February 8, 2017

Orbital ATK Sues DARPA to Stop SSL From Winning Satellite-Servicing Contract (Source: Space News)
Orbital ATK sued the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on Feb. 7 to prevent  a rival firm from getting a contract to collaborate on a government-funded mission to repair a satellite in orbit. DARPA was poised to announce Feb. 6 that it had  picked Space Systems/Loral (SSL) — a subsidiary of Canada’s MDA Corp. — to build a prototype satellite-servicing spacecraft under a $15 million contract.

Orbital ATK, which has already lined up at least one commercial customer for a satellite-servicing venture it unveiled last year, is suing to stop the award, arguing that DARPA “intends to give away this technology to a foreign-owned company for that company’s sole commercial use.” (2/8)

Elon Musk Joins Court Fight Against Trump Travel Ban (Source: CNN)
Tesla, SpaceX and 29 other companies joined dozens of other tech companies Monday in the legal fight, declaring that Trump's executive order on immigration "violates the immigration laws and the Constitution." That brings the total number of companies who've cosigned the friend of the court brief to 127. Musk's companies, Tesla and SpaceX, were not among the original list of nearly 100 companies that were part of a court motion on Sunday evening. (2/6)

Scientists Propose First Astrophysics Mission to the Moon (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A team of researchers led by Richard Miller of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) has recently proposed a next-generation mission to the Moon called the Lunar Occultation Explorer (LOX), which is now under review by NASA. If accepted by the agency, it will be the first dedicated astrophysics lunar mission.

LOX [which includes Florida State University as a team member] is planned to be launched and placed in lunar orbit around 2023. It would carry the BGO Array for Gamma-ray Energy Logging (BAGEL) instrument – a large array of 45 to 100 gamma-ray sensors to study thermonuclear, or Type IA, supernovae. Each spectrometer is made of a bismuth germanate scintillator crystal used to detect gamma-rays. (2/7)

Four Reasons President Trump Could Send U.S. Astronauts To Mars (Source: Forbes)
When Gene Cernan, the last U.S. astronaut to walk on the Moon, died only days before President Trump's inauguration, he was a disappointed man. Cernan had predicted after his Moon mission that Americans would land on Mars before the end of the 20th Century. It never happened. Like the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51, America's manned space program built an early lead, and then (to quote Atlanta's coach) ran out of gas.

Donald Trump could be the president who turns that around. He has had multiple meetings with SpaceX founder and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is a leading proponent of colonizing Mars. Musk argues, along with other advocates of missions to the Red Planet, that it is just a matter of time before Earth suffers another mass-extinction event like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. By the time that cataclysm befalls us, Musk says, humanity needs to be a "multi-planetary species." Click here. (2/6)

Trump is Turning Elon Musk Into a Crony Capitalist (Source: The Verge)
Alongside “alternative facts” and “night Twitter,” “crony capitalism” has become a key phrase for the Trump era. The term describes a market where success is determined by political favor rather than consumer choice. Modern Russia is a classic example: if you want to succeed in the Russian oil business, you’re better off making friends with Putin than studying up on drill mechanics. The US isn’t quite there yet, but when Trump starts badgering companies to keep factories in the US — while refusing to divest from his own globe-spanning real estate business — many see a new era of US crony capitalism in the making.

It’s surprising, then, to see Elon Musk working so hard to make friends with Donald Trump. Musk is usually held up as a model entrepreneur — someone using bold ideas and compelling products to tackle some of the world’s most urgent problems. But since Trump was elected, he’s been behaving an awful lot like a crony capitalist. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO joined the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum in December, and raised eyebrows among climate hawks by defending Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson’s bid for secretary of state the following month. (2/6)

Up Next: Humans vs. Space Debris (Source: Nikkei)
The problem of space debris has caught the attention of both the public and private sectors. In Japan, the JAXA space agency will reinforce its monitoring system to prevent small pieces of debris from damaging satellites and the International Space Station. While the current system covers pieces of debris larger than 1.6 meters, JAXA will make it capable of tracking objects as small as 10cm or so.

For the project, JAXA will install a ground-based radar system, made by NEC, in Okayama Prefecture. Also, the capacity of its large-scale optical telescope will be upgraded by Mitsubishi Electric. In addition, JAXA will introduce an analysis system from Fujitsu to determine the kinds of debris and their orbit. Although JAXA has been collecting its own data, it is also getting some from the U.S., which has superior accuracy in tracking space particles. (2/7)

Google Satellite Deal Makes Urthecast Look Cheap (Source: CanTech Letter)
A recent deal made by Alphabet (Google) makes Canada’s Urthecast look undervalued, says Clarus Securities analyst Noel Atkinson. On February 3, privately-held Planet Inc. announced it would acquire the Terra Bella satellite imagery division of Alphabet and Alphabet would subsequently enter into a multi-year data purchase agreement. Media reports have pegged the price of the acquisition at $300-million, a figure he thinks makes what Urthecast has attractive. (2/6)

Oxygen Flooded Earth’s Atmosphere Earlier Than Thought (Source: Science News)
The breath of oxygen that enabled the emergence of complex life kicked off around 100 million years earlier than previously thought, new dating suggests. Previous studies pegged the first appearance of relatively abundant oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, known as the Great Oxidation Event, or GOE, at a little over 2.3 billion years ago.

New dating of ancient volcanic outpourings, however, suggests that oxygen levels began a wobbly upsurge between 2.460 billion and 2.426 billion years ago, researchers report the week of February 6 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That time difference is a big deal, says study coauthor and sedimentary geologist Andrey Bekker of the University of California, Riverside. The new date shakes up scientists’ understanding of the environmental conditions that led to the GOE, which prompted the evolution of oxygen-dependent life-forms called eukaryotes. (2/6)

NASA's Deep Space Rocket Gets Critical Endorsement from Commercial Space Group (Source: The Verge)
NASA’s Space Launch System — the giant, expensive rocket the space agency is building to take astronauts into deep space and onto Mars someday — got a crucial endorsement from an unlikely ally: the commercial space industry. Alan Stern, the chairman of the board of directors for the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), publicly announced the organization’s support for the rocket at a conference in DC.

The CSF is an association representing more than 70 businesses and organizations in the realm of commercial space, including major players like SpaceX and Blue Origin. Getting the seal of approval from CSF marks a significant attitude shift for the private sector, which has been home to some of the strongest opponents of the Space Launch System, or SLS. (2/8)

NASA Hopes for State Support to Replace Aging Bridge to KSC (Source: Florida Today)
As soon as 2021, an aging drawbridge over the Indian River Lagoon that provides a critical link to Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral could be unsafe for spacecraft and other heavy cargo to cross, a NASA engineering study has determined. The 53-year-old Indian River Bridge connects State Road 405 in southern Titusville to the spaceport, the KSC Visitor Complex and fast-growing Exploration Park, where two commercial space firms are building major manufacturing centers.

NASA is seeking help from state and federal agencies on how to replace the bridge, including how to pay the potential cost in excess of $100 million. KSC Director Bob Cabana in December told Brevard County’s state legislative delegation that the bridge might present another opportunity for collaboration. KSC months earlier reached out to the Florida Department of Transportation, Space Florida, Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization, Federal Highway Administration and General Services Administration to help assess its options.

More than 13,000 people cross the Indian River Bridge each day, according to FDOT, including KSC employees and tourists bound for the Visitor Complex operated by Delaware North, which welcomes more than a million guests annually. “We don’t need to have a suspect bridge as the main entryway into the space center to remain competitive worldwide,” said Bob Kamm, director of the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization. “We just can’t have that.” (2/7)

Scientists Can Now Spy on Whales From Space (Source: Science Mic)
Scientists are spying on whales from space — because why not? Well, also because watching humpback whales from space allows researchers to keep tabs on population numbers for a species that, until recently, was considered endangered.

Satellite imagery is proving an effective method of tracking population sizes off the coasts of Western Australia. Humpback whales had been categorized as endangered since the 1970s, but in September, NOAA moved nine of the world's 14 humpback whale species off the protected list — Australia's included.

Managing director for the Center for Whale Research, Curt Jenner, said surveillance from space is an "economical solution" to the problem of diminished funding for such endeavors. Satellite imaging doesn't require putting people in planes or boats to track the whales and count their population size. (2/6)

Russia to Seek Bids for Second Phase of Vostochny Spaceport Development (Source: Space Daily)
Russia's state space corporation Roscosmos plans to call an open tender for the second stage of the Vostochny Cosmodrome construction in autumn 2017, in the light of abolition of the Federal Agency for Special Construction (Spetsstroy), the Izvestia newspaper reported Monday citing its sources.

In late December, Spetsstroy, which had been constructing the cosmodrome, was abolished. According to the newspaper, the second stage includes the construction of the launching site for the Angara space-launch vehicles and other infrastructure. The work on the project documentation for the construction of the second part of the cosmodrome's facilities is at the final stage, and it will be sent for the state expert review in May. (1/31)

NASA Tests Next-Generation Air Traffic Software in Washington State’s Skies (Source: GeekWire)
Landing planes at busy airports can be a challenging work of aerial ballet, and this week, NASA is testing a computerized choreographer to handle the job in the skies over Washington state. The tests, supervised by NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, are part of a series of flights known as Air Traffic Management Technology Demonstration, or ATD-1. Three research airplanes have been outfitted with NASA-developed software that keeps track of the speed and position of the airplanes as they approach an airport. (2/7)

SpaceX to Hit Fastest Launch Pace with New Florida Site (Source: Reuters)
SpaceX plans to launch its Falcon 9 rockets every two to three weeks, its fastest rate since starting launches in 2010, once a new launch pad is put into service in Florida next week, the company's president said. The ambitious plan comes only five months after a SpaceX rocket burst into flames on the launch pad at the company's original launch site in Florida. SpaceX has only launched one rocket since then, in mid-January.

SpaceX was approaching that pace last autumn, before the Sep. 1 accident, which happened during a routine preflight test. The explosion destroyed a $200 million Israeli satellite and heavily damaged the launch pad. Shotwell said repairs to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which are still underway, should cost “far less than half” of a new launch pad, which she said runs about $100 million. The new launch pad is at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, just north of the Cape Canaveral site.

SpaceX is also modifying the rocket's engines to increase performance and resolve potential safety concerns, said Shotwell. The company plans to change the design of the Falcon 9's turbopump - which provides propellants to the rocket's engines - to eliminate cracks that have prompted concern from NASA and the Air Force. NASA has hired SpaceX to taxi astronauts to and from the International Space Station starting in late 2018. (2/7)

SpaceX Awaits FAA License for First LC-39A Liftoff (Source: Universe Today)
With liftoff tentatively penciled in for mid-February, SpaceX still awaits FAA approval of a launch license for what will be the firms first Falcon 9 rocket to launch from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center – on a critical NASA mission to resupply the space station – the FAA confirmed.

As of today, Feb. 7, SpaceX has not yet received “a license determination” from the FAA – as launch vehicle, launch pad and payload preparations continue moving forward for blastoff of the NASA contracted flight to carry science experiments and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a SpaceX cargo Dragon atop an upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A on the Florida Space Coast. (2/7)

Tornado Closes NASA's Michoud, But People and SLS are OK (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA managers say their people are OK and so are the parts and tooling that is producing America's next deep-space rocket after a tornado struck the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans Tuesday morning. The facility with its massive Building 103, where 43 acres are under one roof and rockets are built, has survived several hurricanes including Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tuesday's was the first tornado to hit the facility, NASA said. (2/7)

What Happened to the Sun over 7,000 Years Ago? (Source: Nagoya University)
An international team led by researchers at Nagoya University, along with US and Swiss colleagues, has identified a new type of solar event and dated it to the year 5480 BC; they did this by measuring carbon-14 levels in tree rings, which reflect the effects of cosmic radiation on the atmosphere at the time. They have also proposed causes of this event, thereby extending knowledge of how the sun behaves.

When the activity of the sun changes, it has direct effects on the earth. For example, when the sun is relatively inactive, the amount of a type of carbon called carbon-14 increases in the earth's atmosphere. Because carbon in the air is absorbed by trees, carbon-14 levels in tree rings actually reflect solar activity and unusual solar events in the past. The team took advantage of such a phenomenon by analyzing a specimen from a bristlecone pine tree, a species that can live for thousands of years, to look back deep into the history of the sun. (2/6)

Japan’s Space Tether Experiment Partial Success (Source: Aviation Week)
A Japanese space experiment designed to demonstrate a method of de-orbiting man-made space debris failed to deploy a key test component, according to a Feb. 6 statement from a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) spokesman. The experiment involved using electrodynamic tether technologies as a means of propulsively hastening the de-orbit of large pieces of space debris. But a 2,300-ft.-long (700-meter) conducting cable with a 44-lb. (22 kg) end mass failed to deploy.

But some useful data was gathered, JAXA spokesman Izumi Yoshizaki said in an email exchange. “The experiment to verify the system for debris removal using the electrodynamic tether was not a 100% success, but we were able to obtain some important results,” the JAXA spokesman said. “We used [the] Kounotori-6 cargo transporter itself instead of the tether, and succeeded in verifying the electron emission from the field emission cathodes, and controlled the current by changing the voltage autonomously.” (2/7)

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