Progress for Tiangong 2

At some time in 2016, China will launch the Tiangong 2 space laboratory. The launch will break a fairly long period of inactivity for China’s human spaceflight program, which underwent an uncommon surge of activity after Tiangong 1 was launched. 2014 and 2015 have been years without any Chinese astronaut launches, so we are keen to see some more action.

Nothing is happening in space, but not much has happened recently in China’s official state media, either. That’s not surprising. In some ways, it’s probably business as usual, as preparations for the Tiangong 2 program advance steadily behind closed doors. The silence also reflects the new conservatism in reporting on Chinese spaceflight, which was gradually opening up before it was abruptly reset by some new government policies.

Let’s recap what we know. Tiangong 2 will use the same basic module as the Tiangong 1 space laboratory, a small cabin with sleeping quarters for two astronauts. There will probably be few visible differences on the inside or the outside of the laboratory, but there will be changes. The most important one will be a new regenerative life support system.

Other changes seem likely when the lessons of Tiangong 1 are incorporated, but overall, Tiangong 2 will probably represent a fairly incremental evolution in design. The floor of the module could be changed, and there could be some visible differences there. Astronauts on the first expedition experienced problems, and the second expedition took up some new panels to correct them. China may also choose to modify the docking system, but it will probably look the same as it did on Tiangong 1.

As with Tiangong 1, Tiangong 2 will be launched by a Long March 2F/G rocket, a modified version of the rocket used to launch Chinese astronauts.

Read more: Space Daily

Experts Discuss Future of China’s Space Race in Harbin

After making significant progress in its three-phase moon exploration plan over the last ten years, there has been some speculation over how China will continue space exploration ambitions, according to the Shanghai-based New Outlook.

Some have asked when China will land a person on the moon and when the country will send a mission to Mars, the piece said. This was a topic of discussion at a recent conference held by the space exploration technology commission of the China Society of Astronautics in Harbin that was attended by over 200 Chinese and foreign experts. A manned lunar mission, a manned space exploration mission and a manned mission to Mars were all among proposals discussed at the conference.

At the conference, held at the Harbin Institute of Technology, Liu Jizhong, director of the Lunar Exploration Program and Space Engineering Center under the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, said China’s space ambitions will revolve around Mars exploration, the next stages of lunar exploration and related research, and asteroid exploration as well as the exploration of Jupiter and beyond.

Liu made reference to 10 major international astronautic events last year, seven of which involved space exploration, such as the maiden flight of the American new-generation Orion spacecraft, the European Space Agency’s landing of the Rosetta probe on a comet and China’s three-stage unmanned mission to the moon and back. In the next 10 years there will be around 40 space missions, involving the US, Russia, Europe, Japan, India, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, Liu said.

Read more: Want China times

Towering Toward Space

Amid a busy launch pad within a site with a celebrated space heritage, a sign of a new era in human spaceflight is climbing upward in the Cape Canaveral skyline. The Boeing Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner spacecraft crew access tower is in the midst of construction at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Crews are building a seven-tiered metal latticework structure at Space Launch Complex 41 and will begin stacking once complete, between ULA’s busy launch schedule. The tower, which is more than 200-feet tall, will take astronauts to the top of an Atlas V rocket equipped with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. “In the end, we are going to have a very safe, very effective and very cost efficient way of getting astronauts back and forth to low earth orbit,” said Chris Ferguson, director of Boeing Crew and Mission Operations. The overall effort is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that will transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Source: Boeing

Meet the Starliner!

The wait is over! Boeing’s next-generation spacecraft has a new name! A fleet of CST-100 Starliners will give the United States crew access to the International Space Station, launching from Florida’s Space Coast atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets on NASA Commercial Crew Program flights.

Source: NASA

What Happened to Early Mars’ Atmosphere? New Study Eliminates One Theory

Scientists may be closer to solving the mystery of how Mars changed from a world with surface water billions of years ago to the arid Red Planet of today.

A new analysis of the largest known deposit of carbonate minerals on Mars suggests that the original Martian atmosphere may have already lost most of its carbon dioxide by the era of valley network formation.

“The biggest carbonate deposit on Mars has, at most, twice as much carbon in it as the current Mars atmosphere,” said Bethany Ehlmann of the California Institute of Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in Pasadena. “Even if you combined all known carbon reservoirs together, it is still nowhere near enough to sequester the thick atmosphere that has been proposed for the time when there were rivers flowing on the Martian surface.”

Carbon dioxide makes up most of the Martian atmosphere. That gas can be pulled out of the air and sequestered or pulled into the ground by chemical reactions with rocks to form carbonate minerals. Years before the series of successful Mars missions, many scientists expected to find large Martian deposits of carbonates holding much of the carbon from the planet’s original atmosphere. Instead, these missions have found low concentrations of carbonate distributed widely, and only a few concentrated deposits. By far the largest known carbonate-rich deposit on Mars covers an area at least the size of Delaware, and maybe as large as Arizona, in a region called Nili Fossae.

Christopher Edwards, a former Caltech researcher now with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Ehlmann reported the findings and analysis in a paper posted online by the journal Geology. Their estimate of how much carbon is locked into the Nili Fossae carbonate deposit uses observations from numerous Mars missions, including the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) on NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor orbiter, the mineral-mapping Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) and two telescopic cameras on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Read more at: Phys.org

The arrival of Russia’s Sergei Volkov, Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen and Kazakhstan’s Aidyn Aimbetov brings the number of astronauts on the orbiting space outpost to nine for the first time since November 2013.

Mogensen, the first Dane in space, got a message from his mother shortly after he arrived.
“I am really looking to have you back on Earth again,” Lisa Bjerregaard said during a video link from Baikonur, the cosmodrome in Kazakhstan where the spacecraft was launched Wednesday with relatives in attendance. “Don’t forget to call me when you land.” Mogensen answered: “Yeah, yeah, I promise.” The exchange was shown live on television in Denmark.

Mogensen and Aimbetov will return to Earth on Sept. 12 along with Russian Gennady Padalka, the current station commander. Command will then be passed to NASA’s Scott Kelly, who along with Mikhail Kornienko of Russia is spending a full year on the station to study the effects of long space travel in preparation for a possible future trip to Mars.

Read more: ABC News

Disposing of Space Junk

Satellites, space shuttles and the International Space Station (ISS) have potentially destructive neighbors to contend with while orbiting Earth.

According to NASA, more than 20,000 pieces of space debris orbiting Earth are larger than a softball. But 500,000 pieces are the size of a marble or larger. Further, millions of pieces are so small they can’t be tracked. Traveling at speeds up to 17,500 mph, the debris are a constant concern.

NASA and the U.S. Dept. of Defense are able to track debris 2 in in diameter in low Earth orbit.

“Even tiny paint flecks can damage a spacecraft when traveling at these velocities,” according to NASA. “In fact, a number of space shuttle windows have been replaced because of damage caused by material that was analyzed and shown to be paint flecks.”

Recent collisions include a defunct Russian satellite hitting and destroying an operating U.S. Iridium commercial satellite in 2009. NASA said the collision added more than 2,000 pieces of debris to orbiting space junk. In 2007, China used a missile to destroy an old weather satellite, which added more than 3,000 pieces of debris.

But researchers from Spain’s Univ. of La Rioja, using and algorithm based on biological evolution, have developed a new method of eliminating artificial satellites in highly elliptical orbits upon mission completion.

Published in Advances in Space Research, the study involved researchers simulating a satellite’s orbit over 100 years in a few seconds. The orbit propagator software aims to find ideal conditions and instances for a satellite to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere for safe disintegration away from other satellites.

Read more: R&D Magazine

Here’s What a Real War in Space Might Be Like in 2015

From Star Wars to Battlestar Galactica, few battlefields are as fought over in pop-culture as space. Which makes sense. Since the end of World War Two, people have looked to the stars as the next great frontier of both exploration and warfare.

For the United States, the Space Race was about both prestige and gaining an advantage over its Cold War enemies. And since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, peopled have looked to the skies above and wondered if the next great war might take place in literal vacuum.

But according to David Axe, editor-in-chief of War Is Boring, the war in space won’t look anything like what Hollywood has long pictured. Slow moving robots, lasers and logistics will dominate combat above the skies.

In this week’s War College, Axe dispels the popular myths of space as a battlefield and let’s us know what’s really going on in Earth’s orbit. Axe describes how to weaponize existing satellites, the missiles America and China have developed to knock those satellites out of the sky and the low-cost plans the Pentagon has to maintain its edge in the stratosphere.

Source: Reuters

Falcon 9 Rocket to be Grounded Longer Than Expected

The beginning of November will be the earliest SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket can resume launching after a June 28 failure blamed on a deficient structural support brace inside the the vehicle’s second stage, a SpaceX executive said Monday.

The next launch will be the 20th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket and the first with up-rated engines operating at higher thrust levels than previous missions, according to Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer.

“Obviously, we’ve got a return-to-flight sitting in front of us here coupled with the latest upgrade to the Falcon 9 launch vehicle,” Shotwell said Monday at a conference in California sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Our next flight will be both the return-to-flight and the first flight of the upgraded vehicle, so whenever people ask me what keeps me up at night, it’s that flight — getting ready for that flight.”

Speaking to reporters in July, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said he expected the Falcon 9 could resume flying as soon as September.

“We’re taking more time than we originally envisioned to get back to flight, but I don’t think any one of our customers wants us to race to the cliff and fail again,” Shotwell said. “So we’re a couple of months away from the next flight and we will have been through a pretty thorough top-down single-point failure review.

“Every engineer in the company is having a buddy check their work, and we’re doing deep dives throughout our supply chain to make sure we don’t see what we saw on our last flight,” Shotwell said.

Shotwell said Monday the diagnosis of the failure shared by Musk in July still stands. The investigation into the June 28 launch failure, which is led by SpaceX with support from federal agencies, narrowed in on a strut supporting a helium pressurant tank suspended inside the second stage liquid oxygen tank.

Engineers believe the strut broke under launch loads, causing the high-pressure helium gas tank to break free, leading to the disintegration of the liquid oxygen tank and the upper stage.

Musk said the strut came from a supplier and future structural braces will be more stringently tested by SpaceX to ensure they meet specifications.

“What we’re trying to do is not only go fix that particular problem,” Shotwell said. “That’s an easy problem to go fix, but what we wanted to do is to take advantage of the lessons we had learned from that particular failure and make sure we’re not seeing something like that anywhere throughout the vehicle or the supply chain.”

A Dragon supply ship heading for the International Space Station was destroyed in the crash. SpaceX holds a multibillion-dollar contract to NASA to ferry cargo, provisions and experiments to and from the space station.

The flight was the seventh in a series of at least 15 resupply missions SpaceX has under contract with NASA.

Read more: SpaceflightNow

One Year and Counting: Mars Isolation Experiment Begins

Six people shut themselves inside a dome for a year in Hawaii, in the longest US isolation experiment aimed at helping NASA prepare for a pioneering journey to Mars.

The crew includes a French astrobiologist, a German physicist and four Americans—a pilot, an architect, a doctor/journalist and a soil scientist. They are based on a barren, northern slope of Mauna Loa, living inside a dome that is 36 feet (11 meters) in diameter and 20 feet tall.

In a place with no animals and little vegetation around, they closed themselves in at 3:00 pm Hawaii time (0100 GMT Saturday), marking the official start to the 12-month mission.

The men and women have their own small rooms, with space for a sleeping cot and desk, and will spend their days eating food like powdered cheese and canned tuna, only going outside if dressed in a spacesuit, and having limited access to the Internet.

Read more at: Phys.org

Commercial Space Stations in LEO: Preparing for the Future

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, the Secure World Foundation and the Alliance for Space Development (ASD) will be hosting a luncheon panel discussion from 12:00pm to 2:00pm on  “Commercial Space Stations in LEO: Preparing for the Future” in Washington, DC.

Like many other sectors of space activities that were once “government only,” the notion of privately owned and operated space stations is no longer science fiction. Within the next decade, it is likely we will have a scenario where there are multiple commercial and government space stations on orbit, with a mix of multiple government and private customers and a mix of government and commercial transportation services going back and forth. Such a scenario holds both incredible opportunity and a number of significant challenges to resolve.

This panel discussion brings together experts from civil society, industry, and the U.S. government to discuss what this future may look like, and what economic, policy, and regulatory challenges need to be overcome along the way.

Read more: Secure World Foundation