January 14, 2017

Private Company Says it is Fully Funded for Mission to the Moon (Source: Ars Technica)
Any organization wishing to accomplish a major spaceflight goal must address two basic sets of problems—rocket science and political science. And while the technical challenges of spaceflight are considerable, it’s arguable that political science remains the greater of these two hurdles. Building spacecraft and rockets requires lots of money, after all, and due to international law they can’t just be launched from anywhere to anywhere.

So it is no small achievement for the private, US-based Moon Express to have conquered the political science part of sending a rover to the Moon. Last August, after a lengthy regulatory process, the company received permission from the US government to send a commercial mission beyond low Earth orbit. And on Friday, the company announced that it has successfully raised an additional $20 million, meaning it has full funding for its maiden lunar mission. “Now it’s just about the rocket science stuff,” said company co-founder and Chief Executive Bob Richards. That, he realizes, remains a formidable challenge.

Moon Express is one of five entrants in the Google Lunar X Prize competition to finalize a launch contract. Each of the teams is competing to become the first to send a rover to the lunar surface by the end of this year, have it travel 500 meters, and transmit high-definition imagery back to Earth. First prize is $20 million. It’s not clear whether any of the teams—SpaceIL from Israel, Moon Express, US-based Synergy Moon, Team Indus of India, and Hakuto of Japan—will succeed. (1/13)

Obama's Space Policy Was One of His Administration's Bright Spots (Source: Reason)
That's not how historians will likely describe him. But when Obama killed George W. Bush's Constellation program—a roadmap for getting humans back to the moon and eventually on to Mars—he declared it "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation." In other words: a government program.

Conceived in a state of panic triggered by the impending death of the space shuttle program, Constellation was larded up with space pork. By the time Obama got around to scrapping it in 2010, the effort had already burned through $9 billion with little to show for it. Anything that Washington touches pretty much immediately turns treyf; a certain amount of bacon buildup around any appropriations bill is inevitable.

After Obama nixed Bush's pie-in-the-sky scheme, stick-in-the-mud Republicans hustled to remind anyone who was paying attention that they, too, could be the party of big government and bureaucracy. The Space Launch System, an expensive post-Constellation scheme, was designed by Congress to Frankenstein heavy-lift rockets and a capsule out of the scavenged remains of the shuttle program—to be built, naturally, in the districts of powerful lawmakers, including Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida. (1/13)

Hawaii’s Thirty Meter Telescope Suffers New Legal Setback (Source: NBC News)
The embattled $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project has suffered another legal setback, which could delay the restart of its construction. On Friday, Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura ordered a new contested case hearing regarding the University of Hawaii at Hilo's sublease to TMT International Observatory, saying that Hawaii's Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) violated the constitutional rights of resident E. Kalani Flores by approving the sublease without first holding a contested case hearing as requested by Flores in 2014. (1/11)

Mystery Object in Cygnus A Galaxy (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Last week astronomers made an announcement that’s caught the interest of several researchers: a very bright something has appeared in a well-known galaxy. That galaxy is the elliptical Cygnus A. Cygnus A is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky. It lies approximately 800 million light-years from us. In its core sits a supermassive black hole madly eating and cocooned in gas, while two jets shoot out to either side and light up the intergalactic medium. This activity produces the radio radiation that makes Cygnus A so bright.

Using the recently upgraded Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, Rick Perley (NRAO) and colleagues took a gander at Cygnus A — the first time the instrument has looked at the galaxy since 1989. (Apparently astronomers spent so much VLA time observing the galaxy in the 1980s that they didn’t feel the need to look again, Perley joked January 6th in his AAS presentation.) The new observations showed a surprise: a new, secondary object just southwest of the central black hole.

This object wasn’t in the 1989 radio image. Additional, higher-resolution observations with the Very Long Baseline Array also picked up the object, clearly distinct from the galaxy’s nucleus. It’s roughly 1,300 light-years from the center. The whatever-it-is is about twice as bright as the brightest known supernova at these frequencies. (1/13)

3D Printing – A Predestined Space Application Field (Source: Space of Innovation)
3D printing has been one of the hot technology topics of our time in various industries. Can you imagine 3D-printed rocket fuel? What might sound spacy has already been turned into reality.

The Singapore-based startup Gilmour Space Technologies used 3D-printed solid rocket fuel – a secret composition of two materials – to successfully launch their own rocket into sub-orbit. Another forward-thinking startup, Rocket Lab, an Auckland-based aerospace company, has developed a 3D-printed battery-powered rocket engine. Its product is the first oxygen/hydrocarbon engine using additive manufacturing for the primary elements of the combustor and the propellant system. Click here. (12/19)

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