Senate Committee Seeks Stability for NASA Programs in Next Administration

In the first hearing about NASA that it held in more than a year, members of the Senate’s space subcommittee argued that the next administration should avoid making radical changes to NASA’s human spaceflight programs.

Both members and witnesses at the July 13 hearing of the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee argued that NASA was making good progress implementing key elements of the human space exploration program developed in the aftermath of the 2010 decision by the Obama Administration to cancel the Constellation program.

“Human space exploration and innovation are integral to the mission of NASA,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the subcommittee, in his opening statement. “That’s why this subcommittee will work to provide NASA with the security and stability that is necessary as the agency transitions from one administration to the next.”

Read more at: Space News

NASA at a Crossroads: Reasserting American Leadership in Space Exploration

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the  Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will convene a subcommittee hearing titled “NASA at a Crossroads: Reasserting American Leadership in Space Exploration” on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, at 2:30 p.m.

The hearing will focus on the importance of ensuring consistency in policy to best leverage investments made in human space exploration. The hearing will also explore questions facing the agency related to the upcoming presidential transition.

Read more at: US Senate

Reaction Engines Unlocks Funds for Single-stage-to-orbit SABRE Engine

At the Farnborough Air Show on Tuesday, Reaction Engines signed a £10 million development contract with the European Space Agency. In turn, this commitment from the ESA unlocked a £50 million grant from the UK Space Agency (which is an executive agency of the government).

Back in November 2015, BAE Systems—the massive defence and aerospace multinational based in the UK—invested £20.6 million in Reaction Engines; in return, it picked up 20 percent of the company’s share capital, while also agreeing to provide industrial and technological support during the development phase. According to Reaction Engines, there’s now enough money and technological expertise in place to create a ground-based SABRE demonstrator engine by 2020.

Read more at: Ars Technica

China Readies Next Space Lab for September Launch

It’s an important year for China’s burgeoning human spaceflight program.

Chinese news agencies report that the country’s second orbiting space lab — Tiangong-2 — was delivered over the weekend by rail from Beijing to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away in the Gobi Desert. According to a statement from China’s manned space engineering office, the vessel will undergo assembling and testing processes at the center in preparation for its mid-September launch.

Tiangong-2 will be China’s second orbiting space lab, and it will eventually be visited by two astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft. (China’s first space lab, Tiangong-1, launched in September 2011 and hosted crewed dockings in June 2012 and June 2013. Tiangong-1’s operational life is now over, and the space lab is expected to fall back to Earth relatively soon.)

Read more at: Space.com

DARPA Pushing New Effort with Experimental Spaceplane, XS-1

Citing increasing U.S. launch costs and the “fleeing” of commercial customers to foreign launch service providers, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is continuing to push a bold strategy tied to a new, reusable spaceplane that the Agency envisions flying 10 times in 10 days for a cost of less than $5 million USD per flight.

As defined by DARPA, the “Dramatic growth in U.S. launch costs since [the] early 1990s is driving much larger growth in space system costs.”

As part of DARPA’s “Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1): Aiming to Reduce the Time to Space and Cost to Space by Orders of Magnitude” overview (video and materials in L2), the program cites an annual DoD (Department of Defense) launch cost in excess of $3 billion USD, with small launches now cited as greater than $50 million USD each.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

SpaceX: Sonic Booms Could Hit Space Coast When Company Tries to Land Rocket

Elon Musk’s space launch company SpaceX has warned residents on Florida’s Space Coast that an effort to land a rocket at its complex could cause sonic booms early Monday morning.

In a news release, the company said a “brief thunder-like noise” could follow when its Falcon 9 rocket returns from delivering cargo to the International Space Station. The release identifies Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Courtenay, Merritt Island, Mims, Port Canaveral, Port St. John, Rockledge, Scottsmoor, Sharpes, and Titusville as the places “most likely to hear a sonic boom.”

The rocket will try to land on the 282-foot wide site, known as Landing Zone 1, which was the site of the company’s successful landing of a Falcon 9 in December. SpaceX began a five-year lease on the site in February of 2015.

Read more at: Orlando Sentinel

Weird Science on SpaceX Dragon is Tiny, Melty, Beating and Radioactive

SpaceX’s ninth commercial cargo mission, launching early Monday (July 18), is lugging a selection of strange science to the International Space Station — living, beating heart cells, microbes from a nuclear disaster, a tiny DNA sequencer and more.

The six crewmembers on the station have been preparing for the supply ship’s arrival early on Wednesday, July 20, when NASA astronaut (and current space station commander) Jeff Williams will grapple the craft with the space station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) robotic arm. A Russian Progress supply craft will have arrived at the station Monday night, as well.

Read more at: Space.com

First Virus-hunter in Space will Test DNA-decoding Device

The first virus-hunter in space is all set to conduct some cosmic, new DNA research. Newly arrived space station astronaut Kate Rubins will attempt to complete the first full-blown DNA decoding, or “sequencing,” in orbit with a pocket-size device that should be delivered next week. “We’re really interested in how this works in microgravity. It’s never been done before,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, four days after arriving at the International Space Station.

She said the benefits of DNA sequencing in space are huge. She noted it also could prove useful in remote locations on Earth. The device will arrive at the orbiting lab on the next SpaceX delivery. Liftoff is scheduled for early Monday morning from Cape Canaveral.

Trained as a professional virus-hunter, Rubins traveled to Congo for her research before becoming an astronaut in 2009. She wore top-level biosafety suits for her work with Ebola, smallpox and other deadly viruses on Earth, but won’t need such extreme precautions when she fires up the device in space. At the space station, Rubins will be working with harmless test samples: bacteria, a virus and a mouse genome.

Read more at: Lompocrecord

SpaceX is About to Launch a Key Component for Future Manned Space Exploration

On Monday at 12:45 am ET, SpaceX will launch its ninth Dragon capsule into space, stuffed with 3,800 lbs of cargo and science experiments. Instead of attempting to land its famed Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship again, this time the company will attempt to land the rocket on the ground.

Among the goodies that the rocket will be ferrying to space is something called an International Docking Adapter (IDA). Right now, only Russian spacecrafts can dock with the ISS. All other spacecrafts need to be grappled by the ISS crew.

This IDA is a docking port that will open the door to a future herd of spacecrafts (including ones with actual humans on them), allowing them to dock automatically.

Read more at: Business Insider

SNC Completes First Dream Chaser Cargo Service Milestone

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is pleased to announce the successful completion of ISS Integration Certification Milestone 1 for the Dream Chaser Cargo System under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract.

Under this milestone, NASA approved SNC’s complete program implementation plan for the design, development, test and evaluation of the Dream Chaser Cargo System. This includes plans and processes for meeting technical performance and CRS2 integration schedules associated with execution of docking and berthing missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Details included supplier plans, integration schedules, organizational structure and status of program risks and risk mitigations. Under the CRS2 contract, Dream Chaser will provide a minimum of six cargo delivery services to and from the ISS between 2019 and 2024.

Read more at: Spaceref

Re-Entry: Soyuz FG Rocket Stage from ISS Crew Launch

The third stage of the Soyuz Rocket that helped boost the Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft into orbit re-entered the atmosphere this weekend, three days after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and dispatching Anatoli Ivanishin, Takuya Onishi and Kate Rubins into orbit for a four-month stay aboard the International Space Station.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

China’s Descending Space Module May Not be Out of Control After All

While some overblown headlines may lead you to believe that China’s space station module — which played host to Chinese astronauts in the past — is on an imminent, possibly dangerous crash course with Earth, that’s not the full story.

It’s true that eventually China’s Tiangong-1 — which translates to “heavenly palace” in English —  will eventually come back through Earth’s atmosphere, but that breakup isn’t necessarily happening in the next few weeks, and even if it were, it shouldn’t necessarily be a cause for serious concern. “It’s way down on my list of things to panic about,” astrophysicist and spaceflight enthusiast Jonathan McDowell told Mashable in an interview.

The likelihood that the spacecraft, which China designed as a proving ground for future crewed space missions, will make its fiery re-entry above a large population center is quite low. Although some bits of debris might make it back to Earth intact, the chance that it could cause damage or hurt someone is about 1 in 10,000, McDowell said.

Read more at: Mashable

ESA Plans Euro-Russian Lunar Exploration to go Beyond Apollo ‘Gift Shop Visit’

The European Space Agency’s penchant for a major lunar exploration program that would precede a full-scale exploration of Mars was fully in evidence on July 12 with the signing of a contract to put an ESA drill on Russia’s Luna-Resurs lunar lander. It remains unclear whether ESA’s principal member states, notably France, share the 22-nation agency’s emerging “Moon First, Mars Later” opinion.

On July 8, the president of the French space agency, Jean-Yves Le Gall, reiterated his view that what’s going on at NASA and in the U.S. private sector, notably with SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, make it more likely that human missions to Mars will occur sooner than the 2030s. French scientists have long preferred Mars to the Moon as an exploration destination and CNES has participated on nearly all the NASA-led Mars missions in recent years.

Read more at: Space News

How Does Water Behave in Space? U of T Engineering Researchers Aim to Solve Longstanding Mystery

An astronaut holds a glass jar half-full of water in the near-zero gravity of space. How does the water look inside the jar? Does it form a single ball, sit on the bottom of the jar, or cling to its walls? For decades, no one has had definitive answers to these questions–and now U of T Engineering researchers intend to solve the mystery once and for all.

The correct answer isn’t very intuitive, says Aaron Persad, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering. “You need to solve a series of thermodynamic equations to predict which arrangement is most stable.” He and Professor Emeritus Charles Ward have launched an experiment aboard SpaceX CSR-9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, headed for the International Space Station (ISS). There, an astronaut will run the experiment and capture photos and video of their glass jar of purified water.

Read more at: Eureka alert

China Could Legally Seize Moon’s ‘Peaks of Eternal Light’ -“Will Earth’s 1st Space War Start There?”

A ‘research station’ on the ‘peaks of eternal light’ would prevent anyone else from approaching. A Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics senior astrophysicist, Martin Elvis, has sounded the alarm of how an unfriendly power – the Chinese for example – could seize control of an important piece of lunar real estate. They could do it legally by exploiting provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, that bars any nation — and by extension, corporation — from owning property on a celestial body, but a loophole in the pact may amount to the same thing, warns Elvis.

The real estate in question are the so-called “peaks of eternal light” that lay around permanently shadowed craters at the Lunar South Pole. Unlike the Earth, which is tilted so the poles are in six months of darkness and six months of light, the moon is almost perfectly aligned with its orbit around the sun. Because of the way the moon tilts, these peaks are bathed in sunlight for most if not all of the time, which means you can have an almost continuous power supply, ideal for a photovoltaic power station. Thus this part of the moon would be perfect places to erect solar power stations that would support mining operations in the nearby craters, where water and other valuable resources such as Helium 3 have been deposited over billions of years.

Read more at: Daily Galaxy

Who Owns the Moon? | Space Law & Outer Space Treaties

Because space is an area without defined boundaries, there are many questions about legal jurisdiction on spacecraft orbiting Earth and other celestial bodies. Space-faring nations have agreed to a variety of policies and treaties that concern activities in space exploration.

As soon as humans reached for the stars, some reached for the law books. In the year after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the United Nations General Assembly created an ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOUS). In 1960, the International Institute of Space Law, a nongovernmental organization, was created to promote international cooperation in the space law-making process. Today, several universities worldwide offer programs and degrees in space law.

The field of space law evolved to deal with questions such as property rights, weapons in space, protection of astronauts and other matters. However, space law remains a challenging field to define.

Read more at: Space.com

Building a Commercial Market in Low Earth Orbit

This April marked the sixth anniversary of President Obama’s landmark address on space policy at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In his speech, the President set out the goal of sending American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, using a strategy that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship in space exploration through investments in new space technologies and partnerships with the private sector as well as academia and other non-traditional partners.

Six years later, we have made great progress toward our goals, and the commercial space industry is expanding rapidly. The United States is closer to sending human beings to Mars than anyone, anywhere, at any time has ever been.

Read more at: Space Daily

1st ASTS Launches New Mission Assurance Centers

With a multitude of obstacles standing in the way of a successful launch, careful coordination is essential to entering polar orbit.

A lot of that coordination takes place within the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron, working closely with other organizations. The 1st ASTS recently completed a project on two launch support centers – the Falcon Launch Support Center and the Mission Assurance Readiness Site — that will be key to posturing the 30th Launch Group to support future government missions launching on SpaceX rockets.

“The Falcon Launch Support Center will be our squadron’s avenue for performing mission assurance for SpaceX on this coast,” said Capt. Megan Harkins, 1st ASTS SpaceX mission integrator and FLSC project lead. “The room will be used to communicate any day-of-launch concerns up to the Mission Director and Launch Decision Authority.”

While both rooms are similar in structure, the MARS will be used to monitor daily launch site processing, whereas the FLSC will be utilized on day of launch

Read more at: Santamaria Times

Should the Space Station have a Dedicated Port for Private Spaceflight?

NASA Human Exploration and Operations Administrator William Gerstenmaier said in a Senate hearing Wednesday that the space agency would be open to the possibility of private companies docking their spacecraft in a special port on the International Space Station.

Dr. Gerstenmaier’s statement came in response to Attorney Michael Gold, an aerospace executive at Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, who asked if manned American spacecraft could would return to the space station. The last US spacecraft to visit the space station was the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which in 2011 flew the final mission of the US shuttle program.

Gerstenmaier said a plan was already in place to bring the private sector into the picture. NASA will put out a “Request for Information,” he said, that could lead to private companies docking spacecraft at the orbiting space station.

Read more at: CSMonitor

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Rebrand Aims Squarely at Public

From a marketing standpoint, spaceflight is in an interesting place. With a reputation that’s both retro and out of this world, traveling to outer space holds much potential. But in the public imagination, the inevitable focus is on what NASA has already done: trips to the moon, international space stations, stuff like that.

For the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), this comes with some unenviable difficulties, especially as it hopes to sell the public on private spaceflight as an alternative to NASA’s government-funded endeavors. Sure, spaceflight companies SpaceX and Blue Origin get attention, but there’s a whole industry out there, and most of it isn’t receiving the kind of buzz that NASA is.

But this week CSF took its first steps at changing that narrative. The group is releasing a new logo and website design intended to drum up public excitement about what its members are doing—rather than the association just focusing on what its president, Eric Stallmer, calls the “aerospace echo chamber.” The trade group teamed with the design firm Viceroy Creative on the rethink and hopes to drum up some sustained PR interest.

In comments to Mashable, David Moritz, Viceroy’s founder and CEO, noted that the goal of the endeavor is to mimic the success NASA has in its public outreach—something he called a “sexy, badass persona.”

Read more at: Association snow

UK Mounts ‘Spaceport’ Feasibility Studies

The UK government has awarded 5 businesses with feasibility study contracts, worth in total £1.5 million, (€1.8m) to a group of industrial operations in order to evaluate the practicality of mounting orbital or sub-orbital ‘rocket flights’ from the UK.

The five teams are:
– Airbus-Safran Launchers, which as well as looking after the giant Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 rockets, is also keen to build a small satellite launcher as well as working on a space tourism rocket.
– Deimos Space UK, which is developing a vertical launch rocket.
– Lockheed Martin of the US, which wants to build a version of its Athena satellite launch system.
– Virgin Galactic, which is Sir Richard Branson’s company already planning its SpaceShipTwo sub-orbital launcher.
– Orbital Access of the UK, which is working with BAE Systems and Reaction Engines, which proposes using a modified single-stage rocket to orbit system. Coincidentally, the European Space Agency signed an agreement at the UK Farnborough Air Show to provide more than $10 million to Reaction Engines for on-going work with the company’s SABRA rocket engine.

Read more at: Advanced Television

Glasgow Prestwick Airport Moves Closer to Becoming UK Spaceport

A senior figure behind plans for Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport said it could be up and running with just £1 million of investment.

The spaceport has signed a memo of understanding with California-based space launch vehicle designer XCOR Aerospace and space plane design and operating company Orbital Access Limited. The move takes it closer to launching manned flights using XCOR’s Lynx space craft, including taking passengers to the edge of space.

Mike Stewart, of spaceport, said the move was “a further step forward in our work to make space launches from our site a reality.”

Read more at: Scotsman

Russia and China Discuss Joint Outer-Space Exploration, Moon and Even Mars

China and Russia are discussing joint cooperation in outer-space exploration, including missions to the Moon and even Mars , according to a statement by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Wednesday.

“Yesterday, we (Rogozin and Vice-Premier of China’s State Council Wang Yang) worked for three and a half hours, discussing cooperation in the nuclear sphere and cooperation in the issues of interaction between our space agencies where there are such large projects as the deliveries of rocket engines, and cooperation in navigation systems,” the Russian vice-premier said.

He made his remarks during a talk with the heads of Russian regions and Chinese provinces and the managers of companies from both countries. The expo is an annual industrial exhibition held since 2014 within the framework of the Harbin Trade Fair. “We’re developing an understanding for the rocket and space industry for possible interaction in such profound and technologically complex projects as the future exploration of the Moon, Mars and piloted cosmonautics,” he said.

Read more at: Forbes

What Happened to the CASIS FY 2015/2016 Annual Program Plans?

Based on a recent NASA Freedom of Information Act response CASIS has been operating for two years without the Annual Program Plan it is required to have. Or maybe it is. Either way NASA doesn’t seem to care.

On 5 April 2016 I submitted a FOIA request to NASA for information related to CASIS. CASIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space) is the non-profit organization that NASA relies upon to operate its research facilities aboard the International Space Station. CASIS gets $15 million a year from NASA to do this and relies on this funding for 99.97% of its annual budget.

At first the NASA HQ FOIA refused to even consider my FOIA request as a “media” request despite the fact that I have been accredited as media by NASA for more than 15 years. After a lot of emails, complaints, and foot dragging, NASA HQ’s FOIA office finally complied with my FOIA request. To their credit they provided a lot of information which is going to take some time to analyze.

Read more at: NASA Watch

New Russian Bomber to be Able to Launch Nuclear Attacks From Outer Space

A trial model of Russia’s nuclear-capable outer space strategic bomber will be developed by 2020, according to its developer. Russian commander of the Strategic Missile Forces (SMF), Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, had earlier reported that the Russian Strategic Missile Forces Academy has already developed and tested an engine for the experimental aircraft.

The engine is expected to be showcased at the Army-2016 International Military Technology Forum, which is set to take place on September 6-11 in the Moscow Region. He added that the jet will be very capable and will need only one-two hours to reach any place on Earth through outer space.

Read more at: Sputnik News

Moscow to Raise US Missile Shield at NATO Summit

Moscow said Tuesday it plans to discuss improving airspace safety over the Baltic Sea and the risks of a US missile shield in Europe at its summit with NATO this week. The announcement comes after a string of incidents and near-misses in Baltic Sea airspace fuelled tensions between Moscow and the alliance.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow plans to raise “increasing aviation safety in the Baltic Sea region” when representatives of Russia and NATO convene in Brussels on Wednesday.

Russia’s NATO-member Baltic neighbours have accused Moscow of regularly violating their airspace in recent months and flying with switched-off transponders, devices that allow radars to identify planes and prevent collisions. President Vladimir Putin this month backed a call for all military aircraft flying over the Baltic region to keep their transponders on. At the summit with NATO, Moscow will also “stress the risks to strategic stability that have appeared as a result of the ongoing construction of the US and NATO anti-missile system in Europe,” Zakharova said.

Read more at: Space Daily

Selling Secrets to the Russians? Jason Bourne Fan Arrested in Spy Drama of His Own

egory Allen Justice had a sick wife, a job at which he felt unappreciated and a fascination with cinematic secret operatives such as Jason Bourne and James Bond. He had a special love for “The Americans,” the FX series about KGB spies in the United States.

As an engineer on the night shift at a large defense contractor, Justice, 49, of Culver City had access to sensitive technical data about military and commercial satellites, according to federal authorities. He was arrested Thursday on charges that he sold information to a man he believed was an agent of Russian intelligence.

He told the supposed spy — who was really an undercover FBI agent — that he needed money to pay his wife’s mounting medical bills, according to an FBI affidavit.

Read more at: LA Times

In-flight Instructions Used by First American in Orbit John Glenn Heads to Auction

A scrolling checklist used by John Glenn as he became the first American to orbit the Earth is now circling the auction block.

The long and narrow document, which Glenn used aboard his Mercury spacecraft “Friendship 7,” helped to track the space capsule’s position and the astronaut’s planned flight activities as he rounded the Earth three times on Feb. 20, 1962. The in-flight instructions detailed when Glenn was to photograph the planet below and when to complete certain tasks, such as changing the film and filter on his camera.
“All data on the instructions was personally used by Glenn to confirm the capsule’s flight path during its 4 hour and 55 minute mission,” the Nate D. Sanders auction house wrote in its description of the lot.

The 42.5-inch-long (108 cm) document was attached to a bobbin at each end, forming a scroll that Glenn was able to advance back and forth with his thumb during the mission. The chronological plan includes astronomical markers and geographical landmarks, such as “Lake Victoria” and “+23′ Orion & Moon/UV Photos Count Stars.”

Read more at: Collect Space

A Cold War Mystery: Why did Jimmy Carter Save the Space Shuttle?

We’d been chatting for the better part of two hours when Chris Kraft’s eyes suddenly brightened. “Hey,” he said, “Here’s a story I’ll bet you never heard.” Kraft, the man who had written flight rules for NASA at the dawn of US spaceflight and supervised the Apollo program, had invited me to his home south of Houston for one of our periodic talks about space policy and space history.

It was the late 1970s, when Kraft directed the Johnson Space Center, the home of the space shuttle program. At the time, the winged vehicle had progressed deep into a development phase that started in 1971. Because the program had not received enough money to cover development costs, some aspects of the vehicle (such as its thermal protective tiles) were delayed into future budget cycles. In another budget trick, NASA committed $158 million in fiscal year 1979 funds for work done during the previous fiscal year.

This could not go on, and according to Kraft the situation boiled over during a 1978 meeting in a large conference floor on the 9th floor of Building 1, the Houston center’s headquarters. All the program managers and other center directors gathered there along with NASA’s top leadership. That meeting included Administrator Robert Frosch, a physicist President Carter had appointed a year earlier.

Read more at: Ars Technica

How a NASA Engineer Created the Modern Airplane Wing

Once dubbed “the man who could see air,” NASA engineer Richard T. Whitcomb used a combination of visualization and intuition to revolutionize modern aviation – by turning the shape of the airplane wing on its head.

For decades, Whitcomb had been working on getting aircraft to move faster and more efficiently. By the time he was 34, he had already won the most prestigious honor in aviation, the National Aeronautic Association’s 1954 Collier Trophy, for his critical work to overcome the aviation challenge of the day – the sound barrier. Sixteen years later, he was working on improving flight efficiency at speeds just below that barrier.

“Most people have to see through testing how air moves on a model,” Roy Harris, former aeronautics director at NASA’s Langley Research Center, told the Washington Post in Whitcomb’s 2009 obituary. “But he had this uncanny ability to accurately sense how air molecules reacted over a surface before he even built the models.”

Read more at: Space Daily