April 4, 2017

Branson: Virgin Galactic Revenue Flights Next Year (Source: The Telegraph)
Richard Branson says he will be "very disappointed" if Virgin Galactic is not flying paying customers by the end of next year. Branson, in an interview, said he has stopped giving specific dates for when Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo will enter commercial service. However, he said he would be disappointed if there was not a test flight into space by the end of this year, and an inaugural commercial flight, with him on board, next year. The second SpaceShipTwo is currently performing a series of glide flights, with powered test flights expected to begin later this year. (4/2)

NASA, Japan Plan Replacement for Lost X-Ray Telescope (Source: Space News)
NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA are moving ahead with plans for an X-ray space telescope to replace one lost shortly after launch last year. At a National Academies committee meeting last week, Paul Hertz, head of NASA's astrophysics division, said that JAXA will build a replacement to the Hitomi spacecraft, currently called the X-Ray Astronomy Recovery Mission (XARM). NASA will contribute the same X-ray spectrometer that flew on Hitomi for XARM. Hertz said that NASA will formally establish XARM, pronounced "charm," as a NASA project in June. (4/2)

Space Traffic Management at Mach 25 (Source: LaunchSpace)
While we understand space weather and have learned techniques to deal with it, the impact and disposition of orbital debris are not fully understood. Unlike weather, space junk is man-made and, if not properly dealt with, will significantly hinder the nation's future economy and security. It is a growing threat to space-based communications, weather forecasting, banking processes, scientific exploration, Earth observation and future space tourism. Space commerce is growing, and as this industry expands the need for an effective traffic management system will become critical to commercial growth and exploitation of space.

At the moment, there are no programs in place to deal with orbital debris, even though new satellites continue to be launched. In fact, more than 10,000 new satellites are projected to enter service in the next few years. New launches contribute to the already-large orbital debris population. With over 60 countries operating in space, the exponentially growing problem of orbital debris will take international collaborations and partnerships to conceive and develop innovative solutions and strategies as part of a worldwide space traffic management architecture. (4/3)

NASA Langley Engineers Propose Mars Flyer Concept (Source: NASA)
Imagine being able to survey more parts of another planet like Mars than ever before. Orbiters and rovers have been successful so far but engineers keep looking for new ways to gather information. One way may be by using an unmanned aerial vehicle like this Mars Flyer concept. Click here for a video. (3/27)

Dust to Dust, Boulders to Boulders (Source: Guardian)
Back in 2005 a small asteroid, known as 25143 Itokawa, was visited by the unmanned Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa. Close up images of the asteroid – which measures approximately 540m by 250m – revealed that the “lowlands” were covered by dust and centimetre-sized small pebbles, whilst the “highlands” were made up from larger boulders (5 to 40m diameter). But how did this segregation come about?

Initially researchers thought that the size sorting on Itokawa was most likely due to the Brazil Nut Effect, whereby smaller particles rattle downwards when something is shaken. But the force of gravity is weak on Itokawa, meaning that the Brazil Nut Effect would be unlikely to create such extreme sorting. Instead Troy Shinbrot, from Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, and his colleagues suggest that for the high-speed particles that bombard the asteroid, pebbly regions are “stickier” than boulder fields. Click here. (4/2)

SpaceX Launching From Canada, That’s Wishful Thinking (Source: SpaceQ)
SpaceX currently has two active launch pads. One in Florida at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and the other at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Another launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station next to Kennedy Space Center, was damaged in an explosion last September but is expected to be operational again by August. SpaceX also has under development their own private launch complex just east of Browsville, Texas in Boca Chica on the Gulf of Mexico. That’s a total of four launch pads in three states.

SpaceX also has a testing facility in McGregor, Texas. Combined with their fabrication plant in Southern California, it all works nicely logistically. SpaceQ contacted Elon Musk by email about the Globe and Mail article and he said he had “no idea where this is coming from.” In other words, SpaceX isn’t interested in a Canadian launch facility. (4/4)

Now to Make it Pay Off (Source: Space Review)
SpaceX achieved a major milestone last week with it successfully launched a satellite using a Falcon 9 first stage that had previously flown. Jeff Foust discusses how the question is now not whether such reusability is technically feasible, but rather if it can make economic sense. Click here. (4/4) 
Has the Launch Industry Been Too Focused in the Last 70 Years? (Source: Space Review)
Even recent efforts to make reusable launch vehicles have often resulted in vehicles that don’t look that dissimilar to rockets developed decades ago. John Hollaway argued that has created a tunnel vision that ignores alternative approaches to reducing the cost of space access. Click here. (4/4)
Attempt a Landing There: the Case for a Europa Lander (Source: Space Review)
As NASA presses ahead with a mission to study Jupiter’s potentially habitable moon Europa from orbit, it’s also beginning planning for a follow-up lander mission. Jeff Foust reports on the state of both proposed missions, and the fiscal hurdles now facing the lander. Click here. (4/4) 
Redefining NASA (Source: Space Review)
As the space community changes, should NASA also change? Zach Miller starts a three-part series by looking at the origins and fiscal constrains of the agency. Click here. (4/4) 

Space-Tracking Ideas Proliferating as Fast as Orbital Debris (Source: Space News)
Commercial firms are developing models, simulations, algorithms and proposing new sensors to help the government improve its ability to tackle the problems of adversaries and orbital debris threatening U.S. satellites. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., for example, developed Proximity Operations and Rendering (PROXOR), a simulation tool designed to help customers determine how well new ground- or space-based sensors will perform their Space Situational Awareness (SSA) functions.

In another, Launchspace Technologies Corp. proposed flying SSA sensors on the large, maneuverable debris-collection units it wants to send into equatorial low Earth orbit. Instead of targeting large debris, Launchspace Technologies is focusing on removing the estimated 10 to 20 million pieces of debris between one millimeter and five centimeters that is too small to be tracked with most ground-based sensors, yet large enough to harm or destroy satellites. (4/4)

Cygnus Launch Now Set for April 18 Liftoff at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
United Launch Alliance has rescheduled an Atlas 5 launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft for April 18. ULA announced Monday that it has developed a plan to resolve a hydraulics issue with the Atlas 5 booster that postponed the launch from late March. The mission, designated OA-7, will transport several tons of cargo to the International Space Station. (4/3)

Kourou Spaceport Labor Protests Send Payload Back to Europe (Source: Space News)
Continued launch delays in French Guiana have led one waiting spacecraft to return to Europe. The Eutelsat-172b, built by Airbus Defence and Space, arrived in French Guiana March 20 but never left the airport because of ongoing protests there that have suspended operations at the Kourou spaceport. Airbus and Eutelsat decided to send the spacecraft back to Europe late last week while awaiting a revised launch schedule. Efforts by French government officials to broker a deal with protest leaders have failed so far, making it unclear when launches can resume. (4/3)

NOAA Considers Commercial and International Weather Satellite Data as Funding Shrinks (Source: Space News)
NOAA is looking at how it can make more use of commercial and international satellite data in response to proposals to reduce funding for its own future weather satellite programs. The White House's 2018 budget request, while funding continued work on GOES and initial JPSS satellites, planned to seek "annual savings" from the Polar Follow On program of later JPSS satellites. NOAA's Steven Volz said Monday that the agency is looking at various ways to deal with the reduced budget, which could, in the long term, include more use of data from commercial satellites and those from other countries. (4/3)

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer Needs Servicing on ISS (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA is considering a series of spacewalks to repair an experiment mounted on the International Space Station. Two of the four pumps in the cooling system of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) have malfunctioned, with another showing signs of problems. NASA is studying a series of spacewalks to replace the pumps, a challenge given that the AMS was not designed to be serviced by astronauts. The spacewalks, which would take place in 2018, could extend the life of the AMS through 2024, allowing it to collect data needed to help scientists understand the origin of dark matter and antimatter. (4/3)

Zipline System for Launch Pad Safety Inspired by Adventure Tourism (Source: Space News)
The same technology used by thrill-seeking tourists could also save the lives of future astronauts. Boeing and United Launch Alliance announced they have installed a zipline system to serve as the Emergency Egress System on the crew access tower at Cape Canaveral's Pad 41, which will host Atlas 5 launches of Boeing's CST-100 commercial crew vehicle. The zipline, based on similar systems used in mountain resorts and parks, will allow astronauts and pad workers to escape in the event of an emergency during launch preparations. (4/3)

As RD-180 Ban Looms, Space Companies Make Steady Progress on New Launch Technologies (Source: Defense News)
The race to replace the Russian RD-180 rocket engine is steadily moving forward as companies plug away on developing and testing new engines and launch systems. Help in the form of additional government funding could be on the way. In March, the Pentagon put forward a draft request for proposals seeking out input from companies interested in public-private partnerships for their launch systems.

The Air Force entered into similar partnerships with SpaceX, Orbital ATK, ULA and Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2016 for the development of new rocket engines. The winners of this solicitation have the opportunity to attain more money — this time for launch system development — which would be made available as early as fiscal year 2017. “The focus of this solicitation is to facilitate development of prototypes for up to three launch systems as early as possible, allowing those launch systems to mature prior to a future selection of two [national security space] launch service providers,” the draft RFP reads. (4/3)

Why Ethiopia is Building a Space Program (Source: The Economist)
The ancient holy town of Lalibela, perched some 2,500 meters above sea-level in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, boasts some of the clearest night skies imaginable. Ethiopian stargazers dream that the mountains around Lalibela may one day host a world-class observatory to rival the big ones in Chile and Hawaii. And in time Ethiopia hopes to do more than just gaze at the stars. It would like to launch its own satellites, too.

In January the government said it would launch a Chinese-built civilian satellite from an overseas rocket pad within the next five years. It would be designed to Ethiopian specifications and used to monitor crops and the weather, and doubtless to spy on neighbors, too. The government also wants to reduce reliance on foreign telecoms by launching its own communications satellite.

In putting its own satellites into orbit Ethiopia would join the select club of African nations that have already done so. Nigeria has paid for the launch of five since 2003, some of which it says have helped fight terrorism. South Africa has also put several home-built satellites into space. Egypt launched two earth-observation ones, both of which have since failed; a private company, Nilesat, successfully operates communications ones. Kenya, Angola and Ghana are eager to join them. (3/4)

NASA Gun Creates Craters in Simulated Regolith (Source: Science Friday)
There aren’t any pistols or paper targets. Instead, in the middle of the room is a bright orange, two-story metal tube—a gigantic gun. First it’s loaded with smokeless gunpowder. Lighting the gunpowder causes a plastic slug to tamp down on the barrel of the gun, pressurizing hydrogen gas that’s stored inside. That gas can reach up to a million times atmospheric pressure, and once it’s released, it expands quite rapidly. When the trigger is pulled, the gas careens down a tapered cylinder, launching a projectile at a maximum speed of 15,000 miles per hour. Click here. (3/38)

Wishful Thinking Collides with Policy, Economic Realities in ‘Capitalism in Space’ (Source: Space News)
Given the importance of space transportation to all U.S. space activities, an objective, in-depth analysis would have been a welcome contribution to debates over U.S. civil, military, and commercial space policy.

Unfortunately, the report is rife with factual errors and misleading comparisons that make it all but useless, while occasionally making points we can agree with. It begins with erroneous assumptions on how NASA cargo and crew capabilities are being programmatically implemented. It projects outcomes based on the only operating NASA example of a public-private partnership, ISS cargo transportation.

The core problem is that based on this minimal experience the author poses a false binary choice between “government” or “private sector” approaches to space transportation, a choice in which he argues that the government should abandon traditional acquisition practices in favor of relying on “free enterprise.” (4/4)

Russia: Maybe Reusing Rockets Isn’t a Crazy Capitalist Idea After All (Source: Ars Technica)
As recently as last year, Russian rocket scientists were dubious about the potential of reusable rockets, such as those being developed by SpaceX and Blue Origin. Among the doubters was the Central Research Institute of Machine Building, which develops basic rocket strategy for Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

"The economic feasibility of reusable launch systems is not obvious," an official with the research institute said in February 2016. "First and foremost it will depend on how often launches will be made. At the moment it is hard to forecast which way the market of launch services will go when reusable space rockets become available. The designers are still to demonstrate the real costs of production and of making reusable stages for re-launching,"

But last week's successful test by SpaceX appears to have changed their attitude. Instead of being dismissive, Komarov congratulated SpaceX and Elon Musk. "This is a very important step, we sincerely congratulate our colleague on this achievement," he said. "The innovations SpaceX is making are forcing us to work on lowering the cost price and raising the product quality. The main thing is to ensure a competitive product," he added. Those innovations will include development of reusable boosters. (4/4)

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