December 14, 2016

Software Issue Halts Pegasus Launch Plans. New Date TBD. (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A second attempt at launching a rocket into space from the underbelly of a jet has been canceled. During routine testing Tuesday, NASA scientists said they discovered an issue with the spacecraft's software that forced the cancellation. The time and date for a third try has not been determined. (12/14)

Swamp Watch: Attorney General Pick Influences NASA Transition to Assist Alabama (Source: Wall Street Journal)
President-elect Trump's choice for attorney general is also weighing in on space policy. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has reportedly "heavily influenced" the makeup of the NASA transition team, seeking to secure support for existing NASA exploration programs like the Space Launch System, being developed in Sessions' home state. In addition, three former astronauts wrote a letter to Sessions, seeking his endorsement of former NASA official Doug Cooke to be the agency's next administrator. (12/14)

International/Commercial Partnerships Key to Future Military Satcomm (Source: Space News)
The future of military satellite communications will involve more international and commercial partnerships, a Pentagon official said Tuesday. Winston Beauchamp, the U.S. Air Force deputy undersecretary for space, said greater use of commercial services, as well as interoperability built into ground equipment, will make it harder for future adversaries to attempt to disrupt communications. The Air Force has been taking steps towards greater use of commercial capabilities through a series of "Pathfinder" programs, but they have encountered some legal obstacles. (12/13)

Boeing to Relocate Space Unit to Washington DC Area (Source: Washington Business Journal)
Boeing will move its Defense, Space and Security unit from the St. Louis suburbs to Crystal City, the company announced Tuesday. The relocation will be complete by Jan. 3. The move will put the unit's leadership in closer proximity to federal customers and decision-makers, the company said. Initially, about a dozen senior leaders will move to the company's building near the Pentagon. (12/13)

Turkey Plans Space Agency, More Satellites (Source: Spacewatch Middle East)
As Turkey seeks to expand its satellite fleet, the country is struggling to establish a civil space agency. The Space Agency of Turkey is intended to be a civilian space agency modeled after those in many other nations, but legislation establishing it has stalled because of disputes about how the military and civilian government will share responsibilities.

The country's newest satellite, the Göktürk-1 imaging satellite, launched last week, and the country has plans for additional communications and Earth observation satellites. Turkey, though, is also facing workforce issues, exacerbated by July's coup attempt and subsequent dismissal of many Air Force officers, including some with space experience. (12/13)

Simulated Chinese Space Mission Ends (Source: CCTV)
Chinese volunteers have completed a six-month stint in a simulated spacecraft. The group spent 180 days in a "sealed space capsule" to test life support technologies and other techniques for long-duration spaceflight. Both Chinese and foreign institutions were involved in the test, including Harvard University and the German Aerospace Center. (12/14)

Cold War Satellite Imagery Now Used to Track Glacier Retreat (Source: BBC)
Declassified spysat images from the Cold War era are helping scientists monitor changes in the Himalayas. Earth scientists used images collected by the now-declassified HEXAGON program in the 1970s and 1980s to study the retreat of glaciers in the Himalayas, comparing those images with more recent images by Earth science missions. Access to those historical images, scientists said, has allowed them to better quantify the rate at which the glaciers are melting. (12/13)

NASA Tech - It's All Around Us (Source: Space Daily)
Next time you share an amazing GoPro video with a friend, consider that NASA made that technology possible. The image sensors that would later be used in GoPros - and in all modern digital cameras, including those in cell phones - were first developed in the early 1990s at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Those rudimentary sensor arrays used less power and were easier to mass produce than the standard methods of the time, helping to kickstart an entire industry. (12/14)

NASA Communications Network to Double Space Station Data Rates (Source: Space Daily)
Life aboard the International Space Station depends upon massive amounts of data, used for everything from commanding the station to providing real-time high-definition video and data on hundreds of science and technology experiments, to giving live TV interviews with astronauts. Every bit of that data travels to Earth via the Space Network, and starting soon, the network will transmit double the data in a single second than it ever has before.

The Space Network (SN), composed of a constellation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) and their associated ground stations, provides communication services to some of NASA's most storied spacecraft, including the International Space Station. (12/14)

Magnetic Stars Could Have Created LIGO’s Massive Black Holes (Source: Science News)
To create a heavy black hole, it might help to start with a massive magnetic star. Strong magnetic fields could help stem the flow of gas from a heavyweight star, leaving behind enough material to form hefty black holes, a new study suggests. A pair of such magnetic stars could be responsible for giving birth to the black hole duo that created recently detected gravitational waves, researchers report.

The shake-up in spacetime that was picked up the Advanced Laser Interferometric Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, in 2015 came from a collision between two black holes weighing about 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun. Such plump black holes were surprising. The creation of a big black hole requires the explosive death of a gargantuan star. But weighty stars are so bright that the light blows gas into space.

“These massive stars can lose up to half their mass to their dense stellar winds,” says study coauthor Véronique Petit, an astrophysicist at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. That leaves only enough mass to make a more modest black hole. (12/14)

Space Entertainment Startup ALE Raises $6 Million from Angel Investors (Source: ALE)
ALE, a Tokyo-based space entertainment startup, announced today that it has raised $6 million from angel investors. The company will use the funds to prepare for the launch of its Sky Canvas Project in 2018. The project aims to provide artificial meteor showers on demand.

ALE provides artificial meteors on demand by using a microsatellite packed with pellets and releasing the pellets from outer space to cause atmospheric re-entry. The meteors will be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye over the brightest city skies (e.g. Tokyo) and has the potential to reach audiences across an area 200 kilometers in diameter on the ground. (12/13)

Shipwrecks Off Cape Canaveral Hint at Alternative Past for the State (Source: AFP)
Treasure hunters have apparently found the 500-year-old remains of a naval expedition led by a colonizer who could have changed Florida's history, making it French-speaking at least for a while. The big question is if the shipwreck is that of "La Trinite," the 32-gun flagship of a fleet led by Jean Ribault, a French navigator who tried to establish a Protestant colony in the southeast US under orders from King Charles IX. They probably are, say authorities in Florida, the French government and independent archeologists.

"If it turns out to be 'La Trinite,' it is the most important, historically and archaeologically, the most important shipwreck ever found in North America," said John deBry. All indications are that the shipwreck found is the real thing. The artifacts found at the site off Cape Canaveral include three bronze cannons with markings from the reign of King Henri II, who ruled right before Charles IX; and a stone monument with the French coat of arms that was to be used to claim the new territory.

In 1565, Ribault set sail from Fort Caroline (now Jacksonville) to attack his arch-enemy, the Spaniard Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who had been sent to Florida by King Philip of Spain to thwart French plans to set up a colony. But Ribault got caught in a hurricane, which destroyed "La Trinite" and three other galleons and ended French dreams of claiming Florida. Editor's Note: It's kind of surprising that such wrecks avoided detection after the comprehensive search for pieces of Challenger and other rocket debris. (12/14)

8 Amazing Places You Can Visit ‘Mars’ on Earth (Source: National Geographic)
After spending 80 days living inside a two-story tin can in the Utah desert, the seven crewmembers of the Mars Society’s most recent red planet simulation emerged from their mock interplanetary hideaway on Tuesday. As soon as they stepped out of the habitat, the crew members took part in the world's first Live 360 event on Facebook, answering questions from space experts and fans about their experiences and offering a virtual tour inside their mock Mars living quarters. Click here. (12/12)

I Am Paying $200,000 for Five Minutes in Space (Source: Popular Mechanics)
In 2010, I gave Virgin Galactic a five-figure downpayment. In 2014, Virgin's spacecraft crashed in the desert, killing one of its test pilots. I'm not worried. I'm still training. Click here. (12/13)

Maryland Panel Approves Northrop Grumman Retention Incentive (Source: Baltimore Sun)
Maryland lawmakers unanimously approved a $20 million forgivable loan to aerospace giant Northrop Grumman Tuesday, the largest deal of its kind in state history. The money will not have to be repaid if the company retains 10,000 jobs and proves it spent $100 million buying facilities in the state.

It is the final piece of a $57.5 million retention package for Northrop, one of the state's largest employers. The agreement touched off a partisan spat over transparency in business dealings. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller urged his colleagues to vote for the deal, but chided Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's administration for negotiating it privately. Miller promised he would not support such a deal in the future. (12/13)

Donald Trump's War on Science (Source: New Yorker)
Last week, the Space, Science, and Technology subcommittee of the House of Representatives tweeted a misleading story from Breitbart News: “Global Temperatures Plunge. Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists.” (There is always some drop in temperature when El Niño transitions into La Niña—but there has been no anomalous plunge.) Under normal circumstances, this tweet wouldn’t be so surprising: Lamar Smith, the chair of the committee since 2013, is a well-known climate-change denier. But these are not normal times.

The tweet is best interpreted as something new: a warning shot. It’s a sign of things to come—a declaration of the Trump Administration’s intent to sideline science. Click here. (12/13)

NASA Presses Ahead with Asteroid Mission Despite ESA Funding Decision (Source: Space News)
Scientists involved with a proposed NASA mission to a near Earth asteroid say their work is not affected, for now, by a decision by the European Space Agency earlier this month not to fund a companion spacecraft. NASA and ESA had been cooperating on a joint effort known as the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA). That mission concept involved two spacecraft: the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), to be developed by NASA, and ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM).

The AIDA concept involved sending AIM to Didymos, a near Earth asteroid about 800 meters in diameter that has a moonlet, informally known as Didymoon, about 150 meters across orbiting it. AIM, launched in October 2020 and arriving in May 2022, would study Didymos and its moonlet prior to the arrival of DART. DART, launched in December 2020 and powered by a solar electric propulsion system, would then collide with Didymoon in October 2022. AIM would observe the collision and its aftermath, including measuring the deflection in the moonlet’s orbit caused by the collision.

Even if ESA is not able to revive AIM, scientists said that DART alone can still carry out its mission to demonstrate kinetic impacts. That would require observations by ground-based telescopes to monitor the deflection in Didymoon’s orbit after the impact. “DART was designed to be independent of AIM,” said Joseph Nuth, senior scientist for primitive bodies at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, at the AGU meeting Dec. 12. “AIM makes it better, but all the information can be derived from ground-based instruments.” (12/13)

Jimmy Buffett Wants to Go to Space (Source: Page Six)
Jimmy Buffett only has one birthday wish this year: To go from “Margaritaville” to Mars. “What I want is, I want to go to space … in memory of John Glenn,” the legendary singer, who turns 70 on Christmas, said on Monday’s “Today” show. Buffett is taking steps to make his dream of space travel a reality, adding, “I’m training.”

Co-anchor Matt Lauer noted that Buffett’s friendship with Virgin Galactic boss Richard Branson may speed up the process, but the “Margaritaville” singer didn’t confirm whether he’s going into orbit with his billionaire buddy. (12/13)

NASA Will Limp Through a Trump Presidency (Source: Inverse)
Perhaps the most discouraging addition to the NASA transition team is Greg Autry, an University of Southern California professor of entrepreneurship, who has been bullish about the potential for the commercial space industry to usher in a new era of space exploration despite how many exploding Falcon 9 rockets rain down on Earth. Autry has in particularly derided the Space Launch System, the rocketry system NASA is building that will help launch bigger payloads into deep space, in anticipation of a crewed mission to Mars.

“We will discontinue spending on Space Launch System, a giant government rocket, lacking both innovation and a mission,” he writes in an op-ed on Forbes in October. “While SLS has consumed the largest single piece of NASA’s budget for years, private sector operators like SpaceX and Blue Origin have leapfrogged it with more efficient, reusable boosters.”

Another addition to the transition team is Steve Cook, the former head of the Ares 1 and Ares 5 rocket programs (scrapped by President Obama in favor of SLS). Cook has since worked in rocket design in the private sector, and might also be more keen to allow the private sector to fulfill NASA’s rocket needs. (12/12)

NASA Will Take 2 Years to Complete Investigation into 2015 Falcon 9 Failure (Source: Parabolic Arc)
"While the [investigation] report is important in providing NASA historical data of the mishap, the accident involved a version of the Falcon 9 rocket that is no longer in use. Furthermore, while the public summary itself may only be a few pages, the complete report is expected to exceed several hundred pages of highly detailed and technical information restricted by [ITAR] and company-sensitive proprietary information. As a result, NASA anticipates its internal report and public summary will be finalized in the summer 2017.

That is a rather long time, even for a sometimes pokey government agency investigating the failure of a booster variant no longer in use. It’s an especially long period given what SpaceX’s separate investigation concluded was the cause of the accident. According to a NASA Office of Inspector General (IG) report, SpaceX’s accident investigation into Falcon 9’s in-flight failure found the most probable cause for the mishap was a strut assembly failure in the rocket’s second stage. (12/13)

Why Are Scientists Shooting Stem Cells Into Space? (Source: Science)
The near-weightless conditions of flying in space can wreak havoc on your hairdo and your sense of direction. And as it turns out, they can also do some pretty weird things to cells in a dish. During a session here yesterday at the World Stem Cell Summit (WSCS), an annual gathering of scientists and advocates organized by the nonprofit Regenerative Medicine Foundation, researchers described their forays into stem cell research in microgravity.

It’s possible to simulate weightless conditions on Earth, but there’s one way to get the real thing: Send cells on a 400-kilometer vertical journey to a U.S. national lab stationed on the International Space Station (ISS). Here are three questions scientists hope to answer by shooting their precious experiments into low-Earth orbit. Click here. (12/9)

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