April 13, 2017

Identity Theft Scammers Faking XCOR Hiring (Source: XCOR)
"It has come to the attention of XCOR Aerospace that someone has stolen our XCOR Aerospace logo and our Space Expeditions logo and is falsely advertising for open positions within our company. These people are conducting interviews and are stealing applicants personal information. They are sending applicants offer letters or appointment letters misrepresenting our President and me personally. These are FALSE offers and NOT from XCOR.

"In the final step of the scam, these people are asking for applicants to pay a fee to expedite their visa applications. If you have been a victim of this scam, please contact the proper authorities in your country. XCOR Aerospace has three offices, located in Midland, TX, Mojave, CA and Amsterdam and have not advertised for any open positions." (4/13)

Mimicking an Impact on Earth’s Early Atmosphere Yields All 4 RNA Bases (Source: Ars Technica)
There aren't a lot of individual experiments that have ended up being staples of high school textbooks, but Stanley Miller and Harold Urey did one of them. Miller and Urey are the people who sealed up a mixture of gases meant to model the Earth's early atmosphere and jolted the gas with some sparks. What emerged was a complex mix of chemicals that included amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

It was a seminal experiment in that it gave researchers one of the first avenues to approach the origin of life experimentally, but its relevance to the actual origin of life has faded as the research it inspired began to refine our ideas. A French-Czech team of researchers decided to give it another look, using a source of energy that Miller and Urey hadn't considered: the impact of a body arriving from space. The result? The production of all four of the bases found in RNA, a close chemical cousin to DNA and equally essential to life. (4/12)

Trump Flips on Ex-Im, Wants to Fill Board Vacancies (Source: Wall Street Journal)
President Trump said Wednesday he would seek to fill vacancies on the board of the Export-Import Bank. In an interview, Trump said he planned to nominate two people for the five-person board, which has three vacancies that prevent it from approving large deals. Trump was expected to speak out in favor of the bank in February, but omitted it from a speech, and soon thereafter an OMB document identified Ex-Im as one of several agencies the administration was considering closing. Ex-Im has been, in recent years, a key financier of commercial satellite and launch deals for U.S. companies. (4/11)

G-7 Ministers Call For Space Norms (Source: Space Policy Online)
G-7 foreign ministers included a section on space in their joint communiqué after a meeting this week. The one paragraph devoted to outer space in the 30-page document called for "enhancing the long-term safety, security, sustainability, and stability of the space environment" and strengthening norms of responsible behavior. A separate G-7 committee devoted to nonproliferation issues also included a discussion about space in its report on the same theme, including a call for countries to "refrain from irresponsible intentional destruction of space objects, including by anti-satellite tests." (4/12)

India Sees Growing Commercial Interest in PSLV (Source: The Hindu)
Indian officials say interest in its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is growing after a recent launch. Rakesh Sashibhushan, chairman and managing director of Antrix Corporation, ISRO's commercial arm, said inquiries into use of the PSLV doubled after a February launch that deployed more than 100 satellites, most of them cubesats from U.S. companies Planet and Spire. Sashibhushan said he's asked ISRO to dedicate two PSLV launches a year for commercial missions. (4/12)

China Readies Long March 7 Rocket for Station Cargo Mission (Source: GB Times)
China has completed assembly of a rocket that will launch the country's first cargo spacecraft later this month. The Long March 7, vertically integrated at the Wenchang launch site on the island of Hainan, will launch the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft in late April. Tianzhou-1, a prototype of a spacecraft that will deliver cargo to a future space station, will dock with the Tiangong-2 module currently in orbit. (4/12)

Satellite Hacking Risk on the Rise (Source: Bloomberg)
NASA's cybersecurity chief says it's only a "matter of time" before someone hacks a satellite. In an interview, Jeanette Hanna-Ruiz said she's particularly concerned that someone will be able to breach communications between NASA satellites and ground stations or, worse, take control of a satellite. Her priority for the next 12 to 18 months is to improve security on NASA's internal networks and work with NASA's various missions on cybersecurity. (4/12)

Plumes Suggest Enceladus Could Support Microbial Life (Source: GeekWire)
Scientists have detected molecules of hydrogen in plumes of watery material erupting from cracks in the ice of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn – and that suggests an ocean beneath the ice has hydrothermal vents that just might be capable of sustaining life. The findings are based on an analysis of data from the Cassini orbiter.

The researchers focused on Enceladus’ plumes – intriguing sprays of water vapor, ice and other material that emanate from deep fissures in the ice-covered moon’s surface. The mere existence of the plumes suggests that a watery ocean lies beneath the ice, and scientists had already suspected that the ocean was fed by hydrothermal activity. The newly announced findings provide strong support for that suspicion. (4/13)

DARPA and Space Systems Loral Move Ahead with Satellite Servicing Program (Source: Space News)
Space Systems Loral has completed an agreement with DARPA for a satellite servicing program that triggered a lawsuit from another company. The announcement of the agreement for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program came a day after DARPA filed a motion in federal court to dismiss a February lawsuit filed by Orbital ATK about the award to SSL.

The agreement confirms the scope of work of the RSGS program, where SSL will provide a satellite bus and DARPA the servicing payload. That spacecraft will then be launched to demonstrate a range of servicing technologies, including inspection, refueling and repair of satellites. After those tests, SSL will be able to use the spacecraft for commercial and government customers. (4/12)

Citizen Scientists May Have Located Candidates for Planet Nine (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Astronomers have been hunting for Planet Nine - the large, mysterious body thought to lurk at the edge of our solar system - ever since researchers at Caltech published evidence of its existence last year. Ordinary people have now joined the search. And they've made some intriguing finds. Through the project, dubbed "Planet 9 Search," space enthusiasts and astronomers alike were given access to thousands of images taken by ANU's SkyMapper telescope.

Their task was to find anything that appears to move against the mostly motionless background of distant stars. This is how astronomers have looked for new solar system bodies for hundreds of years. In just three days, about 21,000 volunteers sifted through more than 100,000 images and classified more than 5 million objects - work that would take an astronomy PhD student four years, ANU astronomer Brad Tucker wrote in the Conversation.

They surveyed vast swaths of the southern sky and managed to rule out the possibility of an unknown Neptune-size object in about 90 percent of it. The four objects identified by the campaign are considered interesting enough that professional astronomers are taking a closer look. Much as Pluto did, they appear as tiny moving dots of light in the SkyMapper images; researchers don't know their distance or dimensions. Although these objects could be Planet Nine, it's more likely that they are dwarf planets, asteroids or perhaps mere blips in the data. Scientists at ANU and elsewhere will conduct further observations to figure this out. (4/12)

Boeing Reveals Renderings for 'Deep Space Gateway' and Mars Transport (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Boeing this week revealed renderings for their planned deep-space gateway and transport systems that will help NASA get astronauts to Mars. Boeing is helping develop the Space Launch System, NASA's next endeavor to get humans into space with the goal of returning to the moon and eventually Mars.

While it won't be until late 2018 before the SLS Exploration Mission-1 takes flight, down the line Boeing would use SLS launches to get a habitat Boeing is calling the Deep Space Gateway near the moon. This habitat would be powered by a solar propulsion system and Boeing says it could be used for both government and commercial deep-space partnerships including missions to the moon. Click here. (4/5)

No Bathrooms, No Barf Bags: What Blue Origin's Space Tourists Can Expect (Source: Space.com)
Blue Origin founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says people who buy a ticket to fly on his company's space tourism vehicle New Shepard will need to use the bathroom before flight, and they'd better not get sick during the trip — the company has no plans to install systems to deal with human waste.

New Shepard is the reusable, suborbital vehicle produced by Bezos' private spaceflight company Blue Origin. Bezos, who is also founder and CEO of Amazon.com, said that after years of test flights, he is hopeful that Blue Origin will fly customers in 2018. He emphasized, however, that the company will only start flying humans on New Shepard "when it's ready." (4/11)

Angara Launch Pad Construction Next Year at Vostochny Spaceport (Source: Tass)
The construction of the launch pad for the Angara-A5 carrier rocket will begin at the Far Eastern Vostochny space center next year, the head of Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos said. "The construction is due to begin next year," Igor Komarov said in an interview published on the Cosmonautics Day, marked on Wednesday. He said the construction of the launch pad for the super-heavy version of Angara is also scheduled, "but this is already beyond 2025." (4/12)

Commercial Crew Flight Assignments Could Come This Summer (Source: Space News)
One of the NASA astronauts training to fly on test flights of commercial crew vehicles said he expects the agency to make flight assignments for those missions as soon as this summer. Outside a simulator of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle, Robert Behnken said those upcoming crew assignments will allow astronauts who have been training on both the Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon v2 to specialize on one vehicle. (4/12)

Boeing’s Space Taxi to Ferry Passengers Into Orbit by 2019 (Source: The National)
Boeing has set its sights somewhat higher than those chasing the flying car dream such as Airbus and Uber – it aims to have its space taxi shuttling passengers into low-Earth orbit by 2019. The US plane maker’s Starliner CST-100 is designed to take up to seven people into space, initially to the International Space Station (ISS) but the company envisages commercial travelers being ferried into orbit soon after the first crew flights to the ISS.

Already, Bigelow Aerospace and Space Adventures have been working with Boeing to advance space tourism. Other firms such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are also in the market for space tourism. In February, Mr Musk announced two mystery space tourists put down a "significant deposit" with SpaceX to take a round-trip around the Moon. While it is extremely difficult to say how much they might have paid, it will certainly have been in the multiple millions of dollars each. (4/12)

VC Money Pouring into Space Ventures (Source: Quartz)
Data Collective, which is the lead investor Capella Space, also backs Planet, a satellite firm that recently acquired Skybox from Google and now operates the most satellites of any private company, and Rocket Labs, a firm building rockets to launch small satellites. Data Collective led a $75 million investment in Rocket Labs this year that valued it at $1 billion, making it the rare “space unicorn.”

Like Bezos, Musk funded SpaceX himself, using earnings from the sale of PayPal to eBay. During the company’s first six years, he put in $100 million. Even then, it required an $20-million capital infusion from Founder’s Fund, run by Musk’s former colleague Peter Thiel, in 2008, before the first rocket was successfully launched.

That’s a sign that conventional wisdom is changing. Ocko, the investor at Data Collective, points to “VC cargo-cultism” to explain some of the growth in the sector–”Hey, SpaceX and Planet Labs are big wins, so let’s throw some money at anything that looks similar.” (4/12)

Why the Global Aerospace Industry May See a Start-Up Boom (Source: CNBC)
The global aerospace industry is fast becoming venture capitalists' new frontier, according to Francois Chopard, the CEO of aerospace accelerator Starburst Accelerator. "We've seen a couple of announcements for start-ups willing to build electric commercial aircraft, so it's not only space that is booming, but more the global aerospace sector that is looking for disruptions."

Starburst Accelerator launched a new venture called Starburst Ventures late last year. It raised $200 million to back aerospace tech start-ups over the next three years. Chopard said the venture is an essential push to help those companies in an increasingly competitive industry. "It has been very difficult in the past, but we've seen a couple of deals mainly happening in Silicon Valley, so we wanted to leverage that start with more investors and with more focus on the aviation and aerospace." (4/12)

Trump Lifting Federal Hiring Freeze (Source: NPR)
The Trump administration is lifting a federal hiring freeze as of Wednesday morning. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney announced the policy change, cautioning that "this does not mean agencies will be free to hire willy-nilly." He said the across-the-board hiring freeze the president imposed by executive order three days after taking office in January is being replaced with a "smarter plan, a more strategic plan, a more surgical plan." Editor's Note: No word yet whether NASA's frozen unfilled positions will be thawed. (4/12)

Can the UK Really Support Launches? (Source: Eureka!)
The idea of a spaceport being built and operational in the UK within three years might well seem preposterous to many, especially given the delays that other transport infrastructure projects typically endure, such as Heathrow’s third runway and HS2/3. However, any UK launch site is likely to be ‘no-frills’ and a vertical launch site with barebones infrastructure on a Scottish isle, for example, suddenly seems far more viable in the cost and timeframe suggested. Rather than needing a full length runway, a vertical launch site footprint might only be slightly bigger than a helipad.

"It is undoubtedly ambitions, but this is achievable," says Barcham. "We are not the only country looking at this as an exciting opportunity to develop. Other countries are pursuing this market, so it is important we act with suitable speed and determination… What we want to do is create the right conditions in the UK so that industry is prepared." (4/12)

Officials: $95.6M Facility Good for NASA Langley, Good for Virginia (Source: WVEC)
When the new Measurement Systems Laboratory opens at NASA Langley, researchers will be busy working to advance space exploration, science, and aeronautics. Groundbreaking for the $95.6 million facility took place Tuesday. It is one of four new buildings in NASA Langley's 20-year revitalization plan and the largest new laboratory in the research center’s recent history.

The 175,000-square-foot lab, which will feature 40 modular research labs, not only is good for the agency. State leaders say the economic impact to the region when it comes to attracting businesses and highly skilled workers is monumental.

“It shows another investment-- another footprint for Virginia -- that we can now tell the globe, ‘If you’re thinking of going into the business of aeronautics or anything related to measurements, you ought to be doing that here in Virginia,’” Governor Terry McAuliffe stated. “At a time when it seems like science is under assault, we’re still doing world class research,” U.S. Senator Mark Warner said. (4/12)

Startup Wants to Build a Nanosat Fleet for Internet of Things (Source: Mashable)
We're hurtling towards a future where everything from cows to toasters will be internet-connected. But do we have the infrastructure to support this digital web? An Australian startup wants its nano satellites to help form the backbone of the internet of things. Founded in 2015, Adelaide-based Fleet announced a $3.8 million Series A funding round Tuesday, to help build its satellite constellation.

CEO and cofounder Flavia Tata Nardini said the team realized early on that the estimated 75 billion devices due to come online by 2025 couldn't do so without the right tools in place. "Our idea was to try and enable this revolution, because it's really happening, it's going to change the industry, but it's not as simple as everyone says," she explained. (4/12)

Musk Wants to Make Falcon Rockets Fully Reusable (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
SpaceX chief Elon Musk said last week he is “fairly confident” his company’s Falcon rockets can be made fully reusable within a couple of years, suggesting a renewed emphasis on outfitting upper stages for a scorching re-entry after engineers shelved the idea to focus on landing the launcher’s bigger booster stage.

The launch firm revealed a concept to recover and reuse both stages of the Falcon 9 rocket in 2011, but visible technical progress has been limited to the first stage in the last few years. Landing and relaunching the Falcon 9’s first stage presented a lesser challenge to SpaceX’s engineers, and the booster is the most valuable part of the rocket, representing about 70 percent of its total cost. (4/12)

Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s Spaceflight Marked Worldwide (Source: Tass)
Wednesday marks the anniversary of the first manned flight to space, performed by Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961. The date is celebrated as the Cosmonautics Day in Russia and the International Day of Human Space Flight worldwide.

The recent years have been difficult for Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and the country’s entire space industry in general, due to international sanctions against Russia and successes by the country’s space rivals, notably from the United States. While Russia had to cope with cuts in the financing of its Federal Space Program and Proton engine malfunction issues, the United States successfully tested reusable rocket boosters and continued tests of delivery vehicles intended to replace Russian-made Soyuz carrier rockets. (4/12)

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