Hearing: Regulating Space: Innovation, Liberty, and International Obligations

On March 8, at 10:00 a.m. EST, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing titled Regulating Space: Innovation, Liberty, and International Obligations. The purpose of this hearing is to examine U.S. international obligations in light of new and innovative space activities.   Live streaming will be available on the committee’s website and YouTube.

Read more at: Spaceref

SpaceX Wants to Launch 12,000 Satellites

SpaceX has filed a new application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for approval to launch a constellation of 7,518 satellites to provide communications in the little used V band.

The system is in addition to  another constellations of 4,425 satellites (plus orbital spares) SpaceX proposed in November that would operate in the Ku and Ka bands. In total, the two constellations would have 11,943 spacecraft plus spares. “When combined into a single, coordinated system, these ‘LEO’ and ‘VLEO’ constellations will enable SpaceX to provide robust broadband services on a full and continuous global basis,” SpaceX said in its application.

Competitor OneWeb has submitted a new application that would add an additional 2,000 satellites capable of operating in the V-band to its planned constellation of 720 satellites.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Spaceflight Reschedules Launch of 89 Satellites

While Elon Musk keeps adding missions to the moon and Mars to SpaceX’s already crowded launch manifest, a Seattle company has been forced to find alternative rides to space for 89 satellites originally booked to launch on a Falcon 9 booster.

The small spacecraft were set to be deployed using Spaceflight’s SHERPA carrier, which would have been a secondary payload on Taiwan’s Formosat-5 satellite. The launch was originally scheduled for the end of 2015, but it recently suffered yet another delay.

“We found each of our customers an alternative launch that was within the same time frame,” [Spaceflight’s President, Curt ] Blake wrote. “It took a huge effort, but within two weeks, the team hustled to have all customers who wanted to be rebooked confirmed on other launches!”

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Richard Branson Starting a New Venture Dedicated to Launching Small Satellites into Space

The celebrity space tourists that Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic plans to shoot into space in the coming years may get most of the attention. But over the past couple of years he’s been increasingly focused on another space venture — one that would launch small satellites into orbit.

Now Virgin Galactic officials have decided to break off the satellite launcher program and make it its own company. Called Virgin Orbit, the California-based firm is seeking to enter a market that has attracted a lot of interest in recent years as satellites, once huge and expensive, have shrunk in size and cost.

The new company is to be led by Dan Hart, who spent 34 years at Boeing, where he most recently ran its satellite programs. In a statement, Branson said the new venture fits into his ethos of opening up the cosmos “by manufacturing vehicles of the future, enabling the small satellite revolution, and preparing commercial space flight for many more humans to reach space and see our home planet.”

Read more at: Washington Post

Virgin Orbit SmallSat Launch Venture Takes Over LauncherOne Operation as Test Flights Approach

Virgin’s LauncherOne air-launched space rocket is now operated under its own company, Virgin Orbit, the firm announced on Thursday. Virgin Orbit will be tasked with the development, manufacture and operation of LauncherOne, hoped to become a prime contender on the small satellite launch market.

“I’m thrilled that our small satellite launch service has now progressed to the point it merits the formation of its own company,” said Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson. Virgin Group’s Galactic Ventures now includes three companies – Virgin Galactic as the operator of SpaceShipTwo that will enable humans to travel to the edge of space and back, The Spaceship Company as the manufacturing arm in charge of SpaceShipTwo production, and finally Virgin Orbit operating the LauncherOne project.

Giving LauncherOne its own spin-off company places primary focus on putting the LauncherOne project into a posture to “offer flexible, routine and low cost launch services for small satellites.”

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Virgin Orbit Seen as Boost for Long Beach After Aircraft Plants Close

Long Beach may still be a place where flying machines and other high-tech products are built, even if factories where thousands of workers assemble big jets are a relic of the past.

That’s the prospect after Thursday’s announcement that a new company called Virgin Orbit would be formed to build rockets that officials hope will transform space launches into a relatively inexpensive venture.

The company, however, is new in name only. The team, part of billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, had already been active in Long Beach for about two years.

Virgin Group now has three companies focused on different aspects of private spaceflight, an industry where high-profile billionaires such as Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are furthering the cause of space travel as being something private enterprises, not just superpower governments, can do.

Read more at: Presstelegram

Space Squadron Supports Record-breaking Satellites Launch

The 20th Space Control Squadron’s Charlie Crew successfully tracked India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle Feb. 15. Loaded with 104 satellites, the Indian PSLV set the record for the most spacecraft launched by a single rocket. “This launch is important because we want to ensure our national assets aren’t impacted,” said Lt. Col. Raj Agrawal, 20th SPCS commander. “Part of our role in space superiority is we have to ensure we’re always ready to respond, whether the risk is accidental or intentional.”

Using the world’s most powerful phased-array radar, the space surveillance squadron uses an integrated team of military and civilian Airmen to track an estimated 23,000 near-Earth and deep-space objects each day. The AN/FPS-85 is the only phased array radar capable of tracking objects 40,000 kilometers away. As objects orbit the earth, the AN/FPS-85 radar sweeps for debris within its field of view. If objects are not identified and tracked, they can be a risk for other satellites as well as the crew aboard the International Space Station.

“This launch presented a unique challenge for us to track since it was the highest amount of payloads released by a single launch vehicle,” said Capt. Isaiah Montemayor, flight commander of weapons, tactics and training. “It lacked predictability due to the high number of small satellites, which made them difficult to detect.”

Due to the magnitude of the Indian PSLV launch, three weeks of planning and testing were required before operational execution. The space surveillance team prepared for several possible outcomes, including collisions, which have the potential of creating thousands of pieces of hazardous debris.

Read more at: Eglin Airforce

Astronauts’ Brains Change Shape During Spaceflight

MRIs before and after space missions reveal that astronauts’ brains compress and expand during spaceflight, according to a University of Michigan study. The findings could have applications for treating other health conditions that affect brain function, says principal investigator Rachael Seidler, U-M professor of kinesiology and psychology.

The study, believed to be the first to examine structural changes that take place in astronauts’ brains during spaceflight, found that the volume of gray matter increased or decreased, and the extent of the alteration depended on the length of time spent in space.

Seidler and colleagues examined structural MRIs in 12 astronauts who spent two weeks as shuttle crew members, and 14 who spent six months on the International Space Station. All experienced increases and decreases in gray matter in different parts of the brain, with more pronounced changes the longer the astronauts spent in space.

Read more at: Spaceref

Thunderous Meteor Rattles West Texas Sky with Sonic Boom

A booming meteor rocketed over Texas this weekend, rattling houses with a sonic boom, according to reports. Authorities in West Texas and beyond received calls about possible explosions Sunday night. It turned out to be a very bright meteor, according to the American Meteor Society.

About 40 people reported on the nonprofit group’s website that they’d seen the fiery meteor in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado about 9 p.m. Deputy Fire Marshal Nathan Hines said he heard what sounded like thunder in Snyder, about 80 miles west of Abilene, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journalreports.

“You could see a flash, like if an electrical transformer flashes at night, up to our northwest,” Hines said. “But it was cloudy here — kinda rainy — so we didn’t actually see any kind of fireball or anything.”

Read more at: Dallas News

Scientists: Humanity could be Wiped Out by Extraterrestrial Microbes Hitching a Ride On Spacecraft

The biggest threat to humanity’s survival as a species on planet earth isn’t the green, cone-headed alien figures with oblong eye sockets that you see in the movies. It’s extraterrestrial microbes that some scientists fear could hop onto spacecraft and act as stowaways to quietly inhabit our planetand attack humans.

These microbes, a new study suggests, might parasitically latch onto the human immune system and wreak havoc, resulting in serious disease or death. And if the alien pathogens do this on a larger scale, the result could be the catastrophic wiping out of large numbers of people — an alien genocide, in other words, that takes place on a scale much smaller than what the human eye can perceive.

One example of how this might occur are the recent rock and ice samples brought back from planets like Mars and Jupiter. If there are any lifeforms on these planets whatsoever, including microscopic bacteria, then the returning ships could be bringing these with them, sight unseen. Dr. John Rummel, a senior scientist at the Seti Institute in Mountain View, California, says it would be “pretty easy” for this type of thing to occur.

Read more at: Space.News

NASA Considers Magnetic Shield to Help Mars Grow Its Atmosphere

The Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop is happening right now at NASA headquarters in Washington DC. The workshop is meant to discuss ambitious space projects that could be realized, or at least started, by 2050.

One of the most enticing ideas came this morning from Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director. In a talk titled, “A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration,” Green discussed launching a “magnetic shield” to a stable orbit between Mars and the sun, called Mars L1, to shield the planet from high-energy solar particles. The shield structure would consist of a large dipole—a closed electric circuit powerful enough to generate an artificial magnetic field.

Such a shield could leave Mars in the relatively protected magnetotail of the magnetic field created by the object, allowing the Red Planet to slowly restore its atmosphere. About 90 percent of Mars’s atmosphere was stripped away by solar particles in the lifetime of the planet, which was likely temperate and had surface water about 3.5 billion years ago.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Mars Astronaut Radiation Shield Set for Moon Mission Trial-developer

A vest designed to shield astronauts from deadly solar particles in deep space is set for trials on a lunar mission ready for deployment on any manned mission to Mars, its Israeli developers said.

The AstroRad Radiation Shield has been devised by Tel Aviv-based StemRad, which has already produced and marketed a belt to protect rescue workers from harmful gamma ray radiation emitted in nuclear disasters, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. The vest will protect vital human tissue, particularly stem cells, which could be devastated by solar radiation in deep space or on Mars, whose sparse atmosphere offers no protection, StemRad’s CEO Oren Milstein said. U.S. space agency NASA has said it hopes to send astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s.

The vest is made of layers that look like a contoured map and will be tailor-made for each astronaut. Non-metallic protective materials will be positioned on each shield to cover the organs of each astronaut. “This product will enable human deep space exploration. Our breakthrough has come in creating the architecture of the multi-layered shield to accurately cover the most important organs,” Milstein said.

Read more at: Yahoo Finance

Solar Storms Remove Electrons from Large Portions of Earth’s Atmosphere

New research shows solar storms leave large portions of Earth’s atmosphere without electrons. Typically, when a solar storm reaches Earth, the collision with the planet’s magnetosphere creates space through which a barrage of charged particles and electrons flood the ionosphere, an outer layer of Earth’s atmosphere.

In other words, solar storms are most often associated with an excess of electrons. However, the new findings — detailed in the journal Radio Science — prove electrons disappear from large parts of the atmosphere at the same time that they congregate elsewhere.

“We made extensive measurements in connection with a specific solar storm over the Arctic in 2014, and here we found that electrons in large quantities are virtually vacuum-cleaned from areas extending over 500 to 1,000 kilometers,” Per Hoeg, a professor at the Technical University of Denmark, explained in a news release. “It takes place just south of an area with heavy increases in electron density, known as patches.”

Read more at: Space Daily

NASA Scientists Demonstrate Technique to Improve Particle Warnings that Protect Astronauts

Our constantly-changing sun sometimes erupts with bursts of light, solar material, or ultra-fast energized particles — collectively, these events contribute to space weather. In a study published Jan. 30, 2017, in Space Weather, scientists from NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, in Boulder, Colorado, have shown that the warning signs of one type of space weather event can be detected tens of minutes earlier than with current forecasting techniques – critical extra time that could help protect astronauts in space.

Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us on the ground from most of the harmful effects of space weather, but astronauts in low-Earth orbit — or even, one day, in interplanetary space — are more exposed to space weather, including bursts of fast-moving particles called solar energetic particles, or SEPs.

Read more at: Eureka Alert

A Year After Returning to Earth, Astronaut Scott Kelly Reflects on Lessons Learned from 340 Days in Space

One year after returning to Earth from his 340-day mission in orbit, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly loves the smell of grass and the feel of water and wind. He now knows it’s important to sit and eat with others and that he has a new empathy for people.

Kelly’s reflections — both simple and more revealing — are part of a new piece in Time magazine which serves as a preview to his forthcoming memoir, “Endurance,” due out Oct. 17.

The 53-year-old astronaut returned home on March 1, 2016, after circling the planet more than 5,440 times aboard the International Space Station. “I think sometimes people want to hear there was one profound scientific discovery from the 340 days I spent circling the planet — something that struck me or the scientists on the ground like a cosmic ray through the skull at some climactic moment during my mission. I don’t have anything like that to offer,” Kelly wrote in Time.

Read more at: Geek Wire

China’s 1st Cargo Spacecraft to Make Three Rendezvous with Tiangong-2

China’s first cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 is expected to dock with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab three times after its planned launch in April, sources said Saturday.

Tianzhou-1 will be sent into space from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province aboard a Long March-7 Y2 carrier rocket, according to a spokesperson of China’s manned space program. It is scheduled to refuel Tiangong-2 three times and carry out experiments and tests.

During the journey, Tianzhou-1 will orbit on its own for about three months and together with Tiangong-2 for about two months after their rendezvous. At the end of the mission, Tianzhou-1 will leave the orbit and fall back to earth while Tiangong-2 will remain in orbit and continue its experiments.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

China to Launch Space Station Core Module in 2018

China will launch a space station core module in 2018 as the first step in completing the country’s first space outpost, according to a senior engineer with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) on Thursday.

The core module of the space station, named “Tianhe-1” according to previous reports, will be launched on board a new-generation Long March-5 heavyweight carrier rocket, said Bao Weimin, director with CASC and a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

It will be followed by a series of launches for other components of the space station, including two space labs, which will dock with the core module while in space, in the next four years or so, he said, adding that the space station will be completed around 2022.

Read more at: Space Daily

Could SpaceX Really Launch People Around the Moon Next Year?

A lot will have to go right for SpaceX to meet its ambitious moon-mission timetable, experts say. On Monday (Feb. 27), SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced that the company plans to launch two paying customers on a weeklong trip around the moon before the end of 2018.

Astronauts first saw the moon’s far side way back in 1968, but the antiquity of that achievement shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking that SpaceX’s proposed mission will be easy, said Wayne Hale, a former manager of NASA’s space shuttle program. [SpaceX to the Moon – 2018 a Lofty Goal? (Video)]

“Even with today’s technology, it’s still an extraordinarily difficult, extraordinarily dangerous task to undertake, period — I don’t care who you are,” said Hale, who retired from NASA in 2010 and now serves as director of human spaceflight at the Colorado-based engineering company Special Aerospace Services.

Read more at: Space.com

Solar Storms Trigger Surprising Phenomena Close to Earth

Eruptions on the Sun’s surface send clouds of electrically charged particles towards Earth, producing solar storms that—among other things—can trigger the beautiful Northern Lights over the Arctic regions. But the storms may also have a strong impact on the efficiency of communication and navigation systems at high latitudes. It is therefore important to study the phenomena.

New research from DTU Space and University of New Brunswick, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and University of Illinois shows that, apparently, there is a surprising and unknown mechanism in play during solar storms. During solar storms, large bursts of electrons are usually sent into the part of Earth’s atmosphere called the ionosphere, which starts about 80 kilometres above the Earth.

This phenomenon occurs especially at high latitudes. It happens because the magnetic field created by the eruption on the Sun interferes with the Earth’s magnetic field. It opens, so to speak, up to allow particles and electrons—that would otherwise be reflected—to penetrate the ionosphere. It is a known phenomenon. But it turns out that electrons at the same time disappear from large areas, which has not been demonstrated earlier.

Read more at: DTU

Humans May Quickly Evolve on Mars, Biologist Claims

An evolutionary biologist has suggested that human colonists on Mars could go through rapid evolution, eventually becoming an entirely new human species. Scott Solomon, an evolutionary biologist with Rice University and the author of “Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution,” wrote on Nautilus that humans on Mars would be subjected to the “founder effect,” a phenomenon in which species entering new environments adapt very rapidly.

The founder effect occurs as a result of a new population being very small, meaning that a genetic bottleneck forms and diversity is radically lowered. The phenomena is frequently observed on islands and other remote areas.

“This happens routinely to animals and plants isolated on islands-think of Darwin’s famous finches. But while speciation on islands can take thousands of years, the accelerated mutation rate on Mars and the stark contrasts between conditions on Mars and Earth, would likely speed up the process,” Solomon wrote.

Read more at: Mars Daily

ISRO Chief Lauds Space Tourism Enterprises

Private companies have boosted space tourism and space exploration, he said at the 11th Global Communication Conclave organised by the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) in the city on Friday.

“Many companies are offering zero-gravity experience. There are people who offer visits to space. People are taking about one-way tickets to Mars,” he added. Kumar also spoke about how observing earth from the vantage point of space helps provide accurate disaster warnings about cyclone and other natural and man-made events.

Referring to the launch of a record 104 satellites in a single flight by Isro’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) on February 15, he said 88 of the satellites belonged to a single company, and added that it was an attempt to project the entire globe (earth surface information) in many colours at spatial resolution of about five metres on a daily basis

Read more at: Deccan Herald

Does SpaceX’s Moon Plan Threaten NASA?

It’s late 2018 and a large rocket stands on a Kennedy Space Center pad ready to launch humans around the moon, nearly 50 years after NASA first accomplished that feat. But this time, the rocket belongs not to NASA but to SpaceX, and the astronauts are not elite government test pilots but private citizens buying the ride.

The scenario SpaceX outlined last week has created a buzz about a public versus private race to send people back to the moon, with the private sector now appearing to be in the lead.

NASA’s more powerful and expensive Space Launch System rocket isn’t expected to launch astronauts on a similar loop around the moon before 2019 — a schedule whose feasibility is now being studied — and possibly not until 2023.

Read more at: Florida Today

Making Way for the Space Tycoons

Until recently, missions to put humans into space were government-owned programs, funded by public coffers and the tax dollars of citizens. However, the recent proposal from Elon Musk for colonizing Mars highlights the role of the private sector and tycoon visionaries in the future of space. Much is made, and rightly so, of John F. Kennedy’s challenge in 1961 to send humans to the moon, and in just eight years, NASA accomplished that goal. It was a government funded and government led effort, though of course private sector contractors provided much of the expertise.

Musk’s Mars proposal though is one in which the private sector plays a leadership role. And it’s a much more audacious goal–technologically and culturally. Not only does Musk see humankind reaching Mars, but also he sees us staying there in a colony that grows to a city of as many as a million people. Musk is challenging national space policy, which has opened up to private sector entrepreneurship for near-earth orbit, but effectively has fenced off the moon, Mars and beyond with timid goals for NASA to return humans to the moon by 2025 and for humans to orbit Mars by 2030.

Read more at: Forbes

Commercial Military Satellite Communications Capacity Revenues & Demand Stabilizing After Period of Decline

According to Euroconsult’s soon-to-be-released report, SatCom for Defense & Security: Strategic Issues & Forecasts, global military demand for commercial satellite capacity has fallen by an estimated 20% from a peak of 12.5 GHz in 2011 following tremendous growth over the previous decade, due in large part to lower usage of the U.S. DoD.

Looking forward, heightened global instability and security concerns are translating into prospects for an acceleration in defense spending globally, presenting opportunities through modernization of communications systems aboard military assets. Launches of next generation commercial satellites and procurements of next generation military satellite systems in the 2020-2022 time-frame represent potential game-changers for the milsatcom eco-system.

Read more at: EuroConsult

Silent Sentry: Defending the Final Frontier

Air, space and cyberspace – these are the three domains that the United States Air Force strives to defend. Of these domains, space has become one of the most crowded and competitive. At any given time, there are innumerable signals being transmitted to and from satellites, with each signal taking up space in the electromagnetic spectrum.

“Space is now contested and congested,” said Deborah Lee James, the former Air Force secretary, during her State of the Air Force address in September 2016. “It is extremely important to everything that we do in the military, including precision guidance, navigation, missile warning, weather, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and communication.” With so much of the Air Force’s capabilities relying on space assets, defense of these assets is becoming increasingly important.

So, how does the Air Force defend its resources in space? One answer to this question was a proof of concept system started in 2005. At that time, the 379th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron was tasked with testing the capabilities of a new defensive space control system, which would protect U.S. Central Command’s satellite networks. The proof of concept was so successful that the operation remained active, and is now called Operation Silent Sentry.

“The current focus of Silent Sentry is to detect, characterize and monitor electromagnetic interference on signals of interest across the area of responsibility,” said Capt. Marcus Losinski, the Operation Silent Sentry commander. Since its inception twelve years ago, Operation Silent Sentry has grown and become an important asset to not only the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, but the entire CENTCOM theater.

Read more at: US Air Force

Manned Orbiting Laboratory Declassified: Inside a US Military Space Station

At the peak of the space race – when the Soviet Union was considered a threat, and the Beatles were a hot new band invading American music – the United States had a partially classified human space program. It was called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.

First announced in December 1963, the program’s public aim was to figure out the “military usefulness” of putting a human into space. Its real, classified aim was to put a crewed surveillance satellite into orbit to spy on the Soviet Union. The program never got into space.

The program was cancelled in June 1969 (the month before humans landed on the moon) due to budgetary concerns. In late 2015, the National Reconnaissance Office released hundreds of photos and documents about the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.

Read more at: Space.com

Space Debris: Risk Analysis & Mitigation

5-6 April 2017 – Toulouse, France

The course is designed to provide the participant with an understanding of space debris risks and of mitigation standards, techniques and practices that are used for design and operation of space systems. You will find the description of the course in the IAASS Professional Training Courses Catalog 2017 – Course Code 008. To register, download the Registration Form, fill in and return to:[email protected] not later than 6 March 2017.

Read more at: IAASS