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Mega-constellations and Mega-debris

Two current trends in space operations are on a collision course with each other. One is the concern about the growth of space debris, particularly in low Earth orbit. Events like the 2009 collision between an Iridium satellite and a Russian Cosmos spacecraft, as well as China’s infamous 2007 test of an anti-satellite weapon, have sharply increased the amount of debris in LEO. The growing population of debris raises fears of more collisions creating yet more debris, a cascade that, in a worst-case scenario known as the Kessler Syndrome, make LEO unusable.

The second trend is growing interest in so-called “mega-constellations” of satellites in low Earth orbit. OneWeb, for example, is developing a constellation of initially 648 satellites in LEO to provide broadband communications services globally. Other proposed systems, also primarily in the communications realm, are even larger: Boeing has filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans for a satellite system of between 1,400 and 3,000 satellites, while SpaceX is studying a system of about 4,000 satellites.

Read more at: Space Review

China to Launch World’s First X-ray Pulsar Navigation Satellite

The move brings autonomous spacecraft navigation and a more precise deep-space GPS one step closer to reality. X-ray pulsar navigation is an innovative navigation technique wherein periodic X-ray signals emitted from pulsars are used to determine the location of a spacecraft in deep space.

Current ground-based navigation methods are limited by the time delay between spacecraft and the Earth. However, for certain type of pulsars, called “millisecond pulsars,” pulses of radiation occur with the regularity and precision of an atomic clock. As a result, in some scenarios, the pulsar X-ray can take less time to estimate a location. This leads to more precise measurements of a spacecraft’s location.

However, since X-rays from pulsars are absorbed by the atmosphere, scientists must launch satellites to continue research of the new technology.

Read more at: MB

SpaceX Resorts to ‘Creative’ Testing in Falcon 9 Explosion Investigation

SpaceX is continuing to narrow down the root cause of the Falcon 9 explosion on September 1st atop its Florida launch pad that had proven to be the most complex failure mechanism encountered in the company’s 14-year history.

Tracing down the source of the destructive event which claimed the loss of the Falcon 9 and the Israeli AMOS-6 Satellite had proven difficult due to the rapid timeline of the initial blast that caused Falcon 9 to burst into a ball of fire eight minutes ahead of a scheduled test firing of its engines.

However, company officials said in the past week, tremendous progress is being made zeroing in on the root cause that, per current knowledge at SpaceX, is related to operational aspects as opposed to a fundamental flaw in the rocket’s design – good news for a timely return to flight of the Falcon 9.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Spacecraft ‘Nuclear Batteries’ Could Get a Boost from New Materials

No extension cord is long enough to reach another planet, and there’s no spacecraft charging station along the way. That’s why researchers are hard at work on ways to make spacecraft power systems more efficient, resilient and long-lasting.

“NASA needs reliable long-term power systems to advance exploration of the solar system,” said Jean-Pierre Fleurial, supervisor for the thermal energy conversion research and advancement group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “This is particularly important for the outer planets, where the intensity of sunlight is only a few percent as strong as it is in Earth orbit.”

A cutting-edge development in spacecraft power systems is a class of materials with an unfamiliar name: skutterudites (skut-ta-RU-dites). Researchers are studying the use of these advanced materials in a proposed next-generation power system called an eMMRTG, which stands for Enhanced Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator.

Read more at: NASA

Mars-bound Astronauts, Beware: Deep Space Travel Could Lead to Chronic Dementia!

People around the globe are aware of NASA’s preparations that are underway for a space exploration mission to Mars. Data from various tests, experiments, discoveries, probes, etc., are being collected and taken into consideration by scientists so as to make the astronauts’ safety their top priority during the mission.

However, a new study has given out an alert for scientists, warning them of the health hazards that astronauts being sent for future extended deep space missions are at risk of. The study says that astronauts travelling to Mars on future extended missions may face chronic dementia risk from exposure to galactic cosmic rays.

Charles Limoli from University of California, Irvine in the US and colleagues found that exposure to highly energetic charged particles – much like those found in the galactic cosmic rays that will bombard astronauts during extended spaceflights – causes significant long-term brain damage in test rodents, resulting in cognitive impairments and dementia.

Read more at: Zee News

Boeing Delays CST-100 Space Capsule Test Flights by Six Months

Boeing is delaying a series of test flights of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle by up to six months, pushing back the first operational mission of the capsule until the end of 2018.

Boeing spokesman William Barksdale said Oct. 11 that a number of development and production issues with the spacecraft led the company to reschedule the test flights that are part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with NASA. News of the delay was first reported by Aviation Week.

Under the revised schedule, a pad abort test of the CST-100, previously scheduled for October 2017, is now planned for January 2018. An uncrewed CST-100 flight, called the Orbital Flight Test, has shifted from December 2017 to June 2018.

Read more at: Space.com

ULA, Boeing Unveil Launch Configuration for CST-100 Starliner

United Launch Alliance (ULA) and The Boeing Company today unveiled an updated aerodynamic configuration of the Atlas V that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule for NASA after encountering unique challenges with aerodynamic stability and loads.

This new configuration incorporates an aeroskirt aft of the spacecraft, extending the Starliner Service Module cylindrical surface to improve the aerodynamic characteristics of the integrated launch configuration and bring loads margins back to acceptable flight levels.

“Through incredible coordination and continued innovative thinking, the collective team of NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance completed three wind tunnel tests in six months to investigate the aerodynamic stability of various configurations and to anchor our analytical predictions. Based on that information, we updated the configuration for the Atlas V Starliner integrated vehicle stack,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Human and Commercial Services. “This configuration is unique because it combines the Atlas V launch vehicle without a payload fairing with Boeing’s Starliner capsule, resulting in different aerodynamic interactions.”

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Reducing Risk is Lifelong Pursuit for New NASA Marshall Center Safety Chief

Rick Burt remembers his very first engineering and safety lessons came as a child, one of two sons working on the family’s small farm near Columbia, Tennessee, in the 1960s. His dad was a strict teacher on the importance of listening to and watching out for each other, of thinking ahead to recognize potential dangers before tackling any job, especially around the tractor and other machinery.

Formal engineering classes and decades of experience came later. But his dad’s farm curriculum still resonates every single day with Burt, who is now director of Safety and Mission Assurance at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“It does stick with me. When you think about the safety aspects of anything you do, it molds all your thought processes,” he said. “That feeds right in to everything we do in the space program, and particularly our development of the Space Launch System: You identify the hazards, determine how to mitigate those hazards and reduce the amount of risk.

Read more at: NASA

NASA Explains Strange ‘Fireball’ in Louisiana

Reports about a strange fireball that lit the Louisiana sky yesterday morning reached the authorities in St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s office. The strange fireball baffled many. Even local news organizations including TV and radio stations received reports of the strange event that occurred over the Lake Pontchartrain at 7:00am.

“The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office received multiple calls around 7:00 a.m. this morning about a possible meteorite that was seen over Lake Pontchartrain,” an official from the Sheriff’s office said in a post.”People called reporting a strange green streak shoot across the sky. There was no indication or evidence that suggests it was a flare and we have no distress calls in the lake,” the officer added in the post.

Authorities led by Carlton Dufrechou of the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission checked with NASA to confirm if the fireball was indeed a meteorite. According to the agency, it is more likely a meteor that has a speed of 90,000 mph.

Read more at: Nature World News

US Air Force’s Space Plane has been in Orbit for 500 Days, But Why?

The US Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane has now spent more than 500 days orbiting the Earth, without statement or explanation.The 29-foot unmanned plane is part of the Air Force’s orbital program. Launched May 20, 2015, it is the program’s fourth flight (hence its other name, OTV-4 for Orbital Test Vehicle-4). The first OTV took flight in 2010 and spent 224 days in orbit; two others brought the total number of OTV days in orbit before 2015 to 1,367, according to the Air Force.

The full purpose or intent of the program? The US Air Force remains mum.

The Air Force will only say in its program factsheet that the initiative is to “demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the US Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

Read more at: Defence Talk

Hurricane Nicole Prompts Antares Launch Delay to Sunday

The threat from Hurricane Nicole churning toward a tracking station in Bermuda will keep Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket from launching on a space station cargo run until at least Sunday, officials said Tuesday.

The Antares launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, will carry more than 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments inside a commercial Cygnus supply ship in pursuit of the International Space Station.

The logistics flight was previously set to blast off Friday, after an earlier delay partially prompted by emergency preparations for Hurricane Matthew at the launch site, along with an issue encountered during final flight preparations. That storm turned out to sea and did not affect the Wallops launch base, but a different hurricane now stands in the way of the launch.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Private Space Stations May Take Flight in 2020

2020 may be the year a private space station gets off the ground.

Two companies — Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space — plan to launch habitat modules to orbit in 2020, with the aim of making some money off Earth. If all goes according to plan, such habitats will eventually form the backbone of commercial facilities that replace the International Space Station (ISS), which is currently funded through 2024.

Down the road, such private space stations could host a variety of inhabitants, from space tourists to scientists to astronauts from NASA and other space agencies, advocates say. These tenants would simply rent the facilities rather than pay all the operating costs, as NASA and its partners must do now with the ISS.

Read more at: Space.com

South Korea Advances Rocket Engine Development Testing for KSLV-II Rocket

South Korea is proceeding with testing of the country’s most advanced rocket engines for use on the KSLV-2 carrier rocket that is hoped to end South Korea’s reliance on foreign launch vehicles for Low Earth Orbit missions, also opening a door to the commercial launch market in Asia.

South Korea celebrated its first successful sub-orbital launch in January 2013 when the Naro-1 small satellite launch vehicle – developed with Russian assistance – delivered the STSAT-2C into orbit in its third flight after encountering a pair of failures in 2009 and 2010. Following the first successful orbital mission, South Korea set its goals on the development of indigenous launch vehicles that could deliver satellites and support robotic exploration of the Moon in the 2020s.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Another would-be Space Tourist Might Make Trip to ISS in 2017

A next space tourist may head to the International Space Station next year, a source in the rocket-and-space sector told TASS.  “Negotiations are underway with a foreign participant in a space flight about the possibility of his short-term trip to the ISS,” the source said.

Space Adventures, a company that provides these services, declined to comment to Tass. The press service of the Roscosmos space corporation told TASS they had no data. The source did not identify a new tourist as he has not signed a contract with Roscosmos as of yet and has not started pre-flight trainings at the Cosmonauts Training Center outside Moscow.

Read more at: TASS

Virgin Galactic Promotes Mike Moses To President

Virgin Galactic, the privately funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce the promotion of Michael P. Moses to President. Moses, who joined Virgin Galactic in 2011 as Vice President of Operations, will now oversee Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflight program, reporting directly to Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides.

Mike joined Virgin Galactic after a decorated career at NASA, where he served as a flight controller, Flight Director, and ultimately as the Space Shuttle Launch Integration Manager. In that role, he led all space shuttle operations from landing through launch for the final dozen flights of NASA’s space shuttle program. For his services, Mike was twice recognized with the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, one of the space agency’s most prestigious medals. Mike has also received both the Distinguished Science Alumni and the Outstanding Aerospace Engineer awards from Purdue University, among many other commendations.

Read more at: Spaceref

Is There a Business Case for Mars?

A sense of inevitability has emerged regarding human missions to Mars. Such missions are no longer considered to be hypothetical in nature, or to put it another way, in the realm of “if,” but rather are now firmly in the realm of “when.” We are now asking ourselves, “Who will be leading humanity to Mars?” and “How will those missions be accomplished?”

For the past several years, NASA has been advocating its Journey to Mars program, with the goal of landing astronauts on Mars beginning in the 2030s, and has been developing launch and crew systems aimed toward achieving that goal.

Yet there are now active discussions about potential commercial and/or private missions to Mars. It remains to be seen, however, whether proposals for missions by the private sector are truly realistic in nature or merely speculative. For example, several years ago Mars One proposed colonizing Mars entirely through private means: that is, raising funds though advertising and a reality television show. This particular organization was successful in generating a tremendous amount of publicity as well as enormous excitement about Mars, but its proposal lacked substance both in mission architecture and in workable funding mechanisms.

Read more at: Space Review

Rocket Scientists Reach for the Sky

Deng Xinyu, 32, has lived in Beijing since 2002 when he left his hometown of Huaihua in Hunan province, and moved to the capital to enter university. In common with most of the capital’s residents, he talks about the soaring cost of property, traffic and good restaurants. He likes movies and reading books on history.

But his main focus is out of this world, literally. Most of his energy and attention is devoted to one big thing – the Long March 7, China’s newest and most powerful space rocket. Deng, the father of a 3-year-old boy, is a senior engineer in the Long March 7 project team at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the major developer of these rockets.

“Though the rocket’s first flight was successful, we are not complacent. Actually, we are busy preparing for its second mission,” Deng told China Daily. “Because the Long March 7 is a brand new model, it is totally different from previous types so our design methods and difficulties were different.”

Read more at: China Daily

President Obama Reaffirms NASA’s Mars-centric Exploration Plan

In an opinion piece written for CNN on Oct. 11, 2016, President Barack Obama reiterated his support for NASA’s Journey to Mars. Under current plans, the U.S. space agency hopes to send astronauts to the Red Planet in the next 15–20 years.

“We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.”

Indeed, the President had initially outlined a plan for the space agency in 2010, directing NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket, designed to carry crew to Mars in the mid-2030s. As such, today’s announcement from Obama wasn’t particularly noteworthy in its content; however, it did serve to reaffirm the President’s vision for the nation’s space program.

Interestingly, on a day when both Commercial Crew partners – Boeing and SpaceX – noted that their first crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) may be delayed, the President specifically spotlighted the goal of both companies launching astronauts from United States’ soil within the next two years.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Tech Giants Race for Edge in Artificial Intelligence

Major technology firms are racing to infuse smartphones and other internet-linked devices with software smarts that help them think like people.

The effort is seen as an evolution in computing that allows users to interact with machines in natural conversation style, telling devices to tend to tasks such as ordering goods, checking traffic, making restaurant reservations or searching for information.

The artificial intelligence (AI) component in these programs aims to make create a world in which everyone can have a virtual aide that gets to know them better with each interaction.

Read more at: Phys.org

Scientists Found First Independent Space Nation ‘Asgardia’ – and You can Become a Citizen

A consortium of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and legal experts has announced plans to create the first ever nation in space. The new nation will be called Asgardia – after Asgard, one of the Nine Worlds of the ancient gods ruled over by Odin in Norse mythology – and will be independent of any current nation state on Earth.

Asgardia will be built on a satellite, which will be launched into orbit in the Autumn of 2017 – 60 years after the launch of the first ever satellite, Sputnik. It will have its own legal framework, flag and other symbols of nationhood, representing a new era in the “Space Age”.

“Asgardia is a fully-fledged and independent nation, and a future member of the United Nations – with all the attributes this status entails,” said Dr Igor Ashurbeyli, chairman of UNESCO’s Science of Space Committee and founder of the Aerospace International Research Centre in Vienna, who is leading the project. “The essence of Asgardia is peace in space, and the prevention of Earth’s conflicts being transferred into space.”

Read more at: Mirror

U.S. Troops Face New Threat as ISIS Deploys Flying IEDs

Drone warfare recently entered a new chapter in which America’s adversaries can successfully deliver explosives via cheap, commercially available unmanned aircraft, challenging the U.S. military to go on the defensive.

An explosives-laden Islamic State drone killed two Kurdish peshmerga troops and wounded two French paratroopers early this month in the vicinity of Erbil, Iraq, Popular Science reported. It is believed to be the first time the militant group has inflicted such casualties.

The drone exploded while it was being inspected after being shot down, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, confirmed Wednesday. “We’ve seen several reports about ISIS use of commercial off-the-shelf drones, including instances where they’ve used these capabilities to deliver explosives,” Dorrian told reporters in a Pentagon teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq.

Read more at: Marine Corps Times