June 29, 2017

SpaceX Implementing Falcon-9 Upgrades, Plans Heavy Launches Soon (Source: Space News)
SpaceX intends to launch a final upgrade to the Falcon 9 rocket, known as the Block 5, later this year, and has three Falcon Heavy launches planned for the next 18 months. Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, confirmed in a June 22 appearance on “The Space Show” online radio show that the Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 will be the “final design spin,” following just a few months after an “incremental” Block 4 version that will be more of a transition model.

“We are flying Block 3s right now,” Shotwell said. “Block 4s start flying shortly, and then Block 5 at the end of this year. We definitely have gotten better [at] more smooth introducing of change. You don’t see the big impacts to production we’ve had before when we’ve changed vehicle designs.” (6/27)

Japan Plans Human Mission to Lunar Surface by 2030 (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
Japan has plans to land astronauts on the moon by 2030 — with a little help from the United States. The Japanese space agency JAXA said it envisions human missions to the moon, potentially to study and make use of water ice deposits at the lunar poles. The JAXA plan, though, would involve making use of NASA's proposed Deep Space Gateway in cislunar space, which would serve as the jumping-off point for expeditions to the lunar surface. (6/29)

NASA Suborbital Launch Finally Happens at Wallops Island Spaceport (source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
A long-delayed sounding rocket launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility finally took flight this morning. The Terrier-Improved Malemute launched at 4:25 a.m. Eastern this morning on a flight to create artificial clouds in the upper atmosphere to study particle motions. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the clouds as far away as North Carolina and New York City, as expected. The launch was originally planned for nearly a month ago, but delayed by weather and range conditions. (6/29)

Ruag Expands in Sweden (Source: Space News)
Ruag Space has opened a new factory in Sweden that doubles its production capacity there. The company’s Link√∂ping factory will build dispensers designed to release 32 OneWeb satellites from Arianespace Soyuz rockets.The new facility, with a 4,000-square-meter high bay, should cut production times by 30 percent over the next five years. Ruag Space also builds sounding rocket guidance systems for NASA and ESA at Link√∂ping. (6/29)

Planetary Formation Patterns Puzzle Astronomers (Source: New Scientist)
Planets in other solar systems appear to be arranged in patterns that puzzle astronomers. A new study found that planets orbiting other stars, as discovered by NASA's Kepler mission, fit a similar pattern of sizes and spacing regardless of the type of star they orbited. That would appear to challenge models of planetary formation where the mass of a star plays a role in how planets condense out of disks surrounding those stars. Scientists said those patterns could be linked to physics within the disks, or instead could be an artifact from the limited data on exoplanets known today. (6/29)

Soviet Shuttle Model Planned for Display at Former Olympic Site (Source: Space.com)
A full-sized model of the Soviet shuttle Buran will be going on display at the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. RSC Energia handed over the Buran mockup, used for ground tests, to the Sirius Science and Art Park in Sochi during a ceremony this week. The model, in storage at an Energia facility in Moscow, will be shipped by road and sea to Sochi, where it will go on display next year. (6/29)

Blue Abyss Aims to Open Astronaut Training Center in Shuttered RAF Base (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Blue Abyss, the world’s first commercial deep sea to space research, training and test centre, is at the centre of a multi-million-pound regeneration vision to develop a science, innovation and technology park on part of a soon-to-close RAF base site in Bedfordshire.

The Blue Abyss team is working with Central Bedfordshire Council to create the £120m facility, designed by London’s Gherkin architect Robin Partington, on part of the RAF Henlow site, which is due to close by 2020. Blue Abyss will house the world’s biggest 50m deep pool, a hotel, an astronaut training centre including parabolic flight capability, hypobaric and hyperbaric chambers and a human performance centre to enable divers, astronauts and top athletes to perform at the peak of their potential. (6/29)

Small Nations are Boldly Staking Claims in the Unfolding Space Economy (Source: Fast Company)
The nations of the world are chomping at the bit over the unfolding space economy, from ever-more satellite launches to tourism and mining. And it’s not just the major powers, like the U.S., Russia, and China—smaller countries like Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates also want their piece of the pie in the sky.

Space programs run by private companies in the smaller locales are not only a source of national prestige but a way to attract skilled, multinational employers with potential global-changing futures. “We’re talking about what will be the foundational business of the future of the earth economy in space—something that can literally scale to astronomical levels,” says Chris Lewicki, CEO of space mining startup Planetary Resources. (6/29)

India's Answer to GPS Runs Into Serious Technical Failures (Source: Space Daily)
India's native navigation system has developed serious problems with four atomic clocks on the six satellites facing unexplained errors. With these, a total seven out of 21 clocks onboard have shown some difficulties. Proper functioning of these clocks is crucial to provide accurate navigation to the Indian armed forces. Last year, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) accepted the problems with three atomic clocks onboard one of the satellites of Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). (6/28)

NASA Keeps a Close Eye on Tiny Stowaways (Source: Space Daily)
Wherever you find people, you also find bacteria and other microorganisms. The International Space Station is no exception. That generally is not a problem. For one thing, the space station is kept cleaner than many environments on Earth. Routine cleaning activities are included on astronaut task schedules. Cargo sent to the station, and the vehicles that carry it, undergo a rigorous cleaning process and monitoring for microorganisms before launch. Crew members assigned to the space station spend 10 days in pre-flight quarantine.

For another, scientists regularly monitor the interior of this and other spacecraft, a process that started with the Apollo missions. "Once every three months, we sample from two locations in each module of the U.S. segment of the station," says Mark Ott, a microbiologist at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, monitors its segments. Samples collected from surfaces and from the air are cultured on plates containing a growth medium, one specific for bacteria and another for fungi. Those plates return to the ground, and scientists identify each organism that grows on them. (6/28)

India, Portugal Shake Hands on Space Cooperation (Source: Space Daily)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Lisbon agreed with Portuguese authorities on creation of alliance to advance space research, the Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday. India, Portugal sing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in the field of space, according to the statement. (6/28)

Discovery Confirms Eexistence of Orbiting Supermassive Black Holes (Source: Space Daily)
For the first time ever, astronomers at The University of New Mexico say they've been able to observe and measure the orbital motion between two supermassive black holes hundreds of millions of light years from Earth - a discovery more than a decade in the making. (6/28)

Impact Threat from Asteroid Apophis Cannot Be Ruled Out (Source: Space Daily)
The famous near-Earth asteroid Apophis caused quite a stir in 2004 when it was announced that it could hit our planet. Although the possibility of the impact during its close approach in 2029 was excluded, the asteroid's collision with Earth in more distant future cannot be completely ruled out. (6/27)

Arianespace Closes First Half of 2017 with Launch of Flight VA238 (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
After a minor technical glitch interrupted the countdown for five minutes, Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket left the pad at the Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on June 28, 2017. Flight VA238, as the mission was named by Arianespace, deployed two satellites – Hellas Sat 3 / Inmarsat S EAN and GSAT-17 – into a geostationary transfer orbit 39 minutes after lifting off, completing the fourth Ariane 5 launch of the year. (6/28)

Like the Concorde, But With Cheaper Fares (Source: CNET)
If one of your great aviation regrets is never flying faster than the speed of sound on a Concorde, I have good news for you. No, the sleek Anglo-French airplane isn't readying for a comeback, but a Denver-based company is aiming to take paying passengers faster than they've ever gone before. And if Boom Supersonic keeps its promise, you're in for a cheaper and more comfortable flight than Concorde could ever deliver.

As detailed last week at the 2017 Paris Air Show, the Boom Passenger Airliner would accommodate 45-55 passengers (half that of the Concorde) at a maximum speed of Mach 2.2. Flying that fast, it would cut the current flight time between London and New York in half to just 3 hours, 15 minutes and a reduce a typical 14-hour flight between Los Angeles and Sydney to 6 hours, 45 minutes. Though the Concorde flew slightly slower at Mach 2.02, its usual flight time between London and New York was only 15 minutes longer. (6/28)

Sticky ‘Space Velcro’ Developed by NASA to Clear Up Junk in Orbit (Source: The Telegraph)
Sticky ‘space Velcro’ modeled on how geckos stick to walls has been developed to help clear dangerous space junk from Earth’s orbit. There are currently around 500,000 pieces of human-made debris hurtling around the planet, at speeds of up to 17,500 mph and experts predict that if the problem is not addressed soon it could prevent future launches.

The refuse made up of defunct satellites, bits of spacecraft, and spent rockets already poses a threat to communications systems, space vehicles and astronauts. However catching the junk is tricky in space because suction cups do not work in vacuum and traditional sticky substances like tape and glue cannot handle the freezing temperatures.

Now Stanford University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have designed a new kind of robotic sticky to grab and dispose of the debris. It is based on the feet of geckos which have tiny microscopic flaps on their feet which create an electrostatic charge when in contact with a wall. (6/28)

Pentagon 'Space Corps' Plan Leaves Earth Science in the Dust (Source: WIRED)
Scientists and the military have often tussled over who calls the shots in space. The first astronauts were military test pilots. NASA made the space shuttle extra big to accommodate the spy satellites Pentagon planners wanted to launch. And it took 15 years for the Defense Department to release topographical maps gleaned during a classified shuttle mission so scientists could use them.

Now, two budget fights in Washington reveal how this uneasy relationship is tilting, once again, toward the needs of the military. Last week, a House Armed Services subcommittee approved legislation calling for the creation of a “Space Corps” within the Air Force.

The idea of creating a new military space command even as the White House takes an axe to peaceful Earth-observing systems devoted to science. The Trump administration wants to cancel five NASA earth science missions and slash NOAA’s budget for studying the Earth, weather, and oceans—including ground and space-bound sensors. (6/28)

US Lawmakers' Science Spending Plans Ignore Trump Cuts (Source: Nature)
The National Science Foundation budget would fall slightly and NASA would see a small bump in 2018 under legislation unveiled by a House of Representatives on 28 June. The panel, which also oversees the NOAA budget, largely rejected many of the deep cuts sought by President Donald Trump.

Under its plan, the NSF would receive US$7.3 billion, a 1.8% drop from the 2017 spending level but significantly smaller than the 11% cut that Trump wants. The agency's research budget would remain flat, at $6 billion.

The House bill would increase NASA's budget to $19.9 billion, compared to $19.7 billion in 2017; Trump had proposed a $600-million cut. The legislation sets aside $495 million for two missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa: an orbiter that would launch by 2022 and a lander that would launch by 2024. The bill also includes $5.9 billion for NASA's science directorate, an increase of $94 million above the 2017 level. (6/28)

House Spending Bill Would Boost NASA Funding (Source: Space News)
House appropriators introduced a spending bill June 28 that would increase NASA’s budget by nearly $800 million above the administration’s request, with particular support for the agency’s exploration and education programs.

The bill, to be marked up by the commerce, justice and science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee June 29, would provide $19.872 billion for NASA, $780 million more than in the administration’s request released May 23. It would also be $218 million above what the agency received in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill enacted earlier in May. (6/28)

Does Dark Energy Exist? (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers long ago reached a simple conclusion, one powered by the newfangled general theory of relativity: the space itself between galaxies is expanding, and galaxies are just along for the ride. Edwin Hubble established the expansion of the universe by cataloging nearby galaxies (after discovering that there is such a thing as "nearby galaxies"). But the story of dark energy doesn't get told by neighborhood redshifts. Click here. (6/28)

MDA Sells Majority Stake in its Satellite Servicing Business and Gets its First Customer (Source: SpaceQ)
MDA, which had announced in early May the creation of Space Infrastructure Services (SIS) to handle its nascent satellite servicing business, today announced that Finance Technology Leverage LLC would take a majority stake in SIS and that global satellite communications company SES would be its first customer.

In the May announcement MDA had stated it had hoped to be a minority stakeholder in newly created SIS, selling a majority stake to another company. With today’s announcement that goal has been achieved. Finance Technology Leverage LLC (FTL) is a Silicon Valley based venture finance company founded in 2013 with investments in biotechnology, energy, and space & technology infrastructure. (6/28)

The Search for the Next Large Asteroid That Might Slam Into Earth (Source: Seeker)
On June 30 — International Asteroid Day — skywatchers are raising awareness about "humanity's greatest challenge": the lack of defense measures against a large collision with Earth. Throughout its 4.5-billion-year history, Earth has been repeatedly pummeled by space rocks that have caused anything from an innocuous splash in the ocean to species annihilation. When the next big impact will be, nobody knows. But the pressure is on to predict — and intercept — its arrival.

So far, experts have managed to list more than 90 percent of asteroids in the dino-killing range, and determined that none poses an immediate threat. A much bigger concern is the whereabouts of millions of asteroids in the 15- to 140-meter (49- to 460-feet) range. Europe is setting up a network of telescopes to provide us with a heads-up. Scheduled for completion in about two years, it "will scan systematically the sky every night and any asteroid which is coming... would be detected with a warning time of approximately two to three weeks." (6/28)

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