The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has a Problem With its Cooling System

Launched to the International Space Station in 2011 on the penultimate flight of the Space Shuttle, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has quietly been collecting data during the last six years, observing more than 100 billion cosmic ray events. Although it has yet to produce any major scientific findings, physicists believe the steady accumulation of data will eventually yield insights about dark matter and other cosmic mysteries.

But for that to happen, the instrument has to continue to take data. In recent months, scientists monitoring the $2 billion AMS instrument have noticed an increase in the “degradation” of several of the pumps that operate the thermal cooling system on its silicon tracker. Three of the four pumps have now essentially failed, leaving just one functional cooling pump. Only one is required, but the cooling system has now lost all of its redundancy.

To remedy this problem, physicists associated with the experiment have begun working with a team at NASA to devise a long-range strategy that would extend the life of the AMS. According to one source, this could culminate in a “Hubble-esque” series of spacewalks to repair its cooling system.

Read more at: Ars Technica

Commercial Space Launch Insurance: Weakness in FAA’s Insurance Calculation May Expose the Federal Government to Excess Risk

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has revised its method for calculating insurance requirements to address some known weaknesses. FAA is the part of the Department of Transportation that determines the amount of insurance that commercial space launch companies must purchase to cover damages from accidents that harm third parties—that is, the uninvolved public—or federal property and personnel, unless companies otherwise demonstrate sufficient financial resources to cover the same calculated damages. The amount of insurance required is based on FAA’s calculation of the maximum loss that can be reasonably expected. FAA contractors found the following:

FAA’s estimates of the number of casualties (serious injuries and deaths) that could result from a launch accident have likely been too high, and have been based on an unrealistic scenario;
FAA’s estimates of losses due to property damage may be too high in some cases, and too low in others;
FAA’s estimate of the average cost of a casualty—referred to as the cost- of-casualty amount—is based on outdated information and is likely too low. The amount has been fixed at $3 million since 1988. Link to the full report

Read more at: Spaceref

This Russian ISS Module Has Been Delayed for a Decade and it’s Still Not Ready to Fly

After years of delays, the Russian component of the International Space Station—which Roscosmos originally planned to deploy in 2007—finally looked like it was ready for launch. However another problem with the Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module (MLM) now threatens to derail a project that’s already been plagued with them. The same severe contamination that’s kept the MLM on the ground since 2013 has returned, Russian experts involved in the project told Popular Mechanics.

Dubbed Nauka (Russian for “science”), the MLM was designed to be a centerpiece of the Russian part of the ISS as well as the core of the post-ISS Russian station. Now that an ambitious future is once again under threat.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Breaks Observed in Curiosity Rover Wheel Treads

A routine check of the aluminum wheels on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has found two small breaks on the rover’s left middle wheel-the latest sign of wear and tear as the rover continues its journey, now approaching the 10-mile (16 kilometer) mark. The mission’s first and second breaks in raised treads, called grousers, appeared in a March 19 image check of the wheels, documenting that these breaks occurred after the last check, on Jan. 27.

“All six wheels have more than enough working lifespan remaining to get the vehicle to all destinations planned for the mission,” said Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “While not unexpected, this damage is the first sign that the left middle wheel is nearing a wheel-wear milestone,”

Read more at: Mars Daily

CRS-10 Dragon Unberthed, Recovered in Pacific Ocean

The 10th SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to visit the International Space Station (ISS) left the outpost on March 19, 2017, and fell back to Earth. The capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 7:46 a.m. PDT (14:46 GMT) and was recovered off the coast of Baja California.

Having been attached to the station for a month, the CRS-10 Dragon was unberthed by the robotic Canadarm2. Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet were at the controls on the robotic workstation inside the outposts Cupola window a couple hours later to give the command to release the spacecraft at 5:11 a.m. EDT (09:11 GMT).

After the spacecraft was released, a number of commands were executed to safely move Dragon away from the outpost including a short firing of the Draco thrusters a couple minutes after separation and another some 90 seconds later to push the capsule outside the station’s “Keep-Out Sphere” – an area of about 656 feet (200 meters) around the complex.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Surviving the Long Dark Night of the Moon

Designers of future Moon missions and bases have to contend with a chilling challenge: how might their creations endure the fortnight-long lunar night? ESA has arrived at a low-cost way of surviving.

During prolonged night, when the surface is lit only by blue Earthlight, temperatures dip below –170ºC. Some locations at higher latitudes have shorter nights, though others have much longer or even permanent darkness.

Numerous robotic missions have perished during this prolonged cold. Russia’s Lunokhod-2 rover, for instance, failed to make it through the night in May 1973, its radioactive heater having gradually run down after four months of exploring. The Apollo manned missions stayed on the surface only a few days at a time, and all during the early lunar morning. But future lunar settlers will have to live in the night as well as the day, bearing in mind that vital solar energy and heat would be unavailable during the 14 days of darkness.

Read more at: ESA

The “Brain” of the Space Launch System RS-25 Engine Passes Critical Test

An RS-25 rocket engine with a new flight-model engine controller and flight configuration software was successfully tested for the first time at NASA’s Stennis Space Center earlier today. Four RS-25 engines, manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: AJRD), will help propel NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, America’s next generation heavy-lift launch vehicle, and the controller unit is a key component for the rocket’s safety and reliability.

The controller is often referred to as the “brain” of the engine because it translates the vehicle’s commands into engine action while monitoring the health of the engine. It makes real-time adjustments by tracking critical operating conditions, such as the speed of the turbopumps, combustion pressures and temperatures, thrust and propellant ratios. The new controller for the RS-25 engine is a significant upgrade from the controller used when the engine flew on the space shuttle and builds off the additional experience gained more recently with Aerojet Rocketdyne’s J-2X engine test program.

The new controller has 20 times the processing capability of the shuttle-era controller and offers increased reliability while providing a weight reduction of 50 pounds to each engine.

Read more at: Spaceref

Secretive X-37B Space Plane Sets New Endurance Record

The U.S. Air Force X-37B OTV-4 spacecraft on Saturday surpassed the record for the longest flight duration of any mission in the clandestine program, marking 675 days in orbit for the small winged space plane on its current mission reportedly dedicated to a series of technical demonstrations and space experiments.

The previous record was set by the third X-37B flight that lasted 674 days and 22 hours spanning from December 2012 to October 2014. OTV-4 lifted off atop an Atlas V on May 20, 2015 and passed the 675-day mark on Saturday, continuing its mostly classified mission over 300 Kilometers above the planet.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

A New SpaceX? China Developing System to Recover, Reuse Space Rockets

China is developing a system to recover parts of rockets used in space launches to bring down costs and make its space programme more commercially competitive, according to researchers involved in the project.

The system would bring the rocket engine and booster safely back to the ground so they can be reused in future launches. Besides saving operational costs, the recovery would also reduce the threat of debris falling to the ground, the researchers said. The recovery system is under development at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing.

It involves using a set of multiple parachutes, which are stored in the first stage of the rocket, which is released from the rest of the craft before it burns its way through the Earth’s atmosphere. An airbag inflates under the discarded part of the rocket, which cushions impact when it finally hits the ground.

Read more at: scmp

The Sun is Nearly Spotless, Hinting at Solar Lull

Talk about spick and span! The sun was nearly spotless for more than two weeks this month, a clue that the star may be nearing its next lull in activity, according to NASA. No sunspots on the sun’s surface were visible during a 15-day stretch that began on March 7, despite constant observation by NASA’s powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.

“This is the longest stretch of spotlessness since the last solar minimum in April 2010, indicating the solar cycle is marching on toward the next minimum, which scientists predict will occur between 2019—2020,” NASA officials wrote in a statement. Sunspots are regions of the sun that appear dark because they are cooler than their surroundings, but they are still superhot — with temperatures that are about 6,380 degrees Fahrenheit (3,527 degrees Celsius). Even so, that’s about 3,140 degrees F (1,727 degrees C) cooler than the rest of the sun.

The sun’s recent lack of sunspots is abundantly clear in a new side-by-side animation of the sun from two different days: March 20 of this year (when the sunspots were missing) and Feb. 27, 2014, when there was a flurry of activity on the star.

Read more at: Space.com

NASA Engineers Evaluate ECLSS for Commercial Crew Missions

NASA engineers are hard at work performing evaluations on the life support systems vital to successful flight tests for the Commercial Crew missions as NASA prepares to return human spaceflight to the United States.

One of those systems, built by Space X, is called the ECLSS – short for Environmental Control and Life Support System and pronounced ‘e-cliss’ –the system is a complex network of machinery, pipes, tanks, and sensors built into a mockup of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.  SpaceX said that the ECLSS Module was manufactured as close to the specifications of an operational spacecraft as possible, so that experience gained during its production and testing could be passed on smoothly to flight versions of the spacecraft.

Brian Daniel, Crew Systems lead for the Commercial Crew Program, said: “ECLSS Systems and Subsystems present unique challenges to a developer. Such systems must assure tight control of parameters that are important to human safety such as temperature, carbon dioxide levels, oxygen levels, and cabin pressure. “The various functions of the life support system must not only be failure tolerant and robust, but also able to perform their function for the whole gamut of the mission, from countdown to splashdown.”

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Virgin Galactic is Taking Stephen Hawking to Space

Internationally renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking is planning to fulfill his “ultimate ambition” by traveling to outer space, having accepted an offer from Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson to be a passenger on a future suborbital flight.

Hawking made the revelation during an interview with Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan on Monday, according to Seeker and the Huffington Post. He said that he has long wanted to “fly into space” but “thought no one would take me” until Branson reached out and made his offer.

“I said yes immediately,” Hawking said, noting that his desire to travel into space dates back to a weightless flight he experienced on an airplane that flies parabolic loops to simulate zero gravity (most likely a 2007 flight on G-Force One, a modified Boeing 727-200 operated by Zero Gravity Corp., according to Seeker). “Since that day, I have never changed my mind.”

Read more at: Red Orbit

Congress Mulls Options for Space Station Beyond 2024

The United States’ ability to send astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s depends in part on cutting back or ending government funding for the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024, the head of a congressional subcommittee that oversees NASA said Wednesday (March 22).

“We ought to be aware that remaining on the ISS [after 2024] will come at a cost,” U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space, said during a hearing about options and impacts for station operations beyond 2024.  “Tax dollars spent on the ISS will not be spent on destinations beyond low Earth orbit, including the moon and Mars,” Babin said. “What opportunities will we miss if we maintain the status quo?”

NASA currently spends about $3.5 billion a year on the space station program, including about $1.7 billion to transport crews and cargo, between $700 million and $800 million on research, and $1 billion on operations. An additional $1 billion comes from station partners Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier told the committee.

Read more at: Space.com

Will Humans Have to Upgrade their Bodies to Survive on Mars?

Living and boning in space—particularly on Mars—has fascinated our degenerate species for decades. Recently, SpaceX founder Elon Musk decided to put his very large amount of money where his mouth is by announcing his plans to colonize the Red Planet. NASA also likes to bloviate about its Journey to Mars in the 2030s, and there are a handful of other, shadier plans to colonize the Red Planet championed by celebrities, billionaires, and even the UAE.

But there’s a big difference between putting a few boots on the ground and setting up a long-term base on another planet. Regarding human colonization of Mars, there are a host of concerns—in particular, how will humans fare, both physically and psychologically, in such a harsh environment? In a paper published recently in the journal Space Policy, Konrad Szocik, a cognitive scientist at the University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland, argues that sending astronauts to live aboard the ISS is not adequate training for life on Mars. In fact, Szocik surmises humans will have to alter their bodies in a pretty extreme way in order to physically and emotionally sustain themselves in a Martian colony.

Read more at: Gizmodo

Travel Tips from a Real Space Tourist: Get Ready to Feel Awful

One of the first tourists to travel in outer space found it to be a bit of a buzzkill. Sure, he loved every minute – even if he was physically miserable part of the time. The next wave of space tourists will need a high tolerance for discomfort.

If all goes according to plan, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies will send two paying civilians around the moon and back some time next year. “My advice to them would be to medicate early and often,” says Richard Garriott de Cayeux, the video game developer and entrepreneur who paid $30 million to Russia’s Space Adventures to spend 12 days aboard the International Space Station. His moon-voyaging counterparts have put down a “significant deposit,” according to a post last week on SpaceX’s website, but the total price and the identities of the tourists have not been disclosed.

Read more at: NZ Herald

NASA Taking First Steps Toward High-speed Space Internet

The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will help NASA understand the best ways to operate laser communications systems. They could enable much higher data rates for connections between spacecraft and Earth, such as scientific data downlink and astronaut communications.

“LCRD is the next step in implementing NASA’s vision of using optical communications for both near-Earth and deep space missions,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which leads the LCRD project. “This technology has the potential to revolutionize space communications, and we are excited to partner with the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s Space Communications and Navigation program office, MIT Lincoln Labs and the U.S. Air Force on this effort.”

Read more at: Space Daily

Trump Signs NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017

President Donald Trump signed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization act of 2017 into law on March 21, 2017. The bill is the first such act passed by Congress and subsequently signed by the president since 2010.

The act, known in the 115th Congress as S.442, was designed to ensure continuity of purpose in human space exploration, space science, and technology programs. “For almost six decades, NASA’s work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine distant worlds and a better future right here on Earth,” Trump said in a signing ceremony for the bill. “With this legislation, we support NASA’s scientists, engineers, astronauts, and their pursuit of discovery.”

Trump said the bill also calls for ongoing medical monitoring and treatment for astronauts from conditions that result from their service. He said it will also make sure NASA’s most important programs are sustained including continuing transiting activities to the commercial sector. Full text of the act

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Elon Musk Slams President Trump’s Mars Plans

Elon Musk has chosen to go public with his disagreement on legislation signed by President Trump, claiming that it does nothing to help NASA or his company, SpaceX, get to Mars.

Musk, who is part of President Trump’s economic advisory team, has maintained a strategy of working with the president behind the scenes. Last month Musk claimed on Twitter he discussed both the administration’s various travel bans and climate change in private meetings. “I believe this is doing good, so will remain on council & keep at it. Doing otherwise would be wrong,” Musk said at the time.

But Musk is also raising public opposition to Trump’s decisions. He chose to respond to Kara Swisher, cofounder of technology news website Recode, on Twitter, who made the assumption that Musk would be happy with Trump’s signing of S.442, the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017. “I am not,” he said.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Cruz Plans New NASA Authorization and Commercial Launch Bills

One day after President Donald Trump signed into law the first NASA authorization bill in more than six years, a leading senator said he is planning a new, long-term authorization bill for the agency.

In a speech at a Commercial Spaceflight Federation breakfast here March 22, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he also plans a new commercial space transportation bill that builds upon the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, passed by Congress 2015.  “In this coming Congress, I hope to take up another commercial space launch piece of legislation, and a longer-term NASA authorization,” he said.

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, introduced by Cruz in the Senate in February and signed into law by the president March 21, is intended to be an interim bill that provides stability for NASA during the transition to the new administration, based largely on current programs and authorizing funding only for fiscal year 2017. “Now, in a new year, we have the chance to think bigger and bolder,” he said.

Read more at: Space News

What it’s Like to Watch Your Life’s Work Blow Up on a Rocket

On a balmy night in late October 2014, Rachel Lindbergh and dozens of others stood on the grass at the end of Arbuckle Neck Road in Virginia, staring across the bay. Their eyes were trained on a spot on Wallops Island less than two miles away, where a 14-story-tall Antares rocket stood ready to blast off into space, loaded with food, supplies, and science experiments, including one that Lindbergh had been working on for two years.

The group ticked off the seconds together as the countdown from mission control came over the portable speakers. The engines ignited, shooting thick curls of smoke from the launchpad, and the Antares began its ascent, bound for the International Space Station. For a few seconds the rocket shone like a yellow jewel against the dark sky, and then it was gone, consumed in a ball of fire. The shock wave that followed the explosion knocked some of the spectators on Arbuckle Neck Road to the ground.

Read more at: Atlantic

Scientists Push for Australian Space Agency

Australian space researchers are urgently calling on the federal government to establish a domestic space agency. They make their arguments clear in a white paper prepared by the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA) and released this week. In the document, titled Advancing Australia in Space, the SIAA says a space agency would not only boost economic and employment growth, but also strengthen Australia’s national security and inspire young STEM scientists.

Australia is one of only two OECD nations that doesn’t have a space agency. It relies heavily on international partnerships, particularly with the US, Europe and Japan, to buy the satellite data used by individuals and businesses every day, including for weather forecasting, mining, and managing natural disasters, among others.

White paper co-author Mark Ramsey from American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics says Australia needs to move away from being a passive consumer of satellite data.

Read more at: Cosmos Magazine

Siberian Scientists Searching for Eyewitnesses of Bright Green Meteor Fall

Scientists in the Russian city of Irkutsk (Siberia) are searching for people who could have witnessed the fall of a celestial body glowing bright green, Executive Director of the Irkutsk Planetarium Pavel Nikoforov told TASS.

“At 14:39 local time (11:39 GMT), while we were riding in a car along the bridge across the Irkut River towards the Leninsky district, we spotted an unusual glowing object in the daytime sky. It was speeding at a 45 degree angle, but its light went out in just a couple of seconds. We very much hope that Irkutsk’s residents may have recorded this phenomenon using their car DVRs. We could collect these recordings and hand them over to scientists,” he stated.

The fact that the celestial body was seen in the daytime, speaks volumes for its enormous weight, a source in the Astronomical Observatory of Irkutsk State University told TASS. “We assume that a celestial body weighing several kilograms could be glowing so brightly in the daytime. If we are provided with video recordings showing the bolide, then we could calculate its weight and trajectory,” the source added.

Read more at: TASS

NASA’s Efforts to ‘Right Size’ its Workforce, Facilities, and Other Supporting Assets

A report from the NASA Office of Inspector General:

To accomplish its diverse scientific and space exploration missions, NASA relies on specialized facilities and infrastructure, unique equipment and tools, and a highly skilled civil servant and contractor workforce. These assets, collectively known as technical capabilities, are spread across NASA’s 10 Centers and include more than 5,000 buildings and other structures, 17,000 civil servants, and tens of thousands of contractors. Over the years, striking the right balance among these various assets has been a top management challenge, with the Agency making a number of mostly unsuccessful attempts at “rightsizing” its technical capabilities.

Read more at: NASA

‘Life’ Doesn’t Quite Find A Way

“Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence,” Chief Medical Officer Leonard “Bones” McCoy once lamented. And that was on Star Trek, far and away the most optimistic vision of humanity’s spacefaring destiny ever presented onscreen.

Far more prevalent in movies is the sort of better-we-didn’t pessimism peddled by Life, a nasty low-Earth-orbit nailbiter that believes those with the Right Stuff were in the wrong line. It’s Alien in zero-G. It’s Gravity with a hostile —and apparently intelligent — Martian jellyfish. Though the script is by Deadpool scribes Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, and merc-with-a-mouth Ryan Reynolds gets top billing, there’s not much intentional humor.

It is, to be kind, an imperfect organism, this movie. But it has a few attributes worth hailing.

Read more at: NPR