SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launches from California, Lands in Pacific

Falcon rockets are launching — and landing — again. More than four months after one exploded on a Cape Canaveral launch pad, a SpaceX Falcon 9 blasted off at 12:54 p.m. EST from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and delivered 10 commercial satellites to orbit.

About eight minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first-stage booster flew down from the edge of space to an unpiloted ship floating in the Pacific Ocean. Four landing legs touched down softly on an “X” at the center of the “drone ship” deck. The booster was the first that SpaceX has recovered during a West Coast launch, and the seventh overall since late 2015. The company hopes to launch a satellite soon on a used booster, a capability CEO Elon Musk believes will cut launch costs and eventually make missions to Mars affordable.

Read more at: Florida Today

NASA Says Farewell to Agency Leaders, Charles Bolden and Dava Newman

The final week of having Charles Bolden and Dava Newman as NASA’s top officials has arrived. The space agency reflected this week on the past eight years under NASA Administrator Bolden’s and President Barack Obama’s leadership. Marshall Space Flight Director Robert Lightfoot will be the acting NASA administrator until President-elect Donald Trump names Bolden’s successor, reported Spacepolicy.com on Thursday.

Bolden, a former astronaut, was nominated by Obama as the 12th NASA administrator and began leading the agency in July 2009. He is the first African-American to lead NASA. Deputy Administrator Dava Newman will also leave her position on Jan. 20. Newman plans to return to teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned her Ph.D. in aerospace biomedical engineering.

Read more at: ClickOrlando

US Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, Could be in Line for NASA Post

U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a former U.S. Navy pilot, has met with President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team amid reports his name has emerged as a possible head of NASA.

His office confirmed Tuesday that the Tulsa Republican has met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence in Washington and with members of the transition team in Trump Tower in New York. They discussed space and national security. Bridenstine, who is a member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, has said he would honor his pledge to serve only three terms in the House, meaning his seat will be open in 2018.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee, the lawmaker has dealt extensively with space issues. In April, he introduced the American Space Renaissance Act, a space policy bill that covered a broad range of topics involving national security, civil and commercial use of space.

Read more at: Newsok

Progress MS-04 Failure Probably Due to Foreign Particles in Oxidizer Pump

The Russian commission investigating the December 1, 2016 failure of the Progress MS-04 cargo spacecraft launch has concluded that foreign particles in the third stage engine’s oxidizer pump may have been the cause.  Defective workmanship is suspected.  The next Progress launch is currently scheduled for February 21, 2017.

Progress MS-04 was the fourth of the newest generation of Russian cargo spacecraft used to resupply space stations.  The first Progress was launched in 1978 to support the Soviet Union’s Salyut 6 space station.  Dozens have been launched since then to support Salyut 6, Salyut 7, Mir and the International Space Station (ISS).  The vehicle’s design has evolved over the decades and given updated designations: Progress, Progress-M, Progress M_M, and now Progress MS.  The first of the MS series was launched on December 21, 2015.

Filled with 2.6 tons of food, water, supplies, and fuel, Progress MS-04 was launched on December 1, 2016, but something went awry 382 seconds after liftoff during the firing of the third stage.  A usually reliable Soyuz-U rocket launched the spacecraft and initial indications were that the third stage and the spacecraft separately prematurely. Debris from both fell in Russia’s Tuva Republic, although most reportedly burned up in the atmosphere.

Read more at: Spacepolicy online

Judge Orders SpaceX President to Answer Questions in Fired Whistleblower’s Suit

The president of Hawthorne-based SpaceX was ordered in court Friday to give a deposition in a suit filed by a former employee who was fired after blowing the whistle on managers for allegedly pressuring technicians to ignore risks of explosions and approve tests of rocket parts.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey said Gwynne Shotwell must attend the deposition by the end of March and that she may be questioned for a maximum of three hours by attorneys for plaintiff Jason Blasdell. Any further time will not be granted without a substantial showing it is needed, the judge said.

Blasdell worked at the rocket and spacecraft manufacturer’s Hawthorne headquarters as an avionics test technician from 2010 until his 2014 firing, according to his lawsuit filed last April 1. He received consistently positive reviews from management for his work, his lawsuit states. However, he began seeing safety issues related to the testing procedures of rocket parts, leading him to question the quality of the testing and the risks it posed not just for possible rocket explosions, but for the potential loss of human life as well, according to his attorneys’ court papers.

Read more at: Daily Breeze

Safety Panel Cites Concerns Over SpaceX Fueling Process for Commercial Crew

A NASA safety board recommended in its annual report that the agency closely study the safety issues associated with SpaceX’s fueling plans for Falcon 9 commercial crew missions.

The annual report by the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), released Jan. 11, raised the issue of what it calls the “load and go” approach planned by SpaceX to fuel the Falcon 9 rocket with liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants only after astronauts have boarded the Dragon spacecraft.

Traditionally, launch vehicles are fueled hours before launch, and only afterwards do crews board the spacecraft. However, SpaceX has shifted to an approach of fueling the rocket starting only about a half-hour before launch. That allows the company to use “super-cooled” liquid oxygen, which is denser and provides additional performance. However, it would require crews to board the Dragon prior to the start of fueling.

Read more at: Space News

SpaceX Financial Records Show Huge Loss in 2015 Due to Rocket Explosion

After three consecutive years of skyrocketing revenue, Elon Musk’s ambitious commercial space venture suffered a major financial setback when one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded moments after a June 2015 launch. The Wall Street Journal, which obtained five years of financial records for Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., reportedFriday that the company took a quarter-billion dollar loss and saw revenues drop by 6 percent in 2015.

SpaceX, as the company is known popularly, is a privately held firm and is not required to publicly disclose its financials. The documents reviewed by the Journal show that, from 2011 to 2014, SpaceX’s revenue from launch operations soared to $1 billion, boosted by a string of successful launches and contracts with NASA and commercial satellite operators. Despite significant revenue growth, profits remained thin over that time period. In 2014, for example, SpaceX took in about $50 million in operating income on more than $1 billion of launch revenue.

Read more at: Bizjournals

Spacewalkers Finish Swapping Batteries

Two astronauts made quick work of a battery upgrade today during the International Space Station’s second spacewalk in a week. NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet installed three new adapter plates and hooked up three new lithium-ion batteries during an outing that lasted nearly six hours. They finished up their primary tasks in less than three hours, leaving plenty of time for “get-ahead” maintenance tasks.

Today’s operation went as smoothly as last Friday’s spacewalk to hook up the first three lithium-ion batteries. The coffee-table-sized modules replace a set of heavier, less efficient nickel-hydrogen batteries. The space station’s robotic arm provided an assist for moving the new batteries into position, and placing the old batteries on a platform attached to Japan’s HTV robotic cargo ship. The Japanese craft, and the old batteries, will be set loose to burn up during atmospheric re-entry next month.

Read more at: Geekwire

The Company that Wants to Mine the Moon has Enough Money for its First Trip There

Moon Express — the California-based company with hopes of mining the Moon someday — has received full funding for its first trip to the lunar surface, slated for later this year. The company just raised $20 million in its most recent round of financing, and has raised over $45 million in total so far. That money will go toward launching Moon Express’s MX-1E lander, which will explore and take pictures of the Moon’s surface after launching on an experimental Electron rocket.

The company’s funding sources come from venture capital firms Founders Fund and Collaborative Fund, the software company Autodesk, and other private investors, according to Moon Express. “We now have all the resources in place to shoot for the Moon,” Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said in a statement.

Read more at: Verge

Massive SLS Test Stand Completed at Marshall

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, located in Huntsville, Alabama, recently marked the completion of major construction for Test Stand 4693, wrapping up work that began in May 2014. Engineers will now connect networks of cables, pipes, valves control systems, cameras, and other equipment needed to test the massive Space Launch System (SLS) hydrogen tank.

Standing some 221 feet (67.4 meters) tall, Test Stand 4693 is designed to simulate in every way the crushing stresses and powerful dynamics of launch. The 149-foot (59-meter) tall, Boeing-built SLS liquid hydrogen tank qualification test article will be out through its paces here.

The test article was built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and coupled with equipment to simulate the other parts of the 212-foot-long (65 meter) core stage. Once the test article is completed, it will be shipped by barge from Michoud to Marshall.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Federal Government Tweaks Space Export Control Rules

The federal government is taking more space-related items off of the most restrictive export control list, although some in industry believe the changes don’t go far enough.

The revised rules, published by the Departments of Commerce and State in the Federal Register Jan. 10, constitute tweaks to a major revision published in May 2014 that took many space items off the U.S. Munitions List (USML), governed by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The changes take effect Jan. 15.

One of the biggest changes covers remote sensing systems. The May 2014 rule kept optical systems with apertures greater than 0.35 meters on the USML. The revised rule increases that threshold to 0.5 meters, with systems with smaller apertures moved to the Commerce Control List, a less restrictive export control system administered by the Commerce Department. Industry, though, had sought a much larger increase in the aperture threshold, to 1.1 meters. The State Department, in its Federal Register filing, noted industry comments requesting the larger increase, but did not offer details on why it increased the threshold to only 0.5 meters.

Read more at: Space News

Re-Entry: Long March 4B Rocket Body

A spent Long March 4B rocket stage re-entered the atmosphere on January 8, 2017 over the Canadian territory after seven months in orbit.

Read more at: Spaceflight101

The Dust Never Settles on the Space Station

When your house gets dusty, the dust settles, falling down to lower surfaces, awaiting your attention with the vacuum cleaner or duster. Not so on the International Space Station. Like any home, it gets dusty, but the particles don’t settle…they float.

And that’s a problem for astronauts living and working there. Dust can get in their eyes and nose causing irritation and allergic reactions.

Although high efficiency filters are installed on the space station and the astronauts vacuum regularly, there has never been a thorough investigation of airborne particulates until now.

NASA Glenn Research Scientist Dr. Marit Meyer is leading an experiment to sample airborne particles on station to help improve astronaut health and wellness. The experiment involves two types of samplers designed by the RJ Lee Group, which are portable collection devices. “Collecting this data will help us to ultimately build a particulate matter monitor so NASA can improve the environment for astronauts on station and other long term missions in deep space,” says Meyer.

Read more at: Space Daily

SpaceX Deploys Airplane Trackers in ‘Delicate Choreography’

A million emotions were going through Matt Desch. He felt as if he were awaiting the arrival of a child. He was actually “birthing” 10 of his company’s communication satellites into orbit, part of an eventual replacement of 66 satellites. “One of the most complicated technical feats in the aerospace industry,” he said.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the 10 Iridium satellites aloft Saturday. When the rocket was halfway around Earth and in the proper orbit, it sent Desch’s “babies” off one by one, every 90 seconds, into space. They were to unfold their solar panels and reorient themselves with the stars and the horizon. Desch said the 850-kilogram satellites, the size of a Mini Cooper, would start looking for antennas and begin communicating with Iridium’s ground station in Norway, which will transmit the data to Virginia.

And eventually, the payload on board the satellites could revolutionize how airplanes fly.

Read more at: VOA News

Air Force’s Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Wings by 600 Days in Orbit

The U.S. Air Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane has now spent 600 days in Earth orbit on the vessel’s latest mission, and is nearing a program record for longest time spent in space. The robotic X-37B lifted off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 20, 2015, kicking off the program’s fourth space mission (which is known as Orbital Test Vehicle-4, or OTV-4).

If the uncrewed spacecraft spends 74 more days aloft, it will break the duration record set during OTV-3, which touched down in October 2014. But it’s unclear how long OTV-4 will last, or just what the X-37B is doing as it circles Earth; most details about the space plane’s missions and payloads are classified.

Read more at: Space.com

Rocket Crafters Lands Patent for Hybrid Propellant

A Titusville company has landed a patent for 3D printing fuel grains that could be used in hybrid rockets, an effort by the business to decrease the cost of rocket launches and increase their safety. Officials with Rocket Crafters, which employs 12 in Florida and six in other parts of the U.S., announced this week that they had been granted the patent.

Rocket Crafters has developed a combustion system that sets aside the typical process of a liquid oxidizer reacting with liquid fuel to create thrust. Instead, the combustion system in the company’s experimental Intrepid rocket stores fuel grains alongside liquid nitrous oxide, converts the nitrous oxide into gas and pushes it through long, thin fuel grains. The design of those fuel grains was covered by the patent.

Retired astronaut Sid Gutierrez, now Rocket Crafters CEO, said hybrid rockets could make rocket launches as safe as airline travel. “With our 3D-printed fuel technology, we now have the means to make this a reality,” he said in a release.

Read more at: Orlando Sentinel

NASA’s Robonauts are Designed to Help Astronauts in Space

Picture this: Astronauts floating in weightlessness sip cups of coffee while staring out the windows of the International Space Station. They’re looking at a vaguely human-like figure as it scuttles around the outside of the station, suitless in the vacuum of space. The humanoid robot is spacewalking to perform routine maintenance on the outside of the station. Perhaps it’s re-connecting wires, taking down experiments, or making needed upgrades to the outpost. It’s dangerous work for a human, but not too terribly difficult for a robot.

At the moment, however, that’s not how things on the Space Station work. Right now, human astronauts and cosmonauts are responsible for all tasks — including experimentation, routine maintenance and cleaning — on the orbiting space laboratory. Instead of having a robot fix a toilet, for example, astronauts need to be trained as space toilet plumbers in case the lavatory on the station breaks down (which it often does).

NASA’s Robonaut project, however, aims to change all of that.

Read more at: Mashable

Airfield Bosses in Battle to Become UK’s First Spaceport

Aviation experts in Llanbedr are in line for a busy year as they aim to make the airfield the number one choice as the UK’s first spaceport. An operational spaceport could lead to spaceplanes carrying passengers and small satellites into space. Llanbedr is currently one of five sites currently being considered by the UK Government.

Snowdonia Aerospace chief executive Lee Paul said: “The past 18 months have been about creating the right operating environment, completing the first phase of investment and getting us ready for the future. “Already the site has been used to test civil and military craft, wide ranging campaigns from fisheries enforcement projects to hosting a multinational military training exercise involving Malaysian, Japanese and US forces.

Read more at: Cambrian News

Construction on Spaceport America Road to Begin in June

Construction on the long awaited southern road to Spaceport America is scheduled to begin in the coming months.

For years, visitors have been unable to use the road that begins at the Upham exit off I-25. The road provides direct access to the Spaceport, but it’s 28 miles of gravel. Visitors are currently forced to make a detour through Truth or Consequences. During a county commission meeting Tuesday, ABC-7 learned construction on the road may finally begin this June. New Spaceport America CEO Daniel Hicks told commissioners it’ll cost $14 million.

Read more at: kvia

New White House Strategy Preps Earth for Asteroid Hit Scenarios

There is no doubt big-time troublemakers lurk out there in the cosmos. We know that blitzkrieging asteroids and comets can make for a bad day here on Earth because our planet has been on the receiving end of many long-ago scurrilous intruders, and has the pockmarks to prove it. There was also the recent and loud wake-up call when an incoming space rock detonated in the skies near Chelyabinsk, Russia, in early 2013, causing significant injuries and property damage. The bottom line is that near-Earth objects (NEOs) have crosshairs on our world. But what to do about these cosmic demons from the deep is another matter.

In the waning days of Pres. Barack Obama’s administration, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy” last week. The strategy outlines major goals the country will have to tackle to prepare to meet the NEO threat, signaling that some leaders are taking the danger more seriously.

Read more at: Scientific American

Should NASA Build Spacefaring Logistics Infrastructure?

In the 1990s, I began to focus on how to build an integrated spacefaring logistics infrastructure to open outer space to true commercial human spacefaring operations. While the United States has had the technological ability to do this since the 1990s, a sound political need for the infrastructure was missing. Politicians place great care in spending any scant discretionary infrastructure funds they control. A political misstep, such as the infamous Alaskan “bridge to nowhere”, costs them dearly as “wasted” funding ends up being spent elsewhere. While America needs to build an integrated spacefaring logistics infrastructure to transition to a true commercial human spacefaring nation, we cannot afford a misstep by building the wrong “bridge” to space.

For the past decade, I have been advocating that the United States needs to build an integrated spacefaring logistics infrastructure to enable it to undertake commercial space-based sustainable energy. A substantial part of my efforts has been explaining how such infrastructure, as illustrated above and in this short video, are not far-term concepts as most presume, but are now ready for engineering development and capability deployment.

Read more at: Space Review

China Launches Commercial Rocket Mission Kuaizhou-1A

The rocket Kuaizhou-1A (KZ-1A) has sent three satellites into space in its first commercial mission on Monday. The rocket, carrying the satellite JL-1 and two CubeSats XY-S1 and Caton-1, blasted off from northwestern China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at around 12:11 p.m. Monday Beijing Time, according to a statement from the center.

The KZ-1A was developed from the Kuaizhou-1 rocket with improvements in adaptability. It is a low-cost solid-fuelled carrier rocket with high reliability and short preparation period and was designed to launch low-orbit satellites weighing under 300 kg. The JL-1 is a multifunctional remote-sensing satellite providing high-definition video images which is expected to be used for land resource and forestry surveying, environmental protection, transport and disaster prevention and relief purposes.

Read more at: Space Daily

Starliner Simulator Arrives at NASA Johnson

As commercial crew astronauts climb inside Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the first time atop of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, there will be something very familiar about what they are doing.

This is because of a new simulator that arrived today at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The Boeing Mission Simulator is a full-scale mock-up of the Starliner outfitted with the same state-of-the-art interior as the real spacecraft. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Suni Williams worked with the simulator after its assembly in St. Louis before it was shipped to Texas. The purpose of the simulator is to allow astronauts to rehearse all aspects of a mission to the International Space Station so the detailed functions they might need to perform will seem as routine as possible. The Starliner is autonomous, but the training tools designed for the spacecraft will allow an astronaut to go beyond the typical mission parameters to train for the unexpected while in a safe environment.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Hungary, ESA’s Newest Member, Joins Technology Transfer Program

Hungary, the most recent addition to the 22-nation European Space Agency, has joined the agency’s technology transfer program in a move aimed at increasing the country’s involvement with ESA and stemming brain drain to other parts of the world.

ESA said Jan. 13 that Hungary is now the 16th country to join the agency’s Technology Transfer Program, which explores ways to spin off space technology for terrestrial applications.

Hungary signed an agreement to become a member of ESA in February 2015, and officially joined the agency that November. In December 2016, Hungary contributed 20.6 million euros ($22 million) at a meeting of ESA’s ministerial council in Lucerne, Switzerland. That accounts  for 0.2 percent of the 10.3 billion euros ($11 billion) raised for European space programs for the next few years at the meeting, according to a report from the German Aerospace Center DLR.

Read more at: Space News

South Africa: New CEO for SA Space Agency

South African space strategist and policy maker Dr Valanathan Munsami has been appointed CEO of the SA National Space Agency (Sansa). “Dr Munsami takes the helm following an impactful past in shaping South Africa’s space science landscape,” Sansa said on its website on Thursday.

Munsami takes over from Dr Sandile Malinga, who left Sansa in August 2016, five years after being appointed to the post as its inaugural CEO and board member. Munsami held a number of positions within the Department of Science and Technology. His most recent appointment in the department was in February 2016, as its chief science and technology representative.

Read more at: Allafrica

Senator Loren Legarda Proposes Philippine Space Act

Senator Loren Legarda has proposed the Senate Bill No. 1259 or the Philippine Space Act (PhilSA).

The bill seeks to establish a Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy. The Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy or the Philippine Space Policy will serve as the country’s primary strategic roadmap for space development and will embody the country ’s goal of becoming a space-capable and space-faring nation within the next decade. The policy shall focus on areas of Space Science and Technology Applications (SSTA) that would address national issues, promote the efficient utilization of space assets and resources, establish capacity-building measures for human resources development and enhance international cooperation.

Read more at: IB Times

Annual Report of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) was established by Congress in 1968 to provide advice and make recommendations to the NASA Administrator on safety matters. The Panel holds quarterly fact-finding and public meetings and makes “insight” visits to NASA Field Centers or other related sites. It reviews safety studies and operations plans and advises the NASA Administrator and Congress on hazards related to proposed or existing facilities and operations, safety standards and reporting, safety and mission assurance aspects regarding ongoing or proposed programs, and NASA management and culture issues related to safety.

This report highlights the issues and concerns that were identified or raised by the Panel during its activities over the past year.

Read more at: NASA

NASA’s Historic First Mission Control Center Recreated for ‘Hidden Figures’

NASA’s original mission control briefly returns to service, recreated for the 20th Century Fox film “Hidden Figures,” seven years after the historic facility was demolished and two months after its contents reopened on public display as part of a new attraction.

The Mercury Control Center (MCC), which was founded at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, was active for the first seven U.S. human spaceflights, from May 1961 to March 1965. As the first of its kind, the MCC debuted the now iconic layout — tiered rows of consoles and an orbital tracking map at the front of the room — which became the model for NASA flight facilities and mission control centers around the world.

“Hidden Figures,” directed by Ted Melfi, tells the under-told story of the African American women who worked at NASA as mathematicians, or “human computers.”

Read more at: Collect Space

A Taste of Armageddon (part 1)

In February 1969, the two largest rockets in the Soviet Union’s stable of launch vehicles—the Proton and the N-1—both blew up in the skies over the Baikonur launch range within a couple of days of each other. Both launches were associated with the Soviet Union’s lunar program, a subject of intense interest for the United States intelligence community. But, for decades, the intelligence community was unaware of either explosion. Now newly declassified information indicates that American intelligence assets were expecting a Soviet space launch in February and even associated it with the Soviet lunar program. They mistakenly assumed that a single launch had been planned and then canceled, but analysts also acknowledged that it was possible that a launch failure had occurred. The declassified records imply that analysts knew that something very important had happened in the last part of February, but its exact nature eluded them.

Read more at: Space Review

A Taste of Armageddon (part 2)

It was a mid-August day in 1969 when Jack Rooney went to work in the massive windowless building known as the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC, pronounced “enpik”). Rooney had left the Navy after a long career and was now working as a photo-interpreter, or PI, in NPIC’s Missiles and Space Division. NPIC was administered “as a service of common concern” for the US intelligence community, in the bureaucrat-speak of the time, and included photo-interpreters from both the CIA and the military services.

Read more at: Space Review