July 9, 2017

U.S. Space Program Needs Leadership, a Clear Mission and Funding to Achieve It (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Quoting President Trump, the veep vowed that America would lead in exploration and discovery “like we’ve never led before.” Considering the program’s storied history, those are extravagant expectations. But as President Kennedy proved in 1961, ambitious goals can spur extraordinary accomplishments. Making the space program great again, however, will take more than high hopes.

It will take committed leadership from the Trump administration, a clear mission and sustained funding to achieve it. And while a revitalized program is in the national interest for many reasons, no state has more to gain than Florida. Trump got off to a good start last month when he signed an order reviving the National Space Council. But America’s space program needs a mission that lasts beyond a single president’s term. There’s not enough time and money for a reboot every four or eight years.

The heavyweights who will make up the Space Council under Trump are a positive sign that space will be a priority in his administration. Pence will chair the group, and members will include five Cabinet secretaries, the national security adviser, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence, among others. Ideally, the group will keep multiple agencies in sync, and not turn into a new layer of bureaucracy on space policy. (7/7)

Trump Offers Bold Space Goals But Fills in Few Details (Source: AFP)
The White House has championed a new era of US leadership in space, but its aspirations are complicated by tight budgets, vacancies in top posts and the rising role of private industry in aerospace innovation, experts say. Vice President Pence said "under President Trump, we will achieve more in space than we ever thought possible," including a "return to the Moon" and "American boots on the face of Mars." But as the flag-waving enthusiasm faded, some were left wondering what exactly Pence meant.

"'Moon' could mean anything -- commercial, robotic, international or otherwise," said Phil Larson, a White House space adviser under president Barack Obama and formerly an official with privately owned SpaceX. Larson described a series of recent space-themed orations by Pence as "no cake, just icing." John Logsdon, former head of the George Washington University Space Policy Institute, agreed. "I think (Thursday's) speech was, of course, short on substance because there is no substance," Logsdon said.

Some are skeptical of the White House's soaring rhetoric because crucial leadership positions remain unfilled. For instance, the US space agency set a dubious record on the Fourth of July: the longest span of time that a newly elected president has gone without naming a new NASA chief. The previous record was a 164-day stretch in 1971 under President Richard Nixon. Also empty is the chief of the White House's Office of Science and Technology and Policy, once a key player in crafting NASA's agenda. (7/8)

Sotheby's Stages its First Space Exploration Auction (Source: The National)
Sotheby’s New York has decided to host its first space exploration auction, on Juy 20, featuring memorabilia from American-led space missions, exactly 48 years to the day after Apollo 11’s lunar landing. Innumerable items were created as part of this dash for the skies, but very few have so far been put up for sale. In 1993, Sotheby’s staged a Russian space history auction, offering 227 lots over three days, and generating sales in excess of $6.8 million. (7/9)

The Real Value of Space Travel is Recognizing the Beauty of Our Planet (Source: New Statesman)
Our voyages into space were justified to the money men by the technologies they spawned, but their real achievement was a handful of never-seen-before images alongside a few spontaneously lyrical sentences, spoken by men and women whose training did not include the composition of miniature praise poems.

Those new visual perspectives and expressions of awe gave us fleeting opportunities to break away from a mechanistic, Newtonian world-view, the kind that lies behind Stephen Hawking’s recent call for human beings to abandon this planet we have ruined and travel into space to find a new home. Hawking doesn’t tell us who “the chosen ones” will be on this great voyage of discovery, or what will happen to those left behind. (7/8)

Breaking Into a Russian Military Base to See an Abandoned Soviet Space Shuttle Was Worth the Risk (Source: Gizmodo)
A group of YouTubers going by the name Exploring the Unbeaten Path traveled to the middle of nowhere to get a look at some space shuttles from the suspended Soviet-era Buran programme. Located at the Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport in Kazakhstan, the hanger that the group would have to infiltrate is abandoned but the base is still active.

The world’s first and largest space launch facility, Baikonur is leased by the Russian government and all crewed Russian missions still launch from there. Commercial and military missions are also staged at the spaceport, and soldiers patrol the area. Although the explorers have numerous scares, they manage to get into the facility and spend a lot of time. They brought back tons of footage of the shuttles on the inside and out, even managing to fly a drone through the enormous hanger. Click here. (7/8)

Space Weather as a Sustainability Issue (Source: SpaceWatch Middle East)
Although space weather is a national phenomenon that is not caused by human activity, it still plays an important role in space sustainability. For instance, if a satellite operator does not know whether a satellite was damaged by space weather or by hostile action there is an increased chance for terrestrial conflict, particularly if there is already a tense geopolitical situation occurring. Recent research on now-unclassified materials details how this exact scenario played out in 1967 during a major solar storm. Space weather can also affect the orbital debris population as years with a lot of solar activity can see an increase in the rate of orbital decay. (7/8)

Ghana: 1st Sub-Saharan Country to Launch Satellite into Orbit (Source: TeleSur)
The Cubesat satellite weighs 1,000 grams and was developed over a period of two years at a cost of £40,000. Ghana is the first Sub-Saharan African country to send a satellite into orbit around the earth. The Ghanasat-1 was released from the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, nearly a month after its launch from the Kennedy Space Center on Elon Musk's SpaceX flight 11. (7/8)

Salvadoran-US Candidate Among 12 New NASA Astronaut Hopefuls (Source: TeleSur)
After vying with more than 18,300 other contenders, Francisco "Frank" Rubio has secured a spot  among the 12 astronaut candidates that NASA will train over the next two years to undertake future space missions. The son of a Salvadoran mother born in Los Angeles and raised in Miami, Rubio will now undergo a series of demanding training tasks starting in August and lasting until 2019 with the aim of preparing him to be a NASA astronaut. (6/11)

Flight Into the Furnace of Mercury Could Bring Us Closer in Hunt for Alien Life (Source: Guardian)
A tiny world that is battered by intense radiation and incredible heat, Mercury is one of the most inhospitable places in our solar system. Zinc would melt on its surface. Yet this scorched planet is set to play a crucial role in one of science’s most important quests: the search to find life on other worlds in our galaxy.

Astronomers believe that Mercury’s proximity to the Sun could provide them with crucial insights about the prospects of finding worlds that can support living organisms. And they hope these insights will be revealed by BepiColombo, a European-Japanese probe that was unveiled to the public last week at the European Space Agency’s research and technology centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

The 7-meter-long, 4-ton spacecraft is one of the most complex space missions ever built and one of the most expensive. It cost €1.6bn  to construct and is set for launch in October 2018, when it will begin a seven-year voyage to reach its target and begin its study of this mysterious world. (7/8)

'Fireworks' Images from Hubble Telescope Capture Stars Forming Just After the Big Bang (Source: Space.com)
A natural magnifying glass has sharpened images captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, revealing a distant galaxy that contradicts existing theories about early star formation. By pairing Hubble with a massive galaxy cluster, scientists captured images 10 times sharper than the space telescope could snap on its own.

The resulting images reveal star-forming knots of newborn stars only 200 to 300 light-years across, in a galaxy that formed only 2.7 billion years after the Big Bang. Previous theories suggested that star-forming regions in the early universe were much larger — at least 3,000 light-years across. (7/8)

45th Space Wing Cuts Into a New Era of Space Exploration (Source: USAF)
Col. Burton Catledge, 45th Operations Group commander and Lt. Col. Jason Havel, Detachment 3 commander, cut the ribbon to the recently renovated Human Spaceflight Support Operations Center (SOC), to symbolize America’s transition from a government operated space program to a blended mission with the addition of commercially-operated crewed spaceflight programs.

The $485,000 yearlong project created a state-of-the-art communications hub used for the Department of Defense’s human spaceflight support missions from the SOC, which is an extension of the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. It hosts a worldwide command and control capability for Department of Defense rescue forces through a combination of radio frequencies, specialized internet applications, texting, satellite and secure and unsecure voice through the SOC's 10 workstations, 20 DOD circuits and 20 NASA specific circuits. (7/7)

Ghana and South Africa Celebrate Success of African Network of Telescopes (Source: SKA)
The Ministries of Ghana and South Africa announce the combination of ‘first light’ science observations which confirm the successful conversion of the Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.

Ghana is the first partner country of the African Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope. The 32-metre converted telecommunications antenna at the Ghana Intelsat Satellite Earth Station at Kutunse will be integrated into the African VLBI Network (AVN) in preparation for the second phase construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) across the African continent. (7/4)

Midland TX Mayor Optimistic About Future of Spaceport Business Park After XCOR Layoffs (Source: NewsWest 9)
Questions remain after XCOR lays off most of their employees at the Spaceport Business Park in Midland. The company says its all because of money troubles. Despite the setback, the mayor says he is optimistic about the future of the business park. A flight to space from Midland, put on hold.

"We were very shocked and disappointed, as you can imagine. Knowing that we thought things were going in the right direction," said Mayor Jerry Morales. The goal of space travel has been on the mind the city for years. Midland became the only commercial airport with the title of spaceport in 2014.

"We had to do an environmental assessment. We had consultants that we worked with and we had to work through a lot of obstacles with the FAA," said Justine Ruff, director of airports. A process that took two years. "What's happening with the XCOR doesn't necessarily affect our spaceport designation at all. We have a license with the FAA," said Ruff. Business park renovations will continue. (7/7)

SpaceX to Receive County Grant for Texas Spaceport (Source: Brownsville Herald)
SpaceX will receive a $2.6 million grant from the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corporation after the board received its first disbursement from the Office of the Governor last week. The funds come from the State Spaceport Trust Fund Account and are the first installment of a $13 million allocation, according to a CameronCounty press release.

County officials attended a meeting in Austin to discuss the project and the details of the first disbursement with the Governor's Office in April. “I have been working diligently since taking office last November to get these funds distributed to the Spaceport Board and to SpaceX. I am thankful for the coordination at the state level and for the Spaceport Corp. receiving and disbursing the funds,” Judge Eddie TreviƱo said.

The Spaceport Development Corporation voted to give the funds to SpaceX on Wednesday. “This is the first allocation, and I am thankful to the Governor’s office for their assistance in getting us off to a good start as the project progresses,” Serafy said. “We will continue working in a coordinated effort to support the project every step of the way.” (7/8)

Why Planetary Scientists Want Better Fake Space Dirt (Souce: Nature)
James Carpenter just needed some fake Moon dirt. Carpenter, a lunar-exploration expert at ESA, works on a drill designed to hunt for buried ice on the Moon. His team recently ordered half a ton of powdery material to replicate the lunar surface from a commercial supplier in the U.S. But what showed up was not what the team was expecting. His experience underscores a longstanding problem with artificial space soils, known as simulants: how to make them consistently and reliably.

But now there is a fresh effort to bring the field into line. Last month, NASA established a team of scientists to analyse the physical properties and availability of existing simulants. And for the first time, an asteroid-mining company in Florida is making scientifically accurate powders meant to represent the surfaces of asteroids. It delivered its second batch to NASA in June.

“NASA is trying to conquer the Wild West of simulants,” says Philip Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida. In Jacksonville, Stephen Covey of Deep Space Industries delivered 512 kilograms of asteroid simulant to NASA in March, and 532 kilograms in June. The agency plans to use it in work on missions such as OSIRIS-REx, a spacecraft that is making its way to an asteroid to collect a sample and bring it back to Earth. Click here. (7/8)

Creation of Super-Tough Ceramic Material Could Pave the Way for Hypersonic Aircraft (Source: Daily Mail)
Scientists have created a new kind of ceramic coating that could pave the way for hypersonic travel for air, space and defense purposes. The finding could allow for the construction of a next generation of aircraft capable of traveling at 3,800 miles per hour or faster. This would enable journey times from London to New York to be cut to just two hours, by racing to the edge of space before dropping back toward the Earth.

Experts at the University of Manchester, in collaboration with Central South University in China, created the material after extensive lab work, testing various candidates. They designed and fabricated a carbide coating, a compound composed of carbon, that is can resist high temperatures better than any existing materials. It is composed of zirconium, titanium, boron and carbon. The wonder material is capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees centigrade (5,400 Fahrenheit) that are generated at high speed. (7/8)

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