December 28, 2016

Space Miners Are the Universe's Future Tycoons (Source: NBC News)
The next gold rush will be intergalactic. In 2009, a collection of astronauts, academics, and aerospace industrialists convened to review NASA's present and future plans for manned space flight. Informally dubbed the "Augustine Commission," the more-stuffily named Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee determined that our ultimate goal ought to be nothing less than "to chart a path for human expansion into the solar system."

Considering that Earth's resources are finite and that the well of human desire knows no bottom, a continued future for our species will likely require robust manned spaceflight to leave the planet. But it remains incredibly expensive and logistically complex to see humans break the planet's escape velocity, let alone with any regularity. The ostensibly modern spacecraft of today carry all their fuel with them from the start — a lot of that fuel is required simply to transport other fuel. It's comically inconvenient.

Contemporary spaceflight is impractical by virtue of being unsustainable; it's a pursuit for governmental agencies and rich visionaries. Now an industry with its roots in prehistory is changing that tune, summoning up a modern set of incentives for people to get more intimate with outer space. "Space mining" presents itself as a killer technology for interstellar travel and exploration — the miners are due to inherit the stars as we set their sights beyond our planet to harvest geological resources from the universe itself. (12/26)

NASA Rover Discovers a Large SPOON on the Red Planet's Surface (Source: Daily Mail)
Alien enthusiasts believe they have found an exciting clue in the ongoing search for life on Mars - a spoon. Footage from a NASA rover appears to show the large utensil on the Red Planet's sand-like surface. It is the second 'spoon' to be found on Mars in recent years, with believers claiming it could be proof of developed life on the planet. Other objects such as rings and gloves have also been found. Click here. (12/26)

Why Luxembourg, Of All Places, Is a Global Leader in Asteroid Mining (Source: Motherboard)
An asteroid in orbit has never been mined. Even the most ambitious would-be space mining companies estimate it will be at least 2020 before they begin prospecting, but the rewards could be well worth the effort. It is believed that there are billions of dollars in precious metals to be mined from asteroids in near-earth orbit. And there’s water, which could be used as a propellant for deep space exploration.

Luxembourg, a speck on the European map, which has never sent a person or spacecraft into space, has nonetheless become an unlikely contender in the race to mine there. A country with little more than half a million people is next to only the US as the world’s leader in the asteroid mining industry—albeit, an industry that has yet to return physical results. It’s banking its future, in large part, on mining in space. (12/26)

Here's a Look at What We Learned About Mars in 2016 (Source: Inverse)
Mars is one of our closest planetary neighbors, making it a popular celestial object for scientists and amateur astronomers alike. For centuries, humanity has been interested in the red planet and its potential inhabitants. Thanks to a fleet of robotic explorers, scientists are able to search for clues to determine whether or not Mars could have hosted life. Here’s a look back at some of the top Martian discoveries of 2016. Click here. (12/26)

Mars Is Within Reach (Source: American Thinker)
On November 28, a syndicated op-ed by Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix appeared in the Los Angeles Times and carried over the following days by a number of other newspapers claiming that journeys to Mars are just a dream. According to these writers, the race to Mars “can’t be won with either’s [NASA’s or SpaceX’s] current technology, regardless of their spending or commitment. The barrier is human biology. Even a short sortie mission to Mars would be extremely hazardous to human health. A Mars colony is out of the question.”

These pessimistic pronouncements have no scientific basis. For example, while Wohlforth and Hendrix point to a UC Irvine study in which irradiated mice sustained brain damage, they failed to note that the mice in question received their dose at about 40,000 times the rate it would be experienced by astronauts on a journey to Mars. This discrepancy makes the study invalid. Click here. (12/27)

Swansea Solar Technology Could Power Moon Bases (Source: BBC)
If you saw something scooting across the sky on Christmas Eve, it might have been Santa, or it might have been a test satellite carrying Swansea University's revolutionary solar cell technology. The cell generates electricity and is much smaller than conventional ones. The technology could be used in future to power bases on the moon or Mars, experts have said. They also believe it could be used as a renewable source of energy on Earth. (12/26)

Space Gets Busy as 2016 Marks Bumper Year for Exploration (Source: EuroNews)
2016 was a year when space was open to everyone – from established space agencies to private entrepreneurs, they all aimed for the stars. First, the launch which may actually make the most difference to our daily lives. In November four of Europe’s Galileo navigation satellites blasted into orbit on board an Ariane 5, taking the total number of satellites to 18 and signaling the start of services from the EU’s equivalent to GPS. Click here. (12/26)

China Sets Ambitious Five-year Plan for Space Program (Source: Voice of America)
China plans to go for "strength and size" in its space program, a China National Space Administration official said Tuesday. Beijing released a white paper on Tuesday stating its space strategy for the next five years. The country is committed to a peaceful use of space and opposes a space arms race, according to the white paper released by the State Council Information Office. Click here. (12/27)

Stop The Fearmongering Over War In Space: The Sky’s Not Falling (Source: Breaking Defense)
In the last two years, we’ve seen rising hysteria over a future war in space. Fanning the flames are not only dire assessments from the US military, but also breathless coverage from a cooperative and credulous press. This reporting doesn’t only muddy public debate over whether we really need expensive systems. It could also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The irony is that nothing makes the currently slim possibility of war in space more likely than fearmongering over the threat of war in space. Click here. (12/27)

Lockheed Among Biggest State Incentive Winners in 2016 (Source: Salon)
The world’s largest defense contractor received a generous $220 million gift from Connecticut taxpayers to keep its Sikorsky Aircraft division in the city of Stratford. The offer from Gov. Dannel Malloy includes grants of up to $8.6 million a year for 14 years if the maker of U.S. Navy helicopters meets certain benchmarks, like increasing its number of employees and using in-state suppliers. The company agreed to spend $350 million procuring supplies locally. If it creates at least 100 jobs a year it can receive additional performance grants of up to $1.9 million a year for 20 years, according to the Harford Courant. (12/27)

Proton Launch Delayed for Rocket Tests (Source: Tass)
The Proton launch of an EchoStar communications satellite, planned for this week, has been postponed. The Proton was scheduled to launch EchoStar-21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Wednesday, but late last week Russian officials announced a delay in order to perform additional tests on the launch vehicle. A new launch date has not been formally announced, but Russian sources said the flight is likely to be postponed until mid-January. (12/26)

Congress Pushes Space Based Missile Defense (Source: LA Times)
Language in the defense authorization bill calls on the Pentagon to start work on space-based missile defense systems. A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Obama Friday, requires the Defense Department to begin "research, development, test and evaluation" of such technologies. That work, which would require funding in future appropriations bills, has been criticized by many analysts, who consider space-based systems ineffective and unaffordable. (12/26)

Boeing and Engility Win Air Force Space Contracts (Source: Space News)
Boeing and Engility won space-related contracts last week. Boeing received an $8.8 million contract modification from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to help operate and maintain the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite constellation in 2017. SMC also exercised a $47 million contract option with Engility Corp. for providing continued systems engineering and integration support for the center's Remote Sensing Systems Directorate. (12/26)

China Says Space Program Must Help Protect National Security (Source: Reuters)
China's space program must help protect the country's national security, but China is dedicated to the peaceful use of space and opposes a space arms race, the government said in a policy paper issued on Tuesday. President Xi Jinping has called for China to establish itself as a space power, and it has tested anti-satellite missiles, in addition to its civilian aims. (12/26)

Kazakhstan, Russia Sign New Cooperation Agreement for Baikonur Spaceport (Source: Times of Central Asia)
Kazakhstan and Russia signed a concept of cooperation at Kazakhstan’s Baikonur space launch complex following talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in St. Petersburg on December 26. The document was signed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Kazakhstan’s First Deputy Prime Minister Askar Mamin.

The two countries have also introduced changes to the agreement on the status of the city of Baikonur, the establishment and status of its executive bodies, dated December 23, 1995. (12/27)

Georgia Spaceport Opinions Vary (Source: Golden Isles News)
There are no shortage of predictions about the future of a proposed spaceport in Camden County, even though it’s uncertain it will pass the scrutiny of an ongoing FAA environmental study. Steve Weinkle is one of the few opponents of the project who believes it’s likely the county will be awarded a site license despite many questions he has about the project.

“I believe that the FAA can find a mitigation for every problem,” he said. “However, the license will be very restricted in order to meet the new higher safety requirements” The only thing that matters is if at least one single trajectory can be identified for launches from the site, he said.

Kevin Lang, however, a lawyer and member of the Little Cumberland Island Homeowners Association, believes the project will not pass the environmental studies. Megan Desrosiers, director of the environmental group One Hundred Miles, said the biggest impediment is the lack of a private spaceport operator for the site. (12/27)

Orbital ATK Has No Plans to Phase Out Seldom-Used Pegasus Rocket (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The build-up of Orbital ATK’s next air-launched Pegasus XL rocket will start in the coming weeks at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and while its flight in mid-2017 is the last Pegasus launcher on the manifest with a confirmed payload, company officials are confident the unique vehicle has a future beyond next year.

Details of Pegasus’s future may still be unclear, but Orbital ATK has struck a partnership to supply at least two of the solid-fueled rockets, and maybe more, to the Stratolaunch venture led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace.

Stratolaunch announced an agreement with Orbital ATK in October to launch Pegasus rockets from a giant six-engine, twin-fuselage aircraft under construction in Mojave, California. Artist’s concepts showing the carrier rig show the airplane lofting three Pegasus launchers in one flight. Stratolaunch has not disclosed how the company will use the Pegasus rocket, but the press release announcing the “production-based” partnership said it would offer “significant cost advantages” to air-launch customers. (12/27)

Why Does NASA Launch Rockets From Cape Canaveral, Florida? (Source: AccuWeather)
For over 60 years, NASA has been launching rockets from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but this has not always been the primary launch site for the United States. Cape Canaveral was not the first choice by the United States when they began launching rockets, and the weather may have been an influence in that decision.

The weather does not always cooperate for rocket launches as more thunderstorms erupt in Florida per year than in any other state. Lightning from thunderstorms can be catastrophic to a rocket if it strikes in mid flight. In 1987, lightning struck the AC-67 rocket less than a minute after liftoff, causing it to explode. Additionally, hurricanes and tropical storms can also threaten Florida. Despite the threat of thunderstorms and hurricanes, NASA still uses this as their main launch facility. Click here to see why. (12/27)

China Lays Out Plans to Put Probe on Moon’s Far Side in 2018 – Mars in 2020 (Source: GeekWire)
China’s latest white paper on space exploration confirms the country’s plans to send a rover to the moon’s far side in 2018 and put a rover on Mars in 2020. Today’s white paper, released by the State Council Information Office, says the Chang’e 4 mission will “conduct in-situ and roving detection and relay communications at Earth-moon L2 point” in 2018, the official China Daily newspaper reported. (12/27)

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