Why DARPA is Pursuing a Reusable Spaceplane

Here’s a phrase that’s not repeated everyday in the space community: “You’ve heard Elon’s comments … we want to go beyond that,” Brad Tousley, the head of the tactical technology office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said May 15.

Elon, of course, is Elon Musk, the optimistic, and some say visionary, founder of SpaceX with plans of eventually colonizing Mars. After landing three first-stage rockets, Musk has said SpaceX would inspect the rockets with plans to later re-fly most of them.

Tousley oversees DARPA’s space programs, which often handles the Defense Department’s most difficult development challenges. He described the landing of first stage rockets by SpaceX and Blue Origin as “very, very impressive accomplishments.” But during a speech at the GEOINT 2016 conference here, Tousley said the agency’s experimental spaceplane, known as XS-1, also has ambitious plans.

“We want to launch again in 24 hours,” he said. Ideally, DARPA’s XS-1 spaceplane would launch 10 times in 10 days and carry payloads weighing as much as 1,360 kilograms into low earth orbit for $5 million.

Read more at: Space News

NASA Probes Witness Powerful Magnetic Storms Near Earth

Explosive storms spawned by interactions between the magnetic fields of Earth and the sun can endanger satellites, spacecraft and astronauts in space, as well as power grids on Earth. Now, a fleet of NASA spacecraft has for the first time directly witnessed the mysterious way in which these magnetic explosions occur.

This work could help shed light on dangerous solar outbursts and help improve the design of advanced nuclear reactors, researchers said. The discovery was made using NASA’s  Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (or MMS for short), which launched four spacecraft into Earth’s magnetosphere, the bubble of plasma controlled by the planet’s magnetic field.

“We hit the jackpot,” study co-author Roy Torbert, deputy principal investigator of MMS, said in a statement. “We were able to perform the first-ever physics experiment in this environment.”

Read more at: Scientific American

Upgraded Antares Rolls Out to Virginia Launchpad, High Stakes Engine Test Looms

An upgraded version of Orbital ATK’s commercially developed Antares rockethas at last rolled out to its launch pad on the Virginia shore – thus paving the path for a high stakes first stage engine test looming “in the next few weeks,” according to the aerospace firm.

“This stage test paradigm is a design verification test, said Kurt Eberly, Orbital ATK Antares deputy program manager, in an interview with Universe Today. The rocket will be erected at the pad during the full power hot fire test which is scheduled to last approximately 30 seconds. Hold down restraints will keep the rocket firmly anchored at the pad.

Read more at: Universe Today

Here’s What Elon Musk Plans to do with the 3rd SpaceX Rocket he Managed to Land

After recent successes, SpaceX is going to need a bigger trophy room. So far, the private spaceflight company has safely landed a total of three rockets after launching them into space.

Following a successful landing of the first stage of a Falcon 9 at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral on December 22, the company outdid itself by landing two more first stages on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship at sea. It nailed the ocean landing first on April 8 and then again on May 6 under even more difficult conditions.

The three successful landings bring SpaceX closer to achieving its goal of reusing rockets, which could potentially cut the cost of spaceflight by millions of dollars. And now, as CEO Elon Musk joked in a recent tweet, the company is running out of storage space.

Read more at: Business Insider

Re-Entry: Vostok Rocket Stage

A Vostock rocket stage re-entered the atmosphere on May 13, 2016 after over 35 years in orbit, making a slow decay after launching the Meteor 1-30 weather satellite for the Soviet Union in 1980.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Fireball 10x Brighter than Full Moon Explodes in Big Boom Over Finland

A fireball 10 times brighter than the full moon exploded in the sky of Finland on May 12, 2016. The disintegrating blue-green ball of fire emitted a powerful and loud boom reported all across southern Finland.

The meteor flew from north to south and was 10 times brighter than the full moon, according to first calculations. The ‘shockingly gorgeous’ falling space rock was reported more than 100 times all over southern Finland.

The blue-green meteor flew up to 8 seconds before exploding in a loud sonic boom. This unusually bright object travelled through the Earth’s atmosphere at 16 kilometers per second and disintegrated at about 89 kilometers altitude.

Read more at: Strange sounds

Tiny Debris Chipped a Window on the Space Station

A spacecraft orbiting the Earth gets damaged by space debris. You’re probably thinking it’s the plot of Gravity, and you’re not wrong.

It’s also what happened to the International Space Station a few months ago. Don’t panic, everyone’s fine, and the ISS is still safe. But the 7mm-wide dent in one of the windows of the ISS’s cupola is a reminder that space debris is a force to be reckoned with.

Astronaut Tim Peake took the image of the damage, saying “I am often asked if the International Space Station is hit by space debris. Yes – this is the chip in one of our Cupola windows, glad it is quadruple glazed!”

The ESA and NASA believe that the damage was caused by something tiny, no more than a few thousandths of a millimeter across, crashing into the window at high speed. Likely candidates are a paint chip or a small piece of metal.

Read more at: Popsci

The Rise and Fall of Martian Lakes

There is a wealth of evidence, collected over the past few decades, that suggests liquid water was abundant in the early history of Mars – one of our nearest and most studied neighbours. However, the size, evolution and duration of standing bodies of water, such as lakes, on Mars’ surface are still a matter of great debate. A recent study, using data from several spacecraft operating at Mars, paints a detailed picture of the rise and fall of standing bodies of water in a region of Mars which once hosted one of its largest lakes.

Mars’ surface is speckled with basins thought to have once hosted extensive lakes and rivers. The basins left behind by these long since dried-up bodies of water capture an important record of the geological and environmental conditions endured by the regions and make them prime candidates for exploration and study.

A recent paper, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets, describes a study carried out by Solmaz Adeli, Ernst Hauber, Laetitia Le Deit, and Ralf Jaumann, of an area of Mars’ surface known as the Terra Sirenum region, which is thought to have played host to one of the largest lakes on Mars.

Read more at: Phys.org

China’s New Launch Center Prepares for Maiden Mission

China’s fourth space launch center, the Wenchang satellite launch center in southern Hainan Province, is preparing for its maiden launch mission.

Components of a Long March-7 carrier rocket arrived at a port in Wenchang on Saturday and were transported to the center by road, according to space officials on Monday. Assembling and testing will be conducted according to the mission’s schedule, officials said.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Re-Entry: Long March 3B Rocket Body from Comm Satellite Launch

A Long March 3B rocket stage re-entered the atmosphere on May 14, 2016 after a little over five months in orbit, making a slow decay from a highly elliptical Geostationary Transfer Orbit. The Long March 3B rocket launched the ChinaSat-2C communications satellite.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

A Year of Mystery Swirls Around Latest X-37B Mission

The semi-classified X-37B robot spaceplane hasn’t received much attention, despite the fact that it is on its fourth flight in space. At least, that’s the official story. Launched in May 2015, the latest mission seems even more covert than the three previous launches. Absolutely no images of the spaceplane were released before launch. That’s a big change from the past, when we saw high-resolution images of the vehicle before launch and after landing.

Nobody knows when X-37B is coming home. It’s even possible that the US Air Force, which owns the small vehicle, has not set a firm date. But we can consider what will happen when it does. This analyst will speculate that no images or video of X-37B will be released after its landing. Again, that would be a departure from previous trends, but consistent with the “no photography” policy of this flight.

Why is X-37B so camera-shy this time around?

Read more at: Space Daily

NASA Orion Spacecraft Doesn’t Crack Under Pressure

The Orion capsule will launch in 2018 as part of NASA’s “Journey To Mars,” which aims to put humans on the Red Planet around the 2030s (realistically, probably later). Although this particular craft will only go into lunar orbit, and it won’t carry astronauts, it still needs to be airtight so engineers can ensure the first crewed Orion flight in the 2020s will be safe for its human passengers.

To make sure the body is welded together properly, NASA engineers are putting pressure on the capsule. Or more specifically, they’re pumping it full of air to expose any weak points. The capsule is meant to withstand a pressure of about 15 psi, whereas this test pumped it up to almost 19 psi.

Read more at: Popsci

First Boeing Starliner Hull Assembled as First Crew Flight Delays to 2018

As completion nears for the prototype of Boeing’s first Starliner astronaut taxi, the aerospace firm announced a slip into 2018 for the blastoff date of the first crewed flight in order to deal with spacecraft mass, aerodynamic launch and flight software issues, a Boeing spokesperson told Universe Today.

Until this week, Boeing was aiming for a first crewed launch of the commercial Starliner capsule by late 2017, company officials had said.

The new target launch date for the first astronauts flying aboard a Boeing CST-100 Starliner “is February 2018,” Boeing spokeswoman Rebecca Regan told Universe Today. “Until very recently we were marching toward the 2017 target date.”

Read more at: Universe Today

Dragon’s Comeback Mission Ends with Successful Splashdown in the Pacific

The SpaceX Dragon made a successful return from a month-long Space Station Mission on Wednesday, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 18:51 UTC several hours after the spacecraft was detached from the International Space Station to begin its homebound journey.

Landing marks the start of a race against the clock as precious science cargo needs to be returned to shore for laboratory analysis.

The SpX-8 mission was Dragon’s comeback after the Falcon 9 launch failure that claimed the loss of the SpX-7 spacecraft in June 2015

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

NASA Funding Research in Cryogenic Sleep Chambers, Other Future Technologies

Technology designed to place astronauts in a state of induced hibernation and use lasers as a propulsion system for miniature spacecraft are among the projects that have received a second round of funding through NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program.

In total, the US space agency has selected eight proposed missions which they feel “have the potential to transform future aerospace missions, introduce new capabilities, and significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.” Each proposal has been awarded a Phase II grant that could be worth up to $500,000 over two years.

Among those proposals is one that intends to create technology that would place astronauts in what Popular Science refers to as “an state of advanced hypothermia,” causing their core body temperature to drop nearly 10 degrees and reducing their metabolic rate during the nine month journey to Mars. Along the way, the machine would also feed them intravenously, according to lead researcher John Bradford and his colleagues at Spaceworks Engineering.

Read more at: RedOrbit

NASA to Pay Russia $88million to Deliver Astronauts to World’s Sole Orbiter in 2018-2019

Russia has signed a contract with the United States to deliver six NASA astronauts aboard Russian-made Soyuz MS spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2018-2019, according to a quarterly report released by Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation on Monday. Energiya Corporation is the producer of Russian spacecraft.

According to the document, NASA will pay Russia 5.7 billion rubles ($88 million) for the delivery of NASA astronauts to the ISS and their return to the Earth. The deal was signed on January 27.

November 2019 is mentioned in the contract as the term of work completion. Formally, the deal will be approved at an annual meeting of Energiya’s shareholders.

Read more at: TASS

These Space Rocks Could Save the Planet

The box was inconspicuous, but Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) postdoctoral researcher Megan Bruck Syal immediately knew its contents: two meteorites around the size of walnuts. They formed about 4.6 billion years ago and survived a history of violent collisions in the asteroid belt before being bumped into a near-Earth-object orbit by gravitational interactions with the planets.

After finally raining down on Earth, these rocks were scavenged in Antarctica by researchers, sorted and classified at NASA Johnson Space Center, then mailed first-class to Bruck Syal.

Now that these space rocks are in Bruck Syal’s hands, they are mere months away from fulfilling their destiny. They are to be vaporized by a high-powered laser, and the data they yield on asteroid deflection could one day save the planet.

Read more at: Phys.org

China’s Space Station Plans in Powerpoint: A Closer Look at Tiangong 3

The China Manned Space Agency released several Powerpoint slides showing a closer look at the Tiangong 3, China’s planned space station. Scheduled to be commissioned in 2022, the Tiangong 3 will be regularly visited by Shenzhou manned space vessels, and automated Tianzhou resupply vehicles.

The core 22-ton module, “Tianhe 1”, which can accommodate a crew of three taikonauts for 40 days, will be launched in 2018, with the two attendant science modules to fly into orbit in the following four years. Tianhe 1 will have five access/docking ports, and a robotic arm. Tianhe 1 will contain a laboratory with integrated modular racks for storing scientific equipment and experiments. The Tiangong 3 can undergo future expansion by attaching additional Tianhe core modules.

Read more at: Popsci

Big Leap: Indian Space Agency Sets Sights on Homemade Space Shuttle

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is embarking on a landmark experiment to create India’s very own “space shuttle.” In what has been touted as the country’s first attempt, the agency is taking baby steps toward fully developing its own version of its space shuttle.

If the experiment, which is likely to be carried by the end of this May, is successful, scientists are hopeful this could reduce the cost of space launches by up to $2,000 per kg – a significant achievement.

Speaking to Sputnik about the upcoming event, Dr K Sivan, director of ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said: “It is a small experiment we’re doing. This is nowhere near to a fully developed shuttle but only a step forward toward that. There are many many technologies required for that. What we’re trying is putting one such technology into the experimental stage.”

Read more at: Sputnik News

100,000 Orbits! Space Station Milestone is Tribute to Human Ingenuity

Since the first component of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched on Nov. 20, 1998, the station has flown 2,643,342,240 miles. On May 16, 2016 it will officially have surpassed 100,000 orbits of Earth.  An incredible feat, as explained by NASA flight engineer Jeff Williams from the ISS.

Read more at: Space.com

Journey of Shuttle Fuel Tank to California Saves Four people in Pacific

Making a brief pit shop in San Diego to clear customs today, the museum-bound space shuttle external fuel tank will reach Los Angeles for offloading from the transport barge on Wednesday, just days after a serendipitous rescue of the passengers from a sunken boat in the Pacific.

The tank left New Orleans on April 12, transited the Panama Canal and began the customs stop early this morning.

The trek will conclude between 6 and 8 a.m. local time (9-11 a.m. EDT; 1300-1500 GMT) on Wednesday at Marina del Rey in Los Angeles County, halfway between Santa Monica and the Los Angeles International Airport.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Mining Issues in Space Law

Last week, Deep Space Industries, a company with long-term asteroid mining plans, announced a joint venture with the government of Luxembourg to develop a technology demonstration satellite. The spacecraft, dubbed Prospector-X, will be a 3U CubeSat that will fly in Earth orbit at a date to be announced to test technologies needed for future missions to prospect, and eventually extract resources from, near Earth objects.

Planetary Resources, another space resources company, already launched its first tech demo satellite, Arkyd 3R, also a CubeSat, last year from the International Space Station. (The “R” designates it was a reflight of the original Arkyd 3, lost in the Antares launch failure in October 2014.) The company is planning to launch two more tech demo satellites later this year, company vice president Peter Marquez said during a panel last week, as part of a roadmap of missions leading up to the company’s first mission to an asteroid in 2020.

Read more at: Space Review

Airbus Defence and Space to Lead TeSeR, Next EU Project to Clean up Space

Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, will lead the project TeSeR (Technology for Self-Removal of Spacecraft) team to develop technology to reduce the risk of spacecraft colliding with debris in space.

Together with its ten European partners, the company will develop a prototype for a cost-efficient and highly reliable module to ensure that future spacecraft don’t present a collision risk once they reach the end of their nominal operational lifetimes or suffer an in-service failure. The module may also function as a removal back-up in the case of a loss of control over a spacecraft.

Read more at: Airbus Defence & Space

Airbus and Safran Agree to Space Launcher Joint Venture

Airbus group and Safran have signed an agreement to put strategic missile launchers into their 50/50 space launchers joint venture, the two companies said in a joint statement.

“Both companies will contribute to the current joint program with industrial assets dealing with civil space launchers and military launchers,” the companies said.

Airbus Defence & Space is prime contractor for the M51 new generation strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile, and was notified in 2014 of a contract for the M51.3 upgrade. The French Navy is upgrading its four Triomphant class nuclear missile submarines with the M51, which entered service in 2010.

Read more at: Defense News

China, U.S. Hold First Dialogue on Outer Space Safety

China and the United States have held their first dialogue on outer space safety in Washington.

During the dialogue on Tuesday the two sides exchanged views on issues such as outer space policy, bilateral cooperation on space safety and multilateral space initiatives. The discussions were “pragmatic, in-depth and fruitful,” according to the Chinese delegation.

The two sides agreed to hold the next dialogue before the end of the year.

Read more at: CriEnglish

US, Russia Step Up War of Words Over Missile Shield

The United States and Russia on Friday accused each other of mounting an aggressive military presence in northern Europe, with Moscow vowing to “end threats” posed by a US missile shield near its border.

The stepped-up war of words came as Poland on Friday broke ground on the northern section of a US missile defence shield launched in Romania a day earlier, which Russia slammed as a serious security threat despite US assurances to the contrary.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday warned Washington that Moscow will consider measures to “end threats” from the US anti-missile systems in Europe but said it would not be engaged in a new arms race.

Read more at: Space Daily

India Successfully Test-fires Supersonic Interceptor Missile

In its effort to have a full fledged multi-layer Ballistic Missile Defence system, India on Sunday successfully test-fired its indigenously developed supersonic interceptor missile, capable of destroying any incoming hostile ballistic missile, from a test range off Odisha coast.

The interceptor was engaged against a target which was a naval version of Prithvi missile launched from a ship anchored inside Bay of Bengal, taking up the trajectory of a hostile ballistic missile.

The target missile was launched at about 11.15 hours and the interceptor, Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile positioned at Abdul Kalam island (Wheeler Island) getting signals from tracking radars, roared through its trajectory to destroy the incoming hostile missile in mid-air, in an endo-atmospheric altitude, the sources said.

Read more at: Zee News

Policy Bill Aims to Tame Cost-Plus Contracts

Responding to fears the US military’s technological superiority is at risk, the Senate Armed Services Committee advanced an annual defense policy bill that would open competition to commercial industry, seen as a spur to innovation and cost-efficiency.

The marquee change, if the SASC’s version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act passes Congress and is signed by the president, is the proposed closure of the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer’s office and reassignment of its duties to two new defense undersecretaries for innovation and acquisitions management. It also contains far-reaching language to curb a major concern of SASC Chairman John McCain: cost-plus contracts.

Read more at: Defense News

Scientists Reveal What We will Need to do to Survive Doomsday

Concerned scientists have revealed how we can prevent the human race from being wiped out — and it involves either changing our planet’s orbit or uploading ourselves into machines.

In around 500 million years, scientists believe that the Sun’s expansion will leave our planet completely uninhabitable, with conditions so unforgiving that the Earth will return to being the scorched, lifeless lump of rock it once was. However, there is still hope for Earth’s future inhabitants, as researchers claim there are extreme measures we may be able to go to in humanity’s hour of need.

Columbia University astrophysicists Michael Hahn and Daniel Wolf Savin explain how life on Earth will slowly begin to decline in an essay entitled ‘How to Survive Doomsday’. Assuming that humanity can avoid a self-inflicted nuclear apocalypse or a deadly asteroid strike, our species has less than 500 million years left on the planet.

Read more at: AU News

Donald Trump Prioritises Earth Over Space as Spending Priority

Donald Trump has hinted that space exploration could face a fight to protect its share of public spending should he win the US presidential election in November.

Early in the campaign he made clear that earth should be a greater priority. “Right now we have bigger problems, you understand that, we’ve got to fix our potholes.  You know we don’t have exactly a lot of money,” he said in New Hampshire.

Interviewed in writing by Aerospace America, the billionaire mogul and Republican frontrunner appeared cool towards committing large amounts of public money to the US space programme.

Read more at: Telegraph