January 13, 2017

Arecibo's Future in the Balance (Source: Nature)
A decision is expected this summer on the future of the Arecibo radio observatory. The National Science Foundation, which currently provides the majority of the telescope's funding, will soon seek proposals for partnerships that can take on the majority of the telescope's costs. The NSF is also completing an environmental assessment that examines several options for the radio telescope's future, including mothballing or tearing down the giant dish. A final decision is expected shortly after the completion of that report. NASA also uses Arecibo for its planetary radar capabilities, including tracking and characterizing asteroids. (1/12)

Russia Blames Third-Stage Engine Failure for Progress Cargo Loss (Source: Tass)
Russian investigators believe the failure of a third-stage engine caused the loss of a Progress spacecraft launched to the International Space Station last month. Roscosmos said Wednesday the leading cause for the Dec. 1 launch failure was foreign particles that got into the Soyuz rocket's engine, causing a fire and explosion that ripped apart the oxidizer tank. The report indicated the "defective workmanship" in the assembly of the engine may have also played a role in the failure. Roscosmos is developing a plan for "priority measures" to address the issue to support the launch of the next Progress mission, now scheduled for no earlier than Feb. 21. (1/12)

NASA Delays Asteroid Redirect Contracts (Source: Space News)
NASA is delaying contract awards for its Asteroid Redirect Misison (ARM) as it waits out budget uncertainty. At a meeting of an asteroid science advisory group Wednesday, NASA said contracts for the ARM spacecraft bus, as well the selection of hosted payloads and members of the mission's investigation team, would be delayed from March and April to May and June. The reason for the delay is because NASA is operating under a continuing resolution until late April, making it unclear how much money it will have available for ARM. At the same meeting, ESA officials said they're working on a scaled-down version of its Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) spacecraft, which failed to secure funding at the agency's ministerial meeting last month. (1/12)

SpaceX Plans for Expansion of Landing Zone at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
SpaceX is studying the construction of additional landing pads at Cape Canaveral. A draft environmental assessment indicates the company wants to build two additional pads at the former Launch Complex 13, which the company calls Landing Zone 1. The additional pads would support the simultaneous landings of the three booster cores of the Falcon Heavy. The report also includes development of a temporary processing facility for Dragon spacecraft at the site. (1/12)

Spacewalking Astronauts Replace ISS Batteries (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Two astronauts are performing the second spacewalk in as many weeks to replace batteries on the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet started the spacewalk ahead of schedule, at 6:22 a.m. Eastern this morning. The two will continue work that Kimbrough and NASA's Peggy Whitson did on a spacewalk one week ago, swapping out old batteries used in the station's power supply with new ones delivered by a Japanese cargo spacecraft last month. (1/12)

Google's Terra Bella May Go To Planet (Source: Space News)
A rumored sale of Google's Terra Bella satellite imaging company to Planet makes sense to industry observers. Neither Google nor Planet would confirm reports of discussions about a potential deal, where Google's parent company, Alphabet, would take a stake in Planet. However, industry sources say that Planet would hire about 80 Terra Bella employees as part of the agreement, and also move its imaging processing system from Amazon Web Services to Google's own cloud computing platform. An early investor in Planet said he didn't have any knowledge of a deal, but that it would benefit Planet, giving the company access to higher-resolution imagery from Terra Bella's satellites. (1/12)

Changes to Export Rules Relax Some ITAR Restrictions (Source: Space News)
Tweaks to export control rules have moved some more space-related items out of the jurisdiction of ITAR. The revised rules, published by the State and Commerce Departments this week, are tweaks to a major revision of the export control regime made in 2014. They include increasing the aperture limit for camera systems from 0.35 to 0.5 meters, an increase that is less than what industry sought. It also removes human-rating as a condition for keeping a spacecraft under ITAR, although such spacecraft may be retained on the list for other technology they contain. (1/11)

KVH Uprading Capabilities for Maritime Satellite-Based Observation (Source: Space News)
Maritime satellite services and hardware provider KVH is upgrading its systems to take advantage of high-throughput satellites. Upgrades planned for this year will allow its systems to use high-throughput satellite systems in geostationary orbit, tripling connection speeds. KVH is also developing antennas to make use of planned low Earth orbit broadband constellations, in particular OneWeb. (1/12)

Lightfoot To Lead NASA Until New Administrator Named (Source: Space Policy Online)
NASA's top civil servant will, as expected, lead the agency on a temporary basis starting next Friday. The agency confirmed Thursday that Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot will serve as acting administrator starting Jan. 20, when the current administrator and deputy administrator, Charles Bolden and Dava Newman, depart. The transition team for the incoming Trump administration has also asked David Radzanowski, the agency's current chief financial officer, to stay on in that role for at least the near term to provide continuity for NASA until new leadership is in place. (1/12)

New DOT Chief Asked About Space Transportation During Confirmation Hearing (Source: Space Policy Online)
The person nominated to be the next Secretary of Transportation has not thought much about commercial space. At a confirmation hearing this week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked Elaine Chao if she believed the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, currently within the FAA, should become a separate office under the secretary, as it was when it was first established in the mid-1980s. Chao didn't offer an opinion on the topic, but said she looked forward to getting briefed about it. (1/12)

Next 'Mars' Expedition Launches in Hawaii (Source: Space.com)
Another expedition on "Mars" — or, rather, Hawaii — is about to begin. An eight-month simulated Mars mission in a habitat on Hawaii's Mauna Loa will begin next week. Six scientists and engineers will live in the habitat to study how people live and work in a Mars-like environment. The experiment is the fifth for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program, funded by NASA. (1/12)

Cubesat Testbeds Trim Risk And Save Millions (Source: Aviation Week)
Among the payloads awaiting rides to orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 is a U.S.-South Korean cubesat experiment that perfectly illustrates the value of tiny platforms as low-cost precursors for vastly more expensive spacecraft. Its acronym is a stretch—Canyval-X, for “Cubesat Astronomy by NASA and Yonsei Using Virtual Telescope Alignment Experiment.” But it covers all the bases in describing how a project that costs the U.S. and South Korean space agencies less than $1 million in total can reduce the risk for future space telescopes costing billions of dollars, perhaps including the James Webb Space Telescope.

Manifested as a secondary payload when SpaceX launches Taiwan’s Formosat-5 Earth-observation satellite, Canyval-X is a 3U cubesat built by engineering students at Yonsei University. It is designed to demonstrate sensors and control algorithms that can align two spacecraft with a distant celestial body and hold the formation long enough for astronomical observations or other scientific measurements. The trick is not in setting up the formation, but to hold it without consuming vast quantities of fuel. (1/11)

Group Seeks To Preserve Aerospace Tax Breaks In Washington State (Source: Law360)
A group that seeks to preserve tax incentives for Washington state’s aerospace industry and includes Boeing as a member announced its launch on Tuesday, amid Boeing’s opposition to efforts to restrict $8.7 billion in tax breaks. The coalition is called Aerospace Works for Washington. (1/11)

Cape Canaveral Could See 30 Launches This Year (Source: Space News)
The vice commander of the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing said in a speech Tuesday that 32 launches are scheduled to take place from Cape Canaveral facilities in 2017, although some are likely to slip because of technical or other delays.

The launches includes Atlas 5, Delta 4, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches, as well as a Minotaur 4. The current schedule would far exceed the 23 launches that took place from the Cape last year, the busiest year for launches there in two decades. (1/11)

NASA Ready to Proceed with Small Satellite Earth Science Data Buys (Source: Space News)
NASA is ready to move ahead with plans to purchase Earth science data from commercial smallsat companies as it weighs the balance of large and small satellite systems to meet its research needs.

NASA’s fiscal year 2017 budget request included $30 million for a new program called the Small Satellite Constellations Initiative. It is designed to cover a range of efforts to support the development and use of small satellites in Earth science, including a potential purchase of data from commercial small satellite constellations. (1/11)

Space Is No Longer The Final Frontier For Aussies (Source: Huffington Post)
For decades, Australia has been left behind in the space race. With no dedicated launch facility, nor a dedicated government space agency, Australia has looked on as overseas multinational companies and governments have dominated space-related travel and commercial opportunities.

Now, a group of innovators based in and around Sydney are helping Australia back into the space industry, as part of a growing movement to "democratise" space and open it up to everyday entrepreneurs and enthusiasts. Click here. (1/5)

Quantum Gas Goes Below Absolute Zero (Source: Nature)
Physicists have created an atomic gas with a sub-absolute-zero temperature for the first time. Their technique opens the door to generating negative-Kelvin materials and new quantum devices, and it could even help to solve a cosmological mystery. They reached such sub-absolute-zero temperatures with an ultracold quantum gas made up of potassium atoms. They also calculated that whereas clouds of atoms would normally be pulled downwards by gravity, if part of the cloud is at a negative absolute temperature, some atoms will move upwards, apparently defying gravity. (1/3)

FAA Launches High-Altitude Route Modernization (Source: Aviation Week)
The FAA is proposing 12 new high-altitude jet routes along the U.S. East Coast, part of a modernization strategy to replace legacy ground-referenced routes with GPS-based, performance-based navigation (PBN) routes. Called the Atlantic Coast Route Project (ACRP), the effort is the first phase of agency’s plan to deploy new and more efficient PBN routes across the U.S. in five stages, starting with the East Coast. (1/11)

“Steep Hill” for SpaceX to Convince NASA of Load and Go’s Safety for Crew (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA advisers are continuing to express concerns about a SpaceX fueling process known as “load and go,” in which chilled fuel is loaded onto the rocket just 30 minutes before a scheduled launch. This week the agency’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel strongly encouraged NASA top management to “scrutinize” this issue as part of an annual report on safety concerns in US spaceflight, which could have significant implications for the commercial crew program.

SpaceX has gained notoriety during the last 13 months for landing the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on land, and at sea aboard an autonomous drone ship. One critical component to this success has been the use of a new fueling process that chills liquid oxygen to below -200 degrees Celsius, allowing more of this denser oxidizer to fit within the rocket’s fuel tanks. The additional fuel has provided SpaceX the margin needed to fly its boosters back to Earth after they delivered their payloads into space, especially those bound for geostationary orbit. (1/12)

ASAP Report Targets Concerns Over SpaceX Propellant Loading (Source: Parabolic Arc)
In its 2016 Annual Report, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) says that while Boeing and SpaceX are making progress on their commercial crew spacecraft, a number of key technical challenges remain and there is “a very real possibility” of “a substantial slip in the schedule” in the already delayed programs. ASAP is concerned about SpaceX’s “load and go” approach of fueling the Falcon and Dragon vehicles, particularly in the wake of the loss of a booster in September while it was being fueled.

“A number of systems have not yet finalized design or completed testing. Challenges remain in several key systems, such as abort and parachute-related systems, in anchoring the analysis required to certify those systems for human flight,” the report states. “Additionally, there are issues and concerns surrounding the launch systems of both providers, such as the Centaur fault tolerance for Boeing and the ‘load and go’ approach for SpaceX.”

SpaceX’s “load and go” approach is a reversal of procedures that have been used in human spaceflight. The standard practice is to load the launch vehicle first with no personnel at the launch pad, let the rocket settle and its fuel settle, and then place the crew on board with a minimum number of support staff. SpaceX's use of densified LOX gives the rocket extra payload capacity, but it must be loaded just prior to launch to keep it from warming up. As a result, the company wants to load the crew first. (1/12)

NASA Finds Bodies of Aliens and Flying Saucer on Mars (Source: Pravda)
NASA scientists found strange objects reminiscent of a flying saucer and bodies of extraterrestrial beings when studying photo images of the surface of Mars. The position of the bodies, or at least something that looks like them, suggested that they could guide the spaceship.

The objects resembling the bodies of alien creatures were half-ruined. Having zoomed in the photos, the scientists could clearly see the remains of the alien beings: two heads and the chest. Obtaining more detailed images is impossible, as the Martian rover is moving away from the site, where the strange objects were found.

Meanwhile, scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences believe that there is a high probability for primitive life forms to exist on Mars, especially in the polar regions of the Red Planet, the head of the laboratory of cosmic gamma-ray spectroscopy of the Space Research Institute of RAS, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, Igor Mitrofanov said. (1/11)

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