Fuel Control Valve Faulted for Atlas Launch Anomaly, Flights Resume Soon

A critical fuel control valve has been faulted for the Atlas V launch anomalythat forced a premature shutdown of the rockets first stage engines during its most recent launch of a Cygnus cargo freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) last month – that nevertheless was successful in delivering the payload to its intended orbit.

Having identified the root cause of the engine shortfall, workers for Atlas rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA), have now stacked the booster slated for the next planned liftoff in the processing facility at their Cape Canaveral launch pad, the company announced in a statement Friday.

Read more at: Universe Today

Japanese Satellite’s Death Spiral Linked to Software Malfunction

It’s an astronomical tragedy. A software glitch is being blamed for the premature death of Japan’s X-ray space telescope Hitomi, just two-and-a-half months after its launch.

Emerging evidence suggests that an internal system error was responsible for sending the satellite into a wild spin, dislodging the two solar panels that powered the craft, reports Japan’s national broadcaster NHK. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on Thursday that it would abandon any further attempts to restore the $286 million X-ray astronomy satellite, which left Earth on 17 February but failed to establish contact on 26 March.

“We have concluded from a range of information that we cannot restore the satellite’s functionality,” JAXA vice president Saku Tsuneta says.

After contact was initially lost with the satellite, three short bleeps detected on Earth offered a glimmer of hope that it was still intact. However, further investigations revealed that these signals were the wrong frequency to have come from Hitomi, JAXA says.

Read more at: New Scientist

Re-Entry: Soyuz Rocket Stage from First Vostochny Launch

The third stage of the Soyuz rocket conducting themaiden flight from Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodromere-entered the atmosphere on Saturday, April 30, 2016 after spending just over two days in orbit.

The Soyuz rocket lifted off from Vostochny at 2:01 UTC on Thursday and successfully achieved orbit less than nine minutes after launch with the Block I third stage entering an orbit of 187 by 203 Kilometers, inclined 97.3°.

Starting out in this Low Earth Parking Orbit, the Volga upper stage successfully executed a pair of engine burns to lift its three satellite payloads into a Sun Synchronous Orbit near 490 Kilometers in altitude. Separation of theLomonosov, AIST-2D and SamSat-218D satellites occurred around two hours into the flight and Volga successfully executed a deorbit maneuver for a targeted re-entry over the Pacific Ocean seven hours after launch

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

An Overview of the American Space Renaissance Act (part 1)

The American Space Renaissance Act was officially introduced by its author, Rep. James Bridenstine (R-OK), on April 12, 2016, at the 32nd Space Symposium. The bill is intended to update national space policy to address the changing geopolitical and economic environment that pressures the country’s economic and military security, and in doing so covers the triad of US space interests: national security, civil, and commercial space. The bill is comprised of three titles, which correspond to each of the three space sectors. This three-part series will review the significant provisions of each title of the act with corresponding analysis where appropriate.

Read more at: Space Review

US to Move More Assets into Deep Space Over Next 4 Years

The US government will move its space assets to deep space orbits within several years, leaving the launching of satellites into low earth orbit to commercial companies, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) chief Charles Bolden said.

NASA was also planning to launch a new series of reconnaissance and exploration missions in the lunar orbit and working with international partners during the decade of the 2020s, he added.

The Obama administration has been encouraging the development of private companies to work with NASA and the rest if the US government to become regular suppliers of booster rockets to carry satellite payloads into LEO 200 miles above the earth, Bolden explained.

Read more at: Space Daily

NASA Views China as “Potential Partner” in Civilian Space

U.S. space agency NASA views China as a “potential partner,” not a threat, in the civilian space area, said its head Wednesday.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made the remakes at an event hosted by the Washington-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he discussed his agency’s role in U.S. international affairs.

“Since I only views civilian space, I see them as a potential partner,” he said. “They’re already a partner in some areas” such as Earth and lunar science, including collaborative research with the Chinese Academy of Sciences on geodetics and glacial characterization in the Himalaya region.

“So there are potential areas of partnerships there, but because of congressional restrictions right now, we are limited to merely multilateral activities,” he said. “Engagement always beats isolation. Engagement always beats trying to do things on their own.”

Read more at: Xinhuanet

World View Raises $15 Million for High-altitude Balloon Work

An Arizona company developing stratospheric balloons for tourism and research announced April 28 it has raised $15 million to develop a new type of high-altitude balloon that could serve missions usually handed by satellites.

World View Enterprises said the $15 million Series B round will go towards the development of what it calls “Stratollites,” a version of its high-altitude balloons that are able to remain aloft for extended periods of time and remain over the same area, or travel extended distance as needed to carry out their mission.

World View is already flying more conventional balloons that carry research payloads into the stratosphere for limited periods of time. “The major innovation in this product is the ability to fly for long periods of time over specific places of interest,” said Jane Poynter, chief executive of World View, in an interview.

Read more at: Space News

NASA Astronauts Prepare for Flight on Commercial Spacecraft

ve years after the last NASA astronauts flew from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the International Space Station, a new group is preparing for a trip, this time on a private spacecraft.

On Tuesday, veteran astronauts Eric Boe and Sunita Williams used touch-screen simulators to practice docking Boeing Co.’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with the space station during a training session near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The simulator, called the Crew Part-Task Trainer, helps prepare astronauts and flight controllers for missions, flight conditions and situations including the rendezvous and docking with the space station.

“This is the next really exciting chapter for our country and our space program,” Williams said. “It refocuses on what I think is really important — planning for the next generations and thinking of their future.”

Read more at: Orlando Sentinel

Nail-biting Start for Russia’s New Vostochny Space Centre

A technician standing behind me was really nervous during the launch countdown at Vostochny, a new space centre in Russia’s Far East.

It was the second launch attempt – a day after the previous one had been aborted at the last minute.

I noticed that some of the technician’s colleagues also had pale faces and had crossed their fingers. It emerged later that a cable malfunction had led to the postponement of Wednesday’s launch. This time there was relief for Russia’s federal space agency, Roscosmos, as the Soyuz rocket, carrying three satellites, blasted off and the booster stage separated.

President Vladimir Putin had travelled 5,500km (3,500 miles) to watch the launch and was in a black mood after Wednesday’s cancellation, berating Vostochny’s managers for the financial scandals that have blighted this prestige project.

Read more at: BBC

Johns Hopkins Researchers Aim for Safer, More Efficient Rocket Engines

The U.S. Air Force has awarded two contracts totaling $1.48 million to the Energetics Research Group, based within Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering, to help set the stage for the next generation of U.S.-made rocket engines.

The funding will be used to reduce risks associated with new technologies that may replace the Russian-made RD-180 engine. This rocket engine, which is now used for carrying communications satellites into orbit and delivering equipment to the International Space Station, is presently the most widely used for important space missions. However, U.S. officials are encouraging development of domestic-made high-performance rocket engines

Read more at: Space Daily

Why does the Air Force Want to Destroy the Struggling U.S. Space Launch Business?

The U.S. Air Force appears to have formulated the perfect plan for wrecking the already struggling domestic space launch business. Take a sector that has struggled for years with too little demand to create an efficient launch program, add new entrants to further divide the market, force everyone to compete based on price and not safety for launch services, allow the participants to create improbable plans for future launch vehicles – some based on unproven propulsion technologies – and tie your primary launch services provider to the purchase of Russian rocket engines that could be cut off at any moment.

Things were dicey enough when SpaceX entered the list, competing with the then-monopoly launch services provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), for access to military and national security payloads. At least ULA had an unparalleled record of 100 successful launches in a row. Its major failing was that it was using relatively old technology of which a critical part, the first stage rocket motor for its Atlas 5  rocket, was the Russian-built RD-180 motor.

Read more at: Space News

Public Consultation on a Space Strategy for Europe

The objective of this public consultation is to obtain stakeholder views on the policy priorities, challenges and opportunities that could shape a future Space Strategy for Europe.

In the period 2014-2020, the European Union will invest over €12 billion in space programmes (including Galileo/EGNOS in satellite navigation, Copernicus in Earth Observation and space research in the framework of Horizon 2020). These investments are expected to create substantial market opportunities for European industry and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through the development of value-added downstream services and applications. Such services require continuous and sustained access to space-borne data and signals, as well as their integration with other kinds of data, such as ground-based or socioeconomic data. Examples range from safer sailing applications for ships, designed to optimise routes by combining weather and ocean data, to applications for monitoring vital infrastructure like power grids and transport networks, applications in precision farming, monitoring of oil spills at sea, and many others. The European Commission is committed to maximising the societal and economic benefits of the EU’s investments in space.

Read more at: European Commission

China Testing Own Reusable Rocket Technologies

China is working on its own reusable rocket technologies, a source close to the research told Xinhua Thursday. Chinese experts have already built a prototype model to test theories on the reusable rocket booster’s landing subsystems. They have completed “experimental verifications” using “multiple parachutes” supposedly attached to the booster, a source with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technologies (CALT), developer of China’s Long March rocket series, said.

“The experiment has laid solid foundation for the realization of reusable rockets in the country,” the source said. The remarks came weeks after the reusable main-stage booster of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket made a historic landing at sea earlier this month. Ma Zhibin, deputy director of CALT’s aerospace department also confirmed to Xinhua Thursday in a separate interview that Chinese scientists are working on reusable rockets, although the technologies they employ may differ from those of SpaceX.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Sunita Williams, Team to Ensure Safe Cargo Flights to ISS

Indian-born NASA’s commercial crew astronaut Sunita “Suni” Williams and her colleagues have successfully tested a new generation of training simulators that will prepare them for launch, flight and returns aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

The CST-100 Starliner crew capsule is designed by Boeing in collaboration with Bigelow Aerospace as their entry for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) programme.

Its primary mission is to transport crew to the International Space Station (ISS) and to private space stations such as the proposed Bigelow Aerospace Commercial Space Station.

Read more at: Zee News

New Tools for Human-machine Collaborative Design

Advanced materials are increasingly embodying counterintuitive properties, such as extreme strength and super lightness, while additive manufacturing and other new technologies are vastly improving the ability to fashion these novel materials into shapes that would previously have been extremely costly or even impossible to create.

Generating new designs that fully exploit these properties, however, has proven extremely challenging. Conventional design technologies, representations, and algorithms are inherently constrained by outdated presumptions about material properties and manufacturing methods.

As a result, today’s design technologies are simply not able to bring to fruition the enormous level of physical detail and complexity made possible with cutting-edge manufacturing capabilities and materials.

Read more at: Space Daily

Europe Aiming for International ‘Moon Village’

The European Space agency is pressing forward in its plans to set up a permanent human outpost on the moon.

This envisioned “moon village,” a product of international collaboration between spacefaring nations, will be a base for science, business, mining and even tourism, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA), said here during the 32nd Space Symposium earlier this month.

The moon village would be open for use by ESA member states and other nations around the globe, Wörner said. ESA regards the moon as the next logical destination for humans beyond low Earth orbit, and utilizing Earth’s nearest neighbor should pave the way for human missions to Mars, he added.

Read more at: Live Science

Tim Peake Drives Mars Rover at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage Live from the International Space Station

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake successfully drove Airbus Defence and Space’s Mars rover called Bridget live from the International Space Station at the Stevenage Mars yard (UK) test area today. The experiment is part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Meteron (Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operation Network) programme to look at how humans and robotics can work together.

The experiment was to investigate if an astronaut could drive a rover in a dark environment. In normal daylight conditions, the rovers currently under development in Stevenage have autonomous navigation; they can plot a route and drive themselves safely across the Martian surface. But in dark conditions, where battery life becomes an issue due to a lack of sunlight, having the rover controlled by an astronaut ensures that it can perform the maximum science and overcome unexpected obstacles more quickly.

Read more at: Airbus Defence and Space

Expanding the Space Station Market

Next to the launch itself, and the successful landing of the Falcon 9 first stage at sea (see“Closing the case for reusable launchers”, The Space Review, April 11, 2016), the most popular aspect on the recent Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station was its largest. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), stored inside the unpressurized trunk section of the Dragon, was the latest effort by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace to demonstrate the company’s core technology of expandable habitat modules.

Late Friday night, the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm reached inside the Dragon’s trunk and extracted the BEAM. The arm moved the module into position, attaching it to a port on the Tranquility module early Saturday morning. While now in place at the station, the module itself won’t be inflated—er, expanded—until late May.

Read more at: Space Review

SpaceX Says it will Fly to Mars in 2018 – What are its Chances?

T-minus two years to Mars. In a tweet yesterday afternoon, private spaceflight company SpaceX announced its intention to send its Dragon capsule to Mars as soon as 2018. But will the Red Dragon really fly? The timeline has been labelled ambitious, but realistic.

“Everything about Dragon since the beginning has been done with Mars in mind, you can tell from the design,” saysJim Bell of Arizona State University in Tempe, who has worked on several NASA missions to Mars and is working on the planned Mars 2020 rover. “I wouldn’t put anything past these folks.”

The tough part won’t be getting the spacecraft to Mars, but getting it down to the surface. And the company will need some help from NASA. Details are scarce at the moment, but the overall plan has been in motion since at least 2011, says Brian Glass at NASA Ames Research Center in California.

“This is not out of the blue,” he says. “It’s not just boom, two years off the block. This is more like a seven-year effort that culminates with launch in 2018 and goes from there.”

Read more at: New Scientist

3 Reasons Why 2018 will be the Make-Or-Break Year for SpaceX

This has been a monumental week for Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX. And we mean that in the “build-a-statue-for-the-owner” sense. Elon Musk entered the space launch market with the intent of fundamentally changing the industry. Now it seems like 2018 will be the year we know if he succeeded.

The U.S military and spy agencies don’t have many options when it comes to launching national security satellites. Just one, in fact—the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. That changed this week when SpaceX landed a $82.7 million contract to send a U.S. Air Force satellite into space.

Winning the contract was a political and engineering victory for Musk. The political effort included a lawsuit against the Air Force (dropped after the military decided to include SpaceX to compete) and some blunt testimony to Congress. The engineering victory was more subtle, but involved rounds of analysis and oversight from the Air Force.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Chinese Sounding Rocket Launches

Chinese scientists launched a sounding rocket from south China’s Hainan Province in the early hours of Wednesday.

Kunpeng-1B was launched from Danzhou City at 2 a.m. by the National Space Science Center (NSSC). The rocket fulfilled its mission of taking measurements in the upper atmosphere that will help with research of rocket sounding, high-speed flight and space tourism, said the NSSC. Peaking at 316 km, the whole flight took about 10 minutes.

NSSC head Wu Ji said sounding rockets are an efficient tool for space exploration and scientific experiments, able to study physical phenomena including geomagnetic fields, cosmic rays and ultraviolet light.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Zephyr, the High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite, is Taking Off

The British Ministry of Defence has bought lately two of Airbus Defence and Space’s Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites.

The Zephyr team of Airbus Defence and Space in Farnborough (UK) is very busy. The maiden flights of the two High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites (HAPS) just procured by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) are scheduled for 2017. “The design is an evolution of our capabilities demonstrator Zephyr 7,” says Paul Stevens, System Design Authority for Zephyr 8, which is the product name for the capability procured by the MoD.

Airbus Defence and Space’s Zephyr is a new breed of solar-powered aircraft designed to circle in the Earth’s stratosphere, able to launch, land and re- deploy like a hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicle while offering consistent, satellite-like Earth observation and communication services – at a fraction of the cost. “It’s eco-friendly too,” adds Steve Whitby, responsible for Zephyr Business Development. “Replacing one conventional unmanned aircraft with a Zephyr would save 2,000 tons of fuel per year.”

Read more at: Airbus Defence and Space

China to Become Aerospace Power by 2030

China aims to become a global aerospace power by 2030, said Xu Dazhe, director of the China National Space Administration, on Friday. Xu said at a press conference held by the State Council Information Office that China is a major country pursuing aerospace development and aims to become a true aerospace power in 15 years, thanks in part to the 13th Five-year plan to drive aerospace growth.

Although China has made great headway, “the United States and Russia are ahead of us, and Europe also has advanced technology,” Xu said.

China will complete aerospace projects currently underway by around 2020, including manned space programs, lunar probes, the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System and the Gaofen observation satellite program, Xu said. Around 2025, China will complete construction of national civilian space infrastructure, Xu added.

According to a plan issued last year, China will build a civilian space infrastructure system including satellite remote sensing, satellite communication and broadcasting, satellite navigation and positioning.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

‘Man, I Gotta Pee’: 55 Years Since Freedom 7 Began America’s Adventure in Space (Part 1)

Fifty-five years ago, in the early hours of 5 May 1961, America prepared to launch its first man into space. Navy Cmdr. Alan Shepard would fly a suborbital flight—rising from Pad 5 at Cape Canaveral in the Mercury capsule he had named “Freedom 7” and splashing down, just 15 minutes later, in the Atlantic Ocean, about 100 miles (160 km) north of the Bahamas—and the entire nation would be holding its breath. Three weeks earlier, the Soviet Union had sent Yuri Gagarin on an Earth-orbital mission and,although the United States was several months away from repeating that feat, Shepard’s flight would alleviate much pressure on the young administration of President John F. Kennedy.  

At 1:30 a.m. EDT on the 5th, Shepard and his backup, fellow astronaut John Glenn, met at breakfast in the Cape Canaveral crew quarters, Hangar S. Both were clad in bathrobes. They subsequently parted to dress. Glenn headed out to Pad 5 to check Freedom 7—a bell-shaped capsule, mounted atop a converted Army Redstone missile—whilst Shepard underwent his pre-flight examination, performed by Air Force physician Bill Douglas.

Read more at: America Space

Review: The Value of the Moon

In recent months, much of the discussion about the future exploration of the Moon, particularly with people, has focused on a concept called “Moon Village” espoused by ESA director general Johann-Dietrich Wörner to establish a lunar base through some kind of international cooperation. That included a “jam session” late one day during the 32nd Space Symposium earlier this month in Colorado Springs, hosted by Wörner, that was a brainstorming sessions for ideas of how a lunar base could help enable human missions to Mars. Just how those ideas could be used was as vague as the overall Moon Village concept, though.

Any US participation in Moon Village is unclear, and likely not to be significant, as NASA’s “Journey to Mars” program focuses on cislunar space versus the lunar surface as a proving ground in the 2020s for human missions to Mars in the 2030s. But some hope that, perhaps in the next administration, NASA will focus more on the Moon as a stepping-stone to Mars, abandoning efforts like the Asteroid Redirect Mission in the process.

Read more at: Space Review

FAA Advisory Committee Recommends No Changes to ICBM Motor Policy

A U.S. Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel approved a recommendation April 28 calling for no change in current policy that restricts the use of excess intercontinental ballistic missile motors for commercial launch vehicles.

The FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) approved the recommendation during a meeting here after hearing a request from the company most interested in using those motors that it defer action on the recommendation.

COMSTAC recommended to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) that, in any discussions with other agencies and Congress, it “support the maintenance of existing policy with respect to the use of excess ICBM assets in order to sustain the continued growth of the commercial U.S. launch sector.”

Read more at: Space News