ASAP Still has Concerns Over Commercial Crew LOC Risks

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) still has a number of concerns over crew safety numbers for the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), notably the guideline Loss of Crew (LOC) metric, based on the threat of MicroMeteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD) damage and crew recovery from the ocean after an abort. The plan acknowledged both SpaceX and Boeing are actively working to improve their LOC ratings.

The latest meeting of the influential ASAP received “a very detailed and in-depth discussion with Ms. Kathy Lueders, the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) Manager,” who noted the considerable amount of the progress made over recent months with both of NASA’s Commercial Crew partners.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

Huntsville International Airport Signs Phase II Contract to Land Dream Chaser Spacecraft

Huntsville/Madison County is another step closer to landing a space vehicle at the Huntsville International Airport in Alabama. The Airport has signed a contract to apply for licensing through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to land Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft on one of its commercial runways.

This Phase II contract follows a Phase I contract completed in 2015 that examined the compatibility of SNC’s Dream Chaser with the existing runway and taxiway environments at the Airport.

“The preliminary study proved the feasibility of landing so now we are pleased to announce that we have initiated the permitting process with the FAA,” said Rick Tucker, executive director of the Huntsville International Airport.

Read more at: Colorado Spacenews

Here is the Safety Trick that will Help SpaceX Fly you to the Moon

To put itself in position to deliver on its promise to fly tourists to the moon next year, SpaceX has had to completely reinvent the way it ensures that rockets won’t fly off track and endanger lives.

Working with the U.S. Air Force, the company has developed autonomous rocket-tracking technology that makes it possible to fly its next-generation launch vehicle. It also dramatically cuts the cost of a rocket launch and makes it possible to launch on much shorter notice—both of which could be a boon not just for SpaceX but for the entire U.S. space industry.

SpaceX’s bold near-term plans rest on its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, whose inaugural launch is slated for this November at Cape Canaveral. They will also require three separate rockets to be returned back to the ground after each Falcon Heavy launch. SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, which also has big ambitions for space tourism, have separately pioneered the concept of returning booster rockets so that they can be reused, which has the potential to make spaceflight cheaper by a factor of 100

Read more at: Technology Review

After Years of Delays, Virgin Galactic Prepares for Spaceflights from NM

Pete Nickolenko remembers meeting with two men who would pilot SpaceShipTwo about an hour before a test flight on Oct. 31, 2014. He wished them well. The flight from a spaceport in Mojave, Calif. of the vehicle Virgin Galactic is building to fly paying passengers into space didn’t go well. Co-pilot Michael Alsbury unlocked a feathering system too early. The spacecraft wasn’t built to account for such an error. The first SpaceShipTwo broke apart mid-flight, killing Alsbury. Pilot Peter Siebold was seriously injured but survived.

The accident was a massive blow to Virgin Galactic’s efforts to make space more accessible – and to New Mexico’s hopes of diversifying its economy by building a commercial space industry with Virgin Galactic’s spaceflights at its core. It set back plans to relocate Virgin Galactic employees from California to southern New Mexico and begin long-awaited flights from Spaceport America, located east of Truth or Consequences.

Read more at: NM Politics

Arctic Radar to Probe ‘Space Weather’

The UK is to contribute to a sophisticated new radar system in the Arctic to study “space weather”. This phenomenon describes the effects on Earth’s wider environment as it is constantly bombarded by particles and magnetic energy from the Sun. The impacts can damage satellites and even disrupt electricity grids.

The radar, to be built across Norway, Sweden and Finland by the European Incoherent Scatter Association (EISCAT), should come online in 2021. The international organisation already operates radar facilities in the far north, but the new technology is regarded as a big step forward in capability.

Read more at: BBC

NASA, UA Partner to Test Planetary Defense Systems

The University of Arizona is partnering with NASA and observatories across the world to observe an asteroid named 2012 TC4. The purpose of this experiment, which is the first of its kind, is to test humanity’s capabilities to defend itself from extraterrestrial  threats, such as asteroids and to assess overall strengths and weaknesses of the current tracking and detection systems, according to NASA.

2012 TC4’s orbit is unstable, meaning scientists have yet to fully grasp its orbital pattern, but they do know there is no danger of it striking Earth.  “We had people from NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office at the UA in January, and I proposed this idea to them, and they went for it,” said UA assistant professor of planetary science Vishnu Reddy.

Read more at: Arizona Wildcat

Russian Ground Control Mission Reschedules ISS Orbit Adjustment to Sunday

Russia’s Ground Control Mission has rescheduled the upward adjustment of orbit of the International Space Station to Sunday, August 27, from Friday, August 25, the press service of the mission said.

“Adjustment of the orbit has been put off from August 25 to August 27 after the refining of ballistic computations for the maneuver,” the press release said. The maneuver is to begin at 07:55 Moscow Standard Time (04:55 UTC). “It will be done by switching on the engines of the Progress MS-06 cargo ship,” it said. “The engines will work for 177 seconds and the average elevation of the ISS orbit would increase by 600 meters to 404.2 km.”

Read more at: TASS

Lockheed Martin Powers-up Next Orion Spacecraft for First Time

Engineers at Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and NASA breathed life into the next Orion crew module when they powered up the spacecraft for the first time at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Designed for human spaceflight, this Orion will be the first to fly more than 40,000 miles beyond the Moon during its nearly three-week Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), a feat that hasn’t been possible before.

“Orion was designed from the beginning to take humanity farther into space than we’ve ever gone, and to do this, its systems have to be very robust and reliable,” said Mike Hawes, vice president and Orion program manager at Lockheed Martin. “Over the last year, we’ve built great momentum in assembling the crew module for EM-1. Everyone on the team understands how crucial this test campaign is, and more importantly, what this spacecraft and mission means to our country and future human space flight.”

Read more at: Lockheed Martin

Kennedy’s Food Production Team Holds Information Exchange

What’s for dinner? As astronauts spend longer periods of time in orbit and journey into deep space beyond the Moon and eventually to Mars, that question will become more and more challenging to answer.

The food production team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently held a two-day information exchange with fellow subject-matter experts in the commercial and academic sectors to discuss how their solutions could help NASA solve some of the most difficult challenges in food production system development. “Brainstorming Innovative Open Source Approaches to Food Production” featured sessions on controlled-environment agriculture, space agriculture and related areas.

Read more at: NASA

Microbes Could Turn Astronaut Pee into Plastic and Nutrients

Future astronauts could turn their pee into nutrients and raw materials for 3D printers with the aid of some industrious microbes, new research suggests. Harnessing the talents of the tiny beasts in this way could help humanity extend its footprint out into the solar system, study team members said.

“If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,” study leader Mark Blenner, of Clemson University in South Carolina, said in a statement. “Atom economy will become really important.”

Blenner and his team have been investigating the recycling talents of the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica. The researchers found that Y. lipolytica can get the nitrogen it needs from the urea in untreated urine. The microbes can also source their carbon from carbon dioxide (CO2), which could theoretically come from astronauts’ exhaled breath or the Martian atmosphere (which is about 95 percent CO2), study team members said.

Read more at: Space.com

It Snows on Mars at Night

Though the fledgling science of Martian weather forecasting is even less precise than its terrestrial counterpart, a new study shows that night-time outlooks can include flurries of snow.

It was already known that the thin, cold atmosphere of Mars allows wispy clouds of water ice to form, even though – compared to Earth – there is very little water vapour available. Until now, however, the small community of exometeorologists had believed that any snow falling from such clouds would have been in the form of dispersed particles that settled slowly downwards.

According to Aymeric Spiga of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris (UPMC), this is not the case. With colleagues, Spiga created an atmospheric model to simulate the weather on Mars that shows how cooling of ice particles within clouds overnight can trigger a cascade of instabilities that leads to a rapidly falling plume of snow.

Read more at: Cosmos Magazine

Russia to Launch Production of Hydrogen-powered Stage for Angara Heavy Rocket

The work to develop the hydrogen-powered stage for the Angara-A5V carrier rocket with the increased lift capacity will begin after 2025, acting CEO of the Khrunichev Space Center Alexei Varochko told TASS on Friday.

“The current state program does not envisage this task. It goes beyond the year 2025. But if we start dealing with this issue only after 2025, then we will again lose time. On paper, these technologies should be ready by 2025. The design idea should work ahead of current plans for years to come,” he said. Only experimental design work is currently under way in this field.

Read more at: TASS

A First Look at the Spacesuits of the Future

In true Elon Musk fashion, the latest SpaceX creation has been revealed with dramatic flair. Posting on his Instagram account early Wednesday morning, Musk unveiled the first iteration of his SpaceX spacesuit. The design, seen only from the waist up, features a slim black-and-white aesthetic and is a far cry from the bulky, puffy spacesuits worn by NASA astronauts.

Outside of Earth’s protective atmosphere, spacesuits must regulate air pressure, oxygen, and temperature as well as deflect cosmic radiation, all while allowing for movement and communication. But as space travel becomes more commercial and accessible, more flexible suits are imperative. Among other inconveniences, astronauts have lost fingernails as a result of the current pressurized glove design.

Read more at: National Geographic

How Much Secrecy does Spaceport America Need?

You don’t have a right to know how much money companies that do business at Spaceport America pay to use the publicly owned facility, officials there say. In fact, the spaceport wants the ability to keep all sorts of information secret, including the identities of commercial space companies doing business there.

The growing commercial space industry is hypercompetitive. Publicly releasing rent payments, lease agreements and other information harms the spaceport’s efforts to recruit companies, N.M. Spaceport Authority CEO Dan Hicks says – and that makes it more challenging to grow the spaceport and build a stronger economy in southern New Mexico.

Read more at: NMPolitics

Foreign Space Agencies Take Interest in Soyuz-5 Rocket

Many countries, space agencies and commercial customers have displayed interest in Russia’s Soyuz-5 space rocket, the chief of the Roscosmos corporation, Igor Komarov, said at the military-technical forum Army-2017.

“There is interest in it and the interest is great. On the part of other space agencies, countries and commercial customers,” he said. The space rocket will be in great demand because the costs of orbiting payloads will be slashed considerably. “We believe we will be able to regain a considerable share of the market,” he said. Saying anything about specific contracts for these rockets is too early, he said.

Read more at: TASS

ESA and Chinese Astronauts Train Together

ESA astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and Matthias Maurer joined 16 Chinese astronauts earlier this month for nine days of sea survival training off China’s coastal city of Yantai. The ultimate goal is for ESA to establish a long term cooperation with China and ESA astronauts to fly on China’s space station.

Returning from space, astronauts need to be prepared for any eventuality – including landing in water. Sea survival is a staple of all training but this is the first time that other astronauts had joined their Chinese counterparts.

Working in groups of three, the astronauts donned pressure suits and entered a mock Shenzhou capsule that was then released into the sea. The astronauts had to swap their flightsuits for insulation and buoyancy suits before jumping into inflatable boats. They then practised rescue procedures with both a ship and a helicopter.

Read more at: ESA

SpaceX will Lose Millions on its Taiwanese Satellite Launch

SpaceX is poised to fire off a fresh Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, delivering a comically tiny payload for Taiwan’s National Space Organization. At 1,047 pounds, the Formosat-5 Earth-observing satellite is almost light enough for a human to deadlift—but it’ll launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket with 50 times more capacity. The overkill is thanks to a years-long delay, and SpaceX will take a substantial financial hit to make good on a contract it signed in 2010.

Elon Musk’s space flight company will attempt to launch the rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base in California during a 42-minute window opening at 11:51 am PDT on Thursday. The satellite is bound for heliosynchronous orbit, where it will pass over Taiwan every two days for data retrieval.

Read more at: Wired

Chris Hadfield: We Should Live on the Moon Before a Trip to Mars

For tens of thousands of years humans have followed a pattern on Earth: imagination, to technology-enabled exploration, to settlement. It’s how the first humans got to Australia 50,000 or 60,000 years ago, and how we went from Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepherd orbiting Earth to the first people putting footprints on the moon, to people living in orbit.

There are six people living on the International Space Station, and we have had people there continuously for nearly 17 years. But the reality is we have not yet figured out how to live permanently off-planet.

So I think if we follow the historically driven pattern then the moon would be first. Not just to reaffirm that we can get there, but to show that we can also live there.

Read more at: New Scientist

Trump’s ‘America First’ Policies won’t Work in Space

Space is A big place, but our upper atmosphere isn’t. Rapidly increasing numbers of satellites orbit there, in addition to innumerable bits of space debris, and rockets fly through it on missions to the moon, Mars, asteroids, and deep space. President Trump’s newly revived National Space Council will have to manage this busy region and beyond.

The council members—which include heads of dozens of agencies, including the state, defense, commerce, transportation, and homeland security departments—have their work cut out for them as they develop recommendations for national space policy. Regulating and enabling commercial space activities will likely be a top priority, and the group will likely need to address issues including space debris and potentially militarized satellites.

Read more at: Wired

NASA Insists it is Going to Mars, but it Really can’t Afford to

NASA wants you to know it is on a Journey to Mars. For the last few years, the space agency has done everything it can to work those three words into press releases, public statements and YouTube videos. Nearly all of NASA’s current activities, it says, will culminate in landing humans on the Red Planet in the 2030s.

But recently, NASA has admitted this journey is going nowhere fast. Last month, its chief of human space flight, William Gerstenmaier, acknowledged that the space agency doesn’t have the cash to put people on Mars, even with small increases in its budget to keep up with inflation.

“I can’t put a date on humans on Mars,” Gerstenmaier told a meeting of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics. “At the budget levels we described – this roughly 2 per cent increase – we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars.”

Read more at: New Scientist

Getting NASA to Comply with Simple FOIA Requests is a Nightmare

Trying to effectively use the Freedom of Information Act can be hell. Maybe a police department will demand a ridiculous and seemingly arbitrary fee to collect records, or perhaps an agency simply won’t respond to requests.

Judging by Motherboard’s own requests as well as those from Freedom of Information organizations, one government body in particular stands out for turning FOIA requests into a nightmare: NASA.

Freedom of Information Act requests are used by journalists, private citizens, and government watchdogs to acquire public documents from government agencies. FOIA.gov puts it simply: “FOIA is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.”

Read more at: Motherboard Vice

Gilmour Space is Launching Rockets to Space by Focussing on Simplicity

We benefit from rockets every day. This may seem hyperbolic, but it’s not. Rockets launch satellites into orbit, which we are using all the time. Every time we use GPS, every time we use the ATM, every time we look up the weather, we’re interacting with satellite technology. Tellingly though, each time we interact with these satellites, we’re indirectly benefiting from the rockets that launched them into space in the first place. The role of rocket technology is deceptively ubiquitous.

But the industry has also been historically cost expensive and time intensive, which poses a restrictive barrier for satellite innovation to get to market.

Read more at: Forbes