These Boots Keep Astronauts From Tripping Over Their Own Feet

MOON MISSION ASTRONAUTS spent a lot of time on their butts. Those moon walks may have looked bouncy and peaceful, but cumbersome space suits had Apollo astronauts tripping and falling all over the place. And while it might seem silly—especially the aftermath, which looks like a kid trying to stand up in a bulky snowsuit—it’s actually pretty dangerous for one of those suits to meet a shard of lunar regolith. That goes double for astronauts exploring Mars, where stronger gravity would mean falling twice as hard onto rocky ground far less forgiving than moon dust.

So to make sure that doesn’t happen, Alison Gibson, graduate researcher at MIT’s Man Vehicle Lab, is testing some newfangled space boots. Since NASA isn’t doing manned moon missions at the moment, astronauts wear soft boots that aren’t made for walking at all—just floating around outside the International Space Station. Those ones are totally rigid below the knee. But even the relatively bendy moon boots won’t cut it anymore.

Read more at: Wired

Orion Crew Module Plumbing to Undergo Proof Pressure Testing

The Orion crew module was moved from a work station to the proof pressure cell in the high bay of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 26 to prepare for testing.

Engineers and technicians with NASA and Orion manufacturer Lockheed Martin, will prepare the crew module for a series of proof pressure and leak tests to confirm the welded joints of the propulsion and Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) tubing are solid and capable of withstanding launch, re-entry and landing.

The Orion propulsion system includes the propellant and thrusters which support deorbit and re-entry of the spacecraft while the ECLSS provides cooling for interior and exterior components on the crew module throughout the mission. Technicians will attach ground support equipment to the propulsion and ECLSS tubing, and use helium to pressurize the tubing to its proof pressure and to higher pressures at which the weld joints will be checked for leakage.

Read more at: NASA

Insider Exclusive: JSC’s Astronaut Office Innovating a Path Forward

A model of NASA’s Orion spacecraft is prominently placed within the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. We sat down with Rick Mastracchio, a four-time spaceflight veteran with more than 227 days on orbit about how the Astronaut Office at JSC is working to make the agency’s new Orion spacecraft more self-sufficient than those that preceded it.

At present, NASA is working to have Orion conduct its second flight in late 2018 (the spacecraft’s first mission, Exploration Flight Test 1, launched on Dec. 5, 2014). The upcoming flight, Exploration Mission 1, will be the first for NASA’s new super-heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System.

NASA and its family of contractors aren’t content with reinventing the wheel, they are looking to develop new, more self-sufficient systems which should be able to handle problems that crews have not had to face in more than four decades.

“We haven’t left low-Earth orbit since 1972, the last Apollo mission, so that’s a big change,” Mastracchio told SpaceFlight Insider. “Some of the changes that I foresee is that we’re going to have probably a much smarter vehicle than what we had on Space Shuttle or Soyuz, or on the Space Station in terms of it will be more autonomous.”

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Losing the Geomagnetic Shield: A Critical Issue for Space Settlement

The geomagnetic field seems to be collapsing. This has happened many times in the deep past, but never since civilization began. One implication is that the cost of space settlement will increase substantially if we do not expedite deployment of initial facilities in low Earth orbit. Another implication, less certain but much more damaging, is that the collapse may lead to catastrophic global cooling before the end of this century. We must establish self-sufficient communities off Earth before that happens.

Read more at: NSS

NASA Approves First Commercial Airlock for Space Station Science and Smallsat Deployment

In a significant move towards further expansion of the International Space Station’s (ISS) burgeoning research and commercial space economy capabilities, NASA has approved the development of the first privately developed airlock and is targeting blastoff to the orbiting lab complex in two years.

Plans call for the commercial airlock to be launched on a commercial cargo vessel and installed on the U.S. segment of the ISS in 2019. It enhances the US capability to place equipment and payloads outside and should triple the number of small satellites like CubeSats able to be deployed. The privately funded commercial airlock is being developed by Nanoracks in partnership with Boeing, which is the prime contractor for the space station.

The airlock will be installed on an open port on the Tranquility module – that already is home to the seven windowed domed Cupola observation deck and the commercial BEAM expandable module built by Bigelow Aerospace.

Read more at: Universe Today

Lockheed Hit by U.S. Air Force for More GPS III Satellite Flaws

Botched testing by a Lockheed Martin Corp. subcontractor on a key component for the U.S.’s newest Global Positioning System satellites raises new questions about the No. 1 defense contractor’s supervision of the project, according to a top Air Force official.

The mistake by subcontractor Harris Corp. forced another delay in the delivery of the first of 32 planned GPS III satellites until later this month, according to Major General Roger Teague, the Air Force’s chief of space programs. That will make the $528 million satellite 34 months late, according to service data.

Lockheed has a contract to build the first 10 of the satellites designed to provide a more accurate version of the Global Positioning System used for everything from the military’s targeting of terrorists to turn-by-turn directions for civilians’ smartphones. The program’s latest setback may affect a pending Air Force decision on whether to open the final 22 satellites to competition from Lockheed rivals Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Read more at: Bloomberg

A Danish Astronaut has Captured the Best-ever Images of Rare Blue Flashes

Scientists don’t know much about the mysterious, powerful electric discharges that sometimes occur in the upper levels of the atmosphere in conjunction with thunderstorms. The first photograph of the phenomenon—which can occur as high as about 90km above the surface of the Earth and are known variously as sprites, pixies, elves, or jets—was only taken from Earth in 1989.

Fortunately for scientists interested in these storms, the International Space Station offers an excellent vantage point at an altitude of about 400km. So Danish researchers devised a “Thor experiment”—named after the hammer-wielding Norse god—to study the phenomenon. As part of the experiment, an astronaut on board the station would image thunderstorms under certain conditions, and these observations would be correlated with data collected by satellites and ground-based radar and lightning detection systems.

It may sound easy to catch a few quick snaps of electrical storms, but given the station’s movement at 28,000km/hour and ephemeral nature of these events, it’s actually quite difficult. Sprites and other features got their other-worldy names precisely because they are so short-lived, lasting on the order of 20 milliseconds.

Read more at: Ars Technica

Why the US and Russia Should Work Together to Clean Up Orbital Debris

Relations between the United States and Russia have been rough the last few years. Controversies range from US sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and Russian threats in response to suspend exports of RD-180 engines to the US, to accusations that Russia intervened in the US presidential election. Given this darkening picture, is there any way that the new U.S. Administration could possibly reverse the negative geopolitical trend lines?

Those worried about geopolitical conflict between the powers should note that US-Russian space relations are still limping along, while other areas of potential cooperation are either frozen or greatly impeded by suspicion and acrimony. For example, despite the 2014 controversy surrounding US imports of Russian RD-180s rocket motors, Congress has eased earlier restrictions on their use.

Other areas of space cooperation between the powers through the years have been more mutually agreeable. Bilateral cooperation dates back to 1972, when the US and the Soviet Union initiated the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which culminated in the July 1975 docking of Soyuz 19 with an Apollo spacecraft. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, a new era of bilateral space collaboration started with the February 1995 flight of a space shuttle, whose crew included Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Titov, to the Mir space station. This was followed by Russian collaboration with the development and operations of the International Space Station (ISS), which continues to this day.

Read more at: Space Review

Russian Space Agency Develops Program to Improve Carrier Rocket Assembly Quality

Russia’s Roscosmos has developed a special program to improve the Soyuz carrier rockets’ quality amid an accident with the Progress cargo spacecraft two months ago. Russia’s state space agency Roscosmos chief said Friday the agency has developed a special program to improve the assembly quality of Soyuz carrier rockets in wake of an accident with the Progress cargo spacecraft two months ago.

“A special program has been developed, which has been perfected with our colleagues, and we understood its necessity,” head of Roscosmos Igor Komarov told the Rossiya-24 broadcaster. Komarov said the program relies on inspections and the likely causes of the December 1 Progress accident in south Siberia.

Read more at: Space Daily

Tianzhou-1: China to Launch its First Space Station Resupply Craft in April

China is set to launch the first test of its Tianzhou-1 cargo and resupply spacecraft in April, in what will be a crucial test of key technologies needed for the country’s future space station.

The 13-tonne Tianzhou-1 will be launched by a new Long March 7 rocket from Wenchang in April, and dock soon after with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab 390 kilometres above the Earth.

The 9m long, 3.35m diameter Tianzhou spacecraft has a 6,500 kg cargo capacity and has been specifically designed for refuelling and resupplying the future Chinese Space Station (CSS), the core module of which will launch in 2018. The main objective of the Tianzhou-1 mission is to test and verify on-orbit transfer of liquid propellant to Tiangong-2, which late last year hosted two astronauts for China’s longest human spaceflight mission so far.

Read more at: GBTimes

Google Remakes the Satellite Business, by Leaving It

Last week, Google pushed one of the most interesting sectors in Silicon Valley toward maturity—and brought a milestone in cartography closer to reality. It accomplished all that, paradoxically, by getting out of the market.

From a business standpoint, here’s the news: Google sold its in-house satellite business, known as Terra Bella, to Planet, Inc. Planet is a startup based in San Francisco that already operates a fleet of 60 orbiting cameras the size of shoeboxes. With the acquisition, Planet is now the de facto leader in the small-satellite space, and it will add Terra Bella’s seven high-resolution satellites to its own constellation of medium-resolution craft.

As part of the deal, Planet will give Google access to its growing archive of imagery for at least the next few years. But the more interesting development has less to do with acquisitions and more with technological capacity. Planet also announced that it will deploy 88 small satellites later this month, as part of a rocket launch from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in southeastern India on February 14. Assuming that most of the spacecraft make it to orbit intact, these satellites should become fully operational by the summer. When that happens, Planet will be the first to hit a long-discussed milestone in the industry: It will photograph every place on the entire planet every day. Every park, every rice paddy, every patch of pine and permafrost: all will be imaged anew, daily, at medium resolution.

Read more at: Atlantic

RSC Energia Plans to Launch CubeSats From Progress Cargo Ships

Rocket and Space Corporation (RSC) Energia (a part of Roscosmos) has plans to involve the leading Russian scientific centers and universities into a project to launch small Cubesat satellites using cargo transportation spacecraft Progress MS.

The project calls for installation of special containers for insertion of small spacecraft into their target orbit on the outer surface of a cargo spacecraft. These might be commercial, educational or applied satellites with the size of up to 6U. Cargo spacecraft Progress MS are launched on a regular basis three times a year within the framework of logistics support for the International Space Station (ISS).

The work is done within the framework of the ISS Russian Segment commercialization effort. Foreign customers may also take part in the program on a commercial basis. The altitude of the satellite injection orbit is 260-410 km, and its inclination is 51.6 deg. Furthermore, when the spacecraft is in free flight, the orbit can be raised up to 500 km.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Re-Entry: Block-2BL Upper Stage

A spent rocket body from a 1988 Molniya launch re-entered the atmosphere on February 7, 2017 after over three decades in orbit.

The Molniya/2BL rocket lifted the classified Kosmos-1966 satellite into orbit, a US-K missile early warning satellite belonging to the Oko program. Molniya lifted the satellite into a highly elliptical orbit around Earth, spending most of its time located high above the Soviet Union to detect incoming ballistic missiles. The satellite itself had a planned mission duration of four years and re-entered in 2005.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Japan’s Kounotori 6 Reenters Earth’s Atmosphere

Japan’s sixth Kounotori spacecraft, also called the H-II Transfer Vehicle or HTV, re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on Feb. 5, 2017, after spending nearly two months in space to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) and test new technologies. 

Re-entry, confirmed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), occurred at 10:06 a.m. EST (15:06 GMT) over the Pacific Ocean. It came just over a week after the spacecraft departed the ISS after spending six weeks attached to the outpost. After unberthing from the ISS, the week-long free flight was supposed to allow Kounotori 6 to test a 2,300-foot (700-meter) long tether called Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment (KITE). It was attached to the outside of the cargo craft and was to be deployed for a week.

Unfortunately, the tether failed to deploy. Teams at JAXA worked all last week to get the tether, made of stainless steel and aluminium, along with a 44-pound (20-kilogram) end-mass to extend. However, time ran out.  KITE was supposed to deploy to its full length back on Jan. 27, 2017, not long after Kounotori 6 departed the space station. It was to spend last week fully extended. A current of no more than 10 milliamps was expected to run through the tether to demonstrate how it could affect the orbit of an object.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Dashboard Camera Captures Bright Green Fireball Streaking Over U.S. Midwest

A brilliant, bright-green meteor blazed through the sky just north of Milwaukee early this morning (Feb. 6), and likely sprinkled space rocks into Lake Michigan.

The falling space rock likely burned up in the sky about 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) north of Milwaukee, or about 100 miles (160 km) north of Chicago, according to the American Meteorological Society (AMS). More than 220 people have filed reports with the AMS claiming to have seen the fireball at about 1:25 a.m. CST (2:25 a.m. EST/0725 GMT), according to the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page.

Most of the eye-witness reports came from people in and around Chicago and Milwaukee, but reports have also come in from witnesses in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, New York, Kentucky, Minnesota and Ontario, according to the AMS website. At least a dozen videos of the fireball racing through the sky have appeared online or have been sent to the AMS, Mike Hankey, operations manager for AMS, told Space.com.

Read more at: Scientific American

X-37B Space Plane Maneuvers into Lower Orbit, likely Precursor to Landing

The ominous X-37B space plane operated in semi-secrecy by the U.S. Air Force may be approaching the end of its fourth mission, indicated by a move to a lower orbit earlier this month that has been a sure sign of an imminent landing on the craft’s first three missions.

OTV-4, as this mission is known, blasted off atop an Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015 to mark the fourth overall flight of the winged spacecraft and the second of this particular X-37B vehicle. As is typical for X-37B missions, only very limited information was released on the flight’s objectives and the mission’s duration was given as a minimum of 200 days.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

U.S. STRATCOM, Belgium Sign Space Situational Awareness Agreement

U.S. Strategic Command agreed to share space situational awareness data with Belgium under an agreement concluded Feb. 7.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Clinton E. Crosier, Strategic Command’s director of plans and policy, signed the agreement with Belgium Federal Science Policy Office on Feb. 7 at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska — USSTRATCOM’s headquarters. His signature followed that of Belgium’s secretary of state for science policy, Elke Sleurs, who signed the agreement in Brussels on July 31.

“For a country such as Belgium having implemented an advanced regulation for space activities, the support from USSTRATCOM is a precious instrument in achieving compliance with our international commitments, as well as a sustainable use of outer space,” Sleurs said in a statement.

Belgium is the latest U.S. ally to agree to share space situational awareness services and information with USSTRATCOM. They join a list that includes the United Kingdom, South Korea, France, Canada, Italy, Japan, Israel, Spain, Germany, Australia and the United Arab Emirates, plus the European Space Agency, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites and more than 50 commercial firms that launch or operate satellites.

Read more at: Space News

Britain Spaceport Legislation Stalled By Brexit

Political wrangling over Brexit — Britain’s decision to leave the European Union — has caused a delay in planned commercial spaceport legislation announced by Queen Elizabeth in her speech to Parliament last May.

The government said there was currently no timetable for the introduction of the bill. Legislation concerning space is reserved to Westminster. The UK’s government’s Department for Transport (DfT) is responsible for the Modern Transport Bill, which would set regulations for driverless cars as well as allowing UK aerodromes to access space. It told BBC Scotland that it had been working hard on the bill but parliamentary time had been limited by events such as Brexit and the discussions over triggering Article 50.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

New ‘Space Poop’ System Could Fly on Orion Deep-Space Mission

A new spacesuit system to flush away astronauts’ poop will likely fly on the first crewed Orion spacecraft flight, NASA said in an interview with Space.com. This means that eager innovators could see their waste collection system fly in space between 2021 and 2023 on “Exploration Mission 2,” or EM-2, which could bring the astronauts out of low-Earth orbit for the first time in half a century.

NASA recently wrapped up an open “space poop challenge” for designs that improve upon the current spacesuit waste collection garment (sometimes referred to as a diaper). Winners will be announced Feb. 16.

Winning designs will be able to flush away poop, urine and menstrual fluid for up to six days without the astronaut needing to use his or her hands. The substances have to be moved away in microgravity (where everything floats, even the gross stuff). Not only that, the new system has to have a design that works for any gender.

Read more at: NBC News

Billionaire Peter Thiel, Rocket Lab and Moon Express Closer to Mining the Moon for Trillions of Dollars in Riches

Last year, Moon Express announced its plans to set up a mine on the moon to bring back precious resources, including metals and moon rocks.

Backed by investors including controversial Trump backer billionaire – and New Zealand citizen – Peter Thiel, it hopes to launch its first craft from Cape Canaveral at the end of this year. The firm this week revealed a new US$20 million (NZ$27m) investment, and claims it is now fully funded for its first launch.

Moon Express will link with Kiwi firm Rocket Lab, founded by CEO Peter Beck, who will use its Electron rocket system to launch three missions to the moon. Co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain told CNBC the latest investment means “Moon Express now has all the capital it needs to land its small robotic spacecraft on the surface of the moon in November or December of 2017.” The company has raised a total of US$45m ($61.8m) from in

Read more at: NZ Herald

Mystery Radiation ‘Clouds’ May Pose Risk to Air Travellers

Danger zones in the air where radiation levels surge could pose an unrecognised health hazard. Airliners may have to avoid these in future, just as they do with volcanic ash clouds, to minimise any risk to travellers and crew.

We have long known that high-altitude flight exposes us to cosmic rays. The radiation dose on a flight from London to Tokyo is roughly equivalent to a chest X-ray. Now research flights have revealed the existence of “clouds” where radiation levels can be at least double the usual level. They were discovered as a result of the NASA-funded Automated Radiation Measurements for Aerospace Safety (ARMAS) programme, which aims to develop new methods of measuring and monitoring high-altitude radiation.

In 265 flights, radiation levels detected generally followed the expected pattern, but in at least six instances they surged, as though the aircraft was flying through a radiation cloud. “We have seen several cases where the exposure is doubled while flying through the cloud,” says ARMAS principal investigator W. Kent Tobiska, of Los Angeles firm Space Environment Technologies. “It is quite variable and can easily be more or less than that.”

Read more at: New Scientist

What it’s Like to Spend a Year Pretending to Live on Mars

Living on Mars would be extremely difficult and very few people understand that better than Carmel Johnston. The environmental scientist for NASA spent a year living inside a cramped dome with five other scientists in a year-long mission to mimic the conditions of living on the Martian land.

Given the incredibly harsh and inhospitable conditions on Mars, any human expedition to the planet would involve living in a small self-contained environment, protected from the elements. But before that ever happens, NASA researchers wanted to study the psychological effects such a lifestyle would have on the astronauts who volunteered to be plonked on Mars for an extended stay.

“Everything from day-to-day life in isolation, they were wanting to learn about,” Johnston said. The 27-year-old was the Commander of the latest Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation Mission (HI-SEAS) and her job was to communicate with mission support about what the crew needed to do each day.

Read more at: NZ Herald

Looking to the Future: Russia, US Mull Post-ISS Cooperation in Space

NASA may have to book seats for American astronauts on Russian Soyuz spaceships in 2018. Radio Sputnik discussed the issue with John Logsdon, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

“The relationship between NASA and the former Soviet Union goes back a long way with the highlight being the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz project. But with Russia taking over, the two countries basically merged their space programs with the launch of the ISS, which has proven very successful,” Professor Logsdon said.

When asked which of the joint US-Russian projects on the ISS he saw as the most important, he said that the mere fact that the US and Russia are the chief partners, along with Europe, Japan and Canada, in managing the space outpost is the real achievement.

Read more at: Space Daily

Isro Set to Launch Record 104 Satellites on 15 February

Indian Space Research Organisation’s (Isro) workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) will carry a record 104 satellites in a single mission on 15 February from the space centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. “PSLV-C37/Cartosat-2 Series Satellite Mission is scheduled to be launched on February 15, 2017 at 9.28 hours IST from SDSC SHAR Sriharikota,” Isro said.

The PSLV, in its 39th flight (PSLV-C37), will launch the 714kg Cartosat-2 series satellite for earth observation along with 103 co-passenger satellites, together weighing about 664kg at lift-off. It will be launched into a 505km polar Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO).

Isro said the co-passenger satellites comprise 101 nano- satellites, one each from Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and 96 from United States of America (USA), as well as two from India.

Read more at: Live Mint

Company to Launch Crewed 2017 Solar Eclipse Balloon Flight, High-Altitude Skydive

A startup near-space ballooning company plans to not only capture spectacular footage of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse over the United States, but also break the high-altitude jump records set by Felix Baumgartner in 2012 and Alan Eustace in 2014.

The company, called Space Unbound, launched a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter today (Feb. 8) to raise $100,000 from backers for its Helios solar eclipse mission and skydive. Space Unbound is planning an eclipse-day launch with three pilots on board: entrepreneur Per Wimmer, who set a world record in 2008 during a tandem skydive off Mount Everest; David Jankowski, CEO of the Students and Teachers In Near Space (SATINS) program; and Joseph Lazukin, a serial entrepreneur who has several tech and marketing companies under his belt.

“Our goal is to safely send three pilots into near space to capture the 2017 total solar eclipse in 360 HD VR aboard the first commercial near-space vehicle,” Space Unbound representatives wrote in their Kickstarter description. The Kickstarter funds will help cover relocation to an alternate launch site in case of bad weather at the company’s main location in Nashville, Tennessee.

Read more at: Space.com

NASA Facility with Deep-space Rocket Takes Direct Hit from a Tornado

A tornado on Tuesday damaged the NASA facility in New Orleans where workers are building key components of the agency’s new deep-space rocket.

The twister touched down before noon and ripped holes in the roof and walls of the sprawling Michoud Assembly Facility. NASA employees and contractors there are building the huge hydrogen and oxygen fuel tanks for the heavy-lift rocket known as the Space Launch System.

A NASA statement said all personnel were accounted for. A damage assessment was underway late Tuesday afternoon. Stephen C. Doering, manager of the SLS Stages Element Office for NASA, told The Washington Post that he was watching the twister from the parking lot when it moved toward the assembly facility. He and his colleagues ran inside to shelter in the restrooms, he said.

Read more at: Washington Post

FAA Commercial Space Conference Takeaways From Bridenstine, Babin, Gerstenmaier, and Stern

Read more at: Space Policy Online

Why is NASA Renting Out its Huge Astronaut Pool? To Keep the Lights Turned On

On a recent February afternoon, I strolled up to a fat, brightly painted yellow line and peered down into a clear, seemingly bottomless pool. Like the mythical sirens of the Homeric Age, the water called to me. As if he read my mind, Kurt Otten hurriedly called out to me. “Please don’t jump in, because this would be the last day on my job.”

Fortunately for the facility manager, I didn’t. But it was hard not to be tempted by the beautiful, blue depths before me. Hotels, health clubs, and other facilities often brag about possessing an Olympic-size swimming pool. That’s cute. At 202 feet in length, a depth of 40 feet, and a total of 6.2 million gallons, about ten Olympic swimming pools would fit into the NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab, or NBL.

There’s one very good reason why the pool was built so big—it had to accommodate segments of the International Space Station during assembly. Before astronauts flew to the station aboard the shuttle, crews would spend exhausting “runs” inside the pool, wearing a combination of weights and flotation devices to simulate the weightlessness of orbit. Then they would practice whatever aspects of station construction there were to do in space.

Read more at: Ars Technica

FAA Commercial Space Office Faces Budget Squeeze

The Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial space office is worried that an anticipated budget increase this year, intended to allow it to hire more staff to keep up with a growing industry, may not be enacted.

In a speech at the 20th Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference here, George Nield, the FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said he was pleased last year when House and Senate versions of a fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill approved a $2 million increase for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), to $19.8 million, included in the overall FAA budget request.

However, those bills did not become law, and the FAA, like most other federal government agencies, is operating through April under a continuing resolution that funds it at its lower fiscal year 2016 level. That creates a problem for AST, which has already hired additional staff in anticipation of that increase.

Read more at: Space News

Is 2017 the Year Human Spaceflight Returns?

To call it a space race at this stage would be odd, not to mention misleading. What we’re seeing now is more like a sprint, or a dash, where all the competitors are holding hands to the finish.

First, both the Europeans and Americans are keen on human spaceflight. And they know they can’t do it alone – nations are pooling resources as much with each other as they are with commercial space enterprises. So much is clear. And as a result it will be a European Service Module that propels NASA’s Orion spacecraft beyond the moon and back in 2018.

But there are further plans to build a second module for another mission, possibly in 2021, that will carry astronauts. If this happens, and no other mob trumps it, the mission will be the first to take humans beyond low orbit since 1972. The mission will be powered by European hardware. It will provide water, thermal control and atmosphere for a crew of up to four astronauts.

Read more at: DW

House Committee to Hold Hearing on NASA’s Past, Present, and Future

The House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold its first NASA hearing of the 115th Congress on February 16.  Two former astronauts (one of whom also is a former U.S. Senator), a former NASA chief scientist, and a former NASA center director and industry executive will discuss NASA’s past, present, and future.

Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced last week that the first space hearing this year would be a “panoramic view” of NASA in order to acquaint the many new members of the committee with NASA’s activities.

The list of witnesses includes Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. Senator Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the only scientist (geology) to have walked on the Moon, and legendary Gemini and Apollo astronaut Lt. Gen. Tom Stafford (Ret.), who currently chairs NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) Advisory Committee.

Schmitt and Gene Cernan, who passed away on January 16, were the last two men to walk on the Moon during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.  He represented New Mexico in the Senate from 1977-1983.  He is a long time advocate of mining Helium-3 on the Moon and using it to fuel fusion reactors on Earth.  He chaired the NASA Advisory Council when Mike Griffin was NASA Administrator (2005-2009).  Stafford flew on two Gemini missions (VI and IX) and the Apollo 10 mission that orbited the Moon in preparation for the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

Read more at: Space Policy Online

Here’s Why a Commercial Space Group Endorsed NASA’s SLS Rocket

This week, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which counts rocket builders SpaceX and Blue Origin among its executive members, made news by declaring its support for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. The organization’s new chairman, Alan Stern, announced during a conference that “we see many benefits in the development of NASA’s SLS.” This caused a stir in the commercial space community.

Later, during an interview with Ars, Stern explained that the commercial space organization has, in the past, engaged in a “bruising battle” over the government’s massive rocket and its influential prime contractor Boeing. The commercial space industry group (of which Boeing is not a member) contended the private sector could deliver the same capability as the SLS for far less than the $2 billion NASA has spent annually this decade to develop the rocket. The SLS will initially be able to heft 70 metric tons to low Earth orbit, but that could grow to 130 metric tons by the late 2020s.

Read more at: Ars Technica

UK Space Agency Announces £10 Million Scheme to Develop Commercial Spaceflight Launch Capabilities

The UK Space Agency has announced it has made grants worth £10 million available in a scheme designed to help develop commercial launch capability for spaceflight – a market that is worth an estimated £25 billion over the next 20 years.

The funding comes as the UK government released the timeline for new legislation which will promote and regulate commercial spaceflight. To help facilitate the government’s ambitions for the UK to hold a greater share of the commercial spaceflight market, interested parties have been asked to develop competitive, commercial and safe spaceflight proposals for UK-based satellite launch services and sub-orbital flights.

Businesses expected to bid for a share of the newly allocated funding are likely to be joint enterprises of launch vehicle operators and potential launch sites. Discussing the scheme, Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said, “spaceflight offers the UK the opportunity to build on our strengths in science, research and innovation. It provides opportunities to expand into new markets, creating highly-skilled jobs and boosting local economies across the country. That is why it is one of the key pillars of our Industrial Strategy.”

Read more at: Room.Eu

Do We Need to Establish a Police Force in Space?

On January 27, 1967, the United States, United Kingdom and then-Soviet Union, signed the Outer Space Treaty. The short, 17-article document serves as a “constitution” for the worlds beyond Earth’s atmosphere. It was ratified October 10 of the same year, which places us in the midst of a yearlong 50th anniversary celebration. To date, 105 countries have since signed it.

The treaty boasts a half-century of success, but with countries expanding and intensifying their exploration missions, private companies commercializing space travel, and an increasingly hostile international political environment, can humanity be trusted to continue a peaceful co-existence in outer space?

Read more at: Ny Post

House Ready to Introduce New 2017 Spending Bills

House appropriators are ready to move ahead with spending bills for 2017 that should provide near-term stability for NASA’s current programs.

In a speech Feb. 7 at a Space Transportation Luncheon here, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), chairman of the commerce, justice and science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee, said a new version of a spending bill that funds NASA and other agencies for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year should be released soon.

“We’re basically done with our bill,” Culberson said. “The bill is largely agreed to. I just need a green light to go forward” and formally introduce the bill, he said. “The CJS bill is literally there, ready to go.”

Read more at: Space News

Trump Advisers’ Space Plan: To Moon, Mars and Beyond

The Trump administration is considering a bold and controversial vision for the U.S. space program that calls for a “rapid and affordable” return to the moon by 2020, the construction of privately operated space stations and the redirection of NASA’s mission to “the large-scale economic development of space,” according to internal documents obtained by POLITICO.

The proposed strategy, whose potential for igniting a new industry appeals to Trump’s business background and job-creation pledges, is influencing the White House’s search for leaders to run the space agency. And it is setting off a struggle for supremacy between traditional aerospace contractors and the tech billionaires who have put big money into private space ventures.

“It is a big fight,” said former Republican Rep. Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, who drafted the Trump campaign’s space policy and remains involved in the deliberations. “There are billions of dollars at stake. It has come to a head now when it has become clear to the space community that the real innovative work is being done outside of NASA.”

Read more at: Politico

Bridenstine Defends Intervening in DARPA’s RSGS Program, OrbitalATK Sues

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., defended intervening in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program because he didn’t want the program, and its potential commercial capability, to denigrate into the bitter feud that permeates the United Launch Alliance (ULA) versus Space Exploration Technology (SpaceX) battle. Bridenstine told an industry audience Wednesday that though he co-signed a Jan. 25 letter to DARPA Acting Director Steven Walker asking the program to be paused until it is reviewed for compliance with the 2010 National Space Policy, he doesn’t want to hold up the program because capabilities like robotic servicing and maintenance and refueling in orbit are critical capabilities to the United States that aren’t being provided commercially.

“[DARPA] doing a robotic demonstration is one thing, commercializing it is something else,” Bridenstine said at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-Commercial Space Federation (CSF) conference in Washington. “I think we need to distinguish between the two.”

Read more at: Satellite Today

Private Space Company Sues to Stop DARPA’s Robotic Satellite Serviceman

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) this week chose a commercial partner to build a satellite that can make service calls to other spacecraft, sparking a lawsuit from a rival firm claiming it has a similar program in the works.

DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites program, known as RSGS, is one of three development efforts intended to kick-start a new industry for the repair and servicing of satellites in orbit.

RSGS focuses on satellites in geosynchronous orbits, or GEO, located some 22,300 miles above Earth. At that altitude, satellites closely match Earth’s rotational speed so they remain in a relatively fixed position, an ideal perch for providing communications, meteorology other services. Once a satellite is in orbit, however, technical issues can be difficult to diagnose, much less repair, sometimes forcing multimillion-dollar spacecraft to be abandoned. Satellites also can become obsolete and even the most productive birds will eventually run out of fuel to maneuver.

Read more at: Seeker

What Everyone Gets Wrong about Black History in the Space Age

A few weeks ago, Hidden Figures, the story about African-American women who helped get Apollo astronauts to the Moon, was overtaking and holding the box office lead. This real-life story of Black history in the Space Age supplanted the science fiction space adventure Rogue One and is holding its own, which should be no surprise. But the story and its success is a surprise. Hidden Figures revealed a part of NASA history that had been left out of the story we usually tell about the Space Age. Space exploration has been about people as well as about machines, and Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson didn’t make it into the history books until recently. History books got that wrong, until now.

At the same time this film was telling this eye-opening story of Black history, the Huffington Post, Yahoo!, Economic Times, and others ran stories about the first African-American International Space Station crew member, who is scheduled to launch for an extended stint aboard the station in 2018. These and other media outlets claimed that Jeanette Epps will be the first African-American sent to the space station or to board ISS.

The media got that wrong.

Read more at: Scientific American

It’s Vital to Verify the Harmlessness of North Korea’s Next Satellite

A few short years ago I stood within spitball range of what purported to be North Korea’s “peaceful Earth observation” satellite. As part of a small cadre of foreign journalists, I was there, for my client NBC News, to be shown the launch of the satellite and the proof it was not military in nature.

We had made the three-hour train ride from Pyongyang to the far northwest corner of the country, where the Sohae space launch base was located. No foreigner had ever been there before, and none has visited since.

And among that group, I was the only real “rocket scientist”: a professional spaceflight engineer. I’d been with the space shuttle program for 30 years at Mission Control in Houston, and now, retired, I was a “space consultant” for NBC News. An hour after seeing the dolly-mounted satellite, we were on a football-field-sized concrete apron, walking to within slingshot range of the rocket that was to carry it into orbit in a few days. Then it was back to our hotel in Pyongyang to await the call to actually watch the launch, probably on television.

Read more at: Space Review

Turkey Developing Long-range Ballistic Missile

Turkey is constructing its first long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile system, the country’s government disclosed.

The missile system, known as Bora, is being developed by Turkish weapons manufacturer Roketsan to meet the “long rage-range surface-to-surface missile requirement” for the country’s ground forces, IHS Janes reported quoting Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defense Industries.

Bora translates to “storm” in the Turkish language. Turkish English-language newspaper Daily Sabah reports the system has been under development since 2009, and work on the project is being conducted domestically. The country’s defense officials did not disclose information on the missile’s range or other capabilities.

Read more at: Space Daily

The Coming War in Space

Gen. David Goldfein, the fighter pilot who now serves as the Air Force’s top officer, had an unorthodox priority on his mind when he and the rest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sat down for their first meeting with President Donald Trump on Jan. 27 to outline for the incoming commander in chief their top operational concerns.

“We talked about space more than any other topic,” Goldfein recalls from that session in “the Tank,” the Pentagon’s secure facility for top-level meetings, “because there’s this debate going on now, and will go on for the remainder of this year: Where are we headed in the business of space?”

The debate centers on the 73 trillion cubic miles spanning everything from a few hundred miles above the Earth’s surface to the farthest reaching satellites 22,000 miles out. It’s a domain over which the U.S. claims it must continue to be the principal governing power if space is to remain a peaceful commons. And it involves both protecting orbiting U.S. assets as well as ensuring the safety of the vital military and commercial information they convey to Earth.

Read more at: US News