China’s Cargo Spacecraft Docks With Space Lab

The Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft successfully completed automated docking with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab at 12:23 p.m. Saturday, according to Beijing Aerospace Control Center. It is the first docking between the spacecraft and space lab.

Tianzhou-1, China’s first cargo spacecraft, which was launched Thursday evening from Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province, began to approach Tiangong-2 automatically at 10:02 a.m. Saturday and made contact with the space lab at 12:16 p.m.

The Tianzhou-1 cargo ship and Tiangong-2 space lab will have another two dockings. The second docking will be conducted from a different direction, which aims to test the ability of the cargo ship to dock with a future space station from different directions. In the third docking, Tianzhou-1 will use fast-docking technology. It normally takes about two days to dock, while fast docking will take only six hours.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Astronaut Airman Launched to International Space Station

When NASA began soliciting talent from the military in 1959 it had specific requirements – a jet pilot with a minimum of 1,500 flying hours, in excellent physical stature but shorter than 5 feet 11 inches, and a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) in engineering. Since 1959, 84 Airmen fit that bill.
On April 20, 2017, Col. Jack D. Fischer became the most recent American Airman to travel to space in support of the International Space Station mission. He was joined in flight by Fyodor Yurchikin, a Russian cosmonaut.

During his four-month long stay, Fischer will be assigned to Expedition 51, a team tasked with conducting more than 250 biological, biotechnology, physical and Earth-science experiments. There are hopes that information gathered will lead NASA to a mission to Mars. Fischer is also scheduled to take part in the fifth spacewalk of the year on May 12.

“The Air Force has been breaking barriers for 70 years and has been the nation’s steward in space since 1954,” said Acting Air Force Secretary Lisa Disbrow. “Colonel Jack Fischer and all Air Force astronauts represent the Air Force’s commitment to space since the dawn of the space era.”

Read more at: US Air Force

New Commercial Crew Vehicles Could Serve as Space Station ‘Lifeboats’

New commercial crew spacecraft for the International Space Station will be able to do more than just carry astronauts to the orbiting lab: They will also serve as temporary shelters, or even fly crew home, if there is an emergency in space, according to NASA.

Currently, in dangerous situations, such as when a piece of orbital debris threatens the space station, crewmembers take shelter in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. And if a medical emergency were to arise that could not be handled in orbit, the crew would head back to Earth in the Soyuz craft.

The SpaceX Dragon and the Boeing CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft are both set to start crewed flights as early as next year, and NASA is working to ensure that these new spacecraft will serve most of the Russian spacecraft’s protective functions, agency officials said in a statement.

Read more at: Space.com

Thousands of Tiny Satellites are About to go Into Space and Possibly Ruin it Forever

Halfway through the European Space Agency’s new film, we’re at the part where — if this were some happy space documentary from yesteryear — Carl Sagan might be giving us a tour of a distant galaxy.

But it’s 2017, Sagan is dead, and this is a film about space trash. So six minutes in, we’re stuck a mere 800 miles above Earth, watching a wasp swarm of defunct satellites whip around the globe to a frenetic soundtrack that sounds like the end of “The Dark Knight.”

It’s a dramatic simulation of what low Earth orbit looks like today. You can even watch it in 3-D. Because the European Space Agency really, really wants you to pay attention to the space debris problem. The problem is about to get worse, experts say, as cheap, tiny satellites are shot through the stratosphere in unprecedented numbers.

Read more at: Washington Post

Could Cubesats Trigger a Space Junk Apocalypse?

The growing popularity of small satellites as well as the upcoming deployment of low-Earth orbit mega-constellations will likely greatly increase the amount of space junk as well as the frequency of catastrophic collisions, a study led by the United Kingdom’s University of Southampton suggests.

Tiny satellites such as cubesats have democratized access to space. But for space environment researchers, the technology, praised for its low cost and short timeline from design to launch, is something of a headache.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has already experienced a nearly “Gravity”-like scenario last August, when a 0.4-inch (1 centimeter) fragment cut a 16-inch (40 cms) hole into a solar panel of the agency’s flagship Earth-observing satellite Sentinel-1A.

Read more at: Space.com

Experts Call for Legislation and Improved Tracking to Deal with Orbital Debris

As the amount of debris in low Earth orbit continues to increase, experts at a recent conference called for both improved efforts to track debris as well as national legislation to mitigate that growth.

Delegates at the Seventh European Conference on Space Debris, held at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, from April 18 to 21, warned that without improved measures, a long-feared cascade of debris that renders low Earth orbit useless could occur.

According to Holger Krag, head of the European Space Agency’s Space Debris Office, only 60 percent of all missions currently end with a successful disposal of the satellite in line with orbital debris mitigation guidelines promulgated by the United Nations. “We have to ask ourselves the question, what is the reason for that?” said Krag during the conference’s final day. “It could be operational paradigm, it might be technical failure, it might also be the lack of technical solutions that make the implementation of these measures too costly or complicated.”

Read more at: Space News

As Orbit Becomes More Crowded, Risk From Space Debris Grows

Decades’ worth of man-made junk is cluttering up Earth’s orbit, posing a threat to spaceflight and the satellites we rely on for weather reports, air travel and global communications. More than 750,000 fragments larger than a centimeter are already thought to orbit Earth, and each one could badly damage or even destroy a satellite.

Last year, a tiny piece of debris punched a gaping hole in the solar panel of Copernicus Sentinel-1A, an observation satellite operated by the European Space Agency, or ESA. A solar array brought back from the Hubble Telescope in 1993 showed hundreds of tiny holes caused by dust-sized debris.

Experts meeting in Germany this week said the problem could get worse as private companies such as SpaceX, Google and Arlington, Virginia-based OneWeb send a flurry of new satellites into space over the coming years. They said steps should be taken to reduce space debris.

Read more at: ABC News

Europe to Build First Ariane 6 Test Rocket

Europe took a key step towards the entry into service of a new space launcher on Friday when the makers of Ariane 6 said they had been cleared to started building the first test rocket.

Airbus Safran Launchers, jointly owned by Airbus and French engine maker Safran, said it had passed a review by the European Space Agency allowing it to go ahead with the first example of the new satellite launcher, which will be used only for ground testing.

The test phase is part of a 2.4 billion-euro ($2.6 billion)programme to keep Europe in the increasingly competitive satellite launch business amid pressure from low-cost rivals such as U.S. company Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX). Japan and India also pose a growing challenge. The new, cheaper rocket will replace the current Ariane 5 starting from its first launch, planned for 2020.

Read more at: Reuters

NASA Rocket Engineers Torture SLS Parts in Key Structural Tests

“It gives me chills right now to think we’re making history,” NASA spokeswoman Kim Henry said Wednesday at Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

She was right. The center leading development of NASA’s new deep space rocket had brought reporters to watch from the control room one of the first structural tests qualifying parts of SLS for flight.

Under way are tests of the adapters that connect the upper stage of the new rocket to the core stage and the Orion capsule to the upper stage. Also in the test stack is the cryogenic propulsion stage that will lift Orion further into space after the core boosters get it off the ground.

Read more at: al.com

ULA Chief Says Blue Origin in Driver’s Seat for Vulcan Engine Deal

A full-scale BE-4 engine developed by Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, is installed on a test stand in West Texas for a series of hotfire tests that United Launch Alliance will closely examine before settling on the reusable methane-fueled engine for its new-generation Vulcan rocket.

If the engine firings are successful, ULA will likely select the BE-4 engine for the first stage of the Vulcan booster set to begin launching by the end of 2019, according to Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and chief executive.

ULA will decide between Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine and the kerosene-fueled AR1 powerplant from Aerojet Rocketdyne, a more traditional aerospace supplier.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

The First Mars Astronauts May be Trapped Inside of a Tube for 3 Years With No Chance of Escape

For years, NASA has talked about sending people to Mars with its gigantic new rocket, the Space Launch System, and a new spacecraft called Orion. But NASA hasn’t said exactly how it plans to use this hardware, which it’s spending $40 billion to develop – not even with the publication of a 36-page Mars exploration plan in October 2015.

Fortunately, a plan may finally be coming into place. On March 21, President Donald Trump signed a law that mandates NASA send people to Mars by 2033. Then, a week later, the space agency published its most detailed plan yet for reaching the red planet.

The scheme is neither for the claustrophobic nor the faint of heart. It involves locking astronauts into a tube-shaped spaceship, sending them into deep space for three years, and giving them no form of emergency escape beyond the moon.

Read more at: Business Insider

ISRO is Not Going to Mine the Moon for Helium-3

On April 20, 2017, Livemint reported that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has plans to mine helium-3 from the Moon to help manage India’s energy needs. ISRO has no such plans. Even if we supposed that it did, they would be grossly premature. There is neither the technology anywhere in the world to use helium-3 to generate energy nor are the legal and logistical hurdles fully understood.

The report is referring to comments made by the noted space scientist Sivathanu Pillai at the Observer Research Foundation’s Kalpana Chawla Space Policy Dialogue 2017, held in New Delhi in February. Those who attended the conference say that Pillai had said mining helium-3 from the Moon was possible – but that he didn’t say anything about ISRO planning to do it.

One attendee put it thus: “He was describing the technological landscape. He reviewed the technology from a century ago and connected it to today, and then he gave a glimpse of the possibilities of tomorrow.”

Read more at: The Wire

Spaceport Backers in Investor Talks

The body behind the plans to establish a spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay is in talks with four potential investors. The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is looking to secure funding from partners as it prepares to capture a share of the £25 billion global spaceflight launch market.

Aerohub Enterprise Zone manager, Miles Carden, is holding the discussions following the Government inviting joint bids from potential Spaceport launch sites and space vehicle system operators to set up the UK’s first commercial spaceport by 2020.

There is up to £10 million being made available from the Government to make the UK the first place in Europe where commercial space operators can launch small satellites into orbit and offer spaceplane flights for science and tourism. Cornwall’s bid will be seeking up to £10 million of investment to upgrade facilities, which would include a Spaceplane Systems Integration Facility comprising a hangar and clean rooms to cater for satellite and future flight technologies.

Read more at: New Quay Voice

NASA Must Invest in Technology, Diversity to Get to Mars

The United States needs to foster radical changes in technology and increase partnerships with industry and university leaders to reach its goal of putting an astronaut on Mars in the 2030s, said Dava Newman, former deputy administrator of NASA.

“Excellence demands that we have diversity and inclusion,” she said. “That’s the only way I know how to get to Mars, through excellence.” Dr. Newman spoke about NASA’s mission at George Washington University Monday as part of the annual School of Engineering and Applied Science Frank Howard Distinguished Lecture.  She was appointed NASA’s deputy administrator by President Barack Obama and confirmed in April 2015. She resigned at the end of Mr. Obama’s administration.

During her talk “Human Exploration from Inner to Outer Space,” Dr. Newman said she has spent her whole career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The American education system, however, has discouraged students from pursuing STEM, she said.

Read more at: GW Today

Doubts Over Space Mining Legal Status

The Council of State expressed formal doubts that this bill would provide the legal security it promised, as no one can raise claims to space.

Schneider, the deputy prime minister and minister for economy, presented a bill whose objective was to set a legal framework and give legal security to the property of minerals and other valuable resources in space, in particular on asteroids, and to regulate the authorisation and surveillance of both exploration and mining missions.

In a formal opinion published on 7 April, the council noted that private property claims are illegal or at least not legally binding in most of the international treaties and agreements relating to space and celestial bodies.

Read more at: Delano

French Guiana Accord Sets Stage for Arianespace to Resume Launches

An agreement between France and its restive South American territory French Guiana, home to Europe’s spaceport, has resolved a month-long dispute that had prevented any launch activity since mid-March.

Thanks to the “Accord de Guyane” agreement signed April 21 by French and French Guianese officials, launch service provider Arianespace says it will be able to soon resume launch activity and can make up for delays by using previously scheduled downtime over the next two months.

“Now that an agreement has been reached, we are fully ready to resume our operations in [the Guiana Space Centre, or CSG],” an Arianespace official told SpaceNews via email April 21. “We aim to make up for the accumulated delays on the three campaigns that were under way, without impacting the rest of our manifest, by taking advantage of the CSG’s availability in May and most of June, since there were no launches scheduled those months.”

Read more at: Space News

Israel Looking to Use Brazilian Alcântara Site for Space Launch

Israel, along with France, Russia, and the United States, is seeking to use the Alcântara Launch Centre (CLA) located on the northeast Brazilian coast close to the equator, according to the Brazilian Space Agency.

The Alcântara Launch Centre is the closest launch site to the Earth’s equator anywhere in the world. This special location provides any launch from there a natural boost of nearly 2,400 kilometres-an-hour thanks to the effects of the Earth’s spin at the equator. This provides significant savings in rocket fuel and, in turn, feasibly allows for larger payloads to be launched.

Any launch out of Alcântara is made due east over the Atlantic Ocean allowing for an equatorial insertion to low-, medium, and geostationary orbits.

Read more at: Spacewatch ME

‘Space Fabric’ Links Fashion and Engineering

Raul Polit Casillas grew up around fabrics. His mother is a fashion designer in Spain, and, at a young age, he was intrigued by how materials are used for design.

Now, as a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, he is still very much in the world of textiles. He and his colleagues are designing advanced woven metal fabrics for use in space.

These fabrics could potentially be useful for large antennas and other deployable devices, because the material is foldable and its shape can change quickly. The fabrics could also eventually be used to shield a spacecraft from meteorites, for astronaut spacesuits, or for capturing objects on the surface of another planet. One potential use might be for an icy moon like Jupiter’s Europa, where these fabrics could insulate the spacecraft. At the same time, this flexible material could fold over uneven terrain, creating “feet” that won’t melt the ice under them.

Read more at: NASA JPL

China Exclusive: Can We Grow Human Organs in Space? Chinese Scientists Ask

Scientists around the world are looking for the “keys” to enable humans to regrow tissues or organs lost due to illness or injury, just like gecko can regrow a tail. Their quest now extends into space.

Stem cell research on Tianzhou-1, China’s first cargo spacecraft, is far from realizing this dream, but it’s the first step to explore the possibility. Scientists from the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) are conducting experiments on Tianzhou-1, which launched Thursday, to study the effects of micro-gravity on embryonic stem cell proliferation and differentiation.

The spacecraft is carrying embryonic stem cells and embryoid bodies of mice. Scientists will observe the process of their proliferation and differentiation in space through telescope images. Parallel experiments will be conducted on the ground to compare the results, says lead researcher Duan Enkui.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Where’s the Beef? NASA OA-7 Mission Takes a Look at Astronauts’ Menu

One of many challenges of long-duration space travel is storing the necessary food and other supplies. Without a way to replenish supplies, a mission to Mars would have to be self-sustaining. One way of reducing the very large amount of food required for such a trip would be to grow some of that food on the way.

It’s unlikely astronauts would raise their own cattle as a protein source. However, NASA has initiated several projects to study the possibility of growing plants in space, plants that would provide a portion of the proteins, nutrients, and carbohydrates needed by astronauts during a trip that would likely last for about two-and-a-half years.

NASA’s latest food-related initiative was launched on April 18, 2017, aboard the Orbital ATK OA-7 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). That project, the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH), exceeds in size and scope what is called the “Veggie” project, NASA’s initial fresh-food growth system already aboard the ISS. According to Bryan Onate, NASA’s APH project manager, the new plant habitat is a fully enclosed, closed-loop system with an environmentally controlled growth chamber. It uses red, blue, and green LED lights as well as broad spectrum white LED lights.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

MAVEN Finds Metal in Mars’ Atmosphere

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft has discovered electrically charged metal atoms (ions) high in the atmosphere of Mars. The metal ions help provide clues about previously invisible activity with Mars’ electrically charged upper atmosphere (ionosphere).

NASA’s Joseph Grebowsky, who works at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: “MAVEN has made the first direct detection of the permanent presence of metal ions in the ionosphere of a planet other than Earth. Because metallic ions have long lifetimes and are transported far from their region of origin by neutral winds and electric fields, they can be used to infer motion in the ionosphere, similar to the way we use a lofted leaf to reveal which way the wind is blowing.”

Grebowsky is the lead author of a paper on this research which was published April 10 in Geophysical Research Letters. Built by Lockheed Martin, MAVEN has been busy investigating the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet to understand how Mars lost most of its atmosphere.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Death by Asteroid: The Most Likely Ways for a Space Rock to Kill You

If you live in fear of an asteroid strike, here’s some detail to help flesh out your nightmares. A killer space rock is most likely to get you via violent winds that fling you against something hard or powerful shock waves that rupture your internal organs, according to a new study.

“This is the first study that looks at all seven impact effects generated by hazardous asteroids and estimates which are, in terms of human loss, most severe,” lead author Clemens Rumpf, a senior research assistant at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

Rumpf and his colleagues simulated 50,000 asteroid strikes around the globe using computer models. These artificial impacts involved space rocks 50 feet to 1,300 feet wide (15 to 400 meters) — the size range that hits Earth most frequently, the scientists said.

Read more at: Space.com

Astronaut’s Daughter, Pilot Selected to Train to be Germany’s First Woman in Space

The daughter of a veteran astronaut and an experienced fighter pilot have been announced as the finalists in a privately-conducted search for Germany’s first woman to fly into space.

Insa Thiele-Eich, a meteorologist and daughter of German astronaut Gerhard Thiele, and Nicola Baumann, a German united armed forces fighter pilot, were presented in Berlin on Wednesday (April 19) as the candidates for a privately-financed, ten-day flight to the International Space Station. In the course of their training over the next two years, one of the two women will be selected to launch to the orbiting laboratory, with the other serving as her backup.

“Germany sends two outstanding women into the training as an astronaut,” said Brigitte Zypries, Germany’s Minister for Economics and Energy, in a statement. “They are good role models to inspire other young women.”

Read more at: Collect Space

How the US is Gearing Up as Fear of a Space War Mounts

Tapping Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch some of its satellites is only the beginning in a larger top-to-bottom rethink of the way the U.S. Air Force approaches its operations in space. Air Force officials want to move faster when addressing emerging threats and future missions in orbit, and it’s increasingly looking to start-ups to address a deepening sense that America’s dominance in space is eroding.

The goal: to protect our satellites and spacecraft from cyberwarfare and missile attack. This is critical, since space weapons could be used to compromise navigation, surveillance, communications and other functions in wartime or during a national emergency.

Read more at: CNBC

Winning the Battle in Space With a Hand from DARPA’s Satellite-servicing Robot

In April 2011, an Ariane 5 rocket hurled the “New Dawn” communications satellite into geostationary Earth orbit some 36,000 kilometers above the Earth. The $250 million satellite successfully released a set of pins that had held its primary antenna in a folded configuration during launch; however, the antenna did not unfold. Hobbled and well beyond the reach of any repair mission — geostationary orbit, or GEO, is thousands of kilometers higher than the Hubble and International Space Station orbits, where astronauts once ventured with the space shuttle — the satellite has since been relegated to operating at less than half its intended bandwidth.

The following year, another setback occurred when the $300 million IS-19 satellite incurred damage to its solar array when it failed to deploy correctly, resulting in a permanent power shortage and lifelong reduced functionality.

And just last year, the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) communications satellite became stranded in an orbit significantly lower than intended following a propulsion system anomaly.

Read more at: Space News