August 13, 2017

A New Ceramic Could Help Hypersonic Planes Take Off (Source: The Economist)
Their novel substance is a ceramic. That is no surprise. Ceramics have strong bonds between their atoms—unlike metals, in which the electrons in those bonds have more freedom to move around. This gives ceramics high melting points, permitting them to be deployed in hot circumstances. But it also makes them brittle. That fragility became notorious when ceramic tiles were chosen as the re-entry heat shields for America’s space shuttles.

Each of those craft was fitted with more than 24,000 tiles made from high-grade silica sand. The tiles were indeed heat-resistant. They were also, however, so brittle that they had to be glued to the spacecraft, rather than drilled and bolted on. Moreover, many needed replacing after each mission. This arrangement proved so fragile that, when some of the tiles on a shuttle called Columbia were damaged by a piece of foam that broke free during an ascent into space in 2003, the heat shield failed on re-entry, and the vehicle and its crew were lost. Click here. (8/13)

Japan's H-2A Rocket Grounded by Problem in Propulsion System (Source: Spaceflight Now)
A Japanese launch crew filled an H-2A rocket with cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants in time for a planned liftoff Saturday with a geostationary navigation satellite, but a problem inside the launcher’s propulsion system prompted officials to postpone the mission.

Officials announced a hold less than two hours before the 174-foot-tall H-2A rocket was set to blast off. The H-2A launch team called off the launch attempt several hours later, after the opening of an unusually-long launch window stretching nearly nine hours long. JAXA said the launch was scrubbed to ensure the readiness of the H-2A rocket’s propulsion systems. Officials said in a press conference Saturday that engineers were studying possible leak in the rocket’s helium pressurization system. (8/13)

NASA 'Cribs': Tour an Astronaut Habitat for Mock Space Missions (Source:
Ever wonder how astronauts will live on other worlds? Welcome to the Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA, a habitat at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston built to simulate the isolation of missions to deep space. You can take a tour of the HERA habitat with NASA interns in this new video in the style of the MTV series "Cribs."

"HERA is a unique three-story habitat designed to serve as an analog for isolation, confinement, and remote conditions in exploration scenarios," NASA officials explained in a video description. "This video gives a tour of where crew members live, work, sleep, and eat during the analog missions."

Currently, the HERA program is in the midst of the HERA Campiagn 4 series of four 45-day missions that run between May 2017 and March 2018. The current increment, HERA Campaign 4 Mission XIV, began on Aug. 5 and will end on Sept. 18. You can learn more about the HERA program at NASA's website here, and about the current HERA mission here. (8/13)

Disney Relaunches Mission: SPACE Ride at Epcot with Revised NASA Cameos (Source: CollectSpace)
NASA's next-generation spacecraft have new cameos in Disney's re-launched Mission: SPACE ride in Florida, but the upgraded attraction jettisons a previous reference to the space agency itself.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and Orion capsule, slated to lift off in 2018 and 2019, respectively, make quick new appearances in Mission: SPACE, which re-opened on Sunday (Aug. 13) after undergoing its first major revision since premiering at the Walt Disney World Resort's Epcot theme park in August 2003. Designed around a centrifuge ride system to simulate a launch to Mars, Mission: SPACE now features a second, less-intense experience that takes guests on simulated flight into Earth orbit. (8/13)

Joint Venture Launches 4 Japanese Companies Into Minirocket Market (Source: Nikkei)
Four Japanese companies have formed a joint venture to tap into the growing global demand for small rockets used to send satellites into space. Canon Electronics, IHI Aerospace, Shimizu and Development Bank of Japan -- all major contributors to Japan's space program -- launched New Generation Small Rocket Development Planning (NGSRDP) on Wednesday.

The new company plans to develop next-generation, solid-fuel minirockets capable of carrying 100kg payloads. The new company is led by President Shinichiro Ota, a former industry ministry bureaucrat and once the head of the Japan Patent Office. NGSRDP will initially be based at Canon Electronics' headquarters, studying technologies and costs with the hope of starting commercial operations as early as this year.

The joint venture has set a price point of 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) or less per launch -- an amount seen as competitive against overseas rivals. At present, plans call for a rocket smaller than the Epsilon rocket currently under development by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, but larger than JAXA's SS-520 minirocket. Click here. (8/13)

The Billionaires Backing Projects in a New Space Race (Source: The National)
While government investment in the space race has dwindled as they tackle matters closer to home, a group of super-rich enthusiasts, many of whom are household names, are backing companies that each have grand plans for space exploration. Click here. (8/13)

Space Standoff: Uncertainty in Militarized Space (Source: Harvard Political Review)
Space is dangerous and expensive. It’s also a mission-critical asset to a modern military force where precedence and collaboration between rivals is scant. National space programs are immensely expensive investments of capital and manpower. For all the private benefits a space program provides, military interest and nationalism have driven extraterrestrial innovation.

Defense budgets are initially allocated staggering funds to begin space projects, and the major difference between a rocket being a peaceful mission or a weapon is whether the payload is a crew capsule or a nuclear warhead. In the Cold War, the capabilities and interests of the Soviet Union and the United States were mutually understood to be rough military parity and no desire to initiate conflict.

However, evolving national interests in the 21st century have blurred the line between civil and military space and have made our mutual understandings of the field much murkier. Click here. (8/13)

1st Men on Moon Kept Out of Each Other’s Orbit (Source: Toledo Blade)
The oft-forgotten Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins — who orbited the moon as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on its surface — has on several occasions called the three members of the historic crew “amiable strangers.”

When asked by historian James Hansen to characterize the relationship between Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Aldrin, Mr. Collins revised his description. “Neutral strangers,” he replied. There was always a distance between the two astronauts, said Mr. Hansen, who wrote the seminal biography of Mr. Armstrong. Their relationship was dotted with tension and disagreement — over the difficulty level of training simulations to prepare for Apollo 11, over who would take the first step on the lunar surface, and over the proper amount of public engagement for the first men on the moon. Click here. (8/13)

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