May 31, 2017

Work Underway to Facilitate SpaceX Spaceport in South Texas (Source: KRGV)
The SpaceX project is underway in Cameron County and Highway 4, which leads to Boca Chica Beach, is bustling with activity. New buildings are up and a $3 million road project is underway to pay the way for the rocket launch pad. Project Foreman Neto Herrera said the shoulder lanes are being deepened from eight to 16 feet of caliche. It’s the only way the road can withstand the weight of rockets that will pass through to get to the SpaceX launch pad on Boca Chica Beach.

TxDOT spokesman Octavio Saenz said it’s a $3 million, 16-mile project expected to be completed in August. Cameron County Administrator David Garcia said this is the kind of prep work that state and local entities are doing to facilitate SpaceX. One communications antenna is already up. A second is set to arrive later this year. Right now, UTRGV already has an astronomy building partially built near the site. SpaceX, Garcia said, will soon follow with its own buildings.

“They will have an emergency station out there that will be, I think, the first building that they build,” Garcia said. Besides the property tax breaks and incentives that Cameron County and other entities around the RGV have already offered SpaceX to come to the Valley, Garcia said they’ll continue to do what it takes to stay on target for a 2018 launch. (5/31)

Canadians Concerned with TMT Move From Hawaii (Source: Nature)
Canadian astronomers are weighing what the effects will be to their research if the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is moved from Hawaii. Canada is a partner in the TMT, which was originally planned to be built on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Protests and legal challenges have put that project on hold, and the TMT consortium is considering a backup plan to build the telescope in the Canary Islands, on a mountain considered somewhat less favorable in terms of atmospheric conditions than Mauna Kea. A study to be presented at a Canadian astronomy conference this week will argue that the TMT will still be able to do most, but not all, of its planned science if it's built at the alternate site. (5/31)

Companies Looking to Cash In on Mining Asteroids (Source:
The mining boom on Earth may be over, but in space it could be set to soar, with exploration companies looking to launch expeditions to asteroids in just a few years. NASA has already sent several missions to explore asteroids and just this month it announced it would fast track a mission to 16 Psyche, an asteroid made almost entirely of nickel-iron.

Last year, the Government of Luxemburg launched a $370 million initiative to become the world centre for space resources and is hoping to attract commercial partners. Washington-based start-up Planetary Resources has already received funding from the tiny country, and CEO and founder Chris Lewicki told Lateline that potential for mining asteroids is almost infinite.

"If we took all the asteroids that are in the solar system and extracted the metal from them, we could build a skyscraper on Earth that's 8,000 kilometers tall and would cover the entire surface of the Earth," he said. (5/30)

Government Spending in Space Programs Reaches $62 Billion in 2016 (Source: SpaceRef)
Euroconsult is now offering its Government Space Programs: Benchmarks, Profiles & Forecasts to 2026 report. Highlights from the report include; global space budgets totaled $62.2 billion in 2016, down 2% from the previous year. Governments launched 75 satellites, less than the historical peak of 2015 but in line with the last five year average. Click here. (5/30)

SpaceX Red Dragon to Mars: Site Selection and Future Plans (Source: Leonard David)
As 2020 draws closer, look for an armada of international spacecraft launching that have Mars in their respective target sights – including a prospective takeoff of Elon Musk’s SpaceX uncrewed Red Dragon capsule. Although details of the SpaceX Red Dragon thrust and thirst for Mars is spotty, one landing site is known to be under consideration. A candidate locale is a lobe of the possibly ice-rich smooth unit in Mars’ Arcadia Region. Click here. (5/28)

Ariane 5 to Lift Record 2 Satellite Payload (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
France-based multinational launch provider Arianespace looks to go six-for-six near 2017’s midpoint after being sidelined by a “social movement” earlier in the year. Flight VA237 will see the workhorse Ariane 5 launch two telecommunications satellites – ViaSat-2 and EUTELSAT 172B – from French Guiana on June 1. Together, the pair weigh-in at 21,978 pounds and are near the upper-end of the vehicle’s capacity. In fact, the total orbited mass (satellites plus adapter and other hardware) of 23,953 pounds marks the heaviest launch for the Ariane 5 to date. (5/30)

Japanese Navigation Constellation Set to Expand with H-IIA Launch (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Japan is set to launch its third H-IIA rocket in 2017. The two-stage booster, the workhorse vehicle for the Japanese space agency, will send to space Michibiki-2, the second satellite in the country’s regional navigation system. Liftoff is currently scheduled for 8:17 p.m. EDT on May 31 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. (5/30)

NASA Is Finally Sending a Mission to Touch the Sun (Source: Time)
NASA has visited some awfully impressive places in the past 60 years, so it's something of a wonder that the space agency hasn't found its way to the sun by now. The New Horizons probe, which flew by Pluto in the summer of 2015, is now 3.5 billion miles away; Voyager 1, launched in 1977, has left the solar system entirely, cruising through space at a remove of 11.7 billion miles from Earth.

The sun, meantime, is within arms' reach by cosmic standards, just 93 million miles (150 million km) away. And while it takes a lot of triangulating to get to Pluto, the sun is kind of hard to miss. Just point and shoot. The problem of course, is that the sun is also — no surprise here — exceedingly hot. There's a reason that the nearest any spacecraft has gotten to the solar inferno was 27 million miles.

Now, however, NASA plans to get closer — a whole lot closer. At a press conference on May 31, NASA will officially announce the details and the launch date for the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft, a ship that will leave Earth next summer, sometime in a 20-day window from July 31 to Aug. 19, 2018. (5/30)

U.S. Missile Defense Successfully Shoots Down ICBM (Source: Space News)
The Missile Defense Agency’s ground-based defense system successfully intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile during the first live-fire test of its kind Tuesday, the agency said. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) is designed to intercept and destroy missiles during the midcourse of their trajectory through space. Tuesday’s test was the first time the system had faced a live-fire ICBM-class test, MDA said. (5/30)

Spaceport Checkup Delays Proton Return to Flight to June 7 (Source: Space News)
The first launch of Russia’s Proton rocket in nearly a year is now scheduled for June 7, a nine-day slip driven by a review of the ground systems at the rocket’s launch site. When Proton finally lifts off, it will be carrying EchoStar 21, a 6,900-kilogram commercial telecommunications satellite for Englewood, Colorado-based fleet operator EchoStar. (5/30)

Blastoff! How to See a Rocket Launch In Person This Summer (Source:
It's not just for the pros: With a little planning and flexibility, anybody can go watch a rocket blast off. This guide goes through each of the three U.S. sites that have rocket launches this summer: The Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida, Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It tells you where to go, what to expect and what launches to watch for this summer. Click here. (5/30)

Traces of Barents Sea Plankton, Bacteria from Madagascar Found on ISS Surface (Source: Tass)
Russian scientists will suggest raising the hypthetical upper border of biosphere to 400 kilometers following the discovery of various microorganisms, including Barents Sea plankton and bacteria from Madagascar, in swabs taken from the surface of the International Space Station (ISS). As part of the "Test" experiment, Russian cosmonauts took a total of 19 swabs from the outer cover of the ISS between 2010 and 2016.

"Experiments of various years have revealed fragments of Mycobacteria DNA - a marker of heterotrophic bacterial sea plankton in the Barents Sea; the DNA of extremophile bacteria of the genius Delftria; the DNA of bacteria closely related to those found in soil samples from the island of Madagascar; vegetative genomes; the DNA of certain species of Archaea and the DNA of fungus species Erythrobasidium and Cystobasidium," the Russian space agency Roscosmos said.

"Experiments of various years have revealed fragments of Mycobacteria DNA - a marker of heterotrophic bacterial sea plankton in the Barents Sea; the DNA of extremophile bacteria of the genius Delftria; the DNA of bacteria closely related to those found in soil samples from the island of Madagascar; vegetative genomes; the DNA of certain species of Archaea and the DNA of fungus species Erythrobasidium and Cystobasidium." (5/30)

China's Space Telescope Looking for Gravitational Wave Breakthrough (Source: Xinhua)
Since the detection of gravitational waves, scientists have been eager to find electromagnetic signals corresponding to the gravitational waves. This will be an important task for China's space telescope, the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), to be launched soon. Gravitational waves are "ripples" in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the universe. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916 in his general theory of relativity. (5/30)

At NASA's Wallops, Cloud-Making Rocket Delayed for Better Weather (Source: DelMarVa Now)
NASA's Wallops Flight Facility is delaying its launch of a cloud-making sounding rocket from Wednesday to Thursday this week in the hope of encountering better weather. Clear skies are required for scientists on the ground to view the highlight of the mission: colorful clouds of vapor that will be deployed about four minutes into the flight.

The goal is to test a new deployment method for the clouds, NASA said. The red and blue-green clouds are expected to be visible from New York to North Carolina and as far west as Charlottesville, Virginia. The launch of the Terrier-Improvied Malemute rocket is still scheduled for between 4:27-4:42 a.m. Studying the clouds' interactions will help support studies of the ionosphere and aurora, officials say. (5/30)

Vanishing Star Hints at Direct Collapse to Black Hole (Source: Ars Technica)
The rules for a stellar death seem pretty simple. If the star isn't that massive, it burns out into a carbon-rich remnant called a white dwarf. If it's big enough, the star ends in a bang, exploding in a supernova that can leave behind a neutron star or a black hole. But a number of simulations have suggested that there's another option: big stars that go out not with a bang but a whimper.

The idea is that, rather than exploding, much of the mass of the star falls inward to the core, forming a larger black hole. While some of the outer layers of the star are shed and it brightens briefly, there's no catastrophic explosion. Now, researchers have identified one of these collapses in the form of a star that seems to have vanished. Further observations need to be done to confirm a black hole has been left behind; they're often active at energetic wavelengths while feeding, so we have a chance of catching some X-ray emissions. (5/30)

Top Air Force Bosses Pledge Renewed Focus on Space Mission (Source: The Gazette)
New Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson says you can tell her priorities by seeing where she spent her first days in office. Nine days into her tenure, the secretary has spent five of them on space, including four touring the space assets housed in Colorado Springs. The 1982 Air Force Academy graduate sees the constellation of satellites her service controls as the first targets of the next war. "We are heavily dependent on space and our adversaries know it," Wilson said. (5/30)

Aldrin to Auction Off Apollo 11 Artifacts (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A ffundraising effort for astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s education-related initiative gives fans a chance to own a historic moon-related artifact. Aldrin will hold a gala at Kennedy Space Center and, for the first time, it will include an auction of space memorabilia — some of which will be donated by the 87-year-old Apollo 11 astronaut. Details about which items will be on the auction block have not been released, though the auction’s website says there will be items “with direct relevance to Buzz Aldrin and his exciting life of exploration and adventure.”

The event is scheduled for July 15, or one day shy of the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch. A simultaneous online auction will go live July 5. Proceeds will go toward Aldrin’s nonprofit ShareSpace Foundation, which advocates for programs that support science, technology, engineering, art and math. (5/30)

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