contracts, naming new directors with U.S. military credentials and moving its headquarters to San Francisco from Richmond, British Columbia. The company reiterated that it expects to complete the transition and secure U.S. security clearances by the end of the year. (10/4)

Shotwell Says SpaceX “Homing In” on Cause of Falcon 9 Pad Explosion (Source: Space News)
SpaceX is getting closer to finding the cause of a September pad explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9, and the company’s president remains confident the vehicle will return to flight later this year. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell suggested that the accident prior to a planned static-fire test was not a flaw in the vehicle’s design. “We’re homing in on what happened,” she said. “I think it’s going to point not to a vehicle issue or an engineering design issue but more of a business process issue.” (10/10)

Space Insurers Warn that Current Low Rates are Not Sustainable (Source: Space News)
Satellite insurers on Oct. 5 said the Sept. 1 failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket while preparing a static-fire test, which destroyed a $200 million satellite, wiped out 20 years of insurance premiums for prelaunch coverage and will almost surely result in a sharp rate increase.

But they said the classic space insurance market — covering the moment from a rocket’s ignition through a satellite’s in-orbit life — is unlikely to be affected by the Falcon 9 explosion because it is managed by a different set of insurance underwriters. These insurers warned that space underwriters are playing a dangerous game of chicken in allowing launch and in-orbit insurance rates to continue to fall to a point where a single failure of a European Ariane 5 rocket carrying two telecommunications satellites would wipe out most of a full year’s premium payments. (10/10)

ESA Mars Lander Readied for Landing (Source: Parabolic Arc)
This week, the commands that will govern the Schiaparelli lander’s descent and touchdown on Mars were uploaded to ESA’s ExoMars spacecraft, enroute to the Red Planet. The Trace Gas Orbiter has been carrying the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator since launch on 14 March. Upon arrival on 19 October, Schiaparelli will test the technology needed for Europe’s 2020 rover to land, while its parent craft brakes into an elliptical orbit around Mars. (10/10)

Is Beaming Messages to Other Stars a Wise Idea? (Source: Air & Space)
This Monday, October 10, at exactly 8 p.m. Universal time (4 p.m. U.S. Eastern time), an interstellar transmission put together by the nonprofit group A Simple Response is scheduled to be sent in the direction of the North Star (Polaris), using the European Space Agency’s deep space antenna at the Cebreros ground station in Spain. The transmission will encode 3,775 messages submitted by people from 146 countries, and will be the first such message sent to deep space in several years.

The North Star seems an odd target, although this won’t be the first message sent its way (the Beatles song “Across the Universe” was beamed there in 2008). Polaris is a yellow supergiant about 433 light years from Earth, and it is difficult to imagine any potentially habitable planet in its vicinity. Why not choose, for example, the much closer Proxima b?

One might also wonder how an alien civilization, if it’s able to intercept the radioed message, would decipher it, since it includes so many different languages. The organizers chose Polaris because it has served for centuries as a beacon for sailors in the northern hemisphere to find their way home. So this particular effort appears to be more symbolic than a serious attempt to contact an alien civilization. (10/7)

NASA's Robotic Mars Mission Plans Uncertain Beyong 2020 (Source: Space News)
NASA's plans for robotic Mars missions beyond a 2020 rover remain uncertain. Jim Watzin, director of the agency's Mars Exploration Program, said NASA is still studying options for a Mars orbiter mission that could fly as soon as 2022. That orbiter would likely provide high-resolution imagery and serve as a telecommunications relay, and NASA is studying its potential use as part of a larger Mars sample return effort. Watzin warned that that current era of Mars exploration, with multiple spacecraft in orbit and on the surface, will end by the early 2020s as existing Mars spacecraft reach the end of their lives in the next several years. (10/10)

Proxima Planet Not Detected With Transit Method (Source: New Scientist)
A planet orbiting the star closest to the sun cannot be detected by one popular technique. Astronomers said an effort to detect Proxima Centauri b through transits, where the planet passes between its star and the Earth, failed to turn up any sign of the planet. Because transits require a specific alignment of the planet's orbit as seen from the Earth, astronomers said the odds were against them detecting the planet, which other astronomers found from Doppler shifts as the planet tugs on the star. A transit detection would have provided another tool for studying the Earth-sized planet. (10/10)

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