July 17, 2017

A New Generation of Giant Rockets is About to Blast Off (Source: LA Times)
It’s been 44 years since the mighty Saturn V last thundered skyward from a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The towering rocket, generating enough power to lift 269,000 pounds into orbit, had been the workhorse of the Apollo moon missions. Later this year, SpaceX plans to launch its most powerful rocket yet from the same pad. The long-awaited Falcon Heavy is key to the company’s plans to ramp up its defense business, send tourists around the moon and launch its first uncrewed mission to Mars.

But unlike the Saturn V, the Falcon Heavy will have plenty of competition. Years in the works and the product of hundreds of millions of dollars of investments, a new generation of huge rockets will soon take to the skies. Their manufacturers range from space start-ups to aerospace giants to the space agencies of the United States, Russia and China. Click here. (7/14)

Bezos: Reusable Rockets Will Let a Trillion People Colonize the Solar System (Source: TechRadar)
Bezos recently floated his concept of Blue Moon, which could see Blue Origin operate a cargo service to take to the Moon supplies to robotically construct a permanent human settlement. The service would use his reusable rockets, of course, and has been pitched to NASA. For Bezos, colonizing space is a more a simple necessity for continued life on Earth. The compound effect of the incremental increase in energy requirements will mean us having to cover every inch of Earth in solar cells, he said, while the solar system offers virtually unlimited energy resources. (7/16)

The Race For A Space Base (Source: Billionaire)
It sounds like the plot to a Marvel superhero film. Five tech billionaires — three Americans, one Brit and a Russian — vying to be the first true galactic entrepreneur. Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Virgin’s Richard Branson and Yuri Milner of Digital Sky Technologies are going head to head in a resurgence of the Space Race. Click here. (7/14)

Moon Express Plans Lunar Outpost by 2020 (Source: Ars Technica)
After several years of secrecy, a company called Moon Express revealed the scope of its ambitions on Wednesday. And they are considerable. The privately held company released plans for a single, modular spacecraft that can be combined to form successfully larger and more capable vehicles. Ultimately the company plans to establish a lunar outpost in 2020 and set up commercial operations on the Moon.

Perhaps most intriguingly, Moon Express says it is self-funded to begin bringing kilograms of lunar rocks back to Earth within about three years. “We absolutely intend to make these samples available globally for scientific research, and make them available to collectors as well,” said Bob Richards, one of the company’s founders, in an interview with Ars. (7/12)

Don't Worry About U.S. Space Leadership (Source: Bloomberg)
In the realm of space exploration, Americans may have not only separated into bubbles but split into entire parallel universes. Last week, in one universe, Vice President Michael Pence vows to regain America’s lost leadership in space. In the other, NASA demonstrates its continued leadership by announcing that the spacecraft Juno is giving the world its first close-up view of Jupiter’s iconic red spot. Not that U.S. leadership was the main point of this exercise. The scientists are excited to learn about this wonder of the universe -- a swirling storm bigger than our entire planet.

In one universe, the Trump administration is going to fix what ails American space exploration. “For nearly 25 years, government’s commitment seems to have not matched the spirit of the American people,” Pence told an audience at the Kennedy Space Center on July 6. In the other universe, Americans and other interested parties from around the world are so thrilled with the Juno mission that they are downloading the raw data from NASA and turning it into images, which range from realistic visualizations to artistic renderings. (7/14)

General: Russia Leads the Way in Space Sector (Source: Tass)
Russia has retained a leading role in the space sector, Russian Air Force’s Commander-in-Chief Col Gen Viktor Bondarev told reporters on Saturday at celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Plesetsk spaceport. "We are at a very high level. Russia has not lost its positions in the space sector. Launches of spacecraft and satellites have increased recently," Bondarev said. "Yesterday, a successful launch put 72 spacecraft into orbit. It is a sort of a record, too. We are constantly developing and will aspire, so that Russia will not lose its positions in space."

Over 2,000 different spacecraft have been put into orbit and more than 1,600 carrier rockets and 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) have been launched from launching pads at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome for 60 years. (7/15)

NASA Offers Space Station as Catalyst for Discovery in Washington (Source: Space Daily)
NASA astronauts, scientists and engineers will join industry and academia for a three-day, in-depth conversation about the International Space Station (ISS) as a catalyst for discovery during the sixth annual ISS Research and Development Conference July 17-20 in Washington. Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot will provide the morning keynote on Wednesday, July 19. The conference, hosted by the American Astronautical Society and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), in cooperation with NASA, brings together leaders from industry, academia and government. (7/17)

How a One-Man Team From California Won NASA's Space Robotics Challenge (Source: IEEE)
NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge (SRC) took place last month, full of virtual Valkyries wandering around a virtual Mars base trying to fix virtual stuff. Anyone was allowed to participate, and since the virtual nature of the competition means there was no need for big expensive robots that mostly didn’t fall over, anyone actually could (and did) participate. Of the 93 teams initially signed up to compete, NASA selected 20 finalist teams based on their performance completing some tasks in the Gazebo 3D robot simulator, and each of those finalists had to program a Valkyrie humanoid to complete a repair mission on a simulated Mars base.

The winner of the SRC was team Coordinated Robotics, which also was the only team to manage a perfect run with 100 percent task completion, taking home the US $125,000 top prize plus a $50,000 “perfect run” bonus. “Team” may be a little bit of a misnomer, though, since Coordinated Robotics consists entirely of one dude: Kevin Knoedler. We spoke with Kevin about his epic win, and also checked in with Nate Koenig from Open Robotics, which leads the development of Gazebo and helped organize the SRC, to get more info on the competition, along with footage of all the best outtakes. Click here. (7/14)

The United States and Australia Quietly Test Hypersonic Missiles (Source: The Drive)
Hypersonic aircraft and missiles, which could fly as fast as a mile a second while maneuvering high enough to be safe from many existing air defenses, have the potential to transform warfare. So it’s no surprise that the United States continues to pushing ahead with research and development of these exotic flight vehicles, both gathering information on future weapon designs and conducting actual flight tests in cooperation with Australia.

As of July 12, 2017, the U.S. military and its Australian partners had concluded a round of experiments as part of the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HiFIRE) program, including an unspecified number of actual test launches. Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne specifically congratulated the team. (7/14)

UAE Space Agency Marks 3rd Anniversary (Source: Trade Arabia)
The UAE Space Agency celebrated on Sunday its third anniversary in an official ceremony in Abu Dhabi, shedding light on the Agency’s most important accomplishments since 2014. The ceremony was held under the patronage of Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and chairman of the UAE Space Agency and Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency. (7/16)

How Scotland Could Lead the Way in Space and Generate Hundreds of Millions for Our Economy (Source: The National)
A Scottish national space agency and a national spaceport would make an independent Scotland a world leader in the space sector, a new report has claimed. To be that world leader, Scotland needs to develop the national infrastructure necessary to support a burgeoning industry, according to the report by Common Weal think tank. The problem at the moment is that space is a joint civil and defence jurisdiction, and is currently a reserved matter to Westminster. (7/14)

NASA Analyst Left A $200,000 Job To Sell Cigars (Source: NDTV)
His Springfield, Virginia-based Fratello Cigars is on track this year to sell $2 million worth from Chicago to Amsterdam. That comes to almost 250,000 smokes and around $1 million in gross revenue. The former NASA project analyst walked away from a $200,000 (benefits included) job last fall to pursue an enterprise whose biggest assets are his smarts and persistence. "I liked the culture," said de Frias, who was drawn to the tobacco business's nostalgic vibe.

The 38-year-old businessman grew up next to a tobacco store in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, where he was enthralled by the swaggering cigar smokers in their big cars and wavy brimmed hats. "I have been smoking cigars for 20 years and have always been fascinated by the industry," he said. "I liked how I would see my grandfather smoking a cigar. It was such a fine thing to do. It seemed classy." (7/14)

Space Florida Applauds President Trump’s Appointment of Scott Pace (Source: Space Florida)
“Space Florida applauds President Trump’s appointment of Scott Pace as the Executive Director of the newly formed National Space Council. Scott’s long experience across the many facets of this nation’s growing space enterprise will serve the Administration and the country well. Following so closely after the Vice President’s visit to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, this is further testament to the commitment of this White House to America’s space program and its commercial opportunities. We look forward to working with Scott, the Vice President and others on the Council and the User’s Advisory Group to consolidate US leadership in space.” (7/14)

Commercial Space Has Won (Source: Behind the Black)
The government should emulate NASA’s COTS program, using simple Space Act Agreements for any future projects, with limited funding that is fixed price with payments made only upon meeting certain goals. It should buy the products from private companies instead of designing and building them itself. It should leave ownership to the private companies. It should encourage competition by awarding these contracts to multiple companies. And it should give contracts to both established as well as new companies. (7/13)

NASA's 'Hidden Figures' Break Barriers at Langley (Source: Daily Press)
Mercury astronaut John Glenn needed Katherine Johnson. Glenn was nervous about his imminent launch into space in the Friendship 7 capsule in February 1962. The calculations for his re-entry had been computed by an electronic machine, not the human computers he knew calculated the numbers by hand. So, he called NASA Langley to have confirmation everything was sound. “Get the girl to check the numbers,” he said, referring to Johnson.

Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson each were hired by Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory as some of the first black “human computers” — research mathematicians who calculated equations by hand for engineers. The three, along with dozens of other black women, were segregated from the white computers doing similar work. In facilities on the west side of Langley’s campus, Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson worked to break barriers in their work. (7/15)

Want Your Own Spacesuit? We Know a Guy… (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
There are an array of individuals who produce of all manner of space items and artifacts, replicas so precise as to (almost) fool the engineers who built the actual artifacts themselves. One of these individuals is Ryan Nagata, and his efforts could help provide those in the space community (well, those with an interest in cosplay anyway) to live out there dreams of being an astronaut.

Nagata makes some of the most accurate replica spacesuits in the world. Internationally known, Nagata’s work has appeared in feature films, on TV (on Mythbusters), and has been used in ad campaigns as well. Nagata’s success likely stems from his attention to detail as he sews each suit by hand. Wanting to find out more about this fascinating hobby-slash-occupation, SpaceFlight Insider spoke with Nagata about his work. Click here. (7/15) 

Spaceport Plans Considered at Amarillo Airport (Source: Amarillo.com)
What about a spaceport — do you think that’s a market we need to pay attention to? A: I think a lot of people see spaceport stuff as kind of pie in the sky, but here you’ve got such a long runway that it would be prime for anything that’s occurring in that area. I’m watching that arena very closely to see how fast it’s going to be improving; you’ve got key players like Virgin obviously trying to make their headway in that area and really get things going. If that starts to take off, I think that we can move into that area as well. (7/15)

Bezos Attends Aldrin Gala for Space Education at KSC (Source: Florida Today)
Without educators, pioneers and innovators, there would be no space program, which is why Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin wants to foster a learning environment that will turn today's children into tomorrow's Martians. "Tonight, we are here to honor the Apollo astronauts," said John Zarella, master of ceremonies for the Apollo 11 Anniversary Gala. "But we're also here to educate the next generation," Generation Mars.

Aldrin and his ShareSpace Foundation hosted the gala Saturday night at Kennedy Space Center's Apollo/Saturn V Center, drawing astronauts, educators and space fans from around the world. Dr. Andy Aldrin, director of the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute and Aldrin's son, said he grew up around the space program. The live auction brought in more than $134,000.

But the evening also offered an opportunity to recognize the first winners of the Buzz Aldrin Space Awards. "Jeff Bezos told me ... that he's been dreaming of space since the age of 5 years old," Buzz Aldrin said in giving the founder of private space exploration company Blue Origin and founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Amazon, his Space Innovation Award. Bezos said he won a lottery called Amazon.com, and he's using his lottery winnings to push space exploration. He doesn't see going to Mars or any other planet as a Plan B in case Earth is destroyed. He quoted several astronauts whose visits to the moon made them appreciate the beauty of Earth. (7/15)

$30 Billion Market Value for Small Satellites over Coming Decade (Source: Euroconsult)
According to Euroconsult’s latest report, Prospects for the Small Satellite Market, significant expansion in terms of capabilities and demand is underway in the smallsat market. Over 6,200 smallsats are expected to be launched over the next ten years, a substantial augmentation over that of the previous decade (several mega constellations are now included within the scope of this report). The smallsat market from 2017-2026 will be driven by the roll-out of multiple constellations accounting for more than 70% of this total, mainly for commercial operators. (7/13)

More to Life Than the Habitable Zone (Source: CFA)
Two separate teams of scientists have identified major challenges for the development of life in what has recently become one of the most famous exoplanet systems, TRAPPIST-1. The teams, both led by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., say the behavior of the star in the TRAPPIST-1 system makes it much less likely than generally thought, that planets there could support life.  

While these two studies suggest that the likelihood of life may be lower than previously thought, it does not mean the TRAPPIST-1 system or others with red dwarf stars are devoid of life. "We're definitely not saying people should give up searching for life around red dwarf stars," said Garraffo's co-author Jeremy Drake, also from CfA. "But our work and the work of our colleagues shows we should also target as many stars as possible that are more like the Sun." (7/13)

Indestructible Tardigrades Will Live Until the Dying Sun Boils Earth’s Oceans (Source: Cosmos)
Great news for everyone’s favourite vacuum bag-shaped microanimal – the near-imperishable tardigrade will outlive us all, persisting until the Sun dies in around 5 billion years, according to a new study. If a big enough asteroid hits Earth, humans will likely perish. Not so for the tardigrade – a hardy, eight-legged creature that lives in in watery environments across Earth, from mountains to the deep sea.

This resilient species can withstand extreme conditions including 150-degree heat, pressure six times what you find in an ocean trench, and up to 30 years without food or water – all of which which will aid their survival. To assess this resilience, scientists at Oxford and Harvard Universities zeroed in on three kinds of potential astrophysical events: asteroid impacts, gamma ray bursts, and exploding stars in the form of supernovae. Their results are published in Scientific Reports.

They deduced that to kill off tardigrades, an astrophysical event would need to pack enough punch to boil Earth’s oceans. This means a hefty asteroid, a supernova within 0.14 light-years of Earth, or a gamma-ray that burst no more than 40 light-years away. (7/14)

Space-Exploration Artifacts Are Worth So Much Money for a Reason (Source: TIME)
It's impossible to put a price on the rocks and dirt brought back from the moon by the six Apollo landing missions — the rare case in which the word "priceless" applies literally. But one way to grasp the value of lunar samples is to compare them to something else we prize highly: gold. Over the course of history, about 425 million pounds of gold have been mined and refined. That's 505,000 times more by weight than the 842 pounds of samples carried home from the moon. Gold currently trades at a per-ounce price of around $1,215. Using that as a benchmark and multiplying by scarcity, moon dirt should trade at over $614 million per ounce.

It's not likely anyone will pay nearly that much for the lunar dust that will be sold at Sotheby's during an auction of space artifacts on July 20 — the 48th anniversary of the first moon landing. There will hardly be an ounce of the stuff anyway, just a few grains and stains trapped in the fabric of a sample return bag carried home by the Apollo 11 crew. Still, that's enough for the Sotheby's appraisers to estimate a $2 million to $4 million sales range for the bag.

Space artifacts have that kind of effect on people, and the auction house is counting on a big pay day when the sample bag and the 172 other items being auctioned along with it go under the hammer. Some of the space merch on offer is, at least by cosmic standards, relatively commonplace stuff: the familiar photo of Buzz Aldrin standing on the Sea of Tranquility, but signed by Buzz himself; a patch from Apollo 11, but one that was actually carried on the spacecraft to the moon and back. (7/14)

TDRS-M Satellite Damaged During Processing at Spaceport (Source: NASA)
An incident during launch preparations could postpone next month's launch of a NASA communications satellite. The agency said Saturday that NASA and spacecraft manufacturer Boeing are investigating an incident Friday involving the TDRS-M spacecraft as it was undergoing final closeout activities prior to being integrated to its Atlas 5 rocket. NASA provided no other details other than to say it involved the omnidirectional S-band antenna on the spacecraft. TDRS-M, the last in the third generation of TDRS communications satellites, is currently scheduled for an Aug. 3 launch from Cape Canaveral. (7/14)

Space Council Gains Support (Source: Space News)
As the reestablished National Space Council takes shape, those in the space community are lining up to support it. The White House's selection late Thursday of Scott Pace to serve as executive secretary won widespread support from various organizations in the industry. At a symposium Friday, a panel of former White House officials who worked on space policy also endorsed the creation of the space council, believing that it will give space issues greater prominence within the administration while also providing additional staff to address them. (7/17)

Astroscale Raises $25M for Debris Removal Concept (Source: Space News)
A Singapore-based company developing orbital debris removal technologies has raised $25 million. Astroscale raised the Series C round from a mix of venture capital firms and companies, bringing the total the company has raised to date to $53 million. Astroscale is developing one spacecraft, Idea OSG-1, scheduled for launch next year to monitor submillimeter-sized space debris, and another, ELSA-d, for launch in 2019 to test debris removal technologies. (7/17)

Fire Extinguished on Roof of SpaceX Rocket Facility in Florida (Source: WESH)
Firefighters extinguished a minor fire Sunday on the roof of a building SpaceX is leasing at Port Canaveral. The fire caused some damage to the roof of the building SpaceX started leasing earlier this year for storage of rocket boosters after landing. SpaceX said in a statement Sunday evening that no SpaceX hardware was damaged, and the cause of the fire is under investigation. (7/17)

Air Force: Software Reform Could Speed Space System Acquisitions (Source: Space News)
An Air Force general said software used in space systems is another area in need of reform. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, the leader of Air Force Material Command, said Friday that requirements to support antiquated systems bogs down acquisition and development of space systems. She also noted that a "zero risk tolerance culture" for space systems results in review processes that slow down development of space systems overall. (7/17)

India Seeks to Expand Space Supplier Base (Source: The Hindu)
India's space agency is looking for additional suppliers to speed up the production of launch vehicles. ISRO is seeking multiple vendors of most components of its PSLV and GSLV rockets, ranging from fuel tanks and structures to payload fairings. ISRO has goals of producing 12 launch vehicles a year, and also handing over production of rockets to an industry consortium by 2020. (7/17)

Curiosity Drill Fix Still Possible (Source: Space.com)
Engineers are still working to fix a malfunctioning drill on the Curiosity Mars rover. The drill has been out of service since last December after controllers noticed a problem with its drill feed mechanism. Engineers haven't given up trying to fix the problem, but are also looking at alternative ways to use the drill to work around the problem. (7/17)

Mudballs in Space (Source: Science News)
The early solar system may have been filled with mudballs. New modeling of conditions in the early solar system suggests that, when the first asteroids formed, heating from radioactive decay melted ice within them, initially suspending the dust grains inside them rather than forming rocks. The model explains why meteorites linked to those early asteroids have the same chemistry as the sun, and could also explain differences between comets and asteroids. (7/14)

Canadian-Built Norwegian Microsatellites Launched by Russia in Kazakhstan (Source: SpaceRef)
The Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) announced today the successful launch of two Norwegian microsatellites developed and built by SFL for the Norwegian Space Centre with support from the Norwegian Coastal Authority, Space Norway, and the European Space Agency. The Soyuz-2.1a rocket carrying the satellites into orbit launched from Baikonur on Friday 14 July 2017. (7/14)

Building the GEOINT Pipeline in St. Louis (Source: Trajectory)
USGIF hosted a breakfast June 7 at the GEOINT 2017 Symposium for about 20 government and industry leaders with an interest in building a professional development pipeline and GEOINT workforce in the greater St. Louis area. The St. Louis Initiative, which USGIF launched in March, addresses the city’s innovation boom and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) soon-to-be-built new western campus in north St. Louis.

Developing a stronger GEOINT Community in St. Louis will take time and energy, said USGIF Vice President of Professional Development Dr. Darryl Murdock, who led the meeting and encouraged stakeholders to share their thoughts about the initiative. (7/11)

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