Russia Looking to Reduce ISS Crew Size

Roscosmos is looking to reduce the size of Russian crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from three to two, Izvestiya reports. “We sent a letter to the participants of the ISS program – we want to hear their views on how we reduce the crew and when, there are nuances,” Sergei Krikalev, director of manned programs of the state corporation Roscosmos told Izvestia. “We are interested in the opinion of the Mission Control Center, the Institute of Biomedical Problems (RAS lead agency on the subject of Human Spaceflight — Izvestiya), our ISS partners. The intention to reduce the crew due to the fact that we have reduced the number of cargo ships sent to the ISS, as well as awareness of the need to increase the effectiveness of the program.”

The story says Roscosmos’ budget for space station operations was reduced as part of a severe cut in the space program’s funding. Russia’s national budget has been under severe pressure due to a reduction in oil revenues and Western sanctions over its annexation of Crimea.

Another factor is that the three cosmonauts aboard the station apparently don’t have enough to do. This problem is a result of the severe quality control problems that  have bedeviled the Russian space program in recent years.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

NASA Research Finds BSN’s Compression Garments Help Astronauts Stand Up Without Fainting After Landing on Earth

BSN medical, the global integrated medical therapy solutions provider, announced an ongoing collaboration with NASA to develop a specialized gradient compression garment for protection against post-spaceflight orthostatic intolerance — the inability to stand upright without experiencing a rapid heart rate, low blood pressure (hypotension), lightheadedness or feeling faint upon return to Earth’s gravity.

Astronauts who live in space, even for short periods of time, experience physiological adaptations that have noticeable consequences once they return to Earth’s gravity. These include changes to balance, coordination, muscle strength, blood volume, and blood pressure regulation, and may impact an astronaut’s ability to perform basic tasks such as standing and walking1. According to a study of veteran astronauts, up to 83 percent returning from long duration ( > 1 mo.) spaceflight experienced these physiological changes during postflight evaluation2.

Read more at: Spaceref

Space Station Open for Commercial Crew, as EVA-36 Team Installs IDA-2

More than sixty months since it last saw the arrival of a human-piloted vehicle, Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA)-2 at the extreme forward “end” of the International Space Station (ISS) has taken a step closer to soon accommodating another manned spacecraft. On Friday, 19 August, Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins—assisted from inside the station by their Japanese crewmate Takuya Onishi—installed the first of two Boeing-built International Docking Adapters (IDAs). These will provide primary and backup docking capabilities for NASA’s Commercial Crew partners, which should see SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner returning U.S. personnel to low-Earth orbit, aboard U.S.-built spacecraft, and from U.S. soil, for the first time since the end of the Space Shuttle era.

Williams and Rubins moved with impressive briskness through their tasks, working ahead of the timeline, and after the IDA-2 installation was completed they were assigned a number of “get-ahead” tasks. However, a slight loss of communications capability in Williams’ suit prompted Mission Control to call it a day and U.S. EVA-36 came to an end after five hours and 58 minutes.

IDA-2 arrived at the space station on 20 July, aboard SpaceX’s CRS-9 Dragon cargo ship. Housed inside Dragon’s unpressurized “trunk,” the 1,150-pound (520-kg) adapter is one of two identical interfaces which will provide primary and backup docking locations for Commercial Crew vehicles from fall 2017 onward.

Read more at: America Space

Report: SpaceX Makes Large Carbon Fiber Purchase From Japan

Japanese materials maker Toray Industries has agreed to supply carbon fiber to U.S. startup SpaceX for use in the bodies of rockets and space vehicles. The multiyear deal with Tesla founder Elon Musk’s 14-year-old venture is estimated to be worth 200 billion yen to 300 billion yen ($1.99 billion to $2.98 billion) in total. The two sides are aiming to finalize the agreement this fall after hammering out prices, time frames and other terms.

SpaceX aims to hold down expenses by re-using rockets and spacecraft. Originally, the company made rockets mostly out of aluminum to keep costs low, using carbon fiber only for a few parts, such as connecting joints.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Cargo Ships Set Off to Collect China’s First Long March 5 Space Rocket

China’s Yuanwang-21 and Yuanwang-22 cargo ships have embarked on a mission to collect the first of the country’s huge Long March 5 rockets and deliver it to the Wenchang launch site for its debut launch.

Long March 5 is China’s largest ever rocket, and will be used for lofting modules for the future Chinese Space Station, a lunar sample return mission, Chang’e-5, and deep space exploration including the country’s 2020 Mars mission.

The vessels, designed specifically for transporting China’s new-generation Long March 5 and 7 launch vehicles, left port near Shanghai on Tuesday and are headed for the northern port city of Tianjin, the country’s rocket manufacturing hub.

Read more at: Gb Times

Watch a New NASA Fuel Tank be Built in One Minute

NASA’s Space Launch System will include the most powerful booster ever created, and the 130-foot fuel tanks will carry a portion of that power for the first stage of the rocket launch. The tank took a while to construct, but a time lapse video shows how the gigantic hulk of a fuel cell was put together in just a minute. This kind of power is incredible to imagine.

Read more at: Popsci

China’s Scientists Propose the Human ‘Quantum Brain’

Chinese scientists have proposed a new theory that explains why humans are so much more intelligent than animals even though our brains are often much smaller than those of other species. Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Neuroscience and Neuro-engineering have previously carried out studies backing the theory that the brain not only processes and passes on information not only through electrical and chemical signals, but also with photons of light.

Now, their latest study, the Wuhan researchers, led by professor Dai Jiapei suggested two years ago that neurons, the nerve cells in the brain that transmit information, emit extremely “lights,” photons, stimulated by a chemical called glutamate and detectable only with the most sensitive equipment, but capable of transmission along brain fibers and circuits. The key finding is that human brains are able to create information-relaying photons using much less energy, enabling homo sapiens to operate more speedily and efficiently than brains of other species.

Read more at: Daily Galaxy

Industry Remains Optimistic About Continued Growth of Cubesats

Despite concerns about reliability and access to launch vehicles, the small satellite industry expects the number of cubesats to continue to grow as they find new commercial and government applications.

In a presentation at the Conference on Small Satellites at Utah State University here Aug. 8, Bill Doncaster of SpaceWorks Engineering said his company was maintaining a forecast issued earlier this year that predicted about 200 satellites weighing between 1 and 50 kilograms would launch this year, a number that would break the record of 158 set in 2014. That vast majority of those satellites would be versions of cubesats weighing 10 kilograms or less.

SpaceWorks, in a similar forecast last year, forecast 163 such satellites would launch in 2015, but only 131 actually flew. “That was an anomaly based on available launch slots,” he said. He noted that both Antares and Falcon 9 rockets, which have launched many such spacecraft on cargo missions to the International Space Station, were recovering from launch failures. “The number of opportunities was somewhat limited.”

Read more at: Space News

Forecasting Space Weather Like Earth Weather

Great strides have been made in weather forecasting since the earliest days of meteorology. Today, the weather on Earth is often predicted using ensemble forecasting, a method that brings together multiple different numerical models with a range of initial conditions. In a new study, Schunk et al. applied methods typically associated with earthly meteorology to space weather forecasting, creating a Multimodel Ensemble Prediction System (MEPS) for the ionosphere-thermosphere-electrodynamics (ITE) system. Space weather can affect a variety of important civilian and military systems, like radar, surveillance, power grids, and navigation systems, and assimilating as many data sources as possible can help scientists predict how it will affect Earth’s ionosphere and upper atmosphere. To that end, the new MEPS presented in this study is composed of seven physics-based data assimilation models covering the ionosphere and thermosphere.

Read more at: EOS

How Often do Meteorites Hit the Earth?

Pieces of natural space debris — typically rocky shards of comets or asteroids — occasionally survive their journeys through Earth’s atmosphere and strike the ground, but how often does an event like this actually occur?

While large impacts are fairly rare, thousands of tiny pieces of space rock, called meteorites, hit the ground each year. However, the majority of these events are unpredictable and go unnoticed, as they land in vast swathes of uninhabited forest or in the open waters of the ocean, Bill Cooke and Althea Moorhead of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office told Space.com.

In order to understand meteorite impacts on Earth, it is important to know where the chunks of rock come from. Meteoroids are rocky remnants of a comet or asteroid that travel in outer space, but when these objects enter Earth’s atmosphere, they are considered meteors. Most (between 90 and 95 percent) of these meteors completely burn up in the atmosphere, resulting in a bright streak that can be seen across the night sky, Moorhead said. However, when meteors survive their high-speed plunge toward Earth and drop to the ground, they are called meteorites.

Read more at: Space.com

Van Allen Probes Catch Rare Glimpse of Supercharged Radiation Belt

Our planet is nestled in the center of two immense, concentric doughnuts of powerful radiation: the Van Allen radiation belts, which harbor swarms of charged particles that are trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. On March 17, 2015, an interplanetary shock – a shockwave created by the driving force of a coronal mass ejection, or CME, from the sun – struck Earth’s magnetic field, called the magnetosphere, triggering the greatest geomagnetic storm of the preceding decade. And NASA’s Van Allen Probes were there to watch the effects on the radiation belts.

One of the most common forms of space weather, a geomagnetic storm describes any event in which the magnetosphere is suddenly, temporarily disturbed. Such an event can also lead to change in the radiation belts surrounding Earth, but researchers have seldom been able to observe what happens. But on the day of the March 2015 geomagnetic storm, one of the Van Allen Probes was orbiting right through the belts, providing unprecedentedly high-resolution data from a rarely witnessed phenomenon.

Read more at: Phys.org

No-fly zone: Exploring the Uncharted Layers of Our Atmosphere

A robotic arm pokes out of the International Space Station, holding a rack of tiny probes. Gently it pushes them out, two or three at a time, to start their fatal spiral down towards Earth.

It may not sound dramatic, but this moment, scheduled for early 2017, will mark a new era in human exploration. The probes will investigate a forbidden zone surrounding our planet. It’s a realm where planes can’t fly, balloons can’t float, and satellites soon plunge to a fiery end. So seldom have we visited it and so scanty is our knowledge of it that some scientists call it the ignorosphere.

This slice of the atmosphere is, at the same time, forbidden and forbidding. It holds both the coldest and the hottest air on Earth. It hosts elusive, shimmering clouds that can only be seen at night. And its moods can change in an instant, as turbulent winds from lower down mix with plasma arriving from the sun.

Read more at: New Scientist

NASA Hopes to Hand the International Space Station to a Commercial Owner by Mid 2020s

NASA is giving us some more insight into its plans to get humans to Mars, under the blanket mission called ‘Journey to Mars,’ and during the press conference, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Bill Hill revealed that the current hope is to hand off control of the International Space Station to a commercial owner by sometime around the mid 2020s.

“NASA’s trying to develop economic development in low-earth orbit,” Hill said, speaking on a panel of NASA staff assembled to discuss the upcoming Mars mission. “Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-earth orbit, so that research can continue in low-earth orbit.”

The timing fits with the end of The U.S. Government’s current funding of the ISS program, which was extended by President Obama’s administration from its original deorbiting date of 2016 through 2020.

Read more at: Techcrunch

Meet the Amateurs Trying to Put a Human in Space

Some people have a midlife crisis and buy a motorcycle. I had a midlife crisis and tried to build a rocket.” Morten Bulskov, an unemployed 44-year-old IT consultant, is explaining why he spends most of the week in a battered camper van parked in a former shipyard on the outskirts of Copenhagen, the Danish capital. From this unusual office, he handles logistics for Copenhagen Suborbitals, the world’s only amateur human spaceflight programme. Its mission? To send a manned capsule 100km above sea level, beyond the Karman line, which divides Earth’s atmosphere from outer space.

Copenhagen Suborbitals was founded in 2008 and is staffed entirely by volunteers — a motley crew of about 50 physicists, engineers, mathematicians and software developers. Almost all are men. Few are under 40. “What drives us is to be the first amateurs to put a man in space,” says Mads Wilson, the group’s ponytailed spokesman. “If you have all the money in the world, it’s easy. We want to put a man in space and build the hardware to do it. And the hardware we build will be just good enough. No more, no less.” In other words, they want to prove that spaceflight doesn’t have to be expensive or bogged down in bureaucracy.

Read more at: Financial Times

Why America Needs Space

At last month’s Republican National Convention, co-founder of PayPal and Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel spoke about conservative principles and how Donald Trump was the man to carry the party’s torch into Washington. He spoke about “fake culture wars” as a distraction to the real issues that plague the nation. One line in his speech, though, struck me with peculiar interest. Thiel explained that “instead of going to Mars, we invaded the Middle East,” bluntly expressing his opposition to what he calls “stupid wars.”

The interesting part is how Thiel implied his support for Mars exploration and the prioritization of space activity in general. Furthermore, because he mentioned his support for the space program amidst his condemnation of cultural disunity, I cannot help but to associate the two in an inverse relationship. Mr. Thiel’s speech instilled this thought in me: what America needs now is a renewed interest in some cause: some great, ambitious effort to consolidate American pride and to bring together the pieces of big-picture America.

Read more at: Space Review

Soyuz Mission to the Moon Surfaces — Again

Like the elusive Loch Ness Monster, a plan to send a cosmonaut and two tourists looping around the moon in a modified Soyuz transport has once again surfaced in the Russian media.

Sputnik News reports that RSC Energia General Director Vladimir Solntsev told Izvestia that officials have a preliminary design for the upgraded Soyuz and are considering eight potential applicants willing to pay $150 million apiece to fill the two open seats, including a Japanese family.

The plan, which is a partnership of RSC Energia and Space Adventures, has been around for many years. There’s discussion about it and media stories and everything seems to be moving forward, and then like Nessie it disappears for years at a time. They’ve had a preliminary design for quite a while now. The image above showing the modified Soyuz dates back to 2011. I also recall that Space Adventures officials have said they had already sold at least one of the two tickets.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

The Biggest Barrier to Asteroid Mining isn’t Technical, it’s Legal

Private companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are already planning space missions to extract resources from asteroids by the mid 2020s. Despite how sci-fi that future may seem, there are actually very few technological barriers keeping us from extracting resources from extraterrestrial rocks hurtling through the void. Instead, there’s something else. It’s a nebulous issue with no obvious solution: the law.

Before we deal with the sticky legality, it’s important to understand how much sense asteroid mining really makes. “The economic arguments for mining asteroids are overwhelming,” says Peter Marquez, the former director of space policy for President Obama and current vice president of Planetary Resources told Popular Mechanics in an interview. “On Earth we sit at the bottom of a gravity well, and it takes enormous energy and expense to pull anything out into space. About 10,000 dollars per pound to break free of Earth’s gravity. That’s 10,000 dollars for a can of Coke,” he says.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Garbage Orbiting Earth can Pulverize Satellites. How to Clean Up?

Space junk is getting worse. Could the answer be smart plastic wrap? That concept, being investigated by Aerospace Corp. of El Segundo, involves blasting thousands of tiny, flat spacecraft into orbit. There they would find and hug the bits and pieces of failed satellites and rockets, dragging them into the atmosphere to burn up.

There are more than 7,000 metric tons of material in the near-Earth space environment, said J.C. Liou, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris. It can slam into a operating satellite or spacecraft at about six miles per second — faster than a speeding bullet — which means that even debris the size of a sand grain could prove catastrophic.

That was demonstrated in 2009, when an operational Iridium satellite collided with an inactive Russian satellite, creating more than 2,000 large pieces of orbital debris and many smaller pieces. The problem is growing as more nations and private companies get into the launch business. And it has spurred a number of creative solutions, including a giant net that would scoop up space junk and setting off a bomb to knock it out of orbit

Read more at: LA Times

United Kingdom Orders Additional Zephyr

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence has announced its intention to exercise an option for the manufacture and operation of a third Airbus Zephyr S High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) unit.

Flying at some 65,000ft, the ultra-lightweight Zephyr S is uniquely capable of providing persistent surveillance or communications over the same area of land or sea for weeks at a time without landing. The precise purposes for which the UK MoD will use its Zephyrs have not been disclosed. The Zephyr S will be delivered ready for flight trials in summer 2017.

“Zephyr is a highly cost-effective complement to satellites and conventional aircraft with the potential to bring unique communication and surveillance capabilities to the UK and other nations,” said Sophie Thomas, HAPS Programme Manager.

Read more at: Space Daily

SpacePharma SA Launches American Subsidiary, SpacePharma, Inc.

Officials with SpacePharma SA, a world leader in providing simplified, high-value microgravity services, today announced the company recently expanded to the United States. SpacePharma, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of SpacePharma SA, will introduce American research and pharmaceutical businesses to their unique “one-stop-shop” approach to accessing and taking advantage of microgravity.

“Microgravity is a disruptive environment that enhances and improves a researcher’s ability to make a discovery,” said Yossi Yamin, founder of SpacePharma SA. “But access to microgravity has been limited and expensive – until now. SpacePharma opens up microgravity to all. Through this new division, American customers can take advantage of affordable, end-to-end microgravity services and solutions, all from the comfort of their office. In the end, we will help researchers turn their ideas into realities, including new drugs, food design innovations, advancements in agricultural chemistry and more.”

SpacePharma will now offer U.S. customers access to its miniaturized, end-to-end laboratory, mGnify, which is able to perform advanced biological and chemical experiments, provide novel data and accelerate R&D pipelines. Measuring 20 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, mGnify features different types of laboratories: bio-chemistry, drug screening, gene-expression, protein crystallization and migration.

Read more at: Spaceref

NanoRacks Platform Placed Outside International Space Station

On Aug. 9, 2016, the NanoRacks External Platform (NREP) was placed on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS). It was completely self-funded by the company and is the first-ever commercial gateway-and-return to the extreme environment of space. It was designed in-house and manufactured by Airbus.

Spaceflight Insider recently spoke with a few people at NanoRacks about this important milestone. “NREP provides a commercial gateway to the extreme environment of space,” said Abby Dickes, NanoRacks’ marketing and communications manager. “The NREP is a hosted payload platform where experiments are housed in enclosures similar to the CubeSat form factor. It’s ideal for small size hosted payloads and requires no additional subsystems. [It] provides all the power and communications services of a conventional spacecraft bus. The NREP can host up to five active and four passive payloads each mission. Active payloads can draw up to 30 watts of power at 28 VDC each, share a data link up to 8 Mbit/s for file transfers and real-time data streaming.”

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

16th-Century Shipwrecks Found Amid Rocket Debris Off Florida Coast

It’s relatively common to find debris from rocket launches in the waters off Cape Canaveral in Florida, but divers exploring the seabed recently uncovered artifacts from an age of exploration long before America’s space program: 22 cannons and a marble monument in what they think are three 16th-century Spanish shipwrecks.

The finds include three ornate bronze cannons — two that are 10 feet (3 meters) long and one that is 7 feet (2 m) long — and the marble monument, engraved with the coat of arms of the king of France, which has been identified from the manifest of a 1562 expedition to Florida by the French navigator and colonialist Jean Ribault.

Read more at: Space.com

Factories in Space: How Extra-terrestrial Industry Could Keep Humans Alive

Science fiction truly turned into reality in October 1957 when Sputnik was launched – humankind’s first step beyond the Earth. Since then, progress has been rapid. A significant number of men and women have now travelled to space to explore it and do research.

But while we tend to think of space as the playground of scientists, could it prove more useful in the future? Could we one day gain economic benefits through innovative industrial activity at factories in space, taking advantage of the minimal amount of gravity?

Governments funding very expensive space missions have long looked for ways to secure an economic return. In the late 1990s, NASA encouraged any industry that said it could make space pay to get involved. Under this financial incentive, many claims were made for the industrial promise of the microgravity environment experienced in orbit. The lack of gravity might allow the growth of protein crystals important in the fight against cancer, it was said. New materials might be manufactured in zero gravity to exhibit new and useful properties, it was thought. There were many other claims.

Read more at: Phys.org

A 21st Century Renaissance in High Altitude Ballooning

High altitude ballooning has begun to undergo a renaissance that is creating exciting new capabilities, therefore enabling a wide array of new applications of interest to researchers and entrepreneurs in many fields. These new capabilities are breathtaking in both their scope and their expected impact. They include: Station-keeping, Point-to-point flight, Routine long-duration flight, Onboard personnel, Advanced balloon manufacturing.

Each of these capabilities is individually revolutionary. But the combination of these many revolutionary capabilities coming on line almost simultaneously is opening an almost dizzying array of new high altitude ballooning uses and markets. We can only barely imagine what will develop over the next decade or two, but we already foresee new high altitude balloon applications

Read more at: Space Review

D-Orbit Joins the Space Data Association

D-Orbit, the Italian company active in the space industry, is the latest company to join the Space Data Association (SDA). The SDA is an international non-profit association of satellite operators that supports the controlled, reliable and efficient sharing of space environment and RF spectrum data. It offers its members direct and technical support for operations, as well as an operational data exchange to help ensure the safety of operations. Its membership is comprised of many of the world’s major satellite communications companies.

D-Orbit is redefining how satellites and other space vehicles are transported, commissioned, serviced, and decommissioned. It develops state-of-the-art technology to be integrated on satellites and launches stages to streamline the initial and final phase of a space mission. D-Orbit will contribute additional expertise on debris mitigation.

“The SDA is a crucial resource for sharing data and best practices across the industry to ensure a better space environment,” commented Luca Rossettini, D-Orbit CEO. “We are pleased to be joining the SDA to favour knowledge of effective debris mitigation solutions and innovative operational approaches that should benefit the entire market.”

Read more at: Spaceref

Money Given for Human Spaceflift Mission is Peanuts: Former ISRO Chairman

Eminent space scientist G Madhavan Nair has said India must take steps to undertake human space flight mission without delay, stating such a venture would give a new “life and vigour” to entire research activities in ISRO.

Nair termed as “very unfortunate” the government’s stand on the mission. He said the goverenmnet is yet to give a formal approval to the mission, even a decade after a meeting convened by ISRO which was attended by 80 senior scientists who favoured initiation of such a project.

The gathering of scientists on November 7, 2006, was unanimous in suggesting that the time is appropriate for India to undertake such a mission. The preliminary estimated cost for the venture was Rs 10,000 crore spread over a period of eight years.

Read more at: Business Standard

China Creates High-tech Insulation for Space

China has developed a cutting-edge ultralight material for thermal insulation on its rockets and spacecraft, according to engineers.

Zou Junfeng, a senior engineer at the Aerospace Institute of Advanced Materials and Processing Technology in Beijing, said the material, called aerogel, has been widely used in space missions by the United States, Russia and Europe. “We have also developed our own aerogel products and some of them are at the highest technological level in the world,” he said. “A lot of our spacecraft, satellites and rockets are now using our products to resist heat or maintain internal temperatures.”

The heavy-duty Long March 5 rocket, which will be China’s most sophisticated and strongest launch vehicle, is scheduled to conduct its maiden flight before the end of this year. It will use aerogel developed by Zou’s institute to maintain the required temperature for its engine’s pipes, he said. “Our aerogel products are capable of not only insulating heat but also withstanding strong vibration, so they will ensure the smooth operation of the rocket,” he said.

Read more at: China.org

Russia Develops Protected Alternative to Satellite Communication

Russian engineers have invented a long-range protected communication technology which can duplicate satellite communications, matching them in both speed and distance.

Russia’s United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation (UIMC), part of the Rostec state corporation, has developed a long-range protected communication technology which is expected to substitute satellite systems, Rostec said Thursday. “The United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation has developed technology which triples communication protection and allows the transfer of information across hundreds of kilometers even in remote areas. The innovation is expected to become an alternative to satellite communication systems,” Rostec said in a statement.

The system is currently undergoing tests, the statement added, noting that it will be able to duplicate satellite communications, matching them in both speed and distance.

Read more at: Space Daily

For Smallsats, Launch Options Big and Small

Interest in small satellites is greater than ever before. Companies are developing constellations of smallsats, ranging from CubeSats weighing a few kilograms to custom-designed spacecraft weighing a couple hundred kilograms, for communications, remote sensing, and other applications. OneWeb, for example, raised $500 million last year to begin development of a 650-satellite system, and is about to break ground on a factory outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where most of those satellites will be assembled, at a peak rate of 15 per week. Waiting in the wings are concepts proposed by Boeing and SpaceX for constellations that could number in the thousands of satellites.

Another metric in smallsat growth is attendance at the 30th Annual Conference on Small Satellites, held every August on the campus of Utah State University in Logan. Attendance in recent years has soared, with more than 2,200 at this year’s conference last week. A workshop devoted to CubeSats held the weekend before the main conference, which in its early years could fit inside a classroom, had nearly 1,000 people this year.

Read more at: Space Review

Delta 4 Rocket Launches Space Surveillance Satellites

By the light of a nearly full moon, a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket thundered to life and climbed away from Cape Canaveral early Friday, putting on a spectacular overnight show as it boosted a pair of military space surveillance satellites toward orbit.

While the identity of the satellites and their general nature were not classified, ULA ended its launch video and commentary less than five minutes after liftoff, “at our customer’s request,” and the rest of the climb to orbit was carried out in secrecy.

This was the second launch of two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, satellites following an initial launching of two such spacecraft in 2014. The satellites, built by Orbital ATK, are designed to operate just above and below the 22,300-mile-high geosynchronous altitude favored by communications stations, electronic eavesdropping spysats, weather satellites and other high-value spacecraft. At that altitude, it takes satellites 24 hours to complete one orbit and they appear to hang stationary in the sky.

Read more at: CBS News

First Intercept Test of New SM-3 Variant Set for October

A new missile co-developed by the United States and Japan is expected to face its first intercept test this October, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said Aug. 17.

The Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 2A interceptor is a bigger and more capable version of the Raytheon-built SM-3 Block 1A and 1B interceptors. Syring described the test as a “big deal” during a speech here at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium and said he expected it “to garner a lot of public attention this fall. It will send a message around the world on what Aegis is doing and what Standard Missile is doing to defeat the threat,” he said. In the test, the SM-3 Block 2A would aim to destroy a medium-range ballistic missile target.

Designed to be fired from ships or from land, the Block 2A features second and third stages that are wider, at 53 centimeters, than those on the current SM-3 variants. That feature gives the missile the range and velocity needed to engage medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The interceptor also allows for more software updates to improve the missile’s capability and effectiveness.

Read more at: SpaceNews

Hypersonic Weapons Threat Looms Large at Missile Defense Symposium

How to deal with hypersonic glider weapons is posing a major challenge for defense officials tasked with ensuring the US is safe from missile attacks. The question of what to do about it loomed large at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium. The threat came up in almost every speech from the Missile Defense Agency director to the Army’s acquisition chief to the US Strategic Command commander over the course of the first two days of the show.

“Hyper-glide vehicle research and development are also challenging our planning calculus,” STRATCOM commander Adm. Cecil Haney said at the symposium’s first day. “The ability to find, fix and track and hold … these types of capabilities are becoming increasingly more difficult. Hyper-glide vehicle technology can complicate our sensing and our defensive approaches.”

The vehicle’s flight altitude limits radar detection range and high speed shortens timelines from detection to impact. And the weapons are designed to be highly maneuverable in the air and highly precise on impact.

Read more at: Defense News

MDA’s Syring: Space-Based Sensors are a “Must”

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is considering tracking ballistic missiles that could threaten the United States using a sensor in medium earth orbit.

In his most extensive public comments on space since 2012, Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, the head of the MDA, said the organization must have a space-based sensor layer as part of its long-term plans. Since the Defense Department cancelled the Precision Tracking Space System, a constellation of missile tracking satellites, in 2013, MDA has faced questions about how the agency will take advantage of space.

“From a missile defense perspective, we have to develop a future operational space layer,” Syring said. “Given where the threat is going with hypersonics and more ICBMs and so forth this persistent tracking and discrimination capability from space is a must.” The MDA has is currently studying what sensors it will need in the future as part of an analysis of alternatives. The analysis includes land, sea, airborne and space-based sensors, but ultimately could provide a framework for a future missile-tracking capability in space.

Read more at: Space.news

How to Track Poverty from Space

You can get a pretty good idea of a country’s wealth by seeing how much it shines at night — just compare the intense brightness of China and South Korea to the dark mass of North Korea that’s sandwiched between them.

But night time lights don’t tell you which neighborhoods or villages within a large region are merely poor and which are home to people living in abject poverty. That’s the level of detail policymakers need when they decide where to deploy their economic development programs.

You could get that detail by sending legions of survey-takers into crowded slums and sparsely populated rural areas. But that would be hugely time-consuming and cost tens of millions of dollars or more.

So researchers at Stanford came up with a way to get computers and satellites to do the work for them. Their computer model, described Thursday in the journal Science, isn’t perfect. But its predictive power is at least as good as — or better than — methods that rely on data from old and out-of-date surveys.

Read more at: LA Times

A Texas Congressman Launches Mission to Reboot Space Program

It’s been a long time since kids sat with parents on living room couches watching live pictures from Mission Control in Houston. Even though NASA no longer looms in the American imagination as much as it once did, with a Mars expedition in the works and the rise of Space X and Blue Origin among others, a powerful case can be made that a renaissance is just around the corner.

Houston-area U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, who’s chair of the House Space subcommittee, has launched a new mission on Capitol Hill. Babin says he wants to establish a bipartisan caucus to “advocate and protect” the space program. “The work, the funding, our workforce, our capabilities – all at the NASA Johnson Space Center, which Houston is home to, and also to the space industry across Texas,” he says.

In Babin’s district, he says 14,000 employees work at Johnson Space Center. “We’ve seen some ups and downs over the last few years of our space program,” he says. “NASA’s overall budget is less than one-half of one percent of our federal budget. The nation’s investments in space drive our technology, advancements and inventions we have there… It’s hard to match the bang for the buck that we get (out of it).”

Read more at: Texas Standard

Marco Rubio Declares Support for NASA Plan, Calls on Presidential Nominees to do Same

Saying NASA needs long-range political assurances, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio declared broad backing for the space agency’s agenda Friday and called on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to do the same.

Rubio met Friday with space industry representatives and others in a round-table discussion organized by the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast and Space Florida, the state’s space industry development corporation. They heard from him what they wanted: that Florida’s junior senator, seeking re-election, is behind NASA’s most ambitious programs, to turn over as much lower-Earth orbit activity as possible to private companies and focus the nation’s manned space flight efforts on getting to Mars.

And Rubio said the best thing that can happen is the presidential nominees, Democrat Clinton and Republican Trump, announce they share those goals too. Neither major party candidate has outlined any space policies, though both the Republican and Democratic national committees have released very general statements of support of where NASA has been heading lately under President Barack Obama.

Read more at: Saintpeters blog