January 7, 2017

Obama Administration Assesses Its Space Achievements in "Exit Memos" (Source: Space Policy Online)
President Obama directed all of his Cabinet-level appointees to prepare "exit memos" on progress made during his Administration and what needs to come next.   NASA is not a cabinet-level agency so did not have a chance to weigh in, but the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) did, listing a number of accomplishments at NASA and other government science and technology organizations. The Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Commerce (NOAA's parent) also included space activities in their wrap-ups. Click here. (1/5)

It's Time to Get Beyond Low Earth Orbit (Source: BoingBoing)
Whenever a new presidential administration takes office, there’s a surge of gossip in the space exploration community about what the new president’s ambitions will mean for NASA. More funding to study climate change? Additional robotic exploration of the solar system? Renewed interest in manned spaceflight? A manned trip to Mars? A return trip to the Moon?

Many people speculate that there’s even a “red/blue” dynamic to space exploration — that Republicans tend to like the idea of returning mankind to the Moon, while Democrats prefer pushing on to an asteroid, or perhaps even Mars. Much of this is really a false dichotomy, based almost entirely on very recent history. Click here. (1/5)

The Search for Aliens Has Become a Grassroots Movement for Billionaires (Source: Inverse)
Aside from a strange blip in the 1950s and early 1960s, the search for extraterrestrial life has primarily taken place at society’s fringes. Public figures have not historically risked their reputations advocating the search for alien life. And within the scientific community, the subject was largely (and understandably) sidelined until recent years, when telescopes that could detect new planets and instruments that found the ingredients for life on other worlds allowed serious-minded researchers to pass the laugh test.

As a result, the last decade has seen a surge of interest in extraterrestrial research within the scientific community that has seized the public imagination. For example, the recent discovery of water on Mars immediately raised serious hopes from serious people we might find Martians. Every announcement that scientists have found another potentially habitable exoplanet (which includes the nearest exoplanet to Earth) causes days of clamor on the internet. Click here. (1/5)

NASA Mars Rover Tech Tapped for Nissan Self-Driving Cars (Source: The Verge)
Nissan is using NASA technology developed for Mars rovers for the company's work on autonomous vehicles. Nissan's Seamless Autonomous Mobility system allows a self-driving car to contact a "call center" when it encounters a situation it's not programmed to handle; a human would then provide directions for the vehicle to follow until its autonomous systems can take over again. The system is based on NASA's Visual Environment for Remote Virtual Exploration, used to allow controllers to chart paths for Mars rovers. (1/5)

Golden Eagle Taps Inclined-Orbit Satellite for In-Flight Connectivity (Source: Space News)
Satellite connectivity company Golden Eagle Entertainment has purchased all the capacity on an unnamed satellite to meet growing demand. Company CEO Dave Davis said this week the company acquired all the capacity on an unnamed satellite in an inclined orbit serving North America. The satellite's inclined orbit allowed the company to acquire the capacity at a significant discount. Golden Eagle provides in-flight connectivity services, with Southwest Airlines as a major customer, and Davis said the satellite's inclined orbit is not an issue for aircraft applications. (1/5)

China Launches Another Communications R&D Satellite (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
China launched a communications technology demonstration satellite Thursday. A Long March 3B lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 10:18 a.m. Eastern and placed the TJS-2 satellite into orbit. The Chinese government has released few details about the satellite's mission, but an earlier TJS satellite, launched in 2015, tested Ka-band communications technology and deployed a large antenna. (1/5)

SpaceX Ready for Launch, But FAA Isn't (Source: CNN)
SpaceX has test fired the engines for its scheduled launch next week, the first time the aerospace manufacturer will try to launch a Falcon 9 rocket since a devastating September explosion.
"All systems are go for launch next week," Musk tweeted on Thursday. Well, maybe not all systems.
"The FAA has not yet issued a license to SpaceX for a launch in January," the FAA said on Thursday. "The FAA continues to work closely with SpaceX as they conduct the investigation and prepare for future Falcon 9 launches." (1/5)

FAA Grants License for SpaceX Falcon 9 Return to Flight (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued a launch license to SpaceX for the upcoming return to flight of its Falcon 9 at California's Vandenberg AFB, although its planned launch has been delayed by at least one day. (1/6)

Could Dark Streaks in Venus’ Clouds Be Microbial Life? (Source: Astrobiology)
The question of life on Venus, of all places, is intriguing enough that a team of U.S. and Russian scientists working on a proposal for a new mission to the second planet — named Venera-D — are considering including the search for life in its mission goals. If all goes as planned, an unmanned aerial vehicle could one day be cruising the thick, sulfuric acid clouds of Venus to help determine whether dark streaks that appear to absorb ultraviolet radiation could be evidence of microbial life.

Venus has long been a focus of Russian planetary science, which has the proud legacy of the record-breaking Venera space probes that landed on the Venusian surface in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With many questions remaining unanswered, the joint mission of Roscosmos and NASA, if approved, would see an orbiter launch towards Venus in 2025 with the aim to make remote-sensing observations of the planet and its atmosphere; deploy a lander on the surface; and search for future landing sites. (1/5)

NASA's First African-American Space Station Crewmember is a Total Badass (Source: Mashable)
NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps is set to become the first African-American crewmember on the International Space Station when she flies to space next year, the space agency announced. Epps' months-long trip should begin in 2018, and it will mark the first time she has traveled to orbit, following in the footsteps of the women who inspired her to become an astronaut.

While other African-American astronauts have flown to the Space Station for brief stays during the outpost's construction, Epps will be the first African-American crewmember to live and work on the station for an extended period of time. Her astronaut selection wasn't the first time she worked with the space agency.

Epps was a NASA fellow while at the University of Maryland for graduate school in aerospace engineering and then worked in a lab at Ford Motor Company for more than two years, according to the space agency. From there, Epps' path to becoming an astronaut takes a decidedly atypical turn. Most astronauts come to the Astronaut Corps either through training in science or as a military officer, but after Ford, Epps spent more than seven years at the Central Intelligence Agency as a technical intelligence officer. (1/5)

Exploring the Problems of Criminal Justice in Space (Source: Room)
It will be necessary to establish the current basis of criminal law in space, how such laws could be administered in the future and, ultimately, how punishment for transgressing crimes in outer space will be enforced. It is significant that, when considering the human element of spaceflight, those responsible for the planning and implementation of missions have employed (and to some extent continue to employ) one central assumption: the basic compliance of the traveller with the internal discipline of the crew and the mission.

This assumption was undoubtedly based on the characteristics of the early space pioneers; test pilots, governed by a military code and painstakingly selected [4]. Even when the pool of astronauts was broadened to include scientists, the rigor of selection and the fierce competition for places ensured that mission planners could safely take the notion of crew compliance for granted, an assumption - the existence of an International Space Station Crew Code of Conduct (ISS CCoC) notwithstanding - that still permeates mission planning.

With the anticipated expansion of the number of humans in space, this position, however, can no longer be taken for granted. Space tourism companies will seek to bring access to space to a wide range of people and, as can be seen from terrestrial air travel, such a wide pool of individuals will undoubtedly need some form of legal framework to ensure their behaviour can be regulated. (1/5)

Mars, Or The Moon? (Source: The Hayride)
There has been a good deal of hype given to the idea of going to Mars in recent years by Hollywood – the Matt Damn movie The Martian was a huge hit a couple of years ago, for example, and there was the National Geographic Channel series Mars, produced among others by Ron Howard, late last year – which made a manned Mars mission out to be something more or less inevitable.

But if you have interest in these things and you do a little research, what you find out is that putting people on Mars to stay without putting them first on the moon is a pretty dumb idea, and probably a good way to kill a bunch of brave astronauts on the way to making the world’s taxpayers thoroughly uninterested in the idea of off-world colonization. Because even in the Hollywood vehicles pushing Mars exploration, you can get a good picture of how incredibly hostile Mars would be to colonization from Earth.

A Mars colony is very likely going to fail unless the technology of keeping its people alive has been perfected. That technology probably needs to be perfected on the moon. The other thing to understand is that Mars isn’t all that different from the moon once you’re there. Yes, Mars does have an atmosphere. But it’s 96 percent carbon dioxide, so you certainly can’t breathe it, and it’s worse than that – the air pressure on Mars is less than one percent what it is on Earth, so there is scant little to breathe. (1/5)

Elements of Life Mapped Across the Milky Way (Source: Space Daily)
Astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) announced results of a new study showing how the abundance of "elements of life" varies across our Milky Way results that can help untangle the complex history of the galaxy. "For the first time, we can now study the distribution of elements across our galaxy," says Sten Hasselquist of New Mexico State University. "The elements we measure include the atoms that make up 97% of the mass of the human body."

The new results come from a catalog of more than 150,000 stars; for each star, it includes the amount of each of almost two dozen chemical elements. The new catalog includes all of the so-called "CHNOPS elements" carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur known to be the building blocks of all life on Earth. This is the first time that measurements of all of the CHNOPS elements have been made for such a large number of stars. (1/6)

Colliding Stars Will Light Up the Night Sky in 2022 (Source: Science)
A team of astronomers is making a bold prediction: In 2022, give or take a year, a pair of stars will merge and explode, becoming one of the brightest objects in the sky for a short period. It’s notoriously hard to predict when such stellar catastrophes will occur, but this binary pair is engaged in a well-documented dance of death that will inevitably come to a head in the next few years, they say. The researchers began studying the pair, known as KIC 9832227, in 2013 before they were certain whether it was actually a binary or a pulsating star.

They found that the speed of the orbit was gradually getting faster and faster, implying the stars are getting closer together. The pair is so close, in fact, they share an atmosphere. After 2 years of careful study to confirm the accelerating spin and eliminate alternative explanations, the team reported that the pair will explode as a “red nova”—an explosion caused by a binary merging—in about 5 years’ time. (1/6)

Why SpaceX Has So Much Riding on its Next Launch (Source: Washington Post)
Elon Musk has ambitious goals for SpaceX in the next couple of years. The company plans to launch its new massive rocket, the Falcon Heavy, as it works toward flying an unmanned spacecraft to Mars next year. It also is planning to fly astronauts to the Space Station by 2018, a feat that would return the U.S. to human spaceflight. Before it embarks on all of that, however, it first has to launch what would normally be a routine flight of commercial satellites to orbit.

But that launch, scheduled for Monday, is now anything but routine — and is instead one of the most important in history of the company. The launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base is the first since SpaceX’s rocket exploded on Sep. 1 while being fueled ahead of an engine test fire. That explosion was the company’s second failure in less than two years — in 2015, it lost a rocket a couple minutes into flight — leading to questions about its ability to fly reliably.

In addition to the goals of Mars and resuming the nation's manned spaceflight program, the company also has a massive backlog of launches that was delayed while the company was grounded during its four-month investigation. The stakes for this flight, then, are huge, said Todd Harrison, the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’ve got to prove it and restore confidence in their system on this flight,” he said. “If they have another failure, it’s going to stop them dead in their tracks.” (1/6)

Warning of Possible Satellite Collision issued for Saturday Night (Source: Spaceflight 101)
Two satellites will come dangerously close to one another Saturday night and a collision can not be ruled out according to a warning issued by the Joint Space Operations Center that monitors all sizeable objects orbiting the Earth. “The JSpOC has identified a close approach between two non-maneuverable satellites in a sun-synchronous orbit (approximately 800km altitude) with a time of closest approach at 21:53:00 UTC on 7 January 2017,” the warning said. “The probability of collision has been predicted as high as 44%.” (1/7)

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