April 26, 2017

Replacing the RD-180 - Drama and Intrigue (Source: The Avion)
The RD-180 is a rocket engine that was originally designed in the 1990s by the Russian company NPO Energomash.  These engines are widely used in space endeavors both governmental and commercial by multiple countries. The United States and its associated launch vehicle builders were customers of the RD-180, until 2014. The reason why the US government restricted the usage of the RD-180 rocket is the contentious relationship between the United States and Russia following the aggressive Russian actions in the Ukraine.

One group that was particularly dependent upon the RD-180 was the United States Department of Defense. The Department of Defense launches many defense payloads on rockets that use the RD-180 engine, and has been particularly affected by the ban. Click here. (4/25)

Discovery of Alien Life May Be Close. How Will Religion Survive It? (Source: Guardian)
About two decades ago, it was quite uncertain whether stars other than our own sun even hosted their own planets. However, according to Nasa, the latest count of confirmed exoplanets stands at around 3,500 – and at least six of them are potential Earths. This count will definitely go up and many researchers believe that the advancement of technology will enable humans to discover some form of life on another planet in the coming years.

Understandably, these discoveries will kindle questions about Earth’s place in the universe. Moreover, contact with intelligent life elsewhere in the universe will present theological and philosophical conundrums that many religions will find deeply challenging. This is especially true for Christianity, which primarily focuses on humankind – and teaches us that God created man in his own image, and all other animals and plants were created for mankind.

The interaction with alien life is not just being discussed in the domain of philosophy any more, it has entered into the traditional scientific realm. Realising this possibility, Nasa, in 2014, gave $1.1m to the Center of Theological Inquiry, an independent institution, to support an initiative to study “the societal implications of astrobiology”. NASA was criticized by some for providing money to an organisation rooted in Christian theology. Click here. Editor's Note: Years ago I supported a study effort concerning the creation of a chaplaincy within NASA to someday provide spiritual support to astronauts burdened by the isolation and other stresses of long-duration space missions...not dissimilar to the military's use of chaplains. (4/25)

Inter-Agency Meeting to 'Improve' Space Law on Mega-Constellations of Satellites (Source: DW)
Mega-constellations are a new commercial space trend. There will be 100s or 1000s of satellites in one formation. But the space law on them is sketchy. An inter-agency meeting this week wants to improve that. It's now time for the real talks to begin - just days after the 7th European Conference on Space Debris ended. And this week's talks will have questions to answer left over from the week before. It was "the most important conference on space debris." You could hear that line bouncing off the walls at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt. But it was just the starter.

This week Darmstadt hosts a closed-door, governmental meeting of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). Whether it was planned or not, the IADC is set to discuss a much-needed renewal of international space law, which is, experts admit, rather vague. But how far they will go is anyone's guess. It bares mentioning that the space debris meeting was indeed important at the scientific level. Scientists from universities, government agencies - like NASA, ESA and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) - and representatives from a rather tight-lipped space industry, notably Orbital ATK and OneWeb, were there. Click here. (4/25)

India Wants to Win Global Credibility With More Satellite Launches (Source: Space Daily)
Aiming to lower the cost of access to space, the Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO) chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar has said the space agency is aiming to increase the number of satellite launches from the existing seven to 12 per year. Experts said that increasing the number of launches will help India tap a fast-growing commercial space market.

Noting that it will require capacity addition, the ISRO chairman said the agency is at present building a second vehicle assembly building to improve the turnaround time. It will increase output for the PSLV and ISRO will be able to use the same launch pad for more launches. (4/26)

India Expanding Its Space Footprint (Source: The Hindu)
India's space agency, looking for land to expand its facilities, has acquired former watch factories in two cities. ISRO placed the highest bid for three parcels of land totaling 208 acres in Bengaluru and Tumakuru that previously hosted sites that made watches for the state-owned company HMT. ISRO says it needs the properties to expand facilities, particularly in Bengaluru, that are "saturated" and can't handle additional spacecraft projects. (4/25)

China Considers Cooperation in "Moon Village" (Source: Global Times)
The head of China's space agency said he's been in talks about cooperation in ESA's "Moon Village" concept. Tian Yulong said this week that China has discussed "possible cooperation" with ESA and others on the proposal for an international facility on the surface of the moon that could host robotic spacecraft and, eventually, humans. He said that China should in any case continue with its lunar exploration strategy "instead of trying to catch up with other countries' achievements." (4/25)

ULA Contributes to Lockheed Martin Earnings (Source: Space News)
United Launch Alliance helped improve the bottom line for Lockheed Martin's space division in the last quarter. Lockheed Martin Space Systems said Tuesday it had an operating income of $288 million in the first quater of 2017, an increase of $44 million over the same quarter of 2016. The primary reason for the increase was due to increased earnings from its stake in ULA, from $50 million in the first quarter last year to $80 million this year. Lockheed Martin officials, though, said they expect this to be a short-term surge, with earnings declining later in the year. (4/25)

Russia's Energia Plans Rocket to Compete with Falcon-9 (Source: Sputnik)
A Russian company says it can develop a rocket to compete with SpaceX's Falcon 9. RSC Energia says the unnamed rocket will be "competitive" with the Falcon 9, but disclosed few other details about the vehicle. The rocket would be designed to launch from the spaceports at Baikonur and Vostochny and also from the Sea Launch platform. (4/25)

Descartes Labs Developing Satellite Imagery Analysis Tool (Source: Axios)
A New Mexico company has started beta testing of a computing platform to analyze satellite imagery. Descartes Labs is accepting applications to beta test its system that can analyze satellite imagery and extract information from it, based on technology developed at Los Alamos. The company was founded by Mark Johnson, who was previously CEO of a news startup, Zite, that was bought by CNN. (4/25)

NASA Wins More Webby Awards (Source: NASA)
NASA has added more Webby awards to an already crowded display case. NASA's social media presence received an award in corporate communications and a "People's Voice" award, the Cassini website won a Webby for best science website, while the main NASA website won its ninth People Voice award for government and civil websites. The Webby Awards were established in 1996 by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences to recognize websites, social media and other multimedia online. NASA won its first Webby in 2002. (4/25)

Kansas Cosmosphere to Restore NASA Mission Consoles in Houston (Source: CollectSpace)
The Kansas Cosmosphere will restore historic consoles from NASA's Mission Control in Houston. NASA selected the museum to renovate the Apollo-era consoles as part of a $3.5 million restoration of the Mission Operations Control Room at the Johnson Space Center. The Kansas Cosmosphere has previously restored the Apollo 13 capsule and Saturn V engines recovered from the ocean floor by an expedition funded by Jeff Bezos. The work will be completed by the second half of next year. (4/25)

Space May Be Next Frontier for Earth's Crude Oil Giants (Source: Bloomberg)
The Middle East has an outsize impact on energy here on Earth. One analyst thinks some regional powerhouses may leverage that role into the development of natural resources in space. Countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are developing space programs and investing in nascent private space commodity initiatives, said Tom James, a partner at energy consultant Navitas Resources.

Doing so could give them a foothold in building extraterrestrial reserves of water -- a substance likely to fuel travel within space -- and other resources that could be used for in-space manufacturing. “Water is the new oil of space,” James said in Singapore. “Middle East investment in space is growing as it works to shift from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy.”

Prospecting satellites can be built for tens of millions of U.S. dollars each and an asteroid-harvesting spacecraft could cost $2.6 billion, in line with mining operations on Earth, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Noah Poponak said in an April 4 research note. Most resources would be processed and used in space although it may be economic to ship some commodities, such as platinum, back to Earth, according to James and Goldman. (4/24)

Ellington Airport/Spaceport Breaks Ground on New (Mission) Control Tower (Source KHOU)
Crews broke ground on a new air traffic control tower at Ellington Airport on Monday. The project is expected to cost $12.4 million and will have new technology to better service the airport and provide mission control support for Houston Spaceport. Mario C. Diaz, Houston Aviation Director, said the new tower would help the airport compete in the 21st century.  (4/25)

There’s a New Frontier in Space Exploration, But Will Trump Be On Board? (Source: The Hill)
There’s a jump ball underway in space, and it’ll be on full display Wednesday at a Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Will the administration and Congress be pro-innovation or pro the old way of doing business? And will the team in the White House really look for opportunities to run government more like a business? There’s no better bellwether for answering these questions than the space debate going on right now.

While folks like to talk about the moon or Mars or asteroids, the debate is not so much about destination. It’s about how we go anywhere, and it means dealing with the details — that is, what contract or procurement approach spurs the most competition and innovation while giving taxpayers the best bang for their buck.

If non-defense spending is going to be cut,  per Trump’s budget request, humans to Mars in less than a decade is not just impossible, it’s laughable, especially with an outdated approach. But here’s where the opportunity lies. If we make smart choices, we can do more with what we already have. We can expand what we can achieve — even in an era of tight budgets — by being smarter about how we partner and the technologies we invest in. Click here. (4/25)

It’s Official. In 2025, NASA and the ESA Will Land on Europa to Look For Alien Life (Source: Futurism)
Recent discoveries in space have made the search for life beyond Earth easier and more difficult at the same time. As more exoplanets and moons with the potential to support extraterrestrial life turn up, the probability of finding one that actually does increases. However, sending missions to explore all these potentially inhabited worlds has also become more difficult.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have come up with a rather practical solution: The two space agencies will pool their resources for one of these exploration missions. The target is Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, and it is considered one of the best candidates for alien life.

The proposal, dubbed the Joint Europa Mission (JEM), was unveiled Sunday in Vienna, Austria, at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union. “The whole idea is that if we think exploring Europa for life is important, it should be an international adventure,” Michel Blanc from the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France, told New Scientist. “The ultimate goal is to get to the surface and look for biosignatures of life.” (4/25)

Finalists Hope to Become a Canadian Astronaut (Source: Toronto Sun)
The Canadian Space Agency unveiled a list of 17 finalist in the competition for two jobs as the country’s next astronauts. There were 3,772 applicants. The Toronto Sun spoke with three of the finalists. Click here. (4/25)

Two Daytona Beach Space Ops Students Selected as Brooke Owens Fellows (Source: ERAU)
The Brooke Owens Fellowship program—a volunteer-led program awarding internships and senior mentorships to exceptional undergraduate women seeking careers in aviation or space exploration—announced two Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University women, both majoring in Commercial Space Operations, will be among 36 young leaders as recipients of the 2017 Brooke Owens  fellowships.

After completing a rigorous and highly competitive application and multi-phase interview process, each fellow has been placed into a paid summer internship at one of the nation's leading aviation or space companies. Hayley Lewis will be interning at the Mojave Air & Space Port, Mojave, California. Maryam Gracias will intern at the Air Line Pilots Association, Washington, D.C.

In addition to their paid summer work experience, each fellow has been paired with two handpicked, senior aerospace professionals to serve as mentors. One of those mentors will be from the fellow's host company or institution, while the other will be from a different part of industry. The pool of mentors includes the two most recent deputy administrators of NASA, the president of SpaceX, NASA's most recent chief scientist, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, a five-time space shuttle astronaut, and many more. (4/25)

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