July 28, 2017

Close Shave From an Undetected Asteroid (Source: EarthSky)
A space rock now designated as asteroid 2017 OO1 was detected on July 23, 2017 from the ATLAS-MLO telescope at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. An analysis of its trajectory revealed it had been closest to Earth on July 20 sometime between 10:27 p.m. to 11:32 p.m. EDT (between 02:27 to 03:32 UTC on July 21).

This means the asteroid’s closest approach occurred 2.5 to 3 days before it was seen. Asteroid 2017 OO1 flyby had passed at about one-third the Earth-moon distance, or about 76,448 miles (123,031 km). Although that’s still a safe distance, a fact that stands out is that asteroid 2017 OO1 is about three times as big as the house-sized asteroid that penetrated the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February, 2013, breaking windows in six Russian cities and causing more that 1,000 people to seek treatment for injuries, mostly from flying glass. (7/26)

SpaceX Pushes Heavy Launch Debut to November (Source: Tech Crunch)
Falcon Heavy, the high-capacity rocket created by SpaceX designed for bringing very large loads to orbit and beyond, will get its first launch this coming November, according to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. The Falcon Heavy uses the combined power of one Falcon 9 rocket flanked by two additional Falcon 9 boosters to propel up to around 30 tons to geostationary transfer orbit. (7/27)

US Considers New Sanctions as Iran Launches Satellite (Source: New York Times)
Iran successfully launched a missile into space on Thursday, two days after the US House of Representatives approved a bill that would impose additional sanctions against the country, and Russia and North Korea. Such tests are not prohibited under the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of six world powers including the US. That agreement eased existing economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country’s verifiable promises to restrict its nuclear program to peaceful purposes.

President Trump has called the 2015 agreement a “very bad deal” for the US and a disastrous giveaway to Iran. He suggested during the presidential campaign that he would end the deal. But the other parties to the agreement — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — do not share Mr. Trump’s objections, and a withdrawal by the Trump administration would leave the US isolated on the issue.

Last week, the Trump administration announced new Iran-related sanctions it said were meant to show its toughened stance toward the country despite having grudgingly affirmed its compliance with the nuclear deal. The sanctions, announced jointly by the Justice, State and Treasury departments, designated 18 individuals and entities that the administration said were involved in activities that included missile development, software theft and weapons procurement. (7/27)

Bob Richards on the Moon Express Plan to Commercialize the Moon (Source: SpaceQ)
Moon Express has raised $45 million(US), built hardware, tested some of it, and gotten the FAA and other government agencies to approve of its first commercial mission to the moon, and in less than a year might have its first spacecraft on the moon. Click here. (7/27)

Why We Need a Decentralized Autonomous Space Agency (Source: Motherboard)
To me, what's wrong is that wealthy governments and corporations have a monopoly on the last frontier. Big government is only interested in gaining power, and big business is only interested in obtaining government contracts. I think there's another way to reach the stars. The new space makers aren't major businesses, and don't care about pleasing governments.

What we need is a decentralized space agency that leverages new technologies like crypto-payment systems and open distributed manufacturing. "To leave Earth demands a concerted global approach, everyone should join in," said Stephen Hawking. "We need to rekindle the excitement of the early days of space travel in the 60s." How can this work in practice? By utilizing blockchain technology (yes, bitcoin and all that).

I won't bore you with ethereum smart contracts, ICOs, and crypto-token economies—it's enough to say that modern crypto can enable open Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) with ultra-streamlined operations and smart mechanisms for fundraising and compensation. This technology is exactly what is needed to allow a global community of space professionals and enthusiasts to efficiently collaborate on ambitious next-generation space projects. A Space DAO could reboot bitter wage slaves and turn them into enthusiastic freelancers on the road to the stars. (7/26)

Proposed Budget Gives KSC a Boost Toward Mars (Source: Florida Today)
A NASA spending bill making its way through the Senate would provide Kennedy Space Center in Florida with $640 million to upgrade its infrastructure that are key to sending astronauts to Mars. The money that was approved Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee as part of a $19.5 billion appropriation bill for NASA in 2018 would represent a $210 million increase in such funding from the current year. That amount includes $545 million that Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson requested for Exploration Ground Systems and $95 million for related constructions.

The funding is needed to upgrade launch pad 39b and related facilities that will be used for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule being built to send humans to Mars. “Getting this additional money for the launch pad is a big win for KSC and the effort to land humans on Mars,” said Nelson who has been pushing for the money. (7/27)

ESA Ends LISA Mission (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) LISA Pathfinder, a probe that tested technologies for their capability to detect the ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves, has been shut down. Over a period of 16 months, the spacecraft, a preliminary proof-of-mission project, tested technologies aimed at studying gravitational waves in a follow-up mission, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), scheduled for launch in 2034.

First proposed as part of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity over a century ago, gravitational waves result from major space events, such as mergers of two black holes or supernova explosions. (7/27)

NASA Expects Focus Issue with TESS Telescope Satellite (Source: Space News)
Cameras on a NASA exoplanet spacecraft to launch next year will be slightly out of focus, The agency said that testing found that the focus of the cameras on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will drift when the spacecraft cools to operating temperatures after launch. Despite being slightly out of focus, the cameras will still be able to achieve their science goals. TESS is designed to look for planets around the nearest and brightest stars by measuring dips in brightness as planets transit in front of them. Some astronomers are still concerned about the effects of the focus shift. (7/27)

India's Space Achievements (Source: Business Standard)
During the last three years (June 2014 to June 2017), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has successfully accomplished 41 missions, which includes 19 launch vehicle missions, 19 satellite missions and 3 technology demonstrator missions. Some of the notable achievements are summarized here. (7/27)

The Only Jet Fighter Ever to Shoot Down a Satellite (Source: Air & Space)
oday the Boeing F-15 Eagle is best known for its strike role: It’s one of the U.S. Air Force’s most fearsome ground-pounders. But before the F-15E Strike Eagle, there was the F-15A Celestial Eagle, the launch platform that sent a missile up instead of down in a cold war test to see if the Air Force could destroy an enemy’s military satellites.

On September 13, 1985, Major Doug Pearson flew his F-15 to a predetermined point over the eastern Pacific Ocean and pulled up into a 65-degree climb.  At 38,100 feet, the F-15’s missile automatically launched toward the oncoming Solwind P78-1, a Department of Defense solar physics observatory orbiting 345 miles above. The satellite was selected for the test because it had degraded batteries and was barely operating. Minutes after the missile launch, Solwind P78-1 was a cloud of debris. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network identified at least 285 pieces. Click here. (7/26)

SpaceX Now Valued at $21 Billion (Source: Ars Technica)
After two serious accidents in 2015 and 2016, SpaceX has been on a tear in 2017 with 10 successful launches, including the historic re-flight of two used boosters and a used Dragon spacecraft. These achievements suggest the company is well on its way toward developing low-cost, reusable boosters, and therefore the rocket company founded by Elon Musk may be on the cusp of capturing much of the global launch market.

A new valuation appears to back up this optimism. According to the New York Times, SpaceX recently raised $350 million in additional funding, and during this process the company was valued at $21 billion. This represents a significant increase from 2015, when Google and Fidelity invested $1 billion in SpaceX, valuing the company at $12 billion. (7/27)

Founders Fund Partner Leaves to Launch SpaceX-Focused Fund (Source: Axios)
Luke Nosek is leaving Founders Fund, the venture capital firm he co-founded more than a decade ago with Peter Thiel, Axios has learned. His next role will be leading something called Gigafund, a new investment firm that initially will be focused on raising capital for Elon Musk's SpaceX, a Founders Fund portfolio company where Nosek is a director. (7/27)

Rocket Crafters Gets DARPA Research Contract for Large-Scale Hybrid Engine (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Rocket Crafters (RCI) has been awarded a $542,600 research contract by DARPA. Under the terms of the agreement, RCI is tasked to build and test a large-scale hybrid rocket engine using RCI’s patented Direct-Digital Advanced Rocket Technology (D-DART). During the eight-month period of performance, RCI aims to design, build, and test a 5,000 lbf peak thrust, throttle-capable hybrid rocket engine based on the company’s potentially industry-disruptive rocket engine technology.

In theory, hybrid rockets have several advantages over the more commonly used solid and liquid chemical rockets. They can be throttled and restarted, unlike a solid rocket, and are less costly and faster to develop compared to liquid rocket engines due to their mechanical simplicity. They are also safer to handle than either solid or liquid rockets. For these reasons, Government and industry researchers have long sought to develop a large-scale hybrid rocket engine but have had significant difficulties with unpredictable thrust and excessive vibration. (7/27)

Senate Restores Funding for NASA Earth Science and Satellite Servicing Programs (Source: Space News)
An appropriations bill approved by a Senate committee July 27 would restore funding for several NASA Earth science missions slated for termination by the administration as well as a satellite servicing program.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a commerce, justice and science (CJS) appropriations bill, along with two other spending bills, during a markup session. The CJS bill, offering $19.529 billion for NASA overall, had cleared its subcommittee July 25.

The bill and accompanying report, released after the markup, reveal significant differences between the Senate and both their House counterparts as well as the original White House request in several areas, including science and space technology. (7/27)

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