NASA Reignites Program for Nuclear Thermal Rockets

In its pursuit of missions that will take us back to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond, NASA has been exploring a number of next-generation propulsion concepts. Whereas existing concepts have their advantages – chemical rockets have high energy density and ion engines are very fuel-efficient – our hopes for the future hinge on us finding alternatives that combine efficiency and power.

To this end, researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center are once again looking to develop nuclear rockets. As part of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, the Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) project would see the creation of high-efficiency spacecraft that would be capable of using less fuel to deliver heavy payloads to distant planets, and in a relatively short amount of time.

Read more at: Universe Today

Small Rockets, Big Dreams: The Race to Space Heats Up

When most people think of a rocket launch, they think big. The Space Shuttle, Falcon 9, and Atlas V all stand well over 50 meters tall, and any of those would tower above the Statue of Liberty. They were made to lift heavy things, weighing anywhere from 10 tons to considerably larger, into orbit around Earth. But in recent years there has been a lot of noise in the small rocket industry, promising cheap, expendable boosters capable of carrying a few hundred kilograms into space.

Read more at: Arstechnica

Trump’s Space Leader Says SpaceX is Outstanding, but…

Scott Pace, a well-known academic figure in the aerospace community, was named executive secretary of the National Space Council in July. As such, he was the first key appointee of the Trump administration on space policy in regard to the future of the military, civil, and commercial space enterprises. While it is not entirely clear how influential the new council will be, it is clear that Pace will have a strong voice in whatever direction it goes.

Read more at: Arstechnica

The National Space Council Gets to Work

Timing isn’t the only thing, but sometimes it can help a lot.

For weeks, the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University had been working with the Aerospace Corporation on an event in Washington titled, “Ensuring US Space Leadership.” The purpose of the event was to examine how a reconstituted National Space Council—a major element of the new administration’s space policy, formally enacted by executive order in late June—might deal with some of the major issues facing US space policy, and ensuring that leadership in space.

The evening before the July 14 event, though, the White House announced it planned to appoint Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute, as executive secretary of the council. That selection was timely for the event, if hardly surprising: Pace had long been the leading candidate for the position, which manages the council’s work on a day-to-day basis. Various individuals and organizations formally congratulated Pace on the position in the days that followed the announcement.

Read more at: Space Review

Independent Contractor to Blame for Electron Rocket Failure

An internal review of Rocket Lab‘s May 25, 2017, test flight of an Electron rocket from its Mahia, New Zealand, launch site determined that the vehicle was terminated due to an issue with an independent contractor’s ground equipment. A statement issued by the company’s investigation board announced the incident’s root causes and corrective actions.

The investigating team determined that the mission, dubbed It’s a Test, achieved 224 miles in altitude and four minutes of flight time. The vehicle was terminated due to a data loss time-out. This resulted from an improper configuration of telemetry equipment owned and operated by a third-party contractor supporting Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1.

“The equipment lost contact with the rocket temporarily and, according to standard operating procedures, range safety officials terminated the flight,” the report stated. “Data, including that from Rocket Lab’s own telemetry equipment, confirmed the rocket was following a nominal trajectory and the vehicle was performing as planned at the time of termination.”

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX and Boeing in Home Stretch for Commercial Crew Readiness

With just one year to go until the scheduled completion of all uncrewed and crewed test flights for SpaceX and Boeing’s commercial crew transportation services, the NASA Advisory Council recently held a routine review of the technical, hardware, software, and training progress the two companies are making toward the goal of returning the capability to launch people into space from the United States.

At the end of July, the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) held a standard, two-day series of meetings with various NASA Directorates, gaining input and insight into the agency’s continued work across a variety of fields.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

Virgin Galactic Conducts Sixth Successful SpaceShipTwo Glide Test

Virgin Galactic announced a sixth successful glide test of its VSS Unity, the company’s second version of SpaceShipTwo. The spaceplane will ultimately attempt suborbital rocket-powered flights with customers who will get to fly up into space. This test marks the first time Galactic filled the VSS Unity’s Main Oxidizer Tank with nitrous oxide.

With companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin dominating spaceflight headlines, Virgin Galactic has been working toward similar goals with a different approach. Founded in 2010 with a goal of taking people into space and then back to Earth, the company was marred by a tragic crash in 2014. It took two years for Virgin Galactic earn approval from the FAA again to flight test the SpaceShipTwo.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Korea Delays Lunar Orbiter Launch to 2020

Korea postponed the launch of its lunar orbiter to 2020 instead of next year, according to the government, Thursday. The Ministry of Science and ICT said it held a national space development committee meeting a day earlier and decided to give the lunar orbiter development project two more years.

The ministry has conducted a thorough inspection on the progress, risk, and schedule of the orbiter development project earlier this year and concluded that it will be difficult to complete the project by 2018 as originally planned. “Accepting the opinion of the inspection committee, the ministry has extended the development period to five years from three years, and aims to launch it in December 2020,” an MSIT official said.

Read more at: Koreatimes

CSUSB Psychology Professor on NASA Mission to an ‘Asteroid’

If anyone is trying to reach Richard Addante, you’ll have to excuse him — he’s sort of off the planet until Sept. 18. Addante, an assistant professor of psychology at Cal State San Bernardino, is actually participating in a simulated NASA mission to an asteroid, which began on Aug. 5.

The mission, now being conducted at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, is the second of the fourth campaign of the Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA. Addante is a member of the HERA XIV crew of four who are participating in the space agency’s Human Research Program in a 45-day mission that simulates space exploration without leaving Earth. It is part of several research analogs, which NASA describes as “a situation on Earth that mimics physical and mental effects on the body experienced in space.”

While the HERA crew conducts its tasks inside the analog, the HERA analog team and researchers will monitor them from the outside, the space agency said. The “ground crew” and researchers will collect crew data on the physiological and psychological effects of extended isolation and confinement, team dynamics and conflict resolution.

Read more at: CSUSCB

Virgin Orbit Sign SITAEL Contract for LauncherOne Satellite Launch

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne has signed an agreement to launch a SITAEL satellite developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The all-electric propulsion microsat demonstrator called µHETsat will be air-launched on a rocket carried under the wing of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl carrier plane.

The new air-launch system is yet to conduct its maiden flight, although progress towards that milestone is picking up the pace. Just this month, Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747-400 (747-41R) series aircraft (previous registration number G-VWOW), arrived at the company’s Long Beach facility in California after initial retrofitting in San Antonio, Texas – via a flow called “Maintenance D”.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

Notes from Mars 160: Why on ‘Mars’ are we Doing This?

On June 22, The Mars Society launched the second phase of its ambitious Mars 160 Twin Desert-Arctic Analog simulationto study how seven crewmembers could live, work and perform science on a true mission to Mars. Mars 160 crewmember Paul Knightly is chronicling the mission, which will spend 60 days in the Canadian arctic at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) on Devon Island after completing a similar 80-day mission at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in southern Utah in 2016. Here’s his fourth dispatch from the mission:

Why are we here? That’s a question that all of us have encountered at some point in the buildup to the twin simulations of Mars 160. It’s a fair question to ask, and you would probably get a different answer from each of us. We’re all motivated for different reasons, but ultimately we are all united by a desire to see human bootprints on Mars within our lifetimes. So if any of our research over the course of Mars 160 contributes to advancing Mars exploration in some manner, then we will have succeeded and the mission will have been worth the months spent in isolation away from home.

Read more at: Space.com

China Eyes Manned Lunar Landing by 2036

Recent and rather bold statements made by Chinese officials suggest that the country is moving forward toward its goal of sending Taikonauts to the surface of the Moon. China is the third country (after the Soviet Union / Russia and the U.S.) that has independently sent humans into space. In October 2003, Yang Liwei flew on board the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft, becoming the first Chinese in orbit. He now serves as the deputy director general of China Manned Space Agency.

“China is making preliminary preparations for a manned lunar landing mission,” Yang said in early June, Xinhua state news agency reports. Liwei made a speech during the 2017 Global Space Exploration Conference in Beijing on June 6. Some of his remarks were in reference to the future of the Chinese lunar exploration program. He noted that it would not take long for the manned lunar landing project to get official approval and funding. During the conference, he was also asked whether he has any plan to step onto the Moon.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Robots are Cutting Down on the Need for Space Doctors

NASA has largely computerized routine tasks such as orbital rendezvous, docking, and trajectory mapping; it’s also been developing “robonauts” since the late 1990s, including medical systems that can perform tests and procedures while controlled remotely by a doctor—or, in some cases, handle things without any human involvement.

Automation has made working and traveling in space less dangerous and reduced the number of personnel needed on a typical mission.

Read more at: Bloomberg

Busy Summer of SLS Engine Testing on the Stennis A1 Test Stand

Testing of the new brain for the RS-25 engines that will help power the colossal Space Launch System (SLS) rocket uphill from launch pad 39B in the coming years has been on a roll at NASA’s Stennis Space Center all summer, and they just finished up testing of the fourth RS-25 engine controller (the brain) needed for the inaugural flight in 2019 – two weeks after the third test of another RS-25 engine flight controller.

Just like the space shuttle, two tall solid rocket boosters will provide most of the thrust during launch and ascent to reach space, but the main engines are just as critical, and Aerojet Rocketdyne currently has 16 in inventory; 14 are veterans of numerous shuttle missions and 2 are brand new, plus there are 2 development test engines as well.

Read more at: Americaspace

SpaceX Falcon 9 Conducts Static Fire as Falcon Heavy Waits in the Wings

SpaceX has conducted a Static Fire test on the Falcon 9 set to launch the CRS-12 Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS). A successful test on Thursday paves the way for a launch on Monday, which will include another landing attempt on the LZ-1 landing pad that is already being prepared for the dual booster landing during the maiden Falcon Heavy mission.

It’s been over a month since the last SpaceX launch, which is out of step with the company’s recently accelerated launch cadence.

The pause in the manifest was mainly due to maintenance tasks on the Eastern Range, although SpaceX had just come to the end of a four mission run, completed in the space of just over a one month period.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

Russia to Spend $630 mln on Launch Pad for Angara Carrier Rocket at Vostochny Spaceport

About 38 billion rubles ($630 million) are planned to be spent on building the launch facility for Angara carrier rockets at the Vostochny spaceport, according to the documents of State Space Corporation Roscosmos posted on the website of state purchases on Friday.

“The intended [maximum] cost of the construction of the launch compound with one launcher in compliance with the design documentation developed by the 31st State Design Institute of Special Construction and the construction’s consolidated estimate calculation in 2017 prices is 37,752.3 million rubles,” the document says.

Read more at: TASS

New CubeSat Propulsion System Uses Water as Propellant

A new type of micropropulsion system for miniature satellites called CubeSats uses an innovative design of tiny nozzles that release precise bursts of water vapor to maneuver the spacecraft.

Low-cost “microsatellites” and “nanosatellites” far smaller than conventional spacecraft, have become increasingly prevalent. Thousands of the miniature satellites might be launched to perform a variety of tasks, from high-resolution imaging and internet services, to disaster response, environmental monitoring and military surveillance.

“They offer an opportunity for new missions, such as constellation flying and exploration that their larger counterparts cannot economically achieve,” said Alina Alexeenko, a professor in Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Read more at: Purdue

Calling the Moon: Startup to Put Cellphone Tower on the Moon

An astronaut wandering the moon next year could use a smartphone to call home. A German startup is preparing to set up the first telecommunication infrastructure on the lunar surface.

The German company PT Scientists, short for Part-Time Scientists, which originally competed for the Google Lunar X Prize race to the moon, plans to send a lander with a rover in late 2018 to visit the landing site of Apollo 17. (Launched in 1972, this was NASA’s final Apollo mission to the moon.) Instead of using a complex dedicated telecommunication system to relay data from the rover to the Earth, the company will rely on LTE technology — the same system used on Earth for mobile phone communications.

“We are cooperating with Vodafone in order to provide LTE base stations on the moon,” Karsten Becker, who heads embedded electronics development and integration for the startup, told Space.com.

Read more at: Space.com

Investors Pour Billions into Commercial Space Start-ups as they Approach Exit Velocity

Investment in space start-ups continues to soar, buoyed by the exploits of highly visible space concerns, like SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. But it’s the terabytes of data streaming to Earth daily from a new generation of smaller, less-expensive satellites — thousands of which are slated to join the roughly 1,500 satellites already in orbit over the next several years — that have piqued investors’ interest in everything from satellites themselves to software used to analyze their data and new rockets designed to loft them into orbit.

Newly compiled data from space industry consulting shop Bryce Space and Technology released Wednesday demonstrates the trend. In 2016 space start-ups received a record-setting $2.8 billion in investment, $400 million more than in the year prior.

Read more at: CNBC

ISS Orbit to be Increased by Some 1445 Feet on Wednesday – Mission Control

The orbital altitude of the International Space Station (ISS) will be increased by 440 meters (1443 feet) on Wednesday in accordance with the flight program, a spokesperson at the Russian Mission Control Center told Sputnik.

The orbit’s correction is needed to create the necessary conditions for successful landing of the Soyuz MS-04 manned spacecraft, which will bring Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and US astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson of the Expedition 52 back to the Earth in September, the spokesperson added.

Read more at: Sputnik News

What do Plants and Animals do During an Eclipse?

Many accounts of solar eclipses include tales of animals behaving strangely: Birds fall silent. Bees return to the hive.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for how animals and even plants respond to totality,” when the moon completely blocks the sun, says Elise Ricard, spokesperson for an eclipse project called Life Responds at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. “But [there’s] not a lot of hard science.”

Perhaps the earliest record came from a total eclipse in 1544 when “birds ceased singing.” Another in 1560 said “birds fell to the ground.” In the past century or so, scientists have tried to approach the question systematically. The Boston Society of Natural History collected observations during a 1932 eclipse that crossed parts of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, marking what they believed was “the first comprehensive and scientifically conducted study of the behavior of animal life during a total eclipse.” Crickets chirped and frogs croaked, study volunteers reported. Gnats and mosquitoes swarmed (“our stockings attested to the bites, for they drew blood and never let up”). Bees returned to hives and chickens to roost.

Read more at: Science News

New Mission Going to the Space Station to Explore Mysteries of ‘Cosmic Rain’

A new experiment set for an Aug. 14 launch to the International Space Station will provide an unprecedented look at a rain of particles from deep space, called cosmic rays, that constantly showers our planet. The Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass mission destined for the International Space Station (ISS-CREAM) is designed to measure the highest-energy particles of any detector yet flown in space.

CREAM was originally developed as a part of NASA’s Balloon Program, during which it returned measurements from around 120,000 feet in seven flights between 2004 and 2016.

“The CREAM balloon experiment achieved a total sky exposure of 191 days, a record for any balloon-borne astronomical experiment,” said Eun-Suk Seo, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland in College Park and the experiment’s principal investigator. “Operating on the space station will increase our exposure by over 10 times, taking us well beyond the traditional energy limits of direct measurements.”

Read more at: NASA

Why HPE is Sending a Supercomputer to the ISS on SpaceX’s Next Rocket

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is sending a supercomputer to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s next resupply mission for NASA, which is currently set to launch Monday.

Officially named the “Spaceborne Computer,” the Linux-based supercomputer is designed to serve in a one year experiment conducted by NASA and HPE to find out if high performance computing hardware, with no hardware customization or modification, can survive and operate in outer space conditions for a full year – the length of time, not coincidentally, it’ll likely take for a crewed spacecraft to make the trip to Mars.

Read more at: Tech Crunch

La Jolla Light News Nuggets: Aug. 10

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego has named retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General and former NASA Administrator Charles Frank Bolden Jr. as the recipient of its 2017 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest. The public is invited to attend the award ceremony Oct. 17 at the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and the Environment on the Scripps campus. More event details will be announced soon.

The Nierenberg Prize, presented annually by Scripps Oceanography, includes a bronze medal and $25,000. Since the first prize in 2001, recipients have included newscaster Walter Cronkite, primatologist Jane Goodall, and filmmaker James Cameron, among others.

Read more at: Lajollalight

Ex-Astronaut Offers Bold Three-Step Plan to Put Humans on Mars

We Americans are an optimistic bunch. Just compare Hollywood movies with foreign films, and you’ll see a big difference in worldview — we love it when the good guys win. I believe this difference goes all the way back to “Manifest Destiny,” the 19th Century belief that American settlers were destined to expand across the continent.

But when it comes to space exploration, Manifest Destiny doesn’t apply. And if we choose simply to rest on the laurels of being the first nation to send humans to the moon, or on the achievements of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS), we will be surpassed by nations whose people are “humble and hungry.”

Read more at: NBC News

Russian Scientists Developing Tech for Military Satellites to See Through Clouds

Existing technologies have a number of shortcomings, including the limitations while operating in cloudy weather, when the Earth becomes closed to observation from satellites.

“FPI supports research on radio-optical active phased antenna arrays (ROFAR), which in comparison with widely-used technology have increased performance, energy efficiency, high noise immunity, resistance to electromagnetic pulses. All this together makes ROFAR the most advanced radar of the future,” Vakshtein said.

Read more at: Sputnik News

A Mini-fridge-size Satellite Could Help troops get a Real-time View of the Upcoming Battlefield

A network of tiny satellites as small as a dorm-room refrigerator could one day give military troops on the ground a real-time look at what’s lurking over the next hill.

The first of these satellites, known as Kestrel Eye, will be launched Monday morning aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket loaded with NASA supplies for the International Space Station.

If this demonstration is successful, the U.S. Army eventually could send a few dozen more satellites to low-Earth orbit. It’s another sign of how increasingly capable small satellites are finding their way into an array of private and government applications, including commercial imaging, scientific missions and broadband Internet access.

Read more at: LA Times

Tiangong I Target Vehicle Orbital Status Weekly Report

According to the announcement of China Manned Space Agency(CMSA), during July 24 to July 30, 2017, Tiangong I orbited at an average altitude of 330.1km(perigee: 314.5km; apogee: 345.7km; inclination: 42.67°), with stabilized attitude control and well-functioned performance.

Read more at: CMSE