India’s Mini Space Shuttle to Blast Off on Test Run

India was making final preparations Sunday for the launch of its first model space shuttle, as it bids to join the race to one day make rockets as reusable as airplanes. India’s seven-metre (23-foot) shuttle is expected to blast off from a southeastern space port on Monday, in a crucial step to eventually developing a full-scale, reusable one to send up satellites in the future.

India’s space agency director Devi Prasad Karnik told AFP that the test flight was set to occur “any time during the launch window between 7am (0130 GMT) and 11am (0530 GMT), depending upon wind and weather conditions”.

The scale-model shuttle will be propelled 70 kilometres into the atmosphere using a 15-tonne rocket before splashing down 10 minutes later into the Bay of Bengal, some 500 kilometres from the Sriharikota space port.

Read more at: Phys.org

Europe’s Copernicus Enters Hunt for Missing EgyptAir Flight

The European Space Agency on May 20 produced a radar satellite image of a 2-kilometer-long oil slick in the eastern Mediterranean Sea that ESA officials say could be from the missing EgyptAir MS804, which disappeared on May 19.

Egyptian military authorities on May 20 said they had found what they believed to be pieces of the plane.

ESA said it had provided investigating authorities with the image, taken at 16h GMT May 19. The image, from the Sentinel-1A radar Earth observation satellite, was shot in extra-wide swath mode of 400 kilometers in width, with horizontal polarization. The slick is located at 33°32′ N / 29°13′ E, or some  40 kilometers southeast of the location of the aircraft after its last signal.

Read more at: SpaceNews

China Reveals Design for Planned Tiangong-3 Space Station

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) presented several slides of the design of its future space station, called Tiangong 3—meaning “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese. The station is expected to be built sometime between 2018 and 2022.

According to the released slides, the station’s core module, “Tianhe 1” (“galaxy”), will include a laboratory with integrated modular racks for storing scientific equipment. It will also have five docking ports and a robotic arm.

With a mass of about 24 tons (22 metric tons), this module will measure some 59 feet (18.1 meters) in length and 14 feet (4.2 meters) in diameter. Tianhe 1 is expected to launch sometime in 2018, most likely atop a Long March 5 booster, and will serve as a docking hub for future modules and resupply spacecraft. Tiangong 3 will also have two science modules: “Wengtian” and “Mengtian“. These modules are planned to be used for performing scientific research in microgravity.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Lockheed Martin Wants to Send Humans to Mars in 12 Years

Before our species set foot on the moon, we orbited it first. The same will probably be true for Mars, and on Wednesday, Lockheed Martin plans to unveil its vision for a spacecraft that could make it happen. The “Mars Base Camp,” as the company is calling it, would set up a laboratory, staffed by 6 astronauts, in Mars orbit in 2028.

Up to now, NASA has outlined the first few steps to Mars. It’s building a heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and working with Lockheed to build the Orion crew capsule. The rocket and capsule will launch for the first time, uncrewed, in 2018, and then in 2023 they’ll carry astronauts into deep space, just beyond the moon, for the first time ever.

But after the moon it’s still a very long way to Mars, filled with unknowns, and then once you get to Mars, landing is a whole new challenge. This is where NASA’s plans get particularly vague.

Read more at: Popsci

International Space Station Crew Deploys Cubesats

Another round of CubeSats, including eight Planet Lab Dove Satellites, were deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) by the Expedition 47 crew. A total of 17 tiny spacecraft were deployed from NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD) at the end of the Japanese Remote Manipulator System.

Starting late last week, crew members inserted the NRCSD inside the Japanese Kibo module’s airlock and attached it to the Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform (MPEP). Over the weekend, the airlock was sealed and leak checks performed before the Japanese robotic arm grappled the MPEP and positioned it at the deployment location.

“Successful deployment this morning,” the official twitter account for NanoRacks read May 16.

The first deployment time was at 5:05 a.m. CDT (10:05 GMT) Monday morning, while the second was at 9:40 a.m. (14:40 GMT) and included the 100th CubeSat deployed by the NRCSD system.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

When CubeSats are Too Big

Over the last several years, CubeSats have gone mainstream. Once dismissed as little more than toys—or, worse, debris—these small spacecraft are finding widespread acceptance as their capabilities grow. Companies like Planet Labs and Spire are using them to develop constellations of satellites to collect images and other data about the Earth, raising hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment to further their plans. An upcoming study by the National Academies is expected to examine how NASA and other agencies can use CubeSats to support a wide range of science investigations.

Part of that growing interest in CubeSats is because CubeSats themselves have grown. Introduced as cubes 10 centimeters on a side and weighing about one kilogram, spacecraft developers have turned these standalone cubes into larger spacecraft. Today, 3U CubeSats—three cubes combined to form a spacecraft about 30 by 10 by 10 centimeters—are commonplace, while other work on 6U, 12U, and even larger spacecraft.

Read more at: Space Review

Stratobus: The Spy Blimp-Satellite of the Future Used for Snooping

If you thought surveillance drones were unnerving, a French-Italian aerospace company is now producing an unmanned blimp to monitor the ground from space. One good thing can be said for government-operated spy UAVs: they have to land occasionally. But Thales Alenia Space, an aerospace manufacturer, is hoping to take the utility of a Predator drone and apply it to a long-lasting dirigible.

They call it a Stratobus, and it’s a five-ton solar-powered inflatable airship that can remain aloft in the Earth’s upper atmosphere for up five years at a time.

“Stratobus is midway between a drone and a satellite, making a low-cost product offering permanent regional coverage and ideally complementing satellite solutions,” company project manager Jean-Philippe Chessel said.

Read more at: Space Daily

Brilliant Fireball Seen Over Northeast US Coast

In the early hours this morning, people that were awake and looking up at the sky in the northeastern United States and far eastern Canada were treated to a magnificent display as a meteorite burned up in the atmosphere, brightening the entire sky for a second as it went.

The American Meteor Society, which reported the event and compiled images and videos taken by night owls and people lucky enough to have dash cams or web cams pointing in the right direction at the right time.

Over 450 people sent in reports from across the region, with many describing the experience as incredible.

Read more at: Popsci

Huge 400-foot Tsunamis Once Washed Over Mars

Mars is a barren, desert planet today, but some 3.4 billion years ago it hosted a mammoth northern ocean. Now scientists have uncovered evidence that this ancient Martian ocean would also have been the premiere place in the solar system to hang ten — that is, if you were a surfer with a death wish. The waves on Mars would have given a whole new definition to the idea of big wave surfing.

According to calculations, Martian waves may have reached 400 feet in height, absolutely crushing shorelines and spreading debris and sediment for hundreds of miles inland. The discovery could help to explain why scientists have had trouble finding evidence of a coastline in the geology of modern Mars. The coastline got obliterated by mega-waves.

“Imagine this enormous red wave coming towards you, up to [400 feet] high,” said Alexis Rodriguez, lead researcher on the study, to Nature. “It would have been pretty spectacular.”

Read more at: MNN

Growing Food in Space: A Tale of Rats, Algae and Tomatoes

Is is possible to produce food to eat and air to breathe while in space? The short answer: it’s not easy, but it can be done.

Right now, if you’re an astronaut, you’re given pre-prepared food that was cooked on Earth and sent into space on a rocket. But if humankind wants to realise its ambition of travelling much further into the solar system it needs to find ways to create food and air while surrounded by the nothingness of space.

Exactly how much food and air has been precisely calculated. Brigitte Lamaze, from ESA, spells out the details: “The basic figures that are used are 5 kilos per astronaut per day in terms of metabolic consumption. So that means one kilo of oxygen, one kilo of dehydrated food, and three kilos of water, which are used as drinking water and to hydrate the food.”

Beginning with air, the MELiSSA pilot plant at UAB Barcelona is running a test system using rats and algae in which the rats breathe oxygen from the algae, and the algae breathe CO2 from the rats.

Read more at: Euro news

Effects of Changing Economics on Space Architecture and Engineering

Driven by favorable economics and evolving technologies, the pace of change in the global space industry is due to increase even beyond recent developments. For example, only a few of the new Earth imaging constellations have begun to operate, and none are yet close to full deployment. Many more imaging satellites will be deployed in the next few years. The market response to those that are already operating suggests vigorous market support for these systems and many more.

The new imaging satellites and other small satellites, or smallsats, have created a large and growing demand for small, affordable launch vehicles. Over 20 new launch vehicles are being developed to serve this demand. At the other end of the size spectrum, the Falcon Heavy is poised to offer low-cost super-heavy launches. However, none of these new launch vehicles have yet had their first test flight. Many public and private opportunities enabled by these new launch vehicles have not been identified.

Read more at: Space Review

House Bill Offers $19.5 Billion for NASA in 2017

A House appropriations bill released May 17 would provide NASA with $19.5 billion in 2017, with significant increases in funding for the agency’s Orion and Space Launch System programs and a planned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The bill, released by the House Appropriations Committee in advance of a May 18 markup session by its Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) subcommittee, provides NASA with nearly half a billion dollars more than the agency’s request, which included a mix of discretionary and mandatory funds, and nearly $200 million above a bill approved by Senate appropriators last month.

Read more at: Space News

Full-scale Production of Plutonium-238 Still Years Away

The United States has begun manufacturing nuclear spacecraft fuel for the first time in a generation, but full production of the stuff is still seven years or so away.

In December, officials at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee announced that researchers at the site had generated a 1.8-ounce (50 grams) sample of plutonium-238, the fuel that powers deep-space missions such as NASA’s New Horizons Pluto probe and Cassini Saturn orbiter.

The milestone marked the first domestic production of Pu-238 since the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, another DOE facility, stopped making the fuel in the late 1980s. But Oak Ridge is still at the proof-of-concept stage in the restart, and it will therefore be a few years before the lab begins churning out large amounts of Pu-238, officials said.

Read more at: Space News

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 and Space

Evaluation of Techniques for Performing Cellular Isolation and Preservation during Microgravity Conditions

Genomic and epigenomic studies require the precise transfer of small volumes from one container to another. Epigenomic and transcriptional analysis require separation of purified cell types, and long term preservation of cells requires their isolation and transfer into appropriate freezing media. There are currently no protocols for these procedures on the ISS. Currently samples are either frozen as mixed cell populations, with poor yield, or returned under ambient conditions, requiring timing with Soyuz missions. Here, we evaluate the feasibility of translating terrestrial cell purification techniques to the ISS.

Read more at: Spaceref

Orbital ATK Proposes Lunar Orbit Habitat

Orbital ATK unveiled a proposal this week for the creation of a four-person lunar orbit habitat which could be sent to the Moon as early as 2020. The outpost would utilize a modified version of the company’s Cygnus cargo ship as well as NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

This lunar orbit habitat could serve as both a science platform for studying Earth’s natural satellite as well as a training base for eventual crewed missions to Mars and the rest of the Solar System.

The plan was revealed on Wednesday, May 18, before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Space on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., by former NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson, a veteran of three Space Shuttle missions and two stays aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Culbertson is now president of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Micrometeorites Revealed Interesting Details About Ancient Earth’s Atmosphere

Small objects in the hands of scientists can reveal extremely big facts. Team of researchers, led by the Monash University, now examined the oldest fossil micrometeorites ever found and made interesting discoveries about the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere 2.7 billion years ago. These finding challenge a long-standing view about Earth’s ancient atmosphere being oxygen-poor.

Analysis of these fossil micrometeorites, known as space dust, revealed that the oxygen levels in the ancient Earth’s upper atmosphere were about equal to ones of today. However, oxygen-rich level of the atmosphere was separated from the oxygen-starved lower atmosphere by a methane haze layer. These are very significant findings and what makes them even more interesting is that they were made by analysing extremely small micrometeorites, extracted from samples of ancient limestone.

Read more at: Technology.org

How will Astronauts Use Augmented Reality Glasses?

Microsoft HoloLens glasses may be a pipe dream to all but the earliest adopters with a hefty price tag of $3,000, but that’s not the case for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. As part of Microsoft’s Sidekick partnership with NASA, two pairs of HoloLens have been shipped to the ISS.

HoloLens allows for augmented reality, meaning that what you see in your field of vision is visually edited with extra information. For astronauts, this could mean less training time for certain operations or easier access to help in crisis situations. “HoloLens and other virtual and mixed reality devices are cutting edge technologies that could help drive future exploration and provide new capabilities to the men and women conducting critical science on the International Space Station,” says Sam Scimemi, director for International Space Station at NASA headquarters, in a NASA news release.

Read more at: MNN

NASA Super Pressure Balloon Begins Globetrotting Journey

NASA successfully launched a super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday, May 17, 2016 (7:35 p.m. EDT Monday, May 16, 2016) on a potentially record-breaking, around-the-world test flight.

The purpose of the flight is to test and validate the SPB technology with the goal of long-duration flight (100+ days) at mid-latitudes. In addition, the gondola is carrying the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) gamma-ray telescope as a mission of opportunity.

“The team performed a brilliant launch operation today,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “The balloon is pressurized, healthy, and well on its way for this important test mission”.

Read more at: Space Daily

One Year Ago Today, the Airforce Put a Secret Robot in Space

Today marks one year since the Air Force’s X-37B secret robotic space plane last launched into space, as Spaceflight Now notes. It is still there, doing the secret things a robot space plane does. Things like test a new ion engine and maybe track other space stations. It’s spent 15 months and longer in orbit before, doing secret space stuff, so we can expect it to spend some more time there doing secret space things secretly.

Read more at: Popsci

Airbus Defence and Space Starts Orion Service Module Assembly

Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, has started assembling the European Service Module (ESM), a key element of NASA’s next-generation Orion spacecraft that will transport astronauts into deep space for the first time since the end of the Apollo program.

In November 2014, Airbus Defence and Space was chosen by the European Space Agency (ESA) as prime contractor to develop and build the ESM, which will supply propulsion, power, thermal control, air and water for astronauts on missions beyond the Moon and to Mars. The ESM sits below the Crew Module.

Read more at: Airbus Defence and Space

Australian, U.S. HIFiRE Rocket Achieves Mach 7.5

Australia and the United States have successfully fired an experimental rocket with a speed of more than seven times the speed of sound.

The rocket, which reached an apogee, or highest altitude, of about 172.7 miles, is part of a joint research program called HIFiRE, or Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation Program. It is being conducted by Australia’s Defense Science and Technology Group and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory with Boeing and the University of Queensland providing expert technical design and analysis.

The aim of the program is to explore fundamental technologies critical for sustained hypersonic flight, which is five times and more of the speed of sound.

Read more at: Space Daily

Why were there Holes in the Titan Rocket that Launched NASA Gemini Missions?

The Titan missile was an US Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile thatNASA ultimately chose to launch its interim Gemini program between 1964 and 1966. But a close look at any launch shot shows holes in the missile’s fuselage. It seems counter intuitive, but it had to do with the missile’s staging.

All multistage rockets have some kind of staging built into their launch sequence to ensure the stages fire in sequence and not all at once, which would end in a massive launch explosion. But the staging sequences aren’t always the same.

Read more at: Popsci

Apollo 10: “To Sort Out the Unknowns” for Apollo 11

In the sequence of Apollo launches leading up to the first lunar landing, NASA had established the need for an “all up” mission that duplicated every mission milestone except the landing on lunar surface. That task would fall to the crew of Apollo 10. If that mission went well, especially the tests of the lunar module in proximity of the Moon, then America could move forward with its goal of landing men on the Moon with Apollo 11 before the end of the decade.

Originally, NASA had scheduled Apollo 8 to conduct comprehensive tests of the lunar module and its ability to undock, rendezvous, and dock with the command and service modules (CSM-103) in Earth orbit. When it became clear that Grumman’s lunar module LM-3 would not be ready in time, NASA decided to instead send the crew on a lunar orbit mission.

Read more at: Space Review

Abandonment of Russian Booster Engines May Send NASA’s Costs Skyrocketing

The Pentagon saying “no” to the further use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines may damage “the financial viability” of NASA projects, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor.

If the Pentagon decides against using Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines, it will “potentially threaten the financial viability” of a whole array of NASA projects, the Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor said, referring to “some aerospace-industry officials.”

He recalled that ongoing disputes in the US Congress on the feasibility of using the RD-180 engines for “the military’s workhorse Atlas V” have already ridden roughshod over United Launch Alliance, the joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. “that is the Pentagon’s primary launch provider.”

Read more at: Space Daily

White House “Strongly Objects” to Defense Bill’s Launch Provisions

The White House has threatened to veto a defense authorization bill in part because of its launch provisions.

In a statement of administration policy issued May 16, the White House said it “strongly objects” to language in the House version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4909), citing it as one of several reasons why advisers would recommend the president veto the bill if Congress sends it to his desk as written.

The White House argues that the bill overemphasizes spending on development of a main engine over an overall launch system. It also claims that language giving the Defense Department data rights to launch systems developed under the program is not feasible and could require renegotiation of contracts already awarded by the Air Force.

Read more at: Space News