Are Musk, Bezos and Branson the Wright Brothers of Today?

The breakthroughs were right around the corner, they promised. Soon people would be taking regular trips to the cosmos, and the era of commercial spaceflight would finally become reality.

And so in 2004, the young space companies lobbied for an extended “learning period’ that would allow them to develop their rockets and space vehicles without all of the burdensome federal regulations that would hamper innovation and prevent the industry from taking off.

They got their wish for a regulatory break, but the advances were slower to come by.

Now, more than a decade later, the industry says that this time it is really on the verge of that long-awaited breakthrough. And once again, Congress granted the industry an eight-year grace period that supporters say will prevent the Federal Aviation Administration from stunting the growth of an industry that has been largely driven by a class of billionaires with huge ambitions.

Industry officials and their backers in Congress hailed the passage of the Space Act this week as an important step that will pave the way for businesses to soon take tourists to space and make the cosmos more accessible and affordable.

Read more at: Washington Post

Microwave-Powered Rockets would Slash Cost of Reaching Orbit

Humans have been riding rockets into space for more than 50 years, and for all that time, the cost of reaching orbit has remained astronomical—$5,000 to $50,000 per kilogram, depending on which rocket is used. The problem is that none of our rockets is very efficient. About 90 percent of a rocket’s weight is fuel and propellant, leaving little room for payload. If it could lose some of that weight, a rocket could lift more cargo, reducing the cost of putting a given kilogram of stuff into orbit.

In 1924 Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed a way to make this happen, suggesting that beams of microwaves from ground-based transmitters could power a rocket’s ascent. Tsiolkovsky proposed using parabolic mirrors to aim “a parallel beam of electromagnetic rays of short wavelength” at the belly of a rocket, heating propellant to produce thrust without the need for large amounts of onboard fuel. This, he wrote, was the most attractive method available “to acquire cosmic velocity.”

Read more at: Scientific American

SpaceX will Fly Astronauts to the Space Station in 2017

SpaceX rockets have shuttled cargo to and from the International Space Station, and now NASA wants the company to get ready to carry humans onboard too. On Friday, the space agency announced a work order for a manned mission in late 2017.

Boeing, another company that aspires to carry astronauts to and from the space station, received a similar order in May. As Popular Science explained at the time, the order is a way for NASA to give these companies a heads-up so they can get all their ducks in a row in time for the 2017 launches.

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, in a press statement. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

Read more at: PopSci

Serviceable Spacecraft Make a Comeback; Goddard Technologists Find Solutions

Ever wonder about the future of space science? Hop inside a time machine that transports you back 40 years and you may get a good idea about where things are headed. History, it would seem, has a funny way of repeating itself.

Serviceable spacecraft — like the NASA-developed Multi-Mission Modular Spacecraft (MMS) and, of course, the iconic Hubble Space Telescope that NASA conceived and developed in the 1970s with servicing in mind — are once again de rigueur. (The serviceable MMS shouldn’t be confused with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, which also goes by the MMS acronym.)

Case in point: As required by Congress in a law passed in 2010 and then amended five years later, NASA is requiring that proposed flagship astrophysics missions support servicing, even if their orbits are up to a million miles away. The agency also released a Request for Information (RFI) seeking ideas for a spacecraft design that it could use for both its proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and as a vehicle for refueling a government satellite in low-Earth orbit.

Read more at: NASA Goddard

International Space Station Cargo Ship Hoisted Atop Atlas 5 Rocket

Loaded with over 7,300 pounds of goods for the International Space Station, a commercial Cygnus cargo vessel was mounted atop its Atlas 5 rocket booster today for launch Dec. 3.

Just over a week after stacking of the two-stage launcher began at the Vertical Integration Facility adjacent to the pad at Complex 41, the encapsulated payload was installed to top off the 194-foot-tall rocket this morning.

Shrouded in the 45-foot-long, 14-foot-diameter nose cone of the Atlas 5 and already packed full of its space station supplies, the Cygnus was trucked overnight from Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Read more at: SpaceFlight Now

Could Liquid Lakes Form on Mars Today?

Despite its frigid temperatures, Mars might be able to host lakes of water on its surface today, a new study suggests.

Although extremely small amounts of water would quickly evaporate in Mars’ low-pressure atmosphere, water from sources such as aquifers could last long enough to pool, with larger pools remaining liquid for at least a year, researchers said.

“Nobody’s doubting that liquid water was on Marsat some point,” Jules Goldspiel, of the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, toldSpace.com. “The question I was interested in is, given today’s conditions, which are hostile to liquid water, could you [still] get it.”

Read more at: Live Science

Satellite Sensors would Deliver Global Fire Coverage

Wildfires can wreak havoc on human health, property and communities, so it’s imperative to detect them as early as possible. That’s why NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, is working on a concept for a network of space-based sensors called FireSat in collaboration with Quadra Pi R2E, San Francisco.

FireSat would be a constellation of more than 200 thermal infrared imaging sensors on satellites designed to quickly locate wildfires around the globe. Once operational, FireSat would represent the most complete monitoring coverage of wildfires ever from space.

“While many wildfires are reported by 9-1-1 calls soon after ignition, some are not, and delays in detection can lead to rapid escalation of a fire, and dramatic growth of the cost of suppression. The system we envision will work day and night for fires anywhere in the world,” said Robert Staehle, lead designer of FireSat at JPL.

Read more at: NASA JPL

CASIS Funding Commitments – Smoke and Mirrors?

CASIS is tasked to manage the portion of the International Space Station designated as the ISS National Laboratory. But other than NASA funding, CASIS has failed to attract any significant income other than that provided – by NASA.

Yet they want you to think that people beating a path to their door with multi-million dollar “commitments” in hand. Exactly what are these CASIS “commitments”?

Read more at: Spaceref

XCOR Develops Lynx Simulator

XCOR Aerospace has announced that it has completed work on its Lynx simulator system, built by Protobox LLC in conjunction with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. This simulator will provide XCOR invaluable training as the test pilot team prepares for Lynx flight test.

“Dedicated aerodynamic modeling of the vehicle in the LAMARS (Large Amplitude Multi-Mode Aerospace Research Simulator) at AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) in Dayton, Ohio has provided XCOR with valuable insight into Lynx spacecraft performance and handling qualities.” said XCOR Chief Executive Officer Jay Gibson.

Read more at: Space Daily

International Space Station Suffers Short Circuit

The International Space Station has taken a power hit, and spacewalking repairs may be needed. First, though, a replacement part must be delivered via rocket.

NASA said Monday the six astronauts were left with one less power channel Friday. A short circuit in equipment on the station’s framework is to blame. The short apparently tripped a current-switching device, resulting in the loss of one of eight channels used to power the orbiting lab. The affected systems were switched to alternate lines. NASA spokesman Dan Huot said the crew has been operating normally and is in no danger.

A similar failure in 2014 required spacewalking repairs. No good spare parts for the job are on board. NASA plans to launch a replacement on a SpaceX delivery scheduled sometime early next year, Huot said. SpaceX has been grounded since a failed launch in June.

Read more at: BayNews 9

RocketStar wants to Make Going to Space a One-Step Process

RocketStar Space has its sights set on “single stage to orbit”—building a rocket that can leave the planet without requiring multiple stages. That’s one of the big goals of rocketry that could make reaching space cheaper and more accessible for everybody, but so far, no one has been able to do it.

Every successful rocket launch you’ve ever seen that has sent a payload to orbit or beyond has used multi-stage rockets. The first stage has powerful engines to lift the rocket out of the steepest parts of the Earth’s gravity well before it separates and a second stage kicks in. Some flights use a third or fourth stage, depending on the payload. In single stage to orbit, there’s just the one rocket. While suborbital flights have gone up on single-stage rockets, none have been able to reach orbit.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Space Panel Calls for Acquisition Flexibility

To maximize its capabilities in space, the Pentagon needs to adapt its acquisition policies to more easily incorporate commercial technologies and practices in a rapidly evolving marketplace, a panel of space executives said Wednesday.

Kay Sears, president of satellite service provider Intelsat General Corp., said the space industry has a lot to offer the Department of Defense, but not under a slow-moving acquisitions process that takes years to develop and procure new platforms. Technological advances in the commercial space business move much faster and could offer cheaper solutions to the Pentagon’s needs, she said. Rather than building a satellite program over 25 years, it may make more sense to buy the access and services the DoD needs when it needs it.

Read more at: Defense News

ULA Says it will Launch Some CubeSats for Free

United Launch Alliance chief executive Tory Bruno said Thursday the company will offer more rides for CubeSats aboard future Atlas 5 rocket flights, and give some away for free, in a bid to tap into a growing market of small satellites with applications in education, scientific research and commercial business.

The Colorado-based company will begin by offering six CubeSats free trips to orbit on two Atlas 5 launches beginning in 2017, riding up with much larger payloads for customers who purchased the bulk of the rocket’s capacity. Bruno said ULA intends to eventually offer CubeSat capacity on nearly every flight of the Atlas 5 and the Vulcan rocket, its successor.

“Starting a year-and-a-half from now, we’re going to start placing on our Atlas rocket a standard CubeSat carrier with as many as 24 berths for CubeSats,” Bruno said Thursday in an announcement at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver.

Read more at: SpaceFlight Now

Microsatellite Developed for Air Force

A Missouri University of Science and Technology aerospace engineering professor is developing a microsatellite imager that could be used to check satellites, do small repairs or refuel spacecraft — and keep astronauts from making risky exploratory missions when something goes wrong.

Dr. Hank Pernicka, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri S&T, and his students won the final round of an Air Force competition to develop the spacecraft. Dr. Kyle DeMars, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Dr. Joshua Rovey, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Dr. Jonathan Kimball, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, also are working on the project at Missouri S&T.

Read more at: Science daily

Space Exploration? US Can’t Make it Without Russian Rocket Engines

A key US lawmaker wants to slow the Pentagon’s phaseout of Russian-made rocket engines to ensure America’s access to space and eliminate a possible national security risk, US media wrote on Thursday.

Senator Richard Shelby, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, plans to propose amendments to the federal spending bill that would allow United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to keep buying RD-180 engines from Russia until a domestic alternative is available, Defense News reported, citing the Senator’s office.

The Russian engines have powered dozens of ULA’s satellite launches of military hardware over the past decade, but recent tensions with Russia and the emergence of a second launch company, California-based SpaceX — prompted Congress last year to push to phase out the RD-180 engines.

Read more at: Sputnik News

Satellite Issues Unresolved as Spectrum Conclave Enters Homestretch

Global regulators ended the third week of their four-week conference on future radio spectrum allocation Nov. 20 without having reached a decision on the key issues relating to commercial satellite telecommunications industry.

As many predicted, decisions on whether satellite broadcasts will lose their exclusive use of the lower portion of the C-band spectrum to terrestrial broadband networks and face near-term battles over Ka-band spectrum by the same mobile broadband industry remained unsettled.

Also undecided was whether the fast-growing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry would be awarded access to Ku- or Ka-band spectrum for command and control of commercial UAVs over long routes.

Read more at: Space News

Gravity, Who Needs it?

What happens to your body in space? NASA’s Human Research Program has been unfolding answers for over a decade. Space is a dangerous, unfriendly place. Isolated from family and friends, exposed to radiation that could increase your lifetime risk for cancer, a diet high in freeze-dried food, required daily exercise to keep your muscles and bones from deteriorating, a carefully scripted high-tempo work schedule, and confinement with three co-workers picked to travel with you by your boss.

Scott Kelly will be the first American to spend nearly one year in space aboard the International Space Station, twice the normal time. Researchers are eagerly awaiting results of the mission to see how much more the body changes after a year in space. One year is a stepping stone to a three-year journey to Mars, and Scott’s data will help researchers determine whether the solutions they’ve been developing will be suitable for such long, onerous journeys.

But what, exactly, happens to your body in space, and what are the risks? Are risks the same for six months on the space station versus three years on a Mars mission? No. There are several risks NASA is researching for a Mars mission. The risks are grouped into five categories related to the stresses they place on the space traveler: Gravity fields, isolation/confinement, hostile/closed environments, space radiation, and distance from Earth.

Read more at: Science Daily

5 Ways to Divert the Planet-Killing Asteroids That are Definitely Headed Our Way

Deadly asteroids are headed for Earth, that much is a fact. We just don’t know where they are, how far away they are, how big they are, how fast they’re moving, or when they’ll get here. And while scientists are desperately trying to put a plan in place to find these planet-killers to give us as much notice as we can possibly have, there’s still the question of what we’ll do about it.

We’ve dug into the topic in great detail, but this video from PBS’s Space Time gives a fantastic little overview of the most plausible solutions for diverting an incoming asteroid. Everything from blowing it up, to hitting it with something big and heavy, to painting half of it white.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Hungary Becomes ESA’s 22nd Member State

The Hungarian flag is now flying alongside those of ESA’s other Member States, after Hungary formally became ESA’s 22nd Member State on 4 November.

The Agreement on Hungary’s accession to the ESA Convention was signed on 24 February 2015 by Jean-Jacques Dordain, then ESA Director General, with Ákos Kara, Hungarian Minister of State for Infocommunication and Consumer Protection, Ministry of National Development, and in the presence of Fruzsina Tari, Head of the Hungarian Space Office, also from the Ministry of National Development.

Following this signing, the process of ratification by the Hungarian government began. This process was concluded on 4 November, when Hungary deposited its instrument of ratification of the ESA Convention in Paris to become an official ESA Member State. Hungarian delegates will participate in the various Committees and Programme Boards as full Member State from ESA’s Council meeting of 17 December onwards.

Hungary has a long history of cooperation with ESA; it was the first central European state to sign a Cooperation Agreement with ESA in 1991. The country also became the first European Cooperating State (ECS), signing the ECS Agreement on 7 April 2003 in Budapest.

Source: ESA

NASA Announces New Public-Private Partnerships to Advance ‘Tipping Point,’ Emerging Space Capabilities

NASA has secured partnerships with 22 U.S. companies through two solicitations to advance the agency’s goals for robotic and human exploration of the solar system by shepherding the development of critical space technologies.

“These awards enable us to continue to foster partnerships with the commercial space sector that not only leverage capabilities to meet NASA’s strategic goals, but also focus on U.S. industry markets that are at a tipping point for commercialization and infusion,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “At NASA, technology drives exploration and partnering with the private sector in this way supports the innovation economy and creates jobs.”

Read more at: Spaceref

ULA Pulls Out of DoD’s Space Launch Competition

United Launch Alliance has pulled out of the Pentagon’s competition to send satellites into space, a stunning move that leaves Elon Musk’s SpaceX the sole bidder.

ULA’s surprise announcement paves the way for SpaceX to win its first military space launch contract.

By bowing out, ULA made good on its threat to skip the competition unless it got relief from a Pentagon ban on the use of Russian rocket engines for military satellite launches. In response to recent Russian aggression, particularly Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year, lawmakers in the fiscal 2015 defense budget banned the use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines for military satellite launches after 2019.

Read more at: Defense News

Adriana wants a One-way Ticket to Mars

WILL earthlings be packing for Mars in just 10 years’ time?

“Watch this space,” said November Tuesday Rostrum guest speaker Adriana Marais. She gave a mind blowing but highly plausible presentation on the Mars One project, of her hopes for a one-way ticket to the red planet and of her aspirations of being among the first people to colonise it in 2026.

Mars One was a not for profit foundation that aimed to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. It was steered by a formidable team led by two visionary scientists from the Netherlands, Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders. Funds were sourced from the private sector. A substantial amount of money was also expected to be raised by the making of a reality television programme on the process of choosing the final teams of astronauts to go to Mars, she explained.

The concept astounded her listeners but, as Adriana spoke, the fantastic idea of living on Mars became more and more possible and, disturbingly, on a rather surreal level, perfectly logical, too.

Read more at: South Coast Herald

The First Time NASA Docked with a Soviet Spacecraft in Orbit

Two spacecraft drifted closer to one another far above planet Earth, as they prepared to dock. It was July 17th, 1975, and they were about to make history. For the first time, a United States Apollo and Soviet Union Soyuz spacecraft would dock with one another, an enormously symbolic mission that served as a small step towards international cooperation between the two superpowers.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project would become the first major collaborative experience between the two enemy countries. The mission was simple: fly two crews into orbit, and dock with one another, where the two crews would exchange gifts and collaborate on scientific experiments in orbit.

But this simple mission took several years to plan and coordinate, and involved the efforts of hundreds of people in diplomatic, scientific and engineering fields to accomplish.

Read more at: io9

Professor, Wife Convicted of Fraud in $700,000 NASA Contract

A university professor and his wife were convicted Friday of defrauding NASA by letting graduate students and researchers do all the work on a $700,000 project.

Lehigh University engineering professor Yujie Ding and his wife, Yuliya Zotova, told NASA that their startup company would develop a cutting-edge sensor used to track climate change, The Morning Call of Allentown reported (http://goo.gl/6uMWwh).

Zotova, 41, who has a doctorate in physics, was supposed to run the project and oversee the work of graduate students and research fellows in her husband’s laboratory at Lehigh. The students never saw her there, prosecutors said. Prosecutors called their company, ArkLight, merely “a front” to seek federal grants and said Ding, 53, hid his role in the company from Lehigh.

Read more at: ABC News