April 20, 2017

New Super-Sized Earth May be Close Enough to Detect Signs of Life (Source: USA Today)
Scientists have found a planet the size of a jumbo Earth circling a nearby star, meaning it is one of the handful of worlds where astronomers' sensors might be powerful enough to detect signs of life. The new planet, known as LHS 1140b, receives enough starlight to allow for liquid water, a prerequisite for life on Earth. It lies 39 light years from our solar system — not exactly in the backyard, but close enough that telescopes now under construction may be able to spot oxygen molecules swarming around it.

“With this discovery we have a world similar to Earth in some aspects, and dissimilar in some others,” says Amaury Triaud of Britain’s University of Cambridge, who was not involved with the research. “This is quite thrilling.” The first subtle signs of the planet’s presence were recorded in 2014, but no one noticed until Jason Dittmann, then at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, re-analyzed the data. “It turns out it was lurking there all along,” says Dittmann, now at MIT. (4/19)

Astronaut's Daughter, Pilot Selected to Train to be Germany's First Woman in Space (Source: CollectSpace)
The daughter of a veteran astronaut and an experienced fighter pilot have been announced as the finalists in a privately-conducted search for Germany's first woman to fly into space.

Insa Thiele-Eich, a meteorologist and daughter of German astronaut Gerhard Thiele, and Nicola Baumann, a German united armed forces fighter pilot, were presented in Berlin on Wednesday (April 19) as the candidates for a privately-financed, ten-day flight to the International Space Station. In the course of their training over the next two years, one of the two women will be selected to launch to the orbiting laboratory, with the other serving as her backup. (4/19)

Why NASA is Expanding its 'Veggie' Space Program (Source: CSM)
The ability to raise plants in cosmic conditions has been a NASA priority for years. Future human expeditions to Mars would require a reliable food supply that would have to remain viable for extended periods both during the trip to, and on the surface of, the Red Planet. Experiments like APH will be an important testing ground for determining the optimal techniques for preparing veggies outside the confines of Earth, says Chris Wolverton, a professor of botany at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, who currently has a NASA grant to study plant gravity sensing on the ISS.

"In the near-term, most experts expect astronauts will take the food they need for basic sustenance with them from the Earth," Dr. Wolverton tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. "Plants, especially leafy greens, are experts at taking up chemical elements and creating vitamins and other micronutrients that humans need to stay healthy." The new Advanced Plant Habitat is actually an expansion of a previous NASA initiative from 2015, known as the Vegetable Production System (dubbed "Veggie"). The Veggie program soon produced lettuce for the ISS crew, the first food grown by NASA in space specifically for astronauts to eat.

The success of Veggie encouraged scientists to go even farther with the APH initiative. While the Veggie system relied on enclosed plants processing unfiltered air from inside the station, APH will allow astronauts to more fully control the environment inside the growing chamber. APH will also be equipped with a brighter array of LEDs, including diodes that emit white and infrared light, to potentially quadruple the output of the Veggie system. (4/19)

Russian Cosmonauts to Try Fermenting Milk on ISS to Prepare for Long Flights (Source: Sputnik)
Russian cosmonauts will try fermenting milk on the International Space Station (ISS) to produce dairy foods and beverages they hope will sustain space travelers during future long flights outside Earth's orbit, Fyodor Yurchikhin, who will fly to the ISS on Thursday, told reporters.

Probiotic products, such as kefir, a creamy drink made of cow’s milk and traditionally consumed in Russia, contains live bacteria that are believed to have favorable health effects. "It’s not just about whether we can make kefir," Yurchikhin said. "These experiments will prepare us for future long-haul flights to other planets. Our ability to make food in space will lead to payload weight savings." (4/19)

US Versus UN – Asteroid Mining (Source: ERAU Avion)
Asteroid mining is the extraction of valuable resources from asteroids in outer space. While the idea of asteroid mining is not particularly new, with the first written reference found in the 1898 book “Edison’s Conquest of Mars,” by Garrett Serviss, the idea did not gain real traction in the scientific community until recently.

The interest in asteroid mining is not limited to scientists, however, since at least two US companies are currently researching the idea and its feasibility. Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are two notable American companies that are exploring asteroid mining.

The interest is so high that the United States recently passed a law that contains an article that directly concerns asteroid mining and legalizes it. This law is the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA), which was signed into law by President Obama in 2015. (4/18)

Terminal Velocity Launches Test Spacecraft on Atlas ISS Mission (Source: Terminal Velocity)
The first RED-Data2 spacecraft of Atlanta-based Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) have been successfully launched to the International Space Station (ISS) to begin an approximately 100-day mission in space. The three small spacecraft lifted off yesterday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard the Cygnus cargo vessel S.S. John Glenn, and will dock with the ISS on April 22nd. The RED-Data2 research mission to study the performance of advanced heat shields is expected to begin after approximately 100 days in space, during the reentry and disposal phase of Cygnus' mission.

TVA's RED-Data2 units are designed to record critical onboard engineering data from spacecraft reentering the atmosphere. The first three RED-Data2 flight units are configured to evaluate the performance of different heat shield materials and thermal protection systems that may be used on future U.S. space missions. The RED-Data2 units are carrying instrumentation and embedded thermocouples to record heat shield performance at high temperatures following their separation from the Cygnus cargo vessel. (4/19)

SpaceX's Next Launch to Mark Start of New Era (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
An upcoming launch of a government spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office will mark the first time the U.S. Department of Defense has used SpaceX for a mission. For at least the last six years, that arena has been the exclusive domain of competitor United Launch Alliance, which also launches regularly from Florida.

The satellite is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than April 30. The NRO revealed in May that it had awarded SpaceX the upcoming launch. The mission will reflect a new area of competition for SpaceX and ULA, two of the main launch providers from the Space Coast. That could mean more business for Florida.

“This satellite was going to launch from Florida anyway,” said Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s chief of strategic alliances. “But it reflects more competition. That will drive down prices and could result in it being cheaper to get into space, meaning more launches. Competition is a good thing.” (4/19)

A Republican Favorite, NASA Escapes Trump’s Budget Ax (Source: Roll Call)
Space exploration was left relatively unscathed when President Donald Trump released his first budget request in March — especially when compared with other science and technology programs. The National Institutes of Health, NOAA, climate change initiatives and energy research were all significantly cut in the budget outline, but NASA funding barely received a scratch with a $19.1 billion line item for fiscal 2018. That proposed 0.8 percent reduction compared to fiscal 2017 annualized levels is a much smaller decrease than the proposed changes to the other science programs.

When compared with former President Barack Obama’s last budget request, which asked Congress to appropriate $18.3 billion during fiscal 2017, the Trump request actually represents an $800 million increase. So, then, why? A simple answer is that NASA enjoys strong support from key Republican appropriators as well as GOP congressional leadership, even if Trump has not said much in the past about the space agency. (4/18)

Africa Look to Space to Power its Science, Tech, and Military Ambitions (Source: Quartz)
In January, Ethiopia became the latest African nation to look skyward and declare its ambitions in space. The country’s ministry of science and technology announced that it will launch a satellite into orbit in three to five years to better develop its weather-monitoring capabilities. This follows the 2015 launch of a privately-funded, multi-million dollar astronomical observatory in the Entoto hills overlooking Addis Ababa—the only one of its kind in the region.

That bigger picture is a realization among African countries of the value space technology holds for economic development, job creation—and military aspirations. Many African nations lack the human expertise or capital to fund these projects.

But for those that do, information gleaned from satellites has the potential to improve agriculture, guard tropical forests from deforestation, forestall climate change, improve disaster planning, and provide internet to rural communities. These investments can also offset the long-term costs of purchasing and maintaining satellites from foreign governments. (4/18)

New Mexico Rocket Seeks Historic First (Source: KRQE)
Throughout history, no rocket that blasted off from earth has ever made it into orbit without using at least one separate booster to help get its payload there. ARCA Space Corporation in Las Cruces hopes to make some history a year from now when they launch their first Haas 2CA rocket from Wallops Island, VA and place a small satellite into orbit, using no separate booster stages.

The idea of designing revolutionary space vehicles has been a dream for ARCA founder Dumitru Popescu since creating ARCA during his days as an aerospace engineering student in Bucharest, Romania in 1998. “Since then, our clear goal was to build space rocket, and rockets that are able to put satellites into orbit and someday, even people into orbit,” he said.

For propulsion, the Hass 2CA uses an old idea that NASA and the military explored decades ago. It’s s called a linear aerospike engine. ARCA also does away with cryogenic fuels, the traditional super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen used by many space vehicles today. Instead, the Haas 2CA will use kerosene and hydrogen peroxide, which do not need to be kept cold. Between the engine and the fuels, Popescu says his engine is 30 percent more fuel efficient than today’s traditional engines. (4/18)

Midland TX Praised for Cooperation on Radar Facility (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
What started several years ago as a prototype made of PVC pipe and chicken wire has become reality, thanks to a bit of help from the Midland Development Corp. and the city of Midland. A small ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Tuesday at the MDC offices to officially celebrate the completion of LeoLabs’ Midland Space Radar, located on city-owned property in Winkler County known as the T-Bar Ranch.

The radar is the first in the worldwide network LeoLabs is looking to build to map space debris hurtling around in low Earth orbit. “We’re building a worldwide radar network to act as infrastructure for the entire global space community,” CEO Dan Ceperley said. “The Midland Space Radar is the first radar built to provide commercial tracking services. It’s the first radar we built as a company.”

There is a lot of space debris in low Earth orbit, and it threatens to damage multimillion-dollar satellites if collisions occur. Even a piece of junk the size of a dime can ruin equipment. The MDC board in September 2016 agreed to enter into a promotional agreement with LeoLabs for $60,000 to be paid in equal installments over the course of five years. Ceperley said the partnership and project moved quickly because the MDC is in tune with the needs of space startups. (4/18)

NASA Set an Ignominious Record Last Week (Source: Ars Technica)
No humans have launched into space from US soil for more than five years, when space shuttle Atlantis made its final voyage. Since that spacecraft landed on July 21, 2011, a total of 2,098 days have passed. Former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale noted on Twitter Tuesday that this gap has now surpassed the previous longest US spaceflight gap—2,089 days—which occurred between the end of the Apollo program and the first space shuttle mission. (4/18)

Planet Confirms Google Stake as Terra Bella Deal Closes (Source: Space News)
As Planet announced it has completed its acquisition of rival satellite imaging company Terra Bella April 18, it confirmed that Google is now a shareholder in Planet as part of that deal. Planet announced Feb. 3 that it had reached an agreement with Google to acquire Terra Bella. Google had purchased Terra Bella, then known as Skybox Imaging, in 2014 for an estimated $500 million. At the time, both Planet and Google declined to disclose the terms of the deal other than that Google signed a multi-year deal to purchase imagery from Planet.

The deal, though, was rumored to include Google taking a stake in Planet. In an April 18 blog post announcing that the deal had closed, Planet co-founder and chief executive Will Marshall confirmed that. “We’re also delighted to welcome Google as a shareholder and customer,” he wrote. (4/19)

Spaceflight Key In Big Data’s $1 Trillion Economic Impact (Source: Aviation Week)
Planet Labs has achieved its long-awaited “Mission 1” with the launch of 88 tiny “Dove” satellites in one liftoff on Feb. 14 (see video). Now the classic Silicon Valley garage startup can update its imagery of every spot on Earth, every day. The “flock” of satellites the company launched on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle brought the total number of Doves in low Earth orbit to 149. (4/19)

On Key Controversial Issues, Hawaii Not as Divided as it Appears (Source: Hawaii News Now)
A new poll sheds light on some of the most controversial issues facing the state, and shows opinions aren't as divided as some might think. When it comes to the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea, 72 percent of likely voters said they supported it. On the Big Island, 68 percent of residents said they favored it, 15 percent more than two years ago. (4/19)

NASA’s Plan for When the Next Asteroid Strikes Earth (Source: Quartz)
Here’s the scenario: It’s 2016, and about 250 million miles from Earth, a chunk of silicon rock 400 ft in diameter is ripped out of the asteroid belt by the gravity of Jupiter and Mars. As it whizzes through outer space at tens of thousands of miles per hour, it gets closer and closer to Earth.

When ground-based telescopes finally spot the asteroid, tens of millions of miles away, it’s just an unconfirmed data point swept into a constantly growing database at the Minor Planet Center operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Amateur astronomers and international observatories attempt to corroborate the observation, and as more data pours in, the center’s computers calculate the asteroid’s orbit. Click here. (4/19)

NASA Puts $50M Into Creating Fusion Thrusters, Space Robots and Much More (Source: GeekWire)
Fusion-driven rockets, remote control systems for space robots, and satellites that build themselves up in orbit are among the made-in-Washington projects getting a share of $49.9 million in NASA grants. Seven businesses in Washington state will benefit from NASA’s latest round of Small Business Innovation Research grants and Small Business Technology Transfer grants, announced today.

The two programs, known as SBIR and STTR, are aimed at encouraging the development of commercial innovations that could come in handy for NASA’s space missions. (4/19)

NASA Picks STTR Phase I Winners, Including Two Florida Projects (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 399 research and technology proposals from 277 American small businesses and 44 research institutions that will enable NASA's future missions into deep space, and advancements in aviation and science, while also benefiting the U.S. economy. The awards have a total value of approximately $49.9 million.

The agency received 1,621 proposals in response to its 2017 solicitation for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. From those, NASA selected 338 SBIR and 61 STTR Phase I proposals for contract negotiations. The SBIR Phase I contracts last for six months and STTR Phase I contracts last for 12 months, both with maximum funding of $125,000. The Florida winners include:

Jaycon Systems or Melbourne teamed with Florida Tech of Melbourne for Vision-Based Navigation for Formation Flight onboard ISS; and Streamline Numerics of Gainesville teamed with Stanford University in California for High Performance Simulation Tool for Multiphysics Propulsion Using Fidelity-Adaptive Combustion Modeling. (4/19)

NASA Picks SBIR Phase I Winners, Including 8 From Florida (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 399 research and technology proposals from 277 American small businesses and 44 research institutions that will enable NASA's future missions into deep space, and advancements in aviation and science, while also benefiting the U.S. economy. The awards have a total value of approximately $49.9 million.

The agency received 1,621 proposals in response to its 2017 solicitation for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. From those, NASA selected 338 SBIR and 61 STTR Phase I proposals for contract negotiations. The SBIR Phase I contracts last for six months and STTR Phase I contracts last for 12 months, both with maximum funding of $125,000. The Florida winners include:

Innovative Space Technologies of Orlando for Ultra-Lightweight Multifunctional Magnesium Alloy Shielding Structures; Interdisciplinary Consulting Corp. of Gainesville for Fast Response, Fiber-Optic Micromachined Five-Hole Probe for Three-Dimensional Flow Measurements in Harsh Environments; Interdisciplinary Consulting Corp. of Gainesville for High Channel Count, High Density Microphone Arrays for Wind Tunnel Environments; Mainstream Engineering of Rockledge for High Lift Heat Pump; Micro Aerospace Solutions of Melbourne for Affordable Integrated GPS-Actuator GN&C System for Small Launch Vehicles; R Cubed Engineering of Palmetto for High Integrity GPS Solution for Trusted Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B); Troxel Aerospace Industries of Gainesville for Robust Multicore Middleware; and VINMA Systems of West Melbourne for Resiliency Evaluation, Assessment and Contingency Tools. (4/19)

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