February 22, 2017

Seven Earth-Sized Planets Found Circling Dim Star (Source: Nature)
Seven alien, Earth-sized worlds bask in the cool, red light of their parent star. The planetary menagerie exists around a star overlooked by other exoplanet hunters, although it is just 12 parsecs (39 light years) from Earth. Astronomers have found other seven-planet systems before, but this is the first to have so many Earth-sized worlds. All of them orbit at the right distance to possibly have liquid water somewhere on their surfaces.

“To have this system of seven is really incredible,” says Elisa Quintana, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “You can imagine how many nearby stars might harbour lots and lots of planets.” Because the system is so close to Earth, astronomers can study the planets’ atmospheres relatively easily. That could reveal an astonishing diversity of worlds, ranging in composition from rocky to icy. (2/22)

NASA's Fermi Finds Possible Dark Matter Ties in Andromeda Galaxy (Source: NASA)
NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has found a signal at the center of the neighboring Andromeda galaxy that could indicate the presence of the mysterious stuff known as dark matter. The gamma-ray signal is similar to one seen by Fermi at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.

Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, produced by the universe’s most energetic phenomena. They’re common in galaxies like the Milky Way because cosmic rays, particles moving near the speed of light, produce gamma rays when they interact with interstellar gas clouds and starlight.

Surprisingly, the latest Fermi data shows the gamma rays in Andromeda — also known as M31 — are confined to the galaxy’s center instead of spread throughout. To explain this unusual distribution, scientists are proposing that the emission may come from several undetermined sources. One of them could be dark matter, an unknown substance that makes up most of the universe. (2/21)

SpaceX, Boeing Delays Could Imperil NASA's Presence on Space Station (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The two contractors that NASA has hired to build new spacecrafts to fly astronauts to the International Space Station could face further delays that push certification of their vehicles to 2019, two years behind schedule, according to a report issued Thursday by government investigators.

If that happens, NASA might be stranded, with no way to get its astronauts to the International Space Station, the Government Accountability Office said. In 2014, NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to develop vehicles that could restore the agency's ability to put human in space after the space shuttle was retired in 2011. Under the "Commercial Crew" program, Boeing was awarded $4.2 billion; SpaceX $2.6 billion. (2/16)

Boeing, SpaceX: Crew Capsules Will Be Ready by 2018 (Source: Space News)
The two companies working on commercial crew vehicles said that, contrary to a GAO report, they will be ready by 2018. Executives with Boeing and SpaceX said recently they were still on track to complete test flights of their vehicles and begin transporting astronauts to the ISS in 2018. Their comments came after a GAO report last week that concluded that certification reviews of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon would likely slip to 2019 because of development delays. (2/21)

Why China Wants to Go to Mars (Source: The Economist)
Reaching Mars would demonstrate that China’s long march into the ranks of the world’s leading space powers is finally complete. Founded in 1956, the Chinese space programme was badly disrupted by Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Its resources were constrained through most of the 1980s, when Deng Xiaping’s reforms focused chiefly on economic development. It was only in the next decade that China started to regard progress in space as strategically vital.

The shift was owed partly to the Gulf war of 1991, in which satellite-guided missiles helped bring the American-led coalition to a swift victory. But China’s efforts to learn from other spacefaring nations were often frustrated. A decade-long collaboration that saw dozens of American satellites launched on Chinese rockets was stopped in 1999, after a series of failures and allegations of technology theft.

Taikonauts—China’s astronauts or cosmonauts—were never allowed to board the International Space Station (ISS); China’s initial involvement in Galileo, Europe’s global navigation satellite system, went nowhere. As opportunities for collaboration were reduced to a trickle, China doubled down on efforts to develop space technology indigenously. The loss of its first Mars orbiter in 2011, carried by a malfunctioning Russian rocket, confirmed its priority. (2/21)

South Korea Selects 200 Core Technologies for Space Development (Source: Arirang)
To successfully carry out the nation's space development program by 2040, the Korean government will start working on the development of the most needed relevant technologies. The Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning announced on Wednesday, that it has selected 200 technologies that are deemed to be the most urgent, economically feasible, and significant in the space exploration field.

These technologies are mostly related to the development of satellite bodies and payloads, space launch vehicles and their engines, and better space observation and exploration methods. The move comes as Korea has been focusing more on making satellites and space vehicles to catch up with strong space powers like the U.S. and Russia.

The government plans to spend roughly $600 million this year for space development. A large portion will be spent on developing the Korea Space Launch Vehicle, which will be used to put a multipurpose satellite into a low orbit by 2021. Korea will also kick start designing a detailed model of a lunar probe and expand cooperation with NASA of the U.S. At the end of this year, the government expects to launch a homegrown 100 kilogram-grade small satellite. (2/22)

Russia Retires Legendary Soviet-Designed Space Rocket (Source: Moscow Times)
The Russian space agency Roscosmos retired a Soviet legend on Feb. 22 with the final launch of a Soyuz-U rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. First launched in 1973, the Soyuz-U design holds a number of records. Among them, it is the longest serving rocket in space exploration history. Over its 43 years in service, Soyuz-U rockets were launched 787 times.

A Roscosmos statement on the event of the final launch described the design as “the largest and one of the most reliable variants in the family of legendary Soyuz rockets.” The Soyuz family are themselves derived from the original R-7 rocket that launched Sputnik and Yury Gagarin into space in the late 1950s and early '60s. (2/22)

Meet the Man Working with NASA to 3D Print a Colony on Mars (Source: CNN)
Forget the moon. The next giant leap for mankind could be building a habitat on Mars. The fourth planet from the sun may be cold -- Martian winters can reach -190 degrees Fahrenheit (-87 degrees Celsius) -- full of deserts and lacking in oxygen, but for Behrokh Khoshnevis it's humans' next destination. The pioneering professor in engineering at the University of Southern California has been working with NASA on the possibility of building a colony on Mars since 2011.

In 2004, Khoshnevis unveiled a revolutionary 3D-printing method dubbed Contour Crafting (CC), which made it possible to print a 2,500-square-foot building in less than a day on Earth. Then, in 2016 he took first prize in the NASA In-Situ Materials Challenge, for Selective Separation Sintering -- a 3D-printing process that makes use of powder-like materials found on Mars and works in zero-gravity conditions. Click here. (2/22)

New Proposed Planet Definition Would Promote Pluto and Many Other Objects (Source: Ars Technica)
A group of scientists have proposed a new definition of "planet" that would promote Pluto and 100 other worlds in the solar system. The proposal would define a planet as a body massive enough to take on a spheroidal shape because of its gravity, but not large enough to undergo nuclear fusion and become a star. Such a definition would include Pluto, as well as many other worlds that are moons or Kuiper Belt objects. There is no sign that the International Astronomical Union, which approved a definition of "planet" in 2006 that excluded Pluto, plans to consider this alternative definition in the foreseeable future. (2/21)

Russia's RSC Energia to Carry Out Tourist Flights Around Moon by 2021-2022 (Source: Sputnik)
First round-the-Moon flights should be possible for space tourists aboard the Soyuz spacecraft in 2021-2022, Vladimir Solntsev, the head of Russia's Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation (RSC) Energia, told Sputnik. The company is planning to sign a deal in March 2017 to use nine seats on the Soyuz spacecraft for flights of the so-called space tourists to the International Space Station (ISS). (2/22)

GPS Glitch Delays SpaceX Cargo Ship Docking at Space Station (Source: Reuters)
SpaceX called off the docking of a Dragon cargo ship at the International Space Station on Wednesday due to a problem with the capsule’s GPS navigation system, NASA said. The cargo ship will make a second attempt to reach the station on Thursday. The capsule is carrying more than 5,500 pounds (2,500 kg) of supplies and science experiments for the station. (2/22)

Virgin Galactic Continues to Test LauncherOne Engine (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Last week, Virgin Galactic continued to test the first stage engine of its air-launched LauncherOne. The NewtonThree (N3) engine recently completed a long-duration test at full thrust. The N3 produces about 73,500 pounds (327 kilonewtons) of thrust. It is powered by liquid kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOX). Previous firings include a full thrust, 90-second firing in the fourth quarter of 2015 and multiple full thrust firings throughout 2016. (2/21)

Lack of Ex-Im Support No Problem for Kacific's Boeing Buy (Source: Space News)
The lack of Ex-Im Bank financing was ultimately not an issue for a company that just ordered a satellite from Boeing. Kacific went ahead with its "condosat" order of a Boeing 702 satellite, shared with Sky Perfect JSAT, even though original plans to finance the deal through Ex-Im fell through when the bank's charter lapsed temporarily in 2015. Ex-Im still lacks the ability to finance large deals because of a lack of a board quorum. Kacific CEO Christian Patouraux said the company went ahead with the order after raising $147 million late last year and signing contracts for satellite bandwidth worth $434 million. (2/21)

Energia Finalizing Sea Launch Dispute Settlement With Boeing (Source: Sputnik)
Energia is close to finalizing a settlement agreement with Boeing regarding a lawsuit over Sea Launch. The company's chief executive, Vladimir Solntsev, said that a final agreement to settle a suit should be signed soon. Boeing won a U.S. court judgement of more than $300 million against Energia regarding debts in the Sea Launch joint venture. Solntsev did not disclose the details of the agreement, but Boeing officials said in January they obtained rights to several Soyuz seats from Energia as part of the deal. (2/21)

JPL Engineer Running for Congress (Source: The Atlantic)
A JPL engineer working on the Mars 2020 mission is running for Congress. Tracy Van Houten is one of 23 candidates in a special election to fill the seat previously held by Xavier Becerra, who left Congress to become California Attorney General. Van Houten said she had been considering running for the state legislature in a few years, but her concerns about the policies of the new administration, and the open seat, accelerated her plans. The election is scheduled for April 4, with a runoff, if needed, two months later. (2/21)

Women In Space Seek More Women In Space (Source: Fast Company)
Natalie Panek has been staring up at the stars with curiosity and wonder ever since she was a child growing up in the Canadian Rockies, when camping and hiking excursions meant plenty of weekends spent in the back country, where she’d gaze at the sky. Watching TV shows like Star Trek and Stargate SG-1 with her mom made things even clearer for her: Space was calling, and she’d answer by making it her life’s work. Click here. (1/20/16)

New Life for an Old Pad (Source: Space Review)
On Sunday, a Falcon 9 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A, the first launch from the historic pad since the end of the shuttle program. Jeff Foust reports on the significance of the launch both for SpaceX’s near- and long-term plans, and for KSC’s efforts to work with industry. Click here. (2/20)
The Status of Russia’s Human Spaceflight Program (Source: Space Review)
Russia’s human spaceflight program is suffering from the country’s broader economic downturn. In the first part of a series, Bart Hendrickx examines the effects those problems are having on Russia’s participation on the ISS and plans for a future space station. Click here. (2/20)
Presidential Space Leadership Depends on the Enabling Context (Source: Space Review)
In the concluding part of his examination of presidential leadership in space policy, Matt Chessen uses the lessons of history to examine whether a Trump Administration could provide strong leadership for space, and whether such leadership is even desirable. Click here. (2/20)
When is it Time to Turn Off a Satellite? (Source: Space Review)
Satellite operators seek to extend the lives of their spacecraft as long as possible, but run the risk of failures that could lead to in-orbit breakups. Charles Phillips offers a couple of case studies where operators face tough decisions about when to shut down their satellites. Click here. (2/20)
The Threat to ISRO’s Position as a Premier Smallsat Launch Provider (Source: Space Review)
An Indian rocket last week launched more than 100 satellites, the vast majority of which came from US companies. Ajey Lele warns that, despite the technical success of that mission, policy changes could make it harder for India to maintain its position in the smallsat launch market. Click here. (2/20)

NASA Selects 34 CubeSats to Launch Into Space (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA has selected 34 small satellites from 19 states and the District of Columbia to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard missions planned to launch in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Launch opportunities are leveraged from existing launch services for government payloads as well as via dedicated CubeSat launches from the new Venture Class Launch Services contracts. The proposed CubeSats come from educational institutions, universities, non-profit organizations and NASA centers.

Two CubeSats are from Florida, including the University of Florida's SwampSat-II, which will test a boom and antenna spooling and deployment mechanism to support a matched very low frequency antenna receiver pair and experimentally quantify VLF electromagnetic wave propagation through the lower ionosphere. The other is from the Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens. WeissSat-1 will validate a lab-on-a-chip system that will demonstrate a live/dead fluorescent dye staining approach and microfluidics to assess the viability of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria that have been thawed after being entrapped in water ice. (2/21)

The Most Bull$#^+ Missions to Mars, Ranked (Source: Gizmodo)
For decades, Mars has entranced humans, including Matt Damon. Our cosmic neighbor, located some 34 to 249 million miles away, is an enticing destination in part because of its mysterious history—but mostly because Earth is an especially terrible place to be right now. Recent history is rife with overly ambitious, half-baked plans to colonize Earth’s little brother. Here are some of the more noteworthy past (and present) plans to send humans to Mars, ranked by descending levels of absurdity. Click here. (2/17)

What a Bigger Pentagon Budget Should Mean for Space (Source: Space News)
Donald Trump promised “a great rebuilding of the armed services” when he spoke at the Pentagon in January, ordering newly sworn-in Defense Secretary James Mattis to work with the White House Office of Management and Budget on a “military readiness emergency budget amendment” for boosting defense spending this year. Trump gave Mattis and OMB until the end of April to thoroughly revise the Pentagon’s 2018 budget proposal, which was drafted under a different commander-in-chief. Click here. (2/21)

NASA Authorization Bill Calls for Orion ISS Study (Source: Space News)
A NASA authorization bill passed by the Senate Feb. 17 would require NASA to reexamine the feasibility of using the Orion spacecraft to transport crews to and from the International Space Station. The provision is one of the few major changes in the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which the Senate approved by unanimous consent, compared to a bill that the Senate passed in the final days of the previous Congress in December. (2/21)

ILS Still Planning Three Commercial Launches This Year Despite Proton Engine Recall (Source: Space News)
International Launch Services, the commercial arm of Proton rocket manufacturer Khrunichev, says it still expects to complete all three launches planned for 2017 once Proton returns to flight. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said last month via Twitter that engines from Voronezh Mechanical Plant, used in the upper stages of the Proton and Soyuz launch vehicles, would be replaced, resulting in the dismantling of three Proton-M rockets and a three and a half month hiatus from launches.

ILS president Kirk Pysher said the company had three missions planned with Proton for this year, including EchoStar 21, which slipped from 2016 to this year when the engine issues surfaced. AsiaSat-9 and Hispasat’s Amazonas-5 are the other two missions. “We are still working to conduct our full manifest for the year and continue the development of the Proton variants,” Pysher said. (2/20)

Private Russian Airline Gets Green Light for Rebooted Sea Launch Effort (Source: Moscow Times)
Russia’s largest private airline, S7, has been given a license to begin operations in outer space. The Novosibirsk-based holding company plans its first-ever rocket launch from Kazakhstan sometime this year. The launch will be conducted by a subsidiary, S7 Space Transport Systems, which holds the Russian government license. It is one of over 1,000 companies licensed to either produce or operate space hardware — a strictly regulated military and civilian industry.

S7 waded into the budding private space industry last year with the purchase of a mothballed floating launch platform known as Sea Launch. The platform was built as a joint project between U.S. aerospace giant Boeing, Russia’s Energia and Ukraine’s Yuzhmash. The company says it plans its first launch of a Ukrainian-Russian Zenit-M rocket — similar to the ones used by Sea Launch — from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by year’s end. The launch is meant to work out kinks in operations before rebooting the Sea Launch platform. (2/21)

Trump Could Bring Back the Debate Over the Export-Import Bank (Source: Vox)
For decades, the Export-Import Bank limped along at the margins of American politics, a rightfully obscure program regarded as neither particularly interesting nor important but sustained by and subject to the banal to-and-fro of interest group politics. It was criticized politically, to the extent it was criticized at all, mainly on environmental grounds as a funder of dirty energy projects.

But a long-shot reformist presidential candidate by the name of Barack Obama also criticized it as an example of the kind of wasteful corporate welfare he thought the country shouldn't tolerate. Later, as president, Obama came to see the virtues of the bank’s central purpose of providing a subsidy to big American manufacturing companies and the jobs they support.

But a surge of ideological rigorism associated with his Tea Party opponents, some money from the Koch brothers, and a little old-fashioned lobbying from a major airline made killing the bank a right-wing cause célèbre. Then along came Donald Trump. Trump is not exactly an ideological rigorist. Nor is he a person whose life and career bespeaks a deep aversion to crony capitalism. He ran for president as a booster of American manufacturing and a fierce proponent of the view that international trade is a game with winners and losers. That seems to make him a perfect fit for the bank. (2/21)

UK Set for Liftoff With New Laws (Source: Daily Mail)
Private companies will be able to launch their own rockets into space from UK spaceports under new laws unveiled today (Feb. 19). The powers will allow the launch of satellites, vertical rockets and horizontal flights from the UK for the first time. Currently satellites can only be launched into orbit from space stations in countries such as the US and India. But under a new SpaceFlight bill, space ports will be established in regions across the UK.

They will be operational as soon as 2020 and will allow Britain to surge ahead of other countries in the global space race. Announcing the bill, ministers said the UK space sector is the ‘future of the British economy’ and the Government wants the UK to ‘remain at the forefront of a new commercial space age for the next forty years’. New powers will mean British scientists will be able to conduct vital experiments in zero gravity which could help develop vaccines and medicines. (2/19)

The Universe Is Expanding, but How Fast? (Source: New York Times)
There is a crisis brewing in the cosmos, or perhaps in the community of cosmologists. The universe seems to be expanding too fast, some astronomers say. Recent measurements of the distances and velocities of faraway galaxies don’t agree with a hard-won “standard model” of the cosmos that has prevailed for the past two decades.

The latest result shows a 9 percent discrepancy in the value of a long-sought number called the Hubble constant, which describes how fast the universe is expanding. But in a measure of how precise cosmologists think their science has become, this small mismatch has fostered a debate about just how well we know the cosmos. “If it is real, we will learn new physics,” said Wendy Freedman of the University of Chicago, who has spent most of her career charting the size and growth of the universe. (2/20)

Spaceflight Squishes Spacefarers' Brains (Source: Scientific American)
Time spent in zero G changes the body: Astronauts come home with bone loss and muscle weakness. But what happens in their heads? To find out, researchers examined MRI’s of astronauts’ brains taken before and after flight. They looked at 12 astronauts who spent two weeks on the shuttle crew and 14 who spent half a year on the International Space Station.

What they saw is that the spacefarers’ gray matter appeared compressed…particularly around the front and sides of the brain and the area around the eyes. That’s probably due to a redistribution of cerebrospinal fluid, which is no longer being pulled down by gravity, the researchers say.

The exception to this compression is in a small area of the brain that controls the feeling in, and movement of, the legs. This region expanded in the astronauts—particularly the ones who spent six months circling the earth. That change, the researchers say, could reflect the formation of new neural connections as the brain tries to adapt to the weightless conditions. (2/18)

Why Astronauts are Banned From Getting Drunk in Space (Source: BBC)
Traveling thousands of miles above the Earth, into the great inky unknown, is hard work. It’s stressful and scary. So why shouldn’t astronauts treat themselves to an end-of-Earth-day cocktail to unwind? Unfortunately for space explorers looking to wet their whistle, consuming alcoholic beverages is widely prohibited by the government agencies that send them to places like the International Space Station. Click here. (2/20)

Florida Tech Experiment Heading to Space Station (Source: Click Orlando)
Florida-based astrophysicists and biologists are among the scientists waiting to begin their experiments, which are getting a ride to the space station inside the Dragon spacecraft launched on Sunday. Dr. Daniel Batcheldor, Florida Institute of Technology astrophysicist, is the principal investigator for the charge injection device to be tested on the International Space Station Center for the Advancement of Science in Space or CASIS lab. (2/21)

Boeing Wins JCSAT Contract (Source: Boeing)
Boeing has won a contract for a satellite that will be jointly owned by two operators. The JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 spacecraft, announced Monday, will be jointly owned by Sky Perfect JSAT Corporation and Kacific Broadband Satellites. JCSAT-18 will provide mobile and broadband services in the Asia Pacific region, including far eastern Russia, and Kacific-1 will provide broadband Internet access to more than 20 countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The Boeing 702 satellite will launch in 2019. (2/20)

Thaicom May Drop New Satellite Plans (Source: Bangkok Post)
Thaicom may drop plans for a new satellite because of a dispute with the Thai government. The company said it may seek alternatives to its planned Thaicom 9 satellite, planned for launch in 2019, if it cannot resolve a dispute with the Digital Economy and Society Ministry about license fees for the satellite. The government is seeking a fee of 20.5 percent of total revenue from two current satellites, Thaicom 7 and 8, far higher than the 5.75 percent Thaicom currently pays. (2/20)

France, Russia Eye Cooperation on Mercury Probe (Source: Air & Cosmos)
The French and Russian space agencies will cooperate on an instrument for a Mercury-bound spacecraft. Roscosmos will contribute a scanning system for the PHEBUS ultraviolet spectrometer being developed by the French space agency CNES for ESA's BepiColombo mission. That mission is now scheduled for launch in October 2018, arriving at Mercury in 2025. (2/20)

India Could Develop Space Station (Source: PTI)
The head of India's space agency says the country could develop its own space station if given the resources to do so. ISRO chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar said Monday that ISO had "all the capabilities" needed to develop a space station, provided it was allocated the "necessary funds and time." India has previously explored developing a human spaceflight capability, but is not actively pursuing a program at this time. (2/20)

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