China’s Tiangong-1 Space Lab to Fall to Earth by April 2018

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has reissued a notification by China on the future uncontrolled re-entry of the country’s robotic Tiangong-1 space lab, which is expected to take place in the next eight months. A follow-up update from the Aerospace Corporation predicted the space lab could fall to Earth as soon as February.

Tiangong-1, which has been orbiting Earth since September 2011, ceased functioning on March 16, 2016. To date, the spacecraft has maintained its structural integrity.

The space lab’s operational orbit is under constant and close surveillance by China. Its current average altitude is 217 miles (349 kilometers), but its orbit is decaying at a daily rate of approximately 525 feet (160 meters), according to the U.N. notification.

Read more at: Space.com

Why the First True Spaceliner will Change Everything

For a 77-year-old plane, the Brietling DC-3 looks damn good sitting on the flight line in Addison Airport in Texas. This is one stop on the luxury watch company’s world tour, where it’s using the classic flyer to sell watches and make a little aviation history, as Brietling’s DC-3 will become the oldest airplane to circumnavigate the globe. The trip has afforded the public the chance to experience short flights in the venerable airplane, which enjoyed its heyday in the 1940s.

Flying in the DC-3 highlights the airplane’s place in history in a visceral way, but also says something about the future of aerospace. This twin-engine legend redefined aviation, opening up the possibility of flying to an entirely new stratum of people. It was a catalyst that led to the small, high-flying world we live in today.

This lesson could not be more appropriate. The world needs a new DC-3—but not for commercial aviation. We need one that goes to space.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

A Look Inside the Space Station’s Experimental BEAM Module

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik looks through the hatch of the International Space Station’s Bigelow Expandable Aerospace Module (BEAM) on July 31, 2017. He shared this photo on social media on August 2, commenting, “Ever wonder how you look when you enter a new part of a spacecraft? Well, this is it. First time inside the expandable BEAM module.”

The BEAM is an experimental expandable module launched to the station aboard SpaceX’s eighth commercial resupply mission on April 8, 2016, and fully expanded and pressurized on May 28. Expandable modules weigh less and take up less room on a rocket than a traditional module, while allowing additional space for living and working.

Read more at: Space Daily

NASA Contracts with BWXT Nuclear Energy to Advance Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Technology

As NASA pursues innovative, cost-effective alternatives to conventional propulsion technologies to forge new paths into the solar system, researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, say nuclear thermal propulsion technologies are more promising than ever, and have contracted with BWXT Nuclear Energy, Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia, to further advance and refine those concepts.

Part of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, the Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) project could indeed significantly change space travel, largely due to its ability to accelerate a large amount of propellant out of the back of a rocket at very high speeds, resulting in a highly efficient, high-thrust engine. In comparison, a nuclear thermal rocket has double the propulsion efficiency of the Space Shuttle main engine, one of the hardest-working standard chemical engines of the past 40 years. That capability makes nuclear thermal propulsion ideal for delivering large, automated payloads to distant worlds.

Read more at: NASA

Virgin Orbit Plans 2018 First Launch

Virgin Orbit, the spinoff of Virgin Galactic that is developing the LauncherOne small launch vehicle, is now planning a first flight of that rocket in the first half of 2018, the company said Aug. 1.

Virgin Orbit updated the timetable for LauncherOne in a statement announcing the arrival of the rocket’s carrier aircraft, a converted Boeing 747, at Long Beach Airport in California, where Virgin Orbit has its manufacturing facility. The plane recently completed an extensive modification program to serve as the air-launch platform for LauncherOne.

When Virgin Galactic announced LauncherOne in July 2012 at the Farnborough International Airshow in England, it planned to use the same WhiteKnightTwo aircraft built for the company’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane. The original intent was to minimize development by focusing on only the launch vehicle.

Read more at: Space News

Working Out in a Zero Gravity Environment – What is it Like? ISS Astronaut Shows You How it’s Done!

The interiors of the International Space Station (ISS) is where everything gets topsy turvy and we love to see the astronauts going about their daily routines in a zero gravity environment.

From eating food to conducting experiments to clicking photographs, we have been treated to videos and images of the ISS residents trying to do all of it while floating in air, in awkward positions. However, Expedition 51/52 astronaut Jack Fischer just shared what it’s like to workout in the space station – on a treadmill that is actually on the wall.

Read more at: Zee News

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl Satellite Air Launch Platform Touches Down in Long Beach

Long Beach-based commercial space company Virgin Orbit is now one giant step closer to being able to launch small satellites into orbit.

On Monday afternoon, over 200 Virgin Orbit employees, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and other city dignitaries gathered at Ross Aviation within the Long Beach Airport awaiting the touchdown of Cosmic Girl, a 14-year-old 747-400 that used to serve as a commercial carrier, but following substantial modification will now be used as an air launch platform for the company’s LauncherOne rockets.

To the uninformed eye, Cosmic Girl looks like a typical Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet, however it will not be used to transport passengers, it will serve as the first part of the journey to deploying satellites into space.

Read more at: lbpost

Mars 160: Crew Enters Simulation, Conducts First EVAs

The Mars 160 mission entered into simulation on July 20, 2017. It has since had a busy week in the arctic with its six crew members carrying out their science and research goals for the mission. Mars 160 is a two-phase Mars analog mission sponsored by the Mars Society.

The goal of the Mars Society-organized mission is to understand the differences in science return and crew dynamics between its two analog research facilities – the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah and the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) on Devon Island in Canada.

The current and final phase of the mission was “launched” on June 22, 2017, when the crew met in Yellowknife, Canada, to make final preparations to travel to FMARS. The start of simulation was delayed by nearly three weeks as melting snow and inclement weather prohibited landing on Devon Island until July 15. In spite of this, the crew remains optimistic about completing critical tasks for the mission.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

China’s In-orbit Cargo Spacecraft Releases CubeSat

China’s Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft on Tuesday successfully released a cube satellite (CubeSat) while in orbit, according to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC). Signals from the CubeSat were received by ground technicians right after the release, said the CASTC.

The CubeSat was launched inside the Tianzhou-1 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province on April 20. After 104 days, the CubeSat was released by the cargo spacecraft. It was the first time China has released a CubeSat by an in-orbit spacecraft. Traditionally, the CubeSat is released during the launch.

The test release has laid a technical foundation for China’s future space station to launch more micro/nano-satellites and provide other in-orbit services.

Read more at: Global Times

Astronauts Look at Ways to Prevent Space Headaches and Bone Loss

The crew today researched ways to alleviate headaches and reverse bone loss in space to improve mission performance. Meanwhile, the station’s three newest residents also checked out station emergency gear and systems.

Common ailments that afflict people on Earth such as headaches also affect astronauts in space impacting their mission activities. Astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Randy Bresnik are jotting down their experiences this week to help doctors understand space headaches. Observations may reduce their effects and improve performance during spaceflight and on Earth.

NASA astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson are studying a new drug for its potential to slow or reverse bone loss in space. They looked at bones in mice today to help determine the efficacy of the new drug.

Read more at: Spaceref

Badger: Russian Rocket Launches with Dozens of Satellites

A Russian Soyuz booster lifted off Friday, July 14, from Kazakhstan on a complex mission to deploy 73 satellites into three different orbits. The mission included a Russian spacecraft to locate forest fires, 48 CubeSats for Planet’s global Earth observation fleet, and eight nano-satellites for Spire Global’s commercial weather network.

The Russian state space corporation, Rocosmos, succeeded in deploying all satellites. Forty-eight of the satellites were Flock 2k CubeSats. Each satellite is relatively small and lightweight – only 10.4 pounds. CubeSats are made of cubical units that are 25.4 inches on a side. Units have a mass of no more than 2.93 pounds per unit. These cubes can be easily launched as secondary payloads.

Read more at: Florida Today

Russia, China to Sign Cooperation Deal on Moon Exploration

Russia and China will sign a space cooperation program for 2018-2022 in autumn to jointly explore the Moon and conduct the Earth’s remote probing, Glavkosmos space launch operator told TASS on Thursday. “Work is nearing completion with the direct role of Glavkosmos to draw up a program of Russian-Chinese space cooperation for 2018-2022, which should be signed in the autumn of 2017,” the company said.

Glavkosmos is the coordinator and the contractor for a portion of the works in this program. As Glavkosmos explained, cooperation with Chinese partners envisages the following areas: the exploration of the Moon and outer space, space vehicles and ground infrastructure, hardware components and materials, the Earth’s remote sensing data.

Read more at: TASS

Anticipating Upgraded Spaceships, SpaceX Builds Final First-generation Dragon Cargo Craft

The Dragon supply ship set for liftoff from Florida next month was the last of SpaceX’s first-generation cargo capsules off the production line, meaning future logistics deliveries to the International Space Station will fly on recycled spacecraft until a new Dragon variant is ready.

SpaceX launched a reused Dragon cargo craft on its last commercial supply shipment to the space station in June, and officials said then that the next Dragon mission — now scheduled for launch next month — will use a newly-manufactured capsule. Plans for subsequent resupply missions were still under review, NASA and SpaceX officials said at the time.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Why Should we Protect Other Planets from Our Microbes Anyway?

Picture this: You’re an astronaut visiting Jupiter’s moon Europa for the first time. You set down one boot and then another, bouncing around on the icy surface of the low-gravity world. Now just imagine that those boots haven’t been cleaned since you were training in them back on Earth. Teeming colonies of microbes are now being spread over the world’s surface, contaminating what was once a pristine alien landscape.

This is exactly the kind of scenario NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection is trying to avoid. The NASA office — which garnered some attention of late thanks to breathless coverage of a job listing — is tasked with making sure that humans and their robotic emissaries don’t contaminate other worlds and vice versa.

“Planetary protection is essential for several important reasons: to preserve our ability to study other worlds as they exist in their natural states; to avoid contamination that would obscure our ability to find life elsewhere — if it exists; and to ensure that we take prudent precautions to protect Earth’s biosphere in case it does,” NASA said on its planetary protection-focused website.

Read more at: Mashable

Pondering the Future of the International Space Station

At long last, it seems like the International Space Station is achieving its potential as a research platform. That was, at least, the message conveyed at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington DC earlier this month. The sixth annual conference attracted more than 1,000 people for the first time, drawn in part, perhaps, by the presence of such keynote speakers as Robert Bigelow and Elon Musk. However, technical sessions during the three-and-a-half-day conference also filled meeting rooms for presentations about research projects as well as current and future space station capabilities.

“Today, ISS has hit, really, a very good stride in its research activities,” said Sam Scimemi, director of the ISS at NASA Headquarters, during a panel session at the conference July 19 that included various commercial users of the ISS, from pharmaceutical giant Merck to Made In Space, a startup with 3-D printers on the ISS and, soon, an experiment to produce high-quality optical fibers there.

Read more at: Space Review

The Space Junk Problem is About to Get a Whole Lot Gnarlier

For a few months in the fall of 1957, citizens of Earth could look up and see the first artificial star. It shone as bright as Spica, but moved across the sky at a much faster clip. Lots of people thought they were seeing Sputnik—Russia’s antennaed, spherical satellite, and the first thing humans had flung into orbit. But it wasn’t: It was the body of the rocket that bore Sputnik to space—and Earth’s first piece of space junk.

Space junk is the colloquial name for orbital bits that do nothing useful: spent rockets, fragments splayed by collisions and degradation, old satellites no one cares about anymore. In total, they amount to millions of pieces of debris, many of which are large enough to seriously ding satellites and the International Space Station. And then there’s Kessler Syndrome: a space sickness in which low-Earth orbit is so overpopulated that collisions cascade into more collisions, which create more debris that causes more collisions that cascade into more collisions.

Read more at: Wired

How Light Looks Different on the Moon and What NASA is Doing About it

Things look different on the Moon. Literally. Because the Moon isn’t big enough to hold a significant atmosphere, there is no air and there are no particles in the air to reflect and scatter sunlight.

On Earth, shadows in otherwise bright environments are dimly lit with indirect light from these tiny reflections. That lighting provides enough detail that we get an idea of shapes, holes and other features that could be obstacles to someone – or some robot – trying to maneuver in shadow.

“What you get on the Moon are dark shadows and very bright regions that are directly illuminated by the Sun – the Italian painters in the Baroque period called it chiaroscuro – alternating light and dark,” said Uland Wong, a computer scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

Read more at: Moon Daily

A Legal Look at Elon Musk’s Plans to Colonize Mars

Elon Musk’s plans to colonize Mars has been in and out of the headlines since he revealed them at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, on September 27. As expected, the announcement and presentation for his planned architecture and timeline is ambitious, and was met with the enthusiasm characteristic of his revelations. Several experts have weighed in on the technical, business, and economic aspects of his plans, but there has been little or no discussion of the legal and policy hurdles of his plan. This essay will attempt to fill in the blanks.

Two fundamental legal questions overshadow Musk’s plans:

  • Does the current domestic licensing archetype allow such an activity to be licensed; and
  • Even with an appropriate licensing structure, would the United States government authorize the venture

Read more at: Space Review

Interior of the Moon Likely Contains Billions Of Gallons Of Water

Breakthroughs in image scanning and material analysis could make lunar missions easier, if we are to take the latest information being released in Nature Geoscience into consideration. Researchers from Brown University are saying they have evidence that shows the moon’s mantle is water-rich, an assumption that was only heavily hinted at but never empirically proven. Should this data be further verified, it could mean that investigative space missions to the moon could be longer, with less expense to governments. These findings were made from satellite data from various volcanic deposits found across the surface of the moon.

The leading premise regarding the constitution of the moon was depressing to say the least. Scientists had presumed the satellite to be largely devoid of any water and other volatile compounds. The absence of any nutrients or life was blamed on the intense heat and radiation the moon was continually exposed to.

Read more at: Space.News

This Founder Split from Elon Musk and is Now Launching Rockets for One-twentieth the Cost of SpaceX

A company building tiny rockets is only a few launches away from cracking open a multi-billion dollar market.

Vector Space Systems on Thursday flight tested its Vector-R launch vehicle from Spaceport Camden in Georgia. The FAA-approved launch reached its targeted height of 10,000 feet while carrying a commercial payload which included packages from NASA, Astro Digital and the Center for Applied Technology.

The launch, partially funded by NASA, was a critical step in Vector’s plan to become the top transporter of micro-satellites. “The money in these vehicles is made in making a lot of them and flying a lot of them,” CEO Jim Cantrell told CNBC.

Read more at: CNBC

Civilization-Destroying Comets are More Common Than we Thought

While we go on with our daily lives, it’s worth remembering that we could all die instantly if a giant space rock hits our planet. If a meteor large enough impacts us, it could wipe out our civilization completely.

New data from NASA’s WISE telescope reveals that this scenario could be more likely than previously imagined. According to the telescope data, there are significantly more large comets lurking at the edge of our solar system than we previously thought, which means more chances for one of them to hit the Earth.

We’ve been on the lookout for killer asteroids for years now, and the WISE telescope has spotted most of the big ones. But asteroids are easier to find because they typically stay close to us. Asteroids tend to have roughly circular orbits that never take them outside of the inner realms of the solar system.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

How America’s Two Greatest Rocket Companies Battled from the Beginning

It began as so many tiffs have in 2017—on Twitter. SpaceX had just completed a near-perfect first half of the year. Ten launches. Two re-flights. Zero accidents. Speaking to his 11 million followers, Elon Musk couldn’t resist taking a dig at his long-time rival in the US launch industry, United Launch Alliance.

“Worth noting that Boeing/Lockheed get a billion dollar annual subsidy even if they launch nothing. SpaceX does not,” Musk tweeted. Comparatively, this may not seem too incendiary for the social media platform. But within the stately rocket world, Musk had just trash-talked ULA, the joint launch venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Subsidy is a trigger word brandished often by Musk in this fight, implying that ULA cannot compete without government help. So it didn’t take long for ULA’s chief executive, Tory Bruno, to reply with his own tweet: “Sorry. That is simply not true. There is no ‘billion dollar subsidy’. Amazing that this myth persists.” (This myth may persist because it is, at least in part, true.)

Read more at: ArsTechnica

Op-ed | America’s Future in Space is Both Commercial and Traditional

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a great panel session discussing the role of commercial space in returning America to the moon. The panel was part of the International Space Development Conference, hosted by the National Space Society. The NSS crowd was enthusiastic and clearly many of them were excited by the visions of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other NewSpace entrepreneurs. I share that enthusiasm and look forward to an active future in space that only a truly competitive market can bring. However, my recent service on President Donald Trump’s transition team at NASA has led me to understand that treating space policy as though it were a team sport will not get us there. The future is complex and challenging and we will need the amazing capabilities and scale of the traditional players to get there. In that spirit, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice to friends in both camps.

Read more at: Space News

The End of a Very Long Honeymoon

A space rocket launch is very… sexy. Like a steam locomotive thundering along at full speed, this dramatic vision catches the breath of all who see it. And like a steam locomotive, a rocket is hopelessly inefficient—hence the flames, the smoke, and the noise as it drives itself upwards against gravity, using neither the lifting qualities of the air or the oxygen in it.

The best minds in aerospace have not been able to improve on this technology, which was developed by Werner von Braun in the 1940s. As many readers know, the root of the problem is a law that was first enunciated by a Russian in 1902, Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation. In what has been called “the tyranny of the rocket equation,” this limits the amount of payload that a given vehicle can carry, because more propellant increases the overall weight, and so increases the fuel consumption.

Read more at: Space Review

Perlan Glider Reaches 32,500 Feet Eyes World Aviation Record

Airbus Perlan Mission II, an initiative to fly a glider without an engine to the edge of space to collect ground-breaking insights on climate change, weather and high-altitude flight, this week reached a new high altitude in its second season of flight testing in El Calafate, Argentina.

Pilots Jim Payne, Morgan Sandercock, Tim Gardner and Miguel Iturmendi have soared the pressurized Perlan 2 glider in a series of flights reaching a maximum altitude to date of 32,500 feet.

El Calafate, in the Patagonian region of Argentina, is in one of a few places on earth where a combination of mountain winds and the polar vortex create the world’s highest “stratospheric mountain waves” – rising air currents that Perlan pilots believe can eventually carry their experimental aircraft to the edge of space.

Read more at: Space Daily

This Pilot is Headed to Space With Or Without NASA

Wally Funk has spent her life in pursuit of a dream. The pilot, flight instructor and almost-astronaut longs to go to outer space.

In 1961, she was part of a group of female pilots who took part in tests to determine whether women were fit for space travel. The project was run by the same doctor who developed tests for NASA astronauts and the women became known as the Mercury 13.

“I get a call said, ‘Do you want to be an astronaut?’ I said, ‘Oh my gosh, yes!’ And he said, ‘Be here on Monday to take these tests,’ ” the 78-year-old Funk recounted to her friend and flight student, Mary Holsenbeck, during a recent visit to StoryCorps in Dallas.

Read more at: NPR

Plano Man Admits Illegally Smuggling U.S. Space Technology to China, Russia

A Plano businessman pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to smuggling radiation-protected microchips used in space exploration to China and Russia, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Peter A. Zuccarelli, 62, was charged in June by the U.S. attorney with conspiracy to smuggle goods out of the U.S. and to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

Zuccarelli’s eyeglass lens coating companies were mired in financial troubles when prosecutors say he tried to profit from the scheme, according to public records. He used one of his eyeglass lens companies, American Coating Technologies, to buy the microchips from two American manufacturers, according to the charging document filed by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.

Read more at: Dallas News

Here’s Our Original Coverage of Apollo 11

Forty-eight years ago, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first footprints on the Moon, and it was epic. Popular Science covered this enormous achievement with an article by Wernher von Braun—a German-born engineer, now known as “The Father of Rocket Science,” who built the Saturn V launch vehicle that brought Apollo to the Moon. In our July 1969 issue, he described the plans for Armstrong and Aldrin’s two-hour rendevous with the Moon.

Read more at: Popsci

Cislunar Suspense 2: The Cynthianing

About a year ago, The Space Review published “Tales of Cislunar Suspense”(see part 1, July 18, 2016, and part 2, July 25, 2016), with over 100 stories set mainly in cislunar space and which referenced “The Bicentilune”, which has reviews of over 200 Moon-set stories. The articles asked for suggestions for additional titles, and the publishing world still continues to put out analog books. (Kindle and e-reader-only titles are excluded, as the Lunar Library deals in physical assets.) So we’re back this year with another batch of cislunar-set and Moon stories to peruse for your summer reading pleasure.

Read more at: Space Review