Blue Origin’s BE-4 Engine Test Hardware Suffers Failure

In a tweet on Sunday, May 14, 2017, NewSpace company Blue Origin announced it had lost a set of powerpack test hardware for its BE-4 engine in development. No details were released as to what happened or why. It unclear whether the power pack, which is the turbopumps and valves that feed fuel and oxidizer into the injectors and subsequently the combustion chamber, exploded, or if there was any damage to the test stands. However, Blue Origin said a failure is not unusual during an engine development program.

“We lost a set of powerpack test hardware on one of our BE-4 test stands yesterday. Not unusual during development. — Blue Origin (@blueorigin). That’s why we always set up our development programs to be hardware rich,” the company tweeted. “Back to testing soon.” Blue Origin was founded by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and is currently developing the BE-4 engine for use on its upcoming New Glenn rocket. The engine is also the leading contender for use on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

AR1 Engine Clears Milestone in Step Toward Ending U.S. Reliance on Russian Propulsion

A rocket engine that could power United Launch Alliance’s next-generation rocket has passed a major design review, clearing the way for full-scale hotfire testing starting next year and certification for test flights in 2019, according to Aerojet Rocketdyne, the powerplant’s developer.

ULA says Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine is a backup to Blue Origin’s BE-4 powerplant for the launch company’s new Vulcan rocket. ULA managers plan to confirm the selection of the BE-4 engine for the Vulcan booster later this year, assuming the Blue Origin engine successfully completes a series of ground firings to verify its performance.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

US Military is Close to Selecting Builder for XS-1 Space Plane

The U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will soon select a company to build its robotic XS-1 space plane, according to media reports.

DARPA has entered the final stages of the selection process, in which it will ultimately choose one company to construct the space plane, Air Force Magazine reported last week.

In Phase 1 of the XS-1 program, DARPA awarded prime contracts to three companies, each of which will work with a commercial launch provider: Boeing (working with Blue Origin), Masten Space Systems (working with XCOR Aerospace) and Northrop Grumman (working with Virgin Galactic).

Read more at: Space.com

Satellite Servicing a Chance for Industry-first Development, DoD Official Says

The development of satellite servicing is an opportunity for the government to develop close partnerships with industry that let the commercial sector develop experimental technology rather than try to adhere to strict Pentagon guidelines, a top research official said.

One of the best things the Defense Department can do “with a robust commercial space base,” is to figure out “how we can work together on things to meet challenges,” said Bradford Tousley, director of the tactical technology office at DARPA, said at a May 9 Washington Space Business Roundtable lunch.

Read more at: SpaceNews

Space Debris and the Price of Being a Pioneer

Pioneers carry a heavy burden. Everything is new and you’re the first to try them out. If you fail, it’s moon dust on your face. And those who follow will follow you with the benefit of being able to learn from your mistakes.

Fortunately, the global space debris community is stacked with pioneers. Everyone is in the same boat … Or, if you prefer, perched on the same derelict satellite.

The community knows and says the threat of space debris is real and “urgent,” a word frequently misused like “love,” but in this case is true. And yet there are differences of opinion. Less than a third of the thousands of satellites we have launched since the start of international space exploration are still operational. The rest linger like zombies. If they collide with one another, they create a cascade effect, spurting storms of yet more junk above our skies. Some of it falls to Earth and when we’re lucky it burns up in the atmosphere. And some of it poses a risk to global communications and Earth observation satellites – in extreme cases, possibly even those other pioneers in space – astronauts on the International Space Station.

Read more at: dw.com

Air Force Lays Out its Case for Keeping Space Operations

Separating space operations from the Air Force would hamper the service’s efforts to address threats in orbit, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said May 17.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Goldfein argued that setting up a separate “Space Corps” within the Air Force — similar to the Marine Corps within the Navy — would only cause confusion. “I don’t support it at this time,” Goldfein told the senators. “Right now, as we make this transition from a benign to a warfighting environment…any move that actually ends up separating space as opposed to integrating space, I would argue is a move in the wrong direction.”

The Air Force has been facing questions on reorganizing military space operations from lawmakers, many of whom are weighing whether to eventually create a separate space force.

Read more at: SpaceNews

Air Force Boosts Space With Elevation of JFCC Space to 4 Star; STRATCOM Says

Buried in the minutiae of the Senate Armed Service’s Committee’s space hearing is an important shift for space warfighting and acquisition.

Here it is: “… AFSPC/CC has been elevated to the Joint Force Component Commander for Space (JFCC Space) … in essence a 4-star Air Force commander focused on the joint fight.” Now, I think what they really meant to say is that the three-star joint component commander is being elevated to a four-star position. However the language is revealing since, to someone in uniform, any time you get to command combat troops is an “elevation” from a staff job. The response we got this morning from Strategic Command (STRATCOM), where the JFCC Space resides, muddies the water a bit

Read more at: breaking defense

Space Weather Events Linked to Human Activity

Our Cold War history is now offering scientists a chance to better understand the complex space system that surrounds us. Space weather — which can include changes in Earth’s magnetic environment — are usually triggered by the sun’s activity, but recently declassified data on high-altitude nuclear explosion tests have provided a new look at the mechanisms that set off perturbations in that magnetic system. Such information can help support NASA’s efforts to protect satellites and astronauts from the natural radiation inherent in space.

From 1958 to 1962, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. ran high-altitude tests with exotic code names like Starfish, Argus and Teak. The tests have long since ended, and the goals at the time were military. Today, however, they can provide crucial information on how humans can affect space. The tests, and other human-induced space weather, are the focus of a comprehensive new study published in Space Science Reviews

Read more at: NASA

Eat Your Broccoli: 5 Tips for Mars Explorers from National Geographic’s Seattle Show

If you want to maximize your chances of weathering Mars’ harsh radiation environment, get in the habit of eating broccoli. That’s a bit of far-out diet advice from Ray Arvidson, a veteran of robotic Red Planet missions going back to the Viking landers in the 1970s.

Arvidson, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, was among a trio of space experts holding forth at “National Geographic Live: Mankind to Mars,” a multimedia panel presentation hosted by the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. The traveling show is inspired by the National Geographic Channel’s hybrid docudrama TV series, “Mars,” which finished its first six-episode season last December and has gotten the green light for a second season.

Read more at: Geekwire

Young Developers of Russia’s New Spacecraft May Join its Crew

Russia’s Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation, which is developing a new spacecraft called Federatsiya (Federation), has formed a group of young engineers-developers who may eventually join the space vehicle’s crew, Energiya Deputy CEO for Personnel and Social Policy Mikhail Komarov told TASS on Tuesday.

“We have many persons who are working at design divisions and are wishing to go through a selection procedure to be included in the new spacecraft’s crew,” he said. “Now the Cosmonaut Training Center has announced a new enrollment and surely they will invite our young guys who are designing [the Federatsiya spacecraft],” the Energiya deputy CEO said.

Read more at: TASS

Russian Rocket Chief Throws Some Shade on Elon Musk’s Moon Plan

The head of Russia’s most prominent spaceflight company questioned whether Elon Musk’s SpaceX will be able to launch people around the moon next year and said Russia plans to revive tourism flights to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2020.

“As for the state of affairs specifically at Elon Musk’s company, it would be difficult to carry out such a mission in 2018, and even in 2020,” Vladimir Solntsev, general director of RSC Energia, the primary contractor for Russia’s human spaceflight program, said in a wide-ranging Q&A with the Russian news agency TASS.

“Nobody has yet even seen the designs. There’s no launch vehicle, no spacecraft,” Solntsev added. “The Crew Dragon spacecraft designed for missions to the ISS and Falcon 9 launch vehicle are a far cry from a spacecraft and a rocket that are needed for a mission towards the moon.”

Read more at: Space.com

Scientists, Policy Makers Push for Mars Exploration

Going to Mars won’t be easy, “even if we sent Matt Damon,” star of the 2015 film The Martian, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) quipped at a Tuesday forum about deep-space exploration held in Washington, D. C.

But the venture is worth doing, helps unify and propel space exploration going forward, and is codified in the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 442) that President Donald Trump signed into law in March, said Cruz, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. He sponsored the legislation, which calls for a human exploration road map that includes “the long-term goal of human missions near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s.”

Read more at: EOS

Professor Brian Cox: Scotland Could be at Forefront of Space Tourism Industry in 20 Years

It used to be the stuff of science fiction; a realm where refulgent vessels such as the USS Enterprise flew off into distant galaxies and boldly went where no-one had gone before.

But now, according to Professor Brian Cox, the prospect of human inter-planetary travel has never been closer and we could see the advent of space tourism for ordinary Joes and Joannes as early as 2018.

When the bright-eyed Oldham-born boffin talked to the Press and Journal this week, he explained how the same qualities which helped Aberdeen become the oil capital of Europe could be utilised to transform the north of Scotland into a pivotal part of the space programme in the next 20 years.

Read more at: PressandJournal

Siberian Innovators Create Super-thin Wires for Spacecraft

The Siberian Federal University (SFU) together with RPC Magnetic Hydrodynamics has rolled out ultra-thin aluminum wire for use in the aerospace industry, the SFU’s press office said. This breakthrough makes it possible to manufacture on-board wires with high electro-conductivity capable of withstanding temperature swings in a long-term usage. The customers have been already supplied with a pilot batch.

This innovation’s uniqueness resides in the application of high-frequency electromagnetic field while casting aluminum which can be in that way accomplished continuously. As a result, the finished material possesses crucial features for the spacecraft technology: low mass, high electro-conductivity, and thermal resistance. Now, the onboard wire systems for flight vehicles are made from copper, whose unit weight of is triple that of aluminum.

Read more at: TASS

Saving Time in Space

Working inside the International Space Station is sometimes like assembling complex furniture but with the tools and paper instructions continually floating out of reach. Astronauts also face situations unforeseen by the instructions. Communication delays with ground control to troubleshoot these occasions mean even more valuable time is lost. Now, ‘mobiPV’ is looking to help.

Developed by ESA, this ‘mobile procedure viewer’ uses software on an android smartphone that allows astronauts to perform manual tasks hands-free while connecting them in real time to mission control via video, voice and text.

In addition to the smartphone strapped to their wrist, astronauts are equipped with a head-mounted camera, an audio headset, and a tablet as an alternate display option.

Read more at: ESA

International Space Station’s Orbit Raised by 350 Meters

The Mission Control Center has carried out a maneuver to increase the average altitude of the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS), the center’s press service told TASS.

“The maneuver has been completed,” the press service said. The correction maneuver began at 00.35 Moscow Time and lasted for 13 seconds. It was carried out with the help of engines of the Zvezda service module.

The average altitude of the station’s flight orbit was increased by 350 meters to 405.1 km. The maneuver was conducted to ensure favorable conditions for the landing of Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft scheduled for early June.

Read more at: TASS

Microbes Might Thrive After Crash-landing on Board a Meteorite

Bacteria riding on an incoming meteorite may be able to survive the violent shockwave created when it crash-lands on a planet. Their cell walls have been seen to rapidly harden and relax after a sudden shock compression, enabling them to bounce back even after an extreme collision.

“When you are exposing life to such extreme conditions, it is a surprise when they survive quite well,” says Rachael Hazael at University College London

Microbes can withstand extreme environments on Earth, including the crushing pressure of the deep ocean or deep beneath the ground. This suggests that life forms could thrive on distant worlds in similar high-pressure environments.

Read more at: New Scientist

Spaceport America’s Problematic “Democratization of Space Travel”

It’s about 150 miles of creosote and juniper thick highway from my home in Albuquerque to the city of Truth or Consequences in the heart of Sierra County, New Mexico. Truth or Consequences is a sleepy town of around 6,000 with little industry, once built upon the success of its natural hot springs. In fact, the town was originally called Hot Springs, but the city hastily changed its name to Truth or Consequences when a popular 1950’s radio show of the same name pledged to host their 10 year anniversary program from the first city to change it’s name. Hot Springs earned the honor and became the city known colloquially in New Mexico as T or C.

Truth or Consequences the radio show is largely forgotten today, and Truth or Consequences the town is largely neglected—having the distinction of being one of the poorest cities, in one of the poorest counties, in one of the poorest states in the U.S. Unexpectedly, this dusty city, in a dusty tract of New Mexico rarely visited by tourists, is now Earth’s premier portal to another world.

Read more at: Paste Magazine

Senators to Trump Administration: Do Not Hurt Workforce by Cutting NASA Education Funding

Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), co-chairs of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, are leading a group of 32 Senators in a letter urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to support NASA’s Office of Education in the coming fiscal year. President Trump’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) would eliminate NASA’s Office of Education, which works to inspire and educate students across the country to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  In Virginia, funding from NASA’s Office of Education enables students to explore careers in STEM-related fields at NASA Langley, NASA Wallops, and in Virginia’s robust technology sector.

“Given the importance of STEM education and the success of Hidden Figures, which was recently celebrated by high-ranking members of the Trump Administration at a screening at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, we were disappointed by President Trump’s budget proposal to eliminate funding for NASA’s Office of Education in FY18,” wrote the Senators. “We recognize that you face significant budget constraints, but we urge you to support the NASA Office of Education because its mission is critical to boosting the nation’s workforce competitiveness.”

Read more at: kaine.senate.gov

Senior Leaders Discuss US Space Posture

On May 17, 2017, Air Force senior leaders testified before the Senate Armed Service Committee Strategic Forces subcommittee on military space, organization, policy and programs.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, Gen. John Raymond, the Air Force Space Command  commander and Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, the Space and Missile Systems Center commander, answered questions about the Air Force’s current space capabilities and those needed for the future. The team presented the senators with information as to the department’s plan for acquiring future and updated space systems to meet the evolution of space as a warfighting domain.

“It’s obvious, but it’s probably worth repeating, that the U.S. is heavily dependent on space, and (our adversaries) know it is a vulnerability,” Wilson said. “In any conflict, space will be contested – and we haven’t always assumed that in the past. There’s been a change in culture – a change in planning and training going on in the United States military because we cannot take space dominance for granted.

Read more at: US Air Force

Top Air Force Officials: Space Now is a Warfighting Domain

New Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Heather Wilson and three top Air Force space leaders told Congress today that space no longer is just an enabler and force enhancer for U.S. military operations, it is a warfighting domain just like air, land, and sea.

Just 24 hours after being sworn in as the 24th SecAF, Wilson testified to the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  Joining her were Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force Space Command commander Gen. John Raymond, and Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center commander Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves.   The topic was military space organization, programs and policy and the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) Cristina Chaplain was another witness.  She especially addressed long standing DOD and Air Force organizational challenges to effectively develop and implement space programs.

Read more at: Spacepolicy Online

45th Space Wing Enables Nation’s Space Mission

Space launches may soon be an almost weekly sight on Florida’s Space Coast. As the need for space lift grows globally, partnerships between the Air Force, other government agencies and the commercial space industry are enhancing the 45th Space Wing’s vision of remaining the world’s premier gateway to space.

With a mission of delivering assured space launch, range and combat capabilities for the nation, the space wing and its Eastern Range assets provide a vast network of radar, telemetry and communications instruments to facilitate the safe launch of all Department of Defense National Security Space, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and commercial operations.

According to Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander, the wing is developing plans to enable a launch a week to meet the growing demand of national, civil and commercial organizations to put capabilities on orbit. Today, the wing is on track to launch 30 times this year and has no plans of slowing down.

Read more at: US Air Force

China, Russia Advancing Anti-Satellite Technology, US Intelligence Chief Says

The United States’ top intelligence official spotlighted the threat of space warfare in a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

In his written testimony in the May 11 hearing, Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, reviewed the worldwide threat assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, noting an appraisal that “Russia and China perceive a need to offset any U.S. military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems and are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine.”

Coats reported that both Russia and China “will continue to pursue a full range of antisatellite (ASAT) weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness.”

Read more at: Space.com

Interview: Space Historian Glen Swanson Talks the Apollo Program

Glen Swanson has made a career in space-all while keeping his feet firmly here on Earth. In his former role as a NASA historian at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Swanson collected oral histories that highlighted the countless people involved in the Apollo program. Swanson also launched the world’s only peer-reviewed journal of space history, Quest; served as a space history consultant for HBO; and curates programs designed to educate and excite the public about the history of space exploration.

Speaking over the phone last week several days following the death of Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, The Portalist talked to Swanson about the untold stories behind the Apollo program-and what the future of NASA looks like.

Read more at: outerplaces

Space Funeral Startup to Launch Ashes into Orbit on SpaceX Rocket

A startup planning to launch dead people’s ashes into orbit has announced that its first launch will be on board one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets.

Elysium Space, which describes itself as a “memorial spaceflight” company, will send its cargo up as part of a Spaceflight rideshare mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9.

“We are honored to assist families in achieving their dreams, riding on one of the greatest rockets in the world,” said Thomas Civeit, founder and CEO of Elysium Space. “This historical launch provides the perfect conditions to make this memorial spaceflight an exceptionally meaningful experience for all participants.”

Read more at: Newsweek

Viktor Gorbatko, One of the First Soviet-era Cosmonauts, Dies at 82

Viktor Gorbatko, one of the first Soviet-era cosmonauts and a veteran of three flights into space, died on Wednesday (May 17). He was 82.

“Roscosmos expresses deep condolences to the relatives and friends of Viktor Vasilyevich,” the space agency wrote in a statement posted to its website. The cause of death was not stated. TASS, the state-owned news agency, reported Gorbatko died in the intensive care unit of a Moscow hospital after falling ill in recent weeks.

In March 1960 at the age of 26, Gorbatko was selected to train alongside Yuri Gagarin and 18 other air force pilots as the Soviet Union’s first cosmonaut group. With Gorbatko’s death, only three of the original 20 cosmonauts remain — Valery Bykovsky, Alexei Leonov and Boris Volynov.

Read more at: Collect Space

Total Failure: When the Space Shuttle Didn’t Come Home

The morning that the space shuttle Columbia was supposed to return home, Wayne Hale was at the landing site. At age 48, Hale was an up-and-coming manager with NASA. He’d just taken a job overseeing shuttle launches. But since this was a landing day, he didn’t have much to do.

It was Feb. 1, 2003. He and other managers were hanging out in a grassy viewing area near the landing strip at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Families of the astronauts were there, too. Loudspeakers were playing communications between Columbia and mission control. “Really it was a kind of party atmosphere,” he recalls.

Read more at: NPR