March 26, 2017

Everybody's Flying to the Moon (Source: Business Insider)
The Trump Administration is but a few weeks old, but already a massive change is occurring in the future course of space exploration. NASA is weighing in, but a lot of the change is being driven by the private sector, some eager to be part of a return to the moon, which had been off the table during the previous administration. Click here. (3/25)

The Fictional NASA in 'Life' is Run by a Bunch of Psychopaths and Idiots (Source: The Verge)
Life, or as stylized during the opening credits, L I F E, is about six astronauts aboard the International Space Station for a fictional “Mars Pilgrim Mission” sometime in the very near future. As you can tell from the title, the film is partly about the meaning of life and partly about a violent space creature who wreaks absolute havoc on the ISS. The creature is a new form of life and its MO is destroying human life. Truly, this is a loaded title.

So essentially what this movie is illustrating is a totally botched Mars sample return. It’s exactly like it sounds: bringing back a sample from Mars so we can study it in the lab. Mars sample return is one of the most anticipated types of missions in the science community, because if there is life on Mars, we’ll have a much easier time finding it in our labs here on Earth than with remotely operated robots that are tens of millions of miles away. Click here. (3/25)

Space Pollution Could be Humanity's Next Big Problem (Source: The Guardian)
At least a couple of times every year, the International Space Station maneuvers to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision with space junk. While estimations vary, there are about 4,000 active and inactive satellites in space. They are at risk of being hit by the approximately half a million bits of floating space debris, ranging in size from micro-millimeters to two double-decker buses.

“What everyone is realizing is this is a growing problem, though nobody gave a shit in the early days of space exploration,” Held says. “Why would they? There wasn’t a lot out there. If you think of the early days of aviation you didn’t need air traffic control. It took a few plane accidents before air traffic control was put in place. “People are now starting to see congestion up in space, and if a satellite is up there and it deactivates for some reason while up there and you can’t move it, you have a giant bullet flying around at 8 kilometers per second.” (3/25)

Vector May Build and Launch Rockets on Florida's Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
A startup focused on low-cost launches of small satellites hopes to fly a suborbital test flight from Cape Canaveral this year, and is considering building rockets on the Space Coast. Arizona-based Vector Space Systems hopes to start launching orbital missions next year, and could bring more than 100 jobs to the area if the local manufacturing work materializes. The two-stage rocket, designed to lift up to about 130 pounds to low Earth orbit, is intended to serve a growing market for small, inexpensive satellites now mainly limited to hitching rides as secondary payloads on big rockets.

Market studies project roughly 1,000 such satellites will be seeking launches annually by 2023. With its small, relatively simple rocket and engine, Vector anticipates being able to launch more than 100 times a year, even launching multiple times a day. The cost: $1.5 million for a basic Vector-R flight, to up to $3 million for the larger Vector-H. Vector’s planned high flight rate “requires us to have some of our facilities close to the launch sites,” said Jim Cantrell, with Florida being just one of those sites. So far, Vecto has fewer than 30 employees and no firm agreements in place to launch or manufacture rockets at the Cape.

The rocket requires minimal ground infrastructure, rolling to the pad on a trailer that doubles as a mobile launch platform and launching within a few hours. Three booster engines burn chilled liquid propylene and liquid oxygen. Negotiations are in progress with the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing to approve operations from Launch Complex 46, a long-dormant pad managed by Space Florida that may support multiple users. The site currently is being prepared for a launch this summer of Orbital ATK’s Minotaur IV rocket, and is expected to host a 2019 test of the launch abort system for NASA’s Orion crew exploration capsule. (3/25)

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