November 16, 2018

ANA and Marubeni Join to Build Spaceport in Japan (Source: Nikkei)
All Nippon Airways operator ANA Holdings and trading house Marubeni will set up a spaceport in Japan as early as 2021, Nikkei has learned. The launch site, equivalent to a seaport for ships or an airport for aircraft, will be for private space travel, and feature 3-km runways for craft that take off horizontally like airplanes.

There are already around 10 spaceports in the U.S. for commercial use, some built for the purpose and others converted from airports. The Japanese corporate alliance aims to secure a foothold in the international space-business race by building Asia's first space travel hub. The two companies, together with four other partners -- including Airbus Japan, satellite broadcaster Sky Perfect JSAT and real estate company Mitsui Fudosan -- have established a company named Spaceport Japan to advance the project. The Tokyo-based team will begin work on Friday. (11/16)

SpaceX Launches Qatari Satellite, Lands Booster Off Florida Coast (Source: Space News)
SpaceX launched a Qatari communications satellite Thursday, tying a record for most launches by the company in a year. The Falcon 9 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:46 p.m. Eastern and deployed the Es'hail-2 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit 32 minutes later. The satellite, built by Mitsubishi for Qatari operator Es'hailSat, carries Ku-band capacity for television broadcasting and Ka-band capacity for connectivity to businesses and government users. The rocket's first stage previously launched the Telstar 19 satellite in July.

The launch was the 18th this year for SpaceX, tying a record set last year, with four more launches scheduled through the end of the year. SpaceX performed a static-fire test last night for its next launch, of Spaceflight's SSO-A mission, scheduled for Monday at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (11/16)

Can Government Keep Up with Commercial Earth Observation? (Source: Space News)
There is a growing gap in the pace of innovation between commercial and government Earth observation programs. At an ESA conference this week, Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire, announced his company's "space-as-a-service" program, where it will provide a 20-satellite constellation to customers within 12 months, at an introductory price of 10 million euros. Platzer further criticized the slow pace at which publicly funded projects move, which leads to their failure to harness cutting-edge innovation. Will Marshall, CEO of Planet, said there is a need for public institutions to incorporate more flexibility into their budgets to enable their EO-driven services to take advantage of the latest innovations and disruptions. (11/16)

Solstar Space Seeks Partners for Space Wi-Fi (Source: Space News)
A company that has tested in-space use of Wi-Fi is looking for a strategic investor. Solstar Space says it's seeking "a space company that understands our market and wants to help us develop it." The New Mexico company tested a Wi-Fi communications system on two suborbital spaceflights of Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle earlier this year, and says that technology could offer connectivity for future suborbital passengers or experiments, as well as for orbital spacecraft. (11/16)

Midland TX Spaceport Finds Satellite Startup to Take XCOR Hangar in Rent Abatement Deal (Source: Space News)
A satellite startup plans to take over a hangar at a Texas airport previously used by XCOR Aerospace. Avellan Space Technology & Science (AST) said Thursday it will use the hangar at the Midland International Air and Space Port to produce its Micron line of very small satellites. The company says it will invest $30 million in the manufacturing facility, with plans to produce as many as 100,000 of the Micron satellites, each weighing 200 grams. AST has not disclosed any customers for those satellites. Midland is offering five years of rent abatement to AST for use of the hangar, with an additional five years if the company meets job creation and payroll goals. (11/16)

Luxembourg Government Assumes Losses in Planetary Resources (Source: Lux Times)
Luxembourg has confirmed the loss of its €12 million investment in US space firm Planetary Resources. Following a series of parliamentary questions, Luxembourg's economy minister Etienne Schneider explained that in the absence of new funding, the financial situation of US space firm Planetary Resources had continued to deteriorate. In October, the Luxembourg government decided to sell its 10% shares in the company.

It took a stake in 2016. At that time, the Economy Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding and agreed to invest €25 million. "This decision to sell results, among other things, from an analysis of the particular American legal context and prudent management which intends to limit the potential exposures of SAAM Luxembourg, or even of SNCI as sole shareholder of SAAM Luxembourg," Schneider explained. (11/15)

Fake ‘Unicorns’ Are Running Roughshod Over the Venture Capital Industry (Source: Intelligencer)
You might think that a study demonstrating that venture capital-funded “unicorns” are overvalued, and by a stunning 48 percent on average, would shake up the industry. Yet “Squaring Venture Capital Valuations With Reality,” a paper announcing just that finding received only a perfunctory round of coverage from some important investment and tech publications when it was published.

The median venture capital fund loses money. Only the top 5 percent of funds earn enough to justify the risks of investing in venture capital. The nature of venture capital is that the performance of those few successful funds in turn rests on the spectacular results of a small fraction of the investments in a particular fund.

How does this pervasive overvaluation come about in the first place? Once you understand it, it’s breathtakingly simple. Venture capital-backed companies are money pits. Even if they manage to become profitable in accounting terms, they almost always need more funding to support their growth, typically every 12 to 24 months. The tech stars profiled in the paper, 135 U.S. “unicorns” (i.e., companies with a valuation of $1 billion or more) had undergone an average of eight rounds of fundraising. Click here. (11/14)

Spaceflight Industries Goes Through Financial Restructuring as Key Launch Nears (Source: GeekWire)
Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries laid out the status of a debt restructuring plan this week in advance of its most ambitious satellite launch operation to date. Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday describe an offering of $29.9 million in debt instruments and options for other securities, with five investors participating to date. The filing said $22 million of the offering has been sold, with $7.9 million remaining.

Spaceflight Industries spokeswoman Jodi Sorensen told GeekWire in an email that the filing was triggered when the company finished up a restructuring deal. “Part of that funding ($15M) went through restructuring, making it more available to us, while the current investors did invest another $7M,” she explained. “So some is from restructuring, some is net new investment.” (11/15)

Bridenstine Worried About Budget Pressures on NASA (Source: Space News)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Nov. 15 that the reelection defeat of a key appropriator, and the potential for budget cuts next year, is a cause for concern for him as he tries to balance the agency’s priorities. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the commerce, justice and science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, was known for his efforts to increase funding for NASA. Bridenstine said Culberson’s absence will be felt.

Bridenstine also noted that NASA, like other federal agencies, has been asked by the White House to develop proposals for a five percent cut in its fiscal year 2020 budget, currently being crafted for released in February. That would require NASA to find approximately $1 billion in cost savings across its programs. Such a cut, he suggested, would imperil its exploration plans. “If that materializes, no, we’re not going to have what we need to go to the moon,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to have what we need to put boots on the moon.”

Bridenstine said he wouldn’t try to compensate for any cuts by taking money from other agency programs to keep NASA’s exploration efforts funded. “If we start robbing one part of NASA to feed another part of NASA, we will lose political support in a heartbeat,” he said. (11/15)

Space Tango Unveils ST-42 for Scalable Manufacturing in Space for Earth-Based Applications (Source: Space Tango)
Space Tango, a leader in the commercialization of space through R&D, bioengineering and manufacturing in microgravity, announced ST-42, a fully autonomous robotic orbital platform designed specifically for scalable manufacturing in space. Launching in the mid 2020’s, ST-42 aims to harness the unique environment of microgravity to produce high value products across industries; from patient therapeutics to advanced technology products that have the potential to revolutionize industries here on Earth. (11/15)

A Group of Young Women in Kyrgyzstan is Crowdfunding the Country’s First Satellite Launch (Source: Quartz)
Of the world’s 195 countries, 72 have official space agencies, including Nigeria, Bangladesh, Peru, and Bolivia. Kyrgyzstan does not. So a group of young women decided to start their own. Kyrgyzstan is not an easy place to be female; it was described last year by Reuters as “a nation rife with domestic violence, child marriage and bride kidnappings.”

The dozen or so members of the Kyrgyz Space Program, who range in age from 17 to 25, came together for a free robotics course started by journalist and TED fellow Bektour Iskender last March and meet twice a week at the offices of Kloop, the independent journalism school Iskender runs in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital. They are crowdfunding their work towards building and launching a cube satellite, a miniature design known as a CubeSat that can cost as little as $150,000 to produce.

The money that comes in will pay for the project in phases; the various funding tiers are named for prominent women in space, from Russian cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova ($2/month) to American Peggy Whitson, who has spent more time in space than any other female astronaut in history ($1,024/month). The team hopes to have built it and ready for launch sometime next year. (11/2)

FCC Approves SpaceX, Telesat, LeoSat and Kepler Internet Constellations (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted Nov. 15 to approve four proposed satellite constellations, authorizing nearly 8,000 small telecom satellites to serve U.S. entities from low Earth orbit. The new regulatory approvals set the stage for two companies, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, and Telesat of Ottawa, Canada, to expand constellations already approved last year with more satellites in the rarely used V-band spectrum.

Canadian startup Kepler Communications and LeoSat, a company licensed from the Netherlands, also received approvals, Kepler for 140 Ku-band satellites and LeoSat for 78 Ka-band satellites. Of the four, SpaceX is by far the largest with 7,518 satellites constituting what it calls a “very low Earth orbit,” or VLEO constellation that would operate slightly below 350-kilometers. At that altitude, SpaceX says atmospheric drag would pull spent satellites down in one month, assuaging concerns about the magnitude of debris that that many satellites could create in higher orbits.

While the constellations approved are only proposed, three of the four companies whose plans advanced Nov. 15 already have demonstration satellites in orbit. SpaceX launched two prototype satellites in February, one month before the company gained FCC approval for its initial constellation of 4,425 satellites in Ku- and Ka-band frequencies. The company is building its satellites in-house. (11/15)

Vatican Astronomer Says Space the New Terrestrial Frontier (Source: Crux)
According to Brother Guy Consolmagno, the Jesuit research astronomer who runs the Vatican’s observatory, global interest in outer space is increasing at astronomical proportions, from mineral harvesting off asteroids, to militarizing the zone and developing artificial intelligence for research. With the space race taking off internationally, there is a need for clearer parameters to be set for conduct, making space “the next frontier of law,” Consolmagno said.

Noting how 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the United Nations 1967 “Outer Space Treaty” on governing the activities of states in outer space, including the moon and other “celestial bodies,” Consolmagno said the treaty was followed by a major discussion on the “peaceful uses of space.” Consolmagno traveled to Vienna in June to represent the Vatican at a meeting on the space issue, reaffirming the peaceful uses of space and the right each nation has regarding the space frontier, because “any war that is going to occur in space is going to touch all of us.” (11/15)

November 15, 2018

Humans Could Be Heading to Mars in 25 Years, NASA Says (Source: USA Today)
About 25 years is how long it could take for NASA to send humans to Mars, officials said Tuesday. That's only if the space agency is able to create technology able to sustain deadly radiation and conditions that could eat bones and blind eyes. "The cost of solving those means that under current budgets, or slightly expanded budgets, it's going to take about 25 years to solve those," said former NASA astronaut Tom Jones, who has flown on four space shuttle missions.

There aren't yet solutions in place to protect astronauts from cosmic rays, solar flares and radiation levels that are so high an outbound trip to Mars would result in the amount of radiation an astronaut might be exposed to over an entire year. The agency must also perfect a spacecraft that can easily land on Mars and take off with humans and cargo. (11/15)

AFRL Aids NASA in Lofty Endeavor (Source: AFSPC)
Ingenuity and collaboration were the keys to success as a group of Air Force Research Laboratory engineers took a series of tests to new heights. At the request of NASA, AFRL rapid-response systems support researchers delved into the realm of space to help determine the effects of unintended electrical arcing on astronaut space suits during extravehicular maintenance. NASA researchers came to the AFRL team with a simple question. How does an electrical arc behave in a vacuum? Although this may seem like a fairly simple question, it was a concept that had not been explored fully before.  

To answer this question, AFRL began by determining how to build fixtures for a low-pressure test and performing proof-of-concept testing to determine the best method to reliably create an arc in the planned lab setting. This initial series of tests helped the researchers understand the materials, positioning and current needed to successfully generate the arc, as well as the proper test setup to use for an Earth-orbit vacuum environment. With this initial data in hand, the team then began to prepare for low-pressure testing. Reaching out to fellow AFRL materials and electronics researchers, the team acquired a low-pressure chamber and secured a laboratory for conducting the tests. (11/8)

Space Force Advocates Face Setback with New Congress (Source: Space News)
Advocates of a Space Force are not giving up despite the outcome of the midterm elections. With Democrats now in control of the House, many are skeptical that proposals to establish a separate Space Force can make it through Congress next year. "Chances are still greater than zero," said Doug Loverro, a former Pentagon official and advocate for the Space Force, of the odds Congress would approve such a plan. "If I had to bet money, I would say we're probably not going to get all the way there this time. But maybe we'll get part of the way there." (11/14)

Momentus Raises $8.3 Million for Space Tug (Source: Space News)
A startup has raised $8.3 million in seed funding to provide "last mile" satellite delivery services. Momentus is developing a tug designed to move satellites from low Earth orbit to geostationary orbit or Earth escape trajectories. That system will be powered by plasma thrusters that use water as propellant. The company believes there will be a market for its services from satellites launched as secondary payloads who want to go to different orbits. (11/14)

Rocket Lab Raises $140 Million in new funding (Source: Rocket Lab)
US orbital launch provider Rocket Lab has closed a Series E financing round of $140 million (USD). The funding round closed last month, prior to the launch of the successful mission ‘It’s Business Time,’ and was led by existing investor Future Fund, with strong participation from current investors including Greenspring Associates, Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, DCVC (Data Collective), Promus Ventures and K1W1. New investor ACC also contributed to the round.

The round follows the opening of Rocket Lab’s new mass production facility for the Electron vehicle last month, as well as the announcement confirming the location of Rocket Lab’s second orbital launch site. Construction has now begun on Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2, which is based within the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. Launch Complex 2 can support monthly orbital launches from US soil, and is designed specifically to serve the responsive space needs of government customers. Between the two Rocket Lab launch complexes, the company can support up to 130 orbital missions per year. (11/15)

Mars Mission Advocates Warming to Moon First (Source: Space News)
Advocates for human missions to Mars are warming to plans for going back to the moon first. Supporters of Mars exploration had previously treated human lunar missions with skepticism given their cost and potential to delay Mars missions. However, at a briefing this week, those advocates said that with NASA now set to return to the moon, they see benefits from testing technology there that can be utilized for Mars missions. They cautioned, though, that Mars requirements have to be kept in mind from the beginning when planning lunar missions because, as one person warned, "otherwise you can get bogged down and not press on to Mars." (11/14)

Army Continues Smallsat Program Despite Kestrel Eye Closure (Source: Space News)
Despite the end of one small satellite program, the Army is still supporting smallsat initiatives. Dynetics recently won a contract from the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command for a program called Gunsmoke-L. That $8.3 million contract covers the development of two "tactical space support vehicles" that will carry out classified missions. The award comes after the Army decided to end its Kestrel Eye experimental smallsat last month. (11/14)

Canada Still Considering NASA Lunar Plans (Source: Canadian Press)
Canada is holding off making a commitment to joining NASA's lunar exploration plans. After NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he would welcome Canadian participation in efforts to return to the moon during a visit to Ottawa Wednesday, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said only that the country "would not take anything off the table" about potential roles. Bains said the government is still working on a long-delayed long-term space policy now expected for release before next fall's federal election. (11/15)

Ariane 6 Demand Difficult to Gauge (Source: Space News)
ArianeGroup says a lack of commitment by European governments to use the Ariane 6 is making it difficult to forecast demand for the vehicle. The company, which announced this week plans to cut its workforce by more than 2,000 people by 2022, said uncertainties about "institutional demand" for the rocket, coupled with strong competition and declining demand from commercial satellite operators, made it difficult to predict demand for the Ariane 6. Ministers from several ESA member states signed a joint statement last month recognizing the importance of consolidating their government space missions and launching them on European vehicles. That statement, ESA Director General Jan Woerner said, is a "first step" toward providing a minimum, multiyear order for the Ariane 6 and Vega C rockets. (11/15)

Greenland Ice Cap Hid Large Impact Crater (Source: Science)
Scientists have discovered an impact crater under Greenland's ice cap that may be relatively young. The crater, buried deep below snow and ice in northwestern Greenland, is 31 kilometers in diameter and appeared to have been created by an asteroid impact about 13,000 years ago. That impact, some scientists believe, could explain a sudden drop in temperatures around that time as the ice age was ending, but many scientists remain skeptical. (11/15)

Super Earth Found About Six Light Years Distant (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers have discovered a "super Earth" planet orbiting a nearby star. Astronomers announced Wednesday they detected evidence for a planet orbiting Barnard's Star, a red dwarf about six light-years away. The planet is about 3.2 times the mass of the Earth and orbits at a distance of 0.4 astronomical units. At that distance the planet is unlikely to he habitable, with a surface temperature of — 170 degrees Celsius. (11/14)

‘Unlike Us, Elon Musk is Using Old Tech’: Russia Shows Off Reusable Nuclear Engine for Mars Mission (Source: Russia Today)
A leading Russian space research center has posted a video of its nuclear-powered rocket, that will be able to land on Mars after seven months, and can be re-launched into space just 48 hours after landing. Moscow’s Keldysh Research Center is famous for developing the Katyusha rocket launched during World War II, and has been working on what it says is a “unique” propulsion system since 2009. From past descriptions, it comprises a gas-cooled fission reactor that powers a generator, which in turn feeds a plasma thruster.

Questioned on whether he might be beaten to the punch by foreign companies, particularly more agile private corporations such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is planning its own mission to Mars, Koshlakov was unconcerned. “Elon Musk is using the existing tech, developed a long time ago. He is a businessman: he took a solution that was already there, and applied it successfully. Notably, he is also doing his work with help from the government,” concluded Koshlakov. (11/14)

SpaceX's Mr. Steven, a Unique Fairing-Catching Ship, Could Soon Make its Florida Debut (Source: Florida Today)
Visitors to Port Canaveral should soon see a bright yellow horizontal net supported by the four massive arms of Mr. Steven, a one-of-a-kind SpaceX ship designed to function as a catcher's mitt for plummeting rocket nose cones. Currently based at the Port of Los Angeles, the ship is expected to arrive on the Space Coast next month, presumably to support one of two Florida missions on the company's manifest through the end of the year.

"Our friends at SpaceX met with us a couple months ago," Port Canaveral CEO John Murray said during his annual "State of the Port" address last week. "They're bringing two more vessels to the port." Murray went on to confirm that Mr. Steven is slated to arrive in early December. (11/14)

Greg Wyler Provides Update on OneWeb (Source: Via Satellite)
The system has been designed. The satellites have been tested. They are going through final stages of testing now before the launches begin. The satellites have actually performed better than expected in many ways, especially with their Radio Frequency (RF) performance which is really positive.... They are launching these first satellites in the next 4-5 months. [The start of commercial service] might be early or mid-2020. [No longer late 2019.] You just don’t know when you are doing something this new and big. If you miss it by two months, six months, or even a year, you would be considered to have very great foresight. (11/14)

A Massive Impact Crater Has Been Detected Beneath Greenland’s Ice Sheet (Source: Gizmodo)
An unusually large asteroid crater measuring 19 miles wide has been discovered under a continental ice sheet in Greenland. Roughly the size of Paris, it’s now among the 25 biggest asteroid craters on Earth. An iron-rich asteroid measuring nearly a kilometer wide (0.6 miles) struck Greenland’s ice-covered surface at some point between 3 million and 12,000 years ago, according to a new study published today in Science Advances.

The impact would’ve flung horrific amounts of water vapor and debris into the atmosphere, while sending torrents of meltwater into the North Atlantic—events that likely triggered global cooling (a phenomenon sometimes referred to as a nuclear or volcanic winter). Over time, however, the gaping hole was obscured by a 1,000-meter-tall (3,200-foot) layer of ice, where it remained hidden for thousands of years. (11/14)

How Blue Origin Blazed a Trail for Amazon HQ Plan (Source: GeekWire)
The process that Amazon went through to choose New York, Northern Virginia and Nashville as key sites for expansion isn’t the first HQ2 exercise for CEO Jeff Bezos: You could argue that the pattern was set when Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture decided where it’d manufacture and launch its New Glenn rocket. Blue Origin’s selection process produced far less hype than the yearlong contest that Amazon conducted, and far fewer jobs were at stake. But like the HQ2/3/4 arrangement announced today, the exercise ended up producing multiple winners — as well as disappointed suitors.

The saga of Blue Origin’s expansion starts way back in 2006, six years after Blue Origin’s founding, when the company set up an HQ2 test facility and launch pad on 18,600 acres of ranchland in West Texas. Obviously, it wouldn’t do to try launching rockets from the headquarters and production facility that Blue Origin had just opened up in Kent, Wash., not far from Interstate 5.

Blue Origin’s next major move came in 2015, when it was considering where to build a huge manufacturing facility for the orbital-class New Glenn. The suborbital New Shepard spacecraft were and continue to be built in Kent, but New Glenn required something bigger. The competition came down to Florida vs. North Carolina, and although North Carolina (“First in Flight”) reportedly offered more financial incentives, Cape Canaveral won out. The fact that the Air Force was willing to offer Launch Complex 36 at the Cape as a pad for Blue Origin turned out to be a crucial deal-sweetener. (11/13)

So What's Going on With That 'Hurricane of Dark Matter?' (Source: Gizmodo)
It’s the perfect science-fiction device: a hurricane of dark matter. Recent, real-life research has demonstrated that our Sun is currently engulfed in a so-called a stellar stream. Some publications have seized on this ominous-sounding idea, reporting that Earth is about to be walloped by a dark matter storm—but in fact, if it exists, we’re already inside the storm. The reality of the situation isn’t quite so dire, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Stellar streams are populations of related stars that could have once been pieces of a dwarf galaxy or globular cluster, but have now been shredded apart by gravitational forces and pass through parts of our galaxy. Since astronomers are pretty sure that stuff called dark matter serves as the gravitational scaffolding for dwarf galaxies, then presumably a stellar stream should also contain some percentage of dark matter. Maybe a dark matter experiment could detect dark matter particles from the recently discovered stream running through our cosmic neighborhood.

Perhaps this dark matter hurricane could be detectable by today’s existing dark matter detection experiments, and would have a distinguishable signal from the Milky Way’s background dark matter. It would move much faster—a “hurricane,” compared to the background dark matter “wind,” according to the paper published last week in Physical Review D. The researchers then analyzed whether they’d be able to spot the stream with upcoming dark matter detectors. (11/14)

Geophysicists Propose New Theory to Explain Origin of Water (Source: Cosmos)
Earth’s water may not have originated solely from material carried by asteroids, according to new US research. A study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets led by Steven Desch from Arizona State University challenges widely-accepted ideas about the asteroidal origin of hydrogen in the planet’s water by suggesting it came in part from the solar nebula – clouds of dust and gas left over after the formation of the Sun.

And the researchers believe their findings could provide new insights about the development of other planets and their potential to support life. To date, many scientists have supported a theory that all of Earth’s water came from asteroids, primarily because the ratio of deuterium, a heavier hydrogen isotope, to normal hydrogen is similar in ocean and asteroidal samples. Certainly the ocean chemical signature is close to what is found in asteroids, but that may not be the whole story, explains Desch.

“It’s a bit of a blind spot in the community,” he says. “When people measure the ratio in ocean water and they see that it is pretty close to what we see in asteroids, it was always easy to believe it all came from asteroids.” Desch and his colleagues say more recent research suggests hydrogen in Earth’s oceans does not represent hydrogen throughout the entire planet. Samples taken from deep underground, close to the boundary between the core and mantle, have notably less deuterium, indicating this hydrogen may not have come from asteroids. (11/12)

November 14, 2018

First Angara A5V Heavy-Class Rocket Launch to Take Place in 2026 (Source: Space Daily)
The first heavy-lift Angara A5V carrier rocket equipped with a hydrogen space tug will be launched from the Vostochny space center in Russia's Far East in 2026, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said on Sunday. The rocket's launch was initially set to take place in 2027, according to the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. (11/13)

Colonizing Mars Means Contaminating Mars – and Never Knowing For Sure if it Had its Own Native Life (Source: The Conversation)
The closest place in the universe where extraterrestrial life might exist is Mars, and human beings are poised to attempt to colonize this planetary neighbor within the next decade. Before that happens, we need to recognize that a very real possibility exists that the first human steps on the Martian surface will lead to a collision between terrestrial life and biota native to Mars.

If the red planet is sterile, a human presence there would create no moral or ethical dilemmas on this front. But if life does exist on Mars, human explorers could easily lead to the extinction of Martian life. As an astronomer who explores these questions in my book “Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go,” I contend that we Earthlings need to understand this scenario and debate the possible outcomes of colonizing our neighboring planet in advance. Maybe missions that would carry humans to Mars need a timeout. (11/13)

How Massive Solar Eruptions ‘Probably’ Detonated Dozens of US Sea Mines (Source: The Conversation)
An extraordinary account of the impact space weather had on military operations in Vietnam in 1972 was found buried in the US Navy archives, according to a newly published article in Space Weather. On August 4, 1972, the crew of a US Task Force 77 aircraft flying near a naval minefield in the waters off Hon La observed 20 to 25 explosions over about 30 seconds. They also witnessed an additional 25 to 30 mud spots in the waters nearby.

Destructor sea mines had been deployed here during Operation Pocket Money, a mining campaign launched in 1972 against principal North Vietnamese ports. There was no obvious reason why the mines should have detonated. But it has now emerged the US Navy soon turned its attention to extreme solar activity at the time as a probable cause. The more we can understand the impact of such space weather on technology then the better we can be prepared for any future extreme solar activity.

As detailed in a now declassified US Navy report, the event sparked an immediate investigation about the potential cause(s) of the random detonations of so many sea mines. The sea mines deployed had a self-destruct feature. But the minimum self-destruct time on these mines was not for another 30 days, so something else was to blame. On August 15, 1972, the Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Bernard Clarey, asked about a hypothesis that solar activity could have caused the mine detonations. (11/13)

Florida Poly Students Identify New Way to Create Oxygen in Space (Source: Florida Politics)
Florida Polytechnic University researchers are working on a breakthrough technology that could simplify the way oxygen is created for such travel. Student researchers and faculty are exploring ways to use algae to capture carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. The technology would simplify the current process and make it less costly. The NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium-funded research uses diatoms — a form of algae invisible to the naked eye — to increase efficiency in solar cells to produce oxygen from carbon dioxide.

Currently astronauts use separate systems: One to capture the carbon and the other to produce oxygen. “This research not only could lead to more energy efficient space missions through solar cell and capacitor enhancements, but it could also play a critical role in revolutionizing the way the very air astronauts breathe is rendered carbon dioxide-free,” said professor of biology Melba Horton, who received the FSGC grant. Diatoms’ silica walls give the algae unique photosynthetic properties that make them useful in numerous high-tech applications. (11/11)

Russian Space Leader Suggests Engineers Test Spacecraft Stalin’s Way (Source: Ars Technica)
During a meeting this weekend at RSC Energia, the prime contractor for Russia's crewed spaceflight program, the discussion turned toward development of the Federation spacecraft. This is the oft-delayed program to develop a new generation of crewed spacecraft for the Russian space industry. Dmitry Rogozin, the leader of Russia's space program, Roscosmos, was apparently not pleased with ongoing delays to the program. First initiated more than a decade ago, the Federation spacecraft now is unlikely to fly humans before 2023.

Rogozin made the following comments after one of the Federation engineers suggested that, perhaps, time could be saved in the spacecraft's development by reducing the number of tests of its emergency escape system. In response to this suggestion, Rogozin reminded the two rows of men sitting at a long conference table how Joseph Stalin would ensure the reliability of a new armored vehicle—with a PPSh-41 submachine gun in his hand. "He would put a constructor inside and shoot at the vehicle with the automatic weapon," Rogozin said. "If the constructor survived, it was a good machine. I suggest writing an order to put constructors on the ship during tests." (11/13)

Space Camp Grows Up (Source: Mashable)
Back when I was merely one of two astronauts fixing anomalies and doing experiments aboard the International Space Station — was that really just yesterday? — our whole team was intensely serious. Lives seemed at stake. But then the Space Shuttle crew landed with their cargo bay doors still accidentally open. "All the buttons lit up at once," said one of our instructors after the Shuttle debacle. "You guys were dying, and I was loving it." Since no one chastised us for dying, our seriousness levels have gone downhill since then. I fear this moon mission may give our overlords more of what they love. Click here. (11/13)

Brother of Hamas Commander Killed by IDF Worked for NASA (Source: Jerusalem Post)
Sheikh Nur Baraka, the Hamas commander who was killed in Sunday night’s clash with an elite IDF unit in the southern Gaza Strip, was unknown to many Palestinians. They first heard his name when Hamas announced that he had been “martyred” during a clash with IDF soldiers. Baraka, 37, joined Hamas at the age of 18, according to sources in the Gaza Strip. While he worked for Hamas, his older brother, Suleiman, became a famous astrophysicist, who worked as scientist with the NASA space agency.

Prof. Suleiman Baraka, who was born in the Gaza Strip in 1965, returned from the US to the Gaza Strip two years ago to teach at local universities and colleges. His 12-year-old son, Ibrahim, was reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip in 2008. Suleiman had been arrested at least twice by the IDF during the 70’s and 80’s for security-related offenses. He is the only Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who has worked for NASA - an achievement that has been recognized by UNESCO, who nominated him as the first Middle East chairman, among other awards, according to a report by the London-based Middle East Eye news site. (11/13)

Peter Beck on How Rocket Lab Will Make Money (Source: New Zealand Herald)
Rocket Lab's maiden commercial launch on Sunday was a moment of pride for all New Zealanders, and pure Thunderbirds Are Go delight for geekier Kiwis as "It's Business Time" successfully launched a fleet of cube sats into low Earth orbit. But heavyweight backers from Lockheed Martin to Sir Stephen Tindall - who have put US$148 million into the company - will now be looking for a return on their investment. Founder Peter Beck doesn't shirk from that fact.

"We've not funded by any billionaires," the Aucklander says, in a nod to Space X's founder, the eccentric Elon Musk, whom Forbes values at US$22.5 billion, and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos (aka the planet's richest person), whose early-stage space venture Blue Origin is bankrolled by the US$141b personal fortune he has amassed through Amazon.

"We actually need to make money - and that has been a key focus from day one. It's Business Time is 'business time' in more meanings that you can imagine." And the news on this front is good. Beck won't give a line-by-line account of the privately-held company's financials, but "we'll come out of the end of this year cash-flow positive". (11/12)

Comment: Is Rocket Lab Even a New Zealand Company? (Source: New Zealand Herald)
"It's a bit sad it's been discussed in the press so negatively when, for instance, Rocket Lab - which we all think is the most wonderful thing - and it is - is actually significantly owned by Lockheed Martin, which does produce weapons that kill people. But no one really cares about that." When I asked Peter Beck whether his company was Kiwi or American, he didn't shirk from waving the Stars and Stripes. "Look, we've been an American company and proud of it for many years," he said.

"The New Zealand element is very important and very special to us but we never tried to hide the fact we're a US company and this is where New Zealand companies go wrong in the fact that if you want to be a large, successful global company, it's very difficult to be that out of New Zealand." He added, "Instead of lamenting the fact we've lost a company from New Zealand, we should be celebrating the fact that a company has got so large that it needs to go global." (11/13)

November 13, 2018

ArianeGroup to Cut 2,200 Jobs (Source: AFP)
ArianeGroup plans to cut 2,200 jobs over the next four years as it phases out the Ariane 5. The company, which currently employs 9,000, said Monday that it plans to cut the jobs through attrition rather than layoffs as it completes development of the Ariane 6, the successor to the Ariane 5. The Ariane 6, intended to cost 40 percent less than the Ariane 5, is scheduled to enter service in 2020, with the Ariane 5 phased out a few years later. [AFP]

FCC Considers New Orbital Debris Rule (Source: Space News)
The FCC will take up a proposed rule this week modifying its orbital debris mitigation guidelines. The commission is expected to approve the notice of proposed rulemaking at its meeting Thursday, beginning a public comment period on the revised regulations. Among those proposed rules under consideration by the FCC is a requirement that low Earth orbit satellites that plan to operate at altitudes above 650 kilometers first undergo checkouts at a lower altitude to avoid situations where spacecraft failures leave them stranded in higher, longer-lived orbits. The FCC will also take up authorizations for several satellite constellations and approval of the use of Galileo navigation signals by nonfederal devices. [SpaceNews]

Italy's Space Agency Chief Dismissed (Source: Space News)
The head of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) was dismissed last week for reasons that remain unclear. Roberto Battiston had been president of ASI since 2014 and started a second four-year term earlier this year when Marco Bussetti, the country's education, university and research minister, removed Battiston from his post Nov. 6. Battiston said that his dismissal was evidence of the patronage system being applied to public research agencies in the country for the first time. The ministry hasn't formally commented on Battiston's dismissal. A petition seeking to either return Battiston to his job or otherwise reduce the effects of his departure has garnered more than 15,000 signatures. [SpaceNews]

NASA Hopes Canada Will Support Gateway with Robotic Arm (Source: CTV)
NASA is hoping that Canada will contribute an advanced robotic arm system to its proposed lunar Gateway. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is scheduled to meet this week with Canadian officials in discussions that will include Canadian contributions to the Gateway. NASA has asked Canada to contribute robotic arms, making use of artificial intelligence, for the Gateway, but the Canadian government has yet to make a commitment for a system that could cost more than $1 billion over 20 years. [CTV]

Suyuz Rocket Passes Test Ahead of Next Crewed Launch (Source: TASS)
The Soyuz spacecraft to be used on the next mission to the International Space Station has passed a key test. Russian officials said the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft passed a vacuum test, with no signs of leaks. The Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, currently docked to the ISS, suffered a leak in August, the cause of which remains under investigation but could be linked to workmanship and handling issues during prelaunch preparations. [TASS]

Multiple Pilots Report UFO Sighting (Source: Huffington Post)
Several commercials airline pilots reported a series of fast-moving unidentified objects in the skies off the west coast of Ireland last week in an incident now under investigation. One pilot said the object or objects were traveling at “astronomical” speeds of at least Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound. The incident began when a British Airways pilot flying from Montreal to London’s Heathrow Airport contacted Shannon Air Traffic Control in Ireland to ask if there were any military aircraft in the vicinity. When told there was no such aircraft, the pilot said something had moved “so fast” past the aircraft.

“Errr... alongside you?” the air traffic controller asked.  The pilot replied that two objects had approached on the left and then “rapidly” veered toward the north. “We saw a bright light and it just disappeared at a very high speed,” she said. A Virgin Airlines flight from Orlando to Manchester, UK, then reported “two bright lights” that “seemed to bank over to the right and then climb away at speed.”

The pilot described “a meteor or another object making some kind of reentry, appears to be multiple objects following the same sort of trajectory, very bright from where we were.” Then, a third pilot chimed in. “Glad it wasn’t just me,” the Norwegian Air pilot flying from Stewart Airport in New York to Shannon, Ireland said. (11/13)

Finland Probe: Russia Disrupting GPS During NATO Drill (Source: DW)
Pilots in Finland and Norway lost GPS navigation signals during recent NATO's  large-scale Trident Juncture exercise near Russia's western border. Speaking to Finland's public broadcaster Yle on Sunday, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said that Moscow was likely to blame for the jamming. "Technology-wise, it's relatively easy to disturb a radio signal, and it's possible that Russia was behind it," he was quoted as saying. "This is not a joke, it threatened the air security of ordinary people." Sipila, who is also an experienced pilot, said that the incident would be treated as a breach of Finnish airspace. The goal of the alleged Russian interference was "to demonstrate the capabilities for such actions," he said. (11/11)

Why a Space Force Can Wait (Source: Aerospace Security)
I do not disagree with the contention that the current organizational structure of national security space is problematic. Most experts have noted that space capabilities are spread unevenly throughout DoD and Intelligence Community, without much interoperability and communication, and space authority and coordination is fragmented. As a result, there is no true military space career path and Air Force officers with no space background are often shifted into space work.

Additionally, the Air Force tends to decrease space-related funding in order to support aircraft when balancing priorities. These are serious issues that need to be resolved; however, the solution is not to jump to create a new military department. DoD needs to slow down and take a deep breath, evaluate the issues that are causing our national security space enterprise to falter, and develop a strategic plan to fix them. Throwing more money and even more bureaucracy at the issue is not going to help, and holding to unrealistic timelines will not allow for thorough progress reviews of incremental steps, such as establishing a space combatant command or a dedicated space acquisition and development agency. (10/3)

The End of an Era in the Exploration of Europa (Source: Space Review)
Last week’s midterm elections saw the defeat of Rep. John Culberson, a major advocate for missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Jason Callahan explains what that means for NASA missions under development, and why some scientists might not be that surprised. Click here. (11/12)
 
A Different Trajectory for Funding Space Science Missions (Source: Space Review)
The budget increases that NASA’s planetary science program has enjoyed for the last several years may soon come to an end, even while there’s no shortage of compelling mission concepts. Jeff Foust reports on two alternative approaches under study for doing planetary exploration, involving philanthropy and coalitions. Click here. (11/12)
 
Spaceplanes: the Triumph of Hope Over Experience (Source: Space Review)
For decades, engineers have tried to develop spaceplanes that can operate like aircraft, only to suffer technical shortfalls. John Hollaway argues that the failed efforts to develop such vehicles mark the limits of the space launch industry. Click here. (11/12)

November 12, 2018

Muscle Cells of 8 Central Floridians Will Go to Space for a First-of-its-Kind Experiment (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The muscle cells of eight Central Floridians will be launched into space this month for a first-of-its-kind experiment. The tiny cells will travel in chips smaller than business cards, inside a lab about the size of a small box, to their cosmic destination: The International Space Station. There, the cells will spend seven days orbiting their owners on Earth.

When the cells return home, scientists will analyze how the stay in microgravity affected them. How does the weightlessness of space contribute to muscle loss? Why do astronauts come home so weak? And how could that information help us understand the kind of muscle loss that happens as we age?

It’ll be the first time that scientists will test muscle cells individually in space, said Dr. Paul Coen, a researcher at Florida Hospital’s Translational Research Institute for Metabolism & Diabetes, which conducted the study that obtained the muscle cells. Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and microgravity experiment company Micro-gRx, both in Lake Nona, developed the “lab on a chip” in partnership with research and development company SpacePharma. (11/12)

Rocket Lab’s Modest Launch Is Giant Leap for Small Rocket Business (Source: New York Times)
A small rocket from a little-known company lifted off Sunday from the east coast of New Zealand, carrying a clutch of tiny satellites. That modest event — the first commercial launch by a U.S.-New Zealand company known as Rocket Lab — could mark the beginning of a new era in the space business, where countless small rockets pop off from spaceports around the world. This miniaturization of rockets and spacecraft places outer space within reach of a broader swath of the economy.

The rocket, called the Electron, is a mere sliver compared to the giant rockets that Elon Musk, of SpaceX, and Jeffrey P. Bezos, of Blue Origin, envisage using to send people into the solar system. It is just 56 feet tall and can carry only 500 pounds into space. But Rocket Lab is aiming for markets closer to home. Behind Rocket Lab, a host of start-up companies are also jockeying to provide transportation to space for a growing number of small satellites.

Space Angels, a space-business investment firm, is tracking 150 small launch companies. Chad Anderson, Space Angel’s chief executive, said that although the vast majority of these companies will fail, a small group possess the financing and engineering wherewithal to get off the ground. Their rockets are shrinking, because satellites are shrinking. Advances in technology and computer chips have enabled smaller satellites to perform the same tasks as their predecessors. And constellations of hundreds or thousands of small satellites, orbiting at lower altitudes that are easier to reach, can mimic the capabilities once possible only from a fixed geosynchronous position. (11/12)

Satellite Images Show North Korea ‘Continuing Missile Program at 16 Secret Sites’ (Source: Daily Beast)
North Korea is carrying on with its ballistic missile program at 16 secret facilities, new satellite images have revealed, undermining President Donald Trump’s boasts that he persuaded the hermit kingdom to abandon its weapons production and work toward denuclearization. The images, reported by The New York Times, show North Korea is continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen launching sites. The development suggests North Korea’s promise to shut down one major test site was an attempted deception.

The secret missile bases were identified in a study to be published Monday by the Beyond Parallel program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. The disclosure is another blow for negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea. Nuclear talks between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a high-ranking North Korean official were called off last week as the two sides hit an impasse. The U.S. believes North Korea’s progress on nuclear disarmament has been too slow, while Kim Jong Un wants the U.S. to ease up its sanctions against his country. (11/12)

Japan Recovers Experiment Capsule From ISS (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
Japan's space agency recovered a capsule Saturday that survived the reentry of a cargo spacecraft. JAXA said that ships were able to recover an experimental capsule from the Pacific Ocean containing about one kilogram of experiment specimens. The capsule separated from the HTV cargo spacecraft as it reentered over the Pacific, with the main cargo spacecraft burning up as expected. The capsule could provide another means of returning cargo from the station, something only possible today with SpaceX's Dragon and the Soyuz crewed vehicle. (11/12)

India Preps GSLV Launch as Cyclone Approaches (Source: UNI)
India is preparing for a GSLV launch this week despite an approaching cyclone. A GSLV Mark 3 rocket is scheduled to launch the GSAT-29 communications satellite Wednesday from the country's spaceport at Sriharikota. The Indian space agency ISRO said that while rains associated with an approaching cyclone will reach the spaceport by Wednesday, it should be able to get the launch off since the cyclone itself won't arrive until Thursday. (11/12)

Changes Soon for Astrobiology Institute (Source: Space News)
NASA plans to phase out its virtual institute devoted to astrobiology in favor of an alternative approach to coordinating research. The NASA Astrobiology Institute, established 20 years ago, will be shut down by the end of next year, replaced with five "research coordination networks." NASA argues that the institute, and its overhead expenses, are no longer needed given the maturity of the field, but some scientists are worried about what this means for the agency's support, and funding, of astrobiology research. Agency officials say that they will continue to fund astrobiology research, and that the new networks will provide more flexibility in how it supports that work. (11/12)

European Scientists Select ExoMars Rover Landing Site (Source: BBC)
European scientists have selected their preferred landing site for the ExoMars 2020 rover. Those scientists, meeting in the U.K. last week, chose the Oxia Planum region near the Martian equator. That area contains clays and other minerals formed from interaction with water earlier in the planet's history, and scientists think could be an ideal location to look for evidence of any past life there. The landing site decision will have to be formally approved later by ESA and Roscosmos, with a final decision expected in mid-2019. (11/12)

Scottish Landowners Approve Spaceport Bid (Source: Aberdeen Press and Journal)
Scottish landowners have approved a proposal to build a spaceport on their property. Members of Melness Crofters Estate voted to back the proposed launch site in northern Scotland, allowing the project to move ahead into the next stage of planning, including environmental studies. Nearly 60 percent of landowners voted in favor of the proposal, but opponents claim not all the ballots were properly registered. (11/12)

Russia's RD-180 Could Lift New Heavy Rocket (Source: TASS)
Russian RD-180 engines could find new life on a proposed heavy-lift rocket. Energomash CEO Igor Arbuzov said the RD-180 engine built by his company could be used on the second stage of a future heavy-lift rocket, one unlikely to fly before the late 2020s. The engine could also be considered for a "modernized" version of the Soyuz-2 rocket. The RD-180 is currently used by United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5, but that vehicle will be phased out during the first half of the 2020s as the company introduces its Vulcan rocket, powered by Blue Origin's BE-4 engine. (11/12)

The Mars Society's Robert Zubrin Has a 'Moon Direct' Plan to Drive a Lunar Economy (Source: Space.com)
The Moon Direct plan, which Zubrin laid out in today's edition (Oct. 31) of the journal The New Atlantis, aims to send astronauts directly to the moon, rather than making a pit stop at NASA's planned Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. That space station would orbit the moon and serve as an outpost for crewed missions to the moon, Mars and deep space. Zubrin argued that the Gateway is unnecessary and instead suggested building a moon base. This idea, Zubrin argued, would reduce mission propulsion requirements, as well as other costs associated with building and maintaining a lunar gateway. (11/1)

November 11, 2018

Trump Ally Dana Rohrabacher Loses to Democratic Challenger Harley Rouda (Source: Washington Examiner)
The Associated Press has declared Democrat Harley Rouda to be the winner in his House race against Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a few hours after Rouda declared victory. In its announcement Saturday evening, the AP said the updated vote count showed Rousa with 52 percent of the vote and around a 8,500-vote lead over Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher, a 30-year incumbent and staunch Trump ally, has yet to concede the race. Hours earlier, Rouda claimed the race after breaking away with the lead. (11/10)

Rocket Lab Aces First Commercial Launch (Source: Space.com)
The spaceflight startup's Electron rocket aced its first commercial flight tonight (Nov. 10), lofting six small satellites and a technology demonstrator to low-Earth orbit, about 310 miles (500 kilometers) above our planet. The mission, which Rocket Lab called "It's Business Time," lifted off from the company's New Zealand launch site. The two-stage Electron first delivered its payloads to an elliptical parking orbit; a "kick stage" that separated from the rocket's upper stage then circularized the orbits of the satellites, which were deployed about 54 minutes after liftoff, Rocket Lab representatives said. (11/10)

Cape Canaveral Can Now Launch Commercial Spaceplanes (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Cape Canaveral Spaceport is made of more than launchpads. The famed space coast site also has a 15,000-foot runway, a veteran of more than 130 Space Shuttle landings. Those landings came to an end in 2011, though, but now, seven years later, that runway is open for commercial business. Yesterday, Florida's spaceport authority reported that the FAA issued a launch license for operations at the site.

The runway, for now still called the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), is a symbol of where spaceflight has been—now it's becoming a key hub of the future. Since 2015 the runway, tower, and other pieces have been operated by Space Florida, the state's spaceport development authority. Space Florida has been working on this license since December 2015 and just submitted the more than 120-page application in February. On Thursday the FAA approved the paperwork, which allows the Cape Canaveral Spaceport to support operations of aircraft that carry air-launched rockets.

SLF Airfield Manager James Mofitt said that direct-to-orbit spaceplanes—those that take off from a runway and cruise directly into suborbital space without using a carrier—are covered by the license. The best-known company offering this type of spacecraft was XCOR, which folded earlier this year, but the spaceport wants to be ready for future developments. The license cost “a couple million dollars” but that amount includes work being done to credential a secondary site. Spaceports are often accused of a build-it-and-they-will-come strategy, but Mofitt points to the plethora of space launch companies that are coming online. “Did we get this license on spec? Sure. But it’s safe to say this will pay off,” he says. (11/9)

If Everyone Left the International Space Station (Source: The Atlantic)
It’s important to note that the ISS doesn’t depend on the presence of a crew to fly. Mission controllers on the ground can operate the station as it coasts through space, traveling at an average speed of 17,500 miles an hour. ISS systems are built to be redundant; a failure of one of several identical systems doesn’t signal a major catastrophe. If necessary, Russia can also deliver uncrewed Progress capsules to dock to the ISS and, as has been done in the past, fire their thrusters to elevate the station, keeping it in its usual orbit.

After the Soyuz launch failure, NASA spent several weeks preparing for the possibility of leaving the ISS unoccupied. The space agency has a “de-crew” document for this scenario, which instructs the departing astronauts to make sure systems are running fine, install backups, and top off science experiments. But NASA’s protocols don’t specify exactly how long the ISS could theoretically operate without a crew. Although the station can be operated remotely, there’s no substitute for having people on board. Astronauts conduct repairs inside and outside the station, replace aging hardware, and perform regular checks of life-support systems. (11/9)

NASA’s Europa Lander in Jeopardy After Midterms -- and Some are Fine Seeing it Go (Source: The Verge)
Now that Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is about to leave public office, the Europa lander will no longer have its champion, making its future at NASA uncertain. NASA never formally requested a lander for Europa, and the president’s latest budget request noted that the administration had no intention of funding such a program. No other lawmaker seems to be as passionate about the project, nor in the same position to keep the program alive.

Plus, there are some in the science community who wouldn’t be upset to see the mission go. In fact, a few experts are concerned that sending a lander to Europa right now is premature, as we don’t know enough about the moon’s surface to successfully touch down on it. And there’s frustration over the fact that the lander was born from a politician rather than scientific consensus. “The Europa lander was always Culberson’s,” Emily Lakdawalla, the senior editor at The Planetary Society, tells The Verge. “It’s a mission that came out of Congress as opposed to a mission that came out of the [science community].” (11/10)

NASA and Yuri Milner Working Together on Life-Hunting Mission to Enceladus (Source: Gizmodo)
It looks like NASA will offer billionaire entrepreneur and physicist Yuri Milner help on the first private deep-space mission: a journey designed to detect life, if it exists, on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, according to documents acquired by New Scientist. New Scientist’s Mark Harris reports:

"Agreements signed by NASA and Milner’s non-profit Breakthrough Starshot Foundation in September show that the organisations are working on scientific, technical and financial plans for the ambitious mission. NASA has committed over $70,000 to help produce a concept study for a flyby mission. The funds won’t be paid to Breakthrough but represent the agency’s own staffing costs on the project." (11/8)

Camden Spaceport Won't Live Up to Expectations (Source: Brunswick News)
Not only was Nov. 6 Election Day, but it was the ignoble third anniversary of the announcement in the Federal Register that Camden County was going to spend a rocket-load of money on its spaceport odyssey. Six million dollars and three years later, the spaceport Environmental Impact Statement is now officially paused. Camden Commission chair Jimmy Starline says it’s the FAA “process,” but the FAA states it’s due to “project sponsor factors.” Whatever.

The public’s input and participation has temporarily stopped this ill-advised project that would have severe consequences for Camden and Glynn. We were promised by Camden’s spaceport consultant that rockets were 99.01 percent safe. But the Draft EIS had to admit a failure rate of up to 6 percent, which the FAA figures up to 93 percent for new rockets. That’s one launch failure every 17 months. Shockingly, the EIS failed to study the consequence of a rocket crash on Cumberland, Jekyll, or St. Andrews Sound although the National Environmental Protection Act requires it.

Meanwhile, Vector Space, the company that launched an amateur rocket from Camden in 2017 and promised us a rocket factory, hasn’t launched anything since. But Vector promised Virginia and Alaska rocket launches to orbit in 2018. The first won’t happen until next year, if then. Neither will the promised Florida rocket factory. We just re-elected the politicians that continue to waste money on the spaceport that will never launch a rocket. Are they tell us they don’t have better uses for our taxes? (11/10)

Two More Mysterious Rogue Planets Found (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Rogue planets wander through space without orbiting a star, and now scientists have found two more of these free-floating worlds. For centuries, the very existence of rogue planets was hypothetical. Because they're not close to a star that lights them up, they're tremendously difficult to spot. Then a technique known as gravitational microlensing came around.

Using gravitational microlensing, scientists find planets by noting when a rogue planet interrupts a star's light from our point of view. The planet suddenly acts as a lens for the star's light, curving it as it would be seen from Earth. The bigger the planet, the bigger the interruption. While humanity has proven great at finding exoplanets attached to stars, scientists have only identified a dozen or so rogues. That's what makes adding two more to the pile such a big deal. The planets are officially called OGLE-2017-BLG-0560 and OGLE-2012-BLG-1323, respectively, and there's a lot we don't know about them. (11/9)

SpaceX Wants to Fly Some Internet Satellites Closer to Earth to Cut Down on Space Trash (Source: The Verge)
SpaceX is revising its satellite internet initiative, Starlink, and it now hopes to operate some of its spacecraft at a lower altitude than originally planned. In a new filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), SpaceX is asking the agency to modify its license so that more than 1,500 Starlink satellites can operate at an altitude 600 kilometers lower than the company originally requested.

SpaceX argues that this change will make the space environment safer, as it will be easier to get rid of these satellites at this new altitude when they run low on fuel or can no longer function properly in orbit. This update could also explain the unexpected behavior of two of SpaceX’s test satellites for Starlink, which have remained in lower orbits than expected.

Back in March, the FCC approved SpaceX’s license for the first phase of its ambitious Starlink initiative — the company’s long-term plan to launch nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit to beam internet coverage down to Earth. Initially, SpaceX asked the FCC for permission to launch 4,425 satellites into orbits ranging between 1,110 to 1,325 kilometers high. But with this new filing, SpaceX is requesting that 1,584 of those satellites, which were supposed to operate at 1,110 kilometers, be allowed to operate at 550 kilometers instead. (11/9)

November 10, 2018

Moon Express Pays Intuitive Machines (Source: Space News)
Commercial lunar transportation firm Moon Express delivered 590,710 shares of stock worth an estimated $2.25 million to Intuitive Machines LLC, a firm with autonomous systems expertise, as ordered Oct. 15 by a federal judge in Delaware. “I recently received the shares per the judge’s order,” Steve Altemus, Intuitive Machines president, said. The dispute between the two companies is not settled, though. Moon Express is preparing to appeal the judgment. Intuitive is asking the Delaware court to convert the Moon Express equity awarded into cash. (11/9)

Rocket Lab's Third Launch Could Be The Start Of Something Big (Source: Forbes)
The US-based company Rocket Lab is gearing up for its third-ever launch tomorrow, its first fully commercial flight and a key milestone as it aims to prove the viability of smaller rockets. Their Electron rocket, given the nickname “It’s Business Time”, is set to lift off from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island this weekend.

The rocket has a nine-day launch window, with the first launch opportunity coming on Saturday 10 November at 10pm Eastern time. On board will be seven payloads, including a demonstration drag sail to practice de-orbiting space junk and a student-led experiment. If all goes to plan, the rocket will place these payloads into an orbit 500 kilometers (310 miles) above Earth. (11/9)

Australia’s Space Future: Where To Next on the Final Frontier? (Source: ASPI)
With the establishment of the Australian Space Agency on 1 July this year and the growth of Australia’s space industry, the future has arrived for many Australian space advocates. A critical mass of participants, initiatives and developments are riding a wave of government enthusiasm and private-sector support. It’s a good time to be involved in space in this country. It’s also a good time to look forward, and consider where we might head over the next decade in space.

The starting point has to be with the Australian Space Agency, which released its charter setting out its purpose, values, roles, responsibilities, approach to governance, and reporting arrangements at the end of October. The agency’s purpose is to ‘transform and grow a globally respected Australian space industry that lifts the broader economy, inspires and improves the lives of Australians—underpinned by strong international and national engagement’. Click here. (11/9)

Mars Demands Component, Packaging and Design Trifecta (Source: EE Times)
Tried and true is the battle cry of military and aerospace organizations determined to study Mars. Although emerging technologies could facilitate the journey, heritage devices with a proven track record remain the best path forward for systems that can withstand unexpected events, intense radiation, and the harsh conditions of the Red Planet. Click here. (11/8)

SpaceX Targeting Next Week for Falcon 9 Mission; First Daytime Launch in 6 Months (Source: Florida Today)
If schedules hold, SpaceX next week will vault a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport into the day's last light, signaling a break from the Space Coast's streak of late-night launches. Teams next Thursday have a launch window at pad 39A that opens in the afternoon and closes around sunset. It will also mark SpaceX's first launch from the historic Apollo and space shuttle-era pad since May.

The rocket's first stage is expected to perform an automated descent toward the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship shortly after liftoff, so Space Coast residents and visitors should not anticipate the usual triple sonic booms that are heard when the booster returns. It should sail into Port Canaveral before the end of the weekend. On board: Es'hail-2, a Qatari communications satellite for operator Es'hailSat that will cover the Middle East and North Africa region from a geostationary orbit.

SpaceX's following launch is also scheduled for a daytime liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 4. That mission, the company's 16th resupply of the International Space Station, has an instantaneous 1:38 p.m. launch window and will ferry thousands of pounds of cargo, science experiments and supplies. (11/10)

Antares Rocket to Launch from Virginia Thursday (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
Stardust, protein crystals, virtual reality, cement, recycled plastics – these are key components of a few of the science experiments set to launch from Virginia’s spaceport to the International Space Station next Thursday. The idea behind these experiments is to advance our understanding of how the universe formed from stardust, the pathology of Parkinson’s disease, making and using concrete on celestial bodies, and the sustainable fabrication and repair of plastic materials on lengthy space missions.

The rocket is set to lift off at 4:49 a.m. on Nov. 15 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops Flight Facility. It will boost an unmanned Cygnus cargo craft bearing 7,500 pounds of groceries, hardware and research to space station crew. Weather permitting, Antares launches are visible throughout the mid-Atlantic, with Hampton Roads residents treated to front-row seats. (11/8)

The Republican Space Fans Exiting the House (Source: The Atlantic)
After eight years in power, Republicans in the House of Representatives will soon hand over the gavel to Democrats. When the new Congress convenes in January, the chamber will contain dozens fewer Republicans—and fewer Republican supporters of space exploration. The outcome of Tuesday’s elections will sweep several longtime champions of NASA out of the House. Some have held office for many years, and their interest in space exploration has led to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for ambitious projects. Plenty of ardent NASA advocates remain in the chamber, but the departure of these well-known faces could lead to a shift in legislative priorities.

Perhaps the most significant loss occurred in Texas’s Seventh Congressional District, home to thousands of the employees at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. A political newcomer, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, defeated the incumbent John Culberson, who has served in the House since 2001. Culberson, an attorney, doesn’t have a science background. Culberson has fiercely supported one mission in particular: a journey to one of Jupiter’s moons, the icy Europa. (11/8)

NASA Awards $7 Million to University to Search for Extraterrestrial Life (Source: The Hoya)
NASA awarded a $7 million grant to Georgetown University biology professor Sarah Johnson and a team of researchers to work on a project in search of extraterrestrial life. The Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures led by Johnson and her team is working to pioneer a new way of approaching the search for life outside of planet Earth, focusing on Mars and on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The NASA funding is set to continue for the next five years. LAB is a collaborative effort of 15 members from universities and scientific research institutions from around the world. (11/9)

Trump's Space Force Faces an Uncertain Fate (Source: The Atlantic)
For the past several months, Donald Trump’s administration has explored the creation of a new military branch to protect national interests in outer space. Perhaps no one is as excited about this effort as President Trump, who came up with the idea. “He only asks me about the Space Force every week,” Mike Pence joked at a meeting of the National Space Council last month, where members formulated plans to bring the Space Force to life.

But the outcome of the midterm elections has derailed their efforts. The Trump administration cannot establish the Space Force on its own. It needs Congress. It needs individual lawmakers to support the proposal, and then translate that support into legislation that provides funding and empowers government officials. And, in an ideal world, those lawmakers would be in the majority. (11/9)

McClain Ready for Flight to ISS Next Month (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Two major mishaps in the Russian space program have made the last three months tumultuous for NASA astronaut Anne McClain, raising questions about whether her planned December flight to the International Space Station would ever take off. First, a hole that caused an air leak was discovered in August in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the space station, but was later patched. Then last month, the launch of a different Soyuz headed to the space station was aborted because of a rocket booster failure, grounding American astronauts who depend on Russia to ferry them into space until the cause was determined.

But on Friday -- with her launch date moved up to Dec. 3 and her training regimen adjusted -- McClain said she is more confident than ever to strap into a Soyuz and rocket out of Earth's atmosphere. This will be McClain's first spaceflight since being selected as an astronaut in 2013. She, along with Russia's Oleg Kononenko and Canadian Space Agency's David Saint-Jacques initially were supposed to launch from Kazakhstan on Dec. 20. (11/9)

UCF Researcher Will Use Blue Origin Rocket to Study Dust Clouds in Low-Gravity Environment (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A UCF researcher’s experiment will hitch a ride into areas of space with low gravity on a Blue Origin rocket. Julie Brisset, an associate scientist at the school’s Florida Space Institute, recently landed a $250,000 NASA grant to study how microgravity affects dust clouds. The research could eventually help scientists learn more about the birth of stars or research smog in major cities. (11/6)

We Need to Change the Way We Talk About Space Exploration (Source: National Geographic)
To ensure that humanity’s future off-world is less harmful and open to all, many of the people involved are revising the problematic ways in which space exploration is framed. Numerous conversations are taking place about the importance of using inclusive language, with scholars focusing on decolonizing humanity’s next journeys into space, as well as science in general. “Language matters, and it’s so important to be inclusive,” NASA astronaut Leland Melvin said recently during a talk at the University of Virginia.

The language we use automatically frames how we envision the things we talk about. So, with space exploration, we have to consider how we are using that language, and what it carries from the history of exploration on Earth. Even if words like “colonization” have a different context off-world, on somewhere like Mars, it’s still not OK to use those narratives, because it erases the history of colonization here on our own planet. There’s this dual effect where it both frames our future and, in some sense, edits the past. (11/9)

November 9, 2018

Air Force Tests a Minuteman III Missile with Vandenberg Launch (Source: Ars Technica)
The weapon, with a mock warhead, blasted out of its underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 11:01pm Tuesday. For the test, the military sought to track the mock re-entry vehicle as it traveled to a predetermined target site. "Though the reentry vehicle reached its intended target, the test and analysis data is not releasable to the public," Joe Thomas, a spokesman for Louisiana-based Global Strike Command, told Noozhawk.

The military would provide no further details of the test. The Air Force conducts about four Minuteman III missile tests annually from Vandenberg to gather information about the weapon system’s accuracy and reliability. The last test, on July 31, ended prematurely with Vandenberg personnel sending a self-destruct command due to some unspecific anomaly spotted during the flight. (11/9)

Azores Spaceport Idea Draws Interest from Launchers (Source: Ars Technica)
A proposed Azores spaceport appears to be popular. A spaceport concept in the southernmost-island in the Azores, Santa Maria, received 14 formal proposals from international space consortiums, the Portuguese news site Expresso reports. Contracts for development of the site may be let in 2019, with the first launch tentatively scheduled for 2021. Among those reportedly interested are industry heavyweights such as ArianeGroup and Roscosmos, as well as some emerging US commercial space companies like Sierra Nevada and Virgin Orbit. The Portuguese government had only expected four respondents. (11/9)

Space Command to Oversee Purchase of DOD Satellite Services (Source: Space News)
The Air Force Space Command is taking over the responsibility of buying satellite communications services for the Pentagon, per congressional order. "Our team is looking forward to an unprecedented window of opportunity to transform how we acquire commercial satcom," says Clare Grason, division chief for satellite communications at the Defense Information Systems Agency, who will begin reporting to the Air Force in late December. (11/8)

NASA Certifies SpaceX Falcon 9 for High Value Science Mission (Source: Space News)
NASA has certified SpaceX's Falcon 9 to launch the agency's most valuable science missions. SpaceX said Thursday it received the Category 3 certification from NASA's Launch Services Program, which makes the Falcon 9 available to launch high-value science missions, from flagship-class missions down to planetary science missions in the Discovery program. SpaceX had previously launched lower-priority science missions on the Falcon 9 that did not require Category 3 certification, and its commercial cargo and crew missions are handled separately. (11/9)

Canadian Military Seeks MUOS Access (Source: Space News)
The Canadian military is seeking to become part of the U.S. military's MUOS satellite system. Col. Cameron Stoltz, director general of space for the Canadian Armed Forces, said Thursday that Canada is seeking to become a partner in MUOS, paying "hundreds of millions of dollars" for assured access to the system. MUOS, the Mobile User Objective System, features five satellites to provide mobile communications services worldwide. Canada is already a partner on two other military communications systems, the Wideband Global Satcom and Advanced Extremely High Frequency constellations. (11/9)

Spaceflight Arranges Launch of 12 Satellites Aboard India's PSLV C43 (Source: Space Daily)
Spaceflight, the leading satellite rideshare and mission management provider, reports it will launch 12 spacecraft in November from India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Payloads aboard the mission include Fleet Space Technologies' Centauri I, Harris Corporation's HSAT, Spire's LEMUR satellites, and BlackSky's Global-1 microsatellite. (11/9)

India Plans Venus Mission, Seeks Partners (Source: Hindustan Times)
India is seeking partners for a Venus mission under devleopment. The Indian space agency ISRO said it is working on a Venus orbiter mission it expects to launch in 2023 that will carry a dozen instruments. ISRO released an announcement of opportunity this week for the mission, soliciting proposals from space agencies and other organizations outside India for instruments that could be included on the spacecraft. (11/9)

China Shows Off Space Hardware (Source: GB Times)
A variety of space hardware was on display at a Chinese airshow. Exhibits at the Zhuhai Airshow in southern China this week included a full-size model of the core module of China's space station, as well as a model of the Chang'e-4 lunar lander set to attempt the first landing on the far side of the moon next month. A variety of launch vehicles were also on display, from the planned Long March 9 heavy-lift rocket to Smart Dragon 1, a vehicle capable of placing 150 kilograms into orbit. (11/9)

NASA Looks to University Researchers for Innovative Space Tech Solutions (Source: Space Daily)
University-led research could transform the future of space exploration, from small spacecraft to "smart" systems for the Moon, Mars and beyond. NASA has selected 14 proposals for the study of innovative, early stage technologies that address high-priority needs of America's space program. The universities will work on their proposed research and development projects for up to three years and will receive as much as $500,000 each in Early Stage Innovations grant funding from NASA's Space Technology Research Grants program. Click here. (11/9)

Northrop Grumman Eyes Synergy Between OmegA and SLS Solid Rocket Boosters (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
With an Air Force development contract secured for the OmegA rocket, Northrop Grumman has provided an update on their primarily solid rocket fueled medium- and heavy-lift rocket that is expected to begin a four flight test program from the LC-39B at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in 2021. Northrop Grumman received $792 million in Air Force funding to continue development of their OmegA launcher family – though a vast majority of the groundwork was first funded by Orbital ATK.

With the Air Force contract secured and funding for Phase 1 of the contract guaranteed, work will soon begin in earnest at the Kennedy Space Center on needed infrastructure, stacking, and launch hardware builds and needs. As of August 2018, former Space Shuttle MLP (Mobile Launch Platform) #2 had been driven into VAB in preparation for its reconfiguration efforts for OmegA. Northrop will contract significant modifications to MLP-2 to account for the different thrust and blast profiles the platform will experience during an OmegA liftoff.

The new tower will also contain all of the fueling lines and systems for OmegA’s cryogenic third stage as well as the necessary height differentials (the Heavy variant is significantly taller than the Intermediate) for those systems to serve both the Intermediate and Heavy configurations, which will both launch from the same MLP and be serviced from the same OmegA tower. High Bay #2 of the VAB will also require reconfigurations to allow workers access to the OmegA tower and rocket during stacking operations. (11/5)

House Science Committee May Soon Become Pro-Science (Source: WIRED)
For the past eight years, climate science has been under a sort of spell in the House of Representatives. Instead of trying to understand it better or even acknowledging some of the field’s current uncertainties, House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) used his position to harass federal climate scientists with subpoenas while holding hearings on “Making the EPA Great Again” or whether “global warming theories are alarmist” and researchers are pursuing a “personal agenda.”

But Smith retired this year and Democrats won control of the House on Tuesday. Now some on Capitol Hill say that the anti-climate science spell may be broken. “Hopefully we will no longer see the science committee used as a messaging tool for the fossil fuel industry,” says Rep. Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat and science committee member.

Foster, who was a particle physicist before being elected to Congress in 2008, said he also wants to see more appearances from cabinet members like Energy Secretary Rick Perry or EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to explain both their budget and their rulemaking on environmental and science issues. Neither agency head was called before Smith’s committee during his tenure, Foster says. (11/7)

The Space Launch Legend Who's Backing a Startup (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Jim Cantrell, a quiet force behind the new U.S. space industry, is on the verge of an orbital launch with his small satellite launch company, Vector. Here he delves into the past and future of the space industry, as only a veteran who has Forest Gump-ed his way through aerospace history can do.

During a four-decade career as a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur, Cantrell has been there for the founding of SpaceX, designed the Planetary Society’s LightSail solar sail program, and formed the Moon Express lunar landing company that competed in the Lunar X Prize and recently received a venture cash infusion to finish building its lunar lander. Now the venerable engineer is the man behind Vector, a startup growing into a major player in the boom business of launching small satellites. Click here. (11/8)