Falling Rocket Booster Explodes Near a Town in China

Following a launch on Friday local time, a Chinese rocket booster fell near a small town in southwest China, where it exploded and caught fire, GBTimes reports. It was one of four strap-on boosters used on China’s Long March 3B rocket, which had lofted two satellites into orbit before the crash. People living in the town Xiangdu, located in China’s Guangxi region, caught video of the booster as it fell perilously close to buildings and then erupted in flames.

The Long March 3B takes off from China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center, located in the country’s Sichuan province. Unlike most major launchpads in the US, the center is located many hundreds of miles from China’s coastline, so rockets launched from the site have to fly over land to get to orbit. That means when the rocket sheds parts during a flight, such as the strap-on boosters that give the vehicle extra thrust, these parts will fall in a designated drop zone over land. And many towns might be located in that zone.

Read more at: Verge

Why it’s a Bad Idea to Launch Rockets Over Land

On Friday morning in China, a rocket blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province with a pair of navigation satellites bound for orbit around Earth. As the rocket climbed higher and higher, the four strap-on boosters that launched with it began to fall away. This is supposed to happen; the boosters provide extra lift in the minutes after launch, and when they burn through their fuel, they separate and fall back down to Earth.

The satellites made it safely into orbit. But back on the ground, there were flames.

One of those four discarded boosters had landed near a town in the Guangxi region and exploded. Video captured by onlookers and shared on social media shows the booster falling from the sky and striking the ground behind buildings. Screams are heard as flames erupt when it makes contact. Other footage shows bystanders approaching the flaming wreckage in a grassy area. Flames billow out from one end of the booster, and the ground is littered with chunks of debris.

Read more at: Atlantic

Booster from Chinese Rocket Crashes to Earth Near a Small Town

A booster from a Chinese rocket appears to have crash-landed and exploded after a satellite launch on Friday. According to a report from GB Times, one of four rocket boosters from a Long March 3B rocket crashed near the town of Xiangdu, reportedly about 435 miles (or around 700 kilometers) from the launch site.

As The Verge’s Loren Grush notes, China seems perfectly fine launching their rockets from inland launchpads, unlike the U.S., meaning the rockets fly over and shed parts over land, leading to incidents like that on Friday.

Read more at: Mashable

Rocket Booster Drops from Sky and Explodes Near Town After Chinese Space Launch

A booster from a Chinese Long March 3B rocket launch dropped from the sky and exploded near buildings in Guangxi, southwest China on Friday, shocking locals and onlookers.

The Long March 3B lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan Province at 07:18 local time on Friday, carrying two Beidou-3 GNSS satellites.

Minutes after launch as the rocket flew downrange, four strap-on boosters separated from the core, with one dropping near the town of Xiangdu in Tiandeng Country, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, around 700 kilometres from the launch site.

Read more at: GB Times

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Releases 2017 Annual Report

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), an advisory committee that reports to NASA and Congress, has issued its 2017 annual report examining NASA’s safety performance over the past year and highlighting accomplishments, issues and concerns to agency and government officials.

The report, released Thursday, is based on the panel’s 2017 fact-finding and quarterly public meetings; “insight” visits and meetings; direct observations of NASA operations and decision-making processes; discussions with NASA management, employees and contractors; and the panel members’ own experience.

“It is clear to the panel that NASA is at a critical juncture in human spaceflight development and that this is a time to retain focus on program details; to maintain a sense of urgency while not giving in to schedule pressure and to continue with program plans without neglecting, shortchanging, or deleting program content essential to safety and mission assurance,” said ASAP Chair Patricia Sanders.

Read more at: NASA

NASA Safety Panel Reiterates Need for Constancy of Purpose, Attention to Human Spaceflight Systems

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) issued its annual report today.  NASA is at a critical juncture in human space flight development, it says, repeating a warning from previous years that “constancy of purpose” at NASA is essential in order to avoid negative impacts on cost, schedule, performance, morale, process discipline, and safety.

At a time when the commercial crew program and NASA’s exploration systems development efforts are progressing towards their first flights, this is “a time when it is important to retain focus on program details; to maintain a sense of urgency while not giving in to schedule pressure; and to continue with program plans without neglecting, shortchanging or deleting planned content,” ASAP cautions.

Read more at: Spacepolicy Online

NASA Safety Watchdogs Raise Concerns About SpaceX, Boeing Spacecraft

NASA’s plan to routinely ferry astronauts into orbit using private spacecraft—initially slated to start last year—has now slipped until at least the spring of 2019, and unresolved hazards threaten further delays.

New questions about the high-profile program, known as commercial crew transportation, emerged Thursday, with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s top outside safety panel flagging persistent dangers.

Read more at: WSJ

Safety Panel Raises Concerns About Falcon 9 Pressure Vessel for Commercial Crew Missions

An independent safety panel recommended NASA not certify SpaceX’s commercial crew system until the agency better understands the behavior of pressure vessels linked to a Falcon 9 failure in 2016.

That recommendation was one of the stronger items in the annual report of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released by NASA Jan. 11, which found that NASA was generally managing risk well on its various programs.

The report devoted a section to the composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) used to store helium in the second stage propellant tanks of the Falcon 9. The investigation into the September 2016 pad explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 while being prepared for a static-fire test concluded that liquid oxygen in the tank got trapped between the COPV overwrap and liner and then ignited through friction or other mechanisms.

Read more at: Spacenews

2018 Could See Return of US Human Spaceflight

The year 2018 could provide for some exciting, history making moments on Florida’s Space Coast. The highlight of the year, and perhaps the decade will be the return of human spaceflight, launching from U.S. soil. NASA is expected to send astronauts on American spacecraft from the Space Coast in 2018.

“All launches are awesome, but when there are humans on board, it’s a much more personal and visceral engagement by everybody,” said Space Florida Vice President Dale Ketcham. “So that will be a huge, momentous event for the nation and certainly those of us here on the Space Coast.”

NASA hired both SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft that can send astronauts to the International Space Station. Both companies continue testing.

Read more at: Mynews 13

Ukraine’s Antonov helps SpaceX Transport Rocket Hardware

SpaceX company has chartered Antonov to operate a single one-way all-cargo charter flight transporting outsized rocket hardware.

This became known from the relevant application, published on the Daily Airlines Filings American portal.

“SpaceX, a company that designs, manufactures, and launches rockets and spacecraft, has chartered Antonov to operate a flight transporting rocket payload fairing halves loaded on a shipping fixture and a trailer, plus ancillary parts and support equipment, from Los Angeles, California (LAX), to the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The unit that needs to be transported cannot be accommodated by any freighter aircraft operated by U.S. carriers. As a result, the fairing halves need to be transported using Antonov’s AN-124-100 aircraft,” the document says.

Read more at: ukrinform

Big SpaceX Customer Blames Northrop Grumman for Loss of Secret ‘Zuma’ Military Satellite

A major SpaceX customer spoke up for Elon Musk’s rocket company, pinning the blame for a secret military satellite’s disappearance on defense company Northrop Grumman.

Matt Desch, chief executive officer of satellite operator Iridium Communications (IRDM, +4.53%), said that as the launch contractor, Northrop Grumman (NOC, +2.91%) deserves the blame for the loss last weekend of the satellite, which is presumed to have crashed into the ocean in the secretive mission code-named Zuma.

“This is a typical industry smear job on the ‘upstart’ trying to disrupt the launch industry,” Desch said on Twitter Thursday in response to a news article. “SpaceX didn’t have a failure, Northrop Grumman did. Notice that no one in the media is interested in that story. SpaceX will pay the price as the one some will try to bring low.”

Read more at: Fortune

Lost in Space? Questions Mount Over Fate of Secret Satellite as SpaceX Pushes Ahead

The top-secret satellite known only by a code name, “Zuma,” was a mystery from the start. Its classified mission was intentionally inscrutable, whether to detect missile launches, spy on adversaries or track ships at sea with a space radar.

The satellite was so highly secretive that it was not publicly released which government agency — The National Reconnaissance Office? The CIA? — was responsible for it. During the launch on the evening of Jan. 7, SpaceX cut short its webcast so that it wouldn’t reveal details of where the satellite was going or what it looked like.

Now there’s another mystery: What happened to Zuma?

Read more at: Washington Post

Pentagon: Ask SpaceX About Zuma. SpaceX: That’s Not Our Story to Tell

On Wednesday, during a Pentagon briefing, spokeswoman Dana White was asked whether the US Department of Defense considered the Zuma mission—a high-value, highly secretive US government payload—a success or a failure. White declined substantive comment, saying, “I would have to refer you to SpaceX, who conducted the launch.”

Alas, SpaceX isn’t talking Zuma’s success (or otherwise) either. The company has twice stated that its rocket, both the first and second stages, performed nominally during the launch on Sunday evening. However, SpaceX has stopped short of saying the Zuma payload was successfully deployed into orbit.

Read more at: Arstechnica

SpaceX Pulls Zuma Mission Patches from Sale Amid Reports of Secret Satellite’s Loss

 SpaceX has recalled the sale of souvenir mission patches from its first launch of 2018, providing a possible hint to the fate of its classified payload.

The spaceflight company pulled its Zuma mission patches from partner gift shops and online retailers on Friday (Jan. 12), several days after the embroidered emblems went on sale. Since 2015, SpaceX has allowed for third-party sales of its mission patches so long as the flight that the insignia represents was confirmed a success.

Read more at: collectspace

Ingredients for Life Revealed in Meteorites that Fell to Earth

Two wayward space rocks, which separately crashed to Earth in 1998 after circulating in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years, share something else in common: the ingredients for life. They are the first meteorites found to contain both liquid water and a mix of complex organic compounds such as hydrocarbons and amino acids.

A detailed study of the chemical makeup within tiny blue and purple salt crystals sampled from these meteorites, which included results from X-ray experiments at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), also found evidence for the pair’s past intermingling and likely parents. These include Ceres, a dwarf planet that is the largest object in the asteroid belt, and the asteroid Hebe, a major source of meteorites that fall on Earth.

Read more at: newscenter

Going into Space Crushes the Delicate Nerves in Your Eyeballs

Two delicate, bundled stalks of nerve tissue erupt forward from the brain, slip between gaps in the backs of each eyeball, and attach themselves gently to the rear of each retina. These are the optic nerves, the transmitters linking human beings to their powers of sight. And now researchers have shown that space travel puts a powerful, dangerous squeeze on their fragile tips.

A study of 15 astronauts who had been on missions in orbital freefall for about six months found that the tissues at the backs of their eyes — tissues that surround the heads of their optic nerves — tended to look warped and swollen in the weeks after their return to Earth.

Read more at: Space.com

Huge Water Reserves Found All Over Mars

At sites across the midsection of Mars, scientists have found layers of water ice buried mere feet beneath the red planet’s surface. The discovery adds crucial detail to Mars’s geologic history, and it may shape how future humans on Mars get their water.

“This is a new window into ground ice on Mars,” says Colin Dundas, the U.S. Geological Survey geologist who co-discovered the ice layers.

Scientists have long theorized that reserves of water ice are locked underground on Mars. In 2002, the NASA Odyssey mission scanned the planet from orbit and detected signs of shallow ground ice at high latitudes. In 2008, the NASA Phoenix mission dug up water ice at its landing site near the Martian north pole.

Read more at: National Geographic

SpaceX Commercial Crew Flights Tests Slip

In advance of a congressional hearing next week on the status of the commercial crew program, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP)  has released new dates for when Boeing and SpaceX will conduct flight tests of their CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft.  All the tests will still take place this year according to the new schedule, but SpaceX’s have slipped several months.

Each company will first fly their vehicle without a crew and then with a crew prior to commencing operational flights to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA last reported the schedule on October 5, 2017.  The new schedule, released yesterday, shows the same dates for Boeing’s tests, but the SpaceX flights are delayed.  In October 2017, SpaceX’s Demo Mission 1 was expected in April 2018 and Demo Mission 2 in August 2018.  Now they are August 2018 and December 2018.

Read more at: Spacepolicy Online

Tiangong-1 Space Laboratory Containing Hazardous Substance to Crash to Earth in March

According to new calculations, China’s space laboratory, Tiangong-1 will fall to Earth in March of 2018. While most parts of the spacecraft are likely to burn up in the atmosphere, there are concerns that some pieces, containing highly-toxic chemicals, may hit the ground.

Beijing lost control over Tiangong-1 on March 16, 2016. It is believed that the space station ceased functioning due to a dysfunctional battery charger. Since then, the module has been unable to recharge its batteries from its two solar arrays. However Chinese officials provided little information stating only that the laboratory had started to descend gradually and would eventually fall to Earth.

China finally confirmed in mid-September of 2016 that the spacecraft was heading for an imminent re-entry, but they still did not disclose whether the station’s descent is controlled or not. First announcements made by the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CSME) indicated that Tiangong-1 was (at that time) orbiting at an average altitude of 230 miles (370 kilometers) and was descending for its fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere in late 2017.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

China’s Bold Proposal to Zap Space Junk from Earth’s Orbit with Lasers

Since 1957, humans have been polluting the Earth’s orbit with bits of debris, known as space junk. There are currently around 20,000 fragments of space junk orbiting the Earth. Pieces of old satellites, used rocket stages and fragments from collision, erosion and disintegration are all floating up there, reaching speeds of up to 17,500 miles an hour.

Ideas for getting rid of this dangerous junk range from gathering it with giant nets to sending it out of Earth’s orbit using magnets.

But there’s a new proposal for how we could get rid of some of this junk – or at least make it more manageable. A team of researchers from China has come up with a plan to blast the debris into smaller, less harmful bits using a laser flying around Earth.

Read more at: Wired

Daughter of Chinese Astronaut Recalls Shenzhou-7 Mission, False Fire Alarm

A People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) newspaper on Sunday published an article by Liu Qianting, daughter of astronaut Liu Boming, on her father’s flight on Shenzhou-7. Liu Boming, Zhai Zhigang and Jing Haipeng took part in the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008, during which Zhai made the first spacewalk by a Chinese astronaut.

In the article carried by the PLA Daily, Liu Qianting said her family held a “family meeting” every Saturday and her father would tell his stories to her.

Her father was fascinated by space and a huge fan of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the moon, when he was a middle school student. He signed up for the PLA astronaut program without hesitation.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Commercial Cargo Craft Splashes Down in Pacific Ocean After Station Resupply Run

A commercial cargo capsule owned by SpaceX concluded a month-long resupply trip to the International Space Station on Saturday, wrapping up the 13th round-trip flight to the station by a Dragon spacecraft with an on-target splashdown in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California.

Bringing home 4,078 pounds (1,850 kilograms) of disused equipment, spacesuit gear and spacewalk hardware, and scientific specimens, the Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 10:37 a.m. EST (7:37 a.m. PST; 1537 GMT) after a blistering hot re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere.

Traveling northwest to southeast, the unpiloted spaceship plunged through the atmosphere protected by a heat shield surrounded by red-hot plasma as temperatures reached 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius).

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Meet the Amateur Astronomers who Track Secretive Spy Satellites for Fun

What the heck happened to Zuma? We know that the super-secret satellite was built by Northrop Grumman for an agency of the United States Government, and that SpaceX launched it on Sunday, January 7.

But what we know is vastly outweighed by what we don’t know. We’re not sure which agency the satellite was built for, and while SpaceX has stated that their Falcon 9 rocket “did everything correctly on Sunday night,” the successful deployment of the satellite was not confirmed. And because of the classified nature of the craft, no one is talking about what happened. It might have failed to deploy from the Falcon 9 rocket second stage before the second stage de-orbited. It could have made it to orbitbut then malfunctioned. Maybe it actually made it into orbit just fine. But no one is saying what happened to it one way or the other.

If Zuma is still up there, there’s a small group of people who will be ready and watching for it to reappear in a week, when its projected orbit should bring it out of Earth’s shadow and into the daylight.

Read more at: Popsci

SpaceshipTwo Conducts Successful Test Flight

Virgin Galactic conducted a successful test flight of the SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity vehicle on Thursday, Jan. 11. The high-speed glide test marks the seventh for VSS Unity, which reached a top speed of Mach 0.9 during the flight.

At the helm were pilots Mark Stucky and Michael Masucci, who pushed the test article of the spacecraft to the limits of its atmospheric gliding capabilities. The flight comes several months after the previous flight of Unity in August of 2017. In the intervening time, extensive analysis, testing, and some small modifications were made to the vehicle to prepare it to withstand higher loads. Mach 0.9 is approximately the highest speed the vehicle can reach without firing the rocket motor, according to a release on the Virgin Galactic website.

Unity has not yet conducted a powered test flight. In order to simulate the weight and positioning of the rocket motor, water ballast is added to the vehicle. The water is then jettisoned around 22,000 feet (6,705 meters) to allow the vehicle to land under lighter conditions that better simulate the weight of the vehicle after its load of propellant has been spent.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Three Minutes of Microgravity is Worth the Cost of a Small House, if you’re a Scientist

Forget seven minutes in heaven. For some scientists, the real indulgence is three minutes of microgravity.

Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos, is expected to fly its New Shepard suborbital rocket and space capsule multiple times this year in a final round of developmental testing. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is also testing a suborbital rocket plane, VSS Unity, that it hopes to bring into operations in the years ahead.

These vehicles are designed to carry passengers and cargo up to the edge of space, approximately 100 kilometers up, where they will spend three to four minutes in microgravity. The commonly-used term “zero-g” is a misnomer: gravity is always present in space, but these vehicles experience apparent weightlessness briefly before they fall back to earth.

Read more at: QZ

Map of Ionospheric Disturbances to Help Improve Radio Network Systems

SAU AstroChallenge employees are convinced that this new map of medium-scale travelling ionospheric disturbances will help find out the reasons of the emergence of such phenomena in midlatitude areas. MSTIDs have not yet been thoroughly studied. They significantly impact the distribution of radio signals, so appropriate research is of great practical importance.

The paper, titled “Collocated ionosonde and dense GPS/GLONASS network measurements of midlatitude MSTIDs”, covers the first ever complex analysis of MSTIDs obtained by two methods of radio sounding. MSTIDs, which are huge wave perturbations somewhat resembling aurora borealis, are invisible in midlatitude areas.

The ionosonde combined with a dense network of GPS/GLONASS receivers was able to detect the structure of MSTIDs in necessary conditions.

Read more at: Eurekalert

NASA’s New Power Source could Provide Energy for Manned Missions to Mars

NASA is getting ready to make a major announcement about a new energy source which could put man on Mars.

The US space agency has been testing an affordable fission nuclear power system which could run processing equipment to transform resources on the Red Planet into oxygen, water and fuel.

The new technology would change the concept of how we explore Mars. Until, now it has been thought one mission would operate at a time, but the new nuclear fissionb energy source would allow multiple exploration missions. Think of the difference, in terms of exploration, between Columbus arriving in America, and American settlers pioneering the west.

Read more at: Herald Scotland

International Space Station’s Orbit to be Raised by 600 Meters

The medium height of the International Space Station’s flight orbit will be raised by 600 meters with the help of the engines of the Zvezda module on January 17, Russia’s Mission Control said on Friday.

“The propulsion system of the Zvezda module will work for 22 seconds. According to preliminary calculated data, the maneuver will increase the medium height of the ISS’s flight orbit by 600 meters to 404.4 km,” Mission Control said.

Meanwhile Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos has said the Zvezda module will switch on its engines at 23:15 Moscow time on January 17.  “The adjustment aims to create ballistic conditions for bringing a Progress-MS-08 resupply ship into orbit,” Roscosmos sad.

Read more at: TASS

New ISRO Chairman Aims for the Moon

A bounty of new services and applications for the common man figures at the top of the list of must-do tasks of Dr Kailasavadivoo Sivan, when he assumes office as chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) here on Monday.

These benefits will be handed to people through advanced and high performance satellites in the near future, he told Deccan Chronicle, adding that rocketry, his field of expertise, would figure lower down in the list of priorities. And, all advan-ced technologies envisaged would be built into both communications and remote sensing satellites being designed and manufactured for launch this year and later, he added.

He said the launch of India’s second probe at the moon, Chandrayaan-II in the first half of 2018, and developmental flight of heavy-lift Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-MK3) in April, are the two most challenging missions this year.

Read more at: Asianage

Aerospace Talent in Texas Lauded

Most University of Texas aerospace engineering students will likely remain in the state to work for NASA, government contractors, startups and a host of other technologically advanced organizations, according to David Daniel, deputy chancellor for the University of Texas System.

“Don’t worry about young people being interested in aerospace,” Daniel said Thursday at an aerospace conference in League City hosted by the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas. “Boy, are they interested.”

There are about 1,000 undergraduates and 350 master’s or doctoral students who are studying in Arlington and Austin. They will deepen the state’s talent pool and help ensure economic growth in an ever-advancing technological society, he said.

Read more at: Houston Chronicle

One Small Step for Private Companies: How the Future of Space Travel is being Redefined

At 0100 GMT on Monday morning, Zuma, a satellite with a “secretive payload” was launched into orbit. The rocket launching it, Falcon 9, was created by SpaceX, the brainchild of irreverent tech billionare Elon Musk. The classified nature of its contents meant that the usual live feed that accompanies rocket launches was cut off after five minutes. The mission’s press release offered very little other detail.

All that is known about Zuma is that it contains a satellite manufactured by company Northrop Gumman for the US government, and was in low-earth orbit, as most commercial spacecraft tends to be. However, it remains unclear which government agency will be controlling the satellite, and what purposes the information it collects will serve.

Read more at: New Statesman

IAASS to Offer New Training Course

ISS Payloads Design and Operations Safety
14-16 February 2018 – Livorno (Tuscany), Italy

The course is designed to provide the participant with an understanding of safety requirements, procedures and processes that are used for design and operations of payloads for the International Space Station. The target audience are safety engineers and managers, system engineers, QA personnel, project managers responsible for development, integration and operation of payloads/cargo for ISS. To learn more about the course and on how to register, download the Course Brochure.

Please complete the registration form (in the brochure) and email to: [email protected] later than 1 February 2018.

Read more at: IAASS