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Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ Rocket Company, Passes an In-Flight Escape Test

Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the billionaire chief executive of Amazon, successfully separated a crew capsule from a rocket after it had lifted off on Wednesday, an important step toward Blue Origin’s goal of carrying tourists into space.

Before putting anyone on board its spacecraft, the company wants to make sure that its rockets’ launch-abort system will carry passengers to safety if anything goes wrong during a flight.

“It’s like the airbag in your car,” Ariane Cornell said as she helped host Blue Origin’s webcast of the test. “It provides some peace of mind, but you’re only going to use it if there’s an emergency.” She said it was the first in-flight test of an abort system since those conducted by NASA’s Apollo program in the 1960s. The Apollo tests also did not carry any people.

Read more at: NY Times

Conspiracy Theories Regarding Amos-6 Falcon 9 Explosion Not Based on Physics, Reality

On Sept. 1, 2016, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 exploded on its launch pad while being fueled for a static test fire. Its payload was Spacecom’s Amos-6 satellite, which was also lost. Since then, SpaceX has conducted its own investigation into what happened, assisted by the U.S. Air Force since the incident took place on an Air Force base.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, has called the failure “the most difficult and complex” that the company has ever had. A week after the explosion, he pleaded with the public to turn in video or audio of the blast and said that the company had not ruled out something hitting the rocket.

On Sept. 30, the Washington Post ran an article that claimed a SpaceX employee attempted to visit United Launch Alliance’s SMARF building a mile away from the launchpad. The article went on to note that SpaceX had a video showing a suspicious shadow on top of the SMARF building, followed by a white spot. According to the article, ULA rebuffed their request to visit and had the Air Force investigate the site, which turned up nothing.

Additionally, a few commenters on the space news site Parabolic Arc have claimed that the explosion was the result of snipers or drones with lasers. Some of the more extreme ones have claimed extraterrestrial interference (as noted on Daily Mail, a U.K. based media outlet).

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Soyuz MS-02 Cleared for Flight

On September 17, Roskosmos announced that after final tests of the spacecraft, its launch had to be postponed from September 23. The new launch date has not been announced. According to industry sources, the delay was caused by a short circuit, which took place during roll-on of the payload fairing, which protects the spacecraft during its ascent through the atmosphere. The problem was not detected until the vehicle had been rotated back to a vertical position and was being prepared for the second fit check at Site 254 in Baikonur. The situation was complicated by the fact that engineers could not immediately identify the location of the short circuit in the fully assembled spacecraft. Preliminary estimates indicated that such an issue inside the descent module, SA, could require several weeks to fix, however if the problem was in the instrument module, PAO, it could take several months to resolve.

In the worst case scenario, mission officials might decide to replace the Soyuz vehicle No. 732, which was affected by the problem, with Vehicle No. 733 originally intended for the Soyuz MS-03 mission. According to official Russian media, the launch of the Soyuz MS-02 might be postponed until at least the beginning of October.

Read more at: Russianspaceweb

Why Scheduling Naps is One of NASA’s Most Important Jobs

Russian astronaut Vasily Tsibliyev hadn’t had a good night’s sleep for 12 days. He was being kept awake on purpose, as part of a study about sleeping on board the space station Mir. On the 13th day, June 25, 1997, he was assigned to guide a cargo ship to dock with the space station. But the ship came in too fast, crashing into Mir and knocking out half of the station’s power.

A NASA case study later found that there were problems with the docking procedure for the cargo ship — problems Tsibliyev might have been able to mitigate if he hadn’t been so badly fatigued. “It could have killed everyone,” said psychologist Erin Flynn-Evans, who runs the sleep research program at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “It was really a disaster.”

We talked with Flynn-Evans in her office at Ames about how she helps astronauts sleep in space — and what can happen when they don’t get enough.

Read more at: Washington Post

Antares Return to Flight Will Be October 13 if Matthew Doesn’t Interfere

Orbital ATK and NASA have agreed on October 13 as the launch date for the next Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  That date is contingent on the company completing pre-launch integration and testing activities and on the path of Hurricane Matthew.

A launch date range of October 9-13 was previously announced.  The launch time on October 13 is 9:13 pm ET.

This will be Orbital ATK’s first flight of the re-engined version of Antares, using two Russian RD-181 engines instead of Russian NK-33/AJ26 engines.   The company is retrofitting its Antares rockets with the newer engines because of an October 28, 2014 launch failure that was blamed on the older engine.  It destroyed the rocket and the Cygnus cargo spacecraft that was filled with cargo headed to the ISS.  That was the third operational ISS cargo mission for Orbital Sciences Corporation and was designated Orb-3.

Read more at: Space Policy Online

Ariane 5 Goes on Test Run After Launching Two Satellites

An Ariane 5 rocket lifted two communications satellites to space Wednesday to connect rural Australians with the rest of the world through high-speed Internet and extend television and data services over India, then completed experiments in orbit aimed at helping designers craft Europe’s next-generation launcher.

The 180-foot-tall (55-meter) launcher lit its Vulcain 2 main engine at 2030 GMT (4:30 p.m. EDT; 5:30 p.m. local time) Wednesday, completed a computer-controlled readiness check, then sent commands to ignite two large solid rocket boosters.

The twin boosters, consuming pre-packed ammonium perchlorate and powdered aluminum fuel, powered up with an explosive rush of energy to drive the Ariane 5 off its launch pad at the Guiana Space Center, a sprawling facility the size of Martinique on the northern coast of South America.

Arianespace delayed the launch from Tuesday to avoid strong high-altitude winds, which could have blown debris toward populated areas in the event of a failure.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

NASA Flight Program Tests Mars Lander Vision System

NASA tested new “eyes” for its next Mars rover mission on a rocket built by Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California, thanks in part to NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, or FOP.

The agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is leading development of the Mars 2020 rover and its Lander Vision System, or LVS. In 2014, the prototype vision system launched 1,066 feet (325 meters) into the air aboard Masten’s rocket-powered “Xombie” test platform and helped guide the rocket to a precise landing at a predesignated target. LVS flew as part of a larger system of experimental landing technologies called the Autonomous Descent and Ascent Powered-flight Testbed, or ADAPT.

Read more at: Mars Daily

China Plans World’s Biggest Spaceplane to Carry 20 Tourists

Even China can’t resist the lure of space tourism. A state-backed firm is developing a gigantic spaceplane, New Scientist can reveal. The plane may one day fly up to 20 passengers to the edge of space – significantly more people than any other commercial spaceflight firm has pledged to fly to date.

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing has designed a simple, one-piece spaceplane whose design can be scaled up to carry more people, academy rocket scientist Lui Haiquang told the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, last week.

The academy will have plenty of competition. Big names include Virgin Galactic, whose SpaceShipTwo spaceplane will offer six passengers trips to near-space, and XCOR, whose proposed Lynx vehicle will fly a single passenger seated beside a pilot. Blue Origin’s suborbital space capsule, New Shepard, aims to carry six tourists. But academy team leader Han Pengxin and his colleagues believe consumer demand will be high enough to build a much higher capacity spacecraft. “More and more common persons are interested in the experience of space flight,” the team wrote in their IAC2016 paper, adding that the project is “very attractive” to “bosses and businessmen”.

Read more at: New Scientist

World’s Largest Airplane to Launch Pegasus XL Boosters

Orbital ATK, Inc., a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, and Stratolaunch Systems today announced a multi-year production-based partnership that will offer significant cost advantages to air-launch customers. Stratolaunch Systems, in cooperation with Vulcan Aerospace, is responsible for realizing Paul G. Allen’s vision for space.

Under this partnership, Orbital ATK will initially provide multiple Pegasus XL air-launch vehicles for use with the Stratolaunch aircraft to provide customers with unparalleled flexibility to launch small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. Pegasus has carried out 42 space launch missions, successfully placing more than 80 satellites into orbit for scientific, commercial, defense and international customers.

“We are energized by this evolved partnership with Orbital ATK,” said Mr. Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch Systems and executive director of Vulcan Aerospace. “Orbital ATK is the world’s most experienced air-launch service provider, and we are proud to leverage that expertise and progressive approach in pursuit of our shared goal of convenient and affordable commercial access to low Earth orbit.”

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Humans Will Contaminate Mars With Life — the Question is How to do it Right

If Elon Musk’s Mars colony becomes a reality, he won’t be sending just humans to the Red Planet; he’ll be sending trillions of hitchhiking microbes as well. Such a biological invasion seemingly clashes with a concept known as planetary protection — avoiding the “harmful contamination” of other worlds. Given the likelihood of a human colony to spread microbes, does that put a stop to Musk’s Mars ambitions?

Not exactly. A human settlement isn’t incompatible with planetary protection. In fact, those who came up with the concept did so with future Mars settlements in mind. “It was fully recognized that humans could potentially colonize Mars in the future,” Catherine Conley, NASA’s planetary protection officer, tells The Verge.

Read more at: Verge

Researchers Explore Possibilities of Growing Plants on Mars

Tucked away in a Florida Institute of Technology lab, a would-be Martian garden grows. A little more than a year after the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute opened at Florida Tech with the overarching mission to get humans to Mars, this horticultural research will attempt to address one of the most critical issues facing the first Martian settlers: how to grow food on a cold and toxic world.

No lush, green rows of veggies or vines covered in fruit exist quite yet: The garden is in its infant stage. Drew Palmer, an assistant professor of Biological Sciences, Brooke Wheeler an assistant professor at the College of Aeronautics, and astrobiology majors from the Department of Physics and Space Sciences, are growing Outredgeous lettuce (a variety of red romaine) in different settings – Earth soil, analog Martian surface material known as regolith simulant, and regolith simulant with nutrients added – to find the magic formula for the type and amount of nutrients needed to grow a plant in inhospitable Martian dirt.

“We have to get the regolith right or anything we do won’t be valid,” said Andy Aldrin, director of the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute.

Read more at: Phys.org

Small Satellite Market Projected to Grow at 19.54% CAGR as Applications Development Rise From 2016 to 2021F

According to research report, “Global Small Satellite Market (By Type, By Application, By End-Use): Trends, Opportunities and Forecasts (2016-2021)” the industry is projected to exhibit a CAGR of over ~19.54% during 2016 – 2021, driven by the increasing number of launches and, design and development of low cost satellites. On the basis of market segment, the market has been segmented on basis of type (Nano Satellite, Micro Satellite and Mini Satellite).

Complete report on Small Satellite market spread across 215 pages, analysing 10 major companies and providing 28 tables and 90 figures is now available. Small satellites are built by small businesses, NGO’s and Educational institutions for space access at affordable cost. Global small satellite market is driven by rising investments in space sciences and increasing number of government and private missions.

From the market point of view, Small satellite market will increase in the forecast period. However, rising number of launches, secondary payloads and access to earth orbits is expected to give strong growth to the market.

Read more at: Space Daily

Planet Labs Earth Observation Satellite Burns Up Over English Channel

The fiery re-entry of a small Earth Observation satellite over the English Channel was spotted from France and Southern England Sunday night.

Observers in the South of England reported seeing a long-lasting meteor streaking across the sky at a relatively slow speed, suggesting the event was caused by an object re-entering from Earth orbit as opposed to a natural object that would have moved much faster. Orbital data shows the only candidate for the event is the small Flock 2B-2 satellite that was operated by Planet Labs as part of the company’s Earth-imaging system.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Orion Mission Update for September 2016

As NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) approaches, its science and technology are being tested and prepared across the country. EM-1 is set to launch the Orion capsule aboard the new Space Launch System (SLS) out past the Moon, crewless, for systems testing. To keep up with all the engineering and science updates, here is a recap of the major developments for the Orion capsule from September.

Earlier this month, the new jettison motors for the crew abort system was successfully tested in Rancho Cordova, CA. Developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne and Lockheed Martin, the motor will ensure proper separation of the abort system from the Orion module in case of emergency.

In late August, the Orion capsule’s heat shield was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center from manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s location near Denver. This marks one of the most important milestones in the assembly of the Orion capsule. The heat shield is also the structure that will protect the astronauts upon re-entry to Earth. Though not part of the assembly yet, it will be attached in Summer 2017. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is the site of drop tests for the Orion capsule to simulate the water recovery procedures for those first on site when it returns to Earth.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Queensland Meteor? Reports of Bang and Flash in the Sky

Reports of a large bang, a flash in the sky and shaking ground have kicked off speculation of a meteorite strike in central Queensland. Police confirmed they’d received multiple reports from about 8.30pm near Gladstone, about 400 kilometres north of Brisbane. There was no reported damage.

Private astronomer Owen Bennedick from Wappa Falls Observatory said he’d received reports from around a 100-kilometre radius, indicating “whatever it was, it was big”. He said reports indicated the space rock either hit earth or exploded in the sky above the planet, causing shockwaves. He said the other possibility was that the space rock had exploded in the sky above the Earth in what’s known as an air burst, sending shockwaves over a wide area.

Read more at: Brisbane Times

David Webb: In Memoriam

David Webb, who was instrumental in the formation of International Space University and of the Space Studies Program at the University of North Dakota (UND), passed away on October 1 at the age of 87.  Webb also was a member of the 1985-1986 U.S. National Commission on Space (NCOS).

Webb was a mentor to many in the space policy community, including the Aerospace Corporation’s Senior Policy Analyst Jim Vedda and Naval War College National Security Affairs Professor Joan Johnson-Freese.

Vedda credited Webb with shaping his career.  “As I told him many times, he was the most influential person in my life aside from my parents,” Vedda said via email.  “He took me to my first international space conference (Unispace 82), convinced me to go to grad school (in John Logsdon’s program at GWU), and offered me a teaching job when he formed the Department of Space Studies at UND.”

Freese said via email that “David was a visionary with a kind soul and the heart of a lion.  He inspired students, who he loved to work with, and was a voice of reason and responsibility to his peers.”

Read more at: Space Policy Online

Congress is Eyeing SpaceX Explosion Investigation

Politicians are beginning to spar over the investigation of SpaceX’s recent rocket explosion. A bipartisan group of 24 members of Congress has written a letter praising the role NASA, the FAA and the Air Force are taking in the investigation of a massive fire on a Cape Canaveral launch pad in early September that claimed both a SpaceX rocket and a nearly $300 million satellite.

The letter encourages the agency to reject calls to turn the investigation entirely over to federal hands. Just a week ago, 10 members of congress wrote their own letter to the same three agencies, questioning the leading role SpaceX is playing in the inquiry.

“We feel strongly that the current investigation should be led by NASA and the Air Force to ensure that proper investigative engineering rigor is applied and that the outcomes are sufficient to prevent NASA and military launch mishaps in the future,” said the letter dated Sept. 29 and signed first by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CO.

Read more at: CNBC

Iran Interested in Connecting with NASA

The head of Iran’s space agency says the country wishes to start cooperation with NASA since it is an international body and not just an American one.

Mohsen Bahrami made the announcement on Tuesday, saying “the level of our space cooperation has increased following the signing of Iran’s nuclear deal, and we have inked MoUs with a number of space agencies in other countries.” “We are also hoping to hold talks with NASA and start cooperation with the space administration,” he added.

Bahrami also maintained that international cooperation on the construction of Iran’s remote sensing satellite is in its final stage, adding “in order to provide for our national communications satellite, we have held talks with Intelsat, Eutelsat and Asiasat, as well as a number of international operators from France, Russia, China, Korea, Japan and Italy.”

Read more at: Mehr News

Gen Hyten will Bring Multi-domain Experience to STRATCOM

Gen. John Hyten, long a champion of linking space and cyberspace domains in U.S. defense planning, is expected to get a chance to further that advocacy in leading Strategic Command.

President Obama nominated Hyten, who has headed Space Command for two years, to lead the Strategic Command (STRATCOM) on September 9. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted approval of the nomination on September 22 after a lengthy confirmation hearing on September 20. The last hurdle is a vote by the full Senate.

Hyten would replace Adm. Cecil Haney at STRATCOM. Hyten would be replaced at Space Command by Lt. Gen Jay Raymond, currently the Air Force Chief of Staff for Operations. On Friday, the Senate also approved the nomination of Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves to head Missile Defense Command.

Read more at: Space Daily

USA’s Hypersonic Programme Could Rile Russia and China

The Prompt Global Strike (PGS) programme aims to develop a hypersonic, precision-guided conventional weapon that can deploy anywhere in the world within one hour.

“Initially we might think that [hypersonic] is the silver bullet,” Mark Hilborne, lecturer at the defence studies department of King’s College London, told the Royal Aeronautical Society’s air power conference. “But these weapons might undermine strategic agreements between nuclear states.”

Hilborne says that both China and Russia are developing their own air-launched hypersonic weapons, but have revealed little about their programmes, in sharp contrast to the USA’s transparency over its PGS effort.

While the USA has stated PGS will only carry a conventional payload, Hilborne says China and Russia may distrust Washington’s assurances and there is no agreement in place to prevent the two from arming their hypersonic missiles with nuclear warheads.

Read more at: Flight Global

Spaceport America’s Open House was a Tribute to Empty Space

The Spaceport held an open house last Saturday, and guests who registered a car with at least two people in it were allowed to visit. The location is essentially an airport for the super-elite, the terrestrial stopping point between private jets and, eventually, short hops beyond the atmosphere and then back down to earth. For the people who came to explore on foot, it is three hours of interstate, then state highway, then gravel roads. The sun did not let up, and while the vegetation that early fall morning retains a greenish hue, moisture isn’t a given and the short plants retain their harsh, stubby structure.

In 2010, Branson shook hands with New Mexico’s then-Governor Bill Richardson at the dedication of Spaceport America’s runway, as the White Knight Two carried SpaceShipTwo overhead. At the time, there was speculation of a first passenger flight as early as 2011. Those dreams, and the fortunes of Virgin Galactic, suffered a major setback in 2014, when SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave desert, killing one of the two pilots on board.

Read more at: Popsci

Future Imperfect: The Ansari XPrize, SpaceShipOne & Private Spaceflight

On Sept. 8, I arrived home at about half past noon to find a package sitting on my doorstep. It was a review copy of a new book by Julian Guthrie about the Ansari XPrize and SpaceShipOne titled, How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, An Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight.

I laughed. The timing was perfect. Ken Brown and I had just spent five hours in the desert — most of them in the rising heat of a late summer day — waiting for WhiteKnightTwo to take off carrying SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity on its first captive carry test flight. It was the first flight in nearly two years of a SpaceShipTwo vehicle since Unity’s sister ship, VSS Enterprise, had broken up during a Halloween test flight, killing co-pilot Mike Alsbury. Ken and I had been there on that day, too.

As I leafed through Guthrie’s book, I was left to ponder anew a question that had preoccupied me for years. If the Ansari X Prize and the SpaceShipOne vehicle that won it had been the amazing successes this book claimed they were, why had a dozen years passed without a single commercial suborbital flight?

Read more at: Parabolic Arc