SpaceX Rocket Engine Suffers Failure During Test

An explosion occurred during a test of a SpaceX Merlin engine on Saturday (Nov. 4) at the company’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, according to a statement obtained by Space.com.

“No one was injured and all safety protocols were followed during the time of this incident,” according to the statement. “We are now conducting a thorough and fully transparent investigation of the root cause.”

The explosion occurred during a test of a “Block 5” Merlin engine, which will be used in a future generation of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets, a source told Space.com. Falcon 9 rockets that are currently in operation utilize the “Block 4” Merlin engine, so the incident will not require the company to halt any of its scheduled launches.

Read more at: Space.com

SpaceX, OneWeb Detail Constellation Plans to Congress

SpaceX and OneWeb say they are within months of launching the first satellites in their competing megaconstellations of broadband smallsats designed to bring internet to every corner of the globe.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Oct. 25, executives from SpaceX and One web provided updates on their constellation deployment, as well as steps they’ve taken to mitigate the risk of space debris from thousands of satellites they aim to deploy into low Earth orbit in the years ahead.

Read more at: Space News

NASA Tests Ensure Astronaut, Ground Crew Safety Before Orion Launches

NASA is performing a series of tests to evaluate how astronauts and ground crew involved in final preparations before Orion missions will quickly get out of the spacecraft if an emergency were to occur on the pad prior to launch. In the hours before astronauts launch to space in Orion from NASA’s modernized spaceport in Florida in on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, they will cross the Crew Access Arm 300 feet above the ground and climb inside the crew module with the assistance of ground personnel trained to help them strap into their seats and take care of last-minute needs. The testing is helping engineers evaluate hardware designs and establish procedures that would be used to get astronauts and ground crew out of the capsule as quickly as possible. Flight and ground crew are required to get out of Orion within two minutes to protect for a variety of failure scenarios that do not require the launch abort system to be activated, such as crew incapacitation, fire or the presence of toxins in the cabin.

Read more at: NASA

NASA Issues Study Contracts for Deep Space Gateway Element

NASA awarded contracts Nov. 1 to five companies to examine how they could develop a power and propulsion module that could become the initial element of the agency’s proposed Deep Space Gateway.

NASA issued the contracts, part of the agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, program, to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Space Systems and Space Systems Loral. The contracts, which run for four months, have a combined value of approximately $2.4 million. Each company will perform studies regarding how they would develop the Power and Propulsion Element for the proposed gateway.

Read more at: Space News

European Space Officials Outline Desired Contribution to Deep Space Gateway

Europe’s aerospace industry is getting ready for NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway, hoping Europe will have its own module at the lunar-orbit space station resupplied by a European transportation system.

During a session on the final day of Space Tech Expo Europe in Bremen, Germany, Frederic Masson, an engineer at French space agency CNES, said France is already considering ways to increase performance of the upcoming Ariane 6 launcher to make it fit to contribute to humankind’s next big space endeavor.

Read more at: Space.com

Brain Changes in Space could be Linked to Vision Problems in Astronauts

Many astronauts have experienced problems with their eyesight in during missions to the International Space Station and after their return, and NASA has been closely investigating the issue. It appears that changes to the brain in space could explain why this is happening.

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine sees changes in areas at the top of the brain that are filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), as well as CSF in ventricles at the center of the brain.

Read more at: Seeker

Astronomers Complete First International Asteroid Tracking Exercise

An international team of astronomers led by NASA scientists successfully completed the first global exercise using a real asteroid to test global response capabilities.

Planning for the so-called “TC4 Observation Campaign” started in April, under the sponsorship of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. The exercise commenced in earnest in late July, when the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope recovered the asteroid. The finale was a close approach to Earth in mid-October. The goal: to recover, track and characterize a real asteroid as a potential impactor — and to test the International Asteroid Warning Network for hazardous asteroid observations, modeling, prediction and communication.

Read more at: JPL

NASA Orion Spacecraft that will Bring Humans to Mars will Undergo Moon Test Mission in 2019

NASA is planning to take humans back to the Moon—something that has not been done since 1972. The new Orion spacecraft was built to explore the moon, Mars and beyond, but before taking humans on these exploratory missions, the new ship needs to be tested. NASA has now officially scheduled the date for Orion’s first human-less trip around the moon and back for 2019, a feat that will take humankind one giant leap closer (to quote a famous moon walker) to our mission to Mars.

The test trip, called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), will take the spacecraft in a lunar orbit around the moon, just a tiny bit further than the Apollo went when it touched down on the moon 48 years ago.

Read more at: Newsweek

China is Planning a New Long March 5 Rocket Launch Following July Failure

China’s plans to get its heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket flying again are taking shape, with a heavy, experimental communications satellite being prepared for launch in 2018.

Yang Baohua, vice president of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), announced on Wednesday (Chinese) at an event in Beijing that a large Dongfanghong-5 satellite bus would be launched in 2018.

The first Dongfanghong-5 (DFH-5), designated as Shijian-18, was lost on the second flight of the Long March 5 on July 2, with the rocket and payload failing to reach orbit due to an apparent first stage propulsion issue.

Read more at: GB Times

US Space Policy, Organizational Incentives, and Orbital Debris Removal

Over the last 50 years of human activities in space, there has been a growing recognition of the threat from space debris. Our use of space has grown, which in turn has increased the amount of human-generated space debris we have left in orbit. The growing congestion of critical orbital regions, such as the 700-to-900-kilometer region in low Earth orbit (LEO) and the geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) region 36,000 kilometers above the equator, poses significant challenges for humanity’s ability to derive benefits from space over the long term.

Scientists studying the space debris problem have concluded that minimizing the creation of new space debris, also known as debris mitigation, was a necessary first step.

Read more at: Space Review

Cheyenne Mountain Sees Better Satellite Picture

Upgraded Early Warning Radars now provide data on man-made space-based objects without delay, thanks to efforts of Air Force Life Cycle Management Center personnel at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Five massive radar sites arrayed throughout the northern hemisphere, mostly designed and installed during the Cold War, provide missile warning information and track space-based objects for the U.S. and joint partners. The new data source impacts the orbital tracking mission.

“Our radars track and identify a lot of space-based objects. But, in this case, important information wasn’t getting to the people who needed it to make timely decisions,” said Col. Todd Wiest, senior materiel leader, AFLCMC Strategic Warning and Surveillance Systems division, referring to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex Combatant Commanders’ Integrated Command and Control Systems.

Read more at: Colorado Spacenews

Richard Branson Launches New Company to Compete with Elon Musk

Earlier this year, Richard Branson’s empire got a little bit bigger with the establishment of Virgin Orbit, a business dedicated to launching satellites commercially. Now, that company has spawned a firm known as Vox Space that is set to compete for US military contracts.

Virgin Orbit already uses a modified Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl to launch small satellites. The company is also testing a rocket known as LauncherOne that will provide a different method of sending satellites into orbit.

Read more at: Futurism

The Trillion-dollar (solar) Storm

Space weather events such as solar flares, the ejection of energetic particles from the Sun, and geomagnetic disturbances, can have measurable detrimental impacts on satellite operations, the ubiquitous Global Positioning System (GPS), high-frequency (HF) airplane communications, navigation, aviation, and the electrical power grid. These disruptions can have ripple effects, so that even economic sectors that are not ostensibly dependent on space assets (e.g. financial services) can suffer losses.

Even with satellite observations, the advanced notification of space weather events as provided by the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), can range from days to mere minutes. Although major disruptions are predicted to occur only once a century, significant impacts, with extended local outages and disruptions, occur once a decade. Minor events, resulting in aircraft re-routing and short-term GPS disruptions, for example, occur almost yearly.

Read more at: Space Review

NASA Plans to Genetically Modify Astronauts so they can Survive the Journey to Mars

The prospect of humans one day visiting another planet has never seemed more possible than it has in recent years, but several more obstacles need to be overcome before this can become reality. Some people believe that incredible scientific discoveries could be waiting on the red planet, and NASA has recently ramped up its efforts in hopes of sending astronauts there in the 2030s.

Cosmic radiation is one of the biggest problems those who visit Mars will face, and it comes not only from the sun but also stellar explosions that occur far beyond our solar system. Particle radiation in space can collide with nuclei in human tissue, creating nuclear collisions that can create new particles and damage human cell DNA. Earth’s magnetic field generally protects us from these particles, but the astronauts headed for Mars could be exposed to them for years without protection.

Read more at: Space.news

Commercial Spaceflight is About to Get Real

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned lunar mission, during which three Apollo 8 astronauts orbited the moon and gave the U.S. a decisive lead in its space race against the Soviet Union. These days, with NASA’s milestones receding in the national memory, Russian spaceships are the ones ferrying American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). If all goes well, that will change in 2018.

This moment is a big one for the handful of companies that have spent much more than a decade working toward commercial spaceflight. Boeing Co.and Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. are preparing to bring NASA scientists to the ISS by this time next year, not long after five teams race unmanned landers to the moon to win the $20 million Google Lunar XPrize.

Read more at: Bloomberg

Mysterious Debris Washed Ashore in Outer Banks could be Part of Historic SpaceX Rocket

Debris found washed ashore last month was what it looked like: part of a SpaceX rocket that possibly made history. Outer Banks photographer Erin Everlee and neighbors found the piece, about 15 feet long, lying on the beach and reported it to the National Park Service. It appeared to be a fairing or protective nose cone that’s jettisoned after a rocket leaves the atmosphere.

Officials with Cape Hatteras National Seashore contacted the Air Force and NASA to find out who it belonged to. SpaceX officials saw reports of the debris on Facebook and confirmed the fairing belonged to them, said Boone Vandzura, chief ranger for the seashore.

SpaceX did not say which craft the debris came from and referred queries to the park service.

Read more at: Pilotonline

SpaceX Lands the 13th Falcon 9 Rocket of the Year in Flames

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered Koreasat-5A to its designated orbit, marking the the company’s 16th successful mission of the year — twice the number of successful missions in 2016. Shortly after liftoff, the first stage of the rocket returned to Earth and landed (flamboyantly) in the Atlantic Ocean on one of SpaceX’s autonomous barges. (The fires eventually went out.) It was the 13th successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket this year, the 15th in a row, and the 19th overall.

Read more at: Verge

China Aims to Launch Reusable Space Plane by 2020

China plans to launch a homegrown, reusable space plane for the first time in 2020, according to Chinese media reports.

“The spacecraft can transport people or payload into the orbit and return to Earth,” China’s state-run outlet Xinhua reported last week.

Xinhua cited a statement by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), as well as Chen Hongbo, a researcher at the corporation: “Chen said that the spacecraft will be easier to maintain and can improve the frequency of launches at lower cost, bringing new opportunities for more people to travel into space.”

Read more at: Space.com

The First Creature in Space was a Dog. She Died Miserably 60 Years Ago

After the Soviet rocket genius Sergei Korolev led that nation’s space program masterfully in the 1950s, culminating with the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, one might have expected that the country would have taken time to celebrate his achievements. Thanks to Korolev, with that small, 60cm spherical satellite, the Soviet Union had just won the opening salvo of the Space Race.

But no. After Sputnik 1, when Korolev met with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, the premier wanted to press his advantage over the United States. “We never thought that you would launch a Sputnik before the Americans,” Khrushchev told Korolev, according to cosmonaut Georgy Grechko. “But you did it. Now please launch something new in space for the next anniversary of our revolution.”

That “something” would be a dog, a female dog. This would would become the first creature to fly into orbit. And she was very, very unlikely to survive the ordeal.

Read more at: Arstechnica

Astronaut Scott Kelly on Working in Space

Scott Kelly, a retired U.S. astronaut, spent 520 days in space over four missions. Working in outer space is a lot like working on earth, but with different challenges and in closer quarters. Kelly looks back on his 20 years of working for NASA, including being the commander of the International Space Station during his final, yearlong mission. He talks about the kind of cross-cultural collaboration and decision making he honed on the ISS, offering advice that leaders can use in space and on earth. His memoir is Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery.

Read more at: HBR

Alaska Aerospace Launches Aurora Launch Services Company

The Alaska Aerospace Board of Directors has approved a resolution adopting Articles of Organization and Operating Agreement establishing Aurora Launch Services, LLC. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alaska Aerospace, Aurora Launch Services is a major step towards creating a more cost effective, private sector focused business capable of providing niche contract launch services to spaceports worldwide.

As the emerging small launch vehicle market grows, Aurora Launch Services will be a major part of Alaska Aerospace’s efforts at creating an Alaska based sustainable aerospace business that serves a global launch market.

Read more at: Space Daily

World View Flight Tests Groundbreaking Altitude Control Technology

Long-duration stratospheric research missions could allow scientists to collect vast amounts of data continuously for their payloads.

Such missions could benefit NASA by maturing future space technology as well as allowing for Earth observations, such as storm monitoring and forest fire tracking.

Previously, technological challenges have limited the duration of balloon flights in the stratosphere due to the lack of trajectory control necessary for longer flights. Now, a system developed by World View Enterprises promises the capability to perform large altitude changes to achieve meaningful trajectory control of balloon flights in the stratosphere.

Read more at: Spaceref

Saudi’s PIF to Invest About $1bn in Virgin’s Space Companies

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund plans to invest about $1bn in Richard Branson’s space company, Virgin Galactic, and sister companies The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit, according to a joint statement published late last week.

“This investment will enable us to develop the next generation of satellite launches and accelerate our programme for point to point supersonic space travel,” the statement quoted Branson, the British billionaire founder of London-based Virgin Group, Virgin Galactic’s owner, as saying.

“We are now just months away from Virgin Galactic going into space with people on board and Virgin Orbit going into orbit and placing satellites around the Earth.”

Read more at: Gulf Business

Nomination Hearing for Trump’s NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine Turns Into Referendum on Climate Change Science

A confirmation hearing Wednesday for Rep. Jim Bridenstine to be the head of NASA doubled as a referendum on climate change, to the chagrin of some Republicans. “You can’t have a hearing anymore without anyone bringing up global warming,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a climate change skeptic.

Inhofe expressed exasperation after Democrats on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee harshly criticized Bridenstine for his climate change views. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the committee’s top Democrat, said Bridenstine, a conservative lawmaker from Oklahoma, is not qualified to lead a scientific agency because of his views on climate change and partisan record in Congress.

He is the first politician to be nominated as NASA administrator.

Read more at: Washinton Examiner

Contentious Bridenstine Nomination Hearing Splits Along Party Lines

Today’s contentious nomination hearing for Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to be NASA Administrator was split along partisan lines.  Democratic Senators questioned his credentials and viewpoints about climate change, sexual harassment and other issues that could affect how he runs the agency and its personnel.  Republicans defended him and chafed at the tenor of the hearing.  The committee will vote on the nomination on November 8.

The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), has made no secret of his disapproval from the beginning.  Today he laid out his case that Bridenstine is not the person for the job.  Although his oral statement was slightly softer than his written statement, the bottom line is that he does not believe Bridenstine has the technical qualifications to run the agency and be the final arbiter on safety decisions regarding the three new human spacecraft that will debut in the next two years.

Read more at: Space policy online

Minister of Transport’s Director of Policy Alain Berinstain Leaving Government for Moon Express

SpaceQ has learned that Alain Berinstain, the current Director of Policy for Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, is leaving government to  work for the U.S. based space exploration company Moon Express.

A press release from Moon Express is expected to be released shortly.

SpaceQ spoke with Mr. Berinstain who said he was leaving a job he admittedly loves for family reasons. He works in Ottawa but his family lives in Montreal. When the opportunity came up to join Moon Express, he made the decision to leave government. The new job will see him and his family move to the space coast in Florida. His last day working for the Minister of Transport is November 20.

Read more at: SpaceQ

What NASA’s Simulated Missions Tell Us About the Need for Martian Law

Six people recently returned from an eight-month long isolation experiment to test human endurance for long-term space missions. Their “journey to Mars” involved being isolated below the summit of the world’s largest active volcano in Hawaii (Mauna Loa), and was designed to better understand the psychological impacts of manned missions.

NASA, which aims to send expeditions to Mars by the 2030s, is hoping that the results could help them pick crew members for a future mission to Mars. And it’s not just NASA that has an eye on Mars. Maverick millionaire Elon Musk and aerospace firm Lockheed Martin have heralded separate missions and stations for the red planet between 2022 and 2028.

Read more at: Scientific American

Vice President Mike Pence Met With Elon Musk, Source Says

Vice President Mike Pence discussed the National Space Council with entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk during a trip to California last month, a source familiar with the meeting says.

The two powwowed at a Los Angeles hotel one evening while the vice president was in the state for a fundraising swing. The conversation focused on the council, which aims to streamline and coordinate national space policy. Pence leads the panel at President Donald Trump’s direction. Musk is one of several business leaders exploring private space travel through his company, SpaceX. Musk quit two presidential advisory councils after Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

Read more at: CNN

The World’s Richest Person Just Sold $1.1 Billion In Stock

During this past week –his first full week as the richest person in the world — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sold one million of the company’s shares, worth $1.1 billion, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.

After accounting for the stock sale and capital gains taxes, Bezos ended the day Friday with a net worth of $93.7 billion, $4.1 billion higher than Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, now the second richest person in the world.

It’s the second time this year that Bezos has sold one million shares of Amazon. The first time was in May. This recent sale was $150 million more lucrative pre-tax than the first because Amazon’s share price was 12% higher this go round. After paying capital gains taxes, Bezos will pocket an estimated $840 million from this week’s sale.

Read more at: Forbes

SpaceX Says Progress Ongoing at Boca Chica Launch Site

SpaceX has finished installing a second ground station antenna at its future Boca Chica spaceport for the purpose of tracking Crew Dragon missions to the International Space Station beginning in 2018.

Crew Dragon is the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company’s seven-seat spacecraft designed to carry humans to the ISS and other destinations. A SpaceX spokesman said the antennas will also be used to track flights from Boca Chica once they’re underway.

The company acquired the 86-ton antennas from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and transported them to Boca Chica via semitrailer. The first antenna was installed this summer.

Read more at: Valley Morningstar

Space: The Final Frontline of Defense

At this month’s first meeting of the newly-reconstituted National Space Council, Vice President Mike Pence announced the lofty goal of returning U.S. astronauts to the moon as a stepping stone to expanded human space exploration and the restoration of America’s dominance in space.

But the vice president also had a warning. “According to the U.S. intelligence community, Russia and China are pursuing a full range of anti-satellite technology to reduce U.S. military effectiveness, and they are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine,” Pence said.

The early October gathering fell one day after the 60th anniversary of Sputnik, the beach ball-sized Soviet satellite that marked the dawn of the space age, a time when then-President John F. Kennedy famously compared space to a newly discovered ocean.

Read more at: Washington Examiner

The Future of Space is Coming, “Soonish”

In their new book “Soonish” (Penguin Press, 2017), out today (Oct. 17), Kelly and Zach Weinersmith dig into 10 realms of future technology to see which will survive, which will likely flounder and which could change (or ruin) everything.

Zach Weinersmith is a cartoonist known for his often science-themed Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic, and his wife, Kelly, is a podcaster and biologist at Rice University in Texas. Together, they delved into topics ranging from space elevators to asteroid mining to programmable matter and cold fusion, parsing primary sources and interviewing experts to find the coolest and most plausible future tech.

Read more at: Scientific American

Space Safety and Human Performance

Space Safety and Human Performance provides a comprehensive reference for engineers and technical managers within aerospace and high technology companies, space agencies, operators, and consulting firms. The book draws upon the expertise of the world’s leading experts in the field and focuses primarily on humans in spaceflight, but also covers operators of control centers on the ground and behavior aspects of complex organizations, thus addressing the entire spectrum of space actors.

During spaceflight, human performance can be deeply affected by physical, psychological and psychosocial stressors. Strict selection, intensive training and adequate operational rules are used to fight performance degradation and prepare individuals and teams to effectively manage systems failures and challenging emergencies. The book is endorsed by the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS).

Read more at: Elsevier