Russian Cargo Resupply Craft Lost in Soyuz Launch Failure, Debris fall in South Siberia

Russia’s Soyuz rocket encountered a rare launch failure on Thursday, disintegrating in the skies over Southern Siberia after what appeared to be a catastrophic failure of the rocket’s third stage. Lost in the mishap was the Progress MS-04 cargo spacecraft loaded with supplies for the six crew members living and working aboard the International Space Station.

The venerable Soyuz U lifted off from Site 1/5 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 14:51:52 UTC under the power of its core stage and four boosters, generating a collective liftoff thrust of over 400-metric ton force. Cameras tracked the 46-meter tall launch vehicle as it finished its vertical climb and pitched over onto the standard north-easterly departure path to dispatch the Progress craft into the orbital plane of the Space Station for a two-day rendezvous.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Negligence in Rocket Engine Assembly Could Have Downed Russian Spacecraft

Negligence in the assembly of a carrier rocket’s third-stage engine could have caused the Russian Progress space freighter to fall in southern Siberia, a source in the Russian space industry said Friday.

The source said Thursday that fragments of the Progress MS-04 cargo spacecraft fell some 40 miles west of the town of Kyzyl in southern Siberia. The source speculated that the failure of the Soyuz-U carrier rocket’s third-stage engines could have caused the incident, which did not result in casualties or damage. Ground-based simulation of the available telemetry would point to the components of the propulsion system that was assembled with violations, the source added.

Russian space corporation Roscosmos confirmed on Thursday the loss of Progress MS-04 after a faulty launch from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan. Launch control specialists lost telemetry with the space vehicle around 382 seconds into the flight, after the first- and second-stage engines had completed their work.

Read more at: Sputnik News

DARPA Creating Industry Government Group for Safe Operation of Space Robotics

Recent technological advances have made the longstanding dream of on-orbit robotic servicing of satellites a near-term possibility. The potential advantages of that unprecedented capability are enormous. Instead of designing their satellites to accommodate the harsh reality that, once launched, their investments could never be repaired or upgraded, satellite owners could use robotic vehicles to physically inspect, assist, and modify their on-orbit assets.

That could significantly lower construction and deployment costs while dramatically extending satellite utility, resilience, and reliability. In fact, efforts to achieve the goal of on-orbit servicing are already underway, including DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellite (RSGS) program which focuses on services for satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

Read more at: Space Daily

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Successfully Completes First Glide Flight

Fresh off the completion of its successful captive carry flight just a few days prior, Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShipTwo (SS2), christened VSS Unity, took the next step in its flight certification regime by completing its first solo glide flight on December 3, 2016. Though Unity has taken to the skies four times previously, all had been captive carry tests, with the vehicle firmly attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, the VMS Eve.

As part of a measured approach before becoming fully operational, this first glide flight was with Unity flying unburdened with fuel and mass simulators. “Today, Unity is flying light. Mountains of data & analysis preceded this flight; in testing, you check every assumption,” tweeted the company during the test flight.

Piloted by David Mackay and Mark Stucky, Unity was released at 7:40 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (15:40 GMT) and completed an unpowered glide back to the runway in the Mojave Desert, with touchdown occurring approximately 10 minutes after release.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Europe Commits to the Space Station and ExoMars as Part of $11 Billion in Commitments to ESA

The 22-nation European Space Agency on Dec. 2 forced its science program to lay an offering at the alter of the agency’s struggling ExoMars mission with Russia, allowing a European rover to be launched in 2020 to complement the Mars orbiter already in service.

Appearing at a briefing after a two-day meeting of the agency’s member governments, ESA Director-General Jann Woerner did his utmost to cast the effect on the agency’s five-year science budget in the best possible light, but in the end accepted that planned future science missions might need to be delayed.

The budget adopted by the ministers calls for spending 508 million euros ($552 million) per year on science missions between 2017 and 2022. Starting in 2018, that figure will rise by 1 percent per year, with no accounting for inflation.

Read more at: Space News

Canadian Space Agency Strengthens Long-Term Partnership with European Space Agency to Support Innovation and Science

The European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) member states and cooperating states gathered in Lucerne, Switzerland, to make important investment decisions regarding Europe’s future space activities.

Today, on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President Sylvain Laporte confirmed the Government of Canada’s increased contribution to key ESA programmes.

To support innovation and evidence-based science in Canada’s space sector, Canada will be investing approximately $83 million (€53.6 million) in three programmes. The investment includes an additional $30 million announced in Budget 2016 for ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) programme. The investment, in addition to strengthening the long-term partnership with ESA, is one that will support cutting-edge research and industry growth.

Read more at: Spaceref

Senate Floor Action on New NASA Authorization Act Could be Imminent

Senate and House negotiators reportedly are close to agreement on a final version of a FY2017 NASA authorization act.   Senate floor action on a draft compromise bill could come as early as tomorrow.

NASA’s most recent authorization law was enacted in 2010 — the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.  It provided funding recommendations only through FY2013, but the policy provisions remain in force.  NASA’s authorization committees in the House and Senate have been working on a new bill for several years to update policy and provide authorization direction, but without success.  Last year the House passed a FY2015 NASA authorization bill, H.R. 810,(which was very similar to a bill in passed for FY2014), but the Senate did not take it up.  A House bill for FY2016-2017 (H.R. 2039) never reached the floor after clearing the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on a party line vote.  Significant cuts to NASA’s earth science program were a major partisan sticking point.

Read more at: Space policy online

Japanese Company Plans Artificial Meteor Shower

A company named Sky Canvas plans to launch a colorful artificial meteor shower barrage via micro-satellite.

In the ‘strange but true department’ and a plan that would make any super-villain envious, a Japanese start-up plans to shoot meteoroids at the Earth to create the first orchestrated artificial meteor shower. The effort is benign in a bid to study the behavior of meteors and reentry characteristics, while also putting on a good show.

The idea is brainchild of Lena Okajima, who started the ALE Company which is funding the project. “I’m very excited about this project, not only because it will turn my childhood dream into a reality, but also because it can contribute to fundamental scientific research in a new form without relying on public funds and donations,” Okajima said on her biography on the ALE website.

Read more at: Universe Today

Indian Startup Plans Mission to Land on the Moon in 2018

An Indian startup is planning to launch a mission to land on the moon at the end of January 2018 which, if successful, would make India the fourth nation to land there after the U.S., Russia and China. It would also be the first time a privately-held company has placed a spacecraft on the moon’s surface.

Axiom Research Labs’ Team Indus, which is made up of former scientists from the Indian Space Research Organization, is competing in Google’s Lunar XPrize challenge, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Lunar XPrize is an unprecedented competition to challenge and inspire global engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration.

To win the first place $20 million prize, privately funded teams must successfully place a spacecraft on the moon’s surface, travel at least 500 meters and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth. The second place finisher gets $5 million; incentive bonuses totaling another $5 million are available for such achievements as surviving a lunar night (which lasts 14 Earth days) and visiting an Apollo landing site.

Read more at: TIME

Dear Colleague Letter: Cosponsor the Bipartisan Apollo 1 Memorial Act

On January 27, 1967, Astronauts Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee were killed in an electrical fire that broke out inside their Apollo I Command Module on Launch Pad 34 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Although all three astronauts were posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, it is surprising that we do not have a memorial at Arlington Cemetery to honor the lives of the crew of Apollo 1 as was done for the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia crews.

H.R. 6147 , The Apollo I Memorial Act, would redress that unfortunate omission. As Arlington National Cemetery is where we recognize heroes who have passed in the service of the Nation, it is fitting on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo I accident that we acknowledge these astronauts by building a memorial in their honor.

Read more at: Spaceref

NASA Considers Shorter First Crewed SLS/Orion Mission

The first crewed flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft may fly a shorter mission than previously considered, with only a loop around the moon rather than an extended stay there.

In a presentation to a Nov. 30 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council in Palmdale, California, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, discussed what he described as a new proposal for Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2) that would last eight days.

The concept, called the multi-translunar injection free minimum mission, would initially place the Orion spacecraft and its Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) into an elliptical orbit around the Earth with an apogee of 35,000 kilometers. After spending one day in that orbit, the spacecraft would separate from the EUS and use its service module engine for a final burn to send the spacecraft towards the moon.

Read more at: Space News

MOU Altec – Virgin Galactic

ALTEC S.p.A., the Italian engineering and logistics service provider for the International Space Station, and VIRGIN GALACTIC LLC, the US spaceflight company within the Virgin Group, announced the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed to study experimental sub-orbital spaceflight in Italy.

The agreement undertakes the two space companies to investigate the operation of the Virgin Galactic spaceflight system at a designated Italian Spaceport to execute microgravity research, perform pilot and astronaut training, and to conduct educational and space tourism flights.

The proposed cooperation would be based on the use of the Virgin Galactic spaceflight system, in particular the reusable SpaceShipTwo and the carrier vehicle WhiteKnightTwo.  The WhiteKnightTwo acts as the system’s first stage, taking off from a conventional runway and transporting the SpaceShipTwo to about 15.000 Km altitude, for release and subsequent rocket motor ignition to reach the planned operational altitude. The initiative encompasses the study of operations of a future SpaceShipTwo from a suitable Italian launch site (Spaceport) based on an existing airport and featuring the infrastructures to support launch, landing, and refurbishment.

Read more at: ASI

New Standard Helps Optical Trackers Follow Moving Objects Precisely

Throwing a perfect strike in virtual bowling doesn’t require your gaming system to precisely track the position and orientation of your swinging arm. But if you’re operating a robotic forklift around a factory, manipulating a mechanical arm on an assembly line or guiding a remote-controlled laser scalpel inside a patient, the ability to pinpoint exactly where it is in three-dimensional (3-D) space is critical.

To make that measurement more reliable, a public-private team led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a new standard test method to evaluate how well an optical tracking system can define an object’s position and orientation – known as its “pose” – with six degrees of freedom: up/down, right/left, forward/backward, pitch, yaw and roll.

Read more at: Space Daily

SpaceX Sets Target Date for 1st Launch Since Falcon Explosion

SpaceX has set a target date for its return to space since a Falcon rocket exploded on a Space Coast launch pad in early September. The company is planning to launch a Falcon rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Dec. 16, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Iridium Communications Inc. said Thursday that 10 of its satellites will be aboard the Falcon.

According to the AP, the Federal Aviation Administration must first sign off on the investigation into the explosion, which SpaceX said was almost complete. A Falcon rocket exploded in a massive fireball Sept. 1 during a test firing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, destroying it and a $200 million communications satellite and damaging the launch pad.

Read more at: BayNews9

CASIS and National Science Foundation Announce New Funding Opportunity

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced a joint solicitation wherein researchers will have the ability to leverage resources onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory in the fields of combustion and thermal transport. Up to $1.8 million will be awarded for multiple research investigations to support flight projects to the ISS National Laboratory.

Through this partnership, CASIS and NASA will facilitate hardware implementation and on-orbit access to the ISS National Laboratory. NSF will fund the selected projects to advance fundamental science and engineering knowledge. CASIS is the nonprofit organization responsible for managing and promoting research onboard the ISS National Laboratory. NSF supports transformative research to help drive the U.S. economy, enhance national security and maintain America’s position as a global leader in innovation.

Read more at: Colorado Spacenews

President Xi Takes Mao’s Space Dream from Gobi Desert into Next Frontier

Jiayuguan was once the tangible edge of Chinese civilisation — where the Great Wall ends and the desolation of the Gobi Desert begins. Now, four hours beyond those limits in a locked-down location along the Ruoshui River, China has built a gateway to the new final frontier.

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre is the nation’s pre-eminent “space city” — one of only three places where humans are blasted into the cosmos. Six manned flights have departed from here, including last month’s Shenzhou 11 mission to China’s own orbiting lab. Manned trips to the moon and Mars in the next decades also are being discussed.

The centre is also the launching place for China’s most-important machines. The world’s first quantum-communications satellite, designed to provide hack-proof transmissions for the military, left here in August. The government and military, which ultimately controls the space programme, do not announce every launch, but the non-profit Space Foundation estimates that at least 82 attempts have been made from the site since 1970.

Read more at: Today Online

German X Prize Team Announces Launch Contract

A German team competing for the Google Lunar X Prize said Nov. 29 that it has signed a contract to launch its lander, carrying two rovers, by late 2017. Berlin-based PT Scientists said that it signed a contract with Spaceflight Industries for the launch of its lander as a secondary payload on a vehicle yet to be identified. Seattle-based Spaceflight serves as a broker for secondary payloads and works with a number of launch service providers.

Karsten Becker, head of electronics for PT Scientists, said at an online press briefing Nov. 29 that a SpaceX Falcon 9 is the most likely vehicle that Spaceflight will use to launch their lander. “We are very confident that it will be a Falcon 9, but we cannot say that it will be a Falcon 9 just yet, because Spaceflight needs to confirm it with their other customers, and SpaceX,” he said.

PT Scientists and other teams participating in the Google Lunar X Prize are facing a Dec. 31 deadline to submit launch contracts to the X Prize Foundation and have them validate the contracts in order to continue in the competition.

Read more at: Space News

Balloons on Ice: NASA Launches Antarctica Scientific Balloon Campaign

Cosmic rays and the chemicals and atoms that make up the interstellar space between stars are the focus of this year’s NASA Antarctica Long Duration Balloon Flight Campaign, which kicked into high gear with the launch of the Boron And Carbon Cosmic rays in the Upper Stratosphere (BACCUS) payload Nov. 28.

The University of Maryland’s BACCUS mission is the first of three payloads taking flight from a balloon launch site on Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf near McMurdo Station with support from the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program.

“Weather conditions and the readiness of our science teams all aligned to allow us to kick-off our Antarctica campaign earlier than in previous years,” said Gabe Garde, NASA mission manager. “We had a smooth operation today with BACCUS, thanks in large part to the support from our friends in the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program.”

Read more at: NASA

Moon Village Concept Attracts Worldwide Support

Futuristic plans for a moon village proposed by the European Space Agency are winning support around the world. The idea is to set up a permanent human outpost on the moon as a base for science, business, mining and even tourism. The ESA director general said the moon village was discussed by member state ministers meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, to decide space funding.

At a press conference after the two-day meeting, Johann-Dietrich Wörner said: “We are now having a list of actors worldwide who would like to participate in this moon village concept. There are ideas of companies – not only ideas, projects of companies – to go to the moon, and they want to be part of this community.

“We are joining forces. There are companies offering payloads. There are public entities going to the moon and offering payloads. Even Nasa is part of this. So therefore the moon village was a part of our discussion at the very beginning.”

Read more at: Guardian

XCOR Partners with Immortal Data to Enhance and Commercialize Shipslog Data Acquisition System

XCOR Aerospace and Immortal Data Incorporated have entered into a licensing agreement having Immortal Data further developing and commercializing the ShipsLog software, the data acquisition system for the XCOR Lynx Space Plane and its engine test stand.

After enhancement and integration, ShipsLog will be a key element of a tail to nose aerospace data collection, storage and display solution offered by Immortal Data. Development efforts will begin immediately at Immortal Data facilities in Midland, TX, a facility funded by Midland Development Corporation, at the Midland International Air and Space Port.

The agreement is the outgrowth of a long, fruitful and evolving relationship between Immortal Data and XCOR that has extended over most of this decade.

Read more at: Space Daily

How President Trump can Avert a Crisis in U.S. Space Policy

When George W. Bush took over the presidency from Bill Clinton in 2001, he inherited a space sector in disarray. Exploding rockets destroyed three vital military payloads in 1998-99. Next-generation satellite programs were falling years behind schedule. And commercial demand central to the Clinton plan for sustaining space-launch capabilities dried up after the dot.com boom went bust.

So when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry two years after Bush was inaugurated, it was like a metaphor for America’s waning greatness in space. By that time, no Americans had walked on the Moon in over 30 years. The Bush Administration spent its entire tenure fixing the problems created by its predecessors.

The good news is that it succeeded. By the time Bush left office, military satellite programs were back on track, a highly reliable family of new launch vehicles had been developed, and NASA had a plan for returning astronauts to the Moon. The bad news is that the Obama Administration turned out to be not much better than the Clinton Administration at thinking realistically about what works in space.

Read more at: Forbes

Buzz Aldrin Recovers in New Zealand After Medical Evacuation

He’s a life-long adventurer, known for walking on the moon. But, Buzz Aldrin’s latest journey landed him in the hospital.

The 86-year-old, who lives in Brevard County, had to be evacuated from the South Pole while on a tour excursion after he got fluid in his lungs and his health “deteriorated” rapidly.  He posted this picture on his Twitter page, saying he’s recovering and in stable condition at a hospital in New Zealand.

Aldrin documented his epic journey — from flights between Dubai and Cape Town, South Africa, to safety training alongside with manager, Christina Korp — on his Twitter page. It’s now filled with well-wishes for his recovery following illness. Aldrin traveled with White Desert Tours, an operator which takes travelers to far flung places, like Antartica. Trips listed on the luxury excursion website cost about 64,000 euros per person to travel the South Pole.

But, after he fell ill, the tour operator posted on its Instagram page that Aldrin was successfully evacuated, flown to Christchurch, New Zealand, to receive antibiotic treatment.

Read more at: BayNews9

Could Humans Actually Live on Mars?

For thousands of years, humans have looked up at the night sky and pondered their place in the cosmos. One little red dot in particular has long held our interest: Mars. Today, experts believe it’s no longer a question of if we’ll ever set foot on the Red Planet, but when. Recent technological advances mean this could happen within decades.

While the dream of colonizing Mars is a fascinating one, is it a good idea? What will be the biggest challenges? And once we get there, could we even survive?

The biggest incentive for putting humans on Mars is to have “an insurance mechanism for our species,” says Stephen Petranek, author of How We’ll Live on Mars. “We’re a nomadic species. We learned long ago that if we don’t move, we don’t survive… [and we’ll] have to move out of our solar system when our sun dies.” That is a solid if somewhat depressing point. Mars is the closest place for us to practice for that eventuality.

Read more at: Week

Free Markets are Needed in Space

Anyone who enjoys science fiction novels and movies has most likely fantasized about the possibility of space travel. While most people’s images of space travel have largely been inspired by franchises like “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” companies like SpaceX and Arianspace are working to make commercial space travel a reality.

While space travel has always been a fascination for humanity, it was not until the space race in the 1960s that humankind began to make meaningful advances toward space exploration. At the time, the Soviet Union and the United Sates went head to head in the race to explore what was beyond Earth and ultimately put a man on the moon.

Although this race was inextricably linked to the Cold War and the ideological divide between capitalism and communism, this competition led to the advent of breakthrough technology and scientific discovery that first allowed space exploration to become a tangible reality. What is important to notice about the space race is that it was completely driven and subsidized by national governments.

Read more at: Hoya

Russian Ambassador Awards US Astronaut Shepherd for Space-Program Merit

Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak awarded a Merit in Space Exploration medal to NASA astronaut William Shepherd at the US space agency’s headquarters in Washington, DC, the Russian Embassy announced following the ceremony. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the head of the embassy’s science section, Alexander Yermolayev, also attended the ceremony.

Shepherd, 67, commanded the first crew aboard the International Space Station and is a recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Read more at: Sputnik News