Documentary Probes Challenger Disaster on 30th Anniversary

A powerful new documentary takes a fresh look at the space shuttle Challenger explosion, a tragedy that is still seared into the minds of a generation 30 years after the smoke cleared.

The National Geographic Channel’s hour-long “Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes” will premiere Jan. 25, three days before the 30th anniversary of the accident that claimed the lives of seven astronauts, including New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe. But you can get a sneak peak at the documentary now in this 3-minute teaser video, which the National Geographic Channel provided exclusively to Space.com.

The teaser opens with the 37-year-old McAuliffe, who had beaten out thousands of other applicants for the chance to become the first American civilian in space, practicing a lesson she planned to beam down to schoolkids from orbit.

Read more at: Space.com

Blue Origin Makes Second Landing Using Same Rocket

In another breakthrough for the space launch industry, the same Blue Origin rocket booster that successfully completed a launch-and-landing last November repeated the feat on Friday.

With this latest touchdown, the space company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos proved its rocket booster can be reused, rather than discarded per the usual space launch process. That same New Shepard booster became the first vehicle to fly into space and return to Earth just two months ago.

Although Blue Origin is the first to launch and land a rocket for the second time, it is not the only company breaking ground in the space launch industry. Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully landed a reusable rocket after an operational mission to space in December. If Blue Origin, SpaceX and others can reliably relaunch and land rocket boosters then the cost of space flight could decrease dramatically, potentially revolutionizing the market, analysts contend.

Read more at: Defense News

Europe Looks Toward NASA’s Cargo Plane to Clean Up Space Junk

The Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser lost out on its chance to ferry crew to the ISS before getting a second chance earlier this month via cargo resupplies. But that brings better news for Sierra Nevada: it means that the European Space Agency, too, wants to give the Soviet-inspired space plane a second look. And one of ESA’s most interesting uses for the Dream Chaser is to use it to capture and bring down space junk.

While nothing is finalized yet, a BBC report indicated that the agency is looking toward removing derelict satellites, defunct hardware, and other orbital debris belonging to the agency.  There’s been no indication that these would be crewed missions, although the Dream Chaser could be designed for these purposes. The original space shuttle was also designed to retrieve defunct satellites, though it only performed four recoveries total, not-withstanding some repair missions.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

NASA’s Still Not Sure Why Tim Kopra’s Helmet Flooded

On January 15, ISS astronauts Tim Kopra and Tim Peake had to cut short their spacewalk when Kopra’s helmet began to accumulate water. But according to a report in Aviation Week, NASA is still scrambling to figure out what happened.

During the spacewalk, Kopra reported a 4 inch blob of water developing in his helmet. It was the same suit used by Luca Parmitano, an Italian ESA astronaut, when his helmet began to fill with water during an EVA. NASA identified and fixed the problem shortly thereafter, later refurbishing the whole shuttle-era suit. In other words, it shouldn’t have been an issue.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Russian Rocket Stage Suspected of Suffering In-Orbit Breakup

A Russian Briz-M rocket stage broke apart in orbit last week and created a cloud of debris in Geosynchronous Orbit. The Joint Space Operations Center identified the possible break-up of the rocket stage on January 20 when at least ten pieces of debris were identified in close orbital proximity to the spent rocket body.

The Briz-M upper stage in question was involved in the launch of the Garpun No. 12L military communications satellite on December 13, 2015.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Metal on Thai beach Likely to be Rocket, Not Plane Part

A Japanese rocket maker said Monday that a large piece of metal that washed up on a beach in Thailand is likely part of a rocket launched by Japan, not a missing Malaysian plane. The discovery of the metal sparked speculation that it might be from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared almost two years ago.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said the metal piece is “highly likely” to be part of a Japanese H-IIA or H-IIB rocket that was launched from southern Japan, based on an initial examination of photos and videos of the object.

Company spokeswoman Sayo Suwashita said officials are trying to determine which rocket and its launch date. Rocket debris falls into the ocean after every launch, and most is collected but sometimes pieces can be found some distance from the launch site, including in foreign waters, she said.

Read more at: Bigstory

Dragon Crew Capsule’s Propulsive Landing System Tested

SpaceX released a video Thursday showing a propulsive hover test of a prototype of the company’s Dragon crew capsule conducted two months ago, a milestone in the development of the spaceship’s jetpacks that will eventually guide the craft to helicopter-like landings.

The five-second firing of the Dragon’s eight SuperDraco rocket thrusters occurred Nov. 24 at SpaceX’s development and test facility in McGregor, Texas.

Suspended from a crane near test stands used for ground firings of the Falcon 9 rocket’s Merlin engines, the spacecraft testbed ignited its eight SuperDraco engines to generate 33,000 pounds of thrust, putting the ship in a hover before returning to its resting state, according to SpaceX.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

NASA Counting on Humanoid Robots in Deep Space Exploration

As humanity moves forward with space exploration, we should prepare for risky and extremely hazardous endeavors such as manned missions to Mars and asteroids. Having fully operational robotic help ready to assist in every dangerous task would be of the utmost importance during long-lasting journeys beyond Earth. NASA is seriously considering this subject matter, ushering new humanoid robots, expected to be space pioneers that could offer astronauts a helping hand in future expeditions.

“NASA is counting on robots to setup and care for deep space exploration facilities and equipment pre-deployed ahead of astronauts. Robots are also excellent precursors for conducting science missions ahead of human exploration,” Sasha Congiu Ellis of NASA’s Langley Research Center, told Astrowatch.net.

Read more at: Space Daily

Airbus Defence and Space and OneWeb Create OneWeb Satellites Company

Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, and OneWeb, which is building a new global satellite communications system, announced the creation of OneWeb Satellites. The new joint venture, equally owned by Airbus Defence and Space and OneWeb, will design and build the 900 satellites of the OneWeb constellation, which will offer high-speed internet with global coverage. The new company will be led by Brian Holz as CEO.

OneWeb Satellites will also be able to build satellites, platforms and equipment to be marketed by Airbus Defence and Space to other operators of future constellations.

Read more at: Airbus Defence and Space

Who will Become the World’s First Commercial Spaceline?

With Blue Origin’s successful re-flight of its reusable New Shepard booster and capsule on Friday, the company jumped ahead in the competition to fly people into space on a commercial basis.

None of New Shepard’s flights has carried a crew. Blue Origin has not announced ticket prices or a schedule for flying people aboard the capsule, which lands under parachute. You can sign up on its website to receive “early access to pricing information and tickets when we open reservations.”

In Mojave, Calif., two rivals are still struggling to their space tourism businesses going. Virgin Galactic, which bills itself as  “the world’s first commercial spaceline,” has yet to fly its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle above 71,000 feet. The company was launched in 2004 with the goal of beginning commercial service in 2007.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Russia Comes First by Space Garbage Volume, Third by Satellite Grouping

Russia’s satellite grouping is the third biggest by the number of satellites after the United States and China but Russia still has the largest volume of garbage in orbit, according to a report released by the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) on Monday.

The 2015 final report was prepared by specialists of the ballistic center of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIImash), which is Roscosmos’ leading institute. “The largest number of space garbage objects belongs to such countries as Russia (6,169 space objects), the United States (4,878) and China (3,645),” the report says.

Meanwhile, of all existing satellites (active, back-up space vehicles and satellites undergoing flight trials and partially operational), the largest space grouping is held by the United States (542 satellites) followed by China (163) and Russia (139), according to the report.

Read more at: TASS

SpaceX Falcon 9 Upgrade Certified for National Security Space Launches

Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space and Space and Missile Systems Center commander, updated the certified baseline configuration of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Launch System to Falcon 9 Upgrade, for use in National Security Space (NSS) missions. The baseline configuration of the Falcon 9 Launch System was updated to the Falcon 9 Upgrade on Jan. 25.

SpaceX is eligible for award of NSS launch missions, in accordance with the updated Certification Letter, as one of two currently certified launch providers.

The partnership between SpaceX and the Air Force continues as they focus on SpaceX’s newest vehicle configuration, Falcon 9 Upgrade. SpaceX and Air Force technical teams will jointly work to complete the tasks required to prepare SpaceX and the Falcon 9 Upgrade for NSS missions.

Read more at: Space Daily

Lawmakers Still Battling Over Russian Rocket Engines

Folks in Washington are all fired up about rockets. Specifically, rocket engines built in Russia and then bought and used to launch Defense Department payloads into space.

After Russia invaded Crimea, Congress banned the use of the Russian RD-180 rocket engine in military launches. That didn’t sit well with United Launch Alliance–a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that for many years was the sole carrier of military launches. Their rocket, the Atlas V, relies on RD-180 engines. So the 2016 federal budget overrode the ban. Senator John McCain is not happy.

McCain was the original champion of the RD-180 ban, and today he’sintroducing new legislation that would uphold the ban. “It is simply immoral to help subsidize Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and line the pockets of Putin’s gang of thugs who profit from the sale of Russian rocket engines,” McCain said on the Senate floor last month.

Read more at: Popsci

Boeing Toiling Hard to Build ‘World’s Most Powerful Rocket’

A giant metal frame standing several yards wide rises up nearly 200 feet inside the Michoud Assembly Facility, NASA’s massive 832-acre space park outside New Orleans.

“What you’re looking at is the largest welding system in the world,” said Jackie Nesselroad. She is leading a team from Boeing that’s welding together the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System. “It’s about the coolest job on Earth.”

SLS is not a rocket that will be reusable, like the one Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin just landed for the second time in a row. It is not a system like the one that Elon Musk’s SpaceX contracts out to NASA for ferrying supplies to the International Space Station. Instead, the SLS has one customer and one mission: to take Americans into deep space.

The goal is Mars. The program will cost billions.

Read more at: NBC News

SLS Engines Prepare for Stennis Tests – AR Affordability Focus for New RS-25s

RS-25 Engine 2059 – a veteran of five Shuttle missions – is scheduled to begin static fire testing at the end of February, initiating a test series on the engines that will be tasked with launching the Space Launch System (SLS). Meanwhile, Aerojet Rocketdyne explained some of the cost saving processes for the new expendable RS-25s that will fly with SLS in the second half of the 2020s.

A long series of initial RS-25 static fires were conducted at the Stennis Space Center during 2015, with testing resumed with the use of the development engine ME-0525 hosted in the A-1 test stand at Stennis.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

ESA Ousts Airbus as Space Station Prime, Appoints Itself Instead

The European Space Agency has dismissed Airbus Defence and Space as prime contractor for operations of Europe’s share of the International Space Station, opting to perform much of the Airbus work itself, European government and industry official said.

The decision, which reverses more than a decade-long trend of commercializing space station functions, was made following ESA assurances that it could do much of what Airbus has done without adding personnel or incurring other costs, officials said.

Read more at: Space News

Massive Space Telescope is Finally Coming Together

This week, NASA is set to reach a milestone on one of its most ambitious projects. If all goes to plan, workers will finish assembling the huge mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope — an $8 billion successor to the famous Hubble telescope.

“So far, everything — knock on wood — is going quite well,” says Bill Ochs, the telescope’s project manager at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The massive mirror is being built in a facility that’s essentially a giant, ultra-clean gymnasium. NPR can’t go inside for risk of contamination, but I meet crew chief Dave Sime at an observation deck where we can see the mirror below. Sime works for the contractor Harris Corp., and he’s normally in there assembling it. When he is, he has to wear a white suit that covers every inch of his body.

Read more at: NPR

Russia Warns of Space Junkyard War

Hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris floating around in Earth’s orbit, known as “Space junk”, could propel the world into serious conflict, Russian scientists have warned.

“This stuff represents a “special political danger” and “may provoke political or even armed conflict between space-faring nations,” explains Vitaly Adushkin of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the journal Astra Astronautica.

Space junk consists of discarded and leftover fragments of man-made objects, such as spent rockets, old satellites, and broken pieces from collisions. It is estimated that there are millions of such fragments, and over 500,000 that are so small they cannot be detected.

Nasa warns, that because these objects are travelling at speeds upto 17,500 mph (28,000 kmph), the minutest fragment has the potential to cause serious damage. “Even tiny paint flecks can damage a spacecraft when travelling at these velocities” said a Nasa spokesperson.

Read more at: Bricplus News

Space Development Program a Blackhole for Public Funds

Last Nov. 24, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. successfully launched an H-IIA F-29 rocket carrying a Canadian communications satellite, marking Japan’s first entry into the commercial satellite market.

More good space-related news came on Dec. 11, when astronaut Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) returned from a five-month stay on the International Space Station (ISS).

Although these developments led many to dream of a bright future for Japan’s space program, an insider in the governing Liberal Democratic Party is more cautious. He says Japan’s space development is in fact a “public works project disguised as science and technology,” and that the future of Japanese-made rockets is by no means bright.

Read more at: Japan Times

The Unfortunate Provincialism of the Space Resources Act

A glance at a globe reveals the geographical modesty of the United States. Although the United States’ influence in world affairs is significant relative to its area on a map, it shares the planet with 195 other countries and, with the ascendency of China and India, may see its power diluted over the coming decades. The narrow-mindedness of the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015 (a subset of the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act )1 is reflected in its exclusion of non-US citizens and companies from extraterrestrial resource rights.

The most likely commercial activity beyond Earth orbit in the near future is the mining of asteroids: Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources (both American companies) have already announced their intentions to do so.2 So long as commercial parties voluntarily stay out of each others’ ways with their asteroid mineral extraction enterprises, property rights in the minerals will go unchallenged.

Read more at: Space Review