X-37B Spaceplane Returns to Earth and Makes Autopilot Landing in Florida

The Air Force’s robotic X-37B mini space shuttle swooped out of obscurity today after 718 days spent in orbit on a secretive military mission, touching down at the Kennedy Space Center’s orbiter runway on autopilot, the military announced on Twitter.

It was the fourth flight for the unmanned test project, an enigmatic program that has used twin reusable vehicles to amass 2,086 cumulative days in space by launching like a satellite atop Atlas 5 rockets and then landing like an airplane.

But today marked the first X-37B landing at the Kennedy Space Center and used the same Shuttle Landing Facility runway as NASA’s manned orbiters from 1984 to 2011, signaling a long-sought programmatic evolution to consolidate both launch and landing operations at a single homeport.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Commercial Space’s Policy Wish List

Two space-related events on opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington last week had varying degrees of sizzle and substance. On Monday, President Trump hosted a video call in the Oval Office with NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fisher on the International Space Station. The purpose of the call was primarily to celebrate Whitson’s breaking the US record for cumulative time spent in space.

Trump, though, made headlines when he suggested that he would speed up NASA’s plans for sending humans to Mars. “Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term,” he said when Whitson said NASA’s current plans called for humans to Mars in the 2030s. “So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?” There seems, though, to be little sign that the administration is, in fact, speeding up NASA’s plans, and key near-term questions—who will be the next NASA administrator, and when will the White House, as anticipated, reestablish the National Space Council—remain unanswered.

Read more at: Space Review

Virgin Galactic VSS Unity Passes Feather Test

After successfully completing three glide-and-land tests at Mojave Air and Spaceport, Virgin Galactic conducted its first test of the “feather” mechanism on its second SpaceShipTwo (SS2) suborbital tourism spacecraft. This was the first successful test of SS2’s feathering system since a premature deployment of the system on the first vehicle caused it to break up in flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring a second on Oct. 31, 2014.

After being released from the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft, VSS Unity folded its two tails upward to orient the spacecraft for the descent. In an operational flight from a suborbital altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers), this configuration would increase Unity’s drag and aerodynamic stability without increasing heat loads tremendously. The effect allows SS2 to descend like a badminton birdie, with gravity guiding its center of mass downward.

Once the air is thick enough and heat loads have decreased, the twin tails drop to horizontal, and SS2 glides its way on regular aerodynamic control surfaces toward its runway.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

NASA Names States Most Responsible for Polluting Near-Earth Orbits

The number of pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth has grown by almost 500 this year, with the United States accounting for 298 of the items, NASA said in a quarterly report.

On January 4 – April 4, 2017 a total of 471 new junk items appeared in near-Earth orbits. Now there are 18,347 of them, including 4,434 payloads (both operational and defunct satellites), and 13,913 rocket bodies and debris.

NASA says Russia accounts for more space debris than any other country – 6,501 pieces (including 155 new ones). The United States is second with 6,017 objects (298 new). China is third (its space debris list has turned a little bit shorter to 3,801 items from the previously registered 3,806).

Read more at: TASS

At London SSA Conference, Calls for Paradigm Shift in Space Situational Awareness

Maintaining safety of space operations in the increasingly congested and contested space environment will require a paradigm shift in space situational awareness, including increased collaboration and active space traffic management.

Speaking at the Military Space Situational Awareness Conference, which took place here April 26- 27, Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, director of space programs within the office of the U.S. Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, said the increasing number of players in the space domain  — both governmental and commercial — means that maintaining order in Earth orbit will be increasingly difficult and will require new approaches to prevent space debris collisions, as well as intentional attacks.

Read more at: Space News

Former SpaceX Worker had Safety Concerns, Then was Fired? Judge Dismisses Defamation Allegation

A judge dismissed a defamation allegation brought by a former employee of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. against the company, but ruled that the plaintiff could take his wrongful termination and retaliation claims to trial.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey issued his rulings Wednesday in the lawsuit brought in April 2016 by Jason Blasdell. The judge heard arguments April 24 on SpaceX’s motion to dismiss the entire lawsuit, then took the case under submission.

During the April hearing, Fahey questioned how Blasdell, who said he was called “disruptive” by management, could claim that his reputation was besmirched.

Read more at: MynewsLA

Boeing, Lockheed Venture Violated Safety Standard at Launch Site

A joint venture between Boeing Defense and Lockheed Martin Space Systems failed to provide machine guarding for a launchpad component at a space complex, an administrative law judge ruled ( Sec’y of Labor v. United Launch All., LLC , OSHRCJ, No. 15-2237, 4/12/17 ).

An employee of United Launch Alliance, LLC was testing a capture piston at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station when he lost two fingers. The capture pistons are part of the strut captures on the fixed erector pad, which stands up the rocket. The captures are located beneath the launchpad and covered by grating.

Read more at: BNA

Leak Causes Early End to Nasa’s Wanaka Balloon Mission

Nasa’s Wanaka science balloon has sprung a leak over the Pacific Ocean. Plans are under way to bring it down early in South America. Nasa communications spokesman Jeremy Eggers said the Nasa balloon team did not know what caused the leak.

“That’s unknown. Nasa will form an investigation team to look at that very question. The data we collect as the mission continues will help us in that investigation.” Happily, scientists from the University of Chicago and the Colorado School of Mines are continuing to get data from their cosmic ray detector payload while the balloon is still afloat.

Read more at: Stuff

Senate Passes Space Weather Bill

The Senate unanimously passed a bill May 2 intended to support space weather research and planning to protect critical infrastructure from solar storms. The Senate passed, via unanimous consent, the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act. The bill cleared the Senate Commerce Committee in January, which had approved a similar bill in 2016.

The bill is designed to outline roles and responsibilities for various U.S. government agencies to research, forecast and respond to space weather, which can affect communications, the power grid and other systems. It builds upon a national space weather strategy and action plan released by the Obama administration in October 2015.

The legislation directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop options to replace solar imaging data provided by the aging Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft, launched more than 20 years ago. NOAA is pursuing that through its Space Weather Follow-On program. That program received $5 million in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus spending bill released May 1, double the amount in NOAA’s original request.

Read more at: Space News

Iridium Starting to Deorbit Legacy Satellites as Next Constellation Comes Online

Now that its first batch of next generation satellites is in orbit and operational, mobile satellite services provider Iridium is preparing deorbit procedures for its legacy fleet of low-Earth orbit satellites that launched in the late 1990s.

Speaking with investors on a conference call April 27, Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said eight of the first 10 Iridium Next satellites launched in January are now in service, and the latter two are at the beginning of a 10-month journey to an adjacent orbital plane.

Desch said SpaceX, the launcher Iridium picked for its entire next-generation constellation, gave the company notice that it will be ready to conduct the second of eight Iridium Next launches June 29 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Read more at: Space News

Satellite Electrical Damage Linked to Space Dust

The cause of several mysterious satellite failures may have been discovered, if simulations carried out at Stanford University in California hold firm in physical space. The simulations, published in the journal Physics of Plasmas, promise an answer to a question bothering lead author, aeronautics professor Sigrid Close, for more than seven years.

Everyone in the space business has long recognised that meteoroids – tiny space rocks sometimes no bigger than a grain of dust – can cause severe mechanical damage when they smash into a satellite.

Looking at the records of satellite collision reports, however, Close realised a small number seemed to result in electrical rather than mechanical damage. This meant – logically – the satellites must have encountered another source of electricity. What, she wondered, could that be? In 2010 she and colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research proposing tiny meteoroids as the electrical source. At the moment of impact, they suggested, the colliding particle and immediate part of the satellite became ionised, resulting in plasma that produced a strong electromagnetic pulse “potentially causing catastrophic damage”.

Read more at: Cosmos Magazine

Space Diving Program Reaches for the Earth’s Stratosphere

Aviation enthusiasts’ adventures are no longer limited to traveling by airplane. They can now rise to the Earth’s stratosphere in a helium balloon and fall back in a parachute, as a new space diving program, the first of its kind in China, is bringing new consumer trends into space.

A space dive project, operated by Space Exploration Inc and the Space Dive Organizing Committee, was launched recently in Beijing as China’s first near-space program.

The project aims at breaking former vice-president of Google Alan Eusta ce’s 2014 world record of a 41.4-kilometer jump, as well as collecting data and dust samples in space to facilitate the research and development of China’s aerospace industry.

Read more at: China Daily

Honeywell and Paragon to Create Life Support Technology for Future NASA Space Missions

Honeywell and Paragon Space Development Corporation have announced a teaming agreement that will change the way astronauts experience life in space. The two companies will design, build, test and apply environmental control and life support systems for future human NASA and commercial programs.

Longer duration, human-exploration missions are planned for the future, but there is no easy way to replenish resources such as oxygen and water in space. NASA’s future human-exploration missions will require an integrated and highly efficient system for life support and thermal control. Paragon’s focus on evolving water and thermal technologies complements Honeywell’s new developments in air revitalization technologies, both of which are essential parts of the spacecraft needed for NASA’s deep space goals.

Read more at: PR Newswire

The Abort Rocket Motor for NASA’s Orion Spacecraft just Aced a Big Test

Flanked by a forest view, a motor for the Orion spacecraft underwent a three-pronged fiery test ahead of being used for flights across the solar system. Orbital ATK ran the abort system motor test successfully, the company announced yesterday (May 1). Footage from the test, whose location was not disclosed in a statement, showed fire emanating as planned from the motor before finishing with a puff of black smoke.

The attitude-control motor shown in the test is designed to steer the Orion spacecraft’s crew module away from the launch vehicle if there is an emergency. Orion is a spacecraft NASA is developing to take crews away from Earth, to locations such as the moon’s orbit or an asteroid.

Read more at: Space.com

Starliner’s Propulsion System Engines Complete Qualification Tests

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space capsule got a further boost toward completion when the engines being built for its reactive propulsion system by Aerojet Rocketdyne passed their qualification tests.

Twelve of the monopropellant MR-104J engines, fueled by hydrazine, will be used for reaction control during the re-entry phase of each mission. The system is designed to keep the spacecraft on the correct trajectory and orientation for a safe re-entry and landing.

The qualification tests involved hot-fire testing of the engines to not only prove their functionality and reliability but also to demonstrate their reusability. The MR-104J engines have been built to withstand multiple firings to allow them to be used on more than one mission. The Starliner has been designed to fly up to 10 missions while keeping maintenance on the spacecraft to a minimum between flights.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX Urges Lawmakers to Support Broadband Satellite Plan

As lawmakers turn their attention to ways to boost the expansion and adoption of high-speed broadband networks, SpaceX is urging them to look to the sky.

A senior official at the company best known for its rocket launches offered a detailed blueprint of SpaceX’s ambitious plan to blanket the sky with more than 4,000 satellites to provide affordable, ubiquitous broadband service with speeds that would rival commercial fiber networks.

“These will provide high-speed, low-latency and affordable broadband to the underserved and unserved populations throughout the United States and abroad,” Patricia Cooper, SpaceX’s vice president of satellite government affairs, told members of the Senate Commerce Committee this week. “This is an ambitious but vital objective.”

Read more at: cio

Test Site for ESA Backed Airbreathing Engine

Work began today on building the UK’s latest rocket engine test facility, designed for firing the engine core of the ESA-backed SABRE propulsion system within three years.

The Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine is uniquely designed to scoop up atmospheric air during the early part of its flight to orbit. This slashes the need for the vehicle to carry bulky onboard oxygen for this part of the ascent, before switching to rocket mode drawing on internal propellants for its final climb to space.

Such engines have the potential to revolutionise space launches, powering vehicles that can take off and land like aircraft.

Read more at: ESA

‘I Wanted to Serve’: These Deaf Men Helped NASA Understand Motion Sickness in Space

Barron Gulak remembers one experiment, which did not take place in a lab. In 1964, Gulak and the other test subjects for the research were sent out on a boat, which traveled through rough waters off the coast Nova Scotia. Really rough waters. Just super bad.

The ship rolled and pitched about in a storm, tilting back and forth. But those who’d volunteered for the research were immune to motion sickness. “Honestly, it was a wonderful time,” said Gulak, who, along with the other research test subjects, is deaf.

It is, however, probably safe to assume that those who were conducting the research, who were not immune to motion sickness, did not share this view. “We were enjoying ourselves,” Gulak recalled. “We actually had meals during the storm. And when they saw us eating, it made them even more sick, and they were vomiting.”

Read more at: Washington Post

Monitoring Astronauts’ Lung Health

Astronauts in space are valuable sources of scientific data. Researchers collect blood and urine samples to understand what effects living in weightlessness has on their bodies. For one experiment, investigators are interested in their breath.

The Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, is analysing astronauts’ exhaled air to probe lung health. The results so far have been breathtaking.

The Airway Monitoring experiment measures the level of nitric oxide in astronauts’ lungs, a naturally occurring molecule produced in the lungs to help regulate blood flow. Small amounts are normal, but excess levels indicate airway inflammation caused by environmental factors such as dust and pollutants or diseases like asthma.

Aboard the Station, astronauts breathe into an analyser at normal pressure and in the reduced pressure of the Quest airlock – similar to the pressure in future habitats on Mars and lunar colonies. The measurements are then compared to those taken before flight.

Read more at: Phys.org

Launches Resume in French Guiana with Dual-payload Ariane 5 Flight

Running more than six weeks late after social unrest in French Guiana forced the closure of Europe’s launch base in the Amazon jungle, a commercial Ariane 5 rocket took off Thursday just after sunset with a pair of communications satellites manufactured in France for owners in Brazil and South Korea.

Inclement weather Thursday further delayed the start of countdown preparations, and teams had to resolve a problem with ground equipment at the Ariane 5 launch pad that pushed back liftoff more than one hour into the day’s launch window.

But the storms cleared and the managers gave the “go” to resume the Ariane 5 countdown shortly after sunset at the tropical space base.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Why China’s Aerospace Experts have Become Xi Jinping’s New Political Elite

China’s Communist Party has decided that veterans of the country’s space programme have the right stuff for promotion to important political roles in key provinces.

Giving new meaning to the term high-flier, four aerospace engineers have become provincial governors in the past four years. Ma Xingrui, a former general manager of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC), became governor of Guangdong, the province with the biggest economy, last year. Xu Dazhe, a fellow with the International Academy of Astronautics, has governed the central province of Hunan from around the same time.

Read more at: scmp

Russian Scientists Plan ‘Cosmic Patrol’ to Protect Earth from Space Threats

Scientists at Moscow’s state university (MGU) are planning to set up a “cosmic patrol” of satellites to protect Earth from space threats, according to state news agency Itar-Tass.

The successful launch of Russia’s astronomical Mikhailo Lomonosov satellite last year inspired Russian scientists to plan an entire constellation of similar satellites, MGU’s Professor Sergey Svertilov from the university’s Institute of Nuclear Physics said during an event in Samara. The project would involve no fewer than three satellites.

“We are planning to create this constellation over the course of three to five years,” he said. “[The satellites’] main task would be controlling threats from space.”

Read more at: Newsweek

Senate Joins House in Approving FY2017 Approps Bill

The Senate passed the FY2017 omnibus appropriations bill today.  President Trump is expected to sign it into law before midnight tomorrow.  Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) won praise from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for winning the increase in NASA’s budget that will boost it to $19.653 billion.  Meanwhile, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) also took credit for the increase and vowed that it is just the beginning. [UPDATE, May 5:  President Trump has signed the bill into law.]

Nelson is well known as an avid NASA supporter and is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that oversees the agency.  When he was a member of the House, he became the second politician to fly into space aboard the space shuttle (the first was Sen. Jake Garn, a Republican from Utah).  Schumer said today that NASA had been targeted for certain cuts, but received an increase instead thanks to Nelson: “There is no one who has done more for [NASA] than Bill Nelson.”

Read more at: Spacepolicy online

Executive Order Establishing National Space Council is ‘Imminent’

An executive order to re-establish a National Space Council is “imminent,” a senior space policy adviser to President Trump’s transition team said this week.

Bob Walker, a former congressman from Pennsylvania, has advocated for the creation of a new National Space Council chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. He said during a May 1 event on Capitol Hill the executive order is ready and that “it’s a matter of timing.” “It’s imminent,” he said. “Everything is in place.”

The last National Space Council, created in 1989 during George H.W. Bush’s presidency, disbanded in 1993. The council had little military participation, but Walker told Inside Defense in December that the Defense Department could be mandated to participate with Pence at the helm.

Read more at: Inside Defense

Here’s How an Asteroid Impact Would Kill You

It won’t be a tsunami. Nor an earthquake. Not even the crushing impact of the space rock. No, if an asteroid kills you, gusting winds and shock waves from falling and exploding space rocks will most likely be to blame. That’s one of the conclusions of a recent computer simulation effort that investigated the fatality risks of more than a million possible asteroid impacts.

In one extreme scenario, a simulated 200-meter-wide space rock whizzing 20 kilometers per second whacked London, killing more than 8.7 million people. Nearly three-quarters of that doomsday scenario’s lethality came from winds and shock waves, planetary scientist Clemens Rumpf and colleagues report online March 27 in Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

Read more at: Science News

Japan’s Space Industry to get Private-sector Boost

The Japanese government and four companies, including major trading house Mitsui & Co. and construction company Obayashi, are teaming up to develop the country’s space business.

Under the partnership, the government will solicit business ideas from the private sector and the companies will provide part of the financing needed to commercialize the ideas. Some 20 million yen ($180,000) is expected to be funded by the companies.

Japan’s space business has hitherto relied on government funding. The latest arrangement comes as the government seeks to broaden Japan’s space industry and companies explore new business opportunities.

Read more at: Nikkei Asia

NASA Eyeing ‘Chain Mail’ Fabric for Use in Space

To protect its spacecraft from the rigors of deep space, a team of NASA engineers is turning to a time-honored — and battle-proven — solution: chain mail. Led by Raul Polit Casillas, whose mother is a fashion designer in Spain, the group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has developed a prototype fabric that puts an extraterrestrial spin on the armor of yore.

The fabric is strung together from a series of articulated metallic tiles, which reflect light on one side and absorb it on the other, providing a mechanism for thermal regulation. Pliable yet durable, it can also be manipulated into a variety of shapes without ceding tensile strength.

Read more at: Space.com

Former NASA Chief Bolden Among 5 to Receive Honorary Degrees

The University of Arizona will honor five individuals at its 153rd Commencement who have made significant achievements within the academic environment and the world at large.

Maj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden Jr., who has traveled into orbit and also ushered NASA into a new era of space exploration, will receive an honorary degree from the UA College of Science. Bolden also will be the speaker during the Commencement ceremony, to be held May 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Arizona Stadium.

Nominated by former U.S. President Barack Obama to serve as the 12th administrator of NASA, Bolden became the first African-American to hold the office and, after confirmation by the U.S. Senate, began his post in 2009. Bolden retired in January 2017.

Read more at: University of Arizona

‘Road to Nowhere’: Retired Cosmonaut Reveals How it Feels to Walk in Space

In an interview with Latvia’s Radio Baltkom, retired Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, who became the first human to make a spacewalk, gave his thoughts on how he felt when going into outer space.

Speaking to Latvia’s Radio Baltkom, retired Soviet-era Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov admitted that he did not know what he would face in outer space when he became the first human being to perform a spacewalk, and that none of his relatives knew about the event beforehand.

On March 18, 1965, Leonov became the first human to venture outside a spacecraft, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for a 12-minute spacewalk.

Read more at: Space Daily

Fifty Years Later: Soyuz-1 Revisited (part 2)

The problem now was how to return the spacecraft from orbit, hopefully on the 17th orbit, but with the 18th and 19th orbits as possible backups. Agadzhanov’s team at Evpatoriia considered the matter carefully. In order for the ship’s main engine to fire to deorbit the vehicle, it had to be pointed in the proper direction. In order for this to happen, Komarov needed to orient the spaceship properly using attitude control jets helped by sensors that would position the ship around the appropriate axis. But one system (45K) wasn’t working. Another, the ionic system, appeared to be faulty and might be unreliable during the early morning hours when the return was planned due to ion pockets (“wells”) that could disrupt the work of the sensors.

The third system was a manual system, based on visual cues to the cosmonaut would be very difficult to use during reentry since the Earth’s horizon would not provide a sharp enough visual contrast for Komarov to fix upon, especially in the shadow portion of the orbit. With an incorrect attitude, Soyuz-1 would either burn up in the atmosphere or fly into a higher orbit.

Read more at: Space Review

ISS Payload Design & Operation Safety

23-26 May 2017 – KAYSER Italia – Tuscany (Livorno)

The course is designed to provide the participant with an understanding of safety requirements, procedures and processes that are used for design and operations of payloads for the International Space Station. You will find the description of the course in the IAASS Professional Training Courses Catalog 2017 – Course Code 004. To register, download the Registration Form, fill in and return to:[email protected] not later than 15 May 2017.

Read more at: IAASS

Quality Assurance for Space Projects

26-29 June 2017 – Athlone, Ireland

The course is designed to provide the participant with an understanding of basic principles of Quality Management, Quality Assurance and Quality Control, as they are usually applied to space projects. You will find the description of the course in the IAASS Professional Training Courses Catalog 2017 – Course Code 006. To register, download the Registration Form from the website, fill in and return to: [email protected]

Read more at: IAASS

9th IAASS Conference

Know Safety, No Pain
The 9th IAASS Conference “Know Safety, No Pain” is an invitation to reflect and exchange information on a number of topics in space safety and sustainability of national and international interest. The conference is also a forum to promote mutual understanding, trust, and the widest possible international cooperation in such matters.

The 9th IAASS Conference will in addition dedicate a set of specialized sessions to four topics which need to get better attention in space programs: Space Debris ReentriesSpace Traffic Management,  Safety Standards for Commercial Human Spaceflight , and Human Performance and Safety.

Read more at: IAASS Conference