May 24, 2017

Got a Ticket to Space? You’ll Have to Train First (Source: Air & Space)
After signing up, I completed a stack of medical and psychological questionnaires. I was given a standard physical and a heart exam. Finally, I was approved for participation. Now, with a mixture of mild apprehension and almost giggly exhilaration, I’m climbing into the centrifuge gondola. Rebecca Blue, a doctor with the research team, shows me how to fasten and unfasten the straps of the five-point harness, which are twice as wide as my car’s seatbelt. She pulls the straps snug and adjusts my lumbar support, head support, and foot rests. Click here. (5/24)

Boeing Wins DARPA Space Plane Bid (Source:
The U.S. military's new XS-1 space plane will be built by Boeing, and it's called the Phantom Express. DARPA has selected Boeing for the next phase of its XS-1 project, known as the Experimental Spaceplane, after an intense competition among aerospace companies. The XS-1 is aimed to be a completely reusable military space plane capable of launching 3,000-lb. (1,360 kilograms) satellites into orbit 10 times in 10 days. The spacecraft could dramatically reduce the cost of launches to $5 million per flight, DARPA officials said.

"The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today's frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand," DARPA program manager Jess Sponable said. The first test launches will begin with Phase 3, which aims to launch the XS-1 between 12 and 15 times in 2020.

Editor's Note: The launch site is not identified, but Florida seems likely with Boeing's X-37B already at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (5/24)

New UK Facility to Test Sabre Engines (Source: Daily Mail)
A revolutionary engine that could be used in a spaceplane to take passengers into space in just 15 minutes has taken a major step forwards, with a new testing facility in Westcott, Buckinghamshire. Reaction Engines has begun constructing the test facility where it plans to undertake the first ground-based demonstration of its Sabre air-breathing rocket engine. The firm hopes that the new test site will allow it to test the Sabre engine core as early as 2020. (5/8)

Scientists Propose Synestia, a New Type of Planetary Object (Source: Space Daily)
Rocky planets are thought to form from giant impacts between planet-size bodies. Impacts with high energy and high angular momentum could form a synestia, a rotating mass of vaporized rock, where outer layers of the vaporized planet are in orbit around the rest of the body. Synestias give new insights into how planets and moons form. These collisions were so violent that the resulting bodies melted and partially vaporized, eventually cooling and solidifying to the (nearly) spherical planets we know today. (5/22)

President Trump’s Budget Plan Gets a Bad Review from the Science Community (Source: Yahoo)
President Donald Trump sent his budget request for the next fiscal year to Congress today, giving the science community a glimpse of what may be to come – and many don’t like what they see. The budget proposal cuts funding for most research and development programs in favor of defense and homeland security spending. The National Institute of Health’s budget would be reduced 22 percent, from $34.6 billion to $25.9 billion. The budget for the Environmental Protection Agency would drop 31 percent, from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion, and reduce the agency’s employee count by 3,200.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science estimates that total research funding would be cut by 16.8 percent, or $12.6 billion, in the 2018 fiscal year. “No administration appears to have proposed cuts to research this large in over 40 years,” the AAAS said in its analysis. Even some Republicans voiced disapproval of the cuts. Representative Tom Cole, R-OK, who oversees NIH’s budget, feared that research grant cuts could “potentially discourage promising young scientists” from researching advancements in biomedicine. (5/24)

Air Force Budget Plan Boosts R&D by $5B in 2018 (Source: Defense News)
The 2018 budget request for the Air Force totals $183 billion, with research and development gaining $5 billion to reach $25.4 billion. Overall, the Air Force’s budget jumped from about $171 billion to $183 billion. Procurement slightly increased from $23.9 billion to $24.7 billion, while the operations and maintenance account lifted from $47.9 billion to $49.2 billion. However, it was research, development, testing and evaluation that made the biggest leap — up $5 billion from $20.2 billion to $25.4 billion. (5/24)

Africa and Europe Seek Joint Space Initiatives (Source: Xinhua)
The African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) on Tuesday launched the call for proposals for the space-based initiative dubbed the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security in Africa (GMES & Africa) Grants.

At a ceremony held in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, the two institutions said it is an open invitation for eligible institutions across Africa to apply for the 30-million-euro program, co-funded by the EU (29.5 million euros) and the AU (0.5 million euros). The two institutions said the initiative is an Earth Observation system designed to respond to global needs to manage the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security. (5/24)

SA Space Agency Zooms in on African Development (Source: Business Day)
South Africa’s space agency has its eyes on Africa and a new memorandum of understanding with the AU’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) paves the way for it to expand its footprint. But it takes more than data to create evidence-based policy.

The agreement, signed in April, will see the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) provide Earth observation products and services to Nepad. Africa is the second-largest continent and its size and paucity of infrastructure makes it difficult efficiently and cost-effectively to detect changes in natural resources and land usage. Governments, business and landowners can use satellites to identify these changes and to compile data that they can use to guide their decision-making and policies. (5/24)

Astronauts Replace ISS Computer During Spacewalk (Source: CBS)
Astronauts successfully replaced a faulty computer outside the International Space Station during a spacewalk Tuesday. Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson spent 2 hours and 46 minutes outside the station during the "contingency" spacewalk, replacing the multiplexer-demultiplexer electronics box on the station's truss that had failed Saturday. The cause of the failure isn't known, and the box showed no signs of external damage. Astronauts also installed wireless communications antennas on the Destiny module during the spacewalk, a task postponed from a spacewalk earlier this month. (5/24)

California Woman Arrested for Smuggling Satellite Technology to China (Source: Reuters)
A California woman has been arrested in charges of smuggling sensitive space technology to China. Si Chen, also known as Cathy Chen, was arrested Tuesday after a grand jury indicted her of shipping devices used in space communications to China, falsifying export paperwork to inidcate their value was just $500 versus more than $100,000. Chen faces up to 150 years in prison if found guilty of all charges in the case. (5/24)

India Plans 2018 Lunar Mission (Source: Business Standard)
India's space agency is planning to launch its next lunar mission in the first quarter of 2018. The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft would include an orbiter and a lander, with that lander carrying a rover. The mission will launch on a GSLV Mark 2 rocket. The mission will come after a private Indian venture, Team Indus, expects to launch its own lunar lander and rover at the end of this year to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize. (5/24)

SpaceX on Trial for Alleged Unjustified Firing (Source: Bloomberg)
The trial has started in a lawsuit filed by a former SpaceX employee against the company. Jason Blasdell, a former technician, alleges that the company fired him for complaining about the failure of the company to follow its testing and safety protocols for developing its Falcon 9 rockets. Opening statements took place Tuesday, with the trial expected to take two weeks. The judge in the case ruled that jurors will not judge the technical merits of Blasdell's arguments but instead whether his firing was unjustified. (5/24)

Juno Spacecraft Makes Fifth Science Pass of Jupiter (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA's Juno spacecraft made a close flyby of the planet Jupiter on May 19, successfully completing the probe's fifth science mission orbit of the gas giant. JunoCam and all of the spacecraft's science instruments were operating during the flyby. Juno's next close flyby, which will take it over Jupiter's Great Red Spot, will take place on July 11, 2017. (5/24)

A Better Ion Drive for more Efficient Space Travel (Source: Cosmos)
Plasma propulsion – or an ion drive – is common in science fiction, where it can represent a clean, futuristic alternative to the mess and blast of crudely burning rocket fuel. Though it is the most efficient space propulsion method yet devised, it is still rare in reality, where ion drives are weighed down by the bulky engineering currently required to manage the ionised gas propellant.

However, researchers from the University of York in the UK and the École Polytechnique in Paris have taken a major step towards solving the problem. Existing systems use an electric current to ionize propellant gas and turn it into plasma. The charged ions and electrons are then forced through an exhaust beam, creating thrust. Click here. (5/24)

Trump Budget Would Shift Air Traffic Control to Contractor, With Deficit (Source: USA Today)
Shifting air-traffic control from the FAA to a private corporation would raise the deficit $46 billion over the next decade, under President Trump’s budget proposal released Tuesday. The budget acknowledged the $46 billion because of projected growth at the agency, but argued that the actual spending difference would be smaller, at about $20 billion over 10 years, based on historical trends. Wherever the figures end up, the budget said changing the governance and structure of air traffic control is key to accommodate projected growth in air traffic. (5/24)

LA Air Force Base in El Segundo Hopes to Stay Open (Source: MyNews LA)
Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo is the “anchor for thousands of jobs” in the aerospace industry and a critical contributor to national security, a county official said Tuesday, hoping to keep the base off any list of upcoming closures. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said the base in the South Bay “is unlike any other. Not only is it the anchor for thousands of jobs in the Southern California aerospace industry — it is the brain trust behind our country’s national security system.”

The Trump administration’s just-released proposed federal budget recommends a round of base realignments and closures in 2021. Hahn said she fought and won a similar battle in 2003. “As Congress considers the administration’s base closure proposal, I will be the loudest defender of our LA Air Force Base,” she said. “It is and will continue to be a pillar of the El Segundo community and the Southern California economy.” Hahn said the base had also spurred development by Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and SpaceX. (5/24)

Trump's Budget Calls for New Base Closing Round in 2021 (Source: Military Times)
Defense Department leaders will seek a new military base closing round in fiscal 2021 under the budget proposal for next year released by the White House on Tuesday. The recommendation is sure to spark a contentious debate on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have been reluctant to even discuss the idea of shuttering military facilities across the country. But military leaders have pushed for another base realignment and closure (BRAC) process since 2013, arguing that their current domestic footprint is too large given reductions in force size and equipment modernization in recent years. (5/24)

Budget Proposal Puts NASA Satellite Servicing Mission in Doubt (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NASA plans to shelve a robotic demonstration mission to refuel an aging Landsat Earth-imaging observatory and join forces with the private sector and a U.S. military research and development agency in a public-private partnership to commercialize satellite servicing technologies, according to language in the White House’s budget request released Tuesday.

A blueprint of the White House proposed budget in March indicated the Restore-L satellite refueling mission would be “restructured,” calling the effort duplicative to commercial satellite servicing projects and another government-managed in-orbit refueling and repair initiative from DARPA. (5/24)

NASA Moves Up Launch of Psyche Mission to a Metal Asteroid (Source: NASA JPL)
Psyche, NASA's Discovery Mission to a unique metal asteroid, has been moved up one year with launch in the summer of 2022, and with a planned arrival at the main belt asteroid in 2026 -- four years earlier than the original timeline. "We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory to the asteroid Psyche, and they came through in a big way," said Jim Green. "This will enable us to fulfill our science objectives sooner and at a reduced cost."

The Discovery program announcement of opportunity had directed teams to propose missions for launch in either 2021 or 2023. The Lucy mission was selected for the first launch opportunity in 2021, and Psyche was to follow in 2023. Shortly after selection in January, NASA gave the direction to the Psyche team to research earlier opportunities. (5/24)

I’m Looking Forward to Getting Pregnant in Space (Source: The Cut)
Knocking myself up with freeze-dried space sperm will surely be a breeze, because I can only assume that in space, our ovaries and eggs stop aging (and I will no longer be subjected to the “Your time is running out!” warnings on fertility ads that pop up all over my Instagram). I will enjoy my space life, take my time working on my space tan, and get pregnant when I’m actually ready to be a mom. Then, after an easy pregnancy (because I’ve decided that morning sickness does not exist in space), I will give birth to a healthy, human space child. (5/24)

NASA Center Boss Says 'it's Great to See' White House Backing (Source: Huntsville Times)
President Trump is showing signs of loving NASA's deep space dreams more than his predecessor, and NASA is loving Trump right back. Speaking to reporters the day the White House released a fiscal year 2018 budget proposal that largely leaves NASA spending levels intact, the leader of the space agency's Huntsville center made his feelings clear.

"Our congressional support for five or six years has been unwavering," Marshall Space Flight Center Director Todd May said, "and it's great to see the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue come out and speak highly of NASA and the things we do and, in particular, about human spaceflight exploration." (5/24)

The Winners and Losers in NASA's New Budget Proposal (Source: Popular Mechanics)
The Europa orbiter mission will get a boost of $150 million. The the highly-anticipated spacecraft to visit Jupiter's moon and search for signs of life was funded to the tune of $275 million in 2017, while the new budget proposal would boost it to $425 million for 2018. It's no surprise—the Europa mission is a pet project of Republican congressman John Culberson, whose district includes NASA facilities in Texas. The budget does not include any funds for a Europa lander, however.

Missions to Mars will continue for the most part. The budget puts the 2018 InSight lander back on track and keeps the Mars 2020 rover about the same, but it doesn't add a follow-up spacecraft to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, currently the communications hub for all of NASA's Mars missions. The MRO has been in orbit since 2005 and won't last forever, so eventually a new orbiter will be needed to support future missions to Mars. Click here. (5/23)

China to Invest $23.3 Million to Develop Space Science Satellites (Source: Xinhua)
A fund of 160 million yuan (23.3 million U.S. dollars) was set up Tuesday to help the development of four space science satellites, as well as advanced scientific research. Jointly set up by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Chinese Academy of Sciences, with each side sponsoring half of the investment, the fund will last from 2017 to 2020.

The four satellites are the Dark Matter Particle Explorer Satellite, retrievable scientific research satellite SJ-10, a quantum communication satellite and a hard X-ray modulation telescope satellite. The fund will support experiments such as exploration of dark matter particles, microgravity science and space life science, satellite-ground quantum communication experiments, and observation of compact objects including black holes and neutron stars. (5/23)

China Plans Global Positioning Navsat System Completion by 2020 (Source: Xinhua)
China will launch some 18 Beidou navigation satellites by 2018, a leading navigation satellite expert said Tuesday. Six to eight Beidou satellites will be sent into orbit in the second half of this year, said Wang Li, chairman of China Satellite Navigation System Committee, while addressing the eighth China satellite navigation academic annual meeting.

The Beidou satellite navigation system will be able to provide services for countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative by 2018, Wang said. By 2020, the Beidou satellites will form a complete global satellite navigation system, Wang added. (5/23)

Eutelsat Adding Two More Quantum Satellites to Fleet (Source: Space News)
Global fleet operator Eutelsat is planning to order at least two more Quantum-class satellites in order to achieve global coverage with satellites that can move capacity around in customizable beams. Paris-based Eutelsat has one Quantum satellite under construction from Airbus Defence and Space UK, purchased in 2015 for 180 million euros ($198 million).

Speaking at Milsatcom Asia-Pacific in Singapore May 16, Willy Guilleux, Eutelsat’s senior vice president of global government services, said the operator has already pre-sold half of the capacity on the first satellite, and now has confidence to expand Quantum into a new fleet. “The idea is to expand the fleet as a minimum to three satellites to make sure we put complete coverage of the Earth,” he said. (5/23)

Proposed NASA Budget Boosts KSC Ground Systems (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center would receive more money to prepare for a 2019 launch of a new deep space rocket and crew capsule under the Trump administration’s proposed $19.1 billion NASA budget for next year. The Exploration Ground Systems program would receive $460.4 million, an increase of $31.4 million, to continue readying spaceport infrastructure including a Vehicle Assembly Building high bay, launch pad 39B and a mobile launch tower.

Meanwhile, funding for larger programs developing the 322-foot Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule would drop slightly. NASA's KSC-based Launch Services Program, which manages launches of the agency's robotic science missions, would receive similar funding of $86.2 million. (5/23)

NASA Spins Asteroid Robotics Out To Industry (Source: Aviation Week)
President Donald Trump’s first budget request drives a stake through the heart of his predecessor’s signature space project, but the robotic technology left behind by the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is finding its way rapidly into existing and developing spaceflight industries. (5/23)

How Much Each Company Will Charge to Take You to Space (Source: Popular Mechanics)
The first issue of Airbnbmag, which hits newsstands today, will help you find a place to stay off-planet, too. Here are the companies competing to take us to the heavens, and how much we'll have to pay (and how long we'll have to wait) for the ride of a lifetime.

Worldview Express: $75,000 - Float 100,000 feet to the edge of the atmosphere via a helium-balloon-powered space capsule. There's no training required for the four- to six-hour World View Voyager trip. XCOR Future Astronaut Program: $150,000 - You'll experience six minutes of weightlessness and get your astronaut wings after summiting 62 miles above the Earth— aka outer space—in a rocket-engine-powered XCOR Lynx Mark II two-seater.

Virgin Galactic: $250,000 - After a 47,000-foot climb powered by the WhiteKnightTwo "mothership," the SpaceShipTwo will detach and launch past the atmosphere to a height of 68 miles and then glide back to Earth. Space Adventures: $50 million - Eight space tourists, with great resources and bravery, have taken the Virginia-based company's two-day flight to spend a week and a half on the International Space Station, 249 miles above the Earth. Click here. (5/23)

Small Rockets a Boon to Burgeoning Microsatellite Market (Source: Space Angels)
For many of our readers, it will come as no surprise to hear that microsatellites are a rapidly-growing segment of the commercial space market. After all, we’ve covered the rise of small satellites in previous articles (and have a vested interest in several savvy satellite startups). Today’s tiny satellites are increasingly capable and affordable—and over the past three years, hundreds of microsatellites have been deployed in low-Earth orbit.

However, one reality continues to limit the growth of commercial microsatellite constellations: The current launch industry has developed to cater to a much larger class of satellite. In order to deploy their technologies in orbit, microsatellite companies have historically needed to book passage as a “secondary payload” on larger rocket launches. This “piggybacking” approach—while cost-effective—is also highly inconvenient to the microsatellite operator, as launch delays and predetermined trajectories impede the company’s ability to execute on their business objectives. Click here. (5/23)

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