May 19, 2017

Imarsat Sold on SpaceX Reusable Rockets (Source: Universe Today)
Following SpaceX’s “exceptional performance” launching an immensely powerful broadband satellite on their maiden mission for Inmarsat this week on a Falcon 9 rocket, the company CEO said that Inmarsat was willing to conduct future launches with SpaceX reused rockets. “This has obviously been an absolutely exceptional performance from SpaceX, Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said in a post launch interview. “They have now earned themselves an immensely loyal customer.” (5/19)

Russian Space Forces Track Launches of Over 280 Satellites in Six Months (Source: Tass)
The Russian Space Forces have tracked down the launch of more than 280 satellites in the period between November 2016 and April 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry said. "Specialists of the Main Space Intelligence Center of the Russian Space Forces have monitored the orbiting of over 280 spacecraft and deorbiting of about 70 spacecraft. They also issued three warnings about the dangerous approach of space objects to spacecraft of the Russian orbital grouping," the ministry said. (5/19)

Russia’s ‘Killer Satellites’ Re-Awaken (Source: Daily Beast)
A trio of mysterious Russian government satellites startled space experts when, shortly after blasting into low orbit between 2013 and 2015, they began dramatically changing their orbits, demonstrating a rare degree of maneuverability for small spacecraft. Now after being idle for a year or more, two of the mystery-sats are on the move again. On April 20, 2017, one of them reportedly shaved hundreds of meters off its orbit in order to zoom within 1,200 meters of a big chunk of a defunct Chinese weather satellite that China smashed in a controversial 2007 test of an anti-satellite rocket. (5/19)

Recovered Saturn 5 Engines On Display (Source: GeekWire)
Saturn 5 engines salvaged from the ocean floor will go on display this weekend at a Seattle museum. The F-1 engine components from two Apollo missions were recovered in a 2013 expedition funded by Jeff Bezos and later restored. The Museum of Flight will display the recovered hardware along with an an intact model of the giant engine used on the Saturn 5's first stage. The engines will be in a new exhibit with other Apollo-era artifacts. (5/18)

Gov. McAuliffe Flies Aboard Drone at NASA's Wallops Island (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a ... governor in a drone? Gov. Terry McAuliffe boarded a remotely piloted aerial vehicle Thursday and took a roughly 20-minute ride over Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore. The flight was part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Virginia Space’s new $5.8 million airfield for unmanned aircraft systems on the island’s north end.

McAuliffe joined Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne and other local leaders in unveiling the airstrip that’s 3,000 feet long and 75 feet wide, said Paula Miller of the Virginia Department of Transportation. The agency oversaw construction of the runway.

“The MARS UAS Airfield presents a significant new capability for Wallops and the Hampton Roads region,” McAuliffe said in a news release. “It propels Virginia further on its quest to become a national leader in autonomous technology and industry, which is at the heart of our efforts to build a new Virginia economy.” (5/18)

Virgin Galactic Flights Booked Through 2021 (Source: The Australian)
Virgin Galactic says its suborbital spaceflights are booked until 2021. Stephen Attenborough, commercial director of Virgin Galactic, said that anyone buying a ticket today for a SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceflight is unlikely to fly until 2021 because of the backlog of about 650 customers already holding tickets. Attenborough said that estimate was based on starting commercial flights in 2018. The company has been reticent to set schedules for beginning commercial service, although founder Sir Richard Branson said earlier this year he would be disappointed if regular suborbital flights were not underway by the end of next year. (5/19)

Kitay Named DOD Space Policy Chief (Source: DOD)
The Pentagon has named a new head of space policy. The Defense Department announced Thursday that Secretary of Defense James Mattis had selected Stephen L. Kitay to be deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. Kitay, a former U.S. Air Force officer, was previously on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee, serving as its national security space expert. (5/19)

Moon Discovered Orbiting Dward Planet (Source:
Astronomers have discovered a moon orbiting a dwarf planet in the distant reaches of our solar system. The dwarf planet, 2007 OR10 and informally known as "Snow White," is 1,530 kilometers in diameter and is in an elliptical orbit in the Kuiper Belt. Hubble observations of the dwarf planet revealed that it has a moon circling it, although astronomers said they aren't able yet to calculate its orbit or determine the size of the moon. (5/19)

University’s ‘Artificial Star’ Set for Launch Next Year (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
A university team here plans to launch “an artificial star” into orbit that will transmit images of outer space to Earth and be visible to the naked eye. The ultra-small satellite will be launched aboard an H-2A rocket of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture in April next year at the earliest. Viewed from Earth, the satellite’s eight beam-type LEDs will make it appear brighter than sixth-magnitude stars, which are barely visible to the naked eye. The satellite will also be fitted with 24 wide-angle LEDs. It can send messages in Morse code to Earth. (5/19)

Will Space Provide Trump With an Escape Hatch? (Source: Paste)
In a weird way, space policy allows Trump to give his famous, grandiose praise without the threat of backlash. In his Congressional address in February, Trump hinted to landing astronauts on the moon or Mars, “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream,” almost echoing Kennedy’s infamous, “We choose to go to the moon” speech. Because of this, how genuine are President Trump’s space claims? Is it, like almost anything the man spews, all talk, with no substance?

His first budget indicated virtually no change to NASA funding, decreasing the government program’s finances by 0.8-percent to $19.1 billion. Considering the 18-percent cut to the National Institute of Health and the 30-percent cut to the EPA and the Department of State, NASA came out of this proposal relatively unscathed. Trump’s made it clear he wants to go to Mars during “my first term or, at worst, my second term.” But space policy experts are still unsure whether to take any of these claims seriously or as more Trumpisms. “I wasn’t quite sure whether [Trump] was mis-speaking. Maybe he meant the moon, [not Mars]?” said Professor Tom Pike. (5/19)

An Astronaut Got Fired From NASA for $1,600 in Fake Taxi Receipts (Source: Gizmodo)
Last December, an astronaut with NASA was fired for submitting over $1,600 in fake reimbursements for taxis they didn’t take. And strangely enough, we don’t know who it is.

Gizmodo filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with NASA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on the incident after reading about it in the latest Semiannual Report to Congress. The name of the astronaut has been redacted by NASA.

According to the NASA OIG final report, dated December 21st, 2016, the case was initiated based on a complaint from an anonymous source. Apparently, the astronaut submitted 15 receipts from 2012 through May 2015 claiming reimbursement for “commercial transportation” rides and taxis that they didn’t take. (5/18)

NASA: Humans Inadvertently Created an Artificial Barrier Around Earth (Source: Newsweek)
NASA space probes have discovered an artificial barrier around Earth created through human activity—showing we are not only responsible for shaping the environment on land, but that we are now having an impact on space too. The barrier, which comes and goes, is the result of very low frequency radio communications interacting with particles in space, which results in a sort of shield protecting Earth from high energy radiation in space.

This, scientists say, is potentially very good news, as we could use the barrier to protect Earth from extreme space weather resulting from events like coronal mass ejections—huge explosions on the sun, where plasmas and magnetic field are ejected from its corona, the outermost part of its atmosphere. (5/18)

Florida-Based USAF 45th Space Wing Enables Nation's Space Mission (Source: USAF)
Space launches may soon be an almost weekly sight on Florida's Space Coast. As the need for space lift grows globally, partnerships between the Air Force, other government agencies and the commercial space industry are enhancing the 45th Space Wing's vision of remaining the world's premier gateway to space.

With a mission of delivering assured space launch, range and combat capabilities for the nation, the space wing and its Eastern Range assets provide a vast network of radar, telemetry and communications instruments to facilitate the safe launch of all Department of Defense National Security Space, NASA, NOAA, and commercial operations. Click here. (5/18)

NASA Inspector Questions Why Agency Built SLS Rocket Test Stands in Alabama (Source: Ars Technica)
As part of rocket development, aerospace engineers extensively test booster components before they are assembled into a larger launch vehicle. To that end, NASA has built two big test stands at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama to test its large liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel tanks. These tanks are part of the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

However, a new report from NASA's inspector general, Paul Martin, raises serious questions about the cost of these test stands and the decision to build them in Alabama rather than in Mississippi, where NASA has an existing facility that already tests rocket engines. Additionally, the Mississippi-based Stennis Space Center is also much closer to the Louisiana factory where the SLS hydrogen and oxygen tanks are being assembled.

As part of the SLS program, NASA determined that it needed two test stands: one is for the larger hydrogen tank, which is about half the length of a football field, and the second is for the oxygen tank. The agency budgeted $40.5 million for the project but ended up spending $76 million, which is an increase of 88 percent. The stands were completed in November 2016. Marshall engineers said the Stennis option was eliminated because it would have cost more. (This analysis was not documented in 2012 when the decision was made, however). (5/18)

'Surviving Mars' Turns Catastrophe Into Inspiration (Source: PC World)
Not necessarily educational, but inspirational. That's the thin line Tropico dev Haemimont Games is aiming for with its newly announced city builder Surviving Mars. Or "colony builder," really. It's a game about surviving on Mars, if you can believe it. Tooth-and-nail survival, fighting against a planet that's indifferent to our arrival.

This is no SimCity or Cities: Skylines. You're not laying down miles of asphalt, zoning blocks for homes and businesses and industry and watching a population magically spring up overnight. Nor is it Tropico, with its comical dictator and his near-infinite powers. The consequences of failure are so much greater here. People don't just leave your city for a better place, driving off into the sunset as your poor metropolis collapses into debt. At least not at first. (5/17)

Why the Concorde Isn't the End of the Supersonic Jet (Source: Popular Mechanics)
After the failure of the Concorde, commercial supersonic flight seemed like an idea too economically divorced from reality to be obtainable. Massive fuel consumption, high prices, and limited routes eventually buried the idea for good. But aerospace company Boom is hoping for a resurrection, and Real Engineering digs into why it just might happen. Click here. (5/15)

Plasma Jet Engines That Could Take You From the Ground to Space (Source: New Scientist)
Forget fuel-powered jet engines. We’re on the verge of having aircraft that can fly from the ground up to the edge of space using air and electricity alone. Traditional jet engines create thrust by mixing compressed air with fuel and igniting it. The burning mixture expands rapidly and is blasted out of the back of the engine, pushing it forwards.

Instead of fuel, plasma jet engines use electricity to generate electromagnetic fields. These compress and excite a gas, such as air or argon, into a plasma – a hot, dense ionized state similar to that inside a fusion reactor or star. Plasma engines have been stuck in the lab for the past decade or so. And research on them has largely been limited to the idea of propelling satellites once in space. Click here. (5/18)

Ladybugs Pack Wings and Engineering Secrets in Tidy Origami Packages (Source: New York Times)
The ladybug is a tiny insect with hind wings four times its size. Like an origami master, it folds them up into a neat package, tucking them away within a slender sliver of space between its abdomen and the usually polka-dotted, harder wings that protect it.

When it is time to take off, it deploys its flying apparatus from beneath its colorful shell-like top wings, called the elytra, in only a tenth of a second. And when it lands, it folds it back in just two. Switching between flying and crawling many times in a day, the ladybug travels vast distances. Imagine trying to fold two 20-foot tents, with poles that do not detach, that are stuck to your back beneath a plastic case and you have no hands to help you. A ladybug does it throughout its day. (5/18)

Meet Valkyrie, NASA’s Space Robot (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Meet Valkyrie: She’s 6 feet and 2 inches tall, weighs about 300 pounds, and cost $2 million — and one day this humanoid space robot, or more likely her much more advanced descendant, might help humans colonize Mars. Although that ultimate goal is still a long ways off, Valkyrie, a prototype developed by NASA JSC, will take her first Martian-specific test next month, as 20 teams guide a simulated version of the robot through a set of scenarios. Winners may take home a hefty prize: $1 million is on the table.

At first sight, Valkyrie looks not unlike Iron Man, the glowing circle on her chest marking her status (blue when motors are engaged, for example). But draw back the infrared-transparent faceplate and instead of Tony Stark, you’ll find a whirring LIDAR sensor that’s constantly scanning the surroundings for objects and obstacles.

Cameras and sensors abound on Valkyrie — in addition to a MultiSense SL camera on her head, which combines laser, 3D stereo, and video to get a sense of the environment around her, additional “hazard cameras” look ahead and behind from her torso. On each three-fingered hand, 38 sensors help maintain dexterity. Numerous small motors (actuators, in engineer-speak) control the robot’s 44 degrees of freedom, including seven-jointed arms. (5/17)

Russia to Launch Forest Fire Monitoring Satellite (Source: Tass)
The launch of the Mayak microsatellite together with the Kanopus-V-IK forest fire monitoring spacecraft is scheduled for July 14 from the Baikonur space center, according to the announcement posted on the Mayak project’s Facebook page on Thursday. "The satellite’s launch is planned for 9:30 Moscow time on July 14, 2017," the Mayak project’s announcement said. (5/18)

Washington Ballet Stages Moon Shot Dance for JFK Centennial in ‘Frontier’ (Source: WTOP)
The JFK Centennial is in full swing at the Kennedy Center, marking President John F. Kennedy’s upcoming 100th birthday on May 29. So for an aspirational president who declared, “We choose to go to the moon,” what better way to celebrate his legacy than with a ballet about the space race in the very venue that bears his name?

The Washington Ballet presents “Frontier” from May 25-27 in the Kennedy Center Opera House, marking Julie Kent’s first commissioned work since taking over as TWB artistic director last year. (5/18)

ISS Crew Harvest New Crop of Vegetables Grown in Space (Source: Space Daily)
While preparing for the 200th spacewalk on the International Space Station, the crew members in orbit performed the latest harvest of vegetables grown in space. NASA astronaut Jack Fischer collected the latest crop of Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage for the Veg-03 investigation.

Some of this was consumed at meal-time, and the rest sealed for analysis back on Earth. Understanding how plants respond to microgravity is an important step for future long-duration space missions, which will require crew members to grow their own food. Astronauts on the station have previously grown lettuce and flowers in the Veggie facility. (5/17)

Washington Still Has No Engine to Replace Russian-Made RD-180 (Source: Space Daily)
US aerospace company Blue Origin suffered a setback while testing its Blue Engine 4 (BE-4), a staged-combustion rocket engine designed to replace Russian-made RD-180s, meaning that Washington still does not have an indigenously built version of a key piece of equipment needed to propel its Atlas V launch vehicles or its analogues into space.

The private company, founded by CEO Jeff Bezos, lost turbopumps and valves which provide the fuel-oxidizer mix to the injectors and combustion chamber of a liquid rocket engine, in an incident said to have taken place on May 13 at a facility near Van Horn, Texas. (5/17)

NASA Aims to Create Space-Based Sodium Lidar to Study Mesosphere (Source: Space Daily)
A team of NASA scientists and engineers now believes it can leverage recent advances in a greenhouse-detecting instrument to build the world's first space-based sodium lidar to study Earth's poorly understood mesosphere. Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center are leading an R&D effort to further advance the sodium lidar, which the group plans to deploy on the International Space Station if it succeeds in proving its flightworthiness.

NASA's Center Innovation Fund and the Heliophysics Technology and Instrument Development for Science programs are now funding the instrument's maturation. However, the concept traces its heritage in part to NASA's past investments in promising lidar instruments, called Sounders, originally created to measure carbon dioxide and methane in Earth's atmosphere.

From its berth on the orbiting outpost, the instrument would illuminate the complex relationship between the chemistry and dynamics of the mesosphere that lies 40-100 miles above Earth's surface - the region where Earth's atmosphere meets the vacuum of space. (5/17)

Trump's Aim For Mars is Way Off (Source: TMZ)
President Trump was shooting for the moon when he demanded NASA put a man on Mars in the next 3 years, according to Ron Howard ... Hollywood's unofficial Mars expert. The legendary producer and director was at LAX -- and since he made the Nat Geo series "Mars" ... we asked him about Trump's mission statement. He's all about getting to the red planet, and believes humans will be there. In fact, he has a target date in mind ... it's just way different from Trump's. Ron's done plenty of Mars research for his work, so he knows what he's talking about. The prez, on the other hand, currently has bigger worries than space travel. (5/18)

California's Next New Tax? Private Space Travel (Source: Orange County Register)
Government has been criticized for being slow to adapt to new technologies — but not when it comes to taxing them, it seems. And especially not in California, where the Franchise Tax Board is blasting off with a proposal to tax the fledgling private spaceflight industry. The tax would be the first of its kind at the state level.

Perhaps there is a good reason for that. Maybe other states do not want to bleed the industry dry before it can even get off the launch pad. Yet, incredibly, the FTB says its tax scheme, which would be determined by a formula based on the number of launches made from within the state and the distance traveled, would be a boon to the industry. By introducing a measure of certainty over tax treatment, the FTB says, its proposal “will lead to increased activity in the industry and will foster an atmosphere of growth and prosperity once present during the golden age of California’s aviation industry, thereby creating jobs as the industry thrives in this state.”

Because more taxes — not savings; investment; competitive markets; good, old-fashioned hard work and ingenuity; and the freedom to keep the fruits of one’s labor — is what is needed to “foster an atmosphere of growth and prosperity.” And if companies have been holding back on their investments for fear of how much of their wealth the state will try to confiscate, that does not exactly speak well to the state’s treatment of businesses — in this industry or any other. (5/18)

Let's Talk About Blue Origin (Source: Paste)
Blue Origin and SpaceX have a few things in common, namely they are both led by entrepreneurs with dreams of space. Blue Origin was created by Jeff Bezos, the CEO of, in 2000, two years before Elon Musk founded SpaceX. However, we’ve only been hearing about Blue Origin for the past few years. For the first decade and a half of its existence, the company had a (somewhat bizarre) policy of being very tight-lipped—no one knew what the company was up to or what their goals were because they weren’t talking to anyone. Click here. (5/18)

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