India to Launch its Reusable Spaceplane in May

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced that it is on track to launch its first reusable spaceplane as early as May 2016. The Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) is scheduled to conduct maiden flight to evaluate various technologies needed to develop a fully reusable space vehicle.

The RLV is a scaled-down prototype (some 21.3 feet in length or 6.5 meters) of a future uncrewed single-stage reusable spaceplane, known as Avatar, that is being designed by the ISRO.

The May mission will be a technology demonstrator (RLV-TD) to test powered cruise flight, autonomous landing, and hypersonic flight using an air-breathing propulsion system. The spacecraft, which resembles a small winged aircraft, will be launched from the first launch pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre to an altitude of 43 miles (70 km) atop a two-stage Rohini sounding rocket and then released. It will re-enter the atmosphere and travel back to Earth in a controlled descent, to be recovered from the Bay of Bengal.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

A Renaissance for Russian Space Science

When Russia’s Mars-96 exploration mission broke apart after launch in November 1996, the loss cast a pall over Russian space science. “We were barely functioning. There was this feeling of uselessness in the air,” says Lev Zelenyi, director of the Institute of Space Research (IKI) here. Now, Russia is hoping to dispel that pall with its biggest slate of lunar and planetary missions since the early 1970s. But budget cuts are threatening to drag the nation’s space science revival back to Earth.

In January, the Russian government approved a 10-year plan crafted by Russia’s space agency, RosCosmos, covering everything from contributions to the International Space Station to weather and navigation satellites and human space exploration. About 15% of the spending would go to “basic physics in space,” says Zelenyi, a plasma physicist. But the plan is considerably leaner than expected.

Read more at: Sciencemag

Ariane 6 Designers say they’ll Beat SpaceX Prices on per-Kilogram Basis

Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 rocket remains on track for a 2020 first launch with a cost structure allowing the heavier Ariane 64 version to advertise per-kilogram prices below today’s Space X Falcon 9, European government and industry officials said April 6.

They said they saw no roadblocks to the 2020 first-flight date despite what they described as noncritical delays that have no impact on the rocket’s design, performance or cost targets.

These issues include a delay of several months in the ramp-up of Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), which is the Ariane 6 prime contractor, due to tax issues in France, and an extended antitrust review by the European Commission of ASL’s plan to become the dominant shareholder of the Arianespace commercial launch consortium.

Read more at: Space News

Russia to Develop New Fenix Carrier Rocket by 2025

Russia’s Space Corporation Roscosmos plans to expedite the development of a new medium-class carrier rocket Fenix to make it ready by 2025, Roscosmos Head Igor Komarov said on Wednesday.

“The timeframe is until 2025. During this year [2016], we’ll again analyze, on which basis the rocket will be made. We have the intentions to make it until 2025. We see that the market and life require expediting this project,” Komarov said.

The Roscosmos CEO said earlier on Wednesday that Fenix “will be the first stage for a promising super-heavy carrier rocket.”

Read more at: TASS

Meet the Latest Multimillionaire With an Out-of-this-World Idea for Space

The class of wealthy entrepreneurs who have turned their childhood space passions into emerging companies has been dominated by some of the biggest names in technology and business – Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Paul Allen. But now another wealthy, if lesser known, entrepreneur is about to join them on the public stage, showing off his plans for how humans might finally spread out into the stars to stay.

On Friday, Robert Bigelow, who made millions with his extended stay hotels, is planning to send his expandable space habitat to the International Space Station.

Once in orbit, the module will be attached to the station, inflated and then tested over a two-year period to see how it fares against the harsh environment of space.

Read more at: NzHerald

Lessons from Tiangong 1

The recent telemetry failure from China’s Tiangong 1 space laboratory has lessons for the whole space community. This analyst has previously reported on the issue of Tiangong 1’s eventual uncontrolled re-entry, which will happen at a time and a place that cannot be exactly predicted right now. Tiangong 1’s return is another hard lesson in the broader issue of re-entering spacecraft. Putting it bluntly, the whole space community needs to take this problem more seriously before we experience real tragedy.

Technical solutions are needed, but we also need to change attitudes and policies. There seems to be too much indifference and complacency within spaceflight on this subject, largely because most re-entries create no problems. This analyst calls upon educators and the younger upcoming generation of space engineers to pay closer attention to the subject. It could require a generational change to produce any real improvements in attitudes and actions.

Read more at: Space Daily

XS-1 Program to Ease Access to Space Enters Phase 2

In an era of declining budgets and adversaries’ evolving capabilities, quick, affordable and routine access to space is increasingly critical for both national and economic security. Current satellite launch systems, however, require scheduling years in advance for an extremely limited inventory of available slots.

Moreover, launches often cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, due in large part to the massive amounts of dedicated infrastructure and large number of personnel required. DARPA created its Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program to help overcome these challenges and create a new paradigm for more routine, responsive and affordable space operations, reducing the time to get capabilities to space.

In an important step toward these goals, DARPA has announced Phase 2 of the XS-1 program, which seeks to design and fabricate an experimental unmanned spaceplane using state-of-the-art technologies and streamlined processes, and fly the vehicle ten times in ten days.

Read more at: Space Daily

1st Stage of SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Lands on Barge

A SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule is on its way to the International Space Station after launching Friday from the Space Coast. But it was the Falcon 9 rocket’s landing that really got the crowd cheering.

For the first time, SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on their floating barge miles off the Atlantic coast.

SpaceX hopes to reuse the rockets to drive down the costs of launches. This booster could launch in a couple of months after some tests. “Our thought is to basically fire it 10 times in a row on the ground,” said SpaceX founder Elon Musk. “And if that looks good, if things look good at that point, we feel it’s qualified for reuse in launch.” It’s the company’s first launch to the ISS since their Falcon 9 rocket exploded last summer.

Read more at: Bay News9

SpaceX Launches CRS-8 Space Station Re-Supply Mission (Video)

A Falcon 9 rocket lauched the Dragon spacecraft carrying 7,000 lbs. (3175 kg) of supplies, vehicle hardware and science experiments on April 8th, 2016. In a spaceflight first, the first stage of the rocket successfully landed on an ocean barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

Read more at: Space.com

SpaceX Dragon will Launch with a New  Abort Option, Just in Case

Last summer, just two minutes after liftoff, the company’s seemingly routine delivery to the station went up in flames, destroying the Dragon capsule and the several thousand pounds of supplies and science experiments it was hauling. No one was harmed, but the loss was undoubtedly in the millions of dollars.

SpaceX has since fixed the problem that caused the explosion—a faulty support strut was to blame—and they’re flying on an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 that has already successfully launched two payloads. But if tonight’s launch were to fail, some of the cargo might be saved this time around. That’s because SpaceX is adding an abort option that’s designed to carry the capsule to safety.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said at the time of the disaster that the Dragon could have survived the explosion, if only it had known to deploy its parachutes. This Dragon and all subsequent ISS missions will carry the new software that will make sure it does next time around, so that the Dragon and its contents can drop down softly into the ocean.

Read more at: Popsci

Jeff Bezos Company Planning Human Test Space Flights by 2017

Private space travel company Blue Origin expects its first test flights with people in 2017, company founder Jeff Bezos said during a tour of the venture’s research and development site outside Seattle.

And Bezos said Tuesday that thousands of people have exclied interest in eventually paying for a trip on a suborbital craft.

For now, the man who founded Amazon.com is spending some of the billions earned from the Seattle-based online retailer on high tech equipment and about 600 employees working in a former Boeing airplane parts facility. Bezos said he’s convinced the company — a vision of his childhood dreams — will eventually be profitable.

Read more at: NBC News

Chinese Experiment Satellite Blasts off Atop Long March Rocket for Two-Week Stay in Space

China’s Long March 2D rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 17:38 UTC on Tuesday, carrying the Shijian-10 research satellite to orbit. Shijian-10 is set for a 15-day stay in Low Earth Orbit, performing 20 different scientific experiments before returning them to the ground for detailed analysis to deliver data on fluid dynamics, in-space combustion, materials science, physical mechanisms in microgravity and biology.

Shijian-10 is the second recoverable satellite flown under the Shijian Satellite Program that started back in 1971 with the launch of Shijian-1.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

SES Ready to Invest in Reusable Rockets, in-orbit Satellite Servicing

Satellite fleet operator SES on April 7 said it was ready to invest in satellite in-orbit refueling and in-orbit payload swaps in addition to its previously stated willingness to be the first customer to use a refurbished SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage for a launch.

In its annual report to investors, released after Luxembourg-based SES’s annual shareholder meeting, the company presented itself as pushing the envelope of new rocket and satellite technologies even as it keeps focused on the bottom line and increases its dividend.

SES said specifically it had opened negotiations with two companies — industry officials said they are Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK’s Vivisat and MDA Corp. of Canada — “to have each extend the life of one of our satellites once their services are operational.”

Read more at: Space News

Sen. Peters Leads Colleagues in Calling for Funding to Support First Mars Missions

U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) led a bipartisan group of 16 Senators to call for strong funding for NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) in a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. The Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket are the cornerstone programs of NASA’s ongoing human space exploration efforts.

“Exploring deep space is vital to inspiring our future innovators and stimulating our economy through technological innovation and development,” wrote the Senators in the letter. “These unparalleled space exploration systems will enable humans to travel farther into the solar system than ever before, spawn new scientific advancements, and result in unprecedented scientific discoveries about our universe.”

Read more at: Spaceref

How the “Space Fence” will Help Keep Orbital Junk from Killing Satellites

When the Air Force turns on its new “Space Fence” radar system in 2018, it will be able to detect far more objects in orbit than the 17,000 currently tracked by the 1960s-vintage Space Surveillance System. But just how much junk is up there?

A lot. Several million objects are currently in orbit. In 2015 the International Space Station crew had to make at least 25 avoidance maneuvers to dodge them. Variously-sized bits and pieces traveling at speeds of nearly eight miles per second passed the station four times last year. And while the Space Fence won’t block orbital collisions or “conjunctions” as the U.S.A.F. likes to call them, it will help prevent them.

“Nobody really knows exactly how many objects we’ll see,” says Steve Bruce, Lockheed Martin special projects manager for Space Fence, “but there are estimates of somewhere between 100,000-200,000.”

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Plans to Upgrade Kennedy Space Center Reach New Milestone

NASA recently announced that the agency’s new crew-rated Space Launch System (SLS) super-heavy-lift booster and Orion spacecraft have reached a new milestone with the completion of a comprehensive review of plans for the facilities and ground support systems at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) that will process the rocket and spacecraft.

“NASA is developing and modernizing the ground systems at Kennedy to safely integrate Orion with SLS, move the vehicle to the pad, and successfully launch it into space,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division via a release issued by the company. “Modernizing the ground systems for our journey to Mars also ensures long-term sustainability and affordability to meet future needs of the multi-use spaceport.”

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

The Challenges of Commercializing Research in Low Earth Orbit

On Friday afternoon, a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station, the first resupply mission by the company since a June launch failure. Included in its cargo is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an inflatable (or expandable, as Bigelow Aerospace prefers to say) module that will be attached to the station. If all goes as planned, by late May the BEAM will be installed and expanded to its full size, enabling tests of the technology.

Bigelow is just the latest in a wide range of companies to make use of the ISS for technology demonstration, satellite launches, and research of various types. Bigelow, though, has plans to develop its own space stations as well, and sees BEAM as the next step in those plans.

Read more at: Space Review

Airbus Safran Launchers Aims for ‘the Discipline of the Flow’ in Ariane 6 Integration

Europe’s rocket industry has gone 40 years by integrating its Ariane rockets vertically and then rolling them out by rail, upright, to the launch pad. That is about to end. The historical practice has produced the Final Assembly Building at Europe’s Guiana Space Center, an 83-meter-high steel structure.

But following a decision by Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) and the European Space Agency, the future Ariane 6 rocket will be assembled horizontally as a cost-saving measure.

Patrick Bonguet, head of Ariane 6 development at ASL, described some of the benefits of the change on April 6 during a press briefing at ASL’s facility here. Here are excerpts from his remarks. “We are now in this mindset transformation, where people don’t now see all the benefits. For horizontal integration, the buildings are much more simple. There are no cranes and no hazardous moving operations. It also permits a good growth potential since it’s the kind of building you can expand.

Read more at: Space News

Comet, Asteroid Impacts 4 Billion Years Ago Likely Enhanced Life-Supporting Habitat on Mars

The bombardment of the Red Planet about 4 billion years ago (Noachian period) by giant comets and asteroids likely enhanced climate conditions enough to make the planet more conducive to life, at least for a time, according to a new study that will be published in the May 15 issue of thejournal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

“If early Mars was as barren and cold as it is today, massive asteroid and comet impacts would have produced enough heat to melt subsurface ice,” explained study co-author Prof. Stephen Mojzsis, from the University of Colorado Boulder.

“The impacts would have produced regional hydrothermal systems on Mars similar to those in Yellowstone National Park, which today harbor chemically powered microbes, some of which can survive boiling in hot springs or inhabiting water acidic enough to dissolve nails.”

Read more at: Sci-news

United Launch Alliance Releases Application for University CubeSat Competition

Applications are now open for U.S. colleges and universities to compete for free CubeSat rides on United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rockets. ULA, the nation’s most experienced launch company, has successfully launched 106 missions, including 55 CubeSats, with 100 percent mission success. Tyvak Nanosatellite Systems, Inc., will provide no-cost access to space for selected science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) CubeSat customers for rideshares on ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicle, as well as low-cost access to space for commercial and U.S. government CubeSat customers.

CubeSat competition applications, available at www.ulalaunch.com/cubesats.aspx, are due June 1, 2016, and winning schools will be announced during the summer.

Read more at: ULA Launch

NASA Gives Orbital ATK Sounding Rocket Contract

NASA has awarded Orbital ATK a contract worth up to nearly $200 million to remain the prime contractor for the agency’s Sounding Rockets Program, according to press statements issued by both groups.
The program uses sounding rockets to hold suborbital missions for atmospheric and scientific research.
The one-year cost-plus-fixed-fee contract was awarded to Orbital ATK following an open competition held by NASA. It includes four one-year option periods, which if exercised, would bring the total value of the contract to approximately $199.5 million.

Read more at: Pddnet

Re-Entry: Russian Rocket Stage from Recent ISS Cargo Launch

The Soyuz rocket stage involved in the successful launch of the Progress MS-02 cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station re-entered Sunday morning after two and a half days in orbit. Re-Entry occurred over the Indian Ocean, south-west of Australia. Re-Entry could not be observed from the ground unlike a number of Soyuz rocket body re-entries seen last year.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Ukraine, China Agree to Push Forward Cooperation in Space Sector

Ukraine and China have ratified a program on bilateral cooperation in the space sector for the 2016-2020 period, the State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) said Friday.

“The document covers 71 projects in the space sphere,” Nataliya Borotkanych, the SSAU’s spokesperson, told Xinhua. In particular, the program envisages cooperation between the two countries in creating aerospace equipment and a mission to study the planets of the solar system, according to the SSAU.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Asteroid-Hunting Spacecraft Delivers a Second Year of Data

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission has released its second year of survey data. The spacecraft has now characterized a total of 439 NEOs since the mission was re-started in December 2013. Of these, 72 were new discoveries.

Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of the giant planets in our solar system into orbits that allow them to enter Earth’s neighborhood. Eight of the objects discovered in the past year have been classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs), based on their size and how closely their orbits approach Earth

Read more at: NASA JPL

Russia Plans to Build Lunar Base in 2030-2035 — Space Corporation

It is planned to build Russia’s base on the Moon in the period from 2030 to 2035, executive director of manned space programs of the Roscosmos State Space Corporation Sergey Krikalev said on Tuesday.

“Landing on the Moon is planned by 2030, and in the following period until 2035 the assembly of the lunar base, lunar station will be carried out,” he said.

The proposed base will include a solar power station, telecommunication station, technological station, scientific station, long-range research rover, landing and launch area, and an orbiting satellite.

Read more at: TASS

Post-Shuttle Era Record Set to be Matched with CRS-8

When the next SpaceX Dragon cargo ship arrives at the International Space Station (ISS) this weekend, it will set a record for the most vehicles docked or berthed with the outpost in the post-Space Shuttle era.

There are currently five vehicles at the ISS—two Russian Soyuz, two Progress freighters, and Orbital ATK’s Cygnus. When the CRS-8 Dragon arrives, that number will increase to six. It will also be the first time two commercial cargo ship are at the outpost simultaneously.

The last—and only other—time six ships were attached to the orbiting lab was Feb. 26–March 7, 2011, when Space Shuttle Discovery was docked for the STS-133 mission. That was also the only time that all of the originally planned government-owned spacecraft (Space Shuttle, Soyuz, Progress, Japanese HTV, and the European Space Agency’s ATV) were at the station.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

ULA Narrows Down Cause of Atlas V Performance Anomaly in Recent Cygnus Launch

United Launch Alliance narrowed down last week’s in-flight anomaly of the Atlas V rocket launching the Cygnus cargo craft to the first stage’s fuel system as the likely culprit for the significant performance shortfall and early shutdown of the first stage.

In a statement released on Thursday, ULA said “the team has been successful in isolating the anomaly to the first stage fuel system and its associated components.” No further details on the cause of the anomaly were provided as work is still underway to isolate the root cause of the problem that emerged during the operation of the Common Core Booster during its four-minute and ten-second burn last week.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

​What is Yuri’s Night?

On April 12, 1961 cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into space. On the same date in 1981, the first reusable spacecraft, Space Shuttle Columbia, was launched. Now, each year on the night of April 12, people around the planet commemorate these historic journeys during Yuri’s Night celebrations as part of a “world space party.” Yuri’s Night events occur on all seven continents and (naturally) aboard the International Space Station.

Yuri’s Night gatherings have a range of themes. According to the official Yuri’s Night website, which is run by several dedicated volunteers, “Yuri’s Night events combine space-themed partying with education and outreach. These events can range from an all-night mix of techno and technology at a NASA Center, to a movie showing and stargazing at your local college, to a gathering of friends at a bar or barbecue.”

Read more at: MNN

Seattle Girls Who Sent a Balloon to the Edge of Space are Heading to the White House

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and now the White House are taking notice of two Seattle elementary school girls.

In September, intrepid innovators Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung successfully sent a homemade craft to the edge of space — captivating the GeekWire audience. The “Loki Lego Launcher,” named for their late cat and an R2D2 lego that rode aboard, rose to 78,000 feet, propelled by a helium-filled weather balloon. The craft had a GPS tracker and two GoPros on board, which captured the amazing footage below.

Read more at: Geekwire

NASA ‘Hubble Hugger’ and Science Chief John Grunsfeld to Retire

Five time space shuttle astronaut and current NASA science chief John Grunsfeld – best known as the ‘Hubble Hugger’ for three critical and dramatic servicing and upgrade missions to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope – his decided to retire from the space agency he faithfully served since being selected as an astronaut in 1992.

“John Grunsfeld will retire from NASA April 30, capping nearly four decades of science and exploration with the agency. His tenure includes serving as astronaut, chief scientist, and head of NASA’s Earth and space science activities,” NASA announced.

Read more at: Universe Today

How the Saturn V Broke into Pieces Launching to the Moon

When the Sun rose on the morning of November 9, 1967, Cape Canaveral was quietly buzzing with activity. Along with birds and reptiles that called Merritt Island home was a 363-foot tall monolith, the first flight-ready Saturn V rocket primed to take flight from launch complex 39. Just after 7am, the ground shook as the rocket roared to life sending shockwaves through the nature preserve. Seconds later it began lumbering off the ground, slowly gaining speed as it cleared the tower and began arcing its way into orbit.

The Flight of Apollo 4 was the first all-up test of a Saturn V, making sure it could get an Apollo command-service module into to right orbit before putting the spacecraft through its paces. And that meant the rocket had to go through its complex and precise staging perfectly.

Read more at: Popsci

Spacecraft of the Week: Skylab

Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at space stations and the ways they have and haven’t changed from the first Russian Salyut modules. The first space station launched by the United States was also the direct predecessor of the International Space Station. Skylab launched in 1973 from the Kennedy Space Center, allowing people to spend longer periods living and working in space. It would double the previous 14-day record set by Americans Frank Borman and James Lovell.

Skylab was launched on May 14, 1979, and consisted of a 11,334 square foot space including a workshop, solar observatory, docking adapter, and life support. This was four times the size of the Salyut.

Read more at: Pddnet

The Most Extreme Human Spaceflight Records

On April 12, 1961, humanity became a spacefaring species when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin blasted into orbit on a 108-minute flight high above Earth.

So Gagarin set the original record — first person in space. But over the years, people have notched many other records as our species has extended its toehold in the cold depths of space. Here’s a look at some of these marks, from the oldest person in space to the most consecutive days spent away from terra firma.

Read more at: Space.com

China’s Racing to Space. Is it a Military Ploy?

China plans to launch more than 20 space missions in 2016, making the year ahead the busiest ever for the nation’s rapidly growing space program.

After successfully launching 19 missions in 2015, the People’s Republic plans a range of civilian and military missions that will test new rockets, launch a space laboratory, hone China’s manned spaceflight capability and loft new satellites into orbit — all while furthering plans to bring a habitable space station online by 2022 and put Chinese astronauts on the moon in the mid-2020s.

Read more at: NBC News

Beyond the Fighter Jet: The Air Force of 2030

In its quest to dominate the air battlefield of the future, the US Air Force may look to replace the traditional fighter jet with a network of integrated systems disaggregated across multiple platforms.

The Air Force on Thursday rolled out the initial findings of a team tasked last year to explore options for maintaining air superiority in the future battle space. The group, the Air Superiority 2030 Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team, found that the best path forward is developing a “family of systems” to address the range of threats in a highly contested environment.

As near-peer adversaries like Russia and China continue to close the capability gap, building long-range missiles, anti-satellite and anti-aircraft weapons designed to foil US forces’ ability to penetrate, the Air Force must find new ways to dominate the air.

Read more at: Defense News

How the Defense Innovation Initiative Can Help Deter a “Space Pearl Harbor”

In November 2014, then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel established the Defense Innovation Initiative (DII), which is “a broad, Department-wide initiative to pursue innovative ways to sustain and advance our military superiority for the 21st Century and improve business operations throughout the Department.” Current Defense Secretary Ash Carter also wants DII to “make DoD more open to the infusion of non-traditional technical ideas and talent.”

DII has two key efforts. First, the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx) is “designed to create a hub for increased communication with, knowledge of, and access to innovating, high-tech start-up companies and entrepreneurs and their leading edge technologies.” Second, the Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program (LRRDPP) is “designed to help the Department better understand and prioritize new or unconventional application of technology in an effort to provide the U.S. with significant military technological advantage into the future.”

Read more at: Space Review