First Meeting of the U.S.-China Space Dialogue

Pursuant to their shared goal of advancing civil space cooperation as agreed upon in the Strategic Track of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in June 2015, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of China convened their inaugural Civil Space Dialogue on September 28, 2015, in Beijing, China.

The meeting was co-chaired by the Department of State for the United States and by the China National Space Administration for China. The convening of this first Civil Space Dialogue launches a new initiative to enhance cooperation between the two countries and provide better transparency on a variety of space related issues.

At the inaugural meeting, U.S. and Chinese officials exchanged information on respective space policies. They conducted discussions on further collaboration related to space debris and the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. Both sides also exchanged views on issues related to satellite collision avoidance.

The two sides summarized information on national plans related to space exploration and discussed the next multilateral meeting of the International Space Exploration Forum. The two sides discussed ways to cooperate further on civil Earth observation activities, space sciences, space weather, and civil Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS).

Read more at: US Department of State

HTV Supply Ship Sets Course for Re-entry

Heading for a destructive re-entry over the South Pacific with several tons of trash, Japan’s fifth HTV cargo craft departed the International Space Station on Monday after overcoming a last-minute snag in the lab’s robotics system.

The space station’s 58-foot-long robotic arm disengaged the HTV supply ship from a docking port on the outpost’s Harmony module early Monday, then maneuvered the spacecraft to a departure point about 30 feet beneath the complex.

Astronauts Kimiya Yui and Kjell Lindgren were gearing up to release the H-2 Transfer Vehicle at 1520 GMT (11:20 a.m. EDT), but mission control instructed the crew to stand down after receiving an error message on the station’s robotic arm.

It was not immediately clear what caused the brake error message, but astronauts rebooted the robot arm’s work station in the windowed cupola module and released the 33-foot-long barrel-shaped cargo craft about 90 minutes later than planned at 1653 GMT (12:53 p.m. EDT). Yui was at the controls of the robotic arm to let go of the HTV, which is the fifth in a series of at least nine Japanese supply ships built to service the space station through 2020.

Read more at: SpaceFlight Now

NASA Confirms Evidence that Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars

New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water—albeit briny—is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

These downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), often have been described as possibly related to liquid water. The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what that relationship may be to these dark features. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it’s likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

“We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks,” said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings published Sept. 28 by Nature Geoscience.

Read more at: Phys.org

Thales Alenia Space to Supply Thermomechanical Systems for Orion ESM

Thales Alenia Space has signed a contract with Airbus Defence and Space, prime contractor for US space capsule Orion service module, to develop and produce the thermomechanical systems for the European Service Module (ESM) on the Orion spacecraft.

Orion is NASA’s new human transportation vehicle for deep space exploration. The Orion service module will be developed under ESA contract and will provide propulsion, power supply, thermal control and main life support capabilities for the American spacecraft.

The contract signed today by Thales Alenia Space is worth approximately 90 million euros. Thales Alenia Space, a core team member along with Airbus Defence and Space, will develop and supply critical service module systems for the first flight unit, including structure & micrometeoroid protection, thermal control and consumable storage and distribution.

Read more at: Aerospace & Defense News

Commercial Space Supporter Leading Candidate to Become Next House Speaker

The surprise announcement by House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) that he would resign from Congress may clear the way for a staunch supporter of the commercial space industry to ascend to the top post in the chamber.

The leading candidate to succeed Boehner is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is second only to Boehner in the House Republican leadership. His district includes the Mojave Air and Space Port, a commercial spaceport that is home to several space companies, including Masten Space Systems, Stratolaunch Systems and Virgin Galactic.

McCarthy is widely considered to be a strong supporter of the commercial space industry, sponsoring the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015. That bill, which the House passed in May, extends current restrictions on the ability of the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate safety of people flying on commercial spacecraft, and continue the current system of third-party indemnification of commercial launches. That bill is being reconciled with a similar bill the Senate passed in August.

In a May 21 speech on the House floor during debate on the SPACE Act, McCarthy said he supported the bill to make the U.S. more competitive. “In space, we are losing our ability to lead,” he said. “We once stood up to the challenge of the Soviet’s Sputnik and made it to the moon, but today, our astronauts use Russian rockets.”

Read more at: Space News

Key Radar Fails on NASA’s $1 Billion SMAP Satellite

A key instrument on a $1 billion NASA satellite has failed, reducing scientists’ ability to capture data to measure the moisture in Earth’s soil in order to improve flood forecasting and monitor climate change, officials said on Thursday.

A second instrument remains operational aboard the 2,100-pound (950-kg) Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite, though its level of detail is far more limited. The satellite’s high-powered radar system, capable of collecting data in swaths of land as small as about 2 miles (3 km) across, failed in July after less than three months in operation, NASA said. The cause of the failure is under investigation.

Launched in January, SMAP was designed to spend at least three years in orbit, taking measurements on the amount of water in the upper two inches (5 cm) of the Earth’s soil. Scientists had hoped to combine SMAP’s high-resolution measurements with data from the lower-resolution instrument to get a better understanding of how much water, ice and slush is in the planet’s top soil.

Read more at: NBC News

Led by PM Modi, Leaders Shower Praise on ISRO for Launch of ASTROSAT

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today led a host of chief ministers from across the nation in praising Indian Space Research Organisaion (ISRO) for its successful launch of India’s maiden dedicated space observatory, ASTROSAT.

“Well done @isro. This is one more grand accomplishment for Indian science & our scientists,” PM Modi said in a post on the micro-blogging website Twitter.

Union Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Harsh Vardhan tweeted, “Congratulations to the entire nation for the successful launch of India’s first astronomy satellite ASTROSAT.#ISRO”. Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel was one of the earliest to congratulate ISRO. “With the successful launch of ASTROSAT, India joins a league of elite nations having space observatory. Hearty congrats [email protected], you make us proud!”, she tweeted.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu said, “Delighted at @isro’s remarkable feat of launching PSLV-C30 carrying #Astrosat, India’s 1st space observatory. [email protected]” Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister ShivrajSingh Chouhan said, “Heartiest congratulations to scientists & engineers of @ISRO for launching India’s 1st dedicated astronomy satellite.”

Read more at: NDTV

First Static Fire Completed on Upgraded Falcon 9

SpaceX’s upgraded Falcon 9 booster powered up to full throttle in a brief ignition at the company’s Central Texas test site this week as engineers prepare for the rocket’s return to flight as soon as mid-November with a European communications satellite.

The November launch from Cape Canaveral, which will haul up the SES 9 television broadcasting platform, will also be the debut mission for the latest version of the Falcon 9 rocket with higher throttle settings, condensed fuel and structural modifications.

SpaceX posted a video of the Sept. 21 static fire test late Thursday, showing an aerial view of the more than 15-second firing on a new ground-level test stand with a dug-out flame trench in McGregor, Texas.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, said Thursday the next Falcon 9 launch is coming soon. “We hope to launch again in a couple of months — I guess maybe six to eight weeks or so from now — and if things go well, we’ll be able to land the rocket, although I’ll be happy if it just gets to orbit, of course,” Musk said in remarks at a forum in Berlin hosted by the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. “But hopefully, it will come back to land as well, and that will be an important milestone for space exploration.”

Read more at: SpaceFlight Now

China’s New Carrier Rocket Succeeds in 1st Trip

China successfully launched a new model of carrier rocket, Long March-6, at 7:01 a.m. Sunday from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China’s Shanxi Province. The rocket carried 20 micro-satellites into the space for space tests.

The new rocket, fueled by liquid propellant made of liquid oxygen and kerosene, is China’s first carrier rocket that uses fuel free of toxicity and pollution, said Gao Xinhui, an official at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. “Using such propellant can cut costs by a great margin,” he said.

Zhang Weidong, designer-in-chief at the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said the new rocket also “reformed the way carrier rockets are tested and launched in China.”

Read more at: Space Daily

Scientists Find Space Rubbish Nearing “Critical Point”

Opening a simulation diagram on the computer, astronomer Liu Jing shows the blue Earth surrounded by countless dots in the dark space. The dots are space debris.

As vice director of the Space Debris Monitoring and Application Center under China’s National Space Administration, Liu raises a series of astonishing figures. Humankind has launched more than 6,000 spacecraft, with some 1,300 still in operation, while others are now trash in space. So far, more than 17,000 pieces of space debris have been recorded.

Experts estimate there are more than 23,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 cm, more than 500,000 pieces larger than 1 cm, and over 100 million larger than 1mm in space. “There is an estimated risk of collision between spacecraft and debris each week. China’s satellites face the risk of coming close to debris every month,” Liu says. “If the situation continues, a large space collision will happen every four to nine years. And if no effective measures are taken, the chain reaction between the space debris will bring the intensification of space to a critical point.”

Scientists estimate there have been more than 200 spacecraft destroyed in the space era, with an increasing number of collisions in recent years. In 2007, a European satellite, Meteosat-8, was hit by unrecorded debris and pushed out of orbit. In 2009, a Russian satellite collided with a U.S. satellite, producing a large amount of debris. In 2013, an Ecuadorian satellite was destroyed when it collided with debris from a rocket launched by the former Soviet Union in 1985.

By Sept. 1, 2015, more than 1,300 satellites were in earth orbit: more than 500 were from the United States, more than 140 from China, and more than 130 from Russia.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Canada Seeks To Help ESA Deorbit Envisat Using Robot Arm

Canada could play a prominent role in a deorbiting mission for the European Envisat Earth observation satellite, with robotic arm technology the most feasible method for such a job, according to industry and Canadian Space Agency officials.

The European Space Agency has yet to approve a mission although Canada expects one to develop between 2017 to 2021, with a potential launch in 2021, according to the Canadian Space Agency. MDA Corp. of Richmond, British Columbia, recently finished an initial study that concluded that deorbiting Envisat could be accomplished using a robotic arm and capture tool.

“Given Canada’s leadership, experience and capabilities in on-orbit serving Canada could play a prominent role in deorbit,” the agency said in an Aug. 14, 2014, examination of the Envisat issue. That document was released through the federal Access to Information law.

Dan King, MDA’s director of business development for robotics and automation, said that by the end of the year ESA is expected to start a new phase in its study of a potential deorbiting mission. “From our capability standpoint we are definitely planning to continue to be engaged,” he said in an interview with SpaceNews. “But as to how far we go in the future it’s TBD [to be determined] at the moment.”

Envisat is one of the largest Earth observation spacecraft ever built. It is 26 meters long and an estimated 8 metric tons. It was launched in 2002 in a sun-synchronous orbit but stopped communicating in April 2012.

The defunct satellite is considered one of the largest orbital debris threats in low Earth orbit. In addition to its size, the satellite is outfitted with a variety of antennas and other equipment, a concern since such devices could splinter if hit by debris. There is also concern that as Envisat ages in the harsh space environment, such hardware becomes increasingly brittle, increasing the likelihood that debris could be created. Envisat will continue to orbit for 150 years if nothing is done.

Read more at: Space News

Red Dragon’ Mission to Bring Mars Rocks Back to Earth Could Launch by 2022

A mission that uses SpaceX’s Dragon capsule to help bring chunks of Mars rock back to Earth for analysis could launch as early as 2022, researchers say.

This “Red Dragon” project — which remains a concept at the moment, not an approved mission — would grab samples collected by NASA’s2020 Mars rover and send them rocketing back toward Earth, where researchers could scrutinize the material for possible signs of past Red Planet life.

The sample-return effort would keep costs and complexity down by using SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and a modified version of the company’s robotic Dragon cargo capsule, the concept’s developers say. [Images: ‘Red Dragon’ Sample-Return Concept]

Red Dragon is “technically feasible with the use of these emerging commercial technologies, coupled with technologies that already exist,” Andy Gonzales, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said Wednesday (Sept. 9) during a presentation with the space agency’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group.

The Red Dragon team has developed the concept independently, without any involvement or endorsement by SpaceX, Gonzales said. The researchers have drawn up a plan that uses a modified version of SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon cargo capsule, which has already flown six resupply missions to the International Space Station for NASA. The Red Dragon variant would include a robotic arm, extra fuel tanks and a central tube that houses a rocket-powered Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV).

Read more at: NBC News

Boeing Identifies CST-100 Prime Landing Sites

The first few flights of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew capsule will likely land on expansive desert plains in New Mexico or Utah, according to a former astronaut charged with developing the spacecraft’s operations scheme.

Boeing is still finalizing a list of five candidate landing sites in the Western United States, but the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah will initially be the prime return locations, said Chris Ferguson, deputy manager of the CST-100 Starliner program.

The capsules will parachute to airbag-cushioned landings after each mission, beginning with the CST-100’s first test flights in 2017. Boeing is developing the program under a $4.2 billion contract with NASA, which also has an agreement with SpaceX to give the agency two independent vehicles to ferry astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station.

“We don’t enjoy the tremendous cross range with a capsule vehicle that we had with the space shuttle,” said Ferguson, a two-time shuttle commander who flew on the final shuttle flight in 2011. “That’s why we need a few more sites to give us the landing opportunities over the course of the year that we need. With five sites, we can get about 450 opportunities to land every year.”

That’s assuming no bad weather and stable ground for the capsule’s airbag landing. Ferguson said five landing sites gives Boeing enough options to ensure a landing the same day the spacecraft undocks from the space station, even accounting for poor conditions.

All of the candidates are in the Western United States, allowing the capsule to drop its disposable service module for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean, Ferguson said.

Read more at: SpaceFlight Now

Faulty Component that Delayed ExoMars Affects Other ESA Programs

A defective batch of pressure gauges that forced a two-month delay in the launch of Europe’s ExoMars 2016 mission has disrupted multiple other programs but was identified early enough to prevent any of the leaky units from launching, the European Space Agency said Sept. 22.

In response to SpaceNews inquiries, ESA said the same pressure transducers whose suspected leaks forced the agency to delay, to March, the launch of the ExoMars mission have been removed or repaired on a half-dozen other missions — all in time to prevent in-orbit problems.

“Beyond ExoMars there is a whole group of missions affected, but for all of them there is adequate time to either repair the existing transducers or procure new ones,” the agency said in a statement. “For the science program, BepiColombo [a mission to Mercury slated to launch in 2017] will fly these sensors but they have been procured prior to the lots that are affected, [so] no risk for BepiColombo,” the agency said. “Further, Solar Orbiter and Cheops are affected and will repair and exchange, respectively, the sensors with no impact on the overall mission planning.”

The Cheops exoplanet-hunting satellite and the Solar Orbiter sun-focused mission are scheduled for launch in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

The two-month delay in the launch, aboard a Russian Proton rocket, of the Euro-Russian ExoMars 2016 orbiter and entry, descent and landing module is a rare case in which the usual Mars launch window, which typically opens every two years, permits liftoffs just two months apart.

Rolf de Groot, head of ESA’s robotic exploration coordination office, said ExoMars 2016 will arrive in Mars orbit in October, around the same time as it would have were it launched in January.

The delay was caused by a component alert issued this summer by producer Moog Bradford of Heerle, the Netherlands, a unit of Aurora, New York-based Moog Inc. Moog Bradford did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sept. 22. The company’s U.S. headquarters said Moog would not discuss the issue without explicit customer approval.

Read more at: Space News