February 16, 2017

Markey Named Ranking Member of Senate Space Subcommittee (Source: Space News)
Democratic members of the Senate Commerce Committee have named Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) as the ranking member of the subcommittee with oversight of space issues. Markey will be one of six Democrats on the space, science and competitiveness subcommittee, which deals with NASA and related civil space issues. The subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who led the subcommittee in the previous Congress as well.

Neither of Florida's senators will serve on the subcommittee, But the full committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), will also likely play a major role in space-related issues the subcommittee addresses, given his long-running interest in the subject. While the subcommittee deals with science issues broadly, space policy is a major aspect of its activities. The subcommittee held only four hearings in the previous Congress, but two were about NASA. (2/15)

Finally, Someone Has a Realistic Timeline for Mars Colonization—the UAE (Source:  Ars Technica)
NASA says it intends to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but the space agency does not have a realistic budget to do so. SpaceX's Elon Musk says he will send the first human colonists to Mars in the 2020s, but his company also lacks the funding to implement its bold plans without a major government partner.

We can now add the United Arab Emirates to the list of those entities who want to see Mars colonized. However, even if it too lacks the space exploration budget or technology to do so at this time, the federation of seven Arab emirates appears to have a much more reasonable timeline for sending humans to the red planet—the year 2117, a century from now. (2/15)

Air Force Raises Concerns about Harris Corp. Testing of GPS Parts (Source: Bloomberg)
Another problem with the GPS 3 program has led the Air Force to raise new questions about Lockheed Martin's oversight of the effort. The most recent delay involves capacitors that had not been property tested by a subcontractor, Harris Corp. Testing of those capacitors was completed in December, but the issue delayed the delivery of the first GPS 3 satellite until later this month. The testing problem "raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris program management," Air Force Maj. Gen Roger Teague said in a December message to congressional staff about the issue. (2/13)

DARPA Confirms SS Loral Pick for Satellite Servicing Project (Source: Space News)
DARPA is moving forward with a controversial satellite servicing program, announcing Thursday it will partner with Space Systems Loral. Under the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, SSL will provide a satellite bus for a DARPA-developed servicing payload, which, after launch, will carry out a series of demonstrations to show its ability to inspect and repair satellites. SSL plans to use that system commercially, servicing government and commercial satellites, once the demonstrations are completed. Orbital ATK filed suit earlier this week to block the deal, arguing that it violated national space policy by giving SSL an unfair advantage over other commercial satellite servicing programs. (2/10)

OneWeb to Use New Mexico-Based SolAero's Solar Panels (Source: Space News)
A deal with OneWeb had led a solar panel manufacturer to expand its plant. SolAero is spending $10 million to modernize its Albuquerque, New Mexico, facility to produce solar panels for OneWeb's constellation of 900 satellites. The updated facility will be able to produce both the panel structures as well as the solar cells and circuits. SolAero expects to be producing the first flight article solar panels for OneWeb there in 45 days. (2/13)

European Space Agency to Help NASA Take Humans Beyond Moon (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The European Space Agency says it will contribute key components for a future NASA mission to take humans around the moon within the next few years. Astronauts haven't gone beyond a low orbit around Earth since 1972, when NASA ended its Apollo program. The European Space Agency and aerospace company Airbus have already delivered a propulsion and supply module for an unmanned flight of NASA's new Orion spacecraft next year.

The agency said Wednesday that it and Airbus have now agreed with NASA to build a module for a second, manned mission that will fly around the moon as early as 2021. Orion is eventually intended to expand human exploration to deep-space destinations such as Mars or asteroids. (2/15)

ESA Could Build Space Based Gravitational Wave Observatory (Source: Space News)
Scientists are optimistic that ESA will proceed with development of a space-based gravitational wave observatory. A European consortium submitted a proposal to ESA last month for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), featuring three spacecraft linked by lasers to detect gravitational waves. ESA is expected to select LISA for flight likely in the early 2030s. Scientists said they're optimistic about LISA's prospects because of the discovery of gravitational waves last year, as well as the technical performance of the LISA Pathfinder mission last year, which exceeded expectations. NASA will contribute about 20 percent of the mission's cost through instruments and other technologies. (2/13)

Scientists Puzzled That Mars Climate Allowed Liquid Surface Water (Source: Space.com)
Planetary scientists are still puzzled how Mars could be warm enough early in its history to support liquid water on its surface. Despite significant geological evidence that water once flowed on the surface, a new study raises questions about how the planet's atmosphere could be warm enough to allow water to remain liquid. That study suggests Mars had far less carbon dioxide in its early atmosphere than required to sufficiently warm the planet. One possibility is that other greenhouse gasses warmed the planet, although such gases would be short-lived in the atmosphere. (2/10)

ISRO Sets Historic World Record, Launches 104 Satellites In One Go (Source: NDTV)
The Indian Space Research Organization created history on Wednesday when it launched 104 satellites on the PSLV-C37 rocket from the Sriharikota spaceport. This is the highest number of satellites ever launched in a single mission. With this feat, India broke the previous record when Russia sent 37 satellites in 2014. ISRO, interestingly, launched 67 more satellites today than Russia did in their single mission. ISRO had earlier successfully attempted to launch 23 satellites in a single rocket in June, 2015. (2/15)

NASA Astronauts' Water Survival School Held in Washington (not Pensacola) (Source: USAF)
Four NASA astronauts trained with U.S. Air Force Survival School instructors in water survival and recovery Feb. 10, at Fairchild AFB in Washington. The astronauts underwent the training in preparation for test flights of the new commercially made American rockets, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Dragon. “It’s a different space program now,” said Sunita Williams, a NASA astronaut. “We’re flying in capsules instead of shuttles, and they can land anywhere. You never know when an emergency situation may happen, so we’re grateful to get this training.”

The astronauts were put through the paces of bailing out from a simulated crash landing in water. They learned to deploy and secure a life raft, rescue endangered crewmembers, avoid hostile forces and experience being hoisted into a rescue vehicle. The astronauts opted to join in with more than 20 water survival course students, despite being given the option to train alone. The survival school originally had a separate detachment at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where it conducted water survival training in open ocean waters. The training was brought to Fairchild Air Force Base in August 2015 in an effort to save time and money by consolidating training at one location. (2/15)

Winston Churchill’s Essay on Alien Life Found (Source: Nature)
Winston Churchill is best known as a wartime leader, one of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century, a clear-eyed historian and an eloquent orator. He was also passionate about science and technology. It was a great surprise last year, while I was on a visit to the US National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, when the director Timothy Riley thrust a typewritten essay by Churchill into my hands. In the 11-page article, 'Are We Alone in the Universe?', he muses presciently about the search for extraterrestrial life.

He penned the first draft, perhaps for London's News of the World Sunday newspaper, in 1939 — when Europe was on the brink of war. He revised it lightly in the late 1950s while staying in the south of France at the villa of his publisher, Emery Reves. For example, he changed the title from 'Are We Alone in Space?' to 'Are We Alone in the Universe?' (2/15)

Boeing’s Fortunes Brighten as Trump Warms to Value of Ex-Im Bank (Source: Bloomberg)
After a rocky start, Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg appears to have gained the ear of President Donald Trump. The U.S. planemaker was one of Trump’s first post-election corporate targets, and a tweet about soaring Air Force One costs briefly tanked the company’s shares in December. But the Twitter tirade also gave Muilenburg an opening to press the case of the largest U.S. exporter -- and the 1.5 million jobs at its jet-equipment suppliers -- in meetings with Trump.

The CEO’s entreaties seem to have worked. Trump has emerged as a booster for Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jets and voiced support to lawmakers for a key Boeing initiative: re-opening the U.S. Export-Import Bank for major deals. Trump will fly to Boeing’s South Carolina factory to attend an event Friday showcasing the newest 787 Dreamliner, where he’s expected to make an announcement about the federal export credit agency. (2/15)

Looking for Planet 9 and Other Far-Out Objects? Finally, NASA Has an App For That (Source: GeekWire)
Citizen scientists can join an online hunt for icy worlds, brown dwarfs and other yet-to-be-discovered objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, using a technique that’s not all that different from the method that led to Pluto’s discovery 87 years ago. "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” could even lead to the discovery of a super-Earth that may (or may not) be hidden on the solar system’s far frontier.

The icy world known as Planet Nine or Planet X is only theoretical for now, but its existence would explain some of the puzzles surrounding the weird orbits of some far-out objects. The “Backyard Worlds” website offers up millions of mini-movies that incorporate infrared imagery from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The movies show the same patch of sky at different times, going back and forth like a flipbook. (2/15)

NASA, Heeding Trump, May Add Astronauts to a Test Flight Moon Mission (Source: Washington Post)
President Trump has indicated that he wants to make a splash in space. During his transition, he spoke with historian Douglas Brinkley about John F. Kennedy's famous 1961 vow to go to the moon before the decade was out. Now Trump and his aides may do something very similar: demand that NASA send astronauts to orbit the moon before the end of Trump's first term — a move that one Trump adviser said would be a clear signal to the Chinese that the U.S. intends to retain dominance in space.

NASA already has a plan to launch its new, jumbo Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with an Orion capsule on top in late 2018, a mission known as EM-1. No one would be aboard. The capsule would orbit the moon and return to Earth, splashing down in the ocean. This is intended as the first test flight of SLS and part of the integration of the new rocket and new capsule. Significantly, the SLS and Orion are both still under construction. (2/15)

NASA Looks Into Sending Astronauts on a Trip Beyond the Moon as Early as 2019 (Source: GeekWire)
NASA and its commercial partners say they’re studying the possibility of sending astronauts beyond the moon years earlier than planned, by putting a crew on the first flight of the space agency’s heavy-lift Space Launch System. The NASA study, sparked in part by a desire for the Trump administration to do something dramatic in space during its first term, would consider whether such a flight could occur in 2019 or 2020.

The current plan calls for an uncrewed test flight of the SLS and NASA’s Orion capsule in late 2018, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1. That mission would followed by a crewed test flight called EM-2 in the 2021-2023 time frame. NASA said acting administrator Robert Lightfoot asked Bill Gerstenmaier, the agency’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, to assess whether the first crew could ride on EM-1 instead of EM-2. (2/15)

The U.S. Needs a Space Force (To Win the Wars of the Future) (Source: National Interest)
As Paul Shinkman recently wrote for US News & World Report, those using space the most will have the most to lose. That lesson is not lost on the Russians and Chinese, so if the rest of us are using space, we’ll want to defend what we put there. Who should do that for us is another question—of whether the US needs a dedicated military force to defend its interests in space, and its use of space from here.

The question is not new. In the spring of 1999 then-Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire argued for a separate Space Force or Space Corps. The Congress then demanded that the Clinton Administration investigate the possible need for a separate service. In January 2001, the Commission to Assess United States' National Security Space Management and Organization returned a negative recommendation, finding that the costs of reorganization outweighed the benefits.

US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein recently said that he wants to make his service the Defense Department’s “lead agency” for space activities. The USAF already controls most of the procurement; Goldfein wants all of it, and the training as well. The benefit, he says, is that the military as a whole will then have a “clear decision-maker” for all space matters. Click here. (2/14)

Planet Launches Satellite Constellation to Image the Whole Planet Daily (Source: Planet)
Today Planet successfully launched 88 Dove satellites to orbit—the largest satellite constellation ever to reach orbit. This is not just a launch (or a world record, for that matter!); for our team this is a major milestone. With these satellites in orbit, Planet will reach its Mission 1: the ability to image all of Earth’s landmass every day.

Tonight is the culmination of a huge effort over the past 5 years. In 2011 we set ourselves the audacious mission of imaging the entire Earth land area every day. We were convinced that armed with such data, humanity would be able to have a significant positive impact on many of the world’s greatest challenges. We calculated that it would take between 100-150 satellites to achieve this, and we started building them. After today’s launch, Planet operates 144 satellites in orbit. We have reached our milestone. (2/14)

Spaceport America Partners with Virtual Field Trip Provider (Source: KRQE)
Kids in New Mexico will soon get to visit Spaceport America and many other places without leaving their classroom. Spaceport America has partnered with Field Trip Zoom, a web based provider or live and interactive virtual field trips to help bring the Spaceport to kids. While many students are able to visit the spaceport on actual field trips, it’s an expense many districts can’t afford. This is a unique solution. Field Trip Zoom offers more field trips to more than 165 places around the country. (2/14)

Orion Crew Module Plumbing to Undergo Proof Pressure Testing (Source: NASA)
The Orion crew module was moved from a work station to the proof pressure cell in the high bay of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 26 to prepare for testing. Engineers and technicians with NASA and Orion manufacturer Lockheed Martin, will prepare the crew module for a series of proof pressure and leak tests to confirm the welded joints of the propulsion and Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) tubing are solid and capable of withstanding launch, re-entry and landing.

The Orion propulsion system includes the propellant and thrusters which support deorbit and re-entry of the spacecraft while the ECLSS provides cooling for interior and exterior components on the crew module throughout the mission. Technicians will attach ground support equipment to the propulsion and ECLSS tubing, and use helium to pressurize the tubing to its proof pressure and to higher pressures at which the weld joints will be checked for leakage. (2/13)

UK Spaceport Backers in Bid for Funds (Source: Newquay Voice)
The group behind a bid to create a spaceport in Newquay plan to bid for a “large chunk” of the £10 million the Government is offering to push forward commercial spaceflight activity in the UK. The Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) aims to establish horizontal spaceplane launches deploying satellites from Cornwall Airport Newquay, as well as provide low-cost access to space.

The Government is inviting applications for grants to make the UK the first place in Europe where commercial space operators can launch small satellites into orbit, or offer spaceplane flights for science and tourism from 2020. The growing space and aerospace sector is a key priority for the Cornwall  LEP as Newquay airport boasts one of the UK’s longest runways and uncongested airspace, while Goonhilly Earth Station offers mission control, tracking and communication facilities. (2/15)

Arianespace Launches Two Telecom Satellites on Ariane 5 Rocket (Source: Space News)
European launch provider Arianespace completed the first of seven planned launches of its heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket this year, delivering two telecommunications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket lifted off from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana with the Sky Brasil-1/Intelsat 32e and Telkom-3S telecommunications satellites. (2/15)

Space Poop Problem-Solvers Take Home Cash Prizes From NASA (Source: NPR)
On Wednesday morning, NASA rewarded five members of the public — two doctors, a dentist, an engineer and a product designer — for their creative ideas for how to poop in a spacesuit. Yes, it sounds a little bit funny. But unmet toilet needs could have life or death consequences for an astronaut in an emergency situation.

That's why thousands of people spent tens of thousands of hours on the "Space Poop Challenge," brainstorming, modeling, prototyping and number-crunching to come up with a crowd-sourced solution to the problem of human waste in a spacesuit. The winning solution came from Thatcher Cardon, an Air Force officer, family practice physician and flight surgeon. He says his design was inspired by minimally invasive surgical techniques — and a strong desire not to store the poop.

"I never thought that keeping the waste in the suit would be any good," he said. "So I thought, 'How can we get in and out of the suit easily?' " He designed a small airlock at the crotch of the suit, with a variety of items — including inflatable bedpans and diapers — that could be passed through the small opening and then expanded. His design even allows an astronaut to change underwear while inside the spacesuit, through the same small opening. (2/15)

Florida Space Day Planned for March 8 in Tallahassee (Source: FSD)
Promoting the economic impact of the space industry, Florida’s aerospace leaders will visit Tallahassee on March 8, 2017, for Florida Space Day, sharing with legislators the opportunities the industry brings to Florida and the nation. "Even with active competition from spaceports in other states, Florida continues to be at the forefront of Space Exploration,” said Pedro Medelius, ASRC Federal Space and Defense Chief Technologist and chair of Florida Space Day 2017.

“With 32 launches already in the manifest for 2017, space operations and facility upgrades are progressing at a rapid pace at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The frequency of commercial launch operations in suborbital and low-Earth orbit, as well as national program initiatives involving Orion and the Space Launch System for deep space human exploration, is expected to continue to expand in the upcoming years.” (2/15)

SpaceX Delays Next Iridium Launch Two Months (Source: Space News)
Iridium Communications says SpaceX has pushed back the launch of its second batch of next-generation satellites from mid-April to mid-June, a move that shifts the expected completion date for Iridium Next to the middle of 2018. In a Feb. 15 statement, Iridium said the two-monthly launch delay is “due to a backlog in SpaceX’s launch manifest as a result of last year’s September 1st anomaly.”

Iridium’s satellites are launching 10 at a time on Falcon 9 rockets lifting off from  from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California — part of what Iridium Chief Executive Matthew Desch described last June as a “separate queue” from SpaceX missions launching from the more frequently used Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida.

SpaceX launched only eight of the 18 missions it had targeted for 2016, shifting 10 missions onto an already-crowded 2017 manifest. The combination of SpaceX’s tightly packed manifest and limited launch range availability has put pressure on Iridium Next despite its preferred status at Vandenberg. (2/15)

Russia, Ecuador Drafting Agreement on Peaceful Use of Outer Space (Source: Sputnik)
Russia and Ecuador are preparing a bilateral agreement on cooperation in peaceful use of outer space, scheduled to be finalized soon,  Russia’s Ambassador to Ecuador Andrei Veklenko said. 

“During the last, forth meeting of intergovernmental [Russian-Ecuadorian] commission in Quito, the sides discussed such concrete things as remote sensing of the land from space, use of GLONASS [Russian satellite navigation system] here [in Ecuador]. But in order for that to work, a legal base is required. Currently, the bilateral agreement on peaceful use of outer space is being actively reviewed,” the ambassador said. (2/15)

Apollo Astronaut and Climate Change Denier to Testify to Congress (Source: Inverse)
NASA plays a crucial role in observing and tracking the global effects of climate change — employing a myriad of satellites to study atmospheric changes, melting ice, and ocean patterns. The first congressional committee hearing on NASA’s future will be held on Thursday this week, and it’s set to feature Harrison Schmitt — a former astronaut who walked on the moon as part of the Apollo 17 mission, a former U.S. senator from New Mexico, and a long-time denier of climate change.

Although Thursday’s hearing may focus more on space exploration, President Trump is poised to eliminate NASA’s climate change research efforts and defund NASA’s earth science division. If Schmitt is asked to give his thoughts on what the future of NASA’s Earth science research ought to be, he will likely use his influence and status to voice a negative assessment. Having Schmitt speak at the hearing could be an optical move to show people affiliated with NASA that don’t see the need for Earth science research programs.

Schmitt’s credentials as a NASA astronaut are impressive, but he has significantly less experience in energy and climate science. He’s advocated mining Helium-3 on the moon and using it to fuel fusion reactors — a costly source of energy. Schmitt has not only repeatedly denied climate change, he’s disparaged leaders of the environmental movement as well. In an interview with right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Schmitt said, “I think the whole trend really began with the fall of the Soviet Union. Because the great champion of the opponents of liberty, namely communism, had to find some other place to go and they basically went into the environmental movement.”  (2/15)

Butler Named New President of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Source: ERAU)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Board of Trustees has named Dr. P. Barry Butler, Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Iowa, as the sixth president of the world’s leading institution of higher education focusing on aviation, aerospace and research. Based in Daytona Beach, Embry-Riddle features two residential campuses and an extensive international network of educational centers and online services. The university is one of Florida's resources for expanding and diversifying the state's aerospace industry and producing the industry's skilled workforce. (2/15)

Georgia Senate Passes Bill Offering Liability Protections Spaceport Users (Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle)
Legislation offering the liability protections sought by proponents of a planned commercial spaceport in southeastern Georgia cleared the state Senate Wednesday. Senate Bill 46, which passed 49-2 and now moves to the Georgia House of Representatives, would set a stricter legal standard for a plaintiff injured while riding a spacecraft to collect damages in a lawsuit.

Editor's Note: It seems Vector Space Systems is among those considering the Georgia spaceport as their launch site. Vector and others have also considered LC-39C (within the fenceline of LC-39B) at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. With NASA's huge SLS rocket requiring very limited use of LC-39B, it was envisioned that the bare-bones LC-39C could accommodate such small launchers between SLS missions. Perhaps the rumored use of LC-39B for Orbital ATK's proposed medium-lift rocket (based on the SLS solid rocket booster) is causing a bottleneck. (2/15)

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