July 27, 2017

SpaceX Considers Florida Launch Pad for Both Falcon and Mars Rocket (Source: Teslarati)
Elon Musk revealed that the updated, leaner version of SpaceX’s Mars rocket would likely have a diameter of around 9 meters. A 9m Interplanetary Transport System, while precisely 25% smaller than the 12m diameter version revealed last year, would have to either lose the outer ring of full scale Raptor engines, or pivot to a smaller version of Raptor in order to preserve the 42 engine configuration.

Given Musk’s adamant and harsh judgement of the complexity of 27 Merlin 1D engines simultaneously firing on Falcon Heavy, moving to a 21 engine first stage for SpaceX’s Mars vehicle is a fair bet. Speculative calculations suggest that this smaller ITS could launch a bit less than half the payload of the original, still almost double the capability of Saturn V.

NASASpaceflight.com revealed that documents and rumblings behind the scenes indicate that SpaceX is seriously considering either co-launching from LC-39B or modifying LC-39A with a second launch mount. This would require considerable modifications but would not require the costly and time-consuming construction of an entirely new launch pad. (7/27)

Smaller Mars Rocket Could Forego New Manufacturing Facility for SpaceX (Source: Teslarati)
The implication of a smaller 9-meter diameter rocket is that SpaceX is now looking to utilize current manufacturing facilities in California. While it adds considerable expense, the transport of a Space Shuttle external fuel tank through the streets of Los Angeles in 2011 sets a precedent for it being possible for SpaceX to transport a 9m vehicle from its factory in Hawthorne, CA to a nearby port.

If SpaceX is able to use the same facilities it currently has for developing its Mars vehicle, it would experience immense savings compared to the cost of developing entirely new factories and testing facilities. This matches up perfectly with Musk’s repeated statement that the updated ITS is focused on improving the economic case for the vehicle and making it significantly cheaper to develop.

Editor's Note: There is ample undeveloped property near Blue Origin's new rocket factory at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport...along with state and local incentives for the construction. Even if the huge rockets are manufactured in California, a huge facility will still be needed in Florida for their final assembly and processing. (7/27)

Why Does it Drizzle Instead of Rain? NASA Offers Answer (Source: UPI)
Why do some rain clouds produce drizzle -- more mist than rain -- instead of fully formed raindrops? New research by NASA scientists suggests updrafts play a more important role in curtailing drizzle than previously estimated. Scientists hope their findings will improve weather modeling and forecasting.

Water droplets form as water condenses on airborne particles or aerosols. Higher concentrations of aerosols encourage clouds with more small water droplets, increasing the chance of drizzle. Because aerosols are more likely to be found over land than over the ocean, models predict drizzle is more likely over land. Previous studies have shown warm air updrafts to play an important role in the formation of thunderclouds and strong storm systems. However, updrafts in lower-lying clouds are generally weaker, but their influence on precipitation dynamics hasn't been well-studied. (7/26)

Humans on Mars in 2033: a Bipartisan Vision (Source: The Hill)
Contrary to some of the myths about the costs of our space program, and as strange as it may sound — sending humans to Mars is fiscally responsible. Even when accurate estimates are discussed in the press (and this is rare), pundits and others often talk as though the cost of sending humans to Mars would be in addition to what NASA is already receiving in its annual budget allocations. However, in reality, the actual costs of human Mars missions would largely be included and accounted for in funds that NASA would almost certainly receive over the next 15-20 years, even without a humans-to-Mars program.

Although concerns have been raised recently that NASA may not have sufficient funds to send humans all the way to the surface of Mars in the 2030s, many current estimates indicate that it would not require a large increase in NASA’s budget to accomplish this task. Since the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 calls for human missions to Mars by 2033, NASA should provide a clear plan for achieving this goal — even if there are not sufficient funds in the current budget. Without a clear plan, it will be difficult for Congress to assess the situation and provide an appropriate budget level.

It is time to cash in on this momentum and take the necessary steps that will set us on a course to launch human missions to the surface of Mars no later than 2033. This is an achievable goal. It will probably require modest increases to NASA's budget, but with that budget currently sitting at less than half of one percentage of the federal budget, this is a cost that we certainly can and must afford. Now is not the time to be timid. (7/26)

House Will Not Debate Amendment to Prohibit Space Corps Funding (Source: Space Policy Online)
The House Rules Committee did not approve for floor debate an amendment that would prohibit money from being spent on creating a Space Corps within the Air Force. The House is debating an appropriations measure that includes FY2018 funding for DOD and the Rules Committee decides what amendments may be offered. The Space Corps amendment, proposed by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), was not included in the list released today. (7/26)

As Much as Half of the Milky Way Likely Came From Distant Galaxies (Source: Seeker)
Using the equivalent of several million hours of continuous computing time, the team was able to quantify how galaxies acquire matter from the universe over time. They did this by “tracing cosmic inflows, galactic outflows, gas recycling, and merger histories,” according to their paper. The findings on galactic evolution were unexpected, and the researchers coined a new term to explain the phenomenon: intergalactic transfer. (7/26)

Judge Recommends Contested Giant Hawaii Telescope for Permit (Source: ABC)
A construction permit should be granted for a giant telescope planned for a Hawaii mountain summit that some consider sacred, a hearings officer recommended Wednesday. Retired judge Riki May Amano, who is overseeing contested-case hearings for the Thirty Meter Telescope, had been weighing facts in the case since June, after hearing oftentimes emotional testimony that spanned 44 days.

The $1.4 billion project has divided those who believe the telescope will desecrate land atop Mauna Kea held sacred by some Native Hawaiians and those who believe it will provide Hawaii with economic and educational opportunities. This isn't the final say on whether the embattled project will proceed.

Now that Amano has issued her 305-page proposed decision and order, the state land board will set a deadline for telescope opponents and permit applicants to file arguments against her recommendations. The board will later hold a hearing and then make the final decision on the project's conservation district use permit. (7/26)

Iran Launches Satellite-Carrying Rocket (Source: AP)
Iran successfully launched a satellite-carrying rocket into space on Thursday, the country’s state media reported without elaborating. Iranian state television described the launch as involving a “Simorgh” rocket that is capable of carrying a satellite weighing 250 kilograms (550 pounds). The state media report did not elaborate on the rocket’s payload. “Simorgh” means “phoenix” in Farsi.

The website YJC.ir, which is affiliated with Iranian state television, as well as the semi-official Fars news agency, also reported the launch on Thursday, saying it was successful. The launch comes as the United States has criticized Iran’s ballistic missile tests. Such tests are allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran struck with world powers. However, American officials argue that they violate the spirit of the accord that saw the Islamic Republic limit its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. (7/27)

TRDS-M Launch Rescheduled for Aug. 20 After Satellite Damaged (Source: Florida Today)
A NASA communications satellite damaged during final preparations earlier this month has received a new date for launch on an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The ULA rocket will take NASA's final Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, labeled TDRS-M and built by Boeing, to orbit on August 20 from Launch Complex 41 during a 40-minute window that opens at 7:56 a.m. (7/26)

SpaceX Pays Tribute to Texas Teen Killed in ATV Accident (Source: KWTX)
The next rocket SpaceX launches will carry a tribute to Rhett Hering, the 15-year-old son of McGregor’s mayor whose death in an ATV accident in 2015 sparked the creation of a community-wide service project called the “Rhett Revolution.” On Tuesday night, McGregor Mayor Jimmy Herrng, his wife Lorna and their children, Mara and Ryan, were invited to a hangar at SpaceX's rocket research and development facility in McGregor, to place a “Rhett Revolution” sticker on the interior of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage booster, which is scheduled for launch next month. (7/26)

Smallest Spacecraft Ever Launched Make It to Low-Earth Orbit (Source: Tech Crunch)
Working prototype versions of the smallest spacecraft ever conceived made it to orbit last month, hitching a ride aboard the Max Valier and Venta satellites operated by OHB System and launched into orbit by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The tiny ‘Sprite’ spacecraft, created by the Breakthrough Starshot program and funded through a 2011 Kickstarter campaign, measure just 3.5-by-3.5 centimeters, and weigh only four grams, but incorporate power source (solar panels), computing components, sensors and radios for transmission. (7/26)

Musk Hints at Likely Downsizing of Huge Interplanetary Rocket (Source: Ars Technica)
"A 9m diameter vehicle fits in our existing factories," said Musk. And this is actually quite a substantial hint, because the original "Interplanetary Transport System" had a massive 12-meter diameter. By scaling back to 9 meters, this suggests that Musk plans to remove the outer ring of 21 Raptor engines, leaving a vehicle with 21 engines instead of the original 42. While still complicated to manage during launch and flight, 21 engines seems more reasonable. Such a vehicle would also have about 50 percent less mass.

At 9 meters the revised Mars rocket would still be considerably larger than SpaceX's current booster, the 3.7-meter Falcon 9 rocket. But it would be smaller than the most powerful rocket ever flown, the 10-meter Saturn V booster that launched the Apollo crews to the Moon.

Downscaling the Mars booster suggests that Musk may be bending toward reality. A 9-meter rocket means that it could be produced in SpaceX's existing facilities, saving the company the expense of building a much larger factory. (Pragmatically, it could also be produced in NASA's rocket factory in Michoud, La., without major renovations). A smaller, but still powerful rocket also opens the door to commercial opportunities and military contracts. (7/24)

Embry-Riddle Training Citizen Astronauts (Source: Fox35)
Amy Ramos dreamed of becoming an astronaut since she was five years old. She is studying with Project PoSSUM at Embry-Riddle and is hoping to become a 'citizen astronaut'. If things go right, she'll get the last laugh on anyone who doubted her dreams. Click here. (7/25)

Federal Agencies Must Modernize to be Competitive and Effective (Source: Space News)
As the Trump administration continues to review federal spending and implements good-government policies in Washington, it should take into consideration America’s outdated acquisition policies and procedures at the Pentagon and NASA. Modern manufacturing and production is becoming increasingly complex, especially within highly regulated industries such as aerospace and defense.

Ensuring quality in these industries can mean the difference between life and death. Quality and mission assurances are significant components of the hundred million dollar legacy launch cost of NASA. Rather than looking for things to avoid in the future, companies, especially those with government contracts, should instead turn to a solution that will automate the critical and necessary quality and mission assurance tasks.

An electronic quality management system (QMS), which has been designed specifically to support defense contractors and their supply chain partners, allows for the integration of quality and manufacturing data with a seamless interface to a company’s enterprise resource planning solution. Click here. (7/25)

Senate Bill Finds Middle Ground for NASA Funding (Source: Space News)
A Senate appropriations subcommittee approved a spending bill July 25 that would provide NASA with $19.5 billion, striking a middle ground between the administration’s original request and a more generous House bill. The commerce, justice and science subcommittee (CJS) approved the bill in a brief markup session, delayed by more than an hour due to a procedural vote on the Senate floor about healthcare legislation. The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the bill July 27.

While the committee has yet to release the bill, the summary of the bill notes it provides $19.53 billion for NASA, $437 million above the administration’s request for fiscal year 2018. That amount, though, is about $340 million less than what’s offered the House version of the CJS bill, passed by House appropriators July 13 and pending consideration by the full House. (7/25)

Astrobotic and ULA Announce Lunar Mission (Source: ULA)
Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander will be onboard a ULA launch vehicle in 2019, during the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. This effort is a big step in realizing Astrobotic’s goal of creating a Rust Belt based international gateway to the Moon. The Peregrine Lunar Lander will fly 35 kilograms of customer payloads on its first mission, with the option to upgrade to 265 kilograms on future missions. Already 11 deals from six nations have been signed for this 2019 mission.

The first mission in 2019 will serve as a key demonstration of service for NASA, international space agencies, and companies looking to carry out missions to the Moon. This announcement comes as Astrobotic continues to advance Peregrine toward flight, with the preliminary design review of the vehicle having already taken place in November 2016. (7/26)

After A Year In Space, The Air Hasn't Gone Out Of NASA's Inflated Module (Source: NPR)
A prototype of what could be the next generation of space stations is currently in orbit around the Earth. The prototype is unusual. Instead of arriving in space fully assembled, it arrived folded up and was only expanded to its full size once in orbit. The module is called BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, and it has been attached to the International Space Station since April last year.

Expandable modules allow NASA to pack a large volume into a smaller space for launch. They're not made of metal, but instead use tough materials like the Kevlar found in bulletproof vests. The station crew used air pressure to unfold and expand the BEAM, but it's wrong to think about BEAM as expanding like a balloon that could go "pop" if something punctured it. (7/26)

Why Looking for Aliens is Good for Society (Source: The Conversation)
The search for life elsewhere in the universe is one of the most compelling aspects of modern science. Given its scientific importance, significant resources are devoted to this young science of astrobiology, ranging from rovers on Mars to telescopic observations of planets orbiting other stars.

The holy grail of all this activity would be the actual discovery of alien life, and such a discovery would likely have profound scientific and philosophical implications. But extraterrestrial life has not yet been discovered, and for all we know may not even exist. Fortunately, even if alien life is never discovered, all is not lost: simply searching for it will yield valuable benefits for society. Why is this the case?

First, astrobiology is inherently multidisciplinary. To search for aliens requires a grasp of, at least, astronomy, biology, geology, and planetary science. Undergraduate courses in astrobiology need to cover elements of all these different disciplines, and postgraduate and postdoctoral astrobiology researchers likewise need to be familiar with most or all of them. Click here. (7/26) 

Can Humans Live on Mars? (Source: Guardian)
Wanted: men and women to leave the birthplace of humanity and the only safe haven in the solar system for an interminable voyage in a cramped container with people you will probably learn to hate. Destination: the freezing, airless, highly irradiated and irredeemable wasteland we call Mars. Must be willing to live in a pressurised pod, drink crewmates’ recycled urine and endure disgraceful broadband service. Click here. (7/26)

Exploring an Unusual Metal Asteroid (Source: MIT)
She is the principal investigator for Psyche, a NASA mission that will explore an unusual metal asteroid known as 16 Psyche. The mission does not launch until 2023, but preparations have begun in collaboration with faculty in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). Professors Benjamin Weiss and Maria Zuber, who also serves as MIT's vice president for research, wrote a paper about the asteroid with Elkins­-Tanton that was the basis for the team’s selection for NASA’s Discovery Program. MIT Professor Richard Binzel is also a team member. Click here. (7/26)

Japanese Company Preparing for Country’s First Private Rocket Launch (Source: Ars Technica)
The United States has by far the most rich and diverse commercial aerospace industry in the world, but that doesn't mean companies in other countries aren't giving it a go as well. One of those companies is Interstellar Technologies, which began as a group of hobbyists in 1997 and became a corporation in 2003. After more than a decade of engine and booster development, Interstellar is poised to make its first launch attempt—and the first launch of a private rocket from Japan-—this weekend. As early as Saturday, the company will attempt to launch a suborbital rocket named Momo from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. (7/26)

NASA's WISE Spacecraft Uncovers Massive Comets In Our Solar System (Source: IB Times)
Our corner of the universe might have more large comets than astronomers have previously thought, according to a bunch of new observations from a NASA spacecraft. The WISE spacecraft searched the sky with infrared instruments to figure out how many comets with long orbits, known as long-period comets, are out there and determined that they “are a factor of several higher than previous estimates,” a study in the Astronomical Journal says.

Those comets are at least 0.6 miles across and many more of them passed by the sun during the observation period than the scientists had expected. Long-period comets can be difficult to watch and understand in part because they take at least 200 years for each orbit around the sun, and sometimes can take thousands or millions of years. The new observations offer some more insight into these icy bodies that we sometimes see streaking through the stars in our night sky. (7/26)

Gamma Ray Bursts: The Most Explosive Events in the Universe (Source: Newsweek)
Scientists have recorded a gamma ray burst, describing the event—one of the most explosive and energetic in the universe—in unprecedented detail. Gamma ray bursts, or GRBs, come from newly formed black holes, regions of space that spew jets of ionized matter at nearly the speed of light. The power of these jets produces brief but extremely intense flashes—GRBs. The intensity of the pulses has led scientists to theorize they may have been responsible for mass extinction on Earth billions of years ago, and that if a GRB were pointing in the right direction, such an event could happen again.

The process can emit as much energy as a star the size of our sun would in its entire lifetime—in a matter of seconds. "Gamma-ray bursts are catastrophic events, related to the explosion of massive stars 50 times the size of our sun." The event, GRB160625B, was initially recorded in June last year after it was picked up by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. This pulse lasted less than a second. Soon after, scientists began follow-up observations of the region of space it came from. Three minutes later, they recorded a pulse lasting 30 seconds. Click here. (7/26)

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