October 20, 2016

Medvedev: Russia Must Do Everything to Keep its Status of Space Power (Source: Tass)
Russia values its status of a space power and must do everything possible to keep it, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday. The Russian premier made this statement at a meeting on preparations for building facilities of the 2nd stage of the Vostochny spaceport in the Far East. "We appreciate this status and would like to do everything to ensure that our country keeps this status," Medvedev said. (10/19)

Space Florida Seeks FDOT Approval to Help SpaceX (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Space Florida is looking to help SpaceX pay to update its launch pad. The agency will ask Florida Department of Transportation for $5 million to contribute to infrastructure improvements on Spaceport Launch Complex 39A, which SpaceX hopes will one day be the site of rocket launches that send humans to Mars. The move will be discussed during an online-only board meeting next Wednesday.

According to meeting documents, "project match funding" from FDOT would be used for "infrastructure improvements by SpaceX." The move would authorize Space Florida to enter into an agreement with SpaceX. (10/18)

Sea Level Rise Threatens Air Force Tracking Station (Source: AP)
Another Air Force space tracking system could be threatened by climate change. The Air Force is building the Space Fence radar at Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists say the atoll is vulnerable to flooding as climate change causes sea levels to rise, and could be submerged by storms at least once a year within a few decades. The Air Force and Lockheed Martin, the Space Fence contractor, said that they do not believe rising sea levels pose a risk during the 25-year lifetime of the Space Fence, and that they can build seawalls if necessary to deal with any flooding risks. (10/18)

Clouds Above Pluto (Source: The Guardian)
Data from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft suggests Pluto's tenuous atmosphere may have clouds. Observations by the spacecraft during its 2015 flyby are "quite suggestive" of clouds at dusk and dawn on the planet, although scientists cautioned that the presence of the clouds can't be confirmed since they form close to the surface, beyond the resolution of the spacecraft's instruments. The last of the data collected during that July 2015 flyby will be transmitted back to Earth on Sunday. (10/18)

Opinion: How To Colonize Mars (Source: Aviation Week)
Within a month, the aspiration to send humans to Mars seems to have reached a new level of media exposure. First Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin disclosed its plan to build the New Glenn, a rocket with the potential to send humans into space. Then SpaceX CEO Elon Musk presented his vision of how we could shuttle to and from Mars within a couple of decades. And two weeks later, President Obama wrote an op-ed calling for America to set its sights on sending humans to Mars by the 2030s with the ambition of remaining there for an extended time.

While coming from different angles, both Musk and Obama emphasized the need for a public-private partnership to achieve these ambitious goals.

Musk’s main objective is to make the trip to Mars affordable for as many people as possible. His hypothesis is that if one can bring the cost down to the median cost of a house in the U.S.—$200,000—then there will be a critical mass of people who can afford and are willing to go. In order to reach that affordability threshold, he believes government money will be needed along the way, hence the need for a public-private partnership. Click here. (10/19)

Soyuz Launches to Space Station With New Crew (Source: Space.com)
A Soyuz spacecraft is on its way to the space station after a launch early this morning. A Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:05 a.m. Eastern and placed the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft into orbit. On board the spacecraft are Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko and American astronaut Shane Kimbrough. The Soyuz spacecraft will dock with the station early Friday. (10/18)

FAA and Pentagon Foresee Gradual Transition of Space Traffic Management (Source: Space News)
Should the federal government decide to shift responsibility for at least some space traffic management activities from the Defense Department to the Federal Aviation Administration, officials with both agencies expect a gradual transition, starting with a pilot program.

In presentations Oct. 12, the head of the FAA’s commercial space transportation office and a U.S. Strategic Command general both endorsed a “crawl, walk, run” approach to handing over responsibility for providing safety-related space situational awareness data, like warnings of potential collisions between satellites and other objects in orbit, to non-military satellite operators.

“It would be very feasible to do that,” said George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, in his ISPCS speech. “We want to accomplish that transition as soon as possible, but to do that in a ‘crawl, walk, run’ manner so that all of the key stakeholders are comfortable with the approaches being used, the progress being made, and the products and services that are provided.” (10/18)

Space is Full of Gigantic Holes That are Bigger than We Expected (Source: New Scientist)
Since 1981, when astronomers found a vacant expanse called the Bo├Âtes void, we’ve also known that the universe has holes of cold, dark, lonely nothing that are larger than anyone expected. To truly understand the universe, we may have to gaze into the abyss.

This is no statistical accident. At very large scales, the universe is often described as a cosmic web, with strands of invisible dark matter undergirding the universe’s luminous structure. It might be better here to think of it as cosmic foam, like soap bubbles in a bathtub. Just as it’s sudsy where bubbles intersect, galaxy clusters concentrate in walls, filaments and intersections. In between is mostly void. (10/18)

Will NASA Ever Work With China? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
It's been a banner year for China's spacefaring ambitions. The country launched satellites to test quantum communications and search for dark matter, built the world's largest radio telescope, and launched a new space station into orbit (though its old one is about to come crashing back to Earth). It seems that the country is well on its way to becoming the "space giant" its president envisioned in a speech earlier this year.

Things got really chilly between American and Chinese space operations in 1998, when a congressional commission led by Christopher Cox found that technical information American space companies had given to China for use in commercial satellites wound up in improved Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles. This effectively led to an embargo on U.S.-Chinese cooperation in space throughout the 2000s, an isolationist program reaffirmed in 2010 when former congressman Frank Wolf sponsored a bill that prohibited any sort of cooperation between NASA or the U.S. Office of Science and Technology and Chinese nationals.

"NASA was banned from bilateral relations with China as though that was somehow going to thwart or slow down Chinese plans for space," said Johnson-Freese. "In fact, if anything, it has given them an impetus to work faster and more broadly." To Johnson-Freese, the U.S. missed a big opportunity here. "Working with China, I think we would have had an opportunity to shape their space agenda. But now China has developed a very aggressive, across-the-board space program on their own and we ended up with less control, not more control." (10/18)

The Low-Tech Way to Colonize Mars (Source: The Atlantic)
Philip Metzger has been playing with mud. Experimenting, you could say, as he’s a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida and co-founder of NASA’s Swamp Works lab. In any case, his lab has been stuffing Martian clay into cupcake decorating bags and extruding it into what Metzger himself admits sometimes look like an “animal dropping.”

But one man’s cupcake decorating with mud is another man’s prototyping of 3D-printing on Mars. And 3D-printing could solve the single biggest hurdle to a crewed Mars expedition: the cost of transporting everything humans need to survive on the red planet.

It’s a mass problem. The more mass you have to take, the more expensive it is to escape Earth’s gravity and get to Mars. And some of the heaviest cargo will be material to shelter astronauts from the radiation zipping through Mars’ thin atmosphere. With 3D-printing, you don’t need to bring shelter. You build it out of dirt or ice already on Mars. Click here. (10/18)

Shenzhou-11 Astronauts Enter Tiangong-2 Space Lab (Source: Xinhua)
Two Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong have entered the space lab Tiangong-2. The two astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft entered the space lab Tiangong-2 Wednesday morning. The two astronauts extended greetings to all the people of the nation in the space lab, and checked the status of the space complex formed by Shenzhou-11 and Tiangong-2.

Before entering the space lab, the two astronauts entered Shenzhou-11's orbital compartment and removed their intravehicular mobility unit spacesuits to change into blue jumpsuits. They will live in the space lab for 30 days before returning to Earth. Shenzhou-11 was launched on Monday morning from northwest China's Gobi Desert. (10/19)

DOD Has Potential For Private Partnerships, Officials Say (Source: Law360)
Building off of success with public private partnerships in military housing, defense experts and officials said Tuesday there are more opportunities for the U.S. Department of Defense to encourage private investment, even as policy decisions like housing allowance reductions or base closures form “clouds on the horizon."

Editor's Note: There is much potential for adjusting the Air Force's role at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, allowing a spaceport authority to play a more central role in land use allocations and planning while the Air Force (and Navy) become tenants. Space Florida is supporting an ongoing study of alternatives for management of the increasingly commercial spaceport. (10/18)

Air Force's GPS System Report Lacks Key Details, GAO Says (Source: Law360)
The U.S. Air Force's quarterly report on its GPS modernization programs, including the development of its next-generation satellite control system, provided "important information" on some program aspects but also included gaps and inconsistencies, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report issued Monday. (10/18)

SpaceX Welder Seeks $8M As Sex Harassment Trial Launches (Source: Law360)
The attorney for a former SpaceX welder who claims the company allowed a senior welder to repeatedly sexually harass her asked a California jury during Tuesday opening statements for $8 million in damages, while the aerospace company countered that the woman's story is a "fabrication." (10/18)

Air Force Launches Space Consortium That Puts Startups to Work On Prototypes (Source: Defense News)
The Air Force is looking for a company to lead a new space consortium formed to help broaden participation in space acquisition programs to startups and small businesses. During an Air Force Innovation Forum, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James on Monday announced that the service had issued a request for information for a not-for-profit manager of the Space Enterprise Consortium.

Companies that take part in the consortium will be eligible to compete for rapid prototyping projects and — if successful — spin them off into programs of record. Although both large and small businesses and traditional and nontraditional firms will be chosen for the group, the service especially wants to see increased participation from startups and other vendors that are pioneering innovative space capabilities but don’t necessarily work regularly with the Defense Department, James said. (10/18)

Is Planet Nine Tilting The Sun? (Source: SpaceRef)
Planet Nine, the undiscovered planet at the edge of the solar system that was predicted by the work of Caltech's Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown in January 2016, appears to be responsible for the unusual tilt of the Sun, according to a new study. The large and distant planet may be adding a wobble to the solar system, giving the appearance that the Sun is tilted slightly.

All of the planets orbit in a flat plane with respect to the Sun, roughly within a couple degrees of each other. That plane, however, rotates at a six-degree tilt with respect to the Sun -- giving the appearance that the Sun itself is cocked off at an angle. Until now, no one had found a compelling explanation to produce such an effect. "It's such a deep-rooted mystery and so difficult to explain that people just don't talk about it," says Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy. (10/19)

Continued Space Investment Growth Not Guaranteed, Investors Caution (Source: Space News)
Despite an influx of money being invested in space companies in recent years, investors and analysts warned that there is no guarantee this growth will continue in the coming years. “We’re in a great spot right now in terms of the way investment dollars are flowing. I don’t think anybody I talk to in this sector takes that for granted,” said Will Porteous, general partner and chief operating officer of investment firm RRE Ventures, during a panel at the 32nd Space Symposium here April 13.

Porteous cautioned that the investment climate can change quickly depending on the overall economic picture as well as industry-specific events. He didn’t name any specific threats, but his comments come among recent concerns that there is a “bubble” of investment in technology firms in general that could soon burst. (10/19)

DARPA Hands Over Space Tracking Telescope to the Air Force (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has transferred operations of a telescope designed to track objects in Earth orbit to the U.S. Air Force, ahead of a move of that telescope to Australia. In a ceremony in New Mexico Oct. 18, DARPA formally handed over operations of the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) to Air Force Space Command. The transfer comes after several years of testing and operations of the 3.5-meter telescope by DARPA on a mountaintop at the White Sands Missile Range.

DARPA developed the telescope to be able to scan large regions of the sky, particularly in the geostationary arc. “SST is focused on tracking and identifying debris and satellites about 36,000 kilometers the Earth,” said Lindsay Millard, the telescope’s program manager at DARPA, in a conference call with reporters. “It can survey its entire GEO belt in its field of view, which is about one-quarter of the sky above New Mexico, multiple times in one night.”

Millard said DARPA developed several key technologies for the telescope. They include the telescope itself, with a steeply curved primary mirror to enable a large field of view. DARPA also developed the first curved charge-coupled device detector for the telescope’s camera, enabling it to take images from the telescope without distortion. A high-speed shutter allows it to take thousands of images a night. Those capabilities allow SST to see more, and smaller, objects than existing systems, like the network of optical telescopes known as the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS). (10/19)

Mars May Have Claimed Another Spacecraft (Source: Ars Technica)
As of the latest update from the ESA, there's no indication of any post-landing communication. Operators are planning on analyzing the signals they have to determine whether the lander was on the expected trajectory during descent, and expect to have more news tomorrow morning. The outlook is not terribly promising. Meanwhile, the in-space component of the ExoMars mission, the Trace Gas Orbiter, successfully reached orbit after a two-hour burn of its engine. This spacecraft will look for methane and other trace gases in the Martian atmosphere. (10/19)

Orbital ATK Looks Deeper Into Space Following Successful Launch (Source: Washington Business Journal)
Orbital ATK is no doubt celebrating — and breathing a sigh of relief — following its first successful launch of its Antares rocket since that same brand of rocket exploded seconds after takeoff two years ago. But Orbital ATK isn’t viewing this as moment of redemption, but rather as an opportunity to position its signature space vehicles for future deep-space missions.

Following these commercial cargo launches, Orbital ATK wants to sell NASA on its cislunar space habitats. These space habitats would essentially be modified Cygnus vehicles that go beyond its current mission of delivering cargo in low-earth orbit — about 250 miles out — to the International Space Station, all the way out into cislunar space — the region comprising the moon’s orbit. (10/19)

Trump’s Space Policy Reaches for Mars and the Stars (Source: Space News)
Despite its importance in our economic and security calculations, space policy is uncoordinated within the federal government. A Trump administration would end the lack of proper coordination by reinstituting a national space policy council headed by the vice president. The mission of this council would be to assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing U.S. interests.

Key goals would be to would create lower costs through greater efficiencies. As just one example, a Trump administration will insist that space products developed for one sector, but applicable to another, be fully shared. It makes little sense for numerous launch vehicles to be developed at taxpayer cost, all with essentially the same technology and payload capacity. Coordinated policy would end such duplication of effort and quickly determine where there are private sector solutions that do not necessarily require government investment.

Public-private partnerships should be the foundation of our space efforts. Such partnerships offer not only the benefit of reduced costs, but the benefit of partners capable of thinking outside of bureaucratic structures and regulations. Click here. Editor's Note: So VP Pence would head a renewed National Space Council, like VP Dan Quayle did for President George H.W. Bush. President Obama had also pledged to do this when campaigning for his first term, but it didn't happen. (10/19)

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