May 11, 2017

We Are on the Verge of Discovering Aliens, According to These Scientists (Source: Vice)
What do you need [for life]? Is there anything magical? You get molecules getting more and more complicated, and then eventually you get something that can make copies of itself, and that's the first precursor of life. Well, until recently we thought there was a missing step—-"and then some magic happens"-—and then you get biology from chemistry! But there seems to be no magical steps necessary. I now reckon that the consensus among most scientists is that it would be quite surprising if we don't find life elsewhere, probably within our lifetime. It might not be interesting life—-it won't be men in flying saucers-—it will be some form of microbial life. But, hey, for scientists that will be enough. (5/10)

Funding to Defend Space Systems Coming in Next Budget Proposal (Source: National Defense)
The Department of Defense is poised to invest in new infrastructure that will make its space systems more resilient to enemy attacks, senior officials said May 9. David A. Hardy, associate deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space and deputy director of the principal DoD space advisor staff, said the service has completed all the major reviews it has undertaken for its space systems and will begin investing in technologies that will make them more immune to enemy attack.

“What you will see in the budget is measured steps across the enterprise on how we address mission assurance,” he said, without going into details on how much will be proposed. They will be “measured steps” and the work will take many several budget cycles, beyond the current future year defense program, which projects funding out for five years. (5/9)

ULA Joint Venture Agreement Expires (Source: Janes)
The 2005 joint-venture master agreement between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that created ULA expired this month, according to a key US Air Force official. David Hardy, associate deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space, and the deputy director, principal Defence Department space advisor staff, said on 9 May that he was the compliance officer for the agreement and that the Pentagon no longer has oversight duties now that the agreement has expired.

He told Jane's these oversight duties included compliance requirements to what communications and relationships the two parent companies, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, could have with ULA, their joint venture. Neither ULA nor the Air Force returned requests for comment about whether the expiration of the agreement would affect business between the USAF and ULA. Since its founding in 2005, ULA has provided the vast majority of USAF launches.

The agreement, dated 2 May 2005, hammered out simple issues such as the name of the company, where it would be based, and that each company would control 50% of membership interests. It also gets into details such as how the board of directors would be filled, who would serve as board chairman, a non-compete agreement, and dispute resolution. (5/10)

SpaceX Workers' $4M Wage Lawsuit Deal Ducks Protest, Gets Final OK (Source: Law360)
A California judge on Wednesday granted final approval to SpaceX's $3.9 million settlement of 4,100 workers' claims they were underpaid, shooting down the objection of a former SpaceX employee who had claimed the settlement was intended to sink his own trial-ready wage claims. (5/10)

Testing Prepares NASA's Space Launch System for Liftoff (Source: Space Daily)
The world's most powerful rocket - NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) - may experience ground wind gusts of up to 70 mph as it sits on the launch pad before and during lift off for future missions. Understanding how environmental factors affect the rocket will help NASA maintain a safe and reliable distance away from the launch tower during launch.

SLS model testing in NASA Langley Research Center's 14x22-Foot Subsonic Wind Tunnel in Hampton, Virginia, is designed to simulate wind conditions. According to Langley research aerospace engineer Dave Chan, wind tunnel tests are a cost effective and efficient way to simulate situations where cross winds and ground winds affect different parts of the rocket. The guidance, navigation, and control team uses the test data as part of their simulations to identify the safety distance between the rocket and the launch tower. (5/11)

Ruble Exchange Rate Impacts Russian Satellite Earnings (Source: Space News)
Russia's Gazprom Space Systems remains optimistic about the future despite foreign exchange challenges. The company, the smaller of two Russian satellite operators, recorded an increase in revenues, measured in rubles, of more than 9 percent last year, but the ruble's decline against the dollar wiped out that increase. Dmitriy Sevastiyanov, director general of the company, said in an interview that despite those problems demand from Russia's broadcast sector remained strong, and that he was expecting the Russian economy overall to rebound. (5/10)

NASA Investigating Damaged SLS Tank Section (Source: Space News)
The damage was limited to the one dome section of the tank, which was not yet welded to the rest of the tank. “Assessments are ongoing to determine the extent of the damage,” NASA's Kim Henry said. Henry said that the incident was classified as a “Type B” mishap. Such a mishap, according to NASA documents, covers incidents that cause between $500,000 and $2 million in damage. No one was injured. The liquid oxygen tank involved in the incident was a qualification model, intended for testing, and not flight hardware. Henry said it wasn’t immediately clear how long the investigation would take. (5/10)

Five Years to a Truly Low-Cost DOD Launch Market — If Effort is Made (Source: Space News)
The U.S. military could have access to frequent, low-cost launches in five years, but may need to create a new organization to foster its development. A recent Air University study concluded private sector activities could make frequent affordable launch a reality in the near future. At a panel earlier this week, experts suggested that enabling the development of those systems should be a priority of the new National Space Council as well as a new organization within the Pentagon with "the right culture" to work with industry.

Schilling said the study was “not an indictment in any way shape or form” of the work of the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office in New Mexico. ORS was originally designed to take advantage of emerging technology to benefit military space launches. Schilling said the office is “solving operational challenges that exist right now that warfighters need to benefit from.” Miller added that ORS’s focus on solving specific Air Force problems means the envisioned new organization can follow “the original vision of ORS” focused on “disruptive innovation” in partnership with industry. (5/10)

China Plans Simulated Lunar Habitat Missions (Source: Xinhua)
China plans a series of long-duration stays in a simulated lunar habitat to prepare for eventual human missions to the moon. State media said that researchers have developed a "simulated space cabin" to test life support and other technologies needed for a lunar base. One group of four volunteers will spend 60 days in the habitat, followed by a second group of four who will spend 200 days there. (5/10)

NASA's Mission to Mars Includes a Year-Long Stay on the Moon (Source: Engadget)
Some astronauts may spend a year orbiting cislunar space before NASA finally makes its way to Mars. Greg Williams from the agency's human exploration division revealed the details of NASA's two-phased plan to send humans to the red planet. He said the first phase includes four manned flights to cislunar space in order to deliver a crew habitat, a science research module, a power source and an airlock for visiting vehicles. The whole installation could also have a robotic arm like the Canadarm2 with some autonomous functions. All those trips will take place between 2018 and 2026.

If everything goes well, phase 2 will begin in 2027. NASA will start by sending a Deep Space Transport vehicle to cislunar space, followed by the crew who'll live in the habitat for a year. If you'll recall, the agency asked six private corporations to design space vehicles for it as part of the NextSTEP program. Boeing conjured up designs for a transport vehicle and a habitat. We're guessing they're some of the candidates for what the agency plans to accomplish. (5/11)

House Members Want GAO Study to Move AST Out of FAA (Source: Space Policy Online)
Three members of the House are asking the GAO to study moving the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). In the letter, Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) and Ami Bera (D-Calif.) asked the GAO to see if AST would be more effective as a standalone agency within the Department of Transportation. The office was established in the 1980s under the office of the Secretary of Transportation, but was moved within the FAA in the mid-1990s. (5/10)

Electromagnets Offer Tantalizing Options for Satellites (Source: NASA)
A group of NASA physicists at Kennedy Space Center may have uncovered an intriguing option for controlling a fleet of satellites or stopping an older satellite from tumbling out of control.

The research centers on electromagnetics and considers how simple devices might offer solutions to problems that have eluded engineers. For example, oscillating magnetic fields on adjacent spacecraft can be used to push and pull against each other and may prove a better steering mechanism in orbit than small thrusters that consume – and eventually exhaust – fuel. It may also present methods to make a series of small spacecraft perform as well or better than a single large spacecraft. (5/11)

U.S., China Space Race to Hunt and Mine Asteroids (Source: Newsweek)
The Chinese government has plans to not only track down and land an asteroid, but also to mine the precious and rare metals and minerals believed to be on the space rock as early as 2020, a top government scientist said this week, according to South China Morning Post. The report comes after NASA had announced in January two programs to study and explore asteroids.

Chief commander and designer of China’s lunar exploration program Ye Pijian told authorities in Beijing that the first capable spacecraft would be launched over the next three years or so, and that one such captured asteroid could even serve as the base of a space station for China. (5/11)

What if We Discovered an Alien Civilization Less Advanced Than Our Own? (Source: Discover)
What would we do if we really found rock-solid evidence of a pre-industrial civilization on a planet around another star? We couldn’t communicate with them by any currently known method. Unless physicists make some kind of wildly unanticipated new discovery, there is no practical way that humans could travel there, either. Potentially we could send miniature interstellar probes to examine the planet and learn more about its inhabitants.

Should we try to establish contact? Potentially we could use interstellar probes to drop coded messages all over the planet. Maybe the inhabitants could respond by setting huge geometric fires that we could observe from space. We would have a lot of time to think about whether making contact is a good idea and, if so, how best to do it.

Each back-and-forth message would take about 9 years—and remember, this is for the very nearest star. Suppose we found a civilization on Kepler 452b. It is 1,400 light years away. Each round-trip message would take 2,800 years minimum. A Starshot-style probe would take at least 7,000 years to get there. Click here. (5/10)

NASA is Losing the Race to Build a Better Rocket (Source: The Verge)
An emerging class of powerful rockets is supposed to start flying in the next couple of years. They’re known as heavy-lift launch vehicles. SpaceX has been promising that its Falcon Heavy, a larger variant of the Falcon 9 rocket, will fly for the first time this summer. ULA is working on a brand-new vehicle called the Vulcan that’s supposed to fly in 2019. And Blue Origin is claiming its next big rocket, the New Glenn, will be able to deliver 100,000 pounds of cargo — and eventually people — to low Earth orbit.

At the same time, NASA is developing a monster rocket of its own; it’s called the Space Launch System, and it’s being touted as the most powerful rocket ever created. Similar in shape and size to the Saturn V rocket that took astronauts to the Moon, the Space Launch System, or SLS, will be capable of carrying between 150,000 and 290,000 pounds to lower Earth orbit (or up to the weight of nine school buses). In capability, the vehicle dwarfs the other rockets the private space industry is working on.

But when it comes to comparing rockets, bigger isn’t necessarily always better. The SLS may dwarf the other commercial rockets in capability, but in other key areas, the giant vehicle falls short. For one thing, it’s expensive to launch — around $1 billion per mission. And it’s not going to launch very often either, probably only once or twice a year. Some experts argue that it’s these numbers we should use to measure a rocket’s merit: not how much it can carry, but how much it costs and how frequently the vehicle is expected to launch. Click here. (5/10)

Astronauts Experience Decrease in Blood Vessel Function During Spaceflight (Source: Space Daily)
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have decreased physical fitness because of a decrease in the way oxygen moves through the body, according to a Kansas State University kinesiology study. Carl Ade and collaborators partnered with Johnson Space Center to find that astronauts' exercise capacity decreases between 30 and 50 percent in long-duration spaceflight because the heart and small blood vessels are not as effective at transporting oxygen to the working muscle. (5/10)

Taking the Pulse of an Ocean World (Source: Space Daily)
Jupiter's moon Europa is definitely an odd place. Discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei, it was first seen in detail only in the late 1970s, after spacecraft visited the Jovian system. Slightly smaller than our own moon, Europa could hardly appear more different. Both have interiors of rock and metal. But Europa is wrapped in a global saltwater ocean and covered by a bright shell of ice. The shell is scarred with cracks and faults and mottled places where the ice has been breached by liquid from below.

Scientists have speculated for decades what lies within that ocean. It is larger in volume than all the oceans of Earth put together. A NASA-funded seismometer under development at Arizona State University holds the promise of landing on Europa's ice shell - and listening to it.

The seismometer would use Europa's natural tides and other movements to discover the shell's thickness, see whether it holds pockets of water - subsurface lakes - within the ice, and determine how easily, and how often, ocean water could rise and spill out on the surface. (5/10)

Earth Started 4.4 Billion Years Ago as a Barren Water World (Source: Space Daily)
Ancient rocks in Australia suggest early Earth was flat, barren and mostly under water. The vast seas were interrupted by only a handful of small islands 4.4 billion years ago. Researchers determined the composition of early Earth by analyzing zircon mineral grains trapped in ancient sandstone, the oldest rock fragments recovered by scientists. (5/8)

Trump's Navy Agenda Slowed Without Secretary Confirmation (Source: Navy Times)
Without his own Navy secretary, President Donald Trump's administration could face challenges in pursuing its goal of growing the Navy. The administration has struggled to find nominees to fill service secretary posts, though Trump nominee Heather Wilson recently won Senate confirmation as secretary of the Air Force. (5/9)

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