April 28, 2017

NASA Space Apps Challenge, April 29-30 (Source: NASA)
Space Apps is an international hackathon that occurs over 48 hours in cities around the world. Because of citizens like you, we continue to grow each year. Join us to share ideas and engage with open data to address real-world problems, on Earth and in space. Work alone or with a team to solve challenges that could help change the world. Click here. (4/28)

India to Launch Five Communication Satellites by Year-End (Source: DNA)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will launch five communication satellites by the year-end, its chairman A S Kiran Kumar said today. The satellites, proposed to be launched, are aimed at improving the communication system within the country, he said. (4/27)

China to Begin Construction of Manned Space Station in 2019 (Source: Reuters)
China will begin construction of a permanent manned space station in 2019 after carrying out a successful in-orbit refueling from its Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft, officials leading the project said on Friday. The Tianzhou-1, China's first cargo spacecraft, launched on April 20 and completed the first of three planned docking attempts with the orbiting Tiangong-2 spacelab two days later, state media reported. The successful five-day refueling, directed from technicians on Earth and completed on Thursday, is a key milestone toward China's plans to begin sending crews to a permanent space station by 2022. (4/28)

Astronauts Baffled by Trump's Space Travel Plans (Source: PRI)
The surprise announcement — or rather instruction — took place this week during a live video conference between President Trump and veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson, who is currently aboard the International Space Station. During the conversation, Trump asked Whitson when it would be possible to send a human to Mars. She gave a careful and detailed answer explaining that a trip to the Red Planet might be possible sometime in the 2030s.

Not good enough for the White House. "Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term, so we'll have to speed that up a little, OK?" Trump replied. There was awkward laughter from outer space. "We'll do our best!" Whitson promised, grinning.

According to Professor Tom Pike of Imperial College London (who worked on the 2008 Mars Phoenix Lander), the NASA timetable cannot easily be shortened. "I wasn't quite sure whether [Trump] was mis-speaking. Maybe he meant the moon, [not Mars]?" Pike says. "He's got to do it on a realistic timescale, and with the budget that gives it the funding that it would require." (4/27)

Autonomous 3D Printers Could Help Build Homes on oOther Planets (Source: The Verge)
MIT’s newest 3D printer isn’t the sort you’d keep on your desk. With a long robotic arm and caterpillar treads, it’s designed to work in the construction sites of the future. To prove its mettle, it recently printed the biggest robot-built structure ever — in just over 13 hours. The robot is still at the proof-of-concept stage, but the MIT team that created it hopes that automating construction will cut costs and boost worker safety, according to a paper published this week in the journal Science Robotics. One day, it might even help humans colonize space, autonomously building houses on other planets before human settlers arrive.

This isn’t the first time engineers have attempted to automate construction. Nearly 100 years ago, Thomas Edison patented a system that would create concrete structures in a single pour. It didn’t work. Since then, we’ve tried tiny aerial drones and giant robotic arms, a brick-laying robot, and one that 3D-prints concrete. But so far, construction bots have mostly been used in labs and demonstrations. They haven’t broken into mainstream construction because people are still figuring out out how to make an automated construction robot that’s actually useful in the real world. (4/27)

People Are Already Opening Accounts to Save for Space (Source: Gizmodo)
In the halcyon days of yore, people put away money with the hopes of retiring somewhere warm, where they could argue about chicken salad with other curmudgeons until they expired. But very soon, the new retirement hotspot might be on Mars. While billionaires like Elon Musk have long touted human settlement of the Red Planet, at least a few ordinary folks are listening—and saving up money accordingly.

After SpaceX’s most recent success with the launch and landing of a refurbished Falcon 9 rocket, everyone in (and out of) the aerospace community was buzzing about the next steps. The big benefit of reusable rockets is that they’ll make space travel cheaper, and therefore more accessible, for the average person—at least that’s what Musk and his company claim.

Following that launch, automated investing service Betterment, which assists folks in planning for big-ticket life events like retirement, pulled some data on its customers. In a search of 250,000 accounts, the company’s analysts found that among the usual account types (e.g. retirement, anniversary trip), there were 22 accounts set up for either “Mars” or “Space.” According to Betterment, some accounts are receiving $1,000 a month in deposits, and one, opened in January 2016, has a staggering $60,000 saved. Betterment told Gizmodo that the earliest space-related account was set up in March 2014. (4/27)

Another Continuing Resolution as Congress Fails to Put Spending Bill Forward (Source: Washington Post)
Congress is set to pass a one-week stopgap spending bill Friday to at least delay the threat of a government shutdown. The House is scheduled to vote on the continuing resolution (CR) Friday after delaying a vote on a healthcare bill that threatened to jeopardize the deal, with the Senate to follow. The current CR funding government agencies expires tonight. The new CR funds the government through May 5, giving appropriators more time to finalize a spending bill for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year. (4/28)

Russia's Cosmonaut Dismissals Part of Plan to Renew Corps (Source: Tass)
Russia's deputy prime minister said recent dismissals of several veteran cosmonauts are part of "a planned renewal" of the Russian cosmonaut corps. Dmitry Rogozin said Thursday that the average age of cosmonauts is 53, and that Roscosmos needed new, younger cosmonauts as it plans for activities beyond the end of the International Space Station in 2024. Roscosmos dismissed three veteran cosmonauts earlier this week, after another, Gennady Padalka, announced plans to resign. (4/28)

Canadian Government Funds Space Projects (Source: CSA)
The Canadian government will provide funding for two new space projects, ministers announced Thursday. The Canadian Space Agency will receive $80.9 million (US$59.3 million) over five years to develop a radar mapping instrument for a future NASA Mars orbiter mission and a test of quantum communications technologies in space. The agency also announced plans to award grants to Canadian universities to fund the development of cubesats. (4/28)

Wreckage of a Mysterious Ancient Planet is Orbiting Mars, Astronomers Discover (Source: Fox News)
Astronomers believe fragments of a mysterious lost world are locked in orbit around Mars. This ancient planet may have smashed into the Martian surface during the early days of the solar system, creating a series of nine asteroids called the Trojans.

“The Trojans are really a relic from the early life of the solar system, when the planets were still forming,” Apostolos Christou from the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium told New Scientist. Astronomers now believe the Martian Trojans are all made up of the same material – suggesting they once belonged to the same planet. (4/26)

Russia Tests Mach 8 Hypersonic Missile and India Works on Mach 5 Missile (Source: Next Big Future)
Russian news agencies have reported a successful firing test of the mach 8 hypersonic Zircon missile. The nuclear powered cruiser Admiral Nakhimov, which is currently being reworked in the shipyard at Severodvinsk, is expected to be the first capital ship to carry the Zircon, from 2018. Her current missile silos that carry the P-700 Granit are being replaced with vertical launchers that can fire missiles of several types.

India has recently been test-firing new versions of the medium-range supersonic Brahmos missile, which is a joint venture between India and Russia and is based on the P-800 Onix, one of several supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles in service with the Russian Navy. With Russian help, India is developing a hypersonic Brahmos II version, which could be based on the Zircon. (4/26)

No American Has Spent More Time in Space Than Commander Peggy Whitson (Source: Motherboard)
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has logged more cumulative time in space than any other American, overtaking the previous record-holder, Jeff Williams, at 1:27 AM EDT on Monday, April 24. Whitson, who is the current commander of the International Space Station (ISS), has spent 534 days orbiting our planet (and counting), over the course of three long-duration stays on the ISS. (4/26)

Votes for Science (Source: SpaceKSC)
Scientific activism is in our nation's political genetic code. Some of the most prominent leaders of the American Revolution were scientists. Benjamin Franklin, who researched the physics of electricity, wrote in 1734, “A new truth is a truth, an old error is an error.” Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote in 1787, “A patient pursuit of facts, and cautious combination and comparison of them, is the drudgery to which man is subjected by his Maker, if he wishes to attain sure knowledge.” Click here. (4/27)

NASA Plans to Delay First SLS/Orion Mission to 2019 (Source: Space News)
NASA now expects the first launch of the Space Launch System to slip to 2019, regardless of any decision to put a crew on that mission, given ongoing issues with development of the launch vehicle and the Orion spacecraft. Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administration for human exploration and operations, acknowledged the delay in a letter included in a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released April 27 that concluded that Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) would not meet its current November 2018 launch date. (4/27)

Calls About Space Aliens Flood New ICE Hotline After Twitter Post (Source: NBC)
Aliens are here and up to mischief — if the prank calls to a newly established government hotline are to be believed. Reports of space aliens and UFOs may have tied up lines at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's newly launched office for victims following a frenzied Twitter campaign on Wednesday.

The VOICE hotline, established on Wednesday through an executive order, aims to provide public information and resources to the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. But one Twitter user decided to take a stand against the hotline, which he considers "absurd," after noticing that it was introduced on Alien Day — an annual promotional event dedicated to the "Alien" movie franchise.

Alex McCoy, 28, encouraged others online to call the hotline and report encounters with extraterrestrial beings. "I thought this was a chance to push back on how Trump has demonized the immigrant community. [The idea] really took off," he told NBC News. (4/27)

Funding Provided to Increase Canadian Innovations in Space (Source: Canada.ca)
Canada’s space sector develops new technologies that have the potential to advance scientific discovery and improve the lives of Canadians. This is why Budget 2017 proposes to provide $80.9 million over five years, starting in 2017–18, to the Canadian Space Agency. These investments will be used to develop emerging technologies, will create more well-paying jobs, will support scientific breakthroughs and will make Canada a world-leading center for innovation. (4/27)

Despite Delays, Boeing’s Starliner Moving Steadily Toward the Launch Pad (Source: Ars Technica)
Last October, during a White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, President Obama sat down in a simulator of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, which will begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station within a couple of years. The commander-in-chief wanted to try his hand at a task astronauts would eventually have to perform. After taking the controls and cleanly docking to the station, Obama gleefully exulted, “Your ride is here, baby."

So when I sat down in the same simulator on a recent Friday morning at the FIRST Robotics Competition in Houston, I felt a little pressure to match the president's success. Even though this simulator has been "dumbed" down for the general public from the real thing, it still wasn't trivial to guide the Starliner, nose first, into a docking port on the station's Node 2 module.

Fortunately, I had an experienced hand in the copilot's seat in the person of Dan Nelson. He is Boeing's guidance, navigation, and control technical lead engineer and has worked extensively to develop the systems that allow Starliner to safely fly to the station. As we moved toward the international laboratory at a fraction of a meter per second, Nelson gave me advice on controlling the spacecraft during its approach. A little more thrust. Move up. That kind of thing. (4/25)

Defense Hawks Losing Hope for Military Spending Boost (Source: Politico)
Nearly 100 days into Donald's Trump presidency, legislative stumbles have prompted doubts that Congress will approve his proposed boost to defense spending, and military leaders say service readiness will continue to decline without serious new spending. "National security is one of the foremost duties for our government," said AIA's Dan Stohr. "Funding it appropriately should not be held hostage to other spending or other priorities." (4/27)

Clock is Ticking for Congress to Avoid Government Shutdown (Source: Defense News)
The Friday deadline is rapidly approaching for Congress to strike a budget deal that will avoid a federal government shutdown. Democrats say they will support an increase in defense spending if the budget also includes subsidies for low-income users of Obamacare. (4/26)

Latch Issue Caused JWST Vibrations in Testing (Source: Space News)
The program manager for JWST said at a committee meeting Monday that teeth on each side of the latch didn't seat together properly when closed, causing anomalous readings during a Dec. 3 vibration test. That incident did not damage the telescope, which has since successfully completed vibration and acoustic testing at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Despite the delays caused by the testing anomaly, NASA says JWST remains on schedule for an October 2018 launch. (4/25)

Roscosmos Loses Three Cosmonauts to Retirement (Source: Tass)
Roscosmos has dismissed three veteran cosmonauts. The state space corporation said Monday that Sergei Volkov, Alexander Samokutyayev and Sergei Revin has been dismissed from the cosmonaut corps. Sources said that Volkov, who has spent 547 days in space on three missions, resigned. Samokutyayev, who spent 331 days in space, and Revin, who spent 125 days in space, were reportedly removed for medical reasons. (4/26)

No Signals from First Phase of Alien Search (Source: Space.com)
The first phase of a privately funded effort to search for signals from alien civilizations has come up empty. Breakthrough Listen, a 10-year, $100 million project announced in 2015 by billionaire Yuri Milner, purchased time on radio telescopes around the world to support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. Scientists involved in the project said last week that the analysis of the data collected to date found 11 "significant" signals, but added those are likely from our own civilization. (4/26)

Styx Plans Space-Themed Album (Source: Billboard)
It's not a grand illusion: Styx is sailing away this summer with a space-themed album. The Mission, due out June 16, is about the first human mission to Mars "via Khedive, a nuclear-powered spaceship, underwritten by the Global Space Exploration Program." The album is the first for Styx in more than a decade, although the band has continued to tour, even making a visit to mission control for NASA's New Horizons spacecraft shortly before its 2015 flyby of Pluto; the dwarf planet's smallest moon is also named Styx. (4/26)

Pressurized Perlan Glider Reaches Edge of Space (Source: Space Daily)
Airbus Perlan Mission II, an initiative to fly a glider without an engine to the edge of space to collect ground-breaking insights on high-altitude flight, weather, and climate change, returned to flight this week at its U.S. headquarters at the Minden-Tahoe Airport. Perlan Project Pilots Jim Payne and Miguel Iturmendi soared the pressurized glider to its highest altitude to date, reaching 30,615 feet.

The Perlan 2 will spend spring soaring in the rising wind currents - called mountain waves - in the skies above the Sierra Nevada, before deploying in May to Argentina for its second year of flight operations in Patagonia. (4/25)

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