Next Space Station Crew Arrives at Baikonur Launch Site

The next three crew members headed to the International Space Station arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sunday to enter their final 12 days of preparations ahead of an evening blastoff on July 28 for an express trip to their orbital destination aboard the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft.

The all-veteran crew is comprised of Russian biochemist-turned-cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky who spent 166 days in space in 2013/14, NASA Astronaut Randy Bresnik who rode on the Shuttle for 11 days in 2009 and ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli who flew on the Shuttle and completed a long-duration stint on ISS for a total time spent in space of 174 days.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Space Tourist From Asian Country to Travel to ISS in 2019

A yet unidentified space tourist from an Asian country will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) as a member of the crew in 2019, Russia’s Rocket and Space Corporation (RSC) Energia Director General Vladimir Solntsev said Tuesday.

“The new space tourist, who is set to travel to the ISS in 2019, is being trained already. He is a national of one of the Asian countries,” Solntsev told journalists at the MAKS-2017 air show. Solntsev also said that the RSC Energia was planning to resume the flights of space tourists to the ISS on a regular basis.

Read more at: Space Daily

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Target Test Flight Dates

The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements. To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation mission. The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly-releasable dates for both providers.

Read more at: NASA

SpaceX Drops Plans for Powered Dragon Landings

SpaceX no longer plans to have the next version of its Dragon spacecraft be capable of powered landings, a move that has implications for the company’s long-term Mars plans.

SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk, speaking at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference here July 19, confirmed recent rumors that the version of the Dragon spacecraft under development for NASA’s commercial crew program will not have the ability to land on land using SuperDraco thrusters that will be incorporated into the spacecraft primarily as a launch abort system.

“It was a tough decision,” he said when asked about propulsive landing capability during a question-and-answer session. “Technically it still is, although you’d have to land it on some pretty soft landing pad because we’ve deleted the little legs that pop out of the heat shield.”

Read more at: Space News

NASA will Not Release Public Report on SpaceX Falcon 9 Dragon Failure

NASA will not publicly release the results of its own investigation into the catastrophic failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched a Dragon resupply ship into the Atlantic Ocean in June 2015.

After saying it would release a summary of the agency’s investigation, NASA passed the buck to the FAA on an accident that destroyed $118 million worth of cargo the space agency was sending to the International Space Station (ISS).

“Since it was an FAA licensed flight, NASA is not required to complete a formal final report or public summary, and has deferred any additional products related to the matter at this time,” the agency’s Public Affairs Office (PAO) said in an email.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Former XCOR CEO Blames Company Problems on Lost Contract

The former chief executive of XCOR Aerospace told a Senate committee July 18 that the company’s recent financial problems, which led to a layoff of all of its employees last month, could be blamed on a terminated engine development contract.

John H. “Jay” Gibson was asked about the financial problems that befell the suborbital vehicle and engine developer during a confirmation hearing for his nomination announced June 16 to become the Deputy Chief Management Officer of the Department of Defense.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked Gibson about the “financial difficulties” experienced by past companies he was involved with and the lessons he took from them that would give senators confidence that Gibson could “basically manage the Department of Defense.”

Read more at: Space News

A Flameout in the Mojave Shows How Hard it can be to Finance Rocket-ship Start-ups

In 2008, a small, Mojave, Calif., aerospace start-up called Xcor Aerospace burst onto the commercial space scene with plans to develop a vehicle that would rocket tourists into suborbital space.

Xcor won a few government and commercial contracts and, for a time, was seen as a rival to British billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic. But then the financial reality of the space business — that it’s much more capital intensive than other start-up ventures, such as building a smartphone app — caught up.

Last year, Xcor announced it would suspend construction of its Lynx suborbital space plane and lay off about half of the company’s workforce, which at the time numbered 50 to 60 employees. In June, the company said “adverse financial conditions” forced Xcor to terminate its remaining employees — 11 in Mojave and 10 in Midland, Texas, where the company had relocated its headquarters in 2015.

Read more at: LA Times

SpaceX’s Big New Rocket May Crash on 1st Flight, Elon Musk Says

Elon Musk is tamping down expectations about the maiden launch of SpaceX’s huge new Falcon Heavy rocket.

There’s a “real good chance” the vehicle won’t make it to orbit during the liftoff, Musk said Wednesday (July 19) at the 2017 International Space Station Research and Development (ISSR&D) conference in Washington, D.C. That launch is expected to take place later this year from Florida’s Space Coast.

“I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win, to be honest,” Musk told NASA ISS program manager Kirk Shireman, who interviewed the SpaceX CEO onstage at the meeting. “Major pucker factor, really; that’s, like, the only way to describe it.”

Read more at: Space.com

Musk Says First Passengers on SpaceX Rockets Must Be ‘Brave’

Elon Musk tamped down expectations about Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s new rocket designed to carry private citizens into space, saying whoever chooses to be among the first passengers will need to be “brave.”

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy, a rocket with two extra boosters attached and a total of 27 engines that must fire simultaneously, will have enormous stresses and has been difficult to test on the ground, Musk said Wednesday in Washington. He jokingly urged attendees of a conference on the International Space Station to watch the first attempted launch.

“It’s guaranteed to be exciting,” he said. When asked whether the risks would make potential customers pause before signing up for a flight, he said: “I want to make sure we set expectations accordingly.”

Read more at: Bloomberg

ULA Wins Contract to Launch Space Plane

United Launch Alliance has been selected to launch the first two missions of the Dream Chaser space plane atop Atlas V rockets assembled in Decatur.  The Dream Chaser spacecraft has been under development by Sierra Nevada Corporation for more than a decade. The vehicle launches vertically atop a rocket and lands horizontally on a conventional runway.

The first two missions, slated for 2020 and 2021, will be unmanned resupply missions to the International Space Station with the vehicles landing autonomously. Future versions of the Dream Chaser are expected to be able carry crews of up to seven to and from low-Earth orbit.

Read more at: Decatur Daily

Space Settlers will Face Many Challenges. Will the Worst be a Lack of Diversity?

DW: You have written one of the most comprehensive, accessible, and it has to be said *sober* guides to space travel in the 21st century. In places it makes the idea of space travel seem quite off-putting. So let’s set out your stall: how do you feel about space travel? Are you for or against commercial space travel?

Neil F. Comins: The short answer is that I am in favor of space travel, with the caveat that people need to know what they are getting into. Yes, it can be a lot of fun, I’m told, by my astronaut friends. But there are hazards and they can be long-term. If you go into space and get a dose of radiation, you may be able to come back and have that radiation not affect you in the long-term. However, it might. I have known people who have had problems with bone-loss as a result of time in space, and recovering from that can be a real problem.

So I do believe that space is the next frontier, and we can start now – evaluating the good and the bad of going into space, and coming to a reasonable decision. Space tourists, but also colonists, will have serious challenges, because our bodies are not built for any of the domains in space where we could head. But given time and engineering, scientific understanding, and possibly evolution, I expect we will be able to live off-Earth.

Read more at: dw.com

Surviving Parts of Deorbited Russian Cargo Craft Plunge into Pacific

The unmanned craft undocked from the International Space Station late on Thursday after a five-month stay and put the brakes on to drop out of orbit. Most of it burned up in the atmosphere.

The Progress arrived at the space station on February 24. It departed carrying trash and other items no longer needed by the Expedition 52 crew. The next Russian Progress resupply ship is scheduled for launch in mid-October.

Read more at: Sputnik News

Elon Musk Seems to have Ditched Red Dragon Lander Plan for Mars

SpaceX may have just slain the Red Dragon. On 19 July, Elon Musk announced that his company would be redesigning its Mars landing plans and moving away from the previous Red Dragon lander.

Last year, SpaceX announced plans to go to Mars in 2018 using an upgraded, uncrewed Dragon spacecraft, a version of which is already used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. In February, that plan was delayed to 2020. Now, it seems the Dragon won’t be going to Mars at all.

“There was a time that I thought the Dragon approach to landing on Mars, where you’ve got a base heat shield and side-mounted thrusters, would be the right way to land on Mars,” Musk said at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, D.C.

Read more at: New Scientist

DLR to Fly Experiments on Blue Origin’s New Shepard

The German Aerospace Center, Germany’s space agency, will fly two experiments on a suborbital flight by Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle later this year as part of an effort to diversify its microgravity research efforts.

Thomas Driebe, head of the physical and material sciences program at the center, known by the German acronym DLR, said in a presentation July 18 at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference here that the center planned to fly the physical sciences experiments under a commercial deal with Blue Origin.

“This is another opportunity for German scientists,” he said in a brief discussion about the mission, scheduled for the second half of this year, during his presentation.

Read more at: Space News

Cleanup Time: Russia Launches Satellite to Remove Space Junk from Orbit

A new satellite developed by a group of students at the Moscow State University of Mechanical Engineering has been fitted with metallic reflectors and will be able to remove space junk circling the Earth. Radio Sputnik talked to the head of high technology developing at 12-Digital, Nikita Yershov. The probe is part of a flotilla of 73 artificial orbital bodies aboard the Soyuz rocket, which was launched last Friday.

When asked about the functions the new satellite, dubbed Mayak, and about the hopes and expectations regarding its launch and deployment, Nikita Yershov said there were some scientific goals and utilitarian ones too.

Read more at: Space Daily

China Develops Sea Launches to Boost Space Commerce

China has a clear plan to provide sea launches for commercial payloads to be carried by Long March rockets, according to an aerospace official.

Tang Yagang, vice head of the aerospace division of the No.1 institute of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC), said that the technology is not difficult and a sea launch platform can be built based on modifying 10,000-tonne freighters.

China will use solid carrier rockets which rely less on launch facilities and feature mature technology, Tang said, adding that key technology for the carrier rockets will be tested at sea this year and the service is expected to be available for international users in 2018.

Read more at: Space Daily

Living in Deep Space: Lockheed Martin to Build Full-Scale Prototype of NASA Cislunar Habitat

Refurbishing a shuttle-era cargo container used to transfer cargo to the International Space Station, Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is prototyping a deep space habitat for NASA at Kennedy Space Center. This prototype will integrate evolving technologies to keep astronauts safe while onboard and operate the spacecraft autonomously when unoccupied.

Under a public-private partnership, NASA recently awarded Lockheed Martin a Phase II contract for the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) habitat study contract. As part of Phase II, the team will continue to refine the design concept developed in Phase I and work with NASA to identify key system requirements for the Deep Space Gateway. Included in this work, the team will build a full-scale habitat prototype in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and a next-generation deep space avionics integration lab near Johnson Space Center.

Read more at: Lockheed Martin

Image: Supersonic Parachute Testing

This parachute deployed at supersonic velocity from a test capsule hurtling down towards snow-covered northern Sweden from 679 km up, proving a crucial technology for future spacecraft landing systems.

Planetary landers or reentering spacecraft need to lose their speed rapidly to achieve safe landings, which is where parachutes come in. They have played a crucial role in the success of ESA missions such as ESA’s Atmospheric Entry Demonstrator, the Huygens lander on Saturn’s moon Titan and the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle spaceplane.

This 1.25-m diameter ‘Supersonic Parachute Experiment Ride on Maxus’, or Supermax, flew piggyback on ESA’s Maxus-9 sounding rocket on 7 April, detaching from the launcher after its solid-propellant motor burnt out. After reaching its maximum 679 km altitude, the capsule began falling back under the pull of gravity. It fell at 12 times the speed of sound, undergoing intense aerodynamic heating, before air drag decelerated it to Mach 2 at an altitude of 19 km.

Read more at: Phys.org

Fuzzy Fibers Could Help Rockets Take the Heat

The insides of today’s rocket engines can reach a blistering 1,600 degrees Celsius—hot enough to melt steel. And tomorrow’s engines will need to be even more scorching. Hotter engines are more fuel-efficient, produce more thrust and can carry larger loads—all key for Mars-bound spacecraft and advanced aircraft.

In the quest for rocket materials that can tolerate more heat, engineers have been trying to devise tough, lightweight composites made of silicon carbide fibers, a small fraction of the width of a human hair, embedded in a ceramic material. Silicon carbide can withstand 2,000 degrees C—the temperature of the hoped-for hotter engines.

Read more at: Scientific American

Russia Develops New Scheme of Manned Flight to Moon

Russia’s Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation has developed a new scheme of a piloted expedition to the Moon that requires two launches of a super-heavy rocket and one launch of a Soyuz-5 medium-class carrier, according to the corporation’s materials released on Wednesday.

“After a super-heavy carrier rocket is created, the number of launches is cut to three: one launch of a Soyuz-5 rocket and two launches of a super-heavy carrier rocket,” say the materials circulated at the MAKS-2017 international airshow in Zhukovsky outside Moscow.

Previous reports said the Russian manned mission to the Moon envisaged the use of four Angara carrier rockets. However, this scheme was abandoned after the construction of the second launch pad for the Angara at the Vostochny cosmodrome in the Russian Far East was cancelled.

Read more at: TASS

What NASA’s Chief Astronaut Learned from Near Disaster

NASA Chief Astronaut Chris Cassidy has lived for months on the International Space Station and has performed six spacewalks. “Imagine hanging out with a glass bubble on your head, one hand on a hunk of metal, Earth going beneath your feet at five miles a second, and the whole world listening to everything that comes out of your mouth on the microphone,” he said at a recent Wharton Leadership Conference.

Before joining NASA, Cassidy served 10 years as a Navy SEAL in the Mediterranean and Afghanistan and earned two Bronze Stars. His SEAL team was the first to go into Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He said his favorite leadership story comes from that time, and he recounted it to the audience.

Read more at: Wharton

Elon Musk’s Bad Historical Analogy

During his appearance at the International Space Station R&D Conference on Wednesday, Elon Musk recited an old argument to support his plans to colonize Mars.

Back in the day,California was an empty place where almost nobody lived. At least until some crazy visionaries built the Transcontinental Railroad to it even though everyone thought it was a completely crazy thing to do. Jump ahead 150 years, and California is the place you want a be, a center of commerce, innovation and culture people migrate to when they want to be a movie star, have an idea for a new app or simply want a fresh start. All because some visionaries had a crazy idea.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

UK to Tighten Rules on Drones After Near-misses with Planes

British officials announced plans Saturday to further regulate drone use in a bid to prevent accidents and threats to commercial aviation. The new rules will require drones that weigh eight ounces (226.79 grams) or more to be registered and users will have to pass a safety awareness exam.

The government acted because of concerns that a midair collision between a drone and an aircraft could cause a major disaster. Pilots have reported numerous near-misses in the last year alone in Britain. Earlier this month London’s Gatwick Airport briefly closed its runway over safety concerns when a drone was spotted in the area and several planes had to be diverted.

The British Airline Pilots Association said independent tests show even a small drone could cause severe damage to a helicopter or an airline windscreen. The union’s general secretary, Brian Strutton, said pilots “have been warning about the rise in the number of cases of drones being flown irresponsibly close to aircraft and airports for some time.”

Read more at: Phys.org