April 15, 2017

NASA's Space Apps Challenge Returning to Orlando (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Have a mobile app idea related to space? A 2-day hackathon later this month might be right up your alley. NASA’s International Space Apps challenge returns for a sixth year – the third in Orlando – to ask techies and “spacies” to help create mobile apps that will help the agency’s pursuit of exploration or education.

Participation in the hackathon – a generic name given to events that involved collaborative computer programming – will net $100 in credit on Amazon Web Services. The two top teams in Orlando will also enter into the international challenge for the challenge. Organizers say subject matter experts for NASA will also be there to assist teams. (4/15)

Buck Calls for More space Intelligence Positions (Source: Space News)
The Air Force needs more people for space intelligence, at the very least similar to levels it has in other domains, Lt. Gen. David Buck said. “Our space intel capability has atrophied, so we need to hit the gym and develop some muscle mass,” Buck said at a breakfast Friday hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Buck has two positions: commander of the 14th Air Force under Air Force Space Command and leader of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space under U.S. Strategic Command. That puts Buck in position of not only organizing, training, and equipping space forces, but also being a main point-person for the space part of any military operations. (4/14)

RUAG Joins ULA in Alabama as Development of Vulcan Continues (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) has welcomed Swiss manufacturer RUAG Space into its rocket factory located in Decatur, Alabama, as development progresses on ULA’s new Vulcan launch vehicle. RUAG was recently handed the keys to its 12,000-square-foot facility within ULA’s 1.6-million-square-foot rocket factory. There, it will manufacture Atlas V and Vulcan rocket payload fairings and interstage adapters.

The Swiss company currently builds the Atlas V’s 17.7-foot (5.4 meter) payload fairing and interstage adapter in Zurich and Emmen, Switzerland. According to ULA, this move will allow RUAG to be on site with ULA and will ensure a direct link to the customer and facilities integration. (4/15)

Trump’s NASA Budget Curtails Plan To Reroute A Near-Earth Asteroid (Source: Huffington Post)
While Trump's proposed NASA’s budget will aid the agency’s long-term plans for a manned exploration of Mars, it also halts the space agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission. That project would have included a robotic attempt to rendezvous with an asteroid, then collect and haul a giant boulder from it for future study by a manned crew. Part of this plan was also to redirect the asteroid’s trajectory away from any path that would bring it close to Earth.

But Trump’s budget, which emphasizes Mars exploration, doesn’t leave enough funding for this project. “We remain committed to the next human missions to deep space, but we are not pursuing the Asteroid Redirect Mission with this budget proposal,” a NASA spokesperson said. “However, we will continue to work on the needed technologies, such as solar electric propulsion, which will advance future in-space transportation needs.” (4/14)

Engineering the Perfect Astronaut (Source: Technology Review)
Recently, a few scientists have started to explore whether we might be able to do a little better if we created new types of humans more fit for the travails of space travel. That’s right: genetically modified astronauts. Let’s be clear. No one is trying to grow an astronaut in a bubbling vat somewhere. But some far-out ideas once relegated to science fiction and TED Talks have recently started to take concrete form. Experiments have begun to alter human cells in the lab. Can they be made radiation-proof? Can they be rejiggered to produce their own vitamins and amino acids?

One person looking at the idea is Christopher Mason, a member of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine. In 2011, Mason came up with what he called a “500-year plan” to get humans off Earth. In it, genetic modification plays a big role. “I think we have to consider it for people that we send to other planets,” he says. “We don’t know if it’s a slight nudge to existing gene expression, or a whole new chromosome, or finally a complete rewriting of the genetic code.”

Mason says his lab is ready to take an initial step. Space is full of rays and fast-moving particles that damage DNA. So he’s working on radiation-proofing human cells. His students are taking cells and adding extra copies of p53, a gene involved in preventing cancer that’s known as the “protector of the genome.” Elephants have many extra copies of p53 and hardly ever get cancer, so maybe astronauts should have them too. Mason says he recently submitted a proposal to NASA to send the modified cells to the space station. “There is not a genetic engineering astronaut’s consortium or anything, but maybe we should start one,” he says. (4/14)

Russia to Continue Delivering Rocket Engines to US Through 2025 (Source: Tass)
The deliveries of Russian RD-180 rocket engines to the U.S. will continue through 2024-2025, Yuri Vlasov said. "Today we understand well that we’ll continue delivering American and European astronauts to the ISS in the next few years. And we understand well that the delivery of Russian rocket engines for Atlas carrier rockets will be inevitable somewhere until 2024-2025, in our mind, although we have a contract till 2018," he said at a session of the State Duma’s expert council for the rocket and space industry. The U.S. obtained a license more than ten years ago for the production of RD-180 engines and their analogs but has failed to organize their output so far. (4/14)

Trump Picks Critic to Lead Ex-Im Bank He Once Opposed (Source: AP)
President Donald Trump plans to nominate a vocal critic of the U.S. Export-Import Bank to serve as its president. The White House announced late Friday that Trump plans to nominate Scott Garrett, a former Republican congressman from New Jersey, to serve as president of the credit agency, which helps overseas buyers get financing to purchase U.S. exports.

Trump will also nominate Spencer T. Bachus III of Alabama, another former House member, to serve as a member of the bank's board of directors. Garrett voted against renewing the bank's charter while he was in Congress, denouncing it as "corporate welfare." "I opposed the House's vote to reauthorize the corporate welfare program known as the Ex-Im Bank. #CronyCapitalism," he tweeted in 2015. (4/14)

Bridenstine Says He's Still In Running To Lead NASA (Source: KOTV)
Oklahoma First District Congressman Jim Bridenstine says he is still in the running to be the new head of NASA. Bridenstine told News On 6 he was recently asked back for another interview by the Trump administration. The Republican said, "I don't know what the end result is, but I keep interviewing, which is an indicator that maybe I'm still in the mix for it."

As a legislator, Bridenstine has proposed a bill that would broadly increase NASA's activity in space exploration. Bridenstine flies E-2Cs in the U.S. Navy Reserve and was once the head of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. He has represented the 1st District which includes Tulsa and Bartlesville since 2013. (4/14)

House Members Ask Pentagon to Stay the Course on Launcher Development (Source: Space News)
A bipartisan group of 20 House members has asked the Defense Department not to alter the U.S. Air Force’s plans to fund development of new launch systems. In the letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, dated April 10, the members said the Air Force should continue efforts to develop “complete, robust launch systems” rather than focus on specific components, such as an engine to replace the Russian-built RD-180. That approach, they argued, is the best way to end reliance on the RD-180 while providing assured access to space at reduced cost. Click here. (4/14)

How a $5 Million Launch Vehicle Could Transform the Satellite Business (Source: Gizmodo)
Sixty million dollars. That’s roughly how much it costs to send a payload to orbit on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. It’s actually a bargain for space, but it’s far more than University of Central Florida physicist Julie Brisset, who seeks to study the early stages of planet formation in microgravity, can afford. She’s one of countless researchers unable to access the low gravity laboratory of outer space because of the staggering price tag.

That’s why Brisset is eyeing New Zealand-based startup Rocket Lab with excitement. The company, which was founded in 2006, hasn’t flown a balloon into orbit yet. Its Electron rocket has a maximum payload capacity of just under 500 pounds, which is peanuts compared with the Falcon 9’s 50,265-pound weight limit. But Rocket Lab does have one big thing going for it: It wants to launch rockets into space for just five million dollars.

If the company can pull that price point off—still a big ‘if’ as it hasn’t begun commercial flights yet—five million dollar launches would be a game-changer, especially for folks operating small, lightweight satellites like CubeSats. And the small satellite market is Rocket Lab’s exclusive focus. “Launch has become a bottleneck for many satellite companies, and Rocket Lab aims to solve that by providing unprecedented access to space,” Peter Beck, cofounder of Rocket Lab, told Gizmodo. (4/14)

Better, Faster, Stronger: The Future of Heavy Lift Rockets (Source: Via Satellite)
While the James Webb Telescope, scheduled to launch in October 2018, is the largest telescope ever built to date, astrophysicist and former NASA astronaut John Mace Grunsfeld said it still is somewhat limited in its ability to detect the elementary building blocks of life such as methane, water and carbon dioxide. “It’s an incredible machine but it’s not big enough to find out if we’re alone in the universe. An Earth 2.0 will be dimmer than the faintest galaxy in the Hubble deep field,” he said.

“Heavy lift would allow us to build a big enough telescope … Imagine what we can do putting the pieces of a telescope in a fairing and having astronauts or robots build them in space. We need to be bold. We were audacious with the James Webb telescope, but we know how to big builder,” Grunsfeld said.

Of course, improving our launch capabilities will unlock more than just deep space observation. Heavy lift is what will allow us to research and colonize other bodies within our own solar system, too. One of the primary objectives across the industry is founding a settlement on Mars to enable extended stays for planetary scientists and astrobiologists. Our ability to carry heavier, more complex satellites up into space becomes relevant here because as Grunsfeld pointed out, we may have to assemble scientific instruments in Mars orbit before bringing them down to the surface. (4/14)

Space Tourists to Train in New Mexico (Source: KRQE)
Winded and fresh off running the last leg of the 180-mile Spaceport America Relay Race with her Virgin Galactic team, Beth Moses is still an energetic private space travel cheerleader. “It’s an amazing time in history,” she said. As chief astronaut instructor for Virgin Galactic, the former NASA aerospace engineer is in charge of training private future astronauts for their journey to space on board Virgin’s SpaceshipTwo.

Training for every future astronaut will take place during a three day course at New Mexico’s Spaceport America. “It’s in order to prepare for the spaceflight and make sure all the customers get exactly what they want out of their spaceflight,” Moses said. That training premise is quite different from the astronaut training program she ran at her previous job at NASA.

Moses says while the training will be customized to help space travelers realize their personal goals, there are still standard safety procedures to learn and other mission familiarization. While Virgin’s final training program is not yet complete, Moses says future astronauts at Spaceport America will learn about suiting up, practice procedures in a cabin mock-up, spend time with their crew mates for the flight, and tour mission control. There will be no Zero-G training, however. (4/14)

Virgin Galactic Preps For Space Travel Technical Support (Source: MRO Network)
Upon commencement of commercial service, Virgin Galactic will relocate its headquarters and operations center to Spaceport America from its current location at Mojave, California. To date, flight testing of SpaceShipTwo and White–KnightTwo continues, as two additional SpaceShipTwos are in the early stages of production.

"For maintenance support, the biggest challenge we faced was that the majority of our technical needs for supporting our spaceflight systems did not exist when the program began. That included all of the flight and technical manuals, technical training, maintenance programs, management tools, spare parts strategy and suppliers, and repair service suppliers for maintaining those spare parts." Click here. (4/14)

Human Bodies and Space Travel (Source: Paste)
Radiation is a huge problem in space travel. The only reason it’s not a huge problem on Earth is because our planet is protected by a giant magnetic field that extends out into space; it’s what makes life on Earth possible. It protects our delicate planet from the ravages of space radiation. Click here. (4/14)

Space Tourism: Orion Test Craft On Exhibit at KSC Visitor Complex (Source: CollectSpace)
The Orion spacecraft that made a brief 2014 test flight is now on display at the Kennedy Space Center. The capsule, which flew on the five-hour Exploration Flight Test 1 mission in December 2014, is in the "NASA Now" exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The EFT-1 capsule was expected to fly again on a test of the Orion abort system, but prime contractor Lockheed Martin now plans to use a boilerplate capsule instead. The capsule's base is surrounded by a curtain to hide its missing heat shield, which was removed for analysis. (4/13)

Kranz Praises SpaceX for Risk Taking in a Risk-Averse Era (Source: Ars Technica)
Legendary Apollo-era flight director Gene Kranz praised SpaceX for taking risks. Kranz, speaking on a panel after a screening of the new documentary Mission Control, supported SpaceX's use of a previously flown booster to successfully launch an SES satellite last month. "Space involves risk, and I think that's the one thing about Elon Musk and all the various space entrepreneurs: they're willing to risk their future in order to accomplish the objective that they have decided on," he said. (4/13)

Rocket Test to Launch Georgia Space Industry (Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle)
Vector Space Systems over time could invest up to $100 million in commercial rocket launches and an assembly plant in Camden County, south of Savannah, Ga. Vector, led by a SpaceX founding team member, expects the 400-acre Spaceport Camden to become its East Coast hub, where it could over time employ up to 200.

Vector’s 50-foot rockets cost 100 times less than conventional spacecraft and are used to launch small satellites for weather tracking, earth imagery and telecommunications. Spaceport Camden could create more than 1,200 jobs and help grow Georgia’s share of the more than $300 billion global space industry. (4/14)

Raytheon's GPS Control System Back On Track with Revised Milestones (Source: Space News)
Raytheon’s long-embattled ground control system for GPS is back on track following a government contract breach last year that prompted the U.S. Air Force to work with the company to revise the program’s budget and schedule, the program manager said.

“What we’ve seen through the execution of the program in the 2016 time frame up to now, through the first quarter of 2017, is that the milestones we established at the beginning of 2016, we hit every milestone,” said Bill Sullivan, Raytheon’s OCX vice president and program manager. (4/14)

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