Falcon 9 Rocket Launch Scrubbed Until Thursday

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch planned for Wednesday evening has been pushed back to Thursday. Windy weather kept the rocket on the pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Satellite operator SES has been waiting since summertime to launch. The satellite, called SES-9, will provide service to Southeast Asia with high-speed Internet and high-definition television.

The launch window opens at 6:46 p.m. EST Thursday at Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The window closes at 8:23 p.m.

Read more at: BayNews9

Virgin Galactic Unveils New SpaceShipTwo Unity for Space Tourists

Virgin Galactic rolled out the second-ever SpaceShipTwo today (Feb. 19) here at the Mojave Air & Space Port, a facility that lies in the shadow of desert mountains about 90 miles (150 kilometers) north of Los Angeles. The unveiling ceremony featured blaring music, deep blue lighting, cocktails and the company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, riding atop the SUV that towed the vehicle into view. The voice of famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking boomed over a loudspeaker and revealed the brand-new suborbital commercial vehicle’s name—VSS (for Virgin Spaceship) Unity.

Today’s big event comes more than 15 months after the loss of the original SpaceShipTwo, which was called VSS Enterprise.

Read more at: Scientific American

Reusable Space Rockets: How Close Are We?

Successful rocket launches are often described as ‘controlled explosions’, in which tonnes of highly energetic propellant are brought together in combustion chambers to produce thrust.

Europe’s Ariane 5, for example, carries up to 200 tonnes of liquid propellant in its tanks and another 240 tonnes in its solid propellant boosters. That’s enough to lift 800 tonnes vertically off a launch pad (exceeding the top speed of a Bugatti Veyron within seven seconds) and deliver a 20-tonne space station supply vehicle to orbit a few minutes later. Anyone lucky enough to experience such an impressive defeat of the Earth’s gravitational pull would agree that the workhorses of the commercial space industry are spectacular in their operation.

The problem is that – as the term ‘expendable launch vehicle’ admits – every part of these carefully and expensively-built rockets is thrown away during each delivery operation. This is akin to flying a brand new Boeing 737 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, offloading the passengers, and then dumping the aircraft in the Pacific Ocean, which is pretty much what the space launch industry has been doing since Sputnik bleeped its way into the Space Age.

Read more at: Engineering and Technology

Progress Continues on Midland’s Newest Industry

Krysti Papadopoulos, payload engineer with XCOR Aerospace, told a gathering at the Petroleum Museum’s monthly Lunch and Learn program that Midland’s history in exploring for natural resources makes space exploration a natural fit for the Tall City.

Another benefit is that the area’s numerous engineers and technicians have skills that can easily transfer to aerospace.

As the company moves forward with its development of the Lynx Mark I spacecraft — which will take customers on a 30- to 40-minute ride from Midland International Air & Space Port into suborbital, black space and back again — more positions will open up in areas such as marketing and procurement.

Read more at: Midland Reporter

Crews of New Expedition to ISS Start Examination Training Outside Moscow

Comprehensive examination training for the main and back-up crews of the next expedition to the International Space Station (ISS) has started at the Cosmonaut Training Center outside Moscow, the center’s spokesman said on Wednesday.

“On February 24, the main crew is working on the simulator of the Russian segment of the ISS while the back-up crew is working on the simulator of the Soyuz TMA-M manned transport spacecraft. On February 25, the crews will change places,” the center’s spokesman said.

During the examinations, the cosmonauts will have to manage a number of emergency situations. As Deputy Head of the Cosmonaut Training Center Valery Korzun said, examination papers include situations that are most frequently encountered in flight and pose the most serious danger for crews.

Read more at: TASS

Study Finds Surprising Variability in Shape of Van Allen Belts

The shape of the two electron swarms 600 miles to more than 25,000 miles from the Earth’s surface, known as the Van Allen Belts, could be quite different than has been believed for decades, according to a new study of data from NASA’s Van Allen Probes that was released Friday in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

“The shape of the belts is actually quite different depending on what type of electron you’re looking at,” said Geoff Reeves of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Intelligence and Space Research Division and lead author on the study. “Electrons at different energy levels are distributed differently in these regions.”

Understanding the shape and size of the belts, which shrink and swell in response to magnetic storms coming from the sun, is crucial for protecting our technology in space.

Read more at: Phys.org

SpaceX Wins 5 New Space Station Cargo Missions in NASA Contract Estimated at $700 Million

NASA has awarded five additional space station cargo-supply missions to SpaceX in a late-December contract with an undisclosed value that industry officials estimate at around $700 million.

The contract, signed just before Christmas, was not announced at the time by either party but has been confirmed by both. It brings to 20 the number of missions now assigned to SpaceX under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract first signed in 2008.

In contrast, the other company performing CRS missions, Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, has been assigned just 10 flights and was not part of the end-year orders.

Read more at: Space News

Boeing Tests Starliner Spacecraft at NASA Langley

Engineers from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Boeing dropped a full-scale test article of the company’s CST-100 Starliner into Langley’s 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin.

Although the spacecraft is designed to land on land, Boeing is testing the Starliner’s systems in water to ensure astronaut safety in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch or ascent. Testing allows engineers to understand the performance of the spacecraft when it hits the water, how it will right itself and how to handle rescue and recovery operations.

Read more at: SpaceRef

ArianeSpace’s Record-Setting Year

Arianespace, the main European launch provider, had a record-breakingly successful year in 2015 and is projected to be as successful, if not more so, in 2016. During 2015, the company was able to successfully break the world record for the mass of payload injected into geostationary orbit. The company also launched 12 vehicles in 12 months
and won contracts for commercial space launches totaling over 2.5 billion euros ($2.7 billion USD), both of which broke company records for success.

Arianespace broke multiple records over the course of 2015. The company broke the record for the largest total mass of payload injected into geostationary orbit in one year, an amount greater than 50 tons. This was accomplished by launching 12 vehicles in 12 months, also a record-setting feat, all of which were launched from the Guiana Space Center (CSG).

Read more at: The Avion

NASA Asks People to Help its Humanoid Robot See Better

In its bid to help astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) focus on key space research, NASA is asking coders to create algorithms for Robonaut 2 or R2 that will improve its 3D vision to maintain the orbiting laboratory.

The “Robonaut Vision Tool Manipulation” contest offers a total of $10,000 in prizes for the best algorithms to help the first humanoid robot on the ISS see better.

Serving as an extra set of hands for ISS crew members, R2 is looking to help with the more mundane or repetitive tasks that are required for maintaining the million-pound laboratory — freeing up its human colleagues for critical science and repair work.

Read more at: Zee News

NASA Gets Record Number of Applicants for 2017 Astronaut Class

Thousands of Americans applied for the next NASA astronaut class, breaking the record set in 1978.

NASA says more than 18,300 people applied to join the 2017 astronaut class, far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978 and more than three times the number of applications received in 2012.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former astronaut. “A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft.”

Read more at: BayNews9

Can Bigelow Create a Life for Humans in Space?

Turn down Skywalker Way, then make a left on Warp Drive. A hangarlike facility is there, huge, as a hangar should be. Inside, a tall mustachioed gentleman in a baggy gray pinstriped suit stands idly. He owns the facility and everything around it. He also owns the Budget Suites of America a few miles away, down near the Las Vegas Strip. That’s just part of his empire, that budget hotel, along with a whole chain of others scattered across the Southwest.

But we’re not here to talk budget hotels. We’re here to talk about the future, and a different kind of accommodations entirely: one that can be folded up, bundled onto a rocket, shot into space, expanded, and lived in. We’re here because Robert Bigelow—low-key billionaire, space entrepreneur, avowed believer in extraterrestrials—has invited us into this warehouse to show off his blow-up space home.

Read more at: PopSci

NASA and the Amazing Space Printer

If you have ever struggled getting hold of a spare part for an appliance, consider the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), where deliveries are not exactly regular, and postage is rather extortionate.

There has only ever been one way to get something into space: blast it up there. It is expensive – every ounce of weight costs thousands of pounds. If we are ever going to survive in space, this simply will not do. Sooner or later, we are going to have to start making things without relying on Earth.

The first step of this inspiringly significant process was unveiled recently by Nasa at its research park in Silicon Valley. On 23 March, a 3D printer will be blasted up to the six-strong crew in the ISS. It will be used to make spare parts, as well as experiments.

A prototype printer – the first manufacturing device ever in space – has already been trailed by the ISS crew. This new model, however, will see the project move into being fully operational.

Read more at: BBC

Here are the Projects Under Development from Space Tourism Companies

Later this month in Mojave, California, Virgin Galactic is preparing to roll out its new SpaceShipTwo, a vehicle the company hopes will one day take tourists to the edge of space.

It comes roughly 15 and a half months since an earlier incarnation was destroyed in a test flight, killing one of the pilots. Despite the setback, the dream of sending tourists to the edge of space and beyond is still alive. Space tourism companies are employing designs including winged vehicles, vertical rockets with capsules and high-altitude balloons.

A look at projects currently under development.

Read more at: AU News

China is Racing to Make the 2020 Launch Window to Mars

Nasa’s Mars 2020 mission may well have company along the way, with teams in China working urgently to ready their first independent mission to the Red Planet.

“We are aiming to use the launch window of 2020,” says Dr Wu Ji, director-general of the National Space Science Centre (NSSC) in Beijing. “If we miss that window, it will be 2022. So it is quite urgent.”

The NSSC is managing the development and integration of all the science payloads for China’s Mars Mission, which will, ambitiously, combine an orbiter, lander and a rover.

Read more at: GBTimes

Large-ish Meteor Hits Earth… But No One Notices

If a space rock hits the atmosphere, and no one is around to hear it, does the tabloid press still report it as an Earth-shattering event? Of course! This pretty much summarizes a large-ish meteor impact over the South Atlantic Ocean, which occurred on Feb. 6, and was recorded by the Fireball and Bolide Reports page of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program.

This recent Feb. 6 event unleashed an energy equivalent of 13,000 tons of TNT exploding instantaneously (a.k.a. a “13 kiloton” explosion); the Chelyabinsk impact ripped through the Ural Mountain skies with a whopping energy of 440 kilotons.

Initially noticed by NASA’s Ron Baalke and then investigated by Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, it quickly became clear that the high-altitude impact was likely caused by a chunk of space rock approximately 5-7 meters (16-23 ft) wide

Read more at: Discovery News

New Research Explores Asteroid Deflection Using Spacecraft to Crash into Body at High Speeds

Asteroids headed for a collision with the Earth, if found early enough, can be acted upon to prevent the potentially devastating consequences of an impact. One technique to divert an asteroid, called kinetic impact, uses a spacecraft to crash into the body at high speeds.

This approach delivers the momentum of the spacecraft, while also providing an additional boost of momentum through the production of impact crater ejecta exceeding the asteroid’s escape velocity. Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have been studying the effectiveness of the kinetic-impactor strategy by carrying out 3D simulations of the process.

In a new paper published in Icarus (link is external), LLNL planetary defense researchers find that asteroid deflection by kinetic impact is sensitive to a range of asteroid characteristics, including strength, porosity, rotation and shape. These and other asteroid properties may not be well constrained before an actual deflection mission is staged, leading to variability in the deflection outcome.

Read more at: Phys.org

Tamil Nadu College Disputes NASA Findings, Says Meteorite Killed Man

It was indeed a meteorite that killed a driver in an engineering college in Vellore and shattered the window panes of buildings and buses, the Tiruchirapalli-based National College categorically said on Monday.

“We have issued a report saying it was indeed a meteorite that fell inside the Bharathidasan Engineering College,” principal K Anbarasu of the National College told IANS from Trichy, around 350 km from Chennai.

The National College released its report after studying the object recovered from the Bharathidasan Engineering College in Vellore district. The report effectively negates the findings of US space agency Nasa that said the object recovered from the site does not look like a meteorite.

Read more at: Times of India

India’s Heavy-lift Rocket on Track for December Debut Following Engine Test

After a third and final ground test of its newest cryogenic upper stage engine Feb. 19,  India’s Space Research Organisation has said it is confident of launching its heavy-lift rocket this December.

“The most powerful version of ISRO’s  Geostationary Launch Vehicle  (GSLV Mark-3)  will use the new home-made Cryo CE-20 Engine that has been qualified,” ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik told SpaceNews.

The GSLV Mark-3, also known as LVM3, can put into orbit communications satellite weighing 4,000 kilograms — roughly twice the payload that GSLV Mark-2 and its domestically built CE-7.5-powered upper stage can deliver to geostationary transfer orbit

Read more at: Space News

Cargo Ship Filled with Garbage is Released from the ISS

It arrived at the International Space Station filled with food, clothes, cameras, virtual reality goggles and scientific equipment for astronauts on board.

Now two months since docking, the Cygnus cargo vessel has been launched back into space, this time packed full of garbage. The capsule, built by private space company Orbital ATK, was pushed out into the emptiness of space using a large robotic arm on the space station as it flew above Bolivia.

The spaceship, which was named SS Deke Slayton II after one of Nasa’s original astronauts, will burn up in the atmosphere during re-entry.

Read more at: Daily Mail

How ‘Burning’ Asteroids Dispatch Shooting Stars to Earth

An international team has constructed the first-ever model to observe how near-Earth objects (NFOs) or asteroids destroy when they reach closer to the Sun, leaving dazzling meteor showers for sky gazers on Earth.

The researchers from Finland, France, the US and the Czech Republic found an excellent agreement between the model and the observed population of NEOs when they eliminated asteroids that spend too much time within about 10 solar diameters of the Sun.

This study suggests that the parent objects were completely destroyed when they came too close to the Sun – leaving behind streams of meteors but no parent NEOs.

Read more at: Zee News

EU Taking Closer Antitrust Look at Airbus Safran Launchers’ Arianespace Purchase

European antitrust authorities appear poised to withhold immediate approval of the purchase by Airbus Safran Launchers of the French government’s stake in launch-service provider Arianespace pending an investigation that could last for several months, European industry officials said.

The investigation by the European Commission’s Competition Directorate-General (DG-Comp) appears to have been slowed by concerns that the Airbus satellite manufacturing division could get preferential treatment by an Airbus Safran Launchers-owned Arianespace unless specific preventive measures were taken.

Read more at: Space News

Japan to Join Space-debris Monitoring Effort

Japan will collaborate with the U.S. and others to monitor the skies for orbiting space debris, suspicious satellites and other objects, sharing its data with international partners.

The U.S. is working on a framework for sharing data on objects in orbit with the U.K., Australia and Canada — already Washington’s partners on space defense — as well as with France and Germany. Scanning the skies from a larger number of points around the globe will help prevent oversights and make for more precise observations. The U.S. signed an agreement with Japan on space-debris monitoring in 2013 and has been calling for greater sharing of information for national security purposes.

Japan’s Self-Defense Forces will set up optical telescopes and radar facilities by fiscal 2022.

Read more at: Asia.Nikkei

Space Tourism Projects at a Glance

[XCOR Aerospace] has spent years developing a rocket plane named Lynx that is intended to be capable of making multiple flights each day with a pilot and one passenger aboard.

Unlike Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, the Lynx will take off under its own power from a runway, climb toward space and then glide back to a runway landing. XCOR also plans flights surpassing an altitude of 62 miles.

In December, the company said it reached a milestone in development of the Lynx propulsion system by successfully using waste heat to drive essential engine parts, eliminating the need for large and heavy tanks of compressed gas.

Read more at: Midland Development Corp

Last Week, I Went to Space

Last week, I rode a rocket-powered plane into space. We thundered down a runway at the Mojave Air & Space Port, then pointed the nose nearly straight up and hurtled toward the stars. As we climbed, the sky started darkening—and out the window to my right, the horizon flipped 90 degrees to the left.

Up, and up, and up we went, the cockpit’s altimeter whirling in dizzying circles. We passed 50,000 feet, and then 60,000 feet, and then—

“We just cracked the sound barrier,” said Erik Anderson, who was sitting to my left and gracefully nudging the spaceplane upward. “We’re at Mach 1.3, accelerating…straight up through 80,000 feet now.”

Read more at: National Geographic

How a Former Astronaut Plans to use Balloons to Take People to the Edge of Space

To get to outer space, one needs a multi-stage rocket. But to get close to space – an altitude above the Earth’s atmosphere, where the curvature of the Earth becomes visible and the blackness of space can be seen during the day – there are a few different options.

Some companies are testing reusable single-stage rockets. Others are usingspaceplanes that can be carried to launch altitude by larger planes, then boosted into the upper atmosphere under their own power. And then there’s World View, a near-space exploration company that plans to send people to 20 miles above the surface of the Earth in capsules suspended from high-altitude balloons.

Read more at: CS Monitor

Space Brewer Lets Astronauts Make Real Coffee in a Cup

Technically, there is coffee on board the station, but it’s made by squeezing hot water into a pouch of custom blended, freeze-dried coffee, and sipped through a straw. It only barely clears the bar for being a comforting drink, and no savory coffee smell makes it through that bag, either.

But thanks to a new version of a specially designed cup sent to ISS last year, astronauts now have the ability to brew a fresh cup of coffee.

Astronaut Kjell Lindgren demonstrated space’s first “pour-over-style” coffee in a video uploaded Friday by NASA. Drew Wollman, a materials and mechanical engineer at Portland State University and IRPI, LLC, along with IRPI senior scientist Mark Weislogel, designed and produced the brewer in only one week last April after he met up with Lindgren in Houston and learned how to use the space cup. Lindgren inquired whether there was any way to brew a drink directly into the cup, rather than squeeze it in from a pouch.

Read more at: PopSci

Discovery of New Iron Oxides Points to Large Oxygen Source Inside the Earth

Using a special high-pressure chamber, scientists have discovered two new iron oxides in experiments at DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III and other facilities. The discovery points to a huge, hitherto unknown oxygen source in the lower mantle of the Earth. The team led by Dr. Elena Bykova from the University of Bayreuth reports its results in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Iron oxides in nature take on different forms. “The most common iron oxide is hematite, Fe2O3, which is the end product of many geological processes and the main source of iron for our civilization,” explains Bykova. During the past five years, however, scientists have discovered other iron oxides like Fe4O5, Fe5O6, and Fe13O19 that form at high pressures and temperatures.

Read more at: Space Daily

Luxembourg to Launch Framework to Support the Future Use of Space Resources

The Luxembourg Government has announced a series of measures to position Luxembourg as a European hub in the exploration and use of space resources. Amongst the key steps undertaken will be the development of a legal and regulatory framework confirming certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted in space from Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) such as asteroids.

Luxembourg is the first European country to announce its intention to set out a formal legal framework which ensures that private operators working in space can be confident about their rights to the resources they extract, i.e. rare minerals from asteroids. Such a legal framework will be worked out in full consideration of international law. Luxembourg is eager to engage with other countries on this matter within a multilateral framework.

Read more at: National Space Society Blog

Most Massive Space Storm on Record May Have Been Overhyped

In 1859, a massive space storm hit Earth, frying telegraph communications in the United States and Europe. Bright aurorae shone worldwide, and astronomers concluded that the so-called Carrington event (named after the U.K. astronomer Richard Carrington, who discovered it) had affected the entire globe. But new findings suggest instead that relatively few spots on Earth were hit by the storm.

To make the discovery, scientists analyzed the impact of two similar but less intense storms in 2003 and 2005. Like Carrington, both were caused when a ball of hot, electrically charged gas from the sun slammed into Earth’s magnetic field (artist’s impression above), temporarily weakening it, creating worldwide aurorae and taking out all the power in Sweden’s third-largest city in one case. Both recent storms weakened Earth’s magnetic field after just minutes, according to solar readings from satellites and magnetic strength readings from ground sensors. It would have taken more than an hour for a space storm to affect the field everywhere on Earth.

Read more at: Science Magazine

Air Force will Move Off Russian Engines, General Says

Make no mistake, the Air Force doesn’t want to use Russian-made rocket engines, a top general said Friday.

“The DoD is absolutely committed to transitioning off the RD-180. There should be no doubt,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, the commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

The Russian-made RD-180 engines are currently being used by United Launch Alliance, a joint Boeing-Lockheed Martin organization that has many of the defense contracts for launching U.S. military satellites and equipment into space.

Some members of Congress, led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., don’t want the Air Force relying on a company that needs the Russian engines to reach space, and have debated introducing legislation into the defense budget that would limit how many engines the company could buy for military launches.

Read more at: Defense News