This Barrel-Shaped Rocket is Made to Save Lives

It will be years before NASA’s Orion spacecraft carries crew into orbit and beyond. Despite the Trump transition team’s dreams of a crewed 2019 flight, the SLS rocket that will give the Orion its push out of our atmosphere has hit some snags. In the meantime, there are other rockets to work on, like Orbital ATK’s attitude control motor (ACM) which has a pair of small but crucial jobs.

Ideally, the ACM will never fire at all, because if it does, things have gone very bad. In the event of a catastrophic emergency, the ACM’s first priority is to spirit the crew capsule away from whatever inferno may be active or imminent, and its second is to reposition the capsule so it’s properly oriented for parachute deployment. Cross your fingers it will never happen, but Orbital ATK’s successful test from Thursday shows that Plan B is functional

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

International Space Station Orbit to be Raised by Almost One Kilometer

The International Space Station (ISS) will raise its orbit’s altitude by about one kilometer, Russia’s Flight Control Center said on Tuesday.

“In line with the program of the ISS flight, the orbit adjustment is planned for April 27 at 8:10 Moscow time. The correction will be carried out involving the engines of the Zvezda service module. The engines will be in operation for about 30 seconds,” the report said. An average altitude of the ISS flight will increase by 0.8 kilometers and will make up 405.1 kilometers, it said.

The adjustment is planned in order to create favorable conditions for the landing of Soyuz MS-03 space vehicle.

Read more at: TASS

NASA Agrees With GAO — First SLS/Orion Mission will Slip to 2019

In response to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released today, the head of NASA’s human exploration program agreed with GAO’s conclusion that Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew capsule, will slip from late 2018 into 2019.  GAO’s report warned that a delay was likely.  NASA’s written response, published as an appendix, agrees and states that the agency is in the process of setting “a new target in 2019.”

The GAO audit of SLS, Orion and associated Exploration Ground Systems (EGS), prepared for the chairs of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that fund NASA, was conducted from July 2016 to April 2017.  GAO found that although the programs were making progress, “schedule pressure is escalating as technical challenges continue to cause schedule delays” while each has little cost or schedule reserve remaining.  It called the existing launch readiness date of November 2018 “precarious.”

Read more at: Spacepolicy Online

Branson Noncommittal About SpaceShipTwo Flight Schedule

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson said April 28 he remained optimistic that the company’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle will carry him and other customers into space, but declined to give a specific schedule about when those flights might begin.

Branson, in an on-stage interview at the headquarters of the Washington Post here, said the development of SpaceShipTwo, which has suffered years of delays and a fatal test flight accident in 2014, was harder than he originally imagined.

“It’s been tough. Space is tough. All of us who have been in it have found it tougher than we thought,” he said. He credited Virgin Galactic’s customers, who he said numbered 800, for encouraging him to continue the venture. “Their commitment has helped us keep our commitment to it.”

Read more at: Space News

Despite Delays, Boeing’s Starliner Moving Steadily Toward the Launch Pad

Last October, during a White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, President Obama sat down in a simulator of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, which will begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station within a couple of years. The commander-in-chief wanted to try his hand at a task astronauts would eventually have to perform. After taking the controls and cleanly docking to the station, Obama gleefully exulted, “Your ride is here, baby.”

Read more at: Ars Technica

China and Europe Want to Build a ‘Moon Village’

Representatives of China and the European Space Agency are discussing potential collaboration on a human outpost on the moon and other possible joint endeavours, according to a spokesman for the European agency and Chinese media reports.

The secretary general for China’s space agency, Tian Yulong, first disclosed the talks about the envisioned lunar base in Chinese state media. They were confirmed Wednesday by Pal Hvistendahl, a spokesman for the European Space Agency, or ESA.

“The Chinese have a very ambitious moon program already in place,” Hvistendahl said. “Space has changed since the space race of the ’60s. We recognize that to explore space for peaceful purposes, we do international co-operation.”

Read more at: macleans

International and Commercial Interest in the Moon

NASA may be going back to the Moon. Or maybe not. Despite months of speculation and rumors about potential changes in the agency’s “Journey to Mars” plans for human exploration of Mars, so far there’s been no announcement of any major changes, other than the less-than-surprising news that the administration plans to cancel the Asteroid Redirect Mission

However, other space agencies remain interested in sending spacecraft, and perhaps people, to the Moon in the coming years. That interest was on display earlier this month at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, an event that has increasingly taken on an international flavor, including dropping “National” from its name a few years ago.

Read more at: Space Review

China to Conduct Several Manned Space Flights Around 2020

China plans to conduct several manned space flights from 2019 to 2022, during which a 60-tonne space station will be assembled and built, said Wang Zhaoyao, director of China’s manned space program office, Friday.

“Tianzhou-1, China’s first cargo spacecraft, was the last flight mission of the country’s manned space program before the construction of a permanent space station,” Wang said at a press conference.

The spacecraft and Tiangong-2 space lab completed their first in-orbit refueling late Thursday, marking the completion of the country’s space lab mission. “The successful conclusion of the mission shows that China’s manned space program has entered the space station era,” Wang said.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Tianzhou 1 Freighter Achieves China’s First in-Space Refueling Demo

The robotic Tianzhou 1 refueling freighter launched last week has successfully completed the first in-orbit propellant transfer with China’s Tiangong 2 space lab, a major accomplishment as the country’s engineers hope to finish assembly of a large space station by 2022, officials said Thursday.

The refueling demonstration validates key technologies China will need to assemble and maintain the nation’s planned 60-metric ton (130,000-pound) space station. The core component of the orbital complex, named Tianhe 1, could launch as soon as next year, followed by two more research modules by 2022.

Chinese officials did not reveal details about the refueling activity, such as the amount of propellant transferred and whether the demonstration included both fuel and oxidizer.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Meet the Space Custodians: Debris Cleanup Plans Emerge

Over the past 25 years, the amount of space junk orbiting Earth has grown exponentially, and the problem is bound to get worse: Some experts claim the feared Kessler Syndrome, an unstoppable cascade of collisions, is becoming a reality.

The U.S. Space Surveillance Network currently tracks some 18,000 objects larger than 4 inches (10 centimeters), of which only 1,200 are intact, operational satellites. In addition to that, there are 750,000 so-called “flying bullets” about 0.4 inches (1 cm) in size and around 150 million fragments smaller than 1 millimeter.

International guidelines recommend that operators remove spacecraft from low-Earth orbit (LEO) within 25 years from the end of the craft’s mission, but only 60 percent of missions actually do that, Holger Krag, the head of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Debris Office, said during the final presentation at the 7th European Conference on Space Debris.

Read more at: Space.com

Inter-agency Meeting to ‘Improve’ Space Law on Mega-constellations of Satellites

It’s now time for the real talks to begin – just days after the 7th European Conference on Space Debris ended. And this week’s talks will have questions to answer left over from the week before. It was “the most important conference on space debris.” You could hear that line bouncing off the walls at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt. But it was just the starter.

This week Darmstadt hosts a closed-door, governmental meeting of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). Whether it was planned or not, the IADC is set to discuss a much-needed renewal of international space law, which is, experts admit, rather vague. But how far they will go is anyone’s guess.

Read more at: dw.com

Why NASA is Running Out of Spacesuits

Today’s spacesuits are designed to work well while astronauts float around outside the International Space Station. But they’re not quite right for walking around on the moon or Mars—they’re too heavy and don’t provide enough flexibility in the hips and knees. That’s why NASA is investing in a next-generation spacesuit for exploring deep space.

However, the space agency may soon find itself up s*** creek without a pressure suit. A new report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) says NASA is running out of its older spacesuits, known as Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs). Only 11 of the original 18 suits are left, and they may not be enough to last until the ISS gets decommissioned in 2024. According to agency officials, it would be “prohibitively expensive” to order more of these EMUs.

Read more at: Popsci

To Colonize Space, Start Closer to Earth

Science fiction has long painted space settlements as inevitable, and talk of Martian brick-building and life-supporting gardens makes it feel closer than ever. But some suggest a simpler path to long-term living in space: orbital habitats near Earth.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk placed colonization under serious consideration last fall at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, when he announced his intention to bring 1 million people to Mars. But while the presentation was heavy on rocket technicalities, it left out details of how colonists will survive, much less raise children in a high-radiation, low-gravity environment millions of miles away.

Read more at: csmonitor

NASA’s Super Pressure Balloon Takes Flight From NZ

NASA successfully launched its football-stadium-sized, heavy-lift super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at10:50 a.m. Tuesday, April 25 (6:50 p.m. April 24 in U.S. Eastern Time), on a mission designed to run 100 or more days floating at 110,000 feet (33.5 km) about the globe in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitude band.

“Following our 2015 and 2016 New Zealand missions, we’ve learned key lessons on the balloon design that have gone into perfecting the technology for this year’s flight,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “I’m very proud of the team that delivered us to this point and I’m hopeful that third time’s the charm for realizing 100 days of flight.”

Read more at: Scoop

Spaceport Could be Brought Down to Earth by ‘Poor’ Laws

Plans for a Scottish spaceport could be grounded by poor Westminster legislation, MPs have warned. The UK Government is planning a new law that would pave the way for commercial flights to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere and beyond.

Prestwick and Machrihanish airports in Scotland – along with sites in Wales and Cornwall – have been tipped as potential bases for such a service with the first launches to be as soon as 2020. However, MPs on the cross-party Science and Technology Select Committee have warned changes were needed to the draft Spaceflight Bill. They said provisions in the bill covering liabilities, indemnities and insurance threatened to sabotage the programme.

Read more at: Herald Scotland

Medical Guidelines for Astronauts

With Cassini making final preparations to penetrate Saturn’s rings, and renewed interest in colonising the Moon and sending people to Mars, space flight and exploration are experiencing a level of interest not seen since the Apollo missions to the Moon in the late 1960s and 1970s, and the space shuttle programme of the 1980s.

Space travel and exploration have resulted in a variety of technological developments which have benefited life on Earth – but could the experiences of humans in space also have impact on our understanding of terrestrial human health?

Scientists at the University of Plymouth and Northumbria University, Newcastle, are helping to write the medical rulebook that will keep astronauts fit and healthy during long trips through the solar system.

Read more at: Plymouth

Veteran Russian Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, 3 Others Resigning

At least four Russian cosmonauts, including veteran spacefarer Gennady Padalka, are set to leave the Russian cosmonaut corps either by free will or because of health reasons, according to a report from the Russian government news agency Tass.

Padalka, along with Sergey Volkov, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Sergey Revin, will be leaving the Russian cosmonaut corps. Padalka submitted his resignation voluntarily while the other three were removed due to medical reasons.

“The inter-departmental commission for the selection of cosmonauts and their assignment to the crews of manned spacecraft and stations made a decision at its April 21 session to recommend the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center to relieve Sergey Volkov of the duties of a 1st class test-cosmonaut and cosmonaut-instructor of the cosmonaut team, Alexander Samokutyaev[,] of the duties of a test-cosmonaut and cosmonaut-instructor and deputy commander of the cosmonaut team and Sergey Revin of the duties of a 3rd class test-cosmonaut of the cosmonaut group,” Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center’s press office said in a statement obtained by Tass.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

To Infinity and Beyond: Ted Cruz Looks to Encourage Commercial Space Exploration

Not content to limit his free-market principles to Texas, America or even the world, Sen. Ted Cruz moved Wednesday to extend that private enterprise approach throughout the galaxy.

The Texas Republican convened a panel of top executives at private space exploration companies to solicit suggestions for reducing regulatory barriers to encourage further innovation. By opening more commercial options for space exploration, Cruz said, they could be creating “the real possibility that in the not-too-distant future, American private citizens will be able to reach space from a launch pad or a runway in Texas.”

Read more at: Dallas News

Iridium Hails Performance of New Satellites, Targets Four More Launches This Year

Eight of Iridium’s first ten upgraded communications satellites launched in January started providing voice and data relay service ahead of schedule, and SpaceX says it can launch up to 40 more Iridium spacecraft by the end of the year, Iridium officials reported Thursday.

“I’m happy to report that our initial batch of Iridium Next satellites are now fully operational and working very well,” said Matt Desch, CEO of Virginia-based of Iridium Communications.

Engineers are repositioning the other two new-generation Iridium spacecraft in orbit to replace other satellites, part of a “highly-choreographed process” to complete a refresh of the company’s entire constellation by mid-2018, Desch said Thursday in a quarterly earnings call with investment analysts.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Trump Jokes with Astronauts on Reusing Human Waste: ‘Better You Than Me’

President Donald Trump joked Monday during a live-streamed news conference with astronauts on the International Space Station that he wouldn’t want to personally reuse human waste, as astronauts do during their time in outer space.

During the call between the White House and NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Col. Jack Fischer, Trump asked Whitson, “What are we learning by being in space?” Whitson explained that astronauts are learning how to reuse materials to continue making oxygen, water and other resources needed for long-duration missions.

“That means we right now, for instance, are making solar power that we collect and using it to break apart water into oxygen and hydrogen,” she said. “The oxygen we breathe, of course. We use the hydrogen, combine with the CO2 that we take out of the air and make more water. Water is such a precious resource up here that we also are cleaning up our urine and making it drinkable. And it’s really not as bad as it sounds.”

Read more at: Politico

Science Record Set on Space Station

If anything should break in space, let it be records. The astronauts of Expedition 50 have done just that by setting a new record for most time spent on scientific research on the International Space Station.

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson, and cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky, Andrei Borisenko and Sergei Ryzhikov clocked a combined 99 hours of science in the week of 6 March. To put this into perspective, astronauts average a 40 hour working week split between science experiments, Station maintenance and exercising for 2.5 hours a day. The record-breaking hours exclude these non-science tasks.

Mission control tracks these statistics, as the number of hours devoted to science has fluctuated over the years on account of the Station’s construction. Built over the years in segments, astronauts needed to assemble and maintain the orbital complex while also running experiments.

Read more at: ESA

Private Aerospace Leaders Meet With Senate to Streamline Space Exploration

With the president hoping to get to Mars by his second term, US Senators met with members of the private space industry to figure out how to get there. Senator Ted Cruz invited private space leaders to talk about the way the government works with commercial aerospace companies.

At the hearing, leaders from Bigelow Aerospace and Blue Origin asked for a better way to license rocket  launches and operate space stations. Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson stressed that space exploration is a collaborative effort, and hopes to work with NASA to create a base on the moon.

Read more at: wmfe

How the NASA Wake-Up Call Went From an Inside Joke to a Beloved Tradition

In December 1965, crammed inside their Gemini 6 capsule, astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford listened as crooner Jack Jones serenaded them with a specially written parody of the hit Broadway tune “Hello Dolly.”

This was NASA’s first astronaut wake-up call.

Originally designed to keep astronauts on a rigid schedule (since the lack of sunrises and sunsets can be disorientating), playing music to wake astronauts from their space slumber quickly became tradition. An extensive NASA report even details every single wake-up call, from Gemini 6 until the final space shuttle mission in July 2011. And despite the current six-year musical hiatus, NASA could soon be getting the band back together.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Cruz Interested in Updating Outer Space Treaty to Support Commercial Space Activities

The chairman of the Senate space subcommittee said at a hearing April 26 that it may be time for the United States to update a key space treaty to reflect growing commercial space activities.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) raised the prospect of updating the 50-year-old Outer Space Treaty, widely considered a cornerstone of international space law, at a hearing to discuss other regulatory reforms needed to promote continued growth of space companies in the country.

“As we look to the future of American free enterprise and settlement in space, we should also thoroughly review the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty, which was written and enacted in a very different time and era in 1967,” he said. “It’s important that Congress evaluate how that treaty, enacted 50 years ago, will impact new and innovative activity within space.”

Read more at: Space News

Here is the Trump Transition Team’s Big Plan for NASA

If you feel like NASA’s been in limbo lately, you’re not alone.

“NASA has been kind of stuck for much of the last decade,” says Jack Burns, who serves as a member of President Trump’s NASA transition team. “After the shuttle stopped flying, people were even confused as to whether NASA existed any longer—I mean it was that bad.”

On a recent visit to the University of Colorado at Boulder where Burns teaches and works, Popular Mechanics sat down with the astrophysics professor to learn a little about what we can expect from NASA in the coming years. Up first: flying people to space again. American astronauts haven’t flown to orbit on an American launch vehicle since the last Space Shuttle flight in July 2011. Since then, NASA astronauts have been hitching rides on the Russian Soyuz rocket, and the U.S. has been paying for the privilege. The new NASA wants to change that.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Engineers Investigate Simple, No-bake Recipe to Make Bricks on Mars

Explorers planning to settle on Mars might be able to turn the planet’s red soil into bricks without needing to use an oven or additional ingredients. Instead, they would just need to apply pressure to compact the soil – the equivalent of a blow from a hammer.

These are the findings of a study published in Scientific Reports on April 27, 2017. The study was authored by a team of engineers at the University of California San Diego and funded by NASA. The research is all the more important since Congress passed a bill, signed by President Donald Trump in March 2017, directing NASA to send a manned mission on Mars in 2033.

Read more at: Mars Daily

Astronauts are Baffled by Trump’s Space Travel Plans

American astronauts may be walking on Mars in the next eight years, or ideally the next four, if President Donald Trump has his way. But the new timetable has baffled experts in space travel.

The surprise announcement — or rather instruction — took place this week during a live video conference between President Trump and veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson, who is currently aboard the International Space Station.

During the conversation, Trump asked Whitson when it would be possible to send a human to Mars. She gave a careful and detailed answer explaining that a trip to the Red Planet might be possible sometime in the 2030s. Not good enough for the White House. “Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term, so we’ll have to speed that up a little, OK?” Trump replied. There was awkward laughter from outer space. “We’ll do our best!” Whitson promised, grinning.

Read more at: PRI

The First 100 Days: What Trump Has Done on Space So Far

President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have been busy, but the flurry of activity hasn’t extended much into the final frontier.

The Trump administration has already moved aggressively in a number of areas, such as tax policy, health care, immigration and environmental regulation. But it hasn’t done a lot regarding space science and exploration so far, said space policy expert John Logsdon.

“There haven’t been any substantive actions of any significance, unless you count the budget,” Logsdon, a professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., told Space.com.

Read more at: Space.com

It’s Time for the U.S. Air Force to Prepare for Preemption in Space

There are few strategic concepts as hotly debated as anticipatory self-defense—or preemption. This is particularly the case when considering military action in space. As Colin Gray observes above, preemption should not be considered controversial, because it is based upon hundreds of years of customary international law.

Despite this historic precedence, the United States still has much to do before preemption in space is, in fact, a viable means of protecting national interests. These discussions are especially needed as space grows more contested, degraded and operationally limited. While being perhaps counterintuitive, developing the concepts of preemption well before conflict occurs enhances deterrence and promotes international peace and stability.

Read more at: warisboring

Fifty Years Later: Soyuz-1 Revisited (part 1)

In the history of Soviet space exploration, there are a few high points that draw in a lot of conspiracy theorists. One of them is, of course, the flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961. A simple Google search will lead one to a slew of websites, chronicling in great detail, all the supposed cosmonauts who died getting to space before Gagarin.

And then, of course, there is the tragic flight of Vladimir Komarov in 1967, a veritable font of all manner of wild speculations. In April 1967, the Soviets had launched Komarov on the very first mission of the Soyuz spacecraft. A day later, the cosmonaut was killed after his space capsule plummeted to Earth and crashed in Soviet Central Asia. It was the first fatality of a spacefarer during a space mission in the history of spaceflight.

Read more at: Space Review

Former NASA Employee Argues the Benefits of Space Exploration in Book

Stephen Sandford was 9 when he saw Neil Armstrong land on the moon and discovered his love for science, engineering, math and technology (STEM).

As a child, he said he always like math and science, which eventually led him to study physics in college. After getting his master’s degree in engineering, Sandford got his chance to work at NASA, spending 28 years with the agency, including stints at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and NASA headquarters before becoming the director of space technology at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton.

Before retiring from the agency in 2014, Sandford began exploring the idea to write “The Gravity Well: America’s Next, Greatest Mission,” which details the benefits of a better funded space program.

Read more at: Daily Press

Mission Control is a Wonderful Movie. Go See it Now

We’ll make this film review simple and straightforward: Mission Control is a wonderful movie. Go see it.

This new movie is both timely and overdue. It is timely in that we’re nearing the 50th anniversary of the Apollo program’s glory days, and it’s overdue in the sense that mission control is finally getting some of the limelight it deserves. A few years ago, a book titled Go Flight! brought the life and times of NASA’s mission control during the Apollo and early space shuttle eras alive. These flight directors and controllers worked inside the “Cathedral,” the third floor of Building 30 on Johnson Space Center’s sprawling campus. They were always watching, running the missions, and ready to make split-second decisions.

Read more at: Ars Technica