December 13, 2016

Orbital Would Launch New Rocket from Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Orbital ATK has been developing a launch vehicle that would put it in direct competition with SpaceX and United Launch Alliance for both government and commercial launch contracts. It’s a collaboration between Orbital and the U.S. Air Force, which has a significant presence on the Space Coast and has sought ways to decrease dependence on the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine. Orbital expects to know by the end of next year whether it will build the launcher.  Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski said the company would likely launch more frequently from Florida if the plans come together.

Editor's Note: Using the NASA SLS solid rocket booster as the basis of its first stage (similar to the canceled Liberty rocket), this new Orbital ATK rocket could share NASA's LC-39B launch pad with NASA's SLS heavy-lift rocket. The SLS would launch so rarely that LC-39B could be used much of the time by Orbital ATK. (12/12)

Two Galaxies Are Colliding and Forming a Bizarre Galactic Eye (Source: Inverse)
There are only so many common shapes we see out in the cosmos: spirals, columns, and plenty of blobs. But NASA and the European Space Agency stumbled on a rarity earlier this year. Two galaxies, 114 million light-years away, are brushing past each other and forming a pair of galactic eyelids.

A galactic eyelid sounds weird as hell, but all it’s really referring to is a wave of gas that sweeps toward the center of a galaxy, creating an eyelid-like shape. This particular space eye was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

Galactic eyes aren’t the rarest things in the universe, but they only tend to last for a few tens of millions of years so we were lucky to get a glimpse at all. (For reference, the oldest parts of the Milky Way are about 13 billion years old.) The galaxies aren’t in a head-on collision, but their spiral arms are scraping past each other as IC 2163, on the left, moves behind NGC 2207. (12/12)

A Planet with Weather So Hot, its Clouds are Vaporized Jewels (Source: Quartz)
No matter how brutally hot the summers are wherever you live, they’ve got nothing on the staggering temperatures elsewhere in the Milky Way. On HAT-P-7b, a gas giant about 16 times the size of the Earth and 1,000 light years away, temperatures hover around 4,450 °F. This planet orbits around a star, HAT-P-7, twice the size of our sun, every two earth days. And for the first time, astrophysicists believe they’ve found evidence of weather on the sweltering planet, thanks to data from NASA’s Kepler observer.

On a planet as hot as HAT-P-7b, clouds are likely made of materials that have a much higher melting and boiling point; at those temperatures, most compounds would be permanently in their gaseous states. “Something that has the right sort properties is called corundum,” says Armstrong. On Earth, where temperatures are much lower, corundum is found in rocks—the mineral, when combined with the right elements, forms rubies and sapphires. On HAT-P-7b, the mineral might be forming clouds. (12/12)

Rocket Lab Completes First-Stage Testing Ahead of 2017 Launches (Source: Rocket Lab)
Rocket Lab said Monday that it has completed testing and qualification of the first stage of its small launch vehicle, Electron. The company, headquartered in the U.S. but with operations in New Zealand, said it is ready to move forward with "full vehicle testing" of Electron early next year, with test launches planned from its launch site on New Zealand's North Island. The company had previously planned to begin Electron launches this year. (12/12)

Chinese Company Plans 60-Satellite Constellation (Source: China Daily)
A Chinese company has plans for a communications satellite constellation. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is developing Hongyan, a constellation of 60 satellites that, working with 20 ground stations, would be able to provide communications services globally. The company believes the system could be operational by 2020, but provided few details about its technical status or funding. (12/12)

Air Launcher Generation Orbit Gets New CEO (Source: GO)
Generation Orbit Launch Services (GO) announced that Anthony J. Piplica will assume the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO), effective January 1, 2017. Mr. Piplica has served as the company's Chief Operating Officer (COO) since 2013. Mr. Piplica joined the Generation Orbit team in 2012, quickly rising to the position of COO. Within that capacity, he has been instrumental in managing the company's growth and technical activities. Piplica has served as GO's primary interface for its network of partners and suppliers, as well as key Air Force, NASA, and commercial customers. (12/13)

Brightest Supernova May Be Star-Eating Black Hole (Source: Science)
A flash in the sky that earlier this year was called the brightest supernova ever detected—tens of times brighter than our entire Milky Way galaxy—may be something much more exotic: a supermassive black hole tearing apart—and consuming—a star that strayed too close, according to a new study. (12/12)

Cosmonaut Reveals Details About Future International Station in Moon’s Orbit (Source: Tass)
A future international space station that may be put in orbit around the Moon will be one-fourth or even one-fifth the size of the International Space Station currently orbiting the Earth, the chief of the Manned Programs Center at the space industry’s main research institute, cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, has told TASS.

Pre-project talks are being held by the ISS partner countries at the working group level. The purpose of the station will be to create a near-Moon infrastructure for subsequent exploration and development of the Moon. Currently the station is seen as a small visitable orbiter consisting of three or four modules in the Moon’s polar highly elliptical orbit," he said. (12/12)

Mars One Secures Hong Kong Investor (Source: Aviation Week)
Mars One, the first publicly traded venture to propose the colonization of another planet, has secured an investment of €6 million from the Hong Kong based investment firm World Stock & Bond Trade Limited. Mars One Ventures AG is now trading publicly at the Frankfurt stock exchange. (12/12)

India Chooses Private Consortium to Build Two Satellites (Source: Business Standard)
In a step towards entrusting the private sector with satellite making, Indian Space Research Organization issued a contract to a consortium of six companies to manufacture two remote-sensing satellites. ISRO will pay an undisclosed amount to the consortium for building these satellites to its specifications in the next 18 months, said a senior official with the space agency. The companies selected are Alpha Design Technologies, New Tech Solutions, Aidin Technologies, Avantel Systems, DCX Cable Assemblies, Vinyas Innovative Technologies. (12/12)

'Dark Gravity' Theory Passes First Test (Source: Cosmos)
Theoretical physics is a bit like professional boxing. Everybody wants to have a crack at the champ. In one corner, we have our white and wispy-haired champion, Albert Einstein, undefeated in the cosmology ring since he proposed his general theory of relativity in 1915. It beautifully describes the universe at its grandest scales, at least when the mysterious dark matter is factored in.

And in the other corner, we have the latest contender: Dutch theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde who put forward a rival theory that claims to explain the universe without the dark stuff. Now, Verlinde's theory has been tested for the first time. European and Australian astronomers performed galactic measurements which appear to back up his ideas, albeit tentatively. (12/12)

Mars One Project: What's Behind the Delay? (Source: iTech Post)
The Mars One organization is under a new financial strategy to raise more money. CEO Bas Lansdorp said the Mars One project would only be able to implement the mission to Mars if the company would also be able to afford it, while adding that they need to have their investments to get going. Reports say that the organization's initial target for sending the first unmanned mission to Mars has been delayed by four years, setting the launch time to 2022.

It was found that the delay is allegedly being linked to Mars One's sale to InFin Innovative Finance AG, which is a Swiss financial services company. Currently, the alliance is known to have been made up of two entities, namely the British public limited company Mars One Ventures and the Dutch not-for-profit Mars One Foundation. Also, prior to the launch of the crewed mission, Mars One envisions sending a communications satellite to orbit the planet by 2024, followed by the launch of a rover in 2026. A second rover, along with the equipment needed to support astronauts on Mars, will be sent in 2029. (12/12)

The Women Scientists Who Took India Into Space (Source: BBC)
Two years ago, as Indian scientists successfully put a satellite into orbit around Mars, a photograph that went viral showed women dressed in gorgeous saris with flowers in their hair celebrating at the Indian Space Research Organization in the southern city of Bangalore. It was reported that the ecstatic women were scientists and the photograph challenged the stereotype that rocket science in India was a male preserve.

ISRO later clarified that the celebrating women were administrative staff, but it went on to add that there indeed were several women scientists who had worked on the mission and were in the control room at the time of the launch. Click here. (12/12)

Deal Breathes New Life Into France's Space-Surveillance Radar (Source: Defense News)
France signed Nov. 10 a deal with aerospace research office Onera to upgrade the ground-based "Graves" space-surveillance system, a move aimed at bolstering French sovereignty, the defense procurement office said on Monday. France and the United States have a bilateral agreement to share military intelligence gathered from foreign satellites on the Graves system. The deal is worth around €40 million ($42 million), an Onera spokesperson said. (12/12)

Examining the Latest Advances in Private Spaceflight (Source: NY Daily News)
With the passing of the SPACE Act of 2015, commercial spaceflight has essentially become an industry standard. Plus, other pieces of legislation dating back to the 1980s and ’90s — and an uptick in test flights and bold exploratory ideas — have helped acquaint people with the prospects of private space travel.

Many companies have already dabbled in it, too. However, there have certainly been setbacks, including the crash of the VSS Enterprise in 2014, when the manned ship suffered an in-flight breakup over the Mojave Desert. Still, industry leaders such Richard Branson, George Whitesides, Elon Musk, Robert Bigelow and others have made bold promises about the capabilities of man in space over the course of the next few decades. Click here. (12/8)

NASA’s Improved Supersonic Cockpit Display Shows Precise Locations of Sonic Booms (Source: NASA)
NASA pilots flying supersonic aircraft now have a display that tells them exactly where sonic booms are hitting the ground. A series of flights, recently flown at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center featured a display that allowed NASA research pilots the ability to physically see their sonic footprint on a map as the boom occurred.

The series, which marked the second phase of the Cockpit Interactive Sonic Boom Display Avionics project, or CISBoomDA, continued from the project’s first phase, where only a flight test engineer could see the display. With the ability to observe the location of their aircraft’s sonic booms, pilots can better keep the loud percussive sounds from disturbing communities on the ground. (12/7)

Early US Astronauts Faced Uncertainty, Danger and Death (Source: Space Daily)
John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, but for a solid hour of that journey, NASA feared he was about to die in a blazing fireball. In fact, all of the original crew of astronauts, known as the Mercury 7, risked life and limb in order to explore the frontier of space, and some died in the effort.

The death Thursday at 95 of Glenn, the last of the so-called Original Seven who were chosen as NASA's first astronaut corps in 1959, reminded many Americans just how far the US space program has come in the past five decades. (12/9)

World View and Spaceport Tucson Plan Grand Opening on Feb. 23 (Source: World View)
Please join us as we celebrate the beginning of a bright new chapter in World View's story! You can expect guided tours of the new facility, remarks from World View founders and elected officials, great music, drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and plenty of fun. Please mark your calendar for Thursday, February 23rd at 4pm. Full details and an official invite with a request for RSVP will follow in the weeks to come! Please use the calendar invite attached to this email to bookmark the date and time! (12/12)

Will Trump Scrap NASA’s Climate Research Mission? (Source: Pro Publica)
The wonders of NASA — Mars rovers, astronaut Instagram feeds, audacious missions probing distant galactic mysteries — have long enthralled the American public. And, it turns out, the accomplishments have won the agency the public’s trust: Polls have consistently shown NASA to be the second-most trusted government institution, behind only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The public, however, probably has less appreciation for the work NASA has done on its home planet. NASA’s $2-billion-a-year Earth Science program has long tracked global-scale environmental conditions on Earth, including climate change. But with the election of Donald Trump, there was immediate concern — inside NASA and among the fans of its valued work on global warming — about the future of the agency’s Earth Science program.

Within hours of Trump’s acceptance speech on Nov. 9, an internal email from the director of the Earth Sciences division circulated within NASA acknowledging worry that “funding may now be exposed to severe reductions.” The last month is not apt to have eased that alarm. (12/12)

Lockheed Martin Seeks Hiring Deadline Extension to Save Incentive Deal (Source: Florida Today)
Lockheed Martin wants to renegotiate a $1.75 million economic incentive deal from the North Brevard Economic Development Zone. It turns out that the agreed-upon timeline for adding the space-related jobs in Titusville proved to be too optimistic. A grant agreement was finalized in April, under which the company would get up to $1.75 million from the North Brevard Economic Development Zone, in return for creating up to 300 jobs paying an average of $89,000 a year at its Astrotech subsidiary.

But the deal would be void if the company did not create at least 25 jobs by the end of this year. The North Brevard Economic Development Zone board voted unanimously Friday to give Lockheed more time to meet its hiring goals at its Astrotech facility at 1515 Chaffee Drive in the Spaceport Commerce Park. The modified deal now must go to the Brevard County Commission for approval, likely at its Dec. 20 meeting, because it exceeds a $500,000 threshold. There are three new county commissioners on the five-person board, and this will be their first vote on a major economic development issue.

Astrotech offers payload processing services — like encapsulating and fueling a satellite for launch — for a range of customers. Under the planned expansion, its scope of work could potentially include production of aerospace components and subsystems. Lockheed previously indicated that it would make an $80 million capital investment at that site, which would be "used for the design and manufacture of a high-tech manufacturing product." The investment includes $52 million on construction, plus $28 million on machinery and other equipment. (12/12)

The Possibilities and Challenges Facing Commercial Space Stations (Source: Space Review)
While all the ISS partners have now agreed to extend operations of the station through at least 2024, the station’s life is finite. In the first of a two-part essay, Cody Knipfer examines some of the issues associated with the future of the ISS and potential commercial successors. Click here. (12/12)
AIM Misses the Funding Target, For Now (Source: Space Review)
At a meeting of ministers of its member nations earlier this month, ESA got most of what it asked for, with the exception of funding for an asteroid mission called AIM. Jeff Foust recounts what happened to AIM and why ESA’s leader is not yet giving up on the mission. Click here. (12/12)
For Planetary Scientists, Venus is Hot Again (Source: Space Review)
As various space agencies make plans for missions to the Moon, Mars, and outer solar system, Venus—once considered Earth’s twin—looks neglected by comparison. Jeff Foust reports on how there’s increased enthusiasm for more missions to Venus, including decisions that could be made within weeks. Click here. (12/12)
A Trump Administration Path to Advance Commercial Space Solar Power (Source: Space Review)
Should space-based solar power be part of the Trump Administration’s space strategy? Mike Snead makes the argument that it’s essential for the next administration to start work on a technology that can assure long-term energy independence. Click here. (12/12)

SpaceX's First Launch of Astronauts Slips to 2018 (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX's first flight of astronauts has officially slipped into 2018, NASA confirmed Monday, but the company still hopes to beat rival Boeing to the International Space Station. SpaceX is now targeting a test flight taking two astronauts to the ISS in May of 2018 — about six months later than previously planned, but three months before Boeing aims to fly a similar test in its CST-100 Starliner capsule.

The test flight with a crew will be preceded by an orbital flight without one that SpaceX now hopes to fly next November, again a six-month slip. Boeing plans its uncrewed test flight in June 2018. Both SpaceX missions will launch upgraded versions of the Dragon cargo capsule, known as the Crew Dragon, atop Falcon 9 rockets lifting off from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Boeing's will launch Starliners on Atlas V rockets next door  at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 41. (12/12)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Explores Detonation Engine Options (Source: Aviation Week)
For over 70 years, jet engines have powered airplanes ever more safely and efficiently. But, despite higher core temperatures and pressures, and the introduction of efficient propulsion concepts like the geared fan, conventional gas turbines may be running out of runway.

A fundamental change in the way a gas turbine combusts air and fuel in its core could open a path to a new era of jet engine development, however. Long pursued by propulsion researchers as a potential game-changing thermodynamic technology for gas turbines, the concept of pressure-gain combustion appears to be finally making headway.

After almost seven years of research and more than 700 hot test firings, a rotating detonation engine (RDE) pressure-gain concept conceived by Aerojet Rocketdyne is poised for a new phase of development aimed initially at ground-based applications but that could ultimately inject new life into jet engine development for aircraft. (12/12)

Grunsfeld Has a Plan That Uses Red Dragon to Return Mars Rocks to Earth (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission has always been a bit of an ugly duckling. It was not out of love that the space agency came up with the plan to scoop a small boulder off the surface of an asteroid and bring it back to a location near the Moon. Rather, after President Obama’s call to have humans visit an asteroid in the mid-2020s, this was the only way NASA could afford to meet such a mandate.

Since the mission’s formulation, Congress has generally dismissed sending astronauts to fly formation with a small boulder around the Moon as a stunt. Many planetary scientists, too, have never really embraced the plan, uncertain of its value when NASA already was flying a robotic sample return mission to an asteroid, OSIRIS-REx. Click here. (12/12)

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