NASA’s Juno Accomplishment Shows Why Space Exploration Still Matters So Much

NASA’s heady heyday, when breathless liftoff-to-splashdown coverage of its space missions held Americans spellbound, isn’t much more than a nostalgic boomer memory now. No matter who you think won, the space race died with the Cold War. Butthe final frontier– boundless, mysterious and infinitely humbling — is still out there. And there are still moments when a victory dance of the mission control space nerds is a shared triumph for us all.

Monday (the Independence Day timing was anything but a coincidence) brought us one of those moments, when the Juno space probe dropped with perfect grace into its orbit around Jupiter. It took 48 tense minutes for what one astrophysicist called Juno’s “song of perfection” to radio its arrival announcement across 540 million miles back to Earth.

Juno is the U.S. space agency’s second mission to Jupiter, our solar system’s oldest and largest planet. The first, Galileo, was purposely crashed into the planet’s atmosphere in 2003 after gathering the most detailed analysis to date of our massive, gaseous down-the-street neighbor.

Read more at: Dallas News

OrbitOutlook Integrates Diverse Network to Help Avoid Collisions in Space

More than 500,000 pieces of manmade space debris-including spent rocket stages, defunct satellites, and fragments as small as flecks of paint-currently hurtle around the Earth at roughly 17,000 miles per hour. At those speeds, impacts involving even the smallest of those items can damage satellites and spawn chain reactions of collisions, increasing the amount of orbital flotsam and creating “minefields” in space that can remain unpassable for centuries.

Tracking debris is thus essential-not just to protect existing commercial and government satellites but also to ensure that paths to critical locations in low Earth orbit (LEO), geosynchronous orbit, and orbits in between stay clear and safe for future space assets.

Read more at: Space Daily

Russia’s Workhorse Soyuz Space Taxi Gets a Makeover

When a fresh Russian-American-Japanese crew blasts off toward the International Space Station on Wednesday evening, the team’s first task will be to try out a new version of the legendary Soyuz spacecraft. Russian pilot Anatoly Ivanishin, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, and Japanese flight engineer Takuya Onishi will take a two-day test drive aboard the Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft before docking at the space station on Friday. There, the new Soyuz will be serving as a lifeboat for its passengers for four months before leaving and landing via parachute in the steppes of Kazakhstan this coming November.

Because the Soyuz has been a reliable workhorse for decades (that is, the ship ain’t broke), Russian engineers introduce changes in small and incremental steps. So don’t look for obvious body shape changes or major systemic redesigns. Still, careful observers will notice a few new exterior details.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Progress MS Cargo Craft Concludes Half-year ISS Mission with Fiery Re-Entry

The Progress MS cargo spacecraft closed out its mission with a successful undocking and a targeted destructive re-entry in the early hours on Sunday, marking the end of a six-month mission.

Launching on December 21, 2015, Progress MS was the first of the improved MS spacecraft to fly, featuring a number of systems upgrades including a new Unified Telemetry and Command System, communications relay capability through the Luch satellites and onboard orbit determination through satellite navigation data as well as proximity communications with ISS. To test out the new systems in an operational environment, Progress flew the longer, two-day rendezvous profile, making a fully automated docking to the Pirs module on December 23. Loaded with 2,400 Kilograms of food, fuel and supplies, the Progress was set for a six-month stay to be unloaded by the crew members aboard ISS.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Mars Rover Curiosity in ‘Safe Mode’ After Glitch

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity went into a precautionary “safe mode” over the Fourth of July weekend, but the robot is currently stable and communicating with its handlers back on Earth, space agency officials said.

Curiosity put itself into the minimal-activity safe mode on Saturday (July 2), for reasons that engineers are still trying to tease out.

“Preliminary information indicates an unexpected mismatch between camera software and data-processing software in the main computer,” NASA officialswrote in a status update today (July 6). “The near-term steps toward resuming full activities begin with requesting more diagnostic information from Curiosity.” The car-size Curiosity has entered safe mode three times before — all in 2013 — and bounced back fully every time.

Read more at: Space.com

Astronauts Embark on a Training Mission Deep Beneath the Earth

Space is an unforgiving environment. A single mistake can endanger a mission or the lives of an entire crew.

Mindful of these risks, the European Space Agency (ESA) has created a program that challenges astronauts to work together in an unexplored realm that can be as perilous as space: a network of caves half a mile underground in Sardinia, Italy. An international team of six astronauts from the United States, China, Japan, Spain, and Russia began their descent in early July. Their six-day mission is to establish a base camp while conducting scientific experiments.

“Astronauts adopt the ‘buddy system,’ and both astronaut trainers and instructors repeat the same mantras of ‘slow is fast,’ ‘check your gear, and then trust it,’ and ‘always be aware of where you are and where your buddy is,’” says the ESA website. “Their teamwork is an example of what an expedition in an isolated, risky, and alien environment should be.”

Read more at: National Geographic

Xinhua Insight: Installation Complete on World’s Largest Radio Telescope

Installation was completed on the world’s largest radio telescope on Sunday morning as the last of 4,450 panels was fitted into the center of the big dish.

Hoisting of the last triangular panel to the reflector, which is the size of 30 football fields, began at 10:47 a.m. and lasted about an hour. It was a landmark step for the telescope’s planned launch of operations in September. About 300 people, including builders, experts, science fiction enthusiasts and reporters, witnessed the installation at a karst valley in Pingtang County in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

“The telescope is of great significance for humans to explore the universe and extraterrestrial civilizations,” said Liu Cixin, a renowned science fiction writer, at the site. “I hope scientists can make epoch-making discoveries,” said Liu, who won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Scientists will then begin debugging and trial observation of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), said Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of the National Astronomical Observation (NAO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which built the telescope. The project has the potential to search for more strange objects to better understand the origin of the universe and boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life, said Zheng. Zheng said the radio telescope will be the global leader for the next 10 to 20 years.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Station-bound NASA Astronaut is the 60th Woman to Fly into Space

When Kate Rubins was born in 1978, only one woman had flown in space. Now, 38 years later, Rubins is on the verge of becoming the 60th woman to leave the planet. Scheduled to launch on a Russian spacecraft at 9:36 p.m. EDT tonight (July 6; 0136 GMT July 7), Rubins will spend the next four months conducting science on the International Space Station.

“There’s never been a time when I was a kid that I couldn’t remember wanting to be an astronaut. It was always the standard ‘little kid’ answer when I was four, five, six, eight, 12 years old. I wanted to be an astronaut, a biologist and a geologist,” said Rubins. A microbiologist with a doctorate in cancer biology, Rubins will be the first be the first researcher to sequence DNA in space. She was selected to become a NASA astronaut in 2009.

On the space station, she will serve as a flight engineer for the Expedition 48 and 49 crews.

Read more at: Collectspace

Re-Entry: Shijian-10 Orbital Module

The separable Orbital Module of the Shijian-10 Microgravity Science Satellite re-entered the atmosphere on July 1st, 2016 after spending almost three months in a Low Earth Orbit, supporting the two-week mission of the SJ-10 spacecraft that returned to Earth after performing a number of experiments in space.

SJ-10 launched atop a Long March 2D rocket on April 5 and completed a twenty microgravity experiments over the course of a 13-day stay in orbit. At the conclusion of the mission, the Entry Module of the satellite separated and conducted a propulsive deorbit maneuver while the Orbital Module was to continue orbiting to complete fluid physics experiments that did not need a return to Earth.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

India May Buy Russian Microcircuits for its Space Program

Angstrem has contacted a private Indian company working as a subcontractor for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), offering to supply $200,000 worth of electronic circuits, the company told the Izvestia newspaper.

Several electronic spacecraft control and launch systems are currently being tested in India, the publication said, adding that Angstrem may begin supplying India from September if test results are positive.

India has been stepping up the development of its indigenous space vehicle manufacture capabilities. In May, India’s first space shuttle, the Re-Usable Launch Vehicle — Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) was launched from the island of Sriharikota. ISRO plans to test two more of such prototypes, which are instrumental to the development of a final version of the shuttle, expected to be launched in 2030.

Read more at: Sputnik News

Is China’s Mysterious New Satellite Really a Junk Collector—or a Weapon?

China just boosted a high-tech, mysterious new satellite into orbit. It might be a weapon. It might not be a weapon. There’s no way to be certain, either way—and that’s a problem for all spacefaring countries.

Especially the United States and China. Washington and Beijing are lofting more and more of these ambiguous satellites into orbit without agreements governing their use. In failing to agree to the proverbial rules of the orbital road, the two governments risk ongoing suspicion, or worse—a misunderstanding possibly leading to war.

The Roaming Dragon satellite rode into space atop a Long March 7 rocket that blasted off from Hainan in southern China on June 25. Officially, Roaming Dragon is a space-junk collector. Its job, according to Beijing, is to pluck old spacecraft and other debris from Earth’s orbit and safely plunge them back to the planet’s surface.

Read more at: Daily Beast

Cosmic Carve-up: Law and Plunder on the Final Frontier

“MAGNIFICENT desolation.” Buzz Aldrin’s first impressions of the moon, uttered as he stepped delicately on to the lunar dust in 1969, bring to mind a landscape of pristine emptiness. Apart from the odd footprint and the remnants of a few probes, the moon has been practically untouched for 4 billion years. It is a celestial wilderness, but maybe not for much longer. If would-be space miners get their way, future lunar visitors could see a very different kind of desolation: deep scars, autonomous diggers and great piles of ore.

It is a dystopian vision, but not an inconceivable one. China is weighing up the business case for mining the moon, while the US firm Moon Express is already developing technology to do it. Then there are the companies planning to mine asteroids. Such ventures received a shot in the arm last November when President Obama signed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, aka the Space Act, which grants US citizens and companies ownership of anything they can extract from celestial bodies. It fired the starting pistol for a dash to carve up the riches buried in space.

The risks and potential rewards are astronomical, and the whole enterprise is blasting off into a legal void. That could spell trouble on a cosmic scale. “We need rules, preferably at international level,” says Tanja Masson-Zwaan, president of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. But what should those rules be?

Read more at: New Scientist

Keeping Up With the Space Race: How SpaceX Manages NASA Launch Failure

Elon Musk has big plans for its company SpaceX, as big as a manned Mars mission in no less than eight years. But after a series of failed launches, many are starting to question SpaceX’s capabilities. After all, carrying humans to Mars is an entirely different ballgame than transporting cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) in low-Earth orbit.

And even ISS missions for NASA seem to be difficult to accomplish for SpaceX, given its failed launch last year. In June 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral loaded with supplies for the ISS. A few minutes after takeoff, the rocket blew up. From then on, people seemed unsure about the future of SpaceX.

Not to mention that the failed resupply mission known as CRS-7 caused delays for future missions to the station and lost NASA a new airlock it had developed for commercial spacecraft bringing humans to the station, Quartz.com reports. But most of all, the failed mission represented a “major hurdle” for the company, which has been working relentlessly for years to develop low-cost transit to space.

Read more at: Nature world news

Elite Team to Consider New Approaches to Asteroid Danger

A six-week-long research accelerator, championed by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist and hosted at the SETI Institute, is engaging young researchers from around the world to take on one of the truly existential threats to our species.

The NASA Frontier Development Lab (FDL) is bringing together a team of postgraduate researchers in data analytics and planetary science and challenging them to think outside the box on the threat of asteroid impacts. The initiative is under the aegis of experts from the space agency and the SETI Institute, with deep-learning expertise contributed by NVIDIA and Autodesk.

Asteroids that collide with Earth are one cosmic danger that it’s now possible to mitigate. In 2013, NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge charged participants with identifying all possible asteroid threats, and determining what to do about them.

Read more at: Space Daily

NASA Balloon Sets Flight Duration Record

NASA’s Balloon Program Office successfully completed the second test flight of its Super Pressure Balloon (SPB) at 3:54 p.m. EDT, Saturday, July 2, setting a new flight duration record for a mid-latitude flight of a large scientific research balloon.

The mission, which began at 7:35 p.m. EDT, May 16 (11:35 a.m., May 17, in New Zealand time), launched from Wanaka, New Zealand, and ran a total of 46 days, 20 hours, and 19 minutes.

“We’re extremely pleased with the flight time we achieved with this mission, far and away the longest mid-latitude flight of a NASA heavy-lift balloon to date,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “We’ll continue to strive for even longer duration flight, 100 days or more, and what we learn from this year’s mission will help take us there.”

Read more at: Spaceref

Exposed to Space and Back on Earth

In the excitement of watching Tim Peake, Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Kopra land on Earth on 18 June after 186 days in space, all attention was focused on the astronauts and their bumpy ride.

But also hitching a ride in the Soyuz capsule were 46 species of small organisms and more than 150 organic compounds. Their voyage was even more intense than the astronaut trio’s – these samples spent 18 months in space, bolted to the outside of the International Space Station.

This ‘Expose-R2’ is a miniature photochemistry laboratory that exposes samples to the harsh environment of space. Subjected to the full blast of the Sun’s energy as well as vacuum, radiation and temperature swings, they are helping researchers investigating how chemicals and microbiological life react to unprotected spaceflight – on a comet, for example. Previous Expose experiments have already shown that ‘water bears’ and a species of lichen can survive a trip into space.

Read more at: ESA

Space Tourism Presently Not on ISRO Radar: Kiran

ISRO chairman and secretary, department of space, A S Kiran Kumar said India is making use of the space technology exceptionally well for developmental initiatives and for improving the living standards of her people.

“Though we are quite capable of doing it, but sending men to Mars for leisure is presently not our priority. We would rather spend our knowledge to provide relief to people in distress than explore the potential in space tourism” Kumar said. The scientist was answering queries of inquisitive school children during an interaction program held here on Tuesday by Shantipeeth, India, a voluntary organization working for peace and fraternity. He elaborated the increasing significance of space research applications in India like disaster management, tele-medicines, bio diversity mapping, forest fire monitoring, weather forecasting, crop yield estimate, water resource management and satellite education.

Read more at: Times of India

2016 will be One Second Longer

On December 31, 2016, a “leap second” will be added to the world’s clocks at 23 hours, 59 minutes 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 6:59:59 pm Eastern Standard Time, when the extra second will be inserted at the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Master Clock Facility in Washington, DC.

Historically, time was based on the mean rotation of the Earth relative to celestial bodies, and the second was defined in this reference frame. However, the invention of atomic clocks defined a much more precise “atomic” timescale and a second that is independent of Earth’s rotation. In 1970, international agreements established a procedure to maintain a relationship between Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and UT1, a measure of the Earth’s rotation angle in space.

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) is the organization that monitors the difference in the two time scales and calls for leap seconds to be inserted in or removed from UTC when necessary to keep them within 0.9 second of each other.

Read more at: Phys.org

A Test of China’s True Intentions in Space

Beijing is in the process of modernizing and enhancing its space launch capabilities. During the week of June 27, China carried out the inaugural launch of its Long March 7 system, part of a new generation of rocket systems that include the Long March 5 and Long March 6. The Long March 7, using the most powerful rocket ever built in China, will be the workhorse of the nation’s future space missions, eventually carrying taikonauts and supplies into orbit for its planned space station. Though the launch was a notable achievement, the secondary payload it carried — the Aolong-1 or “Roaming Dragon,” a small satellite designed to collect space debris with a robotic arm — has stirred up familiar speculation about the true nature of China’s space program.

Like the United States and Russia, China recognizes the importance of space to modern military warfare. In the nearly 10 years since it conducted its first successful anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) test, Beijing’s interest in cultivating an array of ASAT capabilities has been well known. Now, some observers speculate that the Roaming Dragon may be another step in that direction.

Read more at: Stratfor

Congress Asks Questions About U.S. Policy Regarding Indian Launch Vehicles

Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin (R-Texas) today sent letters to four senior officials requesting information about the current U.S. policy governing the export of U.S. commercial satellites for launch on Indian launch vehicles.

Today’s letters, which were sent to Director of Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren, Secretary of State John Kerry, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman, and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, follows India’s recent membership into the Missile Technology Control Regime and conflicting reports as to the legal authority for promulgating the policy and administrative processes for implementing the policy.

“On October 23, 2015, a senior official at the Office of the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) international trade and development office, was quoted as stating that demand by American companies for commercial launch services had led the office to start a review of a policy that has been in place since 2005, and that the policy, implemented through export control licensing, ‘discourages U.S. commercial satellite operators from purchasing launch services from Indian launch companies'” the letters state.

Read more at: Spaceref

Brexit’s Impact Stretches from Deep Space to Nuclear Fusion

The U.K.’s fraught decision to exit the European Union was motivated by everyday issues such as trade and immigration. But its impact could soon be felt in some of Europe’s most esoteric locales — like particle accelerators.

That’s because scientists in Europe pool their resources to build everything from massive telescopes to deep space probes. And the U.K. is a major scientific player. Britain’s vote to depart the European Union won’t totally upend scientific cooperation, but “scientists are nonetheless worried,” says John Womersley, the head of the U.K.’s Science and Technology Facilities Council, which oversees participation in large projects.

The biggest experiment affected is a nuclear fusion reactor being built in the south of France. Known as ITER, the roughly $20 billion project is designed to produce energy through the fusion of light atoms of hydrogen. It’s an unprecedented technical endeavor that involves seven international partners, including the European Union, which is shouldering some 46 percent of its construction cost.

Read more at: NPR

Brexit | The View from Scotland

Scotland has become an important hub of small satellite activity and space research. While it’s hard to say how that work will suffer in the wake of Brexit, the uncertainty is likely to take a toll.

“Uncertainty is certainly not good for any business, be that academia or industry, as we have seen on the markets,” said Malcolm MacDonald, director of the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications at the University of Strathclyde’s Space Institute. That uncertainty is likely to continue for some time because it is impossible to say how or when Britain will withdraw from the European Union. “Nobody has any idea and if they say they do they are mistaken as we don’t even know all the questions yet, never mind the answers,” MacDonald said.

Further complicating the matter is Scotland’s desire to remain in the common market. In the June 23 Brexit referendum, 62 percent of Scottish voters backed the plan to remain part of the European Union.

“The Scottish Government is taking that as a mandate to keep Scotland within the EU even if the U.K. leaves,” MacDonald said. It’s unclear how that could happen. Scotland could hold seek independence from the United Kingdom and join the European Union. Or, it could follow a model similar to that of Denmark and Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory.

Read more at: Spacenews mag

Slovenia Joins European Space Agency

Slovenian economy minister Zdravko Počivalšek signed an agreement on Tuesday in Paris under which Slovenia became an associated member of the European Space Agency (ESA).

The European Space Agency (ESA) in its current form was founded in 1975. The current membership of the European Space Agency includes 22 member states and a number of associates. The only EU member state that has not signed any agreement with ESA is Croatia. This agreement will allow direct Slovenian participation in ESA optional programmes, with Slovenian delegates attending relevant ESA subordinate bodies. Dedicated access to agency facilities and services will be provided to Slovenia’s national space projects

The first Cooperation Agreement, signed in 2008, was followed by the European Cooperating State (ECS) Agreement in 2010. The joint review of the five-year implementation of the ECS Agreement in September 2015 confirmed the success of various Plan for ECS projects involving Slovenian entities in ESA’s programmes, especially in Earth observation, life and material sciences, and space technology activities.

Read more at: New Europe

Global Affairs Warns of ‘Serious Concerns’ Over Canada’s Space Security

Canadian officials have “serious security concerns” over the increased presence of countries and private companies operating in the Earth’s orbit, documents obtained by the Star show.

Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion was warned in November that satellites enabling everything from telecommunications to national defence are facing a range of threats — from anti-satellite weaponry to pieces of junk floating around the planet. “The viability of the space infrastructure is increasingly threatened by potential hostile acts from military or strategic opponents, space debris and space weather,” state the documents, obtained under access to information law and stamped “secret.” “The challenge of protecting space infrastructure from both natural and man-made threats is compounded by the rapid expansion of both the number of space-faring nations and the uses to which space assets are put.”

Department officials note that Canada is “highly dependent” on the network of satellites orbiting Earth for communications and surveillance, weather forecasting, search and rescue, and even urban planning.

Read more at: The Star

Gene Thomas, Challenger Launch Director, has Died

Gene Thomas, the launch director for space shuttle Challenger’s ill-fated flight in 1986 and a former top official at Kennedy Space Center, died Tuesday, June 7, NASA and family friends confirmed. He passed away in a hospital near his home in Collierville, Tennessee after a long illness.

James A. “Gene” Thomas was born in 1934 in Meridian, Mississippi. He joined NASA in 1962 during the Mercury program, and later served as launch director for five shuttle missions, from October 1985 through Challenger’s 51-L mission launched on Jan. 28, 1986.

Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from KSC in what was then the nation’s worst human spaceflight disaster, killing all seven astronauts on board including “teacher in space” Christa McAuliffe.

Read more at: Florida Today

Flipping Crystals Improves Solar-cell Performance

In a step that could bring perovskite crystals closer to use in the burgeoning solar power industry, researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Northwestern University and Rice University have tweaked their crystal production method and developed a new type of two-dimensional layered perovskite with outstanding stability and more than triple the material’s previous power conversion efficiency.

“Crystal orientation has been a puzzle for more than two decades, and this is the first time we’ve been able to flip the crystal in the actual casting process,” said Hsinhan Tsai, a Rice graduate student at Los Alamos working with senior researcher Aditya Mohite and lead coauthor of a study due out this week in the journal Nature. “This is our breakthrough, using our spin-casting technique to create layered crystals whose electrons flow vertically down the material without being blocked, midlayer, by organic cations.”

This research is part of Los Alamos’ mission, which includes conducting multidisciplinary research to strengthen the security of energy for the nation. That work includes exploring alternative energy sources.

Read more at: Phys.org

Ex-Astronaut James Halsell Jr. Charged with Murder in Alabama

Astronaut James Halsell Jr. seemed the very definition of someone with the right stuff. An Air Force Academy graduate and decorated test pilot, he commanded or piloted five space shuttle missions. NASA even turned to him for leadership as it was picking up the pieces after the Columbia disaster in 2003.

Now, a decade after his retirement from the space agency, the 59-year-old has been charged with murder after an early-morning car crash Monday killed two young sisters on a highway in Alabama.

State police said alcohol and speed may have been factors in the incident. The Tuscaloosa News reported that court documents showed troopers said they found an empty package of sleeping pills and an empty wine bottle in a motel room where Halsell had stayed before the crash.

Read more at: NBC News