China Wishes to Buy RD-180 Rocket Engines from Russia

China is interested in buying Russia’s RD-180 dual-combustion chamber 400 tons thrust engines for its prospective super-heavy-lift launch vehicle, a source familiar with the situation told Interfax-AVN on July 7. “The question is at least about buying ready rocket engines, first and foremost, RD-180, or even acquiring a production license,” the source said in comment on a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin who said on Monday that China might buy Russian rocket engines. In his words, “the second option is undesirable to us.” “It’s all about coordination of an intergovernmental agreement on the protection of technologies, and we have an obvious difference here: the Chinese want to use our engine at their own discretion and we cannot do that. Consistent with the missile technology control regime, we bear full responsibility for the use [of this technology] by a country not participating in this regime,” he said. At present, RD-180 engines designed and manufactured by NPO Energomash in the Moscow region are supplied to the United States.

Read more at: Russia Beyond The Headlines

Accidents with Russian Space Rockets Related to Outdated Industrial Base — Expert

The accidents with Russia’s space rockets in recent years can be explained by the space and rocket industry’s outdated production, technological and testing base, a Russian expert said on Monday. “The rocket and space industry has been confronted with a number of serious systemic problems in the past decade, including in the area of ensuring the quality of products in the rocket and space industry,” said Alexander Kharchenko, head of the Scientific-Technical Center for the Quality of Rocket and Space Systems at the Central Research Institute of Machine-Building (TsNIIMash). “These problems have been largely caused by the ageing of the production, technological and testing base of the sector’s enterprises,” he was quoted as saying on the website of TsNIIMash, which is the head research institute of Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). The work of rocket and space enterprises is also affected by the failure of some organizations to comply with the requirements of norm-setting documents, the lower level of the ground-based experimental facilities for developing products and the slack technological discipline of personnel, the expert said. This work is also affected by the shortage of skilled workforce, the low quality of feedstock, materials and components, the expert said. The quality of products is also affected by the insufficiently effective system of management, failure of the regulatory and methodological support for the quality of products to comply with modern standards and lower efficiency of the control system, the expert said. “Currently, in order to fulfill a decision by the Federal Space Agency’s board, a system has been established to ensure the quality and reliability of rocket and space products, including management bodies, parent R&D organizations, enterprises and organizations of the rocket and space industry,” the expert said. Two space launches carried out by Russia in 2015 ended in failure. A Proton-M carrier rocket with a Mexican satellite malfunctioned and crashed after its launch on April 16. On April 28, a Progress M-27M space freighter was injected into a wrong orbit, was damaged and eventually drowned in the Pacific Ocean.

Read more at: TASS

Musk: No Clear Explanation Yet for Falcon 9 Failure

The ongoing investigation into the June 28 Falcon 9 launch failure has yet to find a cause for the accident based on the available data, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said July 7. Musk, speaking at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference here, said that the destruction of the vehicle nearly two and a half minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral did not appear to have a straightforward cause, and that the data the company had was difficult to interpret.“ Whatever happened is clearly not a sort of simple, straightforward thing,” he said in his most extensive public comments to date on the launch failure. “There’s still no clear theory that fits with all the data.” Musk reiterated earlier statements he made on Twitter that linked the failure to an “overpressure event” in the liquid oxygen tank in the upper stage of the Falcon 9. Video of the launch appeared to show a cloud expanding from the upper stage about ten seconds before the rocket disintegrated. What caused that overpressure event, though, remains uncertain. One issue engineers are examining, he said, is the possibility that some of the data might be corrupted or otherwise in error. “We’re determining if some of the data is measurement error of some kind, or whether there’s actually a theory that matches” the data they have on hand, he said.

Read more at: Space News

NASA’s Mars Airplane will be Made With Composites

NASA is currently working on the aircraft that will make its first flight on Mars in the 2020s. A prototype of the Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars, or Prandtl-m, which is a flying wing aircraft with a twist (think boomerang on a large scale), is being prepared for a launch from a high altitude balloon later this year. The Prandtl–m will be released at about at 100,000 feet altitude, which will simulate the flight conditions of the Martian atmosphere, according to Al Bowers, NASA Armstrong chief scientist and Prandtl-m program manager.”The actual aircraft’s wingspan when it is deployed would measure 24 inches and weigh less than a pound,” Bowers said. “With Mars gravity 38 percent of what it is on Earth, that actually allows us up to 2.6 pounds and the vehicle will still weigh only 1 pound on Mars.” Bowers said that it will be made of composite material, either fiberglass or carbon fiber. “We believe this particular design could best recover from the unusual conditions of an ejection,” he said. The tests could validate how the aircraft works, leading to modifications that will allow it to fold and deploy from a 3U CubeSat in the aeroshell of a future Mars rover. A CubeSat is a miniature satellite used for space research that is usually about four inches in each dimension, a 3U is three of those stacked together.

Read more at: Composites World

NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Spaceflights

NASA has selected four astronauts to train and prepare for commercial spaceflights that will return American launches to U.S. soil and further open up low-Earth orbit transportation to the private sector. The selections are the latest major milestone in the Obama Administration’s plan to partner with U.S. industry to transport astronauts to space, create good-paying American jobs and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for space travel. “I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail — a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.” NASA named experienced astronauts and test pilots Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams to work closely with The Boeing Company and SpaceX to develop their crew transportation systems and provide crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station (ISS). “Today, NASA announced that it has selected four, veteran astronauts to be the first to fly to space on commercial carriers,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Their selection allows NASA to move forward with the training necessary to deliver on President Obama’s ambitious plan for returning the launch of U.S. astronauts to U.S. soil, while creating good-paying American jobs, and moving us closer to the President’s goal of sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.”  The commercial crew astronauts will work closely with company-led teams to understand their designs and operations as they finalize their Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and operational strategies in support of their crewed flight tests and certification activities as part of their contracts with NASA.  “This is a new and exciting era in the history of U.S. human spaceflight,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “These four individuals, like so many at NASA and the Flight Operations Directorate, have dedicated their careers to becoming experts in the field of aeronautics and furthering human space exploration. The selection of these experienced astronauts who are eligible to fly aboard the test flights for the next generation of U.S. spacecraft to the ISS and low-Earth orbit ensures that the crews will be well-prepared and thoroughly trained for their missions.”

Read more at: NASA

Beijing Seeks to Enhance Strategic Cooperation with Moscow

China says it is ready to strengthen its strategic partnership with Russia in order to enhance mutual interests. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Tuesday that the two countries plan to advance cooperation in fields such as space and technology. “We intend to advance the corresponding cooperation, especially in some strategic spheres…, including space and technologies,” the official said. The comments came after Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin revealed on Monday that China had shown interest in buying Russian-made rocket engines. The Chinese official said recent talks between Rogozin and China’s Vice Premier Wang Yang were focused on a number of issues which included space and technologies. Rogozin said at the heads-of-government gathering in the city of Irkutsk this week that China was keen to purchase “a number of other services and goods, which are essential for the development of China’s space industry.” According to Rogozin, China has given top priority to its lunar program “above all.” However, the high-ranking Russian official warned China that its lunar program was “practically impossible without certain equipment supplied by the Russian Federation.”

Read more at: PressTV

Martian Gems Could Point to Evidence of Life

Scientists have discovered for the first time direct physical evidence of the existence of opals on Mars. The traces of the precious stone, which were found in a Martian meteorite, could help future exploration missions decide where to look for evidence of life on the red planet. University of Glasgow researchers discovered the opal in a 1.7-gram fraction of the Martian meteorite known as Nakhla, which was supplied by the Natural History Museum in London. Nakhla is named after the town in Egypt where it fell to Earth in 1911, millions of years after being blasted from the face of Mars by a massive impact of unknown origin. In a new paper published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science, the team describes how they identified traces of the gem known on Earth as ‘fire opal’ for its brilliant orange, yellow and red colouration.  Using a powerful scanning electron microscope in the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, the team found very small traces of the gem in the rock created by the interaction of Martian water with silica within the meteorite.Professor Martin Lee, of the University’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, is lead author of the research paper. He said: “The slice of Nakhla that we have is small, and the amount of fire opal we’ve found in it is even smaller, but our discovery of opal is significant for a couple of reasons. “Firstly, it definitively confirms findings from NASA’s imaging and exploration of the Martian surface which appeared to show deposits of opal. This is the first time that a piece of Mars here on Earth has been shown to contain opal. “Secondly, we know that on Earth opals like these are often formed in and around hot springs. Microbial life thrives in these conditions, and opal can trap and preserve these microbes for millions of years. If Martian microbes existed, it’s possible they too may be preserved in opal deposits on the surface of Mars. “Closer study of Martian opals by future missions to Mars could well help us learn more about the planet’s past and whether it once held life.” The research builds on the team’s 2013 discovery of the first direct evidence of water dissolving the surface of Mars. They found physical traces of secondary minerals created by water interacting with the minerals olivine and augite contained within Nakhla. The team’s new paper, titled ‘Opal-A in the Nakhla meteorite: A tracer of ephemeral liquid water in the Amazonian crust of Mars’ is published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

Source: University of Glasgow

Possible Space Debris Reentry Seen Over Georgia

The American Meteor Society received over 150 reports about a slow moving grouping of bright fiery objects traveling from the south west to the north east. Witness reports indicate, the objects were seen from as far west as Louisiana and as far north as West Virginia. The phenomenon was seen from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia and Mississippi on Monday, June 29th 2015 around 01:30 AM EDT. A witness from Floria described it as, “two bright objects close together, both with long tails…gradually separated as they crossed the sky.” This description is typical for what a space debris reentry would look like. As the space junk breaks apart in the atmosphere each nut, bolt or fragment of glass or metal will create a mini fireball. These objects generally travel much slower than fireballs and cover wider distances. Most of the witnesses reported the event lasting more than 45 seconds, where as a normal fireball would last 3-5 seconds. The long duration time, witness descriptions and long distance of travel suggest this object was some type of space debris. Bill Cooke from NASA’s Meteor office estimated the speed of the event at 6-7 km/s and the entry angle near 0 (very flat.)It is possible that this event was the early reentry of the SL-6 Rocket Body 2 which is part of the Russian Cosmos 2196 Missile Early Warning system.

Read more at: American Meteor Society