John Glenn, American Hero of the Space Age, Dies at 95

John Glenn, a freckle-faced son of Ohio who was hailed as a national hero and a symbol of the space age as the first American to orbit Earth, then became a national political figure for 24 years in the Senate, died on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio. He was 95.

Ohio State University announced his death. Mr. Glenn had recently been hospitalized at the university at the James Cancer Center, though Ohio State officials said at the time that admission there did not necessarily mean he had cancer. He had heart-valve replacement surgery in 2014 and a stroke around that time. He had kept an office at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, which he helped found, and also had a home in Columbus.

In just five hours on Feb. 20, 1962, Mr. Glenn joined a select roster of Americans whose feats have seized the country’s imagination and come to embody a moment in its history, figures like Lewis and Clark, the Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh.

Read more at: NY Times

President Obama’s Statement on John Glenn

When John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas rocket in 1962, he lifted the hopes of a nation.  And when his Friendship 7 spacecraft splashed down a few hours later, the first American to orbit the Earth reminded us that with courage and a spirit of discovery there’s no limit to the heights we can reach together.  With John’s passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend.  John spent his life breaking barriers, from defending our freedom as a decorated Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, to setting a transcontinental speed record, to becoming, at age 77, the oldest human to touch the stars.  John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond–not just to visit, but to stay.  Today, the people of Ohio remember a devoted public servant who represented his fellow Buckeyes in the U.S. Senate for a quarter century and who fought to keep America a leader in science and technology.  Our thoughts are with his beloved wife Annie, their children John and Carolyn and the entire Glenn family.  The last of America’s first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens.

Read more at: NASA

Early US Astronauts Faced Uncertainty, Danger and Death

John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, but for a solid hour of that journey, NASA feared he was about to die in a blazing fireball. In fact, all of the original crew of astronauts, known as the Mercury 7, risked life and limb in order to explore the frontier of space, and some died in the effort.

The death Thursday at 95 of Glenn, the last of the so-called Original Seven who were chosen as NASA’s first astronaut corps in 1959, reminded many Americans just how far the US space program has come in the past five decades. “Back before any human had actually gone into space the doctors weren’t sure they would survive,” said space policy expert John Logsdon. He recalled concerns that powering into space aboard a rocket, then shifting to weightlessness in microgravity, might prove fatal. “It was all new territory.

Read more at: Space Daily

My Journey into Space with John Glenn

Walking out of our astronaut crew quarters on the morning of October 29th, 1998, I felt an extraordinary sense of pride and awe, accompanying my boyhood hero, famed astronaut-turned-Senator John Glenn, on his return to space at age 77. Here was a legendary military fighter pilot, heroic pioneering astronaut and dedicated public servant whom I’d admired since I was a little boy, and I’d be sharing a spaceship with him. When he first came into our crew office months before (as he began his mission training), he quickly squashed our reverence and hero worship with a smile and an admonition: “My name is just John, or Payload Specialist Number 2. If you call me Senator Glenn, I’ll just ignore you!” And many times throughout our training, star-struck engineers, flight controllers, technicians and the public would frequently use the “H-word” with him. He’d quickly and genuinely retreat, bashfully saying he didn’t feel worthy of such high praise. “But being a hero is in the eye of the beholder,” he would add, “and I really appreciate your kind words.”

Read more at: Scientific American

Trump Adds Six More to NASA Transition Team

The transition team for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump added six more people to the NASA landing team Friday, representing a range of viewpoints on topics such as commercial spaceflight and development of heavy-lift launch vehicles.

Among the new landing team members is Steve Cook, who was in charge of the Ares 1 and Ares 5 rocket programs at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, until leaving the agency in 2009 for Huntsville-based Dynetics. The Ares program was canceled under President Barack Obama, but elements of both rockets were folded into NASA’s design for the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket the agency is building to launch the Orion crew vehicle on deep space missions.

As a Dynetics corporate vice president, Cook has been closely involved in Aerojet Rocketdyne’s development of the AR-1 engine — a candidate to replace the Russian RD-180 on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation rocket.

Read more at: Space.com

Senate Passes NASA Authorization at Last Minute, Too Late for House Action This Year

The Senate completed its legislative business for the 114th Congress in the early hours this morning.   In its last legislative day, it passed dozens of bills by unanimous consent, including the NASA Transition Authorization Act.  The House already has left, so it is too late for the bill to be finalized this year, but it could serve as the basis for a new bill in the next Congress.  A link to the text of the bill as passed is available below.

The most recent NASA authorization act was enacted in 2010.  It recommended funding levels only through FY2013, but the policy provisions remain in force until or unless changed by future legislation.  The House passed a bill in 2014, but the Senate did not take it up.  In February 2015, the House passed another bill (H.R. 810), very similar to the one passed in 2014.  In April 2015, the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee approved a new bill, H.R. 2039, for FY2016-2017, but on a strictly party-line vote primarily because it included deep cuts to NASA’s Earth science program.  The bill never advanced out of committee.

In September 2016, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved its own bill, S. 3346.  Since that time, the House and Senate have been negotiating a final bill that blends the Senate committee’s bill, H.R. 810, and H.R. 2039. The fruit of that negotiation is the version of S. 3346 that passed the Senate overnight.

Read more at: Space Policy Online

Update on Soyuz/Progress MS-04 Failure

Ten days after the loss of the Progress MS-04 spacecraft, the root cause of the accident largely remained a mystery to the investigators, but a number of posts from industry sources on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine shed a great deal of light on the circumstances surrounding the unexplained launch failure.

Based on the telemetry leading to the accident, investigators established that the launch vehicle most likely had never received the so-called AVD command for the emergency engine cutoff, despite previous reports that such a command had been issued. Nevertheless, it became clear that the spacecraft and the third stage of the Soyuz-U launch vehicle had separated around 140 seconds prematurely during the powered ascent to orbit. The cause of the separation still remains a mystery, but engineers were apparently checking the hypothesis that the flight control system onboard the cargo ship could initiate the process. Under normal conditions, pyrotechnics cut links between the two vehicles on a command from the rocket after it has reached orbit. However, the spacecraft has its own backup process, which could perform the same operation. Observers were especially puzzled by the fact that the physical separation between the two vehicles was even possible at all, with the third stage still accelerating under the full thrust of its RD-0110 engine.

Read more at: Russian Spaceweb

HTV-6 Cargo Resupply Craft Arrives in Orbit After Thunderous Nighttime Liftoff from Japan

Japan’s H-IIB heavy-lift rocket arced into the night skies over Tanegashima Island on Friday, carrying into orbit the sixth H-II Transfer Vehicle on a critical supply run to the International Space Station and its six crew members.

HTV – currently the largest in the Station’s visiting vehicle fleet – is set to deliver to the orbiting outpost important cargo among which are six new batteries to revamp the Station’s power system to enable ISS to head into the next decade of operations. In total, the mission is delivering six metric tons of supplies, comprised of food, water, maintenance hardware, and science utilization equipment.

Read more at: Spaceflight101

SpaceX Announces Plans to Return to Spaceflight in January

After a Sept. 1 blast ripped apart one of its Falcon 9 rockets, SpaceX has announced it is targeting early January for its return to spaceflight.

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk had said the company was aiming for mid-December for its next mission, which is slated to send 10 spacecraft into orbit for the communications company Iridium. Iridium officials indicated last week the launch could take place on Dec. 16. However, SpaceX needs more time to make the necessary preparations, the company said in a blog post on Wednesday.

“We are finalizing the investigation into our Sept. 1 anomaly and are working to complete the final steps necessary to safely and reliably return to flight, now in early January with the launch of Iridium-1,” the company wrote. “This allows for additional time to close out vehicle preparations and complete extended testing to help ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance prior to launch.”

Read more at: Redorbit

Citing SpaceX Delays, Inmarsat Moves Satellite Launch from Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5

The launch next year of a commercial communications craft jointly managed by London-based Inmarsat and the Greek satellite operator Hellas-Sat has been switched from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket, officials said Thursday. Inmarsat said in a statement it decided with Hellas-Sat to move the satellite’s launch to an Ariane 5 rocket following a delay in SpaceX’s launch schedule.

The launch aboard an Ariane 5 from Kourou, French Guiana, is expected by the middle of 2017, officials said. Officials ordered the multipurpose satellite from Thales Alenia Space for a planned launch by the end of 2016 on a Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX’s huge new booster which is still awaiting its first demonstration flight.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

CYGNSS Microsatellites Prepared For Air-Launch Aboard Pegasus XL Rocket

NASA is preparing to launch a constellation of small satellites designed to aid weather forecasters in understanding and predicting hurricane intensity.

The eight observatories comprising the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) will be delivered to Earth orbit by an Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket. The Pegasus XL and its microsatellite payload will be air-launched from the company’s modified L-1011 aircraft, nicknamed Stargazer, after taking off from the “Skid Strip” runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch is planned for December 12 at 6:24 a.m. MST.

The CYGNSS mission’s eight identical microsatellites will team up with the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation to measure wind speeds over Earth’s oceans and air-sea interactions, information expected to help scientists better understand tropical cyclones, ultimately leading to improved hurricane intensity forecasts. To that end, CYGNSS will focus its attentions on the tropics, taking measurements where hurricanes form — including Hurricane Matthew, which affected Florida in October.

Read more at: Colorado Spacenews

China Develops Non-toxic Propellant for Orbiting Satellites

A non-toxic propulsion system developed by Chinese scientists will enable satellites to carry more payload and save on satellite launching costs, the system’s developer said Tuesday.

The ammonium dinitramide (ADN) technology used in the system proved successful when it was tested in the Shijian-17 satellite sent into space last month, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said in a statement.

Shijian-17 is tasked with verifying technology for observation of space debris, new electric sources and electric propulsion. According to scientists, the propulsion system is meant to help an orbiting satellite sustain its altitude as atmospheric drag and gravity can lead to gradual descent in orbit.

Read more at: Space Daily

How NASA is Rehearsing for a Mission to Mars

The Martian landscape is otherworldly. The ground is twisted into ropelike coils, rippling waves and jagged spikes; sulfurous gases billow from vents in the ground, bits of volcanic glass glitter in faint sunlight that filters through the undulating fog.

Two astronauts clamber across the tortured terrain, encumbered by the heavy scientific instruments they carry on their backs and in their hands. They are looking for rocks that could tell us whether life ever existed on Mars.

At makeshift mission control inside a converted conference room several miles away, Darlene Lim surveys video from the scene. The NASA geobiologist has been planning this mission for months. She listens attentively to the chatter between the roving astronauts and their counterparts at “base camp” and watches as one of the scientists in the field points a handheld spectrometer at a rock and scans it, Star Trek-style. Data on the rock’s composition starts streaming onto Lim’s computer screen.

“This is super awesome,” Lim murmurs under her breath. Remembering a reporter is listening over the phone, she laughs at herself. “It is!”

Read more at: Washington Post

Japan Tests Innovative Magnetic Tether for Slowing Space Junk

Japan has launched a cargo ship which will use a half mile- (700m)-long tether to remove some of the vast amount of debris from Earth’s orbit. The tether, made of aluminium strands and steel wire, is designed to slow the debris, pulling it out of orbit. The innovative device was made with the help of a fishing net company.

There is estimated to be more than 100 million pieces of space junk in orbit, including discarded equipment from old satellites, tools and bits of rocket. Many of these objects are moving at high velocity around the Earth at speeds of up to 28,000km/h (17,500mph) and could cause catastrophic accidents and damage to the world’s orbital telecommunications network.

The junk has accumulated in the more than 50 years of human space exploration since the Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite in 1957. Collisions between satellites and the testing of anti-satellite weapons have made the problem worse.

Read more at: BBC

Enterprise in Space & Kepler Space Institute Sponsor Competition to Tackle Orbital Debris

Enterprise In Space (EIS), a non-profit program of the National Space Society (NSS), and the Kepler Space Institute have partnered with Global Aerospace Corporation (GAC) to launch the “Orbital Debris Mitigation” competition. In order to drive innovation forward in technology to remove the space debris orbiting Earth, EIS and its partners are offering university student teams a chance to propose experiments for space debris mitigation.

To enter the contest, university student teams may submit a white paper in either one of two competition categories. Category one is to design an experiment that fits on a CubeSat to detect, track or collect orbital debris. The second is to design an experiment to help evaluate the performance of GAC’s Gossamer Orbit Lowering Device (GOLD) that will de-orbit a CubeSat. To learn more about the competition, see the video presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA5T7A70CVs .

Read more at: NSS

UAE Launches National Space Policy

The UAE Space Agency issued the Arab world’s first national space policy in the capital on Tuesday – the first step to formulating laws for the industry. “The policy is just like a torch guiding us to where we have to go,” said Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, the agency’s director general. “Our space laws will have elements designed for tomorrow’s technologies and industries, such as space tourism, and will address key issues including liability and insurance.”

Development of laws for the space industry, which would be months away, was key to attracting foreign investment, one of the policy’s goals, said Dr Al Ahbabi. Other aims include increasing the Emirati workforce, expanding and diversifying the economy, promoting domestic and international cooperation, and establishing the UAE as an international leader in the space industry. Dr Khalifa Al Romaithi, the agency’s chairman, said the policy would be a cornerstone in building a space sector that would enable the UAE to lead in many fields.

Read more at: Space Daily

New Control System for Soyuz Booster to Appear by 2018

Semikatov automatics scientific development and production centre started developing key elements for newest control system for boosters including Soyuz series, – Roscosmos reports. By 2020 we will develop instrumentation enabling to improve the accuracy of orbit injection. These works are being accomplished according to the agreement between Roscosmos State Corporation and Semikatov centre signed in the frameworks of Federal Space Program implementation for 2016 – 2025, – was stated in the official message.

Today we are developing key elements of most up-to-date control system for new boosters. This is an entire onboard complex including digital computing device to be the core of control system. Code name of this device is Malakhit-8, the specialists are conducting design and experimental works and plan to finish the prototype by 2018, – Semikatov Centre Director general Andrei Misyura pointed out.

In April 2017 we’ll complete design studies. The design of parts of the standard modules is to be finished by the end of 2016. Hardware components are to be produced by Micron plant located in Zelenograd.

Read more at: Russian Spacenews

Major Assembly Complete On Orion Propulsion System

The propulsion system that will give the Orion spacecraft the in-space push needed to travel thousands of miles beyond the moon and back has completed major assembly at United Launch Alliance (ULA) in Decatur, Alabama.

The Boeing-designed interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion an extra punch of power on the first, uncrewed flight of the spacecraft with NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System in late 2018. The first integrated exploration mission (EM-1) will allow NASA to use the lunar vicinity as a proving ground to test systems farther from Earth, and demonstrate Orion can get to a stable orbit in the area of space near the moon in order to support sending humans to deep space, including the Journey to Mars.

Read more at: Colorado Spacenews

Cosmic Dust Left Over from the Dawn of the Solar System Found on Rooftops in Paris

Tiny specks of cosmic dust which are left over from the formation of our solar system have been discovered on the rooftops of three European cities. The space debris, which is falling constantly through the atmosphere, has previously only been found in Antarctica and the deep ocean. It was thought that it would never be found in cities because it would be so difficult to detect it amid the pollution, dust and grime in urban areas.

But scientists at Imperial College have confirmed that particles have been found on the rooftops of Paris, Oslo and Berlin. Dr Matthew Genge, from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, teamed up with Jon Larsen, an amateur scientist from Norway, to sift through 300 kilograms of sediment that was trapped in gutters in the capital cities.

“When Jon first came to me I was dubious. Many people had reported finding cosmic dust in urban areas before, but when they were analysed scientists found that these particles were all industrial in origin,” said Dr Genge.

Read more at: Telegraph

Mars One Puts Back Planned Colonisation of Red Planet

A British-Dutch company planning to install a community of humans on Mars admitted on Wednesday that it’s project will be delayed by several years. The Mars One consortium said its first manned mission to the Red Planet would now not happen until 2031, having previously targeted 2026. Its first unmanned mission has also been delayed by four years to 2022.

The delays are due to a “new financial strategy” linked to Mars One’s sale to Swiss financial services company InFin Innovative Finance AG, which was announced last week. Currently, Mars One consists of two entities: British public limited company Mars One Ventures and the Dutch not-for-profit Mars One Foundation.

Read more at: Mars Daily

Directions 2017: BeiDou’s Road to Global Service

An effective approach has been taken by the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), and significant progress has been witnessed in 2016, from the aspects of launching new satellites, verifying new technologies, promoting applications and industrialization, strengthening international cooperation, and formulating fundamental policies.

In March 2016, a BDS satellite was launched into an inclined geo-synchronous orbit (IGSO); another geosynchronous orbit (GEO) satellite was launched in June. These became the 22nd and 23rd BDS satellites overall and further enhanced service capability. The BDS has been maintaining stable operation, and the performance of BDS Open Services has steadily improved. The availability and continuity surpass 99.9%, which can satisfy the nominal requirements of 95% and 99.5%.

Read more at: GPS World

Rocket Men: Why Tech’s Biggest Billionaires want their Place in Space

The explosion could be felt 30 miles away. At 9.07am on 1 September, a SpaceX rocket containing 75,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene ignited into a fireball that could be seen from orbit, billowing black smoke into the gray sky around its Cape Canaveral launch pad.

On board was a $200m, 12,000lb communications satellite – part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project to deliver broadband access to sub-Saharan Africa. Zuckerberg wrote, with a note of bitterness, on his Facebook page that he was “deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite”. SpaceX founder Elon Musk told CNN it was the “most difficult and complex failure” the 14-year-old company had ever experienced.

It was also the second dramatic explosion in nine months for SpaceX, following a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” of a booster rocket as it attempted to land after a successful mission to the International Space Station.a

Read more at: Space.News

Review: The Gravity Well

At last month’s Space Commerce Conference and Exhibition in Houston, Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow made a call for a drastically increased NASA budget (see “Commercial space in the next administration”, The Space Review, November 28, 2016). Specifically, he called for NASA to account for one percent of the federal budget, more than twice its current share. He offered fewer details, though, about what NASA would do with that additional funding, beyond enhanced exploration and development of the Moon.

Bigelow is not the only person calling for a significant increase in NASA funding. In The Gravity Well, former NASA engineer Stephen Sandford tried to make the case for an expanded, and more expensive, space program that includes human missions to the Moon and Mars that provide benefits to life on Earth. But like Bigelow’s talk, a number of key details are missing that make the argument less persuasive.

The book’s guiding metaphor is its title: the gravity well we are at the bottom of on Earth, but which, by climbing out, gives us access to the solar system and its resources. Much of the book discusses only in general terms the benefits of space exploration: invigorating the economy; encouraging students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers; and making the United States a nation others respect and want to work with.

Read more at: Space Review