Giant Asteroid 2015 TB145 to Whizz Past Earth on October 31

A potentially hazardous giant asteroid with an ‘extremely eccentric’ orbit is set to fly past the Earth on October 31 at over 125,529 kilometres per hour, according to NASA. The asteroid, known as 2015 TB145, will pass our planet by only 499,000 kilometres – the closest pass since July 2006.

The asteroid was spotted on October 10, even though NASA is constantly scanning and tracking asteroids that could potentially fly past the Earth, the ‘Mirror’ reported. “The asteroid is on an extremely eccentric and a high inclination orbit,” NASA officials said.

NASA scientists estimate that the asteroid could be between 280 to 620 metres in diameter. The asteroid will not be visible through the naked eye but will be visible through a telescope.

Read more at: Zee News

George Mueller, ‘Father of the Space Shuttle’ Dies at 97

George Mueller, a former associate administrator of the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight and the man credited as the “Father of the Space Shuttle,” passed away on Monday following a brief illness, the US space agency and family sources confirmed on Thursday.

Meuller, who headed up the OMSF from September 1963 until December 1969, was a tireless advocate for a reusable transportation systems as a way to lower the costs associated with space travel, and also played a key role in the development of Skylab, according to CollectSpace.

In 1966, he came up with a concept for an orbital workstation built out of components from the Apollo program, sketching out his idea during a meeting in August. Those drawings served as the basis for Skylab, which became NASA’s first space station and helped the agency test how long-duration space exposure would affect people. Work on the shuttle began shortly thereafter.

Read more at: RedOrbit

U.S. Plans $6 Billion Investment in Space Situational Awareness

The U.S. government, primarily the Department of Defense, plans to spend some $6 billion on efforts to monitor the space environment in real time through 2020, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

That figure, which the GAO acknowledged is not comprehensive, nonetheless represents one of the most detailed accountings of space situational awareness (SSA) programs and funding released to date. The spending is dominated by the Pentagon, with other agencies, primarily NASA, accounting for just 10 percent of the total.

Included in the survey are at least some of the programs that U.S. defense officials say are funded as part of a planned $5.5 billion investment over the next five years on space protection activities, largely in response to growing threats from Russia and China. Also included is a classified missile tracking satellite now being used for space surveillance.

Read more at: Space News

Onera Explores Mach-8 Missile Engine Technology

Onera, which bills itself as the French aerospace lab, is exploring engine technology to fly a missile at Mach 8 and beyond, as France seeks a new-generation hypersonic system to replace its current stock of supersonic nuclear-tipped airborne weapons.

“The new generation is here,” said an Onera research engineer, who declined to be identified. The engineer stood next to an engine test bench at the center’s facilities at Palaiseau, just outside the capital. The test bench is the more recent of two which were used for work on the airborne missile for a nuclear warhead.

“The new generation is typically further, higher, faster. Faster is up to eight times the speed of sound, or Mach 8. That’s what we’re aiming for,” he said.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a high-level conference last November that “The studies for the successor to the ASMP-A [Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amelioré] missile, dubbed ASN4G, have already begun.” ASN4G refers to air-sol nucléaire fourth-generation.

Read more at: Defense News

SpaceX: Falcon 9 to Return to Flight Within Two Months

SpaceX plans to return its Falcon 9 rocket to flight within two months with a launch of commercial satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the company announced Friday.

The launch of 11 satellites for New Jersey-based Orbcomm will be the first Falcon 9 mission since the rocket failed about two minutes after a June 28 liftoff from the Cape with a Dragon capsule carrying International Space Station cargo. The failure was the Falcon 9’s first in 18 missions.

SpaceX had been expected to launch a commercial communications satellite for Luxembourg-based SES as its next mission. But the company said Orbcomm was selected instead because its flight to a lower orbit will not require a second burn by the rocket’s upper-stage engine.

The June failure occurred when the rocket’s upper-stage liquid oxygen tank ruptured. A company-led investigation is not complete, but SpaceX so far has said a faulty strut is likely responsible for the rupture that caused the rocket to disintegrate.

Read more at: Florida Today

Astronaut Trials Innovative SkinSuit in Space

An innovative SkinSuit designed to reduce the debilitating physical effects of space flight has been trialled for the first time on the International Space Station (ISS) by a European Space Agency astronaut.

The SkinSuit is the brainchild of Dr James Waldie, aerospace engineer and senior research associate at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Denmark’s first astronaut, Andreas Mogensen, spent 10 days in the ISS last month and pulled on the SkinSuit to test its effectiveness in the weightless conditions.

Inspired by a striking bodysuit worn by Australian gold medallist Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Waldie and his collaborators have spent more than 15 years getting the suit into space. “Seeing live video of Andreas wearing SkinSuit on board the ISS was thrilling — I felt an enormous sense of achievement that my concept was finally in orbit,” Waldie said.

Skin-tight and made of bi-directional elastics, SkinSuit has been designed to mimic the impact of gravity on the body to reduce the debilitating physical effects space flights have on astronauts’ bodies.

Read more at: Science Daily

NASA’s Heavy-lift Rocket and Deep Space Capsule Under New Management

NASA has announced two veteran space shuttle engineers have taken charge of space agency’s Space Launch System and Orion deep space exploration projects after their previous managers both took the No. 2 jobs at space centers in Alabama and Texas.

Mark Kirasich, a 32-year veteran of NASA, was appointed manager of the Orion program headquartered at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the agency announced Tuesday. He succeeds Mark Geyer, who left the post in August to become JSC’s deputy director.

Kirasich, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Stanford University, has been deputy Orion program manager since 2006. Before joining the Orion program, he was a space shuttle flight controller, a lead shuttle payload officer in Houston’s mission control, then a flight director supporting multiple shuttle and International Space Station missions.

Read more at: SpaceFlight Now

Russia and Europe Working Together to Plan Permanent Base on the Moon

Russia really wants to go to the moon. Roscosmos, the country’s space agency, has made it clear that its priority is exploring the moon—not Mars—with the ultimate goal of establishing a permanent base there. Now, Russia is asking international partners for help, and Europe is ready to answer the call.

Roscosmos is currently planning Luna 27, an unmanned mission to the moon’s south pole that will scour for resources and assess if it’s feasible to build a colony there. According to BBC News and Russia’s state-owned media outlet Russia Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) will provide two key components to the Luna 27 lander: an advanced laser-guiding landing system, called Pilot, and an onboard laboratory to analyze the samples collected by the lander.

“There are currently discussions at [the] international level going on for broad cooperation on how to go back to the Moon,” Bérengère Houdou, the head of ESA’s lunar exploration group, told BBC News. ESA did not respond to an email asking for more information about its involvement in the project. The agency is expected to officially approve its participation in the mission by next year, and the probe could launch as early as 2020.

Read more at: Quartz

What Will the Next Chinese Spaceship Look Like?

While the Shenzhou space capsule has served the Chinese manned space program well for nearly 16 years (since the unmanned test flight in 1999), the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) is searching for a replacement. An October 2015 Chinese blog post showcased a detailed CNSA sponsored study for a post-Shenzhou spaceship.

Flying on future Chinese rockets like the Long March 5, 7, and 9, the study proposes a 2 to 6 person crewed capsule. The semi-conical reentry vessel would be attached to the propulsion and cargo sections in the service modules, similar in configuration to NASA’s Orion capsule. At 14 tons, the basic next generation spacecraft would have nearly double the mass of the 7.8-ton Shenzhou. For deep space missions to near Earth asteroids and the Moon, the next generation spacecraft would have a larger service module, for a total mass of 20 tons. Given improvements in Chinese materials science to strengthen the thermal shield against reentry heating, it is hoped that the crew capsule could be reused.

Read more at: PopSci

U.S. Launches 13 New Minisatellites

A classified U.S. satellite mission that launched this morning deployed more than just a spy satellite. It also released into orbit 13 miniature CubeSats, which hitchhiked aboard the flight.

In a growing trend, space agencies in the United States and elsewhere are turning to such nanosatellites, each built of one or more 10 × 10 × 11 centimeter cube-shaped units, as a compact, low-cost means to conduct scientific research, Earth observation, technology development, and student experiments.

Read more at: Earth and Space Science News

First Pocket Rockets Take Tiny Satellites for a Spin

The next giant leap in space exploration could start with a small spin around the lab. A new propulsion system for shrunk-down satellites called CubeSats just passed a key lab test, and could be headed to space in the near future.

CubeSats, cheap, simple satellites built from off-the-shelf parts, promise a revolution in space exploration – but only if only we can steer them. Because they are so simple to build, they could open up space exploration to students and countries that lack their own space programmes, says Paulo Lozano at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We want to offer space access to people who don’t currently have space access,” Lozano told a meeting of science writers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Sunday.
About 10 of the 1-kilogram satellites can hitch a ride into space with a larger payload. Once they’re there, they can do serious science, from climate modelling to exoplanet hunting. But they are also stuck in that orbit for their entire working lives. Not only does this limit their usefulness, but CubeSats can become dangerous space junk.

“If little satellites had the capability to move, we could do a lot of things that currently we cannot,” Lozano says. So Lozano and his colleagues are designing a miniature propulsion system – small enough to fit in your pocket – that can steer CubeSats around low-Earth orbit – or even out of the solar system altogether.

Read more at: New Scientist

Martian Astronaut Would Get Cancer if Mission were Real, Author Says

In the newly released The Martian, a stranded astronaut must figure out how to survive on the Red Planet after being accidentally left behind when the rest of his crew escapes a violent dust storm. Explorer Mark Watney spends many months trying to make water, grow food and send an SOS signal back to Earth. Most of the tools he uses in the film, which opened Oct. 2, are based on existing or in-development technology. The one major exception is the radiation-blocking material that allows Watney to spend much of his days outside his habitat, on the surface of a planet that lacks Earth’s atmosphere and is thus bathed in significantly higher levels of damaging radiation.

“In the book they have this really thin, light, flexible material that blocks all radiation,” says Andy Weir, author of the book The Martian on which the film was based. “There’s nothing even remotely like that in the real world. That was the magic I gave him so the story would progress. Otherwise Mark would have different kinds of cancer.”

Read more at: Scientific American

Cygnus Service Module Arrives in Florida for Station Flight

The power and propulsion section of Orbital ATK’s next Cygnus supply ship, featuring new solar panel and fuel tank designs, arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday to be joined with a cargo module for a Dec. 3 launch to the International Space Station.

The shipment comes nearly one year after Orbital ATK’s last space station supply flight crashed seconds after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia, aboard the company’s own Antares booster. Orbital ATK engineers blame the failure on one of the Antares main engines, and officials purchased two Atlas 5 rockets from United Launch Alliance to keep the Cygnus missions flying while a new engine model is added to the Antares.

The Cygnus service module was trucked from Orbital ATK’s headquarters in Dulles, Virginia, where it departed its factory Monday. The spacecraft arrived at Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility for attachment to a pressurized cargo module made by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Which Private Company Will Be the First on the Moon? Now We Know!

It’s official now. We’re going back to the Moon. Well, not “we” exactly.

Israel. Technically, it’s Israel that’s going “back” to the Moon — but it will be doing it with some help from American money. Last week, Google XPRIZE, a small cog in the machinery that is Alphabet, announced it has been presented with a “verified launch contract” by Israeli nonprofit space start-up SpaceIL.

Specifically, SpaceIL has contracted with Spaceflight Industries, which S&P Capital IQdescribes as a private company specializing in “small-satellite products and services.” Spaceflight is apparently planning past simple Earth orbit, however, and recently purchased a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, with plans to send it to the Moon.

Once there, this rocket will deposit SpaceIL’s lunar lander, whose mission will be to explore “at least” 500 meters of lunar real estate, beaming back high-definition video to prove its accomplishment. If SpaceIL succeeds, it will become the fourth entity to successfully put a lander on the Moon. And because the only other previously successful explorers were the U.S., Russia, and China, SpaceIL will become the firstprivate company to land on the Moon.

Read more at: Motley Fool

How the Smithsonian Will Save Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit

The garment Neil Armstrong wore when he became the first man to walk on the moon is deteriorating. Here’s what the Smithsonian will do with the more than $700,000 the public has pledged to fix it.

If, after the shelving of the space shuttle program, you feared that America had lost its adoration for space travel, this should help. In July, 46 years to the day after the first moon walk, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., started its first Kickstarter campaign, asking for money to preserve the spacesuit Neil Armstrong wore when he stepped off Apollo 11 onto the moon in 1969.

Designed to withstand solar radiation, drastic changes in temperature, and objects traveling faster than the speed of sound, the suit is failing miserably at surviving the inevitability of time. The campaign requested $500,000 to restore the suit before its unveiling at “Destination Moon,” a permanent exhibit that will open in 2019. The goal was met in just five days. By the end of the campaign one month later, $719,779 had been donated by more than 9,400 backers.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

China has had a Telescope on the Moon for the Past Two Years

Point a telescope at the moon, and you might just see one looking back. Chinese researchers have reported that their robotic telescope, the first of its kind, has been operating flawlessly ever since it landed on the moon in 2013.

The 15-centimetre telescope is mounted on the Chang’e 3 lander, which touched down on the lunar surface in December 2013. Chang’e 3 (pictured above) carried the Yutu rover, which repeatedly struggled to survive the lunar night and ceased working in March this year – but the lander is still going strong.

The telescope sees in ultraviolet light, making it particularly suited for observations that aren’t possible here on Earth. “There is no atmosphere on the moon, so unlike Earth, the ultraviolet light from celestial objects can be detected on the moon,” says Jing Wang of the National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing, China, who is in charge of the telescope. And since the moon rotates 27 times more slowly than the Earth, the scope can stay fixed on the same star for a dozen days without interruption, he says.

Read more at: New Scientist

Single Malt Whisky Sent into Space

In October 2011 several vials of Ardbeg single malt whisky and some oak cask shavings were loaded on board a Soyuz booster rocket in Kazakhstan and blasted off to the International Space Station, some 320 kilometres above the Earth.

Here they orbited the planet at 27,724 kilometres per hour, 15 times a day for the best part of three years. It was all in the name of science – and a clever marketing campaign. The science bit was an experiment to investigate the effects of near zero gravity on terpenes; the building blocks of flavour in whisky.

Rather than using an already matured spirit, scientists chose the pure distillate (the liquid resulting from distillation which is normally poured into oak barrels), along with wood shavings from the inside of a charred American White Oak ex-Bourbon barrel, which was due to be despatched from the cooperage to Ardbeg Distillery on Islay for filling.

The distillate and oak shavings were sent to Houston, USA, where they were packed into a small sample testing system known as MixStix before being flown to Kazakhstan for lift off. The experiment itself was initiated on January 2012, when the astronauts broke the glass separating walls in the individual MixStix, allowing the distillate and oak to come into contact. A control experiment was carried out at the same time back on Islay.

Read more at: Stuff.co.nz