February 27, 2017

The Status of Russia’s Human Spaceflight Program (Source: Space Review)
In the second part of his comprehensive assessment of the state of Russia’s human spaceflight program, Bart Hendrickx explores efforts in recent years by Russia to develop new crewed spacecraft and launch vehicles to support missions beyond Earth orbit. Click here. (2/27)
The Risks and Benefits of Accelerating Crewed SLS Missions (Source: Space Review)
NASA announced earlier this month it is studying the possibility of putting astronauts on the first SLS/Orion mission, which currently is set to fly without a crew. Jeff Foust reports on the details of the study and some of the issues NASA will likely to encounter. Click here. (2/27)
Human Flight Around the Moon: a Worthy Goal, but Using the Wrong Vehicles (Source: Space Review)
If sending people back to the Moon is a good idea, should it be done with SLS and Orion? Gerald Black argues that it makes more sense to send humans back to the Moon using commercial vehicles arguably further along in their development. Click here. (2/27)
A Radically Easier Path to Space Settlement (Source: Space Review)
The promise of space settlements has remained just that because of the extremely high costs of establishing these outposts beyond Earth orbit. Al Globus offers an alternative approach that he believes could be much more feasible by sticking closer to home. Click here. (2/27)
To the Moon, Uncle Sam! (Source: Space Review)
As the debate continues about whether NASA should redirect its human space exploration program back to the Moon, another question is how to carry out such missions. Ajay Kothari says that such missions make sense provided they involve reusable launch vehicles. Click here. (2/27)

Can Dragon Do What Orion Did? (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA flew the Orion Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) in December 2014 to test Orion's onboard systems and heat shield for a re-entry from lunar missions. Orion is designed with a more robust thermal protection system than the Commercial Crew capsules planned by SpaceX and Boeing, allowing it to perform missions beyond Low Earth Orbit. EFT-1 flew a very high apogee mission to allow the Orion to reach re-entry speeds similar to those expected for lunar missions.

Orion's heat shielding has been the capsule's biggest selling point when comparing its deep-space capabilities to those of Dragon and Starliner. Can SpaceX's crew-capable Dragon match the re-entry safety of Orion? If so, what does that say about the huge expense that NASA has incurred to develop Orion while commercial alternatives are being developed? (2/27)

AAR Employee Solicited Rival's Trade Secrets: OIG Report (Source: Law360)
An employee for defense contractor AAR Airlift Group Inc. solicited proprietary information from rival DynCorp International LLC, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General found, but stopped short of confirming DynCorp’s claim AAR used the information to snag a $10 billion counter-narcotics contract. Editor's Note: Both companies have performed work under this contract on the Space Coast. (2/27)

Ex-SpaceX Worker Can't Depose Elon Musk In Firing Row (Source: Law360)
A California judge on Friday held that a former SpaceX employee can't depose the company's founder, billionaire inventor Elon Musk, in his suit alleging he was fired for informing senior management that workers were told to fudge rocket-part safety tests, saying Musk can answer written questions only for now. (2/24)

Earth’s Orbiting Junkyard Threatens the Space Economy (Source: Bloomberg)
You never see it in those lovely NASA pictures of Earth, but the space surrounding our pale blue dot is a cosmic junkyard. Debris abounds, moving at ludicrous speeds and presenting plenty of hassles for satellite operators who do business in orbit. In low-earth orbit, space debris travels at velocities approaching 5 miles per second—roughly 18,000 mph—which gives even the tiniest bits of junk enormous destructive energy.

A one centimeter wide aluminum sphere in low-earth orbit packs the kinetic equivalent of a safe moving at 60 mph. If it hits your satellite, well, that could ruin the whole day. Aggregate too much debris in certain areas and low-earth orbit becomes an increasingly difficult and far costlier environment for commercial firms. Today, satellite operators periodically maneuver their birds to avoid object strikes just as NASA must do with the International Space Station. The key, however, is knowing what’s headed your way.

“Knowing where stuff is is the first part of the problem,” said Bill Ailor, a research fellow at The Aerospace Corp., which specializes in tracking space debris. “Over the longer term we need to be getting much better [tracking] data so satellite operators don’t move unnecessarily.” To that end, some entrepreneurs see profit potential in helping to better catalog all that junk up there. (2/27)

Airbus Invests in Orbital Debris Tracking Startup LeoLabs (Source: Aviation Week)
With the projected growth in the number of commercial satellite constellations on low Earth orbit expected to increase risk of collisions, a startup has attracted investment from Airbus and others to build a network of radars to track orbital debris. Spun out of research organization SRI International, LeoLabs has completed its first dedicated radar – located in Midland, Texas – and closed a $4 million initial investment round.

Here’s Everything You’ll Need to Know If You Want to Help Colonize Mars (Source: Big Think)
Lots of organizations including Mars One—a Dutch nonprofit, SpaceX, NASA, The European Space Agency (ESA), and Russia’s Roscosmos, have plans. Let’s look at two of the most prominent, as NASA’s plan is extra careful, inching humans toward low-Mars orbit by the 2030s, and a surface landing in the 2040s.

A private enterprise will likely beat them and other government organizations to it. Mars One is being financed initially through a successful crowdfunding campaign and colonist application fees. It was started by Dutch entrepreneurs in 2012. They plan to have a permanent base on the Red Planet by 2023. Click here. (2/26)

NASA Plan Could Put Astronauts on ULA Rocket (Source: Decatur Daily)
NASA’s proposal to add astronauts to the maiden flight of its new Space Launch System could have humans flying on a Decatur-made rocket as early as next year. United Launch Alliance confirmed this week it is nearing completion of its Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, or ICPS, at its Decatur manufacturing facility.

The ICPS will serve as the second stage of the Space Launch System, or SLS, during its maiden flight slated for November 2018. A ULA spokeswoman declined to release a precise departure date for the ICPS from Decatur, citing safety concerns, but said it would be transported by barge to Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it is due early next month. (2/27)

World View Unconcerned About Legal Dispute Over New Arizona Headquarters (Source: Space News)
Executives with World View said they are not worried about a lawsuit that could void its existing lease agreement with a local government. The company held a grand opening on Feb. 23 for its 135,000-square-foot headquarters near Tucson International Airport. The building will serve as both the company’s headquarters and manufacturing facility for its high-altitude balloons. An adjacent concrete pad, known as Spaceport Tucson, will be a launch site for its balloons.

World View reached an agreement with Pima County, Arizona, for the facility. The county spent $15 million to construct the building, and World View signed a 20-year lease. The company is paying annual rents of $675,000 to $1.62 million under terms of the deal, which the county’s Board of Supervisors approved on a 4–1 vote in January 2016.

The Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based conservative think tank, challenged the agreement in a local court last year. The organization argued that it violated state law that forbids counties from leasing land without first auctioning it to the highest bidder. It also claimed the deal violated a “gift clause” provision in the state constitution that prohibits local governments from providing any loan or grant to corporations, which the institute argued this lease agreement constituted. (2/27)

Apollo 11 Spacecraft Tags Land on Antiques Roadshow (Source: CollectSpace)
Only a few days after the Smithsonian's announcement of a national tour for Columbia, the historic spacecraft that flew the first men to walk on the moon, two notable artifacts from the Apollo 11 command module have turned up at a different type of roadshow. On the next new episode of Antiques Roadshow, airing on PBS on Feb. 27, an engineer who worked on Columbia before and after its 1969 journey to the moon shares his collection.

"When the spacecraft would come back to Downey [Calif.], we would strip them all down," explained the retired North American Aviation (now Boeing) engineer, whose name is not given on the television show. "And so this arrow... they were scraping all this stuff off and throwing it away in a big pile, so they just gave it to me." (2/27)

Oscars Honor Real-Life NASA Hero Katherine Johnson, But Pass On 'Hidden Figures' (Source: Space.com)
The stars of "Hidden Figures," the 20th Century Fox film about NASA's early African American mathematicians, took to the stage at the Academy Awards Sunday night (Feb. 26), not to accept an Oscar, but to pay homage to the real-life "human computer" Katherine Johnson, who received a standing ovation. (2/27)

Nominee for Navy Secretary Withdraws (Source: Politico)
President Donald Trump’s nominee for Navy secretary, Philip Bilden, withdrew from consideration Sunday, becoming the second Pentagon pick unable to untangle his financial investments in the vetting process. "Mr. Philip Bilden has informed me that he has come to the difficult decision to withdraw from consideration to be secretary of the Navy," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement. "This was a personal decision driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests." (2/26)

World View’s ‘Stratollites’ and New Spaceport Aim to Change the Business of Space (Source: Tech Crunch)
At World View’s new headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, the paint is barely dry on a gleaming new structure located near the airport, and just down the road from defense contractor Raytheon. The facility, and the site, dominate the landscape, and reflect the enormity of World View’s main goal, which is nothing short of carving out a brand new and unique market for commercial spaceflight operations.

Poynter noted her company is entering a market where there’s been a lot of excitement lately — commercial spaceflight. But while there’s been a lot of activity from private players, including SpaceX and Blue Origin, Poynter said that the stratosphere, where World View is focused, has been traditionally ignored as a business opportunity. Yet it presents a considerable one, she says. (2/23)

Mars Madness: The DIY Explorers Who Dream of a 35-Million-Mile Trek (Source: California Sunday)
Tina Sjogren remembers exactly where she was when she told her husband, Tom, that she wanted to go to Mars: inside the whirlpool on the patio of the Sheraton Gateway Hotel. She gazed up at the stars, as the bubbles rose around them like chlorinated Champagne, and said, “I wanted to go up there so bad!” Then Tina, one of the first women to ski to the North Pole, almost started crying like a child. Click here. (2/26)

Space Command Boss Works to Advance America's Options in Orbit  (Source: The Gazette)
Gen. Jay Raymond's first months at Air Force Space Command have confirmed what he already knew. "Space is no longer a peaceful domain," he said last week, in an exclusive interview at his Peterson Air Force Base office.

As the keeper of the military's satellites, Raymond is figuring out how America will deal with wars that extend into orbit and how to keep the service's satellites operating for troops on the ground if war breaks out in space. It's enough to keep you up at night and no place for a novice. For Raymond, though, it's a long-sought challenge. (2/25)

Sounding Rocket Flies in Alaska to Study Auroras (Source: Space Daily)
The first of four sounding rockets scheduled for launch from the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska to examine the structure of auroras was launched on Feb. 22, 2017. The Black Brant IX sounding rocket carried instruments to an altitude of 225 miles as part of the Ionospheric Structuring: In Situ and Groundbased Low Altitude StudieS or ISINGLASS mission. (2/24)

Virgin Galactic is One Step Closer to Carrying Tourists to Space (Source: Inverse)
On Friday, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo successfully completed its third glide flight test over California’s Mojave Desert. The company’s SpaceShipTwo craft, called VSS Unity, was carried up to about 50,000 feet by VMS Eve, a WhiteKnightTwo craft, for a mid-air launch. The WhiteKnightTwo, a dual-fuselage, four-engine aircraft, was built specifically to launch Virgin’s smaller crafts. After decoupling from Eve, VSS Unity glided down to a safe landing, according to Virgin Galactic.

Friday’s test represents another step toward Virgin founder Richard Branson’s ultimate goal of making space tourism a reality. Fittingly, VSS Unity is designed with precisely that goal in mind. The craft has space for eight people, including two pilots and six passengers. It has windows along the sides and top of the fuselage so passengers can look out in multiple directions during their suborbital flight. It’s as similar to a glass-bottom boat as a spaceship can be. (2/25)

Where Are the Extraterrestrials? A Question That Requires Cannabis (Source: Leafly)
Wondering about life is part of the human condition. Whether exemplified by our inclination to empathize with animals or in the casual search for aliens while stargazing, man has sought and continues to seek an understanding of life beyond himself. SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is one of the few agencies combing the sky for signs of life beyond Earth. Click here. (2/26)

Vector Space Praises Georgia's Space Flight Act (Source: Golden Isles News)
The chief executive officer at Vector Space Systems has sent a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal congratulating him on the General Assembly’s recent votes in support of the Georgia Space Flight Act. “We recognize that this is a major milestone in Camden County’s efforts to establish a commercial spaceport in Georgia,” James Cantrell wrote in his letter to the governor. He mentioned ongoing discussions with Camden County Administrator Steve Howard.

“Vector fully appreciates the opportunities and benefits that such a non-federal range can offer to launch providers like us whose long term goal is to provide dedicated delivery services tailored to the needs of the emerging small satellite market,” he said. The company is especially interested in “pursuing alternative concepts of operations” that take advantage of new launcher technologies and commercial IT services.”

He said his company intends to continue to support Camden County’s safety analysis currently conducted by the FAA. "For the medium term, we are also keeping open the option of conducting on-site pathfinder operations with our prototype transporter-erector-launcher and full-scale mechanical engineering unit,” he wrote. “If there is anything else that Vector can do to help bring the spaceport online, please let us know.” (2/25)

NASA to Launch Sequel to Successful Lightning Study Mission (Source: Space Daily)
A hit Hollywood film often leads to a sequel. Sometimes those movies do well, but rarely will they eclipse the original. Undaunted by those odds, NASA is set to reboot a successful study of Earth's lightning from space - this time from the unique vantage point of the International Space Station (ISS).

A team of Earth scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville have high hopes for a follow-up mission for the agency's Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) first launched into space in the late-1990s. Now, an identical LIS - built as a back-up - is headed to the space station for a two-year mission to probe the mysteries of lightning and its connections to other atmospheric phenomena. (2/17)

Georgia Spaceport Advocates Tout Jobs; Property Owners Worried (Source: Savannah Now)
Camden County Administrator Steve Howard sees the planned Spaceport Camden as both a fulfillment of this small coastal county’s space legacy and a way to launch the future of the local economy. On a 12,000-acre brownfield site that in the 1960s tested a rocket for the Apollo program, Howard envisions a launch pad and landing zone, plus ancillary manufacturing and educational services around it, all producing jobs.

Critics of the plan, including property owners on nearby Little Cumberland Island and local environmental groups concerned about Cumberland Island National Seashore, are more focused on the risks of launching rockets over their beloved islands. They picture a rocket taking off from the launch site just six miles west of them — then exploding and raining down debris, threatening the barrier islands themselves as well as the people on them.

“We said we must be missing something,” said Kevin Lang, an attorney in Athens whose family owns a house on Little Cumberland. “A NASA expert said you can’t launch a rocket there without evacuating Cumberland Island and Little Cumberland Island. Georgia law considers that a partial taking and doesn’t allow it.” Click here. (2/25)

Can Bacteria Survive in Mars Soil and Thus Enhance Crop Production? (Source: Mars One)
The Imperial College in London is going to investigate if bacteria will survive in the Mars and Moon soil simulant in cooperation with Wageningen University & Research in March 2017. To be able to live on Mars or the Moon, humans will need to grow their own food. One of the key factors in plant growth and recycling of dead plant parts are bacteria. They break down the dead leaves, roots and stems and thus make nutrients, manure, available again for plant growth.

Completing this cycle is essential for sustainable crop growth on Mars. “With this next step we are moving from just growing crops to building a small but sustainable ecosystem”, said Dr. ir. Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research and a Mars One adviser. First, the Mars and Moon soil simulant is sterilised to make sure no bacteria are present. Then the simulant soil will be inoculated with bacteria from different agricultural soils and placed in microcosms. (2/24)

Masten Flies Environmental Monitoring Experiment (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A recent flight on a commercial rocket tested an environmental monitoring experiment that may allow for multiple technologies on the same vehicle while checking for possible interference from electrical and magnetic sources.

Masten Space Systems, Mojave, California, conducted the Nov. 2, 2016, flight test on its Xodiac rocket launching from Mojave Air and Spaceport, California, carrying a Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), Laurel, Maryland, electromagnetic field measurement experiment onboard. (2/26)

NASA’s Longshot Bet on a Revolutionary Rocket May Be About to Pay Off (Source: Ars Technica)
Franklin Chang-Díaz bounds up a handful of stairs and peers through a porthole cut into the side of a silver, tanker-truck-sized vacuum chamber. Inside, a blueish-purple light shines, unchanging and constant, like a bright flashlight. “It looks kind of boring,” Chang-Díaz admits. “But that plume is 3.5 million degrees. If you stuck your hand in that, it would be very bad.”

Truth be told, the plume does not look impressive at all. And yet the engine firing within the vacuum chamber is potentially revolutionary for two simple reasons: first, unlike gas-guzzling conventional rocket engines, it requires little fuel. And second, this engine might one day push spacecraft to velocities sufficient enough to open the Solar System to human exploration. (2/22)

Trump's Departing NASA Liaison Urges Careful Vetting of Crewed Test Flight Idea (Source: Space.com)
NASA should consider flying crew on the debut test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule to better support the overall goals of U.S. space exploration, the former Trump administration liaison to NASA said on Sunday.

"While nobody wants to do anything unduly dangerous, SLS/Orion must be produced and operated as cost effectively as possible and demonstrate tangible achievements to the public in order to avoid the fate of Constellation," Greg Autry, who resigned from NASA on Thursday, wrote in an email. (2/26)

World View’s ‘Stratollites’ and New Spaceport Aim to Change the Business of Space (Source: Tech Crunch)
At World View’s new headquarters in Arizona, the paint is barely dry on a gleaming new structure located near the airport, and just down the road from defense contractor Raytheon. The facility, and the site, dominate the landscape, and reflect the enormity of World View’s main goal, which is nothing short of carving out a brand new and unique market for commercial spaceflight operations.

Poynter noted her company is entering a market where there’s been a lot of excitement lately — commercial spaceflight. But while there’s been a lot of activity from private players, including SpaceX and Blue Origin, Poynter said that the stratosphere, where World View is focused, has been traditionally ignored as a business opportunity. Yet it presents a considerable one, she says. (2/23)

Zero Gravity Solutions' BAM-FX Successfully Delivered to ISS on the SpaceX CRS-10 Cargo Mission (Source: ZGS)
Zero Gravity Solutions, an agricultural biotechnology public company commercializing its technology derived from and designed for Space with significant applications for agriculture on Earth, announced that its research experiment using its BAM-FX micronutrient product was successfully delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo resupply mission.

In collaboration with NASA and Intrinsyx Technologies Corporation (ITC), the BAM-FX experiments, led by two plant stress physiologists, Dr. John Freeman of ITC and Dr. David Bubenheim (NASA Biospheric Science Branch code SGE), will study the growth and nutritional effects of our patented micronutrient product BAM-FX in broccoli seedlings in microgravity.

The focus of two separate, but related experiments, BAM-FX and V3PO (Vegetative Propagation of Plants in Orbit) are focused on advancing the science necessary to promote the growth of fresh, nutrient-dense food for astronauts on long-duration space missions. This experimental flight opportunity is made available by NanoRacks, LLC via its Space Act Agreement with NASA’s U.S. National Lab on the International Space Station. (2/23)

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