February 11, 2017

Russian Space Agency Develops Program to Improve Rocket Assembly Quality (Source: Space Daily)
Roscosmos has developed a special program to improve the Soyuz carrier rockets' quality amid an accident with the Progress cargo spacecraft two months ago. Russia's state space agency Roscosmos chief said Friday the agency has developed a special program to improve the assembly quality of Soyuz carrier rockets in wake of an accident with the Progress cargo spacecraft two months ago. (2/7)

SpaceKnow Raises $4 Million in Series A Funding (Source: Space Daily)
SpaceKnow has announced the company has raised $4 million in Series A financing led by BlueYard Capital and previously existing investor Reflex Capital. This investment brings the company's total funds raised to approximately $5.5 million. The funding will be used to further develop the SpaceKnow Artificial Intelligence software for economic monitoring, increase hiring and scale up its worldwide operations and sales forces in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Launched in 2013, with the goal of using analytics to bring transparency to the global economy by tracking economic trends from space, SpaceKnow is now the leading provider of targeted industrial and geographical intelligence. SpaceKnow distributes the China Satellite Manufacturing Index and the Africa Night Lights Index to all 350,000 subscribers of a premier financial services company. The company is currently building an indexing artificial intelligence that will scan, understand and describe every square inch of the Earth surface daily using satellite imagery. (2/7)

Why the Earth's Magnetic Poles Could Be About to Swap Places (Source: Space Daily)
The Earth's magnetic field surrounds our planet like an invisible force field - protecting life from harmful solar radiation by deflecting charged particles away. Far from being constant, this field is continuously changing. Indeed, our planet's history includes at least several hundred global magnetic reversals, where north and south magnetic poles swap places. So when's the next one happening and how will it affect life on Earth?

During a reversal the magnetic field won't be zero, but will assume a weaker and more complex form. It may fall to 10% of the present-day strength and have magnetic poles at the equator or even the simultaneous existence of multiple "north" and "south" magnetic poles. Geomagnetic reversals occur a few times every million years on average. However, the interval between reversals is very irregular and can range up to tens of millions of years. (2/7)

Intelsat Considers Insurance Claim for Satellite Malfunction (Source: Space News)
Intelsat has yet to decide if it will file an insurance claim against a new satellite that suffered an engine problem. Intelsat 33e entered service last month through an extended orbit-raising process required when the spacecraft's main engine malfunctioned after its August launch. Intelsat previously stated that the use of maneuvering thrusters to raise its orbit will likely shorten the spacecraft's lifetime by 18 months. The company is still considering whether to file a claim for a 10 percent loss of service, valued at $40 million. (2/7)

An Application of Astronomy to Save Endangered Species (Source: SpaceDaily)
Four centuries ago, Galileo began a revolution by pointing his telescope at the sky. Now a multidisciplinary team of astrophysicists and ecologists has reversed the perspective, pointing cameras towards the Earth to help the conservation of endangered species. In this case, the revolution consists of combining the use of unmanned aircraft (drones), equipped with infrared cameras, with detection techniques used to analyze astronomical images.

An important task in conservation research is to monitor the distribution and density of animal populations, which has usually been undertaken by surveys on the ground (either on foot or by car), from the air with manned aircraft or from space using satellites. In recent years, the use of drones equipped with cameras has allowed a reduction in the costs of these studies, as well as reaching areas with difficult access. (2/7)

Arizona County Votes to Appeal Court Decision on World View Incentive (Source: KOLD)
The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to appeal a Superior Court decision which concluded the county violated state law when it signed an agreement and lease with World View, a space exploration company located near the Tucson International Airport. The vote was along party lines, with the three Democrats voting for the appeal and the two Republicans voting against it.

The court ruled the county did not comply with a law which requires the county to appraise the property, hold a public auction, and negotiate a fair rental price before it agreed to build a $15 million complex for the company. World View agreed to lease the complex from the county for 20 years. At the end of the lease, the company has the option to buy or leave. If the company stays the 20 years, the lease payments will net the county a $4 million profit.

However, the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix filed suit against the county saying it did not comply with the process and risked taxpayer dollars. The suit also charged the county violated the state's gift clause but the court refused to rule on that charge. Pima County disagrees with the court's ruling and says it puts a damper on its economic incentive package used to bring companies and business to Tucson. (2/7)

NASA Selects Top 20 Space Robotics Challenge Teams (Source: Space Daily)
NASA, in partnership with Space Center Houston - the official visitor center of NASA Johnson Space Center, and NineSigma, a global innovation consultant organization, has selected the top 20 teams in the Space Robotics Challenge. Eligible teams will be awarded $15,000 and advance to the final Virtual Competition, which will take place in June.

The Space Robotics Challenge, part of NASA's Centennial Challenges program, is a $1 million prize competition to develop the capabilities of humanoid robot dexterity to better enable them to work alongside and independent of astronauts in preparation for future space exploration. The finalists were selected from a pool of 92 teams from 13 countries. (2/7)

NASA Has An Unusually Bold Plan to Find Life on Europa (Source: Popular Science)
If we want to find alien life in our solar system, Jupiter's icy moon Europa is one of the best places to look for it. And scientists may get a chance to do just that in the coming decades. A new NASA report outlines the goals for a mission that could land on the icy moon as soon as the 2031.

While the lander mission isn't officially on the books yet, Congress wants it it happen. The new report is preliminary, meaning the goals and instruments may be subject to change. But if all goes according to plan, the mission's primary goal would be to search for evidence of life on this frigid world. That's a bold move. NASA's missions tend to look for “evidence of habitability,” or the potential of a place to support life. That's because the last time the agency tried to look directly for alien life, it didn't end well. (2/9)

Here’s Why a Commercial Space Group Endorsed NASA’s SLS Rocket (Source: Ars Technica)
Alan Stern explained that the commercial space organization has, in the past, engaged in a “bruising battle” over the government’s massive rocket and its influential prime contractor Boeing. The commercial space industry group (Boeing is not a member) contended the private sector could deliver the same capability as the SLS for far less than the $2 billion NASA has spent annually this decade to develop the rocket. The SLS will initially be able to heft 70 metric tons to low Earth orbit, but that could grow to 130 metric tons by the late 2020s.

But now, Stern said the organization believes the SLS will enable the aims of commercial companies to develop businesses on the Moon, as well as support asteroid mining and other ventures his members are interested in. “We are taking a long view,” Stern said. “This is clearly to the advantage of the expansion of commercial spaceflight. Now, with a new administration and a new Congress, we wanted to put our stake down on the side of SLS.” (2/10)

These Boots Keep Astronauts From Tripping Over Their Own Feet (Source: WIRED)
Those moon walks may have looked bouncy and peaceful, but cumbersome space suits had Apollo astronauts tripping and falling all over the place. And while it might seem silly—especially the aftermath, which looks like a kid trying to stand up in a bulky snowsuit—it’s actually pretty dangerous for one of those suits to meet a shard of lunar regolith. That goes double for astronauts exploring Mars, where stronger gravity would mean falling twice as hard onto rocky ground far less forgiving than moon dust.

So to make sure that doesn’t happen, Alison Gibson, graduate researcher at MIT’s Man Vehicle Lab, is testing some newfangled space boots. Since NASA isn’t doing manned moon missions at the moment, astronauts wear soft boots that aren’t made for walking at all—just floating around outside the International Space Station. Those ones are totally rigid below the knee. But even the relatively bendy moon boots won’t cut it anymore.

But how do you design a system that lets astronauts keep their heads up? “Having tactile cues on you feet is pretty intuitive,” Gibson says. “On Earth that’s what give us a clue to look down.” That’s why she designed each boot with two vibrating motors to buzz your big toe as you approach an obstacle. (2/10)

Proxima Centauri's 'Pale Red Dot' N Goldilocks Planet After All (Source: CSM)
Not too hot, not too cold, and not too baked by high energy X-ray and ultraviolet "superflares." When it comes to finding just the right place for life, it seems like we haven't been picky enough. As such, we may have been too hopeful in thinking there was a habitable exoplanet in the solar system next door. The likelihood that red dwarf stars such as our neighbor Proxima Centauri could host planets with life has long been a hotly debated topic. But a new NASA paper says those odds are vanishing indeed.

These small, cool, long-lived stars are paradoxically more active than our sun, but some had suggested a sliver of a habitable zone could exist at just the right time under just the right conditions. This new paper slams that door shut, showing that even relatively quiet dwarfs eject enough planet-frying radiation to strip off atmosphere-forming oxygen in the astronomical blink of an eye. (2/10)

UK Could Start Launching Spaceflights In Just Three Years (Source: Huffington Post)
Spaceflights could be launched from British soil in just three years under government plans announced today (9 Feb). Science minister Jo Johnson has unveiled a series of grants worth £10m aimed at consortia capable of launching missions from 2020. The funding will be complimented by a dedicated Spaceflight Bill to put in place the regulation and licenses needed to get British spaceflights off the ground.

“The call for proposals I announced today, together with a new, dedicated Spaceflight Bill, will help make our space ambitions a reality,” Johnson said. It’s expected satellite launches will be among the first missions, with space tourism journeys set to follow. A number of possible spaceport sites have already been identified, including Newquay airport in Cornwall, Llanbedr airport in Snowdonia and Prestwick airport near Glasgow and Campbelton airport in Scotland, among others. (2/9)

SpaceX Faces 4 Crucial Tests in 2017 (Source: LA Times)
From its Falcon Heavy to reusing its rocket boosters, SpaceX faces 4 crucial missions in 2017. SpaceX will attempt three commercial spaceflight firsts in 2017. The debut of a new rocket, the first reflight of a previously used first-stage rocket booster, and the first test flight of an unmanned test capsule are among the 70 missions on the company's launch manifest. Click here. (2/10)

Blue Origin Prepares to Build Its Florida Rocket Launch Complex (Source: Seeker)
Jeff Bezos' rocket company Blue Origin has begun site preparation for an orbital launch complex and rocket engine test stand at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. The 300-acre site will be built on land that previously hosted a trio of Atlas rocket launch pads. The latest version of the Atlas now flies from Launch Complex 41. Blue Origin leased Launch Complex 36 A and B, as well as Launch Complex 11 nextdoor, in 2015.

Some of NASA's most historic missions were launched from Complex 36, including the Pioneer, Surveyor and Mariner spacecraft in the 1960s and 1970s. The pads were operational from 1962 to 2002. Johnson, MP for Orpington, said the plans would pave the way for British firms to capture a greater share of a market worth £25bn over 20 years.

The new launch complex will be Blue Origin's second major construction project at the Cape. In May, the Kent, Washington-based firm broke ground on a 750,000 square-foot plant near NASA's Kennedy Space Center where it will manufacture and assemble the New Glenn rockets. Blue Origin expects to begin flying the boosters around 2020. "By the end of the year we will be fast and furious into production," Scott Henderson said. (2/10)

What is the Market for New Glenn? (Source: SPACErePORT)
That's an impressive rocket Blue Origin plans to build and launch in Florida, but it seems oversized to compete for commercial satellite missions. Does Blue Origin plan to use it to launch commercial space stations, lunar missions and bases, Mars infrastructure? The company's website says New Glenn "will carry astronauts and payloads to low-Earth orbit destinations and beyond." But like with NASA's huge SLS rocket, the requirements for such super-heavy lift launches are few and far between...making SLS a very expensive vehicle to operate. Will New Glenn compete with SLS? How about SpaceX's even bigger Mars Transport rocket? How often and what must New Glenn launch to become financially viable? (2/10)

Ready to Live on Mars? It Won't Be as Easy as You Think. (Source: CSM)
Substantial obstacles stand in the way of long-term Mars habitation. Would it be worth the cost, and the risk? At least one NASA astronaut thinks our priorities may be out of whack, saying the idea that people might someday abandon Earth to live on Mars is "utter nonsense." Click here. (2/10) http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/Spacebound/2017/0210/Ready-to-live-on-Mars-It-won-t-be-as-easy-as-you-think

Marijuana Fans Mix with Space Fans at The Goodship Company’s Seattle SETI Salon (Source: GeekWire)
Is Seattle’s Goodship Higher Education Series about bringing together cannabis users? Or is it about deep subjects like the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? And is it OK to ask fellow attendees if they’re toasted? Click here. (2/10)

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