Elon Musk’s SpaceX is Using a Powerful Rocket Technology. NASA Advisers Say it Could Put Lives at Risk

When Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX were looking to make their Falcon 9 rocket even more powerful, they came up with a creative idea — keep the propellant at super-cold temperatures to shrink its size, allowing them to pack more of it into the tanks.

But the approach comes with a major risk, according to some safety experts. At those extreme temperatures, the propellant would need to be loaded just before takeoff — while astronauts are aboard. An accident, or a spark, during this maneuver, known as “load-and-go,” could set off an explosion.

The proposal has raised alarms for members of Congress and NASA safety advisers as the agency and SpaceX prepare to launch humans into orbit as early as this year. One watchdog group labeled load-and-go a “potential safety risk.” A NASA advisory group warned in a letter that the method was “contrary to booster safety criteria that has been in place for over 50 years.”

Read more at: Washington Post

JWST Suffers New Problem During Spacecraft Testing

As an independent review of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope continues, the project is dealing with a new problem discovered in recent testing of the spacecraft.

In a presentation at a meeting of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board here May 3, Greg Robinson, the JWST program director at NASA Headquarters, said some “screws and washers” appear to have come off the spacecraft during recent environmental testing at a Northrop Grumman facility in Southern California.

Technicians found the items after the spacecraft element of JWST, which includes the bus and sunshield but not its optics and instruments, was moved last weekend from one chamber for acoustics tests to another to prepare for vibration testing.

Read more at: Spacenews

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Skims Space in Successful 8th Test Launch

Blue Origin  conducted the 8th launch of its New Shepard sub-orbital rocket and crew capsule today out in Texas, and things couldn’t have gone better for the growing space tourism company. The rocket ascended into a cloudless sky, reaching a max velocity of about 2,200 MPH, and delivered its capsule to the edge of space, where its occupant, “Mannquin Skywalker,” will have had a lovely view of the Earth.

New Shepard isn’t meant to deliver things into orbit, of course; Blue Origin has a different purpose and technology from the likes of SpaceX, focusing on giving people a quick, safe lift into space followed by a period of weightlessness and a pleasant descent.

Read more at: Techcrunch

GAO Finds Little to Cheer About in Annual Assessment of NASA’s Major Projects

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its 10th annual assessment of NASA’s major projects today.  It found that cost and schedule performance for NASA’s portfolio of major projects has deteriorated since last year and the average launch delays for projects in the portfolio are the highest since GAO began these assessments a decade ago.  In response, NASA said that looking over a longer period of time NASA’s cost and schedule performance has improved markedly since it instituted the Joint Cost and Confidence Level (JCL) policy in 2009.

Congress requires GAO to report each year on the status of selected large-scale NASA programs, projects and activities.

By GAO’s definition, NASA currently has 26 major projects, defined as having a life-cycle cost of $250 million or more.  The combined cost of those programs is $61 billion.

Read more at: Space policy online

Isro’s Antenna Test Facility Damaged in Fire, Cops to Probe Possible Foul Play, Sabotage

The fire that broke out in the Space Applications Centre (SAC) at the Isro campus in Ahmedabad on Thursday didn’t lead to any serious injuries, but it caused serious setback to Isro’s most prestigious facility.

It took 25 fire tenders of Ahmedabad fire services to control the fire at the critical space laboratory which was engulfed in smoke after the fire broke out. There was no casualty and the 40-odd scientists at the site were safe. However, a jawan of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) at the facility was admitted to a hospital due to smoke inhalation.

Heaving a sigh of relief, top sources at SAC said there was no damage to satellite payloads housed at the centre. However, that is where the good news ends.

Read more at: India Today

Re-Entry: RXTE

Read more at: Spaceflight101

Re-Entry: Long March 11 Rocket Body

The upper stage of a Long March 11 rocket re-entered the atmosphere on April 29, 2018 after only three days in orbit. Lifting a cluster of five commercial Earth-imaging satellites into a 500-Kilometer orbit, the CZ-11 fourth stage used leftover propellant for a partial de-orbit maneuver, lowering its perigee to 120 Kilometers to significantly accelerate its orbital decay.

Read more at: Spaceflight101

Re-Entry: Iridium 13

Iridium 13 re-entered the atmosphere on April 29, 2018 after over 20 years in orbit as part of the original Iridium Communications Constellation, a low-orbiting satellite system for global communications including voice and point-to-point data services via 66 active satellites in six orbital planes. The original constellation satellites – 95 of which launched between 1997 and 2002 – were build by Motorola and Lockheed Martin based on the LM-700 satellite platform, communicating with ground terminals in L-Band and using space-to-space Ka-Band links for inter-satellite communications to route packets to their destination.

Read more at: Spaceflight101

Re-Entry: Briz-M Auxiliary Propellant Tank

A Briz-M propellant tank re-entered the atmosphere on April 29, 2018 after three and a half years in orbit, making a slow decay from an elliptical orbit where it arrived as part of a mission to Geostationary Transfer Orbit. The Proton-M / Briz-M rocket launched the Yamal 401 communications satellite under a commercial mission architecture handled by International Launch Services.

The Briz-M APT carries a total of 14,600 Kilograms of self-igniting propellants, typically consumed during the first three burns of the upper stage before the dead weight of the empty tank is dropped and Briz-M continues using its main tanks.

Read more at: Spaceflight101

AA-2 – NASA’s JSC Getting Orion Simulator Ready for Key Test

NASA is getting the hardware ready for an important test next year of the launch abort system (LAS) that Orion spacecraft will use during launch on missions to the Moon in the 2020s. At the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, a crew module simulator is being outfitted with equipment to turn it into a short-duration, high-speed flying laboratory by the end of the year, and then be connected to the rest of the test vehicle that is planned for launch in April, 2019.

The Orion LAS is designed to instantly pull the crew module away from its launch vehicle in extreme emergency situations that might occur before or during launch. The highly instrumented crew module simulator will be connected to a flight version of the Orion LAS and a Peacekeeper missile being modified to be the booster for the Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) test.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

Year to Abort: NASA Preps Orion Capsule for 2019 Ascent Abort-2 Test

The space agency on Thursday (April 26) showcased its boilerplate Orion capsule that will fly on Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2), a critical but brief test to validate the launch abort system intended to save astronauts’ lives in the event of an in-flight anomaly with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

“We have two more flight tests that we will carry out before we put crew on board,” said Ellen Ochoa, a former astronaut and the director of Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where the AA-2 crew capsule is being outfitted for its April 2019 launch. “The first one is just about exactly a year away, it is called AA-2 and it will test the ascent abort system of the Orion spacecraft.”

“It is just a three minute test, but it will be an exciting three minutes,” said Ochoa.

Read more at: Collect Space

China to Test Rocket Reusability with Planned Long March 8 Launcher

China is developing a Long March launch vehicle with a reusable first stage that could have its trial launch as early as 2020, according to a senior Chinese rocket designer.

Long Lehao of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), on April 24 revealed the new plans for the Long March 8 medium-lift launcher at a space industry conference in Harbin, northeast China, an event held to mark China’s third national space day.

The Long March 8 was previously expected to be developed as an expendable rocket to fill a gap in launch capabilities, allowing China to launch up to 4.5 metric tons to a 700-kilometer altitude Sun-synchronous orbit, both for government launches and competing in the global launch market.

Read more at: Spacenews

Demonstration Proves Nuclear Fission System can Provide Space Exploration Power

NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have successfully demonstrated a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond.

NASA announced the results of the demonstration, called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment,during a news conference Wednesday at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The Kilopower experimentwas conducted at the NNSA’s Nevada National Security Site from November 2017 through March.

“Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration,” said Jim Reuter, NASA’s acting associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve.”

Read more at: NASA

This is What a Payload Fairing Looks Like as it Returns from Space

SpaceX has been experimenting during recent launches with recovering the payload fairing at the top of its Falcon 9 rocket. The fairing is a $6 million shroud that protects the satellite during its turbulent ride through the atmosphere and into outer space. We haven’t really seen what this kind of recovery looks like as it happens—until now.

On Tuesday night, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared a photo of one half of a payload fairing opening its parafoil after re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. In his Instagram post, Musk did not specify which mission this photo is from.

After experimenting with how to control the fairing during its return through the atmosphere in 2017, SpaceX had enough confidence to hire a boat named Mr. Steven to try to catch the fairings as they fell into the Pacific Ocean.

Read more at: Arstechnica

Afraid of Heights in Space: NASA Astronaut Details Flight

When NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba was out doing a spacewalk during a recent trip to the International Space Station, he held on tight. That’s because Acaba is afraid of heights.

“If you look at the pictures, I’m holding on to the railing,” he told a crowd at the Stennis Space Center on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “It does take a little bit of work while you’re doing a spacewalk to realize, okay, it’s okay. You are not going to fall.”

Acaba was making his first public appearance — on the ground — since his Feb. 28 return from the space station. He spoke to employees at the space center and with The Associated Press after his talk about his experiences in space; future trips to the moon and beyond; and working with his Russian counterparts.

Read more at: ABC News

SpaceX and Boeing Spacecraft May Not Become Operational Until 2020

A new report provides some insight into the challenges that SpaceX and Boeing are facing when it comes to flying commercial crew missions, and it also suggests both companies may be nearly two years away from reaching operational status for NASA.

The assessment of large projects at NASA, published on Tuesday by the US Government Accountability Office, found that certification of the private spacecraft for flying astronauts to the International Space Station may be delayed to December 2019 for SpaceX and February 2020 for Boeing.

Read more at: Arstechnica

Fabrication for Commercial ISS Airlock ‘Bishop’ Underway

Houston-based NanoRacks recently announced that its airlock module named “Bishop” completed its critical design review, allowing engineers to begin building the commercial airlock, which is bound for the International Space Station.

Building Bishop will be France-based Thales Alenia Space. The company is set to build the pressure shell for the airlock as well as secondary structures such as the micrometeoroid debris shield, multi-layer insulation panels, a power and data grapple fixture support structure and other structural components, NanoRacks said.

However, other features, such as the passive common berthing mechanism (CBM) that will be used to connect the airlock to the port-facing active CBM on the Tranquility module, will be built by Boeing. NanoRacks said that has been in production for over a year and will be delivered to Thales Alenia Space in May 2018 to be installed on the pressure shell.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

High Seas Force Postponement of CRS-14 Dragon Departure from ISS

Originally scheduled for May 2, 2018, SpaceX’s CRS-14 Dragon cargo ship, which is currently attached to the International Space Station, is now expected to return to Earth May 5, according to NASA. “Dragon’s departure was pushed back from Wednesday after SpaceX personnel observed high sea states in the Pacific Ocean splashdown zone southwest of Long Beach, California,” the U.S. space agency said in a statement.

Dragon has been berthed at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module since April 4, 2018. The capsule is expected to be remotely removed and released via the robotic Canadarm2, which is currently scheduled for about 9:30 a.m. EDT (13:30 GMT) May 5, according to NASA. Re-entry and splashdown is targeted for about 3 p.m. EDT (19:00 GMT).

SpaceX is currently the only spacecraft that can transport large amounts of cargo downhill from the ISS to Earth. As such, NASA said the spacecraft is bringing more than 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms) of science and technology demonstration samples from the outpost to be analyzed on the ground.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg Foresees Busy Commercial ‘Ecosystem’ in Earth Orbit

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg predicts that the number of space destinations will grow from one — the International Space Station — to 10 or 12 over the next couple of decades, creating an “economically viable marketplace” in Earth orbit.

And he sees Boeing being in the thick of it.

Tonight Muilenburg sketched out a vision of space commerce and exploration that extended from low Earth orbit to Mars and beyond. The occasion was the 34th Annual Patterson Transportation Lecture, delivered at the Northwestern University Transportation Center near Boeing’s headquarters in Chicago.

Read more at: Geekwire

Arianespace and D-Orbit Sign Contract to Launch ION Cubesat Carrier on Vega SSMS POC Flight

Arianespace and D-Orbit have signed an agreement to offer InOrbit NOW launch and deployment service through the launch of D-Orbit’s ION CubeSat Carrier on the Vega launch vehicle, as part of the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) Proof Of Concept flight (POC flight).

D-Orbit’s ION CubeSat Carrier, a free flying CubeSat deployer and technology demonstrator, will be launched on Vega in 2019 from the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The CubeSat carrier will host several CubeSats to be deployed once in orbit.

D-Orbit’s InOrbit NOW is a revolutionary launch and deployment service designed to transport CubeSats to space and release them into independent orbital slots.

Read more at: Spacedaily

OneWeb Shifts First Launch to Year’s End

OneWeb has shifted the debut launch for its satellite megaconstellation to the fourth quarter of the year.

The startup’s first launch of 10 satellites aboard an Arianespace Soyuz rocket was scheduled for this month, but was pushed out toward the end of the year to allow for more testing and to incorporate improved components in the final spacecraft design.

“Our production launches will start in Q4,” Greg Wyler, OneWeb’s founder, told SpaceNews. “We decided to continue with more ground testing and then go right into production because we can test virtually everything we need on the ground.”

Read more at: Spacenews

Space Law 2018: Nationalists Versus Internationalists

The conflict between nationalists and internationalists highlighted the inaugural US gathering of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), held April 16 in Colorado Springs. The one-day conference was part of the 34th annual Space Symposium, a week-long gathering of government, military, business, and academic leaders sponsored by The Space Foundation.

The significance of space law has increased as both countries and private enterprise have expanded their technical capabilities. Companies are already planning to mine resources on the Moon and nearby asteroids, which could be very profitable.

The problem for businesses, and anyone who wants to invest in them, is that there is no clear framework of laws concerning such resources. Who, if anyone, “owns” the Moon and other outer space resources? How can any country or company establish ownership rights so that they can develop and sell such resources? When disputes arise, as they inevitably will, how will they be resolved? What are the obligations, if any, of countries and companies to less-developed countries and to humanity as a whole? Until these questions are answered, it is difficult for any business to make rational investment decisions.

Read more at: Space review

What it’s Like to Live in NASA’s New Spacecraft

In 1959, when Nasa’s original seven astronauts first saw their tiny single-man Mercury space capsule, they weren’t impressed. It appeared to have no windows and few controls – the elite test pilots complained that they would be little more than ‘spam in a can’.

This conflict between the astronauts’ desire to fly a spaceship and the engineers’ wish to simply get a man into orbit (and back alive) are illustrated in the movie The Right Stuff. With our silver-suited hero John Glenn threatening to share his views with the waiting press, who are clamouring at the hangar door, the engineers concede portholes and proper instrumentation.

Almost 60 years on, a similar scenario is playing out in Houston – albeit in slow motion.

Read more at: BBC

Space Commerce Traffic Management

In recent years, the Office of Space Commerce had been an almost forgotten part of the federal space bureaucracy, even among those immersed in policy debates. The tiny office lacked the regulatory mandate of the FAA, FCC, or even NOAA, whose Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) office licensed commercial imaging satellites.

That has changed remarkably quickly. In February, the National Space Council approved recommendations that would give the office new responsibility for oversight of “non-traditional” commercial space activities not currently regulated by other agencies, and also combine it with CRSRA, turning it into a “one-stop shop for space commerce,” in the words of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Read more at: Space review

Jeff Bezos Dreams of a World with a Trillion People Living in Space

Dreaming big isn’t something Jeff Bezos has a problem with.

And true to form, the multi-billionaire’s vision for the world that his great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren will live in is pretty wild to imagine. The Amazon and Blue Origin boss says a trillion people will live in space, there will be “a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts” and we’ll develop other planets, leaving Earth a beautiful place to be. Bezos painted this future vision in an interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner, published by Business Insider on Saturday.

Bezos’ vision of a civilization that lives both in space and on Earth has been evolving for almost his whole life. “First of all, of course, I’m interested in space, because I’m passionate about it. I’ve been studying it and thinking about it since I was a 5-year-old boy,” says Bezos. “But that is not why I’m pursuing this work.”

Read more at: CNBC

Mars Society Launches Kickstarter to Create MarsVR Crew Training Program

The Mars Society, the world’s largest space advocacy group dedicated to the human exploration and settlement of the planet Mars, launched today a Kickstarter campaign to help raise $27,500 for a new open-source virtual reality platform called MarsVR, which will be used for serious research to support the goal of sending humans to the Red Planet.

The MarsVR program will be a unique multi-phase effort designed to pioneer the emerging field of CrowdExploration, which we define as the partnership between the first astronauts on Mars and VR experts and enthusiasts back on Earth. The Mars Society aims to develop a special VR platform to assist with the initial human exploration of Martian landing sites.

Phase 1 of the MarsVR program will focus on designing training simulations for the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, providing direct assistance in preparing MDRS crew members for their analog research and testing.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

A New Era of Planetary Protection

Last year, NASA got a lot of unexpected media attention when it announced it was looking to hire a new planetary protection officer. The public, and mainstream media, seemed amused by the idea that NASA wanted to hire someone whose title suggested they would be charged with protecting the planet from aliens or whatnot. The space community shrugged and sighed, noting that the position was not new, and that person’s responsibilities were focused as much as protecting the planets from us, in the form of terrestrial contamination of potentially habitable worlds, as it was protecting the Earth from any extraterrestrial life.

The position, though, was changing. The planetary protection officer has previously been in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, but under this change was moving to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA). The new officer, Lisa Pratt, formerly an astrobiologist at Indiana University, started on the job in February.

Read more at: Space review

Gigabit Connectivity for the International Space Station

At today’s press conference Airbus Defence and Space, the Institute for Communication and Navigation of the German Aerospace Center (DLR-IKN) and Tesat-Spacecom published their cooperation with the aim to equip the ISS with a high capacity direct-to-earth Laser Communication Terminal.

T-OSIRIS, how the new terminal is called, was developed in cooperation between DLR-IKN and the German spacecraft supplier Tesat-Spacecom. It complements Bartolomeo, Columbus and thus the ISS with the ability to transmit data directly to earth via optical communication. Data rates of up to 10 gigabit per second and capable of transmitting data over a distance of 1,500 kilometres are the key parameters of the small terminal, which is based on the long-term experience of Tesat-Spacecom as the only company worldwide to offer state-of-the-art laser communication technology on a serial production level. T-OSIRIS is a follow-on-design of the OSIRIS-family from DLR-IKN, which is in orbit on BIROS and Flying Laptop.

Read more at: Tesat

Air Force Space Safety Division (video)

Read more at: Airforce space safety

Leaving Spaceship Europe: British Space Policy After Brexit

The history of British involvement in the development and exploitation of outer space for military, economic, political, and scientific purposes – or spacepower – is largely a history of integration and alliance. On the one hand, Britain has integrated with the American military and intelligence space networks under the 5 Eyes agreement and the ‘special relationship’. On the other, the British scientific and commercial space sectors have integrated with the European Space Agency and the EU’s space policies.

Space is a strategic environment that provides military advantages, enables economic exploitation, and advances technology and scientific knowledge which benefits life on Earth. It is not for nothing that 1,700 active satellites now orbit Earth. In the so-called Second Space Age, outer space is becoming more accessible to smaller countries due to the decreasing costs of rockets and satellite manufacturing, and is increasingly commercial in its character rather than solely funded by public money.

Read more at: LSE

UK Developing Options for Satellite System to Rival EU’s Galileo

Prime Minister Theresa May has asked experts to look into options for a British satellite navigation system to rival the European Union’s Galileo project amid a row over attempts to restrict Britain’s access to sensitive information after Brexit.

Galileo, a 10 billion euro (8.8 billion pound) satellite programme being developed by the EU as a rival to the U.S. Global Positioning System, has emerged as a flashpoint in talks ahead of Britain’s exit from the bloc.

“The Prime Minister has tasked engineering and aerospace experts in the UK to develop options for a British global navigation satellite system,” May’s spokesman said on Wednesday.

Read more at: Reuters

Space: The Next Frontier for US-China Rivalry

With the U.S. government pledging to resume manned missions to the Moon, and eventually send a mission to Mars, Cold War-style competition over space exploration is re-emerging — between China and the U.S. this time.

China hopes to make its first manned lunar landing within 15 years, around six decades after the last American walked on the moon in 1972.

But China is not as far behind as those dates suggest. It hopes to make the first-ever landing on the dark side of the Moon by the end of 2018. This feat eluded the U.S. and Soviet Union during the heyday of their Space Race from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s.

Read more at: Asia Nikkei

Can We Prevent War in Space? These Guidelines May Help

Can we prevent war from breaking out in space? What rules would apply? Legal experts are now debating those questions and others as they develop a manual on how Earthbound laws might apply to wars in outer space.

The hope is that this work may help deter such warfare from happening by spelling out what its consequences may be, researchers said. Satellites and other assets in space are now vital for modern communications, navigation, surveillance and early-warning systems. This makes them attractive targets for future armed conflicts in space.

Read more at: Space.com

Silent Sentry: Protecting Space Communications

More than 20,000 above the Earth’s surface, communication satellites orbit the planet, listening for a signal. Once they receive a signal, they repeat it and send it back down to the surface.

The U.S. Air Force uses many types of satellite communications to transmit data all around the globe. With the encryption of data, the U.S. Air Force denies prying eyes the ability to read critical information. However, desperate enemies often try a number of subterfuge methods to disrupt SATCOM.

This is where the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron’s Silent Sentry (OSY) flight comes into play – to protect critical satellite communication links by employing multiple weapons systems for electronic warfare. These space operators are from the 16th Space Control Squadron and the Air Force Reserves 380th Space Control Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Read more at: AFSPC

Air Force to Award Contracts to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman for Future Missile-warning Satellite Constellation

The Air Force has selected two contractors to begin work on a new missile-warning constellation.

The Air Force on Friday announced it will award two sole-source contracts to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman for the next-generation overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) program. Lockheed Martin will develop the geosynchronous orbit satellites and Northrop Grumman will work on the polar system.

The GEO contract will be sole-sourced to Lockheed Martin Space to “define requirements, create the initial design and identify and procure flight hardware for a satellite to operate in geosynchronous orbit,” said an Air Force news release. The second contract will be sole-sourced to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems to define polar system requirements. Lockheed also will be responsible to conduct a payload competition.

Read more at: Spacenews

Quality Assurance for Space Projects

26 – 29 June 2018 – 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 full description of the course in the IAASS Professional Training Courses Catalog (download from the right bar on this page). Please register for attendance at the course by sending a completed Space Quality Assurance June 2018 – Booking Form to Catherine Lenehan by e-mail: [email protected]

Read more at: IAASS