Video Shows SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Land on Droneship, Then Fall Over and Explode

A video posted late Sunday by billionaire Elon Musk shows just how close his spaceflight company SpaceX came to landing its Falcon 9 rocket on a robotic platform parked in the Pacific Ocean yesterday (Jan. 17).

The short video, which Musk posted on Instagram, shows the Falcon 9 rocket first stage touching down on the drone ship as planned, but then falling over to hit the deck and explode. Musk has said one of the four landing legs on the rocket failed to latch securely, leading to the fall. The rocket landing occured after SpaceX successfully launched the Jason-3 satellite into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The satellite will map Earth’s oceans in unprecedented detail for NASA and NOAA.

Read more at: Space.com

Sierra Nevada will Begin Space Station Deliveries

The competition in commercial space just got a little more intense. In anhighly anticipated press conference today, NASA officials announced private spaceflight company Sierra Nevada will join SpaceX and Orbital ATK and begin launching cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada is not expected to start flying its Space Shuttle-like Dream Chaser vehicle to the ISS until 2019, but it’s expected to be a game-changer for science. Sierra Nevada’s missions will include an option that will have a relatively soft landing and can be quickly and easily unloaded, like SpaceX’s Falcon 9. Sierra Nevada anticipates being able to return cargo from the ISS and recover it on Earth within 3-6 hours. That would be a huge advantage to scientists who currently might have to wait days to recover samples.

Read more at: PopSci

NASA ASAP Concerned About Commercial Crew Safety

In a sobering report, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) warned that a combination of funding shortfalls and programmatic decisions have led to an “unacknowledged accretion of risk” that threaten the agency’s Commercial Crew and deep-space human exploration programs.

“As we noted in our 2014 Annual Report and continue to assert this year, NASA’s budget is insufficient to deliver all current undertakings with acceptable programmatic risk,” ASAP stated in its 2015 Annual Report. “Programmatic risk can lead to tradeoffs that are inconsistent with good safety practice.”

Commercial crew has been significantly underfunded over the years, with Congress providing far less money than NASA said it needed. The shortfall has led to delays in the program and “resulted in a design at Critical Design Review that was not as mature as it might have been,” ASAP said.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Building a Robust Commercial Market in Low Earth Orbit En Route to Mars

NASA is on a Journey to Mars and a new consensus is emerging around our plan, vision and timetable for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. Our strategy calls for working with commercial partners to get our astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station while NASA also focuses – simultaneously — on getting our astronauts to deep space.

Few would have imagined back in 2010 when President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work “with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,” that less than six years later we’d be able to say commercial carriers have transported 35,000 of pounds of space cargo (and counting!) to the International Space Station (ISS) – or that we’d be so firmly on track to return launches of American astronauts to the ISS from American soil on American commercial carriers.

But that is exactly what is happening.

Read more at: SpaceRef

Bridging the Past and Future on the Shoulders of the Atlas Rocket

On top of an Atlas rocket, the place where orbital spaceflight for American astronauts began, will sit Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to launch humans into space starting next year.

It was Feb. 20, 1962 when an Atlas D booster blasted off with Project Mercury’s Friendship 7 capsule and John Glenn to become the nation’s first person to orbit the Earth. More than a half-century later, a bold new era of commercial travel to and from space is about to start, and Atlas rockets will again play a pivotal role.

The domestic access to space for U.S. astronauts has been stymied since the winged shuttle orbiters were retired from service in 2011, leaving NASA to purchase seats aboard Russian Soyuz crew capsules flying up and down from the International Space Station.

The Soyuz, a reliable ship for sure, launches and lands in Kazakhstan, away from the limelight and national pride of Americans who once flocked to Florida’s Space Coast for a glimpse of man departing the Earth atop a rocket’s brilliant glare.

But next year, after enduring budget-related delays, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is poised to launch its first astronauts from U.S. soil.

Read more at: SpaceFlight Now

Spacewalk Aborted After Water Leaks into Astronaut’s Helmet

Two spacewalking astronauts — including Britain’s first — successfully restored full power to the International Space Station on Friday. But the spacewalk was cut short after water leaked into one of the men’s helmets in a scary repeat of a near-drowning 2½ years ago.

NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra took everyone by surprise when he reported a small water bubble and a few minutes later, a film of water, inside his helmet. Wary of the close call of another spacewalker in 2013, Mission Control terminated the planed six-hour spacewalk at the four-hour and 10-minute mark.

“So far, I’m OK,” Kopra assured everyone. Later, he said the water bubble was 4 inches long and getting thicker. “I’m doing good,” he repeated.

NASA stressed that the situation was not an emergency and insisted neither spacewalker was in danger. Indeed, Kopra took time to thank everyone for their help as the air lock was repressurized.

Read more at: Fox News

World View to Launch from Spaceport Tucson, Arizona

Arizona is poised to become a hub for the space tech industry, as World View – the commercial balloon spaceflight company – today announced that Tucson will become home to its global headquarters, conducting launches from Spaceport Tucson. The announcement follows today’s affirmative vote on a public-private partnership with World View and Pima County, working in collaboration with the City of Tucson, Sun Corridor, Inc. and the State of Arizona.

World View will be the anchor tenant in the County Aerospace, Defense and Technology Business and Research Park, and its campus will include the world’s first purpose-built stratospheric ballooning facility, ushering in a partnership that’s projected to lead to the creation of more than 400 jobs. World View will operate the Pima County-owned Spaceport Tucson, Arizona’s first launch pad dedicated to space endeavors. As a public asset, the Spaceport will serve to draw other businesses to the area, and will be available for use by other companies in Arizona. The new World View campus will be located directly adjacent to Spaceport Tucson, with move-in slated for late 2016.

Read more at: SpaceRef

Can We Protect Astronauts from Radiation?

Space travel comes with many risks, and as astronauts prepare for longer journeys deeper into our solar system, those risks will only grow. A European partnership seeks to mitigate one of the most harmful: cancer-causing radiation.

The European Union’s Space Radiation Superconducting Shield (SR2S) is researching and developing magnetic force fields to shield astronauts from radiation. The SR2S program, which was founded in 2013, is made up of seven partners, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN.

Radiation in space comes from a variety of sources, but what SR2S seeks to prevent (and where other measures fail) is the negative effects of galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) and solar energetic particles (SEPs). While SEPs come from our sun, GCRs originate outside of our solar system and are created by phenomena such as supernovae,according to NOAA.

Read more at: MNN

Preparations for Testing Soyuz Family Rocket Begin at Vostochny Space Center

Preparations for comprehensive testing of the Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle start at Russia’s Vostochny space center in the Far-Eastern Amur region on Tuesday, the Director General of the Progress launch-vehicle manufacturing company, Alexander Kirilin told reporters.

The Volga booster block and the satellites due to be orbited in the framework of the first launch effort will be loaded on Tuesday into an Ilyushin-76 cargo jet in the city of Samara where the manufacturer is located. “This cargo is to be delivered to the space center on January 22 and unloaded the next day after arrival,” Kirilin said. “Then the preparation of the booster block and the satellites [for the space mission — TASS] will begin.

The Soyuz-2.1a was taken to Vostochny from Samara on September 24, 2015. Under the initial schedule, the first launch from the new space center was to take place in December 2015 but President Putin proposed to put it off to 2016.

Read more at: TASS

China to Land a Probe on the Moon’s Far Side in 2018

Reuters reports that China is planning to send its Chang’e-4 lander to the lunar far side in 2018. Previously the country had aimed to get there by 2020.

Although spacecraft have seen the “dark” side of the moon before, we’ve never landed there.

In 2013, China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover became the first spacecraft in 37 years to land softly on the surface of the moon. The two spacecraft still seem to be functioning today, but their functions may be limited–the Yutu rover lost mobility within the first few days of landing, and the moon’s frigid temperatures could have wreaked havoc on the probes’ systems over the past two years. Nevertheless, the mission has returned science results, recently announcing the discovery of a new kind of moon rock.

Read more at: PopSci

Launch of the First Satellite in the “Space DataHighway” Programme

EDRS-A, the first relay satellite in the SpaceDataHighway programme (also called EDRS), will be launched to geostationary orbit on 28 January 2016 (Baikonour time). The SpaceDataHighway will provide high speed laser communications in space of up to 1.8 Gigabit per second. This major programme, which cost nearly €500M to develop, is the result of a public-private partnership (PPP) between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus Defence and Space.

Using communication relay satellites such as EDRS-A, the SpaceDataHighway will be able to transfer high volume information (images, video, data collected by sensors) from Earth observation satellites, UAVs and surveillance aircraft, or even from a space station such as the ISS. Thanks to the very high communication rates possible with laser (up to 1.8 Gbit/s) and the geostationary orbit positioning of the relay satellites, up to 50 terabytes per day can be transmitted securely in near-real-time to Earth, as opposed to the often 3 to 4 hour delay currently experienced.

Read more at: Airbus Defence & Space

NASA May be Cutting Corners on Safety of Mars Rocket and Capsule

Space has always been a risky endeavor. But according to the latest report from the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), which makes safety recommendations to NASA, the space agency is not being careful enough. The latest report criticizes several aspects of the Orion capsule and the Space Launch System (SLS) that NASA is designing to bring astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

The report blames the safety concerns on budget pressures and a lack of accountability.

“Funding remains a challenge for NASA as it strives to do so much with so relatively little,” ASAP writes. “NASA’s budget is insufficient to deliver all current undertakings with acceptable programmatic risk.”

In other words, cutting corners to stay on schedule and under budget could put astronauts at risk. The report points out several safety concerns.

Read more at: PopSci

Russia Builds Atomic Engine for Exploring Distant Space

The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has presented its ten-year development plan to the Russian government, which includes the construction of a prototype engine that uses a nuclear reactor to propel it on expeditions into distant space.

The project is part of the 2016-2025 Federal Space Program, which Roscosmos has recently presented to the Russian government for approval.

Andrey Ionin of Russia’s Tsiolkovskiy Cosmonautical Academy told Izvestiya that the program envisions a wider plan for space exploration, which will guide the direction of the engine’s construction.

“It is clear that an atomic engine is necessary only for exploration of distant space,” said Ionin. “Projects like the creation of an atomic engine have to take place in the context of a larger project, in order to precisely understand what exactly we are making such a powerful energy source for.”

Read more at: Sputnik News

Orbital ATK, SpaceX to Build US Air Force Rocket Engine Prototypes

The US Air Force has awarded Orbital ATK and Elon Musk’s SpaceX contracts to develop prototypes of rocket engines as a part of the government’s ongoing effort to end reliance on the Russian RD-180 booster for military space launch.

Orbital ATK nabbed a $47 million contract to develop three rocket propulsion system prototypes intended for use on an Orbital ATK next-generation launch vehicle, the Pentagon announced Wednesday. The total potential value of the contract, including all the options, is $180 million.

SpaceX, meanwhile, won a $33.6 million contract to develop the Raptor rocket engine prototype for the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, according to the Pentagon. The potential value of the award, including all options is $61 million.

Read more at: Defense News

Re-entering Rocket Debris Captured on Video

A Ukrainian Group of meteor observers captured the re-entry of a piece of Russian rocket debris as it re-entered back on January 3, 2016. The object was a large piece of debris from the second stage of a Kosmos 3M rocket that launched the Kosmos 1763 military communications satellite in July 1986.

The two-stage Kosmos 3M rocket injected the Strela-2M No. 39 satellite into an orbit around 800 Kilometers in altitude and in the process shed a number of debris as is typical for this launch vehicle configuration. Over the years, the debris consistently lost altitude due to drag in the very upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. Taking into account the radar cross section of the debris, the Joint Space Operations Center classified it as a large object and its final days in orbit were tracked closely as the debris approached its final fiery plunge.

Read more at: SpaceFlight 101

Money Troubles may Delay Europe-Russia Mars Mission

Part of a joint European-Russian mission to search for signs of life on Mars may be delayed due to cash flow problems, the European Space Agency said Friday.

“We need some more money,” ESA director general Jan Woerner told journalists in Paris, citing project cost increases.

The ExoMars project is scheduled to kick off in March this year with the launch of an orbiter, due to arrive at the Red Planet six months later. The second part entails the planned launch of a rover in 2018, to touch down the following year.

But the timeframe for the second leg has become “a challenge”, said Woerner. “So far, we are still planning to have the 2016 mission, as I said… and we will have the 2018 mission later on. “If we cannot get the (20)18 mission on time, this is not as dramatic as it sounds,” he said, and would mean a two-year delay.

Read more at: Mars Daily

Smack! Booster Impact Site Found on Moon

Eagle-eyed sleuths have finally solved a long-standing mystery from the Apollo era. Last month, researchers poring over Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images identified the impact site of the Apollo 16 S-IVB stage booster. The discovery completes the search for the impact sites of Apollo-era rocket boosters.

LRO has spied human artifacts on the lunar surface many times before, including the final resting place of the recent GRAIL-A and -B probes Ebb and Flow, the Apollo landing sites, and artifacts going all the way back to the early Ranger missions.

But locating the Apollo 16 booster impact site has always posed a dilemma. Directed to impact the Moon shortly after jettison on April 19, 1972, engineers prematurely lost contact with the Apollo 16 booster. As a result, uncertainty on the time of impact lingered, by about four seconds.

Read more at: Sky and Telescope

Reagan’s Impossible Dream: The X-30 National Aerospace Plane

On February 4th 1986, mere days after the United States had been shocked by the Challenger disaster, President Reagan rose before Congress to give his State of the Union Address. “We’re going forward with our shuttle flights. We’re going forward to build our space station. And we are going forward with research on a new Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from Dulles Airport, accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining low Earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within 2 hours.” 

Reagan’s ‘Orient Express’ was not a new idea, but his announcement allowed a project from the Black world of classified budgets to step into the light. His words had been carefully chosen to  emphasise the potential for a new era of rapid transit for the general public but in reality the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) as the project was officially christened, was being designed with a very different role in mind and promised the fulfilment of a dream that stretched all the way back to the late 1950’s.

Read more at: High Frontier

ESA Members Give Space Agency an 18-percent Budget Boost

The European Space Agency on Jan. 15 said its 2016 budget of 5.25 billion euros ($5.71 billion) is up 18.4 percent compared to last year on the strength of higher contributions by several member governments, especially Italy, and substantially increased investment by the European Commission.

The Brussels, Belgium-based commission has become ESA’s biggest paymaster, mainly because of the Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network and the Copernicus Earth observation program and its fleet of Sentinel satellites. Both have entered satellite-deployment phase.

The commission owns both these programs and has hired ESA to perform technical and contract oversight.

Read more at: Space News

Astronauts Grow First Flower in Space

The zinnia, an edible flowering plant, was planted aboard the International Space Station’s Veggie chamber last November to help “provide precursory information about other flowering plants that could be grown in space,” according to NASA’s blog.

A little more than two weeks into the growth period, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren noted that the plants were suffering from high humidity and low air flow. However, efforts to fix the problem were postponed due to an unplanned space walk in mid-December.

After the spacewalk, astronauts placed fans on “high” in the Veggie chamber to dry out the leaves. But it was too late: tissue in the leaves of some of the zinnias started to die and mold started to grow.

Read more at: CBS News

First Look at Audi’s 3-D Printed Moon Rover

The coolest new vehicle at this week’s Detroit Auto Show is literally out of this world.

German luxury automaker Audi is showing off a fully-working prototype of its Audi Lunar Quattro, a rover designed in partnership with the Part Time Scientists, a group of engineers and physicists who, as the name implies, have been doing a lot of this work in their spare time. The team is one of 30 competing in Google’s $30 million Lunar XPRIZE, a challenge that aims to place a vehicle on the moon, and have it explore at least 500 feet and send back photos to Earth.

The rover, created almost entirely from 3-D printed aluminum and titanium, will feature an HD camera, embedded solar array, and four-wheeled electric drive system. The Part Time Scientists are thinking in more ambitious terms beyond the XPRIZE with the addition of a 3-D printer. The idea is to take advantage of a lunar soil composed of aluminum, titanium, and magnesium to prove that it’s possible to build parts using alien materials. Such a breakthrough could come in handy for missions further away from home.

Read more at: MNN

New Space Robot Would Hop—Not Drive—Across Other Worlds

Neil Armstrong sent mankind leaping through the stars, but if a new robotic explorer makes it into space, we may soon be hopping instead. Called the Highland Terrain Hopper, or HOPTER, the vehicle will use hopping—instead of driving—to explore the surface of other planets. Most of this work is currently done by stationary lander platforms or wheeled rovers, which can travel many kilometers. Both have limitations: Landers cannot investigate areas beyond their immediate surroundings, and the more mobile rovers don’t work in ultra–low gravity environments, where their wheels won’t adhere to the ground (like on asteroids, comets, and the martian moons). Rovers are further limited by difficult-to-cross landscapes; this makes studying mountainous terrains challenging, depriving us of key insights into the geology of other planetary bodies. To solve these problems, a team of engineers and planetary geologists decided to design a vehicle with a very different form of locomotion-hopping. Hopping is a highly efficient way for robots to navigate around, through, and over obstacles far larger than themselves.

Read more at: Science Magazine

Virgin Galactic’s First Commercial Space Flight Crew will have Badass Uniforms

Y-3, the fashion line from designer Yohji Yamamoto and Adidas, is known for producing futuristic clothes. The shoes, with their big swooping soles, look like they should be standard issue on an interplanetary freighter. The clothes could be pulled out of Blade Runner. So, when Y-3 made the announcement today that it’s partnering with Virgin Galactic (the company working to develop commercial spaceflights) a crazy collaboration kind of actually makes total sense.

According to a news release, the team is designing “plans for a space-apparel system for Virgin Galactic’s pilots, future astronauts and the operations team in Spaceport America.” So, essentially, they’re working to create the real-life version of those Star Trek outfits.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

The Force Awakens: China Readies for Space Warfare

The Chinese military is undergoing a gradual shift to cyber and space warfare, and the move is more visible now as a new command structure has been created.

After testing an anti-satellite weapon last fall, China moved one step forward in its preparations for future warfare, with the emergence of a  brand-new Space Force, as reported by Washington Times.

In the event of an armed conflict, the Chinese military expects to use a combination of kinetic, electronic and cyber-attacks against satellites and ground support structures, the Times described earlier.

​The rapid shift in the line of military command in China signifies a strategic shift to rely on up-to-date means of warfare.

Read more at: Sputnik News