Virgin Galactic Passenger Numbers ‘Almost Recovered’ After Spacecraft’s Fatal Accident

Virgin Galactic’s “future astronaut” numbers have almost recovered after dropping in the wake of its fatal accident in the Mojave Desert last year, according to chief executive George Whitesides.  Last year, the number of people signed up for a $250,000 (£160,000) seat aboard SpaceShipTwo, which offers a brief stint in sub-orbital space at an altitude of 62 miles, was estimated to be as many as 750. Within weeks of the accident in October 2014, in which co-pilot Michael Alsbury lost his life during a test flight of the space craft, around 30 people had cancelled their tickets. “We have only lost about 3pc now and we’re already making up those numbers,” Mr Whitesides told The Telegraph. “Our early customer group has been quite firm.” Over the past six months, Virgin Galactic has quietly reshaped its business model to focus on the burgeoning small satellite launch market, which it estimates will be equally valuable.

Read more at: The Telegraph

Japan Sends Minibar to the Space Station

On Monday (August 24), a Japanese spacecraft arrived with supplies for the International Space Station. Sure, food, water and invaluable experiments were also delivered, but by far the most important payload was a small shipment of liquor. Of course I’m overplaying the importance of the alcoholic experiment, but why did the Japan-based company Suntory Whiskey send the contents of a hotel minibar to the orbiting outpost? As it turns out, the results of this experiment could be profound.

Sadly for the space station crew — particularly for NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who are in the first months of their year-long, alcohol-free, experiment into long-duration spaceflight — the selection of alcoholic beverages won’t actually be consumed in space; they are part of an experiment to see how different types of alcohol mellow in a microgravity environment. “With the exception of some items like beer, alcoholic beverages are widely known to develop a mellow flavor when aged for a long time,” wrote a Suntory press release on July 30. “Although researchers have taken a variety of scientific approaches to elucidating the underlying mechanism, we still do not have a full picture of how this occurs.”

Read more at: Discovery News

Chatting Out in Space

Two Russian cosmonauts stationed on the International Space Station (ISS) ventured outside on August 10. Commander Gennady Padalka, and flight engineer Mikhail Kornienko completed several tasks like cleaning windows, clearing debris samples from the station’s solar panels, installing mounts for new antennas, and taking photos of the Russian orbital segment. RIR followed the mission’s live online broadcast and listened in to their chatter  to hear what Russian spacemen talk about.

Read more at: Russia & India Report

Second Cosmic Ray Detector Delivered to Space Station

In addition to ferrying tons of food, water and supplies to the International Space Station, a Japanese cargo ship that arrived on Monday carries an astrophysics telescope that will join the flagship Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer in hunting for cosmic rays. The Calorimetric Electron Telescope, or CALET, is due to be mounted on a platform outside Japan’s Kibo laboratory on Tuesday, joining the $2 billion AMS particle detector, which was attached to the station in 2011. Once operational, CALET will precisely measure cosmic rays, at even higher energies than AMS. “Cosmic rays come at you from all directions and all the time … Every time one of these high-energy cosmic rays comes at us and starts triggering the instrument, we record it,” astrophysicist John Wefel, with Louisiana State University, said in a NASA TV interview.

Read more at: Discovery News

Russia Extends Travel Time to ISS from 6 Hours to 2 Days

The Russian Federal Space Agency says the next manned trip to the International Space Station will be extended from the usual six hours to two days. Roscosmos said in a statement released on Wednesday (August 26) that the decision was made due to security concerns after the space lab had to adjust its orbit last month, dodging space junk. The roll-out of a new Soyuz rocket in March 2013 allowed Russia to cut travel time to the orbiting lab from two days travel in cramped quarters to just six hours. The next manned mission to the ISS is due to blast off from the Russia-leased launch pad in Kazakhstan on September 2, carrying a Russian, a Kazakh and a Dane.

Read more at: CBC

Russian MCC to Adjust ISS Orbit

ISS reboost maneuver that has been cancelled earlier will anyhow take place on August 31, – Mission control Centre representative reported. According to new ballistic calculations station orbit is needs to be increased before the launch scheduled for September 2, – the spokesman stated. There are 6 crew members onboard he ISS at the present time: Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padaplka, Mikhail Korniyenko and Oleg Kononenko, American astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui.

Read more at: Russian Space News

NASA Concludes Series of Engine Tests for Next-Gen Rocket

NASA has completed the first developmental test series on the RS-25 engines that will power the agency’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on missions deeper into space than ever before.  The test series wrapped up Thursday with a seventh hot fire test of a developmental RS-25 engine on the A-1 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The test ran for a full-duration 535 seconds. “The completion of this test series is an important step in getting SLS ready for the journey to Mars,” said Steve Wofford, engines manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the SLS Program is managed for the agency. “The RS-25 engine gives SLS a proven, high performance, affordable main propulsion system. It is one of the most experienced large rocket engines in the world, with more than a million seconds of ground test and flight operations time.”

Read more at: NASA

NASA Chief Blasts Congress for Reliance on Russian Spacecraft

The head of NASA blasted Congress on Friday for its failure to fund the human spaceflight program and for wasting American taxpayer dollars by sending astronauts to the International Space Station using the Russian space agency.  In an open letter published in WIRED, NASA Administrator Major General Charlie Bolden said Congress’ failure to fund President Barack Obama’s Commercial Crew proposal is creating “uncertainty” and leading to a delay in “launching American astronauts to space from American soil aboard American spacecraft.” “Every dollar we invest in Moscow is a dollar we’re not investing in American businesses,” Bolden wrote. President Obama had requested $1.24 billion from Congress to fund the Commercial Crew Program, which would support NASA’s work with commercial partners to take astronauts to the ISS. The program would empower American business to build a new spacecraft for low-earth orbit. In 2014, the space agency partnered up with Boeing and SpaceX, asking them to help it in developing a new vehicle to transport American astronauts to the space station. NASA signed contracts worth about $1.4 billion with the two private companies. Without Congressional approval for Obama’s budget request, however, the programs face an uncertain future. Bolden said Congress had left the agency with “with no other choice but to write a $490 million check to our Russian counterparts so that we can get our own astronauts to the Space Station,” adding that it didn’t have to be this way and that Congress could still “fix this by investing in Commercial Crew,” which would bring considerable economic benefits and be fiscally responsible.

Read more at: RT

On Construction of the Vostochny Space Launch Centre

Large-scale construction effort is underway at the Vostochny Space Centre in Russia’s Far East. Enterprises of the Federal Agency for Special Construction (Spetsstroy Rossii) are building facilities under 20 contracts, including the launching pad and technical complex, the industrial construction and operations base, the water-supply, electricity-generation and security systems, facilities for measuring, collecting and processing information, the meteorological complex, a depot for storing missile-fuel components, complexes for managing booster disposal areas, processing construction and household waste, telecommunications and communications systems, technical and support sites (in all, over 500 facilities), as well as 115 km of motor roads and 125 km of railways.

The work is implemented under a comprehensive plan to make the first launch from the Vostochny Space Centre in December 2015.

Over 8,000 people are working in two shifts without days off and holidays, using 990 units of equipment.  Participants of the Vostochny Cosmodrome-2015 national student construction team are taking an active part in building the space centre. This is the fourth construction team in Uglegorsk and has set a record in terms of both the number of participants and duration.

The team consists of 70 groups with a total of 1,179 students from Arkhangelsk, Voronezh, Dagestan, Yekaterinburg, Izhevsk, Kuzbass, Moscow and the Moscow Region, the Irkutsk Region, Karachaevo-Circassia, Mordovia, North Ossetia, Stavropol, Kabardino-Balkaria, Tyumen, Tomsk and Chuvashia.  Students from Sevastopol have arrived at the construction site for the first time. Students are installing curbs and drainage gutters, tying fixtures, laying concrete and bricks, plastering and painting, building roads and doing other auxiliary jobs.

Read more at: Government.ru

Blow for New Cosmodrome as Officials Say First Manned Launch is Still a Decade Away

Russian space officials say they remain on target for the first unmanned launch from Vostochny in December this year. But plans for manned launches to commence in 2018 have been shelved, which means Russia will depend on Baikonur in Kazakhstan for another ten years. Vostochny, in Amur region on the eastern fringe of Siberia, is the country’s iconic new spaceport. It is currently Russia’s largest building project, and the seven year delay appears to be a setback. It follows a government decision not to adapt the new facility for the ageing Soyuz rockets for manned launches, but instead to prepare it for the new-era Angara rockets. However the new cosmodrome will use the Soyuz-2 rocket for unmanned launches. A 2007 presidential decree had set 2018 as this target date for manned launched and it was echoed in repeated statements from officials until recently.

Read more at: The Siberian Times

US Astronauts Drink Recycled Urine Aboard Space Station But Russians Refuse

What’s the difference between American and Russian astronauts on the International Space Station? The Americans drink their urine, the Russians don’t. “It tastes like bottled water,” Layne Carter, water subsystem manager for the ISS at Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center told Bloomberg. “As long as you can psychologically get past the point that it’s recycled urine and condensate that comes out of the air.” Condensate is the collected breath and sweat of the crew, shower runoff, and urine from animals on board the station. Specifically, 12 mice that came with the Japanese cargo ship, the Kounotori 5 or White Stork, that successfully docked on Monday. Ninety-three percent of all the water on board is reclaimed, according to a video posted by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield while he was on the space station in 2013. “We can recycle about 6,000 extra liters of water for the station each year,” Hadfield said.

Read more at: The Guardian

Russia Could Make U.S. Astronauts Train in Crimea

Russia’s space agency is planning to move training for space missions to the International Space Station (ISS) to abandoned facilities in Crimea, a senior agency official said, potentially forcing the United States to send astronauts to the territory annexed by Russia last year. Since Washington does not recognize Russian ownership of Crimea, the move risks undermining Russia-U.S. cooperation in space. Cosmonauts have practiced emergency landing and survival scenarios in Crimea since the early days of the Soviet space program, using the peninsula’s mountains, plains and surrounding Black Sea for a variety of training exercises. In 2007, Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, moved those portions of the training program back to the main training center in Zvyozdny Gorodok (“Star City”) outside Moscow. But after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March last year, Roscosmos is eying a return to the region in 2016. Yury Lonchakov, a Roscosmos official and head of Russia’s cosmonaut training center, told the TASS news agency on Friday that “there is a plan next year to move ocean [survival] training to Crimea.”

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow did not respond to a request for comment on how the U.S. Government would respond to such a move. NASA’s chief official in Russia, Sean Fuller, told The Moscow Times he was unaware of any notification from Roscosmos that it was being considered. Asked how a Crimean training program would affect the agency’s partnership with NASA, Roscosmos spokesman Mikhail Fadeyev told The Moscow Times, “the issue is being studied, and all decisions will be announced later.”

Read more at: The Moscow Times

Defense, Intelligence Officials Debate Organization of New Space Ops Center

The chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force said the command structure of a planned joint Defense Department-intelligence community space operations center is under discussion but that regardless of the outcome, he does not envision the Defense Department relinquishing control of Air Force satellites. Speaking to reporters here Aug. 24, Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh played down the notion of a turf war between the Air Force and the intelligence community over control of the planned Joint Interagency Coalition Operations Space Center, which industry sources say could open by Oct. 1.

Read more at: Space News

Chinese Spy Payload Fired Into Orbit

China sent the next in a series of military-operated spy satellites into orbit Thursday aboard a Long March 4C rocket in an unannounced launch from the country’s northeastern space center. Fueled by a mixture of liquid hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, the three-stage Long March 4C rocket lifted off at 0231 GMT Thursday (10:31 p.m. EDT) from the Taiyuan launch base in northeastern China’s Shanxi province, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. The blastoff occurred at 10:31 a.m. Beijing time and was not announced in advance by Chinese authorities, keeping with standard practice for Chinese military launches. Xinhua reported the satellite will be used “for experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster prevention.” But analysts believe the spacecraft is intended to operate as a military spy satellite. Tracking data from the U.S. military’s Space Surveillance Network shows the Long March rocket placed its payload, named Yaogan 27, into an orbit about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) above Earth at an inclination of approximately 100 degrees.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

War in Space May Be Closer Than Ever

The world’s most worrisome military flashpoint is arguably not in the Strait of Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, Iran, Israel, Kashmir or Ukraine. In fact, it cannot be located on any map of Earth, even though it is very easy to find. To see it, just look up into a clear sky, to the no-man’s-land of Earth orbit, where a conflict is unfolding that is an arms race in all but name.

The emptiness of outer space might be the last place you’d expect militaries to vie over contested territory, except that outer space isn’t so empty anymore. About 1,300 active satellites wreathe the globe in a crowded nest of orbits, providing worldwide communications, GPS navigation, weather forecasting and planetary surveillance. For militaries that rely on some of those satellites for modern warfare, space has become the ultimate high ground, with the U.S. as the undisputed king of the hill. Now, as China and Russia aggressively seek to challenge U.S. superiority in space with ambitious military space programs of their own, the power struggle risks sparking a conflict that could cripple the entire planet’s space-based infrastructure. And though it might begin in space, such a conflict could easily ignite full-blown war on Earth. The long-simmering tensions are now approaching a boiling point due to several events, including recent and ongoing tests of possible anti-satellite weapons by China and Russia, as well as last month’s failure of tension-easing talks at the United Nations.

Testifying before Congress earlier this year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper echoed the concerns held by many senior government officials about the growing threat to U.S. satellites, saying that China and Russia are both “developing capabilities to deny access in a conflict,” such as those that might erupt over China’s military activities in the South China Sea or Russia’s in Ukraine. China in particular, Clapper said, has demonstrated “the need to interfere with, damage and destroy” U.S. satellites, referring to a series of Chinese anti-satellite missile tests that began in 2007.

There are many ways to disable or destroy satellites beyond provocatively blowing them up with missiles. A spacecraft could simply approach a satellite and spray paint over its optics, or manually snap off its communications antennas, or destabilize its orbit. Lasers can be used to temporarily disable or permanently damage a satellite’s components, particularly its delicate sensors, and radio or microwaves can jam or hijack transmissions to or from ground controllers.

Read More at: Scientific American

Boeing Introduces Portable Laser Weapon Capable of Destroying Drones

Boeing this week introduced its Compact Laser Weapons System, a portable device capable of using an invisible laser to take down targets several hundreds of meters away. The aerospace company designed the device to focus energy on a small enough spot to heat and destroy targets, including moving ones, like drones. “Think of it like a welding torch being put on target but from many hundreds of meters away,” Boeing engineer Isaac Neil said in a Boeing video introducing the weapon

Read more at: Space War