U.S. Air Force Space Tracking Software Delayed 19 Months

A long-awaited update to the hardware and software system that will allow the U.S. Air Force to ingest data from its new object tracking system, known as Space Fence, will not be ready until 2018, about 19 months later than previous estimates, an Air Force spokeswoman said April 11.

The Air Force has been undergoing a broad modernization of the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), the processing center of U.S. military space operations headquartered at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The program, known as the JSpOC Mission System (JMS), is a three-phased, $1 billion initiative to replace or upgrade the hardware and software currently used for space surveillance, collision avoidance, launch support, and providing more precise and timely orbital information.

Read more at: Space News

Expandable Crew Module Attached to Space Station

Flight controllers remotely operating the International Space Station’s robot arm pulled an experimental expandable crew compartment out of the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon supply ship early Saturday and moved it into place for attachment to the lab’s Tranquility module for two years of tests.

When the still-collapsed 3,100-pound Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, was properly aligned with Tranquility’s aft-facing port, motorized bolts in the common berthing mechanism drove home to lock it firmly in place at 5:36 a.m. EDT (GMT-4).

The module will remain compressed, measuring about 8 feet in diameter and 6 feet long, until May 27 when station air will be directed inside to begin the process of inflating it to full size. Internal air tanks then will be opened to complete the expansion, resulting in a bedroom-size compartment with about 565 cubic feet of volume measuring 10.5-feet wide by 13-feet long.

Read more at: CBS News

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo Readied for New ‘Space Renaissance’

Virgin Galactic is positioning itself as a key player in the new “space renaissance” as it returns SpaceShipTwo to flight testing, chalks up commitments for its small satellite launch service, and teams up with Northrop Grumman on the US military’s XS-1 spaceplane programme.

The space group’s chief executive George Whitesides says in the coming years there will be significant flight demonstrations by Blue Origin, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and many others, and Virgin has its own milestones coming up.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of hardware development going on right now,” Whitesides tells Flightglobal at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on 13 April.

Read more at: Flight Global

‘It’s Always Next Year’: The Long Wait to Realise the Dream of Space Tourism

Wilson da Silva has harboured the dream of space travel since childhood: ‘I used to lie in Sydney on the front lawn looking up at the stars and imagine myself exploring the galaxy, and it just seemed like a thing that was very exciting and mind-expanding even as a 10-year-old.’

Da Silva, a science journalist, documentary maker and editor-at-large of science magazine Cosmos, bought a ticket to ride on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic in 2004, shelling out $US200,000 for the privilege of being one of the first 100 to take the trip with the company into space. Alongside him will be his good friend Alan Finkel—a former publisher of Cosmos and now Australia’s chief scientist—and Finkel’s two sons Victor and Alex. Da Silva jokingly refers to it as the ‘ultimate geek bro ride’.

Read more at: ABC AU

Chain of Onboard Failures Responsible for Sending Hitomi Observatory into Deathly Tumble

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency pieced together a rough timeline of the events sending the agency’s Hitomi spacecraft into an uncontrolled tumble, causing the spacecraft to break up in late March. Analysis of available telemetry data suggests a chain of errors led to the 2,700-Kilogram spacecraft entering a tumble when using invalid attitude data and operating its thrusters according to improper settings.

Hitomi, launched back on February 17, ran into severe trouble on Saturday, March 26 when it failed to check in with a ground station during a scheduled communications pass. Five debris objects separated from the spacecraft were tracked in orbit and calculations by the Joint Space Operations Center showed they were liberated from Hitomi around 1:42 UTC +/-11 minutes, indicting a very serious onboard anomaly had transpired.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

NASA is Trying to Resuscitate its Planet-hunting Kepler Spacecraft

NASA is trying to resuscitate its planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, in a state of emergency 75 million miles away. The treasured spacecraft — responsible for detecting nearly 5,000 planets outside our solar system — slipped into emergency mode sometime last week.

The last regular contact was April 4; everything seemed normal then. Ground controllers discovered the problem Thursday, right before they were going to point Kepler toward the centre of the Milky Way as part of a new kind of planetary survey.

Kepler was going to join ground observatories in surveying millions of stars in the heart of our galaxy, in hopes of finding planets far from their suns, like our own outer planets, as well as stray planets that might be wandering between stars.

This is the latest crisis in the life of Kepler.

Read more at: AU News

Russia vs. Elon Musk: U.S. Startup Threatens Moscow’s Role in Space

Over the past decade, tech billionaire Elon Musk has been fond of telling people that he wants to die on Mars.

But with the recent successes of his company SpaceX, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur-turned-rocket man has taken to qualifying his remarks. “My family fears Russia will assassinate me [first],” he told a Bloomberg reporter last year.

Musk can perhaps be forgiven for feeling this way. On April 9, just days before Russians celebrated the 55th anniversary of Yury Gagarin’s historic flight into space, SpaceX successfully landed one of its rockets on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a clear demonstration that Musk is on the verge of radically transforming the business of space exploration, an industry traditionally dominated by Russia.

SpaceX hopes to begin reusing its rockets 10 to 20 times, and Musk has on various occasions claimed that reusability can reduce costs for launching things into space by a factor of 100.

Read more at: Moscow Times

United Launch Alliance to Lay Off up to 875 by End of 2017: CEO

United Launch Alliance plans to cut up to 875 jobs, or about one-quarter of its workforce, before the end of 2017 to better compete against rivals bankrolled by billionaire entrepreneurs including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, ULA’s chief executive said on Thursday.

ULA, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and Boeing Co (BA.N), expects a first round of 375 job cuts to be accomplished this year, mostly through voluntary layoffs. In an interview with Reuters, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said another 400 to 500 employees would be cut by the end of 2017.

Read more at: Reuters

Experimental Spaceplane Program Enters Phase 2

While companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin continue to grab headlines with their reusable booster programs, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that their Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program has entered its second phase—fabricating an experimental vehicle.

DARPA started the project in 2013 with the goal of demonstrating the technology needed to build and fly an uncrewed reusable aircraft in a suborbital trajectory before deploying an expendable upper stage to send payload to orbit. Initially, that cargo would weigh as much as 900 pounds (408 kilograms), but the ultimate goal is to send 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) or more to orbit with a larger upper stage. This system would need to demonstrate an ability to fly 10 times in a 10-day period for less than $5 million per launch. It is hoped the first launch of the system will occur by 2020.

Phase 1 was geared toward evaluating the technical feasibility and concepts for achieving this goal. In 2014, DARPA awarded prime contracts to three company teams: The Boeing Company with Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems with XCOR Aerospace, and Northrop Grumman Corporation with Virgin Galactic.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Russia Sole Country to Reduce Orbital Space Junk Last Year — NASA Report

The amount of space junk accumulated in the near-Earth orbit last year increased by several hundred objects while Russia proved to be the sole country to reduce its share of debris in orbit, a NASA report said on Friday.

According to the data of US ballistics specialists, there were 17,385 man-made objects in orbit as of April 6: 4,041 satellites both operational and withdrawn from operation and 13,344 space rocket upper stages, acceleration units and various fragments.

As of April 1, 2015, there were 16,926 objects in the near-Earth orbit, including 13,019 space rocket stages, acceleration units and spacecraft fragments and 3,907 satellites. Overall, the international satellite grouping was replenished with 130 satellites and 325 space junk objects over the year.

According to the NASA report, Russia’s share of space junk in the near-Earth orbit decreased while the share of other countries’ debris increased.

Read more at: TASS

Pentagon Begins Revising DOD Space Policy

The Pentagon is in the early stages of revising its space policy for the first time in more than three years, a move that would provide an updated framework for how the Defense Department’s space enterprise operates.

The revisions would flesh out the Defense Department’s guidance on several topics including how to best take advantage of rapidly evolving commercial capabilities and how to protect military and spy satellites from attack, according to government and industry sources. The changes may also incorporate a more thorough policy on offensive space tactics, they said.

Read more at: Space News

Closing the Case for Reusable Launchers

When a SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted off Friday from Cape Canaveral, the attention of NASA, and some scientists and companies, was on the Dragon cargo spacecraft it carried. The Dragon, flying its first resupply mission to the International Space Station since a June 2015 launch failure, was carrying more than 3,000 kilograms of cargo, including a number of scientific experiments. Also on the Dragon was the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), a prototype of a habitat module developed by Bigelow Aerospace that will later be attached to the station.

Everyone else, though, seemed to be focused on what would happen with the rocket’s first stage. Four previous times, dating back to January of last year, SpaceX had tried to land the stage on a ship in the ocean. All four of those times failed, even while coming tantalizingly close at times: a January landing attempt failed when the stage landed on the ship, but toppled over when one of the landing legs failed to lock in place. By contrast, the first attempt to land a stage back on land, last December, succeeded spectacularly

Read more at: Space Review

DoD Embraces Commercial Space Boom, But Warns of Limits

From reusable rocket engines to hypersonic spaceplanes, the Pentagon is looking to leverage a recent boom in commercial space innovation for military applications.

But not all missions can be outsourced, according to one top military official.

Space Command Chief Gen. John Hyten laid out the case for the Defense Department’s continued dominance of the space arena here at the Space Foundation’s annual Space Symposium. The US Air Force will control the vast space surveillance network for the foreseeable future, he emphasized during a Thursday media briefing.

Read more at: Defense News

ESA Head Calls for ‘Space Without Borders’ During First China Visit

Johann-Dietrich Woerner, Director-General of the European Space Agency, has completed his first visit to China, where he called for greater and open international cooperation in space.

The trip to China, one of ESA’s three strategic partners, along with Nasa and Roscosmos of Russia, was described by ESA as a courtesy meeting and chance to meet and update on respective activities took place in late March and early April.

Mr Woerner, who took over as ESA Director-General from Jean-Jacques Dordain in July last year, is understood to have met key players in China’s aerospace industry, as well as visiting the National Space Science Centre (NSSC) and Beihang University, both in Beijing.

Read more at: Gb Times

Orbital ATK Signs Intelsat as First Satellite Servicing Customer

Orbital ATK has signed Intelsat as its first customer for a revived satellite life extension program as part of the company’s ambitions to create a growing market for satellite servicing for commercial and government customers.

At a press conference during the 32nd Space Symposium here, Orbital ATK said it has also established a new subsidiary to handle its satellite servicing efforts, replacing a joint venture that failed to raise sufficient funding to develop the system.

“About a month ago, Orbital ATK decided to make a substantial investment in commercial satellite in-orbit servicing, because we believe there’s a real market for space logistics,” said Tom Wilson, president of Space Logistics LLC, the new Orbital ATK subsidiary responsible for its satellite servicing efforts.

Read more at: Space News

A Major Role for the EU in Lunar Development

The economy of the European Union (a GDP of $18.5 trillion) exceeds that of the United States, at $17.3 trillion. If Switzerland, Norway, and other associated countries are included, the economy of Europe exceeds that of the US by about $3 trillion. Yet, the EU invests much less in civilian space exploration and space development than the US. The EU has never aspired to lead a large-scale space initiative that could capture the attention of people around the globe.

Nevertheless, the EU is a global leader in many realms of science and technology that would be key to the EU providing leadership to a major global space effort. ESA and its member states have a stellar record of successes in space exploration, such as Mars Express and the Rosetta comet mission. The EU has the scientific, technical, and financial capacity to lead a collaborative global project at the scale of the International Space Station (or larger).

Read more at: Space Review

ISS Program is Blueprint for Global Cooperation — NASA

The International Space Station (ISS) program that is carried out 55 years after the world’s first space flight of Yuri Gagarin, has confirmed the possibility of successful cooperation between the United States and Russia, and has become an important stage in the preparation of the first manned flight to Mars, Stephanie Schierholz, spokesperson for the NASA Administrator, said in an interview with TASS on the eve of Cosmonautics Day that is marked in Russia on April 12.

According to her, “The International Space Station is the blueprint for global cooperation one that enables a US-led multinational partnership and advances shared goals in space exploration. We are undeniably stronger through our partnerships,” the NASA spokeswoman said. “Working together, we can advance knowledge of our planet, our solar system, our sun, and our universe – for all of humanity,” Schierholz said.

Read more at: TASS

US Wants Space Security Dialogue with GCC Nations

After announcing an agreement this week to share space situational awareness data with the United Arab Emirates, the US is looking to expand dialogue on space security to other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, according to a top US official.

The US already engages in space security discussions with a range of partner nations, including Turkey, Chile and Vietnam, Frank Rose, assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance at the State Department, said Thursday at the Space Foundation’s annual National Space Symposium. Potentially expanding these conversations to additional GCC states is part of the effort to enhance space cooperation across the globe, he said.

Read more at: Defense News

Russia Working on New Generation of Space Rocket Engines

The Russian space industry is working on the creation of new rocket engines for advanced launch vehicles, Russia’s Federal Space Agency Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said Tuesday.

The Russian-built RD-180, the successor to the Soviet RD-170, is featuring a dual-combustion chamber and a dual-nozzle design. It has been in service since 2000. “We are conducting a serious work on the creation of new sources of energy for inter-orbital tugs and launch vehicles,” Komarov told Rossiya 24 broadcaster.

He added that the company was also working on the upgrade for Russian RD-180 rocket engines. All key components for Russia’s space industry will be manufactured in Russia by 2020, Komarov said.

Read more at: Space Daily

China’s Tiangong-2 Space Lab to Launch in September, Dock with Shenzhou-11 in October

China has completed assembly of Tiangong-2, the country’s second space lab, and will launch the space station prototype in September, it has been revealed.

A month after launch on a Long March 2F/G rocket, Tiangong-2 will be visited by two astronauts lofted into orbit on the Shenzhou-11 mission, according to state media China News Service (Chinese). The astronauts will spend 30 days in orbit, doubling the nation’s record for time spent in orbit, as China gears up to establish its own Mir-class space station by 2020.

According to China Central Television, assembly of the Tiangong-2 space lab has been completed and will be used to test life support, refuelling and other systems for the Chinese Space Station.

Read more at: Gb Times

Why Congress’s Newest Space Advocate Says the U.S. Faces a ‘Sputnik Moment’

For a politician, there’s not a lot to gain in space. Voters tend care more about taxes, health care and immigration than issues as abstract as who’s monitoring the debris in space.

But Rep. Jim Bridenstine thinks a lot about space debris — and space in general: how all that traffic up there should be managed, how wars would be fought in space, how we might get to Mars.

He’s not some far out, cosmic hippy type with a collection of funky space ties, even if he was the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium before he was elected to Congress. Rather, he’s a staunch, dark-suited Republican from Oklahoma who still keeps his hair high and tight in accordance with Navy regulations. And though he’s a rookie in the Capitol, with only about three years of experience as a congressman, he’s ambitious and looking to make a mark as a member of the House Armed Services and Space, Science and Technology committees.

Read more at: Washington Post

Space Exploration: The Future is Now

From the dawn of civilization, humans have dreamed of exploring the cosmos. To date, we have launched over 60 successful missions to the Moon (including six that landed on the Moon with humans), 17 successfulmissions to Mars, 13 missions to the outer solar system, and five that have left the solar system.

However, many have been concerned lately that the glory days of space exploration are behind us. The Apollo missions ended 44 years ago, and still we have not returned to the Moon. Our current Mars missions are only modestly more sophisticated than earlier missions. And futuristic dreams of humans traveling to the planets and to the cosmos have remained decades if not centuries away.

Read more at: Huffington Post

Space Station Completes Scheduled Orbital Reboost

The International Space Station completed a scheduled reboost of its orbit on Wednesday, using the Progress MS-02 spacecraft to raise the Station’s orbit. Progress MS-02 arrived at ISS on April 2 after a two-day rendezvous, docking to the aft end of the Zvezda Service Module. Craft docked to Zvezda are primarily used for propulsive maneuvers given the positioning on the aft end of ISS, delivering a posigrade thrust component without re-orienting ISS.

Wednesday’s reboost was completed at 12:20 UTC and was 254 seconds in duration, increasing the station’s speed by 0.5 meters per second. Orbital tracking data showed the Space Station in an orbit of 401.9 by 405.5 Kilometers prior to the reboost and the maneuver raised the orbit by approximately 900 meters, according to the Russian Mission Control Center.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Incredibly Bright Space Object Explodes Over Saudi Arabia on April 3

An incredibly bright bolide that exploded over northern Saudi Arabia, April 3, 2016.

Read more at: strangesounds

Russia to Shift all Lunar Launches to Vostochny Cosmodrome

Russia will stop using the Soviet-era Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for lunar launches, according to Russian-based Rocket and Space Corporation (RSC Energia).

Moscow made the decision to shift all operations linked to Russia’s moon mission to the Vostochny cosmodrome, the company behind the program said Monday.

“All further works to implement the lunar program, including a flight around the moon and a moon landing will take place after 2025. All launches will take place at the Vostochny cosmodrome,” RSC Energia General Designer Yevgeny Mikrin said.

Vostochny in Russia’s Far East was conceived as an alternative to Baikonur, which is on lease to Russia until 2050.

Read more at: Moon Daily

Moon or Mars? Lockheed Preps Orion for Deep Space Adventure

It’s a debate that has raged since NASA’s last Apollo lunar mission in 1972. Should America return to the Moon or press on to Mars?

According to the deputy programme manager for Lockheed Martin’s Orion multipurpose crew vehicle, there’s no right or wrong answer because the crewed spacecraft is capable of visiting either celestial body. Though the stated goal of the US space agency’s Space Launch System and Orion programmes is to carry humans to Mars in the 2030s, the next administration that takes office in January 2017 could opt for a nearer-term lunar mission as a stepping stone to Mars.

“It’s not like Apollo, which was point-designed to go to the Moon – and even a very small location on the moon, the mid-latitude,” Laurence Price tells Flightglobal at the Space Symposium inColorado Springs, Colorado this week. “We’re building a multi-purpose crew vehicle. We’re building a machine that’s going to enable this exploration capability.”

Read more at: Flight Global

Swedish Company Introduces New Ground Operations Service for Small Satellites

The Swedish Space Corporation, a company providing advanced space services, announced Wednesday, April 13, its newest project dedicated to lowering the operational costs of small satellites. The new product, called SSC Infinity, is a set of new ground operations services that will utilize full-motion antennas in the 16-foot (five-meter) or smaller class. The company hopes that its newest offer will reduce risks associated with satellite launch, insertion, system and constellation checkout.

The system was presented at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It consists of a range of highly automated services that use full-motion antennas. These antennas are optimized for communication with small satellites and constellations. If needed, they could be also augmented with larger ones to support the most demanding small spacecraft or even a constellation of satellites.

According to a company official, SSC, due to its vast experience in building technologically advanced space services, has mastered the development of ground operations systems. As thus, creating Infinity wasn’t really a big challenge.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Northrop Backs XS-1 Spaceplane to Join Satellite Launch Market

The company’s vice-president of space systems resiliency Doug Young tells Flightglobal that Northrop will likely press forward with its XS-1 concept through “other ways and means” if it isn’t downselected for the programme’s $140 million demonstration phase.

Northrop is one of three industry teams sponsored by DARPA to bring its competing concept up to the preliminary design review stage. It’s teamed with Virgin Galactic but wouldn’t confirm if it is using the company’s LauncherOne system as an expendable upper stage.

The other teams are Boeing – with Blue Origin – and Masten Space Systems, partnered with XCOR Aerospace.

“We see the real value of this capability to the government’s responsive launch needs and we see a viable niche in the commercial market,” says Young. “We’re very serious about it and we’re playing to win.

Read more at: Flight Global

Russia, Italy Plan First Bid to Explore Beneath Mars Surface in 2018

The Russian and Italian space agencies have joined forces on the first mission to drill deep beneath the surface of Mars in 2018 and explore the geological composition of the planet’s crust, Italian Space Agency (ASI) President Roberto Battiston told Sputnik.

The joint Russian-Italian project is scheduled for 2018. It marks the first time that any nation or joint project between nations will carry out deep drilling beneath the Martian surface, Battiston noted.

“The launch of 2016 was a great success. We are preparing for the next one that will bring to Mars a lander with a driller, which for the first time will go very deep under the surface of Mars,” Battiston said on Tuesday at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

Read more at: Mars Daily

Bigelow Aerospace and ULA Team to Launch B330 Habitat in 2020

Speaking at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado on 11 April, hotel tycoon and company founder Robert Bigelow said ULA’s Atlas V rocket is uniquely suited to launch the first B330, which can accommodate six people in a habitable volume of 330m².

Though no concrete details were given about cost and who will fund the operation, the two companies say up to two full-scale B330s should be ready by late 2019, to fly in 2020.

The next in a series of steps toward developing and qualifying the B330 will start when the NASA-funded Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is attached to the ISS.

Read more at: Flight Global

Ruag to Make Payload Fairings for ULA’s Vulcan

Swiss manufacturer Ruag Space will build composite payload fairings for United Launch Alliance’s future Vulcan launch vehicle at ULA’s Alabama plant, the companies announced April 12.

Under the agreement, Ruag will provide payload fairings and other composite structures for the Vulcan launch vehicle. The Zurich-based company currently produces the five-meter payload fairing for the Atlas 5 and the rocket’s interstage adapter. Ruag will build a similar payload fairing for Vulcan as well as a smaller model, which can also be used on the Atlas.

The announcement builds upon a strategic partnership Ruag and ULA announced last August, where Ruag agreed to start building Atlas composite structures within the Decatur, Alabama, plant where ULA builds the Atlas.

Read more at: Space News

United in Space: China, India Pave the Way to BRICS Cooperation in Space

A few days ago during his visit to India, Wu Yanhua, Deputy Administrator for the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA), said Chinese and Indian space scientists would begin cooperation in the field of aerospace.

This announcement also comes amidst the plan of all BRICS members to have their own satellite  system to avoid becoming dependent from US technology and equipment in space.

The fact that China and India decided to work together is a big deal, especially considering that until recently the two were rivals when it came to space.

According to Kashin, China might be a bit more advanced in space, but India “has its own distinct advantages.” For example, China has more powerful missile-carriers and more experience in developing spacecraft. India, on the other hand, is better at developing space-related software and electronic components.

Read more at: Sputnik News

How Quickly did the Crew of Apollo 13 Know They had Lost the Moon?

Forty-six hours and 43 minutes into the flight of Apollo 13, Capcom Joe Kerwin had a mission update for commander Jim Lovell: “The spacecraft is in real good shape as far as we are concerned. We’re bored to tears down here.” Nine hours later, things got a lot less boring. A routine stir of the cryogenic oxygen tanks to stop the super chilled gas from stratifying caused a wire in tank 2 to arc. It ruptured, taking oxygen tank 1 with it. Bleeding this vital gas, Apollo 13 lost its electricity, light, and water supply was lost. Of course, no one on board or in Houston knew exactly what had happened. So at what point did it finally become clear to the crew that Apollo 13 wouldn’t be landing on the Moon?

The loss of an oxygen tank was crippling to an Apollo spacecraft because the oxygen tanks powered the fuel cells that powered the spacecraft.

Read more at: Popsci

The Mysterious Death of the First Man in Space

On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin launched into the great beyond, becoming the first human in space. When he came back to Earth, Gagarin was looked upon as not just a hero, but the very embodiment of the Soviet Union’s power. Streets were named after him. Monuments were erected. Khrushchev called him the Russian Christopher Columbus.

And then he was gone.

Less than seven years after his history-making mission, Gagarin died in a plane crash at only 38 years old. The cosmonaut and his flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin were flying a routine training exercise when they were lost, and the mysterious circumstances of the wreck have inspired a half-century of wild speculation. With little more than Soviet-sponsored reports, KGB investigations, and long withheld testimony as explanations, conspiracy theories sprung up to explain why a plane piloted by two experienced Russian airmen suddenly just fell out of the sky. So what really happened to the first man in space?

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

NASA wants to Harness the Power of Solar Wind for Space Travel

The heliopause is known as the outer boundary of our solar system. Conventional space travel can take decades to reach this point. Voyager 1, the NASA spacecraft that launched in 1977, just recently reached the heliopause in 2013. NASA is exploring a system that would take advantage of solar wind to accelerate space travel and greatly reduce the time it takes to reach deep space, according to The Christian Science Monitor on April 14.

The Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS) will use electronic sails to propel the craft through space. These E-Sails will be long wires that extend from the spacecraft in an umbrella like fashion. The wires currently being tested are made from stainless steel and are extremely thin at about the width of a paper clip, but stretch to more than 10 miles long. Bruce Wingmen principal engineer of E-Sails explained in a statement that these sails would function a little different than traditional sails on earth here would.

Read more at: Examiner

JSC Oral History Project Shut Down

JSC announced recently they were terminating the Oral History Project that has been ongoing for several decades. People working on the project have received lay-off notices.

Read more at: NASA Watch

Kettering Cosmos: How School Children Exposed Soviet Secret

The Cuban Missile Crisis had pushed the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon and no footprint had yet been left on the Moon. Yet one of the more peculiar twists of the Cold War involved a physics lesson at a provincial grammar school.

The Doppler effect is usually explained by the changing sound a police car siren makes as it approaches and passes the listener. Back in 1966, a science teacher at Kettering Grammar School, in Northamptonshire, came up with another way of explaining this shift in wave frequency.

Read more at: BBC

Stephen Hawking on ‘Starshot’ Project

The renowned physicist spoke of transcending humanity’s limitations through advanced technology, using robot spacecraft to reach the nearest star system.

Read more at: NY Times

Balloons for the Earth and the Universe

Whether they are used to study the earth’s atmosphere and climate or our galaxy and the universe, balloons play a complementary role to satellites and offer an inexpensive and environmentally-friendly means to carry a range of high-performance and reusable scientific instruments to the edge of space.

The Montgolfier brothers, who launched the first hot air balloon flight in 1783, would have been proud: for a week, the aerostats used today for scientific purposes stood alongside the life-size model of the Ariane 5 rocket at the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse.

From small meteorological balloons to monsters that could hold Paris’ Notre‑Dame cathedral or two Airbus 380s, the entire range of balloons used by the French National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) was on display for visitors as part of the exhibit “Balloons for Science, at the edge of space” (4 to 10 April).

Read more at: Cite-Espace

In these Microbes, Iron Works Like Oxygen

A pair of papers from a UW–Madison geoscience lab shed light on a curious group of bacteria that use iron in much the same way that animals use oxygen: to soak up electrons during biochemical reactions. When organisms — whether bacteria or animal — oxidize carbohydrates, electrons must go somewhere.

The studies can shed some light on the perennial question of how life arose, but they also have slightly more practical applications in the search for life in space, says senior author Eric Roden, a professor of geoscience at UW–Madison.

Animals use oxygen and “reduce” it to produce water, but some bacteria use iron that is deficient in electrons, reducing it to a more electron-rich form of the element. Ironically, electron-rich forms of iron can also supply electrons in the opposite “oxidation” reaction, in which the bacteria literally “eat” the iron to get energy.

Read more at: Astrobio

Metal Munching Microbes could Manufacture Machines on Mars

If your cell phone or computer stops working, you can repair a circuit or replace a chip. You know where you can’t do that so easily? In space.

As space agencies plan to send humans farther into the great beyond than we’ve ever gone before, they’re hashing out some of the logistical details. Like: what should astronauts do if an electronic device goes haywire? They could bring enough metal to replace whatever breaks, but that would add unnecessary weight to the spacecraft (which means higher costs to launch). So scientists at the Ames Research Center in California are engineering microbes that could break down metallic parts of electronics and then create new ones.

This project was one of 13 to be awarded a $100,000 grant from Phase I of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which invests in the development of “transformative” and “pioneering technologies.”

Read more at: Popsci

Iranian Space Success Result of Close Contact with Russian Scientists

Russia is celebrating Cosmonautics Day on April 12 in commemoration of the first manned space flight on April 12, 1961, when a booster rocket took the Vostok spacecraft into orbit with the first cosmonaut on board – Soviet citizen Yuri Gagarin.

The significance of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned flight into space was discussed everywhere, even in an Iranian village, according to Iranian writer and publicist Surus Borzoo. In an interview with Sputnik Persia, Borzoo shared his views on the importance of this day in Iran.

“For the people of Iran, as well as for the whole of humanity, it was the greatest event in the development of science, overcoming the boundaries of space.”

Read more at: Space Daily

Hyten Rolls Out New Space Vision

Gen. John Hyten is not a fighter pilot, the traditional realm from which the Air Force draws its top leaders. But the head of Air Force Space Command has his finger on the pulse of in every US military mission, in the sky and on the ground, and is using that advantage to move forward how the service deals with its space assets.

In a speech at the Space Foundation’s annual National Space Symposium here Tuesday, Hyten rolled out a new vision to better integrate the ground, air and space components of the Pentagon’s warfighting enterprise, dubbed the Space Enterprise Vision.

The Air Force briefed industry in a classified session today at the Space Symposium, but Hyten gave the audience on Tuesday a glimpse into the thinking behind the new strategy.

Read more at: Defense News

N. Korea Missile Launch Fails on Founder’s Birthday

North Korea tried and failed to test-fire what appeared to be a medium-range Musudan missile on the birthday of founding leader Kim Il-Sung Friday, a high-profile misstep after Pyongyang claimed a series of breakthroughs in its nuclear weapons programme.

The missile disappeared from surveillance radar a few seconds after launch and is believed to have exploded midair, said a Seoul intelligence official quoted by Yonhap news agency.

There had been widespread intelligence reports in recent days that the North was preparing for the first-ever flight test of its Musudan missile, which is believed to be capable of striking US bases in the Pacific island of Guam.

The US and South Korean militaries both detected and tracked the early morning test.

Read more at: Space Daily