November 17, 2016

Mercury's Newfound 'Great Valley' Formed as Planet Cooled, Buckled (Source: Cosmos)
Planetary scientists discovered a new large valley on Mercury that may be the first evidence that the planet's outer shell crinkled as it contracted. Thomas Watters form the Smithsonian Institution and colleagues from the US, Germany and Russia examined images taken by NASA's now-dead Messenger spacecraft and found a 400-kilometer-wide valley extending more than 1,000 kilometres across Mercury's southern hemisphere. (11/16)

New Satellite to Give High-def Look at U.S. Weather (Source: USA Today)
It will be like moving from black-and-white to high-definition TV, one expert said. The USA's newest weather satellite — scheduled for launch this weekend from Florida — will send back the best images we've ever seen of severe storms, blizzards, hurricanes and lightning strikes. And it's fast: The satellite can scan the entire Western Hemisphere in just five minutes.

The school-bus-size satellite, known as "GOES-R," will be in a "geosynchronous" orbit, meaning it will hover in the same spot above the Earth about 22,000 miles above the equator. It will move as the Earth rotates. GOES-R was designed and built by Lockheed Martin and will be run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (11/16)

Space Poop Challenge: NASA Calls for Better Spacesuit Potty Systems (Source:
Sometimes the "call of nature" is really urgent – and if you're in a spacesuit, you can't easily rush to the bathroom. That's why NASA has created the "Space Poop Challenge." The agency is asking innovators to create fecal, urine and menstrual management systems for spacesuits, that would work for up to six days.

NASA astronauts wear diapers to take care of their bodily needs while they're launching, landing or spacewalking. However, these diapers are only good for a few hours; sitting in poop, urine or menstrual fluid for more than that is bad for your health, and your backside, besides. "Future missions may require long-duration waste management for use by a pressurized suited crew member," NASA wrote in a statement on HeroX, a website where people or organizations can host incentive-based competitions. (11/16)

NASA Receives Sixth Consecutive Clean Audit Opinion (Source: NASA)
NASA has received an unmodified audit opinion on its Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 2016) financial statements, marking the sixth consecutive year of “clean” opinions. The agency has released its FY 2016 Agency Financial Report (AFR), which provides details on its financial results and performance highlights.

The auditor's unmodified opinion is that NASA's financial statements fairly present the agency's financial position and results of operations. An unmodified opinion is the highest audit opinion that may be received from an external auditor. (11/16)

NASA Astronaut on Verge of Becoming Oldest Woman in Space (Source: ABC)
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is on the verge of becoming the oldest woman in space, adding to her long list of barrier-breaking records. Whitson will be 56 when she rockets off the planet Thursday. She'll celebrate her 57th birthday in February on the International Space Station. (11/16)

Pluto Has an Underground Ocean of Water and Slush (Source: Seeker)
Scientists have their first evidence that Pluto, located some 4 billion miles from the sun, has an underground ocean made of water and slushy ice. The sea is believed to be buried 93- to 124 miles beneath Pluto's giant impact basin, known as Sputnik Planitia, which lies within the heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio. The ocean is estimated to be 62 miles deep. (11/16)

Telesat Plans 117 Satellite Constellation (Source: Space News)
Among the other companies that filed applications with the FCC is Telesat, which is planning a 117-satellite system. The Telesat constellation would feature a mix of satellites in inclined and polar orbits, and would be designed to support U.S. military as well as commercial uses. Telesat plans to launch two small demonstration satellites for the system next year, but how it would fund the overall constellation remains unknown. Separately, the company is planning to raise more than $3 billion in the coming weeks to pay off debt and make a $400 million cash distribution to shareholders. (11/16)

Space Industry Hopes Trump Keeps On Course with Ongoing Regulatory Reforms (Source: Space News)
The commercial space industry hopes the incoming Trump administration moves ahead with various regulatory reforms. At a panel session Wednesday at the Spacecom conference in Houston, industry representatives said they want the next administration to address issues such as oversight of emerging commercial space applications and shifting space traffic management responsibilities for non-military spacecraft from the Air Force to the FAA. They also hope the administration continues support of ongoing activities, like commercial use of the ISS. (11/16)

Trump Team Leaves NASA Transition on Shelf (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Trump transition team is not, for now, sending anyone to NASA. In an internal memo Wednesday, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot said he has been informed by the President-Elect Transition Team that it will not be sending an Agency Review Team, also known as a "landing team", to NASA "at this time." The memo didn't give a reason why the Trump transition team isn't planning to work on NASA, but it left often the possibility that it may sending a landing team later in the transition process. (11/16)

SpaceX Tests Giant Carbon-Fiber Propellant Tank for Mega Rocket (Source: Business Insider)
SpaceX said Wednesday that a giant propellant tank it developed as part of its Mars mission architecture passed a key early test. The carbon-fiber tank passed a set of pressure tests performed on a barge last week, according to a brief statement from the company. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said last month that the test would take the tank up to two-thirds of its burst pressure. The tank is a key element of the interplanetary spaceship, capable of landing on Mars and carrying up to 100 people, that Musk unveiled in a talk in September. (11/16)

SpaceX Falcon Propellant Tank Test Causes Ruckus at Texas Facility (Source: Waco Tribune-Herald)
A SpaceX tank test at its McGregor, Texas, test site startled local residents and prompted a response from the fire department. The blast attracted the attention of local residents Wednesday and the city's fire department responded, but there were no injuries or damage reported. SpaceX said that residents heard "the result of a pressurization test" at its test site that "was part of the ongoing testing being conducted by our Accident Investigation Team" into the Sept. 1 Falcon 9 pad explosion. (11/16)

Will Trump Pick an “Agent of Change” or an Insider to Lead NASA? (Source: Ars Technica)
A mad scramble has ensued within the US aerospace community to identify candidates to become the next NASA administrator. What might those picks mean for the future of the nation's civil space policy and human spaceflight program? This parlor game has become doubly difficult in the wake of news Wednesday that Vice President-elect Mike Pence gutted the existing transition teams and removed lobbyists from those positions. Click here. (11/17)

Japan Planning Second Epsilon Rocket Launch (Source: Kyodo)
Japan is planning to launch a space science satellite next month on its Epsilon small launch vehicle. The Japanese space agency JAXA announced this week the launch of the Exploration of energization of Radiation in Geospace, or ERG, satellite is scheduled for Dec. 20 from the Uchinoura Space Center. The spacecraft will study high-energy electrons in the Earth's magnetosphere. The launch will be the second for the Epsilon rocket, after the launch of the Hisaki satellite in 2013. (11/15)

Ships and Planes: Trump's DOD Buildup Could Dramatically Expand Military Spending (Source: AIA)
"Trump could add 100 battle-ready fighter jets to Air Force fleet," according to Air Force Times. "Under Trump, Navy could add 78 ships," says Military Times. The Trump administration reportedly supports a fleet of at least 1,200 fighter aircraft, about 100 more than are currently mission-ready. Trump also cited the age of the B-52 bomber as a top concern. He has also pledged to create a 350-ship naval fleet, ending decades of fleet reductions to the current level of 272 battle-ready ships. Trump has touted such a buildup as an economic engine for the US. (11/15)

Virgin Galactic to Help Test Supersonic Baby Boom (Source: Flying)
The XB-1 supersonic aircraft, known affectionately by employees at Boom Technology Inc. as "Baby Boom," is a demonstration version one third the size of the future 12-passenger jet. Virgin Galactic has optioned the first 10 Boom jets and will work with the Colorado-based startup offering flight test support as well as engineering and manufacturing services. (11/15)

NASA's Flexwing Could Make Building and Flying Airplanes Cheaper (Source: Smithsonian)
NASA scientists working in collaboration with MIT, the University of California at Santa Cruz and others have designed a flexible airplane wing made of tiny intersecting pieces of carbon fiber that they say will reduce drag and be less expensive to build. The team has tested the wing on a remote-controlled airplane and is working toward tests on larger aircraft. (11/14)

SpaceX Files for FCC Approval for 4,425 Satellite Global Broadband Constellation (Source: Parabolic Arc)
SpaceX has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for approval to launch a satellite constellation composed of 4,425 satellites to provide global broadband and communications services. Satellites will fly in orbits from 1,110 km to 1,325 km and provide services in the Ku and Ka frequency bands. (11/16)

How a Shifting Ocean Caused Pluto to Flip Over – Putting its ‘Heart’ in the Right Place (Source: GeekWire)
Pluto’s famous heart-shaped feature may well have migrated over the course of millions of years as the dwarf planet spun, and that would add to the evidence for a slushy ocean hidden beneath the ice, two groups of scientists say. The scientists say a reorientation of the faraway world’s most famous feature would provide the best explanation for phenomena observed during last year’s flyby of NASA’s New Horizons probe – including patterns of cracks in the ice.

Most tellingly, it would explain why the heart-shaped feature, known informally as Tombaugh Regio, lines up almost precisely opposite Pluto’s biggest moon, Charon. “We asked, ‘What’s the chance of that randomly happening?’ And it’s less than 5 percent that it would be so perfectly opposite,” MIT Professor Richard Binzel. “And then the question becomes, what was it that caused the alignment?” The scientists’ explanation starts with a massive collision between Pluto and another celestial body early in its history. (11/16)

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