United Launch Alliance Picks US Rocket Engine Over Rival Russian One

The US United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the Blue Origin company have signed a production deal that derails plans to provide a Russian engine for the US next-generation Vulcan booster rocket.

“ULA and Blue Origin LLC announced [on Thursday] the signing of an agreement to expand production capabilities for the American-made BE-4engine that will power the Vulcan next generation launch system,” the two companies stated in a press release.

Blue Origin is a privately-funded aerospace company owned byAmazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post newspaper.

“The BE-4 engine offers the fastest path to a domestic alternative to the Russian RD-180,” the release said. Development is on schedule to achieve qualification for flight in 2017 to support the first Vulcan flight in 2019, the press release added.

Read more at: Space Daily

Russian Cosmonaut Sets New Space Record

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka has returned to Earth after setting a new record of 879 cumulative days spent in space. He safely touched down on board Soyuz with a Kazakh cosmonaut and the first astronaut from Denmark.

The Soyuz-TMA-16M capsule was carrying Russia’s Gennady Padalka, Kazakhstan’s third cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov, and the first astronaut flying to space under the Danish flag, Andreas Mogensen.

Padalka returned from the International Space Station (ISS) after spending a record 879 days in orbit. The previous record had been held by fellow cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who spent 803 days in space. The cosmonaut led the 44th expedition to the ISS, breaking the record on June 28.

Read more at:  RT

New Antenna Could Give Mars Rovers a Direct Line to Earth

Talking to rovers on the surface of Mars could become much easier, thanks to a new type of antenna that would send messages directly between the robotic explorers and Earth.

Currently, robotic rovers on the surface of Mars communicate with Earth by first relaying messages to a satellite orbiting the Red Planet; but the new antenna would cut out the middle-man and allow rovers to communicate directly with scientists back home. The new antenna design would also dramatically increase the available communication time between Red Planet rovers and Earth, according to a statement from the University of California at Los Angeles.

The new design combines many small antennas, known as antenna elements, into a larger single antenna, using a unique geometry. The new instrument can transmit and receive signals with greater power than current rover antennas are capable of, the statement said.

Read more at:  Space.com

Curiosity Investigates Petrified Martian Sand Dunes

NASA’s SUV-sized Curiosity rover has arrived at a beautiful Martian vista displaying a huge deposit of magnificently petrified sand dunes that look remarkably like some commonly found on Earth and native to the deserts of the U.S. Southwest.

The dunes are keenly fascinating to Red Planet researchers as the NASA robot celebrates 1100 fabulous Sols of exploration and discovery on Marsand contemplates plans for the next drill campaign later this month. See dune mosaic above and our Sol 1100 mosaic below.

The petrified sand dunes were discovered amongst an area of dark sandstone along a ridge at the lower slope of Mars’ Mount Sharp. They are now being explored in detail by the six wheeled rover in a geologic feature dubbed the Stimson unit.

Read more at: Universe Today

Galileo Taking Flight: Ten Satellites Now in Orbit

Europe’s own satellite navigation system has come a step nearer to completion, with Galileo 9 and 10 which lifted off together at 02:08 GMT on 11 September (04:08 CEST; 23:08 local time, 10 September) from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, atop a Soyuz launcher.

All the Soyuz stages performed as planned, with the Fregat upper stage releasing the satellites into their target orbit close to 23 500 km altitude, around 3 hours and 48 minutes after liftoff.

“The deployment of Europe’s Galileo system is rapidly gathering pace” said Jan Woerner, Director General of ESA. By steadily boosting the number of satellites in space, together with new stations on the ground across the world, Galileo will soon have a global reach. The day of Galileo’s full operational capability is approaching. It will be a great day for Europe.”

Two further Galileo satellites are still scheduled for launch by end of this year. These satellites have completed testing at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, with the next two satellites also undergoing their own test campaigns.

Read more at: GPS daily

SNC Announces New Dream Chaser Spacecraft Designated Landing Site Program

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems announces the launch of a new program, the Dream Chaser-Preferred Landing Site Program, in which SNC will work with spaceports and commercial airports to become a designated landing site for the Dream Chaser spacecraft.

“The number of applicants requesting spaceport licenses both domestically and internationally has increased dramatically over the past 24 months,” said John Roth, vice president of business development and strategy for SNC’s Space Systems. “SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft is the only commercial space vehicle that is capable not only of a runway landing, but landing on runways that already support commercial aircraft. SNC has created this program based on the tremendous interest we have received to date from spaceports and airports around the world that want to host Dream Chaser landings as a stimulant to their local economies.”

Through the Dream Chaser-Preferred Landing Site Program, SNC is offering three different levels of designation, with the highest level culminating in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issuing a re-entry license to SNC for the designated spaceport or airport. This program was created based on similar work currently being done with Ellington Spaceport in Houston, Texas and the Huntsville International Airport Authority (HIA) in Huntsville, Alabama.

Read more at: Spaceref

Decision Looms on When to Introduce New SLS Upper Stage

NASA officials are waiting to see if Congress adds funding to the agency’s budget next year to kick-start development of a new four-engine upper stage for the Space Launch System, an upgrade that would allow the mega-rocket to loft heavier cargoes into deep space.

The new rocket component, called the Exploration Upper Stage, could be developed in time for the Space Launch System’s second flight in 2021, which will be the first time the launcher will carry a crew inside an Orion capsule.

The 2021 flight is named Exploration Mission-2 and would take astronauts around the moon on the farthest flight by humans in history. “Our goal is to introduce it for EM-2, the flight in 2021,” said Bill Hill, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development. “We would like to do that for several reasons. One is it gets it introduced earlier, and two, we wouldn’t have to human-rate what we’re calling the interim cryogenic propulsion system, which is a modified Delta cryogenic second stage.”

But Hill said the White House’s proposed budget for the behemoth booster next year is not sufficient to start full-scale work on the larger rocket stage, raising concerns the 2021 launch may require human-rating the Delta 4-based interim single-engine upper stage, an effort NASA officials previously said will cost about $150 million.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Why Musk’s ‘Nuking Mars’ Idea Isn’t All That Far-Fetched

Elon Musk’s comment to Stephen Colbert was great for sensational headlines, but there is some science behind the idea of thermonuclear terraforming. Watch the video provided by Newsy

Read more at: Science Daily

Step Inside Crew Dragon: SpaceX Reveals Interior of Crewed Space Capsule

SpaceX has thrown open the hatch to its Crew Dragon spacecraft, revealing a sleek black and white interior for the capsule it is building to fly astronauts to the International Space Station and other destinations.

“Step inside Crew Dragon,” SpaceX invited on a new page of its website on Thursday (Sept. 10). “Dragon made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial [uncrewed] spacecraft to deliver cargo to the space station,” SpaceX wrote on its website. “But Dragon was also designed from the beginning to carry people, and today SpaceX is finalizing the necessary refinements to make that a reality.”

Images and video newly-released by the company show that the tan leather and mirrored metal surfaces previously unveiled as part of Crew Dragon’s debut in May 2014 have now been replaced by black bucket seats and stark white walls.

“Crew Dragon was designed to be an enjoyable ride. With four windows, passengers can take in views of Earth, the Moon, and the wider Solar System right from their seats, which are made from the highest-grade carbon fiber and Alcantara cloth,” SpaceX described.

The spacecraft’s only punch of color — other than from its windows — is from the flat panel displays of the capsule’s forward-mounted control panel.

Read more at: Collect Space

Gigantic Ice Slab Found on Mars Just Below the Planet’s Surface

A giant slab of ice as big as California and Texas combined lurks just beneath the surface of Mars between its equator and north pole, researchers say. This ice may be the result of snowfall tens of millions of years ago on Mars, scientists added.

Mars is now dry and cold, but lots of evidence suggests that rivers, lakes and seas once covered the planet. Scientists have discovered life virtually wherever there is liquid water on Earth, leading some researchers to believe that life might have evolved on Mars when it was wet, and that life could be there even now, hidden in subterranean aquifers.

The amount of water on Mars has shifted dramatically over the eons because of the Red Planet’s unstable obliquity — the degree to which the planet tilts on its axis of rotation. Unlike Earth, Mars does not have a large moon to keep it from wobbling, and so the direction its axis points wanders in a chaotic, unpredictable manner, regularly leading to ice ages.

Although researchers have long known that vast amounts of ice lie trapped in high latitudes around the Martian poles, scientists have recently begun to discover that ice also is hidden in mid-latitudes, and even at low latitudes around the Martian equator.

Learning more about past Martian climates and where its water once was “could help us understand if locations on Mars were once habitable,” study lead author Ali Bramson, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told Space.com.

Read more at: Live Science

Titania May Produce Abiotic Oxygen Atmospheres on Habitable Exoplanets

The search for habitable exoplanets in the Universe is actively ongoing in the field of astronomy. The biggest future milestone is to determine whether life exists on such habitable exoplanets. In that context, oxygen in the atmosphere has been considered strong evidence for the presence of photosynthetic organisms. In this paper, we show that a previously unconsidered photochemical mechanism by titanium (IV) oxide (titania) can produce abiotic oxygen from liquid water under near ultraviolet (NUV) lights on the surface of exoplanets. Titania works as a photocatalyst to dissociate liquid water in this process. This mechanism offers a different source of a possibility of abiotic oxygen in atmospheres of exoplanets from previously considered photodissociation of water vapor in upper atmospheres by extreme ultraviolet (XUV) light.

Our order-of-magnitude estimation shows that possible amounts of oxygen produced by this abiotic mechanism can be comparable with or even more than that in the atmosphere of the current Earth, depending on the amount of active surface area for this mechanism. We conclude that titania may act as a potential source of false signs of life on habitable exoplanets.

Read more at: Nature

Comet Hitchhiker: New Concept for Orbiting, Landing on Comets and Asteroids

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have devised a new way to get into orbit and land on Solar System’s small bodies. “Hitchhiking a celestial body is not as simple as sticking out your thumb, because it flies at an astronomical speed and it won’t stop to pick you up. Instead of a thumb, our idea is to use a harpoon and a tether,” said Dr Masahiro Ono of JPL, who had ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ in mind when dreaming up the idea, dubbed Comet Hitchhiker.

A reusable tether system would replace the need for propellant for entering orbit and landing, so running out wouldn’t be an issue. While closely flying by the target, a probe would first cast an extendable tether toward the asteroid or comet and attach itself using a harpoon attached to the tether. Next, the probe would reel out the tether while applying a brake that harvests energy while the probe accelerates.

“This kind of hitchhiking could be used for multiple targets in the main asteroid belt or the Kuiper Belt, even five to ten in a single mission,” Dr Ono explained. “In Comet Hitchhiker, accelerating and decelerating do not require propellant because the spacecraft is harvesting kinetic energy from the target.”

Comet Hitchhiker requires a tether made from a material that can withstand the enormous tension and heat generated by a rapid decrease in speed for getting into orbit and landing.

Read more at: Scinews

Real NASA Space Tech in ‘The Martian’

Forget about the wonders of space and the philosophical implications of seeing Earth as a blue dot in a star-filled black sky. Astronaut Mark Watney, the lead character in “The Martian,” a book by Andy Weir, is more concerned about staying alive, and for that there’s nothing like good old-fashioned engineering and technical know-how.

Which is why NASA is so excited about the upcoming debut of a film by the same name, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. Without giving away too much, the story revolves around Watney’s trials and tribulations soloing on Mars after he is inadvertently left by his evacuating crewmates.

The U.S. space agency, which is slowly moving toward a mid-2030s human expedition to Mars, is eager to connect the dots between its ongoing development efforts and engineering finesse the fictional Watney employs to boost his chances of survival.

Here is a look at some Mars technologies currently under development.

Read more at:  Discovery News

‘The Martian’ Rescue Mission Simply Explained In Film Clip

The “Rich Purnell Maneuver” is explained to the NASA administrator, played by Jeff Daniels, in this clip from the upcoming movie, premiering in October 2015. The movie is based on the book by Andy Weir.

Read more at: Space.com