July 20, 2017

Trump Nominates Climate Change Skeptic to Critical Agricultural Department Position (Source: Fusion)
In another totally unsurprising move, President Trump nominated a man who described climate science as “junk” to the Agriculture Department’s top science post. Sam Clovis, a former talk radio host and college professor, was nominated to be the Agricultural Department’s undersecretary for research. Clovis is not a scientist, nor does he possess a degree in anything related to agricultural or climate science. He was a tenured professor of business and public policy at Morningside College for 10 years.

Despite his experience, or lack thereof, Clovis is also a climate change skeptic and a popular one on talk radio. In 2014 he told Iowa Public Radio that he was “extremely skeptical” of climate science and rejected the general consensus that climate change is related to human activity. The position he could fill, pending a Senate confirmation, manages $3 billion in research funding; $2 billion is allotted to research and $1 billion to education. (7/20)

As Innovators Shoot for the Moon — How Will We Regulate Commerce? (source: The Hill)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a hearing to examine whether the Outer Space Treaty, which turns 50 this year, needs to be updated to accommodate the growing commercial space sector. The consensus of two panels, one of legal experts and the other of business entrepreneurs, was that the treaty itself should not be changed. They believed that the the treaty's language is flexible enough to be interpreted so that conflicts involving commercial space entities could be handled.

However, the Outer Space Treaty is mostly silent where private property rights are concerned. Indeed, Article One of the treaty states, in part: “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies.”

The wording suggests that a company like Moon Express would have a hard time setting up a mining operation that would require excluding anyone else from its facility and surrounding environs. On the other hand, Article Seven states, “Each State Party to the Treaty that launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and each State Party from whose territory or facility an object is launched, is internationally liable for damage to another State Party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air space or in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies.” (7/20)

Cooke: Trump Administration is Making America a Leader in Space Again (Source: The Hill)
President Trump has shown encouraging support for America’s leadership in space, signing the bipartisan NASA Transition and Authorization Act of 2017 that provides for a healthy, balanced program, as well as the 2017 omnibus spending bill, providing needed funds to carry out existing programs. More recently, he signed an Executive Order reestablishing the National Space Council, and Vice President Pence visited the Kennedy Space Center just last week to emphasize the administration’s support for a robust American future in space.

This welcome attention to space policy across NASA’s portfolio appears to continue policies that support ongoing operations in low Earth orbit while doubling down on those needed to explore beyond it. NASA will return to flying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time in six years through service contracts with American companies. NASA will build and test the new Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle, enabling human missions to the Moon and Mars and other destinations, returning American to deep space for the first time in 45 years.

The administration’s budget request for 2018 makes some course corrections, but sustains essential developments in cargo and crew transportation to ISS and SLS/Orion/Ground Systems developments for deep space exploration, including a flat five year budget runout. Editor's Note: This op-ed speaks of very little that wasn't already happening at NASA before President Trump was elected. (7/20)

Trump’s Muddled Space Policy: He Sets Up a High-Level Panel but Urges Budget Cuts (Source: Sacramento Bee)
The Trump administration is sending mixed signals about its intentions for space. President Donald Trump’s budget would slash NASA funding dramatically. But last month he revived the long-dormant National Space Council.

Trump wants to cut NASA by $4.5 billion over the next four years, though he continues to claim his presidency “will once again make America first again” in space. Trump’s proposed NASA budget for fiscal 2018, which begins October 1, is $19.1 billion is a 2.9 percent reduction from its present funding, and would force the agency to eliminate its Office of Education.

Given the consistent bipartisan support for NASA, it is likely that the agency will receive closer to its current $19.6 billion from Congress. John Logsdon, a former NASA Advisory Council member, said in an email that he doesn’t think think re-vitalizing the (Space) Council “sends a signal about science one way or the other.” (7/19)

How Will the Space Council Affect NASA? (Source: Paste)
NASA’s been in a difficult position for most of its existence when it comes to budgets and changing administration and Congressional priorities. Programs are greenlit then canceled; lofty goals are outlined, but not fully funded. The organization is required to keep itself flexible in order to accommodate these changing moods, but that comes at a very high cost and has generally terrible results when it comes to forward progress. Having one organization deciding policy and spaceflight goals could temper some of this pressure. It wouldn’t insulate NASA completely, but it could provide clear and decisive direction that is currently lacking.

Additionally, Vice President Pence’s comments make him (and the Council as a consequence) seem more amenable to commercial space partnerships than Congress has been in the past. In the past, Congress has been reluctant to approve partnership with commercial space companies in order to explore space. Get us to the ISS? Sure. But space exploration has always been done by NASA; sure, NASA contracts with companies to build its vehicles (Boeing is constructing the Orion capsule, for example), but NASA bears the brunt of development costs.

NASA needs to be able to contract with commercial space companies that have developed and tested their own tech, without NASA funds supporting them. Yes, they can have contracts in place that ensure them business with NASA (indeed, that’s how SpaceX succeeded), but NASA wouldn’t be paying for the tech development. (7/20)

SpaceX Skipping Red Dragon for “Vastly Bigger Ships” on Mars, Musk Confirms (Source: Teslarati)
Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that SpaceX chose to cut development of propulsive landing for Dragon 2, and thus Red Dragon, in order to jump directly into propulsively landing “a vastly bigger ship” on Mars. Again, this matches closely with a handful of rumors that have been fermenting in SpaceX forums. Musk’s comment on Twitter now officially confirms that Red Dragon is no more.

SpaceX had previously delayed Red Dragon to 2020, which happens to be the same year a tentative schedule from the Guadalajara presentation pegged SpaceX’s first attempt at testing the Big Falcon Spaceship in orbit. With approximately 30 months between now and 2020, there is almost no chance SpaceX could mature Raptor and develop an entirely new, massive launch vehicle and spacecraft in time for the 2020 testing, but it is not impossible. (7/19)

Has Mars Man Musk Pivoted to the Moon? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Partway through an appearance at the International Space Station R&D Conference on Wednesday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk dropped a bombshell into a conference room at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. “If you want to get the public real fired up, I think we’ve got to have a base on the moon,” he said. “That would be pretty cool. And then going beyond that, getting people to Mars.”

Whaaaat? For a billionaire who has been laser focused on establishing a new branch of humanity on Mars, the mere mention of a detour to the dusty old moon seemed almost sacrilegious somehow. What the hell has happened since Musk laid out his bold vision for transporting a million people to Mars at a space conference in Mexico only 10 months ago? The short answer: reality has set in. Click here. (7/19)

Musk: We Need Moon Base to Get People 'Fired Up' About Space Travel (Source: Sky News)
Elon Musk has said humans need to build a base on the moon to get the public "fired up" again about space exploration. Humans first landed there 48 years ago today [20 July], but nobody has stepped foot on the moon since the final mission of the Apollo program in 1972. Speaking at a conference in Washington about the International Space Station, the SpaceX founder complained that the public did not seem to grasp "how cool the ISS is".

Public interest and fascination with space travel exploded during the Apollo missions. The funding the US ploughed into the space race led to huge advances in the development of new technologies and inspired many people to pursue engineering and science careers. Elon Musk told the conference there were more technological advances and business opportunities to be grasped with greater space travel.

Editor's Note: Imagine if the resources and innovations of billionaires like Musk, Bezos, Bigelow, Jain, and other space resource mining and energy companies were aligned with NASA plans, ESA's 'Moon Village' concept, China's ambitions, and Russia's interests. Seems like a lot of leverage and momentum could be created for humankind's next big step beyond Low Earth Orbit. (7/20)

Musk Admits Flying to Mars Might Be Hard (Source: Vanity Fair)
Elon Musk’s space exploration company SpaceX—which has already revolutionized the spaceflight industry by launching and landing reusable rockets—has a bigger goal: to take people to the moon, and to eventually establish human colonies on Mars. Musk is known for his optimistic timelines for SpaceX projects, last year announcing that he planned to send an unmanned rocket to the Red Planet “as soon as 2018.” But during a talk at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference on Wednesday, Musk was uncharacteristically realistic about SpaceX’s inaugural trip into outer space.

Musk: Key to Opening Up Space Travel is 'Near Complete Reusability' of Spacecraft (Source: CNBC)
The key to opening up low-Earth orbit, and space travel in general, is building rockets and spacecraft that are almost entirely reusable, said Elon Musk. Spacecraft have to become as much like any terrestrial or sea-faring vehicle as possible — meaning they can be reused again and again —Musk said, speaking at the International Space Station Research and Design conference in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. (7/19)

Musk: First Heavy-Lift Falcon Launch Will Be Risky (Source: ABC)
SpaceX's chief said Wednesday that the first launch of its big new rocket is risky and stands "a real good chance" of failure. Elon Musk said he wants to set realistic expectations for the flight later this year from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The Falcon Heavy will have three boosters instead of one, and 27 engines instead of nine, all of which must ignite simultaneously. No one will be aboard the initial flights. When it comes time to add people, Musk said, "no question, whoever's on the first flight, brave."

SpaceX plans to fly two paying customers to the moon late next year, using a Falcon Heavy. He said in response to a question that he'd like to ride one of his smaller Falcon rockets to the International Space Station in maybe three or four years. (7/20)

SpaceX Targets 24-Hour First Stage Rocket Re-Use by 2018, Other Re-Use (Source: Tech Crunch)
SpaceX hopes to achieve its 24-hour turnaround window for used Falcon 9 rockets sometime next year, he said, and there is already “a technical path in place to achieving that.” Some of its reuse efforts aren’t immediately bearing fruit in terms of lowering costs, however – Musk revealed that refurbishing the Dragon capsule it flew for a second time during the most recent ISS resupply mission cost “almost as much – maybe more” than building a new one from scratch.

That should improve over time, however, as SpaceX gets better at refurbishing the cargo craft. Next time around, it should be able to shave a few percentage points off the cost of refurbishment, he said. Meanwhile, Musk said that SpaceX is getting closer to being able to recover the fairing, a nosecone that sits atop the rocket to protect the payload during launch. The company managed to land one of those earlier this year, and Musk said that they’re now “quite close” to being able to land it and recover the component as well. The fairing, including all of its integrated systems, is a $5 or $6 million piece of equipment, he noted. (7/20)

For Astronauts, Crazy Risks Come with the Job (Source: NBC)
In her two expeditions aboard the ISS, Sunita Williams has racked up more time on spacewalks than any other woman: more than two full days floating in the void. On her most recent extravehicular adventure, to fix a slow leak of toxic ammonia coolant from one of the station’s solar panels, Williams was tethered outside in her bulky space suit for six and a half hours straight as the Earth’s colorful orb spun below. She finished the job right on schedule, almost to the minute. Click here. (7/20)

Inner Strength for Outer Space (Source: NBC)
The glamorous parts of spaceflight — ascending skyward on a pillar of fire, floating gracefully against a backdrop of stars — are in some ways the easiest on the astronauts’ minds and bodies, as long as nothing goes wrong. As NASA eyes the long-term future of human space exploration and missions to Mars, medical and psychological challenges are among those that loom largest. Click here. (7/20)

Saving a Spaceman from Drowning (Source: NBC)
Karen Nyberg was on the space station in 2013 when crewmate Luca Parmitano, out on a spacewalk, called for help. His suit’s cooling system had sprung a leak, and water was filling his helmet. In the weightless freefall of orbit, water doesn’t pool — it forms floating blobs that stick to any surface they touch. Within minutes, water was covering Parmitano’s eyes and nose. He couldn’t see and could barely breathe. He had to get back on board fast before he drowned. But to do that, he needed help from his crewmates. Click here. (7/20)

NASA Seeks Industry Ideas for Deep Space Gateway (Source: Space News)
NASA is seeking information from industry on the design of a core element of its proposed Deep Space Gateway. A request for information released this week seeks technical and contractual details about the Power and Propulsion Element, which will produce electrical power for the gateway and carry both chemical thrusters and a solar electric propulsion system. NASA anticipates launching the module as a co-manifested payload on the first crewed SLS/Orion mission, likely in 2022. NASA is studying the gateway, operated in orbit around the moon, as a testbed for technologies needed for later human missions to Mars. (7/19)

Saft Hurting for More Satellite Battery Orders (Source: Space News)
A major supplier of spacecraft batteries is riding out a decline in orders for geostationary orbit communications satellites. Saft, which has facilities in the U.S. and Europe, says it is still working through a backlog of satellites orders so it has not yet felt the effects of a downturn in satellite orders in the last couple of years. The company is looking at other markets for its batteries, from reusable launch vehicles to constellations of low Earth orbit satellites. (7/19)

India Earned $7 Million Carrying Secondary-Payload Microsatellites on June Launch (Source: PTI)
Flying nearly 30 small satellites last month earned India's space agency about $7 million. In a response to a question from India's parliament, the Indian Space Research Organisation said that the 29 foreign smallsats that flew as secondary payloads on a June PSLV launch generated 6.1 million euros ($7 million) in revenue. ISRO didn't disclose how much money it made on a February launch that carried more than 100 satellites. (7/20)

Russian Lunar Mission Delayed by Spaceport Bottleneck (Source: Tass)
A lack of spaceport infrastructure is delaying Russian lunar missions. Sergei Lemeshevsky, CEO of Lavochkin Research and Production Association, said a lunar orbiter mission scheduled for launch in 2020 has been delayed to 2021, pushing back a a lander mission from 2021 to 2022. Lemeshevsky said facilities at Baikonur can accommodate only one planetary mission at a time, with the ExoMars 2020 mission taking precedence over the moon missions. Russia's new Vostochny Cosmodrome also lacks facilities for supporting those missions, he said. (7/20)

Russia Plans Super-Heavy Energia-5 in 2028 (Source: Tass)
Russia hopes to launch its first "super-heavy" rocket in 2028. RSC Energia CEO Vladimir Solntsev said the first launch of the proposed Energia-5 rocket is planned for 2028 from Vostochny. Two versions of the rocket will each be able to place about 100 metric tons into low Earth orbit or 20.5 tons into lunar orbit, supporting human lunar missions there. The Russian state space corporation Roscosmos estimates it will cost $25 billion to develop the rocket and its launch facilities. (7/20)

The Case for Sending US Companies Back to the Moon, Explained in Cartoons (Source: Quartz)
Robert Bigelow wants to be the first commercial landlord in space. Bigelow said his company’s first two fully-fledged space habitats would be ready for launch by the end of 2020. He told a NASA conference audience all they need is a customer (hint, hint). The habitats could be used to augment or replace the space station in low earth orbit, but Bigelow’s hope is that NASA will send them to the moon.

“There’s no time to lose,” Bigelow said. Why? Because China aims to go to the moon, and Bigelow frets that it will get there first and thus be able to impose its own rules in what is still a legal (as well as literal) grey area.
It’s not the first time Bigelow has made this argument, but this is the first time he has used cartoons to drive it home. Click here. (7/20)

All About Space Junk (Source: Futurism)
Since humans started launching rockets and other objects into space in the 1950s, orbital space debris has been slowly accumulating above our atmosphere. It's a multinational problem that's only getting worse. Russian scientists warned that the rise in space junk could provoke armed conflict in the near future. Here's everything you need to know about our junkyard in the sky. (7/20)

What is Virgin Galactic and How Much Will it Cost to Travel to Space? (Source: The Telegraph)
Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline company - but when will its first spaceflight be and how much will it cost to travel to space? Virgin Galactic passengers will depart from Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. It was opened in New Mexico in 2011. WhiteKnightTwo, a jet-powered cargo aircraft, will climb to an altitude of 50,000 feet before releasing SpaceShipTwo, a spacecraft that will bring passengers on the final part of the journey.

SpaceShipTwo will travel at approximately three and a half times the speed of sound, propelling the vehicle and passengers to space. The whole experience is expected to last two hours. The spacecraft is expected to carry six passengers and two pilots. Once SpaceShip Two has reentered the earth’s atmosphere, the vehicle’s wings will be returned to their normal configuration, and the spaceship will glide back to the original runway.

A seat on a Virgin Galactic flight will cost you $250,000, which has to be paid up-front as a deposit. More than 700 people have signed up so far, including celebrities Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks and Paris Hilton, reports say. (7/19)

Ancient, Massive Asteroid Impact Could Explain Martian Geological Mysteries (Source: Space Daily)
The origin and nature of Mars is mysterious. It has geologically distinct hemispheres, with smooth lowlands in the north and cratered, high-elevation terrain in the south. The red planet also has two small oddly-shaped oblong moons and a composition that sets it apart from that of the Earth.

New research outlines a likely cause for these mysterious features of Mars: a colossal impact with a large asteroid early in the planet's history. This asteroid - about the size of Ceres, one of the largest asteroids in the Solar System - smashed into Mars, ripped off a chunk of the northern hemisphere and left behind a legacy of metallic elements in the planet's interior. The crash also created a ring of rocky debris around Mars that may have later clumped together to form its moons, Phobos and Deimos. (7/20)

In Gulf of Mexico, NASA Evaluates How Crew Will Exit Orion (Source: Space Daily)
When astronauts return to Earth from destinations beyond the moon in NASA's Orion spacecraft and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, they'll still need to safely get out of the spacecraft and back on dry land. Using the waters off the coast of Galveston, Texas, a NASA and Department of Defense team tested Orion exit procedures in a variety of scenarios July 10-14.

During the crew egress testing, a joint team from the Orion and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs, along with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force, evaluated how the crew will get out of the capsule with assistance and by themselves. (7/20)

Japan Inc's $2 Billion in Cash Begins Percolating Up Into Space (Source: Nikkei)
ANA Holdings is getting into the space business. It also might be signaling the beginning of a Japanese corporate investment trend. The parent of All Nippon Airways on Friday said it had invested 300 million yen ($2.66 million) in Astroscale, a venture out of Singapore. The deal could be a harbinger in a number of ways. For one thing, it could mark quite a change for Japan, where space exploration has always been the domain of government agencies.

And that change could prove attractive to Japanese companies having a hard time figuring out how to make good use of their growing cash reserves. Toyoyuki Nagamine, senior executive vice president at ANA Holdings, described the investment in Astroscale as a great opportunity to share the pool of expertise the carrier has accumulated through its airline operations. (7/19)

NASA is Working Out How to Create Rocket Fuel on Mars (Source: WIRED)
Sending humans to Mars involves deep space missions that could last months, but shipping material there is costly; the price of transporting 1kg on Earth increases by a factor of 100 on a Martian mission. If the ultimate goal is to establish a long-term base on Mars, we'll need make use of materials found on humanity's greatest ever voyage.

NASA has a target to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. Since 2012, the space agency has dedicated a branch of its research to what it calls In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), with researchers working to find the best ways to produce one of the most crucial resources for space travel – rocket fuel. Click here. (7/18)

Just One Small Step for Australia’s Space Industry When a Giant Leap is Needed (Source: The Conversation)
An expert review of the Australian space industry’s capabilities to participate in a global market was announced last week by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Arthur Sinodinos. He said the aim is to “develop a long-term plan to grow this important and exciting sector” and report in March 2018.

Interestingly, the words “space agency” do not appear in the announcement, but this was addressed later when the minister spoke to the media. The space community had been expecting an announcement of this sort for some time. Many expected one to be made for maximum impact at or near the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) to be held in Adelaide in September, when Australia’s space community will be on show to the world. (7/18)

Russia to Use Drones to Search for Fallen Rocket Fragments (Source: Tass)
Experts from the Center for Operation of Ground-Based Space Infrastructure Facilities have for the first time ever used fire control drones to track down the fragments of the Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle, which lifted off from the Baikonur Space Center on July 14 with 73 satellites aboard, the press service of Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos said on Tuesday.

Experts of the Russian space industry enterprises on Tuesday rounded up the works in the designated areas of the downfall of stage one and stage two fragments of the launch vehicle. "For the first time ever, the specialists of the Center for Operation of the Ground-Based Space Infrastructure Facilities used unmanned aircraft of the Grant family, which have the effective range of flight of up to 100 km, rise to the altitude of 800 meters, and register coordinate with the precision of up to 0.2 meters," a spokesman for Roscosmos said. (7/18)

Russia to Start Manufacturing New Soyuz-5 Medium-Class Rocket (Source: Tass)
Russia’s Progress Rocket and Space Center is ready to manufacture new Soyuz-5 medium-class rocket, Progress CEO Alexander Kirilin said. "We are ready for the production of this rocket," the chief executive said. Russia’s federal space program for 2016-2025 stipulates developing a new-generation medium-class space rocket complex (the Phoenix R&D work) from 2018 to 2025.

The Russian government is expected to allocate almost 30 billion rubles ($498 million) for the launcher’s development. The project’s budget financing will begin in 2018. There are plans to use the launch pad of the Zenit carrier rocket at the Baikonur cosmodrome, which Kazakhstan will modernize under the Baiterek program for the new Russian rocket. The Sea Launch compound is also expected to be used for rocket launches. The first launch of the Soyuz-5 carrier rocket from the Baikonur spaceport is scheduled for 2022. (7/18)

Rohrabacher: Was There a Civilization on Mars? (Source: LA Times)
Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology's subcommittee on space. On Tuesday, he begged some extra time from the subcommittee's chairman to ask a panel of NASA scientists a question: Was there once a civilization on Mars? Watch a scientist's answer here. (7/18)

Ancient, Massive Asteroid Impact Could Explain Martian Geological Mysteries (Source: UC Boulder)
The origin and nature of Mars are mysterious. The planet has geologically distinct hemispheres with smooth lowlands in the north and cratered, high-elevation terrain in the south. The red planet also has two small oddly-shaped oblong moons and a composition that sets it apart from that of the Earth.

New research by CU Boulder professor Stephen Mojzsis outlines a likely cause for these mysterious features of Mars: a colossal impact with a large asteroid early in the planet’s history. This asteroid—about the size of Ceres, one of the largest asteroids in the solar system—smashed into Mars, ripped off a chunk of the northern hemisphere and left behind a legacy of metallic elements in the planet’s interior. The crash also created a ring of rocky debris around Mars that may have later clumped together to form its moons, Phobos and Deimos. (7/18)

Advice for the National Space Council from Policy Insiders (Source: Space Policy Online)
Now that President Trump has announced his intent to appoint Scott Pace as Executive Director of the newly reconstituted National Space Council, advice is pouring in on what issues it should tackle and the challenges ahead.

Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) and two panels of experts offered their views on the Space Council and other topics. The White House announcement came the evening before the seminar began. While Pace was widely rumored to be the top choice, the timing caught many by surprise. The seminar's topic, however, Ensuring U.S. Space Leadership, lent itself to the breaking development. Click here. (7/18)

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