BEAM Out: First Human-rated Expandable Habitat Inflated on Space Station

The International Space Station grew a room bigger — and gained a bigger room — on Saturday (May 28) with the inflation of an experimental habitat.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, was slowly deployed to its full size using the space station’s air supply to grow the fabric-constructed room to five times its deflated, compact volume. The successful inflation was the first milestone in a two-year test of the BEAM to evaluate the module’s design for future orbiting outposts and deep space vehicles.

“We are declaring manual inflation complete at this point,” radioed NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, serving as CapCom in Mission Control Houston, at 3:10 p.m. CDT (2010 GMT).

Jeff Williams, a flight engineer on the station’s Expedition 47 crew, led the on-orbit operations to manually inflate the BEAM, slowly feeding air from the Tranquility node into the module using a small hand-controlled valve. When he was done, the BEAM had grown from its compacted 7 feet to 13 feet long (2.1 to 7 meters) and expanded from almost 8 feet to 10.5 feet in diameter (2.4 to 3.2 m).

Read more at: Collect Space

In Fact: After Reuse Trial, Long Flight Ahead

While the testing of a prototype Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) on Monday is no doubt an important milestone for ISRO, it is easy to see why the space organisation itself has been calling it only a “baby step” towards the objective of acquiring a launcher that can deliver satellites into space just like airplanes transport passengers and cargo.

The RLV technology is at least four decades old, and several nations, and even private space firms, have experimented with it. However, only NASA has put it to any practical use until now, in its much-acclaimed space shuttle programme that ran from 1981 to 2011.

The main rationale for developing a reusable system is to bring down the costs of satellite launch, and to increase the frequency of launches. Satellites and scientific instruments need to ride on rockets to go into space. These are of the use-and-throw kind, which mostly fall into the sea after doing their job, or sometimes float uselessly in space, adding to space debris.

Read more at: Indian Express

July SpaceX Launch will Carry Private Entrance to Space Station

SpaceX and Boeing are competing to become the first private company to shuttle astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017 (or 2018). But before SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon capsule or Boeing’s Starliner can put their human cargo onboard the station, NASA needs to install a special adapter that allows these first-of-their-kind private astronaut taxis to dock with the station.

The first of two such adapters will ride to the space station on a SpaceX flight slated for mid-July, NASA announced yesterday. One adapter was supposed to ride to the space station last June, but it was destroyed whenSpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded minutes after launch.

Read more at: Popsci

Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace Battle for DARPA Space Contract

Three groups are vying to lead the designs behind the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) XS-1 Program, which aims to make a craft that can go to space and launch satellites 10 times in 10 days.

On Monday the agency set the deadline for July 22, at which point it will pick between the designs of three groups, Northrop Grumman, partnered with Virgin Galactic; Boeing, partnered with Blue Origin; and Masten Space Systems, partnered with XCOR Aerospace. The winner of the public-private partnership with be awarded $140 million in DARPA funding to build the submitted designs for the reusable rocket.

Read more at: Inverse

Russia Plans 1-2 Launches of Manned Craft to the Moon Yearly From 2025

From 2025, Russia plans to yearly carry out one or two launches of the manned spacecraft Federatsiya (Federation) to the Moon, sources from the TsNIImash leading institute of Roscosmos State Corporation told Tass on Saturday.

The lunar exploration program the institute works on envisages flyover and landing of astronauts on the Moon, as well as their delivery to the Earth-Mon libration point.

The sources said testing of a new spacecraft will start in 2021 with an unmanned launch from Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport in the Far Eastern Amur region. Two launches, both in unmanned and in manned mode, are envisaged for 2023.

The Angara A5B heavy carrier is to be used for the launches. Earlier reports said that in order to end flight testing of Federatsiya, four successful launches will be needed, including at least two in a manned mode, one of them with flyover of the Moon

Read more at: TASS

EgyptAir Flight MS804 ‘was Brought Down by a Meteor’

With still no concrete explanation for what happened to EgyptAir flight MS804, a bizarre new theory has emerged.

The Airbus 320 was carrying 66 passengers and crew from Paris to Cairo when it crashed on 19 May. Now claims are being made that it was hit by debris from a meteorite, causing it to plunge into the Mediterranean sea. The somewhat dubious source of this suggestion is the website Whatdoesitmean, which cites “an intriguing Ministry of Defence report circulating the Kremlin. ”

The report claims a warning about the incoming meteorite was issued by Russia’s space surveillance complex in Tajikistan to Russia’s Aerospace Defence Forces (ADF) two days before the tragedy.

The asteroid, said to weigh an estimated 8,-10,000 tonnes, was approaching the atmosphere over North America at a speed of 67,000kmh, it claims. Indeed, an asteroid was filmed streaking across the sky on 17 May by a police dashboard camera in Portland, Maine, though it is not clear if this is the same meteor referred to in the report.

Read more at: Huffington Post

Russia Wants to Build Reusable ‘Space Cabs’ for Permanent Human Base on Moon

Next to a spaceflight to Mars, a journey to the moon would be the trip of a lifetime, but traveling to Earth’s natural satellite isn’t as simple as it seems.

The Apollo 11 mission, where Neil Armstrong took the giant leap for mankind, reached the lunar orbit and landed at the moon almost three days after it began. It also took a huge amount of money to make the mission a reality — about $355 million in funding, or the equivalent of more than $1.3 billion in 1994 dollars.

And so, to make manned missions to the moon cheaper, a Russian company has proposed that a way station with “space cabs” may be the solution.

Read more at: Tech times

China Mulls Teaming Up With Foreign Agencies to Explore Moon – Space Agency

China is considering cooperating with other countries on Moon exploration, the deputy chief of China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) said Wednesday.

Yang, who is the first Chinese astronaut to go to space, was speaking in the Russian city of Korolyov near Moscow, which is hosting a three-day conference on manned space exploration.

The CNSA space agency reportedly announced last month that a moon landing was among its short-term goals. According to the the China Daily newspaper, it plans to send astronauts to the Moon by 2036.

Read more at: Sputnik News

Blue Origin will Shoot itself in the Foot on Purpose

Blue Origin, the builder of the New Shepard re-usable rocket, has announced plans for the fourth flight of the rocket. With a recent successful launch and landing in their pocket, the company is anticipating another similar result. But this time, something will be done differently.

This time around, New Shepard will be launched and landed normally, but the crew capsule will be tested with an intentionally failed parachute. Blue Origin is promising an “exciting demonstration,” and in an email said they will be “demonstrating our ability to safely handle that failure scenario.”

Read more at: Universe Today

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Does it Again. Nails Fourth Landing

Maybe one day it’ll be routine, so boring, as Elon Musk has said, that it’ll no longer be newsworthy. But for now his attempts to launch and then land rockets are still dramatic, as exciting as sporting events. On Friday evening, SpaceX pulled off another stunning landing on a ship 422 miles off the Florida coast that was broadcast in real time on its website.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted up from Cape Canaveral at 5:39 p.m., carrying a Thaicom commercial communications satellite to orbit. Given the distance the rocket had  to travel to deliver its payload Friday, and the massive amount of energy it would take to get there, SpaceX hedged on the success of the return, saying that “the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing challenging.”

Read more at: Washington Post

Small Satellites are Back, with Down-to-earth Expectations

Suddenly, everyone from the U.S. government, commercial satellite companies, universities and even high school students needs to have a small satellite. And that is fueling another boom, in Southern California and across the West, in companies dedicated to giving the satellites a ride to space.

By one estimate, 210 satellites weighing less than 110 pounds will be launched this year, to do such things as map the Earth, expand broadband access and track packages on shipping vessels. That’s up from just 25 launches in 2010. The number is expected to double again in five years.

In the last six months, at least half a dozen new launch vehicle firms aimed at the small satellite market have cropped up, said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst for the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense analysis company.

Read more at: LA times

Sir Richard Branson is Determined to Get Virgin Galactic Off the Ground, But Can he Succeed?

Those wealthy enough to afford the $346,356 ($US250,000) fare are reportedly so eager to boast about the experience on social media, they’ve asked if the ship will have Wi-Fi. But will Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson’s space travel experiment be a roaring success, or a one-way ticket to oblivion?

It’s a question that must weigh heavily on the entrepreneur’s mind as testing begins on the updated prototype of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo — hoped to finally get off the ground next year, more than a decade after the project began. Branson’s incredible goal of making commercial space travel a reality has suffered some disastrous setbacks.

Read more at: AU News

XCOR Layoffs Update

From what I’m hearing, the layoffs are part of a retrenchment to focus on projects that are bringing in revenue, such as the upper stage engine XCOR is developing for ULA. It appears that many people working on the Lynx suborbital space plane were laid off.

The company’s burn rate — what it was spending every month — was just too high, especially as it is maintaining facilities in Mojave, Calif., and Midland, Texas. It’s also been a while since XCOR has made any announcements about new fundraising rounds.

Work on the Lynx — which has been under construction for about four years — is being suspended.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Prestwick Spaceport Team Leads UK Race to Build Europe’s Answer to NASA

Prestwick Airport stands “the best chance” of winning the UK’s space race, according to the team behind its bid. Bosses leading the ambitious project have been given the green light to launch their game-changing campaign. It follows the confirmation that an official licensing process will be set up to name the winning candidate.

Prestwick, which has long been towards the head of the shortlist, will now attempt to convince the government it is worthy of hosting Europe’s answer to NASA.

Mike Stewart, the airport’s business development director, said: “We believe that we now stand the best chance of being the first UK operational spaceport. “We already have much of the infrastructure needed in place and we would require a relatively small amount of investment to establish a space launch capability here.”

Read more at: Daily record

SpaceX Founding Team Launches Vector Space Systems to Redefine Space Commerce

Vector Space Systems, a Micro Satellite space launch enterprise comprised of new-space industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas and Sea Launch, today announced it has secured more than $1M in angel funding at Space 2.0 in Silicon Valley.

Vector Space Systems, which sports a roster of technology and aerospace giants to provide industry insight, expertise and leadership, was formed to fundamentally change the dynamics and economics of the space launch industry.

More than just another satellite launch company; Vector Space Systems connects space startups with affordable and reliable launch-enabling platforms and vehicles at a cost point never before possible for accessing space.

Read more at: Spaceref

Rosetta Detects Two Ingredients for Life on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Amino acids are biologically important organic compounds containing carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, and form the basis of proteins. Hints of glycine (C2H5NO2), the simplest amino acid, were found in the dust samples returned to Earth in 2006 from Comet Wild-2 by NASA’s Stardust mission. However, possible terrestrial contamination of the samples made the analysis extremely difficult.

Now, the ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) mass spectrometer on the Rosetta spacecraft has made direct, repeated detections of glycine in 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s atmosphere. “This is the first unambiguous detection of glycine at a comet,” said Dr. Kathrin Altwegg, principal investigator of the ROSINA.

The measurements were made before 67P reached its closest point to the Sun – perihelion – in August 2015 in its 6.5 year orbit.

Read more at: Sci-news

Space Experts Say Sending Humans to Mars Worth the Risk

There’s a long-standing joke that NASA is always 20 years from putting astronauts on Mars. Mission details shared at a recent summit shows that the space agency is right on schedule. A to-do list from 2015 looks remarkably similar to one compiled in 1990. One difference: NASA is now building a rocket and test-driving technologies needed to get a crew to Mars. But the specifics for the longest road trip in history — and what astronauts will do once they arrive — remain an open question.

“Are we going to just send them there to explore and do things that we could do robotically though slower, or can we raise the bar?” asked planetary scientist Jim Bell during the Humans to Mars summit. “We need to make sure that what these folks are being asked to do is worthy of the risk to their lives,” said Bell, of Arizona State University in Tempe.

Read more at: Science news

NASA just Detected Oxygen in the Martian Atmosphere

NASA has detected oxygen in the upper Martian atmosphere with the help of an instrument on board the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Oxygen had been discovered on the red planet before; however, this is the first time its presence has been verified in wake of the Viking and Mariner missions more than 40 years ago.

The oxygen atoms were detected in the upper atmosphere of Mars called the mesosphere. The discovery will help shed light on how gases escaped from the Martian atmosphere millions of years ago. Although oxygen has been detected on Mars in the past, the amount of oxygen detected was half of what the researchers anticipated, which may be due to differences in the atmosphere.

Read more at: Space.news

Here’s Why Many in Aerospace Remain Skeptical of the Journey to Mars

On Tuesday, hundreds of Mars enthusiasts are gathering in Washington, DC to celebrate the red planet at the annual Humans to Mars conference. Buzz Aldrin will discuss his “cycler” plan for going to Mars. Andy Weir, author of The Martian, will be on hand to sign books and talk about his vision for Mars exploration. And representing NASA by giving the plenary speech, NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman will update the gathering about the Journey to Mars.

Since the conference is more or less a conclave of Mars devotees, there will probably be few hard questions asked about the feasibility of NASA’s plans. But those hard questions are coming, and it’s not clear that NASA has the answers. Although space has not been an issue in the presidential election, whether a Republican or Democrat is elected this fall, a transition team will review the panoply of government spending, including NASA’s human exploration programs. Among those questions that will be asked are these: What is the plan for NASA to get to Mars? And can the space agency make it there within a reasonable budget?

Read more at: Ars Technica

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

Russia Ahead of U.S. in Space Rocket Engine Technology – Rogozin

Russia is ahead of the United States in the field of space rocket engine technology, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. “We are ahead of them in some areas, for instance in space rocket engine technology,” Rogozin wrote on Facebook on Friday.

He also said that the press had misquoted his statement on Russia lagging behind the United States in space exploration. “Incorrect quote. I said that, considering our ‘ambitious’ plans of labor productivity growth in the space industry, we will never catch up with the Americans by that parameter, by which we are nine-fold behind,” the deputy prime minister said.

“But this absolutely does not mean that we are behind them [the United States] in every other aspect of space exploration,” Rogozin said.

Read more at: Interfax

China-US Joint Space Exploration will Remain ‘Sci-fi’ in the Near Future: Experts

A joint space exploration project between the United States and China would remain “sci-fi” considering how the American legislature blocked NASA from collaborating with the Asian giant in any space-related ventures, experts say.

Charles Bolden, the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), revealed his thoughts on the possibility that China and the U.S. could explore space together while responding to the press’ queries on Monday at the Mitchell Institute on Capitol Hill.

His statements come as a surprise considering how the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2011 that prevents NASA from ever entertaining any Chinese visitors, regardless of whether or not they are working for the government or a private entity, in their facilities.

Read more at: Yibada

Purdue Professor to Place Experiments Aboard Suborbital Flights

A cadre of private rocket companies is gearing up to offer suborbital joyrides for well-heeled tourists. Purdue University professor Stephen H. Collicott is making sure his students’ experiments are along for the ride.

Collicott, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, is placing payloads with many of the new players. Any day, he’s scheduled to fly an experiment on New Shepard, the suborbital system developed by Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Liftoff is imminent, but Collicott, who plans to be at the company’s Texas test range, can’t share the date. “It’s soon,” he said. “I’m afraid that’s the best I can do.” He’s also placed a down payment with Virgin Galactic to fly 200 pounds of experiments on the company’s tourist-hauling rocket plane, SpaceShipTwo.

Read more at: International Business Journal

With Shuttles Gone, Private Ventures Give Florida’s Space Coast a Lift

It has been five years since NASA retired the space shuttle, ending a federal program that employed some 10,000 people around Cape Canaveral, Fla. The loss of those jobs was a blow to Florida’s Space Coast, an area closely identified with NASA and the nation’s space program. But the region’s economy is bouncing back and attracting companies that are in a new space race.

In fact, it might be more accurate now to call it the Aerospace Coast. In 2009, the Brazilian jet maker Embraer gave this region a boost when it broke ground on its plant in Melbourne, Fla.

Plant director Phil Krull is proud of the spacious, remarkably quiet production area. A few air drills and some occasional clangs sound. “This is about as noisy as you’re going to hear out here,” he says as he walks through the plant. At least a dozen small jets are in various stages of assembly. Krull says all the parts are shipped from Embraer’s home facility in Brazil.

Read more at: NPR

First Stage: The Air Force Looks at Reusability

The U.S. Air Force is in the early stages of determining how it might certify previously used rockets — such as the Falcon 9 first stages piling up Florida — to launch military satellites.

The Air Force awarded SpaceX its first big military launch contract in April, an $82.7 million award to lift a GPS 3 satellite in 2018. Less than two weeks later, SpaceX landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, marking the third time in seven attempts the Hawthorne, California-based company has successfully landed a booster after launch.

The timing, naturally, leads to questions about when — or if — the Air Force will consider reusing rockets to loft national security payloads into orbit. “A certification or re-certification for the re-use of a rocket that has been previously launched has not been developed at this time,” the Space and Missile Systems Center, or SMC, said via email. “The Air Force is working to address this topic.”

In a response to questions from SpaceNews, SMC said the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program, through which the Defense Department contracts for most of its launches, “has not had discussions with industry about how we would buy or use launch services from a rocket that has already launched.”

Read more at: Spacenews magazine

The Real Reason Rep. Louie Gohmert is Wrong About Gay People in Space

Rep Louis Gohmert, R-Texas has caused a minor kerfuffle when he suggested that a future space colony ought to consist solely of heterosexual couples, especially if the idea is to restart the human race after a world-wide disaster, such as an asteroid strike. The Houston Chronicle took the conservative congressman to task Thursday with the implication of homophobia. NASA Watch has also taken up the hue and cry. However, both Gohmert and his critics are missing the point.

Read more at: Examiner

Will a Man-made Meteor Shower Open the Tokyo Olympics?

When was the last time you stayed up late to view a meteor shower only to be disappointed by the less-than-spectacular results? For most of us, this is probably the norm rather than the exception. While astronomers can tell us when to look up, there’s no guarantee that what we’ll see will truly resemble a “shower.”

But what if a true meteor shower could be scheduled and deliver on the oohs and aahs that come with the real thing? That’s the idea behind a new project called Sky Canvas, which has made a bid to become part of the 2020 Olympic opening ceremonies in Tokyo.The brainchild of a Japanese startup called ALE, Sky Canvas aims to place a satellite in space containing 500 to 1,000 pieces of special pellets that, when released, would mimic the fiery glow of real shooting stars.

Read more at: MNN

Astronomers Ink Deal to Build Record Telescope

Astronomers today signed an unprecedented contract to build the world’s largest ground-based optical and infrared telescope. In a ceremony at the headquarters of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Garching, Germany, ESO Director General Tim de Zeeuw inked the record deal—worth €400 million—with three Italian engineering firms. They will build the structure that will hold the huge 39-meter mirror of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), as well as the domed building that will enclose it.

The agreement “gives ESO the opportunity to be the first in the era of giant telescopes,” De Zeeuw told an online press conference. The light-collecting area of the E-ELT is greater than that of all ground-based optical research telescopes currently in operation, and it will produce images 15 times as sharp as the Hubble Space Telescope.

Read more at: Science magazine

Spacepower in the Middle East: The Paradox of Strategic Depth and Transparency

The unique, open geography of the Middle East combined with the rapid dissemination of technologies such as high-resolution Earth observation satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, mobile devices such as smart phones, social media, and the emergency of big data and artificial intelligence are causing a dramatic change in the character of war and diplomacy.

This change offers Middle East governments and others in and out of the region opportunities to enhance their national security, but at the same time can also restrict their ability to act in secrecy, or at least it will change expectations of how long such actions will remain secret.

A growing number of countries throughout the region are acquiring high-resolution Earth observation satellites, from Algeria and Morocco via Egypt and Turkey, through to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Read more at: Spacewatchme

US, Russia, China: Why Space is the Next Military Flashpoint

Tensions between the super powers are high and the race is on to dominate. But if you think the next major military battle for dominance will be over land or sea, or any other piece of the Earth, then think again. Experts predict the world’s global powers will soon be taking their battles into space.

Not only is the space race becoming more competitive but global powers are continuing to militarise what has long been considered to be the final frontier. Writing for global intelligence agency Statfor, senior military analyst Omar Lamrani warned while the race for dominance in space began some time ago the race toward its weaponisation is accelerating faster than ever before.

According to him, global powers are working to develop and deploy anti-satellite weapons known as ASATs. “The technology, which began to be developed during the Cold War, has become an area of intense competition for the world’s most capable militaries over the past decade,” he writes.

However, the more pressing concern is the possibility of US technology being attacked in orbit.

Read more at: AU News

Lockheed Receives Aegis Development Contract

Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training has been awarded a $62.4 million U.S. Navy contract modification for work on the Aegis combat system’s development and test sites.

The exercised options include work on Aegis’ technical engineering, configuration management, associated equipment and supplies, quality assurance, information assurance, and other operation and maintenance efforts pertaining to the Combat Systems Engineering Development site, SPY-1A Test Facility and the Naval Systems Computer Center.

Work will be performed in New Jersey and is expected to be completed by June 2017.

Read more at: Space Daily

Declassified Photos Show the Soviet Union’s Hero Space Dogs in Color

One of the most fascinating chapters in the history of early space exploration just got more vivid, thanks to a series of photos that had remained secret for more than half a century.

Last week, the Russian Ministry of Defense declassified a series of color images capturing early Soviet research rockets and the dogs that rode them into space. The series also shows the first Soviet ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead preparing for launch.

The photographs were made public to mark the 70th anniversary of a missile test range in Kapustin Yar, which was founded by a Soviet government decree on May 13, 1946. Hidden in the vast grasslands of Southern Russia halfway between the cities of Volgograd and Astrakhan, the site on the Volga River was first used in 1947 to test-fire infamous V-2 ballistic missiles captured in Germany at the end of World War II.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

A Closer Look at Early Aviation Safety & Regulation

The coming age of commercial human spaceflight has often been compared to the freewheeling days of early aviation when brave men and women took to the skies in their flying machines and the government stayed out of the way, allowing brilliant designers to take risks and experiment with new designs.

The attractiveness of this narrative is even written into legislation. Federal law strictly limits the ability of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administration to issue safety regulations to the commercial space industry, despite more than half century of experience with human spaceflight.

Burt Rutan and Richard Branson, who both support the hands off approach by the federal government, have compared the safety of commercial space travel to that of the early airlines in the 1920’s and 1930’s

Read more at: Parabolic arc

ESPI gets new Director

The General Assembly of European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) met in ordinary session on 26 April 2016. At the meeting the General Assembly elected Mr. Jean-Jacques Tortora as the new Director, taking office on 1 June 2016. Mr. Tortora is an aerospace engineer by training, has broad experience in the space domain and has been the Secretary General of Eurospace for the past nine years.

Read more at: ESPI