October 18, 2016

Trump's Views on Science Are Shockingly Ignorant (Source: Scientific American)
One of the major-party presidential candidates has had plenty to say during this year's campaign. But almost none of the words from Donald J. Trump have been about the importance of science and science literacy to the nation's economic growth, security and international prestige—as well as to the health and well-being of the American people and the future of the planet itself.

Trump has, however, made statements about science over the years, many of them in the form of tweets. They betray his beliefs about scientific issues, so we are reprinting a selection of them here. We have not fact-checked them. Click here. (10/18)

Obama's Giant Leap for Legacy (Source: Scientific American)
Space has been back on the radar lately for the White House—an uncharacteristic situation in an administration that has not been known for any full-throttle interest in the realm beyond Earth. “We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space,” President Obama wrote, “sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.”

The plan was not new—Obama first announced his intention to explore the Red Planet in 2010, and NASA has been pursuing the necessary technology ever since. But the opinion piece suggests the president is thinking about his legacy in space—particularly at a time when private companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX are pursuing Mars exploration plans of their own.

Obama and Mars are not strangers. In 2010 he called on NASA to head for the Red Planet, have astronauts orbit that world by the mid-2030s and return them safely to Earth. “And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it,” he said in a 2010 speech at the Kennedy Space Center. So why the announcement now? “It is a reminder that six years ago he set NASA on the journey to Mars…and that they are still going. He hasn’t changed his mind,” says John Logsdon. Click here. (10/18)

Fire Reported at Russian Soyuz Rocket Factory (Source: Russia Today)
A huge fire has broken out at a warehouse of the Progress State Research and Production Rocket Space Center in the southern Russian city of Samara, local media report. Up to 1,000 sq meters may have been affected. “A two-storey warehouse... on the center's premises is on fire,” said Tatiana Kovaleva, of the press service of the Samara emergency services. At least 60 people and 17 vehicles are currently battling the blaze, Kovaleva said. (10/18)

Antares Soars Back Into Service (Source: Space Policy Online)
Orbital ATK's Antares rocket is back in service after a successful launch five hours ago from Virginia's spaceport on Wallops Island. The rocket delivered a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to orbit. Cygnus will be berthed to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday after an extended period of independent flight while a new crew arrives.

The 7:40 pm ET launch on October 17 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) slipped to 7:45 pm ET, the end of the 5-minute launch window. A commentator said it was due to a minor engine problem. At a post-launch press conference, however, Orbital ATK's Frank Culbertson said it was to give the launch crew one last chance to check everything over. Whatever the reason for the brief delay, the launch appeared flawless when it took place. (10/18)

The Bizarre Tale of the Middle East’s First Space Program (Source: Smithsonian)
But in a tale so improbable that many locals laugh disbelievingly when told, this projectile is no warhead-carrying instrument of death. It’s actually a tribute to the student space program that once placed this tiny Middle Eastern state, barely two million people strong at the time, at the forefront of extraterrestrial exploration. Aside from a few half-hearted Egyptian efforts in the late 1950s, Lebanon was the first Arab state to reach for the stars.

This mind-boggling feat first began in 1960 when Manoug Manougian, then 25 years old and recently arrived in Lebanon, took up a teaching post at Haigazian College, a small Armenian liberal arts institution steps from the prime minister's headquarters. As a young boy growing up in Jerusalem, the rocket-obsessed young boy had plenty of time to indulge his fancies as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict closed schools, leaving him free to delve into science fiction books. (10/17)

Vector Space Systems Announces $60M Launch Agreement with York Space Systems (Source: Vector Space)
Vector Space Systems finalized an agreement with York Space Systems, an aerospace company specializing in small and medium class spacecraft, to conduct six satellite launches from 2019 through 2022 with the option for 14 additional launches. The first launch through the agreement will also be the inaugural launch of the Vector-H vehicle, which is capable of launching 100 kg into orbit, and will provide an integrated spacecraft to customers through a standardized platform.

York Space Systems will use the launches with Vector Space Systems to place their standardized S-Class satellite platform into orbit for commercial and government customers. York Space Systems' satellites will also employ the unique Electric Upper Stage which uses Vector Space Systems' propriety electric propulsion technology as the final insertion stage of the Vector-H to place the satellites into orbital altitudes up to 1000 km with zero loss of launch throw mass capability. (10/17)

Experiments Aboard China's Tiangong-2 Space Lab (Source: CCTV)
A record number of 14 experiments will be carried out on the Tiangong-2 space lab after it docks with the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft on Tuesday evening. The experiments cover cutting edge technologies such as space materials science and space life science.

Astronauts are going to use the world's first in-space cold atomic clock to measure time more accurately, and increase the precision of navigation systems here on Earth. They are also expected to carry out China's first experiment on cultivating plants in space, gathering experience for the future construction of a permanent space station. Click here. (10/17)

Enabling a Mars Settlement Strategy with the Hercules Rreusable Mars Lander (Source: Space Review)
NASA’s current plans for human Mars missions don’t involve reusable spacecraft, but such systems may be essential to long-term exploration and settlement. John Strickland explains how one concept for a reusable Mars lander could make human Mars missions more sustainable. Click here. (10/18)
The Suborbital Space Non-Race (Source: Space Review)
As Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic make progress on their suborbital spacecraft, some wonder who will be the first to enter commercial service. Jeff Foust reports that neither company appears to be in a race with the either for that achievement. Click here. (10/18)
Technology Shocks are Felt Around the World (Source: Space Review)
Advances in technologies can have effects far beyond their original field. Steve Hoeser discusses how certain technologies can have great leverage, and explores one potential technology that could affect spaceflight. Click here. (10/18)
O, Full of Scorpions is My Mind! (Source: Space Review)
Spaceflight has been the subject of episodes of several contemporary TV series, usually not coming off very well. Dwayne Day, though, examines one such episode that may be the worst of them all. Click here. (10/18)

Bruno Explains How ULA Will Stay Ahead Of Competitors (Source: Forbes)
After three decades in the strategic missile and space-launch business, there is one experience United Launch Alliance President & CEO Tory Bruno still hasn’t had: he has never lost a rocket. During the years he was involved in overseeing Lockheed Martin’s Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile — the backbone of the U.S. nuclear deterrent — it achieved a perfect record of over 100 flawless launches. Today, as head of ULA, he presides over a launch provider that never lost a payload in ten years of operation.

Elon Musk no doubt wishes that SpaceX could say that. Musk has made life hard for Bruno by offering the government cut-rate prices on launch services, forcing ULA to drastically reorganize what had been a consistently profitable enterprise. Click here. (10/14)

Proxima Centauri Surprises with Starspot Cycle (Source: Cosmos)
Proxima Centauri, our stellar neighbour that recently was discovered to host a planet within its habitable zone, seems to also boast a starspot cycle – unusual for star so small and dim. Using ground-based observations combined with space-based X-ray measurements, Brad Wargelin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found the star, which is 12% the mass of the sun and 0.15% its brightness, is marred with dark blotches every seven years. (10/17)

Maine ‘Space Nerds’ Launch New Company (Source: Bangor Daily News)
In an unidentified quarry somewhere in western Maine next week, a group of space nerds will gather to test a small launch platform. “In normal words, a rocket,” said Sascha Deri of BluShift Aerospace. The company, built on the founders’ passion for space and space exploration, is building a rocket to send “cube sats” — very small satellites — into space.

The start-up company recently opened an office in Tech Place, an incubator at Brunswick Landing. On Thursday, Deri submitted an application for a $2 million NASA grant, and hopes the funding will help him create a handful of well-paying jobs, to start, in the aerospace industry.

They bought software and a milling machine to build parts, but then realized they needed more people — people equally passionate about space. “I thought, there must be people out there who are nerdy like me about space, but who actually have applicable skills,” he said. That’s where Spaceflight Innovators was launched. (10/17)

Can We Be Good in Space? Companies, Nations, Groups Seek to Keep the Peace (Source: The Gazette)
Industry leaders are working to make sure humanity's final frontier doesn't resemble the Wild West. "It's a new world out there," says Steve Eisenhart, the Space Foundation's globe-trotting senior vice president for strategic and international affairs, "and there is a degree of self-policing involved. Everyone feels a degree of responsibility for what takes place in space.

"Folks want to do the right thing, not strip mine the crap out of the moon. There's a respect for space, and for the cataclysmic potential if something goes wrong, that drives them to do the right thing." Eisenhart cites numerous factors that keep countries and companies in line. Click here. (10/17)

NASA’s Bold Plan to Hunt for Fossils on Mars (Source: National Geographic)
Nearly four billion years ago, when Earth was coming alive, Mars was gradually choking to death. The thick atmosphere that had warmed the red planet was leaking into space, and plummeting temperatures caused Martian lakes and rivers to freeze, turning the wet surface into a dry wasteland.

But it’s possible life took root in those early years. And very soon, a NASA robot will arrive at Mars with the goal of collecting rock samples that might contain ancient fossils, perhaps helping to answer one of humanity’s most fundamental questions: Are we alone in the universe? First though, would-be Martian fossil hunters will have to decide where, exactly, to send that robot.

Currently known as Mars 2020, the next-generation rover will carry a sophisticated mobile geology lab designed to search for signs of tiny dead Martians—single-celled algae and bacteria that are the planet’s most likely ancient inhabitants. (10/18)

You've Never Seen Mars Like This (Source: USA Today)
More out-of-this-world images of Mars were unveiled Monday. NASA's Maven spacecraft, now in orbit around the Mars, released images that "show the ultraviolet glow from the Martian atmosphere in unprecedented detail, revealing dynamic, previously invisible behavior," NASA said. They include the first images of 'nightglow' that can show how winds circulate at high altitudes. Click here. (10/17)

New Icy World with 20,000-Year Orbit Could Point to Planet Nine (Source: Science)
The solar system has gained a new extreme object: L91, a small icy world with one of the longest known orbits, taking more than 20,000 years to go around the sun. Researchers have yet to pin down the object’s size or mass, but they can add it to the growing list of frozen bodies circling well beyond Neptune in strange orbits that imply gravitational disruptions from outside the sun and the known giant planets.

In the case of L91, some astronomers say that external disruptor could be a ninth giant planet, as yet undiscovered. However, L91’s discovery team favors a scenario in which the disturbance is more mundane: a passing star, or the Milky Way’s gravity. L91 never comes closer to the sun than 50 astronomical units (AU), or 50 times the Earth-sun distance. From there, it slowly crawls all the way out to 1,430 AU.

L91 is thought to be another wanderer, except the ice giant Neptune might be responsible for its movements. Bannister sketched a scenario in which the icy object was born with a more regular elliptical orbit. Over billions of years, Neptune’s gravitational influence might have given it little kicks that stretched out its orbital far point. His preferred explanation is gravitational tugging from Planet Nine, an as-yet-unseen Neptune-sized world. (10/17)

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